Of all the medicines coming from Tibet, the most valuable, so costly it is an asset class of its own, is almost weightless, not at all suited to being measured by the ton. Yartsa gumbu is a bubble economy; a bubble that keeps on growing, so insatiable is the demand. In the masculine world of today’s Chinese capitalism, it is almost the ideal medium for cultivating guanxi, the ideal gift for your boss, complimenting and complementing his virility, reviving his energies, showing you respect and honour him and seek his benevolent protection. It is small and can be discreetly given, and is always welcome. The fact that it is expensive adds to its allure, proves its value. It has become a currency in its own right, a form of value that can be consumed in a display of one’s wealth and power, or traded on to an even higher level in the hierarchies of power, as a gift that keeps on giving.

The scientific story of yartsa gumbu somewhat deflates this romance, and the traditional Tibetan story of its medicinal use is brief and inconsequential. Scientifically, yartsa is what remains of the caterpillar stage of a grassland moth that has been attacked by a fungus which has eaten out the flesh of the caterpillar hidden in the grass, then, in order to reproduce, sent out through the caterpillar’s head a long, erect fruiting body to spread its spores over the pasture. It is this erection which attracts Chinese bosses, convinced it enables them to live like emperors, conspicuously consuming aphrodisiacs that compensate for the long hours an entrepreneur must spend on the guanxi work essential to accumulating wealth. The fungally hollowed out remains of a caterpillar are not an attractive marketing selling proposition, and the scientific version is routinely ignored by consumers.

The Tibetan story, however, does excite Chinese imaginations. Tibetan texts of hundreds of years ago extol yartsa gumbu as an aphrodisiac, yet few Tibetans use it, or are much interested, except occasionally as a medicine to be fed to horses in preparation for a long and difficult journey.

Nothing can stop the rise and rise of the erect fungus. It is now embedded in doing business with Chinese characteristics. Much of the building of trust between business partners, the basis on which Chinese business works, is  done in nightclubs and brothels, where a man’s capacity to hold his liquor, and not lose self-control even in the arms of a prostitute, all constitute aspects of a man proving himself trustworthy in business. So the anthropologists who have studied such matters tell us.

China is reputed to have an inexorable master strategy in Tibet; yet on the ground in some areas, out on the vast grasslands, there is almost no Chinese presence, and no law, even in 2011. In many areas, for all the talk of industrialisation, urbanisation and exploitation of Tibet, the reality is a lawless frontier where authority is entirely in Tibetan hands, the state remains wisely distant, and the most primitive capitalist boom now rules.

The state may keep its distance, refraining even from attempting to capture taxes, but this is no idyllic pastoral, or timeless nomadic life on the high plateau. In Amdo Golok Machen Golok (Qinghai Guoluo Dongqinggou Maqin in Chinese) the nomads neglect their sheep and goats, and the hard work of livestock raising and nomadising, enjoying instead, to the max, their new privileged position as rent seekers with a monopoly on something China has gone crazy for.

Barely visible in the Maytime grass growth of spring, on the fertile meadowlands of eastern Tibet, is a small but phallically erect fungus, technically the fruiting body of a fungus that has attacked a grassland caterpillar, hollowed it to a husk and then sprouted its spores in order to reproduce. It is this strange “grass worm” or “caterpillar fungus” that nomads can sell for as much as GBP7000 per kg, or even more, to traders who then onsell at far greater markup to Chinese buyers. In China chongcao, as it is known, or in Tibetan as yartsa gumbu, this odd creature is so prestigious it makes the ideal “gift” to a cadre who holds the power of success or failure over your son or daughter’s school results or job prospects. Chongcao/yartsa gunbu is a currency in a class of its own, reputed to be a potent aphrodisiac and enhancer of energy and endurance. In today’s China, caught up in untamed enthusiasm for maximum accumulation, there are bosses everywhere who need to be bribed, if one is to get on in life. Yartsa is the perfect bribe, discreetly offered.

But this latest addition to the pharmacopeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine is found only in alpine meadows of eastern Tibet, and only for a month each year. May is when the grassland swarms with diggers out to make their fortune. People are ready to die for it, and people do, in knife fights that break out with little warning.

A hundred cars a day arrive at the checkpoint, to enter the grasslands and make their fortune, each packed with diggers. Maybe as many try to sneak by at night. Out here, on the few roads that lead to the high pasture, the checkpoint theoretically is the state enforcing its regulations on environmental protection and trade. In practice, it is manned by locals, who extract from each digger an upfront cash fee of at least 10,000 yuan, and in return receive a piece of paper declaring each a relative of a nomad family of the area. This is the price of entry. This is the invisible hand of the market at its most visible.

Yartsa gunbu is an industry in its own right. In areas where it is still abundant, it is the entire economy, hardly anyone bothers any more with the hard labour of shearing sheep and growing hay to keep sheep alive through the intense cold of winter.

Without doubt, this new frontier economy is driven by demand, and by the Muslim Chinese and Han Chinese traders and diggers, but the Tibetan nomads are the counterparties of this leap style instant wealth creation. The nomads have –for how much longer is uncertain- exclusive rights to use of the pasture, and the right to exclude outsiders. That is not only their traditional attitude, enforced with the knife, but is also the official stance of the Chinese party-state, as it manifests in such remote areas, so far from gaze of the emperor in Beijing.

It is this official backing of the locals against incomers that enables the nomads to exploit to the hilt their rent seeking opportunity, and join China’s early capitalist riproaring boom economy. Fortunes await the bold, and on the frontier it matters less whether one is Tibetan, Hui Muslim or Han. But it is the protection of the local cadres that gives the nomads their opportunity to cash in effortlessly, their ethnicity for once a valuable commodity in the new exchange economy that has made so redundant the old  use economy –as Marx would have called it- that once laboured so hard to maintain a subsistence economy in the land surrounded by snows.

The latest regulatory framework in place on the yartsa gunbu grasslands restricts harvesting to those who live on the pasture. Ostensibly a biodiversity conservation measure, in practice it creates a local mercantilist monopoly open to rampant perverse outcomes, and that is what happens.

Each spring, hopeful diggers out for fast fortune, arrive and negotiate with Tibetan landholders to be given fictive status as family members, entitling them to access the land, and dig. So lucrative is this nominal nomadic status, outsiders are willing to pay upfront access fees of 10,000 or even 20,000 yuan for a month of digging all day, every day, through the month of fungal efflorescence. Detailed ethnographic fieldwork by Emilia Rosa Sulek, of Humboldt University, Berlin, gives us a rich picture of this new cowboy economy, reinventing raw capitalism from the wormhole ground up, just as vibrantly as the celebrated, throbbingly capitalist hub of Wenzhou in eastern China.

To the land holder, the 10 or 20 thousand kwai he receives is money for nothing, requiring no work, only utmost vigilance for robbers, double crossers and the mean poor –usually Tibetan- who try to sneak onto his land without paying. In a province where, on official statistics, average per capita income of rural people is no better than 6000 yuan a year, the astute nomad can merrily add to his family a further fifty souls as his relatives, or 70 or 100, or in a case so flagrant the county cadres finally did have to step in, 360 close relatives who happened to all drop by in May.

It is the diggers who do all the work, take all the risks and reap the reward if the pickings are good, their eyesight is acute and the quality of the yartsa is high. The nomad who modestly adds only 50 relations to his family has in a month earned at least 500,000 yuan, none of which is taxed. Not surprisingly, the money is splashed on flashy houses equipped with every electrical appliance one might fancy, motorbikes and cars, and the conspicuous consumption so in vogue in China.

The landholder not only takes the diggers into his family on paper but actually into his house, because a trade so fraught with rorting makes basic trust essential, best enhanced by close proximity. The bloated instant family does behave like a highly masculine family, sharing meals, sleeping under a common roof, the best guarantee against rip-offs. So wealthy are many nomads, they have three new houses on their land, all needed if the diggers are to be accommodated and watched.


Emilia Sulek says: “In every town or village in Golog groups of people sit on the pavements with bags full of tightly packed yartsa. Calculator and scales are the tools for determining price and quality. In the folds of the overlong sleeves of Tibetan robes prices are being silently negotiated using gestures. For many nomads it is a rare opportunity to take a break in town, so discussions are long and nobody is in a hurry to get back home. Outside the Agricultural Bank of China there is an almost permanent crowd of Hui traders buying yartsa from nomads and gatherers. “I sell to the one that pays me more”– Herpo, a Tibetan wholesaler, says. His competitor, Tseten Gyel, adds: “It would be good if the Chinese big bosses came directly to  us, otherwise Huis paint the yartsa yellow to improve the colour and insert pins in them so that the yartsa gains weight – these are not honest tricks”.

“The yartsa trade offers a chance to nearly everybody with modest capital to invest and a nose for business. Herpo sits on a small carpet in front of a motorcycle repair shop. His narrow eyes quickly count the yartsa he has been brought by gatherers. Only six years ago his family still lived a nomadic life. But Herpo decided to sell all of their 80 yaks and move to the town to look for a better future. Tseten Gyel, a former monk at the Ragya Monastery, had similar hopes when he returned to society six years ago. For an ex-monk, a man with no job, no land and no animals, the yartsa trade was the only way to start a new life. He borrowed 3000 yuan and for the first time in his life bought yartsa to sell later at a profit. Although the bulky contents of the money belt that he carries under his robe suggests that its owner is a mobile bank, Tseten Gyel complains that compared to other wholesalers he owns nothing. It’s a risky business – he says: “I lost my money not once but twice as the prices can change between a morning and an evening several times”.
This is the contemporary Tibetan version of the Hollywood Western, the stock exchange of the dusty streets. The grasslands are cash lands, yet the state stays its hand, knowing it can intervene and extend its reach into these badlands only with full force majeure, or not at all. The locals know the party-state, which values stability even more than revenue, has little inclination to capture the money of the nomads. The Chinese traders too have little to fear from the state. They make sure they are well-connected as the yartsa becomes, in Chinese hands, packaged chongcao elegantly presented to one’s boss at new year.
Although the restraint of the party-state contradicts the usual view of China as dictatorial, reaching pervasively into the lives of the masses, there is plenty of precedent for forgoing a fiscal boost because it is more politically important to leave the market to sort itself out, for fear of the violent reaction to official intervention. As long ago as 1724, when Qing dynasty China first declared Qinghai to be part of China, the emperor restrained his local officials who wanted to impose taxation, saying stability is the top priority, and frontier areas must be allowed to grow so more Chinese settlers will be attracted, forming a long term basis for securing the frontier for China.
Not only does the taxing state take a long view and keep out, the buy in of the traffic policing state is limited. In order to ensure that only locals have access to the precious grasslands, roadblocks are established, and the papers of would-be diggers are examined. That is how the rentseeking opportunity for entrepreneurial nomads is maintained. The sojourners need to produce certification from the nomad that they are family. Once past the official roadblock, everything is possible. No police will venture into the knife-prone pastures to check that everyone’s papers are in order, or that collection of yartsa exceeds some mathematical formula of sustainability.

Unsurprisingly, the crudely faked permits attesting to the enormity of one’s family, which suffice as entrée to a fortune hidden in grass, are worth so much. Manning the roadblock checkpoint is also worth much, so much so it is in practice subcontracted to locals who do know who is who, and have the will to enforce the ban on anyone unwilling to pay the rent. On paper, the checkpoints are manned by townbased officials of the Animal Husbandry Bureau, Grassland office or State Forestry Administration; in practice they seldom move far from their urban compounds, and readily let locals do the work, for a share of the proceeds. Again, this is much like Wenzhou capitalism, a similarly spontaneous discovery of the dynamics of price making, with not the slightest veneer of respectability.

Like Wenzhou, this boom has been building for decades, but only in recent years has it become so big that it is now the only game. All interests are met, not only the diggers and the landholding nomads, but also the state can say the business is tightly regulated, that in the interests of the livelihoods of nomads, and protection of grassland, only locals are allowed to dig, and all others are banned.

As Emilia Sulek says: “As the season for harvesting yartsa approaches a fever takes hold of the area. Schools schedule a holiday to let students help their families with harvesting. Even distant relatives that have long left behind the life of a herder in hope of making a career in Xining, the provincial capital, come back home. It’s not just Tibetans wanting to take part in the ‘gold rush’, however, recently local authorities introduced a regulation banning entry to Golog to all those without relatives or land of their own in the area. Travellers to Golog meet checkpoints on its roads, along with queues of landcruisers, and people sitting at the roadside waiting for somebody to lift the barrier to the pasturelands still covered by last year’s dry grass.”

This eruption of naked capitalism has come to a society of intimately connected but physically scattered nomads, who all know and are related to each other. These are what the Russians used to call the small peoples, numbering only in the tens of thousands, spread over great areas, who would in normal times gather only for special seasonal festivities. Although the Golokpa people have a reputation as fierce warriors, they are intensely loyal to their clans and have deep reverence for the lamas who must sometimes intervene in quarrels between clans over pasture rights. This combination of community solidarity and extensive, outspread mobility is now transformed, not by communism and the reach of state power, but by frontier capitalism. It is the women who lose out, Emilia Sulek says. The men make and keep the money, race around on motorbikes, get drunk, are seldom home except in the yartsa season. Otherwise, they do nothing. The women receive little, but their customary skills of cheese making, spinning, tent weaving, calf rearing and ethnoveterinary knowledge are now redundant, with little new purpose or opportunity outside the house. But they must still milk the animals, raise the children, churn the butter, and cook meals for the entire “family” gathered to obsessively weed the fragile fungus out of the grass.

This debauch can go on forever, the nomads believe. Why not? It was back in the 1980s that the newly rich of China discovered traditional medicines that had once been available only to the emperor and his court. Now the secret of their longevity and potency could be had by all who could pay.

To those who protest that all the digging degrades the grasslands the nomads scoff, saying the thousands of holes in every pasture are small, and insignificant. Only when things get right out of hand does the state step in, as when the nomads of Nangchen county, a poorer area, took their feuding with Yushu to a point where the army had to come in and impose order. Otherwise, everything is negotiable. Even the nomad who greedily added 360 diggers to his family, and had his land confiscated, can wait till the dust settles and renegotiate its return. The regulatory regime ensures it is the landholders who get paid, not the local government as before. All is well, rent seeking opportunities stretch endlessly, demand for yartsa is unending. Attempts at synthesizing its active ingredients in the laboratory have not so far succeeded. It is all good.


What few nomads see coming is the inception of state power, in its most disciplinary form, into even these remote grasslands. China’s policy, since 2003, is that nomads in the area designated as “China’s Number One Water Tower”, in the headwaters of both the Yangtze and Yellow River catchments, must vacate their pasturelands to revegetate degrading areas and thus protect China’s watersheds. This policy, called tuimu huancao, removing animals to grow more grass, is increasingly removing entire nomadic populations to new concrete barracks, often far from ancestral pastures, with nomads often required to sell all their animals. In many cases, the newly settled nomads must sign contracts that threaten to expel them from their new housing if they keep any livestock, and their land use certificates are cancelled, leaving them without assets, security, or livelihoods. This resettlement, or “ecological migration” as it is officially called, is accelerating, even if the nomads used to being in control do not lose agency overnight. Sometimes nomads manage to get back to their land, to keep a few animals, to pay off a few officials to look the other way, to parcel out their herd to those who are yet to be removed.

So the yartsa lords of Golok, as recently as 2010, see no danger to their opulent indolence. The good times continue to roll, the yartsa continue to erect their phallic fruit. Chinese policies on resettlement are distant, incomprehensible and meaningless. Their accelerated entry into modernity has taught them that eveything has a price, everything is negotiable, so if the government comes, it too can be bought.
They may be right, but if directives come from the distant central leaders in Beijing, everything could change. He 2010 Yushu earthquake has become an opportunity for massive central intervention to rebuild Yushu town with all the characteristics of Chinese modernity, sweeping aside Tibetan lanes and shrines, earthquake friendly mud walled courtyard houses and temples, for straight boulevards and concrete structures that seemed so modern and in a moment became the tombs of thousands. In dramatically expanding Yushu town size, nomadic land is being lost, and nomad resettlement is  intensifying.


How much longer will the yartsa millionaires of Golok be able to extract rent from diggers? When will their exclusive right to land be nullified at a stroke, and enforced by a party state determined to impose its will on nature and on unruly nomads? When will the diggers become the possessors of the grasslands, once the present owners are removed? When will the Peoples Armed Police run national writ through the yartsa grasslands, emptying the land of Tibetans, only to open it to the diggers, while proclaiming eveything is now protected and is under treatment to rehabilitate degradation? In Golok Prefecture there are already many resettlement areas where nomads are gone, the countryside depopulated, open to whoever can pay off local officials anew, to enter, for gold mining, or yartsa digging.
When will the power of Beijing manifest in this obscure district? It is entirely possible that the publication of this article could reveal the embarrassing absence of the state and inadvertently trigger China’s civilising mission, in full force. Sometimes it doesn’t take much for the disciplinary state to instantiate itself in the areas it had been most indifferent to. The elusively liminal suddenly are made marginal.

If the new rich of Golok find they are required to leave their land, publicly declared to be voluntary ecological migrants, they will find their failure to save, during the boom years, especially painful. If, like so many already, they find themselves fringe dwellers of modernity, in a concrete ghetto with few services, no vocational training, no more capital, no prospects, unable to go back or go forward, they will regret their free spending days which seemed to never end.

Or they may be lucky, able to sell not only their animals but also their glass fronted new houses, and buy in town, perhaps living with or near their grown up children who have already taken up urban life. But transferring their legal status from rural to urban may continue to be hard, heir urban existence not fully legal, the threat of removal always possible. The great transformation, as Karl Polanyi suggested, from use to exchange economy, from subsistence and barter to an entirely monetised, urban, commercial economy has already happened, in a few years. From what Marx called the primitive communism of the pastoralists to the full throttle capitalism of yartsa land rent farming, happened so fast. It could all be lost just as fast, if China decides, at national level, that it is all rather unseemly, uncivilised and has no role for the state except as protector of the most local of interests.

The role of state disciplinary power has actually shrunk, even in the first decade of the 21st century, on the yartsa pasture lands. Until 2002, the regulatory regime banned outsiders altogether, and the revenue from the limited permits that were issued was collected not by the nomad land owners but by the local government, and its herders’ association, to be spent on civic improvements such as roads, bridges, power lines or on fencing allocated pastures, or housing for the poor. It was the nomads, who gained nothing from the permit regime, who swept this aside in their rush to riches behind the protective barrier of the new rule allowing only diggers with family ties to land owners to gain access. The nomads captured the state, in order to capture easy rents.
One might speculate that the  fortunes being made, both by diggers and dealers, both Tibetans and Chinese, as well as Chinese Muslims, are so great, the state has decided it is best to discreetly step aside and let the market rip. This is certainly what happens elsewhere in China where entrepreneurs have energetically seized the initiative and the state is satisfied with accepting a cut, at each stage of the commodity chain, for granting permissions, providing finance, or looking the other way. Why would the state seek to extend its reach when wealth is accumulating, fulfilling the promise of the past three decades of reform? If the yartsa trade were to be regulated, or restricted in the interests of long term sustainability, the state would find itself opposed not only by Tibetan pasture land owners but by powerful Chinese vested interests, in the cities as well as in remote TCM market towns.

This may be another example of “when the farmers changed China”, with authority acquiescing in what was already a fait accompli effected by the energetic yartsa trade.[1] If government has yielded to the market, even to the extent of foregoing tax revenue that would be collectable in a regulated yartsa traffic, it has yielded gracefully. In TAR, according to the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Centre, the same exclusive digging rights for landholders is actually a deliberate strategy for improving rural incomes and achieving an orderly market. “As Chinese Caterpillar Fungus, with its soaring prices, has become an important source of income for farmers and herdsmen, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region soon promulgated regulations that grant the right to pick Chinese caterpillar Fungus to local farmers and herdsmen. The regulation not only protected the resource and immediate interests of farmers and herdsmen, but also ensured that the Fungus was picked in an orderly manner.”[2]

In reality, this ensures disorderly, rapacious rentseeking and fortune hunting, but on paper all seems well. Maybe this will suffice in future; it would not be the first time local Tibetan communities have tamed the state and enlisted it to enforce local interests.


But the fast fortune era could come to an end, for many possible reasons. China might decide the wild west yartsa boom is an embarrassment. It might decide that the resource is being over-exploited and the millions of small holes dug in the turf to extract the fungus –which is up to five inches long- threaten pasture sustainability, especially in areas where safguarding China’s water catchments is top policy priority.

If, in the current phase of recentralisation of Beijing’s power, there is a move to directly control the yartsa trade, it could not only remove the exclusive access rights for Tibetan landholders but go further, and remove the Tibetan landholders altogether. This is exactly what is happening, on an increasing scale, in many areas, all part of established policies such as tuimu huancao, closing pasture to grow grassland wilderness.

The fortune hunting of the nomads of Golok and other yartsa-rich areas could come to a sudden end. Excluding nomads, requiring them to become “ecological migrants” sacrificing their lands and herds for the national good, would not mean the end of the yartsa trade. The booming demand could be filled by others. There are now many Chinese experienced in yartsa digging on nomad land, who, year after year, have presented themselves as relatives of local nomad families, paid their rent and recouped it by assiduously digging.

If China decided to assert greater authority over these remote areas and resettle the nomads, it would be all too easy to do so in the name of biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, rational land use management, orderly marketing, rangeland rehabilitation and scientific development. The nomads who captured the state, at a local level, in order to capture rent, may come to regret spending their fortunes on cars, motorbikes, alcohol and multiple houses to accommodate their huge number of relatives who come visiting in the yartsa month. They could lose everything, as have nomads in nearby areas, as shengtai yimin, ecological migration, becomes compulsory for more and more nomads.

If railways are built right through the best yartsa lands, as would be the case with a rail line connecting Chengdu in Sichuan to Gormo in Qinghai (and on to Korla in Xinjiang), it would not be hard to find occupants for the flashy new houses built by nomads for lowland Chinese who are already registered as “relatives” of the nomads. The yartsa industry could undergo a phase of consolidation, even vertical integration, as lowland distributors and marketers seek to add value by taking over the first stages of the trade, the actual digging out of erect funguses from the earth of eastern Tibet. This is often what happens in the business cycle, and in China it is often encouraged by the state, keen to see a few big players emerge rather than a chaotic jumble of small and poorly regulated producers.

There was a time, until very recently, when nomads were indispensable, since they alone knew how and where and when to find the yartsa and gently prise it intact from the grassland. Now the nomads have made themselves redundant. A vertically integrated yartsa trade, part of the global TCM industry, dominated by a few big companies, would be obliged to pay taxes and the gifts, favours and banquets required of them by the party-state. The yartsa trade would pay its rent, not to Tibetan landholders but to central leaders.

Like gold, yartsa is by weight extraordinarily valuable and, like gold, easy to transport. A railway is not required. But regular access by rail to the high pastures would make it much easier to cut out intermediaries, enabling city-based yartsa marketers to extend control up the commodity chain. Rail access could make a much bigger difference to the Tibetan mushroom trade, since the forest mushrooms valued by rich Chinese and Japanese gourmets do lose quality after being picked, and speeding product to market makes for a big difference in price.
Now the state may strike back, alarmed at the thought it has yielded control, determined to impose once more its mission to raise the low human quality of the nomads, removing them, to grow more grass.
[1] Kate Xiao Zhou, How the Farmers Changed China: Power of the People,  Westview Press, 1996
[2]  China Tibetology Research Centre, Report on the Economic and Social Development of Tibet, Foreign Languages Press, 2009, 69
Emilia Sulek’s research can be found in CONTEMPORARY VISIONS IN TIBETAN STUDIES: Proceedings of the First International Seminar of Young Tibetologists, Edited by Brandon Dotson, Kalsang Norbu Gurung, Georgios Halkias and Tim Myatt, Serindia, 2009

Copper and gold mining in Tibet


[A shorter version of this detailed analysis was published by China Dialogue on 5 September 2011]

Gold and copper are at the heart of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Tibet. Only tourism has a similar wealth-creating potential. Like tourism, intensive exploitation of Tibet’s mineral wealth has been named repeatedly in successive Five-Year Plans. Official media routinely announce stupendous mineral finds in Tibet, making it seem as if deposits –proven or not- are already mines. Likewise, ambitious targets for tourism have been announced in previous Five-Year Plans, only to be swept aside in further political crackdowns that make it almost impossible for any relaxed, authentic encounter between Tibetans and visitors.

Although many Tibetans believe Tibet’s patrimony of natural resources has long been raped, one could argue that what is striking is not how much Tibetan resources are mined, but how little. For all the boasts of Tibetan riches in Chinese hands, in Tibet Autonomous Region, in 2011, chromite mining is in steady decline, even though China has no other domestic source for a metal essential to the manufacture of stainless steel; and copper mining has barely begun. Only gold is mined intensively, in many locations, usually illegally, in defiance of official policy that encourages large scale mining and outlaws small scale operators.

This may soon change, as a decade of xibu da kaifa –opening up the great west- at last emplaces sufficient infrastructure –railways, highways, power stations, urban centres- to make profitable mining feasible and even attractive compared to the usual alternative of importing ores and concentrates from overseas. Both copper and gold prices have risen steadily to record highs, at a time when China’s demand is at an all-time high, the global price rise being the result. There is little reason to think the prices of either will fall significantly any time soon, providing strong incentives for extraction from Tibet.

China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Tibet centres on copper and gold, with not only dramatic intensification of extraction but also a state-driven agglomeration of the entire Chinese copper industry, in order to create copper giants sufficiently capitalised to finance major expansions in Tibet.

On the basis of latest available data from the US Geological Service and and and also the International Copper Study Group it is possible to situate China’s Five-Year Plan for Tibetan copper in a global context, since China is simultaneously reducing the diversity of its copper industry, bulking up a few national champions to be big enough to compete on a world scale.

China’s copper industry is growing fast, in 2009 alone, copper consumption rose by 38 per cent, and China is by a long way the world’s biggest smelter of copper and consumer of copper. However, it is far from being the world’s biggest miner, and relies instead on importing copper ore concentrates, finished smelted copper metal, and recycled copper scrap. China’s demand, which dipped only briefly during the global financial crisis, is the long term driver of global prices, and there is little sign prices will come down in the foreseeable future, hence China has strong incentives to increase copper mining, and reduce reliance on expensive imports. The consistently high price of copper changes the economics of mining, processing and smelting, making marginally profitable mines highly profitable.


In 2009 China’s copper industry was dominated by 15 companies which each have smelting capacity of at least 100,000 tons of copper metal a year. In the 12th Five-Year Plan, if central leaders succeed in overriding provincial bosses protecting their provincial champions, the top 15 companies will, by command, be reduced to only three or four big players, all state owned. At present the biggest companies are Jiangxi Copper, with capacity to smelt 900,000 tons of copper a year, at Guixi in his home province of Jiangxi. Second is Tongling Nonferrous, with a total of 770,000 tons smelting capacity annually, in three smelters in Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. These are the two giants.

Not so far behind is the only significant smelter in inland China, anywhere even remotely near Tibet: Jinchuan Nonferrous, in Gansu, with a smelting capacity of 400,000 tons, owner of the Shetongmon copper mine near Shigatse in Tibet. Yanggu Xiangguang, in Shandong province, has a similar smelting capacity; and there are several other smaller smelters in Shandong. If, as planned, smaller smelters are required to merge, all the Shandong smelters grouped together would have a capacity of 900,000 tons a year.

In size, fifth ranked is Chinalco Yunnan, in a province adjacent to eastern Tibet which has a long history as China’s oldest source of copper, with current smelting capacity of 250,000 tons a year. Chinalco has been especially active globally, and is the biggest shareholder in a global giant, Riotinto. In 2008-9, in the most critical phase of the global financial crisis, Riotinto proposed a takeover by Chinalco, as the only way to relieve it of its heavy indebtedness after expensively buying a Canadian competitor. When the crisis eased, Riotinto backed away, to China’s evident annoyance. The sixth biggest Chinese copper maker is Daye Nonferrous based in Hubei province, smelting capacity 200,000 tons a year.

Which of these six top Chinese copper manufacturers will emerge as China’s favoured national champions? There is no certainty that the 12th Five-Year Plan target will be attained, since they are powerful and have strong backing at provincial level to retain their identities. But the push to consolidate the copper industry and scale up production is being driven from above, and may prevail. Which companies come to dominate, how big they are, what capital is available to them to invest in production in Tibet, whether they prefer to invest internationally or in Tibet, will all shape the decisions to be made. Most of these companies already have a global presence, and will have to choose where their investment capital is best deployed: in buying deposits around the world, mining them, concentrating and perhaps smelting the ores internationally, then shipping to China; or whether profitable returns are better achieved by investing in Tibetan mines.


These big state owned enterprises never publicly contradict official policy, but they can be adept at not implementing it, even when they are supposed to follow the Five-Year Plan. The stubborn refusal of China’s steel corporations to unite as a cartel is an example. The managers of such large corporations cannot simply be ordered to invest in Tibet, if the returns from investing worldwide are quicker and bigger. Jiangxi Copper is determined to stay number one, announcing in February 2011 plans to increase production from the current 900,000 tons to 1.5 million tons by 2015. (Jiangxi Copper’s cathode output to top 1 mln tons in 2011, 14 February 2011, China Knowledge Press)

All of China’s copper companies are making extraordinary profits, due to the rise in world prices, with Chinalco benefiting further from its significant equity stake in the global miner Riotinto. Increasingly, China’s big companies, even when state-owned, make investment decisions on a commercial basis, calculating the comparative rate of return on capital of investing in Tibet as against Africa or Latin America or elsewhere. In recent years, it has usually been cheaper and easier to invest in an African project, or in the Americas, often with an experienced partner familiar with dealing with the logistic and political problems of operating in remote third world areas. Tibet, by comparison, represents massive upfront costs, to be expended many years in advance, before production starts and profits are earned.

Although China’s national government invests hugely to put in place the basic infrastructure needed to attract commercial investors, the barriers and risks remain daunting. From a conventional Chinese perspective, Tibet is very cold, the people are unwelcoming, the air is perilously thin, there are very few amusements and distractions, and very few of the local population are employable. Since 2008, despite the consequences, Tibetans have frequently protested at mining and made it clear they see mining as theft. From the viewpoint of senior mining executives, a posting, even in a remote part of Africa, routinely offers flights home to China, often with stopovers in major shopping centres such as Dubai or Bangkok en route.

Tibet is for all these reasons not an attractive choice, and the numbers resulting from a comparative cost/benefit analysis, as well as a risk analysis usually tip the balance in favour of abroad, even if Chinese companies feel they have to not only source their raw materials internationally but also buy the ore deposit and even build the railway to get ores to port.

A major consideration is scale. China wants its copper mining companies to operate globally, which means the cost per ton of ore extracted has to be competitive with the cheapest –usually the biggest- mines worldwide. The biggest copper mine in the world is BHP Billiton’s Escondida mine in Chile, able to extract 1.3 million tons of copper content a year, which means digging up, crushing to powder, chemically cooking and smelting over 100 times that amount of rock, since even the richest copper deposit in the world contains less than one per cent actual copper. Of the 20 biggest copper mines worldwide, the smallest is La Caridad in Mexico, with an annual capacity of 195,000 tons of copper a year.
In addition, new mines are fast coming on stream, some close to China, in Kazakhstan and Mongolia; and existing mines are being scaled up. One example is the Oyu Tolgoi deposit in Mongolia has an orebody that is over 3000 million tons, containing on average 0.67% copper and also 0.24% gold. That’s a massive orebody, with grades of both copper and gold that are highly competitive with the most profitable mines worldwide, and it is due to start production within the 12th Five-Year Plan period. Oyu Tolgoi sets the benchmark for its competitors, including the major copper & gold deposits in Tibet, at Shetongmon near Shigatse, at Gyama, upstream of Lhasa, and at Yulong, near Jomda and Chamdo, all locations being in Tibet Autonomous Region.

All three Tibetan mines are already in production on, by world standards, a modest scale (Yulong and Gyama) or soon to begin production, at Shetongmon. Yet ownership of all three has changed hands with remarkable frequency, not unusual in a global mining industry where deals are common, and small miners sell out to big miners who alone have the capital to turn a proven deposit into an actual extraction and processing zone. But the frequent changes of ownership of these Tibetan deposits also suggests that the long succession of state-owned owners are not keen to put in real money, and instead show Beijing they are willing to comply with Five-Year Plan targets, but actually do little, since other alternatives beckon. Having held a Tibetan deposit for a few years, they then sell to another minerals SOE, which is also unenthusiastic about scaling up to a major mine. Thus several Five-Year Plans have rolled by, each announcing a major emphasis on mining of copper in Tibet, as a “pillar industry” that will hold up the rest of the Tibetan economy, and generate economic take-off. Will the 12th Five-Year Plan, for 2011-205 be any different?

The actual targets are ambitious. “China will push for further consolidation in its copper manufacturing sector, aiming to create three to four big producers during the 12th five-year plan period from 2011 to 2015, a senior official at the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association said. The country wants to achieve 30% self-sufficiency in copper production by the end of the 12th plan period and build new processing and recycling plants in the central and western provinces, said Duan Shaofu, head of the copper department at the Association.

“Speaking at China International Copper Conference 2010, Duan said the primary objective of the move will be to increase China’s competitiveness and pricing power in the global commodities market. To increase production, Beijing will encourage miners to step up mineral exploration in the southwest, northeast and Tibet. China wants to develop new mines in Yunnan, Tibet, Jiangxi and Qinghai, said Duan. Local governments have been rationing power to metals producers in response to Beijing’s call to conserve energy and reduce emissions. China has phased out 400,000 tons of outdated copper smelting capacity during the 2006-10 11th five-year plan period, Duan said.” (China to Consolidate Copper Production, Raise Capacity – Exec; Dow Jones Chinese Financial Wire, 2 November 2010)

The key target is 30 per cent self-sufficiency by 2015. In 2009 China produced 4.1 million tons of copper but mined only 1 million tons, a self-sufficiency of around 25 per cent. 2010 production grew, to But by 2015, China’s copper smelters expect to produce at least 7 million tons of copper, so if 30 per cent of this is sourced domestically, copper mine production must quickly double, from 1 million tons in 2009 (USGS figure) to 2.1 million tons by 2015.
“Copper smelting capacity will reach seven to 7.5 million tons by 2015, said Zhao Bo, deputy director of the CNMIA’s (China Nonferrous Metals industry Association) copper department. ‘The [central] government’s continuing investments in the domestic electricity, home appliance, transportation and information (which includes computer programming and telecommunications) industries will ensure China’s copper demand remains strong throughout the period of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan [2011-2015],” Zhao said. (China’s refined copper demand to reach 8 mln tons by 2015, China Mining and Metals Newswire, November 18, 2010)

Is it possible that China can double its copper mining output in six years? Where will the copper come from? The 12th Five-Year Plan identifies the location of new mines in four provinces, three of which are Tibetan in their copper deposit locations: Tibet Autonomous region, Qinghai and Yunnan. The only other province named is Jiangxi, a traditional copper production base far from Tibet. The copper mines in Jiangxi are already the largest in China.

How likely is it that Tibetan areas, not only Shetongmon (Xietongmen in Chinese), Gyama (Jiama in Chinese) and Yulong, but also copper deposits in Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Yunnan, will so quickly be producing up to one million tons of copper metal a year? The best known, yet-to-be-exploited copper deposit in Tibetan portions of Yunnan are Pulang/ Xuejiping, which is also rich in gold and silver, ; with other copper deposits in Yunnan beyond the Tibetan Plateau. It is in Qinghai (Amdo in Tibetan) that there is considerable potential for intensified copper mining, at Ridanguo and at Saishitang, where there is a well-established mine that has been producing for some years. Little information is available about the size and richness of Ridanguo, but it is not far from the Yulong cluster of mines near Jomda in TAR, giving it a route to market.

Saishitang is in Golok prefecture, about 400 kms from Xining, the industrial capital of Qinghai. It is a deposit of 50 million tons, with remarkably high concentrations of copper, at 1.13 per cent of the ore, and of gold, 0.48%. In 2008 copper mining in Qinghai produced 22,700 tons of copper. (Qinghai Statistical Yearbook 2009, table 12-20) Golok is remote, with very limited employment opportunities for Chinese immigrants, making the Saishitang mine particularly significant.

China’s fast growth continues, largely financed by state investment and, until very recently, cheap finance from the state-owned banks. Fast growth and massive infrastructure construction mean heavy usage of metals, energy and raw materials. Although the last Five-Year Plan and the new 12th plan for 2011-2015 talk about balancing environmental protection and social needs as well as the fastest possible growth rate, nothing so far has slowed China’s accelerating consumption of global resources.

In order to access natural resources in insufficient supply within China, the new national champions –the state-owned minerals giants- now reach out globally, doing deals in remote areas of Africa and the Americas to extract what Chinese industry needs. As a consequence, the world has now experienced almost a decade of record commodity prices, pushed up for everyone by Chinese demand.

Few in China see anything problematic about this, arguing that China is simply catching up, regaining its place in the world, and, on a per person basis is still far behind the richest countries. That may not, however, be true for much longer. Take copper, for example. Not only is China by far the world’s biggest producer of copper metal, consumption per person is already higher than in Canada, France or Russia and will soon overtake Australia, the European Union and Japan. This is not surprising, when one looks at where copper is used. By the end of this decade, China’s auto sales could reach as high as 60 million-70 million vehicles a year, China Daily reported, citing Liu Shijin, deputy director of the Development Research Center of the State Council.

In 2010 China made 14 million cars ( and the whole world made 58 million. China, already the biggest car maker in the world, has very ambitious growth targets, despite the talk of balanced development.

Where will the copper come from, for all those cars, and the cables transmitting ultra high voltage electricity across China from Tibetan rivers to the smelters and factories?

And then there is gold, a metal often found in the same ore deposits as copper, with an allure in a class of its own. Because gold is hard to find, never occurs abundantly, holds its value, and is yet again at a record price, it has many uses beyond industrial necessity. As a store of value, many Chinese investors believe it will always rise faster than bank deposits, fickle stock exchanges, and may even be a better bet than speculating on real estate bubbles. As a result, to much surprise, China has emerged as the world’s second biggest consumer of gold too, surpassed only by India, where gold jewellery has long been culturally embedded. The World Gold Council confidently expects gold consumption in China will double in a decade, if not sooner.

Both copper and gold are booming, new mines are coming on stream around the world, as prices dipped only briefly during major financial crises, and then rose to even greater heights. This has not been a problem for China’s metals manufacturers, which have ridden the boom. The coastal location of most smelters, and their manufacturing customers has helped, giving them ready access to global supplies.

All this is now changing. Demand continues to rise, not only globally but as wages of coastal factory workers begin at last to rise, increasing numbers of domestic consumers can afford to buy what they make. Manufacturing is moving inland, encouraged by central plan policies for softening the extreme inequality between east and west, coast and inland. In western China, in the Chongqing-Chengdu area, a new industrial hub and a new capital of the whole of the west is fast emerging. Chongqing, directly under the patronage of Beijing, has gown especially fast, even by Chinese standards, readying itself to export to the world via the Yangtze and the promise of the Three Gorges Dam to make it possible for big ships to navigate far inland. It is as if the coast of China now extends 2000 kms inland.
But where will the Volvo cars made in Chongqing, the Ford cars made in Chengdu, the Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Asustek, Dell, Apple iPad and Lenovo computer factories in these two cities, get all the copper and gold they will need?
The solution, if we are to believe the central planners, has been anticipated and integrated into the plan; tapping into sources of copper and gold more remote than China’s current mines in Zambia, Peru, Mongolia, Laos, Congo and Kazakhstan. The answer to China’s accelerating demand for copper and gold is the Tibetan Plateau.

Gold and copper are found in many places in Tibet, often where India collided with Eurasia, the enormous pressure melting the rock which separated into elemental concentrations as it slowly cooled.

China has long known of the mineral wealth of the Tibetan Plateau but until now it has been easier and cheaper to buy minerals overseas. Tibet has been too far, too cold, the air too thin, the local labour force uninvolved, the infrastructure absent. Small-scale extraction of surface gold from riverbeds has been frequent, and environmentally destructive, with much use of dredges, cyanide and mercury that kill aquatic life and poison streams; but large scale exploitation is new. Publicly, small-scale mining is now banned, but in practice it persists, especially in districts where there are no longer Tibetan on their lands to protect it, having been removed in the name of watershed protection.

Now a new era is under way. The state has paid for the necessary infrastructure of roads, railways, power stations and urban facilities. State geological exploration teams have spent decades mapping known deposits, preparing sites for fullscale extraction. Chinese mining companies now have every reason to ensure that Tibet will soon supply the car and computer factories of Chongqing and Chengdu with copper, gold and other metals as well. Tibet Autonomous Region Chairman Pema Choling (Baima Chilin), reporting on the achievements of 2010, said: “With the focus on opening up to the country’s hinterland region, we have actively merged with the Chengdu-Chongqing economic sphere.”

The biggest copper and gold mines are, from west to east, Shetongmon, Gyama and Yulong districts, in which there may be many deposits, many mines, ore crushers, chemical concentrators and smelters. World-scale industrial mining has arrived. All have silver, lead and zinc as well as copper and gold, although the lead and zinc will go to waste, with no attempt at recovery, with only the copper, gold and silver poured off separately while molten. All are in the watersheds of major rivers for hundreds of millions of people downstream, who live on international transboundary rivers that originate in Tibet.

Shetongmon (Xietongmen) was the first major project to attract publicity, partly because its sensitive location is so close to the major river of southern Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra; partly because it was for some time owned by Canadian investors; and also because it is close to the second city of Tibet, Shigatse, the historic seat of the Panchen Lamas. The proximity to a major river raises major environmental concerns, since steep site will have to securely hold at least 75 out of every 100 tons of rock mined and crushed to powder to extract a concentrate that can be sent by rail to a distant smelter. According to recent baseline research by Tibetan scientists, there is already a natural heavy metal load in the river; any leakage from the hillside dam waste tailings could be disastrous. Not only would downstream India and Bangladesh be affected; if the planned water diversion of Tibetan rivers to the Yellow River (Huang He) includes capturing the Yarlung Tsangpo, downstream China’s water purity would be threatened too. By the time the rail line to nearby Shigatse is completed in 2014, the mine, owned by Jinchuan, China’s biggest nickel producer, will be operational.

When Jinchuan, China’s biggest nickel producer, and owner of the Shetongmon copper mine in Tibet, acquired a Congolese copper mine, Metorex, the company said it is determined to buy more African mines. According to the Financial Times “Zhang Sanlin, Jinchuan’s vice-president, said: ‘Africa is a key focus for our company. We have and will be looking to develop assets there in copper, cobalt and nickel’.”

Gyama (Jiama) is already operational, and already a threat to the purity of the water in Tibet’s most sacred city, Lhasa. Gyama, controlled by Vancouver-based China Gold International is not far upstream of Lhasa, in an area of great historic significance. Like most of Tibet, the area is seismically unstable, vulnerable to earthquakes. The mine is close to the route of a new rail line to be built, at state expense, from Lhasa to Nyingtri (Nyingchi). In 2010 in the academic journal Science of the Total Environment, a team of Tibetan and Scandinavian scientists, after analysing river water below the Gyama mine, reported that “elevated concentrations of Cu, Pb, Zn, Mn, Fe and Al in the surface water and streambed at the upper/middle part of the valley pose a considerably high risk to the local environment. A high content of heavy metals in the stream sediments as well as in a number of tailings with gangue and material from the ore processing, poses a great potential threat to the downstream water users. Environmental changes such as global warming or increased mining activity may increase the mobility of these pools of heavy metals.”

Tibetans living near the mine have protested, according to Tibetan Review: “Tibetans petitioned a group of visiting Tibet Autonomous Region officials and demanded the complete withdrawal of the miners. And the miners were indeed removed from the area on the following day. However, the local residents were then visited by a work team which warned the Tibetans against opposing the mine. They were told that they would be charged with engaging in political activities if they continued their protest. But because of the seriousness of the mine’s harmful effects, the local residents have now petitioned the Chinese authorities, the report said. The mining operation was reported to have led to the drying of spring waters, poisoning of drinking water and destruction of flora and fauna in the region. More than 1,000 domestic animals were reported to have died after mine poisoned water.” The Gyama mine, now with access via Canada to international investors, plans to expand to dig up and crush to powder 12,000 tons of rock a day for 31 years, with 99 per cent of crushed rock left forever on site after the most valuable minerals have been extracted. This is a highly profitable operation, competitive with copper mines around the world, with mining costs of only 200 yuan, less than US$30, per ton, according to a detailed technical report by commercial geologists.

This is the first highly profitable project in Tibet, both for the mining company, which will have sales of 45.6 billion yuan over the mine’s life, and for China, which will earn 4.9 billion yuan in revenue from VAT sales tax, resource tax and corporation income tax. Those figures, from the 2010 technical report, are based on copper and gold prices lower than actual current prices. If mid-2011 prices are used, profit will be a lot higher.

Of particular concern for human health, especially the growing brains of the children of Lhasa, is the lead content of the Gyama deposit. Only in the first two years of operation is it commercially profitable to extract the lead, and even then at least 20 per cent of the lead in the ore will not be recovered, and will lie forever in powdery mud, in the mine’s waste dumps. On average, of every ton mined and crushed to powder, there is a half kilo of lead.

The Gyama mine has already operated for many years on a smaller scale, under various owners, which lacked capital for best practice health and safety practices. The Gyama deposit contains less than one million tons of copper metal, but nearby, also upriver from Lhasa, is Chulong, a much bigger copper deposit (seven million tons) and commercially attractive molybdenum metal as well. Chulong, only 50kms east of Lhasa, is in a mountain chain that drains northwards to the great Ganden monastery and Lhasa; and southwards to Samye, location of the first Buddhist monastery built in Tibet, over 12 centuries ago, and thus deeply venerated. Heavy metals from Chulong escaping to air and water would be an even greater threat to all these places in one of the most densely populated parts of Tibet.

Yulong is one of a cluster of copper and gold deposits in eastern Tibet, in a remote and rugged area between the watersheds of the Yangtze and Mekong rivers. Electricity sufficient to power a smelter will be supplied by hydropower dams on these great rivers and their major tributaries, massive interruptions to wild mountain rivers.

These mines are planned to add hundreds of thousands of tons of copper each year to China’s supply, which is both a lot and not much. For Tibet it is a lot, nothing less than the integration into the Chinese industrial economy of a huge area which right up until now has not been much industrialised at all, and which increasingly appeals to urban Chinese because of its beauty. It is a lot, in Tibetan eyes, since Tibetans, even after the mines are exhausted and closed, will have to bear the environmental costs, but are not permitted to establish NGOs to give voice to environmental concerns. Nor do Tibetan communities receive royalties.

Yet these mines cannot do much to reduce China’s reliance on global sources for raw materials. The world’s factory is thoroughly integrated into the global economy, both for sourcing raw inputs, and for selling the finished manufactures to the world. If China’s copper and gold consumption continue to rise as predicted, the new mines in Tibet will fall far short of domestic self-reliance. Even if the new mines meet production targets, despite several recent delays, China’s imports of copper and gold will continue to rise.

China’s copper smelting capacity is just over four million tons a year, with a further 600,000 tons due to begin production soon, but China’s copper consumption is now seven million tons a year, so imports will continue. China’s smelters are used to relying on imported copper scrap and concentrates, as well as domestic sources.

Although Chinese state owned mining companies are now adept at operating globally, and at raising capital by listing shares bought by investors in IPO floats in Hong Kong and Shanghai, they are also good at drumming up resource nationalism. The reality is that the Tibetan deposits being turned into mines are far from being on a world scale. Mining them will be profitable, because the state pays all the costs of bringing rail lines close, constructing the hydro dams and power pylons that electrify the energy-intensive processes of crushing rock to powder, chemical concentration and smelting. Without such heavy state investment in infrastructure it would still be cheaper to import, as it has been for many years.

The biggest copper deposits globally hold over 100 million tons of actual copper metal each; while Gyama holds less than one million tons of actual copper; and the biggest deposit in Tibet (and therefore in China) holds at most five million tons. Anywhere else in the world, such a mine would be a marginal proposition.
These deposits are currently the biggest in China, a fact strongly emphasised by their corporate owners, keen to elicit state infrastructure subsidies for domestic Chinese resource nationalism.

While patriotic Chinese netizens might presume it is better to source copper from Tibet than Peru or Zambia, China’s export driven wealth creation also depends on importing raw materials cheaply, in a global competition. China’s mining companies, whether state-owned or not, choose where to invest on commercial grounds, choosing the biggest and fastest rate of return. On such criteria, the new mines and smelters in Tibet struggle to make a good case for investment. Despite being massive compared to mining in Tibet until now, they are still too small, and too far from market to compete against low cost copper mines elsewhere.

The 20 biggest copper mines in the world each have, on average, a capacity to produce 345,000 tons of copper a year, and none produce less than 200,000 tons. That is the global benchmark, if the playing field is level, with no hidden subsidies. By comparison, the first big copper mine in Tibet, at Gyama, will produce 25,000 tons of copper a year, a bit more in some years. Yulong is a bigger deposit, capable of sustaining a more intensive rate of extraction. The mine currently produces 10,000 tons of copper a year, due to rise in coming years to 20,000 tons smelted at Yulong and a further 20,000 tons smelted elsewhere from Yulong concentrates. After 2015, extraction from Yulong might eventually achieve 100,000 tons of copper metal a year, according to official announcements. While bigger than Gyama, Yulong has been slow to get going, having been announced in one Five-year Plan after another as a “pillar industry” of Tibet, yet still on a smaller scale than a world-class copper mine. This is not surprising, since Yulong, though frequently announced as the biggest copper deposit in China, actually has a proven reserve of 6.5 million tons which, with more drilling, might perhaps double.

Why are these mines going ahead, if they cannot be justified on market economy grounds? Commercial considerations are only part of the picture. The mining companies benefit from state financing of railways, power stations and much other infrastructure, as well as receiving finance at concessional rates to corporate borrowers, tax holidays, minimal environmental standards and costs, no royalty payments to local communities and subsidised rail freight rates to get concentrates to smelters or metal to markets. It is these state subsidies that tip the balance towards medium-scale mines in several Tibetan locations, rather than one more big Chinese copper mine overseas.

Chinese mining companies would seldom invest abroad in copper deposits of only a few million tons, especially if bigger deposits are on the market. Logistically, Tibet has always been more remote than the mountains of Laos or Peru, where Chinese mining companies are currently extracting copper. The commodity chain infrastructure simply has not existed. Until now. It is China’s state-directed infrastructure investment that makes all the difference. The Shetongmon mine was originally scheduled to begin production in 2010, under Canadian owners, but the operational date has been put back to when a rail line connecting via Lhasa to inland Chinese smelters and markets can be completed. The same is true of the Gyama mine, which is on the route of another new rail line from Lhasa to Nyingtri in southern Tibet. And the Yulong mine has been slow to develop beyond a modest scale, while awaiting the completion, at state expense, of hydropower dams and a rail line, still some years away.

A further reason for delay is the difficulty, in steep terrain draining to both the Yangtze and Mekong, of guaranteeing no leakage of toxic metals to rivers. The owners of Yulong, in Jomda county, are Qinghai-based Western Mining and Zijin, China’s biggest gold producer. In early 2011 Zijin was found guilty of a toxic spill that poisoned fish and polluted the drinking water of tens of thousands of people. On 16 March 2011 Xinhua reported that “after a short period of trial operation, the Yulong project was suspended due to environmental issues. It is unclear when the project will be continued.” Shanghai Daily also reported that “China’s press watchdog has said Zijin had tried to bribe reporters to cover up the toxic spill. The company is also being sued by a city government in Guangdong Province for 19.5 million yuan over a fatal dam collapse at a tin mine there in September, which killed at least 22 people.”

When Zijin bought its Peruvian copper mine, it announced it would spend $80 million on helping local peasant communities with projects chosen by the communities. In Tibet, there is no such corporate social responsibility, nor do Chinese mining companies belong to industry bodies such as International Council on Mining and Minerals, which promote high standards of local community and indigenous involvement in how mining is done and who benefits. Although ICMM publishes Chinese language manuals on human rights in mining, no Chinese miner has joined. The biggest copper miner in the world, Codelco, joined ICMM in 2011, but Chinese miners, reflecting national policies on refusing international accountability, stays aloof, unaccountable, answerable only to the party-state.



Presented to Global Buddhist Congregation, Delhi, November 2011, convened by Asoka Mission

Gabriel Lafitte

[DISCLAIMER: This presentation makes a case for inner transformation as the foundation for effective action in the world to deal constructively with global challenges such as climate change. The author has not experienced the deep inner transformation which Buddhist practice enables; but has had the great fortune to be close to a community led by a Buddhist master, seeing many of his friends well on the way to deep transformation of their being. Please do not read into this case for Buddhist transformation of the self any suggestion that the author claims such experience.]

The scientists have failed to persuade us to act effectively to deal with not only the innumerable local crises of biodiversity loss, but also the planetary crisis of climate change. National politicians are bogged down in short term selfish considerations of competitive national interest. Popular opinion is in a state of denial, not wanting anything to change, insisting that others go first or nothing can be done. Rationality has failed us; urgency has failed us; emotional appeals to leave a livable world for our grandchildren have failed. If science and rationality, urgency and emotionality have all failed to move us, where can we find the basis of a constructive response?

In the face of such denial and inaction, the scientists and the climate change movement are responding with ever sharper rhetoric of crisis, danger, collapse even the prospect of planetary annihilation. They also turn to the new “science” of behavioural economics, to engineer behavioural change by attaching an emotion to doing the right thing. The turn to behavioural engineering is part of the tendency, in rich countries, to make environmentally responsible behaviour a largely individual personal choice, a lifestyle statement. That’s unlikely to achieve much.
Throughout the richest countries, selfishness, xenophobia, resistance to change, complacency and short-term greed are on the rise, with an implicit consensus that environmental action to save the planet is a luxury for some other time in the future. Let’s be moral, but now right now. The right time to establish a global cooperative regime to reverse climate change is never now. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Durban, on at the same time as this Global Buddhist Congregation, is likely to fail.

The response of the climate scientists is that what we need is that rationality should overcome emotionality. Not only is that utterly improbable, the false dichotomy between head and heart privileges the climate scientists as the priesthood of a new secular religion which claims absolute authority as the singularly qualified knowers of objective truth. That is reminiscent of the truth claims of the three Semitic religions in their authoritarian phases. The last thing we need is a new ideology, which privileges its insiders as the only ones with access to truth; relegating the rest of us as emotional fools.

The global negotiations are stuck in old dualisms, with little sign of a fresh approach. As Buddhists, what to do? Are there authentic Buddhist responses that offer useful, productive alternatives to this repetitive round of crisis and denial, urgency and indifference, doom and selfishness, blame and counter blame, fear and hope, hope and fear? As Buddhists we could simply take sides. That’s a habitual, ingrained response, but it leads only to blame and counterblame, not a common approach.

Or we can transcend dualism, as do many Buddhist masters marshalled to contribute to the 2009 book “The Climate Emergency: A Buddhist Response” (Wisdom Books). We can advocate global action to halt global warming, while taking care not to adopt the same rhetoric, the same discourse as the climate movement.

Maybe we feel more readily drawn to the individualistic turn that the climate debate is taking. Even if we can’t save the planet, we can live our own lives moderately and reduce our ecological footprint. This is worth doing. But it is hard to see much coming of it. The danger is that it contributes to the current mood, in rich countries, for some of the richest people to brand themselves supercool by making a public lifestyle statement through their consumer choices. They choose to live in an ecofriendly house that recycles water, is fitted with solar panels etc. They invest their savings in an ethical investment fund that pays poor people in poor countries to not cut down existing trees.

Such moves achieve little, and are full of hidden costs. Individuals drawn to declare their lives are carbon neutral seldom have much idea of the actual environmental cost of constructing that eco-friendly passive solar ultra hip new house. The example they set is not an option available to many people. It is more a way of differentiating themselves, and creating a desire in others to be more like them, a form of tribal identification. This too has a limited future; is still mired in envy, pride, hope and fear.

As Buddhists, we do say that each of us needs to change from within, as the basis of any social change, but that inner change need not be driven by emotions, especially tribal emotions of mass longings and mass repudiations. That is a classic Buddhist response and could be fruitful.

But the issue goes deeper. Basically, the whole debate has been conducted as a moral question. Should we put planet first or my nation, or my family first? As long as this is a debate about morals, we have already yielded ground; the debate is no longer grounded in the reality of each breath, which is beyond morality.

Morality is an insufficient argument for the changes needed, especially in the richest democracies, where politics is driven by short term populist fantasy that it will forever be true that nothing much need ever change, no sacrifices are necessary. Wishfully, many think that somehow science and technology will always rescue us, and those calling for us all to become more moral are an elite seeking to impose on the masses their elitist agenda. In public opinion polls, people always say they have moral principles, that they prefer free range eggs over factory hen eggs, and renewable energy over fossil fuels. But voters are also quick to believe they should be exempt from any collective effort to make such moves mandatory, through legislation. There will always be populist politicians who pander to the chronic sense of dissatisfaction with life, encouraging us to focus that diffuse sense of disappointment by blaming the moralists of climate change who urge us to lead frugal lives.

What is the Buddhist alternative? In the face of these very human tendencies towards certainty, resistance to change, denial and self-centredness, any effective alternative needs, at all times, to be flexible, playful, fluid, responsive, open-minded yet also fair-minded, decisive, ready to act effectively when the moment is right. In short, we need insight, depth, wisdom, confidence, compassion and power; which happen to be innate capacities Buddhist practice discovers, in the process of spiritual growth under the tutelage of an enlightened teacher.

We need leaders we can actually trust. Such trust grows gradually as we witness their consistent capacity to transcend self-centredness and a habituated us-them mentality. There are enlightened ones among us, who not only understand the teachings of the Buddha but actualise them in their own lives, who have realised the infinitely powerful nature of the mind, whose compassion arises immediately and spontaneously in response to circumstances, without the need for a moral code or ideology. Having realised the nature of mind, and of all phenomena, they are free, unencumbered by self-reference, available to others as embodiments of ultimate wisdom. They embody compassion, wisdom and power. They bring to life the texts and historic exemplars of Buddhism’s rich history, they are flesh and blood, can be observed over long periods to make sure they are the real deal.

If we are not to succumb to despair at the foolishness and short term greed of a world addicted to consumption, indifferent to the legacy we are leaving our own children and grandchildren, who shamelessly rob not only the past and the future, as well as predating on the present, we must have inspiring role models we can trust. We must know, experientially, that there are people among us who have genuinely transcended such heedless indifference to consequences. We must know, at any moment, that there are profoundly sane people in our midst who do see how interdependent is all life, whatever its form. We need to know that the example of the historic Buddha was not a singularity, a unique awakening the rest of us can only hazily guess at. As Buddhists we can do more than venerate a very venerable history, we can live it.

If we allow ourselves to get close to such people, they become our internal climate changers. With their clear minds and equanimity for all (including those who do them harm), they burn away the clouds of ignorance, confusion, greed and aversion. They turn down the temperature of our desires and dislikes, not through magical powers, but through example, persuasion, logic, genuineness and especially by holding up a mirror so we see ourselves as we are. They awaken in us a greater generosity, openness, responsiveness, clarity, inner strength and appreciation of others, as they are.
They teach us that the air we consciously breathe, as the tool of learning how to focus, is the atmosphere of the planet, not a sewer to dump endless wastes into. Each breath, several times in each minute of our life, joins us to the entire planet: a truth so obvious it is forgotten, so close it is not seen. Much of the profound truth of Buddhism is too simple to be believed, too close to see. The air that envelops us is a given, not warranting a moment of consciousness: how else could we so casually shit in our own nest? The brown haze pervading the motionless post monsoonal autumn air of Delhi, or any major Asian city, remains invisible and unnoticed even when it makes us cough, our eyes water. Conscious, mindful breathing is the start, of the way back to holding the mind steady, in order to awaken to profound insight.

These are the sources of a deeper confidence that is the alternative to the reign of hope and fear, right and wrong that drives the human world, the endless cycle.

But, many Buddhists and ecologists will say, the situation is urgent; we cannot wait while a few more people gradually cultivate a deeper awakening. The world is already on fire, we are in an emergency.
Whether these times we are living through right now really are an emergency, a tipping point, will only be known for sure decades afterwards. It may be that this is an emergency, of planetary proportions; or it may be that the emergency is still emergent. But what we do know is that people often respond badly to emergencies, are unprepared, unwilling to believe it can happen to them even as the flood, earthquake or fire erupts. While there are always people who behave heroically, most of us are shocked, numbed and unable to fully and honestly experience our loss and pain, when the emergency occurs. And once it has passed, we seldom learn much, reaching instead for a few simplistic things that should be different next time.

The downside of insisting that the situation is urgent is that it breeds a defensive, resentful indifference in many, perhaps most people. The more we third pole campaigners stridently proclaim the urgency of the situation, the more we turn people off. For some it is just too much to cope with, and they tune out. Some feel they have many times heard experts warn of some terrible danger, such as asteroids crashing into the earth, for which only experts have the (expensive) answer. Meanwhile, people have children to feed, let others pay heed to such remote threats. The rhetoric of urgency is counter-productive, especially if we keep it up for years. People just say: if it really was urgent, it would have come to a head by now. Some people just can’t imagine that an invisible gas in the air, measured in parts per million, could change everything.

So, even if the situation actually is urgent, change will take time. We need to find ways to help people reconnect. Now a majority of the planetary population lives in cities, which seem immune to laws of nature, natural scarcity, dependence on seasons and natural cycles. We have the illusion we have conquered nature, and our capacity for mastery is infinite. If there is a climate problem, science and technology will solve it. This naïve hope for a magical solution is encouraged by politicians who lack the courage and confidence to govern, to reveal the inconvenient truths of a planet where oil will soon run out except for the super rich.

It will take time before people will be willing to consider the possibility that there is not always a magical, painless win-win solution; that we will have to simplify our lives and reduce consumption. At present, those who say such things are routinely dismissed as extremists, radicals on the fringe, not to be taken seriously.

Even if we find simple, clear and direct ways to encourage people to reconnect the dots, to rediscover that we too are animals and cannot subdue the earth forever, it will take time. But as Buddhist we know that people do awaken. We know that it is inherent in human nature to awaken from slumber, stupor and delusion, that all of us are awakening, if only momentarily, at any time. The way out is to encourage such momentary awakenings, even if it takes a generation or more to gain sufficient momentum to change direction on a social and even planetary scale. This is the attitude of “minimum needs and maximum contentment” as Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche succinctly puts it.

It will take a generation because, even when people do awaken to their interdependence, they may still be confused by the proposed solutions on offer. We could be in for another round of big corporations spending far more on advertising how green they are, than they spend on actually reducing the carbon they emit, leaving everyone with the impression that the problem has now been solved. Exhausting such corporate spin, greed disguised as green, is not achieved overnight.

Yet the realised Buddhas among us never give up, and are always alert to opportunities to do something meaningful and constructive. Such moments are often fleeting, such as the popular groundswell in rich countries in 2007 that we must get real about climate change. While there was remarkable popular consensus, in the old polluting countries at least, it evaporated as fear of more immediate financial losses took over.

As Buddhists we will not be so disheartened by such groundswells. We will not respond to the dashing of the high hopes of a few years ago by despairing, or stridently lecturing people on their irrationality. The science of climate change is too important to be left to the scientists. The business of including costs to the environment in the cost of being in business, is too important to leave to the corporations which, as we have seen, cannot even save themselves from destroying the wealth they have created. The politics of a new global treaty to effectively limit global warming is unquestionably too important to leave to politicians whose re-election depend s on telling people only what they are already habituated to hear.

There is space for Buddhist voices, speaking plain truths quietly, without anger or self-righteousness. People are searching for, hungry for basic truths, coming from those without vested interests. People can accept unwelcome truths only if spoken without animosity or accusation, without blame or emotional subtext. When the message is delivered by someone with an agenda, an axe to grind, people get suspicious, focusing on the messenger, rather than the message.
Buddhists, who have transcended personal bias and emotional investment in outcomes, will make the best messengers and educators, best able to persuade people to do something quite unusual, almost unprecedented in human history; to consider the planet as a whole. The cosmopolitan citizen of the world is an old idea, but seldom realised. It is only very recently that science has proposed a new idea: that there are many regional, local and microclimates, but there is also one interconnected planetary climate, and that human activity is capable of altering it for the worse, thus also capable of altering it for the better. This may not be new to those versed in Buddhist cosmology, but it is new to almost everyone alive today, whose boundaries extend at most to the national border.

The realised, confident, fluid, skilful Buddhas among us are especially able to help the helpers, to train the trainers, and educate us to be mindful of the needs and limits of our planet. If we look at some of our teachers, who went from being princes of an established church to becoming dispossessed refugees, we can see the depth of their adaptability. From being outcasts in a strange land, they have quietly become the guides to the opinion leaders and culture shapers of the modern world, not only in western countries but increasingly now in greater China too.
Our Buddhist teachers have steered many towards awakening into a more grounded, authentic, capable and effective way of living; guiding a new generation who increasingly become effective and capable community leaders, able to participate in global negotiations skilfully, and without the extremes of despair, urgency, hectoring or claiming to be uniquely qualified knowers of absolute truth. In four decades, the Tibetan lamas have arrived in the heart of the modern world, as guides those with ready access to all external sources of abiding happiness, who are ready for the turn within. The influence of these magnetically attractive beacons of clarity, contentment, insight and power will only grow.
The tools of transformation are not at all mysterious. Innumerable Buddhist texts and manuals, auto/biographies and even pilgrimage guides describe with precision how the mind works, how it is obscured by habits and fixations, how the full, fluid power of the mind can be understood, experienced and realised under the guidance of one who is already fully awake and alert to the dangers of veering astray. The mind can become mindful, fully self-cognising, no longer opaque to itself, reduced to a mere instrument for apprehending all else. But this is, they say, an unlearning of the surface complexities of life, that enables an embodied, experiential discovery of what really matters, which is the nature of mind. Once the mind is able to rest in that experience, effortlessly mindful and present in all circumstances, much is possible, the texts say. This is achieved only in the intimate bond between teacher and student, a mind-to-mind encounter of great directness that enables correction of any tendency to make mind itself yet again a product, yet another artefact embellishing egoic habits. It is not a solitary path. Very few of those who fully awaken do so alone, under a tree. Most need to be subtly steered by one who has taken the path.

In 2011 we celebrate 2600 years of Buddhist awakening, a long, cumulative, collective experiment in awakening. If in all that time the historic Buddha Shakyamuni was the only one to fully awaken, that would be sad. We could only deify him, placing his attainment utterly out of reach. But those 2600 years have been full of deep meditative experiences, which radically alter how the world and the self are seen and understood. As more and more practitioners over those centuries fully awoke, there grew an extraordinary richness of words, images, dances, embodied practices that encourage others onto the path. The flourishing of Buddhist art, literature, music, dance etc open up myriad entry points into the discovery of the nature of the mind, for people of widely varied dispositions. They all point, as suggestively as any metaphor can point, to the singular discovery of the nature mind and phenomena, and the workability of this difficult, politicised, passionate world.

Buddhism has evolved. This is a cause for rejoicing. The superficial diversity of Buddhism in its many national colourations, its absorption of the old gods and artforms and indigenous genius of the different peoples who became Buddhist, is something to celebrate, even as we find ourselves bewildered by the seeming differences. Buddhism, unlike the three great semitic religions, is not a religion of the book, of just one book, revealed at one historic moment to one writer of the divine word. Buddhism need not be reduced to just one method, whether it is rigorous insight meditation or devotional chanting or whatever.

What matters is that, as Buddhists, we retain a collective confidence that the example of the historic Buddha is replicable, and that people around us exemplify the same penetrating, luminous, all-accomplishing wisdom that Buddha Shakyamuni discovered. As long as we are confident that, as a global sangha, there will always be those among us who rediscover what the Buddha himself rediscovered (and did not invent), we confidently move in a troubled, confused world.

Some would reduce Buddhism to just one method. Some would have us reduce Buddhism to just one moral stance on the conflicts and confusions of our time. Engaged Buddhism takes an oppositional stance to established authority, implying that true Buddhists always stand in opposition to authority, speaking up for the victims of oppression. That is partiality, another dualism, a mere reversal of the entrenched dualism that privileges authority and demeans the outsider. A more inclusive approach has compassion for oppressed and oppressor, as the Buddha himself had when he offered a jewel to a king, because, in his neurotic royal mind, the king was the neediest person in the kingdom. Taking an oppositional stance can lead to depression, and urgency, because everywhere there is crisis, and little time to remedy great wrongs.

To some, this will smack of Buddhist triumphalism, a partisan championing of a few. Although I find their rise remarkable, they do not particularly draw attention to themselves or claim influence. To some, the diasporic spread of Buddhism to the west over 40 years is too slow to have much effect, given the needs of the time.

To maintain an oppositional stance requires all effective action to arise from democratic agreement, in which everyone is empowered and equal. This is exhausting and often ineffective, since new alternatives are hard to articulate beyond vague reference to a Great Turning to be hoped for. The past 2600 years since the awakening of the Buddha do offer an alternative, which is to trust in the authority of those Buddhist teachers who show, not only in their words but in their being, that they have fully awakened.

That is not the same in trusting Buddhist authority simply because it claims historic precedent or sanction. There will always be those who proclaim themselves to be Buddhist leaders, who make war on outgroups, or do violence in other ways. We should trust only those who show themselves to be consistently trustworthy, avoiding the extremes of permanent opposition, or automatic loyalty to established Buddhist authority. The Buddha himself advises us to test all teachings, to make sure they are genuine, and then to have faith.

We could suggest the voices of the climate movement and the climate scientists are deeply inflected with the prophetic tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The prophet is the voice of righteousness crying in the wilderness, a voice urgently demanding of everyone that they repent of their wicked ways, or the creator will smite them all. In a secular age, where scientists see all religions as irrational, we can hardly expect the scientists and the righteous climate campaigners to reflectively discover that they have taken unto themselves the mantle of the prophets of the Torah/Old Testament.

If Buddhists do adopt this prophetic tone of righteous despair, it will not be the first time the Buddhist response to modernity has been mimicry. One has only to think of the Young Mens Buddhist Association of British Ceylon, a conscious copy of the YMCA, as a way of organising Sinhala Buddhists into a social force. But do we want to become just another force trying to muscle its way into public contention, claiming righteousness is on our side?
The prophetic tradition is a battle between darkness and light, right and wrong. The climate debate is full of such dualistic rhetorics. Buddhists can do better than choosing a side, and joining in the contention, of which there is no end. Buddhism provides profound and powerful trainings in making the world workable because the mind is workable, capable, luminous and untainted by the habits of selfishness, short-term advantage, denial and competition which drive the climate debate over our planetary future.

Mining Tibet (in Chinese)

from China Dialogue website, 5 September 2011

English version here and the Chinese version here









然而,重庆的沃尔沃汽车、成都的福特汽车、以及位于这两座城市的 惠普、苹果iPad、及联想电脑等所有这些加工企业所需的铜材和黄金究竟从何处而来?根据中央政府的规划,解决这一问题的方案不再局限于中国目前在赞比亚、秘鲁、蒙古国、老挝、南非、以及哈萨克斯坦等国拥有的矿区。为了应对国内铜材及黄金日益增长的需求,政府将目光投向了青藏高原。


西藏最大的铜、金矿床由西至东横跨谢通门、甲玛、以及玉龙三个区。中央政府表示,将在这一地区进行大量开采。而随之而来的还有碎矿机、化学选矿设备、以及冶炼设备等。大规模工业化开采的时代已经来临。这里不仅蕴藏着铜矿及金矿, 还拥有银、铅、以及锌等矿藏。尽管铅和锌最后会被浪费掉。这些矿藏所处的位置恰好位于亚洲主要河流流域,而这些河流维系着下游成千上万居民的生存。


















主页图片作者: Preston Rhea



Truth will out, as the Dalai Lama has always said.

Take two stories in the respected business and economics publication Caixin Weekly in early August 2011. In the guise of a film review, a professor of political science at prestigious Tsinghua University skewers the newspeak of the Propaganda Department, the pressure on everyone to think only in clichés, to reduce the vocabulary of what can be said or even imagined. Liu Yu uses the 2009 Greek film Dogtooth (or Canino) directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, to depict China as a family under the sway of a controlling patriarch who defines everything, keeping even his adult children in a state of chronic dependence, afraid and forbidden to go out into the real world. Their impoverished vocabulary helps keep them locked in. “The children are frequently beaten and are subjected to a recorder which constantly plays tapes to inspire love of the home. Other times, there are erratic eruptions of generosity.”

In case the parallels between a Greek movie and Chinese reality aren’t obvious Prof. Liu Yu reminisces about old mass campaign slogans he had to learn: “After years of education, I think “inspiring and tragic” when I hear “peasant uprising;” I think of the “Three Big Mountains (imperialism, feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism)” when I hear “Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party.)” This politicized lexicon has had a lasting effect on my consciousness. To replace reflection with conditioned reflex, and to enable any word to release a positive or negative message before you really think of it, is the success of such an education.” But the movie ends with the daughter breaking free.

Next to this in Caixin Weekly is an article by a popular tv host on Rupert Murdoch’s Phoenix satellite TV
“Tormented by Gilt”, by Leung Man Tao, voices the widespread disgust in China at flagrant displays of wealth, and conspicuous consumption, by the new rich. Leung echoes the popular belief that anyone rich must have made it crookedly, through connections and corruption; their opulent lifestyle is to be viewed with suspicion and should not be flaunted.

Leung Man Tao is a champion of China’s netizens, the online community ever ready to expose fraud, ridicule the new rich and question official versions, yet patriotically ready to defend China against all enemies. This is the new elite, denied political power or democratic representation, which cannot be silenced. Tao summarises their attitude: “Being too wealthy in today’s China definitely carries its own risks. An official who puts on an expensive watch is, in the same movement, endangering his career. Taking your fancy new sports car out on the road is tantamount to asking for someone to key it. But this won’t detract from how enamored the Chinese people are by luxury – the Chinese word for extravagance, shehua, has become ubiquitous in fashion magazines and advertisements aimed at China’s wealthy.”

This is remarkable, coming from a host on a tv station beaming into China from Hong Kong the latest luxuries and fashions, for the delectation of mainland Mandarin speaking audiences, and the betterment of Murdoch’s bottom line.

If Leung Man Tao and Liu Yu are right, the richer China grows, the deeper the disillusion, mistrust, inequality and disbelief of official versions. China’s netizens, and their colleagues in established media, were quick, after the Wenzhou train crash of July 2011, to accuse official China of literally burying the truth, pushing wrecked train carriages further into the mud to obliterate evidence of official incompetence or corruption or criminal neglect of basic safety procedures. Very quickly, the netizens and journalists in official media, assumed a cover up, a denial of an ugly reality. The fact that the crash happened at Wenzhou, China’s laboratory of freewheeling capitalism, the new Jerusalem of the new rich winning social status by embracing Christianity, made it all the more significant.

Even the most repressive regime cannot repress all the people all the time. It is physically impossible to patrol the streets for unpredictable outbreaks of “mass incidents,” while patrolling universities and media editorial rooms for any subversive thoughts or comments.

China’s media are irrepressibly breaking out everywhere, defying the censorship, making strength in numbers by speaking out all at once. The days of empire are numbered. The central apparatus of control is crumbling, overwhelmed by too much truth popping up everywhere. The stronger the directives from the Ministry of Truth to report only happy news, or nothing, the more strongly the media go see for themselves, witness the disasters, and reveal the greed of the powerful.

There is an instinctive awareness, in the face of repressive power, of the safety of protesting together, too quickly and unitedly for the lumbering machinery of repression to get traction. Whether it is the towns of Syria, or the media of Beijing, agility, unity and courage can withstand the apparatus of state power.

As soon as one or two official media refused to be silenced, a chorus, already suspicious, rose up in denunciation of the Propaganda Department instruction to not ask questions about the causes of the crash. Online posts virally quoted the best lines, that captured popular mistrust of officials, and official ever-upbeat narratives. At a press conference where officials said everyone should have faith in the high speed railway, a senior Central China Television reporter and news anchor, Bai Yansong, pointedly fired off questions which made the connection between official policy towards technology and towards the people of China: “The technology may be advanced, but is your management advanced? Are your standard operating procedures advanced? Is the supervision advanced? Is your respect for people advanced? Are all the minute details advanced? At the end of the day, is your overall operational capability advanced? Only when we can answer in the affirmative can we say that the system is “up to standard” and we can have “full faith” in the system.”

Bai Yansong’s critique is sharply pointed. Elder statesman Jiang Zemin’s great contribution to Marxism was his “Three Represents” theory, a slogan insisting that the Communist Party represents the most advanced forces in society, the most advanced technologies and scientific rationality. Directly and publicly questioning whether central leaders are as advanced as they claim to be would get a Tibetan thrown in gaol and tortured.

Tao goes deeper into the underlying dynamics. The ostentatious new rich and their netizen critics, he argues, are mirror images of each other, all dependent on what others think of them, all tormented by insecurity. It’s an analysis uncannily akin to the frequent comments by the Dalai Lama that underlying China’s arrogance is unconfidence and fear. Tao says: “In a starkly unequal society, everyone must base their self-esteem on consumption as this is the only way to get others acceptance. When faced with so much conspicuous consumption one is bound to feel inferior, belittling oneself and even feeling contempt for oneself. The ostentatiously wealthy are in reality an insecure group of people to be pitied. Neither they nor those who so ardently despise them are behaving with dignity.”

Thoughtful and insightful dissent, such as this, is be found plentifully in China today, in such places as Caixin, a publication dedicated to the creation of wealth. Unlike the dissidents of the Soviet Union and their underground samizdat, these critiques are published openly, alongside articles on where to invest your money. Dissenting voices come not only from courageous Tibetans risking arrest and torture, but from the heart of the system itself.

How is this possible? Cynically, one could say China has mastered the art –long perfected by Rupert Murdoch- of allowing a few liberal critics to offset the overwhelming bias of media towards supporting the party line and the accumulation of wealth. It is always handy, when accused of systemic bias towards the powerful and rich, to be able to point to the space given to other voices, especially in elite publications aimed at international audiences, while popular media maintain the drumbeat of the party line.

There may well be truth in this. China Daily, aimed at a global English speaking audience, is more critical than People’s Daily, in Chinese. It’s a shrewd kind of media management. But the cynical explanation isn’t the only one. It says much about contemporary China that the critiques pop up within the midst of the preoccupation with wealth making. That wealth, and the inequality it generates, are so new, so contested, so basically illegitimate, there is an abiding ambivalence.

This is also a practical question, of where dissenting voices can be published. Economic freedom is the only sort of widespread freedom in China. Only in the op-ed sections of media dedicated front and centre to wealth creation is there space, and camouflage, for the dissenters. The Tibetans pleading online for cultural space and basic rights are not alone. There is now an odd alliance between margin and centre, between the thoughtful elite and the anguished minority ethnicity intellectuals; their critiques are similar, and their voices are getting stronger.

The popular outcry over the Wenzhou train crash of 23 July will not go away or be readily silenced by Propaganda department directives. Its date, 7-23, is a code word for official criminal incompetence and corruption. Now, when there is a disaster, knowing local media will be muzzled, reporters and citizen volunteers from other provinces rush to the site, to see for themselves and report, whatever the official version. The onus of proof has shifted. Unless official China can, through transparency and honesty, show it is with the victims, there is now an immediate assumption, in any disaster, that the authorities have something to hide, and they will not get away with it.

When official censorship is ignored, ridiculed and openly likened to the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, official China stands exposed as fragile, fearful and brittle.

When the regime is challenged not only by voices from the periphery, by Tibetans knowing one shout means a life in gaol, but also by professors of political science in the best universities, news anchors and tv talk show hosts, the regime is in trouble. Not everyone can be bought. Empires fail from within when those at the imperial centre begin to doubt the imperial mission. Once it is no longer axiomatic that those in charge are highly advanced, exemplary leaders we should trust, the empire starts to crumble.

China’s forest dwellers have rights; why not grassland dwellers too?




Interviews with nomads from all over the Tibetan Plateau, conducted in recent years by human rights monitoring agencies, show a remarkably consistent picture. Nomads are impoverished by decades of tight regulatory control on herd size, family size, land size, mandatory expenditure on fencing; and now face both incentives and inducements to leave their land altogether.

With great consistency, displaced nomads say in their debriefings that even if their initial move to new housing, far from their traditional pastures, was voluntary, due to poverty, and to attractive official promises; they regret leaving, because promised facilities, compensation and retraining are not kept, and life in a cash economy is new to them and difficult, in the absence of vocational and life skills training. They say the new concrete housing is cold in winter, hot in summer. There is nothing to do; a meaningful and productive life on the range has become a meaningless existence surviving on rations which are seldom as much as promised. But return in impossible: it is a condition of accepting new housing that long term land tenure certificates issued to pastoral families 20 to 30 years ago are nullified, and newly housed families must sign contracts saying they will no longer own or keep domestic livestock.

With equal consistency, China’s official discourse is that all displaced former nomads are voluntary ecological migrants, who choose to transmigrate because benevolent central leaders are spending a lot of money to provide them with comfortable housing, freeing the land for treatment enabling it to recover from overgrazing, erosion, climate change, and desertification.

The EU-China human rights dialogue can do more than prompt a reiteration of China’s official position. The two discourses need to be tested. The fieldwork discourse is a bottom-up narrative of what is actually happening. The official discourse is a top down narrative of what is supposed, according to policy, to happen and therefore must be happening. Between the lived realities of what displaced nomads say and what official China says, is a gulf to be clarified through dialogue.
China has made this a question of human rights, by arguing that the cash incomes of exnomads will be greater than their nomadic standard of living in a subsistence, non-monetised barter economy, thus fulfilling their economic and social rights.
There is much need for independent observers to check whether this is true. There is a wider question of the economic and social rights of an entire population and way of life, for over two million pastoralists. Most fundamentally their right to food, and access to land on which to produce food, has been lost, replaced by dependence on rations which are often provided only to those named on the cancelled land tenure certificates issued decades ago, thus excluding from eligibility for rations those born later, or who married into nomadic families in the past two or three decades. The right to development has been lost. Instead of enhancing nomadic livelihoods by adding value to nomadic surpluses, notably wool, dairy products and meat, exnomads are now periurban unskilled fringe dwellers obtaining at most casual employment on construction sites and road building.

The civil and political rights of the nomads are breached in multiple ways. Contrary to rural development norms, nomads are not allowed to form associations, or civil society organizations to represent them. They have no voice, and no say when cadres arrive in a township or encampment and announce how many people must “voluntarily” move because policy is now tuimu huancao, closing pasture to grow more grass. Freedom of association and freedom of expression do not exist for them. If they do protest or seek redress, or speak frankly to a documentary film maker, they are quickly imprisoned.
China’s repetitive insistence that what should happen is what actually happens, needs independent verification. China masks the extent of displacement by presenting everything as a program to provide nomads with “comfortable housing.” But there is a big difference between new housing, paid for by government, on the traditional winter grazing land of a nomadic family which enjoys ongoing lane tenure rights; compared to new housing in distant concrete barracks 100 or 200 kms away from ancestral pastures, with land use rights cancelled and official threats that ownership of any livestock will result in eviction from the new housing. These are two extremes, both regarded as part of China’s comfortable housing program. Between these extremes are many other troubling outcomes reported by displaced nomads, including pressure from authorities on nomads to take out loans from state banks, despite their inability to service loans, to pay for what is ostensibly the gift of a benevolent government.

The gap between ground truth experienced by nomads and China’s official discourse needs independent verification. The danger is that an entire way of life, making skilful use of the entire Tibetan Plateau, is rapidly being made redundant, as if the depopulation of the Tibetan countryside is the only way of rehabilitating degrading rangelands. This briefing concludes with a list of specific questions that ask China for specific data on what the “comfortable housing” program means on the ground.

There is widespread recognition that forest governance involves human rights; but grasslands governance policy debate lacks a human rights dimension.

In China, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) is responsible both for reafforestation and rehabilitating grasslands. Forest governance aims at achieving globally important goals such as carbon sequestration, reduction of emissions due to destruction and degradation (REDD) of forests, conservation of biodiversity etc. but. After decades of debate and disagreement, there is now a well-recognised connection between the achievement of such goals, and the enhancement of the livelihoods of people who live in or near forests. These days it is the norm that forest dwellers should not be evicted from forests, and that forests are not effectively protected by fencing human communities out. The new norm is of co management, participatory development, engaging local communities as partners in sustainable forest governance, their livelihoods understood as integral to success in reforestation, biodiversity conservation and REDD.

China sees itself at the forefront of this movement to skilfully integrate the livelihoods of forest dwellers with the attainment of global public goods such as climate change mitigation. China, with active assistance from the EU from 2009 to 2012, has promoted the concept of forest tenure in several provinces, most of which have significant minority ethnicities in forested counties. Forest tenure is intended to give forest dwellers a strong feeling of ownership, agency and capacity to make governance decisions. The first step is to help forest communities set up their own cooperatives, Forestry Protection Association, Bamboo Association, Afforestation or Silviculture Association. The driver is empowerment, in recognition of the negative consequences of past policies which disempowered, alienated and impoverished forest dwellers, in the name of statist forest governance.

China’s forest land tenure program, which began as a small movement among peasants, has blossomed into a full-blown national program that affects about 400 million people and more than 100 million hectares of China’s largest and richest forests. It is arguably the world’s largest forest tenure reform. The Chinese Forest Administration’s (SFA) reform of the nation’s “collective forests” allows communities to reallocate land-use rights and forest ownership, either to individual households, groups of households or to the collective itself.

A major emphasis of the EU-China human rights dialogue has been legal training, mostly at an elite level of judges, court officers and lawyers. There is a strong popular desire for basic legal knowledge in Tibetan communities, a basic understanding of the rights as well as responsibilities of being a citizen of China. The 2011 Work Report of the Tibet Autonomous Region chairman says: “We have boosted the popularization of law. The public’s awareness of law has markedly improved.” Grassroots legal education, including China’s forest tenure practice, rights to appeal official decisions, rights of petition etc., would be a practical way to advance human rights awareness in remote and mountainous areas.

Tenure for forest dwellers, dispossession for rangeland pastoralists: The contrast is stark, even though grasslands are just as essential to achieving global goals such as biodiversity conservation, REDD, and carbon sequestration.

China’s Grassland Law is all about the rights of the state, with very little mention of the rights of the peoples of the grasslands. In recent decades, the pastoral nomads who 9000 years ago made the Tibetan Plateau humanly habitable, and have sustained it productively ever since, faced increasing restrictions. Encroachments by statist grasslands governance restricted the number of animals they are allowed to own, the number of children they may have, the amount of land allocated, and restricted mobile access to alpine meadow grazing land. The inevitable result of this enclosure was to concentrate animals onto smaller fenced lands. No longer do pastoralists have flexible opportunity to do what mobile pastoralists do best, which is to live off uncertainty, moving with their herds to conserve indigenous flora, making full, mobile use of temporary abundances of forage in the highly unpredictable climate of the world’s Third Pole. The cumulative effect of the 1980s and 1990s taxes, regulations, mandatory fencing and herd size restrictions was to impoverish nomads who have traditionally been seen by Tibetans as wealthy.

China’s 1980s and 1990s grasslands governance was deeply contradictory, resulting in perverse outcomes. On one hand, nomads of various minority ethnicities were given long term secure land tenure, but on the other were subject to intensifying disciplinary regulation. The result was, for pastoralist households, immiserisation; and for the land the outcome was degradation, loss of soil and vegetation, and even compulsory extermination of keystone indigenous species of grassland mammals.

A new grasslands governance policy for the 21st century was announced in 2003, which has meant cancelling the long term land tenure contracts issued by the state not so long ago. The new policy is called tuimu huancao, removing animals to grow more grass. Its sole objective is to increase observable above-ground biomass of pasture grasses, as the sole means of protecting from degradation the watersheds of both of Chinas great rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, which originate in the grasslands. The assumption is that a choice has to be made. Either the grasslands are grazed by domestic herds, guided by their herders, or more grass grows. It is impossible to have both grass and animals. In the words of an official Chinese slogan, “there is a contradiction between grass and animals.”

Actual outcomes.

Hundreds of thousands of nomads have been required, without choice, to leave their land and live in concrete barracks, in large scale purpose-built urban fringe camps, sometimes on the edge of their ancestral pasture lands, sometimes 100 or 200 kms away. There is nothing to do there, no employment opportunities, almost no vocational training, only state television, alcohol, boredom and meaninglessness. This is happening at an accelerating rate, most intensively in the Yangtze and Yellow river source area, but in many other parts of the Tibetan Plateau, in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, as well as Tibet Autonomous Region.

The UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food, invited to China in December 2010, specifically named the nomads of Tibet among those who right to land and food was denied by China’s grassland governance policies. In its response, tabled at the UN Human Rights Commission, China said all those displaced are voluntary ecological migrants.

Fieldwork reports from social scientists closely studying the implementation of tuimu huancao grassland governance say that China’s combination of incentives and disincentives means that in the initial stages, some nomads do surrender their land use certificates and move to new housing settlement blocks voluntarily, drawn by promises of cash, rations, electricity and access to schooling for their children. However, they soon find the compensation and community facilities actually provided do not match what was promised, that living in a monetised economy with no source of food or income from land and animals is something they are not prepared for. At that point many seek to return, and those still on their land resolve to stay put. Officially, pasture closure is determined scientifically as necessary for three or five or ten years. In reality no-one is allowed back. The move to what China calls a more “civilised and comfortable” housing is irreversible, and non-negotiable.

Learning from the forests: from exclusion to inclusion

Thirty years ago, at a time when there was widespread global alarm at accelerating deforestation, local communities were blamed. The best policy for forest governance seemed to be to declare forests protected by state power, end exclude local communities, fence them out, and even criminalise their subsistence forest livelihood activities. That top-down, statist, and exclusive model of forest governance gradually became today’s inclusive community forestry approach. Only gradually did international development assistance agencies realise that excluding the locals is counterproductive, and leads only to poaching, encroaching and poverty. Gradually, the world has come to recognise that local communities can be the guardians and stewards of their forests, if they are given real management responsibility, and support, including payment for the environmental services (PES) provided by a healthy forest.

The same is true of biodiversity conservation. Instead of excluding and fencing out local villagers, who out of poverty become poachers, the more skilful approach is to mobilize the energies of local communities as wardens of protected areas. Article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biodiversity explicitly recognizes local indigenous communities as the best protectors of biodiversity.

China persists in seeing grassland governance as solely about grass, and watershed protection. The livelihoods of the pastoralists are of little concern, attracting almost no investment. Insofar as the incomes of pastoralists are a policy concern, China’s only strategy is that they should migrate even further away, to become part of the industrial proletariat of the world’s factory. To quote an authoritative 2010 “Sustainable Development Roadmap for Mountainous Areas of China”, the solution is that “the scale and intensity of the emigration from the mountainous areas to cities and towns should be enlarged and strengthened in order to keep in step with the progress of building a well-off society in an all-round way.” (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Springer Verlag)

Administrative obstacles

However, a fundamental obstacle is the strictly separate administrative categories of China’s policies. Watershed protection is the responsibility of the powerful Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), which has no responsibility for the livelihoods of pastoral nomads. Reforestation, rehabilitation of degrading grasslands, and converting farmland to forest and grassland all fall under the State Forestry Administration (SFA). These two are the drivers of the tuimu huancao policy of removing herds and herders to achieve the narrowly defined objective of growing more grass.

Who is responsible for the incomes, food security, livelihoods and future prospects of the pastoral nomads? It used to be the Animal Husbandry Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture, but since the nomads are being moved out of animal husbandry, and their future is meant to be as migrant factory workers, there is no line agency with clear responsibility for anything beyond the punitive implementation of exclusion. China is not alone in having ministries that rigidly stay within their separate silos, but it is worse in China than elsewhere. Those engaged in the EU-China human rights dialogue, which is restricted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the sole Chinese partner, will be familiar with the difficulties of China’s compartmentalised system of governance.

Even within the silos, progress could be made. If China is unwilling to consider the food insecurity, poverty, landlessness and disempowerment of Tibetan nomads as human rights issues, the silo ministries could at least be encouraged to extend their community forest tenure approach to the grasslands, where SFA is in charge of grassland restoration. Since the EU has been strongly involved in promoting community forest tenure in China, in partnership with SFA, it could persuade SFA to take a less exclusionist approach to the grasslands.

The same applies to MWR. Protecting the source area of China’s great rivers can be achieved by participatory watershed development rather than by exclosure of the nomads who for thousands of years have sustainably managed the 100,000 sq kms source area, the Sanjiangyuan. Participatory watershed development is a well tried approach for rehabilitating degrading areas. India, for example, uses its Integrated Watershed Development Programme specifically to mobilise community energies to rehabilitate wastelands.

1. How many herders in Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet Autonomous Region, Gansu and Yunnan are no longer living on the land allocated to them?
2. How many still have land tenure certificates to their pasture lands that were issued in the 1980s and 1990s?
3. How many herders have surrendered their land use certificates, and will be unable to return to their land?
4. How many herders have been asked to sell their herds and leave their land for three years? How many have completed three years and have now returned to their land? How many were told to leave for five years and have since returned?
5. How many herders now have comfortable housing on their own allocated pastureland, and how many have been rehoused 20 kms from their ancestral lands? 50 kms? 100 kms or more?
6. What vocational training, in what new skills, has been provided to how many herders, in educational programs lasting three months or more?
7. When will the rehousing of all nomads be complete?
8. What is the treatment program for degrading grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau, and what is the budget for treatment of affected areas?
9. If promised compensation, access to schooling, rations, electricity or community services are not delivered, what appeal process is available to resettled herders?



Gabriel Lafitte 2002
This is a story about the biggest tourism destination in Tibet, bigger than the holy city of Lhasa, even though few Tibetans know this eastern edge of Tibet. Attracting one and a half million Chinese tourists a year in 2002, three million a year by 2008, , the Dzitsa Degu valleys are among the last remaining homes of the giant panda.
In the hope of conserving pandas, and preserving an exquisitely beautiful landscape in which Tibetans have lived and farmed for many centuries, UNESCO put Dzitsa Degu on its World Heritage list, at the urging of scientists. But this designation has been the downfall of Dzitsa Degu, rather than its salvation. Instead of saving the pandas –which have not been sighted in Dzitsa Degu now for years- Chinese bureaucratic entrepreneurs cashed in on the natural capital of the beauty of these steep valleys, and the social capital of World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve awarded by UNESCO. Chinese tourism enterprises, with patronage at the highest political level, converted natural and social capital into monetary capital, making huge profits. These profits were captured by enterprises enclosing, surrounding and now suffocating the nature reserve, driving away any remaining pandas, and now driving out the Tibetans too, all in the name of conservation.

The key to this story is Deng Hong, who first made his fortune in remote Jiuzhaigou, in partnership with InterContinental hotel chain; and in 2011 is now using his wealth and inner connections with the Communist Party -he is now a member of the National Peoples Congress- to build the biggest hotel Lhasa has ever seen, the Lhasa InterContinental, to open end of 2012.
The fairy lands of the nine stockaded Tibetan villages exist today in a Chinese hyperreality, a timeless and spaceless world cut off from history and the Tibetan world, from the surrounding grasslands, nomads and the repetitions of Han-Tibetan conflict over many centuries.
Jiuzhaigou –the Nine Stockaded Village Valley- and nearby Huanglong- the Yellow Dragon- are magnetic attractors of wealth and quintessentialised Chineseness for today’s cadres and tour operators. Three hundred busloads a day disgorge an endless stream of strangers into this fairyland of crystal pools and streams, forests and snow capped mountains, and to the five star resorts, luxury villas for the new rich, karaoke bars and discos at their gates.
This fantasy land serves as background for mainland Han, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Singapore compatriots to rediscover their essential Chineseness, in a Tibetan landscape. For a day, the visitor can become an emperor strolling his private garden of exquisite nature, a jewelled landscape inspiring the cultivated gentleman to reflect on China’s 5000 year heritage, to compose elegantly understated poetry, then return to comfort and conviviality. This setting, shorn of Tibetan time and place, is the stage on which Chinese masses enact a golden age of a long-gone China, in which Confucian literati strolled amid the beauties of nature.
The erasure of its Tibetan history is so insistent that even a scientific report by Chinese scientists for UNESCO in 1999 could report: “The area was an almost virgin land hidden in the high mountains of the northwestern Sichuan Plateau for thousands of years. Local Tibetan people lived a self-sufficient life, having little association with the external world, except through narrow paths for travelling by horse. Outsiders had no knowledge of the rich biological resources of Jiuzhaigou until 1975, when it was simultaneously found to be a rare beauty in the world. And so the prologue of Jiuzhaigou’s current heyday was opened.”[1]
Jiuzhaigou was “discovered” much as European explorers “discovered” the Americas or Australia, immediately relegating those who had inhabited these areas for millennia to incidental natives with scant claim to priority. This landscape was too important to be left to natives, who had clearly failed to develop its’ potential.
It is not Tibetan history that is celebrated in these two World Heritage areas and Biosphere Reserves; it is the imagined past of China, transposed onto a Tibetan landscape. It is a past in which Chinese poets and sages wandered in the mountains, composing elegaic verses and with spare brush strokes evoked scenes of ineffable harmony. This is what now draws in the Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Singapore tourists in such numbers. The values China has inscribed onto this Tibetan farmland are evident in the prose of Chinese writers. A glossy official book on all of China’s World Heritage sites describes Jiuzhaigou: “The mountains, lakes, natural primeval forest and unique scenes make Jiuzhaigou a fairyland…. Scenes change according to the season and the area is particularly colourful in autumn when the wind makes kilometres of tree belt along the lake undulate like a sea wave… trees grow in the water and flowers blossom in the middle of lakes… Sometimes you can see giant pandas.”[2]
This is quite restrained compared to other Chinese authors. In China Pictorial, in a photo essay titled The Fairyland of Jiuzhaigou, Ren Hua writes: “Jiuzhaigou is like a bright pearl mounted in the southeast Qinghai-Tibet Plateau adjacent to the Sichuan Basin. Since few people travelled there, the mountains and valleys were not discovered and developed until the 1970s….Legend has it that Wonosmo, the goddess of the mountain, dropped a mysterious mirror, a love object given by Dag, the god of the mountain, and the broken pieces became more than 100 lakes….. The Tibetans praise the Long Lake as ‘an unfilled treasure gourd.’ There is a majestic view of snowy peaks and glaciers opposite the Long Lake. In addition there are the Five-Flower Lake, calcareous tufa dyke, Twine-Dragon Lake and the Colourful Pond. The Tibetan girls often praise the mountains and lakes in pleasant folk songs.”[3]
The fairies of what Chinese writers frequently describe as a fairyland are Tibetan fairies, with recognisably Tibetan names, yet when made to serve Chinese arcadian idylls their stories are reduced to sentimental fragments. Timeless mythology abides, while specific Tibetan times and spaces are dehistoricised. Thus Tibetan ancestor myths become legends of China, for Chinese tourists, marking Chinese sites.
Long Lake (Tsoring in Tibetan) is at the farthest point in the tourist circuit, where the sealed road and bus service end, 18 kilometres from the tourist entrance. A recent guidebook, written by an Edinburgh Tibetan, says: “Another steep stone staircase leads down to the lake shore, where local Tibetans are waiting with their docile yaks to dress eager Chinese tourists in Tibetan garb for their personal yak photographs.”[4] Where the road ends and Tibet begins is a liminal zone in which Chinese tourists can briefly enact fantasies of role reversal, becoming cowboys and peasants, embodying the fantasy of a golden age when life was simple. The photo taken, what was donned is doffed, and normal life is resumed.
This experience caps the visitor’s immersion in Jiuzhaigou’s “World of Fairy Tales.”[5] This is the modern cathedral of nature, the sublime experience of communion with the normally elusive world beyond the human, the dissolution of separateness, the overcoming of the distance between man and nature. As a Chinese online guidebook says: “The scenic delights of the Sword Cliff region [of Jiuzhaigou] is of more simplicity, more wild nature and more primeval tranquility. It seems that you have suddenly passed through the time-space continuum, and stepped into the time immemorial.”[6]
This is a world outside time, in which anything is briefly possible. It is a sacred world, but the sacred lies in the “primeval” forest, the limpid lakes, the pristine peaks, the profusion of flowers and colours. No longer is the sacred grounded in the sacred traditions of the historic population of the valley, although a few Tibetan names linger on. The mountain god Dag whose gift of a mirror to the goddess Wonosmo creates the chains of lakes seems to be the nearby 4200 metre mountain Tibetans call Dege. The goddess whose mirror shattered is more often simply named in Chinese texts as Semo, a Chinese goddess of ancient Chinese legends. Ctrip, which advertises itself  as “the leading China hotel reservation network”  introduces Jiuzhaigou thus: “Ancient Chinese legend has it that the goddess Semo accidentally smashed her mirror here and the pieces which fell down the mountain formed beautiful lakes, streams and waterfalls.”[7] Semo’s origin is appropriated and blurred, her status as a mountain deity forgotten, as the focus is no longer on the mountains, except as a picturesque backdrop to the narcissistic views to be found in the many small lakes. However, the anthropologist Charles Ramble says,  “se-mo, in the Bon demonology, designates a class of female spirits who initially manifest as beautiful women and subsequently turn into dangerous hags.”[8] The semo, and the places named for the many semo of Tibet, are usually local protectors who beguile strangers, then turn on them, often poisoning those who do not belong. They are indeed dangerous to interlopers. Clearly this is not a story contemporary China, fixated on boosting tourism, wishes to tell. The tourism industry finds it far preferable that Semo or Wonosmo be a cipher, a colourful factoid, a decorative artifact of ancient Chinese legend.
However, Semo’s peak is not as readily marginalised as the other peaks that frame the views in Jiuzhaigou. Semo is central. In all representations of Jiuzhaigou the basic layout is given as a Y shape, in which the visitor enters at the base and gradually ascends to the fork, then continues up either branch. The streams, the roads and the buses all part at the fork, because Semo is in the middle. Semo lives on in tourist maps as a mount of Venus.
The first view of Semo comes at a lake named for an animal long extinct in China, the rhino (Xiniu Hai in Chinese, Seru Tso in Tibetan). In the words of a current online guidebook: “Rhino Lake is broad and dark blue. The volume of water keeps the same all year round. It was said that the peaceful Rhino Lake was endowed with mysterious power. In the southern bushes, there is a landing stage, where visitors can see to the north Mount Ce Mo (Goddess Mountain)”[9]
The appropriation and trivialisation of the gods mirrors the fate of the Tibetans, whose home is Dzitsa Degu , the gully of nine stockaded villages fenced with the plentiful timbers of the forest to guard against quarrelsome neighbours, perhaps to also protect against the semo.
From a Tibetan point of view, the Nine Stockaded Villages and their 800 Tibetan inhabitants were integral to a culture strongly grounded in connections to Lhasa, to pilgrimage, the sacredness of the mountains, and the ongoing life of the oldest forms of Tibetan spirituality, the preBuddhist Bon tradition. Until China’s quest for essentialised Chinese beauty occurred the Nine Villages were also integral to a regional economy of seasonal trading between animal product producers and grain growers. This Tibetan world, a complex of cultural, economic and spiritual connections is not only invisible to tourists, but it has been replaced by an alternative Chinese narrative which now explains the unspoiled beauty of Jiuzhaigou prior to the 1970s.
The story told to tourists is somewhat magical, with almost all human presence erased: “Since few people travelled there, the mountains and valleys were not discovered and developed until the 1970s.”[10] This erases not only the Tibetan rebellions against Chinese power in this area in the1740s, 1860s and 1920s, but the entire history of Tibetan stewardship of these steep valleys, in the highest rainfall zone of Tibet, in easily eroded limestone country. Tibetan indigenous knowledge is denied, Tibetan traditions of both hunting and biodiversity conservation expunged. Sichuan’s “northwestern part, however, cut off by high mountains and special topography, was rarely penetrated. Not until half a century ago, after the Chinese Workers and Peasants’ Red Army had marched a long way, only to confront its grim visage, did it become widely known.”[11] This view from the plains below is an utterly Sinocentric conception.
Few Tibetans have ever heard of Jiuzhaigou, a Chinese name which can be translated as Nine Stockade Gully, a reference to the nine Tibetan walled villages of this picturesque area. In 1984  Premier Zhao Ziyang drew attention to this remote area by declaring that the famous iconic scenery of Guilin is number one in the world, yet the scenery of Jiuzhaigou ranks even higher than Guilin. This edict by a top leader had the force of law, permitting local county governments to become entrepreneurial without fear of being labelled capitalist roaders, as they would have been only a few years earlier. The officials of Nanping county saw their moment had come. The natural capital of this limestone ravine on a tributary of the Min Jiang, a river feeding into the Yangtze, was ideal for exploitation.  While surrounding forests had been heavily logged, the ravine was too steep for commercial logging access, and the nine Tibetan villages in it lived a largely self-sufficient existence with little connection to lowland China. What had seemed a picturesque backwater became a major asset that could for the first time generate considerable wealth for the county cadres.
This co-incided with the quintessential landscapes of Guilin, long famed for their beauty, rapidly approaching saturation. It was in China’s national interest, at a time when overseas Chinese were responding to invitations to return, to visit ancestral sites and areas of iconic Chineseness, were starting to arrive in such numbers that more destination needed to be created. Guilin was already getting bad press: “Most Westerners find it a big disappointment. The stunning limestone peaks are not much in evidence on Guilin’s polluted and congested streets… A combination of heat, hazy skies, industry, congested streets, enormous crowds and tourism hype make Guilin one of China’s most overrated travel experiences.”[12]
Dzitsa Degu –known in Chinese as Jiuzhaigou- was ideal. The long walks up the valleys offered vistas at every turn that seemed to express in harmonious balance the elements of classical Chinese landscape compositions. Framed by snow mountains and clear skies above, and travertine pools of clear water in many colours below, the vistas offer sharp crags, dense rhododendron forest, dramatic limestone karst landforms, waterfalls, spring flowers and autumn colours. This was a landscape representing China’s past, when poets and painters sat with brush in hand, ready for the few strokes that make nature art, that express the balance of yin and yang. The nine stockaded Tibetan villages of Dzitsa Degu were ideal to recreate Chinese tradition most Chinese see only in movies. The name Dzitsa Degu was heard no more. Instead the area was retrofitted with a Chinese lineage: “Formerly ‘Ciu Hai’ (Green Lake), or ‘Yang Tong’, Jiuzhaigou was later named for the nine (Jiu in Chinese) Tibetan villages in the gullies.”[13]
 Even with Zhao Ziyang’s official endorsement, it took many years for Jiuzhaigou to become a major destination. A decade after Zhao’s blessing, the 1994 Lonely Planet guidebook to China lists Jiuzhaigou as a destination only for hardy backpackers willing to brave chaotic transport, abysmal food, dangerous roads, outbreaks of the plague and sightings of UFOs. Visitors are urged to allow a week to 10 days for the round trip by road, as it takes two to three days on overcrowded local buses to get there. Other guidebooks make no mention of Jiuzhaigou at all, or, as the 1989 Fodor’s says: “it is isolated and difficult to reach.”
Gearing Jiuzhaigou to meet the needs and desires of local, then national and eventually international tourists took much time and money. The wealth needed to steadily upgrade facilities at the entrance to the heritage area was largely generated by retained profits of earlier stages in the resort destination life cycle.
No longer. Jiuzhaigou now receives 500,000 paying visitors a year and is promoted as a major destination for foreign as well as domestic tour package buyers. Such numbers have required it to be energetically promoted globally for values represented in lush colour sections of magazines, and in equally colourful prose.
For visitors too important to put on buses, there is now a heliport and an airport to lift premium payers out of Chengdu and deliver them at the gates of Jiuzhaigou in an hour. Sichuan province spent 900 million yuan ($109 million) upgrading the highway to Jiuzhaigou, although the road’s sharp turns and commercial turnaround pressure on drivers still means many accidents. In September 2001 several tourists from Hong Kong were killed in a bus crash, which was reported widely in China’s official media.
Growth in worldwide promotion of Jiuzhaigou as a destination continues to intensify. A steady upward trend in visitor numbers is expected to continue its exponential growth. This is not only  a commercial success, attracting the masses in sufficient numbers to steadily increase hotel construction and marketing budgets, it is also a triumph for a Communist Party whose claim to legitimacy is in part its opening of imperial elite treasure places to mass access.
A major factor in the promotion of Jiuzhaigou is that quite early in the trajectory of its destination life cycle it was accorded official world heritage status by UNESCO. The United Nations has now doubly inscribed Jiuzhaigou, having granted it a listing on the register of World Heritage Sites in 1992, then in  1997 UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) added Jiuzhaigou to its list of the world’s biosphere reserves. Nearby Huanglong is likewise doubly honoured by UNESCO.
It is the genius of contemporary Chinese bureaucratic entrepreneurialism to parlay such intellectual capital, and the natural capital of the landscape into a rapidly growing rate of return on financial capital.
These seals of global approval have enormous value in attracting tourists, but they also mean considerable scientific scrutiny of China’s management of these destinations. There are few other parts of Tibet under such intense scientific gaze. Many of the scientific assessments and plans for future management are publicly available. Thus it is possible to see both through Chinese official eyes and the eyes of scientists how the future of Jiuzhaigou is mapped, and what part the Tibetans of the nine villages play in it.
All available documentation on Jiuzhaigou –from glossy tourist brochures to dry scientific reports-  are all predicated on the assumption that Jiuzhaigou is one of the rare places where the split between man and the biosphere, culture and nature can be overcome. The pre-existing reality of this separation is taken for granted as self-evident, and is deeply inscribed in the actual title of the UNESCO program. Only a few special places on earth are so wonderful that this gulf can be dissolved, and man can feel at one with nature, and at one with himself, to use the masculine usage adopted by UNESCO.
Given this axiomatic assumption, the existence of humans, both resident and passing, in such a place is bound to be problematic. There are inevitable tensions and contradictions, which all those concerned with management, both Chinese and international, frequently acknowledge. Yet the sheer weight of numbers, as mass tourism intensifies, pushes this site and its Tibetan inhabitants inexorably in one direction. From the moment China discovered Jiuzhaigou in 1975, in the final throes of the Cultural Revolution, the fate of the Tibetans was in question, because Jiuzhaigou was no longer people-place, in which people and place are together, inseparable, compatible, mutually sustaining, interdependent. Whether Tibetans have a place in paradise, whether they are to be seen as intrusions into the wilderness, compromising the integrity of fairy land, was questionable from the moment modern China first discovered the area. Now those questions have hardened into answers, rigidly excluding Tibetans from their gardens and farms, in the name of science, wilderness and beauty.
This is a story worth telling from the start. China started campaigning for World Heritage listing of Jiuzhaigou in 1982, only three years after intensive logging of the Minshan range, in which Jiuzhaigou is located, was exhausted. An anthropologist, Hill Gates, in her 1988 field diary recorded her impressions on the road approaching Jiuzhaigou: “Many of the hills we now drive through are logged off, stripped and eroding… The valley we ascend is dotted with logging towns interspersed with Tibetan villages in which the houses are all now made of stone, fortresslike… The little van cruises along an astonishingly good road, the main route to Tibet, carrying timber from the interior and military convoys back.”[14]
It took a decade to achieve the World Heritage status, a further five years to attain Biosphere Reserve inscription. Initially, when Jiuzhaigou was first brought to China’s national gaze the Tibetan villages were seen as intrinsic, part of the colour and exotic variety of the landscape. They were not a major part of the attractions, nor were they seen as problematic or contradictory to the purposes of creating a tourist spectacle. On the sliding scale of nature and culture as polar opposites, the Tibetans were clearly closer to the nature end, almost part of the fauna. There was no question of including them as stakeholders in the planning and management of the tourism enterprise, nor was there any suggestion that they should be expelled. This is not an uncommon fate for indigenous communities when metropolitan capital chooses to locate major enterprises in indigenous homelands.
A ravine too steep for logging, a chain of Tibetan villages too backward to be worth bothering about, became the key to Nanping’s wealth. What had been peripheral, useless, best left too its own devices, was suddenly central. Jiuzhaigou was a remote part of Nanping county, and it was the overwhelmingly Chinese county seat that officially spoke for all, including the Tibetans. The interests of the largely urban cadres, based in Nanping town, not only predominated but were the only voices permissible in public. In Nanping county in 1994, the population was already over 70 per cent Chinese, with under 30 per cent being Tibetan.[15] Official Chinese figures for 1994 list the Chinese population as 38,700, and Tibetans as 14,500. Local cadres could plan careers for their children involving glamourous contact with Chinese compatriots from wealthy areas. This was a new world.
Much the same was true in the neighbouring county of Zungchu (in Tibetan) or Songpan in Chinese, which administers Huanglong World Heritage area (meaning Yellow Dragon in Chinese). The scenery was similarly evocative of classic Chinese landscapes, and from a scientific point of view, the two areas, if administered as a unit, had potential as areas of bamboo forest in which dwindling panda numbers could be restored, after the devastation caused by recent logging.  The World Conservation Monitoring Centre states: “Extensive logging took place between 1972 and 1979 and concern about this prompted the proposal of the area as an area of scenic beauty and historic interest by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 1982.”[16] The deforestation was so severe that the Min river, which drains the Min Shan range, dropped its streamflow discharge by 11.5 per cent permanently.[17] The destruction of the forests was due not only to logging but subsequent fires, which have left the sunnier and drier southern slopes bare of forest regrowth, even fifty years after initial clearing and fire. A professional forester Daniel Winkler observed during fieldwork that: “In Zitsa Degu traces of forest fires were abundant everywhere except on moist north-facing slopes. Wide areas of forest were burned out completely in the late 1950s or early 1960s, leaving behind only a few old trees within young pine stands.”[18]
The drop in rainfall and runoff to the river as a result of deforestation remain major threats to the habitat of the pandas. When the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) assented to the inscription of both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong in 1992, the decision of the Committee noted that both: “belong to the same ecological unit, despite being under different county administrations.”[19] UNESCO asked China to make them one site, “and consider submitting a revised nomination for inscription as a unified site.” China’s official delegate promised to give this due consideration. Nothing happened.
Songpan county cadres had as much interest in keeping the sites separate as did Nanping. Rent seeking opportunities for controlling wealth creation would only be diluted by sharing a single site. In 1998 UNESCO again: “urged the Chinese authorities to implement the recommendations of the Committee, made at the time of inscription of this site [Huanglong] and Jiuzhaigou in 1992, to link the two sites into a single Minshan Mountain World Heritage Area…. The mission also urged the Chinese authorities to explore possibilities for linking Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong World Heritage sites and other giant panda reserves as appropriate.”[20] Again, nothing further happened.
The situation of the pandas was becoming critical. In Jiuzhaigou in 1983, American zoologist George Schaller noted: “Bamboo is scarce, and pandas are only rare visitors.”[21] By 1996 there were only 17 pandas left in Jiuzhaigou, and a 1989 survey by China’s Ministry of Forests and the World Wildlife Fund “describes the population as being small and totally isolated.”[22] That is why scientists recommended connecting nearby panda reserves, which “gives potential for maintaining or restoring the links between these populations and maintaining gene flow.”
By then much had been invested in establishing Jiuzhaigou as a known brandname, while Minshan remained obscure and unknown. The two counties, and their networks of patrons at higher levels were in competition, and were evenly matched. Jiuzhaigou had an advantage in the race to become the brand name recognised as the identifier of a world of meaning, signifying the experience of quintessential Chinese landscape beauty in western China. Jiuzhaigou’s name was better known, and Nanping county capitalised on this by changing its name to Jiuzhaigou county to drive home the brand name message. Songpan county’s advantage is that it is closer to Chengdu, and a shorter bus ride. Songpan county has other major tourist destinations, starting with the county town and its town walls and bridges, some of which are hundreds of years old. The Songpan Grasslands have been promoted to Chinese domestic tourists as a verdant upland in which Chinese can be cowboys for the day in a controlled Tibetan environment, almost the only Tibetan pastoral area marketed to Chinese as a tourist attraction. Yellow Dragon is more evocative of quintessentialised Chineseness than Nine Village ravine, but Jiuzhaigou has emerged as the iconic destination.
The motivations of local power elites were not the same as the scientists who, from the outset wanted the area to serve as a local instance of a global concern to conserve biodiversity, and were primarily focused on mammals, especially nonhuman ones. By the time UNESCO proposed, for the sake of maintaining the flow of the panda gene pool, that the two areas become a single Minshan Mountain Range World Heritage Area, Jiuzhaigou was well on the way to becoming a brand name known all over China, with Huanglong not far behind. To erase these names for the locally inclusive,  geographically correct but utterly unknown Minshan, would have been to throw away a decade of brand building.
For global science, species conservation was a top priority, for China iconic beauty and a UNESCO classification of any sort came first. The scientists’ reports as to the merits of both sites always used remarkably different language to the lyrical prose of the Chinese promoters. Of the various criteria UNESCO uses to classify World Heritage sites, both are classified as Scenic and Historic Interest Areas, with a suggestion: “that the Chinese authorities prepare a species conservation report in order to investigate the possibility that the site may also qualify for inscription under natural heritage criterion (iv).”[23]
In the United Nations Environment Program’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre listing of these sites, they are categorised as IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Management Category III, which is as “natural monuments.”
These different agendas have persisted, and the contradictions have intensified. The core is the number of humans in these protected biosphere reserves, especially the paying visitors. From the outset, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee “expressed concern over the question of growing human impact in the reserve.” By 1998: “the mission team found the site to be congested with tourists; the management has made it too easy for the visitors to enter the site en-masse and in vehicles that drive through the core area. Increasing visitation appears to be leading to mushrooming of several new hotels immediately outside the boundaries of the site.”
Tourist numbers continued to grow. The contradictions intensified. Global science, represented by bodies such as UNESCO, UNEP and WWF persisted in wanting animal conservation and biosphere protection uppermost, but they were stuck with the fact that they themselves had classified these areas as natural monuments and areas of scenic and historic interest, all designations suggesting a human perspective. A natural area can be a monument only through human eyes, likewise the judgement that an area is scenic. To label an area of historic interest makes explicit the privileging of the human perspective, making all other mind-possessors part of the objects of the human gaze.
The human gaze is the foreground, the pandas, takin and other rare species are part of the background. But, in an area accorded special status because of its human historic interest, which humans and whose history is celebrated? Until quite recently, the number of Chinese living in this area of nine Tibetan villages was few. The only human history of any depth in the inscribed area is Tibetan history. Not only were both areas Tibetan farming villages, but there is a long history of Sino-Tibetan relations in this frontier zone, that has been airbrushed from contemporary discourse. Tibetans rose in revolt against Chinese metropolitan taxes and control, between 1858 and 1865, and again between 1924 and 1926.[24] Tibetan uprisings against Chinese incursions and full-scale invasions, both military and commercial are both centuries old, and as recent as the 1970s. It is this history that contemporary China denies. To concede that Jiuzhaigou did not miraculously manifest out of nowhere is to risk situating it firmly in Tibet, contiguous with the vast Tibetan grassland, and temporally connected with a long history of conflict and contest with China over hegemony.
Further down the Min river there are old Chinese frontier towns, especially Songpan (Zungchu in Tibetan) town, which housed a Chinese garrison for centuries. But the countryside, especially in the upper valleys and sidestreams of the Min river, which are now the World Heritage areas, were Tibetan, remote and with little Chinese presence until recently. The Qiang, one of China’s larger minority ethnicities, live nearby, their stone homes and tall stone watchtowers testimony to their determined resistance to Chinese invasions from the central Sichuan lowlands over the centuries.
Fortunately these efforts at erasure and amnesia are not met by silence from other sources, as might be the case if these Tibetan villagers were truly timeless, primitive, feudal and incapable of documenting their own culture and history. In fact, Tibetan historians give us a rich picture of the way of life of these valleys over the centuries, right up to and past the conquests of the Chinese Communist Party. Further independent testimony comes from a few anthropologists who have in recent years managed to do fieldwork in Jiuzhaigou.
The picture Tibetan sources give is of a district densely settled by Tibetan standards, of small villages grouped together in co-operative federations, highly self-sufficient, ploughing the gentle slopes of valley floors with yaks crossed with cattle, a gentle breed know to Tibetans as dzo. They cultivated not only oats and buckwheat but also many vegetables including turnips, beans and cabbages, which grow well in a wet, cool climate. After threshing by village men, and winnowing by the women, the grain was ground to flour to make noodles, and the straw stored on rooftops for use as bedding, kindling and winter feed for domestic animals. The villages also grew flax, which was spun and woven into clothing. Rather than wearing their chuba robes long, as in colder parts, they preferred to hitch them at the knee, and wear leggings of cloth, to keep out the damp and cold. They wore broad brimmed felt hats, often with feathers in them. This picture of daily life comes from the work of Tibetan historians in the 1980s, working to record a Tibetan past and present under intense pressure from official attempts at erasure and appropriation.
The district receives 700 mm of rain a year, and unlike most of Tibet there are reliable rains in early spring, enabling early planting and a long growing season by Tibetan standards. New World crops including maize, potatoes and amaranth were introduced centuries ago.
Richer landholders hired poorer ones as wage labourers, rather than owning workers as property. Beyond the fields, control over forests and the upland pastures was collective, decisions being made by the entire settlement.
In a district where most land was steep and the forest dense, communities were isolated and intensely local in their social life. As in the Himalayas, local loyalties were strong, and central authority weak. The area was proud of owing loyalty neither to far distant Lhasa nor to even farther distant Beijing. The local rulers frequently cemented alliances through marriage.
This intense localism bred a quarrelsome attitude to outsiders, and to shifting alliances within the  village confederations. The wooden stockades around each village were a protection against raiders. There were well-developed institutions of conflict resolution to ensure that local fights ended quickly. Elders in each village were empowered to negotiate settlements to disputes, and were invested with ritual wooden staffs that signified their authority to intervene, and impose compensation payments in reparation for damage.
A major factor enhancing Tibetan solidarity was the encroachment by Chinese armies, sometimes with massive force. In the 1740s, the Manchu Qing dynasty, after a series of reverses along its long frontier with Tibet, decided to mount a major military expedition, and this area was its target. The fighting lasted many years and was ruinously expensive to the Qing court. At first the Manchu rulers of china hoped to use the classic Chinese strategy of “using barbarians against barbarians” by creating alliances with local Tibetan rulers, enlisting thousands of men in the imperial army. However, the Tibetan who guided the Chinese troops through the mountains “was in fact an informant for [Tibetan defender] sLob-dpon and betrayed [Chinese governor] Zhang continuously.”[25] These two wars, of 1747 to 1749 and  1771 to 1776 cost the imperial court over 61 million silver taels, because loyal Manchurian soldiers had to be sent right across China to do the fighting. By comparison, China’s conquest of what is now Xinjiang, north of Tibet, and far into what is now Kazakhstan cost the court only 23 million, although that campaign also took several years.[26] This campaign was the point in which Qing China overreached itself, initiating the long slow decline of the Qing, burdened with debt and the weight of undigested empire. The resistance of the Tibetan and Qiang people was a major turning point in Chinese history.
The consequences were immediately ruinous for the Tibetans. Before the wars, according to Chinese historians of the imperial court, the local Tibetan population was over 100,000, but by the time Manchu military power had finally prevailed, this was reduced to a fraction. “The extent of the depopulation that resulted from the two Jinchuan Wars may be gauged from the fact that the registered population in the early 1820s for the entire region of Rab-drtan and bTsan-la, including not only Tibetan farmers but also the families of troops garrisoned there, only amounted to seven thousand two hundred families.”[27]
One of the most detailed accounts of this area is also one of the most recent, by the courageous scholar Muge Samten (1914-1993), who spoke up against Communist Party nationalities policy as early as 1981, in defence of Tibetan identity. In writing of the Tibetan villages he begins by going back to when Tibetans first arrived, in the armies recruited from central Tibet who were demobilised in this area over 1300 years ago when the Tibetan empire made peace here with the Tang dynasty of China. To this day, Muge Samten writes, the Tibetans to the east of Jiuzhaigou, at the very edge of the Tibetan Plateau and of Tibetan settlement, in what is now called Pingwu county, call themselves Dagpo, after the district east of Lhasa where their ancestors were recruited to become soldiers. Around Jiuzhaigou, Tibetans often call themselves Khonpo, after Kongpo, in the south east of central Tibet. Around Hongyuan they are known as Sharba, signifying descent from soldiers recruited from far western Tibet.[28]
Muge Samten describes daily life vividly: “In terms of mutual respect between old and young and mutual respect between men and women, Dwags po people are identical to other Tibetans. Such customs as sitting cross-legged, men cutting the meat, and women kneading the dough for noodles are also pan-Tibetan customs. Houses are square and made of stone, and have a south-facing enclosed yard. They have a wooden ladder-like staircase. The livestock live downstairs, the people live upstairs. Offerings are arranged on top of a cupboard and such things as porcelain bowls and brass platters are arranged in the cupboard. In the centre of the house there is a metal brazier with three legs, and the head of the household sits at the head of the hearth or toward the north. There is a room for religious offerings on the top floor, and grass and straw are stored above that. With the exception of officials and rich people, no-one has stools or tables –this is also like other Tibetans.”[29].
From a Tibetan viewpoint, the steep but glacially rounded valleys of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong are not up in the mountains but down below the pasture lands. The two valleys are connected by the sacred mountain Shar Dungri, a major regional pilgrimage site and power place associated with the oldest of Tibetan religions, the pre-Buddhist Bon.  As with many of Tibet’s most sacred mountains, Shar Dungri is on Tibet’s borders, a guardian looking down onto the lowlands beyond Tibet.
Bon is central to the identity of the Sharba Tibetans. Within Jiuzhaigou World Heritage area there is a Bon monastery which in the late 1990s had survived the Cultural Revolution, and a recent fire, and rebuilt itself to a strength of 67 monks. Before visitors reach Jiuzhaigou their tour buses pass another Bon monastery, Dartse Gonpa, where “currently there are 91 monks, studying under a khenpo [scholar and teacher] from Menri near Zhigatse.” [30]  Other Bon monasteries are nearby: “Just before reaching the source of the Zung-chu, the road passes through the village of Shadri, below the sacred Mount Jadur. The largest Bon monastery of the region, known as Gamil Gonchen or Pal Shenten Dechenling, is located by the roadside, and has an enormous prayer wheel at its entrance. The monastery was founded some 600 years ago. Currently there are 450 monks and one tulku [reincarnate lama] in residence. The complex has an Assembly Hall and three colleges. In the main hall of the Dukhang there are images of [Bon founder] Shenrab Miwoche. Since it is beside the main road to Dzitsa Degu National Park (Ch: Jiuzhaigou), Gamil Gonpa receives many Chinese tour buses, although most visitors only stay a short while.”[31]
Bon, with its earthy approach to the spirits of waters and mountains, survives in this frontier district despite all obstacles, because of the loyalty of the Sharba Tibetan communities. The obstacles are not just Communist Party hostility to religion but also the historic dominance within Tibet of a variety of Buddhism that found Bon unacceptable, even though Bon over the centuries took on a Buddhist outlook and the practices of Buddhism. After the Manchu armies finally defeated the Sharba and Khonpo Tibetans of this area in the 1770s, the Chinese emperor agreed to a request from Lhasa to declare orthodox Buddhism the chief tradition of Tibet. Bon worshippers were discriminated against, flourishing only in remote and rugged peripheries.[32] Now among the worldwide Tibetan diaspora there is a growing appreciation that Bon is the deepest extant facet of Tibetan culture, and a fresh approach to Bon as the door to the thousands of years of preBuddhist Tibetan civilisation. This makes Bon, and those areas where it has survived persecution by both Chinese and Tibetan state power somewhat special.
State penetration of Tibetan civil society in recent times has fractured the economic, cultural and linguistic links of the Sharba Tibetans. The Sharba (or Sharwa, which is closer to actual pronunciation) are part of the Tibetan province of Amdo, the northernmost part of Tibet. A contemporary authority on Bonpo Tibet, Samten Karmay wrote, after visiting the Sharwa in 1985: “The people of this region are known locally as Sharwa, a term derived from the local name of the region, Sharkhog. Our historian Gedun Choepel has suggested that most of these Amdo people are descendants of the royal army from Central Tibet who came to the area in the 7th century, an idea which seems to fit the Dunhuang records. The population of the region, who are sedentary, number around 24,000, according to the local administrative authority. The predominant religion of the Sharwa is Bon, but small pockets of Gelugpa and Sakyapa followers are also found in the area. Villages used to be grouped according to a political federation system in which from four to seven villages, with a sacred mountain and a monastery for education and religious gathering, comprised a federation. Each federation had its own leaders as well as social and political institutions: elected council, militia for self-defence (each family needed to have a good horse and a gun ready whenever required) and a general assembly of adult men. Like most parts of Amdo, the region of Sharkhog was a semi-independent principality before 1950; it paid no kind of tax either to central Tibet or to the local Chinese authorities. The historic relationship between this Tibetan region and the local Chinese town is one of conflict.”[33]
The chronic tension between Chinese urban garrisons and Tibetan farmers erupted into open war in the 1740s, 1770s, 1860s and 1920s. This is documented in detail by historical sources from all parties. What is less openly admitted is that there was energetic resistance to the Chinese Communist Party, initially when the Long March passed through in 1935, then in the 1950s when the Party returned with the full force of the Chinese state behind it. This is still a taboo subject, contradicting the official insistence that the red Army came as liberators and were welcomed as such by Tibetans.
One response of Chinese state power has been to fragment this fractious area, which is split between three of China’s provinces. Jiuzhaigou and Hongyuan are in the far north of Sichuan, nearly 400 kilometres from the provincial capital, while nearby areas of Amdo are in Gansu province, further north, and in Qinghai province to the north west. Political power over this area is exercised by three distant provincial capitals: Chengdu, Lanzhou and Xining, and by farther distant Beijing. For all these cities Sharkhog and areas nearby are peripheral. Yet all are of concern because of their record of rebellion, and because they are major Tibetan tourist attractions these provincial capitals can use to attract visitors to metropolitan airports and city hotels. They are en route to major monasteries such as Labrang in Gansu, and Rebkong in Qinghai, famous for its applique artists and sculptors. The combination of historic monastery and ahistoric natural beauty makes for a profitable tourist circuit that starts and ends in a Chinese metropolis.
The resistance in Jiuzhaigou to Chinese hegemony was evident in the 1980s to an American ethnographer, Hill Gates. In 1988, as her bus approached Jiuzhaigou, she asked to get out and walk, so as to appreciate the beauty. But the Chinese cadre responsible for her said: “We couldn’t let you go alone on this road especially, you see. Some of the Tibetans are not very happy about the changes, and there have been incidents. One of them tried to throw a rock at me this morning, did you see?”[34] The cadre “had visited the valley before the new road opened it to the public, and knew some horror stories about local Han being attacked by Tibetans resenting the intrusion of tourism. It is he who insists that I ride. They really would be terribly worried about me if I were unescorted.”[35]
As she goes deeper into Jiuzhaigou, Hill Gates discovers why, even in 1988, long before today’s torrent of visitors, Tibetans might feel alienated. She passes a Tibetan village “not two hundred yards from the park entrance” but her Chinese minders tell her no Tibetan houses are available to be visited, even though the Tibetans live there are employed as hotel attendants.[36] She walks past, then climbs: “Up a substantial mountain, badly logged off, through a valley with bright wood-fronted houses, up a big mountain, with snow enough to remind us to hurry-and we break into the grassland. Yak heaven.” On the grassland Tibetan life appears intact. Both herds and nomadic black tents are plentiful. But she also discovers fences laboriously constructed of cut sod, a legacy of the Cultural revolution when, all over Tibet, in the name of civilization and higher yields, nomads were made to divide and fence land, and compulsorily settle. There was no money for wire fences, but compulsory labour was at the disposal of the state, able to mobilise at command. This sod fence: “stands about a meter high, eighteen inches thick, and runs for miles, sometimes on both sides of the road. Why would herders who normally move freely over an undivided plain build a huge stretch of fencing and then abandon it? My guess at an answer is later confirmed by cautious questions. During the Cultural Revolution, the authorities made great efforts to settle nomads such as these Tibetans. Along this road, the land was divided and put under commune ownership. The Han made the Tibetans build walls to mark boundaries and restrict the cattle’s movements. This experiment failed. The herders hated it…. Animals were not properly cared for, their products went to waste. Production fell and resentment grew…. In the region of the useless walls, we pass several villages of nomads who had been forcefully settled during rthe Cultural Revolution. These Tibetans are filthy squatters, growing a few young apple trees, keeping some horses, making do. The scruffy villages are full of poor, ill-clad, and fierce-looking young men (they elicit the nervous description ‘savages’ from my [Chinese] companions).”[37] Later, she comes upon the ruins of a monastery destroyed by revolutionary zealots, whose remaining carved mantra stones are carefully piled under a protective array of wind horse prayer flags, awaiting the day the monastery might be rebuilt. She wonders who “collected the pieces, stored them until it was safe to make them public, and in a ceremony that must have involved many working hands, a good deal of money, and much prayer, deposited them on the green grass to await better times…. The gauzy temple, no barrier to wind, rain, or the passage of beasts, is the finest metaphor I have ever seen for the strength of the weak.”[38]
This Tibetan grassland above the Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong valleys is never mentioned in Jiuzhaigou tourist brochures. The interdependence of Tibetan farming valleys and upland herding areas is excised. Jiuzhaigou stands alone, no longer integrated into Tibetan life, identity and economy. It exists exceptionally, outside time and space, connected by bus, highway, helicopter and airport to metropolitan Chengdu and contemporary China’s tourism industry. It has been re-oriented.
Chinese state intervention in Jiuzhaigou Tibetan life and identity did not end with the collapse of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Soon there began an official inquiry into whether the Sharwa and Dagpo are really Tibetans at all. The proposed alternative was to redesignate them as a separate nationality to be known as the Baima.
In China for almost 50 years ethnicity has been decided not by individuals but the state, which classifies peoples according to materialist principles defined by the ethnographer Joseph Stalin. The process whereby the Chinese state decides which minority ethnicities to recognise is conducted by Chinese ethnographers, historians and other experts, not by the minorities. The subjective sense of identity that peoples have is only one factor in making this legislative, prescriptive decision. The main criteria are material, such as dress, house design, clothing, language differences, anything amenable to measurement. When Chinese authorities first assessed the hundreds of applications for minority nationality status in the 1950s, the official list reduced China’s diversity to 55 officially recognised nationalities. The Tibetans, including the Dagpo and Sharwa were, for obvious reasons, classified as one people. But in the 1970s Chinese authorities in Sichuan moved to reopen the question as to whether the Tibetans of Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong and surrounding districts were in fact Tibetan.
As China struggled to recover from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, an all-Chinese investigating team was assembled in Chengdu, the provincial capital, to determine the objective truth. Old imperial annals were consulted, to decide if their vague references to barbarian tribes beyond China’s frontiers referred specifically to these people. Much was made of the wearing of felt hats, and the putting of feathers in them, by the locals of Nanping county. Likewise their Bon religion, their dialect, their use of yak-cow cross breeds as draft animals, their weaving of flax into cloth and wrapping the legs in cloth leggings were all taken as objective evidence, in accordance with Marxist materialism, that these people were unlike Tibetans. There were suggestions that these people were gentler, and their traditional economy more co-operative than the feudal serfdom of the Tibetans. This was a vital distinction. The savage class warfare of the Cultural Revolution was fresh in everyone’s mind, and in minority areas the savagery of the class war depended crucially on whether the ethnic minority was classified as feudal or prefeudal, meaning a more collective attitude to material goods, almost a natural inclination towards communism. Prefeudal societies did not require an attack on the core beliefs and practices of the society, while feudal Tibet required that everything old be smashed before socialism could begin. Not surprisingly, “in the eyes of many Tibetans the official reopening of these cases represented yet another attack by the Chinese state on a Tibetan identity that had been severely fractured by the social and political upheavals of the previous 20 years.”[39]
The Chinese experts were strongly of the opinion that the objects of their scrutiny were not really Tibetans, although there was no agreement on what an alternative designation ought to be. Muge Samten, a learned geshe before the arrival of the Chinese Communist Party was one of a few Tibetan scholars to publicly contradict and vigorously ridicule this one-month investigation. He wrote bluntly of the Chinese legislative gaze: “Now as for this method research, what sort of dialectical materialism is this? Pretending to have totally mastered everything by means of a little more than a month of research, they sit there determined, sit there without even looking at or coming to know the customs and habits of those Tibetans who are so close to the Dwags po such as those of Nanping [Jiuzhaigou] and Zung chu [Songpan and Huanglong], and, after trotting out those customs and habits which are one and the same as those of the Tibetans of Nanping and Zung chu they sit there postulating that the Dwags po are not Tibetan! They sit there placidly in their blind, ignorant way.”[40]
China under Deng Xiaoping had little interest in reclassifying minorities, and wanted to get on with getting rich. The official outcome was an awkward compromise. It is now Chinese practice to call these people Baima Tibetans, “thus marking them as both Tibetan and not quite Tibetan (since they require an adjective to qualify their identity)…. There exists the perceived danger that the qualifiers will eventually become more important than the root noun, thereby leading to ever greater factional- and fractionalization (both social and political) of the Tibetan population within the PRC.”[41]
From the 1740s through to the present, the Tibetans of Jiuzhaigou have resisted Chinese hegemony whenever they could. As that hegemony became overwhelming, in the tide of tourist colonialism, Tibetans also sought to make use of official Chinese policy for their own purposes, and find employment and business opportunities in the World Heritage/Biosphere Reserves. The Tibetans were never passive victims.
Ethnographers doing fieldwork in Jiuzhaigou in the 1990s report that tourism has also provided opportunities for Tibetans. Lawrence Epstein and Peng Wenbin, of the University of Washington Anthropology Department, find that in Tibetan villages, “one member of each household has been employed by the Tourist Bureau during the tourist season (April-October) as workers to protect the forest, construct roads or clean up garbage. Tourist services run by local villagers themselves range from renting horses or native costumes for photography to tourists, the handicrafts and souvenir trade, folkloric entertainment, to running inns.”[42] Monetized incomes have risen as tourists pay to witness an antiquated Tibetanness at odds with the lived reality of contemporary employment as garbage collectors, maintenance workers and in staged displays of authentic Tibetan culture. Epstein and Peng focus on three of the most senior Tibetans, and their skilful use of the official line to rework concepts of Tibetan identity. The abbot of Rabwen monastery, the teacher of Tibetan dance and the director of an “ethnic culture village” set up within a Tibetan village, all adopt different strategies.
The abbot uses official policy to reconnect Jiuzhaigou with the Tibetan heartland to the west, emphasizing lineage and genealogy.  “Through his cooperation with the Tourist Bureau, Rab dben [Rabwen] monastery, once a haven for rebels in the 1950s and still unofficially rehabilitated by the government, has become prosperous (mostly through tourism) and once again acts an important focal point for the revival of local religious activities. By manipulating state policy, which focused on delinking small local monasteries to larger ones within an area to prevent alliances among them, he has managed to make Rad dben (and Jiuzhaigou) into a central and autonomous focal point. His relative authority and advocacy of local autonomy, has caused other officials in bureaus like the United Front, to accuse him of using his position as a local religious leader and a government official for self-aggrandizement.”
The dance teacher is an expert in the one aspect of Tibetan identity that is most marketable to tourists and to Chinese tourism enterprises hiring Tibetans. However, Jiuzhaigou is in Amdo, and he is from another of Tibet’s three great provinces, Kham. Although Kham and Amdo are adjacent, the Amdowa and Khampa dialects of Tibetan are almost mutually unintelligible, and differences are many. From a Chinese viewpoint the entire area is part of Kanze prefecture in Sichuan province, and the fact that the prefecture includes parts of both Kham and Amdo is invisible to Chinese officials. The dance teacher “is an outsider, a sort of missionary of high Tibetan culture”, who has persuaded Chinese authorities that the dances he stages at Jiuzhaigou are of the highest standard, in an area where local authorities are keen to tell tourists they are being “introduced to an elevated and cultured minority.” However the Amdowa young women of Jiuzhaigou “were not willing to join the troupe because they could make more money doing other things.” As a result, the troupe of ten dancers are mostly Han Chinese, for whom the director “has composed several songs and dances based on local themes, the rest being standard Khamba repertoire and Chinese songs, since tourists are encouraged to ‘sing-along’.”
The director of the Ethnic Culture Village-within-a-village adopts another strategy, emphasizing both the genuine and unique local culture and at the same time appropriating the anti Chinese revolts of the past as patriotic stirrings of revolutionary sentiment. The brochure in his name given to tourists proclaims Jiuzhaigou an “ancient and typical Tibetan village… exhibiting the material and spiritual culture of Jiuzhaigou Tibetans, a site to propagate Marxist nationalities policy.”[43] He boldly rewrites the rebellion of the 1860s as a precursor to the Chinese revolution: “One cannot help but burst into tears on reading and reflecting how they died for their country, an encouragement to future generations.”  Epstein and Peng comment on his ability to elicit “state support to complete his project, and thus had to counch things in the state idiom….. meant to satisfy the state’s agenda of turning tourist sites into a means of instilling historical pride and patriotic education.” The brochure even claims that men of Jiuzhaigou fought the British during the opium war of the 1840s.
Each of these local leaders attempts to maintain and enhance local autonomy for Tibetan communities. Each uses weapons of the weak, piling up their mani stones, remnants of an overwhelmed civilization, until the day agency is regained.
But meanwhile the resort life cycle follows its inexorable logic. In the short life of Jiuzhaigou as a tourist destination, the financial foundation was laid by ordinary Chinese holidaymakers travelling not very far. Chinese and Canadian geographers have carefully quantified who the visitors to Jiuzhaigou were, what were their occupations, and how far they travelled to reach Jiuzhaigou, in the years between 1988 and 1994.[44] This survey found most tourists were employed by Chinese schools, factories and government departments, few had travelled more than 1000 kilometres and they mostly considered themselves to be of less than average Chinese income.
This has now changed. Jiuzhaigou has steadily repositioned itself upmarket, attracting arrivals from greater distances, with greater discretionary spending power, willing to pay for higher standard accommodation. It is no longer a destination but a resort. The attraction of Jiuzhaigou is no longer just its landscape beauty and the ethnic dances of the Tibetans, but a combination of such spectacle with luxury accommodation in five star hotels and luxury villas owned privately by the new rich to entertain friends and clients.
Retained profits have been reinvested in this gradual move upmarket, to the point where Jiuzhaigou is now marketed internationally, as well as among Chinese expatriates and domestic tourists. The resort life cycle has moved on. As saturation approaches, Jiuzhaigou is able to switch to premium payers rather than a constant escalation of visitor numbers. At the urging of Sichuan province, Jiuzhaigou was one of ten top tourist destinations in 2000 to be freed from state price controls that made admission to the World Heritage/Biosphere Reserves affordable for all.[45]
As the areas surrounding this “wilderness” intensify their resource use, energy consumption, waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions and total ecological footprint, the time has come to ask whether UNESCO and global science have failed. The concept of both the UNESCO MAB Biosphere reserves and World heritage List sites is that agreed management plans be adhered to, for the purpose of limiting human impacts and conserving biodiversity. The opposite is happening. It could well be argued that UNESCO’s inscription of these areas as both World Heritage and as Biosphere Reserves was the kiss of death, that these labels gave the areas such cachet that Chinese marketers have cashed in heavily, to the detriment of the values inscription was meant to enhance.
This is especially evident if one looks at the nearby Wanglang nature reserve, which borders on both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. Wanglang, an area of 323 square kilometres, limits tourists overnighting in the reserve to a maximum of fifty, requires them to carry away all garbage, and even requests visitors to dress in natural colours, avoid bright clothing, not make loud noises, play music or honk horns.[46] Without much publicity, this reserve quietly gets on with doing the very things World Heritage and Biosphere Reserves are supposed to do.
Meanwhile there seems to be no end to how intensively Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong can be and will be overdeveloped. In February 2002 the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development announced it was investing US$20.5 million “for the construction of the Huanglong Airport in Jiuzhaigou in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. The Chinese and Kuwait ministries of finance signed an agreement in Beijing yesterday. The Huanglong Airport, which demands a total investment of 777 million yuan (US$93.6 million) is expected to handle 600,000 passengers annually by 2010.”[47] This will make it by far the busiest airport on the Tibetan Plateau. The Kuwaitis agreed to a grace period of four years in which neither interest nor capital will have to be paid on the loan, so the debt can be serviced by revenues generated once the airport is operational. The agreement establishing the loan is government-to-government, signalling the extent to which Jiuzhaigou is seen as a national project. The Kuwaiti finance provides 21.9 per cent of the total cost of construction, with the rest financed by the Sichuan and national governments, including allocation of monies raised through sale of bonds.[48]
Some wealthy visitors already fly in. There is presently a small airfield at Jiuzhaigou and in late 2000 the first flights began.[49] A helipad was constructed some years ago.
Airports are not the only official investment in upgrading public infrastructure for easier access and heavier visitor inflows. The highway to Jiuzhaigou from Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu, is again to be upgraded. Construction work is on such a scale that China’s truck industry announced the project as a key reason why it expects “the need for heavy and middle-size trucks will keep growing.”[50]
Jiuzhaigou has attained such a high level of brand recognition that Gansu, the province to the north of Sichuan, now plans tour itineraries that include Jiuzhaigou as well as the major attractions of the Tibetan southern prefecture of Gansu.[51]
The 5000 hotel rooms at Jiuzhaigou already attract China’s new rich, some of whom are investing further in the move further upmarket. A Washington Post article, In China, the rich seek to become the ‘big rich’, names Deng Hong as the latest real estate developer to create wealth in Jiuzhaigou. Deng migrated to the US, bought property in Hawaii and Silicon Valley before returning to China because, as he told the Washington Post, “ becoming ‘big rich’ in China was easier than in the United States. He was right: At last count he owned 35 cars, including a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, some jeeps, a Corvette, several 600 series Mercedes-Benzes and a fat Lincoln Continental. He recently purchased the rights to develop 100 square miles of land next door to one of China’s national parks [Jiuzhaigou]”[52] How did Deng Hong get so rich, and how will Jiuzhaigou make him richer? “Many of China’s wealthiest people are members of the Communist Party or are relatives or friends of party members and have parlayed their connections into cash. Deng is an example. His father was an officer in China’s air force. Deng, in addition to his military background, has assiduously cultivated ties with the city government of Chengdu. Ask him which is more important, his relationship to other businessmen or to the government, and he does not hesitate: ‘I really don’t have anything to do with my fellow businessmen,’ he said, echoing other well-off Chinese. ‘My business depends on the government.’ So much so that last year Deng surrendered 30 per cent of his stake in the convention centre to the Chengdu city government, for nothing. One of his senior executives is the former deputy mayor of Chengdu. For his development project next to the national park in western Sichuan, he has hired retired government officials. Deng had to rely on government ties to win approval to develop that site, 100 square miles of land next to one of china’s last remaining wilderness areas, Jiu Zhai Gou. Deng plans to build 100 vacation homes, a five-star hotel and a golf course. Each vacation home will sell for at least $300,000, he said.”[53]
What could induce such a wealthy man to give away his stake in a lucrative convention centre in a major metropolis, unless the deal gave him access to an even greater profit opportunity?
The destination cycle is about to climax. Jiuzhaigou is to become a playground for the super rich, a privatised space in which business and pleasure can be mixed, and conducted away from any public gaze, on golf courses, in luxury villas, in five-star hotel suites, and against a backdrop of stunning landscape beauty in a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve. The combination is irresistible. In this latest incarnation Jiuzhaigou is losing altogether its last moorings to space and place, to a long local history, and to its locatedness in the Tibetan world.
requires a local beauty spot to become first a mass market destination for holidays, rewards, banquets, payoffs, then to become a resort for the global rich, a suitably exotic backdrop for elaborate rituals of chineseness in which Tibetans remain less then fully human exotica, dancing and clearing away the garbage, their lives highly regulated by global science and money power.
As JZG becomes a full resort, with lux hotels, brothels, disco, nightclubs, Tibetan dancers in a package, the locals are more marginalised as big money takes over.
The paradox is remarkable. Heavily-promoted sites of Chinese nostalgia for a lost world of harmony with nature, to be found in Jiuzhaigou and nearby Huanglong are case studies in the new post industrial economy likely to shape Tibet. These areas were first to drop conventional plans for industrialisation, and invest heavily in a post industrial future instead, for several reasons:
            -part of China’s campaign to foster patriotic identification with China among Taiwanese and Chinese living in SE Asia was to advertise destinations of quintessential Chineseness, places to commune with the ancestors, be renewed by classic Chinese landscapes and experience a oneness with nature not readily found in Taiwanese factory belts or Hong Kong sweatshops. Jiuzhigou had all the elements that compose a classical Chinese landscape painting.
            -the promotion of Jiuzhaigou gradually accelerated, first attracting Chinese from abroad and large numbers of Chinese domestic tourists, finally being marketed at foreign tourists generally
            -the local counties and prefecture had few other prospects for wealth creation and in fact, not long after tourism promotion began, the national government abruptly banned the other major source of revenue and employment, in the logging industry. Conventional primary and secondary industries –logging and the processing of sawlogs- were suddenly ended, and new sources of income were urgently needed.
            -a major pool of newly rich urban wealth is nearby in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. In order to add value to Sichuan as a tour destination, Jiuzhaigou slotted in well to tour itineraries that also took tourists to the Songpan Tibetan grasslands nearby.
In telling the story of the postindustrial transformation of the Nine Stockaded Villages so far, the focus has been on the contradictions between international scientific bureaucracies seeking to conserve non-human mammals, and Chinese state bureaucracies at national and local levels seeking to maximise economic gain for nonTibetan Chinese human mammals. All along, these divergent agendas have impacted on the one mammal population none of these authorities considered primary- the Tibetans.
From the outset, the Tibetan farmers of Dzitsa Degu were considered to be intrinsic to the charms of the area. For example, Beijing’s Foreign Languages Press in 1990 published a handsome volume of colour photos of the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic communities, not only in Jiuzhaigou but throughout the prefecture in which Jiuzhaigou is located, Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture (Ngawa in Tibetan). The foreword states: “In this album the author tells us that outside the place in which we work and live there are boundless horizons and countless people with different lifestyles who are happily creating and developing according to the laws of nature. Mother Nature bestows her love and favours impartially upon all earthlings. As far as happiness goes, a multimillionaire sitting in his luxurious office and dealing with information computed in milliseconds does not necessarily squeeze more joy from life than a girl of the prairies milking cows to the strains of herdsmen’s songs.”[54] This situates the reader firmly in the contemporary urban world, and the Tibetans as children of nature. On the nature-culture spectrum, they are very much at the nature end.
UNESCO’s formal criteria for inscribing an area as World Heritage includes Clause 14: “Participation of local people in the nomination process is essential to make them feel a shared responsibility with the State Party in the maintenance of the site.”[55] Local Tibetans did not participate in the formalities of the nomination process. How could simple children of nature possibly do so? From the outset China defined local participation to be the involvement of the lower levels of the Chinese state itself, namely the senior cadres of Nanping and  Songpan county administrations. According to the Party line, they represented the will of the masses, as does the Chinese state at the centre in Beijing. There neither were, nor are, any organisations of Tibetans, for any purpose, outside the organs of state power.
Thus it was entirely at the discretion of the state, especially at county level, to decide where the Tibetans slotted in. Another online guide to Jiuzhaigou captures the role of the Tibetans in the wider context: “Jiuzhaigou is located in Aba Tibet and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province in China. Its beautiful scenery makes it a fantastic fairyland. The majestic and unrivalled emerald lakes, layers of waterfalls, colourful forest, snow peaks and Tibetan folkways form a perfection of itself, which is called “A Wonderland.’”[56] This inclusion of the Tibetans, not as stakeholders with prior claim to local power, but as part of the list of natural colour, accords with the attitude of global science. UNESCO, as its name states, administers science and culture as separate domains. That separation is formalised in UNESCO’s criteria Operational Guidelines for World Heritage listing, requiring that areas nominated by governments for listing be classified either as cultural properties (Guidelines 23 to 42) or as natural properties (Guidelines 43 to 45). Jiuzhaigou is a natural heritage property, as per Guideline 44, section (a), subsection (iii), which is defined as containing: superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance.” Under these criteria, the traditional owners, cultivators and curators of that landscape can only be incidental, their presence in no way acknowledged in the definition.
Neither Jiuzhaigou nor nearby Huanglong were nominated as cultural landscapes, a separate UNESCO category (Guidelines 36 to 39) for “combined works of nature and of man… illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time… [that] embraces a diversity of manifestations of the interaction between humankind and its natural environment. Cultural landscapes often reflect specific techniques of sustainable land-use… and a specific spiritual relation to nature….. The continued existence of traditional forms of land-use supports biological diversity in many regions of the world…. A continuing landscape is one which retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life.” 
If China had nominated Jiuzhaigou as a cultural landscape, the Tibetan villagers would have been central, and remained central. There is no evidence that such a nomination was ever considered. From the outset Jiuzhaigou was nature, not culture.
As culture, the Nine Stockaded Villages were part of the classic Tibetan pattern of upland nomadic pasturage and valley cultivation of grain, existing interdependently. The alpine meadow pastures of the Tibetan yak herders are so close by Jiuzhaigou that American zoologist George Schaller in a morning walked up from what is now the last bus stop at Ritse (Rize in Chinese), “up a well-worn livestock path to the west of the Rizegou until forest gives way to alpine grassland. Five blue eared pheasants, plump blue-gray birds, flush from a thicket with a clatter of wings and nasal cackles. Herdsmen use these pastures heavily in summer and still [1983] burn forest to increase grazing land, but this early in the season [May] we have the uplands to ourselves.”[57] This grassland, as a few Chinese authors acknowledge, stretches continuously westward to Hungary, and north east to Manchuria.
That Jiuzhaigou is situated in, and surrounded by Tibetan yak pasture does not at all fit with Chinese conceptions of Jiuzhaigou’s exceptionalism, its standing outside of time and space. The deeply structured relationships of valley farmers and upland nomads are edited out of all accounts of Jiuzhaigou, enabling it to be situated instead as an instance of World Heritage, and a place for the multimillionaire in a luxurious office dealing in information broken into milliseconds to find peace of mind.
Yet another fragmentation is imposed on these people by their inclusion, at the subprovincial level, in a prefecture that is otherwise almost entirely in Kham, the great province of eastern Tibet now split between no less than four Chinese provinces: TAR, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan. By placing the Amdowa Tibetans of Sharkhog in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, the Sharwa are a minority within the Khampa Tibetan minority within Sichuan. Khampa and Amdowa dialects of Tibetan are almost mutually incomprehensible. Tibetans see this official fragmentation as part of an Chinese response to their long history of objection to Chinese power.
Jiuzhaigou is well on the way to becoming a global brand. It has transcended the origins embedded in its name –the nine stockaded Tibetan villages- and Chinese official media now mention in passing that: The region, formerly the site of nine Tibetan villages, has become well known in recent years for its network of alpine lakes, spectacular waterfalls and impressive vegetation.”[58]
While UNESCO has inscribed heritage and conservation meanings onto Jiuzhaigou, fresh inscriptions add new meanings. Jiuzhaigou is now weighted with national and international agendas, as it comes more and more to be the quintessentialised Chinese landscape. It is little wonder the Tibetans are being extruded, with no place in such elaborate state projects. Jiuzhaigou has become the ideal site in which to soften the deep seated popular ill-will between Japan and China. In 2000, in a cooperative venture between Japan’s NHK television network and Sichuan TV, a soap opera serial was filmed in Jiuzhaigou for broadcast both in Japan and China on nationwide CCTV. The plot of this improbable soapie “tells about how a Japanese businessman has developed friendly business ties with a young Chinese of ethnic Qiang group. The viewers will be able to have a better understanding about the Chinese people and enjoy beautiful landscapes.”[59] Its’ title is A Valley Reddens under the Shine of Cherry.
Despite all of these obstacles, the 930 Tibetans who currently live within the Jiuzhaigou World Heritage area are in no way a defeated people, or victims.

[1] UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme, Life in Green Kingdoms: Biosphere Reserves in China, 1999, reprinted in Jiuzhaigou Biosphere Reserve Field Evaluation,  (hereafter cited as Field Evaluation)
[2] China New Millennium: China’s World Heritages, China National Tourism Administration, 1999, 39
[3] Ren Hua, The Fairyland at Jiuzhaigou, China Pictorial, September 1994, 38-41
[4] Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook, Footprint, 2nd ed., 1999, 660
[5] China Travel Manual, China National Tourism Administration, n.d. 149
[8] Charles Ramble, The creation myth of the Bon mountain of Kongpo, 133-232 in A. W. Macdonald ed., Mandala and landscape, DK Printworld, Delhi, 1997, 156
[10] Ren Hua, The Fairyland of Jiuzhaigou, China Pictorial, Sept 1994, 40
[11] Snowy Mountains and Grasslands: Travels in northwestern Sichuan, Foreign Languages Publishing, Beijing 1990, 2
[12] China, Lonely Planet, 4th edition 1994, 761-2
[13] Field Evaluation op cit
[14] Hill Gates, Looking for Chengdu: A woman’s adventures in China, Cornell University Press, 1999, 117, 136
[15] Tibet Outside TAR, [CD-ROM] 1997, 987
[16] Protected Areas Programme, World Heritage Sites: Jiuzhaigou Valley,
[17] Yang Yuexian, Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests: the People’s Republic of China, 81-102 in  Patrick R. Durst ed., Forests out of bounds: Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests in Asia-Pacific, FAO, Bangkok, 2001, 98
[18] Daniel Winkler, Deforestation in eastern Tibet: Human impact past and present, 79-96 in Graham E. Clarke ed., Development, society and environment in Tibet, Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 1998, 84
[21] George Schaller, The Last Panda, Chicago University Press, 1993, 140
[22] Protected Areas Programme, World Heritage Sites: Jiuzhaigou Valley,
[24] Tibet outside TAR, 1997, 1223-4, based on official Chinese histories in Aba tonglan (Overview of Ngawa)
[25] Roger Greatrex, A brief introduction to the first Jinchuan War 1747-1749, 247-63 in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oslo, 1994, 252
[26] ibid, 247
[27] ibid, 249
[28] Janet L. Upton, Notes towards a native Tibetan ethnology: An introduction to and annotated translation of dMu dge bSam gtan’s Essay on Dwags po (Baima Zangzu), Tibet Journal, 25 #1, 2000, 3-26, 7
[29] ibid, 11
[30] Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook, Footprint, 2nd edition, 1999, 658
[31] ibid, 655
[32] Dan Martin, Bonpo canons and Jesuit cannons, Tibet Journal, 15 #2 1990, 3-28, 12
[33] Samten G. Karmay, Mountain cults and national identity in Tibet, 112-120 in Robert Barnett ed., Resistance and reform in Tibet, Indiana University Press, 1994, 116
[34] Hill Gates, Looking for Chengdu: A woman’s adventures in China, Cornell University Press, 1999, 121
[35] ibid, 122
[36] ibid, 125
[37] ibid, 128-30
[38] ibid, 131-2
[39] Upton, op cit 5
[40] Upton, op cit 13-14
[41] Upton op cit 17
[42] Lawrence Epstein and Peng Wenbin, Changing times at Jiuzhaigou, paper presented to the first Amdo Studies Conference, Harvard University, April 1997
[43] quoted in Changing times at Jiuzhaigou op cit
[44] Zhang Jie, Geoffrey wall,  J-K Du et al., Distance traits of the spatial behaviour of tourists to natural sightseeing destinations – a case study on Jiuzhaigou conservation area and comparison with some national parks, China,  in Vincent C. S. Heung ed., Tourism 2000: Asia-Pacific’s role in the new millennium, Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Tourism Association Fifth Annual conference, Hong Kong, 1999
[45] Price reforms pushed in west, China Daily, 1 Sept 2000
[46] Wanglang, paradise of wildlife, China Daily, 3 March 2001
[47] Kuwait loan assists airport, China Daily 28 Feb 2002
[48] Sichuan sets 112 key projects this year, People’s Daily, 10 Mar 2001
Five billion to renovate 20 airports in China’s west, People’s Daily 18 May 2000
[49] Maiden flight from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou successful, China Daily 8 Dec 2000
[50] Chinese car industry targets western areas, People’s Daily 9 July 2001
[51] More overseas tourists visit Gansu, People’s Daily 14 Jan 2000
[52] John Pomfret, In China, the rich seek to become the ‘big rich’, Washington Post 17 March 2002
[53] ibid
[54] Snowy Mountains and Grasslands: Travels in northwestern Sichuan, Foreign Languages Publishing, Beijing 1990
[55] UNESCO Operational Guidelines: Establishment of the World Heritage List,
[56] JiuZhaiGou,
[57] George B. Schaller, The Last Panda, University of Chicago Press, 1993, 140-1
[58] Jiuzhaigou tickets sell out ahead of National Day week, People’s Daily 27 Sept 2001
[59] China, Japan jointly shoot tv serial, People’s Daily 18 April 2000

Wachstum und Luxus auf dem Dach der Welt – Das boomende Hotelgewerbe

Wachstum und Luxus auf dem Dach der Welt – Das boomende Hotelgewerbe
Gabriel Lafitte

Bedenkt man, dass die sog. Autonome Region Tibet (TAR) auch im Jahr 2010 weitgehend abgeriegelt war und die Lage nach wie vor angespannt ist, dann hat die weltweite Luxus-Hotel-Industrie einen merkwürdigen Zeitpunkt gewählt, um den Bau großer Hotelanlagen in Lhasa anzukündigen. Geplant sind Luxushotels mit mehreren tausend Betten, die zumeist auf Kosten der alten Architektur, insbesondere der Herrenhäuser ehemaliger Herrscherfamilien gebaut werden sollen. Die großen Hotelketten gehen offenbar davon aus, dass Lhasa zukünftig jede Menge gut situierte Touristen aus aller Welt sowie Chinas Neureiche anziehen wird. Von der chinesischen Führung wird ihnen eine friedvolle und harmonische Atmosphäre in Tibet zugesichert.

Lhasa hat in letzter Zeit einen wahren Immobilienboom erlebt. Die Grundstückpreise sind rasant gestiegen, seit landwirtschaftlich genutzte Flächen ge- und verkauft werden dürfen. Durch ihre Präsenz steigern und sichern sich die großen Hotelketten ihren Marktanteil in Lhasa.

Zwei mittelgroße Hotels wurden bzw. sind im Begriff, eröffnet zu werden:
– Starwood St. Regis Lhasa mit 169 Zimmern, Nähe Barkhor, eröffnete am 15. November 2010
– Carlson In Park Plaza Lhasa mit 87 Zimmern, Stadtzentrum, plant die Eröffnung im laufenden jahr.

Für 2012 ist die Eröffnung zweier weiterer großer Hotels etwas außerhalb des Zentrums geplant:
• Shangri-la Hotel mit 350 Zimmern
• InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise mit 2.000 Zimmern.

Die chinesische Regierung besteht darauf, dass internationale Hotelketten immer mit einem chinesischen Partner zusammenarbeiten, damit dieser von ihnen Sterne-Service und Wirtschaftlichkeit erlernen kann. Die Ketten können auf zahlreiche Buchungen ihrer prestigeträchtigen Räumlichkeiten zählen, denn die staatlichen Behörden nutzen diese gerne für die Bekanntgabe ihrer Errungenschaften in Tibet. Mit den Hotels wird Lhasa zum Vorzeigeobjekt für den Einzug der chinesischen Moderne in Tibet.

Für Tibet ist dies ein großer Wendepunkt. Nicht weil Chinas Ankündigung von Tibet als touristische Goldgrube etwas Neues wäre, sondern weil sich diesmal internationale Investoren beteiligen. Diese reißen das alte Lhasa für den Bau von 2.636 neuen Hotelzimmern ab. Eine gewaltige Zahl für eine Stadt, die schon lange kein neues Hotel mehr gesehen und kaum international finanzierte Immobilien zu verzeichnen hat.

Der Verlust einzigartigen Kulturguts

Touristen erwarten, dass Lhasa tibetisch aussieht, und sind oft darüber erschrocken, wie wenig vom alten Lhasa noch erhalten ist. Seit 2009 wird dieses Wenige zunehmend zerstört, vor allem um Platz für neue Hotels zu machen und ungeachtet dessen, dass Gebäude offiziell unter Denkmalschutz stehen. Ein prägnantes Beispiel ist das Bumtang-Haus, das vom Tibet Heritage Fund mühevoll restauriert worden ist, nur um 2009 abgerissen zu werden.

Mindestens drei denkmalgeschützte Herrenhäuser wurden bereits im Rahmen des Hotelbaus zerstört. Neben dem Bumtang Haus fiel die Residenz des Adelsgeschlecht der Jamyang Shep Lamas den Bulldozern zum Opfer. Kunkyen Lama Jamyang Shepa, 1648-1721, aus Labrang Tashi Kyil in Amdo ist wohl der Berühmteste dieser Linie. Er war ein renommierter Logiker und Autor. Der Tibet Heritage Fund führt das Gebäude in seiner Liste.

Lhasa ist zwar der Knotenpunkt, nicht jedoch die einzige Attraktion der Tourismuswirtschaft. Die gesamte TAR wird heute als Erlebnisrundreise angeboten, deren einzelne Stationen jedoch nur selten einen näheren Austausch mit der tibetischen Bevölkerung zulassen.

Chinas Planer haben Tibet neu erfunden und ihm eine Nord-Süd- und eine Ost-West-Achse gegeben, die sich in Lhasa treffen und entlang derer sich der Tourismus rasant entwickelt. Tibet wurde den Bedürfnissen, Kostenstrukturen und Profitmöglichkeiten einer globalen Freizeitindustrie angepasst und konkurriert nun mit Reisezielen weltweit.

Schon lange fasziniert Tibet die westliche Welt, weshalb viele denken, die Mehrzahl der Touristen in Tibet sei international. Doch dem ist nicht so. Die meisten Touristen sind Chinesen, was sich auch durch die Eröffnung der Eisenbahn im Jahr 2006 erklärt. Angezogen von ähnlichen romantischen Phantasien wie viele Westler und von billigen Zugtickets, kommen Scharen von Chinesen nach Tibet, die sich eine Reise ins Ausland nicht leisten können. Laut Tibets Statistischem Jahrbuch von 2009 kamen im Jahr 2007 allein 888.500 Touristen mit der Eisenbahn nach Lhasa. Im Jahr 2008 waren es 622.000; viele weitere Besucher kamen per Bus oder mit dem Flugzeug.

Der chinesische Tourismus
Chinesische Touristen verhalten sich anders als die von Neugier und vielleicht auch von romantischen Vorstellungen geprägten Rucksackreisenden und Pilger. Chinesen reisen meist in Reisegruppen, die von chinesischen Touristenführern mit Fähnchen und Megaphonen vom Zug zum Bus, zum Hotel, zur Sehenswürdigkeit und wieder zurück zum Bus gelotst werden. Obwohl sie für eine Pauschalreise gezahlt haben, wird der Preis niedrig gehalten. Auch die Löhne der in der Tourismusbranche Tätigen sind niedrig. Aufgestockt werden sie mit dem Geld, das Touristen beim Kauf “lokaler” Güter oder beim Schnappschuss mit “Nomaden” ausgeben. Die obligatorischen Zwischenstopps bei Souvenirläden und -märkten machen den Massentourismus profitabel, da diese den Touristenführern und Reisegesellschaften Kommissionen zahlen.

All dies läuft darauf hinaus, dass Chinesen auf ihren Reisen durch Tibet nur selten auf Tibeter treffen, auch wenn sich viele Verkäufer der “authentisch tibetischen Produkte” (gefertigt in Kathmandu) zwecks Steigerung der Verkaufszahlen tibetisch kleiden. Doch das stört die chinesischen Touristen wenig. Die meisten interessiert vor allem das Urlaubsporträt vor exotischer Kulisse wie z. B. dem Potala-Palast oder auf einem Yak sitzend, ein rotbäckiges tibetisches Mädchen neben sich. Tibet ist ein exotisches und dennoch erschwingliches Juwel in Chinas Krone, und dort gewesen zu sein ist etwas, wovon man zu Hause erzählen kann.

Im Jahr 2008 ist der chinesische Tourismus in Tibet drastisch gesunken, wenn auch nicht ganz so stark wie der internationale – mit Beginn der Aufstände im März 2008 mussten alle Ausländer Tibet verlassen. 2007 dagegen war laut offizieller Statistik ein Rekordjahr: 3,66 Millionen chinesische Besucher, 888.000 internationale Besucher plus zahlreiche Touristen aus Hong Kong, Taiwan und Macao.

Im Jahr 2008 sank die Zahl um über ein Drittel auf nur 2,2 Millionen chinesische Touristen, die Zahl der internationalen Touristen reduzierte sich auf 63.000. Im Vergleich betrug der Gewinn der Tourismusindustrie innerhalb der TAR 2007 etwa 4,85 Milliarden Yuan und nur 2,26 Milliarden Yuan im Jahr 2008.

Ein Masterplan für Tibets Neuerfindung
Der Aufbau einer Tourismusindustrie ist Chinas Hauptanliegen seines sogenannten “2010-2020 Masterplans“. Ba Zhu, Verantwortlicher des Fremdenverkehrsbüros in Tibet, erklärt: “ Wenn in zehn Jahren alle Ziele erreicht sind, dann wird Tibet ein erstklassiges Reiseziel des Welttourismus sein mit besonderen Anziehungspunkten, freundlicher Umgebung, guten Verkehrsmöglichkeiten, umfangreicher Infrastruktur, normativem Management, standardisiertem Service, einem internationalen Markt und einem sozialen Entwicklungsstand, der die Bedürfnisse verschiedener Gruppen erfüllt.”

Um erfolgreich große internationale Hotelketten anzuziehen, benötigt man mehr als zuverlässigen Strom, befestigte Straßen und eine funktionierende Kanalisation. Die arbeitsintensive Hotelindustrie ist angewiesen auf ausgebildete Arbeitskräfte, die gastfreundlich sind, mehrere Sprachen sprechen und zuverlässig arbeiten. Gleichzeitig müssen sie bereit sein, Schichtarbeit, niedrige Löhne und saisonbedingte Entlassungen zu akzeptieren. Ebenso wichtig ist ein standardisierter Service, ein reguliertes Hotel-Sterne-System und vielfältige Anlagen, unter anderem, damit die chinesische Regierung z. B. in Form von öffentlichen Großveranstaltungen ihre Macht und ihren Reichtum demonstrieren kann. Mit normativem Management meint Ba Zhu Aufsichtspersonen, die auf die Erfüllung einheitlicher und berechenbarer Dienstleistung bestehen.

Im Masterplan heißt es: “Tibets touristische Struktur wird Folgendes beinhalten: Lhasa als Zentrum für den Kulturtourismus und Nyingchi als Zentrum für den Ökotourismus; eine Ost-West- sowie Nord-Süd-Achse der Tourismusentwicklung, die Tibet mit der Außenwelt verbindet; vier spezialisierte Rundreisen im Osten, Westen, Süden und Norden des Landes; sieben Landschaftsgebiete.“

Ende 2020 wird die jährliche Besucherzahl in Tibet auf 20 Millionen angestiegen sein und der Ertrag sich auf 20 Milliarden Yuan erhöht haben.

Natürlich gab es früher bereits ähnliche Pläne für die Entwicklung einer Tourismusindustrie in Tibet. Allerdings scheiterten diese immer dann, wenn Chinas Sicherheitskräfte wieder einmal hart durchgriffen, ausländische Besucher verbannten und eine solche Angst verbreiteten, dass sogar Touristen mit „rosarote Brille“ die Anspannung auf den Straßen spüren konnten.
Doch das bedeutet nicht, dass diese Vorhaben immer fehlschlagen werden. Diesmal wird die Neuerfindung Tibets als Erlebnisrundreise von Pekings massiven Investitionen in die Infrastruktur gestützt. Nicht nur die Eisenbahnlinien nach Lhasa und Shigatse, sondern auch die regionalen Flughäfen ermöglichen den Touristen einen schnellen Blick auf Tibets vielfältige Architektur, seine abwechslungsreichen Landschaften und Kulturdenkmäler sowie sein artenreiches Wildleben zu werfen. Dadurch wird die Bildung eines Netzwerks von Dienstleistungen ermöglicht, das in der Lage, ist die Bedürfnisse verschiedener Kundengruppen zu erfüllen. Chinas derzeitige Tourismusstrategie basiert auf Marktanalysen, die die potentiellen Besucher anhand ihrer Wünsche und Erwartungen in verschiedene Märkte einordnet. Die zwei Hauptmärkte sind laut Masterplan der Kultur- und der Ökotourismus mit speziellen Touren für die abenteuerfreudigen Touristen, die sich auf der Suche nach wilden Flüssen und Nomaden befinden.

Die auf den verschiedenen Märkten feilgebotenen Reisepakete können Tibet nun als unberührte Landschaft anpreisen. Neben Lhasa als kulturellem Zentrum können auch Zwischenstopps in die kargen Gefilde des Nordens, Besuche der historischen Ruinen des bevölkerungsarmen Westens, “polare” Erfahrungen am Fuße des Chomolangma (Mount Everest) sowie Touren in die Wälder, Flora und Fauna, zu reißenden Flüssen und Schluchten im Osten angeboten werden.
Aus wirtschaftlicher Sicht befindet sich Tibet im Prozess, seine größte Einschränkung zu überwinden, ein sehr eindimensionales Reiseziel zu sein, das Besucher nur für kurze Zeit halten kann. Mittlerweile können einwöchige Reisen mit dem abendlichen Komfort von Sterne-Hotels angeboten werden statt langwieriger Routen, die lediglich Backpacker und Pilger ansprechen.

Es waren zwei Behörden – das Entwicklungsprogramm (UNDP) und die Welttourismusorganisation (UNWTO) der Vereinten Nationen – die diese touristische Version von Tibet konzipiert haben. Im Jahr 1990, Hu Jintao war damals gerade Parteisekretär in Tibet und für die gewaltsame Niederschlagung von Protesten und die Verhängung des Kriegsrechts verantwortlich, präsentierten sie der chinesischen Regierung ihre Idee von Tibet als Reiseziel. Der zweibändige, 500 Seiten starke Bericht wurde gemeinsam von der UNDP, UNWTO, der staatlichen Tourismusverwaltung der Volksrepublik China und der Regierung der TAR veröffentlicht. Geschrieben wurde er von der Unternehmensberatung Shankland Cox mit Sitz in Hong Kong.

Kundschaft für Lhasas neue Luxushotels
Wer sind die Kunden der im Bau befindenden Luxushotels? Wegen des fehlenden Service und Komforts wurden internationale Touristen bisher oft von einer Reise nach Tibet abgehalten. Nun wird erwartet, dass Tibet aus einer bis dahin nicht befriedigten Nachfrage endlich Kapital schlagen kann. Tibet, Lhasa, der Potala-Palast und ähnliche kulturträchtige Orte sind im Marketingverständnis lang etablierte Marken mit einem hohen Wiedererkennungswert, die jedoch jetzt erst in Geld umgewandelt werden können. Demnach wären die Kunden der neuen Hotels internationale Touristen, die sowohl exotische Sehenswürdigkeiten als auch Komfort wünschen.

Es gibt aber Gründe anzunehmen, dass auch künftig Tibet und die Luxushotels hauptsächlich von Chinesen besucht werden wird. Viele der neuen Hotelketten spezialisieren sich auf Geschäfts- und Konferenzreisende und sind erfahren im Bau exklusiv eingerichteter Einkaufs- und Dienstleistungspassagen. Solche Anlagen finden Anklang bei chinesischen Unternehmen, Parteiorganen, professionellen Organisationen, Handelskonferenzen und Chinas Neureichen. Luxuriöse Banquetmöglichkeiten, exquisite Unterkunfts- und Freizeitanlagen, modernste Kommunikationstechnologie und Shops, die nicht nur über die üblichen Luxusmarken verfügen, sondern auch tibetische Aphrodisiaka, Felle und Heilmittel gegen das Altern anbieten, machen diese Örtlichkeiten besonders attraktiv. Hinzu kommen Nachtclubs, Geschäftszentren, Konferenzsäle und diskrete Räumlichkeiten für die privaten Geschäfte. Für einen Einparteienstaat mit vielen Ministerien, Büros, Think Tanks und Regierungsgruppen ist dies genau die richtige Mischung, um Arbeitsberichte und Netzwerkpflege abzuwickeln und der Konsumfreudigkeit nachzugehen.

Insbesondere das InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise ist für die Anliegen der Partei attraktiv, da es das größte Hotel sein wird mit einer angemessenen Distanz zum Stadtzentrum. InterContinental wird das Hotel unter seinem internationalen Markennamen führen, das Projekt an sich wird jedoch von der Exhibition & Travel Group (ETG) ausgeführt. Dieses Unternehmen mit Sitz in Chengdu ist auf Großprojekte spezialisiert, die mietbare Büroflächen, Einkaufsmöglichkeiten, Kulturtourismus und Freizeit- und Unterhaltungseinrichtungen unter einem Dach vereinen. ETG war am Umbau eines tibetischen Areals nördlich von Chengdu beteiligt, das unter dem Namen Dzitsa Ddeg heute ein weltberühmtes Reiseziel ist.
Tibetische Volkskultur ist eines der Angebote, das den Wert der Marke ETG/InterContinental ausmacht. Es macht die Örtlichkeit einzigartig, den Tibetern aber gesteht es nicht mehr als eine Statistenrolle zu.

Die Kombination aus einem chinesischen Bauträger mit guter Verbindung zur Politik sowie Expertise in der Inszenierung folkloristischer Spektakel und einer internationalen Hotelkette, deren Name Luxus verspricht, ist gewinnbringend und macht Lhasa zu einem Teil von Chinas Tourismusangebot mit Markenhotels, die bis dahin nur in Städten wie Peking und Shanghai zu finden waren.

Eine treibende Kraft ist der Unternehmer Deng Hong, Sohn eines Offiziers der chinesischen Luftwaffe. Einem Journalisten der Washington Post erzählte dieser einmal, dass sein Erfolg auf seinen guten Verbindungen zu Regierungsvertretern beruhe. Deng immigrierte in die USA und kaufte Grundstücke in Hawaii und Silicon Valley. Nach China kehrte er zurück, da, “reich werden” in China einfacher sei als in den USA. Er hatte Recht: Zuletzt besaß er 35 Autos, darunter ein Ferrari, ein Lamborghini, eine Corvette, mehrere Jeeps und Mercedes 600 sowie einen Lincoln Continental. Erst kürzlich hat er die Rechte an 100 Quadratmeilen Land erworben, die direkt an Chinas Jiuzhaigou Nationalpark angrenzen. „In China versuchen die Reichen zu Superreichen zu werden” (Washington Post, 17. März 2002).

Tibeter in der chinesischen Tourismusindustrie
Die in Lhasa agierenden Hotelketten besitzen meistens bereits mehrere Liegenschaften in Chinas Großstädten. Mit Lhasa ist es ihnen nun möglich, internationalen Touristen einschließlich der Geschäftsreisenden, ein Komplettpaket zum Kennenlernpreis und zu Sondertarifen anzubieten. So soll sichergestellt werden, dass die Hotels in Lhasa schnell profitabel werden. Keine privaten Investoren haben jemals so viel dafür getan wie die derzeit entstehende Hotelindustrie, dass Tibet ein Teil der chinesischen Wirtschaft wird. Weiter hat sie die Rolle des Dienstleistungssektors als Quelle für Arbeit und Wohlstand gestärkt.

Jahrzehntelang hat Peking Geld nach Tibet fließen lassen. Arbeit wurde von den Bereichen Verwaltung, Logistik, Gütertransport und Sicherheitspersonal beherrscht und zwar in außergewöhnlich hohem Maße für eine derartig arme Region. Gleichzeitig zogen Rohstoffproduzenten, d. h. die tibetischen Nomaden und Bauern auf dem Land, nur wenig finanzielle Mittel an. Auch die Fertigungsindustrie entwickelte sich nur langsam, während die Dienstleistungsindustrie dagegen rasant anstieg. In der TAR entspricht die Aufteilung dieser drei Beschäftigungsbereiche in etwa der einer modernen Großstadt wie Peking oder Shanghai.

Die Beschäftigung im Dienstleistungsbereich und Geschäftsmöglichkeiten für Selbständige ist gemeinhin den Gebildeten vorbehalten, ausgenommen sind Stellen für Reinigungskräfte und Einfach-Tätigkeiten auf Baustellen. Zwar gibt es in der TAR berufliche Ausbildungsmöglichkeiten, diese werden allerdings meistens von internationalen Nichtregierungsorganisationen (NGO’s) bereitgestellt. Nur wenige Tibeter sind in der Lage, mit den chinesischen Immigranten um eine Stelle im Servicebereich eines Hotels zu konkurrieren, das routinemäßig fließend Chinesisch und oft auch Englisch verlangt. Tibeter mögen Tellerwäscher sein, doch nur die wenigsten schaffen es zum Kellner, Rezeptionisten, Vorarbeiter oder Manager.

Dies ist auch die Erfahrung vieler Tibeter im Nationalpark Dzitsa Degu (Chin. Jiuzhaigou) im Norden Sichuans. Das Naturschutzgebiet ist eines der größten Touristenattraktionen mit Millionen von Besuchern jährlich. Sowohl im Tibetischen wie im Chinesischen leitet sich der Name von den neun tibetischen Dörfern ab, die in den atemberaubend schönen Tälern des Gebiets liegen. Seit 1992 ist es Teil des UNESCO-Weltnaturerbes. Seitdem dieses abgelegene Gebiet von chinesischen Unternehmern 1975 „entdeckt“ worden ist, ist das Tibetische ein Teil seiner Identität. Dennoch spielen die dort lebenden Tibeter nur eine Nebenrolle. Zusammen mit den Berggipfeln, bewaldeten Hängen, kristallfarbenen Seen und Wasserfällen gehören sie zur Attraktion. Touristen, vornehmlich Chinesen, erfreuen sich daran, sich rittlings auf einem Yak oder in tibetischer Kleidung fotografieren zu lassen. Früher konnten Touristen für die authentische Erfahrung in den Dörfern in tibetischen Häusern übernachten. Doch als die Besucherzahl in die Millionen ging, sorgte such die UNESCO um die Überlastung des Gebiets. Die lokalen Behörden verboten die Übernachtungsmöglichkeiten in den Dörfern und zwangen die Touristen, Hotels außerhalb des geschützten Gebiets aufzusuchen. Das größte unter ihnen gehört der ETG und wird nun in Lhasa nachgebaut.

Der Ausschluss der Tibeter vom Dienstleistungssektor kam zu einem Verbot der landwirtschaftlichen Nutzung der Täler hinzu. Obwohl das Land von der tibetischen Bevölkerung seit Jahrhunderten ohne Schaden für Wälder und Flüsse bebaut wird, haben die Behörden beschlossen, dass dies nicht mehr mit der Idee von Jiuzhaigou als magischem Götterreich mit unberührter Natur vereinbar sei. Dennoch bleiben die Tibeter ein Teil des Spektakels. Khampas werden zum Singen und Tanzen eingestellt. Amdoer verleihen an Besucher ihre Tracht, damit diese sich herausputzen können. Tibeter bilden die besondere Nische der exotischen Ureinwohner.

Werden die Tibeter eine weniger marginale Rolle spielen, wenn in Lhasa ähnliche Resorts gebaut werden? In Lhasa leben gut ausgebildete Tibeter sowie tibetische Unternehmer mit Erfahrung im Bewirtschaften eines Hotels, einer heißen Quelle, eines Busunternehmens oder eines Reisebüros. Welche Chancen und Möglichkeiten werden sie in einem InterContinental, Shangri-la, Starwood oder Carlson haben? Es besteht die Gefahr, dass Tibeter in den neuen Hotels lediglich als Dienstmädchen (chin. baomu) und Reinigungskräfte eingestellt werden, anwesend zwar, aber weitgehend unsichtbar und anonym. Der wenig schmeichelhafte Begriff „baomu“ („vertrauter Fremder“) enthält einen negativen Beigeschmack bezüglich des Geschlechts sowie des finanziellen und gesellschaftlichen Status. In den Hotels und in den Wohnungen der chinesischen Neureichen sind die „baomu“, üblicherweise weibliche Migranten vom Land, durch ihre „allgegenwärtige Unsichtbarkeit“, ihre Vergänglichkeit und ihren Status als baomu gekennzeichnet. Obwohl offiziell „soziale Harmonie und Höflichkeit“ innerhalb dieses Beschäftigungsverhältnisses gepriesen wird, ist es mit Diskursen betreffend Privatsphäre, Sicherheit, Sittlichkeit und Qualität (chin. suzhi) durchzogen. Diese Diskurse reißen die materiellen und symbolischen Grenzen nicht ein, sondern bekräftigen sie vielmehr. Chinesen pflegen oft das Vorurteil, Tibetern fehle es an Qualität, Zivilisiertheit und Bildung und sie würden zu Unsauberkeit sowie Faulheit neigen. In einem Hotel unter chinesischem Management unterliegen Tibeter einer strengen Kontrolle. Nur wenige haben Aufstiegschancen oder die Aussicht auf eine Vollzeitstelle.

Grundstücksspekulanten: Der Motor des Tourismus
Um die Arbeitsmöglichkeiten der Tibeter genauer auszuwerten, hilft ein Blick auf den Zusammenschluss von Hotelketten und chinesischen Bauträgern. Jedes Projekt beginnt mit einem chinesischen Bauträger, der den Zugang zu Kapital, die Erfahrung und die politischen Verbindungen für die notwendigen Genehmigungen hat. Dann wird gebaut. InterContinentals Partner ist die Exhibition & Travel Group, Starwood StRegis’ Partner ist die Lhasa Yungao International Hotel Co. mit Sitz in Taiwan und Carlson Park Plazas Verbündeter ist die Tibet Gakyiling Construction Co.

Ob Tibeter mehr als eine Statistenrolle spielen, hängt von der Beschaffenheit dieser Partnerschaften ab. Der chinesische Partner ist der Besitzer und die internationale Hotelkette der Betreiber. Ersterer liefert die harte Infrastruktur, den Beton und das Glas. Letztere stellt die weiche Infrastruktur in Form eines weltweiten Reservierungssystems, von Marketingstrukturen, standardisiertem Service, Qualitätssicherung, Mitarbeitertraining und -kontrolle, besonderer Anziehungspunkte, freundlicher Umgebung, guter Verkehrsmöglichkeiten, umfangreicher Infrastruktur, normativen Managements, standardisierten Service und eines internationalen Marktes. Vom Betreiber wird erwartet, dass er seinen chinesischen Partner alle notwendigen Fähigkeiten für ein erfolgreiches Unternehmen lehrt.

Die Tourismusindustrie in Tibet wird seit Jahrzehnten als “Säule” bezeichnet. Ihr großes Potential liegt darin, einer großen Anzahl von Immigranten Arbeit zu geben und Wohlstand zu schaffen. Pekings Hoffnung war immer, dass die groß angelegten Investitionen in Bahnstrecken, Flughäfen, Autobahnen, E-Werke usw. sich irgendwann auszahlen werden, und die Ära der endlosen Subventionen von einer Wohlstand schaffenden Wirtschaft abgelöst wird. Paradox ist, dass die Unternehmen für ihren Erfolg in Tibet die Erwartungen insbesondere der internationalen Touristen erfüllen müssen. Die bestehen vor allem darin, vor Ort auch Tibeter anzutreffen.

Internationale Touristen: Der Schlüssel zur Wirtschaftlichkeit
Der aktuelle Masterplan erwartet für Ende 2015 mindestens 10 Millionen Besucher. Die Einnahmen aus dem Tourismus sollen auf 10 Milliarden Yuan und die Beschäftigungszahl auf 300.000 ansteigen. Ende 2020 werden mindestens 20 Millionen Besucher nach Tibet reisen. Die Einnahmen aus dem Tourismus werden 20 Milliarden Yuan und die totale Beschäftigung 400 000 Personen erreichen.

Die Vorgaben basieren auf einem Gewinn von 1.000 Yuan pro Besucher. Dies ist ein kleiner Betrag, der darauf schließen lässt, dass auch 2020 nur 3-4 Prozent aller Besucher international sein werden. Dies ist aber bei weitem nicht genug, um 300.000 oder 400.000 Personen anzustellen; es sei denn, die Jobs sind saisonabhängig und schlecht bezahlt.
Auch wenn sie nur eine Minderheit in den neuen Hotels ausmachen werden, sind internationale Touristen für die Wirtschaftlichkeit essentiell. Sie zahlen Höchstpreise, bleiben länger und geben mehr aus. Insbesondere für eine funktionierende Wirtschaftlichkeit der kleineren Hotels werden sie unabdingbar sein. Das erste von ihnen, eröffnet am 15. November 2010, wirbt mit einem Luxus, von dem Westler woanders nur träumen können. Das Starwood St. Regis Lhasa verspricht zum Beispiel jedem Gast einen Diener, der rund um die Uhr zur Verfügung steht. Im Westen ist dies ein unbezahlbarer Luxus, der in eine längst vergangene Ära gehört und den sich nur noch Superreiche leisten können. Doch in China mit seinen Niedriglöhnen macht es möglich.

Wird Starwood St. Regis Tibeter als Diener einstellen? Wissen Tibeter, was es heißt, Respekt zu zeigen, zur Verfügung zu stehen, andere an erste Stelle zu setzen? Wissen Tibeter, wie man freundlich ist und aufrichtiges Interesse für seine Gäste zeigt? Selbstverständlich. Aber dieser persönliche Diener, den die New York Times in ihrer Vorschau auf die Eröffnung des Starwood St. Regis Lhasa so sehr bewundert, muss englisch sprechen. Er muss das Verhalten einer standardisierten Hotelindustrie vorweisen können, die echtes Interesse mit einem eingeübten Lächeln simuliert. Es ist wohl ziemlich sicher, dass der Diener, das einmalige Angebot des Starwood St. Regis Lhasa, ein Chinese mit einem Abschluss einer chinesischen Hotelfachhochschule sein wird. Vielleicht hat er dort auch gelernt, wie man eine Chuba trägt.

Eine Hoffnung bleibt dennoch: Vielleicht können die internationalen Touristen die globalen Betreiber wie die des InterContinental unter moralischen Druck setzen, auch für die tibetische Bevölkerung etwas zu tun.

Übersetzung: Anna Momburg-Vanderpool

Gabriel Lafitte, lehrte bis zu seiner Pensionierung Asienstudien an verschiedenen Universitäten in Melbourne, Australien. Er hat lange Jahre mit Tibetern zusammengearbeitet. Zuletzt hat er die Tibetische Regierung im Exil in Umwelt- und Entwicklungsfragen beraten.

Last Days of Empire


Reflections on a visit to Vienna at the invitation of SaveTibet, and a talk given at Universitet fur Bodenkultur, 11 April 2011, by Gabriel Lafitte

Here in Vienna, as always, the situation is critical but not yet serious. On the surface all is well, the heurigen (wine bars) do a roaring trade, even if they had to move from Grinzing, overrun with tourists, to the foothills further out, still authentically below the vine covered slopes. The waitresses in their dirndln (traditional skirts) serve spritzer (wine and mineral water) and massive slabs of schnitzel; all is well, if not positively gemutlich. Vienna, like London, dines off its heritage, a brand that does not tarnish like silver plate wearing thin, but somehow adds value by feeding on itself.
But it was Vienna’s Karl Kraus, a century ago, who so famously said the situation here in Vienna is critical but not yet serious, as an ironic rebuke to a seriously modern Prussian, concerned to alert and alarm his readers by gravely reporting that the situation was indeed serious but not yet critical.

For Tibetans, the situation is always critical, but not serious. It is critical for a thousand obvious reasons: China’s repression, arrogance and racist cruelty are suffocating Tibet, leaving no public space for Tibetan culture to have any life of its own. China’s repressive invasion of the private sphere, its insistence on humiliating sincere Buddhist practitioners by demanding they denounce their guru, the exemplar of enlightened mind, leaves even the private space of the mind invaded by state power. So the situation is critical, and has long been so, and if anything in 2011 is worse than ever.

Yet it is not serious. Tibetans have deep inner strengths enabling them to survive anything, withstand the most extreme pressures, very seldom yielding to despair or rage. Anger consumes those who experience it. Grief is a more authentic response. The inner strengths of Tibetans enable them, like water, to flow round obstacles, unstoppably. This is the fluidity, flexibility and adaptability of the Tibetans, an asset in all situations but especially when faced with unreflexive, ingrained, racist arrogance.

This is truly remarkable. I find this particularly amazing here in Vienna, my mother’s home town where I am an occasional visitor, my family having scattered as far as Australia, Viennese Jews escaping the Nazis. The permanent state of rage of the Jews, the collective outrage and righteousness, in response to persecution was once necessary. But now it has long outlived any useful purpose. Now it only blinds the Israelis to the damage they so counterproductively inflict on the Palestinians. That’s a classic instance of the situation forever being serious, verging on the critical, a rationale for drastic measures to collectively punish the Palestinians yet again for not somehow evaporating.

Assessing, rating, ranking this situation and that as serious but not yet critical is an obsession of our times. It is the foundation of project management. All development projects require a problem, to which a technical solution is then found. It constructs a neat hierarchy of situations to be categorised, on a sliding scale. The logic of the sliding scale, from success at one end to crisis at the other, depends on isolating, defining and elaborating on problems. The concept of the problem is the driver of modernity.

It leads always towards danger, towards the temptation to write off this situation, that place, as doomed, a failed state, an outbreak of anarchy, chaos, collective madness, or irrational fundamentalism. It is the most extreme form of them and us. We are the rational observers, with our carefully calibrated scale of freedom through to unfreedom, transparency through to utter corruption, mature democracy through to anarchic failure. Labelling those struggling to deal with their confusions and contradictions as critical, enables us to call in the air strikes, to reach for the military as a legitimate solution to messy human problems.

China routinely perceives the situation in Tibet as serious, sliding towards the critical. Everything about Tibet, through Chinese eyes, is problematic, hard to manage, unpredictable, unfamiliar, uncanny, disturbing, even the air that is so thin that each breath could be your last. That is what Chinese fear.

Yet China, at an official public level, says it does have solutions. Even more remarkably, it says there is one solution to all the problems of Tibet. In its 12th Five-year Plan for Tibet, for 2011-15, China says explicitly that development is the solution to all Tibetan problems. I am tempted to ask a naïve question: if development is the solution, then what is the problem?

Tibet and Tibetans are high on the list of what can and does go bad, and can threaten China’s ascent to the blissful god realms. In the imaginations of the Chinese elite, Tibet is all liability, with no prospect of ever becoming an asset. Tibet can only hold China back, blow up in China’s face, humiliate China all over again on the eve of the Olympic triumph. Tibet, in capitalist terms, is a cost centre, forever requiring expensive interventions to maintain China’s dominance, with little realistic prospect of paying its way through profitable copper mining.

This is a bad position, even disastrous, a hardening of Chinese elite attitudes that closes Chinese minds. The Tibetans have become one of the criminal tribes of China, much as the British Raj declared certain Indian tribes to be inherently and collectively criminal by nature. Suddenly, Tibetans in China, even educated, sophisticated Tibetans used to dealing skilfully with Chinese language, customs and people, now find themselves treated with suspicion, fear and contempt.
This is bad, as the Dalai Lama very quickly discerned as soon as the March 08 uprising, a heartfelt outpouring of grief, of tears held in too long, burst into the open. He immediately recognised this natural and inevitable outpour as disastrous for negotiations, for any prospect of mutual respect and trust.

Does this mean we are at an impasse, a dead end, where nothing is possible, as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is the future only more pain, more incomprehension?

That could easily happen, but we are not helpless. What we can do, more than before, ius to enter into the minds of the Chinese elite, see their hopes and fears. That is the historic task of the present moment. Only if we learn to fully see the world thriough their eyes, will we see where Tibet fits into the innumerable opportunities and threats they see ahead. Only if we map their minds can we see how and why China has created the opposite of eveything it ever hoped for in Tibet. By tracing the unacknowledged underside of Chinese thought and emotion can we see how we got here, how it is possible that, in the name of harmony, stability and development, China has in reality strengthened Tibetan nationalism.

By tracking the deeply unskilful Chinese imperial project in Tibet we discover how both nations, the Chinese and the Tibetans, have arrived at this painful divergence; and we discern the trend, and the likely future is the present trajectory continues. This is all big-picture, long term stuff, offering no quick solutions, no breakthroughs. But it does mean we are alert to opportunities to shift the debate, to reframe it, as causes and conditions arise. That has always been how Tibetans dealt with their much bigger Chinese neighbour. That is how minister Gar won Princess Wen Cheng from her father, the emperor of China, to marry the Tibetan king. It is the Tibetan capacity for being clear minded, grounded, earthy and quick witted that wins in the end, at the crucial moment of testing. That is what turns minds, in the brief moment when minds can be turned. From Minister Gar to Phagpa Lama at the court of Kubilai Khan, this is a long tradition. It begins with knowing the mind of your opponent, entering fully into the mindset of those who are your obstacle.

China’s elite are, as the Dalai Lama has often said, unconfident. This is hardly surprising, since their wealth accumulation, their dream of China 2.0, depends on keeping hundreds of millions of Chinese workers and peasants powerless, impotent, poor and unable to claim a share of the wealth monopolised by the rich. The party-state is a hybrid machine of oppression of the masses, a dictatorship that has lost the trust of the people.

The legitimacy of the party-state has eroded; the number of popular protests to be crushed by force grows every year. Everyone knows the party-state elite are greedy, corrupt, rent-seeking, monopolistic, uncaring of popular welfare, indifferent to the health or education of the masses. The older generation, who made sacrifices to build socialism, have been discarded. In the boom city of Shenzhen a former soldier who worked in the 1980s to build Shenzhen, to turn rice fields into a city of commerce, told a German political scientist: “We all feel we have been excluded from society. We built up Shenzhen, but society has forgotten us. We don’t have much education or a lot of hope. We are extremely unhappy with the state of society. The Party used to be our sun; now it is corrupt, like the Kuomintang. We ex-soldiers are just too upright; that’s why we haven’t gotten rich”1

Anyone able to talk freely with ordinary Chinese people finds these sentiments repeated a thousand fold, a million fold.
No longer is it believable that the central leaders want everyone to be wealthy, that, as Deng Xiaoping said in the 1980s, let a few get rich first, so wealth can trickle through to everyone. That was 30 years ago, more than a generation, and the poor are still poor, even if the parity-state has magically erased poverty by redefining it.

The new rich justify their kleptocracy, crony capitalism, cartels and monopolies, their exclusive access to capital and power by their collective disdain for the masses. The contempt for the ordinary Chinese is crystallised in the elite theory of suzhi, or quality. The masses lack the qualities needed for modernity, for participating as equals in the nation building enterprise, they lack the human capital formation, the education needed to succeed in business. Democracy is out of the question when the masses are so backward, a drag on China’s progress. The only knowledge that is valuable these days is what you can learn by doing a Masters of International Business in a Western university. That is sophisticated knowledge; it enables you to acquire a high level of suzhi, to become an advanced person in every way, qualified to be part of the party-state elite of rapid wealth accumulation.

Tibet is part of this dualistic division of the Chinese world into the advanced and the backward, the central and the remote, rich and poor, high and low quality, the scientific and the superstitious. Each side of the dual divide has many attributes; each is a full-blown stereotype.

This dualism has extreme edges. At one extreme are the educated elite, the bringers of the new knowledge economy which will in future transcend China’s present role as world factory. These new builders of China’s comprehensive national power see themselves as the peak of human evolution, exemplary ultra moderns, bearers of suzhi and all that is civilised and progressive. At the other extreme are those who are dirty, violent, criminal, remote, poor, backward, superstitious, uncommercial, ungrateful and ignorant. Every one of those adjectives is routinely applied to the Tibetans, in the minds of the Chinese elite.

The inevitable result of this contempt is the rise and rise of Tibetan nationalism. China is creating what it most fears, just as it nears the threshold of the god realms. At the very time China glimpses the peak of Mount Olympus, realm of the gods, it unskilfully sows the seeds of its own undoing.

Perhaps this nexus of creation and destruction, of success and failure, is inevitable. Certainly it is historically common that great nations undo themselves from within, setting in motion the very energies they least desire. Buddhists have always told us we set ourselves up for the unintended consequences of our short sighted decisions; that our sufferings arise exactly out of our attempts at attaining happiness. Economists call this the law of “perverse outcomes”.

Historically we need not look far to see great powers undoing themselves by misguided actions that seemed wise at the time. Russia’s disastrous intervention in Afghanistan, followed by America’s, are clear examples. Likewise America’s war against the very Pakistani militants America used to arm and train to fight against Soviet power in Afghanistan. The US and the government of Pakistan are reaping now what they sowed 20 years ago.

A closer parallel with the China Tibet situation might be the declining decades of the Habsburg Empire, a land empire in the heart of Europe that has so completely vanished it is hardly remembered, yet 100 years ago it seemed a glorious, long-lived and successful multi-ethnic empire with plenty of life. In 1909, anyone who predicted that within a decade the entire empire would crumble would have been thought insane. Yet it happened, and the cause was what we now see in Tibet.
The dominant power in the Habsburg Empire were the Austrians, among them my mother and her family, who did well out of plundering the forests of newly conquered Balkan territories of the empire. The Austrians, in the 19th century, German speakers, saw themselves, as the Chinese do today, as the bearers of a universal civilisation, bringing modernity, development and enlightenment to the lesser peoples under their control, such as the Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Poles, Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Rumanians and more. Through the 19th century and into the 20th, Germanic nationalism grew ever more arrogant and exclusive; and those who felt excluded and denigrated grew, in turn, their own exclusive nationalism, their own exclusive history, national myths of identity and origin, and their own pantheon of nationalist heroes.

For decades, it seemed the Habsburgs managed skilfully the rising demands of its multicultural, multi-ethnic empire spread across central and Eastern Europe. Until, quite suddenly, it fell apart, creating a dozen new nations which, by the 21st century, became even more numerous as the former Yugoslavia fell apart.

The Austrians, in 1907, the year my mother was born, were in the god realm, inheritors of the Holy Roman Empire, the conceit that somehow imperial Rome had lived on, right into the modern era, under the benevolent but autocratic rule of the Habsburg dynasty. The haughty rituals of the Habsburg court, so well depicted in the novels of Joseph Roth, insulated the rulers from real knowledge of how fragile their power was.

My mother, born in Vienna into a prosperous family of timber merchants who had bought their way into minor nobility, could have had no idea that by the age of 10 or 11 the entire Habsburg empire would be dust. Nothing in 1907 suggested that an empire that had lasted centuries could crumble from within, as well as be defeated militarily. Habsburg minority ethnicity policy was well established, the formulas for containing minority nationalism well rehearsed.

At Schonbrunn Palace the emperor diligently sat at his desk in his arbeitszimmer, (work room) signing documents from morning to night, receiving the latest military intelligence from his aide-de-camp in an adjoining room still today signified by maps on the wall, compass and callipers to measure a day’s march for troops to be despatched to quell a minority rebellion.
But, as Joseph Roth’s novels devastatingly show, it was all a show, all smoke and mirrors. The mighty Egyptoid obelisk in the Schonbrunn gardens designed to manifest the might and majesty of the Habsburg family dynasty is plastered (literally) with Egyptian hieroglyphs that took the fancy of the designer, utterly meaningless and random, since the language of the hieroglyphs had not been deciphered. The Roman ruins nearby are not only utterly ersatz, a confection of contrived ancientness made all too obviously of brick, again plastered to create in render a surface of Roman gods and voluptuaries. This instant ruin, built so artfully in the late 18th century, complete with plants growing in the cracks, by the early 21st century was no longer picturesque, looking instead so utterly ruinous it had to be stripped back, revealing the bricks, and the staging. Today’s curators seem unsure whether to restore the trompe l’oeil rendering, making the ruins both a sublime romantic picturesque once more and part of the back-story of the Holy Roman Empire.

To the end of his long reign as both King of the Hungarians and Kaiser of everyone else in the empire (a brilliant piece of minzu politik),[minority ethnicity policy] Franz Joseph dutifully said his prayers every day, lay in his simple single bed after his beloved wife was assassinated by Italian anarchists, and continued to rule as if nothing much ever changed.
Today Schonbrunn continues as before, doing whatever it takes, staging a memorial concert for Michael Jackson, dressing children as princesses for the photo shoot. It is no different to adding the youthful Mozart retrospectively to a painting of a great ceremonial gathering even though he wasn’t there, being a child of four at the time. But icons attract magnetically, he has to be in the picture, anachronism notwithstanding.

Empires exist by such devices, by projecting themselves as imagined communities belonging to the one emperor. If the masses believe, it exists, when the masses cease to believe, it crumbles.

The same Habsburg law which found it useful, for reasons of state, to tolerate Jews and Protestants in an overwhelmingly Catholic Austria, at the same time dissolved Catholic monasteries that were dedicated solely to contemplative religious life. The higher loyalty of the contemplatives to an immanent god, was deemed a threat to the utilitarian state.

Empires, Habsburg or Chinese, seem secure until they fall, only revealing their weaknesses, strains, contradictions and absurdities afterwards. Yet at the imperial centre, those in charge are often insecure, even frightened, haunted by ghosts of a past not properly dealt with, jumping at shadows. Both the Habsburgs and the Chinese Communist Party felt especially threatened by the depth of inner experience of the mystics, of those who go inwards to discover in lived experience what is the nature of reality, far beyond the petty ambitions opf political power.

China is haunted by the spectre of democracy, even of the possibility of revolution from below. Having seized power by revolution, the last thing the Communist Party wants is another revolution, and is willing to take all measures necessary to stifle any alternative to its monopoly on power.

It is this repressiveness that breeds its own downfall, that in the long run strengthens the resistance, the determination, against all odds, to retain a separate identity untainted by party-state agendas. The Habsburgs unwittingly fuelled Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and Polish nationalisms, and many more as well, by insisting on the superiority and special rights of the German speakers. Likewise, China sows the seeds of its ultimate defeat by the very policies it considers necessary to prevent dissent from gaining even one gulp of oxygen.

But China cannot make the mystic tantrikas, the inner ones, go away by persecuting monks and forcing them to spit on their guru, even if in Tibetan tradition denouncing one’s guru is considered worse than murdering one’s parents. China has devised a mental torture especially calculated to break Tibetans, to shatter their innermost being, yet Tibetan resistance grows and grows, no matter what the cost.

China cannot make Tibetan identity dissolve into the assimilationist “harmonious” homogeneity of the Han. The more repressively China cracks down on Tibetans, the more it reveals its mistrust of almost every Tibetan, the more naked its racist contempt for Tibetans becomes, the stronger Tibetan nationalism grows. A decade ago, in order to ensure there was no possibility China could dissolve, as did the Soviet Union, a new official doctrine was very quietly declared by the Communist Party. High level inner party debates in the 1990s crystallised into a slogan, of which only the first half was mentioned in public: jiakuai jingji fazhan, danhua minzu wenti. This slogan exhorts the speeding up of economic development, but with the secret corollary, to downplay the national question. The latter half of the slogan was strictly neibu, for party insiders only. China badly wants to downplay the national question, hoping the time has come when it no longer has many nations, many peoples, within its borders, only ethnic groups well along on the path to assimilation.
But Tibet is stuck in China’s throat, like a fishbone that can be neither swallowed nor spat out, a painful situation for both bone and throat. Tibet is more than ever an irritant, forever threatening to blow up unpredictably, as it did in 2008, never again to be silenced even by beating dissidents to death, as happens routinely.
The new formula of danhua minzu wenti, downplaying nationality questions, is the key to China’s renewed reliance on a one-size-fits-all policy of development and industrialisation as the solution to all problems. But if development answers everything, what is the problem? The problem is that China sees problems everywhere, yet its attempts to deal with them are scounter-productive, perverse, full of unintended consequences because they are so heavy handed and unskilful. By breaking Tibet up into myriad problems, China fails to see the big picture: that the Tibetans are unhappy, frustrated and mistrustful, after decades of being treated as barbaric primitives. China mistakenly thinks it can create an industrialised, developed Tibet where everyone lives in basic material comfort and will therefore be happy. This is delusional, even self-destructive, creating the very counter nationalism China seeks so urgently to defuse. The situation is serious, urgent and close to critical, so force is the only answer. Tibetans are no longer fooled by China’s smoke and mirrors, by rhetorics of China’s benevolence and Tibetan ingratitude. China’s staging of its superiority is already a hieroglyphic mess, a set of meaningless slogans which, by endless repetition in official speeches, lose their last shreds of meaning.

If China studied the decades of Habsburg decay, while Kaiser Franz Joseph so dutifully sat at his desk, utterly out of touch with ground truth, signing document after document bearing no relation to reality, it might learn. If Tibetans study the decline and fall of the Habsburgs, the rise and rise of Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Croatian and Serb nationalisms, they might find a familiar sight. They might recognise an imperial elite unskilfully bringing about the conditions for its’ own collapse. The situation is critical, but not serious, because the inner strengths of Tibetan culture, grounded in the access to ultimate reality of the inner ones, can always outlast all repression.

1Thomas Heberer. Relegitimation through new patterns of social security: Neighbourhood communities as legitimating institutions, The China Review, vol 9 #2, 2009, 99-128

Restoring Sustainability to Tibet


A briefing to European Union Directorate-General on Environment, and EU Directorate-General on Climate, 4 April 2011
By Gabriel Lafitte, +613 407 840 333

Environmental impacts do not respect national boundaries; they are invariably transboundary issues. Eurasia is a single continent; Tibet is at its heart. The Tibetan Plateau is close to three per cent of the planetary land surface. Dust storms originating in the desertifying areas of Tibet affect not only downwind Beijing but also Japan and, across the North Pacific, Canada and the United States. Nuclear contamination from the Japanese Fukushima catastrophe has now reached Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

The EU response to these challenges has been modest, on a scale not commensurable with the needs of our times. Projects have been initiated, which will gradually provide valuable data about environmental dynamics in Tibet, which will better inform policy making. One example is the EU funded hydrological monitoring of Tibetan rivers and glacier melt, essential to verifying the basis of china’s perception of Tibet as “China’s Number One water Tower,” an odd imaginary since most of the Tibetan plateau is semi-arid, with only the highest peaks able to capture the small amounts of moisture in the atmosphere.

Such research may eventually tell us whether China is right in hoping for a dividend, at least throughout the 21st century, of extra runoff into its great rivers, due to glacier melt on the Tibetan plateau. That is what Chinese scientists have calculated, using computer simulation modelling, predicting much benefit to China if glacier melt continues, and also predicting that climate change will make the Tibetan plateau much more suitable for agriculture with Chinese characteristics, and greater forest coverage, well beyond what is now the natural limit of forest growth.
Such long term research has many uses, but in the shorter term China is making policy for the Tibetan plateau based on assumptions that climate change is beneficial, perhaps a reason why China is especially reluctant to follow the European lead and agree to specific pollutant discharge targets and quotas.

This in turn raises major issues, which are best understood on a regional and on a Eurasian continental scale. China is well aware that Europe and the international community are increasingly concerned at China’s emergence as the world’s biggest polluter and emitter of greenhouse gases. China’s new Five-Year Plan makes much of turning to renewable and nuclear power as alternatives to coal and oil, but the reality remains that China’s current consumption of three billion tons of coal a year will nonetheless increase to 3.8 billion tons by 2015, on China’s own figures. Similarly, China’s demand for raw materials of all kinds, from mineral ores to food, has pushed up prices globally, impoverishing tens of millions of already poor people across the developing world, cancelling out the good work of the EU and EU member states in aid projects that enhance food security in the third world.

One of China’s strategic responses to the anxiety of both the developed and developing world over the consequences of China’s voracious consumption has been to make much of the Tibetan Plateau an offset, a “green” zone, much of it designated as protected area, in the name of biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and climate change mitigation. From a Tibetan viewpoint, this is commendable, a welcome move towards fulfilling the vision the Dalai Lama announced as long ago as 1989 in Strasbourg, when he called for the Tibetan plateau to become a refuge for all sentient beings, human and animal, worldwide.

On the map, most of China’s protected areas are in Tibet, and the Chinese delegation to the EU in its April 2011 presentation on the merits of the 12th Five-year Plan went so far as to say that the conservation of Tibetan rivers, forests and grasslands does little to benefit Tibetans, that the beneficiaries are downstream, and those beneficiaries should compensate Tibet. The global concept of Payment for Environmental Services (PES) is now being heard for the first time, even if there is no mechanism or specific proposals. At least it means there is recognition that Tibetans are paying the opportunity cost of conserving their environment.

When Tibetans have a say –which is rarely- they almost always readily agree to accept this opportunity cost of not developing and industrialising the Tibetan Plateau. Almost without exception, Tibetans are deeply upset by the extraction of their resources, the widespread destruction of forests and wildlife, committed by nonTibetans in recent decades. In the many protests by Tibetans, all over the Tibetan Plateau since 2008, environmental concerns have been uppermost, with many accusations that mining and hydro damming are theft, since the beneficiaries are far distant, and the environmental costs of dam-induced earthquakes and mine tailing leaching are borne by the Tibetans.

Tibetans are also deeply concerned that China’s rhetoric of watershed protection has, as its main method (not just an unforeseen consequence) the exclusion of nomads en masse from their vast pasture lands, almost the size of Western Europe. China recently extended eastwards its biggest protected area to include the four Tibetan nomadic prefectures of Qinghai province which constitute the Sanjiangyuan, or Three River Source Area, from which nomads are to be removed, or have already been moved to concrete barrack housing far from their ancestral grazing lands. China’s use of environmental language is deeply problematic. China says the displaced nomads are “ecological migrants” who have voluntarily sold all their animals, surrendered their long-term land-use certificates and lost their livelihoods. This is factually incorrect, unless voluntary means the actions of desperately poor people, impoverished by tightly disciplinary regulation of land size, herd size, family size, compulsory and expensive fencing and housing, to sell their remaining animals in order to feed themselves tomorrow.

Many scientific research reports say climate warming in Tibet, as with the North and South Poles, is happening faster than elsewhere in the world. Permafrost is shrinking at an alarming rate, and the glaciers are melting. The early seasonal thawing of permafrost means ice in the earth turns to water and drains away too early in the growing season for plant roots to reach it. The result is death of wetland vegetation and also crops fail to thrive. Climate change is already having many negative impacts on Tibet, yet climate change simulations by Chinese scientists cheerfully predict that a rise in temperature of four degrees would make the Tibetan Plateau much more supportive of farming with Chinese characteristics.Climate change is good for China’s Tibet

These are all issues in which Europe has a natural stake. The heart of Eurasia is the planetary Third Pole, which also heats sufficiently in summer to pull deep inland the monsoons of South, Southeast and East Asia. The Tibetan Plateau is the engine of much of the northern hemispheric climate, and should be treated as a single entity, as science already does, rather than fracturing it artificially into several Chinese provinces, with only the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) considered to be Tibet, even though it is only half the plateau area.

The EU, as the western part of Eurasia, has a natural and proper interest in Eurasia’s core, a vast island in the sky of global significance. In the upcoming 7th EU EAP, this calls for a more comprehensive response. EU funded projects in Tibet, such as CEOP-AEGIS and RETPEC, the previous EU TAR Panam agricultural intensification project or the EU Qinghai potato project, make modest contributions to improving livelihoods, increasing scientific data, even attempting to persuade Chinese officials to listen, for the first time, to nomads, as RETPEC (coordinated by Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen) tried to do. But the time has come for a bolder approach, for the sake of our common planet.

Fortunately, it is possible to envisage an alternative approach that meets the needs of all stakeholders: the government of China, the Tibetan people, the EU and the planet. Although win/win rhetoric is common, it is not often that the core interests of all parties are in reality aligned, but right now there is a fortunate conjunction of causes and conditions which is most auspicious.

The whole of the Tibetan Plateau should be made a protected area, a global commons for protection of biodiversity, watersheds and the livelihoods of skilfully mobile pastoralists whose rangeland management practices were sustainable and productive for 9000 years. The only exception would be the Tsaidam basin of Qinghai province (Amdo Tsonub in Tibetan), where China already has a substantial oil and gas extraction base, salt harvesting, refineries and petrochemical plants, providing China with chemical fertilisers, plastics, fuels and minerals such as asbestos, magnesium, lithium and potash. But Tsaidam is the only industrialised area on the Tibetan Plateau, though China does still see industrialisation as the only path to civilisation, development and prosperity. In fact, China’s 12th Five-Year Plan in Tibet specifically calls for large scale mining and smelting of copper and gold in several locations in TAR, also extensive hydro damming for smelters and downstream users, and the settlement of nearly all the two million (or more) nomads into permanent housing, usually far from their grazing lands.

China’s policy towards Tibet remains conflicted, inconsistent, and even contradictory. China is deeply ambivalent towards Tibet, promoting both conservation, on a grand scale, and industrialisation. Tibetans in exile have often supposed China is extracting the entire mineral and water wealth of Tibet, but until now, despite frequent announcements in official Chinese media of multiple mines, actual exploitation has been limited. Soon this may no longer be so, as China begins implementation of its 2011-2015 12th Five-Year Plan. Tibet is on the cusp.

Industrialisation is seen by China as necessary, even while more and more of the plateau is set aside as protected area. China says development is the answer to all problems in Tibet, including the political problems of establishing trust between people and authority. Industrialisation and development as manifested in China’s plans, all mean intensification and concentration of people and finance into small areas best endowed with factors of production. China in its 9th Five-Year Plan for Tibet (1996-2000) explicitly announced the basic strategy is to transform Tibet from extensive to intensive development. For environmental reasons, this is a profound mistake. The third pole of the planet is suitable only for extensive land use, and cannot sustain intensification, with the whole population, including the displaced nomads, concentrated in urban centres. Tibet cannot sustain the increase in population, which is now 11 million or more, almost double the historic limit.

If China can be persuaded, through scientific evidence, that the best economic and ecological future for the Tibetan Plateau is as a conservation zone, this can build a post-productivist economy based on restoring pastoral nomadic mobility as the most skilful way of achieving conservation goals. This would return Tibet to extensive land use, which is light and soft, always moving on, before the grasslands are exhausted. The Tibetan plateau is an excellent example of the validity of Article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biodiversity, which emphasises that indigenous people have the best record in conserving biodiversity, and that their traditions should be supported by the international community.

The outcome of such a shift would benefit all concerned. China would be able to proclaim the whole Tibetan Plateau as an offset for its emissions and global impact on climate. China already does so; this is a matter of further scaling up what is already happening. Ways of calculating the environmental services provided by the Tibetan plateau, to Asian water supply and global climate, do exist. Figures can be calculated, the methodologies exist. The concept of REDD – reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation- is well established and is almost certain to be inbuilt in any post-Kyoto global agreement on effectively controlling climate change. China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Tibet announced almost no budget for rehabilitation of degrading grasslands. The only “treatment” for degradation is the utter exclusion of the nomads. A more socially inclusive, income-generating and poverty alleviating way of protecting Tibet and rehabilitating the grasslands is to pay the pastoralists to do the labour intensive work of sowing grass seeds, tending young forests recovering from decades of Chinese logging, adopting community forestry as the method.

Even if China declared all of the Tibetan Plateau a protected area, this would hardly leave China free to accelerate its fossil fuel energy use. China’s current Five-Year plan envisages coal consumption rising by a further 800 million tons a year by 2015, above the current extraordinary coal addiction, of 3000 million tons a year. This remains unsustainable, and requires further response beyond deciding Tibet is a globally important landscape best protected.

The world would gain the planet its’ biggest protected area, which can also sustain its population of nomadic pastoralists whose livestock production has not been a net addition to carbon emissions. International finance from EU and elsewhere to restore degraded rangelands would restore the capacity of the Tibetan Plateau to capture carbon, especially if the drying and drained wetlands are rehabilitated, covering a large area now desiccating due to climate change and Chinese drainage.

The Tibetans would regain a physical and cultural space in which their traditional land use regains respect, and is understood once more as sustainable and supportive of biodiversity conservation, since wild herds traditionally mingled freely with the nomads’ herds of yak, sheep and goats. The return of extensive land use would enable an ecotourism boom, in natural and rehabilitated landscapes, a post-productivist future akin to the EU Natura 2000 program, or the post productivist economy of Scotland, Arctic Canada or monsoonal Australia. If rural Tibetans receive income from their tourism enterprises, and from payment for the environmental services they provide Asia and the planet, their security and collective right to development is assured, in a post-productivist, post-industrial economy.
China could regain moral leadership of the developing world, demonstrating in practice that it embraces the New Range Ecology, setting an example to governments of nomadic drylands on several continents. China defines its strategy in Tibet as “leap-and-bound” development. To leap:
• from pre-industrial to post-industrial,
• from unsustainable intensive land use back to sustainable extensive nomadic land use,
• from exclusion of nomads, loss of food production and food security to social inclusion of nomads as the guardians and stewards of nature.
All these would make China a world leader.

This is a chance for a win/win all round. EU DG ENVIR and CLIMA should investigate this singular opportunity to ensure there remains on this earth a substantial area, a vast plateau close to the sky, dedicated to fulfilling environmental goals and providing environmental services directly to all of Asia, through water supply and climate dynamics, and to the whole planet.

The 2011 review of the EU 6th Environmental Action Program, which ends in 2012, says: “In the international area despite efforts, only limited progress has been made towards the 6EAP objective of integrating environmental concerns in the EU’s development, trade and neighbourhood policies. Limited progress has also been made in relation to the 6EAP objectives of promoting sustainable environmental practices in foreign investment and export credits.” Nowhere has progress been so limited as in the case of China, where galloping resource consumption and accelerating pollution negate all the good efforts of European governments and citizens to reduce their environmental footprint. Hopefully the EU’s next Environmental Action Program will be more successful.

This is an opportunity for bold initiative, for a game changer, for ensuring that Europe’s hard work to reduce emissions is not wiped out by China’s industrialisation.