A report published this year by the Dalai Lama’s Dharamsala-based “Government-in-Exile” and titled Environment and Development in Tibet: A Crucial Issue (available on their website) seeks to perpetuate the myth that Tibetans are fast becoming a minority in their homeland as a result of a state-sponsored policy of Han settlement in Tibet. In fact, of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) population of 2.8 million, Tibetans account for 92 per cent, other ethnic minorities for around 2 per cent, and Han Chinese a little under 6 per cent.
Government officials in Tibet emphasise that the accusation that Han Chinese control the administration of Tibet is wrong. Tibetans constitute a majority of the cadre within government and the Communist Party. According to Duo Ji Ciren, Vice-Commissioner of the Administrative office of Linzhi prefecture, 70 per cent of civil servants in Linzhi prefecture are either Tibetans or from other ethnic minorities, and key prefectural posts are held by Tibetans.
Education has been key to social and economic progress in Tibet. Modern education only began after 1951. In 2007, enrolment in primary schools reached 98.2 per cent, in middle schools 90.97 per cent, in high school 42.96 per cent, and in colleges 17.4 per cent. Before 1951, 92 per cent of the population of Tibet was illiterate. That proportion is now 44 per cent, although the illiterate are now concentrated in the older age groups.
“You had to be a monk if you wanted education in the old society,” said Dr. Losang Yundeng, 51, Director of the 210-bed County Peoples Hospital in Linzhi. An ethnic Tibetan from a poor family of labourers in a remote village in Linzhi prefecture, he was sent to one of the first schools to be opened in his village. When a medical team visited the village in 1972, the 15-year-old boy was chosen by his village to train as a barefoot doctor. After the Cultural Revolution, Dr. Yundeng trained at the Nanjing Medical College and later at the famous Norman Bethune Medical Academy to become a doctor.
Dr. Wangmo, 44, a brilliant Tibetan plant pathologist and professor in the Department of Plant Technology at the Tibetan Agriculture and Animal Husbandry College, Linzhi, speaks of how education transformed life in her village. “I studied in a village which you could only get to by horse,” she said. “But education gave us ability and confidence. In my school, 80 per cent of the children were Tibetan and our Tibetan education was very good.” In the college where she teaches, half of the 3,000 students are girls and 80 per cent of all students are Tibetan.
Dr. Wangmo’s current research is on understanding the structure of a fungus called Cordyceps Sinensis, which grows wild in certain high-altitude counties. Called “yatsagompo” in Tibetan, the fungus, which looks like an innocuous dry twig, has been the reason for a sudden increase in incomes among certain communities living in these regions. Used in traditional medicine and valued for its healing properties, the fungus is highly priced. “I have seen people earn 80,000 yuan a year from this,” Dr. Wangmo explained. Her research team is also working on how to undertake the sustainable cultivation of this precious resource.
Indeed, the issue of ecological sustainability and protection of the natural habitat is one over which demonstrable measures have been taken. The Tibetan plateau is a cradle of the planet’s natural wealth. It has the world’s highest peaks and lakes, gives birth to Asia’s mighty rivers, and has vast deposits of mineral and forest wealth.
The 10-hour drive from Lhasa to the Linzhi prefecture, one of TAR’s ecological treasure houses, is as remarkable for its stunning landscapes as it is for the absence of heavy motor traffic, roadside hoardings, the defacement of rock surfaces with advertisements or writing, and litter. The Linzhi Prefecture has a forest cover of 46 per cent, the largest virgin forest in China. The preservation of the ecology is central to government policy here. “Our slogan is ‘Build Linzhi as the largest district in western Tibet with the best preserved ecology,’” said Mr. Ciren, its administrative head. The beautiful Environmental Museum in Linzhi offers a stunning display of its plant and animal wealth.
China’s Tibet policy was defined to us by Dong Yunhu, Director General of the State Council Information Office, as “the continuous improvement in the living standards of Tibetans,” By this criterion, the implementation of China’s Tibet policy is marked by measurable and visible success.