Legal Materials on Tibet
United Nations

Secretary-General's Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

Annex 2.7
Minority Rights Group

The exercise of economic, social and cultural rights in China: a Tibetan perspective

[The economic and statistical data quoted in this submission is taken from the work of Wang Xiaoqiang and Bai Nanfeng, Wang Danu, Tseten Wangchuk, A. Tom Grunfeld, Guan Puran, Li Zhuqing and the Tibetan Volume of "Chinese Population 1988".]

1. In this presentation, the Minority Rights Group would like to examine the situation in Tibet primarily from the perspective of economic, social and cultural rights. The widely-reported violations of civil and political rights in Tibet are only the more visible facet of a pattern of extensive violations that pervades the fabric of daily life for even the most compliant and privileged Tibetans. The natural economic, social and politico-cultural development of Tibet has been impaired by the structural distortion effected by the undesired imposition of alien patterns over the past three or four decades. A people and a society that were economically self-sufficient, with their own sophisticated culture and authentic traditions, have been rendered almost entirely dependent on decisions taken several thousand miles away by an alien people, with traditions, values, goals and aspirations at variance with their own, and they are under pressure to accept and conform to these alien patterns in order to survive.

2. "The system of cadres, committees, production-units, etc., still exercises control over many aspects of life for ordinary Tibetans. It is important to remember that it is not a system of their own design, but something which has been imposed on them from outside. Tibet is very much an "administered" society, disproportionately burdened with governmental and military activity, rather than a self-sufficient and productive society (as the Chinese themselves admit)."

3. Leaving aside the unresolved question of Tibet's former status in international law, Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) do not enjoy even the slight measure of autonomy set out in Chinese legislation. By definition, autonomous areas in China are supposed to enjoy the following rights: central government decrees and regulations can be adapted to local conditions; the autonomous areas may use their own languages, train native officials, have the final say in economic affairs, have their own financial administration, draft their own educational policies, control the local Public Security Bureau and Armed Police and control the floating population (transients and migrants).

4. The administration of the Tibet Autonomous Region has been imported wholesale from China. Although the size of the entire industrial and agricultural output of the TAR can be compared to that of a single large township in China, it is administered by an array of committees, departments, bureaux and offices, 62 in all, worthy of a Chinese province. In the time it has taken for the TAR's output to quadruple, administrative costs have gone up 10 times. The work of the administration is conducted essentially in Chinese, in violation of articles 2 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as this denies access to over 90 per cent of the Tibetan population that does not know Chinese. (This and subsequent observations may apply equally to areas outside the TAR, but the lack of precise data for those areas will limit this presentation to the TAR, or about half the Tibetan area.)

5. While it is true that the administration is increasingly staffed by Tibetans, this is a very recent phenomenon. In 1980, when Hu Yaobang visited Tibet, he noted that: "Forced collectivization had left the local economy in ruins, the Tibetan people totally demoralized and a pitifully inadequate infrastructure in the hands of Han Chinese administrators totally dependent on support form China." By 1991, cadres in TAR are said to be 66 per cent Tibetan, but this does not guarantee genuine devolution of power (art. 21). "The autonomy of the autonomous districts of China is only the rhetoric of the Communist Party. None of the autonomous districts in China has any real autonomy. An ordinary special economic zone such as Xiamen actually has more autonomy than Tibet, not to mention important special economic zones such as Shenzeng and Shekou." This candid assessment is Jigme Ngapo's, a Tibetan anthropologist educated in China, son of a Vice-Chairman of the Chinese National People's Congress. He further specifies that "as for the veto of the Tibetan local government to policies of the Central Government . . . no one in the local government would ever dare to exercise that power." As the Panchen Lama, the other high-ranking Tibetan in the Government, put it to an official meeting of the Chinese People's Congress: "It is not that we are not able to exercise power, but that we have not been given any power."

6. The imposition of an alien system has been accompanied by an influx of people who are part of that system, and who enjoy priority access to housing, employment, education, health and other social services in violation of articles 22, 23, 25 and 26. "[A] completely Chinese society has been transplanted into the region. This remains effectively separate from Tibetan society. . . . This Chinese society is serviced by the Chinese themselves. For these people, the Tibetans as such do not exist." For people who do not exist, it is difficult to get a job. The new inhabitants of Lhasa regulate the influx of native Tibetans very strictly, in violation of article 13, while adopting a lenient attitude towards Chinese immigrants and transients, who are seen as bringing progress.

7. If we examine whether the imported economic, social and cultural patterns have indeed produced prosperity or not, it is illustrative to note that in fact, the "income of Tibetan enterprises between 1951 and 1961 was consistently in the black�. . . After 1961, however, enterprise income went into the red, with the deficit growing sharply at 12.77 per cent per annum with no recovery. The turning point that marked the plunge into deficit was precisely the year 1960, when Tibetan enterprises that had been primarily regulated by the market were reformed and fully integrated in the 'one big pot' system." This was the first year of complete Chinese control, when the Tibetan Government, after nine years of difficult co-existence, was forced into exile in March 1959.

8. Ever since, State investment has increased exponentially. From a level of 30 per cent of gross industrial and agricultural output in the fifties (when the Tibetan administration was still in place), government subsidies have risen to 98 per cent in the eighties, after decades of total Chinese control. The per capita value of industrial and agricultural output in Tibet in 1983 was 364 yuan, while the per capita subsidies from Beijing in the same year amounted to 357 yuan or 98 per cent of the value generated locally." .�.�.�"the output figure is largely the result of government subsidies." A TAR official, quoted in China Daily of 27 August, 1991, announces a 1 billion yuan programme to attain 70 per cent coverage of grain requirements. Tibet before 1950 was not only self-sufficient, it was known to have sizable grain reserves.

9. How are the subsidies being used? "The lion's share of the money provided by the central government has been used to pay for goods purchased from the rest of the country." The money sent to Tibet returns to China. The benefit to the Chinese economy is manifest; is there any comparable benefit to Tibet's? Although agricultural output is said to have increased 89 per cent, with 40 per cent more land under cultivation, "it is probably safe to say that for the average Tibetan peasant living in a small village, the availability of food has increased only slightly since 1950." Since the occupation, it would seem that the new urban and old rural economies have become divorced from each other. Observers note that the two societies have little to say to each other, interaction is minimal and with few exceptions, limited to formal occasions.

10. "The crucial question about any development activity must be: How does it affect people's lives?" With the exception of the military, most Chinese officials, "experts and professionals," traders, shopowners, labourers and peddlers live in urban areas, while most Tibetans are farmers and nomads. The annual income of nearly 90 per cent of the Tibetan population, who live in rural areas, was only 367 yuan in 1987, while the average peasant income of China for the same year was 782 yuan. Fully 98 per cent of official Chinese immigrants in Tibet are said to work in State-owned enterprises, where the average wage, in 1985, was 2,143 yuan, 87 per cent higher than in China (1,442 yuan).

11. Nevertheless, State subsidies are earmarked for the urban residents. "The 15 per cent non-agricultural population accounted for 70 per cent of all commodity consumption. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of commodities marketed in the region are brought in from outside . . . The deficit of the non-agricultural population has to be paid out of the State treasury . . . in terms of this alone, 320 yuan was spent on every member of the non-agricultural population, which is 29 times the figure of 11 yuan per person (spent on) the rural population." Much of the money is unproductively spent on the bureaucracy mentioned above. "In Lhasa, the average office and auditorium space per bureaucrat is the highest in all of China."

12. In the towns, factories, utilities and offices are over-staffed. Deliberately, according to some sources, "in order to create a job market for the Chinese immigrants--so needed to dilute the Tibetan social structure and help maintain Chinese order;" necessarily, according to others, as "fully one-fourth of a work-unit in Tibet is on vacation in China at any given time." To give an example, a power plant in China with the same output as the Naching plant in Tibet would employ 40 people; Naching employs 300.

13. While some highly qualified Chinese have indeed been sent to Tibet and individual Chinese are known for their sincere altruism and dedication, this cannot be said for the majority of the immigrants. Commenting on this reality in 1987, the Panchen Lama stated that "The expense of keeping one Chinese in Tibet is equal to that of four in China. Why should Tibet spend its money to feed them? . . . Tibet has suffered greatly because of the policy of sending a large number of useless people."

14. Decisions about the economy have been shaped not by Tibet's real needs or potential or Tibetans' expressed desires, but in keeping with the ideological priorities of the Chinese Community Party. "In Lhasa and Chamdo, glass factories and chemical factories were built. Within a few years, 15 million yuan had been wasted." The Xiangyang Colliery, built at a cost of 4.78 million yuan, yielded no coal at all and the miners had to rely on cow dung for fuel"--15 per cent of the small hydroelectric plants built in Tibet malfunction and 23 per cent have had to be scrapped. In the Shigatse area alone, 40 per cent are out of commission.

15. Some uneconomic industries are kept going apparently at great expense to the Chinese State. "The renowned Nyingchi Textile Mill . . . makes 20 different products only seven of which make a profit . . . If the unified purchase and marketing system for wool were to be abolished, and raw materials were bought at market prices, the mill would straightaway make a loss of close to 3 million yuan. If price controls on wood were removed and forestry was put onto the responsibility system, then this mill which burns 26 cubic metres of wood every day, this mill which has featured prominently in films and magazines presenting the new face of Tibet, would simply close down."

16. Another way subsidies are used is to bring down the price of rice and wheat, the staple food of the Chinese population. In the winter of 1985-1986, rice was bought from Chinese farmers in Sichuan at 0.90 yuan per kg and sold in TAR at 0.40 yuan per kg. Wheat was bought at 1.12 to 1.26 yuan per kg and sold at 0.44 to 0.48. Barley, the staple food of poor Tibetans, was ostensibly left to fend for itself, at 0.76 yuan per kg. In fact, there is another side to the picture, the quotas farmers must sell to the State. Barley is bought at 0.35 yuan per kg and sold to the Tibetan public at 0.80. Butter, the other Tibetan staple, is bought from the nomads at 1.60 to 2 yuan per kg when it sells for 16 yuan per kg on the market.

17. Medicinal plants and other valuable natural products must be sold to the Government at fixed prices, well below market value. Credible reports state that suppliers must fill individual quotas or incur a fine. Attempts to sell privately are branded "black marketing" and prosecuted. The same is said of timber left behind by logging teams that raze entire slopes and load only the logs nearest the road. If a Tibetan is caught taking leftovers, it is "Stealing from the motherland."

18. Despite official claims that the TAR has been granted tax exemption since 1980, Tibetans pay stiff and often arbitrary taxes. One exiled Tibetan states: "Two offices issue business permits and officially, you pay 30 per cent of your declared profit on sales. In practice, they charge whatever they like." One man was compelled to give up his shop and leave Tibet when his tax base of 50 yuan was suddenly and arbitrarily declared to be 500 yuan, then 1,500, 3,000 and finally 7,000 yuan. The nomads and farmers must sell a certain percentage--up to half--of their produce to the State at artificially low prices.

19. Nomads also suffer from a lack of popular participation. Despite the "excruciating changes" undergone since 1959, they "flourish because they have no competitors." No one else can survive at the altitude on the high plateau. The Government does not trust their judgment, despite their long experience of sustainable management of the grasslands. "Despite the antiquity of the nomads' pastoral system, the Government believes that it leads to overgrazing and environmental degradation. It therefore has set limits on the number of animals per person in some areas, while forcing periodic reductions in herd size in others," states anthropologist Melvyn Goldstein. He adds: "Our research supports the nomads' contention that the Government's order to reduce livestock in Phala was unwarranted. We found no evidence of overgrazing and pasture degradation. Preserving the unique environment of the Change Tang (Tibetan Plateau) is not only a Chinese but also a world concern, and protection of the indigenous people who reside there is equally important. It would indeed be ironic if after surviving the destructive Cultural Revolution, these nomads' way of life was destroyed by modern notions of conservation and development that are based on faulty evidence and flawed assumptions."

20. Large-scale projects with serious ecological implications have been undertaken despite the clearly expressed public disapproval of ranking Tibetan officials. A project to drain Yamdrok Tso, known as the "Turquoise Lake," into the Tsangpo river was vetoed by the Panchen Lama, who declared on several occasions that draining the lake would cause unacceptable environmental damage to the surrounding nomadic pastureland, and that the lake had intrinsic value to Tibetans as a holy site. Construction was halted, but a recent article in a Beijing publication states that he "changed his mind," and indeed, work began immediately after his death in January 1989.

21. Cultural differences are seen in terms of the superiority of Chinese patterns and the inferiority--"backwardness" of anything Tibetan (art. 12). "Just recently [1987], a story `was intentionally published to ridicule the Tibetans." When the highest Tibetan official in the Government of China objected to its use as a film script, "There was no response. Instead, the film was awarded a first prize." Tibetans working in institutions to "preserve" folklore, must compose and disseminate politically correct new verses for old tunes. Much of Tibet's music and theatre has acquired a strong Chinese flavour (art. 27).

22. The standard of education available to Tibetans reflects the distorted social situation. Paradoxically, it is the Tibetans who wait for admission to the better schools until the children of the immigrants have been accommodated. Then there is the problem of language: they may attend a second-rate school that teaches some Tibetan, Chinese and no English or, if admission is secured, a Chinese medium school where the level of instruction is much higher, but where only symbolic Tibetan, if any, will be taught. It will also mean competing with children whose mother tongue is Chinese. Some Tibetan parents initially struggled to place their children in the better schools, but when admission to University or institutions in China went to Chinese graduate and children of high Tibetan officials with lower average than their children, many changed their mind. They are making the sacrifice of sending their children into exile, where over 2,000 are now studying in Tibetan medium schools in India.

23. Imposing Chinese values and behaviour has been a harmful ineffectual exercise. Tibetans who refuse to adapt can choose whether to fight or flee. Peaceful protest (art. 19) has been met with brutal repression, in violation of articles 7 through 12. A comparable number of Tibetans have gone into exile to avoid the many restrictions on the study of Buddhist religion and philosophy (art. 18). Every month, many Tibetans attempt to cross the border into Nepal. About 300 succeed. Those who are not so lucky are turned back before the border. The least fortunate, estimated at 40-50 each month, are caught by police in Nepal and sold to Chinese border guards, in violation of articles 13 and 14.

24. Generally speaking, China's efforts to change Tibet's society and people have not satisfied either party. Chinese see Tibetans as unappreciative and ungrateful, and as for the Tibetans, the 1991 Report of the Australian Government Human Rights Delegation stated that "Tibetans unconnected with the Government overwhelmingly opposed Chinese control of Tibet, sought independence and the return of the Dalai Lama, were unequivocal about the lack of religious freedom and civil and political rights and talked of a lack of justice, education, employment and freedom of expression, as well as restrictions on movement. They asserted that Tibetan culture and religion were gradually being submerged by the sheer weight of Chinese influences."

Secretary-General's Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

Tibet Justice Center Home | Legal Materials on Tibet | United Nations