Himalayan magazine

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The Four Modernisations

Other effects of 'socialist moderni­sation' in Lhasa are less visible and more difficult to assess, but they are matters of some concern to Tibetan residents. These could be considered in four categories: inflation and price rise, privatisation of public services and increasing official corruption, Tibetan unemployment and economic polarisation, and pollution—both environmental and spiritual.

Inflation. Tibet is increasingly linked with the dynamic mainland economy, which has been character-

ised by spiralling inflation and 'oveT-heating' in recent years. The current rate of inflation in the PRC, as reported by Newsweek in September 1994, is estimated at 30 percent. The prices of many bask commodities have soared since 1991-92, but this is also partly due to the cancellation of subsidised rations.

According to localsources, butter went from Y5 per gyama (500 gm) in 1990 to Y15-17 in 1994; wheat flour from Y30 per 50 gyama to Y77, kerosene from Y0.8 per litre to Y2.8, sugar from Yl per gyama to Y3, electricity from Y0.05 per unit to Y0.4, petrol from Y1.7 per litre to Y3, tea from Yl per brick to Y3, dried milk from Y4 per packet to Y7.5, tomatoes from Y0.5 per gyama to Y2.7, and blue canvas boots from Y4 per pair to Y9.5. Inaddition,thecosts of rent, transport and consumer goods have increased sharply, as has the need to bribe officials to obtain permits or receive public services.

Privatisation, corruption. Alth­ough senior PRC officials frequently refer to the large subsidies lavished on Tibet as a "special consideration"

Hair salon opened

by new arrivals

from Sichuan. Of

more than SO such

establishments in

Central Lhasa, not

one is Ttbelan-


HIMAL January/February 1995



\ ■, ■. Lfiasa1950 I I Lhasa Municipal 1980 CZL—J General plan 2000

Map of Lhasa,

baaed on official

information, shows

the size of Old

Lhasa, Us

dimensions in

1980, and the

dimensions the

eite will attain by

the year 2000.

Pool tables in

the Tibetan


where the

game is a


pastime of



to ensure free medicalcare,education, tax exemptions etc., these benefits have now effectively given way to market forces. Private clinics have appeared on the street corners as health workers desert the poorly-funded and demoralised state hospitals. Nearby, one may find a pharmacy illicitly selling off 'surplus' hospital drugs.

Meanwhile, the legions of regulatory officials encountered in everyday life are by no means always well-paid or scrupulous. It seems that any new business in the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa can expect extortionate demands from tax officials, fire and health inspectors and others for concealed bribes or spurious payments of one kind or another. Citi zens may find themselves obliged to bribe officials with sums stretching into thousands of Yuan for anythingfromreallocation of housing to birth or marriage certificates and residence permits (still mandatory for Tibetans). With the average Tibetan monthly wage at around Y200-300, this can be expensive.

Economic Polarisation. While surveys or statistics are not available, there is little doubt that unemploy­ment is increasing among Tibetans in

Lhasa. The current economic boom has excluded them for two main reasons. First, jobs and advancement in Chinese economic life usually depend on guangxi or personal connections, and Han people naturally prefer their own kind. Second, Tibetan workers generally cannot compete on the modern sector's terms-—economic efficiency— with their Han counterparts, who are fully accustomed to the cut-throat competition and ruthless commercial ethics of mainland China.

Inability to compete has led to

marginalisation of the traditional Tibetaneconomy.Tibetanproductswhether it is dri butter, woollen carpets, wooden tables or leather boots—tend to be more natural and of higher quality than Chinese consumer goods, but they are increasingly unaffordable. Artisans must adapt to competition with the mainstream mass-production economy,, while consumers must adapt to cheap and shoddy imported products. Those still engaged in the traditional economy— artisans, shopkeepers, traders, far­mers—cannot keep up with the rising cost of urban living. To make ends meet, many have resorted to renting their homes and fields to Han migrants

Pollution. According to official reports {carried in the Xizang Rilao) it is only in the last year that Lhasa's municipal authorities have sought foreign contractors to build a sewage plant in the city. Until now, such facilities have remained limited, and the bulk of the untreated sewage has been dumped directly in the Kyichu river. Rubbish and wastes are routinely dumped alongthe highway east of the Lhasa bridge. A municipal 'clean-up' campaign in August 1993 apparently did not even address the issue of pollution, but concentrated instead on erecting railings and traffic barriers, and on clearing beggars and itinerants from the alleys of the old city.

Nonetheless, the TAR govern-


January/February 1995 HIMAL

ment does have a bureau responsible for environmental protection. Its report for! 993 states that discharge of waste gases in Lhasa increased by 40 percent over the previous year, discharge of waste water by 133 percent (including the Yangpachen geothermal plant), and discharge of industrial solid wastes by 17 percent. Environmental noise was measured at above 60 decibels in Central Lhasa, exceeding permitted national levels.

Some Lhasa residents regard 'spiritual pollution' (a communist phrase applied mostly against 'degenerate Western values') as the real downside of modernisation, Lhasa's streets, formerly d eserted a fter nightfall, now buzz with nightclubs, Karaoke bars, video hallsand brothels. By day, the young, the idle and the footloose dawdle around pool tables and game machines, or gaze at crude martial arts videos blaring from dismal screens. Alcoholism, street crime, robbery^and violent behaviour are all said to be increasing.

Overall, one has the firm impre­ssion that few Tibetans in Lhasa are enthused with the 'socialist moder­nisation' policies, and that many regard them as official encoura­gement for Han migration to the TAR and domination of the local economy. A leaflet produced by the under­ground group Cholsum Thuntsokand distributed in August 1992 reads: "Nowadays China is opening up the whole of Tibet on the pretext of economic development, but in reality it is in order to deny Tibetans rights and work through theendless transfer of Chinese people to live here... Anyone who has eyes can see houses for Chinese being constructed everywhere in great haste."

Patriotic License

It is not easy to get a clear picture of what is happening in Tibet, simply because despite the 'open polic/ it remains a tightly closed country in many respects. Information is hard to obtain under a regime that forbids open discussion of public policy, zealously withholds news and

information from the public domain, incarceratesandbrutalisesdissenters, and brands foreign critics as "enemies". If even the population fig­ures for Lhasa are considered controversial, how much more so are investigation and analysis of public opinion and social trends!

In the prevailing climate of rumour, suspicion and secrecy, doc umentary evidence of behind -the-scene controversy and discontent is especially interesting. A recent example was the proceedings of the second session of the sixth assembly of the TAR branch of the Chinese Peoples' Political Consultative Con­ference (CPPCC) held in Lhasa in May 1994. The CPPCC (TAR) is largely com­posed of senior Tibetan'patriots'such as high lamas and former aristocrats. They are usually called upon to endorse official policy, but they also have some license to articulate the views and sensibilities of the Tibetan nationality in official fora. Documents from the May session show that some delegates availed themselves of this license, using moderate and patriotic language to criticise the excesses of the modernisation drive and toappeal for corrective measures.

Remarks jointly attributed to several deputies in the conference reports of the May session state the following: "...carrying out the economic development reforms is a major task for the Party and regional government and there is no doubt as to the importance and benefit of deepening and strengthening reform work for the national and regional aspirations for economic growth and development. Meanwhile, economic sta bility cannot beensuredsinceprices depend on market fluctuation. However, Tibet is a special minority region, very backward in develop­ment, and many of its people remain in a condition of poverty. Thus the people's government should act to survey and stabilise prices of items essential to the needs of the Tibetan masses—such as grain, oil, meat,

butter, tea etc..."

Deputy Namgyal, a Lhasa delegate, pointed out that "workers' monthly salaries are very low compared with the rising cost of living. Price rises should be more gradual and carefully planned... there is now a strong tendency for the gap between rich and poor to widen. This is a matter of great concern, and planning must make provision for the income available to the ordinary masses."

Other Lhasa delegates compla­ined: "Naturally we can expect to have the national inflation rateof 10 percent, but while last year a gyama of onions cost no more than Y0.3, this year it is Y5, and that is a severe excess. The cost of staple foods consumed by the Tibetan masses such as tea and butter have risen sharply, and
Lhasa's markets are full of phoney and low-quality products... the authorities should keep a vigorous check on prices and clamp down on illegal market practices in accordance with law."

Other concerns raised by Tibetan delegates included corruption, under-funding and mismanagement of State educationandhealth services, cultural degeneration, and disregard of the Tibetan language. On several occasions during the two-week session, Lhasa delegates issued forthright denunciations of the city's new 'cultural markets'. The spread of bars, karaoke, video halls, dancing
A Kbampa woman and a Hui mustim sham apace in a five Yuan note.

HIMAL January/February 1995


Tibetan commodities

on sale.



on sale.
clubs, prostitution and alcohol was described as a new and unwelcome trend, harmful to youth and offensive to Buddhist values.

Lhasa's city government respond ed to these complaints within three months by introducing yet another echelon of business regula­tions. According to the Xizang Ribao of 14 August, the 'cultural business permit' now requires all operators in the entertainment sector, on pain of losing their licenses, to "undertake to serve the people and socialism, pay attention to social benefits and provide the people with rich, colourful, healthy and beneficial cultural life."

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