Nearly a thousand kilometres of the Nepalese border to the north abuts China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. There is direct air and land transportation between Tibet and Nepal, which have been trading with each other for thousands of years. Tibet’s remote geographical makeup and its large desert plateau and high altitude present far more challenges to those facing Nepal. But when one compares the development of Tibet to that of Nepal, which is endowed with resources, the results are baffling. In the past half-century, development in Tibet has raced ahead like a hare while our country’s development is progressing at the speed of a tortoise.
China’s Tibet Autonomous Region is spread over 1,228,400 square kilometres. Tibet is eight times bigger than Nepal in terms of area. The population of Tibet is 3,002,166. The population of Nepal is exactly eight times as much as that of Tibet. Serfdom was abolished from Tibet on 28th March, 1959. Before 1959, Tibetan landowners and feudal lords used to place the poor in chains and trade them. More than 95 percent of Tibetans were illiterate and lived in abject poverty. They were nomads like the Rautés of Nepal. For possessions, they had yaks, rams and herbs, and they bartered for a living.
Analysis of development indices shows that although development came late to Tibet, it has progressed rapidly. Tibet, which was snared in the practice of slavery until the middle of the twentieth century, has obtained astonishing results in every sector, such as social security, health, income, education, trade, standard of living, consciousness, and culture and tradition. Nonetheless, Tibet is considered less developed in comparison to other provinces of China.
In 1959, Tibet’s per capita income was 142 Yuan. By 1989 per capita income had increased to 1,000 Yuan and by 2001 it had reached 5,000 Yuan. Per capita income continued to rise rapidly and reached 10,000 Yuan in 2006 and 13,861 Yuan by 2008. In 2013, the income of citizens in the urban areas of Tibet reached 22,561 Yuan. The per capita income of Tibetans in rural areas, engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, reached 6,578 Yuan.
While serfdom existed in Tibet, which is to say before 1959, the GDP of Tibet was 174 million Yuan. In 2013, GDP reached 80 billion 767 million Yuan. Tibet’s GDP has been increasing in double figures for the past two decades. At present, 2.3 million Tibetan farmers and herders live in comfortable housing that meets government standards.
In 2003, a free healthcare system for the agricultural and animal husbandry sector came into effect in Tibet. Farmers and herders who join that system receive up to 60,000 Yuan worth of insurance after paying an annual fee of 20 Yuan. By 2013, 96.23 percent of all farmers and herders were participating in the system.
In 2013, the rate of enrollment of children into primary schools stood at 99.59 percent. In Tibet, children are given nine years of mandatory, free education. The enrollment rate for secondary schools has reached 92 percent.
China has created and implemented a special and comprehensive plan for the development of the western region. As part of that plan, on March 29 of this year an afforestation programme was initiated along the banks of six major rivers in Tibet. This plan, which covers seven urban areas and forty-four districts of Tibet, will conclude in 2030. A long-term project for afforestation, this project will include an investment of 30 billion Yuan, the highest investment in Tibet after the Qinghai-Tibet railroad.
Land area undergoing various kinds of desertification in Tibet has reached 21,618,600 hectares. That is the equivalent of 18 percent of the total land area of Tibet. Since 2004, the area undergoing desertification has decreased by 65,700 hectares. In the past ten years in Tibet, a sand-resistance project in the southeast, a project for tree plantation on agricultural land, and a project to convert grazing pastures into grasslands have been implemented. The Botanical Department of Tibet aims to rescue 272,000 hectares of land from desertification by 2020.
The Autonomous Region has taken special precautions towards protecting the ecology of Tibet, which is known as the most beautiful and unpolluted region in the world. In 2013, 82 industries that were polluting by operating without meeting regulatory standards were punished. Similarly, the work of monitoring and controlling the pollution in Tibet has been converted to digital format.
The Qinghai-Tibet railroad, the highest in the world, is being extended to Shigatse to the west of Lhasa. The work of laying rails between Lhasa and Shigatse has been completed, and the railroad will come into operation by September. The Lhasa-Shigatse railroad will be 253 km in length, and will reduce travel time from Lhasa to Shigatse to two hours.
After agriculture and animal husbandry, tourism is the next biggest occupation in Tibet. Tourism has transformed since the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railroad. In 2013, a total of 12,910,000 Chinese and foreign tourists visited Tibet. This number is 22 percent up from 2012. A total of 300,000 people are involved in the tourism industry in Tibet – ten percent of the total population. In 2013, the number of tourists arriving in Tibet by air exceeded 2,750,000, and 48 airlines serve the region.
In 1951, the population of Tibet was 1,140,000. The Chinese state policy of one child in urban areas and two children in rural areas didn’t apply to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Consequently, the reproductive and birth rates of Tibet remained higher than the Chinese average. The maternal mortality rate of Tibet in 1959 was five percent; it has decreased to 0.39 percent. The child mortality rate of 45 percent for newborns under 45 days has been reduced to 0.31 percent. The average life expectancy of citizens of the Tibet Autonomous Region is now 67 years.
The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has brought forth various programmes for the preservation of Tibetan traditions and culture. Software has been created to encode the Tibetan script, and it is possible to access Tibetan script from anywhere. The government has been protecting, restoring and promoting world-famous Buddhist monuments such as the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple. Vocational schools that have been opened in Tibet provide training to make Thangka paintings and to weave carpets. The government has also created provisions to provide assistance and loans for such training.
Only recently, an additional 182 objects of archaeological and culture importance were placed on the Sixth Tibet Autonomous Region-Level Archaeological Cultural Remains Protection List. There are more than 450 objects on the Region-Level Archaeological Cultural Remains Protection List in Tibet, of which 35 have been placed on the National-Level Archaeological Cultural Remains Protection List. The Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka Palace are listed on the World Heritage List.
The pension awarded during Losar (Tibetan New Year), the largest festival of the Tibetan people, may be considered a step towards the preservation of Tibetan culture. The Tibet Autonomous Region government has made provisions for a long holiday and special pensions for people with low income and those in the agricultural sector. Those who have retired from factory work, recipients of minimal living pensions, and individuals who are under protection in urban areas receive 900 Yuan while those involved in agriculture and animal husbandry receive 300 Yuan. The festival-pension in Tibet was initiated in 2008, and during the Losar festival in Tibet this March, a total of 435,208 individuals received it. In Nepal, too, the government distributes a festival pension in the form of Dasain pensions. However, instead of awarding it to the poorest and to people with low income, the government awards such pensions to people with government jobs.
The writer works as a foreign specialist at the Nepali Service at China Radio International (CRI), Beijing.
This article first appeared in the Annapurna Post on Sunday, July 6, 2014. It was translated by La.Lit Assistant Editor, Prawin Adhikari.