China forces 250,000 Tibetans to resettle to "socialist villages"

Snip from an account by Tim Johnson, at McClatchy:
In a massive campaign that recalls the socialist engineering of an earlier era, the Chinese government has relocated some 250,000 Tibetans - nearly one-tenth of the population - from scattered rural hamlets to new "socialist villages," ordering them to build new housing largely at their own expense and without their consent.

The government calls the year-old project the "comfortable housing program," and its stated aim is to present a more modern face for this ancient region, which China has controlled since 1950.

It claims that the new housing on main roads, sometimes only a mile from previous homes, will enable small farmers and herders to have access to schools and jobs, as well as better health care and hygiene.

But the broader aim seems to be remaking Tibet - a region with its own culture, language and religious traditions - in order to have firmer political control over its population. It comes as China prepares for an influx of millions of tourists in the run-up to next year's Summer Olympic Games.

Link. Image: monk at Sera monastery, near Lhasa. Bernardo De Niz/MCT. (thanks, Mike Outmesguine, Laird, and many others)

Previously on BoingBoing:

  • Google, China, and genocide: web censorship and Tibet
  • "Hacking the Himalayas": Xeni's 5-part radio series on Tibet for NPR.

    Reader comment: DK says,

    I've known Professor Goldstein since the mid-90's when I first met him in Lhasa. He was misquoted in that article about Tibetan resettlement, and his rebuttal appeared today in World Tibet News. He's been one of the foremost scholars on modern Tibet, and it's painful to see his words so misrepresented. Here is his reply:

  • Professor Goldstein responds to Tom Johnson (Issue ID: 2007/05/08)

    Email from Professor Goldstein to WTN
    May 8, 2007

    Mr. Johnson in two recent articles on contemporary rural Tibet republished in WTN misquotes and totally misrepresents my views saying that I said that relocating Tibetans to new villages and towns has been "phenomenally successful, more than I would've believed." I said nothing of the kind, nor do I even think that is what is going on, let alone if it was, would I applaud it. I don't know why I am surprised by this given what we all known about unethical and duplicitous journalists, but to be honest I still am shocked, so would like to comment briefly on what my colleagues and I have found in the rural areas of Shigatse Prefecture where we are conducting research.

    I spoke with Mr. Johnson by phone in Beijing on background and conveyed to him that rural Tibet is undergoing major economic changes and a marked increase in the standard of living as rural Tibetan families are participating more and more successfully in non-farm income producing jobs for part of the year. That is what was successful and that is what exceeded my expectations, NOT RELOCATION.

    I also discussed and sent Johnson by email our preliminary findings on the new housing program he wrote about (before it was published). Again he disregarded it. What follows is a direct quote from that email to Johnson: "The general housing program is part of the CCP's attempt to raise the standard of living of rural Tibetans. More specifically, it is a part of the Western development program initiated in 2000. The housing program now underway is meant to encourage and financially assist villagers to build new houses. Initially the government's idea was to have these new houses built along main roads, but this is not what is going on now in the areas we are conducting research in Shigatse prefecture. I am not sure when this began in the TAR, but think it probably began at different times in different regions. I recall that there was a lot of new housing by roads near Lhasa in 2004-5 (at the time of the 20th anniversary of the TAR in 2005 when many top Beijing officials were coming to Lhasa).

    Right now the villagers where we work have a 5 year window to decide whether to participate and rebuild. In these areas every household is eligible, and the government subsidy is a grant not a loan. However, there is a sliding scale of support and poor households get more money and materials. For example, In one village, poor households got 25,000rmb (some materials some cash), and rich ones 11,000rmb. In all of these cases the households can build wherever they want, including right next to their current house (and are doing so), This is a popular program in the areas where we work and is voluntary.

    Moreover, in addition to economic status, how much subsidy a household gets depends also on what kind of a building he chooses. For example, in one village, 25 hh [households] are rebuilding this year (2006). Of these, the ones who built new houses got 12,000 rmb (17 hh did that), but the ones who did just a major rebhab, got paid 8,000 rmb (5 hhs did that) and the ones who changed only the face of the house (from mud bricks to stone), the government paid 5,000 (3 hhs did that). In some cases, people wanted more elaborate houses that cost more than that so took loans to finance the rest.

    Consequently, as a result of this program. there is a building boom in rural areas that is affording rural Tibetans who are carpenters, stone masons, painters, and those who have tractors and trucks etc., increased access to non-farm income, and that is having a very positive impact on the overall standard of living. So in my view, this is a relatively benign program aimed at improving the quality of life and goes along with government interest in speeding up rural electrification, running water programs, etc. That is what I was trying to convey."

    Finally, I suggested a quote to Johnson that represented my thinking about the program to build new houses:

    "It's created a RURAL building boom. In the villages where we have been conducting fieldwork on change and modernization since 1997, the subsidized building program is voluntary and popular and does not require relocation to new villages of towns. And It is having a very positive impact on the overall standard of living by providing increased access to non-farm income to many rural Tibetans."

    Obviously Mr. Johnson was not interested in accurately representing my views or conveying to his readers any of the findings of our research. He was sadly, only interested in inventing something sensational.