Tibet Facts 2

Chinese Presence in Tibet: Population Transfer.

Survey of the impacts of mass immigration of Ethnic Chinese into Tibet.

Beijing's new policy of population transfer into Tibet threatens the very existence of Tibetan culture, religion and national identity. Mass immigration by Chinese settlers into Lhasa and other areas in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has been exacerbated by economic reforms, especially since 1992. This transfer reduces the Tibetans to a minority in their own country, which in turn disenfranchises them from the future political process.

Population Transfer

A wave of resettlement became apparent in 1983, partly as a result of economic changes--i.e.: opportunities for profit following the opening up of Tibet for the tourist trade-and partly as a result of what seems to be government policy.

The goal is seen to be "to narrow as soon as possible the gap in economic development between Tibet and other areas of the nation" ('White Paper on Tibet' Sep 1992). Chen Kuiyuan, a Chinese cadre appointed as leader of the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet in March 1992, has called on "inland Chinese to come and help open up Tibet." Subsidies and other incentives are given. Housing is being built for Chinese in many parts of Tibet, with shops as well, where they were not seen previously.

The recent influx of Chinese settlers is linked by most people to the economic reform drive initiated by Deng Xiaoping in the spring of 1992, and in fact the numbers of migrants in Lhasa do seem to have increased markedly after that date (Tibet Information Network TIN, Tibetan Views of Immigration into Central Tibet 1992-93, 1993). According to a senior Western diplomat who visited Lhasa in mid-1993, the Chinese people "now dominate new economic activity in Tibet."

If this process continues, it will complete what the Chinese army began over 40 years ago; the total occupation and domination of Tibet by the Chinese. The Dalai Lama has labelled this China's 'Final Solution' towards his people.

Statistical evidence for this resettlement is incomplete but persuasive:

Population of Tibet

Tibetan exiles claim 7 5 million Chinese now live in Tibet alongside six million Tibetans. These figures are unconfirmed, but recent Chinese figures confirm the trend. In addition, it was estimated that in 1992 there were 40,000 troops throughout Tibet.

U'Tsang (Tibet Autonomous Region)

In 1952, Mao Zedong said: "There are hardly any Han (Chinese) in Tibet." On 25 September 1988, Mao Rubai, Vice-Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), admitted that there were a million Chinese in the TAR, though he did not say how many were settlers, and probably did not intend to say it at all. Some 2.2 million Tibetans live in the TAR; it is the only region left in China where the Chinese are not in the majority (Selected Works of Mao, Vol. 5; p.73; China Reconstructs, Sep 1987).

The Chinese authorities consistently report low figures which often only refer to short-term settlers. In March 1993, they stated the Chinese population in the TAR was at an all time low of 66,000. The figures referred mainly to technicians, professionals and administrators staying on a temporary basis and, perhaps, some cadres/professionals (TIN, Tibetan Views of Immigration into Central Tibet).

Officially, Tibetans outnumber Chinese in Lhasa by 3:1, but many observers believe that the reverse is nearer the truth. Lhasa is important but not typical of Tibet. In 1992, the creation was announced of special economic zones near Lhasa and at Golmud. Preparations are being made for a large increase in population in Lhasa and for improved infrastructure. In a survey carried out in Lhasa in July 1993, on the southern Lingkor, a street parallel to the Barkhor, it was found that in one stretch of 50 shops, west of the sports stadium, 46 were owned or operated by Chinese traders (TlN News Update 15/08/93).

Until now the Chinese presence has been primarily urban, but it is being widened to rural areas (TIN News Compilation, 02/10/92). In Shigatse and most other towns in U'Tsang, there are now large Chinese conurbations dwarfing the old Tibetan quarters (China's Reforms of Tibet, Graham Clarke, 1987).

Amdo (Qinghai)

In 1953, there were estimated to be 100,000 Chinese in the province of Qinghai, most of which is made up of the Tibetan province of Amdo. In 1985, there were 2 5 million Chinese and 0 75 million Tibetans in Qinghai (Chinese Statistical Yearbook 1985). The resettlement process is evident to any visitor. For example, in 1985, out of 40 families in Takster, the Dalai Lama's home town, only eight were Tibetan. There were no Chinese households during his childhood (1930s).

Kham (Sichuan)

In the Mili and Ngapa regions of Kham, now annexed to Sichuan, the Chinese say there are about half a million Chinese to about a third of a million Tibetans. In the Khartze region, the Chinese population has doubled since 1955 while the Tibetan population has increased by only a quarter (Radio Lhasa).

The town of Chamdo has a Chinese population of about 95%, according to eyewitnesses. Some towns in Kham did not exist before the arrival of the Chinese in the 1950s. One such is Hongyuan, which has been built in the middle of vast grasslands previously inhabited only by nomads. There are allegations that fertile grazing land has been appropriated by new settlers, forcing Tibetans to higher and more difficult areas.


In Lhasa and other cities unemployment is a growing problem amongst Tibetans. According to a Tibetan interviewed by TIN in May 1992: "There are already 2,000 youths with basic qualifications who are unemployed, according to official data given by the mayor. l suspect that the real figure might be twice that or even more in Lhasa."

There are several reasons for this. Chinese language is the principal medium of teaching and Chinese is required for most jobs. This gives new settlers an immediate advantage, apart from any purely racial advantage they may have in dealings with the Chinese authorities who dispense most of the jobs, residence permits and trade privileges.

There is also systematic importation of workers as well as of technical experts and officials to work in the TAR. Each of China's 25 ethnically Chinese provinces was obliged to send a work team for a number of building projects. In 1984 alone, Radio Beijing reported 60,000 arriving "representing the vanguard groups to help in schools, hotels and construction."

In 1992, for what is believed to be the first time in the TAR, Chinese migrants were encouraged to settle in agricultural areas. Also, 15 mining projects have been announced in Tibet. The exploitation of Tibet's rich mineral endowment, said to comprise over 40% of such resources potentially available to China, is a cause of the recent acceleration of worker migration.

Incentives to Chinese immigrants include altitude allowance, remoteness bonus, tax concessions, fewer hours, longer holidays and greater market opportunities than in China. Professional and official wages are the highest in China and are made up of over 30% bonuses. Many Tibetans allege that officials refuse work and residence permits to migrating Tibetans but encourage Chinese to accept them or even work without them. This is particularly true of shopkeepers and tradesmen.

Resettlement Policy: A Chinese Tradition

Tibetans allege that many of the Chinese workers, often recently retired soldiers, are given jobs in Tibet for security reasons-to help control and infiltrate the local populace, and to take up arms if required. This security function of resettlement was explicit during China's mass settlement campaigns in Manchuria in the late-19th century, and in Xinjiang during the 1950s. Manchuria now has a population of 75 million Chinese to some three million Manchus; Inner Mongolia has about 8 5 million Chinese to two million Mongols and Xinjiang has seven million Chinese to about five million Uygurs. In the days when these countries were opened up to Chinese settlement-roughly 100, 70, and 40 years ago respectively-the policies of mass resettlement and assimilation were quite explicit, and even in the 1980s Chinese officials were still referring to the great opportunity the western regions held. for absorbing China's expanding population.

Such development is seen as natural in Chinese world views, both imperial and revolutionary. It is also regarded as necessary and beneficial to the "backward" peoples who could gain from assimilation with the Chinese. It is, however, contrary to international law, where that is applied to occupied territories, and would completely invalidate the question of self-determination, quite apart from its cultural and economic impact.

All attempts to discuss Tibet are bedevilled by the Chinese redefinition of the country's borders since 1949. Here the term Tibet is used to refer to the three original provinces of U'Tsang, Kham and Amdo (sometimes called Greater Tibet). When the Chinese refer to Tibet they invariably mean the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which includes only one province, U'Tsang (the TAR was formally inaugurated in 1965). In 1949 the other two provinces, Amdo and Kham, were renamed by the Chinese as parts of China proper and became the province of Qinghai and parts of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.

This information was compiled by Tibet Support Group, UK 9 Islington Green London N1 2XH England.
Additional material was added by the Australia Tibet Council PO Box 1236 Potts Point NSW 2011 Australia.
For more information contact your local Tibet support group. (February 1996)

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