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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
China's relocation of rural Tibetans
In the second of a series of pieces from Tibet, the BBC's Michael Bristow looks at the effects of relocating huge numbers of rural people to urban areas.

Older one-storey house
Tibetans have been moved from houses like this...
All along the main road from Lhasa to Tibet's second city, Shigatse, new homes are being erected beneath the towering peaks.

The work is part of a huge relocation project that saw 290,000 rural people - 10% of Tibet's population - moved into new homes last year alone.

China, which governs Tibet, is proud of this achievement. It says it is bringing modern services to once-isolated communities, and boasts that the annual per capita income for rural Tibetans increased by 17.2% last year to 2,435 yuan ($322, 158).

"If these people still lived in remote areas it would be hard to develop the economy and raise incomes," says local party secretary Gardor.

But critics argue that the relocation is destroying traditional Tibetan lifestyles, and say the authorities did not give much regard to the wishes of some local people.

Local optimism

Newer house
... to these ones like this
An hour's drive outside Lhasa is the village of Caibalang.

Some people already lived here, along the main road, but others have recently been re-housed from more remote areas.

It is a place the Chinese government is keen to show off to visiting journalists.

On one side of the road stand spacious new two-storey homes, built with the help of government grants and preferential bank loans.

On the other side of the street, surrounded by muddy puddles, are a clutch of one-storey stone hovels, where animals and people share living space.

When I looked inside one of these old homes, it was dark and dirty. The only light came from a TV being watched by two children sat on the edge of a bed. A goat was tethered to a piece of furniture on the opposite side of the room.

The message is clear: China is transforming the lives, and living conditions, for at least these poor villagers.

The villagers themselves say they support the project.

Living in one of the newly built houses is Drolkar, a 31-year-old Tibetan woman who shares her house with her husband and son.

[The Chinese] authorities didn't bother to find out what Tibetans want, and have been heavy handed with those who have complained
Brad Adams
Human Rights Watch

Her new home cost 140,000 yuan ($18,500, 9,100) to build and furnish, which her family paid for mostly out of their own savings.

They also have a 30,000 yuan bank loan, being paid off over three years, and they received a grant of about 10,000 yuan from the government.

The family's new home comes with better farmland - and therefore the chance to make more money. They have also opened a roadside shop.

"I don't think there is a country in the world that has this kind of favourable relocation policy," says county chief Sun Baoxiang from behind a pair of large sunglasses.

He says the village's 500-odd families all welcome the project. "There have been no cases of imposed relocation," he explains.

Lifestyle change

If the choice is between the two houses being shown to journalists, it is not hard to believe officials when they say they have not had to force anyone to move.

But relocating farmers who plant crops and keep a few domestic animals is easier than moving Tibet's herders.

Drolkar and her family have now opened a roadside shop

Herders move around in search of fresh pastures for their yaks and cows. It is more difficult to get them to live in permanent homes.

Critics say the relocation policy is destroying their traditional way of life.

In June, US-based Human Rights Watch urged China to stop moving herders until the project's effects have been fully assessed.

"Some Chinese authorities claim that their forced urbanisation of Tibetan herders is an enlightened form of modernisation," says Brad Adams, the organisation's Asia director.

"But those same authorities didn't bother to find out what Tibetans want, and have been heavy handed with those who have complained."

Lacking basic skills, many resettled people have difficulty finding anything other than temporary or menial work, Human Rights Watch says.


And for those that do want to move, there is also the cost of the homes.

One villager in Caibalang, in Qushui County, complained he would have to take a job in Lhasa to pay for his new house.

Despite the complaints, the sheer scale of the building work taking place along the Lhasa-Shigatse road suggests China is not going to halt the project.

Chinese-style development is taking place whether Tibetans like it or not.

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