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Interview with Village leader (I):

Political, Legal and Public Services in Rural Tibet

Text and Photos by ZHALHO 

A distant view of Bashui Village.

The Tibetan Areas Development Study Group of the CAS, led by research fellow Wan Luolin (who is the head of the CAS Learning Advisory Committee and original administrative vice president) and research fellow Zhu Ling (Deputy Director of CAS Economic Research Institute), developed the extensive research activities in the Tibetan-inhabited areas since 2000. While the study group completed the special subject policy report, it also published some learning achievements such as Choice of Roads to Development in Underdeveloped Areas¡ªCase Study of the Tibetan-Inhabited Areas in Yunnan (published by the Economic Management Press in 2003) and Marketization and Grass-roots Public Services¡ªCase Study of Tibet (published by Nationality Press in 2005). In July and August 2005, the study group developed a research program in Garze of Sichuan Province and the Qamdo area of Tibet along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway.

I was in charge of researching the political, legal and public services of villages in the Tibetan-inhabited areas. For this purpose, I maintained contacts with the political leaders of all the villages such as the village head and the secretary of the Party Committee.

Tsecheng Wanggya: Head of a Poor Village
Mangkang County is situated in the far eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, adjoining Garze Prefecture of Sichuan Province. Desi Village (bde-skyid grong), lying in the northeast of Mangkang County, is a typical semi-farming and semi-herding village stuck in relative poverty.

On July 5, 2005, the study group drove there for research. We departed from the Sichuan-Tibet Highway and headed northward alongside the Lhony River, and could see some villagers and fields sporadically distributed on both banks. Pinewoods near the village were almost cut. We drove about 20 km, and arrived at Lhony (nor-gnas) Township¡¯s Domzom (dom-mdzom) Village where both the township government and the biggest monastery in the area¡ªthe Lhorang Monastery (lug-rwa dgon-pa)¡ªwere located. We went 2 km or so northward from the township government headquarters and arrived at Desi Village. This writer, who was accompanied by the township government cadre Nyima, interviewed village head Tsecheng Wanggya (Tshul-khrims dbang-rgyal).

Arthor and the Cechengs.

¡°I was born and brought up in the village. I am 44 this year. I never went to school. When I was aged 22, my parents took the responsibility for the decision of helping my older brother and me together to marry a wife. My older brother used to be a staff member of County Grain Bureau, and now has retired from the business and lives in the county town,¡± the village chief said.

¡°Our village is subordinated to Domzom Village, and used to be called Desi Production Team that belonged to Mangkang County¡¯s Lhony Township. It totals 53 families with more than 380 persons.

¡°Our village was the subordinate manor of the Lhorang Monastery historically, and was administrated by Mapapon (smad-padpon).

¡°There are only five persons in all who can write and make records of a meeting. Three years ago, I was elected the head. Why everyone decided to elect me is that I am considered much fairer and can fairly distribute the relief grain and funds given by the higher authorities. This year, the village committee will be up for re-election, and if the villagers elect me, I will go on doing the job.

A distant view of Bashui Village.

¡°Economically speaking, Lhony Township is the poorest in the whole county, and the main reason is that there are many people but little land. In the past, we were allowed to cut wood, afterwards the trees were very few, and the floods became bigger and bigger each year and swept away about 40 percent of the land in our village. It seems as if the river water is not much, but the river course is very wide, which is caused by the floods.

¡°Of the 16 townships in the county, ours is the only one lacking electricity. There are electric lights in my house that were fixed in previous years. At that time, I spent 1,350 Yuan buying a solar electricity generator in Lhasa, but it didn¡¯t work so I haven¡¯t used it for a long time. Now, I use the storage battery of an automobile to generate electricity, and the cadres of township also use this method. Because the electrical voltage is very low, only a small electric light of 3 watts is used. So we cannot use electrical appliances; for example, we cannot watch TV and VCD player.

¡°I have worked as the head of the village for three years, and I feel that there is still much to do in my public life. Although the lands have been distributed to each family, in order to avoid disputes we are required to till and reap together. According to the tradition of our village, when tilling or reaping, we need first to help those poor families who lack manpower. I need to get busy about these things.

¡°Then, I organize everyone to purchase chemical fertilizer. Now, using chemical fertilizer is becoming more prevalent. But when it is needed in spring, none of the villagers have any money. Then, the leaders of county have to agree to sell the fertilizer on credit. Every family first reports to the head, and then the head goes to the County Farming and Herding Bureau to draw the fertilizer as the guarantor. By the time of summer and autumn, the villagers sell the collected fungus and pay off the debt. Because the villagers of our county get a subsidy from the government, the chemical fertilizer is cheaper than in Garze (in Sichuan Province). In 2005 the money on credit totaled 9,000 Yuan me as the guarantor, and at last the funds was received in full and handed in by me.

¡°Each person turns in 10 Yuan each year and is given an allowance of 80 Yuan by the regional government for the cooperative medical treatment which keeps the cost of seeing a doctor very low. At the beginning, some people were unwilling to hand over the money, but now everyone thinks that this policy is very good. The common diseases here are stomach trouble and big condyle disease.

¡°The head still is in charge of public security of our village. We appoint a family every year to be responsible for tending the fields, but things like cattle eating the crops often take place. Our method is that the owner of the cattle is fined. In addition, violent disputes occur occasionally, and those involved are also fined. If they cannot pay, they will be required to do voluntary work in place of the fine.

¡°In the past few years, there were two main headaches: one was building a dam and bridge across a river, and the other was distributing the relief grain and funds.

¡°In recent years, the floods have become more frequent and severe. If the dam bursts, it will be a very arduous task to rebuild it. Sometimes, if the dam of our village sharply cuts down the flow of water, the village opposite will complain.

¡°If there is no bridge, it is not convenient for everyone to go out. However, now the river is so wide and the river water often changes its course so we don¡¯t know where the bridge should be built.

¡°At present, there are about 20 families who have enough food and clothing, while the other 30 families need the relief grain. Once those poor families lack grain they will come and tell me. Then, I go to the township government to apply for relief. In general, the township government grants every family 50-150 kg of relief grain every time. If the grain is not enough they can apply again. In our village there is a five-guarantee family who lives in the house of family head¡¯s younger sister to whom the government gives an allowance of 400 Yuan.

¡°As a matter of fact, in our village there are a few people who make a lot of money outside and whose property reaches several million, even over 10 million. However they would rather donate 500,000 Yuan to the Lhorang Monastery for rebuilding and turn a deaf ear to the poor families in their hometown.

¡°Taking one with another, why the poor family is poor is that its manpower is not enough. A family with sufficient manpower can farm and raise sheep or cattle and can also collect Qengang fungi, so its income is high. But if the family wants to be in truly rich, its members must be able to do business.

¡°My family is regarded as a rich family of the middle level. Mainly because there are much more manpower, and my wife, my two sons and their wife can all work and my daughter waiting to marry also can help. In addition, my older brother often gives financial help. My family has 0.4 hectare of field devoted to qingke barley with production of 1,500 kg per year. But the grain is not enough for my family to eat, so we need to spend some money buying grain. Last year, I purchased 850 kg. There are more than 30 sheep and 14 cattle, and at times when we are badly in need of money, we can sell the sheep¡¯s wool or even the sheep. We can go to the woods in the gully to collect fungi, which brought in 4,000 Yuan last year. This is a source of cash income for our family.

¡°I have three sons and one daughter. My eldest worked at home after graduation from primary school. My second son was sent to the county town middle school to study. At that time there were 24 graduates from the primary school in our township. The cultural level of the graduate from the primary school here was only equivalent to that of the student of Grade Three in the county town.

¡°Now, society is changing. In the past the brothers, together marrying one wife, got praised, and nearly 20 families in our village did so. Now, the one-husband-one-wife family is much more common among young people. I am going to let my three sons together marry one wife, but the youngest son is very young, only 15 years old this year. He now studies in Grade Five in the primary school. If he studies well, I am willing to provide him with money for college. Maybe when the youngest son grows up, he will not establish a family together with his brothers. It will be talked about again in the future.

¡°The religious belief of the villagers doesn¡¯t change on the whole. There are eight persons who became the monks in the monastery. Although I had three boys, I didn¡¯t send them to the monastery. Now, society is changing very fast. If the monk violates a ban in the monastery and is secularized, his reputation will be bad. Last year, the Lhorang Monastery expelled eight who were said to have primarily violated the ban on sexual activity.

¡°If the villagers have much money, they still wish to go to Lhasa to pay religious homage to the image of Sakyamuni. However it takes one day to go to county town from here, half of the day to Qamdo from county town, and four days to take a shuttle bus to Lhasa from Qamdo.

¡°I have been to Lhasa twice. The first time was when I especially paid religious homage to the image of Sakyamuni at the age of 21. The second time was when I went there to see a doctor because I had high blood pressure and a headache. And I was cured there. There are two other families who have been to Lhasa from our village. If the others have money in the future they might go there.¡±

Sangzhub¡¯s Natural Woods Protection Career
One drives southward about 100 km from Garton Town of Mangkang County to enter the Lancangjiang Gorges. Even in summer, the top of mountain is still covered with white snow. Below the snow line virgin forest flourishes, before sloping fields begin with little vegetation. At the bottom of the gorges, tracts of fields are distributed in the mesa along both sides of the river. The local people of the Tibetan ethnic groups have lived in the depth of the gorges for hundreds of year.

Forest guard and his daughters in front of their house.

Quzeka Township and Dashui Administrative Village are located at the foot of a mountain on the western bank of the Lancangjiang River.

On July 8, 2005, the study group was surveying Dashui. Because the head of the village was absent on business, this writer interviewed the former head instead.

¡°My name is Sangzhub. I am 38 this year. I originally lived in Leting Village, and married into this village. In the past two years, my father-in-law and my wife died of hepatitis in succession. Now, I am taking care of two children by myself.

¡°Our village is named Para Village with 38 families, adding up to 120 persons. When I came to this village, my father-in-law was its head. After he retired, I was appointed in his place by the township official. I was then aged 26. I worked as head for eight. Later, as my family members died of illness, my family was short of manpower, and suffered economic difficulties and, in particular, the two children needed looking after, so I asked to be allowed to resign.

¡°When I worked as the head I was very busy. At that time, I organized everyone to help the poor families reclaim wasteland. We reclaimed 1/15th of a hectare of farmland for each family among three poor families and 4/15th of a hectare for the collective in which the harvest replaced the need for villagers to pay any money to village funds. We also helped a poor family build a house. Both the village office and the primary school were built at that time. The villagers threw themselves into the work, and funds did not need to be raised so the economic burden was eased.

¡°At that time we also built the 8 km-long-mountain road leading to Gyada Village on which a tractor could pass. Gyada Village is where there are brine pans. There are, including me, 10 families of our village that own brine pans in Gyada Village. Now, the income adds up to some 10,000 Yuan every year.

In the past, the head of the natural village had no reward; the head of the administrating village was paid 400 Yuan every year as an allowance for the disruption of other work. Now, the financial department distributes an allowance. The head of the natural village is paid 30 Yuan every month, the village Party secretary 100 Yuan every month, and the head of the administrating village 1500 Yuan every year.

¡°There is no monastery, and no Buddhist dagoba in our village. However, there are ten persons who became monks or nuns in Lhagang Monastery a half a day¡¯s distance from our village.

¡°There is a church in Yanjain Township which is very close. The villagers of it have believed in Catholicism for more than one hundred years. In previous years they were subsidized to rebuild the church that looks very magnificent. When they spent the New Year (namely Christmas), we all went to listen to them sing. In the beginning, we felt very queer but then gradually found that the message is nearly the same as Tibetan Buddhism. Both persuade people to do good works. In their village, many families believe in two religions at the same time. For example, the husband believes in Tibetan Buddhism and the wife believes in Catholicism, and they live in peace with each other.

Catholic church nearby Bashui village.

Since 1998, for the protection of pristine forests, the government banned the cutting of wood and hunting. Now, we get most of our income from doing manual work and building roads. On the mountain at the back of our village is the wildwood area. In summer, we can go there to collect insect, grass, fungi and fritillary. These past two years have seen their prices go up. Families with more hands can make some 10, 000 Yuan by collecting fungi every year.

On the side of the river there is a thermal spring. In recent years, the county government developed the thermal spring holiday tour area. A lot of houses and roads needed building. These projects had their own technical staff, and we only did some temporary work. In the beginning, every day 10 or 20 laborers were needed, so the villagers took turns to go. Now, basically they themselves went to the building site looking for work. A man could earn 25 Yuan a day, and a woman 20 Yuan. Some families with more spare manpower are working so hard that they can earn 5,000-6,000 Yuan each year. The difference between a poor family and a rich one depends on the number of family members. In addition, after the tourist area begins to do business, we can sell vegetables to them.

¡°My family lacks manpower, so we cannot earn much money. But the government does us a lot of favors. My house was built with materials costing 20,000 Yuan that was given to me by the local government. In addition, it appointed me to the staff protecting the forest whose wage is 350 Yuan every month. There are five of us protecting the forest in our village. Except the head of the village, the other staff members are poor family members. The villagers have no complaints about these appointments.

¡°The staff protecting the forest has an important responsibility. The wooded areas are all at the top of mountain. The slope of the mountain is very steep, and it is very backbreaking for us to climb up. The five persons take turns to be on duty, and every day one person goes up to the mountain patrolling.

¡°The staffs protecting the forest need to organize villagers to plant trees near the river and around the village. This year, our village is required to plant 50,000 trees with a survival rate of 90 percent. We are required to plant aspens and trees with economic value. We planted a lot of walnut trees this year, and the walnuts grew very well, and its price also was very good. After the villagers finished planting, we are in charge of irrigation and protection.

¡°In 2002, there were over one thousand staff protecting the forest in the whole county, and the number is rising every year. Our salary, which the Natural Woods Protection Office authorizes the accountant of township government to disburse, is paid per season. We are not behind in payment and always get the money.

¡°The project of natural woods protection is the compelling policy of the government and the villagers also support it. In previous years, mud-rock flows occurred on the mountain. Because our village is at the foot of the mountain, we were scared. But these days, there is no mud-rock flow.

¡°Before, the men of all the families in the village went up mountain to hunt. There were a lot of wild animals on the mountain. When hunting the roe deer or black bear, we can sell the musk or the gallbladder of the bear, and when hunting the bharal we can eat its meat. In the 1980s, these things were very serious. At that time, every family had hunting guns and several ammunition clips were used to kill the animals. The hunting guns were smuggled. Later, all the guns were confiscated by the Public Security Bureau.

Lancangjiang River Gorge.

¡°In addition to the efforts made by the government in the protection of wildlife, lamas also preached on the need to ban killing. All the men of the village came to the local monastery and collectively swore that they would never hunt wild animals on the mountain. So, the hunting activities dwindled away.

¡°Now, the wild animals often come down to the village from the mountain. Last autumn, some dozen bharal came near the village and we drove them away. When the Indian corn was ripe and ready to be reaped, a group of monkeys invaded the fields but no one dared to hit them. Some people said that the crying of the black bear was heard near the village. Because we had no hunting gun, we indeed were a little afraid. When going up the mountain, we also feel that the wild animals obviously are much more than before.

¡°There are many holy mountains in the Tibetan-inhabited areas. At back of our village is the mountain called Qoinboding, who is the protecting deity of the region with a gentle temperament. However, the person who kills any living beings will be punished. Last year, several persons of Gyada Village went up to the holy mountain to hunt. But the mountain has a fierce temperament, and three of the hunters died of untreatable visceral pain. It was said that when they were dying they sent out the cry like the roe deer. Some people said that that was because they killed the roe deer.¡±

Toward the end of the interview, the strong-minded man said: ¡°A concrete bridge is being built at the side of original hanging bridge, new houses of the holiday tour area are still being built, and the road is being widened. The village will change much when you come again in a few years.¡±


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