ht:150%; mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none'>Since decollectivization, a ninth product, goat cashmere has become a lucrative trade item although traditionally, there was no market for this and it was of little importance to the nomad economy. Today, however, it is worth roughly 6 times more per kg than wool. Consequently, despite its low yield (on the average less than 0.2 kg. per goat), it is as valuable to the nomad's income as wool.

In addition to these products, sheep and goats skins (with their fleece) are used to make the heavy robe-like garment essential for survival on the changtang in winter.27 These are obtained as a by-product of the annual early winter animal slaughter when about 4-7% of the herds are harvested for meat. Yak kulu is used primarily in making ropes and woven cloth. The coarse lower hair of yak (known as dziba) is the material from which the best tent cloth and rope is made.

All three species of domestic animals produce milk which the nomads convert into yogurt, butter and cheese, some of which is used for immediate domestic consumption and some, in the case of butter and cheese, sewn in skins or sun dried to store for winter when milk output drops. The quantity of dri (female yak), goat and sheep milk is low by international standards, but milk nevertheless, provides a core element in the subsistence economy of the nomads.

Table 2 presents the estimated amount of milk produced per year by dri, sheep and goats, and the number of months milk is produced. If all milk were converted into butter, each lactating dri would yield from 9-18 kg. per year, goats 1-2 kg. per year, and sheep 0.5-1 kg. per year.

However, considerable yogurt is eaten so the actual amount of butter obtained is less than these maximum estimates. The two-fold range of variation in milk yields reflects differences among camps measured at the same time of the year.

Decollectivizalion, however, has altered the nature of exchange. The collective's animals were divided among the nomad members, but a market system of exchange based on supply and demand was not permitted to develop. The government has decided to continue to monopolize the nomads' products via a system of compulsory quota sales.

At present, there are five types of trade, one of which is primary and the other four secondary. The main axis of trade is: with the government at the district (qu) and county (xian) levels. The four secondary forms of trade are: (l) trade with farmers located along the fringe of the changtang— this is the traditional barter trade described above; (2) trade with farmers and traders who come to the changtang in summer to exchange products and labor (for example building the prayer walls described above or tanning skins) for animals or other livestock products; (3) trade with other nomads, for example horses and livestock and; (4) truck trade with Shigatse, the large Tibetan town 2-3 days distant by truck. This newly emerging type of trade is in its infancy.

The bulk of the nomads' trade today is conducted with the district's trade office through a system of contract or quota sales. This trade almost exclusively concerns wool, goat cashmere and yak kulu. Its operation is organized from the top down. The Lhasa or Shigatse prefecture's trade office negotiates



Table 2. Estimated annual milk yields for Phala dri, sheep and goats* in 1987



annual milk yield per lactating animal (kg)

months per year that animals are milked






3 (June-August)



4 (June-September)


* Based on daily weighings in several camps, in each season



Table 3. 1987 trade between Ngamring county and 3 nomad districts


Bought from

wool (in gyama)

cashmere (in gyama)

tsatsey qu**



tshome qu



sangsang qu







* One gyama equals one half-kilogram

** Phala is a part of this qu


orders with factories and offices in eastern China and then decides how much wool, etc. it needs that year. Then it makes contracts with several county (xian) trade office to buy that quantity of livestock products. These counties then calculate the amount needed to fulfill the contract and allocates it among its nomad districts proportionate to the number of animals each xiang contains. Finally, the xiang apportions out its contracted amount of wool and cashmere on the basis of the number of animals each nomad household possesses, informing each household of the amount of wool and cashmere per animal that it has to provide. Each nomad household is actually given a slip of paper listing its quotas of wool, cashmere and so forth for that year.

This trade is profitable throughout the marketing chain. In 1988 the county t office paid the nomads 3 yuan28 (or 6 jin of grain) per jin of wool and sold it to the prefecture for 3.9 yuan (or 26 jin of grain) for cashmere, receiving 20 yuan from the prefecture for a 54% profit. Their profit on the wool was 131,305 yuan and on the cashmere was 67,927 yuan, making a gross profit 199,232 yuan.29 The gross profit is actually somewhat larger than this because most nomads take grain rather than money and the county obtains the grain for less than the 0.5 yuan it charges the nomads. From these gross profits the county has to pay the trade office workers' salaries, a l0% tax to the TAR government, and freight charges, but the profit clearly is still enormous given that the annual salary of a top official in the county is only about 2,500-3,000 yuan per year.30

Since trade figures are treated as a secret in China, we were unable to obtain official figures on wool and cashmere prices from the trade offices above the county, and the following section, therefore, must be taken as suggestive rather than definitive.31 One jin (1.1 lbs.) of (non-dehaired) goat cashmere sold in 1987 for about $12.50 (46.5 yuan) per jin in Guangzhou. This was 2.3 times more per jin than was paid to the county and 3.6 times more than the nomads of Phala received. The only value added to this item as it went up the ladder was sorting it into grades based primarily on color. If the cashmere was dehaired before sale, it brought twice the price—approximately $25.00 (93 yuan) per Jin.

In 1987, wool sold to Shanghai and Guangzhou is said to have brought 4.6 yuan per jin, 18% higher than the price the county received and 53% higher than what the nomads received. The wool price for export sales to Nepal in 1987 was said to be 6.5 yuan per jin delivered to the Nepalese border. Comparing the value of the 145,895 jin sold by the nomads in 1987 reveals the extent of the profit— whereas the nomads received 437,685 yuan, the county received 568,991 yuan and the prefecture (at the Nepal price) 948,318 yuan. The county therefore made a profit of about 131,306 yuan and the prefecture a profit of 379,327 yuan, their joint profit being about 510,633 yuan, an amount greater than that paid to the nomads.

Wool and cashmere also bring high prices on the Tibetan open market. In Lhasa, for example, one jin of wool fetches about 5 yuan (versus the 3 yuan paid the nomads), and the three Phala nomad households who went to trade with fanners during the winter of 1987 bartered their excess wool (that left after fulfilling their contract-quota) with these farmers for 9.8 jin of barley per jin of wool(=4.9 yuan), 63% more than the district price. Similarly, private traders coming to Phala in'1987 were offering 25-35 yuan per jin of cashmere, over twice as much as that offered by the district.

In theory the new economic policy in the TAR gives nomads and farmers the right to sell their products to whomever they want until 1990, but while this right is exercised by farmers in Tibet, the nomads in fact have had to sell a quota to the government at less than market price.

 This trade is generally represented as a "voluntary contract" system, but clearly is mandatory. A variety of threats and sanctions are levied to force nomads to sell their quota to the government before selling the excess to private persons.  The wool and cashmere trade appears to be too profitable for the officials of the trade offices to give up an assured supply. A comment made by the head of the TAR's Foreign Trade Bureau reveals somewhat the underlying pressure on county officials:

With five million goats, Tibet should harvest 500 tons of goat’s wool [cashmere] each year, but at present only 150 tons can be purchased. Apart from increasing the amount purchased each year, processing should also be expanded. (Ton chub 1988:114.)

On the other hand, because these officials try to give the appearance that these "contracts" are voluntarily entered into, they cannot pay the nomads too little and thus provoke them to protest to Lhasa.32 Thus, the price of cashmere has increased from 8 yuan per jin in 1986 to 11 yuan per jin in 1986, to l3 yuan per jin in 1987, and to approximately 18 yuan per jin in l988. The price of wool has also increased from 2 yuan per jin in 1985 to 2.4 yuan per jin in 1986 to 3 yuan per jin in 1987 and 1988. These increases have more than offset the increases in the price of grains and other imported staples such as tea.33 These officials also work energetically to keep the district store well stocked, frequently trucking in grain and other products such as tea. Because they offer the nomads a reasonable, albeit slightly lower, price than that available on the open market, and because they offer either cash or goods as well as the convenience of having to travel only 3 days to the district headquarters (rather than a month to trade with more distant farmers), most nomads would probably trade with the government's trade office even if they had free choice. However, they do not have that option. This appears to be a case where thoughtful and sympathetic national level policies with regards to Tibet are being contravened at lower levels. Our discussion with nomads in adjacent counties indicate that this is not an isolated problem, and that the same practices are being employed in these regions.34

Notwithstanding the controversial use of contract-quota purchases, it is clear that the nomads' main livestock products are increasing in value and that the nomads are receiving increasingly higher prices for their goods. Thus, despite an overall 8% decrease in herd size since decollectivization, Phala is much better off economically than it was in 1981. For example, these nomads once again have the wherewithal to hire villagers to tan sheep and goat skins for them, paying 1 sheep for every 10 skins tanned.

Space does not permit discussion of the other types of trade, but mention should be made about the impact of roads. The completion of a truck road from the county to the district in the mid 1970s signaled the beginning of a new era when the government (and eventually private traders) could easily bring grains and other commodities to the district headquarters, and thus to within 3-4 days' walk of virtually all Phala nomads. The subsequent completion in about 1980 of a feeder road from the district to segments of most xiang (including Phala) made truck transport even more convenient. The limiting factor precluding utilization of trucks for most district-xiang transportation is now the high cost of operating and thus renting such trucks. Nevertheless, the roads are changing the pattern of Phala trade. Last year only 3 Phala households took the traditional winter trading trip with their animals, the rest either conducting all their business with the district trade office and store, or most of it there and the remainder with traders who came to the changtang or by taking some of their goods by truck to Shigatse. Although these roads are still more a convenience for officials than a means for increasing the profitability of livestock products, their potential importance for expanding trade is seen by many, and in 1986 two of the nomad xiang in this district (but not Phala) took government loans to buy old trucks that sometimes bring grain and other products right into the xiang areas. To facilitate utilization and expansion of this new dimension, the government over the past two years has initialed a substantial loan program for nomads desiring to do business as part-time traders. Most commonly this involves taking livestock products (and even live sheep) to Shigatse and then using the profits from this to purchase manufactured goods which are resold to other nomads on the changtang. This has not yet proved to be highly profitable, but the development of roads and the greater entanglement in the Chinese and world market systems is altering the nature of trade in Phala and will likely produce a more lasting and significant change in the nomads' way of life than did the more direct assault of the "cultural revolution". At present, however, there is no reason to assume that this will be anything but profitable to the overall nomad economy, and, to be sure, no coercion is being applied to the nomads to utilize this development.


The New Policy and Economic Differentiation


One of the striking features of the current “complete responsibility" system in Phala is the rapid  rate  at which economic differentiation has occurred at the household level.35 Although all the nomads started approximately equal when commune property was divided in 1981, there are now both wealthy and poor nomads, and several nomads today subsist primarily by working for other nomads. The number of per capita animals per household in 1988 ranged from 0 to 154 animal, with the richer 16% of the population in 1988 owning 33% of the animals while the poorer 33% of the population owned only 17% of Phala's animals. 10 households (18%) received supplementary welfare from the district in 1987 amounting to 900 kg of barley, and one is a recipient of complete government support in the form of the "5 guarantees".

The pattern of poor nomads working for rich nomads is increasing and several nomad households employ one or more full-time herders or milkers for most of the year. Similarly, rich nomads no longer do their own slaughtering, ear-brand cutting or castrating since these are considered polluting, anti-Buddhist tasks. As in the past, it is again the poor (and the traditionally "unclean") nomads who do these tasks. But despite this, the poor nomads are still favorably inclined toward the new system since there is always work to be had, and wages are high—normally, room and board and 1 live sheep per month.36

Relative to the nightmare of the cultural revolution era when people often went hungry, the nomads perceive a marked improvement in the overall standard of living since 1981. However, many are still very poor. Their tents rarely have carpets and many often wear ragged clothes. Similarly, many can only afford to eat meat for just 5-6 months a year and live in small tattered cloth tents. Health care is virtually non-existent at the local level and veterinary care, though somewhat better than that available for humans, is still minimal.




In contrast to the bleak future facing nomads in most other parts of the world, nomadic pastoralism on the Tibetan changtang is flourishing. Because the changtang’s severe environmental  conditions  preclude agriculture and because the nomad's livestock products earn the TAR a substantial proportion of its foreign currency, no attempt has (or is) being made to end or diminish this ancient way of life. Changes have occurred, but pastureland is not being expropriated from the pastoralists, and they are not being forced or induced to resettle. Nor are Tibetan or Chinese farmers being settled in nomad areas. The traditional subsistence technology, moreover, is intact and herds are managed much as in the traditional period. With no better way to utilize the TAR's vast highland pastures and with livestock products such as wool and cashmere having high value, the current leadership of the TAR and China is committed to a policy of developing animal husbandry in these areas. And while this raises important issues regarding how development should be implemented on the changtang, if at all, for example, there is disagreement over whether the nomads' traditional pastoral subsistence technology is destroying the changtang’s pasturelands,37 it is clear that nomadic pastoralism is currently doing well. Under the new Chinese "reform" policies, not only has the economy reverted to the traditional system of household production and management, but the traditional religico-cultural system of these nomads has been allowed to reassert itself. Economically and culturally, therefore, the nomads of Phala have experienced a revitalization since 1981 that promises to continue in the future, although potential problems such as increasing economic differentiation, ill thought-out development projects and vulnerability to larger market fluctuations exist. The nomadic pastoralists of Phala are far from being economically well-off, but are once again in control of their daily lives, and are likely to gradually increase their standard of living if they are allowed to secure the full value of their livestock products in accordance with market demand.





1 The TAR corresponds almost exactly to political Tibet, the area traditionally ruled by the Dalai Lama In the 1930s and 1940s. Other ethnic Tibetan nomadic pastoral areas can be found in Qinghai, Sichuan and Kansu provinces

2 This paper was written in l988 so reflects primarily our data as of that point.

3 Pronounced: chang-tang.

4 Tibetan nomads use yak as the name for the male of the species (Bos gruniens), dri for the female and nor for the common name of the species. We shall henceforth use yak for the general species name since this is a convention in English. These nomads raise no cattle or hybrids. On the average, 13% of their herds are yak and 87% sheep and goats.

5 The figure of 18,000' is higher than those died in these two sources and derives from our own observations.

6 For a visual look at Phala see Goldstein and Beall (1989B, and 1990B).

7 The first sprouts of the early foliage species are seen in late April but this new growth does not play a large role in (he animals' subsistence until late May-early June. For example, in late May, 1988, the animals were still subsisting primarily on the previous year's forage at two of Phala's three lower altitude camps (16,000'-16,500'). Moreover, some critical foliage species that are located on the mountain slopes do not usually appear until July, and if there is a late monsoon, even later. For example, bang, a mountain sedge preferred by nor, remained dormant in 1987 until the beginning of August.

8 Only one area has wild vegetation adequate for harvesting and storing as fodder. This area is harvested in September Just before the grass dies, but yields only enough to supplement the winter diets of horses, or, occasionally, to assist lactating animals.

9 Tibetan nomads in other areas, especially those in the Western China borderlands, may well have been more tribal in organization, but the situation in these areas is not dear. Ekvall (1968) has written about one of these groups, but does not present enough information on political organization to assess this issue.

10 Lattimore (1962:66-73) alludes to a similar "feudal" system for herdsmen in Outer Mongolia, but did not provide elaboration on how that system operated. Salzman (1986:49ff.) describes another very different kind of "non-tribal" pastoral group in India. Similarly, Khazanov (1983) discusses the issue of pastoral society and the feudal mode of , production in Russian Central Asia.

11 See Goldstein (1989) for an account of this Agreement and the events leading up to it.

12 In Lhasa, the large monasteries remained open but with only a token number of caretaker monks.

13 Of his approximately 1,000 sheep, 300 goats and 200 nor, 50 sheep were left with the household and the rest divided among l5 poor nomad households.

14 The "four olds" were: old ideas, culture, customs and habits.

15 These are walls about 10 feet long (or longer) and 4 feet high, on top of which are piled stones on which prayers have been carved. Nomads do religious prostrations before them as well as circumambulate them to gain merit

16 Losang Yexe (1988:12) a nomad living in Damshung, an area north of Lhasa, also reports that animals were given to families on the basis of family size. G. Clarke (1986:44), however, reports that at the time of decollectivization in Namtso, a pastoral area north of Lhasa, 70% of the livestock went on a per capita basis among those age 15-50 and the other 30% was "allocated to the younger people and also to others who could work hard." He also says that "children and old men received a little bit less."

17 There is actually some variation regarding these figures since one person sometimes received 7 more goats, but then had this balanced by getting one less yak, etc. We obtained these data from the original division list located in the xiang.

18 These "private" animals were the equivalent of household garden plots on agricultural communes.

19 Although figures are often presented in the literature as animals per household, we shall use the "per person" measure throughout this paper in order to take into account the large variation in household size in Tibet.

20 A new system was implemented in 1989 in which smaller xiang such as Phala were merged with contiguous larger ones.  It has not had any significant effects since the adjacent nomads are all from Lagyab Lhojang and are well known to each other on a personal level.

21 See Goldstein and Beall (1991) for discussion of population policy in Tibet.

22 There are, however, varying government set limits on the number of monks that can be recruited in monasteries. This policy is disliked by Tibetans who see it as a continuing curtailment of their ability to practice their religion as they wish.

23 Winter grazing probably has little effect on pasture condition because carbohydrate reserves are stored below ground (e.g., in roots and rhizomes) and heavy use of dried foliage in the winter is generally not detrimental to plant survival and growth (Richard Cincotta, personal communication).

24 The Tibetan nomads' black tent is made from the coarse lower hair of yak which is spun and then woven into cloth by the nomads. Lighter cloth tents are also used by poor families and as satellite tents.

25 We weighed food intake directly during the course of the study, and this figure derives from our findings.

26 Goats produce a downlike undercoat called kulu in Tibetan and cashmere In English, yak produce a similar downlike undercoat that the nomads also call kulu. However, since only goat down legally can be considered cashmere in the West, there is no large export market for yak kulu.

27 These are worn with their fleece on the inside and weigh 22 lb. or more for adults.

28 1 $ = 3.71 yuan.

29 By "gross profit” we mean the profit after paying the nomads for the raw materials but before subtracting other costs such as transportation and salaries.

30 The district and county data derive from interviews with officials at the district and country levels, and with local nomads.

31 Some of the figures cited below derive from Ton Chub (1988:108-l14) and others from anonymous persons.

32 The issue of a fair price for trade goods is complicated further by the inconsistency in prices between nomad counties, the nomads in Phala, for example, receive prices as much as 20-30% lower than neighboring nomads in Nagtsang district (a part of Nagchuka Prefecture). However, despite the fact that these districts are both "government," the Phala nomads are not allowed to sell their "quota" amount to the officials of counties and districts other than their own. The disliked system of quota sales also operates at the district level in the sense that nomads have to sell butter and mutton at below market rates to officials of the district for their consumption needs.

33 Grain increased from .15 per jin in l984 to .5 in l985, remaining the same after that. Tea increased from 151 to 1.88 yuan per brick in 1985.

34 A senior Han official in the TAR's Agriculture, Forest and Animal Husbandry Office repeatedly assured us that there was not even one xiang in the TAR where nomads were forced to sell to the government. It appears as if a convenient fiction is being maintained even in Lhasa that the nomads are voluntarily contracting for wool and cashmere with the trade offices.

35 See Goldstein and Beall (1989C) for a fuller discussion of this.

36 There is, therefore, no outmigration to seek work. It should be noted that the new cultural freedoms also play a major role in producing this opinion of the new reforms.

37 This is discussed in Goldstein and Beall 1990.

38 A Number of nomads explained that the wild-ass is considered part of the category "horse" because of its non-cloven hoof, and these nomads do not eat or milk horses. Nomad food taboos also include fish and fowl.





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We are grateful to the many people who helped us during our fieldwork, but especially want to thank our colleagues at the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, our main research assistant T. Dorje, our ecological team consisting of Dr. Richard Cincotta and his research assistant, Andre Goldstein, and the various xiang and qu. Funding for this research was provided by: The Committee for Research and Exploration, National Geographic Society, the National Academy of Sciences' Committee for Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China, and the National Science Foundation.


Melvyn C. Goldstein is Professor of Anthropology, Case Western Reserve University and Director, Center for Research on Tibet. He received his PhD in l968 from University of Washington. Prof. Goldstein has published extensively on Tibetan issues.

Cynthia M. Beall is Professor, Department of Anthropology, Case Western Reserve University. She received her PhD in 1976 from Pennsylvania State University. Beall's specialization is in Human Biology/Human Adaptability.

A recent (1990) joint publication on Tibet is Nomads of Western Tibet: The survival of a Way of Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.