the objective is to have a herding operation that will give the best returns with a minimum investment of labor (Moran, 1982). Daily management tends towards efficiently of allocating labor, and during daylight hours people prefer to keep animals clustered in flocks within larger groups. In Doma, such management groups are 15-20 for yak, and 70-130 for sheep and goats.


            The expanding monetary economy is felt not only in changes in the local availability, or price level, of grain but also through changed facilities for the marketing of livestock. Tibetan pastoralists have a reputation for being reluctant to sell their animals. Livestock have served as an investment in many places in the world. In Tibet, there is a traditional attitude that the pure accumulation of livestock itself is of value, and expression of well-being and prosperity, a form of wealth. In Doma, an old man told me: "Look, my herd is my bank, which can be hung on my tent." This is borne out in popular speech among pastoralists on the Northern Plateau. Cash is seen by them as another item or good, rather than as a baseline medium of exchange and store of value (Clarke, 1988). There is cultural resistance to the slaughtering of livestock, with strong Buddhist prohibitions against killing.[13] Traditionally, the pastoralists often did not cull the herd early in the season when the price is high, but held on until much later, perhaps coming near to degradation of the pasture. Only at the end, when the price has fallen in winter did they slaughter the animals.


            The market-pricing process makes people more aware of the possibilities inherent in slaughtering livestock earlier in the season. In effect, pastoralists now own the livestock themselves, and in areas near urban areas there clearly has developed an open market in livestock. Beyond the livestock, which is contracted to the state, surplus livestock can be sold in these markets for cash, and this has begun to alter people's attitudes towards breeding for market.



The Household Economy


In the summer 1987, Doma contained 98 household and 502 persons. In Doma, most nomads live in smaller, nuclear family households, of over five members, on average. At the beginning of decollectivisation (1981), all households had the opportunity to "shake off poverty". The nomads were free sell or barter their animals as they saw fit; all the animals of the brigade were divided equally among the nomads regardless of their class, background, or age. Each Doma adult or child received 48 head of livestock. In addition, households were allowed to retain the "private" animals they held during the commune era. This raised the average to 51 animals per person.


In 1987, six years after the division following decollectivisation, economic differentiation has reemerged in Doma. Again, there are now both wealthy and poor nomads. As a result of this process of economic differentiation, the richer 24% of households in 1987 owned 44.5% of the animals. There was an increasing concentration of animals in the hands of the upper 24% of the households and the emergence once again of a lower stratum of households with few animals. Several cases of how rich and poor households managed their household economics can illustrate their very different strategies for survival.



            Case One


This household is a typical "nuclear" family in Doma. It is made up of a man (39 years old), his wife (36) and their three children (16, 14 and 9). In 1981, they had in all 63 yak, 118 sheep, 67 goats and 2 horses. In 1987, the family had 82 yak, 205 sheep, 5 horses and 41 goats. Since the distribution of the collective property to individuals, there has been an increase in value, or effective size, of the family herd of over one-third. This is not from purchase or re-allocation, but from natural increase, locally estimated at 25% per annum, minus the number sold for slaughter over the period. At 1987 Naquk sale prices these animals would have a value of around 48,000 RMB yuan,[14] that is 9,700 yuan per capita. The value of livestock for this household is more than the average for this nomadic community.



            Case Two


This household is relatively wealthy in Doma. It contains 8 members: husband (53), the first wife (49), the second wife (42, sister of the first wife), the wives' mother, two daughters (22, 20), a son (11), and an adopted son (19). We can find strong support for the relationship between family size and wealth in this case. This husband said: "I want as many children as come…if somebody dies, we should make sure there are more." When he had had two daughters, he wanted a son, so he adopted a child from a relative.


            In the summer of 1987 this household owned 812 animals (137 yak, 298 sheep, 9 houses and 368 goats) more than 101 animals per person. The market value of these animals (1987) was about 121,000 RMB yuan (US$24,200). This household slaughtered 3 yak, and 80 sheep and goats for meat in 1986. In this year, the household sold 154 kilograms of wool at 3.5 yuan per kilogram, 25 kilograms of cashmere at 14 yuan per kilogram, 15 sheep at 30 yuan and 2 yak at 465 yuan to the local government. At the same time, this household sold 30 kilograms of cashmere at 18.5 yuan per kilogram to businessmen from Guangzhou, and sold 4 yak (as meat) at the Naquk free market for 2,200 yuan (total).


            In the summer of 1987, the household hired a man from another nomad community and a woman from a southern village. In 1986, the family paid 12 sheep, and 370 yuan as wages. The husband said he would like to sell more beef in Naquk and Lhasa.[15] The husband is an indicator of the production plans of the family. A beef herd has more males, as these are bigger and fetch more money on the market than females. The main purpose of the females in a beef herd is reproduce the male beef stock. But for a traditional herd from Doma it is said that the males would be used only for trading and carrying the tents; in which case there would be an excess of females over males and the herd would often be oriented towards milk product production. In this case-study household there are 98 male and 39 female; this suggests a beef rather than milk herd. In fact, the household sold 9 female yak to other households in 1986. In this case the ages of male yak were reported as 5.2 years. In general, males are said to be full grown at around their sixth year. So, unless the costs of feed outweigh the benefits, there would be no point in slaughtering before that age. Quite obviously there is some economic incentive to raise beef for market.


            The householder regards his livestock as mainly an item for trade, not for dairy products. He said that he was planning to sell wool, cashmere or other livestock products in border trade with Nepal,[16] but he did not how to do that yet. His father did business over the Himalayas before 1959. His eldest brother is in India. This family, together with six others from this neighborhood group, have bought a used truck. But his son was full of complaints about the difficulty of getting gasoline,[17] parts, and permission for dealing in some goods, like cashmere and grain in the long distance trade.


            In 1986, the household had to purchase barley, wheat, rice, and cooking oil. The household consumes 90 kilograms of grain per month, which they obtain from the Doma district office and the free market, sometimes paying with cash and sometimes in butter, beef and wool. He makes cash purchases of tea (from Sichuang), cigarettes (made in coastal cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing) and cloth (also from coastal cities, for example, there is a factory which has only made "Tibetan style" felt hats for Tibetans since the 1960s in a coastal-industrial city). He also bought traditional and new luxury goods such as silk, necklaces, rug, otter skins (originating in Northern America), watches (produced in Hong Kong), a lighter (from Taiwan), binoculars and a cassette tape/radio player (parts from Japan, assembled in Guangzhou).



            Case Three


This household, by contrast, is one of the poorest in Doma. The household contains 4 persons: the father, who has a drinking problem (58), his daughter (32) and her two illegitimate children.[18] In the summer of 1986 this family owned only 2 yak, 20 sheep and 13 goats. In that fall, the district office gave this household four female yak to help them develop their own herd. But, by the winter, they had slaughtered two of these yak for meat and sold one for cash. The household also bartered two sheep and one goat with farmer-traders from the south for 110 kilograms of barley flour. In 1987, this woman spun 25 kilograms of yak hair for her relative and received 2 kilograms of butter, 5 kilograms of beef and 2 sheep as wages. Her son, 14 years old, worked 4 months as a herder for a household simply for better food and one sheep as salary.



            Case Four


This household is not as poor as the household in case three, but has been a loser in the economic transformation. The household has 5 members: a man (29), his brother (unmarried, 21), his mother (48), his wife (23), and a male child (2). In 1984, this household still owned 317 animals. In the winter of 1985, these two brothers took the traditional two-months trading trip with their carrying animals (yak) to barter salt in farm areas. But in the southern villages, they found the market was changing: the price of grain rose, due to the government's new price policy and a bad harvest, while the price of salt fell (salt from Qinghai and Sichuang was cheap). The brothers earned less from the sale of their salt than they had ever made previously. On the way back home, they had to sell their animals for cash. After their return, the brothers sold almost half of their animals, and took a loan of 7,000 yuan.[19] They opened a teahouse in the Amdo county town. The teahouse closed after it operated for four months. There were three reasons: first, they put too much butter and sugar in the tea; second, they always served free tea to their friends and relatives; third, a Chinese from Sichuang opened a restaurant and teahouse next door. In the cold spring of 1987, the household received 250 kilograms of barley as welfare from the local government. Their herd was reduced to 185 in the summer of 1987. The younger brother had to work for three months as a herder for a household in another encampment.


            Now, members for the poorer households must work for wages and accept welfare from the government. The rich households on the other hand, as they did before the mid-1960s, hire poor nomads to do many of the difficult jobs. The poor nomads see this change as a part of the traditional way of things, and the rich generally treat their poor fellows quite kindly. The nomads said "This is our Drokba way."





The economic transformation that occurred in the pastoral areas of northern Tibet have come about at least in part because of the same material and ideological forces that have had their impact over all of China since the new, regional development policies have been implemented.


            In the Tibet Autonomous Region during the 1980's the main achievement was the development of an infrastructure for communication and transport. The economic reform also presented the possibility that the introduction of commercial marketing would promote the development of a vertical structure, with trade centered in urban centers in either the Tibet Autonomous Region or inner China. These may become a further focus for the reorientation of traditional Drokba trade patterns and development of differentials between the Tibet Autonomous Region and inner China.


            As China's modern history has shown, the central government's economic development policies are politically motivated. While the Maoist development strategy was heavily redistributive and interior-oriented, China's new development strategy enables the coastal regions to derive more benefits than other regions.


            The post-Mao regional development policy cannot guarantee a harmony of interests among the regions. The policy is one which concentrates on developing the coastal regions rather than the interior. Transmission of development from region to region is not automatic. The implications of this thesis are pointed out most forcefully by John Friedman in his, A General Theory of Polarized Development. He argues that development is a process of innovation which aims "to transform the established structure of society by attracting creative or innovative personalities into the enclaves of accelerated change; by encouraging the formation of new values, attitudes, and behavior traits consistent with the innovation; by fomenting a social environment favorable to innovative activity; and by bringing into existence yet further innovations" (82).


            According to Friedman, conditions that are especially favorable to innovation are generally found in large and rapidly growing urban systems. Moreover, successful innovation tends to increase the potential power of innovators. As a result, the centers of innovation tend to penetrate and dominate the periphery through trade, transport networks, new communication systems, and production and market relations. In the meantime, new desires and frustrations will grow in the peripheral areas and give rise to demands for autonomy, or even political conflict with the core.


            China's new development policies implemented in Tibet have produced a major economic transformation in Northern Tibet. The policies have proceeded to change the local economic system and have led to increasing involvement in cash-oriented productive patterns and to dramatic social and economic differentiation.


            This general integration of pastoralism into a market economy, together with new development policies, has brought some new, even more serious problems for more equitable and stable long-term development.





Cai, Ruikang "Highway and Airport Construction in Tibet", China Today (English), March, 1991.


Clarke, G E  "China's Reforms of Tibet, and Their Effects on Pastoralism", Discussion Paper #237, University of Sussex, 1986.


Friedman, John  "A General Theory of Polarized Development", in Hansen, Niles ed., Growth Centers in Regional Economic Development, New York: The Free Press, 1972.


Gelek, Chang Jiangshe, Ang Caidang and Liu Yimin   Changtang Drokba (The Nomads on the Northern Plateau), Beijing: The Tibetan Studies Press, 1988.


Goldstein, M C and Beall, C M    "The Impact of China's Cultural and Economic Reform Policy on Nomadic Pastoralists in Western Tibet", Discussion Paper, Case Western Reserve University, 1989


Grunfeld, A. T . The Making of Modern Tibet, New York: Zed Books Ltd., 1987.


Karan, P. R. The Changing Face of Tibet, University of Kentucky, 1978.


Yu Di. Zhongguo Jingji dili xue (China's Economic Geography), Beijing: The

Business Press 1983.





[1] Tibet's modern industrial development began in the late 1950s with a concentration of manufacturing plants in central Tibet, where transportation and communications systems were better. In march 1959 a blast furnace with a capacity of one and one-half tones of pig iron, for processing local ore and coal, was erected at Lhasa. An ordnance factory began producing ammunition in 1964 at a site about two miles east of Lhasa. Linchih, a city in central-southern Tibet, is a new center of industrial activity developed since the Cultural Revolution. The technical personnel and workers for this industrial center were sent from Shanghai and other coastal cities in China. The Shanghai Weilun Woolen Textile Mile moved to Tibet and set up the region's largest plant in Linchih, employing more than 3,000 workers. It produces fifty types of wool fabrics, including blankets. Its raw material comes mostly from the Northern Plateau.

[2] One was a monk, the other a lay official.

[3]  Grunfeld, 210.

[4] At Doma, green foliage first appears in late April or early May on the spring-fed wet meadows and river banks that cover just a small part of the summer grazing area. The bulk of the land is covered by plant communities that depend on monsoonal precipitation and these begin to play a role in livestock forage selection in late May or early June. Foliage is sufficient to wean newborn lambs and kids and begin milking only in mid-June. The growing season ends in September.

[5] This region is contiguous to India.

[6] The TAR corresponds closely to political Tibet, the area traditionally ruled by the Tibet government in the 1930s and 1940s.

[7] Japanese vehicles started to be imported in the late 1970s and appeared on the plateau in the middle 1980s.

[8] In Lhasa, just few people have private phones. In Doma, no one does.

[9] In Doma butter is still made in a very primitive way by some nomads. Milk is poured into a yak skin slung supported by two posts. After a few hours the butter is found floating and buttermilk is separated and used in other ways. In the Northern Plateau, butter can be stored for several months without getting rancid.

[10]  100$ =346.14 yuan in 1986

   1 jin =500 grams

[11] Actually, people might note that this is unofficial, as people are not obliged to sell to the government by law.

[12] Grain increased from 0.40 per kilogram in 1983 to 1.00-1.20 in 1987. Tea increased from 1.75 to 1.90 yuan per brick in 1986.

[13] In traditional Tibet, the butcher's trade was hated by Tibetans and all butchers were outcasts. Today, the profession is still hereditary and is one of the lowest in Tibet. The killing of animals is regarded as a very cruel and barbarous act and one can not even see it. In Doma, some of the nomads hire people to kill

[14] About $ 12,000

[15] The free market selling price in Naquk in the spring of 1987 was 600 yuan for a yak and 55 to 65 yuan for a sheep.

[16] Doma is about 500 km from Nepal.

[17] They have to buy gasoline on the "black market" or from the government's drivers at 3 to 4 yuan per gallon. The official prices is 0.9 to 1.10 yuan for one gallon.

[18] In 1987, 4.58 of the Doma population were considered illegitimate.

[19] 1986 was to be the first year in which interest had to be paid.