ECONOMIC AND

SOCIAL CHANGE UNDER

THE NEW POLICIES

Page160.gif (94689 bytes) THE RELAXATION OF RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM and free enterprise has had important ramifications for the nomads' standard of living and their internal social organization.

Trade for grain, tea, and other products has always been an integral component of the subsistence economy of nomad families. These individual trading activities were terminated during the Cultural Revolution but quickly reemerged under the new economic policy. At present, there are five types of trade in Pala: 1) trade with the government at the district and county levels; 2) private trade with farmers located 20- to 30-days' walk to the southeast along the fringe of the Changtang; 3) trade with far -mers and traders who come to the Changtang in summer to exchange pro ucts and labor for livestock or livestock products; 4) trade with other nomads-for example, for horses and livestock and; 5) a newly emerging trade with Shigatse, the large Tibetan city twoto three-days' distant by truck (and two months by yak caravan). Categories 2, 3 and 4 were the traditional types of barter trade.

The new economic policy in the Tibet Autonomous Region gives nomads and farmers the right to sell all their products to whomever they want. Unlike the peasants in China proper, they do not have to pay taxes or make quota sales to the government until at least 1990. However, this thoughtful policy has been partially undermined and the nomads are being coerced to sell the bulk of their wool and cashmere to the government's trade office through a system of quota sales, although the officials represent these as voluntarily negotiated contracts. Private trade in the restricted items is permitted only after these quotas have been fulfilled.

Page162.gif (162562 bytes) The reason for this practice is money-wool and cashmere sales generate a tremendous amount of profit for the county and prefecture trade offices. The profit motive here is not individual but institutional-it is primarily aimed at generating profit for a governmental office in order to enhance the officials' reputations rather than lining their own pockets.

On the other hand, because these officials want to give the appearance that these "contracts" are entered into voluntarily, they cannot pay the nomads so little as to provoke a protest to Lhasa. Thus, the price of cashmere has increased from 125-200% over the past four years, and the price of wool 50% over the past three years. Real implementation of open markets for wool and cashmere would have yielded better prices for the nomads, but these increases have been substantial and have more than offset the increases in the price of grains and other imported staples such as tea.

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, Page163.gif (194251 bytes) 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 three days to the district headquarters (rather than a month to trade with more distant farmers), most nomads would probably deal with the government's trade office even if they had free choice. However, they do not have that option and greatly resent this illegal practice which they feel powerless to dislodge. This appears to be a case where thoughtful and sympathetic national-level policies for 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 other nomad regions.

Notwithstanding the controversial quota sales, it is clear that the nomads' main livestock products are increasing in value under the new market-oriented economy. This, coupled with the tax concession, has improved the standard of living in Fala despite an overall eight percent decrease in herd size since commune dissolution in 1981. Nomads, for example, are buying traditional items such as pots, pans, clothes, jewelry and metal trunks, as well as new "luxury" items such as radios, tape cassettes, sewing machines, gasoline lamps and metal stoves and, as indicated above, hiring villagers to do a variety of manual labor tasks. Many have built new storehouses, and a few even new residences, costly investments since wood for the beams and pillars has to be brought from hundreds of miles away.

 

WOOL AND CASHMERE PROFITS

 

Page164.gif (93706 bytes) In 1987 the county trade office paid the nomads 3 yuan ($1=3.71 yuan) or 6.6 lbs. of grain per 1.1 lb. of wool and sold it to Shigatse prefecture for 3.9 yuan, generating a profit of 30%. They paid the nomads 13 yuan (or 29 lbs of grain) for 1.1 lbs. of cashmere, receiving 20 yuan from the prefecture for a 54% profit. Their profit on the total wool bought from the nomads was 131,305 yuan and on the cashmere was 67,927 yuan, making a gross profit 199,232 yuan. 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 what it charges the nomads. From these gross profits the county has to pay the trade office workers' salaries, a 10% tax to the TAR government, and freight charges, but the profit clearly is still enormous iven that the annual salary of a top official in the county is only about 2,500-3,000 yuan.

The high profitability of these livestock products continues as one moves up the market ladder. We calculate that the 160,485 lbs. of wool the Ngamrine nomads had to sell to the government in 1987 brought the county a profit of about 131,305 yuan and the prefecture a profit of 379,327 yuan.

Page165.gif (158650 bytes) The alacrity with which the nomads have reverted back to the foundations of their traditional culture does not mean that important changes have not occurred, or that the nomads are completely resistant to change. Trade, for example, is one area where a process of transformation appears to have begun. Since wool traditionally was Tibet's main export item, the nomads have always been part of a larger market system. However, their dependence on distant Chinese and world markets has increased since commune Page165a.gif (170830 bytes) dissolution. The construction of "truckable" roads from the county in Ngamring to the Tsatsey district in the mid-1970s has fostered this increasing entanglement. It 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 three- to four-days' walk of virtually all Pala nomads. The subsequent completion (around 1980) of a feeder road from Tsatsey district to points in most shang (including Pala) made truck transport even more convenient, and has facilitated visits by Lhasa-based petty traders seeking cashmere, skins and (illegal) furs, as well as offering nomads the possibility of trading directly with new markets, such as the city of Shigatse which is just two- to three-days' distant by truck but close to a two-month trek by caravan.

So far, the nascent truck trade usually entails nomads renting space on one of the district's trucks to take livestock products (and even live sheep) to sell in Shigatse, the proceeds typically being used to purchase manufactured goods to resell to other nomads on the Changtang. A government loan policy has facilitated utilization and expansion of this option. In 1986,1987, and 1988 loans were made available to nomads desiring to do business as part-time traders either in Shigatse or with other nomads farther west (where there is a thriving yak trade), and 17 households in Pala have received them, one for 10,000 yuan ($2,700 U.S.). The Shigatse trade has not yet proved to be highly profitable for most participants because of the high cost of renting truck space and the nomads' lack of business skills, but it is likely to increase in importance in the future as they gain familiarity with these new markets. Because it is voluntary, there is no resentment at this development which is perceived by the nomads as an opportunity.

Page167.gif (71719 bytes) All of this is gradually changing the pattern Of Pala trade. Last year, for example, only three Pala households took the traditional one- to twomonth winter trading trip with their carrying animals to adjacent far 'm areas. The rest conducted all their business with the district trade office and store at Tsatsey, or conducted most of it there and the remainder either with traders who came to the Changtang or, in a few cases, with traders in Shigatse. And although those who took the traditional winter trip bartered their (excess) products for prices higher than those paid by the Tsatsey trade office, this incremental profit is unlikely to motivate more nomads to make the long and arduous winter trip, given the harm it does to livestock and the fact that not much is actually left to sell after the forced sales to the district. Thus, it appears certain that the nomads will at least continue, and probably increase, their entanglement in distant market systems. Although this will likely produce future changes in the nomads' way of life, at present there is no reason to assume that it will be anything but profitable to the overall nomad economy.

Another striking consequence of China's post-1981 reform policy is the rapidity and extent to which economic and social differentiation has reemerged in Pala. Although all Pala's nomads in the old society were subjects of the Panchen Lama, tremendous class differences existed among the subjects. Rich families had huge herds and lived in relative luxury alongside a substantial stratum of herdless laborers, poor nomads, servants and beggars. Implementation of the commune in 1970 removed these disparities since all private ownership of the means of production ended at this time. During the decade of communal production, some economic differentiation resurfaced because households with more workers amassed more "work points," and commune officials consistently received the most "work points," but these differences were moderate, most nomads being equally poor. The dissolution of the commune in 1981 maintained a rough equality since all nomads in Pala received an equal number of livestock. However, in the ensuing seven years, some herds have increased while others have declined dramatically. Once again there are both very wealthy and very poor nomads. One household actually has no livestock at all.

While no households had less than 37 animals per person in 1981, 38% had less than 30 in 1988. At Page168.gif (60452 bytes) the high end of the continuum, the proportion of Pala households with more than 50 animals per person increased from 12% in 1981 to 25% in 1988. Ten percent of the households had more than 90 animals per person versus none in 1981. As a result of this process of economic differentiation, the richer 16% of the population in 1988 owned 33% of the animals while the poorer 33% of the population owned only 17% of the Pala animals.The past seven years of the familybased "responsibility" system has resulted in an increasing concentration of animals in the hands of a minority of newly wealthy households, and the emergence once again of a stratum of poor households with no or few animals.

Page169.gif (89583 bytes) These new poor subsist by working for rich nomads, several of whom now, as in the old society, regularly employ herders, milkers, and servants for long stretches of time. The memory of charges of exploitation leveled against employers has ensured that employees receive a decent wage-usually one sheep per month (equal to roughly 25 yuan) plus good food, and even clothes if the contract is for an entire year. Piecework is available too in the form of tailoring, spinning, weaving, wool shearing, cashmere combing, livestock slaughtering, grass cutting, and ear-mark cutting-

Ironically, the new economic policy in Pala has particularly benefited the former wealthy class, i.e., those who were expropriated and severely discriminated against during the Cultural Revolution. Four Page169a.gif (188995 bytes) of the six households who now have 70 or more head of livestock per capita are former "wealthy class," and all of the former wealthy-class households are among those with the largest herds and most secure income.

This development is resented by a tiny minority of nomads who were powerful officials during the commune period and are unpopular and powerless today. Bitter at the loss of their authority and prestige, one once came to our tent and whispered, "You have to tell Lhasa about what is going on here." When we asked him what he meant he repeated him-self. After much prodding, he finally said, "You know, the 'class enemies,' they are rising up again." The persistence of even a few people with such views creates an undercurrent of anxiety among most nomads who fear that the leftist pendulum will suddenly swing back and destroy all the new gains.

Examples of the household economies of poor and rich households in 1987-88 illustrate their very different strategies for survival.

Household #1 is wealthy and does not have to do any trading other than its forced quota sales to the district trade office. It was wealthy in the "old society" and was expropriated at the time the commune was created. It contains seven members: three adult males, two adult females, an elderly female, and a youth. In the summer of 1988 it owned 646 animals (278 sheep, 322 goat, 41 yak, and 5 horses) or 92 animals per person. The market value of these animals was about 31,000 yuan (or US$8,329). This household slaughtered 70 goats and sheep for meat (for itself and its hired hands). From its quota sales of wool, cashmere, kulu, sheep, and butter to the district, household #1 received 1,954 pounds of barley (297 pounds per person), roughly 550 pounds more than it needed for its basic subsistence. In addition to this, it obtained 294 yuan in cash which it used for other incidental expenses such as cooking oil, cigarettes, and radio batteries.

Page173.gif (103415 bytes) This household paid nine sheep/goats as wages to Tibetan farmers who tanned 90 sheep and goat skins, and another 32 sheep as wages to nomad herders and milkers. It owns two storehouses at its home-base encampment, and is gradually acquiring traditional and new luxury goods such as a cassette tape/radio player and several metal trunks. It is one of the wealthiest households in Pala.

By contrast, the head of household #2 was from a beggar household in the old society and is again one of the poorest in Pala. His household contains four persons (two adults and two young children) and requires about 550 pounds of grain for a year. In the summer of 1988 it owned only 64 livestock (seven yak, 29 sheep, and 28 goats) and had slaughtered just eight goats for meat in the fall of 1987. This household has just 16 animals per capita.

As its quota sales to the district, household #2 received just 86 pounds (43 pounds per person) of barley plus 73.5 yuan in cash. The household also bartered a sheep with a farmer-trader for about 83 pounds of tsamba, but still was roughly 220 pounds short of its subsistence (barley) needs. The male head of the household, therefore, was forced to engage in a variety of tasks for wages that took him away from home for over four months of the year-

1. He worked two months as a herder for household #1. He ate his own food for one month in order to earn three sheep as salary instead of the normal two.

2. He spun 30 pounds of yak hair for two households and received two goats as wages.

3. He worked two months as herder for a household in another encampment and received two sheep as salary.

4. He snared one antelope, ate the meat, and sold the skin for 50 yuan to a passing Lhasa-based trader.

5. He butchered over 100 sheep/goats and seven yak for other nomad households, receiving payment of about 88 pounds of grain, plus miscellaneous entrails.

The grain, money, and free meals deriving from his labor provided enough supplementary income to meet his household's grain needs. But the household also required other products such as tea, cooking oil, clothes, matches, cigarettes (both husband and wife eventually decided to give up smoking to save money), tobacco, etc. Normally it would have acquired these by selling the sheep and goats the household head earned as wages, but in 1987 it received 275 pounds of barley as welfare from the district and therefore was able to add these animals to its herd, increasing its potential for future income.

These two examples reveal the tremendous differences that have developed in the seven years since dissolution of the commune. The poor household now must work for wages, accept 'welfare" from the government, and subsist with little meat and the poorest-quality diet. The rich household, on the other hand, now, as rich households did in the old society, hires poor nomads to do many of the difficult tasks and consumes a high-quality and more varied diet. It is not possible to account here in detail for these differences, but in general they derive from a concatenation of factors such as luck, skill, consumption philosophy and diligence. The nomads see this dramatic change as a part of the natural (traditional) way of things, and themselves accept these outcomes since an households had (and have) equal opportunity to succeed or fail as their luck and skill allows. And although they all agree that economic polarization is not as advanced as it was in the old society, it seems likely to us (and the nomads) that the newly "poor" households such as the one just described will form a permanent laborer stratum.

Despite the forced quota sales- and the economic differentiation, all nomads reported that economic life is much better these days than during the commune period when people often went hungry. The main reason for this, as indicated earlier, is the absence of taxes and the increase in the value of nomad products, particularly cashmere. Also important is the great demand for laborers in Pala and the relatively high wages being paid. It is also noteworthy that welfare is preventing complete destitution for a number of families. In 1987, for example, 10 households (18%) received welfare from the county amounting to 2,000 pounds of barley.

But while there clearly has been a substantial improvement in the overall standard of living in Pala since 1981, by objective measures most of these nomads are still very poor. Their tents rarely have rugs and they often wear tattered clothes. Many can afford to eat meat for just four to five months a year and a number do not even have a yak-hair tent, living instead in small patched cloth tents that are frequently tom and battered by the fierce winds. Economically, they still have a long way to go to approach the standard of living of most Han villagers in eastern China.

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