Commission for Nomadic Peoples

+ Home

Nomadic Peoples | Current Issue

Nomadic Peoples Journal

Current Issue: Volume 19 Number 2

Full-text PDFs of this issue are available from the White Horse Press

Kenneth Bauer and Huatse Gyal
Transforming inequality: Eastern Tibetan pastoralists from 1955 to the present
Nancy E. Levine

This paper traces the recent history and major political and economic transformations that eastern Tibetan pastoralists have experienced from traditional times to the present and examines how changing rights over land and domestic animals have affected patterns of economic and social inequality in this population. Ethnographic data and responses to household surveys conducted in Sichuan and Gansu Provinces in China support the finding that the division of the grasslands to individual households through long-term contracts to state-owned land and government policies supporting sedentarisation are contributing to asset inequality and creating the foundation for class-based social differentiation in this population.

Migration for ecological preservation? Tibetan herders' decision making process in the eco-migration policy of Golok Tibetan autonomous prefecture (Qinghai province, PRC)
Yusuke Bessho
This paper considers nomads' decision-making process in response to the 'Eco-Migration Policy' in the Three River Headwaters region of the People's Republic of China. Contrary to previous studies of this policy, which emphasised the need for pastoral communities to wholly assimilate to urban life, this study focuses on individual choices and on the practical meanings of pastoralists' decisions in relation to government policies. Interviews and field surveys revealed the main factors inducing Tibetan pastoralists to become ecological migrants: whether the migrant village was in a convenient location and the facilities were satisfactory, the retention of the right to profit from caterpillar fungus collection, and the flexibility of livestock leases. These rationales stand in stark contrast to the notion of 'environmental correctness' emphasised in the state's discourse regarding these policies.
New homes, new lives - the social and economic effects of resettlement on Tibetan nomads (Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, PRC)
Kenneth Bauer
This paper observes the effects state-sponsored resettlement in two Tibetan nomad counties of Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai Province (PRC). As nomads increasingly move to urban areas, regional and local economies are shifting, as are social relations and the traditional systems that have managed rangeland resources for millennia. Yet few studies have investigated the empirics of life within these resettled communities. This research takes a snapshot of key socio-economic indicators for resettled Tibetans as they transition to urban life and evaluates if and how nomads are benefiting, and what new challenges have arisen as a result of these processes. Drawing from survey and interview data, I suggest that while resettlement offers nomad families opportunities in terms of access to public services such as education and health care, it also entails significant new expenses for households even as their earnings potential contracts; these trends are exacerbated in the case of poorer households and income inequalities are likely to worsen when families move to urban areas. Likewise, while resettlement has resulted in increased purchase of consumption goods, household investment in productive assets has seen a corresponding decline. Even though access to some public services may increase with resettlement, quality of life in urban areas may suffer with respect to pollution exposure, lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, and increasing prices for basic commodities. With higher rates of school enrollment and the deskilling of the rural labour force, resettlement to urban areas is likely to undermine the long-term economic viability of pastoral production in Tibetan areas of China. Resettlement is also affecting the continuity of social institutions and modes of knowledge transmission, encouraging certain opportunities and closing off other potentialities for nomadic culture. This paper contributes to the literature on development-induced displacement, governance at China's margins, and the adaptability of pastoral production systems amidst state efforts to modernise and assimilate nomads. Leveraging this case study, we can theorise more broadly about the social, ecological, and economic repercussions of resettlement.
Hor - a sedentarisation success for Tibetan pastoralists in Qinghai?
Jarmila Ptackova
Most outside observers of current development in grassland areas of China see sedentarisation policies rather sceptically. Among other issues, the accelerated planning and implementation period, the poor quality of housing and facilities at the settlement sites, the lack of alternative livelihood opportunities and the loss of nomad culture are commonly mentioned in critiques of the rapid sedentarisation that has taken place in China in the past decade. Reports in the Chinese media tend to tell a different story, celebrating sedentarisation as a welcome step towards modernity among the grassland population. This paper examines one new settlement, Hor, where in 2009 locals confirmed the positive rhetoric of the government and averred that the advantages brought by sedentarisation outweighed its negatives. More recent research shows that the situation in Hor is, in fact, more complex and the touted successes of the sedentarisation policy may not be long-lasting.
The politics of standardising and subordinating subjects: the nomadic settlement project in Tibetan areas of Amdo
Huatse Gyal
Since 2006, Tibetan nomads have been resettled into centralised urban settlement towns as part of China's effort at 'Building a New Socialist Countryside' in Tibetan areas. The official narrative of this new policy falls very much within the ambit of neoliberal mantras, such as bringing modernisation, economic efficiency, market-oriented personhood, comfortable living and, most importantly, environmental protection and national security to its west. At the heart of such policies is the idea that the west would remain 'backward' and 'unruly' if left alone or uncared for. In this context, this paper aims to elucidate how a sense of backwardness that ostensibly poses a threat to social and political stability is transformed into the spatial and social reorganisation of Tibetan pastoral regions. Drawing on my ethnographic research in the summer of 2012, this paper takes the newly built resettlement village in Jentsa (established in 2009), Amdo, as a case study to explore how a multitude of actors on the ground have come to view, respond, and cope with this new policy by simultaneously relying on and incorporating the new space, and by constituting alternative forms of participation and social space. I argue that, if we are to understand the multiplicity of interactions and actors at play in the process of implementing nomadic settlement project in Tibetan areas in general, and in Jentsa in particular, we need to develop models of understanding these relationships that acknowledge their complexity.
Housing projects in the nomadic areas of China's eastern Tibetan plateau: representation, market logic, and governmentality
Gaerrang (Kabzung)
This paper explores the Chinese government's efforts to develop housing projects in Sichuan Province, and to encourage Tibetan herders to settle and enter the market economy. The paper uses primary sources to analyse how media and government reports provide a constructed image of Tibetan herders and their cultural landscape. These reports depict Tibetan traditions, including Buddhism, as impediments to modernisation, secularisation, market-oriented logic, materialism, and governmentality. Finally, the reports are contextualised in a larger governmental effort to continue with housing and economic projects in the Eastern Tibetan Plateau.
Local experiences and contested meanings of the Chinese 'grain for green' land conversion programme in an agro-pastoralist Tibetan community
Emily Woodhouse
The Sloping Land Conversion Programme (SLCP or 'Grain for Green') forms one part in a suite of programmes focused on 'ecological construction' in minority areas of Western China. It aims to increase vegetation and reduce poverty by providing payments to households for retiring agricultural and grazing land to plant trees and grass. This paper examines how SLCP is being experienced and perceived in one agro-pastoral Tibetan community in Sichuan Province on the eastern Tibetan Plateau, and focuses on livelihoods impacts, environmental sustainability, and local versus state meanings. Participants were motivated by purely financial reasons, but some, especially poorer households, were concerned about impacts on livelihoods. Respondents questioned the environmental impacts and rationale of SLCP given the low survival rates of trees and lack of incentives for long-term management. There were barriers to moving to off-farm work alongside a resistance to leaving a subsistence livelihood base and agro-pastoral lifestyle. Positive views about the policy's environmental and wellbeing benefits were reserved for plantations on unproductive land. Local responses to SLCP highlight issues with wider state-led policies that expropriate land and resources and privilege economic valuation of the environment.
Pha Yul: an analysis of grassland management policies in Amdo-Qinghai
Elisa Cencetti
This article does not aim to reconstruct the semantic evolution of pha yul. Rather, it seeks to retrace the evolution of the land management policies implemented by the Chinese government, through the study of the current polysemy of this concept. I will study the word pha yul analysing its multiple meanings, the different ways in which it is used and the articulation of these different meanings in light of recent political transformations and grassland management policies. This paper is based on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork between 2009 and 2010. I base the analysis on the example of two families of Tibetan herders relocated in a new settlement in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of mTsho lho (Chinese: Hainan) in Qinghai province. In the first part of the article, their life trajectories and survival strategies since the 1980s are discussed in relation to an analysis of transformations in land management policies and the concept of phayul. In the last part of the article, I will retrace the history of a number of heterogeneous land management policies - ranging from environmental protection to economic development - which have been implemented since the 1980s. Their succession and overlapping has deeply influenced herders' pastoral activities and their ways of exploiting regional resources. To a certain degree, these policies started social and economic transformations which actually met (and continue to meet) political, as well as environmental and economic aims of the Chinese government. Certain current uses of the word pha yulunderline this trend. Nevertheless, others uses of this word highlight another kind of transformation, briefly analysed in the last part of the article: the rhetoric of Tibetan nationalism also uses the word pha yul to indicate the 'fatherland' of all Tibetans, claiming that it is big as or even greater than the entire Tibetan Plateau.
Infrastructure development and urbanisation in pastoralist Amdo (a research report)
Lilian Iselin
The past two decades have seen massive investments in infrastructure development in China's western regions. Formerly hard to access, the remote grasslands of the Amdo region in Sichuan Province are today incorporated into an ever-growing road network, which connects dispersed summer and winter pastures with township centres and outlying townships with county towns, prefecture towns and, by extension, with provincial capitals and the national transportation system. Infrastructural development impacts on economic development not only in terms of access to markets, but also the basic mobility patterns of pastoralists. This paper elucidates the interrelationships between transportation infrastructure development, motorisation and urbanisation. I argue that motorisation plays an important role in the incorporation of nomads into the newly constructed settlements and the urban spaces of Amdo. The motorisation of pastoralist households, which developed alongside road construction, has produced new mobility patterns and facilitated novel types of movement. Pastoralists use motorised vehicles to maintain communication with townspeople and to access public spaces in urban centres. Accounts of urbanisation processes in pastoral regions cannot ignore the pastoralists who still live outside urban centres, but for whom motorisation and construction of roads has facilitated a wholly different level of access to urban areas that are, in multiple ways, inscribing urban forms onto the nomads' lands.
Book Reviews
Review of Joseph Bonnemaire and Corneille Jest (eds), Le pastoralisme en Haute-Asie: la raison nomade dans l'étau des modernisations [Pastoralism in High Asia: the nomadic rationale in the grip of modernisation]
Reviewed by: Muriel Tichit
Review of Gufu Oba, Nomads in the Shadows of Empires. Contests, Conflicts and Legacies on the Southern Ethiopian-Northern Kenya Frontier
Reviewed by: Aneesa Kassam
Review of Hermann Kreutzmann (ed.), Pastoral Practices in High Asia. Agency of 'Development' Effected by Modernisation, Resettlement and Transformation
Reviewed by: Peter Finke
Review of Fachun Du, Ecological Resettlement in the Sanjiangyuan of Qinghai
Reviewed by: Li Li

Suggestions Welcome!