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Tibet Outside the TAR: Bayan Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

Bayan lies north across the Yellow River from Chentsa County, a component of the populous region of Haidong Prefecture (Tsoshar). More Hui and more Tibetans, live in Hualong than in any of Haidong's other counties, a reflection of the shifting ethnic history of the eastern edge of Amdo. Hualong became part of the Tibetan Empire twelve hundred years ago and developed into a core enclave of Tibetan Buddhism in Amdo. To this day it remains an area of heavy Tibetan settlement simply in term of numbers. But Tibetan political and demographic dominance in Hualong have been challenged since the 14th Century because of its position on the eastern edge of Amdo, vulnerable to Chinese and Hui penetration. Tibetans were outnumbered by the Hui in Hualong before the Chinese occupation due to a combination of historical factors: Chinese settlement policies, the Moslem Rebellion in the latter 19th Century, and inevitable migration from more crowded areas in Northwest China. Numbers thus gave the Hui an "autonomous" county here, despite Tibetan claims of a longer settlement history and considerable Tibetan numbers in the area too.

Hualong lies along the northern bank of the Yellow River on the southeast of Haidong Prefecture. Like other counties in Haidong it is small compared to Amdo's Tibetan counties, covering an area of only 2,740 square kilometers. Except for the even smaller Xunhua Salar AC which hangs below the Yellow River in the corner of Haidong, Hualong represents the southernmost extent of non-Tibetan settlement in Amdo prior to the Chinese occupation. It is a mountainous area of precarious farming and sheep grazing, intensively cultivated, strewn with Hui, Tibetan and sometimes mixed-ethnic villages. These are differentiated from each other not by production or basic architecture but slight dress codes among the inhabitants and of course the mosques or prayer flags that mark the communities as Hui or Tibetan. Hui villages definitely predominate.


Hualong has always been a primarily agricultural region, with some supplementary grazing of animals on the upper hillsides and steep ravines where cultivation is not possible. Hui, Tibetans and Chinese farmers here lead a hard if sufficient life, relying largely on traditional farming methods. Agricultural mechanization is not far advance, other than the use of walking tractors to assist in many tasks performed exclusively by manpower or animals. Population density, at 78 persons per square kilometer, may not look high compared to agricultural areas within the Chinese heartland. But land in the area is fragile, both in terms of its natural capacities and degradation through increasing population pressure. Hualong is a county of small townships and villages, where the highest population concentration is in the one moderate-sized county town, so its population density represents a densely-settled rural population. Cultivation is intense, whole hills sculpted into fields and the narrowest gullies forced into tiny terraced patches for cropping. Such intensive farming characterizes all the Hui areas of eastern Amdo. Since the Hui show themselves particularly resistant to Chinese birth control policies, population pressure may be expected to increase.

Land for grazing has also diminished as cultivation must be taken to extremes to support a growing population. For the Chinese farmers, who raise mainly pigs and chickens, this presents fewer problems, but for the sheep-raising Hui and Tibetans, decreasing grazing areas have both economic and environmental consequences. Without adherence to birth control measures it is difficult to see how this situation can be improved. Productivity from the harsh dry land of Hualong has been stretched to its limits for some time, and does not have the capacity to support even more people than it is currently forced to do.

Economic figures for the Hui areas doubtless hide a certain proportion of local wealth, but the economic level of people here, whether Hui, Tibetans or Chinese, is visibly low. New mosques represent the only sign of surplus wealth in the Hui villages. Tibetans also contribute much of their supplementary income to the restoration of monasteries as the revival of all 67 of Hualong's original gonpsa attests. As usually proves the case, the 40,000odd agricultural Tibetans of Hualong enjoy a lower economic level than Tibetans in the pastoral areas.


No true Tibetan pastoralism is practised in Hualong. Farmers supplement agriculture with grazing.

Natural Resources Exploitation

Hualong apparently has a huge variety of mineral deposits, but little evidence of their exploitation shows up in either the county town or economic statistics. Figures for primary productive or secondary industry, which effect mining or ore-processing, are extremely low. A productive nickel mine, with secondary deposits of copper, cobalt and other minerals, is known to operate in the county.

[Reproduced by permission from TIBET: Outside the TAR, by Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke. 1997, S. Marshall and S. Cooke.]

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