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Tibet Outside the TAR: Dartsedo

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke



The fresh market-garden produce on sale in the town markets of Dartsedo is mostly imported from distant Sichuan villages by Chinese producers and entrepreneurs. While the increase supply and variety of such produce is beneficial to all the residents of Dartsedo who can afford it. The management of this market at all levels by Chinese, not Tibetan participants means that a very basic market area profits only the Chinese. Marketable agricultural products in Darstedo are virtual Chinese monopoly, and a growing factor is the import economy AST the Chinese population Dartsedo increases. Marketable grain produced in the area comes under government marketing policies where dissatisfaction with official pricing is widespread in all areas under Chinese administration. Tibetan agriculturists in Darstedo County may not be suffering losses due to the increase import of produce from Chinese markets and growers, but neither will they be beneficiaries of an expanding level of the economy, and their basic commodity, grain, remains controlled ion the marketplace by government pricing.


The area west of the Chedo-la Pass traditionally supports a Tibetan pastoral economy, a situation that remains basically unchanged. Herders live in traditionally-located and appointed villages of distinctive grey-stone houses exuberantly decorated with painted wooden door and window fittings. The size and quality of most of the houses demonstrates that this remains a rich herding district, breeding herds of yak, sheep, and fine horses. No evidence was seen of the forcible settlement of nomads that now characterizes Amdo pastoral regions, although official sources claim it has taken place.

Although the individual prosperity of herders is reflected in their architecture, size of herds, elaborate traditional dress and purchasing power when visiting Dartsedo, the pastoral industry in all its aspects is not under their control. There is widespread belief among Tibetans that all the meat obtained from animals raised by Tibetans in this region is taken to China and that the Tibetan producers are deprived of the resulting profits. Certainly one experiences in Dartsedo the strange anomaly of the lack of market availability of yak meat or beef in a predominately pastoral region. In the town of Dartsedo only pork, the mainstay of the Chinese meat diet is easily obtainable, either in the marketplace or in restaurants. Yak meat only be bought easily in a form manufactured to Chinese taste- expensive package "dried yak meat, Sichuan flavor", presented as if were a local "nationalities specialty". No doubt the origin of the meat used is Dartsedo County, and the herdersí produce is being recycled back to them from factories in Chinese Sichuan through Chinese entrepreneurs as vastly inflated prices, for that has not traditional counterpart

Natural Resources Exploitation

Of Dartsedo's natural resources, lumber is the resource most visibly exploited. A continuous passage of loaded logging trucks heading towards Chengdu characterizes the traffic in the county. Apart from logging trucks and seasonal PLA convoys, there is little other transport on the road on the western side of the Chedo-la Pass. Extensive forestry facilities exist in Darsedo itself, cover a large sector of the Military Sub-Area southern spur of the town, and a lumber checking station as the Dawu end of town inspects the constant flow of trucks carrying lumber from Dartsedo County and other parts of Kham through Dartsedo. On the northern outskirts of the town on the road towards the labor camp are government units for forest management and development, the County Forestry Bureau and Timber Resources Development Company. From Dartsedo the lumber goes on to the vast number of lumber yards in Qionglai and Mingsham, populous now largely urban counties west of Chengdu where the logs are collected, processed and distributed. A seedling nursery lies across the river from the petrol depot at the southern end of the town. The lumber industry provides employment for both Chinese and Tibetans as truck drivers, forest workers and saw millers. The general increase in the prosperity in district where the industry is active is undeniable, most visible in the size and quality and number of fine new houses being constructed in traditional Tibetan designs. The incredible volume of lumber coming through Dartsedo give rise to anxiety over the impossibility of forest keeping up the supply of trees as the current rate of extraction. Deforestation in Dartsedo County, although reputed not yet as critical as in Dawu and Tithang has every appearance of progressing at environmentally destructive levels.

[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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