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Tibet Outside the TAR: Dawu Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

Dawu is one of the "agricultural" Kartse counties, as most of the rural population practice agriculture with some grazing as the basic form of economy. Cultivated fields surround the county town, while farmers throughout the countryside grow barley, wheat, potatoes and other crops. It is one of the few Tibetan agriculture areas where farmers seem generally prosperous, judging by the number and quality of fine new houses rising in the villages everywhere. Official sources suggest that wheat ˝growing programs were implemented in Dawu and other counties under the 7th Five Year Plan (1985-1980). Funding for economic and wood and orchard industry products was also apparently injected into the county in the period of 1980-1988. While no evidence of poverty was observed in villages, the agricultural produce market in the county town is a desultory place, manned by a few Chinese sellers whose fruit and vegetable have been trucked in from Chengdu. As the county town is swelled by the Chinese immigrants, the vegetable supply will have to expand to keep pace, by import or local market gardening schemes. The latter have been tried successfully in Lhasa in recent years. In the agricultural valley of Dawu county town they are probably viable too, an eventually that would lead to loss of Tibetan control over this land.


Pastoralism in Dawu is practiced in conjunction with agriculture where possible. Herders raise yaks, cattle, horses and sheep, as well as pigs in the more intensively farmed areas. Nomads have recently been settled in the county, although further information is required before determining where any may still be living a traditional nomadic lifestyle. Good pastures exist naturally in Dawu and should support herders at a comfortable economic level, but land degradation from sever logging is now a problem.

At least one pastoral labor camp, the Shaowu Monastery Ranch existed in the county during the 1950's and early 1960's. Its current status is unknown to the research team but it may still be in operation as a labor camp, as it is located in the vicinity of the prison camp ten kilometers north of Garthar, and still appears on some recently-publish maps. Other such camps at least originally based on forcibly transferred labor are probably also operating in the region, as it is cited in publications as an area of state farms and prefectural livestock ranches.

Natural Resources Exploitation

Forests are Dawu's riches economic resource, and have been exploited by the Chinese since the earliest days of occupation. When the Chinese lumber industry in Kham began in the 1950's, Dawu was named as one of Kartse TAP's four water transport areas, as the potential of the Xinashui Rive for massive log flotation was quickly realized. By the 1960's the first nursery west of Dadu River- traditional Tibetan territory- had been planted with Yunnan pine, in the Yalong River catchment. After 1799 following the establishment of the Ganzi Forest Management Bureau for the management of prefectural forestry enterprises and local state forests, afforestation gathered momentum. By 1990 eighty-nine nurseries had reportedly been established in the whole prefecture, at least two in the vicinity of Dawu county town. The Chinese have realized the need to replace the forests that are cut down, and government policy encourages afforestation. Unfortunately the rate of extraction is so rapid and survival rate of replanted trees so low, that forest management cannot keep pace with the market demand for timber. Most seriously, virgin forests are still being logged.

Gathar, at the junction Tenpa is the beginning of an area very much dominated by intense logging occurring up the tributaries of the Xianshu River. In Garthar township lumber yard runs half the length of the town from the northern end, and the rest of the town seems to subsist on the proceeds of the lumber traffic, with most of the main street buildings constructed of wooden shops servicing passing lumber trucks. Once Dawu county town is reach, the importance of the lumber industry in the region is even more pronounced. Forestry facilities and compounds are the most prominent in the town, staking a claim at the town's southern-edge and the stretching right along the edge of the highway towards the north past the town center. Prefectural and county levels both maintain facilities in the town. At the southern end are the older County Forestry compound and its newly-built complex, an updated County Forest Products Development Company, reflecting the market trend of the industry and likelihood of intensified exploitation.

While logs from Tibetan forest in Kham roll through the town loaded on trucks heading for Chengdu, thousands more logs flow down the Xianshui River. The degree of waste that results from so many logs becoming stranded on the river banks or snagged on rocks and sandbanks mid-stream is horrifying. The worst stretch for such waste lies about the county town and south of Renda in Draggo County, a distances of about fifty kilometers, in which countless numbers of logs rot at river's edge. Signs painted on telegraph poles along the highway as it hugs the river warn against salvage, a punishable offence. Not only is environment destruction from heavy logging excessive, but so much of what has been cut down is wasted, Chinese environmental policy encourages protection and respect for forest and grasslands, while other branches of the government plunder the same environment for short-term gain. At present, the forest industry is making some Tibetans richer too, and wood products more accessible to people in lumber-rich counties like Dawu. The great mass of logs supply the Chinese market, however. In future it is Tibetans who will suffer the most, with the irreparable loss of their most valuable natural resource and an environmental characterized by severe ecological degradation.

Dawu's other natural resource now keenly exploited by State and private Chinese miners is gold. Under the 8thg Five˝Year Plan the Daofu Gold mine was marked for development as part of a prefecture-wide policy to intensify gold production. Private mining, mostly by Chinese miners, is more visible form of exploitation, however. Private gold mining in the river (a tributary of the Ngag Chu/Yalong) in the few kilometers above Garthar and all the way to the labor camp was the heaviest observed anywhere in Kham, apart from along the river gorge between the Cho-la and Dege. Altogether there must be several hundred miners and dozens of pits being worked during the season in the Garthar area. A particularly busy site with several camps and possibly a couple of hundred miners is almost directly opposite the labor camp. Some men near the roadside appear to be prisoners, although they were collecting gravel for roadwork rather than sieving for gold. Most of the pits are small. Small gold mining machines were sometimes used to work the river beds, although their ownership was not determined. The Chinese have larger, apparently better organized sites, while smaller, exclusively Tibetan sites usually have less than ten workers. Tibetans often work over the Chinese mines after the Chinese move on. Although Tibetans participate at this level of gold mining, the great majority of miners are Chinese.

The effect on the river beds is devastating. For several kilometers past Garthar township towards Dartsedo the river's bed and banks have been intensively mined, leaving behind a ravaged channel of deep pits and mounds of rock and gravel. No attempt to repair any damage was seen. In the case of such mining activity, the Tibetans rightly complain that the Chinese extract and remove their resources, leaving behind a damaged environment but no real benefits to local Tibetans.

[Reproduced by permission from TIBET: Outside the TAR, by Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke. ę1997, S. Marshall and S. Cooke.]

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