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Tibet Outside the TAR: Draggo Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

Like Dawu, Draggo is a strongly Tibetan area in cultural and demographic terms. But also like Dawu, it is a center of a profitable industry and attracts increasing Chinese exploitation and immigration.

Draggo is one of the smaller counties of Kartse TAP in area, covering only 5,070 square kilometers, but its excellent natural resources of forests, gold, agricultural land and pasture have always placed it among the richer districts of Kham. The county seat, known as Xinduzhen under the Chinese administration, lies beside the Xianshui River in a wide fertile valley of cultivated fields and pasture, rising to hills once patched with forests but now largely denuded. Its famous monastery, recently restored, overlooks the modem Chinese-built town from its commanding hillside situation. At an elevation of around 3,400 meters', the town is not too high to inhibit Chinese immigration. It is also easily accessible from the heavily-populated Chinese areas of Sichuan adjacent to Kartse TAP, a day and a half's journey by bus from Dartsedo 293 kilometers away.

While the countryside increases its determinedly Tibetan demeanor, Draggo county town is being pulled along a Chinese-style path of development. Most of it was rebuilt after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1973. Its main street is dominated by lumber industry-related units and symbols of economic progress like the large new People's Bank premises. Street population, although partially Tibetan, is noticeably more Chinese than remoter and less wealthy county towns in Kartse TAP like Dege or Payul


Draggo's GDP for1994 (101.5 million Yuan) ranked sixth of the prefecture's eighteen counties. It was one of the Kartse TAP counties where secondary production outpaced the primary sector, though only by a small margin. industry contributed 42 million Yuan toward the 1994 GDP while secondary production was valued at 44.8 million Yuan. The primary production figure is large enough to account for successful farming and pastoralism but not the intensive logging being carried out in the county. Draggo's economy is in lockstep with every other Tibetan area in this respect. The most valuable (and non-sustainable) forms of harvest are simply not treated as part of local production. The forests belong to China according to the Constitution. Since raw resources aren't Tibetan, local economies have no inherent right to expect to share the profits or economic benefits of subsequent processing and manufacturing. Benefits to China are huge. The removal of the most valuable sector of the economy from local control is not something seen as destructive to regional autonomy. The low population level also keeps per capita GDP relatively high, 2,819 Yuan in 1994.

Few villages show signs of government effort to organize farmers into brigades for mechanized production, although official sources mention that wheat-growing projects were carried out in several Kartse TAP counties, including Draggo, under the 7th Five-Year Plan. Land reclamation schemes had also been tried during the 1950's, aimed at growing vegetables and wheat, the agricultural crops favored by the Chinese whose increasing migration had to be supported by local produce. Some settlement of nomads has also taken place. Both measures would be favored by the Chinese State because they lead to greater control over farmers and pastoralists. The Chinese have tried to convert barley-producing Tibetan areas into wheat-producing areas since the 1950's, since wheat is the Chinese preference.

Draggo¹s involvement with lumber exploitation is clearly evident from the many large, often new forestry units within the county town and installations along the main highway. The County Forestry Office has recently been rehoused in an imposing 4-story administration block, in keeping with the expanded pace and scope of the local forestry industry. The County Forestry Office operates an extensive Forest Products Processing Factory within the town, famous among other things for producing high quality furniture for sale in Chengdu and the TAR. Numerous smaller lumber processing and storage facilities line the highway right through the county. Lumber traffic along the highway is heavy above and below Draggo.

Deforestation within the county has been severe after prolonged and sustained logging. Hills once thickly forested have often been stripped bare, leading to degradation of grazing land and soil erosion, devastating long-term effects for the pastoral-agricultural economy on which local Tibetans depend. Massive wastage also results from floatage of logs down-river. Hundreds of thousands of logs cast into the Xianshui River to be floated towards Dawu, a major collection point further south, become every year when water levels drop in the winter. The Nyi Chi tributary, flowing from Serthar County to the north, joins the Xianshui River above Draggo and adds to the concentration of logs. In spring new batches of logs are dumped into the river, many becoming stranded and waterlogged. Particularly large accumulations of logs are seen around Renda, south of Draggo. Riverbanks along this stretch of about 45 kilometers from Renda to Draggo, are strewn almost continuously with logs. Salvage is illegal, a punishable offense. Signs posted on telegraph poles along the highway as it follows the river warn "No removal of logs being transported by water'. Locals must therefore watch logs degrade along the while the areas in which they live are being logged out. The amount of waste occurring in the entire region must be staggering.

The authorities, well aware of the need to replace the massive forest resources already harvested, have implemented reforestation programs in the prefecture. Large seedling nurseries such as the Draggo County Central Nursery on the northern outskirts of Draggo established in the early 1980's, are reported to be producing phenomenal numbers of seedlings for replanting, but evidence suggests that replanting efforts are not meeting with great success. Reforested areas show visibly poor rates of regrowth. The size of logs being transported by river and by truck, averaging about 18 inches in diameter and often over 24 inches, demonstrate that logging of original forests still contributes a very high share to the volume of lumber extracted in Draggo. Trucks loaded with the harvest of replanted areas are easy to spot: logs are much smaller and are of relatively uniform size. There are few such loads.

Gold mining, a lure for Chinese prospectors early this century", continues in Draggo. Official mines no doubt exist, and local Tibetans also participate in extracting gold from the rivers. North of the county town whole Tibetan villages may be seen engaged in sieving for gold in the Xianshui River, intensive and small-scale operations, but suggestive of a planned project. They tend to work sites already abandoned by Chinese gold miners with more advanced equipment.

[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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