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Tibet Outside the TAR: Kartse Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


The configuration of Kartse town is standard in the prefecture which bears its name, but in which it is held in low status by disapproving higher authorities. The profiled edge of Gepheling Gompa can be seen on the hillside at the right. Below it, spreading up the drainage to the right is the main Tibetan village. New Kartse's rectangular grid has expanded almost to the river bank. County population was officially claimed to be 55,000 in 19994, a figure which probably understates Tibetans modestly and Chinese significantly. Tibetans are reported to make up 95% of the county.


Kartse's economy rests on a more mixed agriculture-pastoral basis than the almost exclusively pastoral areas extending westwards towards the TAR border, like Serhul, Dege, and Payul. Along the wider river valleys along the Da Chu and Ngag Chu (Yalong) watersheds that flow through much of the county, substantial land in Kartse can be cultivated with barley, beans and potatoes. Tibetans-in-exile maintain that poverty among farmers is the norm in Kartse. Probably a hard but not impoverished life is the reality for most, though more poor farmers are in evidence than in areas further east, and some beggars are seen on the town streets. Certainly village families may not have the means to send their children to school or make many cash purchases. Villages dotted throughout the countryside, with their mud-brick houses washed with the distinctive vertical pale-green bands of Kartse, look basic but not degraded. Many cluster near a small gompa or shrine, newly restored through local funding. Farming methods have been largely traditional as scant evidence of mechanization is seen apart from the occasional farming-tractor. Yaks are still used for plowing in most villages. Farmers also graze animals, including yaks, horses and sheep, on the higher ground beyond their fields.

The government maintain a Seed Depot in East Street, and the Grain and Oil Office, one of the Chinese town's original installations, covers a very large area in the central part of the town north of the highway. The largest grain storage facilities have been noted in areas of high Chinese population transference in the early occupation days. A reasonable selection of vegetables, sold by Chinese and Tibetans, is available in the street markets of the county town, some of which are grown locally and some transported from Chengdu. For the Chinese population currently residing in the town, supply of the vegetables they prefer in their diet is probably satisfactory. Rice of course must be imported from Chinese agricultural areas to the east. As Chinese immigration increases, expanded demand will have to be met from further imports or local sources, which would entail acquisition of farm land for market gardening. Where this has occurred in Lhasa, local Tibetan farmers rent their land to Chinese cultivators, with resultant loss of access to their basic land resource in exchange for cash benefits. The same could happen in Kartse and other Tibetan county town districts where Chinese-style market gardening, usually in greenhouses, is possible.


Many Tibetans in Kartse live by pastoralism, or semi-pastoralism. In Kartse as elsewhere it tends to confer a higher economic level than farming. Some herds of yaks, sheep and horses graze in Kartse's high grassland areas, and pastoralists coming into the county town have a relatively prosperous appearance, although this is not reflected in the prefectural per capita rural net income of only 523 Yuan in 1992. The pastoral sector may be receiving increasing government attention, as a fine new office and residential compound for the County Pastoral Office, Veterinarian Station and Plateau Work Station has been built in town. According to official sources, Kartse is one of the prefecture's main yak production centers.

There is an older Livestock Exchange Market in town and availability of yak meat on the market is noticeably high especially compared to Dartsedo where it is scarcely obtainable except in processed, Sichuan-style form. No meat processing facilities were observed in town, however. Plenty of pork is offered on restaurant menus, suggesting that the commercial sector, largely a Chinese concern, promote Chinese tastes and therefore supply. Indications are that the sheep industry may be marked out for development over yak production, due its higher yields of both wool and meat, and its readier conversion to fenced grazing methods.

Cashmere has also received recent official approval as a product of high economic value and thus worthwhile developments. Such trends in pastoral industry development have the potential to bring economic benefits to Kartse's herders, but also future environmental problems from overgrazing and loss of individual economic autonomy, as has been shown in other counties where increased fencing and nomad settlement have been enforced.

Official sources freely admit that some nomads have been forced to settle, and their rather dismal new villages, such as Cuo'axiang near the Kartse-Dege boundary, do not look like a satisfactory alternative to traditional pastoral methods. In 1992 almost 700 nomad families were settled into fixed dwellings throughout the prefecture. Natural Resources Exploitation

Unlike Dawu and Draggo, there is not currently a heavy logging industry presence in Kartse, although the county's forests have previously been unsparingly logged. Having largely depleted local forestry reserves, officials are now interested in reforestation. The County Forestry Office occupies a reasonably new building, probably built in the late 1980's economic reform period, but it is not surrounded by lumber processing facilities or large logging truck depots. Much of Kartse consists of open grazing land rather than extensive forest cover, especially in the north but deforestation is a serious problem, and extended afforestation projects are necessary if environmental degradation is to be checked.

Of more interest to the county authorities at present are Kartse's considerable gold resources. Since the 1980's Kartse TAP has emphasized gold exploitation as a key component of economic development. Good rock deposits exist at Shenla, Qiuluo, Punongba, and Siyigou, and an office in East Street has been opened to manage the industry. Apparently the local government carries out most mining activity. Revenue from gold mining therefore flows to local and state government, and is of no benefit to Tibetans other than those who may be privy to the government scheme, another source of local complaint. Other mineral deposits in the county include turquoise, coal and copper, but the report has no further information on their current exploitation.


Industrialisation has not much affected Kartse, where few industrial compounds were noted. Production statistics confirm that impression, with secondary industry making up slightly less than 20% of GDP in 1994. Vehicle and small machinery repair shops and work units are the nearest equivalent, as well as construction units. An agricultural machine tool factory of some kind may exist somewhere in the town, as these were supposed to be established in all Kartse TAP counties during the early 1970's as part of the agricultural mechanization drive. A hydroelectric power station was built on the Nyag Chu (Yalong River) at Shenia, not far from the county town, during the 1950's, and other workshops were also established to form a rudimentary industrial base for the developing Chinese colonial settlement, among them an oil refinery, milk powder factory and sugar refinery. The subsequent fate of these early plants was not determined during fieldwork. If they still exist, their inconspicuousness indicates they have not developed very far.

[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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