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Tibet Outside the TAR: Kubum Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

Kubum County is scarcely known by its Chinese administrative name - Huangzhong Xian, among Tibetan's foreigners, or indeed most non-local Chinese. Its fame rests exclusively on the presence of the great Kubum Monastery within the county, a major religious center for followers of Tibetan Buddihism and a popular destination for foreign and Chinese tourists. Even the colloquial Chinese name Tačersi refers to the monastery, which simply means that first a pagoda and then a monastery was built on the site. As might be expected in the locale of such an important Tibetan religious site, quite a large number of Tibetans - about 36,000 - live in the county. However, they constitute only 8% of its total population. Kubum has the highest population of any county in Haidong Prefecture, and most of its inhabitants are Chinese and Hui. It represents an area of historical Tibetan settlement overwhelmed by Chinese, and Hui, migration, reducing its Tibetanness to an icon officially captured and exploited for the tourist trade. The fate of Kubum Monastery, one of the six great Gelugpa foundations of Tibet, provides a disturbingly instructive illustration of the process of control exploitation and assimilation over one Tibetan cultural institution, and may serve as an archetype of Chinese aims in the wider context of whole Tibetan areas.

Control and assimilation of Kubum Dzong has been an easy task for the Chinese, since the county seat, Lusha'er lies less than 40 kilometers, or a one-hour journey, from the provincial capital. A sprawl of prosaic compounds and more moder construction has been molded into valleys between two tributaries of the Huang River, surrounded by geometrically sculpted hill As if to highlight its dual nature, the county town consists of two distinct sectors: the entirely Chinese-Hui county town itself, and the adjacent quarter containing Kubum Monastery and its commercial appendages, a zone increasingly developed under Chinese management to cater to the tourist industry. Arriving in Lusha'er from Xining, one might assume arrival in a place with no Tibetan associations at all. Kubum Monastery is hidden from view at the end of one of the town's two long main streets. The first, containing many of the town's main official units, runs on an east-west axis to meet the second main street, forming a T-junction at its west end. This second street runs north-south along the base of a range of hills, the monastery at the south end and the PAP at the north end. Past the T-junction and heading up towards the monastery, the street soon becomes a visual Tibettan-goods market, lined with dozens of shops selling anything that might be related to the interests of Tibetan, Chinese or foreign visitors. Opposite the monastery entrance a huge tourist complex has been created, containing a CITS hotel banks, a shopping mall and an extra police station. The quarter is a bustling place, filled with Tibetans, but increasingly stage-managed by the Chinese. The Hui play a prominent entrepreneurial role running most of the shops.

Although the monastic zone has undergone intensifying transformation into a tourist site over the past few years, the county town has changed scarcely at all. Compared to Pingan (Tsongkhakhar), the capital of Haidong Prefecture, little recent high-rise construction has taken place, nor is much new construction in progress. The town thus enjoys a more settled ambiance, with established trees along its streets and replanted over the surrounding hills. Town neighborhoods appear more heavily Hui than Chinese, though there are many long-term Chinese residents too. Tibetans are the missing element in the county town, however many may be visiting the monastery. Those Tibetans who do live in the town appear outwardly sinicized, having generally abandoned Tibetan dress, if not their personal sense of identity. Although the urban spread from Xining has not yet reached Kabul, it is creeping in that direction. The county is more of a Xining satellite, like Pingan but less urbanized as yet because it bas just off the Xining-Gohmd railway line, and does not have the status of a prefectural capital. Between Xining and the Kubum county seat most settlement is Chinese and Hui; few Tibetans live in this zone. Their main concentration must be further south in the rural parts of the county stretching towards Pingan and adjacent to Tika Dzong in Tsolho TAP. If the town did not have Kubum Monastery to attract thousands of Tibetan pilgrims it would seem like a typical Hui township with Chinese overtones, rather than part of an area continuously settled by Tibetans for twelve hundred years.


Kubum's 1994 GDP was 422 million Yuan, the prefectures second largest, but the large population reduced per capita GDP to very modest 967 Yuan. In a familiar pattern the most lucrative forms of production are not credited to county statistics but are reserved for the province or State. production, in this case largely agriculture, is the largest component of GDP (197.4 million Y in 1994). Secondary industry is recorded as 117.1 million Yuan and tertiary industry as 107.6 million Yuan.

Kubum is an overwhehiingly agricultural county, whose rural population, whether Chinese, Hui or Tibetan, makes an only a moderate living from farming in an overcrowded countryside. Primary industry earnings, while comparatively high within the prefecture, are derived from nearly 400,000 people. Rural per capita income must be very low. Kubum's known mineral deposits of limestone, gypsum and turquoise must contribute some revenue to primary production. Some industrial facilities exist within the county town, one of the largest being the Grain and Oil Processing Plant, an old industrial complex in the main street, and another being the laogai located behind the town's northern ridge. Kubum's secondary industry productivity is shown as the highest in Haidong and would not seem to derive primarily from facilities within the county town. Other facilities must be located in the densely-populated districts of Duoba.

[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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