Search tew.org

What's New





Zone of Peace

Dalai Lama




Site Map




Tibet Outside the TAR: Maowun Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and impressions

Maowun forms the principal component of the Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. Together with Wenchuan, it lies at the southwestern corner of the prefecture, abutting Chinese counties along its southern and eastern boundaries, and the Tibetan areas of Trochu and Zungchu to the north. The mighty Min River plunges down from Zungchu, is joined by its great tributary the Black River from Trochu , turns at a right-angle near Maowun county town, and flows southwest into Wenchuan, carving Maowun with steep river valleys and hanging alpine pockets where Qiang farmers wrest a living from the harsh land.

Maowun's population is said to be around 90% Qiang. The county is poor, beautiful and neglected by the State. For the Chinese it represents little more than a transport stop on the way to the northern part of the prefecture, to be controlled and exploited for national purposes. The Qiang, in ancient times a powerful adversary of the Chinese, are now reduced to this small enclave in northern Sichuan Province and are no threat and of no interest. Maowun provides an instructive example of how ethnic groups other than Tibetans have fared under Chinese rule.

Maowun covers an area of 6,084 square kilometers, an unevenly-shaped county similar in size to Barkham and Dzamthang. Designated Fengy under the Chinese administration, the county seat on the banks of the Min River lies right at the southern edge of the county, at the junction where the Chengdu-Zungchu highway turns north and another highway heads east to the populous Chinese administration of Mianyang City. A crowded public bus runs daily along the sealed highway from Chengdu 191 kilometers to the south via Dujiangyan and Wenchuan, making Maowun easily accessible from Chinese population areas. Maowun is not a large town considering its proximity to Chengdu and its satellite city administrations, but is still the second-largest town (and county) in Ngawa T&QAP, after Wenchuan. A panoramic view reveals the predictable hybrid of modem development mixed with lower level post-1950's construction, sprawled over flats which fall steeply away to the river.


Despite the size and well-established nature of Maowun's county town, and the presence of a large leather factory, GDP is low (125.1 million Yuan in 1994), ranking behind Barkham Wenchuan, NampheL Zoge, Zungchu and even Tashiling. High population serves to bring per capita GDP to the lowest level in the prefecture, 1,317 Yuan in 1994. No component of the economy stands out. industry, despite the large number of farmers, recorded an output of only 57.1 million Yuan in 1994. Tertiary, perhaps buoyed by transport and trucking, followed with 44 million Yuan. Secondary industry's share of GDP, which does not reflect the output of the city-block-size leather factory opposite the PSB Detention Center, was only 24 million Yuan. Since the leather factory is a provincial-level unit its statistical presence would be found elsewhere.


Maowun's local economy rests on agriculture, and keeps most cultivators at a low economic level. While productive flats lie along the banks of the Min River itself, most of the county consists of intensely rugged mountains, where people must scratch a bare living from steep stony fields, painstakingly terraced with stones.

Qiang farmers supplement their crops by grazing animals, especially sheep, in the rocky heights. Theirs is an exceptionally hard life. Over the centuries the Qiang lost their best grazing land to the Tibetans and their best agricultural land to the Chinese, leaving them now with the task of subsisting in the harshest of conditions.

In the hills around the county town on river flats farmers also plant fruit trees, wheat, corn, sorghum, potatoes, rape and vegetables. Villages closer to the river thus enjoy more prosperity than those high in the mountains, where only small stone terraces can be cultivated and grazed on scant vegetation. Qiang farmers offering fruit and vegetables in the town market show that at least in the vicinity of the county town some have surplus produce to sell and cash crops, particularly apples and rape, have improved the economic level of farmers with sufficient land to grow marketable amounts. Economic crops have increasingly drawn the attention of the authorities, but these are limited to river flats, and seem aimed at supplying the town population, an increasingly Chinese market. Rural per capita net income was said to be a low 522 Yuan in 1994, but Qiang farmers in the mountains are certainly earning even less. Farmers on the more fertile river flats, some of whom are Chinese east of the Min River, may well be earning good incomes from the growing markets in the county and across the border in the Sichuan lowlands.


Sheep-grazing has been an economic mainstay of the Qiang historically, and is still practised today, usually in conjunction with agriculture. Flocks of sheep and sometimes goats are not large, as the meager grazing on the high rugged mountains of Maowun will not support many. For the Qiang, animal husbandry is part of a subsistence economy, not a market economy. Those closer to larger settlements, and with sufficient land, also raise pigs and chickens for sale. Tibetans in the county raise yaks as well as sheep, goats and horses. Forced settlement of pastoralists appears to have taken place in at least two locations, the extreme western arm of the county and in the northernmost sector, where the Maowun County Ranch is located. The pastoralists involved are certainly Tibetans, as these outlying districts abut other areas of Tibetan population in Tashihng and Zungchu.

Natural Resources Exploitation

Maowun does have some of its own forest resources, although forestry activities here relate to servicing the prefectural industry as much as to developing local lumber. A very large Forestry Hostel stands in the government sector next door to the Government hostel. Dating from c.1980, the compound's size demonstrates the forest industry's importance to the county. The Min River is one of the principal channels by which logs from Tibetan areas are transported to Chinese lumber yards closer to Chengdu. No important lumber processing facilities were observed in Maowun county town except for storage yards across the river, but logging trucks pass through on their way from forests to the north. Maowun was heavily logged after 1950, but afforestation projects implemented after 1979 have met with some success. Re-forestation has certainly been carried out in the town vicinity, where there are good forestry roads leading into the hills.

Maowun has various mineral resources, including gold, deposits of high-quality phosphorus, and stone suitable for the construction industry. The report contains no data on their current exploitation.

[Reproduced by permission from TIBET: Outside the TAR, by Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke. 1997, S. Marshall and S. Cooke.]

Back to TIBET: Outside the TAR List


Home | What's New | Reports | Wildlife | Geography | Development | Zone of Peace | Dalai Lama | Publications | Announcements | Links | Site Map

Copyright 1998-2005, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW)