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Tibet Outside the TAR: Payul Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Payul is near the TAR border but over 600 km from Dartsedo and about 1,000 km from Chengdu. Public transport runs every second or third day and takes two to three days from Kangding, plus one or two more from Chendu. Despite isolation, substantial numbers of Chinese have settled here, though official statistics claim Chinese make up only 6.5% of the county's 40,000+ population. The large Buddhist area above the town is Payul's defining feature, giving evidence that religion and Tibetan identity remains important here.


Agriculture is of minor economic significance in the high pastoral county of Payul, but some cultivation is practice along river valleys and on patches of flat ground, such as may be seen between the more outlying houses of the county town. An Agricultural Work Committee shares a compound with forestry units in the town. Two Grain Offices, one on each side of the main street, exist to ensure the town's staple food supply, as local agriculture would not have the surplus to support a town of this size. Rice and vegetables favored by Chinese residents must be trucked from Kartse, an expensive line of supply. It is probably possible to grow vegetables in greenhouses in the county town vicinity. No experiments of this type were noticed, but may be tried should the Chinese population continue to increase. The authorities may have decided to pay closer attention to agriculture in Payul as the Provincial Agricultural Science Institute sent technical staff to the county in the early 1990's". Payul's growing importance as a Chinese immigrant destination may have prompted this measure.


Payul is one of seven counties in Kartse TAP designated as a centralized yak production center, an official recognition of the county's principal town of livelihood for most people. Little development of the industry has taken place to date, however. There appear to be no meat processing or cold storage facilities in the county town, prerequisites for market development. While the situation releases Payul's herders from the demands and controls of the Chinese market system official indications are that they are not a prosperous economic group.

In 1990, 3,338 households and a total of 17,550 people were identified as "under-developed", numbers representing almost half the county population. Among these households some must be farmers, but the majority are likely to live by pastoralisn, the economic mainstay of most people in the county. The Provincial Government has set up assistance schemes whereby wealthier cities and economic units are supposed to provide help for the "under-developed" counties in the national minority areas of Sichuan's northwest. Guanghan City and the Eastern Electrical Engineering Tools Factory have been assigned to Payul. Specifics of the scheme's operation in the county are not known.

Not all Tibetans are poor, however. In the vicinity of the county town some fine new traditional houses have been built, reflecting a high economic standard among some members of the Tibetan community. But many of these people are likely to be government employees, businessmen and local cadres, who do not depend on either agriculture or pastoralism for their principal income. The same phenomenon exists in Dege, Kartse and Dawu, where success in business or government service has enabled some local Tibetans to afford fine new homes.

Herders observed in the course of fieldwork were living a traditional nomadic pastoral life, with no evidence of forced settlement at least along the main road. The authorities are concentrating on developing more lucrative resources than the pastoral industry, since Payul offers excellent prospects for mining and lumber extraction. Official sources nevertheless indicate that settlement of nomads of fencing of pastures has taken place in 16 of Kartse TAP's pastoral counties, which must include Payul.

Natural Resources Exploitation

Three large tributaries of the Yangzi River flow through Payul their watersheds producing extensive forests which the Chinese have been exploiting since the Payul-Kartse road was completed in the early 1970's. Exploitation probably began around the county town itself, where the surrounding forests still contain a few old trees but also smaller secondary growth. Forest cover, of pine and juniper, was reportedly greater in the town vicinity earlier this century. Along the Ngu Chu, forests of large trees still stand but are currently being logged, as evidenced by successive piles of raw, trimmed and squared logs waiting for collection by the roadside. Payul may be a less well-known lumber area of Kartse TAP than Dawu, Nyarong or some eastern counties. It is nevertheless a rich forest region, where exploitation began later than other areas only because of its remoteness and the fact that a main access road was not completed until the early 1970's.

Lumber industry facilities within the county town include the Fire Prevention and Afforestation units, as well as a forestry hostel The hostel officially signed "Kartse (TAP) Forestry, Payul Unit", doubles as the Government Hostel, since it is the largest accommodation facility in town, a telling sign of the importance of forestry in the county. As a separate county-level Forestry Office was not located in the town, Payul's lumber industry may come under the direct management of the Prefecture. Lumber processing facilities as such were not noted apart from stacks of lumber within various compounds. Extreme environmental degradation as a result of logging was not observed in the parts of the county visited by the research team.

Except for involvement as forest workers and truck drivers, Tibetans are not the prime beneficiaries of Payul's State-controlled lumber industry . Nevertheless, some localized trading appears to be going on. Trucks registered in Chamdo and Joda counties in Eastern TAR were quite numerous in Payul mostly carrying goods rather than lumber, but not exclusively. Even trucks from as far away as Lintan County in Kanlho TAP were seen on the highway, loaded with smaller logs. Tibetan, and also Hui networks across prefectural and even provincial boundaries are developing tentatively, but whether they can compete with much larger Chinese networks remains to be seen.

The centrality of mining as well as forestry to Payul's state economy is reflected in the presence of two large compounds in the main street. The mining industry administrative complex, consisting of the Mining Products Industry Company and the Mining Products Resources Management Office, occupies a grey-roofed, white two-story building, probably dating from the early 1980's, fronting the main street opposite the County PAP unit, with a compound behind. Gold mining in Payul together with Lithang and Serthar, received particular attention from the prefectural authorities between 1980 and 1986, and official sources describe Payul's Changtai Gold Mine as one of the prefecture's "backbone enterprises'". They also mention that gold prospecting has been increasingly developed at rural town enterprise and village organization levels since 1990, a policy which encourages Chinese immigrant miners as much as local Tibetans. Other minerals currently mined in the county include copper, aluminum, mercury and marble, with the Gaduocun Mine included for development under the 8th Five-Year Plan (1991-1995). Official publications indicate that the Prefecture hopes for intensified economic returns from mining in the future, so expanded development of the industry in Payul with its extensive mineral deposits, must be expected.


Payul's remoteness has spared it the ugliness of industrialization, but also serves to keep it poor. Its abundant natural resources have in any case focused the attentions of the State on exploiting the more immediately rewarding commodities. Payul county town therefore remains free of industrial pollution and the increased Chinese migration that industrial development entails. Expanded mining development in the future may bring related industrial development to the county. Official economic statistics represent 39% of Payul's 1994 GDP as derived from secondary industry production. This may be accounted for by processing facilities connected with pastoral products, mining and/or lumber which exist somewhere outside the county town.

[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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