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Tibet Outside the TAR: Sershul Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

As the far northwestern corner of Yushu and Golog, Sershul today may seem as removed from the eastern borders of Kham as it did almost a century ago, when it was to Europeans "one of the least known parts of Asia."' By public transport the 697 kilometer journey from Dartsedo to Sershul still takes three days. Sershul is quintessential nomad country, a portion of the Tibet Plateau, its elevated grasslands veined by the upper watershed of the Yalong River (Nyag Chu), called Tza Chu above Kartse. Its remoteness from Chinese influences, tough environment and proximity to the Golog country made its people individualistic and self-reliant, but Sershul in the past was by no means isolated from the currents of Tibetan culture, religious life and trade. Its territory was bounded by three major caravan routes connecting Kartse, Kyegudo, Xinning Sangchu and Zungchu. Sershul nomads, while feared for their tendency to raid caravans that passed through the region, were nevertheless known to be very religious, according some respect to Lhasa but none to the Chinese. European travellers of the early 20th Century observed that no-one was in control of the Sershul nomads.

Sershul is now connected by motorable road to Kartse via Maniganggo, and Kyegudo and Tridu via Xiewu just across the Yushu TAP boundary. From the point of view of prospective Chinese immigrants it lies far from any easily accessible point, is intimidatingly high and cold, and offers few commercial or agricultural opportunities. Sershul is virtually devoid of timber. The scarcity and erraticness of public transport to Sershul as well as light traffic generally, means transport difficulties for locals who may have to wait for days before a bus or even a truck passes as they wait by the roadside. Public buses from Dartsedo run only every three or four days. Heavy snows on the Haizishan Pass north of Maniganggo may also block traffic. The road to Yushu TAP actually provides Sershul with wider inter-regional links than the road

To Dartsedo, judging by the prevalence of trucks from Chamdo, Yushu, and even Ningxia on the county's main road.


While Sershul is an overwhelmingly pastoral county, some agriculture is apparently practised in viable areas. Official sources report that wheat-growing was developed in the Loxu area (south of the county town on the Yangzi River) during the 7th Five-Year Plan (1986- 1990). This project probably involved some Chinese farmers, but is unlikely to have covered more than a small area.

No agriculture or market gardening was observed in the vicinity of the county town or along the highway from Maniganggo, nor was a produce market noticed in the town. Such vegetables as are available must be trucked in from Kartse.


Most Tibetans in Sershul County depend totally on their herds for their livelihood. Unless disasters such as the ruthless blizzards of 1996 strike, Sershul's extensive, well-watered grasslands provide pastoralists with a harsh but sufficient existence, within the context of the traditional pastoral economic mode. Even after the hardships of 1996 huge herds of yaks, sheep and horses grazed across the landscape that was visible from the highway, and bicycles, even motor bikes, could be seen parked outside the fine black tents of many pastoralist families. Yet a proportion of Sershul's population is officially admitted to suffer from a low economic level In 1990, 2,145 households (11,382 people) were registered as "under-developed" under the provincial classification scheme started in 1988. This number constitutes one sixth of the county population, a gloomy economic indicator.

Sershul's animal productivity has not, of course, escaped the notice of the Chinese, who are anxious to supply the ever-expanding rneat market in inland China. It is considered one of the five principal centers for cattle and sheep meat production in Kartse TAP', and with Lithang and Serthar provided almost half the prefecture's Tibetan sheep wool market output for 1990". Forced settlement of pastoralists, typically a concomitant of Chinese development strategy for pastoral industries, has reportedly taken place to some extent in Sershul , and some, settled pastoralists may be seen on the fringes of the county town. Local Tibetans in all pastoral areas who commented on this policy unreservedly condemned it. Fixed settlement reduces the pastoralists' claims to their land and its uses, has been seen to increase land degradation through overgrazing, and opens former pastoral areas to mining interests. People in fixed abodes are also generally easier to control, a development resented by the independent-minded nomads. Economically, fixed settlement draws such pastoralists into complete dependence on a Chinese-controlled market.

Natural Resources Exploitation

As Sershul has known deposits of iron it is likely the mineral is currently mined, but this report contains no data on mining activities in the county. No mining-related facilities were noticed in the county town. As a high grassland region, Sershul's timber resources are negligible. The primary sector share of GDP is not high enough to account for much mining after pastoralism is taken into account. If metals or minerals are extracted from Sershul, they may be credited to provincial or national production rather than county or prefecture.

[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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