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Tibet Outside the TAR: Xining

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and Impressions

Xining capital of Qinghai Province, is situated astride the upper reaches of the Huang River in the most populous sector of the province, between its border with Gansu and the great lake of Tsongon (Lake Kokonor). The cityof Xining stands at the nucleus oft he wider Xining District, a total area of 3,440 square kilometers which includes the City Administration (eg, city municipality of 350 km as well as the much larger Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County of 3,090 km. Within this total Xining District area live over one million people, 64% of them in the City itself. Almost 25% of Qinghai's population live in the Xining District, among them over 31,000 Tibetans', but as only 2.8% of the total Xining District population they form an insignificant ethnic component amidst the Chinese and Hui majority.

Xining today is the largest of the three designated "cities" in Qinghai Province, and is distinguished from other Chinese cities chiefly by the strong presence of the Hui among its population. Heavy industrialization has polluted its environment, and Qinghai's relatively poor economy is reflected in the overall dinginess of the cityscape. Yet although it struggles to duplicate the structural sign of economic development that have appeared in urban centers all over China, it still exudes something of the atmosphere of a frontier town, at least among the crowds of travellers at its long-distance transport exchanges. Chinese, Tibetan, Mongol, Hui, Tu and Salar passengers mingle at the train and bus stations, attesting to the multi-ethnic blend that makes up the population of this margin of northwest Chine. While some Chinese have been m Xmmg for multiple generations, many more have come only since Comunist population transfer policies, then later economic reform policies, directed or encouraged them towards this frontier region. Sinicization of the Xining districts, though a long historical process, has accelerated beyond any historical precedent since 1949.


Qinghai is one of the hinterland provinces of special concern to the Central Govenment. It is poor enough and far enough behind the booming eastern seaboard to present potential challenges in social stability and economic unity. Xining District, despite status as the only provincial capital which could be described, at least historically, as being in a Tibetan area does not signify outperform the rest of its province. It had 23% of the province's population (by 1994 count) and produced 26% of its GDP. Xining City itself was somewhat more productive. With 14% of Qinghai's official population it produced 20% of its 1994 GDP. Provincial per capita GDP in 1994 was 2,916 Yuan, while Xining City was reported to produce 3,383Y per person. The five TAP's in the province (excluding Tsonub M&TAP) had a combined per capita GDP of 2,468 Yuan.

A perennial shroud of pollution covering Xining testifies that the economy has become heavily industrialized Secondary industry (1.825 billion Yuan) accounted for slightly more than 50% of the District's GDP in 1994, followed by tertiary production (1.572 billion Y) with 43% and the primary sector with only 6%. There are dozens of industrial sites in the are, some antiquated and barely alive, others appearing to be relatively modern.

There are several industry production sites in the District which are known to utilize forced labor. While this report cannot provide data on the level of productivity of those factories, the appearance of the facilities does not suggest modem efficiency or high output. It is unlikely the output forms more than a small share of local industrial output, but its importance is nonetheless significant. The facilities are run as government units and are woven into a labyrinth of government ministries and agencies which make both the influx of capital and technology and the output of manufactered goods very difficult to trace. The same government which is running one of the largest complexes of industrial forced labor factories currently known is the same government that is requesting foreign investors to bring money and know how. The concentration of forced labor production sites may have an impact on overall labor conditions as manufacturers compete to bring products into the market place at competitive prices. The most important facility may be the huge Qinghai Hydroelectric Equipment Plant between Zhangjiawan and Pengjiazhai , a few kilometers west of Xining. In 1996 the Chinese government took measures to protect its hydroelectric manufacturers from international competition. Presumably the labor camp would be a direct beneficiary of the new trade policy at the expense of foreign competitors.

[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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