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Tibet Outside the TAR: Zoge Dzong

By Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke


Brief Description and impressions

The Amdo grasslands county of Zoge lies in the northernmost stretch of Ngawa T&QAP. With an area of 10,203 square kilometers it is almost the largest county in the prefecture, only slightly smaller than Ngawa. Lower than the rest of the Amdo grasslands, it consists almost entirely of a basin of pasture land at an elevation ranging between 2,500 and 3,500 meters, surrounded and intermittently patched with higher ground. Along the Black River watershed, much of the land is marshy, and rich in peat. A curve of the Yellow River forms Zoge's western border with Machu County in Kanlho, and on its southern edge it touches Ngawa, Kakhog, Zungchu and Namphel Counties in Ngawa T&QAP. To the north, the Chinese drawn prefectural boundary truncates it from the region of lower Kanlho with which its shares long historical and cultural affinities.

Zoge county town is distressingly similar to Kakhog in appearance, an even greater blight on the landscape. Creating a "capital" for the grasslands seems to have been the aim in building the town, but a task that has proved difficult. After the political administration reshuffles of the early 1950's, a site had to be chosen for the newly created county's seat, which would satisfy control, transport and administrative requirements. The Chinese therefore chose the influential Tagtsa Monastery. Lying close to central Ngawa region and Southern Gansu Province, at an elevation of 3,470 meters. They commemorated the monastery's existence when choosing an official designation for the town, Dazasizhen it then proceeded to create a particularly unattractive Chinese settlement.

The town trails up to the monastery gates like a long stretch of debris. In the past a Tibetan village must have been attached to the gonpa, but now no trace of it remains. Depressing nomad settlements - little more than rough slums - blemish the town outskirts, while old, semi-abandoned, run-down compounds compose the town inside. Everything in the town seems dilapidated. Commercial activity is mostly

Confined to the main street towards its south end, where crude wooden single-story rows of shops an restaurants, mostly run by Hui, line the street. Older government compounds lie at the north end of town before the gonpa is reached; newer government buildings have been erected at the south end. A milk powder factory appears to be the only major industrial unit in town, although others are said to be operating.

A slogan on the wall of the Nationalities Trade Company premises exhorts the townspeople to "love Zoge and love the Motherland", a puzzling directive if the town represents the Motherlandıs attitude towards Zoge. On the positive side, electricity is available, with some irregularities and blackouts, 24 hours ad day, compared to only 5 in Kakhog. Along the north flank of the town, the hillside h as been partly reforested and converted into a park, complete with Chinese pavilions placed to give a view of the town below. Still the only really appealing features are the numerous colorful nomads visiting the town and their home, the surrounding grasslands While the usual colonial infrastructure and bureaucracy fill the compound, the streets are dominated by nomads. Daylight hours find scores of the roaming the town for shopping, curiosity or idleness. In that sense Zoge grassland nomads have made it their "capital". But like Kakhog, the artificial grasslands town further south, Zoge stands for the forcing of a Chinese-style civis on the local Tibetans, which is not working very successfully for anyone. The Chinese Governmentıs decision to open either of the lamentable examples of their colonial policy to foreign tourist is perplexing. The official reason given is that they lie on the direct transportation route

Around the prefecture from Chengu, unlike Ngawa (closed) and Dzamthang (closed), which involve diversions. More significantly may be their lesser reputation for political unrest.


Almost all Zoge's Tibetans are pastoralists, but agriculture is practised in the eastern part of the county. Where cultivation takes place, barley, wheat, rape and beets are grown. No farmers or farm villages were evident anywhere near the county town. Vegetables are in extremely short supply in the county town, an unfavorable factor from the Chinese immigrant point of view.


Zoge is an overwhelmingly pastoral county, where until Communist times Tibetans engaged in a nomadic lifestyle, grazing yaks and sheep, occasionally pigs, and raising a famous breed of horse. The forced settlement of nomads has been a strongly-pursued policy in Ngawa T&QAP, however, and many of Z6ge's nomads now live in fixed settlements in the county town area and throughout the countryside. Although possibilities for minimal education, medical care and commercial facilities occasionally exist in the larger of these settlements, they are generally wretched looking places, consisting of shabby barracks like living quarters surrounded by animals pens. Tibetans in them maintain what they can of traditional values and customs, almost all retaining traditional dress and decorating their dismal Chinese-style homes with prayer flags. The wear on grazing land by concentrating so many animals in limited spaces is easily visible and will create long-term problems with land degradation and subsequent economic losses for the pastoralists. A few tents seen along the highway indicate that at least some nomads have managed to remain "independent". Several state ranches have been established in the county, including Baozuo Ranch, Xiangdong Ranch, Axi Ranch ,Wanmu Pasture, Heihe Ranch and the Xiaman Sheep Breeding Ranch.

Nomad settlements appended to the county town are particularly squalid. Some nomads have been settled here under government directive, while others have moved to seek employment or business opportunities in town, some animals with them to be grazed on outside pastures by day and penned at night in the enclosures surrounding the residential shacks. Nothing Tibetan characterizes these crude structures, other than the people living in them. By the formation of neighborhoods like this, essentially unsuitable for a sustained pastoral economy because the now limited grazing land nearby will not support it, the Tibetans involved will gradually become urbanized, linked more to the Chinese town than their former traditional lifestyle.

Natural Resources Exploitation

The dilapidated state of the county town alone suggests that either resource exploitation has not reached a high level of development in Z6ge or that the area has few resources to exploit. Official economic data refute the availability (of ) few exploitable resources. Peat, gold, coal iron, copper, manganese, lime, uranium and numerous other deposits exist in the county. An outlying compound of the county town along the road to Zungchu appears to be connected with mineral processing, and official sources state that coal gold, uranium and lime are currently being mined

A Chinese source mentions that Zoge has dense forest, presumably in the southwestern comer of the county near the border with Ngawa. No evidence of lumber exploitation was seen in the county town, but official sources say that lumber logged in the county brought a market value of 14 million Yuan in 1994.

[Reproduced by permission from TIBET: Outside the TAR, by Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke. İ1997, S. Marshall and S. Cooke.]

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