Officials and workers sent to aid Tibet's development, boost unity

By Zhang Yiqian in Lhasa Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/31 19:18:39

Officials and workers sent to aid region’s development, boost unity

In order to develop Tibet and keep it tightly linked with the rest of China, the central government launched a program in the 1980s to send officials and workers to the region. Locals benefited from the knowledge these outsiders brought, but some argued that the officials' terms are too short for them to have a great impact and that they sometimes provide things which locals do not need.

A Tibetan woman carrying her child. Photo: IC

When official Li Xiaonan told the residents of a Tibetan village about his plans to install running water, they were vehemently opposed.

"The water might overflow and flood my home while I'm out herding sheep," one villager told him. Instead of gambling on change, they would rather fetch water the traditional way, by filling containers at the river around a mile from their homes.

However, in addition to the inconvenience, the river's water contained bugs and was tainted with traces of cattle feces.

It took Li a great deal of talking to convince villagers that the water from the faucets he wanted to install would be safer. He had to go from door to door, trying to convince every single resident to accept the project. But once some households made the leap and installed faucets, others began to see that it was a good idea - especially during the region's harsh winters - and followed suit.

Li's experience is fairly typical among the people sent to work in the Tibet Autonomous Region from other parts of the country over the years. Since the 1980s, the government has sent officials and ordinary workers to the region, to aid economic development and maintain ethnic unity.

An aid worker from Heilongjiang Province is offered tea by a Tibetan farmer. Photo: IC

Serve the people

Li works at the State Assets Administration Committee of the State Council. He has been in Tibet for three years, and was initially assigned to the post to help State-owned companies in the region to modernize their structure and operations.

But during his stay in Lhasa, he had the idea of going to the countryside to see how rural Tibetans live their lives, so he asked to be reassigned to a village for six months.

The system of sending officials to Tibet began in 1984 after the second meeting of the central government to discuss work related to Tibet.

During that meeting, the central government reviewed Tibet's general situation and decided that workers from the country's richer eastern regions should be sent there to lead fishery, electrification and construction projects.

In 1995 the system expanded to include officials who would be sent to Tibet for a few years.

After more than 20 years of this system in operation, a total of 17 provinces, 60 central government departments and 17 State-owned enterprises have sent more than 6,000 officials to Tibet and parts of adjacent Sichuan Province with significant ethnic Tibetan populations.

The seventh group of assigned workers just finished their terms in June and the eighth were sent in August.

The goal of this system is to enhance both Tibet's economic and cultural connections with the rest of the country, in order to develop the region. The officials chosen for this role have to act as the face of the government, emphasizing the benefits of development it can offer.

In reality, during their terms, most officials struggle to fulfill any ambitious plans they may have made in the face of the low general skill level in their assignment area and difficulties beyond their imagination.

When Beijing middle school teacher Zhang Dali came to Lhasa in 2014, he found himself dealing with teachers who hadn't received much training and a school whose students hadn't chosen to be there, but had ended up there after not making it into other, better institutions.

In Tibet, many locals' first choice for their children's education is sending them to special classes for Tibetans in other provinces' schools. If a child passes the entrance test and makes it into one of these classes, the family will feel honored and proud.

Their second choice would be one of Tibet's more prestigious schools. Lhasa No.2 Middle School, where Zhang was assigned, is not regarded as a prestigious school.

On top of that, Zhang found that compared with Beijing, Lhasa lags behind in both teaching methods and resources.

"In this region, teachers can apply to retire early because of health issues. It's easy to develop illnesses due to the high altitude. So some teachers retire as early as 50, which is the age they have the most experience. In Beijing, we consider that the golden age to teach," Zhang said.

While at the school, Zhang tried to spread his knowledge of advanced teaching methods. He boosted teachers' training, hired experts to help them and organized seminars for teachers to discuss their work.

"We are happy to see some changes in Tibet at least. In the old days, it used to be the teachers going around hunting down students from their homes to come to school, but now the parents are consciously making their children get a good education, that's encouraging," he said. He said helping the children to obtain an education is the first step to turning them away from separatist propaganda.

During his term, Li took 12 villagers to Beijing and Tianjin to see China's richest regions.

"Many of them had never even been outside the village in their entire lives, they had never taken an elevator, ridden an airplane or stayed in a hotel before," he said.

So he took them to see Tianjin harbor, the Great Wall and the Bird's Nest stadium, hoping that the trip would expand their minds and encourage them to be more ambitious about their children's future.

A worker surnamed Wang assigned to Lhasa works in his office while wearing an oxygen mask. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Awards and repercussion

Many taking part in the program found it difficult to adapt to life high on the Tibetan plateau.

One major problem is the scarcity of oxygen in Tibet due to its high altitude. In order to cope with this problem, many have developed creative solutions.

Li said he developed a new way of breathing, in which he took deep breaths to increase his blood oxygen level. He also installed oxygen masks in his car and used them whenever he would take a drive.

The village he was stationed in is situated 600 kilometers from Lhasa and it takes an entire day on the road to get there from the regional capital. To get there, one must take the bus, then switch to motorcycles or carts. The remote village doesn't have modern conveniences, such as electricity or running water, due to it sitting at an altitude of over 4,000 meters and often experiencing extreme weather. Locals use a generator for a few hours of power a day and only do laundry once every couple of weeks.

When Li was stationed there, he had to put up with stinky clothes. He didn't throw away any food, even when it grew moldy, because fresh supplies couldn't be carried to the village. His nails became black with dirt and his skin toughened because of the gales that blow through the village. But he felt that he had experienced the "real" Tibet, and that his work in the villages had real meaning.

A worker from Beijing assigned to Lhasa who gave his surname as Wang said he has been in Tibet for only a year, but he has felt its influence on him. He works in the office which coordinates officials sent to Tibet.

"The first few months when I was here, I couldn't even sleep well," he said.

When he works at home, he relies heavily on an oxygen generator. He even made changes to the machine, attaching a longer tube so he could wear the mask in bed and keep inhaling pure oxygen even as he sleeps.

After a few months, Wang found he had developed health problems, with issues in his lungs and livers. He said he has also talked with others, and most have some kind of problem after being posted there. Some even worry that their organs would get larger due to the scarcity of oxygen.

Aid drawbacks

Some have criticized the system. First of all, some of the projects are not well-suited to locals' needs, especially farmers and herdsmen, who live in poverty-stricken areas that require the most aid.

In 1995-2007, Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province aided Linzhou township in Lhasa and helped it build schools, hospitals, training centers and markets. But the project also included building squares and statues in some villages. To Tibetan herdsmen and farmers, squares are of little use.

Another problem is workers and officials are only sent to Tibet for a few years at a time.

A local Tibetan official told media, "It really affects the job here. They need to get used to the weather in their first year, they can do something solid in their second year, but they'll be gone the next year."

Because of this system, some Tibet-aiding officials are called "migrating birds."

Therefore, locals need to be involved in these projects.

A successful example is a water pipe installed in a town in Xigaze. The decisions about where the pipe should go and what materials should be used were made collectively by the village, rather than solely by officials. Some villagers were given maintenance training and the pipe is still in use six years later.

This is in stark comparison to another water pipe in a different town. It was paid for by the central government and a team from another province came to set it up. But in the winter, it cracked due to the cold weather and none of the locals knew how to fix it.

"Aiding Tibet shouldn't be all about just using up the designated funds given by the government and finishing what one is 'required' to do in each term," Xiao Huaxin, Party chief of Longyan, Fujian Province, who was also an aid official to Tibet, told the China Youth Daily.

Newspaper headline: Building the plateau

Posted in: In-Depth

blog comments powered by Disqus