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Nomads in Yak Skins in western China. Look how windy it is, God I love Western China!! It has everything. If you don't want to go to Tibet for whatever reason, come to Western China- what an amazing country. There are problems and time is drawing to an end but I am happy to see what I saw. This way of life is facing extinction. The Washington Post writes.
Last year, local Communist Party officials relocated a 64-year-old Tibetan cattle and sheepherder named Lhabu to a newly created town called "Nomads' New Village," about seven hours south of this provincial capital. The woman moved into a small brick-and-tile house, one of hundreds of thousands the Chinese government has built as part of an expensive and controversial campaign to resettle the country's Tibetan nomads.
The government's effort to control an itinerant population of more than 2 million of its citizens is billed as a plan to improve the nomads' living standards and to protect rivers and grasslands from overgrazing. But it is also an increasingly important tool to contain Tibetans and counter the influence of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The "peace and contentment" that nomads derive from improved housing "is the fundamental condition for us in holding the initiative in the struggle against the Dalai clique," Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party secretary for Tibet, wrote in a party journal earlier this year.
For centuries, Tibetan nomads have ranged across an arc of western China, grazing herds of sheep, cattle, goats and yaks. Now a culture that embodies Tibetan identity is at risk. Following the deadly protests against Chinese rule this spring that started in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and radiated out to several western provinces on the Himalayan plateau, China's rulers are tightening political controls across the Tibetan regions, including stepping up the government-directed relocation of nomads.
"Tibetan nomads have remained until now beyond the reach of the state, to an extent, and the Chinese government doesn't like that," said Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Campaign for Tibet.
Settlement policies vary, and their effect on the social fabric of nomadic communities is complex. In many places, nomads have been encouraged to give up their animals, leading to reduced incomes, a rise in alcoholism and other social costs. A lack of planning has resulted in some settlements lacking water or power, officials admit. In many cases, nomads are ill-equipped to compete with Chinese migrant workers for jobs in nearby cities, and there has been insufficient retraining, experts said.
The government has relocated hundreds of thousands of nomads in towns and cities in recent years, drawing them with government-subsidized housing and other incentives. In Qinghai, officials have settled about 100,000 families, almost half the Tibetan population in that province, experts have said. In Tibet, officials said last year they would spend $80 million to settle most of its nomads by 2009.
Last month, Gansu province said it would spend $189 million to relocate 74,000 nomads -- almost all the nomads in its Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Region, where Lhabu has settled.
"Some people who are flexible sell their livestock and buy vehicles to do business such as transportation and tourism," said Guo Xuquan, a researcher with the Gannan region's Institute of Pasturage and Veterinary Science, who said nomads had more work choices now. "Definitely, settling down will affect their nomadic culture, but from the aspect of social development, settling down is using an advanced lifestyle to replace a backwards lifestyle."
Until recently, Lhabu (many Tibetans use only one name) moved across the region with her herd, living in a tent with her extended family in a mobile community known as Ganzha village and staying in one place for relatively short periods.
Now, Lhabu can be found most days in a parking lot at the nearby tourist resort of Sangke, waiting for a customer to ride her horse for $4 an hour.
Sangke is one of the best-known grasslands in Gannan, sandwiched between two picturesque mountain ranges and alongside the wildflower-covered banks of the Daxia River. But the Sichuan earthquake and the Lhasa riots earlier this year have been bad for business. "If we're lucky, we can get two tourists a day," she said. "Lately, we've been getting just one deal in five days."
The subsidized two-bedroom brick house Lhabu shares with her husband and three grandchildren is warm and comfortable and not too far from the town center. But in one corner, she has stored the bundled tents that are a reminder of her former nomadic life. She is not yet used to being separated from her sons and daughters and their spouses, who continue to herd livestock on faraway grasslands and come home only every 10 days.
"How can a mother not miss her children?" she said, fingering a string of beads in her left hand and admitting to occasional loneliness and financial anxiety. "In the old days, we lived in tents on our grassland. Life was harder, but at least we were together. Now we old people have to take care of ourselves."
In some communities, nomads have been allocated fenced-in land for grazing and move only from summer to winter locations. Some like the comfort of permanent housing in winter and the opportunities for better education and health care.
Dorji, from Gansu's Zhuoni county, is a nomad who has made the transition. His parents settled in a house they built themselves. Dorji went to work for an accounting company in Xiahe and now runs his own souvenir shop. "Why settle?" he said. "First, it's good for managing your livestock. If nomads live separately in the grassland, their livestock can be easily stolen. And living conditions in houses are far better than tents. Nomads sleep on the humid ground, and many suffer from arthritis when they're older."
There's one other benefit, Dorji added. "It's also good for managing people. In the past, if government officials wanted to hold a meeting, it would take a long time to inform nomads who are scattered all over. And of course, if the government senses a bad thing is going to happen, it's quite easy to mobilize forces to surround a settlement. Then nothing will happen."
Like most other Tibetans, the majority of nomads are devoted to the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader the government regards as a dangerous separatist, and there have been signs of greater official control over that devotion. "He is a religious leader worshiped by all Tibetans. He does not mention Tibetan independence," Dorji said.
"Nomads' choices should be respected. And the government should be aware of their culture traditions," said Du Fachun, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology who has studied government-led migration in Qinghai. "For example, museums should be built and their monasteries should be maintained. In the settlement areas, the temples are too few to satisfy their religious demand. To build a new temple, they need to pass very strict examinations and approval by the bureau of religious affairs. After March, those approvals became stricter."
By settling nomads into towns, officials also risk losing valuable ecological knowledge and animal husbandry skills, said Liu Shurun, a former professor at Inner Mongolia Normal University who continues to study nomadism.
Diseases are also spreading among both animals and people, because there are fewer nomads to clean up livestock waste and animals have less access to nutritious grassland, Liu said. "The grass and the animals are like a couple, you cannot separate them," Liu said. "Before, nomads were quite selfless. It was very important to help each other when they moved around and in groups. But now each family settles in one place with their own plots of land, and they don't rely on each other as much."
Liu is among a growing number of Chinese scholars who have argued that the grasslands need the regular grazing of animals to rejuvenate. Officials who have studied settlement issues said it could take 10 years to strike the right balance. But expecting nomads to protect the environment is unrealistic, they said.
"Nomads are human beings -- they also want to maximize their interest," said Tanzen Lhundup of the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Center. "It's impossible for them to protect the environment voluntarily. So they need guidance and control. In my opinion, the first step is control."
"If we don't do this, the grasslands will continue to disappear and in the end, the nomads will still suffer. So in the end, as the Chinese saying goes, short-term suffering is better than long-term suffering," Tanzen said.
Nomadic culture will not disappear, he added. "First, not all the nomads are being moved, just some of them. Second, nobody is stopping them from carrying on their culture, their religion, their customs. They can still sing and dance."
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