Hard facts and data on Tibet are hard to come by, most come from Beijing which folks in the West tend to reflexively dismiss as propaganda. I have just returned from Beijing where a retrospective on the 50 years of reform in Tibet is on display. I propose to focus on various statistical data presented at the exhibit and examine them for possible validity and credibility.
Nobody knows exactly how many Tibetan exiles live outside of China. A general consensus is around 150,000. Using this number as base, there are around 18 to 19 Tibetans living inside Tibet for every exile outside of China. Since there are slightly more Tibetans living in surrounding provinces outside of Tibet, we are on reasonably safe grounds to assume that there are 40 times more Tibetans inside China than out.
I find it strange that Dalai Lama and his cohort representing 2.5% of all the Tibetans are regarded as the legitimate voices representing all the Tibetans. His Holiness and most of his lieutenants have not seen Tibet for 50 years. Their assertions and statements about Tibet surely could not be more accurate than those coming from Beijing.
According to the exhibit in Beijing, the population in Tibet before the reform was roughly divided into three groups of people. The first group consisted of government officials, monks in monasteries and those of nobility made up about 5% of the population. The major group of serfs made up about 90%. The so called serfs have no rights and were obligated to provide free labor to the land owning class. The remaining 5% were called lang sheng （郎生）, a genteel sounding name for the unfortunate group of people that were owned by the ruling class and treated like livestock.
The ruling class owned approximately 99.7% of all the agriculture land divided as follows: Local government officials - 38.9%
Monasteries - 36.8
Nobility - 24.0
Self supporting Tibetans 0.3
After Beijing suppressed the insurrection in 1959 that led to exile of the Dalai Lama to India, the central government began land reform in earnest which was completed by October 1960. During this period, approximately 85% of the land was redistributed to 200,000 households of former serfs and slaves, representing about 800,000 people that became land owners. There were approximately one million Tibetans living in Tibet then. The land distributed was equivalent to about 187,000 hectares.
Compared to the grain output before land reform, the yield in 2008 has improved by more than 4 fold and total heads of livestock increased by 2.5 fold. Nonetheless, even today locally derived revenue accounts for barely over 6% of the total budget, with the rest of Tibet’s annual expenditure coming from the central government subsidy.
The life expectancy in Tibet has improved from 35.5 years in 1959 to 67 in 2008. Today, the number of color TV’s in the urban area is 131 per 100 households and 62 TV’s per 100 households in the rural area. Even so, the exhibit admitted that the per capita GDP in Tibet is almost 40% below national average.
Approximately 98.5% of Tibetan children now attend primary schools and about 95% of the schools offer bilingual courses in both Chinese and Tibetan. In 1951, more than 95% of the Tibetan population was illiterate.
Are these facts and figures about Tibet “reliable”?
China has over 50 identifiably distinct ethnic minorities living in China. The policy of the central government is to extend favorable treatment to each ethnic group such as allowing more than one child per family, affirmative action influenced admission standards to higher education and bi-lingual education. The policy is to preserve ethnic diversity and not to eliminate them. Tibetans are treated no different from other ethnic minorities.
A world congress on Buddhism has just been concluded in Hangzhou before the venue moved on to Taiwan. The practice of Buddhism is flourishing in China and there is no evidence of any policy to discourage worship. Unless “cultural genocide” is strictly defined as preserving the good old days before the Communists entered Tibet, there is no indication of genocide of any kind taking place in China.
The “good old days” when Dalai Lama ruled Tibet were ghastly and brutal to most of the ordinary Tibetans. Not only there were no highways, TV’s and telephones, the exhibit showed plenty of photos of Tibetans with feet, hands, eyes or noses cut off as punishment meted by their masters.
Surely there can be no doubt that the lives of most Tibetans are better today than it was fifty years ago.