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Survey of Tibetan Resident Living Conditionsin Jiande Village of Tongren County,Qinghai

Huang Weiran
Qinghai has always been one of the poorest regions in China,and ethnic Tibetans are one major impoverished group on the steppe who live far from urban life.What kind of life do they really lead?What has caused their impoverishment?
In the summer of 2014,we accompanied Sagacreek Educational Fund on a second trip to Jiande Village in Tongren County,Qinghai,and interviewed local residents.
Jiande Village has a total of 217 households,with an ethnic Tibetan population of 1,163 people.We utilized sociological sampling surveys,randomly issuing survey questionnaires to 14 families to get an understanding of the true local conditions for ethnic Tibetans.
Family size and distribution
There was an average of 5.35 people per household in the village,and the sample results were consistent with actual population statistics.From the perspective of family structure,the core family unit was comprised of two parents and 2-3 children.Even though there were relatively fewer families with three generations under one roof,they nonetheless accounted for more than 40%.Even though the overall ratio between males and females was 1:1,males between the ages of 20 and 40 were nonetheless markedly fewer than females of the same age.Youthful males in the household only accounted for 30%of all males,with the majority of males being children and elderly over 60 years of age.

Family intergenerational structure distribution

Household income comparison

 
Other income was primarily obtained from collecting cordyceps sinensis,leasing out land,and herding cows and sheep.
Comparison of household expenditures


From the perspective of income and expenditures,these ethnic Tibetans are behind in their expenses,and owe significant amounts of money.Each family on average owes RMB 37,555.67.The main reason for being behind in expenses is due to a lack of income,with low incomes and costly medical fees.In recent years the structure of village residents has changed considerably.The land originally apportioned over a decade ago remains largely unchanged,with original owners having moved to the village proper,forcing new village residents to lease the land at expensive prices.
Household assets

Each family on average cares for:7.71 cows and 17.57 sheep.Very few people have electric appliances,and fuel is primarily cow manure.
Reasons for the family poverty

Are they satisfied with their current life?

Are their children receiving a normal education?


The nation provides free compulsory education for nine years.Local children are on the whole able to attend school,but still face many difficulties.

Has government assistance been received?

Some government financial assistance has been received,but the majority of households survive on their own means.There were two herders who had applied for government subsidies but did not receive any response.

Significance of religion in life

Local ethnic Tibetans are all believers in Buddhism.Religion is not particularly related to their standard of living,and to a certain degree can offer spiritual comfort in face of their difficult lives.
Conclusions and recommendations:
Because ethnic Tibetans essentially cannot speak Chinese,completion of each survey questionnaire required an hour of time.During the survey,two phenomena piqued our interest and attention.Firstly,amongst Jiande Village residents,some males chose to leave the village to find work.Due to the characteristics of the pastoral area,some males still decided to remain in the village.Based on the data,there is a significant difference in population between youthful men as compared to women.This is despite the overall male to female ratio remaining within the scope of 1:1.
Some households surveyed had only a mother at home,or else had grandparents caring for the children,and some children under the care of their common mother had never met their fathers.In Tibetan regions,people have a marital system of polyandry.Different from the traditional marriage systems of the Han ethnicity,Tibetan women could have several actual husbands over the course of their lives and this traditional influence is still apparent today.The Tibetan culture is one of fierce and courageous males.In ancient times,it was once a matriarchal society.This society first emerged amongst the nomadic tribes of Central Asia,and as the nomadic tribes settled in fixed areas,they developed into matriarchal nations.Due to a lack of barriers,nomadic tribes are susceptible to outside invasion.Therefore,strong men would protect the clan while management of the herd and its accounts would be in the hands of the women,the elderly,and the weak.Prior to strict establishment of a monogamous marital system,women in such a society possessed greater charisma that allowed them to:(1)Use sexual relations to overturn(control)men.(2)Use their control of clothing,food,and other resources to imperceptibly control men.(3)Win the care and protection of the group through breastfeeding of children.Because of the imbalanced proportion of young males to young females and the traditional marriage customs of the Tibetan region,family structures were focused on women.Polyandry in Tibetan regions has over a thousand years of history,and this has been one approach to preventing the dispersal of family assets.In monogamous marriage,after several young men leave home to form their own homes,their family assets will be divided and will weaken the power of the larger family unit.Moreover,there is a lack of manpower in the household that affects the accumulation of wealth by the family.In addition,the most important issue that I discovered was that because of the impacts from modernization,monogamous marriage registration is now also enforced in Tibet.Therefore,many women ultimately must pledge themselves to one husband and carry out lawful marriage registration.Many children of former walking marriages must be given over to their parents to be cared for,so in such families there are only grandparents and children without any parents.Moreover,the majority of siblings have the same mother but different fathers.However,when these children reached middle school age,they had only completed school up to third grade,thus connecting with the modern education system.China is currently enforcing strict nine-year compulsory education.This means that all children are required to receive nine years of compulsory education,all of which is provided free by the state.In particular in the Tibetan region,the nation has provided significant subsidies.However,the basic prerequisite for this nine-year compulsory education is to have an intact household register,and these children from walking marriages have no parents and are unable to complete household registration.Therefore,it is very difficult to obtain the compulsory education subsidies,ultimately resulting in a continual loop of grades 1 to 3 and preschool courses.We suggest that relevant authorities conscientiously investigate to enable coverage of nine-year compulsory education to this region.
Secondly,one important reason for the poverty is a lack of income and many rigid expenses.Simply speaking,the annual living expenses(primarily being food and clothing)are increasing,with medical expenses also surging for various reasons related to the elderly in households.This results in a heavy burden being assumed by families.However,amongst Tibetan residents,and particularly amongst relatives,there are positive habits of mutual reliance,with loans sought by extremely impoverished families from relatively well-off families.In many cases,the borrowed funds are based on verbal agreements without any written record of the debt.This primal culture of mutual assistance has relieved the living emergencies and minimum needs of the most impoverished families.I was very much moved by such a caring primal culture of mutual assistance.
The majority of village residents qualify for the nation's minimum assistance standards, but actually obtaining support is difficult in practice and is far from sufficient. Some families have applied for assistance but have not received any funds. The key issue is that due to land allocations being fixed, there are no new sources of income. We recommend that when the nation increases its assistance focused on nine-year compulsory education, minimum medical assurances be provided as well as construction of a Tibetan hospital to solve the expenditure problems of many Tibetan residents in regard to medical treatment.

 

Huang Weiran
March 2015

 

           
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