II. Economic Development and the People's Rights to Existence and Development
Speeding up Tibet's economic construction, continuously improving the life of the Tibetan people, and ensuring that they fully enjoy the rights to existence and development are the Central Government's primary goals for its work in Tibet. They are also the most important tasks of governments at all levels in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Outstanding achievements have been made in this regard through the unstinted efforts of the Central Government and the governments at all levels in the Region.
Since 1992 the Tibetan economy has increased rapidly. In 1997 the GDP of Tibet amounted to about 7.35 billion yuan-worth, an increase of 96.6 percent compared to 1991 at constant prices or an average annual increase of 11.9 percent. Since 1987 Tibet has reaped bumper harvests for 10 years in succession. The total grain output was 820,000 tons in 1997, the highest output in Tibetan history and an increase of 41.4 percent compared to the 580,000 tons in 1991. The output of meat was 119,000 tons in 1997, an increase of 25.5 percent compared to 1991. Now the people of the Tibet Autonomous Region are working hard to attain the goal of getting rid of poverty throughout the Region and achieving comfortable lives for most of the people before the year 2000.
Since 1992 the building of the parts of the infrastructure closely related to people's everyday life and production, such as communications, energy and telecommunications, and the development of construction, building materials, foodstuffs, traditional handicrafts, textile and other light industries have been quickened. The Gonggar Airport in Lhasa has been extended, and the Bamda Airport in Qamdo has been rebuilt. Now there are scheduled flights to other cities in China from airports in Tibet every day and some weekly international flights. A comprehensive network of communications and transportation consisting of air routes and highways has been basically completed in Tibet. The volume of goods transported via highways in the Region increased 15.6 times in 1996 compared to 1965 and the number of highway passengers has increased by 28.9 times in the same period. The average number of passengers transported by airplanes is 100,000 each year. So transportation conditions have been greatly improved, in striking contrast to the old days when the region was very hard to reach and goods had to be carried in on the backs of animals or people. Satellite telecommunications stations have been built in seven prefectures or cities in Tibet, and program-controlled telephone systems are in use in 51 counties. Satellite transmission and program-controlled telephones are being used in about 98 percent of the counties in Tibet, which is now connected with the international and domestic long-distance telephone automatic exchange networks. Municipal construction has been speeded up in major cities and towns, such as Lhasa, Xigaze, Nagqu, Qamdo, Zetang and Shiquanhe. Since the 1980s more than 300,000 sq m of old residential houses have been rebuilt in Lhasa, and 5,226 households have moved to new dwellings. All this has improved the living environment and quality of life of both urban and rural residents.
Economic development in Tibet began on an exceedingly primitive and backward foundation. Its natural environment is unfavorable for economic development because of its 4,000-odd-meter altitude, severe cold weather and thin air. In addition, under the rule of the feudal serfdom in old Tibet the economy in the region was extremely backward and the living standards of the people there were low. In view of all this, the Central Government has always attached special importance to the development of Tibet by providing generous assistance in manpower, materials, financial resources and technologies. In addition, preferential policies have been adopted in line with the Region's actual conditions. No levies have been imposed on the peasants and herdsmen in Tibet since 1980 and there is no compulsory state purchase of grain there. The income that Tibetan peasants and herdsmen earn is entirely their own. In recent years the Central Government has allocated upwards of 1.2 billion yuan each year to Tibet as a financial subsidy, and other favorable measures have been adopted, such as lightening its financial burdens, preferential investment, investment in skill training and an aid-the-poor program. From the early 1950s to 1997 the Central Government allocated more than 40 billion yuan for Tibet, and from 1959 to 1996 allotted 6.74 million tons of materials. Among the latter were 1.1 million tons of commercial materials, 1.3 million tons of grain and 1.48 million tons of oil.
The state has also given large-scale additional assistance to key and special projects in Tibet in different economic and social development periods. In 1984 some 43 projects were built for Tibet by nine provinces and municipalities mobilized and directed by the Central Government, and in 1994 the Central Government decided to build gratis another 62 projects for Tibet within three or four years, also with the cooperation of other provinces and municipalities of the country, involving agriculture and water conservancy, energy, communications and telecommunications, industry, and social welfare and municipal engineering. Now almost all the projects have been completed and put into use. The actual total investment was 3.66 billion yuan, much more than the planned investment of 2.38 billion yuan. The comprehensive project for the development of the middle valleys of the Yarlungzangbo, Lhasa and Nyangqu rivers, in which the Central Government invested a fund to the tune of one billion yuan, was put into practice in 1991, and since then both the grain yield and the net per-capita income of the peasants and herdsmen in the development area have increased by a wide margin. The Yamzhoyum Lake pumped-storage power station, a project with state investments running to 2.014 billion yuan, was completed and put into operation in 1997. In recent years another 151 projects have been built or are being built in Tibet by 14 other provinces and municipalities, with a total investment of 490 million yuan. The completion of these projects will push the economic development of Tibet and the living standards of both its urban and rural residents a still bigger step forward.
The development of the economy has tangibly improved the lives of all people in Tibet. In 1996 the average annual per capita income that urban residents used for living expenses was 5,030 yuan, 2.4 times that of 1991, showing an average annual increase of 19 percent; the average per capita net income of peasants and herdsmen was 975 yuan, an increase of 48.3 percent compared to 1991 and an average annual increase of 8.2 percent. In 1997, income of the above two types was 5,130 yuan and 1,040 yuan respectively. By the end of 1997 the bank savings deposits of both urban and rural people in Tibet were 3.045 billion yuan, while in 1991 they had been only 510 million yuan. In 1996 the average amount of grain owned by each Tibetan was 372 kg, an increase of 28 percent over 1991. Though the population in 1996 was 2.5 times that in the early 1950s, the amount of grain per capita in Tibet was three times that in the early 1950s. In 1996, the average per capita consumption of meat in Tibet was 48.6 kilograms, an increase of 17.2 percent compared to 1991. In 1996 the average per capita consumption of vegetables by urban dwellers in Tibet had increased by 26 percent and that of edible oil by 14.5 percent over the 1991 figures. Other increases in that year were 2.1 times for eggs and 4.2 times for sweets and cakes. In tandem with the development of the economy, the household property owned by both urban and rural people in Tibet has increased steadily. The peasant and herdsman households own large amounts of means of production, and the average fixed assets for production purpose are worth more than 8,000 yuan per household. There are 9 motor vehicles, 6 big or small tractors, 3 threshing machines and 12 horse-carts per 100 households. The numbers of electrical household appliances and other durable goods are increasing each year in urban families; in 1996 there were 88 color TV sets, 6 black and white TV sets, 42 washing machines, 50 refrigerators, 46 cameras, 9 motorcycles and 222 bicycles per 100 urban families -- all these figures being huge increases compared to 1991. According to statistics of the old local government of Tibet, about 90 percent of the Tibetan population had no residential houses of their own in 1950, but now, except for people living in a small number of pastoral areas, all families have their own permanent houses. From 1990 to 1995 the living space of rural and urban people increased, respectively, from 18.9 sq m to 20 sq m and from 11 sq m to 14 sq m. According to surveys of the middle valleys of the Yarlungzangbo, Lhasa and Nyangqu rivers, some of the peasant families have enough surplus grain to last them for up to three years. Moreover, in some townships 90 percent of the peasant families have built new houses.
Some people in remote areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region still live fairly impoverished lives. The governments at all levels in the Region, according to the instructions and requirements of the Central Government, are implementing a help-the-poor plan to actively assist the local people to raise the level of production so as to get rid of poverty and become well-off. In 1996 alone, the autonomous region earmarked 114 million yuan for the help-the-poor drive. In September 1997, when blizzards rarely seen in local histories hit some of the areas, particularly northern Tibet, causing severe hardship to the peasants and herdsmen in productive work and daily lives, the State Council held a special meeting to discuss how to aid the disaster victims there. By January 1998 the Central Government had allocated a total of 42 million yuan in relief funds and transported a large amount of materials to the disaster areas. In addition, the State Council sent officials to the disaster areas to express sympathy and solicitude for the people, inspect the disaster areas and help solve difficulties. The governments at all levels in the Tibet Autonomous Region devoted a large amount of manpower, materials and capital to the disaster relief work. All this has gone a long way toward relieving the difficulties brought by the blizzards to the peasants and herdsmen in productive work and daily lives.
To ensure a favorable living environment for the people of all ethnic groups and improve their quality of life, the Tibet Autonomous Region strictly implements the state's laws and regulations concerning environmental protection. Since 1992 the autonomous region has formulated and promulgated more than 20 local laws and regulations, and administrative rules on eco-environmental protection, including the Regulations of the Tibet Autonomous Region on Environmental Protection. In 1990 the Region's first modern environmental monitoring station was set up in Lhasa, which was followed by the Xigaze Environmental Monitoring Station set up in 1993. Other monitoring stations are being constructed so as to gradually form a region-wide environmental monitoring network. Monitoring results show low discharge of the "three industrial wastes" (waste gas, waste water and industrial residue) in Tibet: The smoke and dust elimination rate of industrial waste gas has reached 88 percent, and more than 50 percent of industrial waste water has been effectively treated. The quality of the water in the Region's major rivers is up to the state's first-class standard for the environmental quality of surface water. Most lakes in Tibet are still in a pristine state, with the quality of water within the state's standards. In general, the quality of underground water is good. So far not a single environmental pollution accident has occurred in Tibet, and no acid rain has fallen in the Region, let alone any man-made radiation pollution. Moreover, the monitoring findings achieved by the environmental protection departments over the years have proved that the natural radiation level in Tibet is within the standards specified by the state's radiation protection regulations.
The fact that the Tibetan people fully enjoy the rights to existence and development presents a sharp contrast to the miserable conditions in old Tibet where poverty and backwardness prevailed and the people's right to existence was not guaranteed. The feudal serf system that mingled politics with religion in old Tibet seriously hindered the development of the social productive forces. Therefore, for a long time its economy was in a primitive and backward state. Wooden plows were used for agricultural production and yaks were used for threshing. In some places the slash-and-burn method of farming was common. In 1952 the average grain yield per mu (one ha equals 15 mu) was 80 kg and there were only 125 kg of grain per person. In the old days Tibet had almost no industry in the modern sense of the word, and in fact in 1950 it only had one bunthouse of a mint and one 125 kwh hydropower station that generated power only off and on. At that time there were only 120 workers in the whole of Tibet. Even so, more than 95 percent of the social wealth was concentrated in the hands of the three major categories of feudal lords -- government officials, nobles and senior monks, who accounted for less than five percent of the population of Tibet, and the common people, who accounted for 95 percent of the population were extremely poor. There was a saying in old Tibet: "Slaves can only take their shadows away with them and leave only their footprints behind." The broad masses of slaves and serfs did not have any personal freedom, and even their right to life was not guaranteed. Before the Democratic Reform in 1959 the population of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, was just over 20,000, of whom some 1,000 households were impoverished or begged their living in the streets. It often happened that homeless people died on the roadside because of hunger and cold. But this appalling situation will never appear again in Tibet.