A Look at Quality of Life in Tibet

On January 12, 2009, the Tibet Autonomous Region officials began their annual session of the TAR People’s Political Consultative Conference in Lhasa. Different officials have started reporting on how they have worked to improve the lives of the Tibetan people. Interestingly, this time they are highlighting, among others, the fact that some of the speakers are speaking in Tibetan during sessions as an important achievement.

In any case, if they want to look at the more substantive issues of the improvement of the quality of life of those Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region, I think more comprehensive policy need to be initiated. I wrote the following in 2006 based on the findings of a UN report. I had a quick look at the 2008 UNDP China Development Report “Access for All” and the picture seems the same. For example, in the figures (2005) provided for percentage of comprehensive inoculation by provinces, Tibet has the lowest. If we look at prenatal inspection rates (2006), Tibet is the lowest in the figures given for provinces.

A Look at Quality of Life in Tibet

Bhuchung K. Tsering

Tibetan Review

February 2006

A new UN report that includes information on the quality of life of the Tibetan people indicates that Tibetans are virtually at the bottom of the economic and social ladder. In addition to being worse of than others in China, there is a growing disparity between Tibetans in rural areas and in urban areas. Some other information in the report also makes me feel that there is a new social division; between a group that is becoming the elite class, composed predominantly of officials, and the rest of the Tibetan society. I draw the above conclusion after a look at the China Human Development Report 2005, containing the Human Development Index (HDI), released on December 16, 2005 by UNDP. “Unlike the previous reports, which were written by foreign experts and institutions, this fourth “China Human Development Report” was written by a Chinese team of experts organized and coordinated by China Development Research Foundation,” a UNDP press statement said. Additionally, the report is based on the official source, the China Statistical Yearbook 2004. I have looked at the statistics in the report for Qinghai as well as the provinces of Yunnan, Gansu and Sichuan to get a broader understanding of the situation rather than restricting myself to just to “Tibet”, which is but the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). However, I am using the statistics only of TAR and Qinghai. There is no prefectural level statistics for the other provinces where Tibetans are located. The report shows that the regions in which Tibetans are located fall in the lowest eight ranks in the overall Human Development Index (HDI), with the TAR being the 31st, which is the lowest rank, and Qinghai being the 27th. The HDI “is a comparative measure of poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, childbirth, and other factors for countries worldwide” and is being used by UNDP in its annual reports. If we look at life expectancy, the TAR has the lowest ranking with the expectancy being 65.81. Qinghai has 68.78. In terms of illiteracy percentage, 54.86 per cent (more than half the total population) in TAR is listed as being illiterate with Qinghai scoring better at 23.45 per cent. As for school attendance rate, the percentage for TAR is 77.9 while the overall percentage for China is 98.7 per cent. Concerning employment structure, which reflects the composition of the society, 55.1 per cent of people in the TAR are involved in the primary industry (agriculture) whereas 31.7 per cent are in the tertiary industry (the service sector that includes the officials). This indicates that a sizable employed population is composed of civil servants. This is further corroborated if we look at the figures for per capita income from wages and salaries. For the TAR, income from this category per person is 6220 Yuan, which is nearly the same as the national average of 6410 and that of Beijing, which is 6664. It is interesting that while the overall per capita disposable income for the TAR is 7174 Yuan, that of rural citizens is just 1691 Yuan. More interestingly, there is no figure for rural citizens on income from wages and salaries, most probably reflecting the insignificance of the amount. If we look at the figures for ownership of durable goods, in the urban areas of TAR, out of every 100 households, 91 own washing machines, 84 own refrigerators, 132 own colour TV sets, and 73 own video disc players These figures are similar to or more than the national average. In Qinghai, the comparative figures in the urban areas are 99.10 for washing machines, 78.45 for refrigerators, 119.25 for colour TVs, and 59.70 for video disc players. But in the rural areas of TAR, while no direct ownership figures are given, we can get an idea from the per capita expenditures on some of these goods. Rural people in the TAR spent 3.5 Yuan in 2003 (the year for which the statistics are reflected in the China Statistical Yearbook 2004) on washing machines, 3.1 Yuan on refrigerators, and 26.5 Yuan on colour TVs. The situation in the rural areas in Qinghai seems to be slightly better in this category. There the per capita expenses are 23.2 Yuan for washing machines, 6.5 for refrigerators, and 56.8 for colour TVs. In terms of ownership of other modern amenities, again, in the urban areas of TAR, out of every 100 households, 45 own videocorders, 16 own computers, 24 own microwave ovens, four own air conditioners, 87 own telephones. For Qinghai, the figures in this category are: 13.71 for videocorders, 13.27 computers, 26.76 for microwave ovens, .29 for air conditioners and 88.46 for telephones. But if we look at the rural areas for TAR, the per capita expenses on videocorders for 2003 was 7.5 Yuan and 4.8 Yuan for telephone. There is no figure for air conditioners. If we look at figures in the health sector, in TAR, the number of health agencies are 5166 while the national figure for China is 291323, the number of hospitals in TAR are 97, which is the lowest in China. In Qinghai, the figures are better with 5166 health agencies and 131 hospitals. There are 4299 practicing physicians in the TAR, which is again the lowest number, while the numbers are 9099 in Qinghai. In terms of social security, only 4.4 employees out of 10,000 people in TAR participate in the basic pension insurance whereas even Guizhou Province has 120 people. Similarly, in Qinghai there are only 40.5 people in this category. As for the basic medical insurance, only 4.2 employees in the TAR and 38.6 in Qinghai out of 10,000 are participating in it. Given the comfortable life style of the elite class, as revealed by the report, it could be assumed that this class supports the maintenance of status quo in Tibet. That is something to think about.

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