I know little of Yushu before the deadly earthquake. All of the sudden, the whole world got to know the name, the place, and the people. During these days after the earthquake, I tirelessly tracked all the info from different source with different opinion and compiled in my blog. In past several years, I traveled extensively in Tibetan area outside TAR, but Yushu is too remote to access until I know there is an airport during the earthquake relief. Yes, I confess I am too spoiled with modern technology and the comfort and speed associated with it. But apparently, this’s what current Yushu is lack most.
[It was raining when I arrived at Yushu airport]
Prior to my visit, I checked several media reports on current Yushu. In fact upon the first anniversary of the earthquake, several Chinese media covered the situation in Yushu. It is no surprise that state-owned media Xinhua news agency praised everything around reconstruction. But some of more independent Chinese media discovered lots of issues in Yushu. One article from Caixin found the reconstruction is slow, and checked every aspects and conflicts around the reconstruction. Foreign media MSNBC also published a report on Yushu and called it a “giant tent city”. Considered usually aggressive construction speed of China companies and workers, such pace in one year is unimaginable.
[A bird-view of the Kyegu Town. Kyegu Monasery is rebuilding far away on the top of the oppositing hill.]
My observation and talk with locals generally confirmed the slow construction. Current Yushu color is blue of tent. A little correction, while Adrienne Mong of MSNBC said she didn’t say any ongoing constructing in Kyegu town in early June, I saw lots of major sites one months later. The good thing is, currently most building construction sites are schools, hospitals and public facilities like water factory or weather station. So, if you go around the town, the cranes are everywhere. Also the monasteries like Kyegu and Changu are reconstructing. The Kyegu temple construction site is very obvious in downtown due to its birdview position. Part of the Shengli Road is still ongoing, making people life quite inconvenient.
I can still see some of the buildings surviving from the earthquake. In fact, I was told most of death toll comes from those Tibetans living in clay house. People lived in cement house/building escaped the disaster, mostly official buildings, apartments and newly houses by rich. BTW, locals doesn’t believe the official death number, one estimated as about 15k, more than five times of official numbers.
After the earthquake, the TAP government decided to sweep all buildings and houses in the downtown area and made a brand new town. However, it is not welcome by all, esp. some of the property owners. One of the major reason of postponed house construction, is the pending negotiations between govt and some property owners(mostly Tibetans). Govt changed the compensation plan and actually committed to allocate the same size of commercial property to the owners but the construction fee need be paid by themselves.
[Govt & police are demolishing unimpacted or less-impacted building in the central downtown. Govt has plan to build a totally new town which generates conflicts w/ local property owners.]
There are different views about the house construction even for Tibetans. One Tibetan told me, most poor herds Tibetan are happy to get 80 m2 house free, who either lived in smaller clay house or rented house from others. They are grateful to the govt. Those who have lots of property are against the original plan. Some are in fact govt officials. In the link of previous post, it states twice to confiscate those houses built in govt, CCP, state-owned lands illegally, which point to those property. However, in the March plan, govt also made compromise, so the whole things can proceed. House construction of town citizens just started. I was told the construction is very quick, only take ten days. So I understand Msnbc reporter saw much less house construction than me. The citizens are informed about the architect plan and they can also monitor the building process.
[I was told the agreements between govt and villagers were done. I can see several villages are rebulding like the one in the photoes. The rebuld pace is quite quick. The bulding is contract to big construction companies but Tibetans are also monitoring and helping building their own houses.]
The Kgygu town is quite small, however in the reconstruction phase, the area of the town expands dramatically. This is partly due to the fact of reconstruction happens in the same town of people is living; another reason is the influx of workers, mainly Han and Hui, as construction workers and service industry. I can feel the town is very poorly managed now. One example is the taxi. Now the taxi management is non-existed, the price is more than 3x than before. Locals also complain on inflation and govt’s non-action. Contrary to other service sectors, most of taxi drivers are Tibetans, whose cars usually are not managed by the Business Vehicles Bureau, some even don’t have a valid driver license.
[The square and Gesar statue is almost intact after the earthquake. Tents are built around the square which is the most bustling area of the town.]
Change after earthquake
Yushu is a quite remote place in Qinghai province, it takes about 24 hrs from Xining to Yushu by bus, and also Yushu TAP is a unique Kham area among other Qinghai Amdo areas. Such characteristics made Yushu quite autonomous by local Tibetans and Tibetan officials. As indicated by Robert Barnett, there are flourish local NGOs and people somehow were enjoyed by relatively culture and religious freedom. At the same time, local Tibetans are smart not to challenge the CCP tattoo carefully. For example, Yushu is one of the peaceful Tibetan area in March 2008. However, things are starting to change after the earthquake, w/ more state-level and provincial-level officials are staying Yushu to “help” the reconstruction work. Yushu loses its “remoteness” and the freedom is less than before but in general is still ok. One complain I heard is, local NGOs now are difficult to receive foreign donations while they could easily get them before last year.
Officials are talking to build a model Tibetan area of Yushu. In Chinese official context, and considered the local situation, I think it includes, political correctness, culture and religious freedom, and strong local economy and prosper tourism. However I can’t say how those things mixes harmoniously and how locals feel about. Let us wait and see.
[Portrait of Dalai Lama in the lobby of my hotel; It is first time I saw Dalai Lam’s portrait is displayed so prominently in China’s Tibetan area. Apparently Yushu enjoys certain level’s religious freedom.]
Han and Tibetan
Another Caixin report described the conflicts in Yushu as mainly between “citizen and officials” instead of “Han Chinese and Tibetan” in other Tibetan area. It is a very sharp description and explains lots of things in Yushu.
Politically speaking, Tibetans lie in higher layer of the city. Officially Yushu TAP has 250K population in which 97% is Tibetans (1999). Therefore, most of the civil servants are Tibetans and in fact they are the people managing the city (also the force fighting against local Tibetan property owners in previous section). They are paid generously and enjoy great power.
[Even w/ the earthquake, locals are still trying hard to enjoy themselves w/ the summer tents along the river and setup prayer flags.]
With the town expansion after the earthquake, the nearby villages benefit from the reconstruction. All of the tents built on the land of villages are required to pay the commission monthly. Also, reconstruction need some of local resources like sand, stone; most villages own the resource and earn huge money from it. But I heard the revenue is not fairly distributed among Tibetan villagers, usually the village head gets far more than ordinary villagers. It is quite common in mainland China or other developing communities w/o a good check/balance system or even developed societies, people close to capital and power get more for himself firstly.
In the commercialization process, Han Chinese, the outsiders, usually need cooperation from local Tibetan officials. The bribery happens in some cases.
[Tibetans here are very fond of engraving mantra on stones. Here is the famous Water Mani in scenic spot, Leba Valley. The government is trying hard to advocate tourism industry of Yushu, which including such culture and religious expression. However, how the locals are engaged and benefited in the tourism, how to balance the tourism development and possible environment damage, are topics for officials and people.]
Before the earthquake, there are about 30K migrant workers but now, the number is increased to 170k. However, potentially, the structure above is poised to change. With a plan in mind to develop the economy and expand the town, there is policy to attract capable migrants (mostly Han or Hui) to stay in Yushu after the 3-years reconstruction. People who have stayed in the town for certain years can get government subsidies to own or rent a public house. It is too cold for outsiders to stay in winter but some enjoyed the cool Yushu summer.
There are good and bad in Yushu reconstructions. Due to several reasons, there is not enough coverage of Yushu development. However, in general Yushu is still in good shape. The houses are supposed to finish this year as well as major public facilities, which will give Yushu people a better accommodation this winter.
In one side, it is important for outside to genuinely report and interpret things in Yushu; which of course need government to keep transparency to public.
In another side, Yushu is changing and may lose its remoteness. But it is important to trust and empower the local official team, and the officials interact and work closely with the local people, regardless their ethnic groups. In fact, if Yushu people are fairly treated and happy, they will have no intention to challenge the government at all. Only with happy people, we can build a harmonious society and a model Tibetan area.
Buddha bless Yushu!
[Prayer flags over Kgygu town]