‘Everybody Likes Houses. Even Birds Are Coming!’

Housing Tibetan Pastoralists in Golok: Policies and Everyday Realities
  • Emilia Róża SułekEmail author
Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


This chapter discusses the trend visible amongst Tibetan pastoralists of Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, China, to invest increasing amounts of money in building houses upon their winter grazing lands. It reveals the beginnings of this phenomenon and brings data on the newest state policies aimed at encouraging the pastoralist population to construct houses. Analysis of successive waves of house construction is accompanied by a discussion of the reasons pastoralists themselves give for building new houses. The chapter analyses the roles which the houses play in the lives of their owners and discusses whether or not the pastoralists perceive the living in houses as conflicting with their self-image.


Pastoralists Sedentarization Resettlement Tibet 



I owe my thanks to Hermann Kreutzmann and Toni Huber for their encouragement to contribute to this volume and generous help with giving this paper its final look. I also thank Sodnamkyid and Aku Suoba for their help with gathering material, Emily Yeh for sharing her book manuscript, Melvyn Goldstein, Andreas Gruschke and Daniel Winkler for keeping an academic ‘hotline’ with me throughout my work, my colleagues Diana Altner and Jarmila Ptackova for sharing their field experiences, Gabriel Lafitte for his positive feedback, Huadan Zhaxi for his linguistic consultations, Roman Frąckowski for finding even the most inaccessible literature in the United States libraries, Jens Albrecht and Mariusz Grzęda for help with the illustrations, and my students at Humboldt University in Berlin for discussions which shaped the structure of this chapter. As always, I am very indebted to the Rosa und Antoni Stiftung—without its support I would not be able to accomplish my work.


1.Tibetan words are given in approximate phonetic rendering, reflecting the dialect of the study area, and followed by their transliteration according to the Wylie system. Chinese words are preceded by ‘Chin’.

2.In 2008, Domkhok had 1812 residents dispersed over nearly 780 km² of rugged terrain; MSY (2009: 11).

3.Tsowa refers to groups inhabiting large territories and claiming origins from a distant common ancestor. Tsowa should, theoretically speaking, split into a number of dewa, due to historical and demographic developments. Both terms are translated as ‘tribe’. For more, see Levine (n.d.).

4.For more information about ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ tribes, see Gelek (1998: 51).

5.The Herders Association (Chin. mumin weiyuanhui) is an administrative body in the township. It was created from the former production brigades and corresponds to ‘village’ (Chin. cun), albeit existing in the pastoral context. At the time which is being discussed here, the Herders Association drew its budget from one main source: caterpillar fungus-gathering fees, which collectors coming to the township had to pay.

6.For more information about Xueshan in the mid 1990s, cf. Goldstein (1996).

7.Dadui and xiaodui are Chinese translations for Tibetan richen (ru chen) and richung (ru chung), being administrative divisions under the township level. The terms translated as ‘production brigade’ and ‘production team’ come from the people’s commune period and are still used by local inhabitants.

8.This is different from what Diana Altner observed in the TAR, where villagers at Yamdrok Lake (Yar ‘brog mtsho) razed their old houses to build new ones on the same sites (Altner 2009).

9.The same was reported from Yushu TAP (Dzartod County/rDza stod); Daniel Winkler, email communication, 30 May 2011.

10.Fencing can certainly be seen as an intervention of a political nature, although my informants expressed enthusiasm about it. For a discussion of different opinions about fencing, cf. Bauer 2005. One may wonder if fencing houses with concrete walls will stir similar debates and how the new walls might impact the shape of community life. Since they are only presently appearing in Golok, one has a unique chance to compare attitudes towards them today with those in several years time.

11.This is more that what is paid in similar programmes in the TAR, where values between 15,000 yuan and a little over 24,000 yuan were noted (Yeh 2011: 305; Goldstein et al. 2010: 67). Pastoralists in Kakhok (rKa khog) County, Sichuan Province, received grants of 20,000 yuan (Ptackova 2011: 7). In Cigdril (gCig sgril) County, Golok TAP, these grants amounted to only 6,000 yuan in the beginning of the programme’s implementation and were raised subsequently.

12.It was reported from other parts of Golok and from the TAR that more households wanted to receive subsidies than the existing funds allowed (Goldstein et al. 2010: 63). The programme could thus be limited to newly wed couples, or the households were chosen by drawing lots.

13.This connection between higher security levels and voluntary sedentarization has been made for the Bedouin of Israel; Medzini (1998: 60).

14.In contrast to houses sitting in the pastoralists’ winter quarters, those in county towns, townships, or resettlement villages are subject to complicated trade exchanges.

15.‘Chinese (rgya) furniture’, similar to ‘Chinese clothes’, refers to mass-produced goods of rather ‘Western’ style and in fact lacking any ‘Chineseness’ which one might anticipate from a product carrying such a name. Any modern clothing or furniture, lacking Tibetan features, is thus ‘Chinese’ in the local context.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Central Asian Seminar, Institute of Asian and African StudiesHumboldt UniversityBerlinGermany

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