Tibetan Pastoralists in Transition. Political Change and State Interventions in Nomad Societies

  • Andreas GruschkeEmail author
Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


Past and present Chinese policies towards Tibetan pastoralists developed in the context of the Communist Party’s ideological agenda from which implemented project measures can be deduced. This context needs to be understood in order to assess what kind of practical implications of pastoral policies were and are aimed at. Examples from case studies in Yushu, southern Qinghai, will demonstrate what kind of transformational processes underlie changes both in the pastoralist society and in the policies. This paper will argue that policies are imposed with regard to both the difficult livelihood situation of the people and new efforts for ecological conservation. However, the policy’s objectives and the results of its implementation often diverge very strongly. A preliminary analysis will seek to explain this.


Tibetan pastoralism Political change State interventions Settlement and migration Rangeland availability Declining significance of animal husbandry 



Data presented in this chapter were collected in the research project titled ‘Nomads without Pastures?’ carried out in the framework of the Collaborative Research Centre SFB586 ‘Difference and Integration’ and financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).


1.‘Nomadic’ refers to the term drokpa (’brog pa) representing the self-image of people whose identity is built on being mobile pastoralists in marked contrast to the people practising farming. This reflects, until today, the Tibetan understanding of a way of life based on economic activities related to animal husbandry, mobility and specific traditional values different from other groups of the region (cp. Gruschke 2009).

2.This concise term for ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ (you zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi) was introduced by von Senger (1994, 207–209, 230–232; 2008).

3.For detailed references see Gruschke (2009, 65–70).

4.Cited according to Watson (1980, 24), based on an edition of Mao’s Collected Works (1949).

5.Goldstein (1991, 95) and (1994, 110–112).

6.Between 1937 and 1945 the principal contradiction was the ‘Chinese people against Japan’; thereafter until 1949 it consisted of the party confrontation between CCP and KMT (Chinese National Party). From the foundation of the PRC until 1978, the contradiction between the proletariat/peasantry and the bourgeoisie/gentry led the party to focus on class struggle.

7.Op. cit. Constitution of the Communist Party of China, amended and adopted at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Oct. 21, 2007.

8.Statute of the CCP, cp. von Senger (2008, 111–116).

9.For a period of time, dues for the lease of pastures were levied as well as local taxes for productive livestock and school fees. Those were ultimately abolished in 2005.

10.The livelihood situation can be vaguely assessed by calculating the so-called ‘sheep units’ (SU) per person. It is a reference unit to make different livestock on the pastureland and herder’s livelihoods comparable. Mostly one yak is calculated like five sheep. According to Miller, a person would need at least 25 sheep or five yaks to meet her basic needs (Gruschke 2008, 11).

11.Cf. the synopsis in Gruschke (2009, 91).

12.It should be noted that the pasture-rich western part of Yushu is underrepresented in the survey. The study reflects, however, the situation of the most densely populated pastoral areas and thus of the larger proportion of the Yushu pastoralists.

13.Cf., for example, Banks et al. (2003), Bauer (2005), Liu Yimin (2002), Goldstein (1996), Goldstein and Beall (1989), Horlemann (2002), Miller (2000), Sheehy et al. (2006), Wu and Richard (1999) and Yeh (2004, 2005).

14.Lobsang is the head of a nomad household in Gyiza, Zadoi County (interviewed in January 2007).

15.No specific months were mentioned for the ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ periods, but apparently the period of staying in the house was extended – at least for the elders.

16.China State Council, (downloaded 10.11.2003).

17.The 11th Five-year plan, (downloaded on 6.8.2008).

18.Tsering Topgyal, 57-year-old nomad from Shang Laxiu, resettled to Gyêgu and interviewed in January 2007.

19.Acc. to Goldstein’s presentation ‘Changing Patterns of Resource Use and Pastoral Management in Western Tibet over the Past Half Century: A Case Study of the Nomads of Phala’, Wittenberg, Nov. 30, 2007 (Symposium ‘Paradigms of a Nomadic Mode of Living. Tenets and Perils of Coexistence’, SFB 586 ‘Difference and Integration’, 30.11.–2.12.2007).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Oriental StudiesUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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