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Such Great Heights
In half a century, Tibet Autonomous Region has come a long way
By Wang Hairong | NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 24, 2015

 
A celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of Tibet Autonomous Region is held in Lhasa on September 8 (XINHUA)

The atmosphere was festive to say the least in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region in early September. The first day of the month marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the autonomous region, and people dressed in brightly colored clothing sang and danced to celebrate the occasion across the region.

This celebration culminated in a grand celebration in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the regional capital, on September 8.

In his speech, Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body, said that over the past half century, remarkable changes have taken place in the snow-covered plateau.

"Tibet has seen rapid improvement in its infrastructure and medical and education services, as well as people's living standards. Its rich traditional culture has been preserved and carried forward, and its ecological environment well-protected," Yu said.

He restated the Central Government's policy toward Tibet, which focuses on strengthening ethnic solidarity, maintaining law-based governance, boosting economic development and improving people's living conditions.

A plaque inscribed with President Xi Jinping's words "Enhancing ethnic solidarity, building a beautiful Tibet" was presented to the regional government at the ceremony.

"Now, residents in Tibet have pension and medical insurance, and our income increases year after year," said Balsang, a Lhasa resident.

 

A villager in Chana Village, Gamba County in Xigaze, cleans a crystalline silicon solar panel at home on July 3 (XINHUA)

Economic development 

Tibet Autonomous Region was founded on September 1, 1965. Since then, the region has experienced leapfrogging social and economic development. Its GDP soared to 92.08 billion yuan ($14.46 billion) in 2014, a 281-fold increase from 1965. Since 1994, the local GDP has grown at an annual rate of 12.4 percent on average, registering double-digit growth for 20 consecutive years. The region has built a comprehensive transportation system including roads, railways and aviation as well as an extensive energy system with hydropower as the mainstay.

Tibet has given priority to the development of industries with Tibetan characteristics such as Tibetan medicine, folk crafts, green food and drinks and new energy. So far, nine big groups have been established in construction and engineering, mining, tourism, Tibetan medicine, and commerce and trade sectors. In particular, 18 pharmaceutical enterprises are producing more than 360 kinds of drugs.

In 2014, Tibet received 15.53 million tourists, a 4,436-fold increase compared with 1980 when the region began to develop tourism, or an average annual increase of 28 percent. Tourism revenue has reached 20.4 billion yuan ($3.2 billion), a 20,400-fold increase or an average annual increase of 32.8 percent.

Dawa Toinzhub, Chairman of Dashi Group in Tibet, has been successful in developing industries with regional specialty.

In 1983, Dawa Toinzhub quit his job as a teacher and went into business with an interest-free loan from the government.

"The government rolled out many favorable policies at that time, which made me believe that private businesses would have a promising future," he said.

After earning his first fortune in transportation and commerce, Dawa Toinzhub created Dashi Group in 1997 and set his eyes on agricultural specialties typical to Tibet. The strategy had proven to be a great success. His company's first product, edible oil extracted from chestnuts, was received well in the market. Currently, Dashi employs hundreds of people and has an annual output value of around 400 million yuan ($62.8 million). It produces bottled water, organic agricultural products and cultural products.

In 2007, Dawa Toinzhub set up a company to market special Tibetan products produced by Dashi and some other Tibetan companies.

"My biggest dream is for my company to grow in strength and represent Tibet's private economy on the national and world stages," he said.

 

Better living conditions 

As the economy grows, people in Tibet are enjoying a much better off lifestyle. In 2014, the per-capita disposable income of urban residents in Tibet reached 22,016 yuan ($3,457), a 38-fold increase from 1978; and that of farmers and herdsmen was 7,359 yuan ($1,155), representing an average annual increase of 10.9 percent over the past three decades. The proportion of poverty-stricken population among farmers and herdsmen fell from 49.2 percent in 2010 to 23.7 percent in 2014.

The employment rate in the region remains high. In 2014, the registered urban unemployment rate was below 2.5 percent.

The level of urbanization has also steadily increased from 9.48 percent in 1982 to 22.67 percent in 2010.

In 2006, Tibet launched low-income housing projects for local farmers and herdsmen. By the end of 2013, as many as 2.3 million farmers and herdsmen had moved into these houses, with their per-capita living space having reached 30.4 square meters.

"Every household in my village has a safe and comfortable house with access to electricity and clean water," said Gyanbei, a resident in Dongga Village in the suburb of Lhasa.

In 1994, Gyanbei and his neighbor bought a dump truck and went into construction. Now he and his fellow villagers operate two quarries, which have 180 vehicles and more than 200 employees. The workers' monthly salary averages more than 6,000 yuan ($942), he told China News Service.

"Every year, we have free medical examinations. Children's food, lodging and tuition in school are all free. Many families own cars, computers and cellphones," he added.

Currently, all farmers and herdsmen in Tibet are covered by medical assistance, and all monks and nuns are included in the basic medical insurance system.

The region offers 15 years of free education from preschool to high school. The government also affords the food, boarding and tuition expenses for students from farmers' and herdsmen's families and those from families in urban areas with financial difficulties.

Tibet has not lagged behind in the information age. The number of local households with Internet access has exceeded 2.17 million, with an Internet penetration of 70.7 percent, and mobile Internet coverage in farming and pastoral areas has surpassed 65 percent.

Lhasa has topped a national happiness ranking, which measures well-being on a regional basis, for five consecutive years, according to a survey jointly conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics, China Post Group and China Central Television.

Cultural heritage preservation 

Amid fast social and economic development, Tibet has done remarkable work in protecting, inheriting and carrying forward its splendid cultural traditions.

China's Constitution stipulates that every ethnic group has the freedom to use and develop its own language. Bilingual teaching in Tibetan and Mandarin is available in all schools in the region.

The regional government has also made tremendous efforts to protect cultural heritage. Currently, Tibet has more than 1,000 intangible heritage items covering 10 categories. Tibetan opera and Gesar epic tradition have been chosen as UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity Masterpieces, and some other items are put under state or regional protection. A large number of monasteries and religious classics have been maintained and protected.

Inheritors have been designated to pass on local traditional art forms. Currently, the region has 68 state-level inheritors and 350 regional-level inheritors.

Soinam Zhaxi, a resident of Duoji Township in Bomi County, is an inheritor of two local art performances.

The 54-year-old man has loved dancing since childhood. Although he is the head of the village, Soinam Zhaxi still performs for the general public. He is very happy that the two art forms have been introduced into local schools.

Nationwide support 

In the past six decades or so, the Central Government has pooled national resources to support Tibet.

From 1952 to 2014, it provided Tibet with an aggregate subsidy of 648.08 billion yuan ($101.75 billion), enough to cover 92.8 percent of Tibet's public fiscal spending.

Since 1980, the Central Government has hosted six national forums on work of Tibet to draw up blueprints for the region's development.

After the third forum held in 1994, a pairing-up assistance program for Tibet was launched, under which central government departments, provincial-level regions in central and eastern regions and some centrally administered state-owned enterprises have been tasked with assisting designated areas of Tibet.

In addition, in the past 20 years, seven groups of a total 4,496 officials and 1,466 professionals have been sent to work in Tibet.

At the sixth such forum on August 24-25, it was decided that the pairing-up assistance program will remain in effect.

Copyedited by Kylee McIntyre

Comments to wanghairong@bjreview.com

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