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A response to Chungdak Koren's report on "Goldstein's lecture on Tibet"

November 13, 2009

Melvyn C. Goldstein
November 12, 2009

On 9 November, the WTNN published an misinformed
report titled Goldstein's biased presentation on
Tibet. The report concerns a powerpoint lecture I
gave at the U. of Oslo on 3 November  based on my
fieldwork in two areas in the Tibet Autonomous
Region. One of these is a nomad area about 200
miles west of Lhasa on the Changtang where I have
been conducting longitudinal research since 1986.
The other involves three villages located in the
area between Shigatse and Gyantse where I have
been conducting longitudinal work since
1997.  The talk was academic and sought toÂ
report on a series of major changes that have
taken place in rural Tibet where 82% of The TAR's population reside.

For the farming areas we are studying, I
presented data (tables and photos) revealing that
the material quality of life has increased
markedly since decollectivization in 1980-81 via
a paradigmatic shift involving increasingly large
numbers of villagers "going for incom" (yongbabla
droya) outside of the village as temporary
migrant workers.  This has led to a reversal in
the local economy. Whereas roughly 70% of total
income in our study sites in 1997 came from farm
products, in 2005 that had reversed to roughly
70% coming from cash income earned outside the
village. The scientific paper discussing this
paradigmatic shift was published in the refereed
journal Asian Studies, It can be read at:

The talk also discussed a different adaptation in
the nomad area we are studying. Although there is
no outmigration as migrant laborers there, the
nomads have also experienced marked increases in
their material quality of life due to a
tremendous increase in the market value of their
products such as skins, cashmere, and meat.  For
example, in 2000, no nomads in this area had
motorcycles, but in 2005 when I arrived there to
do fieldwork, 40% of households had motorcycles.
In 2009 when I again arrived there, they now had
cell phones. On the other hand, their way of
life is still in tact. While virtually all now
have houses, the houses were built in the same
location they used to have their tents (in other
words, they have not been relocated) and they
continue to share pastures and move annually in
Fall for three months to a new pasture area. When
they move in Fall, they either lock up their
houses or leave a member to look after the house.

The talk ended with a discussion of the current
11th Five-Year Plan for the TAR. It represents a
shift from previous 5-year plans which focused
primarily on increasing GDP, because it has added
a strong focus on bringing development and
improved quality of life projects directly to
villages. This is called in China, "People First"
development. The major program for this is  the
"Comfortable Housing Program" which called for
80% of rural households in the TAR to get new or
major renovations on their existing houses during
the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).  In the
lecture, I discussed the widespread  housing boom
that is underway in rural Tibet as a result of this..

The report published by WTNN asserts that my talk
was biased, but it did not demonstrate at all
where or how it is biased.  This is not
surprising because it is NOT biased in any way.
It is an accurate report of what is going on
based on extended anthropological fieldwork over
decades.  The author of the report apparently has
chosen to attack me personally as the messenger,
since she can not attack the message. Nothing I
reported in that talk is incorrect.

A longer paper discussing the 11th Five-Year Plan
in detail will be published early next year in
The China Journal. Until then, those wanting to
see the slides of my powerpoint presentation in
Oslo, should go to:

And then click on Powerpoint Lecture 1.

Finally, let me comment on the assertion made in
the report that, "When ask his position on
relocation of Nomads he did not know." This is
ridiculous.  I assume she misunderstood my reply
(or perhaps is deliberately dissembling).  I
have been deeply interested in this issue as I am
writing a follow-up book on the nomads of Pala,
and am opposed not only to the resettlement of
nomads in Qinghai, but to the entire government
program in Qinghai which includes the
privatization of pastures on a household basis
and widespread fencing of pastures. I have spoken
out about this at meetings on many occassions. In
response to this question, I, in fact, told the
audience not just that I disagree with it but
that just this past summer I presented a talk at
a conference of the International Union of
Anthropological and Ethnographic Sciences in
Kunming, China in which I criticized the Chinese
government's approach to nomadic pastoralism in
Qinghai. In that talk, which was titled,
"Preserving the Grasslands and the Nomadic
Pastoral Way of Life: the view from Phala, TAR,"
I presented an alternative method for preventing
pasture degradation without having to resort to
privatization and ecological migration
(relocation). I have posted the powerpoint slides
of that lecture at:

Click on powerpoint Lecture 2.

Have a look and see for yourselves.

Consequently, to suggest that I had no answer to
her question on relocation is ludicrous and
illustrates how little of what I said she must have understood.

Most of you reading WTNN are deeply interested in
the future of Tibetan culture and society, as am
I. However, I  think it is important that you try
to understand accurately what is going on in
Tibet, just as you would want to know exactly
what is going on in your own country whether that
be U.S, Canada, or elsewhere, including both the
good and the bad. That is precisely what I have
been trying to provide through my research for
the past four decades. Trying to pretend that
contemporary Tibet is totally a hell-on-earth
rather than a complex political entity with
regional differences, urban-rural differences,
nomad-farmer differences, and differences between
rich and poor, is short-sighted and counter
productive.  It is the kind of narrow,
unrealistic thinking that left the polity of the
Dalai Lama unprepared to deal with the People's
Republic of China in 1950.  Tibet is not an
abstraction. It is a real place where Tibetans
make decisions every day about how to better
their lives within the framework the Chinese
political system allows. All of you who are
interested in Tibet should be trying to
understand the changes that are underway in all
their complexity, not trying to ignore them by passing them off as biased.

Melvyn C. Goldstein, Ph.D.
John Reynolds Harkness Professor in Anthropology
Co-Director, Center for Research on Tibet
Case Western Reserve University,
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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