The Great Transformations of Tibet and Xinjiang: a comparative analysis of rapid labour transitions in times of rapid growth in two contested minority regions of China
View PDF Version
Rapid growth since the mid-1990s in the Tibetan and Uyghur areas in Western China has been associated with the rapid transition of the local (mostly Tibetan and Uyghur) labour forces out of the primary sector (mostly farming and herding) and into the tertiary sector (services). The TAR, for instance, went from being one of the most agrarian populations in China in the late 1990s, with 76 percent of its labour force employed in farming and herding in 1999 (almost entirely Tibetan), to 56 percent by 2008. These changes reflect the rapid disembedding of these minority populations from their traditional socio-economic foundations, the speed of which, for better or worse, often astounds even regular researchers in these areas, even those accustomed to equivalent changes elsewhere in China. These changes are analysed through a longitudinal and comparative trend analysis of aggregate employment, wage and national accounting data, comparing the TAR and Xinjiang to several other provincial cases in Western China and the national average. The comparison sheds light on the exceptional speed and characteristics of the transitions that have been induced in these areas within a very short period of time - especially in the Tibetan areas - even after taking into account their very different starting points, as a means to reflect on the profound changes that are occurring to people’s lives and livelihoods in very real and rapid ways, which are in many respects irreversible and are quickly transforming the landscape faced by the next generation. The fact that these changes have been happening within a state of political disempowerment for these minorities, which impedes their ability to mediate the speed and course of these transitions, in addition to the disadvantages these minorities face within these transitions vis a vis the Han Chinese (and largely migrant) dominant culture, offers particular insight into the recent outbursts of discontent in these regions.
- tibetan areas