The early results of the 2020 Census of the People’s Republic of China shed light on the highly politicised issue of Han Chinese population shares in the Tibetan areas of western China. Two opposite patterns are evident. The Han share increased in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in the 2010s and the increase accelerated in comparison to the 2000s, but from a small base, reaching 12 percent in 2020. It also appears to be mostly concentrated in the capital city of Lhasa and to a lesser extent in a few other strategic locations in the province. In contrast, the Han share fell in the other half of Tibetan areas. The fall also accelerated in Qinghai and Gansu. If trends continue, minorities will become the majority of Qinghai within a few years.

These insights confirm earlier analyses that the dominant structural trend facing these relatively poor peripheral areas is net outmigration, not net in-migration. Because outmigration is stronger among the Han than among minorities, combined with higher fertility and natural population increase rates among minorities (Tibetans in particular), there is a tendency for rising minority shares. This tendency is only counteracted by extremely high levels of subsidisation, such as in the TAR. These population dynamics need to be carefully differentiated, both inside Tibet but also from other regions in China such as Xinjiang. The development implications also run counter to the logic underlying recent allegations of forced or coerced labour in Tibet.

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International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Fischer, A. M. (2021). Chinese population shares in Tibet revisited (No. 684). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 684, pp. 1–20). Retrieved from