Population transfer and control


The transfer of civilians by an occupying power into the territory it occupies is a violation of international law, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. However, it is a practice which many occupying powers, colonial administrations and totalitarian rulers have used and still use to break resistance to their rule and consolidate control over a particular territory. Hitler developed large-scale population transfer plans and Stalin carried out many such plans with a tragic result we are seeing today in the former Soviet Union.

Today, China is implementing the same policy in Tibet. Begun as early as 1949, when China started the invasion of Tibet, this policy poses the greatest threat to the survival of the Tibetan nation and people. Besides inundating the country with millions of settlers from China, the Chinese Government is also employing various coercive birth-control measures to stem the growth of Tibetan population.

The aim of this twin demographic policy is to see to it that the Tibetans are reduced to an insignificant minority in their country so as to render any resistance against China's rule ineffective. It is exactly for this reason that some observers have termed this policy as China's "Final Solution".

Population transfer as an explicit official policy

China's White Paper states:

Another lie is the claim that a large number of Hans have migrated to Tibet, turning the ethnic Tibetans into a minority

However, ample evidence suggests that the contrary is true. The first public indication of Chinese population transfer to Tibet came in 1952, in the "Directive on Central Committee of CPC on the policies for Work in Tibet", issued by Mao Zedong himself. Proposing a five-fold increase in the "TAR" population, he said:

Tibet covers a large area but is thinly populated. Its population should be increased from the present two or three million to five or six million, and then to over ten million. [Renmin Ribao, 22 November 1952]

In statement to the Legal Inquiry Committee of International Commission of Jurists on 29 August 1959, the Dalai Lama said:

In 1955 just before returning to Lhasa we had been to see Liu Shao-chi. He mentioned to the Panchen Lama that Tibet was a big country and unoccupied and that China had a big population which can be settled there.

In the aftermath of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Premier Zhou Enlai said:

The Chinese are greater in number and more developed in economy and culture but in the regions they inhabit there is not much arable land left and underground resources are not as abundant as in the regions inhabited by fraternal nationalities.

In February 1985, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi announced its Government's intention to "change both the ecological imbalance and the population lack" not just in Tibet but also in other "sparsely populated outlying regions". Chinese "migration should be welcomed by the local population, and should result in a population increase of 60 million over the next 30 years in those regions." The announcement went on to say, "This is a very conservative estimate. As a matter of fact, the increase might swell to 100 million in less than 30 years." [Movement Westward, Reference Material No. 2, Embassy of the PRC, New Delhi, 4 February 1985]

Two years later, in June 1987, Deng Xiaoping admitted that the Chinese were being encouraged to move to Tibet because, according to him, the local population "needs Han immigrants as the (Autonomous) Region's population of about 2 million was inadequate to develop its resources". [Deng Xiaoping, during his meeting with ex-US President Jimmy Carter, 29 June 1987, reported by Reuters, Beijing, 30 June 1987]

Chinese population in the "TAR"

From 1983 there has been a sharp increase in the transfer of Chinese settlers to Central Tibet. In May 1984, Radio Beijing reported that: "Over 60,000 workers, representing the vanguard groups to help in the construction work in the TAR are arriving in Tibet daily (number of days not specified) and have started their preliminary work. They will be helping in the electricity department, schools, hotels, cultural institutions and construction of mills and factories." [Radio Beijing, 1700 hrs, 14 May 1984]

Another 60,000 Chinese "workers" mainly from Sichuan arrived in the "TAR" in the summer of 1985. [China's Population, Beijing, 1988] In 1991, China announced that "technicians from all over China have come to work at various construction sites and about 300,000 workers are prepared to join in the project." [Beijing Review, 21-27 January 1991]

The Times of India (New Delhi) of 27 September 1988 quoted Mao Rubai, the then Vice-Chairman of the "TAR" Government, as saying that there were one million Chinese settlers (excluding military personnel) in the region.

In Lhasa alone, there were 50,000 to 60,000 ordinary Chinese residents in 1985. From 1985 to 1988 additional Chinese immigrants doubled the population of Lhasa. That this development created problems for the Tibetan population was also recognised by the "TAR" Government. In March 1989, Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, Vice-President of the Chinese National People's Congress, said that "today, because of so many Chinese shopkeepers and settlers coming into Tibet (some 100,000 of them being in Lhasa alone) great disturbance has been caused to public security."

Chinese population in Kham and Amdo

Tibetan areas outside the "TAR" include the whole of present-day Qinghai Province and the portions of Kham and Amdo merged with the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. It is in these Tibetan regions that the concentration of Chinese population is at its highest.

Chinese settlement in these regions followed close on the heel of invading PLA troops in 1949. By 1959, when China installed its Government in the Tibetan capital, Chinese population in this eastern half of Tibet had already reached an alarming point. The influx escalated from 1962 onwards when thousands upon thousands of additional Chinese settlers began to be sent into these areas as "builders, workers, and technicians". As there was no clear need for them, Tibetans considered them a drain on their economy and interpreted the policy as an insidious attempt to complete the sinification of their country. According to the late Panchen Lama:

The expense of keeping one Chinese in Tibet is equal to that of four in China. Why should Tibet spend its money to feed them? ... Tibet has suffered greatly because of the policy of sending a large number of useless people. The Chinese population in Tibet started with a few thousand and today it has multiplied manifold.

China's fourth population census in 1990 put the Chinese population (including a small number of Mongols) in these non-TAR Tibetan regions at 4,927,369. However, it is said that there is at least one un-registered Chinese against every two registered ones. This means the actual Chinese population, both registered and unregistered, in the non-TAR Tibetan regions of Kham and Amdo should be about 7.4 million.

Incentives for Chinese to move to Tibet

To encourage Chinese settlement in Tibet, the Chinese Government offers an array of benefits to its personnel and civilian population. The following statement is typical of the rationale for providing conditions and services which are significantly better than those available to Tibetans.

The personnel brought in from developed regions (China) cannot be expected to live on the local fare of tsampa (roasted barley flour) and raw meat. They need good housing, hospitals, cinemas and schools for their children. [The Poverty of Plenty, Wang and Bai, London, p.148]

Housing, health-care, cultural and educational facilities are all part of an enormously expensive undertaking to provide for the Chinese in Tibet. Other costly subsidies include high-altitude allowance, and transporting wheat and rice by truck to Tibet.

Annual wages for Chinese personnel are 87 per cent higher in Tibet than in China. The longer the stay in Tibet, the higher the benefits. Vacations for Chinese personnel in Tibet are far longer than those in China. For every 18 months of work in Tibet, they receive a three-month leave back to China, and all the expenses are paid by their Government. The Chinese entrepreneurs receive special tax exemptions and loans at low-rate interest in Tibet, whereas for Tibetans to start an enterprise in their own homeland, even getting the licence is difficult.

"TAR" opened to bolster population transfer

In late 1992, China announced the opening of Tibet's economy to "foreign investments". In reality, this economic open-door policy is designed only to encourage the settlement of Chinese population in Tibet. The Chinese Government is already persuading its massive drifting population to find home in the "TAR".

Hectic activities to build new Chinese townships and villages are observed in many areas of the "TAR", such as Dromo (Yatung), Emagang, Phenpo, Tsethang, Toelung, Nyemo, Kongpo Nyingtri and Maldro Gyama. It is believed that a large proportion of the Chinese displaced by the "three-gorges" hydro-electricity project will be relocated in these areas. The recent removal of all check-point barriers between Tibet and China seems to confirm this belief.

Birth-control, forced abortion and sterilisation

From 1984 China imposed its policy allowing Tibetan couples to have only two children. It was announced that only 12 per cent of the population in the "TAR" fell within the ambit of this policy. This was because in the countryside and pastoral areas, Tibetans were supposed to be exempt from such restrictions. But in reality orders were issued for fines (ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 yuan or US$ 400 to 800) for the birth of a third child. Extra children were denied ration cards and workers violating the rule had their pay cut to the extent of 50 per cent, or in some cases withheld altogether for three to six months.

Such coercive measures were - and still are - employed in a number of ingenious ways. On 5 November 1987, the "TAR" Family Planning Department head, Tsering Dolkar, stated at a meeting:

There are 104,024 women of child bearing age, of whom 76,220 are married. Of them, 22,634 have already undergone birth control operations, constituting 30 per cent of women in the TAR of child bearing age. In 1985, after the science of family planning was announced in the countryside and pastoral areas, there has been a perceptible change in the mental outlook and birth rates in these areas. In 1986, 19 per cent of women in Nyingtri, Lhokha and Shigatse were sterilised.

According to the Civil Affairs Department of Shigatse, in July 1990, a team from Shigatse Child and Maternity Hospital visited a remote and poor area of Bhuchung district to carry out examinations. It was found that 387 women in this small area had been sterilised. The team had gone to 10 districts to propagate family planning, resulting in the sterilisation of 1,092 women out of 2,419.

In Gyatsa district of Lhokha, a doctor of a child and maternity clinic, named Tsering Youdon, stated that in her district there were more than 4,000 women of child-bearing age of whom over 1,000 took birth-control measures and 700 were sterilised.

In Kham and Amdo, an even more repressive policy is being enforced. For example, in "Gansu Parig Tibetan Autonomous District" 2,415 women were sterilised in 1983 of whom 82 per cent were Tibetans. In 1987, 764 women of child-bearing age were sterilised in Zachu district in "Kanze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture": 660 were Tibetans. Mobile birth control teams roam the countryside and pastoral areas where they round up women for abortion and sterilisation. Even women well advanced in their pregnancy are forced to undergo abortion followed by sterilisation.

As a rule, the enforcement of birth control measures in Tibet is highly erratic, differing from place to place and time to time, and depends on the zeal of individual local officials who are given carte blanche to implement this policy.

The "White Paper" says on this subject:

Only 12 % of the people in Tibet are covered by the family planning policy. In the process of carrying out family planning the Government always persists in the principle of `mainly publicity, volunteering and service' and prohibits any form of forced abortion.

These words do not take away strong indications that the contrary is true.

Tibetan population

China often ridicules the Tibetan claim that their population is six million. "Where did the six million come from? Did they drop from the sky?", Yang Houdi, director of Policy and Legislation Department of the State Nationalities Affairs Commission, said. Although there is no independent census report of the Tibetan population in Tibet today, historical Tibetan sources show that their population before the Chinese invasion was at least six million. The Chinese say that the total Tibetan population is only slightly more than four million. However, a look at statistics provided by the Chinese themselves suggest that it was over six million in 1959.

According to China's State Statistical Bureau, the "TAR" had 1,273,969 people in November 1959. Tibetan areas of Kham then named as Xikang by China had 3,381,064 Tibetans. In Qinghai and other Tibetan areas incorporated into Gansu, Tibetans were reported to number 1,675,534. If the total of these three figures are taken, the Tibetan population then stood at 6,330,567. [People's Daily, Beijing, 10 November, 1959]

In February 1988, Huan Xiang, director of the Centre for International Studies under the State Council in Beijing, stated that "of the present population of six million Tibetans only two million are living in Tibet (read TAR) while the remaining four million are in other provinces of China". [Beijing Review, Vol. 31, No. 7 and 8.]


As a result of Chinese population transfer, Tibetans find themselves marginalised in economic, political, educational and social spheres. In the early 1980s, the Tibetan Government-in- Exile estimated the Chinese population in the whole of Tibet at 7.5 million. The figure today may be well in excess of this.

In Kham and Amdo, most of the fertile lands in the valleys have been given to Chinese settlers, driving the Tibetans to more and more barren lands. Almost all key administrative positions in Tibet are held by the Chinese. Furthermore, Chinese settlers are given preference over Tibetans in jobs created by forestry and mineral exploitation in Tibet. The general economic impact of the Chinese settlers on Tibetans may be gauged from the following example: Of the 12,827 shops and restaurants in Lhasa city (excluding Barkhor), only 300 are owned by Tibetans. In Tsawa Pashö, southern Kham, Chinese own 133 business enterprises whereas Tibetans own only 15. The ownership ratio is similar in other Tibetan towns: 748 to 92 in Chamdo, 229 to 3 in Powo Tramo. The situation is far worse in the urban centres of Amdo, where, according to one British journalist, Tibetans are reduced to "tourist curios".

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Last updated: 2-Feb-96