MADOI, China — If modern material comforts are the measure of success, then Gere, a 59-year-old former yak-and-sheep herder in China’s western Qinghai Province, should be a happy man.
In the two years since the Chinese government forced him to sell his livestock and move into a squat concrete house here on the windswept Tibetan plateau, Gere and his family have acquired a washing machine, a refrigerator and a color television that beams Mandarin-language historical dramas into their whitewashed living room.
But Gere, who like many Tibetans uses a single name, is filled with regret. Like hundreds of thousands of pastoralists across China who have been relocated into bleak townships over the past decade, he is jobless, deeply indebted and dependent on shrinking government subsidies to buy the milk, meat and wool he once obtained from his flocks.
“We don’t go hungry, but we have lost the life that our ancestors practiced for thousands of years,” he said.
In what amounts to one of the most ambitious attempts made at social engineering, the Chinese government is in the final stages of a 15-year-old campaign to settle the millions of pastoralists who once roamed China’s vast borderlands. By year’s end, Beijing claims it will have moved the remaining 1.2 million herders into towns that provide access to schools, electricity and modern health care.
Official news accounts of the relocation rapturously depict former nomads as grateful for salvation from primitive lives. “In merely five years, herders in Qinghai who for generations roved in search of water and grass, have transcended a millennium’s distance and taken enormous strides toward modernity,” said a front-page article in the state-run Farmers’ Daily. “The Communist Party’s preferential policies for herders are like the warm spring breeze that brightens the grassland in green and reaches into the herders’ hearts.”[Source]