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Beijing Review Archives
Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Beijing Review Archives
UPDATED: May 7, 2008 NO. 20, 1991
Tibet: 40 Years' Economic Development
By Li Rongxia, our Staff Reporter

Tibet is one of China's five pastoral areas. It has 82.66 million hectares of grassland, 57.33 million hectares of which can be used. It has 23 million head of animals, a 2.41-time rise over 1959, and an average 10.8 head for each person, ranking the highest in the country.

At present, four animal product bases have been established in Damxung, Nagqu, Amdo and Nyainrong counties. They offer 1.25 million kg of mutton and beef annually. More than 60 percent of herdsmen have fixed residences, no longer leading a nomadic life.

Industry From Scratch

In Tibet, in addition to buttered tea, guests are often entertained with beer. And the hosts will also say with pride that it was brewed in Tibet.

In the past, beer was always transported from the inland. On May 16, 1988, construction of the Lhasa Brewery was begun with 24 million yuan in state investment. After one year of efforts, it was formally put into production on September 28,1989, and now can produce 5,000 tons of beer annually.

Barley used is pollution free. And the water used, extracted from a 127-metre-deep underground source, is extremely soft. The quality of the water ranks among the best in the country.

Jiao Yongqing, deputy director of the Lhasa Brewery, said that his factory uses equipment manufactured domestically in the 1980s and imported a production line from Romania. Most of the equipment is controlled automatically.

Thirty years ago, Tibet was regarded as a "noman's land" of China's modern industry. The industrial products needed by Tibetans for their production and livelihood were always supplied from other parts of China.

A modern industry didn't appear in Tibet until in the 1960s when a number of modern industrial enterprises, such as electrical power, processing of agricultural and animal husbandry products, food, building materials, machinery, light industry and textiles, as well as mining, were set up in Lhasa, Xigaze, Zetang, Qamdo and other towns.

Entering the 1980s, Tibet, proceeding from its actual conditions, readjusted its existing industries and decided to develop three major ones-power, textile and mining. Currently, there are more than 260 industrial enterprises with 500 million yuan in fixed assets. In 1989, their output value was 221 million yuan.

The power industry developed at a fast speed. There are 429 power stations distributed in various places of the region and 667 sets of generators with a combined installed capacity of 147,922 kw, producing 280 million kwh of electricity a year.

The textile industry has reached a certain scale. More than 120 enterprises have been established one after another, producing 420 varieties and designs.

Tibet is rich in mineral resources. Reserves in some 70 places have been verified. The reserves of chromium, boron and copper rank first nationwide. There are now over 60 mining enterprises. The output of chromium and iron reach 87,000 tons, up 42 percent over 1986,and cement output was 120,000 tons, a seven-fold increase over 1986.

In order to speed up the development of Tibetan industry, the state invested a lot of funds in technical transformation. During the Seventh Five-Year Plan period (1986-90), of 123 million yuan in investment in technical transformation, 53.87 million yuan was earmarked by the state to update 74 projects of eight industries. Investment in transport and communications was 60 million yuan, which was used to purchase over 1,500 vehicles. Investment in energy development was 25 million yuan, which was used to renovate seven power enterprises, basically ensuring a sustained and safe supply of electricity. Some 37.6 million yuan was put into the technical renovation of leather, woollen textiles, and nationality handicraft industries, which was used to renovate 30,000 square metres of workshops and revamp 280 sets of equipment, so that the production technique and product quality reached the domestic level of the late 1970s. Tibet's textiles and nationality handicraft have already reached an appropriate scale.

Tibet is unique nationality handicraft has a long history. The cushions of Gyangze, gold and silver utensils of Shannan and Qamdo, and Tibetan aprons, quilts and tents, which best symbolize Tibetan life and customs, are all well received by consumers. The current situation is quite different from the past when the development of nationality handicraft industry was slow.

In the late 1980s, the central government adopted a preferential policy for Tibetan handicraft industry, this, plus a total investment of 25 million yuan, has greatly stimulated Tibet industrial enterprises.

Tibet now has 108 nationality handicraft enterprises capable of producing 1,600 or so varieties of products, 18 varieties of which have won national awards for their high quality. The output value is 41.07 million yuan, an increase of 12 times over 1978.

The nationality handicrafts sell well at home and abroad. In 1989, some 32,000 square feet of Tibetan carpets were sold to the United States.


Forty years ago, there were neither highways nor air lines connecting Lhasa to Beijing. If the Banqain and Dalai Lama wanted to come to Beijing, it would take them several months.

In December 1954, the Sichuan-Tibet and the Qinghai-Tibet highways were open to traffic at the same time. In 1965,construction of the Lhasa Gonggar Airport was completed and an air service between Beijing and Lhasa via Chengdu opened. From that time on, it has not been a difficult journey from Beijing to Lhasa, now taking only four hours. Lhasa is no longer a distant place.

Following the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet and Sichuan-Tibet highways, construction of the Xinjiang-Tibet, Yunnan-Tibet and China-Nepal highways was also completed. Currently, there are 21,695 km of highways and 720 or so bridges throughout the region. Some. 15 trunk lines and 315 feeder highways crisscross the region. The highway network covers every county in the region but Medog and 77 percent of the townships.

Between 1974 to 1985, the 1,937-km Qinghai Highway was reconstructed into a second-class asphalt road, the longest and highest asphalt highway above sea level in the world. The state invested 3 billion yuan in the project.

After more than 20 years of efforts, there has been a growth of air flights from one to 16 each week and an annual increase in handling capacity from 4,000 to 140,000 persons. An international air route was also opened from Lhasa to Katmandu, capital of Nepal.

The posts and telecommunications have also helped to shorten the distance between Lhasa and Beijing and between Lhasa and the rest of the world. Last September, Lhasa began an automatic international and domestic telephone network and a telephone call from Lhasa to Beijing can now be connected in half an hour.

Tibet's post and telecommunication undertaking has taken shape gradually since the peaceful liberation and, in the past ten years, has developed at a fast pace. Before the Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet highways were opened to traffic in December 1954, postal matters had to be sent by horse relay and it would take at least 29 day for a letter from Lhasa to Chengdu. The situation remained unchanged until that two highways were opened to traffic. Now, it takes only four or five days for a letter from Lhasa to its destination in various parts of the country.

Statistics show that compared with 1958, the number of region's post offices in 1989 increased from 12 to 118, a 9.83-fold increase. The total length of postal roads increased from 2,816 km to 71,449 km, a rise of 25.37 times. About 74 counties in the region are now accessible by postal communications, and 70 percent of rural areas have access to postal communications. Air postal routes had grown from scratch and the long-distance telephones had increased from 28 to 226, an 8.07-fold increase. The number of telephone exchanges within Lhasa grew from 150 to 10,740 channels, up 71.6 times. Oldstyle telephones made way to automatic ones numbering 9,290.Telegraphs can be sent out from every county in the region.

Satellite communication has also been introduced into Tibet. Currently the region has set up five satellite communication receiving stations respectively in Lhasa, Qamdo, Nyingchi, Ngari and Xigaze. Residents in seven prefectures and cities and 74 county seats can directly receive the CCTV news and other programmes along with the inland residents. Lhasa news, on the other hand, can be transmitted to Beijing and relayed to other parts of the country and foreign countries in the same day.

For the convenience of Tibetans, the region's post and communication departments have also opened a Tibetan-language telegraph business.

With the expansion of international exchange, Tibet has established two international postal roads between Lhasa and India and between Lhasa and Nepal and an international postal exchange business is in place between China and Nepal and China and India via Tibet.


Great progress has been made in Tibet's economy during its 40 years of development and construction. However, its isolated location on the "roof of the world," relatively small population, vast land area and inconvenient communication have left it with a weak economic foundation. The government of the autonomous region therefore decided to exploit its advantage in resources gave priority to the development of agriculture, energy and transport. A group of key projects were undertaken to speed up economic construction.

The comprehensive development of the Yarlung Zangbo River, the Lhasa River and the Nyang Qu River (three rivers),for example, is the largest agricultural development project in the history of Tibet. Construction formally began early this year in a total area of 65,700 square km with an estimated total investment of 2 billion yuan. By the end of this century, the project will help Tibet to have a granary as good as those in the inland.

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