A ranking official of Tibetan origin rejects foreign media reports of "ethnic Han people's (or Chinese) assimilation of Tibet" as "absurdity", noting that ethnic Tibetans have always made up over 90 percent of the region's total population.
Legqog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, made his comments Wednesday, in response to reports that the Chinese central government had recently relocated a large number of Han people to Tibet, and that ethnic Tibetans would soon become a minority in their regional capital of Lhasa. No such "immigration” ever exists, said Legqog.
Ethnic Tibetans account for 92.2 percent of the total population of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which stands at 2.6163 million, according to the fifth national census, which was conducted on November 1, 2000.
Ethnic Tibetans number 2.4111 million in Tibet, ethnic Han, 155,300, and the people of other minority nationalities 49,900.
"Ethnic Tibetans are, as they have always have been, the bulk of the local population and the majority ethnic group of Tibet," said Legqog.
The apparent decline in the proportion of ethnic Tibetans, the chairman said, is due to a technical problem in the last national census. He acknowledged that different statistical methods and standards were applied in the fifth national census.
"As a matter of fact, The census takers did not count Tibetans who were not in Tibet at that time but they did count those who had come to Tibet and stayed there for half a year or longer," he further explained.
"So the proportion appears smaller, but in fact it is still above 95 percent," Legqog said.
Tourists from overseas may have noticed that today's Tibetans, like people of other ethnic nationalities in China, have more varied choices in terms of fashion. "We love gorgeous traditional Tibetan robes, and we like modern suits and ties, and popular sportswear, too," said the Tibetan head.
Members of other ethnic nationalities have also expressed their interest in special Tibetan garments and some have donned it. "So it is really hard to tell who is Tibetan and who is Han by simply judging from what they wear," he said.
Actually, many Han people in Lhasa and other cities and towns in Tibet are seasonal workers. They flock in the spring to run restaurants or clothing stores in Tibet and then leave in the wintertime because of thinner air and colder climate.
"Seasonal labor such as this is quite common," Legqog said, adding that these seasonal residents have helped revitalize the local markets.
In the process of Tibet's large-scale construction, the central government has selected and sent some outstanding officials and professionals from other parts of the country to work in Tibet.
"These able and competent people have helped promote the development of Tibet through their diligent work," Legqog said.
The central government convened a national conference on Tibet, the third one of its kind, in 1994. All ministries and commissions under the state council, and all provinces and municipalities, were asked to aid Tibet in personnel, funds, technologies and materials.
The gross domestic product (GDP) of Tibet has been jumped in double-digit figures at rates above the national average over the past eight years, said the chairman.
The population of Tibetans rose by 314,400 during 10 years and four months from 1990-2000, an increase of 15 percent, as compared with the growth rates of the fourth and fifth national census.
"But the population had declined before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951 owing to the serfdom which had limited the growth of the local Tibetan population, the harsh living conditions, and the underdeveloped medical service," said Legqog.
Moreover, the chairman attributed the rapid growth of the Tibetan population during the past decades to input and investment by the central government in Tibet, which has given rise to rapid development of medical service, a drastic decrease in mortality, and an increase in the birth rate.
The family planning policy adopted in 1975 by the central government targets mainly the people of Han nationality coming from elsewhere in the country, he said. The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1985 began encouraging Tibetan officials, office functionaries and workers to give birth to two children with an appropriate interval in the light of specific local conditions in Tibet.
"We promote nothing but prenatal and postnatal care among local farmers and herdsmen, who make up about 80 percent of Tibet's population," said Legqog, "and we have never imposed any restrictions on how many children they should have."
The special population policy is one of the reasons for the quick growth of the region's population, he added.
"The population policy made in accordance with the reality of Tibet is in the essential interest of local Tibetans," said the chairman, "any offensive remark is groundless."
The population of Tibet has now reached 2.615 million, 92.2 percent of whom are ethnic Tibetans, according to the latest census results. The Tibetan population increased by 314,400 during1990-2000 alone, a growth rate above the national average.
A census in 1953 listed the population in Tibet as one million.
"The transformation of social systems, the rapid development of productive forces, and the advancement of medical treatment have greatly contributed to this historical population growth," said Basang Wangdu, Director of the Nationality Studies Institute of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences.
A type of feudal serfdom combining political and religious power persisted in Tibet until 1959, when democratic reforms were implemented.
"The stagnant and even declining population growth in Tibet in the period before 1959 was due to the society's material production and social system at that time," said Basang Wangdu.
Religion had "regulated" the population because a lot of young men had clustered in lamaseries, said the researcher. In addition, the development of productive forces and natural conditions has also influenced population growth in Tibet.
Norbu Sampe, a researcher with the Archives of the Tibet Autonomous Region, quoted historical documents, noting that the population in Tibet had been in continuous decline during the nearly 200 year period from the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) up until 1951.
A. Tom Grunfeld, a Canadian Tibetologist, mentioned in his book "The Making of Modern Tibet" that the practice of polygamy, which limited the amount of children, and the celibate lifestyle of monks had both contributed to the decline in the Tibetan population during the pre-1959 period. The democratic reforms of 1959 put an end to these trends, Grunfeld noted in his book.
Since the 1960s, both the birth rate and the population growth rate of Tibet have exceeded the national average, said Phubu Drolma, Director of the Family Planning Commission of Tibet. Average life expectancy in the region is now 67, compared with 36 in the early 1950s.
In 1985, the Tibet Autonomous Region began encouraging urban residents to give birth to two children with an appropriate interval between them. Officials have also worked with farmers and herdsmen to promote prenatal and postnatal care.
"But the government has never put any restrictions on how many children the farmers and herdsmen can have," Phubu said.
She noted that the population growth rate is currently 14 per thousand compared to the national average of 9.7 per thousand.
(People's Daily Septembert 5, 2002)