Between 1953 and 1964, the Tibetan population declined by 9.9 percent which means a total loss of 270,000 people. Tibet itself lost about 66,000 people in total. The population of China declined between 1959 and 1961 by 13,480,000 people112, but the statistics still show an increase of the population between the first national population survey in 1953 and the second in 1964 in contrast to Tibet. The Tibetans belong to the very few nationalities which lost population in total during that period of time. The population of other larges minorities such as the Mongols, Hui, Miao and Uigures increased.113 In contrast to other regions, birth and death data of the Tibetan population for this period of time are not available. As a matter of fact, in all provinces the Tibetan population declined, except for Sichuan, because the province Xikang was abolished in 1956 and integrated into Sichuan province.
How do Chinese authors explain the population loss of the Tibetans? Liu Juan argues that the “period of economic difficulties” (1959-1961) must have effected the Tibetan population as well.114 However, she does not explain why Tibet lost population, despite the fact that the Great Leap Forward was not implemented in this region. She considers the numbers of 1964 as a proof that the Tibetan population grown faster outside Tibet, because the “democratic reforms” were enforced earlier and the standards of living were higher there. This implies that she links the decline of population in Tibet with the bad nutrition and health condition under the rule of the Tibetan elite. The Chinese scholar Ma Rong questioned the correctness of the numbers at all. In 1953, the Tibetan government was in charged for the population survey and a hukou system did not exist. He considers the number of 1953 as guess which might be too high. He doubts the number of 1964 as well, because the hukou system was not fully implemented. 115 Furthermore, the migration of tens of thousand Tibetan to Southeast Asia after the crack down of the uprising in 1959 contributed also to the decline of the population. The Australian trained demographer Yan Hao estimated the missing Tibetan population between 1953 and 1964 on 152,000 which also includes around 90,000 people who fled with the Dalai Lam to India or migrated elsewhere. As a result, only the missing of 60,000 people had to be explained in relation to the famine, political repression and the uprising.116 Yan estimated the excess death of the Tibetan population during the entire famine period on less than 30,000.
It seems that Yan Hao is doing accurate academic demographic experiments with official statistics. Despite the fact that the article was published in a Western journal, his arguments in order to downplay death by starvation show a lack of understanding of the historical circumstances of the Great Leap Forward. He argues that more than half of the Tibetan population is made up of self-sufficient nomads to these days. Their livelihood would seldom depend on external food supply. He ignores the fact that during the Great Leap the nomads in Amdo and Kham were organized in People’s Communes and were forced to “combine agriculture with animal husbandry” (nongshou jiehe). Some of them were forced to settle down. Official documents of the Central government from 1962 described the disastrous results of this policy and criticized this practice. The loss of the Tibetan population in Gansu and Qinghai province show that the nomadic population was not immune of the famine. Furthermore, Yan questions claim of Warren Smith that large amounts of agricultural and pastoral products were trucked out of Tibet. Yan argues that the government exempted Tibetan peasants in the TRA from all agriculture taxes at that time. By contrast to Yan, the official “grain gazette” says after the “patriotic grain tax” was introduced in 1959.
Yan goes on: “What was the point of loading barley on small trucks and sending them along the zigzag road 3,000 meters above sea level to feed numerous and rice-easting Sichuanese a thousand miles away, especially since the Soviet Union had cut off oil supplies, so that fuel was seriously short in China at the times.”117 The Sino-Soviet split took place in spring 1960. Against the background that most Soviet experts were employed in the industry, this event was hardly responsible for the famine in the countryside. As matter of fact, the Soviet did not cut off the oil supply or launch an economic embargo against the PRC at that time. It might be true that no food was trucked out of Tibet, but Yan’s explanation deserves a deeper examination. A Tibetan refuge in his statement quoted a very similar argument of a Chinese official in the early sixties: “Recently, the reactionaries have been circulation malicious rumors to the effect that we transport barley to China. The Chinese do not eat tsampa, so why do we need barley? All the truckloads of barley that is being transported are taken to feed the nomads of the northern regions.”118 Why would starving peasants in Sichuan rather die than eat barley? Are the Han “rice eaters” and the Tibetan “barley” eaters so different in terms of culture that Tibetan products could not be used to feed Han Chinese? A chooser reading of Yan’s article shows that there is a relativistic story behind his demographic arguments.
My article shows that it is worse to treat the statists which were published in the PRC as part of the official narrative. The suffering of the Tibetans is excluded, because the tabooing of the famine as an event of Tibetan history and the lack of statistics make it difficult to write about starvation in the Tibetan eras at all. The Chinese sources do not claim that no famine did occur in the Tibetan eras, but the extent of it can only be guessed. By contrast, the data from other provinces and various books and memoirs on the Great Leap Forward made it possible to reconstruct the event in inner China in more detail.
To sum up, hunger is an important factor in the Tibet conflict. In the narratives of the Chinese and the Tibetan exile, memories of starvation are used to create nationalists version of history. While Tibetan exile narratives focus on famine as a result of the Chinese “occupation”, the Chinese sources emphasis the suffer of the PLA soldiers to liberate Tibet and the great effort of the Chinese government to nourish the army and the people in Tibet. Tibetan authors are describing the transformation of the food habits in under the socialist regime of accumulation in nationalist terms. The ‘Chinese” forced “Tibetans” to eat things which humiliated them as human beings. Furthermore, the Tibetan exile government is using the famine to map the nation and claim that Tibet should include Kham and Amdo.
More research has to be done. In his latest book, Melvyn Goldstein describes the Nyema (Nimu) Incident of 1969 has a bloody peasants uprising in order to reduce the heavy tax burden in the context of the factions struggles during the Cultural Revolution. In Nimu county, near Lasha the Maoist Gyenlo faction attack the grain collection and promised the peasants that the rations would be increase from 12 khe (168 kilograms) to18 khe.119 This research shows one of bloodies events of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet in a new light.
The map of the Tibetan exile government
“TIBET here means the whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo). It includes the present-day Chinese administrative areas of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, two Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and one Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan Province, one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and one Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province and one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.”
The official Chinese map of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
Remember the suffering, mapping the nation
The Ukrainian Soviet Republic during the famine of 1932/33
Before 1945, the West Ukraine (Galicia) was a part of Poland and Crimea was part of the Russian Soviet Republic. Galicia became ethical “Ukrainian” as a result of the population transfer between Poland and the Soviet Union. The Kuban region remains a part of Russia until today. However, maps of the “genocide famine” work with the Ukrainian ethnographical borders. In the two maps below, the mapping of starvation is used to define an ethnical Ukraine and community beyond the borders of nation state.
“The genocide famine of the Ukraine 1932-33”
The „genocide famine“ and the Ukrainian ethnographical Borders