Yushu earthquake a Tibetan earthquake - Tibetan needs to be prioritised

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Free Tibet is concerned that “China Earthquake” headlines in media reports of yesterday’s earthquake in Yushu county in Tibet are failing to convey an accurate impression that the earthquake occurred in the heart of Tibet and in an area that has an overwhelmingly Tibetan population.

Major media outlets, including the BBC, New York Times, The Times, ABC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian, are leading their reports with ”China Earthquake” headlines.

Free Tibet believes these headlines are misleading: they create an impression of a “Chinese earthquake” when, in fact, the epicentre of the quake was located in one of the regions of Tibet (Yushu Prefecture) that has remained most heavily Tibetan in population, according to Tibet population expert, Dr Andrew Fischer (1). Even the Chinese government refers to Yushu as a “Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture” because it recognises that Yushu is an area that is predominantly Tibetan.

Free Tibet Director, Stephanie Brigden, who worked in Yushu, said:

“Over the two-years that I worked in Yushu county, including in remote villages and with the nomadic communities, I was surprised how within a such a short time many of the businesses such as restaurants and the carpentry shops changed ownership from Tibetan to Chinese. Many Tibetan friends would complain how incentives from Beijing favoured Chinese businessmen and many were angry as they began to feel marginalised in their own towns. But overall the identity of the area remained Tibetan, the sheer remoteness of the area and the difficult conditions, not least the altitude meant it was protected against the worst impacts of mass migration which is so evident in places like Lhasa.

As the humanitarian response moves from search and rescue and saving life to longer term development it’s important the needs of the Tibetan people are prioritised. The earthquake will inevitably mean huge sums of money will be invested into the area. It is vital Tibetans have equal access to any opportunities these funds create, including employment. As new infrastructure is built, including homes, schools and hospitals we hope they reflect the Tibetan identify of Yushu.”


Available for interview:

Matt Whitticase, External Communications

t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7515 788456 and email: matt@freetibet.org

Prior to becoming Director of Free Tibet, Stephanie Brigden had a background in humanitarian response:

t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 and email: stephanie@freetibet.org

Notes to Editor:

(1) Dr Andrew Fischer is an expert in development and population in Tibet. Free Tibet has spoken to him today in order to analyse the present Tibetan share of the population in the area worst affected by the earthquake. He maintains that the population of Yushu, in Qinghai Province, is overwhelmingly Tibetan. According to Dr Fischer, the last official census of Yushu Prefecture to be carried out in 2000 recorded Tibetans as forming 97% of the overall population.

Dr Fischer maintains that, in his professional and scholarly opinion, the Tibetan share of the population of Yushu Prefecture in 2010 is still “well above 90%, if not 95%”. Fischer argues that Yushu Tibetans have among the highest birth rates in China and that the Tibetan population of Yushu will have risen quickly since the 2000 Census as a result. For Han Chinese merely to have maintained their share of the population of Yushu Prefecture as it was in 2000, Fischer argues, some 30,000 – 60,000 Han Chinese would have to have migrated into Yushu Prefecture since 2000. Fischer strongly doubts that such numbers have migrated into Yushu, particularly as Yushu is highly remote and therefore unattractive to Han migrants.

Fischer notes that at present approximately two thirds of Qinghai’s overall population is Han Chinese but most of them are to be found in and around Xining, Qinghai’s capital town, which is some 800km from Yushu and the area affected by the earthquake.

Dr Andrew Fischer is based at the Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He is the author of “State Growth and Social Exclusion in Tibet: Challenges of Recent Growth” (2005) and ‘ “Population Invasion”versus Urban Exclusion in theTibetan Areas of Western China’ Population and Development Review, 34, no 4, December 2008: 631-662. More information on Dr Fischer is available at: http://www.iss.nl/iss/profile/AA5776