Chinese taxation and the life of a Tibetan nomad

Heavy taxes imposed by the Chinese authorities do not spare the poorest people of Tibet: the Tibetan nomads. Meat and “milk” taxes mean that a family may not have enough for long and savagely cold winters.

Twenty-five-year-old Kalsang Tenzin is from Lungbo Tha, Bo Ra shang (township) in Sangchu county under Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (now incorporated into Qinghai province). Kalsang Tenzin joined elimentary school at the age of seven and studied there for three years. In school he was taught Chinese, Tibetans and mathematics but had to discontinue his schooling when the heavy taxes imposed by the Chinese authorities mant his family could no longer afford his education.

“My family are farmers but, since the Chinese authorities have ordered us to change our means of livelihood, we are now semi-nomads. An acre of land is confiscated by the Chinese authorities every year. My family previously owned pigs, goats, yak, dri (female yak) and horses but for the last three years the Chinese authorities have ordered farmers not to keep pig. My family must now pretend to be nomadic and we have started keeping sheep, yak and other livestock in huge numbers.

“Nomads are taxed yearly as per the number of animals one possesses and according to the number of family members. For instance, if a family has 200 livestock, a tax of one yak and one sheep is levied. This tax is higher the greater the number of family members, irrespective of the family’s income.

“Taxes are collected in the form of yak, sheep or milk; these are chosen at the discretion of the tax officials. A ‘milk tax’ is imposed even on male animals such as yak. The authorities usually arrive to collect the taxes during the month of April. As Tibetan nomads reserve meat and butter to be used in the Winter season, they are forced to forgo their reserved food as a tax to the Chinese authorities, thereby resulting in terrible scarcity of food during the Winter.

“Yak and sheep are taxed during the month of August and September. This time is chosen as the the animals have built up fat and it is more profitable for the Chinese authority who take for themselves 50 percent of the meat.”

Karma Tenzin, from Chamdo County, who recently arrived in India, also reports on taxes in his area: “In a year we have to pay taxes in the form of foodgrains, meat, butter and hay. The taxes are paid according to weightage.

“A family of five people must pay:

Foodgrains – 25 gyama Butter – 10 gyama
Meat – 6 gyama fresh yak meat Hay – Not fixed

(1 gyama = 500 grams)

The amount of meat taxed also depends upon the khel of the animal (ie. how much it can carry).”

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