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New homes, new lives - the social and economic effects of resettlement on Tibetan nomads (Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, PRC)

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This paper observes the effects state-sponsored resettlement in two Tibetan nomad counties of Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai Province (PRC). As nomads increasingly move to urban areas, regional and local economies are shifting, as are social relations and the traditional systems that have managed rangeland resources for millennia. Yet few studies have investigated the empirics of life within these resettled communities. This research takes a snapshot of key socio-economic indicators for resettled Tibetans as they transition to urban life and evaluates if and how nomads are benefiting, and what new challenges have arisen as a result of these processes. Drawing from survey and interview data, I suggest that while resettlement offers nomad families opportunities in terms of access to public services such as education and health care, it also entails significant new expenses for households even as their earnings potential contracts; these trends are exacerbated in the case of poorer households and income inequalities are likely to worsen when families move to urban areas. Likewise, while resettlement has resulted in increased purchase of consumption goods, household investment in productive assets has seen a corresponding decline. Even though access to some public services may increase with resettlement, quality of life in urban areas may suffer with respect to pollution exposure, lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, and increasing prices for basic commodities. With higher rates of school enrollment and the deskilling of the rural labour force, resettlement to urban areas is likely to undermine the long-term economic viability of pastoral production in Tibetan areas of China. Resettlement is also affecting the continuity of social institutions and modes of knowledge transmission, encouraging certain opportunities and closing off other potentialities for nomadic culture. This paper contributes to the literature on development-induced displacement, governance at China's margins, and the adaptability of pastoral production systems amidst state efforts to modernise and assimilate nomads. Leveraging this case study, we can theorise more broadly about the social, ecological, and economic repercussions of resettlement.
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Keywords: Tibet; ecological migration; income inequality; resettlement; urbanisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2015

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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