Yangtze River Villages: Here Comes the Flood
Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
The Khampa people speak their own dialect of Tibetan, so much so that my WWF compatriot Gomba cannot speak Tibetan with them as he speaks the Amdo dialect from Qinghai; they must speak together in Chinese. Unifying the Tibetan language may be more difficult than spreading Beijing-Mandarin (Putonghua) to all parts of China, as there is no political center to Tibet, which is now chopped into several provinces.
There are other differences aside from the dialects--the Kham people are larger, hardier, and supposedly more quick-on-the draw with their daggers, should a conflict develop. Most of the traditional villages of Kham combine nomadic grazing with farming.
The 10,000 or so people that live within Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve are some of the poorest people in China, in terms of their ability to survive, not just their $80 annual income. They depend on firewood, yet the wood is thousands of feet above their villages. Seventy percent have no electricity, ninety percent have no telephone service, roads are unusable for 4-5 months of the year, and food rationing often occurs for four to six months during the long, harsh winters.
Nevertheless, these people greeted us with open arms and friendly smiles, testament to the fact that, despite their Buddhist suffering, they were content, friendly, and compassionate. They also knew that WWF can help them live better lives through education, solar power, better water systems, ecotourism, tree plantings, and sustainable use of resources.
So we visited six of the many villages along the Yangtze as the monsoon clouds swirled over our heads, periodically dropping rain, other times feathering over mountain ridges. The river below was swollen, dangerously approaching some of the corn crops and threatening the roads and bridges. Maelstroms swirled just outside the WWF Toyota Landcruiser's window, threatening to destroy the road--if only it would rain some more.
And rain more it did.
We continued our surveys. As we arrived in the villages, people, shy yet curious and interested, would converge. We asked them about their village boundaries, the villagers, the livestock, their forests, their pastures, their mountain god, their streams, their crops, the wild animals, and what made their town special in their mind.
What became striking was that there was a serious divergence between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Mostly this revolved around grazing and forest lands. Some of the villages had plenty of natural resources, others had few.
The have-nots could not build all the homes they needed and many were unfinished. They gathered firewood from the swirling Yangtze. Their soil was poor producing stunted crops. In one case, a wildfire had destroyed their entire community forest. In another case, a disease had wiped out most of their pigs.
Those that had plenty felt grateful and blessed; their mountain god was happy...