High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in May 2013 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on May 30, 2013.
The post is a follow up to the last two articles on mining in the Gyama area of central Tibet, “Lhasa’s Mining Disaster Clearly Shows the Contamination of the Water Supply Will Continue” and “Was Lhasa’s Mining Disaster Caused By A ‘Natural Disaster’?”.
“A Gyama Resident Talks About the Disaster Brought About by Mining Activities”
The history of mining can be traced back to when Tibet was “liberated” by the CCP, the self-appointed benefactor and great saviour. The beginning dates back to between 1951 and 1953 when the geological group of the Tibetan task force at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences together with Mao Zedong dispatched military troops to enter Tibet, slowly making their way through Chamdo Prefecture, the Ngülchu river basin and the Northern Tibet lake area, the Pomé and industrial areas, through Lhasa, through the upper reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo river and further; they produced maps, collected samples and marked mining spots, coming to the result that “Tibet possesses abundant mineral resources”. In 1959, the Beijing Science Publishing House published the “Eastern Tibet Geological and Mineral Resources Survey Data”. This mining guidebook has been influential for the whole second half of the last century, contributing greatly to savage mining activities below the surface of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetan scholar Jambey Gyatso, who works within the CCP system, revealed in his 2008 published book that in 1955 the young Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama celebrated the Tibetan New Year in Beijing when Mao Zedong welcomed them and even said: “one cannot just say that Han Chinese help minorities, minorities also help Han Chinese (…) There are some minerals that do not exist in our Han Chinese areas, but in your minority areas they exist.” When I read the “Eastern Tibet Geological and Mineral Resources Survey Data” and came across the following sentence, “the priority of our work is to search for useful minerals”, I could sense what the real motivations behind the “liberation of Tibet” were.
Below is an interview that I conducted with a resident of Gyama with regards to the mining situation in Gyama county. He said:
They first started mining in 1979, it was the 6th geological task force, they dug out many stones and took them away, but I don’t know which minerals they found, they just kept digging up to the 1980s.
In the 1990s, two mining companies arrived, one of them built a washing plant on the Telongnang farmland where Gyama farmers cultivated their crops, the other company built a washing plant next to Kyichu River, which started to heavily pollute the river water. Around Telongnang we find many mountains, one of them is the sacred mountain of 21 Dolmas; another one is the Padmasambhava sacred mountain. The mining companies put up living quarters, logistic offices and warehouses for machinery and explosives on these mountains. Moreover, for each mining spot, they set up small mining factories, six or seven of them altogether all the way up to 2006 when the Qinghai-Tibet railway was opened.
In 2007 Huatailong Mining Development Co. purchased some of these small factories and expanded the mining area, upon which a large amount of farmers’ land was occupied. Huatailong also built their washing plant on Telongnang, which is still in use today; in its interior there are cameras everywhere and the door is guarded by several big dogs. The company also erected a small dyke next to Lhasa river where the washing plant was situated. Opposite this dyke they built a house from which two thick pipes run straight into the river. One is a water pipe, the other a drainage pipe; one pipe extracts water from Lhasa river and the other one discharges waste water into the river. In order to conceal these pipes, the company built a bridge across them. For three years they were taking water and discharging waste water (up to 2011). This has been a much debated topic amongst villagers but there was nothing they could do.
Huatailong established a water reservoir between the two mountains – the place is called Pelnang – to store sewage water. The dug up minerals were being transported up to the mountain and from there taken down to the water reservoir to be washed.The drainage pipe was directly connected with the washing plant at Telongnang. Whenever the water reservoir was full of sewage, it was directly discharged into Gyama river and then into Lhasa river. The Gyama county river is called Gyama Zhungchu and it used to be the only water source of the local farmers and herdsmen, not only used for drinking water but also to irrigate fields and feed livestock, it used to be extremely clear.
In fact, the water reservoir Huatailong built is a scam. When some leaders came to show journalists around the mining site, the company, so as to prove that the mining was not polluting the water, put fish and ducks into the water reservoir just before the arrival of the visitors; two or three days after they had gone, the fish and ducks were rotten. They even placed some flowers and trees inside the mining area, and after they had left, these trees and plants withered.
Gyama county’s officials and the village head once took a water sample to a lab in Lhasa to have it tested, the result was that it contains three kinds of poisons: overdoses of lead, copper and gold. Dawa La from the laboratory wrote out a certificate stating that the water contained many other poisons but these three were the main ones. The certificate was sent to the county government, leaving the matter unsettled. Some villagers sent a letter of complaint to the environmental bureau in Lhasa and included photos of wild and domestic animals that had died from poison but the letter and the photos were sent back to the county government.
While Huatailong was operating the mines, there was another mining company that started work, we used to call it “Shanghai Company”, they came in 2000 and opened a mine in the southwest of Gyama county, in Wurigang; they also built a water reservoir. Later on, because of severe water pollution in Wurigang, disputes happened between the company and villagers. Still, they operated up to 2010 and were then bought up by China Zhongsheng Resources Holdings Limited.
China Zhongsheng started searching for minerals in 2005, drilling very deep into the mountains and injecting water containing chemicals. I heard that this was because Gyama county’s minerals were very good, and if one drills as deep as 100 meters one can immediately start with the actual mining.
Now, there are two main mining companies operating in Gyama: one is Huatailong and the other one is Zhongsheng. I am not sure if both of them actually belong to the China Gold Group, the former one definitely does, it is also much bigger than Zhongsheng.
Zhongsheng’s mining activities focus on the southwestern to the southeastern parts of Gyama. In this region we find the holy gate to the Samye Monastery, the three sacred mountains of Ri Sum Gampo and a holy lake called Tso Gamasong. This lake was believed to be the spiritual lake of Songtsen Gampo and the spiritual lake of Chenrezig. The mining has already reached the holy lake.
Huatailong mines in the northeastern to northwestern parts of Gyama. Two livestock villages, three farm villages were forced to resettle from the mountaintop further down, and whoever refused would have been arrested. Hundreds of herdsmen lost good pastureland with water and plants. And because of water pollution within the past three months, over 1000 animals died, forcing Huatailong to pay a compensation of 3.28 million yuan.
In the mining area we also find a nunnery, the religious cave of Padmasambhava, Julak monastery, Puchak monastery, the Lama Hall for the protection of Buddhist teachings, Regyal Ling monastery, the Chengguo sacred springs, the Gampo sky burial site as well as austere rock paintings and other important relics; it is a great pity that all of them have been damaged.
During the 2009 summer drought, Huatailong stole water from the villagers, provoking a conflict, resulting in Gyama county being surrounded by military police. Over a three month period, five riot police vehicles patrolled the entire Gyama area, constantly hooting. At the time, 19 villagers were arrested, some were kept for several months, some even for half a year and the village head, Nyima Tsering, for a whole year. A few villagers were beaten and injured by mine workers from the 17th and 18th mining area of Huatailong, they had to go to hospital and after they had recovered they were put into prison. Back then, Huatailong’s boss said to his workers: if you kill those Tibetans it doesn’t matter, who are they? At worst, we have to give them a bit of money and that will settle it. As a result the workers fiercely beat up the villagers and released dogs to bite them; yet, not a single one of these people suffered legal consequences.
Actually, the villagers did not say a single political word, the points they raised were related to environmental pollution and poisonous water resources, which threatened people and livestock as well as that the mining company should not steal water from the locals and leave them their sacred mountains and lakes.
The government has been helping Huatailong and Zhongsheng all along, sending out work groups, stationing people in villagers’ families to conduct ideological work and even arresting some who simply said the truth. The mining companies gave out money encouraging villagers to monitor and report on each other, making sure that no one dares to go to the higher authorities.
In the end, the mining has absolutely had no positive effects for us. They only help those officials and leaders; we ordinary people do not benefit at all.
The 21 photos below were taken by Lhasa Tibetans in 2011 at the site of the Gyama county mining area, Meldro Gungkar Prefecture, Lhasa; they show the savage mining activities carried out by Huatailong, a subsidiary to the China Gold Group, the damaged mountains and the polluted environment.
This post is also available in: English