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Research Traces Cannabis Plant Origins to the Tibetan Plateau 28 Million Years Ago

Research Traces Cannabis Plant Origins to the Tibetan Plateau 28 Million Years Ago

A fascinating new study published in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany , on May 14, details the work of a team of researchers from the University of Vermont who present their evidence that the cannabis plant “evolved 28 million years ago at a specific area on the Tibetan plateau.”

Titled, “Cannabis in Asia: its center of origin and early cultivation, based on a synthesis of subfossil pollen and archaeobotanical studies”, the study aimed at establishing the oldest common ancestors of the cannabis plant . Led by John McPartland from the University of Vermont the team of investigators analyzed ‘wild-type plant distribution’ data including ‘155 fossil pollen studies.’

Striving to determine the unknown origins of the modern cannabis plant they revealed that it thrived in arid steppe-like conditions caused by the tectonic formation of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau in the general vicinity of Qinghai Lake around “28 million years ago.” This co-localizes with the first steppe community that evolved in Asia, said the team, and while cannabis pollen is visually similar to hop pollen the researchers managed to distinguish the two species and established that hops and cannabis shared a common ancestor.

Left; cannabis plant, Right; Hop plant. Both are part of the same flowering plant family ( Cannabaceae). Soucre: ( Dmytro Sukharevskyi /Adobe; CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Where Did The Cannabis Plant Take Root?

Humans have utilized cannabis plants for at least 27,000 years and this new study provides a richer understanding of not only ‘when’ the first cannabis plants evolved but also about ‘when’ humanoids first began to use them as medicines and within ritual environments. A Live Science article said that “While this medicinal and psychotropic plant was long thought to have first evolved in central Asia, scientists were hazy on the precise location.”

The cannabis origin site which is central in this new paper is situated only a few hundred kilometers from Baishiya Karst Cave which researchers recently announced, in a New Scientist article, that was once inhabited by an ancient relative of Homo sapiens - Denisovans. DNA testing showed that a jawbone found in this Tibetan cave came from a Denisovan and so showing the species was more widespread than had been known. And now the oldest traces of cannabis have been found in or around that same area.

It is thought that because “the earth was in the midst of ice age they may have transported cannabis seeds from another place” which is supported by cannabis pollen having been discovered in other caves inhabited by Denisovans.

  • A Versatile Plant: What Were the Many Uses of Cannabis in Ancient Egypt?
  • The Indo-European Legacy of Ancient Cannabis
  • Surprising 5,000-Year-Old Cannabis Trade: Eurasian Steppe Nomads Were Earliest Pot Dealers

Denisovans could have transported cannabis seeds. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Modern Flowers With Ancient Origins

From the Tibetan Plateau, according to another Live Science article, Cannabis reached Europe approximately 6 million years ago and had spread as far afield as eastern China by 1.2 million years ago. Over the millennia cannabis migrated all over the world, and through Africa it reached South America in the 19th century penetrating the United States at the beginning of the 20th century with Mexican immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1911.

After 28 million years of growth and almost 30 thousand years of evidential use by humans both Cannabis sativa L . and Cannabis sativa were outlawed in Utah in 1915, and by 1931 it was illegal in 29 states. By 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act put cannabis under the regulation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, criminalizing possession of the plant throughout the country.

However, the beginning of this century has seen these laws collapse under the pressure of the American people, and as 2018 Business Insider report states, “Marijuana Legalization Is Sweeping Across The States”. It looks like, while the richest and most technologically equipped country in the world brings in our future there remains a hardcore population that prefer the old ways, the Denisovan way, in which the magic plant was a dietary and social staple.

Research Traces Cannabis Plant Origins to the Tibetan Plateau 28 Million Years Ago - History

The frontiers…between the past and the present, are [not] so easily fixed…we need only poke beneath the subsoil of [the earth’s] surface to discover an obstinately rich loam of memory.

—Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, 1995

The first problem faced by the People’s Liberation Army after it marched into Lhasa in October 1951 was how to accommodate and feed its more than eight thousand troops. One of the provisions of the Seventeen Point Agreement was that the PLA would be “fair in all buying and selling and shall not arbitrarily take a single needle or thread from the people.” Due to the extreme difficulty of transporting goods from the east, the troops were entirely dependent on local supplies. The sudden introduction of this large number of soldiers into Lhasa badly shook the local economy, and according to the Indian representative in Lhasa at the time, rapidly “affected the livelihood of the poor man, whose share of food and daily necessities has been ruthlessly whittled down.” 1

General Zhang Guohua, commander of the 18th Division of the PLA, asked the two acting prime ministers of Tibet to sell the Tibetan government’s grain reserves to the PLA. They refused, on the grounds that the surplus was needed for the coming winter. A serious misunderstanding occurred when one of the prime ministers stated, “It was bad to lose a war, but it is worse to let [the Tibetan] people starve.” However, Zhang Guohua took this to mean that the Tibetans deliberately planned to starve the PLA troops, a misinterpretation that provoked a great deal of resentment among Chinese commanders. Many Tibetan aristocrats did start to sell grain to the PLA from their own estates but this was not enough to feed all of the troops, some of whom were on the edge of starvation. Food prices went up dramatically, to the consternation of the PLA commanders, who believed that the two prime ministers were deliberately engineering both price increases and food shortages to promote anti-Chinese feelings. These pressures on food supply were partially alleviated by the establishment of a Grain Procurement Board in 1952, through which the Chinese government gave interest-free loans to Tibetan businessmen and aristocrats to import food from India. 2

Another important response to the food shortage was the establishment of Tibet’s first two state farms in 1952. Named for the dates they were founded, the July First and August First State Farms were established just west of Lhasa to grow both grain and vegetables to feed the hungry PLA troops (see map 2 ). In addition to laying the groundwork for a network of state farms across the TAR, they were key sites of state incorporation. Through vegetable cultivation and mechanized agriculture, they fostered a new environmental imaginary of nature as battleground, producing a new Tibetan landscape. The production of this landscape also transformed the laborers, resulting in the cultivation not only of vegetables but also of new subjectivities. Recruitment of early farm workers was most effective among impoverished Tibetan women who became a kind of “surrogate proletariat” for the process of socialist transformation. State farms offered them a way to transcend class and gender obstacles, but in turn they were interpellated as proper modern subjects of the PRC who played a role in territorial consolidation.

Despite the involvement of top military commanders and the importance of the farms in the early political history of what became the TAR, the establishment of these state farms has been ignored in Western as well as exile Tibetan historiography. 3 Here I tell the story of labor on these farms as a key component of state territorialization in the 1950s. Vital to the process was the way in which the conquest of nature, imagined in a Maoist framing as separate from society and untouched by local historical agency, constituted state power. This was a transformative process in which both the agents and the nature they worked on emerged simultaneously. The importance of Tibetan women on the state farms also makes clear the gendered nature of early state incorporation as an emasculating process.

While the state farms were key sites of territorialization in the early Maoist period, their total area was tiny in comparison to that of communes throughout Tibet. Thus, the remainder of the chapter turns to the labor that produced the new landscape of collectives beginning in 1960, through the communes, and then through decollectivization, using the peri-urban village of Kyichuling, to which I return again in parts 2 and 3 , as a focal point.

These accounts of labor and the production of landscape on both state farms and communes are based on elderly Tibetans’ memories of the past. Such narratives are not transparent reflections of objective truth but rather are produced in the context of present power relations and circumstances. Given the centrality of the cultural politics of labor and work in contemporary development, state officials’ insistence that Tibetans need to “work harder” to cultivate themselves as proper subjects of development, and Tibetans’ insistence that they are too “lazy,” it is not surprising that the quality and forms of labor during the Maoist period constitute a key narrative through which the present is understood. Tibetan workers on communes, which were formed only after the state farms had played a large role in securing state control, remember their experiences of life and labor very differently than do the early workers on the state farms. After decollectivization, many state farm workers were nostalgic for their historic roles on the farms, whereas former commune members expressed a sense of relief that the collective period was over and celebrate their freedom from compulsory socialist labor in the present. These divergent narrative qualities are a product both of different current circumstances, with early workers on the July First State Farm in particular doing well economically in retirement, as well as of differences in processes of subject formation in the 1950s. Despite the differences, both were forms of socialist labor that produced a new Tibetan landscape and contributed to state territorialization.


During the seventh-century reign of Songtsen Gampo, the four-hundred-some-hectare area that became the July First and August First State Farms was known as Lho nup la wa tsel (Wylie: Lho nub gla ba tshal), indicating its location south (lho) and west (nub) of the Potala Palace, and that it was covered with gooseberry shrubs (gla ba tshal). 4 Later its common name became Nordölingka (Wylie: Nor stod gling kha) indicating that it was to the west past (stod) the Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama. The northern part of the area abutted the Lhalu wetland. The sand channel of Lhasa, which directed the seasonal, sediment-laden flows of the Nyangre and Dogde rivers, also flowed through part of this area, depositing a great deal of silt. The southern part of the area lined the north bank of the braided Kyichu River and was thus full of river stones and sand and rather unsuitable for agriculture. 5 Much of the area was also covered with thorny shrubs and was used to graze the Tibetan government’s sheep. In addition, taxpayers from some estates, including those of Kyichuling village, were required to cut and haul shrubs from the Nordölingka every year, which were then stored for usage as fuel during the yearly Great Prayer Festival. Like the adjacent wetland, it was a lived landscape, imbricated in and produced by social relations.

The PLA purchased the land from the Tibetan government for forty thousand dayuan (silver dollars, the former currency of Nationalist China), in order to grow vegetables and grain for the army, as well as to introduce and develop new crop varieties. 6 Work on the farms began in the early months of 1952. In addition to PLA soldiers, Tibetans from nearby villages were also hired as temporary wage laborers (called xiao gong, or “small laborers”) on both state farms. By autumn of 1952, some sixty-six hectares of land had been “opened up” and cultivated on the August First State Farm alone, producing one hundred thousand kilograms of grain. The following year, workers and soldiers expanded the area of grain farming, and cultivated cucumbers, melons, peppers, tomatoes, peas, cabbage, and other vegetables. 7

Exile Tibetan historiography is silent on how the Tibetan government decided on the land sale, leaving only Chinese accounts to draw on. An official history of agricultural reclamation in the TAR seethes with anger at the Tibetan government while leaving no question of how important the farms were for securing control and beginning the process of state territorialization:

The imperialists of the upper levels of the Tibetan [government] on the one hand gloated over [the PLA soldiers’] misfortune, and on the other hand, implemented a tight grain blockade on our soldiers. [They] coerced our Tibetan brothers, and did not permit them to sell grain to the Liberation Army, and also said, “If we can’t chase the PLA away, we’d better force them to leave by starving them.” …As a result, the very first responsibility placed before our army was how to solve the problem of food. After there was food to eat, then we would have feet firmly planted on the ground in Tibet, and would be able to bear the burden of defending the frontier and fulfill the glorious responsibility of constructing the frontier. 8

Another official history of the July First State Farm written to celebrate its fortieth anniversary strikes a similar tone while conveying an environmental imaginary in which the land is seen as waste:

… at that time, because of the reactionary local Tibetan government’s obstruction in every imaginable way, there was no way to select an appropriate place for an experimental farm. In the end [the PLA bought] the Tibetan government’s wasteland (huangdi) for grazing sheep…. On this piece of land, there was not a single house, nor one fen of arable land. With crisscrossing gullies, overgrown brambles, and gravel everywhere, the conditions were extremely arduous. However…our country’s People’s Liberation Army Northwest Division officers and soldiers and the technical personnel acted in accordance with Chairman Mao’s guiding principle of “the army entering Tibet should not take local resources” …Carrying out difficult struggles with a spirit of self-reliance, starting in the spring of 1952 they began to open up this piece of wasteland. 9

The state farms encapsulated the dominant environmental imaginary of the Maoist period, in which land without agriculture was seen as empty, uninhabited, and desperately in need of civilization. Rallying cries of the time included calls to “attack the grasslands” and “wage war against the earth,” and state media praised young people “courageously going to the virgin lands of the Motherland that have not yet been plowed up [to] turn the empty lands into an earthly paradise.” 10 This view of nature was rooted in part in imperial Chinese imaginaries, expressed in their descriptions of the northern grasslands using terms such as “waste” (huang), “barbaric” (ye), and “empty” (xu). 11 This historical view was combined with a new emphasis on the voluntarist human capacity to triumph over nature in the pursuit of production through sheer willpower, the mobilization of massive amounts of labor, and correct socialist thinking. 12

Military slogans and songs linked the conquest of nature and transformation of the landscape with the incorporation of Tibet into the PRC and the defense of Chinese territory. The first Military District Party Committee meeting in February 1952 invented a new strategy summarized by the slogan, “Reclaim Wasteland and Produce, Be Self-Reliant, Stand Firmly on Your Feet, Construct Tibet, Defend the Border.” Soldiers were also instructed to study the slogan, “The Army Must Advance on the Wasteland, Demand Grain from the Soil, Demand Vegetables from the Desert.”

In February and March of 1952, 50–70 percent of the PLA soldiers and officers stationed in Lhasa were sent to “open up the wasteland” and create fields on the state farms. The efforts of these soldiers were celebrated as patriotic and heroic. Their toil was enlisted in the task of transforming the “waste” into blossoming agricultural fields:

At last, after much struggle, a piece of desert wasteland on the banks of the Lhasa River was finally bought from the hands of the Tibetan government’s upper levels…. Lhasa’s riverbanks were strewn with stones everywhere, and overgrown with thistles and thorns. [The soldiers] had to very quickly turn the land that for thousands of years had been a completely barren desert into fertile farmland…it was extremely difficult to suddenly turn over that cold and hard soil, which was so hard that the spades couldn’t dig into it. Using pickaxes they could barely even scratch a few shallow marks. The soldiers’ hands became severely cracked and covered with blood blisters…. People nowadays cannot imagine the difficulty of life back then. But the soldiers who battled to reclaim the wasteland had high morale and were afraid of neither suffering nor difficulty. 13

Doing such intense labor at the high altitude must have been very difficult at first for the soldiers. One former soldier from Chongqing recalled that his nose bled frequently. “In the afternoon, I often had to close my eyes because I was so dizzy and couldn’t stand the sun.” Accounts about officials in Tibet in the 1990s and 2000s often emphasize the extreme bodily hardships of living at high altitudes, a reason many give for spending time outside of Tibet. However, official accounts of the state farms do not mention the effects of altitude on Han soldiers. For the early troops, conquering and controlling their bodies’ reactions to the altitude and new climate was part and parcel of controlling labor and nature. Descriptions emphasized the wild and desolate nature of the landscape rather than its effects on the health of Han soldiers. Their labor was glorified and idealized. For example, while “opening up the wasteland,” the soldiers are described as singing songs with lyrics such as these, which resonate with Mao’s invocation of the legendary “Foolish old man who moved the mountain” to exhort peasants to turn mountains into plains:

The military reclamation soldiers are heroes,

Opening up wasteland and producing on the plateau.

The sound of the song of labor flies to the clouds.

Millions of spades and picks make the mountains shake and fall.

Even if the earth is as hard as steel,

Even if our sweat soaks through our shirts,

We will turn these barren sands into cropland. 14

The theme of conquering nature appeared repeatedly in this period. In May 1952, the Kyichu River flooded the newly reclaimed land, giving army leaders an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to battle nature, framed as an external object. As the event was later described, “General Tan jumped into waist-deep water to direct the fight against flooding. In a battle lasting more than thirty hours, they forced the rising waters to retreat.” 15 Picture books published about the early years of the TAR reinforce the idea that the proper way to engage with nature is through battle. A pictorial collection about the TAR between 1954 and 1984, entitled Golden Bridge , features captions and statements such as “At a road construction site, a battlefield to conquer nature,” “Conquering the treacherous Najin River,” “The army and the people unite as one to conquer natural barriers,” and “Make the mountains bow their heads and the rivers give way.”

Such framings of the voluntaristic human capacity to battle against and triumph over nature differed significantly from the environmental imaginaries of both historical Tibet and the post-Mao reform era. Though Tibetans celebrated the “taming” of the Tibetan landscape through the pinning down of the supine demoness and the conversion to Buddhism, they also praised the quality of being wild and uncultivated in numerous contexts, including the Tibetan origin myth. 16 Tibetan poetry expresses an affinity for open, expansive, unfarmed landscapes, as do continuing cultural practices of hermitage and retreat, and there is no Tibetan equivalent of the “Foolish Old Man who moved the mountain.” After economic reform, and particularly beginning in the late 1990s, the protection of nature became a dominant new environmental imaginary, differing significantly from the Maoist trope of battling nature, though still based in a view of a fundamental separation of humans from nature.

Returning to the 1950s, land reclamation by soldiers soon extended beyond Lhasa. By 1954, soldiers sent to Shigatse, Chamdo, Dingye, Bomi (Kongpo) and Ngari reclaimed more than twenty-six hundred hectares of “wasteland” for agriculture. In addition, a history of agricultural reclamation tells us that during this period soldiers planted more than 150,000 trees and dug more than 110 irrigation canals. Tibetans, it is said, composed paeans about their gratitude for wasteland reclamation, singing: “Tens of thousands of [mu of] plateau wasteland, which nobody has tilled for tens of thousands of years But ever since the new Han people arrived, the wasteland has rolled over and everyone is smiling,” and “The plains on which not even grass grew in the past—today trees grow in rows the wasteland which in the past nobody wanted, now has the fragrance of grain crops everywhere.” 17

The struggle to conquer nature continued long after initial land reclamation. The national Learn from Dazhai Campaign, launched in 1964 when Mao Zedong called on the entire country to imitate the Dazhai Production Brigade in Shanxi Province, made its mark on the Tibetan landscape. In addition to fervent study of Mao Zedong thought, the campaign called for attacking nature and forcing it into submission in various ways: “encircle the rivers, build land,” “destroy the forests, open the wastelands,” “on flatlands, construct terraces,” resulting across China in large-scale land reclamation, terrace construction in ecologically inappropriate locations, and severe environmental consequences. 18 As a national model, Dazhai was a quintessential example of a Maoist spectacle, a concentrated spectacle in Guy Debord’s terms, as opposed to the more diffuse spectacle of the postsocialist period marked by the pursuit of commodities and material goods. The leader of the Dazhai Brigade, Chen Yonggui, became the object of national adulation, with mass rallies in which thousands of performers arranged themselves in his image, devoted to him through the late 1970s. Debord remarks that such concentrated forms of spectacle “must be accompanied by permanent violence” 19 in Mao-era China this took the form of violence against both other humans and nature.

Tibetans on both state farms and communes were subjects of this spectacle. Tibetan state farm leaders were sent to Dazhai on study tours in the early 1970s, and Chen Yonggui also visited Tibet. The campaign in Tibet focused on land reclamation, tree planting, large irrigation canals, and the consolidation of small fields into larger ones that could be more easily plowed by tractor. On the July First State Farm, as part of the campaign, workers spent two years reclaiming pasture on the banks of the Kyichu River, ultimately abandoning the effort because of continual flooding. In keeping with Debord’s observation of the concentrated spectacle that “the imposed image of the good envelops in its spectacle the totality of what officially exists,” many exaggerated and unrealistic claims were made about the triumph of labor over nature. 20 The Nepalese consulate in Lhasa at the time reported for example, that “Army men in one land reclamation center harvested 3.75 tons of rice per hectare [in 1972] despite drought. They cut a 7 kilometer canal across a hanging cliff to lead in water from distant snowcapped mountains to create large tracts of paddy fields.” 21

The struggle against nature through labor during the Learn from Dazhai campaign was explicitly linked to the struggle against “class elements” (the formerly wealthy) and against “superstition,” a term with which Tibetan religion was maligned and attacked. One of the slogans promoted on the August First State Farm during the campaign was, “Struggle Against the Earth, Struggle Against the Sky, Struggle Against the Class Elements, to the Utmost Extreme.” 22 Learn from Dazhai also served as a vehicle for attacks on religious traditions. On the Phenpo State Farm, in Lhundrub County just north of Lhasa, trees that grew near natural springs were logged during the campaign, with the slogan, “Who Says Sacred Springs Can’t Be Moved? Who Says Sacred Trees Can’t Be Cut?” The leveling of the landscape undertaken by the Learn from Dazhai campaign was also a leveling of traditions. Attacking and transforming what was envisioned as empty wasteland helped dismantle the meanings and social relations, whether of pre-1950s tax payments to estate lords and the Tibetan government in Lhasa, or of sacred springs and trees that existed in sympathetic relations to particular households or monasteries, that had constituted previous socionatures. With the erasure and dismantling of previous socionatural histories, new relationships with nature such as modern mechanized agriculture—with its new inputs, irrigation, and crop varieties—could come to dominate. Tibetans were expected to be grateful for the introduction of such forms of modernization. These landscape transformations thus helped establish hegemony and bind the land more firmly into the territory of the newly formed PRC.


One of the first major actions of the PRC in Tibet was thus a massive and backbreaking transformation of the landscape for the growing of grain and vegetables to feed Han soldiers. This new landscape was produced not only by PLA soldiers, but also, beginning in 1952, by Tibetans. When the August First State Farm opened, its work force consisted of about a hundred PLA soldiers and a dozen young Tibetan men and women, some from Kham and others from landless “small households” in central Tibet, who were taught Chinese and worked alongside the soldiers. Soon the farms also hired temporary wage laborers from nearby villages. The Tibetan workers (other than Tibetan female workers who married Han soldiers) ate separately from the soldiers, calling themselves the “tsampa-eating August First State Farm workers” and were all paid the same salary of two dayuan per day of work. They purchased their tsampa from noble families who were willing to sell grain reserves to the army, or from markets in Lhasa on their days off from work. There was a popular saying at the time in Lhasa that the Chinese showered Tibetans with dayuan: “The Chinese Communist Party is our parent to whom we are grateful. [With the CCP] it rains silver dayuan.”

There was no shelter on the farm until soldiers and workers began to build mud brick houses and dormitories in 1953 until then, they lived in tents. Initially without tractors, the soldiers and workers used shovels and hoes to reclaim land during the first years. Retired workers remembered removing thorny shrubs by digging around the roots, tying ropes around the base of the shrubs, and pulling them out of the ground. Once they had removed them, they burned most of the shrubs for fuel. The years before 1955 were particularly arduous. Together with the soldiers, the Tibetan workers reshaped the landscape, hauling soil from marshy patches and nearby mountains to fill pits and sandy areas. Workers filled willow baskets with soil and hung them from two ends of strong wooden shoulder poles, which they carried long distances. Retired workers said that their shoulders became crooked from all of this earth-transforming labor. As one elderly Tibetan woman put it, “Our pens were shovels, our books were the fields. As a result we are all bent-over people. Our legs are crooked. Our backs are bent over.”

Men and women labored together in twelve-person squads, organized in military fashion and responsible for fulfilling certain duties each day. These were arranged into larger platoons, later renamed teams, which specialized in particular production tasks. In 1955, many of the early Tibetan workers became formal state farm workers. This reduced their salaries, but gave them the right to eat together with the soldiers in the dining hall. They were issued thick cotton clothes, pants, and woolen shoes for the winter, as well as a set of summer clothes, and recalled that they could eat their fill of the plentiful food on the farm.

By 1959, there were more Tibetan workers than Han soldiers on the August First State Farm. However, after the uprising that March, some of the laborers returned to their villages because they qualified for the new class category of “poor peasants” and were thus entitled to receive food and other goods redistributed from the estates and those classified as “representatives of feudal lords.” Those who remained on the farm would be considered state employees and thus ineligible for redistributed goods. The workers who left were replaced by a new batch of workers: “reformed” prisoners of war. Immediately after the flight of the Dalai Lama in March 1959, those who had participated or were accused of participating in the uprising were labeled counterrevolutionaries and arrested. Many of these prisoners were sent to reform-through-labor camp at the Najin hydroelectric power plant near Lhasa. 23 After the hydroelectric plant was completed, prisoners in poor health and those who were considered to have “reformed” their errant ideological ways were sent to work on different branches of the August First State Farm. 24 Prisoners were assigned the heaviest labor, including digging, harrowing, and flattening out land in preparation for regular workers who then did the actual cultivation. 25

Prisoners and ordinary workers alike participated in land reclamation, grain and vegetable cultivation, construction, and the digging of irrigation canals on the farm. They also participated in the attempted reclamation of the Lhalu wetland, adjacent to the August First State Farm. Before 1959, this wetland covered over ten square kilometers northwest of Lhasa. It was managed by local villagers, under the direction of Tibetan government officials, for the production of marsh reeds, which were used as fodder for horses owned by the government. Villagers also dug marsh turf for fuel. After 1959, however, the wetland was viewed through the new dominant environmental imaginary as unproductive waste, leading to the attempt to reclaim it for agriculture. More than fifty workers on the August First State Farm, including many prisoners, were sent to dig canals that crisscrossed the wetland. One former prisoner of war recalled that the workers were required to dig the canals as wide and deep as the span of a person’s outstretched arms. After the wetland had been partially drained, the farm put up signs indicating the names of various designated fields within it. However, after three years of failed grain cultivation, the PLA Logistics Department took over the project, eventually abandoning it in the late 1960s, but not before significantly draining the wetland. 26

More than just a battle against nature, the transformation of the “barren desert” and “cold hard soil” of the Nordölingka into the state farms, like the transformation of the “wasteland”/wetland by PLA soldiers and reform-through-labor prisoners was also a struggle over the inclusion of Tibetan territory and people into the Chinese nation-state. In the process of their conquest of an externally conceived nature, Tibetan laborers were to be transformed into proper socialist subjects and Chinese citizens, grateful for their liberation and the paternal care of the Chinese state. This is clear in the logic of “reform through labor,” but it operated as well in the Tibetan laborers who joined the farm voluntarily. Through their own labor, these early state farm workers transformed not only nature, but also their own bodies and sensibilities as they produced the landscape. They came to think of themselves in new ways, as heroic laborers whose hard work was improving and modernizing Tibet. Through their embodied labor on the farms, they were recruited into hegemonic projects of state incorporation.

The early laborers on the two farms were in the early 2000s much more nostalgic about the past, especially the 1950s, than their counterparts who experienced the communes. Though all describe the Maoist, collective period as a time of toil and difficult physical labor, the state farm workers recall and retell their labor proudly. They remember their labor as useful and productive, part of a worthwhile endeavor, rather than recalling it primarily as a period of intense drudgery with no redeeming qualities. This is particularly true for the July First State Farm workers who have been treated much better in their retirement because of the farm’s eventual reorganization into a scientific institute.

One retired July First State Farm worker recited one of several poems eulogizing the difficulty of labor in the 1950s:

It’s not easy to be a worker on the July First State Farm.

Just after the sun rises over Mount Utse,

One needs a throat made of iron

This referred to the fact that because workers had to jump out of bed in the morning to begin working, there was no time to leisurely sip one’s morning tea hence a “throat of iron” and “copper lips” were necessary to avoid being scalded. Another worker, Tseyang, was nostalgic for the work ethic of the early days on the farm. Back in the 1950s, she recalled, workers were only required to work eight hours a day but many volunteered to do more. In fact, although work at night was purely voluntary at that point, both men and women went anyway “because our minds (sem) were so good at the time.” Likewise, Lhamo was proud of how July First State Farm workers such as herself built embankments in the middle of the night when they worried that the Kyichu River might flood its banks. “Sometimes we slept with our clothes on. Back then we could accomplish as much work in one day as it takes three days to do now! Really!” Another retired worker compared the results of her labor in the past favorably against the current status of the farm:

Back then, people were good. Everybody helped each other. Everybody worked hard, not like now…. We made all of the fields. [Around 1963–64] all of the fields were really in excellent condition…. These days people only care about money, and not about the fields.


The early struggles against nature and the reshaping of the landscape of the state farms through labor facilitated the establishment of Tibet as Chinese territory in a number of ways. First and foremost, it fed the invading army’s troops, enabling them to stay. The provision of grain and vegetables was integral to the key strategy of “not eating the local place”—establishing military self-reliance in order to reduce local resentment and increase the odds of winning Tibetans’ willingness to think of themselves as belonging to the PRC. Even while focused on winning over the ruling class in the 1950s, the CCP maintained a keen sense of the importance of not taking from poor residents. As a result, in the early 1950s, there was a “genuine feeling that the Chinese had come to ‘modernize’ Tibet” as the majority of Tibetans “began to see China as the center of technology and modernity.” 28 The strict discipline among the PLA troops, together with an emphasis at the time on respecting local traditions, worked very well for the new regime in establishing a foothold in Tibet.

Whereas grain was needed to survive, vegetables were required to keep the troops happy and willing to stay in Tibet. According to official histories of the August First State Farm, it was through the cultivation of vegetables that the farm planted “the seeds of hope, the seeds of unity, and the seeds of flourishing prosperity on the snowy and windy plateau.” 29 In addition to growing vegetables outdoors, July First and August First State Farm workers constructed rudimentary greenhouses—long, shallow pits in the ground with peat and mud walls. They laid wooden sticks on top, sewed together old clothes, and tossed these over the wooden frame to insulate the vegetables at night.

The cultivation of these vegetables on the “cold barren wasteland” enabled state control. Vegetable cultivation is credited with having

… greatly inspired the troops who had entered Tibet to stay for the construction of Tibet, as well as inspiring them to consider the frontier their home, and their courage and their faith. It also dealt a heavy blow to the imperial upper levels of the Tibetan government’s enormous arrogance, and received the sympathy, support, and faith of the patriotic Tibetan people…. Our Tibetan brethen saw from the fruits of the bountiful harvest that the CCP leaders’ PLA really is the brother of each nationality and in fact came to help the people of Tibet develop production and improve their livelihoods. 30

In official history, the introduction of vegetable cultivation is associated not only with a blow to “imperial” arrogance but also, deploying the metaphor of Chinese nation as family, with Tibetan gratitude for the care of the elder brother Han’s assistance.

The troops invented their own slogan, “With a gun in one hand and a pickaxe in the other, [we] will defend the frontier, construct the frontier, and turn the roof of the world into a heaven on earth.” The August First State Farm not only fed the army for survival, but also provided troops with the type of food that convinced them to stay, laying “the foundation for the troops to stand steadily on two feet in Tibet.” 31 Similarly, an official history of the July First State Farm states that “The successful planting of…vegetables, fruit, and melons not only improved the Tibetan people’s livelihood conditions, but also greatly inspired the Han cadres’ work morale, firming their determination to construct Tibet over the long term.” 32

At its establishment in August 1952, the August First State Farm was managed by the Production Division of the Logistics Department of the Tibet Military District. In April 1960, the farm formally came under a new unit, the Tibet Military Production Department, a main task of which was agricultural reclamation. By that time, the department had overseen the reclamation of thirty-three hundred hectares of land and established numerous other farms across Tibet under military management. Not only was the labor of August First farm workers organized in military fashion, but they also contributed to actual war efforts. In 1962, workers were sent from the farm to the MacMahon Line, the contested border with India in eastern Tibet, with horses carrying ammunition and dry food because the roads near the border were impassable. This supplied the troops for the brief Sino-Indian war of October 1962, which ended with a swift military victory for China. 33

In 1965–66, Han cadres, workers, and nineteen hundred “support the borders” youth volunteers were transferred to work on various military state farms in Tibet, including the main branch of the August First State Farm. However, most only stayed for two to three years. Children of prominent TAR leaders, such as the daughter of Tian Bao, one of the few Tibetans who had joined the Long March, also worked on the August First State Farm for short periods of time as a way of proving their revolutionary credentials. 34 The system overseeing the farms was reorganized in 1970, becoming the Tibet Military District Production and Construction Division, under dual military and civilian administration, and after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, production on many of the farms was diversified beyond grain agriculture to include wheat grinding, the production of soy sauce, liquor, and handicrafts, and natural resource extraction.

The August First State Farm itself also opened a number of new branches that turned into grain production bases, but the original 160-hectare main branch in Lhasa remained the PLA’s primary vegetable production base in Tibet for more than three decades, until the beginning of economic reform. Retired Tibetan workers recalled regularly loading up army trucks with the vegetables they had grown. The labor of Tibetan vegetable growers on the August First State Farm nourished the PLA, helping it establish state control in Tibet. This remained the case until 1979 when both the August First State Farm and the network of other state farms were taken out of military control and placed under the civilian Agricultural Reclamation Department. This department governed the farms while experimenting with a financial contracting system that gradually made these farms responsible for their own profits and losses.

Vegetable cultivation on the July First State Farm cultivated state hegemony in a different way. Unique among all state farms in the TAR, the July First State Farm was quickly turned over to civilian administration and designated for scientific functions. Thus, it eventually came under the jurisdiction of the Lhasa Municipality government rather than the Agricultural Reclamation Bureau. The farm was given the responsibility to develop new seed varieties, and to advance the scientific level of the civilian government and the region’s farmers. As such, the July First State Farm laid the foundation for the development of “scientific agriculture,” which is said to have “had a very large use in politics…. It was also a powerful counterattack against the reactionary upper levels’ futile attempt to destroy the unity of the nationalities, and the reactionary propaganda to split the Motherland.” 35 The emphasis on science and “scientific agriculture” against cultural practices designated as “superstition” became an important terrain of struggle, one that would several decades later influence Tibetan farmers’ decisions not to compete with Han migrants by growing vegetables. On the July First State Farm, ground zero for scientific agriculture in Tibet, the discourse of science was very clearly linked from the very beginning with Chinese state sovereignty over Tibet in the language of the “unity of the nationalities.”

The July First State Farm served as the main showcase for Chinese agricultural achievements in Tibet. One former worker recalled that Chinese reporters and officials frequently visited the farm during the harvest to take pictures of the workers: “For the harvest, we had to put on our new clothes. Then one Tibetan would stand on one side, and one Tibetan on the other side, and in the middle two Han cadres would stand.” The farm was also frequently promoted to foreign visitors to justify Chinese presence in Tibet through the spectacle of progress. During an agricultural exhibition held in Lhasa in 1954 on PRC National Day, watermelons cultivated on the farm were served to specially invited guests from India, Sikkim, and Nepal. Nepalese consulate staff members were also brought to the July First State Farm on visits in 1972 and 1974, where they reported being impressed by its achievements. 36

Small, rudimentary glass-pane greenhouses were first introduced on the July First State Farm in 1954. 37 Several young female workers recalled the painstaking labor required of them in caring for these vegetables. They took turns rising at 4 a.m. to light a small fire near one end of a greenhouse to slowly raise the temperature inside, tending to it until 7am. Remnants of the walls of these earliest greenhouses were still visible in 2001, including the painted slogan, “Oppose American Imperialism!” As one farm official pointed out, “This farm really reflects the history of Tibet.” Vegetable production on both farms continues to be interwoven with the master narrative of gratitude and state legitimacy. According to an article that appeared in the China Daily celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the “peaceful liberation”:

Asked to compare today with the years prior to democratic reform in 1959, Yangzom said the changes are ‘beyond measurement.’ Before liberation, the slaves survived on tsampa , or roasted barley, the Tibetan staple, and they seldom had their fill. Today, Yangzom and her peers have a regular supply of rice, wheat flour, and fresh vegetables available to them. 38

The importance of the July First State Farm in the early establishment of PRC control in Tibet is also indicated by the frequent visits of high-level military, Party, and government leaders. The 1953 training of the farm’s first batch of sixty-three Tibetan students in agricultural technology was marked by the participation of Generals Zhang Guohua and Fan Ming, leaders of the PLA’s Southwest and Northwest Military Regions, respectively, during the initial takeover. In the 1950s and 1960s, visitors also included Tan Guansan, vice Party secretary of the Tibet Work Committee and political commissar of the PLA Tibet Military Commission PRC Deputy Premier Chen Yi, who planted apple seedlings that he had brought with him in the farm’s first orchard (see figure 2 ) Ren Rong, deputy political commissar of the Tibet Military Commission and Pasang, deputy secretary of the TAR CCP. When the first national-level delegation from Beijing came to Tibet in 1956 for the establishment of the Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet, which preceded the formal formation of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965, members of the delegation stayed on the farm. In 1995, when General Fan Ming and his wife returned to Lhasa for a visit to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the TAR, they made a special visit to the July First State Farm, during which the general spoke emotionally about the difficulties of life in the early days of the farm, when there was “nothing to eat but weeds.” Moreover, former Vice Premier Li Peng is said to have personally penned a verse about the farm when he visited it for its twentieth anniversary: “The Academy of Agricultural Sciences under the dry white mountains has pears, peaches, and melons and fruits, all/Over-wintering barley is the direction/Bringing benefit to Tibet’s new achievements.”

A final way in which the July First State Farm was significant for advancing the process of state territorialization was the fact that it cultivated its young workers to become officials and leaders many later went on to hold key government and Party posts throughout the TAR. The farms were places to incorporate Tibetans into the new national political structure, promoting their sense of belonging. Many officials who served in the 1990s, including county deputy party secretaries and heads of government departments at the regional level, had spent part of their youths on the July First State Farm. Other early workers were selected to become mountain climbers and other symbols of Chinese national pride. Perhaps the most famous of the early July First State Farm workers was the actor Wangdu, who played the serf Jampa in the influential 1963 film Serf (Nongnu). In response to his severe abuse by what is portrayed in the film as the evil, corrupt, and oppressive pre-1951 Tibetan society, Jampa becomes mute, recovering his ability to speak only after the “peaceful liberation.”

Figure 2. Vice Premier Chen Yi (second from left) helping plant apple seedlings he has brought from Beijing at the July First State Farm. Photograph from Xizang Zai Qianjin [Tibet is progressing] (PLA Illustrated Magazine Publishing House, 1956). The original caption states that by planting the seedling, Chen Yi was “wishing for bumper harvests for the Tibetan people.”

This film shaped to an extraordinary degree the national Chinese imagination about Tibet for more than three decades, and Wangdu became a celebrated actor, head of the Tibetan Drama Theater, and recipient of a special allowance from the State Council after retirement. Wangdu’s own personal history is portrayed in the form of the “speaking bitterness” narratives of the Maoist period as one of being a serf who ran away and joined a monastery where he “went through hardships” and was ill-treated, until he ran away again and joined the state farm as a cart driver. “That was the happiest time I had known I had enough to eat and warm clothes and no one abused me,” he is quoted as saying. 39


How were early workers like Wangdu recruited, and why did they join? The early workers on both the July First and August First State Farms were from poor “small households” (dud chung) in nearby villages such as Damba and Dongkar, who were recruited to work as day laborers, or young runaway small householders from estates around central Tibet. In addition, there were also a number of impoverished Khampas (Tibetans from the southeastern region of Kham), who had come to Lhasa on pilgrimage and were still there when the PLA marched in. Early state farm workers were uniformly from among the lower strata of traditional Tibetan society, making their trajectories on the farm stories, in class terms, ones of upward mobility. By chance as well as hard work, these formerly impoverished and landless peasants managed to do quite well under the new regime. Their own personal mobility was integral to the process of state incorporation.

Norbu, for example, was born in Nangchen, a culturally Kham area in what is now Yushu Prefecture in Qinghai Province. He traveled to Lhasa on pilgrimage in 1950, ran out of funds, and decided to stay to earn some money for the trip home. However, this coincided with the “peaceful liberation.” He and his friends were camped by the Kyichu River with many other Tibetans when one day a Han soldier asked them if they wanted to work for pay. They did. The soldier led the five of them to the PLA Logistics Department, where they unloaded supply trucks and occasionally helped to cook. As he told the story, because he was the hardest-working among his group of friends, the army made him an informal leader of the group. Shortly afterward, however, a new rule was instituted that Tibetans were no longer allowed to work in the Logistics Department. His friends, from different parts of Tibet, all left for home, but thinking his home was too far away he instead asked a minor official in the department to help him find work. This man informed him that he might find some work on the August First State Farm, and gave him a letter of introduction with a seal. On the farm, he became leader of a squad that hauled night soil from Lhasa’s latrines to the state farms. He joined the Party, and in 1970, became a vice team leader for the vegetable cultivation team. The next year he was promoted to team leader, a post that he held for eight years. He then served as the Party secretary of the farm’s “sideline industry” work team for five years, before retiring in 1984. In his retirement, he described his choice to stay on the farm by saying, “How to put it? I was very young. I was far from home. I had no choice but to work hard…. It was not a question of liking or not liking.” Despite his ambivalent narrative in the 2000s, his decision to seek out employment on the farm, as well as to join the Party and become a team leader suggest both that working on the farm seemed a better option to him than returning home, and that he was rewarded for his choices through his promotions on the farm.

Other early workers, like Nyima, were from Lhasa. His father had worked as a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama, and his mother was from Lhoka. When he was young, Nyima was a servant for monks in the Namgyal Tratsang, the monastery in the Potala Palace. While working there, he heard from a friend about the Communists on the state farm. He knew very little about them other than what he was told: that there was no difference between leaders and workers, that the food was good, and that they showed movies at night. He decided to run away and join what he thought would be the good life. He recalled that when he first arrived at the July First State Farm, in 1955, he removed his hat, scratched his head, and made other gestures of polite deference. The person registering him checked his health and asked him his age, and then told him the rules of the farm: listen to the Communist Party leader, pay attention to the unity of the nationalities, and don’t get into fights. When he first started, he had Sundays off. Every Sunday he rose early to walk to Lhasa, bringing some food in a basket to visit his parents. However, he and his friends were always careful to put their chupas (Tibetan robes) back on for the day, otherwise Tibetans in town would know that he was working for the state farm and call him “someone who surrendered to the Chinese” or yell at him, “you’ve turned into a Chinese person.” He remembered being particularly worried that he might run into his former boss, a high-ranking monk-official, on his trips to Lhasa, but that never happened. Like other older workers, one of his most emphatic memories of his early years on the farm was that the food was very good. He was only around seventeen years old at the time, and he and his friends particularly enjoyed the army movies, which they watched regularly. In 1958, Nyima became the fourth Tibetan to learn how to drive a tractor. In retirement, he continued to enjoy a good pension, and professed a great love for the state farm as well as fondness for his early days on it.

In addition to being landless, the early Tibetan work force was also highly skewed toward women. The stories of the early state farm workers are ones in which the promise of economic and gender mobility could be effective in countering other loyalties in the recruitment of workers who produced Tibet’s new landscape. Nyima’s wife, Lhamo, for example, was born in the town of Markham in Kham where her father had been stationed as a soldier in the Trapchi Regiment of the Tibetan army, but came to Lhasa when she was a toddler. In 1955, she was planning to go to the post office where, she had heard, young Tibetans could sign up to attend school in China. While she was on her way there with another young Tibetan woman, a horse cart from the July First State Farm passed by, and its driver asked if they would like to go to the state farm. Farm leaders told Lhamo that she had a lot of potential, convincing her to stay there.

On the night soil runs, in which many early workers took part, both men and women encountered verbal abuse, but the women were especially harassed by Tibetan men on these trips. Female Tibetan workers who joined the farm during this period told stories of being taunted with epithets such as “Chinese shit transporters!” “Chinese shit eaters!” and “Chinese shit pickers!” Tibetan men in Lhasa yelled at them, “You’re just like the Chinese!” Several told me that when they were digging out the latrines, other Tibetans sometimes deliberately tried to urinate and defecate on them from above. The Tibetan wife of one Han soldier on the August First State Farm enrolled briefly in the Tibetan Cadre School (now Tibet University) but quit because she was frequently taunted on the road to school by monks with threats such as “We’ll peel off your skin!” for collaborating with the Chinese.

The early women workers recalled the dap dop (“fighting monks”) and the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard corps at the Norbulingka as being particularly troublesome. 40 One retired female worker from the July First State Farm blamed the harassment on the fact that she was young and had done what the farm had told her to do—cut her hair short and wear the Chinese clothes provided by the farm, rather than keeping it long in Tibetan style, and wearing Tibetan dress. The few times that she walked past the Norbulingka with other Tibetan women from the farm, the bodyguards slapped her in the face, calling her a traitor, “one who has surrendered to the Chinese.” Lhamo, also retired from the July First State Farm, similarly recalled that when two women went together to the latrines, carrying shoulder poles with buckets for the night soil, they had to fill the buckets up quickly because soldiers of the Tibetan army pointed guns at them, ordering them to hurry up with the work and leave. 41 Lhamo recalled that one day, several dap dop chased her and another young female farm worker. The pair ran and hid in an elderly Tibetan woman’s home nearby until they felt it was safe to go back to the farm. Often, Tibetan men and women workers went together to gather night soil, which women considered safer because most of the men were Khampas, with a reputation for being tough fighters. As a result, the Lhasa men did not usually harass them.

During these same early years, the pressure on PLA soldiers to be on their best behavior was intense. Soldiers were warned repeatedly to respect local people and customs in every way. Doctor Zhang, a Han soldier from Chongqing who joined the PLA in 1949 to escape poverty and marched with the Logistics Department of the 18th Division to Lhasa beginning in 1950, recalled that the soldiers were given a bowl of butter tea to drink every day. If anyone refused to consume this common Tibetan drink, the army “would give you a hat to wear”—that is, accuse the soldier of being unpatriotic and having a “political problem.” Upon entering Lhasa, the soldiers were forbidden from entering monasteries, fishing, and killing birds, and were frequently reminded to respect local customs.

In addition to exercising discipline and restraint when dealing with local people, soldiers were also heavily pressured to stay in Tibet. 42 This pressure to stay was encapsulated in a slogan, which along with a small drawing of the Potala Palace, was printed on soldiers’ towels, cups, thermoses, and bags: “Construct Tibet for the Long Term Make the Frontier Your Home.” 43 They were actively encouraged to marry local women and settle down in Tibet, an internal policy summarized as “Grow Roots, Flower, and Bear Fruit.” 44 One Han soldier recalled that he had originally expected to be in Tibet only for three years, but suddenly the policy changed and he was expected to settle down there. Han PLA soldiers who didn’t want to marry local women made up their own ditty about how they planned to avoid that fate: “Tibet, Tibet, rotate every three years. If we don’t rotate in three years, we’ll become monks.” 45

If a Han soldier did find a Tibetan girlfriend, he was to report the matter immediately to the PLA Political Department, who checked both the woman’s physical health and her designated class status. Soldiers were only allowed to marry Tibetan women if they were classified as “middle farmer” or below. Aside from this restriction, it was very easy to obtain permission for such marriages because the army wanted to encourage Han soldiers to settle down in Tibet. Doctor Zhang, for example, married a woman from a poor servant family in Tagtse County, who ran away from home and came to Lhasa in 1955 where she found work as a custodian at the No. 19 Military Hospital. She met Zhang there, and they married the following year, after which she joined him working on the August First State Farm. Many Han soldiers married local women, not only because they believed they might not ever be allowed to go home, but also as a way of proving their loyalty to the military and to the country during those intensely political years. Many of these marriages ended in divorce after the soldiers retired and wanted to return home. Many of their wives refused to move, while others went but then returned to Tibet. Doctor Zhang was quite unusual in deciding to retire with his wife in Lhasa. 46

In addition to marriage, Han soldiers and officials were also pressured to be on their best behavior, particularly with Tibetan female workers on the farms. Many retired Tibetan workers from both the July First and the August First State Farms described the 1950s as a time when the Han and ethnic relations were particularly good. Their memories of Han cadres at that time are always set in implicit or explicit opposition to the Chinese officials and vegetable farmers who live in Tibet now. Without any prompting to talk about ethnic relations, several told me, “The Han (gyarig) back then were so good!” and “Back then, the Han-Tibetan unity was real, not like now.” One said, “Nowadays if you look for Han as good as the ones back then, you wouldn’t be able to find any.” Another retired worker from the July First State Farm began his narrative about the farm with this statement: “Back then, the Han were so good [thumbs up gesture]. These days you can’t find good Han like that. There aren’t any more.” A retired female August First farm worker recalled, “Back then, the leaders looked after the Tibetans very well. They really took care of us. The leaders paid a lot of attention to unity. They told us, ‘if anyone calls you a lao zang min (“old Tibetan”) that’s an insult and you should call them lao han min (“old Han”) back.’”

Among the retired workers, it is the women who seem to most deeply appreciate “the goodness of the Han back then.” One recalled, “The Han back then were better than one’s own parents.” Tseyang, who was very young when she joined the early workers on the July First State Farm, told me that farm leaders came to check on the younger workers every night, to ask if they had enough blankets. Furthermore, she claimed that because the soldiers were under such strict disciplinary rules at that time, “Nothing ever happened to Tibetan girls, even those who were sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old—they didn’t even dare to make jokes with innuendos.” Tseyang had no doubts about why this was the case, explaining, “They were very strict because they were worried about not being able to put their roots down here in Tibet.”

Tseyang exemplifies the recruitment of Tibetan women into the new political structure in the 1950s, and the opportunities for social mobility that joining a Lhasa state farm afforded them. Born into a landless family in Damba village, just below Drepung Monastery, she joined many other Damba villagers at age twelve, in 1952, on the nearby July First State Farm. For two years, as a temporary laborer, she participated in construction of houses on the farm. Even though she earned two silver dollars per day as a temporary worker, she recalled that she was still quite hungry from lack of food at home, so much so that she sometimes stole leftover steamed buns that had been thrown out and were ready to be dumped in the pig pens. The cooks also scraped the rice from the bottom of the pots and wrapped it in paper to give to her and other younger workers to eat. In 1954, the workers of Damba village were given the option of joining the farm as formal workers. Twenty-eight villagers, including Tseyang, decided to join while many more decided to remain temporary workers. Although the salary was lower for formal than for temporary workers, Tseyang recalled that the overall situation was much better. She was quite happy because the meals were free, and included four cooked dishes and soup each day. Furthermore, she remembered that “we could eat as much as we wanted” and that someone from the farm cleaned up after them. The farm had its own hospital as well, and workers received free health care.

Because she was quite young, farm officials encouraged her to go to school. While she was still deciding whether or not to go to school, Chinese Central Television came to make a small program about her life, following her transition from Damba to being a temporary worker and then a full-time worker. Of all of the villagers from Damba, the farm only sent her and one other young woman to school in China, in 1957. In her assessment, she was extremely lucky to have had a mother who was open-minded enough to allow this, “or in any case, [a mother who] had decided that the Chinese were here to stay.” Her mother asked a lama from nearby Drepung Monasery to perform a divination about her daughter’s schooling. Again, she was lucky the lama said that it would be okay to send her daughter to school in China.

Tseyang did very well. After the 1959 uprising, she was sent back to the TAR and eventually became a deputy Party secretary, a post she held for about a decade. The other Tibetan woman who was sent to school in 1957 married a Han man and moved to Beijing. The rest of the villagers, Tseyang says, returned to the village, and as a result are all very poor today. Looking back at the 1950s in 2002 she observed, “They really missed their chance. Even if they didn’t get as lucky as me, even if they didn’t become officials, at least they would have been a lot better off than they are now. I go back sometimes, and can’t believe how poor they all are.”

Unlike Tseyang, Yangchen never had the chance to go to China to study, though that was her reason for joining a farm. She was from a servant family of the Kathog Labrang in Ramoche, in Lhasa. 47 One day in 1954, a Tibetan woman who came to the neighborhood selling shrubs for fuel told her about the August First State Farm in the Nordölingka. The Tibetan woman, she said, described it as “a happy wonderful place” that sent its workers to school in China. Though she was quite young, she and three other girls decided to go to the farm. She recalled that upon arriving, “actually there was nothing there,” meaning that it was not what she had envisioned from the woman’s description. There were only a few houses constructed of packed earth, and other shelter walls made with tin boxes cut in half and filled with mud. However, because “the food was pretty good” she decided to stay. She shared a story about her early days on the farm, when two technical personnel from Beijing taught them how to grow vegetables and watermelons. She recalled wondering about the watermelons:

For a long time, I had no idea what they were. I stared and stared at them, thinking, “they look like some sort of squash, but then again, they don’t look exactly like squash. What could they be?” We never got any—they were always just shipped off to the Military District. I wanted to know what they were. Once I cradled one in my arm wondering what it was. Finally I smashed the thing to see what it looked like inside. The technician came running up, very upset, “why did you smash it? Oh, you shouldn’t have done that!”

She married a Han soldier from Shanxi who also worked on the farm and was promoted to deputy team leader in 1962 and team leader the next year. When volunteer youth from eastern China came in 1965 and 1966, twenty-three were assigned to the team that she managed. She divided the fields into small sections and gave each team member responsibility for his or her own section. She complained that the Han youth did not do their work properly because they engaged in political struggle sessions at night rather than sleeping, and that they called her “Liu Shaoqi” and a “capitalist roader” for dividing up their work tasks rather than doing everything completely collectively. 48 Nonetheless, her position at the time as a leader who oversaw volunteer Han youth was one of significant status in the new society compared to both her youth as a servant and the experiences of most poor Tibetans who stayed in villages that were reorganized into communes.

Among the early workers were also women from Kham. Tsegyi was from Jomda County in Chamdo. Her family arrived in Lhasa in 1954 and stayed at Lubu Pangtsang, where a community of beggars lived in tents. She found work in construction, first on the new Kuru Zampa Bridge, and then in the Military District, before joining the July First State Farm in 1957. She worked at different times hauling night soil from Lhasa’s latrines, on the farm’s vegetable and grain cultivation teams, and in the farm’s apple orchard. Tsegyi was especially proud of her role in caring for the apple trees, recalling that she built a special enclosure around them and always gave them extra fertilizer and special attention. She was attached to the trees because of what she viewed as their great historical value on account of Chen Yi’s visit to plant them. After her retirement in the 1990s, she was shocked and saddened to learn that they had been cut down, and went to ask the new director of the farm why he had allowed this to happen. “These days the people are new people, and they have new brains. I don’t understand how they think. They told me that you shouldn’t try to wear old shoes to walk down a new road,” she said, referring to the lack of fit between her collective-era subjectivity, forged in the 1950s, and the new road of market reform and development that became dominant several decades later.

Tsegyi also had very fond memories of the rice porridge and steamed bread served for breakfast at the farm, and the generous portions of what she remembered as delicious food. Because her parents were in Lhasa without income, she tried to be frugal, and always saved some food to bring to them. Tsegyi joined the Party in 1962. She recalled that when she was young, she had no interest or belief in religion at all. She was firmly against it. Then, as her six siblings passed away one by one, she gradually started to find comfort in Buddhism. After she retired, she found that she felt better when she invited monks to her house for prayers and services, and started to go on pilgrimages and circumambulate the Lingkor every morning. In her own words, she had become a “very typical religious person.” She is not the only one. She told me about Yudron, another retired woman from Kham who had joined the farm very early and was now never home because she was always on pilgrimage. Tsegyi sometimes reminded Yudron that during the Cultural Revolution, she had been very vehemently opposed to religion. But Yudron simply replies that she is old and near death, and therefore “it wouldn’t do” not to go on religious pilgrimages. Others like Lhamo, who also joined the July First State Farm early on, never joined the Party despite many attempts to persuade her to join, and despite her great love for the farm and fondness for the old days, because she and her husband Nyima had maintained throughout what they called “a propensity for the Dharma.”

Tsegyi’s simultaneous renewed faith in Tibetan Buddhism and Party membership clearly ate at her. She frequently wished to discuss the issue. Indeed, such examples of early Tibetan Party members who once fervently criticized religion and persecuted others but now in old age seek out spiritual guidance and take actions to accumulate merit, are common across Tibet. Their presence speaks to what Charlene Makley calls an ongoing quandary of agency in Tibetan communities as they continue to grapple with the nature of morality and Tibetan agency during the violence of the Maoist years. 49 At the same time as Tsegyi is now committed to precisely what was deemed most objectionable by the apparatuses of the state that workers like her helped support, however, she remains nostalgic for her participation in building state power and the legitimacy of the new regime in the 1950s. “Without the Communist Party,” she often told me in 2001–2 when we were discussing vegetable production, “we’d have nothing at all now in Tibet. These young people who talk about independence have no idea what things were like before. They have no idea.”

Interests and desires are not cleanly mapped onto or readable from singular subject positions, as both sides in the Tibet Question would have it. Tsegyi in many ways encapsulates the official Chinese narrative of liberation: a poor Tibetan woman who labored to transform herself into a new socialist subject and a proper citizen of the PRC, who helped consolidate the power of the Chinese state over Tibetan territory, and benefited personally from it. Yet this did not erase the sedimented traces of her faith and the efficacy for her of its embodied rituals of circumambulation and pilgrimage. She embraces the narrative of gratitude—that Tibetans would “have nothing at all” were it not for the Chinese state’s liberation and development—but belies the idea that anyone who believes this would also willingly give up their religious identity, faith, and practices.

The stories of Tsegyi and other early state farm workers like her are also invisible in exile histories, in which they can only be explained as “traitors” or dupes, in a narrative in which an ethnic-national subject position, a loyalty to the imagined Tibetan nation, is the only one that matters. This fails to account for the fraught intersections of nationalism and race with class and especially gender, as well as the construction of a fragile state hegemony in the early 1950s. Though state apparatuses became increasingly coercive, the establishment of state power and the process of state territorialization began with elements of consent forged in part through the promise of gender mobility. The experiences of the early state farm workers show that in the 1950s the CCP was quite successful at convincing at least some Tibetans that Chinese presence was a positive improvement.

The young women who joined the farm, in particular, left conditions of impoverishment as well as their traditional subordinate roles in the household. Though Tibetan women are generally accepted to have enjoyed higher status and greater personal freedom than those in neighboring China and India, they nevertheless had lower status and power in society than men, and were typically relegated to the domestic sphere, responsible for a disproportionate share of the labor burden. 50 Since the eleventh century, the term kyemen (Wylie: skye dman) meaning “low birth” has been commonly used for “woman.” The gendered hierarchy of Tibetan society considered women sites of impurity, justifying their exclusion from powerful sacred spaces but simultaneously responsible for the burden of accumulating merit. 51

The strategy of allying with poor Tibetan women with the promise (if not the delivery) of liberation from traditional gender roles paralleled, on a smaller scale, the Soviet attempt to recruit Muslim women in Central Asia as a “surrogate proletariat” to spark the revolutionary process where no real proletariat existed. 52 The Soviet Union tried to exploit gender and generational tensions within Central Asian Muslim societies in order to break down the traditional patriarchal household and clan structures, thus allowing for society to be subsequently reconstituted into a socialist system. Women who participated by unveiling or running away from home suffered a severe backlash and were sometimes murdered. In Tibet, too, women were mobilized to break male monastic as well as secular authority. In her study of Labrang in Amdo, Charlene Makley argues that the figure of the Tibetan woman cadre “embodied the culmination of national incorporation as emasculation,” and that such women were thus “disproportionately metonymic of a particularly cataclysmic and emasculating regime of value shift for Tibetans” which was key to their state incorporation. 53 The backlash was not nearly as strong in Lhasa as in Central Asia, though women who joined the farms were taunted and harassed during the early 1950s. While many of the early farm workers became loyal to the new state, both through the great improvements in their own conditions as well as through the embodied labor in which they participated, they did not fully accept the terms of their new roles as Chinese socialist subjects, as indicated by their continuing Tibetan Buddhist practice.


The July First and August First State Farms were key sites of state territorialization and the establishment of hegemony in the early 1950s. Throughout the Maoist period, the system of state farms was key to the maintenance of the military and thus of territorial control. At the same time, state farms were envisioned as the highest form of socialist agricultural production, meant to demonstrate the effectiveness of new socialist agriculture to the masses who were organized not on state farms, but in collectives, and later communes. Communes, rather than state farms, were how the overwhelming majority of Tibetans experienced the collective period.

Following the failed March 1959 uprising, the terms of the Seventeen Point Agreement were tossed aside and by February 1960, the government announced the completion of two stages of the first phase of “democratic reform,” including the abolition of corvée labor, rent reduction, and land distribution. In the village of Kyichuling, which in the first half of the twentieth century had been home to nine taxpayer households under the jurisdiction of a college of Sera Monastery, as well as of a number of servants of the personal estate of Bragri Rinpoche, the year 1959 was associated with the policy “whoever sows shall reap.” Because the old estates were no longer in place to claim the already-planted crops, they belonged that year to whoever planted them. Shortly thereafter, land reform was implemented. Land was seized from the two estates and divided among the peasantry. Each of the sixty-three residents of Kyichuling received five khal, or roughly one-third of a hectare of farmland. 54 About a quarter of village land was allocated to a smaller neighboring village. Mutual aid teams were formed, but disbanded again the next year in favor of a cooperative, which villagers called the “big wind cooperative” because it came so quickly, altering the fabric of social organization, like a large and sudden gust of wind. This cooperative lasted for less than a year before mutual aid teams were re-formed.

However, villagers remember 1960 most vividly not for the formation of the short-lived “big wind cooperative,” but rather as “the year dogs were eaten.” In marked contrast to early state farm workers’ fond recollections of plentiful food during the 1950s, the early 1960s on the communes was a time of great hunger, as it was throughout China during the Great Leap Forward famine that killed more than thirty million. In central Tibet, hunger was produced by a confluence of bad weather, poor leadership, and heavy grain extraction. In Kyichuling, new leaders forced villagers to harvest while it was still raining, resulting in rotten crops. In addition, grain stores from previous years were confiscated.

Tibetans regularly consumed yak, cow, sheep and goat, but avoided, and to a large extent still avoid fish and most other meats. 55 The consumption of dogs was unthinkable, alien to past and present Tibetan practice and identity. The killing, boiling, and especially eating of dogs in 1960 marked a particularly traumatic event, the assignment of class labels, as well as a time that the entire social world radically changed. Elderly villages frequently exclaimed conspiratorially, “some people ate dogs!” but were very quick to insist, “of course, I wasn’t a dog eater.” “We have a saying,” added one, “only crows eat dogs.” Villagers said that leaders ordered them to kill dogs for the purpose of boiling the carcasses and using them as fertilizer. They consistently denied their own participation in this alien consumption practice, which accompanied the alienating forms of labor and social organization that were introduced at the time.

In 1960, landless peasants received a new identity, the class label “the poor” (ul-pong), and former servants were identified as having been tren yog (Wylie: bran g.yog—lifetime servants). 56 Taxpayer households of Kyichuling who had not had servants were classified as middle peasants whereas those who did were given the classification “representatives of feudal lords.” Houses, food, and other possessions of the latter were confiscated and distributed to the poor. Even the possessions of middle peasants were subject to confiscation and redistribution. Dickey, from a middle peasant household, recalled that in 1960 all of her family’s tsampa was confiscated. However, she had hidden a little bit of tsampa by spreading it out in a thin layer under a carpet on her bed. As a result, she claimed, her family was not forced to eat dog meat. The family dared not eat tsampa during the day, fearing a “struggle session” against them if they were discovered. Instead, they ate secretly at night. As Dickey told this story, she repeated several times that “no one in this family ever ate dog meat. I never ate dog meat.” On the other hand, she claimed that the leader “saved the best parts of the dog for himself and higher leaders. He smeared dog fat on his face. All of the cadres ate dog during that time.” The social upheaval of the period is inflected through memories of both hunger and the consumption of what would in ordinary times not be considered food. This was true not only of dogs in Kyichuling but also of horses on the Phenpo State Farm, where conditions of labor and remuneration were much more similar to those on the communes than to the August First and July First farms. Phenpo farm workers remembered: “There wasn’t enough to eat on the farm so the government killed a lot of horses and donkeys, put spices on them, and sold them to people to eat…. Some people ate them.”

The following year, villagers were once again divided into mutual aid teams of seven to ten members each. Team members were required to help each other out with labor on each household’s fields. At the end of the year, families who had accumulated fewer hours paid those who had worked more in cash. Those classified as “representatives of feudal lords” were not allowed to join the mutual aid teams, and those who had been classified as “middle peasants” were specifically required to assist the poor members.

The first communes in Tibet were formed in 1963, but most were created between 1966 and 1970, more than a decade after the peak of commune formation across China in 1958. 57 In 1966, Kyichuling was reorganized as a production brigade of Red Star Commune. All means of production, such as livestock and farming tools, were turned over to the brigade, which provided a small amount of compensation to their owners over the next eight years, after which they were owned by the brigade. The commune also purchased tractors. Excluded from the mutual aid teams, those labeled “representatives of feudal lords” were now required to join the commune.

All villagers in Kyichuling between the ages of sixteen and sixty were required to join the production brigades. Although most villagers did farmwork, some were assigned to a sideline work brigade whose members were sent to quarry outside of the village. 58 The agricultural production brigade had a seven-person management team: a senior brigade leader, a junior brigade leader, an accountant, a treasurer, a storeroom keeper in charge of all nonmonetary goods, a political leader, and a women’s leader. 59 The team met to decide what kind of work should be done every day. At the end of each day, every worker received a certain number of work points. These work points were assigned after lengthy discussions among the brigade members over how much each person labored and how much that labor should be worth. This was quite different from the situation in the July First and August First State Farms, where workers were paid fixed monthly salaries. Because of their position as state workers rather than commune members, employees of state farms were privileged and sheltered from much of the hunger and deprivation that other Tibetans suffered. This was particularly true of the military August First State Farm, whose workers recalled eating rice and wheat in their mess halls even in 1960, whereas workers on the civilian July First State Farm remember the early 1960s as a time of eating weeds and flowers because of food shortage. 60

Commune households retained very small private plots for potatoes and radishes. Mess halls and communal dining were for the most part not found in the TAR as they were in many other regions of China. 61 Villagers were allowed to sell potatoes and radishes in Lhasa, but in practice they were too busy with other work assigned by their brigades. 62 There were very few days off during the year—often only three days, beginning on October 1, for PRC National Day, and a few for the New Year. There was also little free time during the workday, which often started before sunrise and continued until after dark.

Around the same time that communes were formed, the state also began to disseminate Green Revolution inputs and winter varieties of wheat and barley. Winter wheat was first cultivated in Tibet on the July First State Farm in 1952, and was grown on a number of state farms through the early 1960s. It was disseminated on a larger scale starting in the late 1960s, together with urea fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. Winter barley was introduced around 1970, as was diammonium phosphate. Chemical fertilizers were first distributed for free, and then remained very heavily subsidized for decades.

As was the case throughout China, households were allowed to retain a set amount of grain for seeds, stalks for fodder, and a basic grain ration for consumption some grain was also set aside in local grain reserves. 63 The rest was extracted by the state through two different mechanisms. One was a set state share of the grain produced, that is, an agricultural tax which in Tibet was called the “patriotic grain” or “patriotic government grain” provision. 64 The remainder was declared “surplus grain” and sold to the state at below-market prices. This surplus was arbitrarily defined, and often increased when international relations went sour and China became isolated. In Tibet, the amount defined as “surplus” increased during the border war with India in 1962.

At the end of each year, communes balanced their total income and expenditures and calculated their net profits. 65 This amount was then divided by the total number of work points accumulated by all members of the commune to determine how much money each work point would be worth. Out of the amount that workers received for their work points, the basic grain ration was subtracted based on the government set price for grain. Monetary equivalents of allocated meat, wool, yarn and other supplies were also deducted. If this sum was more than the amount of money workers had earned, they owed money to the commune. Otherwise, the excess work points were usually given back in kind or cash.

Recalling their experience of the communes, villagers in Kyichuling routinely described it as “the time when we worked twenty out of the twenty-four hours of the day.” Even the elderly villagers who framed their recollections of the “old society” in the form of bitter narratives about the harshness of life before the 1950s still described 1960 and the years of the commune to me as the absolute worst times, when they suffered the most from too much labor and not enough food. Like state farm workers, their labor to transform nature through the growing of new crops, digging new fields, building irrigation canals, hauling night soil, harvesting, threshing, plowing, and so forth produced both crops and new forms of subjectivity. However, unlike the early state farm workers, those on the communes did not have the same sense of their labor contributing to a historic, noble cause. Though the liberation of women continued to be an important component of Maoist rhetoric, no surrogate proletariat was needed or specifically sought by the time Tibetan communes were established, and the promise of gender equality was tied to state discourses that repudiated local gendered discursive practices while nevertheless reinforcing male privilege. 66 Looking back, the socialist period under Mao was not a “dream time,” as it is for an older cohort of Chinese workers who came of age in factories in the 1950s or for many of the earliest Tibetan farm workers on the July First and August First State Farms, but rather a nightmare of dog eating and endless toil. 67


In Kyichuling, the Household Responsibility System was implemented in May 1984, allocating farmland use rights to individual households, while ownership rights remained with the collective. Other collective assets were also divided, or in some cases such as tractors and collective buildings, sold to individual households. Each of the 302 villagers at the time received roughly three mu (one-fifth of a hectare) of farmland. 68 The plots were divided into three grades, and all households given land in each category, resulting in a pattern of numerous small and dispersed plots of land for each household. 69 Villagers were at first unwilling to completely decollectivize, out of fear that this was yet another policy change that would not last for long. Instead they divided into eight groups of households who continued to work together for one or two years before completely decollectivizing to the household level. Even after complete decollectivization, households continued to exchange labor with their relatives and friends.

Unpaid collective labor, including participation in planting and trimming trees, maintaining irrigation canals, and road maintenance also remained mandatory in the village after decollectivization. These tasks also included farming on collective land, land that reverts to village collective use after the holder of its use rights transfers her or his household registration out of the village, whether because of marriage or employment. 70 For the first few years after decollectivization, village leaders continued to dictate cropping decisions, but soon left them solely up to the households. Most families in Kyichuling preferred barley to wheat until the late 1990s, when they began to sublease their land use rights to Han migrant vegetable farmers.

By the late 1990s, Han migrants dominated vegetable farming on the decollectivized July First and August First State Farms as well. After the Agricultural Reclamation Bureau was disbanded as a separate bureaucracy and made a department of the Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Bureau in 1986, management of the August First State Farm was transferred to Lhasa Municipality. By that point, Tibetan workers dominated the work force on the farm. Most Han workers had returned home, leaving only a few retired soldiers, like Dr. Zhang, who had married Tibetan women and stayed on in Lhasa. Land and the greenhouses that were built starting in the early 1980s were decollectivized, and the Tibetan workers on the farm were given use rights to two mu of land per person, but were responsible for paying an annual rent. This rent was quite low during the first years after decollectivization. However, as more Sichuanese migrants arrived in Lhasa to rent land for greenhouse vegetable cultivation, the farm management soon realized that much more income could be brought in by renting land to them.

This was necessary as the farm had officially become a business enterprise, the August First Company, which had to stop “eating from the iron rice bowl” and struggled to meet its pension obligations to retired workers. It sought to generate income by renting its former administrative buildings to Han migrants to run dumpling and noodle shops, as well as by renting land to the migrants. 71 Retired workers on the farm suffered a drastic reversal of fortunes, from being members of a high-profile, well-funded and much-celebrated farm who prided themselves on their transformative historical role, to being neglected and underpaid retirees of a struggling enterprise. They received only about half of the monthly pension of retirees on the July First State Farm. Not surprisingly, they—unlike those who experienced the communes—are particularly nostalgic for the 1950s.

With the introduction of economic reforms in the early 1980s, the environmental imaginary that stressed the militant conquering of nature through correct political thought and the force of socialist labor was eclipsed by the privileging of economic growth through “scientific development.” This shift was reflected in the differing fortunes of the July First and August First State Farms. Unlike the economically struggling August First State Farm, the July First State Farm continued to receive considerable state support after it was split into different units, including the TAR Academy of Agricultural and Animal Sciences and the Vegetable Research Institute. In 1992, it also began to rent out its land and greenhouses to Han migrant farmers who produced a new Tibetan landscape, wrapping the earth in plastic greenhouses to grow vegetables and simultaneously furthering state territorialization.

Created out of the same piece of “wasteland full of bumps and hollows,” the July First and August First State Farms were key sites of state incorporation at a crucial juncture in Sino-Tibetan history. They encapsulated several different modes of state control: provision of nourishment for soldiers, establishing consent and participation of subaltern groups, the creation of new subjectivities, and the enrollment of nature in state formation. First, the products of the farms not only fed and physically nourished the invading army, but also provided a diet of vegetables that was newly introduced to the Tibetan soil but familiar and comforting to the soldiers. Second, the farms were very successful at recruiting young Tibetans from impoverished, landless families to work on them. Many of these Tibetans went on to become powerful cadres within the new government. Even those who did not do so experienced personal mobility that was simultaneously a process of incorporation into the new political structure. This was particularly true for Tibetan women.

Gender played a crucial role in early PRC state territorialization in central Tibet. In 1950s Lhasa, the state farms offered young women from landless families both a way to think of themselves as oppressed through categories of class and gender, and a way to transcend those obstacles. The farms succeeded in giving them a sense of purpose in their labor, so that nearly half a century later they spoke nostalgically of their labor on the farm in those years, even as they disagreed with contemporary policies against religious practice and the direction they saw society taking. Their simultaneous recollections of pride in their labor and stories, told without animus toward those involved, of being accused by other Tibetans of capitulating to the Chinese and doing their dirty work, point to the complexity of subjectivities and unresolved tensions among Tibetans about agency during the Maoist period.

A third mode of control was enacted through the labor of these workers in producing the material landscape. Their “victory” over nature visibly displayed the power of the Chinese state. By hauling soil, reshaping the land through backbreaking labor, and planting vegetables for Han soldiers to consume, Tibetan men and women helped to sustain those soldiers in their task of “constructing the frontier.” From the 1950s to the 1980s, labor for the production of a new socialist landscape was mobilized through spectacular state campaigns such as Learn from Dazhai that sought to reproduce the spatial and agricultural patterns of eastern China in the TAR. These transformations of nature and spatial relations contributed to the naturalization of the PRC as a spatial container for Tibetans. At the same time, the labor of Tibetans recruited to transform the landscape was sedimented into their memories and subjectivities, whether nostalgia for their historic participation in constructing the country, or memories of endless toil.

The following chapters turn to the introduction of market reforms in the 1980s, which marked a second major landscape transformation and a new form of state territorialization. The vegetable fields created out of “wasteland” in the 1950s were enclosed in plastic, as Han migrant cultivators, rather than state campaigns, introduced and cultivated new types of vegetables. No longer involved, Tibetans declared themselves “too lazy” to take part in this new type of agriculture. These declarations of indolence are inflected by both the memories of collective period toil and labor discussed here, as well as a new hegemonic state project that construes Tibetans as being in need of development.


The woolly flying squirrel, Eupetaurus cinereus, is among the rarest and least studied mammals in the world. For much of the 20 th century it was thought to be extinct, until it was rediscovered in 1994 in northern Pakistan. This study outlines the first taxonomic and biogeographical review of the genus Eupetaurus, which until now has contained only a single species. Careful review of museum specimens and published records of Eupetaurus demonstrates that the genus occurs in three widely disjunct areas situated on the western (northern Pakistan and north-western India), north-central (south-central Tibet, northern Sikkim and western Bhutan) and south-eastern margins (north-western Yunnan, China) of the Himalayas. Taxonomic differentiation between these apparently allopatric populations of Eupetaurus was assessed with an integrative approach involving both morphological examinations and molecular phylogenetic analyses. Phylogenetic reconstruction was implemented using sequences of three mitochondrial [cytochrome b (Cytb), mitochondrially encoded 12S and 16S ribosomal RNA (12S, 16S)] and one nuclear [interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein (IRBP)] gene fragment. Morphological assessments involved qualitative examinations of features preserved on museum skins and skulls, supplemented with principal components analysis of craniometric data. Based on genetic and morphological comparisons, we suggest that the three widely disjunct populations of Eupetaurus are each sufficiently differentiated genetically and morphologically to be recognized as distinct species, two of which are described here as new.


M. Rochoy H. Henry M. Calafiore

Univ. Lille - Lille (France)

Introduction: To improve women's health and avoid possible obstetric complications, couples should be provided with information and prevention messages in the pre-conception period. In France, pre-conception consultation is rarely carried out. The objective of our study was to take stock of what women of childbearing age know about pre-conception health in order to optimize its management.

Material and methods: We carried out a descriptive observational study. A standardized questionnaire was developed based on the recommendations of the Haute autorité de santé and distributed between 12 and 24 July 2017 to patients who consulted the Saint-Omer hospital center for pregnancy follow-up.

Results: 140 patients were included. The mean age of the patients was 28.8 ± 5.4 years. In 76% of cases, pregnancy was planned however, 27% took folic acid during the pre-conception period (24% of multigestates and 32% of primigests, p = 0.33). 79% of patients reported that their vaccination was up to date. Only 5% of patients were aware of the pre-conception visit.

Discussion/Conclusion: Our study is based on patients' self-reported knowledge, not on the achievement of correct dietary instructions or actual vaccination status. It would be interesting for this last point to cross-check with the data of the attending physician. Nevertheless, according to the patients, pre-conception preventive therapeutics (vaccinations, folic acid) do not seem to be perfectly used. Targeted information could encourage women to consult pre-conception.

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