China’s gold mining in Tibet

China’s mining practices in Tibet reveal a two-way policy: to transfer massive population numbers into Tibet so as to lessen the burden of its own population problems while marginalising Tibetans and to exploit Tibet’s mineral resources. At a gold mining conference held in Lhasa in 1995, officials of the “Tibet Autonomous Region” announced that minerals account for about 20% of Tibet’s industrial output and reported the existence of 148 mine zones in the “TAR”, of which six had deposits. Tibetan sources reported in the same year that in Gansu province in eastern Tibet and from Tso-ngon province (Ch: Qinghai) to the districts to the west of Nagchu (borders eastern Tibet) in central Tibet, there are about 12,000 gold miners unlawfully extracting gold from the area. Nomads and farmers have raised serious objections to heavy extraction of mineral resources and destruction of green pastures, to no avail. The following two accounts from Golok reveal that such mining exploitation continues.

Kunga Gyatso, aged 20, is from Thakmar shang (township) under Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Pema county, Amdo (incorporated into the Chinese province of Qinghai). Kunga was a gold miner prior to his escape to India on 8 June 1997.

Kunga reports the existence of massive gold mines in his locality of Dokha and says Chinese authorities began mining in the area as early as 1988. From 1988 to 1990 thirty workers, all Chinese, were employed to dig the area.

Kunga says that, unlike Lhasa and other tourist prone areas, Golok is extremely remote and not easily accessible to the outside world. “Any opposition by local inhabitants will be crushed with brute force. People do not dare to protest against the Chinese authorities who declare that the land belongs to China”, he says. The Dokha gold mines lie in a nomadic area and Kunga reports that Chinese authorities have used various means, from monetary payment to force, to evict the local Tibetan inhabitants from the area.

“This sort of project has least benefited the local inhabitant”, Kunga says, “Rather, it brings huge numbers of Chinese into Tibet which creates problems for the Tibetans in every sphere of life”.

In 1990 the Chinese introduced a new mining boat machine, known in Chinese as Tse-jing Trang no. 2, in order to increase its yield or output. The number of workers was subsequently increased to 330, of which only 20 were Tibetans.

Kunga Gyatso joined the mines in July 1995 at the age of 18 and worked there for two years before leaving Tibet. He recalls that the pure gold output was (1 gyama is equivalentkg) in 1991, 240 gyama in 1992, 240 gyama in 1993, 212 gyama in 1994, 240 gyama in 1995, and in 1996 it was 200 gyama. The gold is transported to China via Chendu.

Kunga was paid 500 yuan per month as he belonged to the lowest grade worker known as Kangwa Kung in Chinese. All the top posts were held by the Chinese and therefore he had no access to detailed information about the mine.

Kunga reported that if the annual output exceeded the prescribed target, the miners would receive a bonus of between 3000 to 5000 yuan. He said there is no discrimination between Tibetans and Chinese with regard to remuneration and bonus and all miners were levied 20 percent of their remuneration as a tax.

Kunga also reported that Dornyi village in Machu county under Golok TAP in Amdo, is rich in copper, gold, silver, aluminum, lead and iron. Copper makes up 70 percent of the mineral resources.

Kunga learnt from another source that in 1997 Chinese authorities plan to bring 20,000 Chinese migrants into Golok to work in the mines in Dornyi. For this purpose, necessary infrastructure such as electricity is being introduced.

24 year old Jigme Sonam arrived in Dharamsala, India, in June 1997 and provided an account of mining activities in his Raktrom township of Serta county under Golok TAP. Chinese authorities began mining sometime in 1984-1985 and approximately 200 workers were engaged in the work. The authorities compulsorily conscripted 20 people from every township to work in the mines and if a worker failed to turn up at the mines a penalty would be imposed on his friends and other members of his group. Workers are told they will be paid 150 yuan per month but this amount is reportedly never received. Each year the workers are told by Chinese authorities that their salary has been automatically deducted from the annual tax payable.

The gold mines are kept under strict guard by Chinese armed personnel and Jigme did not have access to information regarding the exact output of the gold mines. He reported that the Chinese transport both the pure gold and the residue.

The workers had to provide all food for themselves and thus if a miner has to work for fifteen days he must also carry food for 15 days. If his work is extended, he asks relatives to bring food for him which must be handed to the guard.

According to Jigme, Chinese scientists have revealed that Serta county has abundant gold resources. The county has in fact received the name “Serta” beacuse people believe that there is a horse-shaped gold nugget beneath the earth (ser is the Tibetan word for gold and ta is horse).

Serta’s gold mining area lies just behind the Labrang mountain where for a long time nomads have subsisted. Regardless of the nomads, Chinese authorities have ordered evacuation of the area for mining, telling the inhabitants that the land belongs to the Chinese government. Local Tibetans have been used by the Chinese to evict the nomads without any compensation payment or resettlement.


Kunga Gyatso also reports that in Pema county the Chinese authorities have established two forestry departments called Dokhog Forest Department (Chi: Dokhog Ling Trang) and Makhog Forest Department (Chi: Makhog Ling Trang) which are responsible for logging the area. Vast portions of forest land in the area have already been reduced to arid desert land.

Loggers must deposit a huge sum of money for logging rights; the Dokhog gold mining company pays 750000 yuan, Dokhog Forest department pays 150000 yuan and Makhog Forest Department pays 100000 yuan. The total amount of 1 million yuan goes directly to the Chinese government treasury.

to top