A Tradition of Intellectual Dissent:  


A Tradition of Intellectual Dissent: Tibetan Political Prisoners in Qinghai Province

TIN Special Report / 30 July 1999 / no. of pages: 8 ISSN: 1355-3313

Qinghai, the Chinese province that incorporates most of the traditional north-eastern area of Tibet called Amdo or "Do-med", has a strong intellectual tradition of dissent. Qinghai is known among Tibetans as the birthplace of key spiritual figures - most notably the Dalai Lama - and also of secular writers, poets, artists and educationalists who prefer the power of the pen to participation in street protests as witnessed in Lhasa in the late 1980s.

The issue of dissent in Qinghai has been highlighted recently by news of opposition among some Tibetans, including Tibetan cadres, to a proposed World Bank loan to resettle nearly 58,000 people into a Tibetan area of the province. The embattled stance of China in reaction to US and international opposition to the granting of the $40 million loan has given an important insight into the security concerns of the Qinghai and Beijing authorities and the unique nature of dissent in the region.

This report will explore the patterns of political detention of Tibetans in Qinghai and is intended to provide further analysis of issues raised in "Hostile Elements: A Study of Political Imprisonment in Tibet 1987 - 1988" by Steven D Marshall (published by TIN in March 1999). The impact of the Patriotic Education campaign on monasteries in the region is investigated in a TIN Briefing Paper entitled "A Sea of Bitterness" to be published next week (3 August 1999). The latter publication also includes further details of the detentions of monks in the region.

A Struggle against "Anti-China" Forces

Qinghai Province was established by the Guomindang-led Republic of China at the beginning of 1929. The traditional inhabitants of the region were Tibetans and Mongolians, who have herded their animals and farmed the land for centuries. Today, the province - most of which is windswept plateau, incorporating some of the most inhospitable terrain in China - is comprised of seven administrative units. Five are designated as Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures (TAPs) as follows: Tsojang (known in Chinese as Haibei), Tsolho (Ch: Hainan), Malho (Ch: Huangnan), Golog (Ch: Guoluo) and Yushu (Ch: Yushu). One of these units, Tsonub (Ch: Haixi) is a Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Haidong Prefecture (Tib: Tsoshar) has no ethnic or autonomous designation, but has had a significant Tibetan population for more than a thousand years and is the birthplace of the current Dalai Lama and the late (10th) Panchen Lama. Xining City (Ch: Xining Shi), like Haidong, has no ethnic or autonomous status. Together, the six autonomous prefectures make up about 98% of Qinghai's area. Xining and Haidong account for about 2%.

The movement of non-Tibetan settlers into traditional Tibetan areas has become an increasingly sensitive issue, particularly since the mid-1980s when Chinese policy embraced demographic change as a means of accelerating economic development in Tibetan areas and counteracting perceived Tibetan nationalism. A key element of a nationwide political campaign, the "three stresses", which was recently launched in Qinghai, is that Tibetan Party cadres must embrace the principle of "mutual inseparability" between Chinese and "minority nationalities" and the concept of "hailing from all corners of the country" as core elements of regional development.

On 24 June the World Bank's Board voted to contribute a total of US $160 million to the China Western Poverty Reduction Project (CWPRP). One of the project's three components would receive $40 million for the resettlement of approximately 58,000 largely Han Chinese and Hui Muslim farmers, currently resident in Haidong Prefecture and Xining, to Dulan County in Haixi Prefecture. The project has attracted unprecedented attention to the demographic, economic, environmental and human rights situation in Qinghai, and an appeal challenging the project has been filed with the World Bank's "Inspection Panel". A key bone of contention is based on the Bank's "Operational Directive 4.20" (OD 4.20) which requires that indigenous peoples impacted by a Bank project are entitled to express their views and preferences, and that the project's design must take those into account.

"China's struggle against the anti-China forces of the West is not confined to this project alone," Vice Financial Minister Ji Liqun was reported as saying to Xinhua on 18 June. Ji Liqun hoped that the World Bank Board would not "believe the lies of a small number of people of the Tibetan exile splittist forces". Recent statements made by Beijing in reaction to the controversy over the proposed World Bank loan have underlined the importance that the central and regional authorities attach to promoting "stability" in Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region by the eradication of "splittism". These expressions of Beijing policy give a clear signal to Tibetans in Qinghai that opposing the World Bank project would be regarded as opposition to the state. This report will show that the limits of expression in the region are not always so clearly defined.

Characteristics of dissent in Qinghai

Policies aimed at eliminating dissent and undermining loyalty to the Dalai Lama among Tibetans have been strengthened in recent years in Qinghai, with a resultant impact on arrest and imprisonment. The level of secular participation in protest against the authorities is higher in Qinghai than for Tibetan areas in general. Overall, monks and nuns have accounted for about 69% of all Tibetan political prisoners since 1987. In Qinghai, this figure is slightly lower at nearer 62%, according to TIN records. There are also many more incidents of protest by students and teachers in Qinghai than for the overall group - about 16% compared to slightly less than 5% overall.

According to TIN's database, approximately 57% of Tibetan political prisoners in Qinghai are believed to have been detained on suspicion of involvement in writing or distributing posters and leaflets critical of Chinese policy or in support of independence. Poster writing is often a response to political re-education carried out in monasteries and schools. However, criticism by Tibetans in Qinghai of the authorities goes further than simple demands for independence. Issues of concern raised by Tibetans in Qinghai include the following: the lack of religious freedom, the implementation of an educational system that marginalises the Tibetan language, policies which encourage Chinese people to settle in Tibetan areas, and environmental destruction in the province. The high level of cultural awareness implicit in such protests is of great concern to the authorities because of its perceived association with Tibetan nationalism.

The detention of many Tibetans in Qinghai is linked to the strong cultural renaissance in Tibetan areas of the region during the last 15 years, once dominated by the famous Tibetan writer Dondrup Gyal, who committed suicide in Chabcha (known as Gonghe in Chinese) county in Hainan prefecture in 1985. In the 1980s, Tibetan intellectuals in Qinghai exploited China's constitutional provisions allowing the development of nationality culture and literature, as promoted by the 10th Panchen Lama until his death in 1989. Intellectuals in Qinghai have continued to work to create change within an existing legislative and political framework. Agya Rinpoche, who escaped into exile last year, is an example of a senior religious figure who created his own role within a political framework of tight control. Agya Rinpoche, formerly the abbot of Kumbum monastery in Kumbum (Huangzhong) county in Tsoshar (Haidong) prefecture, supervised and raised funds for the renovation of Kumbum monastery following the extensive damage it received during the Cultural Revolution. He also established a school at the monastery to teach Tibetan literature and writing skills to 200 novice monks - half of whom were said to be unauthorised residents of the monastery.

Tibetans who attempt to make subtle protests or to directly promote Tibetan culture and religion face increasing pressure due to the intensification of the anti-Dalai Lama campaign and the wide-ranging security policies in Qinghai. Agya Rinpoche appears to have been forced to leave Tibet following the tension between his political role as a respected spokesman for the Party and his religious priorities.

The most recent example to reach TIN of detention of a Qinghai Tibetan who strived to protect Tibetan culture from within the system is that of Phuntsog, often called "Gyaye Phuntsog" after his birth place in Chabcha County of Tsolho TAP. Detained in June last year at the age of 67, he had been a close associate of the former Panchen Lama, a member of the local Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and had, with government permission, opened a private school in Gyaye which offered a tri-lingual curriculum (Tibetan, Chinese and English) to children of local herders. He disappeared after authorities became suspicious of his motives for promoting Tibetan culture and language and is reportedly held somewhere in Xining.

Samdrup Tsering, a research scholar at the Qinghai Minority Nationalities Institute, is another leading figure in the Tibetan community who was arrested in July 1993, a month after he had opened a school near Xining to teach Tibetan, Mongolian and English. Samdrup, who has recently been released after serving five years in prison, had received official permission to start the school, but was suspected of receiving funds from the Tibetan government in exile in India. He had also written poems that were said to have contained indirect criticisms of the Chinese government for its policies on Tibet.

How life in Lhasa affects protests in Qinghai

Public protests on the streets have been rare in Qinghai compared to those in Lhasa between 1987-89. However events in Lhasa undeniably affect political activity in Qinghai. A local saying: "When Lhasa people catch a cold, Amdo people get a cough" refers to this shared sense of identity. When news spread to Rebgong, the capital of Malho TAP, of pro-independence protests in Lhasa in 1987, students from the local college spontaneously took to the streets. Characteristically, however, the students did not focus their protest on the issue of independence, but referred only to cultural, particularly language, issues in their slogans. A Tibetan from Qinghai who took part in the protests and who is now in exile told TIN that the students avoided detention by calling for change within the parameters of the system. They used the sayings of Stalin, Lenin and Chou Enlai to demand that the authorities implemented policies that would ensure the autonomy of national minorities and the survival of the Tibetan language. When they marched towards the offices of the government, they did not shout slogans, but called only for dialogue with the authorities.

Several hundred students in Rebgong held a more emotional demonstration on the streets of the town following the imposition of martial law in March 1989. "This time, there was a more aggressive atmosphere," said the Tibetan who has now left Rebgong. "Pupils aged between 18 and 23 from the Nationality Middle School began to march in the streets, and they were joined by kids from the lower school between the age of 13 and 16. But still we didn't call for independence. This sort of language was confined to posters and leaflets that appeared in the streets." The authorities responded by interrogating teachers from the school, but eyewitnesses state that there were no beatings by security police of protestors.

Security Policy and Political Imprisonment in Qinghai

There is evidence that the authorities have stepped up "grass roots" security policies and increased individual surveillance in both Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region over the past few years with the result that accurate and up-to-date information is increasingly difficult to obtain. The remoteness of Qinghai, compared to more accessible areas such as Lhasa, further hinders the flow of information to human rights monitors. The figures in this report hence represent an under-estimation of the true number of political prisoners in Qinghai.

A 1996 State Security document from a prefecture in Qinghai affirms the importance of security policy in the region as follows: "Activities of infiltration, subversion and instigation of rebellion by foreign hostile forces and the Dalai nationality splittist clique are aggravating more day by day the acute and complicated nature of the covert struggle in our prefecture, which is principally the struggle against the Dalai clique, a struggle against a political clique, a struggle between splittism and anti-splittism."

The document, which was obtained by TIN, indicates that the authorities are particularly concerned about the number of Tibetans "illegally entering or leaving the country". The report states that monks represent the majority of Tibetans leaving Qinghai, frequently to travel to India. According to TIN's findings monks generally travel to India to attend Dalai Lama teachings or to pursue their religious practice following restrictions on religion in Qinghai. The State Security document states that their departure from Tibet is in order to "carry out intelligence work" in collaboration with the "Dalai clique"; it also confirms that surveillance continues even when Tibetans are in exile. Among 69 "key targets", according to the internal document, "some have had private audiences with the Dalai clique's exile government…some have been sent to our country with tasks to carry out".

TIN's prisoner database records 96 Tibetan political prisoners who have been detained in Qinghai in the last 12 years. Although they only represent about 6% of TIN's records of Tibetan political imprisonment since 1987, Qinghai accounts for the largest number of new database records created (irrespective of the year of detention) since the publication of "Hostile Elements" by TIN in March. More reports of political imprisonment are now being received from the Tibetan areas of both Qinghai and Sichuan than from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Twenty-six Tibetan political prisoners resident in Qinghai are either known or believed to be in detention, two have escaped, and the rest are known or believed to have been released. Sixty are monks and 35 are male lay persons. Fifteen lay people are students or teachers, seven are professionals or administrators employed by the state, five are artists within Tibetan cultural fields, three are farmers or herders and one is a businessman. No occupational data is available for five detainees in TIN's records for Qinghai.

Overall, almost one quarter of all recorded Tibetan political prisoners have been female, 80% of them Buddhist nuns. TIN records of Tibetan political prisoners in Qinghai only include one woman; Rinchen Drolma, who was a 20-year old student at the Qinghai Minority Nationalities Preparatory School when she was detained in April 1996. Rinchen Dolma's current status is unknown.

Based on these records of detention, the most politically active monasteries in Qinghai have been Rabgya (in a remote area of Machen County, Golog TAP), Rongpo Gonchen (in Rebgong, the capital of Malho TAP), and Kumbum (in the county seat of Huangzhong County, Haidong Prefecture). Based on current data, TIN is able to document the detention of 16 Rabgya monks, 13 from Rongpo and 12 from Kumbum (further details of unrest at these monasteries are provided in the forthcoming TIN Briefing Paper, "A Sea of Bitterness: Patriotic Education in Qinghai Monasteries".) Actual numbers detained are often higher than emerging reports are able to document. Age at detention is known for 53 detainees: the average is 28, with the youngest 19 and the oldest 67.

Only two Tibetan political prisoners resident in Qinghai, both monks from Rongpo Gonchen, are recorded by TIN as having been detained in 1987. No further political detentions of Tibetans were recorded for Qinghai until 1992, the same year that travel restrictions were removed for Chinese wishing to seek employment or other commercial opportunities in Tibetan autonomous areas. Seven people were detained in 1992 and a further 21 in 1993. Three of those jailed in 1993 were charged with espionage, counterrevolution, "splitting and damaging national ethnic unity" and "stirring up disputes between the nationalities". The Haixi People's Intermediate Court sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 12 to 17 years. Lukhar Jam, who had the longest sentence, escaped into exile in 1995 while released on temporary medical parole. The sentences of the other two, Nam Loyag and Tsegon Thar, were commuted late in 1997. In an extremely rare move, the Qinghai Province People's Higher Court responded to an appeal by the two prisoners, ruling that the verdict would stand but that the sentences were excessive. Nam Loyag, a former education official, whose sentence was lowered from 12 years to about four and a half years of time served, is now in exile. Tsegon Thar's sentence was reduced from 16 years to six.

The impact of political campaigns

The despair felt by Tibetans at being forced to denounce the Dalai Lama and to accept China's appointee as Panchen Lama is acute in Qinghai, which is the birthplace of both the Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama, who was from Xunhua county. The impact of this resentment is inevitably reflected in the data available on detention: approximately 60% of the political detentions recorded by TIN in Qinghai from 1996 are known to have been linked to refusals to denounce the Dalai Lama or to accept Beijing's choice of Panchen Lama. Evidence documented in the report "Hostile Elements" indicates that the expulsion of monks and nuns from monasteries and nunneries and their return to their home counties may have sown the seeds of dissent further afield in Qinghai.

The number of detentions that took place during disturbances in 1994 and 1995 is not known; TIN has details of only two detentions in 1994 and seven in 1995. It is likely that there were more detentions than records indicate during the period of 1994 onwards due to unrest created by the Chinese authorities' determination to enforce loyalty towards their own candidate for Panchen Lama, and also as a result of the political "Strike Hard" campaign. Dissent as a result of the Chinese enthronement of the little boy Gyaltsen Norbu as Panchen Lama was particularly evident at Kumbum, the traditional second seat of the Panchen Lama after Tashilhunpo. Pro-independence posters and leaflets began to appear at the monastery in October 1995; in May 1996 the Ngarig Kye Tseling school attached to Kumbum monastery was ordered to close by the Qinghai provincial government and the local State Security and Public Security departments. Twenty-five students from Kumbum school were temporarily detained during this period.

The 1996 State Security document obtained by TIN described to the dissent that had emerged following the installation of the Chinese choice of Panchen Lama as a major security threat in the province. "Splittist forces" are "advocating the reincarnation of the Panchen illegally recognised by the Dalai and secretly distributing photographs of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation of the Panchen illegally recognised by the Dalai", it stated.

The major political campaign of Patriotic Education, aimed at discrediting the Dalai Lama and penalising those who refuse to denounce him, was launched in Tibetan autonomous areas outside the TAR from the beginning of 1997 onwards. The TIN database records 19 political detentions of Tibetans in Qinghai occurred in 1996, 21 in 1997 and 17 in 1998.

Reports of detention, on average, take one to three years to emerge; none have yet arrived for 1999 and figures for 1996 and 1998 are certainly incomplete. Nonetheless, 60% of known political detentions of Tibetans in Qinghai since 1987 have occurred in the past three years. Unofficial reports from the region point to the unpopularity of Chinese policies and campaigns as a major factor in the increase of protest and detention.

About 77% of the political detentions that TIN can report from 1987 onwards have occurred in three of Qinghai's Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures: Malho (30), Tsolho (26), and Golog (18). The rest (22) occurred in Xining City or Haidong Prefecture. Haixi is the only Qinghai prefecture where no Tibetan residents have been reported to have been detained for political actions in recent years. It is also the autonomous prefecture where ethnic dilution is most advanced. Tibetans and Mongols, the dominant groups in Haixi until the mid-1950s, accounted for only 17% of the population by the time the official 1990 census was taken. Dulan County, in the southeast corner of Haixi, borders three TAPs (Golog, Tsolho and Yushu), all of which retain Tibetan majorities; recent political detentions have occurred in all of the latter three TAPs. These statistics may appear to support Chinese official statements that the influx of Chinese migrants to a region can improve "stability". That "improvement", however, seems to occur only in environments where Tibetan culture and traditions become seriously degraded as the ethnic balance shifts.

Offence and legal process

Fifty-seven of the 96 Qinghai detentions documented by TIN occurred in 1996-1998. Only four are known to have received judicial or administrative review, with resultant sentences ranging from one and a half to five years.

The rate of judicial or administrative sentencing for those detained and investigated for political activity is much lower in Qinghai than for the group as a whole. TIN's records show that only 21% of Qinghai's Tibetan political prisoners are known or believed to have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment compared to 58% for all Tibetan political prisoners. In Qinghai, 79% of Tibetan political detainees on TIN's database are known or believed to have received no legal process, compared to 41% for all Tibetan political detainees.

Sixteen of the 53 Tibetans detained from 1996 onwards whose cases have not been resolved through the judicial or administrative process are known or believed to remain detained and could receive be sentenced in future. About half are monks and the rest are lay people. Thirty-seven cases of political detention from 1996 onward that did not involve any legal process are known to have resulted in release, sometimes followed by expulsion from a monastery, school or place of employment. The shortest periods of no-process detention were only a day while the longest was about seven months. The duration of no-process detention is known for 34 of the 37 cases (1996 onward): 14 were three days or less; 10 were one to two weeks; 10 were between two and seven months. The overall average time held for no-process detention (1996 onward) has been slightly longer than a month (32 days).

As a consequence of the high rate of no-process detention followed by release, there has not been an accumulation of long sentences among Tibetan political prisoners, compared to the pattern in the TAR. According to TIN records, around 300 Tibetan political prisoners are held in Lhasa's Drapchi prison alone. Sentences are known for only three of the 26 Qinghai Tibetans currently known or believed to be detained as political prisoners. The longest of these is seven years.

Intimidatory tactics; shorter detentions

In the long term, Qinghai Tibetans have had even more experience coping with unwelcome Chinese advances than Tibetans in the TAR. Han Chinese and Hui colonisation were repulsed with determination since the Qing Dynasty and Qinghai's Tibetans fought Red Army troops years before the People's Liberation Army arrived in central Tibet. But despite this history, available data suggests that Qinghai authorities may be currently less inclined to resort to severe beatings and long prison terms rather than their counterparts in the TAR.

A key feature of political imprisonment in Qinghai is that a high proportion of detainees tends to be held for relatively brief periods without any legal process. Recent information from Qinghai, particularly since the implementation of the Patriotic Education campaign, suggests that the authorities may be utilising what they describe as a "lenient" means of deterrence rather than imprisonment. Only four of the 57 people known to have been detained in Qinghai during this period are known have been sentenced, while 37 were released. About a quarter of those released were held for periods of three days or less but subjected to intense pressure to accept and support government policy. In most cases detainees are required to sign or fingerprint a pledge of acceptance of government policy. Imprisonment and other forms of retribution are promised if the detainee does not improve attitude and behaviour.

The certainty of severe punishment often suffices to suppress further dissent. An advantage for China, which continues to face criticism of its human rights record, is that there is less evidence of repression when detainees can be dealt with in ways which are less visible and more difficult to document. In at least two recent Qinghai cases, brief detentions were not undergone at PSB Detention Centres - the standard practice in most Tibetan areas. Detainees (monks from Choegar and Rabgya monasteries in Golog TAP) were held by police and other officials in compounds within villages rather than being transferred to county detention centres. Strong intimidation was reportedly applied, but not lengthy detention, severe beating or torture. Common exhortations from police during such sessions are to "think carefully" and make the "right decision".

There are still cases of temporary detention in which the consequences are severe. Jamyang Yeshe, one of a group of 25 students detained for approximately two months after unrest at Kumbum monastery, was released from prison in a coma following torture. The comedian and writer Menlha Kyab (whose name is also written as Menlha Cha), was also said to have been treated severely following his arrest in Hainan prefecture in 1993; on his release from detention he was reportedly hospitalised. Menlha Kyab's arrest was one of a wave of arrests of intellectuals and artists in the summer of 1993 shortly before the visit of China's then Party Secretary Jiang Zemin to Chabcha, the capital of the prefecture. Those arrested included a number of Tibetan officials and intellectuals who worked in government-sponsored organisations dedicated to the promotion of the use of Tibetan language.

Evidence that Qinghai authorities currently favour shorter periods of undocumented detention and intimidatory pressure to encourage actual or suspected dissidents into modifying their behaviour is typical of methods employed in this phase of repression and may also indicate a certain caution on the part of the authorities, aware of the unpopular nature of political campaigns in the region. Much harsher tactics prevail in the TAR where political protest exploded into demonstrations in the centre of Lhasa in the late 1980s. TIN currently lists 81 Tibetan political prisoners who have been received sentences of 10 years or more. Sixty-five remain imprisoned. Not one is in Qinghai (64 are in the TAR; one is in Kardze TAP in Sichuan Province).

Death arising from abuse in detention is one of the starkest reflections of authoritarian reprisal. Thirty-three such cases have been documented by TIN since 1987, with an apparent increase in the rate of mortality due to abuse since 1995. All but one of the 33 cases occurred in the TAR, and none were in Qinghai.

Tibetan political prisoners and the laogai system in Qinghai

Qinghai Province contains roughly a dozen industrial "labour reform" camps (laogai), all of which are believed to be in Xining and Haidong Prefecture. Within Xining City's administrative area are at least nine, producing hydroelectric equipment, hardware and tools, wood and steel products, plastics, leather hides and garments. Another lies about two kilometres from Kumbum Monastery in Haidong. Dulan County is known to have at least two agricultural laogai, Xiangride and Nuomuhong, and possibly a third at Xiarihe. Others are in Haixi's capital county, Delingha, and in Golmud, the prefecture's industrial and natural resource extraction centre. Active agricultural laogai are also located in Chabcha and Mangra counties in Tsolho TAP. Maps of Qinghai from the 1980s, classified as neibu (a limited circulation internal document), reveal numerous sites across Qinghai, including in Haixi and Dulan, which may have functioned as forced labour camps after 1950. Most have, by now, either been converted to non-prison se or abandoned.

"New Ghosts, Old Ghosts" (James Seymour, 1998, M. E. Sharpe) estimates that in 1995 there were nineteen "large enterprises (factories and farms) remaining in Qinghai that rely primarily on prisoner labour" [p.153], a number which accords closely with TIN research. Seymour's study puts total prisoner population in Qinghai between 22,000 and 24,000 [p.154], an estimate he characterises as conservative, and which includes all forms of detention (laogai, detention centres, drug addict rehabilitation centres and so on). He assesses the total number of Tibetans imprisoned in Qinghai, for any reason, at any type of facility, to have been between 1,200 and 1,500 in 1995 [p.168]. Tibetans sentenced to provincial-level laogai are often sent to the Fifth Laogai Detachment, a hydroelectric equipment factory just west of Xining, which held 234 Tibetans in 1991 [p.166]. He does not state how many, if any, were political prisoners.

The Xiangride labour camp, a profitable grain-growing enterprise which World Bank documentation reports is "48km from the resettlement area", was judged by Seymour to have between 2,000 and 2,500 prisoners in 1995 (Seymour, p.141). The prisoner population of the Nuomuhong laogai, which lies to the west of the resettlement area along the road to Golmud, would be a few hundred lower than Xiangride. Nuomuhong is not only a successful grain producer but, more significantly, has become even more profitable by erecting a grain processing plant which allows manufacture of value-added products. The laogai has become reluctant to turn over any of its crop to the state, preferring to convert it into profitable processed products [p.143]. This secondary processing capacity could give Nuomuhong the ability to absorb more grain than it can grow.

Even though the number of laogai and prisoners in Dulan has decreased in the past 20 years, Seymour believes that prisoners make up 18% of Dulan's population, "the largest concentration [proportion] of prisoners in any single county in China" [p.136]. A few Tibetan political prisoners are reportedly held in "Xining Prison", probably a reference to a provincial level detention centre where prisoners reportedly operate a brick kiln. TIN has documented Tibetan political prisoners in prefectural level detention centres in all of Qinghai's autonomous prefectures with the exception of Haixi.

Although the laogai are undoubtedly Qinghai's most prominent feature in terms of incarceration and the integration of forced labour into a wider economy, TIN is unable to give accurate figures on the number of Tibetan political prisoners within those units. The most significant contemporary impact of Qinghai's laogai on Tibetans is probably their strong influence on local production, consumption and labour markets, rather than the extraction of labour from Tibetan political prisoners.

WTN World Tibet Network News AUGUST 99