Government Research Group Says Tibetan Farmers Enjoy Free Medical Care, No Agricultural Taxes

May 27, 2005

The China Development and Research Center reported on May 27 that Tibetan farmers and herders in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) enjoy good health, a life expectancy that has doubled since the 1950s, and free medical care, according to a Xinhua story.

Tibetan farmers and herdsmen who live in the TAR have told analysts that medical care is not free. In off-the-record interviews, they claim that rural Tibetans often are unable to afford medicine or treatment. Some accounts allege that medical care facilities may demand substantial cash deposits before treatment, forcing sick or injured Tibetans to forego treatment.

A November 2000 report by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing discussed the strains on the TAR health care infrastructure, noting that "a large part of the actual cost of individual medical treatment in Tibet is still paid for by each individual patient." The report advocated NGO involvement in Tibetan health care projects. "Significant opportunities exist for foreign organizations to assist in the development and modernization of Tibet's health care system and capabilities."

On another issue that effects rural households, in an attempt to narrow the gap between urban and rural incomes, Premier Wen Jiabao announced in March 2004 that all farming taxes would be scrapped within five years. According to a Xinhua report in January 2005, 22 of China's 31 provinces were "scrapping all agricultural taxes." The report claims that "no farming or stockbreeding taxes have ever been imposed" in the TAR. But Tibetan farmers and herders speaking privately have contradicted these government claims, saying that officials levy a variety of taxes, fees, or in-kind payments. According to official Chinese census data for 2000, 92.8 percent of the TAR's population is Tibetan, and 83.5 percent of the population is classified as "agricultural."