Carrying the winds of change

Updated: 2012-01-03 08:12

By Liu Yujie (China Daily)

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Carrying the winds of change
Pigeons' in flight against the backdrop of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The program to transfer o cials from one province or region to another has helped improve the autonomous region’s economy and infrastructure. [Provided to China Daily]

The program to transfer officials from one province or region to another began 15 years ago, with each posting being for a three-year period. Last year, a new (or the sixth) group of 58 officials from Shanghai, averaging about 36 years, was selected for the program.

Forty-year-old Zhang Wei, Party committee secretary of Gyantse county, which is spread over 3,800 sq km with more than 70,000 people in the Xigaze prefecture of the Tibet autonomous region, is one of them. Zhang says: "Most of us came (to Tibet) with some reluctance. There wasn't much of a choice for few of my colleagues met the selection standards "

Before being sent to Tibet, Zhang was the director of Xinzhuang Industrial Zone in Minhang district of Shanghai municipality.

Candidates who are selected for the transfer program should have the experience of working at the grassroots level, be the leader of a town and be below 45 yeas of age.

Even after serving in Tibet for more than a year, Zhang finds life harsh in the region physically and mentally both. The officials can go back home only once a year, usually from December to February, that is, during the height of winter, when it is almost impossible for most plainsmen to work at high altitudes, because of lack of oxygen. Officials' families can visit and stay with them in Tibet during summer, though.

The official working hours in Tibet is six hours a day, two hours less than in the plains, but it is still a challenge for non-Tibetans to work at that high an altitude because of the thin air. Zhang says he suffered from high altitude sickness for two weeks after reaching the region for the first time last year and again when he returned this year. He was indisposed on both occasions for seven days.

"Even after the severe sickness is over, I have to move slowly and take it easy also on normal days," Zhang says. "I begin panting even if I talk aloud for some time."

But don't take Zhang's complaints as a sign of regretting his decision to shift to Tibet, for he is not at all sorry for being posted in the region. "Since I've come here, I wish I leave something memorable behind," he says.

"A leader's post in Tibet provides a much bigger playground. I feel more free and inspired to do things that I wouldn't have attempted in Shanghai."

Zhang has been welcomed by local officials and people, who support officials from developed regions. This gives Zhang the "confidence" and makes him ambitious enough to try out things that he would not have in the plains. His posting in Tibet has also enriched his knowledge about China being a vast country with different natural and social conditions and has helped deliver to Tibet what it needs the most: money, management skills and technology.

Statistics show that Shanghai has earmarked the largest investment for Tibet's Xigaze prefecture in the 2010-2013 period - 850 million yuan - which is almost equal to the investments in the past two three-year periods.

But Zhang says investment alone is not enough to ensure a sustainable and robust development for Tibet. "We don't just 'transfuse blood'. We aim to set a healthy blood-generating mechanism for Tibet's economy and social issues."

In fact, the first job an official transferred to the region does after assuming office is to spend at least three months surveying the entire area under his/her jurisdiction and listening to local people to understand their needs. Then he/she submits detailed development proposals to the National Development and Reform Commission, which are revised to make sure they are feasible and necessary.

While officials from other provinces or regions are transferred to another have to think of or account for the three years of their posting, Zhang thinks beyond. In Gyantse, for example, Zhang sanctioned a 1.5-million-yuan budget this year for planting elms and willows to reduce sandy winds and increase the level of oxygen. The budget includes nurturing the trees for five years because, Zhang says, "normally a tree that survives the first five years will be there for a long time".

Being aware of the fact that Tibetan people are particular about their ethnicity and university graduates from the region invariably choose to work in their hometowns, Zhang has initiated an educational aid program which has raised 500,000 yuan this year from entrepreneurs to support students in Gyantse who perform well in the national college entrance exams but face difficulties adjusting to university life in the initial stages.

"As an incentive, I promised a grant of 8,000 yuan each to students who are admitted to a university. I think it is really important that local students get higher education, because they are the main force of Tibet's development," Zhang says. This year 70 to 80 students are expected to avail of the grant.

Zhang sends young Tibetan talents to study in middle schools in Shanghai for some time. "I noticed that children exposed to life outside Tibet show traits that are different from their peers who have not ventured out of the region. They are eager to learn more and their ambitions are higher."

To improve medical services in Tibet, Zhang invites medical teams from Shanghai to give lessons in Gyantse and sends Tibetan doctors and nurses to Shanghai's hospitals for hands-on training, because "hospitals here lack skilled and experienced staff members and advanced equipment".

Change will come to Tibet with the passage of time, and Zhang knows that. "You just can't do anything in a hurry in Tibet. People here live and work at their own pace; no matter how good your idea is, you need patience to implement it."

"But the good thing is that Tibetans seldom argue with you. They are honest and willing to do as told," he says. Tibetans are eager for development. "They have suffered a lot in the past but are unbending and resilient. Tibetan people are like the nature here, simple but powerful. I admire and respect them for that."