During a Standing Committee session of the Qinghai Provincial People's Congress, on 14 January 2004, the former Party deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and alternate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Yang Chuantang, was named as governor of Qinghai province. Qinghai incorporates the wider part of the northeastern Tibetan region traditionally known as Amdo. During the same session, Zhao Leji who had resigned as governor of Qinghai on 20th October 2003, apparently in order to make way for Yang, was named chairman of the Qinghai Provincial People's Congress (PPC). He thus replaced Su Rong who moved on to the corresponding post in the neighbouring province of Gansu. Zhao had already replaced Su as Party secretary in Qinghai in August 2003.
Yang Chuantang now occupies the second highest position in the actual power hierarchy of Qinghai.1 With his double appointment as vice governor (Chin: renmin zhengfu fu zhuxi) and acting governor (Chin: renmin zhenfu daili zhuxi), and, in the absence of a regular governor (Chin: renmin zhengfu zhuxi), he has essentially been leading Qinghai's executive since October 2003.
As Party Secretary of Qinghai, Zhao Leji remains the most powerful leader in the province, and his additional new position as Chairman of the People's Congress provides him with even greater authority. Zhao, who had already achieved ministerial status (Chin: bu zhangji) in his mid-forties and has a seat in the Central Committee of the CPC, now enjoys considerable power.
The move, like other provincial reshuffles in late 2003 and early 2004, is believed to be a further adjustment to earlier compromise arrangements, providing the provinces with younger and more competent leaders, (most of whom have strong links with the Communist Youth League (CYL)), and accentuating the high-level cadre exchange across geographical lines. Zhao and Yang are both considered to be close to the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Jintao. Hu can therefore be regarded as having now 'set his foot on Qinghai'. This also indicates the importance which the Party's supreme leader attaches to Qinghai, and is a further indication of Hu's efforts to bring ethnic Tibetan regions under his personal control.
The transfer of Yang to Qinghai and his progression to governorship is singular. The declared aim of transferring high-level party cadres from one province to another is to allow them to acquire experience in different settings. But, in this case, the similarities between Qinghai and TAR, particularly given their ethnic Tibetan populations, seem very close. In an interview given to the Qinghai Daily of 21 October 2003, Yang repeatedly emphasised the close links existing between the TAR and Qinghai. He mentioned in particular that Qinghai is a "backing-up position" (Chin: da hou fang) to the TAR. The Chinese term 'da hou fang' is more usually used by the military to describe a logistic and backing position relative to the front line on a battlefield. Here, it is more likely to refer to, in a more political sense, the concept of access and 'backyard'. Yang mentions that "80% of the population flow and 85% of the material pass through Golmud". The "population flow" (Chin: ren liu) Yang is referring to seems to refer to the hub function of the city of Golmud in Qinghai for most of the passenger traffic from China into the TAR, but it could also imply the flow of cadres, working migrants and perhaps even military personnel.
A "rich cultural heritage" and a "very great potential", but a "tough environment"
Parts of Yang's interview relate to the Tibetan character of Qinghai. Asked about his impressions of the province, he mentions the Kumbum monastery, correctly identified, though in standard Chinese diction, as "one of the six major temples of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism", and the song "Qinzang Gaoyuan". This song, which was sung by the famous Tibetan singer Yadong and many others, including Chinese artistes, celebrates the Tibetan landscapes and was used as background music for a well-known documentary of the 1990s relating the story of a Chinese official who travelled through Tibet and was praised for helping the local population in Ngari (Chin: Ali), a particularly poor region in the west of the TAR. He is said to have adopted Tibetan children and sent them to school to China. 'Qinzang Gaoyuan' which means literally 'Qinghai-Tibet plateau' is a neologism and is the official designation in the People's Republic of China (PRC) for the whole area known outside China as 'Tibet', whereas in the PRC, the word 'Tibet' (Chin: Xizang) applies only to the territory of the TAR.
At the beginning of his interview, Yang praises Qinghai's natural beauty, and emphasises that the "mother rivers of the Chinese nation, the Yellow River, the Yangtse and the Mekong" originate there, thus suggesting the region has a 'nature-given' link to the wider PRC. Also, whereas he refers to Qinghai's history by using terms like: "rich cultural heritage" or "accumulated cultural wealth" (Chin: ji dian), (a positive term but suggestive of past glory,) when referring to the future, Yang, who once worked at China Petrochemical Corporation, talks about the province's "very great potential" due to its being "rich in resources", and backs his assertion with an impressive list of mineral resources, hydro-energy potential, as well as animal and plant resources, which "have all enjoyed fame at home [i.e. in mainland China] and abroad". This seems to be promoting the development of the region as a supplier for China's industries and exports, rather than the more general development foreseen for the 'interior' provinces of the PRC.
The interview also contains the standard accounts of the hardships and self sacrifice Chinese cadres like Yang have to face while on duty in the Tibetan environment, as well as the presumed gratitude of the 'national minorities' for their dedication. He mentions, for example, that during his ten years in the TAR he spent "seven of the spring festivals with the cadres and people of various nationalities" there. The Chinese spring festival (i.e. Chinese New Year) is traditionally the most important festival, which, like Christmas in the West, is an occasion for family reunions at home. He goes on to mention that "comrades who come from the interior" to work there "will face the test of separation" from their families, as well as "a tough environment". That he expects the same "tough environment" in Qinghai is apparently implied in his remarks about the locals; "simple and honest people," who, he notes, are always "concerned with my physical state and my living conditions".
1 According to the Chinese constitution, the chairman of the People's Congress occupies a higher position than the governor, since, as a legislative body, the Congress is supposed to monitor the executive and elect the governor. However, effectively, both the Congress and the government are under the total domination of the Party, the Congress' role being essentially to rubber-stamp the Party's decisions and the government's role to implement them. Thus, while the Congress deals with the mere paperwork of power, the government at least deals with its actual exercise within the framework set out by the Party and the governor enjoys far more authority in practice than the chairman of the Congress. Therefore, the actual power hierarchy is: 1. Party secretary; 2. Governor; 3. Chairman of the Congress.