According to a national large-scale survey, people in Lhasa, Tibet, were among the China’s happiest in 2016. This is the outcome of the annual “China Economic Life Survey” (中国经济生活大调查) by CCTV2.
China’s state broadcaster made a top 10 of China’s “happiest cities” based on multiple indicators, including family, marriage, health, social security, income, and more (People’s Daily).
The “China Economic Life Survey” program was broadcasted on CCTV2 on March 7.
These were China’s happiest cities according to the list:
拉萨 1.Lhasa (Tibet Autonomous Region)
成都 2.Chengdu (Sichuan province)
长春 3.Changchun (Jilin province)
银川 4.Yinchuan (Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region)
天津 5.Tianjin (Municipality)
合肥 6.Hefei, Anhui Province
长沙 7.Changsha, Hunan province
武汉 8.Wuhan, Hubei province
海口 9.Haikou, Hainan province
石家庄 10.Shijiazhuang, Hebei province
According to the poll, 76.12% of the survey’s participants in Lhasa indicated they were overall content, with 59.18% of the participants indicating they were “happy”, and 16.94% indicating they were “very happy.”
The main factors determining happiness for the people in Lhasa were family relations (62.12%), marriage & emotional life（52.31%), and health (46.92%). With 36,15%, income was ranked less important.
“Are Tibetans happy? There’s no way of knowing.”
CCTV first started its annual ‘Happiness Index’ in 2007, and since Lhasa has come out as the happiest city over half a dozen times. This result has led to cynicism in English language media; Tibet does not exactly hold the reputation of the happiest place, and some say the survey is undoubtedly flawed in multiple ways, as there no mention of civil rights, or rights to religious freedom.
In 2009, historian Ian Buruma wrote: “The Chinese government says Tibetans are happy. But without a free press and the right to vote, there is no way of knowing this. Sporadic acts of collective violence, followed by equally violent oppression, suggest that many are not.”
Séagh Kehoe, researcher on Tibetan identity issues at University of Nottingham, takes a similar stance and told What’s on Weibo that this annual survey presenting Lhasa as the happiest city in China is “powerful propaganda, effectively erasing any notion among Han Chinese that Tibetans might be unhappy, frustrated or facing extreme oppression within their homeland.”
Kehoe says: “It reaffirms a very particular message about Han Chinese bringing both modernity and happiness to Tibet, and Tibetans being extremely grateful for ‘Big Brother Han’ guiding them out of a ‘backward’ past and into a ‘golden era.'”
“The so-called Lhasa people she interviewed were all Han Chinese, leaving the impression that Lhasa had already turned into a harmonious Han city.”
Tibet blogger and activist Woeser also responded to the survey in 2011, describing how she first reacted when she heard about Lhasa’s status as China’s happiest city: “I laughed and asked back, living under gunpoint day and night, being followed by snipers even when going to the temple to pray, how can there be any sense of happiness?”
In her column, she suggests that the outcome of the CCTV survey is not necessarily invalid, but that it is biased in that it represents the Han Chinese living in Tibet. About 2008 she writes:
“I still remember the journalist from Phoenix TV, Hong Kong, who was standing in the streets of Lhasa on the fifth day after March 14, boasting that life in the city had already returned to normal; yet the so-called Lhasa people she interviewed were in fact all Han Chinese, thus leaving the impression that Lhasa had already turned into a harmonious Han city. This journalist was obviously being very selective. She did not take notice of Tibetans living in Lhasa; instead she portrayed the Han Chinese she interviewed as indigenous Lhasa people. This is why I think that perhaps those “Lhasa people” who are the “happiest” according to the CCTV survey are not actually Tibetans.”
The number of Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group, has been on the rise in Tibet since the last number of decades. Although Tibetans still account for 90% of the permanent population of the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region), 22% of the inhabitant of capital Lhasa are now Han Chinese (Economist 2016).
“It is time for the Western politicians and media to change their way of thinking on Tibet.”
Chinese media, on the other hand, have a completely different view on the issue. In an article from 2009, state media outlet China Daily argues that it is time “for the Western politicians and media to change their way of thinking on Tibet.”
The author states that Western politicians and media simply “refuse to change their outlook” on Tibet, blindly sticking to the idea that China is “an oppressive and negative power” in the region. The fact that the Tibetan population has seen an enormous growth in earnings, levels of education, life expectancy, etc., seems to “mean nothing to some Western countries and people.”
On Weibo, many people seem unsurprised that Lhasa has topped China’s “happy cities” list again: “The people of Lhasa are indeed very happy,” a young woman from Sichuan (@叫我小严姐姐) says: “The government is investing a lot of money there.”
This year, the development of Tibet was again presented as a core issue when China’s premier Li Keqiang promised to intensify efforts in the region’s poverty alleviation at the National People’s Congress.
Another woman writes: “Yes, I am from Lhasa and I am indeed happy.”
Yet, many people do think the poll must be inaccurate because they are surprised that the city of Wuhan is included in the list. One commenter says: “That Wuhan is included is so weird. The prices are high and the wages are low there!”
“Is this some other Wuhan?! Because the Wuhan I know has been raising its prices while keeping the earnings low,” other commenters also say. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province. Despite the fact that many netizens express their dissatisfaction about the city, it ranked number 8 in the CCTV poll.
There are also people who take the matter about happiness in China’s cities more philosophical: “Happy people will be happy anywhere, unhappy people will still be unhappy even if they’re in a happy place,” one person says.
Another commenter writes: “If you’re happy or not is something only you know. As they say, happiness is like water, it can change temperature every day (幸福如饮水, 冷暖自知).”
Photos by Jessica Lia, Tibet.
Sources / Further Reading
Bo, Zhijue. 2010. China’s Elite Politics: Governance and Democratization. Singapore: World Scientific.
Buruma, Ian. 2011. “Are Tibetans happy? There’s no way of knowing” The Globe And Mail, April 9 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/are-tibetans-happy-theres-no-way-of-knowing/article4284229/ [13.3.17].
He, Rulong. 2009. “Changes some people don’t want to see in Tibet.” China Daily, Nov 4 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2009-04/11/content_7668187.htm [14.3.17].
Economist. 2016. “Tibet: The plateau, unpacified.” The Economist Sep 17 http://www.economist.com/news/china/21707220-tibetans-culture-changing-their-own-will-well-force-plateau-unpacified [13.3.17].
People’s Daily. 2017. “Lhasa tops China’s happiest cities in 2016: CCTV poll.” People’s Daily, March 9 http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/0309/c90000-9188001.html [12.3.17].
Woeser. 2011. “CCTV Says Lhasa People Are ‘Happiest’ By Woeser.” High Peaks Pure Earth, February 2 http://highpeakspureearth.com/2011/cctv-says-lhasa-people-are-happiest-by-woeser/ [14.3.17].
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