by Lyu Qiuping, Ma Zhuoyan and Liu Xinyong
Changchub Wangdu, an entrepreneur hailing from Nagqu City, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, had expected his parents to move to the regional capital Lhasa, as he considers the place more suitable for his ailing mother due to its low altitude and a better climate compared with his hometown.
“My parents have been through a lot of hardships. They deserve a better life,” said the Tibetan.
Eighth among his nine siblings, the 26-year-old knows how much his parents toiled all their lives as yak herders.
The couple saved homemade yak butter in exchange for money to support the children, and even the elder siblings used to save yak meat for the younger ones.
“During hospital visits, my sick mother had to carry one kid in her arms and another on her back,” Changchub Wangdu said, adding that she had to go and herd yaks the very next day after delivering a baby.
At the age of 15, Changchub Wangdu was admitted to a vocational school in Nagqu, majoring in Tibetan medicine. To reduce the burden of tuition costs on his family, he applied for an internship at a local private clinic operated by a Han man from southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality. Although they were not related, Changchub Wangdu used to call the man “uncle.”
“I learned how to fill a prescription and administer an injection in the clinic. Instead of paying me wages, my uncle covered all my tuition fees,” he said.
After completing his studies at the vocational school, Changchub Wangdu sold second-hand cars for several months before finding a job in a security company, escorting convoys transferring cash for banks and other companies. He is now the manager at the Nagqu branch of the company, earning more than 100,000 yuan (about 15,400 U.S. dollars) a year.
Taking some money on loan from a bank and borrowing some from his Han “uncle,” Changchub Wangdu opened a restaurant serving Tibetan cuisine in May 2019. The eatery generated more than 100,000 yuan worth of profit in the following year.
Last year, Changchub Wangdu spent more than 600,000 yuan on a single-bedroom apartment in Lhasa, where his parents have moved in.
This month, Wangchen, Changchub Wangdu’s grandfather, came to visit the new home in Lhasa from the city of Golmud, Qinghai Province, traveling along the very road where the 76-year-old once used to work.
Wangchen retired in 1997 after working as a road maintenance worker at the Nagqu section of the Qinghai-Tibet highway that links Tibet with the rest of China. Nine years later, the Qinghai-Tibet railway traversing through Nagqu and Golmud went into operation.
“Who could have imagined decades ago that one day we would have highways, railways and our own apartment in Tibet? Life has changed a lot,” said Wangchen.
Born in 1945 in Nagqu, Wangchen used to be a serf, sleeping in a sheepfold. His feudal lord often flogged him for trivial things and made him starve.
“In winter, my pants soaked with blood and snow water in the sheepfold would freeze as hard as a wooden board,” Wangchen told his grandson, adding that he had to hunt to fill his stomach.
Following Tibet’s peaceful liberation in 1951, Wangchen for the first time met the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The soldiers gave him clothes as well as biscuits, a luxury that he had never had before.
Wangchen’s life as a serf finally ended in 1959, when the democratic reform was launched in Tibet and feudal serfdom was abolished. Wangchen was later allocated ranch and yaks, and started learning Chinese by himself.
In 1962, eight years after the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet highway, Wangchen was hired as a road maintenance worker and he worked in that position until retirement.
Now, he earns a monthly pension of 9,000 yuan, and volunteers to clean streets and pick up garbage every day.
“I’m grateful that I’m given such a high pension for doing nothing. The cleaning work is the least that I can do to repay the society,” Wangchen said.
By the end of 2019, all 628,000 registered poor residents and 74 poor counties in Tibet shook off destitution, marking the end of absolute poverty in Tibet for the first time in history, according to a white paper released in May.
The average per capita disposable income of rural residents was 14,598 yuan in 2020, up 12.7 percent over the previous year and representing double-digit annual growth for the past 18 years, the white paper noted.
Optimistic about the prospects of his restaurant business, Changchub Wangdu has decided to open another outlet, which is currently being decorated.
“I want to create a restaurant chain brand in Nagqu,” he said.