March 30, 2008

A question about Tibet

I have a questioned I've never seen asked about the basic biological feasibility of China's ongoing occupation and settlement of Tibet. The Chinese see Tibet as underpopulated, and have been sending lots of Han Chinese to live there, which has finally caused a violent reaction by the Buddhist Tibetans.

But, can Han Chinese women reproduce enough at those altitudes?

We know that white women suffer a very large number of miscarriages on the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru, so that the population of the highlands is still overwhelmingly Indian almost 500 years after Pizarro. La Paz, Bolivia is in a deep canyon, with the richest (whitest) neighborhoods at the lowest point, below 10,000 feet.

Lhasa is at about 12,000 feet and much of the rest of Tibet is higher, making it even higher than the Altiplano on average.

Do Han Chinese women have lots of miscarriages in Tibet? Or are they better biologically adapted to extreme altitude? We know the famous Tibetan Sherpas of Nepal have a biological adaptation to high altitude, but do the lowland Chinese?

This question would seem to have significant implications for whether Chinese colonization of Tibet makes sense. If the Chinese are just letting themselves in for a lot of personal heartbreak by trying to form families at 12,000 feet, maybe their government could be persuaded to just give up on their settlement plan and let the Tibetans have Tibet.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


michael farris said...

"If the Chinese are just letting themselves in for a lot of personal heartbreak"

Do you seriously think the Chinese government cares about the personal heartbreak of everyday Chinese people?
They want Tibet partly because it's there and was once part of China, makes a nice buffer zone and there may be natural resources they want. What Tibetans or Han think about the issue doesn't trouble them for a second.

They probably don't care about establishing a functioning Han society there with families and Han Chinese born in Tibet. There are, after all, more than enough Han that they can always ship enough new arrivals there to make sure the Tibetans are a minority if that's their plan. Hell, Han women having miscarriages may be a feature and not a bug for them.

Anonymous said...

I've seen that question asked. By you about four years ago at Randall Parker's Blog.

This current post come up near the top on google even though it must have been up for less than an hour.

If the Han guys can score the Tibetan women, the Chinese may yet get what they want.

Unknown said...

Gene Expression talked about this recently, they seem to say the Han will have trouble ethnically cleansing tibet:

Anonymous said...

But what if the China are stealing Tibet for access to its women? We already know that China has a male surplus.

Anonymous said...

Currently I suppose the 1 child policy, which a Chines blogging in a wastern newspaper said is not enforced on Tibetans but is on Han Chinese, would be the real limitation. If say 50% of Han children died they would still be able to make quota. However in 500 year terms you may well be right.

Grumpy Old Man said...

Wikipedia, FWIW:

Recent research shows that, although Tibetans living at high altitudes have no more oxygen in their blood than other people, they have 10 times more nitric oxide (NO) and double the forearm blood flow of low-altitude dwellers. Nitric oxide causes dilation of blood vessels allowing blood to flow more freely to the extremities and aids the release of oxygen to tissues. This may also help explain the typical rosy cheeks of high-altitude dwellers. What is not yet known is whether the high levels of nitric oxide are due to a genetic mutation or whether people from lower altitudes would gradually adapt similarly after living for prolonged periods at high altitudes.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Chinese could focus on sending mostly young men to Tibet and encourage them to marry Tibetan women (and vice versa, of course). Then they could conquer Tibet and help solve their "too many males" problem while not having to worry about whether or not Chinese women would successfully have babies in high-altitude Tibet.

Just a thought. (Not one that I'd advocate, of course.)

Anonymous said...

The Chinese government is not concerned about that problem, Steve. It has a problem of rather greater urgency to deal with. The CCP has 300 million impoverished people on its hands. It has ruined much of the Chinese countryside and water supply. The government has to do something with these people to keep them from revolting inside China itself.

Anonymous said...

Discover magazine ran this:
"Darwinian natural selection is at work among the communities living in the Tibetan mountains, according to Case Western Reserve University anthropologist Cynthia Beall. She reported at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting in March that women who carry more oxygen in their blood have more than twice as many surviving children as women who carry less oxygen. “We determined that the strength of natural selection at altitude was even stronger than the strength of natural selection by falciparum malaria, and that is the classic example,” Beall said.
Women who carry at least one copy of a gene variant, or allele, that codes for high oxygen saturation had 125 percent more surviving children than those who carry two copies of a low-saturation allele. By contrast, women who carry a sickle-cell allele, which protects against malaria, have only about 50 percent more surviving children in malaria-infested regions than women lacking the variant."

Then there is this study abstract:
"The Tibetan population, long a resident on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, has lower hemoglobin concentrations than Han Chinese migrants, but it is incompletely known how gender affects the hemoglobin concentrations in the two populations at various altitudes. Measurements of hemoglobin concentration were obtained in 5,887 healthy male and female Tibetan and Han residents aged 5–60 yr, at altitudes of 2,664, 3,813, 4,525, and 5,200 m. Multiple regression equations showed the -coefficients for altitude and for age were higher (P < 0.05) in Han men than in Tibetan men and in Han women than in Tibetan women. Analysis indicated a significant three-way interaction between altitude, gender, and ethnicity (2 = 3.72, P = 0.05). With increasing altitude, men progressively had more hemoglobin than women in the Han, but not the Tibetan, population. Above 2,664 m, this gender-related difference in hemoglobin concentration increased from childhood to young adulthood more in Han than in Tibetans."

Anonymous said...

"The Chinese see Tibet as underpopulated, and have been sending lots of Han Chinese to live there,"

On that note: America has similar programs, such as the Somali settlement in Maine program and the Hmong settlement in Wisconsin. Both programs have the explicit intent as elucidated by the state of making Wisconsin and Maine more diverse, ie less White.

I'm a barely sentinent Canadian, and even I know this (thanks to reading ISteve).

The settlement of Han Chinese in Tibet is universally described as ethnic cleansing, a bad thing.

The settlement of Somalis and Hmong in Maine and Wisconsin, in comparison, is viewed as an excecise in diversity, a good thing.

The West's reaction to Tibet is, in my opinion, the latest in a series of clashes between civilization in which the West comes off looking bad each and every time. The captured British soldiers in Iran and Columbia's shameful treatment of a head of state (Iranian President) are two recent examples that come to mind.

About three years ago the Dalai Lama visited Vancouver and gave a talk in a stadium filled with thousands. He was asked by a young hippy girl if the next Dalai Lama could be female. The Dalai Lama answered that he didn't know, an innovative presentation of reality that would make George Bush blush.

Seen many female monks in the Tibet footage? Asian mainland Buddhism is, by North American standards, hugely sexist, a fact that would cause support for the Dalai Lama's cause to plummet if it were ever made public to North Americans. So the Dalai Lama chose instead to tell a bald faced lie to a stadium of tens of thousands of people. I can respect a man who gets up at 3:30 AM every day to meditate, but he's not above telling a whopper or two.

Anonymous said...

You may well be right, but China has established good transport links into Tibet, this may allow their population to be mobile enough that they don't need to reproduce within Tibet.

Anonymous said...

Well, Steve, do the Chinese really care so much about Han women having babies at 12,000 feet? After all, female infanticide is widespread in China. The leaders will keep funneling the hordes into Tibet regardless of the repercussions.

Or is China's real focus the restive, mineral rich, Muslim (Turkic) territories known as the "-stan" countries: Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, etc?

China desperately needs oil. It has mountains of dirty burning coal, but it really wants cleaner burning oil. The -stans have this oil.

Why do you think the Administration has a number of military bases in these very same territories.

To thwart "terrorism"?

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the West wastes so much time on the Tibetan question.

Historically, Tibet has been part of China for a very long time! Certainly longer that America has existed as a political entity, and even before 1492.

Luke Lea said...

I mentioned your theory to my wife this morning, and she said that when she was in Cusco, Peru (elevation 12,000 feet) she saw plenty of people of Spanish descent around. So maybe the difference in fertility isn't so important.

Also, don't forget China's population policy, which favors a lower birthrate anyway.

kurt9 said...

This was my question as well. My guess is that Han Chinese women are no more capable of giving birth at high altitude than white women. In which case, the Han Chinese will never successfully colonize Tibet.

Anonymous said...

Steve, China doesn't care if women suffer difficulty and heartbreak having babies - so they lose some to miscarriage and preeclampsia - lose some mothers too in the latter case. They're still going to manage to have a baby or two or three on average, and China can replace them indefinitely. Or even send them to the lowlands for the last trimester of pregnancy - if they care that much.

Anonymous said...

If the Chinese can lock up all the Tibetan men for rioting, then all those excess Han guys can pick up Tibetan wives, who should be able to have kids.

Mission accomplished.

Anonymous said...

'grumpy old man' remarks that the hi altitude Tibetans have 10x the normal level of nitic oxide in their blood,and double the forearm blood flow. So when they come down to sea level is that like Superman coming to a planet with a yellow sun--do they now have super powers?

Anonymous said...

Steve the big question is political. China cannot afford to lose control in Tibet, because Uighurs in XianXing will demand the same, with riots and terrorism and such like. And the Hui Muslims will also demand autonomy.

China has always had a fragile unity, it's so big that break-away forces have dominated. Think of a Roman Empire that never really fell in the West and you get the idea.

China *has* to come down hard on Tibet for nationalist reasons.

I don't understand Dharma's reasoning wrt Columbia and Iran. Iran is the explicit ally of Venezuela's Chavez who's made no secret of his desire to conquer and rule Columbia (and various other nations there) as part of his "Bolivarian" project. Another Mussolini, dreaming of empire when his people would rather just have the future, thank you.

How does the West come off looking badly? I'd grant him the shameful surrender of British Sailors and Marines. Mostly Columbia isn't considered "Western" per-se but third world.

[Spec has the FARC laptop having all sorts of damaging info on Chavez, including donations and alliances with not just Iran but AQ. It's probably why Chavez backed down.]

Anonymous said...

China desperately needs oil. It has mountains of dirty burning coal, but it really wants cleaner burning oil. The -stans have this oil.

And Siberia does, too. The nations of China and India and all the -stans are producing people at a rate they can't absorb them. Russia is ailing but is like a wounded dog. The men of China are getting restless. The people of Europe and the West are, slowly, coming to their wits about how many immigrants we really want, and we could never absorb all the excess to begin with.

The Asian continent will explode in this century in a manner that makes WW1 and WW2 look like scrimmages.

It may be interesting to watch, if Americans and Europeans get to sit on the sidelines this time around.

But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Does having high blood flow in the forearms help in any particular way? Or is that just what was one of the things tested by the scientists?

Anonymous said...

I once read a pamphlet by some Tibetan protest organization. One of their main complaints was that there were too many Chinese people moving into Tibet. This was considered a type of 'cultural genocide', just having lot's of immigrants. Interesting how Tibet is considered a popular cause given that that argument is so controversial (for lack of a better term) when applied to US immigration policy.

Anonymous said...

I believe he was referring to Columbia University.

Dharma: regarding the Dalai Lama

Anonymous said...

Why the anonymania? If it's so hard to think of a name, use the word verification code. Can you not ban anonymous posts, Mr Sailer?

Sriram said...


I'd appreciate it if you ban anonymous posts.. There are multiple options and no good reason not to use one of them

Anonymous said...

The Chinese in Tibet are not so much settlers as they are urban profiteers. The villages and farms are totally Tibetan, and will remain so because Chinese agricultural practices simply don't work up there.

The Chinese are doing the same thing in Tibet they do in other foreign (particularly Asian) lands; they are concentrating themselves in the urban areas where there are economic opportunities and taking over the commerce.

Chinese, even poor farmers, dread the kind of lifestyle rural Tibetans lead. They really have no desire to colonize Tibet, but they do want to grab as much of the profit as possible. The Tibetan anti-Chinese riots were obviously a reaction to this, and similar to recent anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia, with the exception, of course, that Tibetans do not have self-rule so they are much more likely to be punished.

However, I bet the Chinese government begins to quietly restrict Chinese commercial dominance in Tibet. This is how they deal with these kinds of things -- first take a hard-line against agitators, then silently start to deal with some of the issues behind the scenes.

The Chinese in some of the outlying provinces can be of the worst sort. Often, they are cut-throat profiteers who go to these remote places exactly because the government has little control, so they can steal and gouge to their hearts' content. Although local customs maintain the peace for the native population, the profiteers don't care about them, so conflict is inevitable in these situations. Although their will certainly be a crackdown on Tibetans, I'm pretty sure there will be a crackdown on these types at the same time. That's the Chinese way, and it can be very effective if applied by level-headed administrators.

Anonymous said...

i have an account, but when i try to use it posts don't got through.

Anonymous said...

I'll be quite honest: I don't care a fig about Tibet. My only wonder was why liberals (circa 1996 or so) all-of-a-sudden developed a big interest in the topic - you know, the whole "Free Tibet" movement. Was it the bhuddist angle? Or did they figure that it was the perfect liberal cause - it'll never get better, but also never go away.

Anonymous said...


You can pretty much chalk that up to one guy - the Dalai Lama. He's been pretty cagey over the years, making the right connections with Hollywood types to keep this in the limelight.

Anonymous said...

What amazes me about Tibet is that the western elites and the IOC are winding themselves out of something trivial such as boycotting the opening ceremony. Most probably they fear some sort of economic reprisal. If you compare the situation to South Africa, and I think its obvious that China's intentions designs in Tibet are far more ominous that any the Afrikaner had in South Africa, the IOC had no problem banning South Africa for 35 years from joining the Olympics, not to speak of all the other sanctions imposed on that country.

But then South Africa did not hold half the US debt, so I guess that little detail does change the calculations about "Human Rights", modern morality and the appropriate "outrage". But who am I to understand the higher math of morality. I guess the NYT would know.

Anonymous said...

"nsam" said,"I'd appreciate it if you'd ban anonymous posts." I quite agree.

Unknown said...

There are some comments about the Chinese plans for Tibet. I have not seen any mentions about the Chinese historical ability to obliterate foreign cultures, the major examples are the Mongolians, that got culturally contaminated and corrupt from the contact with China, and gave up governing it, and the Manchu, that successfully conquered China, but still got culturally absorbed. China is like the Borg of the Star trek universe.

Anonymous said...

It's one of those squidgy questions, isn't it.

It's like if China started asking questions about the "Native American Question". Ie around historical conquest and genocide which lingers until the current era.

There is this link between Tibet and China; Tibet has fallen under Chinese dominance historically, though how legitimate that is (and how you assess 'legitimacy" is an open question) is not clear.

This sort of thing (conquest, genocide) just seems so passe for the west now. We did it successfully, and now have the luxury of professing how wrong it is. But if anyone said, gee, you should get out of Indian lands because you took them wrongfully, and are carrying out slow genocide, we'd tell them to p*ss up a rope and mind their own business.

I'd love Tibet to be an autonomous country. I've even visited there and travelled to some very back of beyond places (was even arrested briefly by the Chinese), and can tell you Tibet is pretty much medieval. If it weren't oppressed by the Chinese, and if it was independent, it would raise some interesting prioritization questions for that aspect of the black and white left that valorizes authentic brown folks and self determination at the expense of all else. Like, it's very, very male dominated (natch). It's a very conservative theocracy. Much of life centers on religious rituals that only serve to support the theocracy. Tibetans are very poor -- yak herding at 15000 ft really doesn't make you that prosperous. Or educated. Or give you terrific longevity or health. Life is nasty brutish and short. I have no idea what an independent modern Tibet would look like. Afghanistan with Mongol features and prettier scenery, perhaps. And magenta robes instead of chadors, which makes a big difference.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Han tides surging over Tibet, and that crazy can't-make-economic-sense-we-blasted-a-tunnel-through-an-ice-mountain-just-to-make-a-point railroad link are a damned shame, and do think the loss of a unique culture to the modern onslaught is something to be lamented. I just think the bandwagon gets going pretty quick about something pretty poorly understood. I don't understand Tibet much myself, and understand it less for having spent some time there. I came away, shall we say, ambivalent, though really no fan of the Chinese at all either.

There is no right side, in other words.

Anonymous said...

And dharma, I am also a semisentient Canadian and we were at the same dalai-rock concert a few years back no doubt.

I also like bill's points. Out of the Tsangpo valley, Chinese presence is minimal. They really do not like the hinterland of outlying provinces that are filled with thugs and heathens. It's exile to them. If you can make a few kuai with a karaoke parlour and import/export trade, well, that at least presents the opportunity to be a big wheel and strut back to your home village as a prosperous man.

Noumenon said...

I can't believe you guys are complaining about an anonymous poster who makes factual, on-topic, correctly spelled comments with no personal attacks. I'm not sure why he doesn't get a username, but he's no reason to ban anonymity.

Blogs that don't let me post anonymously often don't get my point of view, because I don't want to sign up for anything just to post or I don't want to log in at work. You might not care what my point of view is, but without it you're one step closer to an echo chamber.

Anonymous said...

We know that white women suffer a very large number of miscarriages on the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru, so that the population of the highlands is still overwhelmingly Indian almost 500 years after Pizarro.

Hey Steve - it's June of 2010 now - and there's a geologist in Guatemala who is saying that this "sinkhole" in Guatemala City [elevation 5,256 ft] is not necessarily an isolated phenomenon and that all of Guatemala City is in danger of vanishing into the underlying volcanic ash.