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LHASA -- About 5 kilometers southwest of Lhasa city proper, young plants burgeon on a Tibetan herb base set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
The Tibetan herb base grows about 3 hectares of saffron crocus, a major ingredient in Tibetan medicine used to improve blood circulation, ease pain and treat many diseases including cancer.
The plants are expected to bloom in the fall, when their pistils will be removed and dried to make medicine and other healthcare products.
The herbal base is owned by Tibet Shengqi Healthcare Co Ltd, a privately-owned company that grows herbs and sells Tibetan medicine, said the company's board chairman Liu Qibin.
The company reports annual turnover of 200 million yuan (about $32 million), and 40 percent of its 100-odd permanent employees are local Tibetans who work in the company's drug processing workshops or retail outlets, said Liu.
In the harvest season in October, the company hires an additional 100 Tibetan laborers to help collect the fragile pistils. The harvest season lasts for at least 20 days and each temporary worker is paid 100 yuan per day.
"The private sector is playing an increasingly important role in boosting the local economy and creating jobs for Tibetans," said Liao Yidong, vice chairman of Tibet's regional federation of industry and commerce.
By the end of last year, 561,000 people were employed in the private sector in Tibet, representing about half of the region's total working population, he said.
The private sector created 67,000 jobs just last year, compared with 24,000 jobs created by the public sector, Liao said.
Meanwhile, the private sector reported 14.28 billion yuan in revenue last year, or 93 percent of Tibet's total, figures released by Tibet's regional taxation bureau show.
There were nearly 10,000 private companies in Tibet last year, including 205 foreign-funded firms. The region is also home to nearly 110,000 self-employed people, mostly small commodities, food or souvenir vendors.
The figure marked a sharp rise from 1978, the year China began to reform and open up, when there were just 53 registered private businesses in the region.
Over the past decades, the central government has fostered the private economy on the Tibet plateau with infrastructure construction and a series of preferential policies such as tax exemptions and low-interest loans.
In 1980, individuals were first allowed to start their own businesses in Tibet.
Since then, Tibet's private sector has been expanding gradually, thanks to a relaxed market environment and better infrastructure, including easier access to the plateau region, said Liao.
Tibet has proven to be an ideal place to do business, with preferential tax policies and easy access to traffic, including 63,000 km of highways, a pivotal railway linking to big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and 22 air routes to domestic and international destinations.
In 2009, Tenzin Dundrop left his home in Xigaze Prefecture to run a souvenir shop on Barkhor, the most famous market street located in the heart of Lhasa.
His shop, which sells Tibetan artwork and curios, is always packed with tourists and pilgrims. "A set of dainty artwork that resembles miniature Tibetan tableware sells extremely well. Even in the winter slack season, I can sell a dozen sets a day."