Tibetan Official Shot Dead While Monitoring 'Caterpillar Fungus' Trade

tibet-fungus-june2013.gif A Tibetan holds a knife at the scene of clashes over 'caterpillar fungus' in Rebgong county in China's Qinghai province, May 17, 2013.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

A Tibetan official responsible for keeping order among local communities competing to gather a parasitic fungus that is prized for its purported medicinal properties has been shot dead in China's Sichuan province amid concerns over a reduced harvest and rising prices of the commodity, according to media accounts.

The official, whose name was given in Chinese by media reports as Zhang Wei, was killed as he returned from leading a patrol in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture last Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

Zhang, deputy director of the security maintenance office of Nyagrong (in Chinese, Xinlong) county, had led a team to Chongcao Mountain to maintain order while locals were collecting the rare “caterpillar fungus,” the agency said.

Police said their investigation has indicated the crime was premeditated and motivated by revenge, although the reasons for the killer seeking     revenge were not specified, Xinhua said.

A Tibetan man was named as a suspect and is being sought by police, it said.

Tibet’s caterpillar fungus is a major source of income in impoverished Tibetan areas, and clashes frequently occur among Tibetans over access to areas where the fungus grows.

Concerns over social stability in harvesting areas have now been raised due to the reduced numbers of the fungus available for gathering this season, sources said.

A poor harvest

“This year, the harvest is not so good,” a Tibetan living in neighboring Qinghai province told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I’m worried that I may not even be able to pay my own expenses,” the man said.

Harvests of the valuable commodity, though  good one year, can sometimes be poor the next, Zhao Jinping, an official of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Caterpillar Fungus Associations, said in a Xinhua report on Wednesday.

“It is normal that this varies from year to year,” Zhao said.

At the end of May, the price for half a kilogram of the fungus was about 203,000 yuan (U.S. $32,587), Zhao said, while an article in Thursday’s New York Times gave the price at about 250,000 yuan (U.S. $40,132) per kilogram.

“It is definite that the price will go up,” Zhao said.

In May 2013, clashes between rival harvesting groups in Qinghai's Rebgong (Tongren) county left at least two people dead and three others wounded, sources said.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama quickly called for an end to the disputes, saying the quarrels had become a “crisis.”

Reported by Thaklha Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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