Tibetans Protest Alleged Scam

Tibetans say they were victimized by a Chinese firm.

Sit-In-305.jpg A group of Tibetans take part in a sit-in protest in front of TIENS corporate headquarters in Tianjin, Oct. 21, 2009.

HONG KONG—Hundreds of Tibetans claiming they were cheated in a pyramid scheme run by a purported health-products company are demanding their money back and staging protests in several Chinese cities, spokesmen for the group say.

The group’s representatives, who want restitution from TIENS at its company headquarters in northeastern Tianjin municipality, said Tibetan investors were promised large returns on initial investments but have received nothing.

Those who brought in additional investors as instructed by the company also saw their friends and family cheated out of funds, they said.

Authorities in Tianjin and TIENS company officials have refused to comment.

Tsering Dhargyal, 54, from the Chamdo district of Kham in China’s western Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), is leading the appeal in Tianjin.

“We want to sue the company and its boss, Li Jinyuan, in accordance with Chinese law. We have a group of 26 people representing the 1,500 Tibetans lodging protests and preparing a suit against the company,” he said.

Dhargyal said the 26 Tibetans had been in Tianjin for more than a month and were initially told that the issue of compensation would be settled.

During that time, he said, a 28-year-old male in the group from Nangchen, in the Kham region, died of flu without adequate health care, while three others have been hospitalized with serious illnesses.

In Tianjin, a Tibetan man who identified himself as Dhondup said Wednesday that 82 people, aged 12 to 60, were sitting in protest outside company headquarters.

"No one has objected, but between 30 and 40 police are watching us," he said.

In Beijing, another Tibetan man who identified himself as Tsedo said authorities from the Tibetan Consular office had directed his group of 23 to the United Front office, who then directed them to the Central Police Office, which had already closed.

A Tibetan woman in Chamdo who asked not to be identified said local television was reporting that those who orchestrated the alleged scam had been arrested.

Young Tibetans have few opportunities to study and work, she said, and are therefore easily preyed upon.

"They cannot get government jobs in Chamdo city, and they make very little income by working as construction laborers, and they aren't willing  to work in the field. So when someone says they can earn more money, they're drawn to it, with little knowledge of what's in store."

Unkept promise

A screen shot taken from the TIENS Group Web site. Credit: RFA
“[The company] said they felt sympathy for the Tibetan people, and admitted to cheating us by lying to us. So we stayed…and trusted that they would honor their promise. We demanded about 80,000 yuan (U.S. $11,700) in compensation, as we incurred lots of expenses,” Dhargyal said.

The group’s representatives told company officials that if they were reimbursed they would return home, but when a settlement was proposed, the company would only agree to pay their return fare.

“They said that whether we accepted it or not, their decision was based on Chinese law. Whatever expenses we had incurred are not their responsibility. So now we feel great sadness and grief,” Dhargyal said.

“Again, they treated us like children. We are villagers, and uneducated, so [they think] we are afraid and gullible,” he said.

Dhargyal said the group will continue protesting in front of the company headquarters and return to Beijing to protest to the central government with a hunger strike if the issue remains unresolved.

‘Pushed’ to invest

Tsering Dhargyal said members of the group first reported being contacted by company officials on July 2, 2007, and said they had been “pushed” to accept an offer to invest.

He said the members who became investors in the company come from all over Tibet, including Lhasa, Kham, and Amdo.

“For an initial investment of 2,800 yuan (U.S. $410) from each individual, we were promised great prosperity in return. They called it a big family business, which is not only good for Tibetan people, but for the nation as a whole. In that way we collected money and joined the business,” Dhargyal said.

“We Tibetans believed and trusted in them, hoping to make big money, and we listened to everything they said,” he continued.

Dhargyal said TIENS explained to investors that it had no products to sell and instead generated business “through people.”

“For example, I went alone and they said that my responsibility was to bring two people. The next two people must bring two more, and this would continue until it reached the thousands,” he said.

Dhargyal said that investors were paid according to the number of people the recruited, but they soon learned that it was impossible to reach the quotas TIENS had set for them.

“After getting the 2,800 yuan from each new recruit, we had nothing else to do. They promised that when we reached a certain [recruiting] stage, we would get a salary of 9,000 yuan (U.S. $1,300) monthly, but some of us even managed to reach the highest level and they didn’t pay … It was a complete scam,” he said.

According to group representatives, the investors were told by company officials to attend training classes in Xi'an, in China’s central Shaanxi province, but upon arrival the Tibetans received no instruction and had their identification cards taken away from them.

Members of the group in Xi'an say that local Chinese have threatened them and told them to leave, saying they do not belong there, but they refuse to return home without compensation.

Broken trust

One of the Tibetans in Xi'an, 33-year-old Lobsang Choephel, said that after his initial investment and work recruiting new investors, he had originally received 370 yuan (U.S. $54) from TIENS and that a few had received as much as 1,000 yuan (U.S. $146).

“Those who have spent three years in this business have earned a maximum of 20,000 yuan (U.S. $3,000) from the company. They were the first batch to be recruited and they were responsible for the all the subsequent recruiting,” Choephel said.

Choephel said the group could not return home empty-handed because their embarrassment would be too great.

A resident in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, who asked to remain anonymous, said he knows “lots of Tibetans” who went to China with the hope of becoming successful businessmen, but few who have been able to return.

“I met one who returned to Lhasa recently and said he had spent about 28,000 yuan (U.S. $4,100) and only managed to get back about 500 yuan (U.S. $73). He is grief-stricken,” the Lhasa resident said.

“It was a complete mass fraud and only those few who were initially recruited might have gained a little bit. The majority who have heavily invested in this are completely broke now," he said.

Basic training only

He said Tibetans who had traveled to the TIENS facility in Xi'an and to similar facilities run by other companies were often put up in a compound, given dance lessons or some other kind of basic educational training, and then forgotten about.

“They had nothing else to do. All those thousands of Tibetans went to China on the recommendations of close family members and friends, because you can enroll only those who trust you,” the Tibetan said.

“But they have to pay for accommodations. Many want to leave, but they cannot, as their Chinese IDs have been taken away … The Chinese government is not involved in this, but they also do not interfere in this business,” he said.

Tsering Dhargyal said he had sold all of his possessions to invest in the company and attend the training sessions.

“We sold our land and animals to cover the expense to come [to mainland China] for the hope of becoming rich, but only now realize it was a scam.”

Original reporting by Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Oct 21, 2009 12:18 PM

How can we help the victims? We must hold the CEO accountable and press for compensation of all 1500 Tibetans.

Sep 27, 2012 04:54 PM

I just have discovered that TIENS is now in my country the Philippines but I will not let them do what they did in Tibet and Pakistan to my fellow countrymen. That is why I made a blog warning everyone about this scam to stay away from this.


This comment was edited according to RFA's Terms of Use.

Oct 21, 2009 09:15 AM

The downside of
Tibetan people is hope and the downside of Chinese is suspicious. Tibetan as a citizens of China, should have all the rights under law. There is no political issue in this matter, it is all economic issue, let see who the Chinese government handle this.

Dec 26, 2009 11:48 PM

Okay multi level marketing, say I buy $1000 worth of product and to earn money I would have to sell it. To sell I need costumers and as these costumers can purchase directly from the Tiens firm too, why would they buy from me? To me this sounds as people being used to broaden the network of the Tiens company to the gain of profits of the share holders of which Mr Li Jinyuan is the main one (or should I say the Chinese Government is the main shareholder?)Ofcourse the donkeys will walk when a stick with a carrot on a string is held before them. Advertisement of the firms(Tiens) good work does the same to the same effect. I cannot deny that the group of Tibetans, aswell as others have been a bit silly to fall for this kind of tricks. To Sonam, Not being politics huh? Well broaden your world as economics is the main instrument for political changes. As is it with this isue at hand.

Oct 28, 2009 02:17 AM

Its truly a scam, nice translation I really appreciated the works that you people are doing. It helps us to update the news of our own country. Keep up the good work.

Jan 16, 2012 08:52 PM

if anyone has any proof, please share

Dec 20, 2009 05:42 AM

Thousand of people earning thousands of dollars monthly in TIENS. Firstly understand how MULTI LEVEL MARKETING works. When you invest or buy USD 1,000 worth of products from TIENS bonus will be paid for that value for that month only. So you need to sell or recruit new people to buy the product where you will receive your good income upon the expansion of your network.
Kindly do not tarnish TIENS Goodwill as millions of TIENS member worldwide enjoy the benefit TIENS has created so i don't believe TIENS going to cheat 1,500 Tibetan's.

Mobile: 006 019 397 3837.

Oct 21, 2009 08:19 PM

Tiens is not scam people earning big big amount out of it in pakistan many they got car, many people are getting US$3000 a month, I think these people they dont know any thing abt drict selling, if they will not sell product? how they will get income, tiens dont claim anything as they they said