More than ten different so called ethnic minorities are living in the Three Valleys Region. They mostly belong to the Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group that consists of: Tibetans, Lisus, Naxis, Nus, Dulongs, Yis, Pumis. Many of these communities share peacefully mixed religious believes. In any one village there may well be worshippers of Buddhism (Lamaism), Taoism, Animism or Christian faiths, being a wonderful example of tolerance and unthreatening coexistence.
These ethnic groups, officially called "minorities" by the Chinese Government, represent here about 85% of the population and live in a harsh Himalayan environment. The poor agriculture situation allows them to survive on such crops as - barley, maize, buckwheat, wheat and rice along the rivers. Some also gather honey, wild mushrooms as well as berries, like Sichuan pepper, and grow fruits (peaches, walnuts, papayas, oranges, pomelos and pomegranates).
The average yearly income is about 800 Rmb (80 Euros or 120 USD), but in the remote villages it is much lower, about 200 to 300 Rmb. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult for them to pay for mandatory education, basic health expenses, without to mention to initiate small size economic activities. This results in the selling of their animals (cows, mules, pigs, chickens), and gathering of wild mushrooms, medicinal herbs, etc. that they will sell to the nearby township to earn some money. There is sometimes the chance to work on some rare infrastructure projects such as roads or dams, or for the administration as teacher, etc.
China in general and the Himalayan rural and pastoral communities in particular, have in recent years been facing since a rapidly changing environment. This has involved material changes as well as changes in term of values and identity. Even if they are on the fringes of the spectacular Chinese economic development, they have been put at a disadvantage by a quickly evolving situation. Recently there appeared a new influence, coming from the coastal areas, of a strong consumerist spirit. This new influence of mass tourism and a materialistic way of living, that was quite unknown until recently, has created deep questions within the communities about their identity and values. This situation may offer new opportunities when fully prepared, however it is also shaking and threatening the fragile social, cultural, religious as well as natural and ecological balance and diversity of the whole region.
Well informed, educated and healthy communities are more able to cope with such massive challenges.