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Special> Tibet in 50 Years> Summary
UPDATED: March 5, 2009
Tibetan People Suffered From Feudal Serfdom, Darker Than Medieval Europe

Tibetan people suffered exploitation and oppression under feudal serfdom and theocratic rule before 1959, a society even darker than medieval Europe, said a Chinese government's white paper here on Monday.

The State Council Information Office released the white paper to mark the 50th anniversary of the region's Democratic Reform. It described the situation in Tibet before 1959 when serfdom was abolished and about 1 million Tibetan serfs were freed.

The upper ruling strata, including local administrative officials, aristocrats and upper-ranking lamas, with the 14th Dalai Lama as its chief representative, accounted for less than 5 percent of the population in Tibet. But they possessed the overwhelming part of the means of production, and monopolized material and cultural resources, the paper said.

Statistics released in the early years of the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century indicate that Tibet had more than 3 million mu (15 mu equals 1 hectare) of farmland, of which 30.9 percent was owned by the local feudal government, 29.6 percent by aristocrats, and 39.5 percent by monasteries and upper-ranking lamas.

Before 1959, the family of the 14th Dalai Lama possessed 27 manors, 30 pastures and more than 6,000 serfs, and annually squeezed about 33,000 ke (one ke equals 14 kilograms) of qingke (highland barley), 2,500 ke of butter, and 2 million liang of silver (15 liang of silver equaled 1 silver dollar of the time) out of its serfs.

"Powerful lamas controlled everything in Tibet, where even the Buddha himself couldn't do anything without the support of the lamas," British military journalist Edmund Candler wrote his book, The Unveiling of Lhasa.

The serfs and slaves, comprising more than 95 percent of the population, suffered from poverty and exploitation, and had no basic human rights, the paper said.

The local government of old Tibet prohibited them from leaving their owners' manors without permission, or fleeing the manors. They had to be serfs from generation to generation. All serfs and their livestock had to till the plots of land assigned to them and labor for their owners on other chores. Once the serfs lost their ability to labor, they were deprived of livestock, farm tools and land, and degraded to the status of slaves, the paper said.

The serf-owners possessed serfs as their private property, they could trade and transfer them, present them as gifts, make them gambling stakes and mortgages for debt, the paper said.

In 1943, the aristocrat Trimon Norbu Wan-gyal sold 100 serfs to a monk official at Kadron Gangsa in Drigung area, each serf for 60liang of silver. He also sent 400 serfs to the Kunde Ling Monastery as payment for a debt of 3,000 pin of silver (1 pin equals 50 liang of silver), according to the paper.

The serf-owners also had a firm grip on child-bearing, death and marriage of serfs, the paper said.

Serfs would face cruel penalties if they "infringed upon" the interests of their owners, according to the Tibet's local code before 1959. Their owners could "have their eyes gouged out, legs hamstrung, tongues cut out, or hands severed, or have them hurled from a cliff, drowned or otherwise killed".

There were penitentiaries or private jails in monasteries and aristocrats' residences, where instruments of torture were kept and clandestine tribunals held to punish serfs and slaves, the paper said.

The private monastery administrative office set up by Trijang Rinpoche, junior tutor of the present 14th Dalai Lama, killed and injured more than 500 serfs and poor monks, and in Dechen Dzong (now Dagze County) jailed 121 people, sent 89 into exile, forced 538 into slavery, forced 1,025 commoners into exile, forced 72 divorces, and 484 women were raped there, according to the paper.

Serf owners also exploited serfs by imposing forced labor, taxes and levies, and rents for land and livestock. There were more than 200 kinds of taxes levied by the former local government of Tibet alone. Serfs had to contribute more than 50 percent or up to 80 percent of their labor, unpaid, to the government and manor owners, the paper said.

In the busy farming season or when serf owners needed laborers, serfs had to contribute manpower and animal power gratis. In addition, serfs had to do unpaid work for the local government and subordinate organizations.

Most of the serfs suffered from the exploitation by usury. Each Dalai Lama had two money-lending agencies. Some money coming from "tribute" to the Dalai Lama was lent at an exorbitant rate of interest. According to records in the account books of the two agencies, in 1950 they lent 3,038,581 liang of silver as principal, and collected 303,858 liang in interest. Governments at different levels in Tibet also had many such agencies, and lending money and collecting interest became one of the officials' duties, the paper said.

Most aristocrats were also engaged in usury, with the interest accounting for 15 to 20 percent of their family revenues.

Serfs had to borrow money to survive, and more than 90 percent of serf households were in debt, the paper said.

"All the farmers in Tibet are serfs saddled with lifelong debts, and it is almost impossible to find any of them who have paid off their debts," French traveler Alexandre David-Neel wrote in his book, Old Tibet Faces New China.

The grandfather of a serf named Tsering Gonpo in Maizho-kunggar County once borrowed 50 ke of grain from the Sera Monastery. In 77years the three generations of the family had paid more than 3,000ke of grain in interest, but the serf owner still claimed that Tsering Gonpo owed him 100,000 ke of grain, according to the paper.

Another serf named Tenzin in Dongkar County borrowed one ke of qingke from his master in 1941. In 1951 he was ordered to pay back600 ke. Tenzin could not pay off the debt, and had to flee. His wife committed suicide, and his seven-year-old son was taken away to repay the debt.

"Plenty of evidence demonstrated that by the middle of the 20thCentury the feudal serfdom of theocracy was beset with numerous contradictions and plagued by crises," the paper said.

Serfs petitioned their masters for relief from their burdens, fled their lands, resisted paying rent and corvee labor, and even waged armed struggle.

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, once a Galoin (cabinet minister) of the former local government of Tibet, pointed out that "all believe that if Tibet goes on like this the serfs will all die in near future, and the aristocrats will not be able to live either.

"The whole Tibet will be destroyed."

(Xinhua News Agency March 2, 2009)

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