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UPDATED: February 21, 2010
Commentary: Facts Speak Louder Than Words
It was the consensus of the international community that old Tibet was ruled by the theocracy implementing feudal serfdom

The Dalai Lama group published an article, China's Claim that 'Old Tibet' was a Feudal Serfdom is Fiction, on Jan. 4, 2010. The article claimed that before 1949, "Tibet was neither an ideal society nor a feudal serf system", describing old Tibet as a beggar-free rule-of-law society without famine in which tenants were wealthy and the economy was self-sufficient. The article claimed that, compared with China at the same time -- and even China of today -- Tibet was a "far more civil society".

It has been unprecedented for the Dalai Lama group to ignore the historical facts and to openly hail its feudal serfdom past which was similar to Europe's Dark Ages. Such an audacious move was also thought-provoking.

It was the consensus of the international community that old Tibet was ruled by the theocracy implementing feudal serfdom.

Whether or not Tibet before 1959 was ruled with a feudal serfdom system by the theocracy should not to decided by those speaking on behalf of the interests of serf-owners. Chinese and foreign historical archives, as well as research by professional scholars, is what is most persuasive.

Old Tibet's feudal serfdom in Tibetan language writings

Many Tibetan language archives have records that prove the existence of serfdom in old Tibet.

A permanent residency license issued to local serfs and administered by the Common Assembly(Bla-spyi) of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, which is held by the Tibet Historical Archives Anthology, said:

"All male and female slaves, land, and meadows donated by serfs belong to the monastery's Losel-ling College. In addition, serfs are not allowed to lease their land to others before reporting it to the college, and slaves are not allowed to escape. Serfs are not allowed to marry those administered by other monasteries for fear of serf loss, and they should behave themselves and pay their corvee taxes to the monastery on time."

This archive proves the following facts: Firstly, the license issued by the Drepung Monastery openly admitted that serfs existed in old Tibet and slaves in monasteries were property and did not have any individual freedoms.

Secondly, serfs were confined within the monastery's territory and were not allowed to move out.

Thirdly, serfs did not have the marriage freedom.

Finally, serfs were merely talking tools that would only pay corvee taxes to the monastery.

Old Tibet's feudal serfdom in Chinese language writings

There were also records on Tibet's social system in Chinese writings from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) to 1949. They showed objectively the basic features of a feudal serfdom society.

For instance, when author and scholar Chen Jianfu talked about "classes among Tibetan people" in his book "Tibetan Issues," published in 1937, he said: "Noble families extend their control over most parts of Tibet. They have the money and power, and rule the land hand in hand with the monasteries. They act like an exclusive class. ... The nobles are cruel to their tenants, who constantly suffer from beatings that leave them covered with cuts and bruises and afraid to revolt." Moreover, "tenants have no freedom as they are restrained by their landlords."

According to "New History of Tibet," compiled by Xu Guangshi and Cai Jincheng in 1911, "some 41 articles of Tibet's criminal law were derived from the region's local customs, many of which are extremely brutal." "Criminals who commit robbery or homicide shall be sentenced to death, no matter whether they are the principal culprit or not. The culprit will be tied to a pillar and be shot to death with arrows, or he or she will be beheaded and the chopped-off head will be shown to the public. Or the culprit would be forced alive into a cave of scorpions. For those who commit theft, their family members will be detained, and the suspects will be ordered to compensate a figure several times the value of the thievery. Then his or her eyes will be gouged out, the nose cut off, or hands and feet will be chopped off."

These writings showed old Tibet was a theocracy comprised of the nobility and the leading monks. Extremely brutal criminal law was exercised in the region and tenants were deprived of personal freedom. All of these are evidence of the theocratic feudal serfdom society the old Tibet was.

The old Tibet's feudal serfdom in eyes of foreigners

Many foreigners travelled in Tibet in the period from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to 1949. Some recorded what they saw and heard. The writings describe a backward, stagnant society based on feudal serfdom.

Edmund Candler, a British national, wrote in his book, The Unveiling of Lhasa: "The people are medieval, not only in their system of government and their religion, their inquisition, their witchcraft, their incantations, their ordeals by fire and boiling oil, but in every aspect of their daily life."

Another Briton, Charles Bell, who spent much time in Tibet in the 1920s, wrote in his book, Tibet Past and Present, that old Tibet was still in the feudal stage:

"The nobles of Tibet exercise great power and influence... The nobility, side by side with the leading priests, rule the land. Like the monasteries, they own large landed estate."

French explorer Alexander David-Neel said in his book, Old Tibet Faces A New China: "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."

An Indian scholar, R. Rahul said, "Peasants in (old) Tibet, particularly those on the estates belonging to the aristocracy and the monasteries, are in a sense serfs."

An American scholar, Dorsch Marie de Voe, talked about how the serf owners conducted spiritual control by using religion in his article, The Donden Ling Case: An Essay on Tibetan Refugee Life With Proposals for Change. He wrote: "From a purely secular point of view, this doctrine must be seen as one of the most ingenious and pernicious forms of social control ever devised. To the ordinary Tibetan, the acceptance of this doctrine precluded the possibility of ever changing his or her fate in this life. If one were born a slave, so the doctrine of karma taught, it was not the fault of the slaveholder but rather the slaves themselves for having committed some misdeeds in a previous life. In turn, the slaveholder was simply being rewarded for good deeds in a previous life. For the slave to attempt to break the chains that bound him, or her, would be tantamount to a self-condemnation to a rebirth into a life worse than the one already being suffered." A large number of records show that old Tibet was a theocratic feudal serfdom society.

(Xinhua News Agency Februray 21, 2010)

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