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Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Background
UPDATED: April 23, 2008  
Tibet -- Its Ownership And Human Rights Situation

How Have Imperialists Instigated Tibetan


There was no such word as "independence" in the Tibetan vocabulary at the beginning of the 20th century. After the British imperialists started the Opium War of aggression against China in 1840, China was reduced from an independent sovereign country to a semi-colonial country. Imperialist forces took advantage of a weak Qing Dynasty and began plotting to carve up China, Tibet included.

In order to bring Tibet into its sphere of influence, British aggressors invaded China's Tibet twice in 1888 and 1903. The Tibetan army and civilians rose to resist but were defeated. In the second aggressive war against Tibet, the British army occupied Lhasa, and the 13th Dalai Lama was forced to flee from the city. The invaders compelled the Tibetan local government officials to sign the Lhasa Convention. But because the Ministry of External Affairs of the Qing government believed the Lhasa Convention would do damage to national sovereignty, the high commissioner stationed in Tibet by the Qing government refused to sign it, leaving it ineffectual.

After their failure to assume full control of Tibet through direct military incursion, the imperialists changed their tack and began plotting to separate Tibet from China. On August 31, 1907, Britain and Russia signed the Convention Between Great Britain and Russia, which changed China's sovereignty over Tibet into "suzerainty." This marked the first time Chin's sovereignty over Tibet was altered into "suzerainty" in international documents.

The year following the 1911 Revolution, Britain took advantage of the political chaos in China after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the new birth of the Republic of China, and put before the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs a five-point demand, indicating the denial of China's sovereignty over Tibet. When the Chinese government rejected the British demand, the British blocked all the roads leading from India to Tibet. In 1913 the British government inveigled the Tibetan authorities into declaring independence and proposed that "Britain be the weaponry supplier after total independence of Tibet;" "Tibet accept British envoys' supervision of Tibetan financial and military affairs in return for Britain's support of Tibetan independence;" "Britain be responsible for resisting the army of the Republic of China when it reaches Tibet;" "Tibet adopt an open policy and allow freedom of movement of the British." (Zhu Xiu: 60-Year Chronology of Tibet) However, Britain's schemes failed.

In 1913, taking advantage of the fact that Yuan Shikai, who had usurped the presidency of the Republic of China, was eager to get foreign diplomatic recognition and international loans, the British government forced the Beijing government to participate in a tripartite conference of China, Britain and Tibet, namely the Simla Conference held at the behest of the British government. Before the conference, Charles Bell political officer sent to Sikkim by the British-Indian government, privately met with Lon-chen Shatra, the representative of the Tibetan local government to the conference. Bell trumpeted to Lon-chen Shatra that "suzerainty" implied "independence." In his book Tibet: Past and Present, Bell wrote, "When I met Lon-chen Shatra in Gyantse, I advised him to bring down all the documents which he could collect bearing on the Tibetan relationship to China in the past, and on the former's claims to the various provinces and districts which had from time to time been occupied by China." Stirred up by the British, the Tibetan representative raised the slogan of "Tibetan independence" for the first time. He also claimed "Tibetan territory includes Qinghai, Litang, Batang and Dajianlu." When these demands were rejected by the representative of the Chinese government, the British delegate introduced the pre-arranged "compromise" scheme, which divided China's Tibetan-inhabited areas into "inner Tibet" and "outer Tibet." "Inner Tibet," including Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, would be under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government. With regard to "outer Tibet," including Tibet and west Xikang, the Chinese government was requested to "recognize the autonomy of outer Tibet" and "refrain from interfering in its internal affairs;" "however, China may still send its high commissioner to Lhasa and maintain an escort army of no more than 300 soldiers." The essence of this "compromise" scheme was to change China's sovereignty over Tibet into "suzerainty," and separate Tibet from the authority of the Chinese government under the pretext of "autonomy." Naturally these unreasonable demands were strongly opposed by the Chinese people. On July 3, 1914, the Chinese government representative Chen Yifan upon instruction refused to sign the Simla Convention. In his statement, Chen said, "Government of China refuses to recognize any agreement which His Majesty's Government and Tibet might conclude independently either now or in the future." The Chinese government also sent a note to the British government, reiterating its position. Therefore, the conference broke down.

In the summer of 1942, the Tibetan local government, with the support of the British representative, suddenly announced the establishment of a "foreign affairs bureau," and openly carried out "Tibetan independence" activities. These actions, as soon as they were made public, were condemned unanimously by the Chinese people. The national government also issued a stern warning. Under this pressure, the Tibetan local government had no choice but to withdraw its decision and reported the change to the national government. At the "Asian Relations Conference" held in New Delhi in March 1947, the British imperialists plotted behind the curtains to invite Tibetan representatives and even identified Tibet as an independent country on the map of Asia in the conference hall and in the array of national flags. The organizers were forced to rectify this after the Chinese delegation made serious protests.

Around the end of 1949, the American Lowell Thomas roamed Tibet in the guise of a "radio commentator" to explore the "possibility of aid that Washington could give Tibet." He wrote in a US newspaper: " The United States is ready to recognize Tibet as an independent and free country." In the first half of 1950, a load of American weaponry was shipped into Tibet through Calcutta in order to help resist the PLA's entry into Tibet. On November 1 of the same year, US Secretary of State Dean Acheson openly slandered China's liberation of its own territory of Tibet as "invasion." In the same month the United States prodded some other countries to propose a motion at the United Nations for intervention in China's Tibet. The scheme was unsuccessful in face of the stern stand of the Chinese government and the opposition of some countries.

Historical facts over more than a century clearly demonstrate that so-called "Tibetan independence" was, in reality, cooked up by old and new imperialists out of their crave to wrest Tibet from China. The 14th Dalai Lama in his early years pointed out, "It was the imperialists who, taking advantage of the Tibetan people's antipathy to the Qing Dynasty and the reactionary Kuomintang government, attempted by enticement, deception and instigation to get the Tibetan people to separate from the motherland and come under their oppression and enslavement."

How Does the 1959 Armed Rebellion Occur?

Before peaceful liberation in 1951, Tibet was under a feudal serfdom characterized by the dictatorship of upper-class monks and nobles. The broad masses of serfs in Tibet eagerly wanted to break the shackles of serfdom. After the peaceful liberation, many enlightened people of the upper and middle classes also realized that if the old system was not reformed, the Tibetan people would never attain prosperity. In light of Tibetan history and the region's special situation, the central people's government adopted a very circumspect attitude toward the reform of the social system in Tibet. The 17-Article Agreement stipulated that the central government would not use coercion to implement such reform and that it was to be carried out by the Tibetan local government on its own. During his visit to India in January 1957, Premier Zhou Enlai of the State Council handed a letter from Chairman Mao Zedong to the Dalai Lama and Bainqen Lama and the accompanying Tibetan local government senior officials. The letter informed them of the decision of the central authorities that reform would not be conducted during the Second Five-Year Plan period (1958-62); whether reform should be conducted after six years would still be decided by Tibet according to its own situation and conditions then.

However, some members of the Tibetan ruling class were hostile to reform and wanted to preserve the serfdom forever so as to maintain their own vested interests. They deliberately violated and sabotaged the 17-Article Agreement and intensified their efforts to split the motherland. Between March and April 1952, Sicab Lukangwa and Losang Zhaxi of the Tibetan local government gave secret support to the illicit organization "the people's conference" to oppose the 17-Article Agreement and create disturbance in Lhasa, demanding that the PLA "pull out of Tibet." In 1955, Galoin Surkang Wangqen Geleg of the Tibetan local government and others secretly plotted an armed rebellion in the Tibetan-inhabited area of Xikang Province. Rebellion broke out in that area in 1956 and the rebels besieged the local government institutions and massacred hundreds of government staff as well as common people. In May 1957, with the support of Galoins Neuxar Tubdain Tarba and Xainga Gyurme Doje, a rebel organization named "four rivers and six ranges" and later the rebel armed forces named "religion guards" were founded. They raised the slogan of "Tibetan Independence" and "opposition to reform" and further intensified their rebellious activities. The armed rebels harassed Qamdo, Dengqen, Heihe and Shannan. They killed cadres, disrupted communication lines, and attacked institutions and army troops stationed there by the central authorities. They looted, cruelly persecuted people and raped women. A merchant named Dongda Bazha in Nedong County was captured together with his wife because he refused to take part in the rebellion. The rebels tied up the couple and lashed them before killing the husband and raping his wife. The then Tibetan local government admitted that many Tibetan people lodged complaints against the rebels with it. In August 1958 alone, there were more than 70 complaints.

The central people's government, in the spirit of national unity, repeatedly urged the Tibetan local government to punish the rebels to maintain public order. Meanwhile, it told the Galoins of the Tibetan local government, "The central government will not change its decision on postponing reform in Tibet and in the future, when the reform is conducted, the policy to be followed will still be one of peaceful reform." However, the reactionary clique of the upper social strata in Tibet took the extreme forbearance of the central government as a sign of weakness and easiness to bully. They declared, "For nine years, the Hans have not dared to touch our most glorious and sacrosanct system. When we attacked them, they could only parry our blows without being able to strike back. So long as we transfer a large number of troops to Lhasa from outside, the Hans will surely flee at the first blow. If they don't run away, we will carry His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Shannan, and gather our strength there to launch a counter-attack and seize back Lhasa. If all these efforts fail, we can go to India."

The armed rebellion in Tibet was supported from the beginning by foreign anti-China forces. In his book The United States, Tibet and China American Norman C. Hall reveals that in 1957 the CIA culled six young men from among Tibetans residing abroad and sent them to Guam of the United States to receive training in map-reading, radio transmission, shooting and parachuting. Subsequently, the United States trained 170 "Kamba guerrillas" in batches in Hale Camp, Colorado. The trained "Kamba guerrillas" were air-dropped or sneaked into Tibet to "launch an effective resistance movement" to "oppose the Chinese occupation." An article entitled The CIA Tibetan Conspiracy in the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review disclosed in its September 5 issue of 1975 that in May 1958, two agents trained by the Americans in the first batch brought a transceiver to the headquarter set up by the rebel leader Anzhugcang Goinbo Zhaxi in Shannan to make contact with the CIA. Before long, the United States air-dropped arms and ammunition, including 20 sub-machine guns, two mortars, 100 rifles, 600 hand-grenades, 600 artillery shells and close to 40,000 bullets, to the rebels in the plateau called Chigu Lama Thang. During the same period, the United States clandestinely shipped large amounts of arms and ammunition overland to the rebels entrenched in the Shannan area.

With the collusion of the Tibetan serf-owners bent on retaining serfdom and the foreign anti-China forces, the rebellious activities soon became rampant. The climax was the elaborately planned armed rebellion in Lhasa on March 10, 1959.

On February 7, the Dalai Lama took the initiative and said to Deng Shaodong, deputy commander of the Tibet Military Area Command, and other officers, "I was told that after its return from studies in the hinterland, the Song and Dance Ensemble under the Tibet Military Area Command has a very good repetoire. I would like to see its show. Please arrange it for me." Deng and the other officers expressed immediate readiness and asked the Dalai Lama to fix the time and place for performance. They also conveyed the Dalai Lama's wish to Surkang and other Galoins of the Tibetan local government and Paglha Tubdain Weidain, adjutant general of the Dalai Lama. On March 8, the Dalai Lama said he would go to the performance in the Tibet Military Area Command Auditorium at 3 pm on March 10. The Tibet Military Area Command carefully prepared for the occasion. But on the evening of March 9, the Miboin (mayor) of Lhasa provoked citizens by saying: tomorrow the Dalai Lama will go to the Military Area Command for a banquet and a performance; the Hans have prepared a plane to kidnap the Dalai Lama to Beijing; every household should send people to Norbu Lingka, the residence of the Dalai Lama, to petition him not to attend the performance in the Military Area Command. The next morning, the rebels coerced more than 2,000 people to mass at Norbu Lingka, spreading the rumor that "the Military Area Command is planning to poison the Dalai Lama" and shouting slogans such as "Tibetan Independence" and "Away with the Hans." The rebels hit and wounded Sampo Cewang Rinzin, a former Galoin of the Tibetan local government and then a deputy commander of the Tibet Military Area Command. They stoned to death Kainqoin Pagbalha Soinam Gyamco, a progressive patriot and member of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. His body was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged through downtown as a warning. Subsequently, the rebel leaders convened the so-called "people's congress" and "people's conference of the independent state of Tibet," intensifying their efforts to organize and expand armed rebellion. They brazenly tore up the 17-Article Agreement and declared "the independence of Tibet," launching a full-scale armed rebellion against the motherland.

Although Norbu Lingka was controlled by the rebels and it was hard to make contact with the Dalai Lama, acting representative of the central government Tan Guansan managed to send three letters to the Dalai Lama on March 10, 11 and 15 through patriots. In them, Tan expressed his understanding of the Dalai Lama's situation as well as his concern for the latter's safety. He pointed out that the rebels were making reckless military provocations and demanded that the Tibetan local government immediately work to stop them. The Dalai Lama penned three letters in reply to Tan on March 11, 12 and 16. In his letters, the Dalai Lama wrote, "Reactionary, evil elements are carrying out activities endangering me under the pretext of ensuring my safety. I am taking measures to calm things down." "The unlawful activities of the reactionary clique cause me endless worry and sorrow.... As to the incidents of yesterday and the day before, which were brought about under the pretext of ensuring my safety and have seriously estranged relations between the central people's government and the local government, I am making every possible effort to deal with them." In the letter of March 16, he said that he had "educated" and "severely criticized" officials of the Tibetan local government. He also expressed the desire to still go to the Military Area Command a few days later. All three letters of the Dalai Lama have been photographed by reporters of the Xinhua News Agency and published, and are still well preserved.

However, on the evening of March 17, Galoins Surkang, Neuxar and Xaisur and other rebel leaders held the Dalai Lama under duress and carried him away from Lhasa to Shannan, the "base" of the armed rebel forces. When the armed rebellion failed, they fled to India.

After the Dalai Lama left Lhasa, about 7,000 rebels gathered to wage a full-scale attack on the Party, government and army institutions before dawn on March 20. The PLA, driven beyond its forbearance, launched under orders a counterattack at 10 am the same day. With the support of patriotic Tibetan monks and lay people, the PLA completely put down the armed rebellion in Lhasa within two days. Before long, the PLA suppressed the armed rebellion in Shannan, where the rebels had been entrenched for a long time. Armed rebel forces who fled to other places were dissolved.

The PLA was highly disciplined in the course of quelling the rebellion and this won the wholehearted support of Buddhist monks and laymen. They took the initiative to help the PLA in putting down the rebellion. Various self-defense, joint-defense, livestock protection and other forms of joint-defense teams sprang up in various places to build roads, provide transport, dispatch mail, serve as guides, boil tea, send water, stand sentry and give first-aid to wounded PLA soldiers, effectively isolating the rebels.

III. The Dalai Clique's Separatist

Activities and the Central Government's Policy

How Does the Dalai Clique Carry Out His Separatist


Starting from the point of maintaining the unification of the motherland and national unity, the central government adopted an attitude of patient waiting towards the Dalai Lama after he fled abroad. His position as a vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee was preserved until 1964. However, surrounded by foreign anti-China forces and Tibetan separatists, the Dalai Lama completely renounced the patriotic stand which he once expressed and engaged in numerous activities to split the motherland.

-- Publicly advocating that "Tibet is an independent state." In June 1959, the Dalai Lama issued a statement in Mussoorie, India which read "Tibet had actually been independent." In March 1991, during his visit to Britain, the Dalai Lama told the press that Tibet "is the biggest occupied country in the world today." He proclaimed on many occasions that "the task of realizing the independence of Tibet has fallen upon all Tibetans in and outside Tibet."

-- Setting up the "government in exile." In the early 1960s, the Dalai clique convened the "people's congress of Tibet" in Dharamsala, India, which established the so-called "Tibetan government in exile." A so-called "constitution" was promulgated, which states that "the Dalai Lama is the head of state," "the ministers shall be appointed by the Dalai Lama" and "all work of the government shall not be approved without the consent of the Dalai Lama." The 1991 revised "constitution" of the Dalai clique still stipulates that the Dalai is "the head of the state." The Dalai Lama and his so-called "government in exile" kept levying an "independence tax" on Tibetans residing abroad, established "offices" in some countries, published magazines and books advocating "Tibetan independence" and engaged in political activities for "Tibetan independence."

-- Reorganizing the armed rebel forces. In September 1960, the Dalai clique re-organized the "religion guards of the four rivers and six ranges" in Mustang, Nepal, which carried on military harassment activities along the Chinese border for ten years. Its first commander-in-chief Anzhugcang Goinbo Zhaxi wrote in his memoirs Four Rivers and Six Ranges that "a series of attacks were organized on Chinese outposts" and "sometimes, 100 or 200 Tibetan guerrillas went as far as 100 miles into the area occupied by the Chinese." The Dalai Lama wrote articles praising Goinbo Zhaxi.

-- Spreading rumors and calumnies and plotting riots. Ignoring facts, the Dalai Lama fabricated numerous lies to sow dissension among the various nationalities and incite the Tibetan people to oppose the central government during his 30-year self-exile abroad. He said that "the 17-Article Agreement was imposed on Tibet under armed force"; "the Hans have massacred 1.2 million Tibetans"; "owing to Han immigration, the Tibetans have become a minority in Tibet"; "the Communists in Tibet force women to practice birth control and abortion"; the government opposes religious freedom and persecutes religious people; traditional Tibetan culture and art are in danger of extinction; the natural resources in Tibet have been seriously depleted; there is severe environmental pollution in Tibet, etc. The riots in Lhasa from September 1987 to March 1989 were incited by the Dalai clique and plotted by rebels who were sent back to Tibet. The riots incurred severe losses to the lives and property of Tibetans.

The Dalai's words and deeds have showed that he is no longer only a religious leader as he claims. On the contrary, he has become the political leader engaged in long-term divisive activities abroad.

'Tibetan Independence' Brooks No Discussion

The central government has adopted a consistent policy towards the Dalai Lama. It urges him to renounce separatism and return to the stand of patriotism and unity.

On December 28, 1978, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said to AP correspondents that "the Dalai Lama may return, but only as a Chinese citizen"; "we have but one demand -- patriotism. And we say that anyone is welcome, whether he embraces patriotism early or late." This indicates the central government's attitude of welcoming the Dalai Lama back to the motherland.

The Dalai Lama sent representatives to Beijing to contact the central government on February 28, 1979. On March 12, Deng Xiaoping met the Dalai Lama's representatives and said to them, "The Dalai Lama is welcome to come back. He can go out again after his return." With regard to the central government's negotiation with the side of the Dalai Lama, Deng pointed out, "Now, whether the dialogue to discuss and settle problems will be between the central government and Tibet as a state or Tibet as a part of China? This is a practical question." "Essentially Tibet is a part of China. This is the criterion for judging right or wrong."

The central government did everything possible to persuade the Dalai Lama and his followers, through negotiations, to give up their separatism and return to the motherland. The central government leaders have since 1980 met a number of delegations sent back by the Dalai Lama and reiterated on many occasions the central government's policy towards the Dalai Lama.

To satisfy the desire of both local and overseas Tibetans for visits and contacts, the central government has formulated and practiced the policy of free movement in and out of the country. It has also made clear that all patriots belong to one big family, whether they rally to the common cause now or later, and bygones can be bygones. From August 1979 to September 1980, central government departments concerned received three visiting delegations and two groups of relatives sent by the Dalai Lama. Most of the Dalai Lama's kin residing abroad have made return visits to China. Since 1979, Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas have received some 8,000 overseas Tibetans who came to visit relatives or for sightseeing, and helped settle nearly 2,000 Tibetan compatriots.

Regretfully, the Dalai Lama did not draw on the good will of the central government. Instead, he further intensified his separatist activities. At a meeting of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the US Congress held in September 1987, the Dalai Lama put forward a "five-point proposal" regarding the so-called status of Tibet. He continued to advocate "Tibetan Independence," and instigate and plot a number of riots in Lhasa. In June 1988, the Dalai Lama raised a so-called "Strasbourg proposal" for the solution of the Tibet issue. On the premise that Tibet "had always been" an independent state, the proposal interpreted the issue of a regional national autonomy within a country as a relationship between a suzerain and a vassal state, and between a protector and a protected state, thus denying China's sovereignty over Tibet and advocating the independence of Tibet in a disguised way. The central government naturally rejected the proposal, because it was a conspiracy the imperialists once hatched in order to carve up China. The Chinese government solemnly declared, "China's sovereignty over Tibet brooks no denial. Of Tibet there could be no independence, nor semi-independence, nor independence in disguise."

Nevertheless, the central government still hopes that the Dalai Lama would rein in at the brink of the precipice and change his mind. In early 1989, the 10th Bainqen Lama passed away. Taking into account the historical religious ties between various generations of the Dalai Lama and the Bainqen Lama as teacher and student, the Buddhist Association of China, with the approval of the central government, invited the Dalai Lama to come back to attend the Bainqen Lama's memorial ceremonies. President Zhao Puchu of the association handed a letter of invitation to a personal representative of the Dalai Lama, providing the Dalai Lama with a good opportunity to meet with people in the Buddhist circles in China after 30 years of exile. But the Dalai Lama rejected the invitation.

As 1989 witnessed a new international anti-China wave, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Norway, with clearly political motives, awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama, giving its strong support to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan separatists. Since then, the Dalai Lama has travelled the world, advocating Tibet's separation from China.

The Dalai Lama simultaneously intensified his efforts to incite and plot riots in Tibet. On January 19, 1990, he said over the BBC: If the Beijing government fails to hold talks with him on his plan of Tibet's autonomy within a year, he will have to change his stand of compromise with China; many young Tibetans stand for the use of force. On April 4, 1991, the Dalai Lama said in the Tibetan language program of the Voice of America, "All matters shall be further strengthened for Tibet's independence." Again on October 10 the same year, he tried instigation in a similar program, "At present, so large a number of Hans are pouring into Tibet that many young Tibetans cannot find jobs. This adds a further element of instability in the Tibetan society. Therefore, new riots are quite possible."

It is because the Dalai Lama sticks to his position of "Tibetan independence" and continues his efforts to split the motherland in and outside China that contacts between the central government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama have yielded no results.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency reporters on May 19, 1991, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Tibet's peaceful liberation, Premier Li Peng of the State Council of the People's Republic of China pointed out, "The central government's policy towards the Dalai Lama has been consistent and remains unchanged. We have only one fundamental principle, namely, Tibet is an inalienable part of China. On this fundamental issue there is no room for haggling. The central government has always expressed its willingness to have contact with the Dalai Lama, but he must stop activities to split the motherland and change his position for 'Tibetan independence.' All matters except 'Tibetan independence' can be discussed."

The central government is willing to contact and negotiate with the Dalai Lama; the door remains open. The central government's policy towards the Dalai Lama is also clear. To be responsible for the history, the Chinese nation and its 1.1 billion people, including the Tibetan people, the central government will make not the slightest concession on the fundamental issue of maintaining the motherland's unification. Any activity attempting to realize "Tibetan independence" and split the motherland by relying on foreign forces is an ignominious move betraying the motherland and the whole Chinese nation including the Tibetan nationality. The central government resolutely denounces this kind of action and will never allow it to succeed. The central government will continue to implement a series of special policies and preferential measures to promote the construction and development of Tibet so as to enhance national unity, construct a prosperous economy, enrich culture and improve the people's livelihood. Any activity sabotaging stability and unity in Tibet and any unlawful deed creating disturbance and inciting riots runs against the basic interests of the Tibetan people and will be cracked down on relentlessly.

So long as the Dalai Lama can give up his divisive stand and admit that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, the central government is willing to hold talks at any time with him. The Dalai Lama is warmly welcome to return to the embrace of the motherland at an early date and do some work that is conducive to maintaining the motherland's unification, the national unity, as well as the affluent and happy lives of the Tibetan people.

Part Two

IV. Feudal Serfdom in Old Tibet

Before the Democratic Reform of 1959 Tibet had long been a society of feudal serfdom under the despotic religion-political rule of lamas and nobles, a society which was darker and more cruel than the European serfdom of the Middle Ages. Tibet's serf-owners were principally the three major estate-holders: local administrative officials, nobles and upper-ranking lamas in monasteries. Although they accounted for less than 5 percent of Tibet's population, they owned all of Tibet's farmland, pastures, forests, mountains and rivers as well as most livestock. Statistics released in the early years of the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century indicate that Tibet then had more than 3 million ke of farmland (15 ke equal to 1 hectare), of which 30.9 percent was owned by officials, 29.6 percent by nobles, and 39.5 percent by monasteries and upper-ranking lamas. Before the 1959 Democratic Reform, Tibet had 197 hereditary noble families and 25 big noble families, with the biggest numbering seven to eight, each holding dozens of manors and tens of thousand of ke of land.

Serfs made up 90 percent of old Tibet's population. They were called tralpa in Tibetan (namely people who tilled plots of land assigned to them and had to provide corvee labor for the serf-owners) and duiqoin (small households with chimneys emitting smoke). They had no land or personal freedom, and the survival of each of them depended on an estate-holder's manor. In addition, nangzan who comprised 5 percent of the population were hereditary household slaves, deprived of any means of production and personal freedom.

Serf-owners literally possessed the living bodies of their serfs. Since serfs were at their disposal as their private property, they could trade and transfer them, present them as gifts, make them mortgages for a debt and exchange them. According to historical records, in 1943 the aristocrat Chengmoim Norbu Wanggyai sold 100 serfs to a monk official at Garzhol Kamsa, in Zhigoin area, at the cost of 60 liang of Tibetan silver (about four silver dollars) per serf. He also sent 400 serfs to the Gundelin Monastery as mortgage for a debt of 3,000 pin Tibetan silver (about 10,000 silver dollars). Serf-owners had a firm grip on the birth, death and marriage of serfs. Male and female serfs not belonging to the same owner had to pay "redemption fees" before they could marry. In some cases, an exchange was made with a man swapped for man and a woman for woman. In other cases, after a couple wedded, the ownership of both husband and wife remained unchanged, but their sons would belong to the husband's owner and their daughters to the wife's owner. Children of serfs were registered the moment they were born, setting their life-long fate as serfs.

Serf-owners ruthlessly exploited serfs through corvee and usury. The corvee tax system of old Tibet was very cruel. Permanent corvee tax was registered and there were also temporary additional corvee taxes. Incomplete statistics indicate the existence of more than 200 categories of corvee taxes levied by the Gaxag (Tibetan local government). The corvee assigned by Gaxag and manorial lords accounted for over 50 percent of the labor of serf households, and could go as high as 70-80 percent. According to a survey conducted before the Democratic Reform, the Darongqang Manor owned by Regent Dagzhag of the 14th Dalai Lama had a total of 1,445 ke of land, and 81 able-bodied and semi-able-bodied serfs. They were assigned a total of 21,260 corvee days for the whole year, the equivalent of an entire year's labor by 67.3 people. In effect, 83 percent of the serfs had to do corvee for one full year.

The serfs engaged in hard labor year in and year out and yet had no guaranteed food or clothing. Often they had to rely on money borrowed at usury to keep body and soul together. The annual interest rate for usurious loans was very high, while that for money borrowed from monasteries was 30 percent, and for grain 20 or 25 percent. Monetary loans from nobles exacted a 20 percent interest, while that for grain amounted to 20 or 25 percent.

Gaxag had several money-lending institutions, and the Dalai Lama of various generations had two organizations specialized in lending money. Incomplete records in the account books of the two cash-lending bodies of the Dalai Lama in 1950 show that they had lent out about 3.0385 million liang of Tibetan silver in usurious loans.

Snowballing interest of usurious loans created debts which could never be repaid by even succeeding generations and debts involving a guarantor resulted in the bankruptcy of both the debtor and the guarantor. The grandfather of a serf named Cering Goinbo of Maizhokunggar County once borrowed 50 ke of grain (1 ke equal to 14 kg) from the Sera Monastery. In 77 years the three generations had paid more than 3,000 ke of grain for the interest but the serf-owner still claimed that Cering Goinbo owed him 100,000 ke of grain. There was another serf named Dainzin in Donggar County who in 1941 borrowed one ke of qingke barley from his master. In 1951 when he was asked to repay 600 ke, he was forced to flee, his wife was driven to death and his seven-year-old son was taken away to repay the debt by labor.

In order to safeguard the interests of serf-owners, Tibetan local rulers formulated a series of laws. The 13-Article Code and 16-Article Code, which were enforced for several hundred years in old Tibet, divided people into three classes and nine ranks. They clearly stipulated that people were unequal in legal status. The codes stipulated, "It is forbidden to quarrel with a worthy, sage, noble and descendant of the ruler"; "persons of the lower rank who attack those of the upper rank, and a junior official who quarrels with a senior official commit a serious crime and so should be detained"; "anyone who resists a master's control should be arrested"; "a commoner who offends an official should be arrested"; "anyone who voices grievances at the palace, behaving disgracefully, should be arrested and whipped." The standards for measuring punishment and the methods for dealing with people of different classes and ranks who violated the same criminal law were quite different. In the law concerning the penalty for murder, it was written, "As people are divided into different classes and ranks, the value of a life correspondingly differs." The lives of people of the highest rank of the upper class, such as a prince or leading Living Buddha, are calculated in gold to the same weight as the dead body. The lives of people of the lowest rank of the lower class, such as women, butchers, hunters and craftsmen, are worth a straw rope. In the law concerning compensation for injury, it was stipulated that a servant who injures his master should have his hands or feet chopped off; a master who injures a servant is only responsible for the medical treatment for the wound, with no other compensation required.

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