MANY emancipated Tibetan serfs have opened new savings accounts in branch offices of the People's Bank of China throughout the Tibet Autonomous Region in the last few years.
Under the rule of feudal serfdom for generations, the former serfs and slaves did not own their own bodies, let alone anything else. Moreover, they were subjected to merciless exploitation by usurers. Now emancipated, they have become the masters of new Tibet.
With the development of industry, agriculture and livestock-breeding, the Tibetan economy is constantly moving ahead. Commodity prices are stable. Rising income enables more and more people to put money in the bank, which is a big change in Tibetan history.
In the Chengkuan District of Lhasa, the average per-capita savings in 1971 was 30 yuan. The figure was 57 yuan for pastoral Anto County in the north Tibetan grasslands, where the herdsmen persevered in taking the socialist road and raised livestock production year after year.
Statistics for the entire autonomous region for 1971 show an 11 per cent increase in total urban and rural savings as compared to 1965,the peak year before the Cultural Revolution, and a fivefold rise over 1958, the year before the democratic reforms. Bank deposits by rural and pastoral people's communes (or hsiang) and by commune members in 1971 were 3.2 times that of 1965.Fixed deposits (for periods of one year or longer) make up 64 per cent of the total amount.
In old Tibet, usury ruined countless families. A 1951 survey of four manorial estates in Langtang and elsewhere revealed that 608 out of the 658 serf households -- 92 per cent--were in debt. Three big monasteries in Lhasa -- the Daipung, Sera and Gerden monasteries--loaned 33.13 million kgs. of grain at usurious rates in the rural areas alone.
Many serf families spent generations trying to pay off usurious debts. The family of Tzujenkungpu,a former serf in Mechukungka County, was called by the strange nickname of "The Hundred Thousand Ke." The appellation originated from the time of his great grandmother, who once got a small loan. Usurious interest snowballed, and what with cheating and swindling by the serf-owner, in a few years, she was in debt for the staggering sum of a hundred thousand ke, or 1.4 million kgs. of grain. For a hundred years or more, the family toiled under this back-breaking debt. The blood and sweat of four generations earned them no more than four to five thousand ke of grain, practically all of which found its way to the serf-owner's granary, and yet they were still in debt. Such instances could be cited by the thousands in old Tibet.
After liberation, the Party's Central Committee and Chairman Mao showed the greatest concern for the impoverished Tibetan peasants and herdsmen. The state immediately issued 1.33 million yuan in interest-free loans to help them solve problems in production and daily life.The democratic reforms in 1959 overthrew serfdom, abolishing the labouring people's debts to the estate-holders and other landlords and freeing the serfs of usury once and for all. Subsequently, the People's Government again issued large numbers of agricultural loans free of or at nominal interest, thus helping promote farm production and livestock-breeding and consolidating the collective economy.
Today, in Tibet, the People's Bank has greatly expanded its business. Industrial or mining areas have branch offices. Credit co-operatives, which were first set up in 1960, can now be found in all rural and pastoral districts, and their agents in most communes or hsiang. All these have actively served the peasants, herdsmen and workers, helping out whenever need arises in production or daily life.
The climb in bank savings testifies to rising political consciousness of the emancipated peasants and herdsmen and the rapid development of the national economy as well as the improvement of the people's livelihood. Compared to 1958,Tibet's grain and livestock output nearly doubled in 1970, and there was another marked increase in 1971.Where before the liberation not a single modern factory exist, Tibet now has several hundred small and medium-sized factories or mines, including power-generating plants, woollen textile mills, farm machinery plants, cement factories, tanneries and sugar refineries.
Tsehsueh, an old worker at the Lhasa Truck Repair and Assembly Plant, is one of countless who experienced these great changes in Tibetan society. He alternated between begging and herding sheep for a serf-owner in the old society. His father died of ill treatment in a debtor's prison.
Things changed after liberation. Both he and his wife have become workers, and they and their four children live well in a comfortable home. They have wrist watches, radio, trunks and furniture. They have savings in the bank. Tsehsueh often says: "We have to thank Chairman Mao and the Communist Party for our happy life today,"
(This article appears on page 14, No. 27, 1972)