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Serfdom: old Tibet was no Shangri-la at all

By Lily Li (China Tibet Online)

08:32, April 03, 2013

In old Tibet under feudal serfdom, serfs greeted each other by asking “who is your owner?” Whatever the real essence of serfdom may be, it is definitely not “a noble and selfless system based on Buddhism” just as the Dalai Lama puts it.

Former serf: the young lord rode me like riding a horse

Yungdrung, an actress of Seniors Recreation Center of GojeThang neighborhood Committee, used to be a serf in a manor of Lhatse County. Speaking of the miserable life at that time, she said angrily, “when I herded the cattle, I had to carry my young lord around, who treated me as a horse.”

Serf-owners: living an extravagant life in the spectacular manors

In old Tibet, serf-owners were mainly composed of local officials, aristocrats and high-level monks, who accounted for less than 5% of the total Tibetan population but possessed all the farmland, meadows, forest, mountains, rivers and most livestock.

It is said that the Dalai Lama was not only the religious leader but also the owner of the largest farm before 1959. His family possessed 27 manors, 30 meadows and more than 6000 serfs. In addition, the three largest monasteries in Lhasa occupied 321 manors, land worth 0.147 million Zangke (a kind of Tibetan money), 26 meadows and 40 thousand serfs.

The origin and development of feudal serfdom

After the collapse of Tubo Dynasty (a political regime established by old Tibetans from 7 AD to 9 AD), the forces of aristocrats and high-level monks gained impetus day by day. Ranked as the upper class, they enjoyed high priority in various aspects, ranging from politics, economy, to culture.

As the social foundation of religion expanded, some monks wormed their ways into the upper class and aligned with local landlords, they formed the newly-emerging social stratum of serf-owners, who brought out the feudal theocratic society formed a combined dictatorship of monks and aristocrats.

Yuan Dynasty: Tibet formally entered the society of theocratic serfdom

After Yuan Dynasty united the whole nation in the mid-thirteenth century, mainly powered by Sakya clan, Tibet basically finished the transition from slavery to feudalism, under which serfs’ personal attachment to serf-owners strengthened. At the same time, the fragmented structure in Tibet ended with the establishment of the feudal serfdom society under the direct governance of Yuan Dynasty.

The overwhelming majority of land and populace in old Tibet was taken into the manorialism. According to official statistics, the manors of three feudal lords(local goverment, aristocrats and monasteries) owned 62 percent of the farmland,among which religious group made up 37 percent and aristocrats 25 percent.

Governance under serfdom

Serfdom greatly weakened the necessity of a complicated government and eased the burden of Gaxag, who had to gather money to pay salaries to officials and make ends meet for enormous monasteries.

Therefore, Gaxag power was at the prime of its prosperity from 1913 to 1951. Only 400 to 500 monks and secular officials entitled with full authority governed a minimum of 1 million people and a territory as large as West Europe.

It cannot be denied that Europe today has no way back to that dark medieval age and America also could not get back to the one before the Civil War; similarly, Tibet today will not retrogress to old Tibet under feudal theocratic serfdom.

The historical truth tells us explicitly that old Tibet under serfdom was absolutely not Shangri-la.

Email|Print|Comments(Editor:LiangJun、Yao Chun)

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