Across China: Archives reflect pain of old Tibet
2015/03/28

LHASA, March 27 (Xinhua) -- The regional archive of Tibet has made public historical documents that offer a glimpse into the tragic lives of serfs before they were emancipated more than five decades ago.

The 18 files, released ahead of Serfs Emancipation Day on March 28, include agreements on trading of serfs and directives on torture of them, as well as proof of serf owners' economic exploitation.

Serfs Emancipation Day is a day set to mark the 1959 democratic reform freeing one million Tibetans from serfdom.

Under the theocratic rule that lasted a millennium until the abolition of feudal serfdom, over 90 percent of the region's population had no personal freedom, while serf owners -- officials, aristocrats, manor owners and senior monks -- held the vast majority of land, livestock and houses.

Among the documents, a contract inked in 1925 showed that four female serfs owned by a manor would be traded for three male serfs belonging to another. Both manors were in the possession of the prominent Zhaibung Monastery.

A 1914 agreement said an insolvent borrower would use his four serfs -- a mother and her three daughters -- to pay off his debt.

Other lowlights include a directive issued by the Gaxag government (the former Tibetan local government) ordering that the feet of a low-ranking monk, who was accused of leading a riot against authorities, should be cut off. Another dictated that authorities should cut off the limbs of two serfs who allegedly stole from a monastery.

Serf owners also exploited serfs by imposing forced labor, taxes and levies, and rents for land and livestock. Serfs had to contribute more than 50 percent or up to 80 percent of their labor, unpaid, to the owners, according to a 2009 white paper issued by the Chinese government.

In a letter a serf wrote to the aristocrat to plead for tax reduction, he said, "During the past 26 years, we farmed a tiny plot of land... the heavy taxes and levies made our life a living hell".

He said the family must pay the poll tax and additional tax in lieu of military service. The family was also ordered to contribute manpower gratis whenever the serf owner needed.

Due to the unbearable economic burden, serfs had to borrow money to survive, and most serf households were in debt. Aristocrats were engaged in usury, with the interest accounting for 15 to 20 percent of their family revenues, according to the white paper.

"Serfs were starved and beaten, and some were forced to wear foot shackles when working, just like prisoners," said Pubu Cering, whose parents were serfs.

Pubu Cering is caretaker of Phalha Manor, the best-preserved Qing Dynasty manor in Tibet. In the 82-room building with 5,000 square meters of grounds, a 150-square-meter courtyard used to accommodate 60 serfs serving the noble Phalha family.

"Their room was too small. So for a fine day, a serf family would sleep outdoors, and for a rainy or snowy day, they would squat on the bed through the night," he said.

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