It was in the autumn of 1959, as Migmar recalled, when more than 500 people gathered in a garden in the Parlha Manor, where he was then a serf. A PLA soldier told them they would soon get their own land, and people applauded enthusiastically. More than 30 households held a draw for the land.
"I could hardly express my happiness then," he said emotionally. When he was a low-ranking serf, he didn't have any land. "When I was a nangsan, I wasn't even allowed to keep a cat."
Some serfs had been working the land under contract. They set fire to those contracts and to receipts for usurious loans. Then they danced, cried and drank.
In the living room of the old man's two-story house, there still hangs a black-and-white photo of Mao that shows him working in a field wearing a straw hat. Migmar put a khata, or white Tibetan scarf on it, a symbol used to show respect.
"Even my parents couldn't give me land, but he did," the former serf said.
Lhabgyi, the PLA veteran, said that almost every household had photos then had photos of Mao, whom they revered.
"Of course there were people who disbelieved the policies of the Communist Party," he recalled. But soldiers managed to dispel their suspicions by being helpful.
NEW LIFE FOR NOBILITY
As for former aristocrats who were not involved in the riot, they were not left empty-handed, and received financial compensation for their land.
Gyaga Losang Tangyai in Xigaze had several manors and some 20 ha of land. When democratic reform took place, he was worried and "dared not to expect any compensation.
"I said all I wanted was a peaceful life, but the government gave me about 10,000 yuan," he said. That amount is equivalent to about 1,470 U.S. dollars at contemporary rates.
More than 600 people who served under the Panchen Lama stayed behind in Xigaze, except for one who moved to India for business.
Gyaga was a member of the national committee of the CPPCC for 15 years.
CONTROVERSIES LINGER AFTER 50 YEARS
While Gyaga and Migmar were starting new lives, the situation in Tibet came controversial worldwide.
In September 1959, Christian Archibald Herter, then U.S. Secretary of State, told the UN General Assembly that the Chinese Communist Party was imposing colonial rule in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has maintained a government-in-exile since 1959,and China has charged that this group was behind last year's riot in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas of China.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of democratic reform in Tibet. In that half-century, Tibet has experienced great changes but the controversy over the past persists.
Zhu Xiaoming, research fellow at the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing, said some foreign countries and international organizations continued to use the Tibet issue as a lever against China.
"I once discussed this with some scholars in the United States," he said.
"I said that Abraham Lincoln was revered after signing the Emancipation Proclamation for black slaves, and Chairman Mao abolished the serf system in Tibet. But why was the former hailed as protecting human rights and the latter was denounced as human rights infringement? The scholars were speechless."
The Dalai Lama, now 76, has also taken note of the approaching 50th anniversary. Chinese analysts said that he was likely to use the date to "make a last attempt" at independence for Tibet.
Even after his death, they said, the controversy would linger, since it was unclear who would inherit his position.
For Migmar, it is simple. "Life is getting better each year. I wish I was younger, so I would have longer to enjoy my happiness."
(Xinhua News Agency March 9, 2009)