กกกกThe Tibetans with a population of 5,416,021
mostly live in the Tibet Autonomous Region. There are also Tibetan
communities in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
The Tibetan language belongs to the
Tibetan sub-branch of the Tibetan-Myanmese language branch of the
Chinese-Tibetan language family. According to geographical divisions,
it has three major local dialects: Weizang, Kang and Amdo. The Tibetan
script, an alphabetic system of writing, was created in the early
7th century. With four vowels and 30 consonants, it is used in all
areas inhabited by Tibetans.
The areas where Tibetans live in compact
community are mostly highlands and mountainous country studded with
snow-capped peaks, one rising higher than the other. The Qinghai-Tibet
Plateau rising about 4,000 meters above sea level is run through
from west to east by the Qilian, Kunlun, Tanggula, Gangdise and
Himalaya mountain ranges. The Hengduan Mountains, descending from
north to south, runs across the western part of Sichuan and Yunnan
Mt. Qomolangma on the Sino-Nepalese
border is 8,848 meters above sea level, the highest in the world.
The Tibetan areas are crisscrossed by rivers and dotted with lakes.
Animal husbandry is the main occupation
in Tibet where there are vast expanses of grasslands and rich sources
of water. The Tibetan sheep, goat, yak and pien cattle are native
to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The yak is a big and long-haired animal,
capable of with-standing harsh weather and carrying heavy loads.
Known as the "Boat on the Plateau," the yak is a major
means of transport as well as a source of meat. The pien cattle,
a crossbreed of bull and yak, is the best draught animal and milk
producer. In farming, the fast ripening and cold- and drought-resistant
qingke, a kind of highland barley, is the main crop. Other crops
include wheat, pea, buckwheat and broad bean. In the warmer places
in the river valleys, there are rape, potato, turnip, apple and
walnut. People also grow rice and cotton in river valleys in southern
Tibet where the weather is very warm.
The dense forests in the Tibetan areas
provide shelter for many precious animals such as sunbird, vulture,
giant panda, golden-haired monkey, black leaf monkey, bear and ermine.
The forests also produce precious medicines such as bear's gallbladder,
musk, pilose antler, caterpillar fungus, snow lotus and glossy ganoderma.
These areas are also richly endowed
with hydro-power and mineral resources. There are enormous amounts
of hydropower and terrestrial heat for generating electricity, and
huge reserves of natural gas, copper, iron, coal, mica and sulfur.
The landlocked lakes abound in borax, salt, mirabilite and natural
soda. Oilfields have been found in recent years in the Qaidam basin
in Qinghai and the northern Tibet Plateau.
The Tibetans first settled along the
middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River in Tibet. Evidence of
the new and old stone age culture was found in archaeological excavations
at Nyalam, Nagqu, Nyingchi and Qamdo. According to ancient historical
documents, members of the earliest clans formed tribes known as
"Bos" in the Shannan area. In the 6th century, the chief
of the Yarlung tribe in the area became leader of the local tribal
alliance and declared himself the "Zambo" (king). This
marked the beginning of Tibetan slavery society and its direct contacts
with the Han people and other ethnic groups and tribes in northwest
At the beginning of the 7th century,
King Songzan Gambo began to rule the whole of Tibet and made "Losha"
(today's Lhasa) the capital. He designated official posts, defined
military and administrative areas, created the Tibetan script, formulated
laws and unified weights and measures, thus establishing the slavery
kingdom known as "Bo," which was called "Tubo"
in Chinese historical documents.
After the Tubo regime was established,
the Tibetans increased their political, economic and cultural exchanges
with the Han and other ethnic groups in China. The Kingdom of Tibet
began to have frequent contacts with the Tang Dynasty (618-907)
and the Tibetan and Han peoples got on well with each other. In
641, King Songzan Gambo married Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty.
In 710, King Chide Zuzain married another Tang princess, Jin Cheng.
The two princesses brought with them the culture and advanced production
techniques of Central China to Tibet. From that time on, emissaries
traveled frequently between the Tang Dynasty and Tibet. The Tibetans
sent students to Changan, capital of the Tang Dynasty, and invited
Tang scholars and craftsmen to Tibet. These exchanges helped promote
relations between the Tibetans and other ethnic groupss in China
and stimulated social development in Tibet.
From the 10th to 12th century, Tibet
fell apart into several independent regimes and began to move towards
serfdom. It was at this time that Buddhism was adapted to local
circumstances by assimilating certain aspects of the indigenous
religion, won increasing numbers of followers and gradually turned
into Lamaism. Consisting of many different sects and spread across
the land, Lamaism penetrated into all spheres of Tibetan life. The
upper strata of the clergy often collaborated with the rich and
powerful, giving rise to a feudal hierarchy combining religious
and political power and controlled by the rising local forces.
The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) founded
by the Mongols in the 13th century brought the divided Tibet under
the unified rule of the central government. It set up an institution
called Xuanzhengyuan (or political council) and put it in charge
of the nation's Buddhist affairs and Tibet's military, governmental
and religious affairs.
Phagsba, a Tibetan lama, was given
the title of imperial tutor and appointed head of the council. The
Yuan court also set up three government offices to govern the Tibetan
areas in northwest and southwest China and Tibet itself. The central
government set up 13 Wanhu offices (each governing 10,000 households)
in Inner and Outer Tibet east of Ngari. It also sent officials to
administer civil and military affairs, conduct census, set up courier
stations and collect taxes and levies. Certificates for the ownership
of manors were issued to the serf owners and documents given to
local officials to define their authority. This marked the beginning
of the central authorities' overall control of Tibet by appointing
officials and instituting the administrative system there.
The ensuing Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
carried over the Tusi (headmen)
system in the Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China. In
Tibet proper, three sect leaders and five secular princes were named.
These measures ensured peace and stability in the Tibetan areas
during the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and the feudal economy there
developed and culture and art flourished. Tibet's contacts with
other parts of the country became more frequent and extensive.
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last monarchy in China, set up a government
department called Lifanyuan to administer affairs in Tibet and Mongolia.
In Tibet, the Qing emperor conferred the titles of the "Dalai
Lama" (1653) and "Bainqen Erdini" (1713) on two living
Buddhas of the Gelugba sect of Lamaism. The Qing court began to
appoint a high resident commissioner to help with local administration
in 1728, and set up the Kasha as the local government in 1751. In
1793, the Qing army drove the Gurkhas invaders out of Tibet and
formulated regulations concerning its administration.
The regulations specified the civil
and military official appointment systems and institutions governing
justice, border defense, finance, census, corvee service and foreign
affairs, establishing the high commissioners' terms of reference
in supervising Tibetan affairs.
other areas inhabited by Tibetans in northwest and southwest China,
the Qing court continued the Tusi (headmen) system established by
the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and put them under the administration
of the Xining Commissioner's office (established in 1725) and the
Sichuan governor (later the Sichuan-Yunnan border affairs minister).
After the Republic of China was founded
in 1911, the central government set up a special department to administer
Mongolian and Tibetan affairs. In 1929, the Kuomintang government
set up a commission for Mongolian and Tibetan affairs in Nanjing
and established Qinghai Province. In 1939, Xikang Province was set
up. The Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China, except Tibet,
were placed under the administration of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan,
Xikang and Yunnan provinces respectively.
After the Chinese Communist Party was
founded in 1921, its central committee clearly stated in its Agrarian
Revolution Program that the feudal privileges of Tibetan princes
and Lamas would be abolished. During its Long March northward to
fight the Japanese invaders, the Chinese Worker and Peasant Red
Army passed through Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Xikang, Yunnan, Gansu
and Qinghai, where they mobilized the poor Tibetans to carry out
land reform and establish democratic political power of the laboring
people. Areas inhabited by Tibetans were liberated one after another
after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Tibet
proper was liberated peacefully in 1951.
Before the democratic reform
was carried out, the Tibetan areas were dominated by the serf system
that integrated political and religious powers.
The local government set up by the
Qing Dynasty in Tibet, which was called Kasha, was run by four Kaloons
(ministers), three laymen and one lama. The local government consisted
of two offices. One was called Zikang (auditor's office), which
was formed by four lay officials who administered all affairs about
lay officials and audited local revenue, corvee and taxes. The other
was called Yicang, a secretarial office formed by four lamas who
administered all affairs about religious officials. The Tibetan
local government accepted, in name, the leadership of the Dalai
Lama or a regent.
The Dalai Lama was served by several
Kampos or lama officials who took care of the Dalai Lama's office
and affairs of his residence--the Potala Palace.
Owing to historical developments, there
were some regional regimes beyond the control of the local government.
In Outer Tibet, an internal affairs office called Nangmakang was
formed by Bainqen's important Kampos, which was later called Bainqen
Kampo Lija (changed into a committee after liberation).
It accepted, in name, the leadership of Bainqen. Similarly, several
other areas were governed by the local sect leaders or headmen.
These were the legacies of the Tusi and Wanhu systems.
The basic administrative unit, equivalent
to a county, was called Zong in Tibetan and the unit under it, equivalent
to a district, was called Si, short for Sika or manor. Some large
Sikas had the status of the Zong. Certain tribal organizations still
existed on a few pastoral areas, which were subject to the leadership
of the Tibet local government.
In Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan
provinces, some Tibetan areas came under the administration of the
provincial governments in the Qing Dynasty. But most of the areas
were still under the jurisdiction of Tusi officials and big monasteries.
The local regimes established on the
basis of feudal serfdom that integrated political and religious
powers were in the hands of feudal manorial lords, who were either
lamas or laymen. They expanded the Tibetan army or formed local
retainer forces to protect their reactionary rule. They formulated
laws and regulations, set up prisons and used instruments of torture.
Even the manors and monasteries had their own private prisons. They
seized serfs' property by hook or by crook, punished them at will
and executed serfs trying to run away or accused of violating the
law. They used such shocking tortures as gouging out the eyes, cutting
off the nose or hands, hamstringing or breaking the kneecap.
Tibetan society was rigidly stratified.
The people were divided into three strata in nine grades, according
to the size of the land they possessed. The social ladder extended
from senior officials, hereditary aristocracy and higher lamas all
the way down to herdsmen, serfs and craftsmen. But, generally speaking,
these people fell into two major opposing classes -- the serf owners
and the serfs.
The Tibet local government was legally
the owner of all the land and pasture. It in turn parceled out the
land to the aristocrats and monasteries as their manors. The officialdom,
the nobility and the clergy thus became the three major categories
of feudal lords.
The manors held by the officialdom,
called Zhungchi, were directly managed by the local government and
contracted out to serfs for rent. Part of the rent was used as remuneration
for senior officials and the rest portioned out to government offices
as their operating expenses.
Noble titles in Tibet were hereditary
or granted for meritorious services. Ranking was commensurate with
the amount of property possessed. There were about 200 to 300 noble
families in Tibet. About 20 of them owned scores of manors each.
The manors of monasteries were bestowed
by the local government or donated by the nobles. Some of them were
the property of the monasteries and the rest belonged to higher
lamas. A number of manors owned by monasteries were totally controlled
by the top living Buddhas or lamas there.
The three major categories of feudal
lords and their henchmen accounted for about five per cent of the
Tibetan population. The nobles and the monasteries each owned about
30 per cent of the land in Tibet and the remaining 40 per cent belonged
to the local government.
The land and pasture in the Tibetan
areas other than Tibet were controlled by headmen, local officials
and other members of the ruling groups and monasteries.
The serfs included Thralpas and Dudchhong,
who accounted for over 90 per cent of the Tibetan population. With
no land or personal freedom, they were chattels of their lords.
Thralpas were persons doing unpaid
labor. In Tibet, a thralpa tilled a small piece of land rented from
the manorial lord, which was called thralkang land. To obtain such
a piece of land, a thralpa had to perform all kinds of services
for the local government and do unpaid labor on the manor.
Dudchhong, meaning small household,
is a lower rank among the serfs made up of bankrupt thralpas. Dudchhongs
were not allowed to till thralkang land. Instead, they had to depend
on manorial lords or richer thralpas, doing hard work for them while
tilling a tiny piece of land to feed themselves.
Five per cent of the Tibetans were
house slaves, called Nangzan.
With no means of production or personal
freedom, they were the most heavily oppressed class in Tibet and
had to do the hardest jobs all their lives.
Besides, some remnants of clan society
still lingered on in the nomadic tribes in remote areas. On the
other hand, in villages close to the Han people's farming areas,
a landlord economy had emerged.
Serfs in all Tibetan areas were overburdened
with exorbitant rents in cash or in kind. More than 70 per cent
of their annual proceeds were taken away by manorial lords, plunging
them into dire poverty.
Apart from paying exorbitant rents,
serfs had to do all kinds of corvee labor, which was called Ulag.
Taxes and levies in Tibetan areas were
innumerable. Some levies had been temporary at first and were later
made regular. In certain places, scores or even more than 100 different
kinds of tax were recorded.
All the manorial lords, especially
the monasteries, were usurers. They cruelly exploited the serfs
by forcing them to accept loans at usurious rates of interest or
exchange of unequal values. Usurious loans often ruined the serfs
and their families or reduced them to beggary or slavery.
The serfs and slaves, who accounted
for over 95 per cent of the population, were bound for life to the
land of the manorial lords, ordered about and enslaved from generation
to generation. They were freely given away as gifts, donations or
dowries, sold or exchanged for goods. Long shackled by feudal serfdom,
the population of the Tibetan ethnic group showed little growth
and production stagnated.
Under the rule of feudal serfdom,
which combined political and religious powers, the Tibetans' social
life and customs and habits bore obvious marks of their historical
traditions and distinctive culture.
As a rule, a Tibetan goes only by his
given name and not family name, and the name generally tells the
sex. As the names are mostly taken from the Buddhist scripture,
namesakes are common, and differentiation is made by adding "senior,"
"junior" or the outstanding features of the person or
by mentioning the birthplace, residence or profession before the
names. Nobles and Living Buddhas often add the names of their houses,
official ranks or honorific titles before their names.
All Tibetans, men and women,
like to wear ornaments. Men usually wear a queue coiled on top of
the head. Some cut their hair short, like a canopy. Women, when
coming of age, begin to plait their hair into two queues or many
tiny queues which are adorned with ornaments. Both men and women
wear felt or fine fur hats. They wear long-sleeved silk or cloth
jackets topped with loose gowns which are tied with a band on the
right. Women in some farming areas wear sleeveless gowns or home-spun
wool. Herdsmen and women do not wear jackets, but are clad in sheepskin
robes, with sleeves, collars and fronts edged with fine fur or dyed
cloth laces. Men wear trousers and women wear skirts. All men and
women wear woolen or leather boots. Men have long waistbands while
women in farming areas wear aprons with beautiful patterns. They
use woolen blankets as mattresses or cushions and their quilts are
made of sheepskin or wool. Poor peasants and herdsmen have neither
mattresses nor quilts.
They often leave one or both arms uncovered
while tying the sleeves around the waist, making it convenient for
working. The Tibetan gown which is very big also serves as both
mattress and quilt at night. Lamas wear the kasaya, a patchwork
outer vestment of purplish red felt. They wrap their bodies with
long pieces of cloth and wear aprons, tall boots and monks' hats.
Zamba, roasted qingko barley or pea
meal mixed with tea, is the staple food of Tibetan peasants. Tea
with butter or milk is the favorite of all Tibetans. Buttered tea
is made in a wooden tub. In pastoral areas, the staple foods are
beef and mutton. They eat out of wooden bowls and with short-handled
knives which they always carry with them. The Tibetans take five
or six light meals a day and have a liking for qingko wine. Sour
milk and cheese are also standard fare. In some areas, people also
eat rice and noodles. Women in pastoral areas use butter as ointment
to protect their skin. Lamas may eat meat.
People in the farming areas live in
stone houses while those in pastoral areas camp in tents. The Tibetan
house has a flat roof and many windows, being simple in structure
and color. Of a distinctive national style, Tibetan houses are often
built on elevated sunny sites facing the south.
In the monasteries, the main hall also
serves as the prayer hall, with dagobas of different sizes built
in front of the main entrance for burning pine and cypress twigs.
There are numerous prayer wheels, which are to be turned clockwise
in praying for happiness and hoping to avert disaster.
Communications were poor in the old
days, with yaks and mules as the chief means of transport. Riding
horses were reserved for the manorial lords, who decorated the saddles
according to their ranks and positions. Cattle hide rafts, wooden
boats and canoes hewed out of logs were used in water transportation.
Suspension, cable and simple wooden bridges were seen occasionally.
In some big towns and monasteries,
there were a few carpenters, blacksmiths, stone carvers and weavers.
They, too, had to perform services and pay taxes to manorial lords
and were looked down upon by other people.
Farmers used crude implements such
as iron plough shares, hoes, sickles and rakes and wooden tools.
Cultivation was extensive, with crop rotation and fallow. Weeding
and manuring were done very rarely, resulting in low output. In
livestock breeding areas, the tools were even more primitive. Herds
were moved about with the seasons, and the herdsmen never laid aside
fodder nor built sheds for the winter. Farmers and livestock breeders
had no way of resisting natural calamities and pests, but praying
to gods for protection. Natural disasters usually devastated large
tracts of land and took heavy tolls of animals.
The Tibetan family is male-centered
and marriage is a strictly inner-class affair. Marriage relationships
vary from place to place. In some areas, cousins on the male line
are forbidden to marry while cousins on the female line who are
several times removed are allowed to marry each other. In other
areas, cousins on the male line who are several times removed may
marry each other, with no restrictions on intermarriages between
relatives on the female line.
Monogamy is the principal form of marriage.
There is no inhibition on social intercourse between young men and
women before marriage.
The husband controls and inherits the
property of the family and the wife is subordinate to the husband,
even if he is married into a woman's family. The proportion of polygamy
is small. Marriages between serfs had to be approved by their manorial
lords. When serfs on different manors got married, one party had
to pay a certain amount of ransom to the manorial lord of the other
party or the manorial lord of one party had to give a serf to the
other lord as compensation. Without the permission of their manorial
lords, the serfs could not get married all their lives.
The commandments of the yellow sect
Lama, which holds a predominant position in Lamaism, forbid the
monks to marry. Monks belonging to the other sects are free to marry
and the weddings are held at religious services in their lamaseries.
The most common form of burial in Tibet
is sky burial, called Jator, meaning "feeding the birds."
The bodies are taken to the Jator site in the mountains and fed
to vultures. Upon the death of a reincarnate living Buddha, a grand
ceremony is held. Having been embalmed with spices and antiseptics,
the body is wrapped in five-colored silk, and enshrined in a dagoba.
The bodies of ordinary living Buddhas and higher lamas are usually
cremated after being rubbed with butter, and the ashes are kept
in a designated place as the last dedication to the monastery. But
cremation is forbidden in the harvest season. All these forms of
burial indicate that the deceased have gone to the next world.
In the old days, ceremonies and religious
rites were held for weddings, burials or births in the homes of
manorial lords. For the serfs, however, these meant nothing but
extra services. Women had to give births outside their houses and
women serfs had to work only a few days after delivery. Lack of
proper medical care and nutrition resulted in a very high infant
The strict social caste system was
manifested even in the use of language. The Tibetan language has
three major forms of expression: the most respectful, the respectful
and the everyday speech, to be used respectively to one's superiors,
one's peers and one's inferiors.
The social distinctions were also reflected
in people's dresses, houses, horses and Hadas -- silk scarves presented
on all social occasions to show respect.
Lamaism belongs to the Mahayana School
of Buddhism, which was introduced into Tibet in the seventh century
and developed into Lamaism by assimilating some of the beliefs and
rites of the local religion called "Bon." Lamaism is divided
into many different sects, each claiming to be the orthodox. Apart
from the Red sect, all the others, including the White sect, the
Sakya sect and the Yellow sect, established at different times local
regimes that integrated political and religious powers.
The Yellow sect practices the institution
of reincarnation of living Buddhas. The Dalai Lama and Bainqen Erdini
are supposed to be the reincarnations of two Grand Living Buddhas
of the Yellow sect. It was stipulated during the Qing Dynasty that
the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the Bainqen Lama and other
Grand Living Buddhas of the Yellow sect had to be approved by the
Qing court or determined by drawing lots from a gold urn. When a
Grand Living Buddha dies, his disciples are required to choose a
child, in most cases from a noble family, to be his reincarnation.
Monasteries of the Yellow sect are scattered all over the Tibetan
areas. The most famous of them are the Sera, Drepung, Zhashi Lumpo
and Qamdo, as well as Lapuleng in Gansu and Ta'er in Qinghai.
In the western part of Tibet and the
pastoral areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, the early Tibetan
native religion, the Bon, known locally as the Black sect, is still
active. There are also Taoist temples built by the Han people, mosques
built by the Huis and some Christian and Catholic churches built
by foreign missionaries in a few places.
A large amount of cultural relics,
including ancient scripts, woodblock, metal and stone carvings,
have been preserved in the Tibetan areas. The engraved block printing
technique was introduced from other parts of China. Some books were
written in Sanskrist on loose leaves. Apart from the two well-known
collections of Buddhist scriptures known as the Kanjur and the Tanjur,
there are works on prosody, language, philosophy, history, geography,
astronomy, mathematics and medicine as well as novels, operas,
biographies, poetry, stories and fables, which are all distinguished
for their unique styles. Many of the early works, such as the Thirty Rules of Tibetan Grammar, the four-part Ancient Encyclopaedia of Tibetan Medicine, Feast of the Wise, the epic Princess
Wen Cheng, world's longest epic poem King
Gesser, the biographical novels Milarib
and Boluonai, the Sakya Maxims and the Love Songs of Cangyang Gyacuo (the Sixth
Dalai Lama), are very popular and have been translated into
many languages and distributed in China and abroad.
Education in the Tibetan areas used
to be monopolized by the monasteries. Some of the lamas in big lamaseries,
who had learned to read and write and recite Buddhist scriptures
and who had passed the test of catechism in the Buddhist doctrine,
would be given the degree of Gexi, the equivalent of the doctoral
degree in theology.
Others, after a period of training,
would be qualified to serve as religious officials or preside over
Tibetan medicine has a long history.
Doctors of this school of medicine pay great attention to practical
skills. They diagnose illnesses by observation, auscultation, smelling,
interrogation and pulse feeling. They also know how to collect medicinal
herbs and prepare drugs and are skilled in acupuncture, moxibustion
and surgery. Tibetan doctors are especially outstanding in veterinary
The Tibetans have their own calendar.
They designate the years by using the five elements (metal, wood,
water, fire and earth), yin and yang, and the 12 animals representing
the 12 Earthly Branches. A year is divided into four seasons and
12 months; which have 29 or 30 days.
technique of Tibetan sculpture is superb. The portraits of the Grand
Living Buddhas are the very images of the persons depicted. Tibetan
painting features fine lines, well-knitted composition, vivid expressions
of figures and bright colors. Tibetan architecture is unique in
style, with buildings neatly arranged or rising like magnificent
towers and castles. The Potala Palace in Lhasa was built on the
sunny side of a mountain slope. With golden roofs and white-washed
walls, the building rises naturally with the slope, looking extremely
imposing. It is a masterpiece of Tibetan architecture.
Maxims and proverbs are very popular
among the Tibetans. The metaphors are lively and pregnant with meaning.
Tibetans are also good dancers and singers. Their songs and music
are well-modulated in tone and the words fit well with the tunes.
They often dance while they sing. Their dancing is beautiful with
movements executed either with the arms and waist or with legs and
feet, and the tap dance is most typically Tibetan. Most of the musical
instruments were introduced from the interior of China. Long-handled
drums and trumpets are the main musical instruments used by the
lamas. They can depict natural sounds, the cries of animals and
the singing of birds that can be heard at a great distance. Religious
dances are often performed by people wearing masks of deities, humans
or animals. The Tibetan opera is one of the famous opera forms in
China. It is performed without curtain or stage. In the past, all
performers were men. Wearing masks, they danced and sang to the
accompaniment of musical instruments. Sometimes the orchestra would
chime in with the singers, creating a lively atmosphere.
There are many taboos and activities
that bear a strong mark of religion. Buddhists are forbidden to
kill. Many wild animals, including fish, field vole, Mongolian gazelle
and vulture, are under protection. The Tibetans, rich or poor, all
have family niches for keeping Buddha statues. Most people wear
a metal amulet box, about the size of a cigarette case, on the breast,
and turn prayer wheels. It is forbidden to turn prayer wheels counter-clockwise
and stride over ritual objects and braziers.
The Tibetan New Year is the most important
festival in Tibet. People in their holiday best extend greetings
to each other and go to the monasteries to receive blessings. On
the 15th day of the first moon, all major monasteries hold religious
rites and all families light up butter lamps when night falls. It
is also the occasion for lamas in the Ta'er (Ghumbum) monastery
in Qinghai and the Qoikang monastery in Lhasa to display their exquisite
and beautifully decorated butter carvings.
With the founding of the People's Republic
of China on October 1, 1949, the Tibetan areas in the western part
of the country was liberated one after another and the Tibetans
there entered a new period of historical development.
In 1951, representatives of the Central
People's Government and the Tibet local government held negotiations
in Beijing and signed on May 23 a 17-article agreement on the peaceful
liberation of Tibet. Soon afterwards, the central government representative
Zhang Jingwu arrived in Lhasa and Chinese People's Liberation Army
units marched into Tibet from Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan
in accordance with the agreement.
China's First National People's Congress
was held in Beijing in 1954. The Dalai Lama, Bainqen Erdini and
representatives of the Tibetan people attended the congress and
later visited various places in the country. The State Council then
called a meeting at which representatives of the Tibet local government,
the Bainqen Kampo Lija and the Qamdo People's Liberation Committee formed
a preparatory group for the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous
Region after repeated consultations and discussions. In April 1956,
a preparatory committee for the purpose was officially set up.
Regional autonomy and social reforms
were introduced cautiously and steadily in one Tibetan area after
another according to their specific circumstances arising from the
lopsided development in these areas due to historical reasons.
A number of autonomous administrations
have been established in Tibetan areas since the 1950s. They include
the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Yushu, Hainan, Huangnan, Haibei
and Golog Tibetan autonomous prefectures and the Haixi Mongolian,
Tibetan and Kazak Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province; the
Gannan Tibet Autonomous Prefecture and the Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous
County in Gansu Province; the Garze and Aba Tibetan autonomous prefectures
and the Muli Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan Province; and
the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.
In light of the historical and social
development of the Tibetan people, the central government introduced
democratic reforms in various places according to local conditions
and through patient explanation and persuasion. Experiments were
first carried out to gain experience.
A campaign against local despots and
for the reduction of rent and interest was unfolded in the Tibetan
areas of Northwest China in 1951 and 1952. In farming areas, people
were mobilized to abolish rent in labor service and extra-economic
coercion in the struggle to eliminate bandits and enemy agents.
Sublet of land was banned. But rent for land owned by the monasteries
was either intact or reduced or remitted after consultation. In
pastoral areas, aid was given to herdsmen to develop production
and experience was accumulated for democratic reforms and socialist
In the Tibetan areas of Southwest China,
peaceful reforms were introduced between 1955 and 1957 in the farming
areas. Feudal land ownership and all feudal privileges were abolished
after consultation between the laboring people and members of the
upper strata. Usury was also abolished and slaves were freed and
given jobs. The arms and weapons of manorial lords were confiscated.
The government bought out the surplus houses, farm implements, livestock
and grain of the landlords and serf owners.
It was clearly laid down in the agreement
on the peaceful liberation of Tibet that democratic reforms would
be carried out to satisfy the common desire of the peasants, herdsmen
and slaves. But, in light of the special circumstances in Tibet,
the central government declared that democratic reforms would not
be introduced before 1962. However, the reactionary manorial lords,
including monks and aristocrats, tried in every way to oppose the
In March 1959, the former Tibetan local
government and the reactionary clique in the upper strata tore up
the 17-article agreement under the pretext of "safeguarding
national interests" and "defending religion" and
staged an armed rebellion in Lhasa. They instigated rebel forces
in different places to attack Communist Party and government offices
and kill people, while abducting the Dalai Lama and compelling people
to flee the country.
The State Council, acting upon the
request of the Tibetan people and patriots in the upper strata,
disbanded the Tibet local government (Kasha) and empowered the Preparatory
Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region to exercise the functions
and powers of the local government. With the active support of the
Tibetan laboring people and patriots of all strata, the People's
Liberation Army soon put down the rebellion.
The Preparatory Committee began carrying
out democratic reforms while fighting the rebels. In the farming
areas, a campaign was launched against rebellion, unpaid corvee
service and slavery and for the reduction of rent and interest.
In the pastoral areas, a similar campaign against the three evils
was coupled with the implementation of the policy of mutual benefit
to herdsmen and herd owners. All the means of production belonging
to those serf owners and their agents who participated in the rebellion
were confiscated, and the serfs who rented land from them were entitled
to keep all their harvests for that particular year. All the debts
laboring people owed to them were abolished. The means of production
belonging to those serf owners and their agents who did not participate
in the rebellion was not confiscated but bought over by the state.
Rent for their land was reduced and all old debts owed by serfs
were abolished. In the monasteries, the feudal system of exploitation
and oppression was abolished and democratic management was instituted.
Land and other means of production including
animals, farm implements and houses confiscated or bought by the
state were redistributed fairly and reasonably among the poor serfs,
serf owners and their agents, with priority given to the first group.
In livestock breeding areas, while the animals owned by manorial
lords and herd owners who participated in the rebellion were confiscated
and distributed among the herdsmen, no struggle was waged against
those who did not participate, their stock was not redistributed,
and no class differentiation was made. Instead, the policy of mutual
benefit to both herd owners and herdsmen was implemented.
Under the leadership of the Communist
Party, the million serfs overthrew the cruel system of feudal serfdom
and abolished the regulations and contracts that had condemned them
to exploitation and oppression for generations. They received land,
domestic animals, farm implements and houses and were emancipated
In September 1965, the Tibet Autonomous
Region was officially established. The Tibetans have since embarked
on a road of socialist transformation, cautiously but steadily.
The great victory in the democratic
revolution and the ensuing socialist transformation brought about
tremendous changes to the whole Tibetan community. Since 1980, the
central government has introduced a set of special policies to enable
the Tibetan people to recoup their strength and make up for the
damage they had suffered during the "cultural revolution"
(1966-1976). The policies include remission of taxation on collective
and individual producers for a long time to come; authorization
of private use of land and livestock by households for a long time
while public ownership of land, forests and grassland is upheld;
protection of the farmers' and herdsmen's right of determination
in production and encouragement of a diversified economy based principally
on household operations; free disposal of farm and animal by-products
on the market, and encouragement of individual and collective industrial
and commercial enterprises. All these have brought forth the initiative
of the Tibetan people and stimulated the growth of the local economy.
Tibet has also received support and aid from the central government
and other areas of China. From 1952 to 1984, the central government
gave a total of 7.9 billion yuan to Tibet in the form of financial
grants. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the
Tibet Autonomous Region, some provinces and cities and the state
economic departments built 43 major construction projects in the
region. These included a geothermal power station at Yangbajan,
auxiliary facilities for the Qinghai-Tibet highway, the premises
of Tibet University, a hotel, a theatre, a training center with
audio-visual teaching aids and a stadium in Lhasa, a solar energy
power station at Xigaze, and a hospital and an art gallery at Zetang.
Rapid developments have been reported
by all trades and services in Tibet. Starting from scratch, Tibet's
industry boasted more than 300 factories and mines by the end of
1984, covering power generating, metallurgy, woolen textiles, machinery,
chemical engineering, pharmaceuticals,
paper making and printing. They turned out more than 80 products,
with a total value of 168 million yuan a year. The bleak and desolate
Bangon, Markam and Qaidam areas have become major industrial centers.
Good harvests have been reaped consecutively. In 1984, total grain
output reached 494,000 tons and the animals in stock by the end
of the year numbered 21.68 million, nearly double the 1965 figure.
Communications facilities also grew
rapidly. There was no highway in Tibet before liberation. Since
the People's Liberation Army marched into Tibet, several major trunk
roads were built, including the Qinghai-Tibet highway (1954), the
Sichuan-Tibet highway (1954), the Yunnan-Tibet highway (1976) and
the Xinjiang-Tibet highway (1957) which linked up the Tibetan areas.
A network of motor roads fanning out from Lhasa has been formed,
extending to almost all counties. In 1984, the total length of roads
open to traffic in Tibet reached 21,500 kilometers. The people's
air force made the first successful flight from Beijing to Lhasa
in 1956 and since then regular air services
have linked Lhasa with Xining, Chengdu, Lanzhou and Xi'an. Roads
also connect Tibet with the Kingdom of Nepal. The Longhai Railway
runs through the Tianzhu Tibetan Prefecture in Gansu and the Qinghai-Tibet
Railway starting from Xining has already reached Golmud in Qinghai.
oil pipeline extending from Golmud to Lhasa--a significant project
for strengthening the defense of the southwest China borders and
developing the local economy-- has been completed.
changes have also taken place in culture and education. The one
million serfs who were deprived of education before liberation are
attending schools in Tibet or nationalities institutes in other
parts of the country. With no institution of higher learning before,
Tibet had three such institutions by the end of 1985 as well as
2,600 middle and primary schools, with a total enrolment 87 per
cent more than in 1965. Many Tibetan professors, engineers, doctors,
veterinarians, agronomists, accountants, journalists, writers and
artists have been trained. The Tibetan language and customs and
habits are enjoying respect and the outstanding heritage of Tibetan
culture has been carried forward. Medical and health organizations
have been established in all parts of the region, which had more
than 500 hospitals by the end of 1984. A special team of medical
personnel are making a systematic study of Tibetan medicine and
The living standards of the Tibetan
people have been rising steadily. The peasants, who lived in rickety
sheds and never had enough food, have moved into bright and spacious
houses with glass windows and stored up more grain and meat than
they can consume. Brightly decorated furniture, television sets
and cassette recorders have also made their way into the home of
former serfs. However, about small percentage of the peasants and
herdsmen have not yet shaken off poverty, although their living
conditions are better than in the old days.
Religious activities are protected
by the government. Temples have been renovated and repair. Buddhist
statues, volumes of scriptures, ancient porcelain articles and other
precious relics lost during the ten-year turmoil of the "cultural
revolution" have been returned to the monasteries. Among them
was a bronze statue of Sakyamuni brought to Tibet by Princess Brikuthi
from Nepal in the 7th century. It is now kept in the Qoikang Monastery
in Lhasa. An institute of Buddhist theology has been set up and
preparations are being made to restore the scripture printing house.
Tibet now has several thousand lamas, and the government sets no
limit to the number of monks in the monasteries.
Tibetan officials and government functionaries
are increasing rapidly. By the end of 1985, there were 31,900 officials
and government functionaries of Tibetan and other minority nationalities,
accounting for 62 per cent of the total. The principal positions
in the governments at all levels are now held by members of these
minority ethnic groups. Their ability and educational standards
have been improving steadily.