I. The Rapid Social Development in Tibet
Modernization has been the fundamental question in the social development of Tibet in modern times. The feudal serfdom under theocracy, which had lasted for several hundred years in Tibet, became an extremely decadent social system that contradicted the progressive trend in the modern world, for it stifled the development of the social productive forces of Tibet, seriously hindered social progress, relegated Tibet to the state of extreme poverty, backwardness, isolation and decline, to the point verging on total collapse.
The society of old Tibet under feudal serfdom was even more dark and backward than in Europe in the Middle Ages. The three major estate-holders -- officials, nobles and upper-ranking monks in monasteries -- accounted for less than five percent of Tibet's total population but owned all the farmland, pastures, forests, mountains and rivers, and the majority of the livestock. The serfs and slaves, accounting for more than 95 percent of the population, owned no land or other means of production. They had no personal freedom, had to depend totally on the manors of estate-holders for livelihood or act as their family slaves from generation to generation. They were subjected to the three-fold exploitation of corvee labor, taxes and high-interest loans and their lives were no more than struggles for existence. According to incomplete statistics, there were over 200 kinds of taxes levied by the Kasha (the former local government of Tibet) alone. Slaves had to contribute more than 50 percent or even 70 to 80 percent of their labor free to the Kasha and estate-holders, and over 60 percent of the farmers and herdsmen were burdened with similar high-interest loans.
The "13-Article Code" and "16-Article Code" of old Tibet divided the people into three classes and nine ranks, enshrining social and political inequality between the different ranks in law. These codes explicitly stated that the life of a person of the highest rank of the upper class was literally worth his weight in gold, while that of a person of the lowest rank of the lower class was worth only the price of a straw rope. Serfs could be sold, transferred, given away, mortgaged or exchanged by their owners, who had the power over their births, deaths and marriages. Male or female serfs belonging to different owners had to pay a "redemption fee" if they wished to marry, and their children were doomed to be serfs for life. Serf-owners could punish their serfs at will. The punishments included flogging, cutting off their hands or feet, gouging out their eyes, chopping off their ears or tongues, pulling out their tendons, drowning them and throwing them down from cliffs.
Religion and monasteries "commanded the highest respect" in old Tibet with its theocratic socio-political structure. As the sole ideology and an independent politico-economic entity, they enjoyed immense influence and numerous political and economic privileges and had control over people's spiritual life. The upper-class monks and priests were Tibet's principal political rulers and also the biggest serf-owners. The Dalai Lama, as one of the heads of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism and concurrently the leader of the local government of Tibet, had all the political and religious powers in his hands. The former local government of Tibet practiced a dual clerical and secular officials system, in which the monk officials were senior to the lay officials. According to the 1959 statistics, of the 3.3 million kai (unit of measurement for area used by the Tibetan people, 1 kai=1/15 hectare) of cultivated land in Tibet, 1.2144 million kai were owned by monasteries and upper-class monks, accounting for 36.8 percent of the total cultivated land, while aristocrats and clerical and secular officials owned 24 percent and 38.9 percent, respectively.
The Drepung Monastery owned 185 manors, 20,000 serfs, 300 pastures and 16,000 herdsmen. According to a survey conducted in the 1950s, Tibet had more than 2,700 temples and monasteries and 120,000 monks, or 12 percent of the total population in Tibet, and about one-fourth of the male population were monks. In 1952, Lhasa had an urban population of 37,000, of whom 16,000 were monks. The widespread temples, numerous monks and frequent religious activities consumed a huge amount of manpower and the greater part of material wealth in Tibet, greatly hindering the development of the productive forces there. According to the American Tibetologist Melvyn C. Goldstein, religion and the monasteries were "extremely conservative" and "played a major role in thwarting progress" in Tibet; "This commitment...to the universality of religion as the core metaphor of Tibetan national identity will be seen...to be a major factor underlying Tibet's inability to adapt to changing circumstances."
Cruel oppression and exploitation by the feudal serf-owners, and especially the endless consumption of human and material resources by religion and monasteries under the theocratic system and their spiritual enslavement of the people, had gravely damped the laborers' enthusiasm for production, stifled the vitality of the Tibetan society and reduced Tibet to a protracted state of stagnancy. Even in the middle of the 20th century, Tibet was still extremely isolated and backward, almost without a trace of modern industry, commerce, science and technology, education, culture and health care; primitive farming methods were still being used; and herdsmen had to travel from place to place grazing their livestock. There were few strains and breeds of grains and animals, and some of them had even degenerated. Farm tools were primitive, grain yield was only 4 to 10 times the seeds sown, and the level of both the productive forces and social development was very low. Deaths from hunger and cold, poverty and diseases were commonplace among the serfs, and the streets in Lhasa, Xigaze, Qamdo and Nagqu were crowded with beggars of both sexes, young and old.
Imperialist invasion brought more disasters for the Tibetan people, and deepened the social contradictions in Tibet, making it go from bad to worse. From the middle of the 19th century, China became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country, and Tibet, just like most other parts of the country, was invaded by the Western powers. In their invasions of Tibet British imperialists made no scruple about burning, killing and looting, secured many privileges through a number of unequal treaties, and carried out colonialist control and exploitation by wantonly plundering Tibet's resources and dumping their goods on the Tibetan people. At the same time, they fostered their trusted followers from among the ruling class and groomed their agents, in an attempt to divide Tibet from China. Weighed down by the internal and external double oppression and exploitation, the masses of the serfs fared worse and worse, driving them constantly to present petitions to the government, flee from the land, refuse to pay rent or offer corvee service and even raise armed revolts. Danger lurked on every side in Tibet and "the theocratic system is declining like a lamp consuming its last drop of oil."2 Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, once a Kaloon (council minister) of the former local government of Tibet, pointed out in the 1940s several times that if Tibet "goes on like this, the serfs will all die in the near future, and the nobles will not be able to live either. The whole Tibet will be destroyed." So there was a historically imperative need for the progress of Tibetan society and the happiness of the Tibetan people to expel the imperialists and shake off the yoke of feudal serfdom.
The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 brought hope for the deeply distressed Tibetan people. In conforming to the law of historical development and the interests of the Tibetan people, the Central People's Government worked actively to bring about Tibet's peaceful liberation. After that, important policies and measures were adopted for Tibet's Democratic Reform, regional autonomy, large-scale modernization and reform and opening-up. All this has contributed to changing the lot of Tibet and propelling Tibetan society forward in seven-league boots.
On May 23, 1951 the "Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" (hereinafter referred to as the "17-Article Agreement") was signed by the Central People's Government and the local government of Tibet, marking the realization of the peaceful liberation of Tibet and opening a new page for the development of the region. The peaceful liberation of Tibet, which was a part of China's national democratic revolution, enabled Tibet to shake off the penetration of imperialist forces and the political and economic shackles imposed by them, ended the discrimination and oppression against the Tibetan ethnic group in old China, safeguarded the national sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity of China, realized the unity of all ethnic groups in China and the internal unity of Tibet, and created the essential prerequisites for Tibet to join the other parts of the country in the drive for common progress and development. After the peaceful liberation, the People's Liberation Army and people from other parts of China working in Tibet persisted in carrying out the 17-Article Agreement and the policies of the Central Government, actively helped the Tibetan people build the Xikang-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet highways, the Damxung Airport, water conservancy projects, modern factories, banks, trading companies, post offices, farms and schools. They adopted a series of measures to help the farmers and herdsmen expand production, started social relief and disaster relief programs, and provided free medical service for the prevention and treatment of epidemic and other diseases. All this has promoted the economic, social and cultural development of Tibet, created a new social atmosphere of modern civilization and progress, produced a far-reaching influence among people of all walks of life in Tibet, ended the long-term isolation and stagnation of the Tibetan society, paved the way for Tibet's march toward a modern society, and opened up wide prospects for Tibet's further development.
In 1951, when Tibet was liberated peacefully, in consideration of the special history and reality of Tibet the "17-Article Agreement" affirmed the necessity of reforming the social system of Tibet and, at the same time, adopted a prudent attitude toward the reform. It stipulated that "the local government of Tibet shall carry out reform voluntarily, and, when the people demand a reform, shall settle it through consultation with the Tibetan leaders." However, some people in the Tibetan ruling group were totally opposed to reform and raised a hue and cry about their determination never to carry it out, in order to perpetuate the feudal serf system. Faced with the Tibetan people's ever-stronger demand for a democratic reform, instead of following the popular will they ganged up with overseas anti-China forces and raised an armed rebellion on March 10, 1959, in an attempt to split Tibet from the motherland and seek "independence" for Tibet. In order to safeguard the unity of the nation and the basic interests of the Tibetan people, the Central People's Government took decisive measures to suppress the rebellion together with the Tibetan people, and carried out the Democratic Reform of the Tibetan social system.
The Democratic Reform abolished the feudal serf-owners' right to own land and the serfs and slaves' personal bondage to the feudal serf-owners, repealed the old Tibetan laws and barbarous punishments, and annulled the theocratic system and the feudal privileges of the clergy. The reform liberated Tibet's million serfs and slaves politically, economically and spiritually, making them masters of the land and other means of production, giving them personal and religious freedom, and realizing their human rights. The reform greatly liberated the social productive forces in Tibet, and opened up the road toward modernization. According to statistics, the former serfs and slaves got over 2.8 million kai of land in the Democratic Reform and, in 1960, when the Democratic Reform was basically completed, the total grain yield for the whole of Tibet was 12.6 percent higher than in 1959 and 17.7 percent higher than in 1958, before the Democratic Reform. Moreover, the total amount of livestock was 9.9 percent more than in 1959.
After the Democratic Reform, the Tibetan people, like people of all other ethnic groups throughout China, enjoyed all the political rights provided by the Constitution and law. In 1961, a general election was held all over Tibet. For the first time, the former serfs and slaves were able to enjoy democratic rights as their own masters, and actively participated in the election of power organs and governments at all levels in the region. Many emancipated serfs and slaves took up leading posts at various levels in the region. In September 1965, the First People's Congress of Tibet was successfully convened, at which the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Regional People's Government was officially proclaimed. The founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the implementation of regional ethnic autonomy institutionally ensured the realization of the policy of equality, unity, mutual help and common prosperity among all ethnic groups in the region, and guaranteed the Tibetan people's right to equal participation in the administration of state affairs as well as the right to independent administration of local and ethnic affairs. In this way, an institutional guarantee was provided for Tibet to develop along with the other parts of China, with special support and assistance by the state and according to its local characteristics.
The 1980s witnessed a great upsurge of the reform, opening-up and modernization drive in Tibet, as in the other parts of China. To promote the development of Tibet, the Central Government formulated a series of special favorable policies, such as "long-term right to use and independently operate land by individual households" and "long-term policy of individual households' ownership, raising and management of livestock." These policies promoted the reform of the economic system and opening-up in Tibet. Since 1984, 43 projects have been launched in Tibet with state investment and aid from nine provinces and municipalities. The implementation of the policy of reform and opening-up and the state aid have strengthened and invigorated Tibetan industry, agriculture, animal husbandry and the tertiary industry with trade, catering and tourism as its mainstays, raised the overall level of industries and the level of commercialization of economic activities in Tibet, and helped Tibet take another step forward in its economic and social development.
In 1994, the Central Government held the Third Forum on Work in Tibet, and set the guiding principles for work in the region in the new era as follows: Focusing efforts on economic construction, firmly grasping the two major tasks of developing the economy and stabilizing the situation, securing the high-speed development of the economy, overall social progress and lasting political stability in Tibet, and ensuring continuous improvement of the Tibetan people's living standards. At the forum, the Central Government also adopted the important decision to devote special attention to Tibet and get all the other parts of China to aid Tibet, and formulated a sequence of special favorable policies and measures for speeding up the development of Tibet. The forum formed a mechanism for all-round aid to the modernization of Tibet, by which the state would directly invest in construction projects in the region, the Central Government provide financial subsidies, and the other parts of the country provide counterpart aid. Since 1994, the Central Government has directly invested a total of 4.86 billion yuan in 62 projects; 15 provinces and municipalities and the various ministries and commissions under the State Council have also given aid gratis for the construction of 716 projects, contributing a total of 3.16 billion yuan; and over 1,900 cadres have been sent from all over the country to assist in Tibet's construction. As a result, the production and living conditions in Tibet have been greatly improved and its social and economic developments revved up. In the meantime, Tibet has promoted all-round reform in its economic and technological systems, adjusted its economic structure and mechanism of enterprise operation and management, set up a complete social security system, enlarged its scope of opening-up, and actively encouraged and attracted funds from both home and abroad for its economic construction. In this way, the economy with diverse forms of ownership has developed rapidly, and Tibet's inner vitality for growth has been strengthened. In June 2001, the Central Government held the Fourth Forum on Work in Tibet, at which it drew up an ambitious blueprint for Tibet's overall modernization in the new century, and decided to adopt more effective policies and measures to further strengthen the support for the modernization of Tibet.
With attention from the Central Government, aid from the other parts of the country and the efforts of people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, the development of the region's economy has been speeded up, the people's living standards have been greatly improved, and the modernization drive is vibrant with life as never before. According to statistics, from 1994 to 2000, the gross domestic product (GDP) in Tibet increased by 130 percent, or a yearly increase of 12.4 percent, changing the situation in which Tibet had lagged behind the other parts of China in the GDP growth rate for a long time in the past. Urban residents' disposable income per capita and the farmers and herdsmen's income per capita increased by 62.9 percent and 93.6 percent, respectively; and the impoverished population decreased from 480,000 in the early 1990s to just over 70,000.
To sum up, the development history of Tibet in the past five decades since its peaceful liberation has been one of proceeding from darkness to brightness, from backwardness to progress, from poverty to prosperity and from isolation to openness, and of the region marching toward modernization as a part of the big family of China.