The Real Tibet

Wang Weili

The purest air and the bluest sky in the world. This is what I first saw in Tibet when I went there some 20 years ago.

Under the blinding sunshine were men wrapped up in sheep hides. With chest and arms exposed to the air, they chatted merrily with girls with deeply sun-tanned cheeks.

Out of my love for art, I spent one year there.

From my Tibetan friends I came to understand how Tibet had groaned under serfdom before 1959, the year the Democratic Reform took place in the region. About 95 percent of the Tibetan people were either serfs or slaves under serfdom. They owned no fields, no grassland, no forests and no production tools, all of which belonged to the serf and slave owners. These serf and slave owners, who made up less than 5 percent of the Tibetan population, controlled everything. They were free to transfer, mortgage, sell or buy their slaves or use them as gifts.

Not only the local authorities but also large monasteries, manorial lords and tribal chiefs were empowered to handle legal cases and set up jails.

According to the legal code then enforced in Tibet, the Tibetans were divided into nine grades in three classes. Serfs and slaves were listed at the bottom of the social level. If they violated any rules set by their owners, punishments included gouging out eyes, cutting off tongues, hands and feet, pushing people off cliffs, drowning and beheading. I once saw victims who had suffered some of these punishments.

When the 17-Article Agreement was signed for Tibet's peaceful liberation in May 1951, the central government allowed the local government of Tibet to retain the old social system and pledged not to embark on reform until conditions were appropriate. The 14th Dalai Lama expressed his support for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to enter Tibet "to consolidate national defense, expel imperialist forces and defend the unification of the territory of the motherland."

Under the instigation of reactionary forces, however, the 14th Dalai Lama tore up the 17-Article Agreement and staged an armed rebellion. When the rebellion was suppressed, he fled to India and lives there to this day.

The central government then started to undertake democratic reform and the changing of the old social system. Serfs and slaves won emancipation.

Some 40 years have passed. Tibet has achieved bumper harvests, and livestock breeding has developed apace. The region's agricultural output value has increased many hundredfold. Modern industries, transport, school education, medicare, science and technology, which did not exist in Tibet before, all now show shining progress. Tibet has got rid of the closed feudal system and entered a modern society. My friends, who were former slaves, told me: "We have jumped from hell to paradise."

Not all in Tibet are satisfied with the situation. There were those who did not want to accept the loss of the paradisiacal life they enjoyed under serfdom. They collaborate with overseas anti-China forces to mislead people who were ignorant of the situation. I came across many of these people abroad.

During a painting show I held in India, an Indian woman pointed at a portrait, saying "The old Chinese man is well painted." When I told her the old man was a Tibetan, the Indian woman burst into laughter. "If you say Tibet is part of China, India will be part of China in the future." I told her Tibet has been part of Chinese territory since the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. India is an independent country, and China has never claimed one inch of Indian territory. I advised her to read books on that period of history.

Some of my American friends yearn to understand Tibet. One of them phoned me, saying an encyclopaedia stated that "China occupied Tibet in the 1950s." He asked me to explain this. He had no vicious intent in making this inquiry. I asked him whether the book said Tibet was an independent state before the 1950s and he said no. I then explained that it was very natural for Tibet to win liberation, then I asked him when Beijing and Shanghai were liberated, would it have been correct to say they were "occupied by the Chinese?" Obviously not.

When Richard Gere "advised" the Chinese leaders to "leave Tibet" during an Oscar awards ceremony, I flew into a rage. I brought together some reporters for a press conference and refuted his fallacy. I told them the history of Tibet, advising them not to view the central government's liberation of Tibet in the same light as the white people's attempts to drive the Indians out of the United States. I also told them how the central government and various fraternal provinces offered aid to Tibet.

The central government and the whole country are doing their best to assist Tibet in economic construction, but there are people who allege that the Chinese are "invading" and "occupying" Tibet. I can hardly allow such slander.

When people are told the truth, they understand. They were appalled to see documents issued by the local government of Tibet in the late 1940s, and the human skulls, blood, skin and intestines, which were used as sacrifices to the Dalai Lama when he celebrated his birthday. They are relieved to learn the Tibetan population has risen from fewer than 1 million in 1955 to 2.6 million today (with less than 3 percent of them Han people); and their life expectancy has increased from 35 years to 67 years.

However, what I have said is almost nothing when compared with the uproar stirred up by Westerners. The majority of people outside China know almost nothing of the truth about Tibet.

The West resorts to movies to mislead the public. "Seven years in Tibet", shot in 1997, turns a devoted Nazi into a hero defending human rights. At the same time, no stone is left unturned in the attempt to slander the PLA sent to defend the border area.

While this Nazi was dandified as a brilliant young man, all the members of the PLA were acted by ugly actors to leave viewers with a bad impression. When they entered Tibet in the movie, they trampled on Tibetan Buddhist mandalas. This is how they were described, although the PLA entered Tibet with insufficient food in their stomachs and never bothered Tibetans along the way. The movie claims 1 million Tibetans were butchered (although there were fewer than 1 million Tibetans in Tibet at that time).

On the other hand, when I watched "Changes in Tibet", a TV series, I was satisfied. It recorded how Tibet won peaceful liberation, how the PLA entered Tibet, how the armed rebellion was suppressed, and how the Democratic Reform was conducted. The director, Zai Junjie, was with the PLA 18th Army. He knew the truth. All the heroes in the TV play are identified clearly by name and rank for authenticity. The TV play makes it possible for viewers to appreciate this history and become acquainted with those who created it.

The author is a sculptor now residing in the United States. This article was originally published in the bimonthly English-language magazine China's Tibet.

(China Daily November 29, 2001)

In This Series

Poor Region in Tibet to End No Electricity History

Tibetan Culture Week Set for Melbourne and Auckland

English Becomes Popular in Tibet

Urbanization Arrives in Tibet

Tibet's Seniors Focus of Plan

More Projects Aid Tibet

Tibet Becomes Favorable Choice for Shanghai Tourists

Tibet: From Isolation to Openness



50 Years in Tibet

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