Illustrated White Paper on Democratic Reform in Tibet-Means of production mostly monopolized by the three major estate-holders

China Human Rights Net > News > Focus > Illustrated White Paper on Democratic Reform in Tibet > I. Old Tibet -- A Society of Feudal Serfdom under Theocracy

Means of production mostly monopolized by the three major estate-holders


The three major estate-holders, that is, local administrative officials, aristocrats and upper-ranking lamas in the monasteries, and their agents, accounted for less than five percent of Tibet's population, but owned all of Tibet's farmland, pastures, forests, mountains, rivers and beaches, as well as most livestock. About 90 percent of old Tibet's population was made up of serfs, called "tralpa" in Tibetan (namely, people who tilled plots of land assigned to them and had to provide corvee labor for the serf owners) and "duiqoin" (small households with chimneys emitting smoke). They had no means of production or per-sonal freedom, and the survival of each of them depended on tilling plots for the estate-holders. In addition, "nangzan," who comprised five percent of the population, were hereditary slaves, known as "speaking tools." Statistics released in the early years of the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century indicate that Tibet then had more than three million mu of farmland, of which 30.9 percent was owned by the local feudal government, 29.6 percent by aristocrats, and 39.5 percent by monasteries and upper-ranking lamas. The three major estate-holders' monopoly of the means of production remained unchanged until the democratic reform in 1959.Before 1959, the family of the 14th Dalai Lama possessed 27 manors,30 pastures and over 6,000 serfs, and annually squeezed about 33,000 ke (one ke equals 14 kilograms -- ed.) of qingke (highland barley), 2,500 ke of butter, two million liang (15 liang of silver equal one silver dollar of the time) of Tibetan silver, 300 head of cattle, and 175 rolls of pulu (woolen fabric made in Tibet) out of its serfs. In 1959, the Dalai Lama alone owned 160,000 liang of gold, 95 million liang of silver, over 20,000 pieces of jewelry and jadeware, and more than 10,000 pieces of silk and satin fabric and rare fur clothing, including over 100 robes inlaid with pearls and gems, each worth tens of thousands of yuan.



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