Illustrated White Paper on Democratic Reform in Tibet-Serfs owned 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

Serfs owned by the three major estate-holders



As serfdom was hereditary, all serfs' birth and deaths were reported to their owners. In the photo a female serf brings her newborn baby to her lord for registration and pays capitation tax.


Serfs owned by the three major estate-holders. The local government of old Tibet prescribed that serfs must stay on the land within the manors of their owners, and were not allowed to leave without permission, and were strictly prohibited from fleeing the manors. They were serfs from generation to generation, confined to the land of their owners. All serfs and their livestock with labor ability had to till the plots of land assigned to them and provide corvee labor. Once the serfs lost their ability to labor, they were deprived of livestock, farm tools and land, and degraded to the status of slaves. The serf-owners literally possessed their serfs as private properties, they could trade and transfer them, present them as gifts, make them gambling stakes or mortgages for debt and exchange them. According to historical records, in 1943 the aristocrat Trimon Norbu Wan-gyal sold 100 serfs to a monk official at Kadron Gangsa, in the Drigung area, each serf for 60 liang of silver. He also sent 400 serfs to the Kunde Ling Monastery as a payment for a debt of 3,000 pin of silver (one pin equals 50 liang of silver). The serf-owners had a firm grip on the birth, death and marriage of serfs. A Tibetan ballad of the time goes, "Our lives were given to us by our parents, but our bodies are owned by our lords. We are not masters of our own lives or bodies, or of our own destiny." All serfs had to ask their owners for permission to marry, and male and female serfs not belonging to the same owner had to pay "redemption fees" before they could marry. After marriage, serfs were also taxed for their newborn children. Children of serfs were registered the moment they were born, sealing their life-long fate as serfs.



A serf-bartering contract



The 5th Dalai Lama once issued the order, "Commoners of Lhari Ziba listen to my order: ... I have authorized Lhari Ziba to chop off your hands and feet, gouge out your eyes, and beat and kill you should you ever again attempt to seek freedom and comfort." It was reiterated by his successors.


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