Illustrated White Paper on Democratic Reform in Tibet-Rigid hierarchy in Old Tibet

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

Rigid hierarchy in Old Tibet


The "13-Article Code" and "16-Article Code," which were enforced for several hundred years in old Tibet, divided people into three classes and nine ranks, enshrining inequality between the different ranks in law. The Code stipulated that people were divided into three classes according to their family background and social positions, each class was further divided into three ranks. The upper class consisted of a small number of aristocrats from big families, high-rank Living Buddhas and senior officials; the middle class was composed of lower-ranking ecclesiastical and secular officials, military officers, and the agents of the three major kinds of estate-holders. Serfs and slaves constituted the lower class, accounting for 95 percent of Tibet's total population. The provision concerning the penalty for murder in the Code provided, "As people are divided into different classes and ranks, the value of a life also differs." The bodies of people of the highest rank of the upper class, such as a prince or Living Buddha, were literally worth their weight in gold. The lives of people of the lowest rank of the lower class, such as women, butchers, hunters and craftsmen, were only worth a straw rope. The "Report on the Prohibition against Taking in Descendents of Blacksmiths" kept in the Archives of the Tibet Autonomous Region showed that in 1953, when the 14th Dalai Lama found out that one of his servants was a blacksmith's descendent, he immediately expelled the servant, and announced that descendents of gold, silver and iron smiths, and butchers belonged to the lowest rank of the lower class, and were forbidden to serve in the government or marry people from other ranks or classes. Tibetologist Tom Grunfeld of the State University of New York, USA, noted in his book The Making of Modern Tibet that equality among mankind, though incorporated in the doctrines of Buddhism, unfortunately failed to prevent the Tibetan rulers from setting up their own rigid hierarchical system.


Descendents of nobles in Tibet conferred by the Yuan, Ming and Qing imperial governments inherited their titles. There were seven or eight large noble families in Tibet before the peaceful liberation, who each owned dozens of plantations and tens of thousands ke of land. The picture shows aristocratic ladies in Xigaze.



The Duchung were serfs of small households who had no means of production or personal freedom and made a living by farming for their lords. The picture shows the life of a duchung family.


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