- This is a backgrounder of the struggle in Tibet and how
the US has been building up Dalai Lama to pursue their ideological struggle.
In the US many uninformed people had been awed by his philosophy on "peace"
and "non-violence". This article will bare facts to the real
color and intent of the Lama, why the US had given him a Nobel Prize and
many more. - Kalovski Itim, The True Story of Maoist Revolution in Tibet,
When the Dalai Lamas Ruled: Hell on Earth
- Revolutionary Worker #944, February 15, 1998
- Hard Climate, Heartless Society
- Tibet is one of the most remote places in the world.
It is centered on a high mountain plateau deep in the heart of Asia. It
is cut off from South Asia by the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the
world. Countless river gorges and at least six different mountain ranges
carve this region into isolated valleys. Before all the changes brought
about after the Chinese revolution of 1949, there were no roads in Tibet
that wheeled vehicles could travel. All travel was over winding, dangerous
mountain trailsby mule, by foot or by yaks which are hairy cow-like
mountain animals. Trade, communications and centralized government were
almost impossible to maintain.
- Most of Tibet is above the tree-line. The air is very
thin. Most crops and trees won't grow there. It was a struggle to grow
food and even find fuel for fires.
- At the time of the revolution, the population of Tibet
was extremely spread out. About two or three million Tibetans lived in
an area half the size of the United Statesabout 1.5 million square
miles. Villages, monasteries and nomad encampments were often separated
by many days of difficult travel.
- Maoist revolutionaries saw there were "Three Great
Lacks" in old Tibet: lack of fuel, lack of communications, and lack
of people. The revolutionaries analyzed that these "Three Great Lacks"
were not mainly caused by the physical conditions, but by the social system.
The Maoists said that the "Three Great Lacks" were caused by
the "Three Abundances" in Tibetan society: "Abundant poverty,
abundant oppression and abundant fear of the supernatural."
- Class Society in Old Tibet
- Tibet was a feudal society before the revolutionary changes
that started in 1949. There were two main classes: the serfs and the aristocratic
serf owners. The people lived like serfs in Europe's "Dark Ages,"
or like African slaves and sharecroppers of the U.S. South.
- Tibetan serfs scratched barley harvest from the hard
earth with wooden plows and sickles. Goats, sheep and yaks were raised
for milk, butter, cheese and meat. The aristocratic and monastery masters
owned the people, the land and most of the animals. They forced the serfs
to hand over most grain and demanded all kinds of forced labor (called
ulag). Among the serfs, both men and women participated in hard labor,
including ulag. The scattered nomadic peoples of Tibet's barren western
highlands were also owned by lords and lamas.
- The Dalai Lama's older brother Thubten Jigme Norbu claims
that in the lamaist social order, "There is no class system and the
mobility from class to class makes any class prejudice impossible."
But the whole existence of this religious order was based on a rigid and
brutal class system.
- Serfs were treated like despised "inferiors"the
way Black people were treated in the Jim Crow South. Serfs could not use
the same seats, vocabulary or eating utensils as serf owners. Even touching
one of the master's belongings could be punished by whipping. The masters
and serfs were so distant from each other that in much of Tibet they spoke
- It was the custom for a serf to kneel on all fours so
his master could step on his back to mount a horse. Tibet scholar A. Tom
Grunfeld describes how one ruling class girl routinely had servants carry
her up and down stairs just because she was lazy. Masters often rode on
their serfs' backs across streams.
- The only thing worse than a serf in Tibet was a "chattel
slave," who had no right to even grow a few crops for themselves.
These slaves were often starved, beaten and worked to death. A master could
turn a serf into a slave any time he wanted. Children were routinely bought
and sold in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. About 5 percent of the Tibetan people
were counted as chattel slaves. And at least another 10 percent were poor
monks who were really "slaves in robes."
- The lamaist system tried to prevent any escape. Runaway
slaves couldn't just set up free farms in the vast empty lands. Former
serfs explained to revolutionary writer Anna Louise Strong that before
liberation, "You could not live in Tibet without a master. Anyone
might pick you up as an outlaw unless you had a legal owner."
- Born FemaleProof of Past Sins?
- The Dalai Lama writes, "In Tibet there was no special
discrimination against women." The Dalai Lama's authorized biographer
Robert Hicks argues that Tibetan women were content with their status and
"influenced their husbands." But in Tibet, being born a woman
was considered a punishment for "impious" (sinful) behavior in
a previous life. The word for "woman" in old Tibet, kiemen, meant
"inferior birth." Women were told to pray, "May I reject
a feminine body and be reborn a male one."
- Lamaist superstition associated women with evil and sin.
It was said "among ten women you'll find nine devils." Anything
women touched was considered taintedso all kinds of taboos were placed
on women. Women were forbidden to handle medicine. Han Suyin reports, "No
woman was allowed to touch a lama's belongings, nor could she raise a wall,
or 'the wall will fall.' A widow was a despicable being, already a devil.
No woman was allowed to use iron instruments or touch iron. Religion forbade
her to lift her eyes above the knee of a man, as serfs and slaves were
not allowed to life the eyes upon the face of the nobles or great lamas."
- Monks of the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism rejected
sexual intimacy (or even contact) with women, as part of their plan to
be holy. Before the revolution, no woman had ever set foot in most monasteries
or the palaces of the Dalai Lama.
- There are reports of women being burned for giving birth
to twins and for practicing the pre-Buddhist traditional religion (called
Bon). Twins were considered proof that a woman had mated with an evil spirit.
The rituals and folk medicine of Bon were considered "witchcraft."
Like in other feudal societies, upperclass women were sold into arranged
marriages. Custom allowed a husband to cut off the tip of his wife's nose
if he discovered she had slept with someone else. The patriarchal practices
included polygyny, where a wealthy man could have many wives; and polyandry,
where in land-poor noble families one woman was forced to be wife to several
- Among the lower classes, family life was similar to slavery
in the U.S. South. (See The Life of a Tibetan Slave.) Serfs could not marry
or leave the estate without the master's permission. Masters transferred
serfs from one estate to another at will, breaking up serf families forever.
Rape of women serfs was commonunder the ulag system, a lord could
demand "temporary wives."
- The Three Masters
- The Tibetan people called their rulers "the Three
Great Masters" because the ruling class of serf owners was organized
into three institutions: the lama monasteries possessed 37 percent of the
cultivated land and pasture in old Tibet; the secular aristocracy 25 percent;
and the remaining 38 percent was in the hands of the government officials
appointed by the Dalai Lama's advisors.
- About 2 percent of Tibet's population was in this upper
class, and an additional 3 percent were their agents, overseers, stewards,
managers of estates and private armies. The ger-ba, a tiny elite of about
200 families, ruled at the top. Han Suyin writes: "Only 626 people
held 93 percent of all land and wealth and 70 percent of all the yaks in
Tibet. These 626 included 333 heads of monasteries and religious authorities,
and 287 lay authorities (including the nobles of the Tibetan army) and
six cabinet ministers."
- Merchants and handicraftsmen also belonged to a lord.
A quarter of the population in the capital city of Lhasa survived by begging
from religious pilgrims. There was no modern industry or working class.
Even matches and nails had to be imported. Before the revolution, no one
in Tibet was ever paid wages for their work.
- The heart of this system was exploitation. Serfs worked
16- or 18-hour days to enrich their masterskeeping only about a quarter
of the food they raised.
- A. Tom Grunfeld writes: "These estates were extremely
lucrative. One former aristocrat noted that a 'small' estate would typically
consist of a few thousand sheep, a thousand yaks, an undetermined number
of nomads and two hundred agricultural serfs. The yearly output would consist
of over 36,000 kg (80,000 lbs.) of grain, over 1,800 kg (4,000 lbs.) of
wool and almost 500 kg (1,200 lbs.) of butter A government official had
'unlimited powers of extortion' and could make a fortune from his powers
to extract bribes not to imprison and punish people. There was also the
matter of extracting monies from the peasantry beyond the necessary taxes."
- The ruling serf owners were parasites. One observer,
Sir Charles Bell, described a typical official who spent an hour a day
at his official duties. Upper class parties lasted for days of eating,
gambling and lying around. The aristocratic lamas also never worked. They
spent their days chanting, memorizing religious dogma and doing nothing.
- The Monasteries: Strongholds of Feudalism
- Defenders of old Tibet portray Lamaist Buddhism as the
essence of the culture of the people of Tibet. But it was really nothing
more or less than the ideology of a specific oppressive social system.
The lamaist religion itself is exactly as old as feudal class society.
The first Tibetan king, Songsten-gampo, established a unified feudal system
in Tibet, around 650 A.D. He married princesses from China and Nepal in
order to learn from them the practices used outside Tibet to carry out
feudalism. These princesses brought Tantric Buddhism to Tibet, where it
was merged with earlier animist beliefs to create a new religion, Lamaism.
- This new religion had to be imposed on the people over
the next century and a half by the ruling class, using violence. King Trosong
Detsen decreed: "He who shows a finger to a monk shall have his finger
cut off; he who speaks ill of the monks and the king's Buddhist policy
shall have his lips cut off; he who looks askance at them shall have his
eyes put out"
- Between the 1400s and the 1600s, a bloody consolidation
of power took place, the abbots of the largest monasteries seized overall
power. Because these abbots practiced anti-woman celibacy, their new political
system could not operate by hereditary father-to-son succession. So the
lamas created a new doctrine for their religion: They announced that they
could detect newborn children who were reincarnations of dead ruling lamas.
Hundreds of top lamas were declared "Living Buddhas" (Bodhisattvas)
who had supposedly ruled others for centuries, switching to new bodies
occasionally as old host bodies wore out.
- The central symbol of this system, the various men called
Dalai Lama, was said to be the early Tibetan nature-god Chenrezig who had
simply reappeared in 14 different bodies over the centuries. In fact, only
three of the 14 Dalai Lamas actually ruled. Between 1751 and 1950, there
was no adult Dalai Lama on the throne in Tibet 77 percent of the time.
The most powerful abbots ruled as "regent" advisors who trained,
manipulated and even assassinated the child-king Dalai Lamas.
- Tibetan monasteries were not holy, compassionate Shangrilas,
like in some New Age fantasy. These monasteries were dark fortresses of
feudal exploitationthey were armed villages of monks complete with
military warehouses and private armies. Pilgrims came to some shrines to
pray for a better life. But the main activity of monasteries was robbing
the surrounding peasants. The huge idle religious clergy grew little foodfeeding
them was a big burden on the people.
- The largest monasteries housed thousands of monks. Each
"parent" monastery created dozens (even hundreds) of small strongholds
scattered through the mountain valleys. For example, the huge Drepung monastery
housed 7,000 monks and owned 40,000 people on 185 different estates with
- Monasteries also made up countless religious taxes to
rob the peopleincluding taxes on haircuts, on windows, on doorsteps,
taxes on newborn children or calves, taxes on babies born with double eyelidsand
so on. A quarter of Drepung's income came from interest on money lent to
the serf-peasantry. The monasteries also demanded that serfs hand over
many young boys to serve as child-monks.
- The class relations of Tibet were reproduced inside the
monasteries: the majority of monks were slaves and servants to the upper
abbots and lived half-starved lives of menial labor, prayer chanting and
routine beatings. Upper monks could force poor monks to take their religious
exams or perform sexual services. (In the most powerful Tibetan sect, such
homosexual sex was considered a sign of holy distance from women.) A small
percent of the clergy were nuns.
- After liberation, Anna Louise Strong asked a young monk,
Lobsang Telé, if monastery life followed Buddhist teachings about
compassion. The young lama replied that he heard plenty of talk in the
scripture halls about kindness to all living creatures, but that he personally
had been whipped at least a thousand times. "If any upper class lama
refrains from whipping you," he told Strong, "that is already
very good. I never saw an upper lama give food to any poor lama who was
hungry. They treated the laymen who were believers just as badly or even
- These days, the Dalai Lama is "packaged" internationally
as a non-materialist holy man. In fact, the Dalai Lama was the biggest
serf owner in Tibet. Legally, he owned the whole country and everyone in
it. In practice, his family directly controlled 27 manors, 36 pastures,
6,170 field serfs and 102 house slaves.
- When he moved from palace to palace, the Dalai Lama rode
on a throne chair pulled by dozens of slaves. His troops marched along
to "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," a tune learned from their
British imperialist trainers. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama's bodyguards, all
over six-and-a-half feet tall, with padded shoulders and long whips, beat
people out of his path. This ritual is described in the Dalai Lama's autobiography.
- The first time he fled to India in 1950, the Dalai Lama's
advisors sent several hundred mule-loads of gold and silver bars ahead
to secure his comfort in exile. After the second time he fled, in 1959,
Peking Review reported that his family left lots of gold and silver behind,
plus 20,331 pieces of jewelry and 14,676 pieces of clothing.
- Bitter Poverty, Early Death
- The people lived with constant cold and hunger. Serfs
endlessly gathered scarce wood for their masters. But their own huts were
only heated by small cooking fires of yak dung. Before the revolution there
was no electricity in Tibet. The darkness was only lit by flickering yak-butter
- Serfs were often sick from malnutrition. The traditional
food of the masses is a mush made from tea, yak butter, and a barley flour
called tsampa. Serfs rarely tasted meat. One 1940 study of eastern Tibet
says that 38 percent of households never got any teaand drank only
wild herbs or "white tea" (boiled water). Seventy-five percent
of the households were forced at times to eat grass. Half of the people
couldn't afford butterthe main source of protein available.
- Meanwhile, a major shrine, the Jokka Kang, burned four
tons of yak butter offerings daily. It has been estimated that one-third
of all the butter produced in Tibet went up in smoke in nearly 3,000 temples,
not counting the small alters in each house.
- In old Tibet, nothing was known about basic hygiene,
sanitation, or the fact that germs caused disease. For ordinary people,
there were no outhouses, sewers or toilets. The lamas taught that disease
and death were caused by sinful "impiety." They said that chanting,
obedience, paying monks money and swallowing prayer scrolls was the only
real protection from disease.
- Old Tibet's superstition, feudal practices and low productive
forces caused the people to suffer terribly from disease. Most children
died before their first year. Even most Dalai Lamas did not make it to
18 years old and died before their coronations. A third of the population
had smallpox. A 1925 smallpox epidemic killed 7,000 in Lhasa. It is not
known how many died in the countryside. Leprosy, tuberculosis, goiter,
tetanus, blindness and ulcers were very common. Feudal sexual customs spread
venereal disease, including in the monasteries. Before the revolution,
about 90 percent of the population was infectedcausing widespread
sterility and death. Later, under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, the revolution
was able to greatly reduce these illnessesbut it required intense
class struggle against the lamas and their religious superstitions. The
monks denounced antibiotics and public health campaigns, saying it was
a sin to kill lice or even germs! The monks denounced the People's Liberation
Army for eliminating the large bands of wild, rabies-infested dogs that
terrorized people across Tibet. (Still today, one of the "charges"
against the Maoist revolution is that it "killed dogs"!)
- The Violence of the Lamas
- In old Tibet, the upper classes preached mystical Buddhist
nonviolence. But, like all ruling classes in history, they practiced reactionary
violence to maintain their rule.
- The lamaist system of government came into being through
bloody struggles. The early lamas reportedly assassinated the last Tibetan
king, Lang Darma, in the 10th century. Then they fought centuries of civil
wars, complete with mutual massacres of whole monasteries. In the 20th
century, the 13th Dalai Lama brought in British imperialist trainers to
modernize his national army. He even offered some of his troops to help
the British fight World War I.
- These historical facts alone prove that lamaist doctrines
of "compassion" and "nonviolence" are hypocrisy.
- The former ruling class denies there was class struggle
in old Tibet. A typical account by Gyaltsen Gyaltag, a representative of
the Dalai Lama in Europe, says: "Prior to 1950, the Tibetans never
experienced a famine, and social injustices never led to an uprising of
the people." It is true that there is little written record of class
struggle. The reason is that Lamaism prevented any real histories from
being written down. Only disputes over religious dogma were recorded.
- But the mountains of Tibet were filled with bandit runaways,
and each estate had its armed fighters. This alone is proof that constantdefined
Tibetan society and its power relations. strugglesometimes open, sometimes
- Revolutionary historians have documented uprisings among
Tibetan serfs in 1908, 1918, 1931, and the 1940s. In one famous uprising,
150 families of serfs of northern Tibet's Thridug county rose up in 1918,
led by a woman, Hor Lhamo. They killed the county head, under the slogan:
"Down with officials! Abolish all ulag forced labor!"
- Daily violence in old Tibet was aimed at the masses of
people. Each master punished "his" serfs, and organized armed
gangs to enforce his rule. Squads of monks brutalized the people. They
were called "Iron Bars" because of the big metal rods they carried
to batter people.
- It was a crime to "step out of your place"like
hunting fish or wild sheep that the lamaist declared were "sacred."
It was even a crime for a serf to appeal his master's decisions to some
other authority. When serfs ran away, the masters' gangs went to hunt them
down. Each estate had its own dungeons and torture chambers. Pepper was
forced under the eyelids. Spikes were forced under the fingernails. Serfs
had their legs connected by short chains and were released to wander hobbled
for the rest of their lives.
- Grunfeld writes: "Buddhist belief precludes the
taking of life, so that whipping a person to the edge of death and then
releasing him to die elsewhere allowed Tibetan officials to justify the
death as 'an act of God.' Other brutal forms of punishment included the
cutting off of hands at the wrists, using red-hot irons to gouge out eyes;
hanging by the thumbs; and crippling the offender, sewing him into a bag,
and throwing the bag in the river."
- As signs of the lamas' power, traditional ceremonies
used body parts of people who had died: flutes made out of human thigh
bones, bowls made out of skulls, drums made from human skin. After the
revolution, a rosary was found in the Dalai Lama's palace made from 108
different skulls. After liberation, serfs widely reported that the lamas
engaged in ritual human sacrificeincluding burying serf children alive
in monastery ground-breaking ceremonies. Former serfs testified that at
least 21 people were sacrificed by monks in 1948 in hopes of preventing
the victory of the Maoist revolution.
- Using Karma to Justify Oppression
- The central belief of lamaism is reincarnation and karma.
Each living being is said to be inhabited by an immortal soul that has
been born and reborn many times. After each death, a soul is supposedly
given a new body.
- According to the dogma of karma, each soul gets the life
it deserves: Pious behavior leads to good karmaand with that comes
a rise in the social status of the next life. Impious (sinful) behavior
leads to bad karma and the next life could be as an insect (or a woman).
- In reality, there is no such thing as reincarnation.
Dead people do not return in new bodies. But in Tibet, the belief in reincarnation
had terrible real consequences. People intrigued by Tibetan mysticism need
to understand the social function served by these lamaist beliefs inside
Tibet: Lamaist Buddhism was created, imposed and perpetuated to carry out
the extreme feudal oppression of the people.
- Lamaists today tell the story of an ancient Tibetan king
who wanted to close the gap between rich and poor. The king asked a religious
scholar why his efforts failed. "The sage is said to have explained
to him that the gap between rich and poor cannot be closed by force, since
the conditions of present life are always the consequences of actions in
earlier lives, and therefore the course of things cannot be changed at
- Grunfield writes: "From a purely secular point of
view, this doctrine must be seen as one of the most ingenious and pernicious
forms of social control ever devised. To the ordinary Tibetan, the acceptance
of this doctrine precluded the possibility of ever changing his or her
fate in this life. If one were born a slave, so the doctrine of karma taught,
it was not the fault of the slaveholder but rather the slaves themselves
for having committed some misdeeds in a previous life. In turn, the slaveholder
was simply being rewarded for good deeds in a previous life. For the slave
to attempt to break the chains that bound him, or her, would be tantamount
to a self-condemnation to a rebirth into a life worse than the one already
being suffered. This is certainly not the stuff of which revolutions are
- Tibet's feudalist abbot-lamas taught that their top lama
was a single divine god-king-beingwhose rule and dog-eat-dog system
was demanded by the natural workings of the universe. These myths and superstitions
teach that there can be no social change, that suffering is justified,
and that to end suffering each person must patiently tolerate suffering.
This is almost exactly what Europe's medieval Catholic church taught the
people, in order to defend a similar feudal system.
- Also like in medieval Europe, Tibet's feudalists fought
to suppress anything that might undermine their "watertight"
system. All observers agree that, before the Maoist revolution, there were
no magazines, printed books, or non-religious literature of any kind in
Tibet. The only Tibetan language newspaper was published in Kalimpong by
a converted Christian Tibetan. The source of news of the outside world
was travelers and a couple of dozen shortwave radios that were owned only
by members of the ruling class.
- The masses created folklore, but the written language
was reserved for religious dogma and disputes. The masses of people and
probably most monks were kept completely illiterate. Education, outside
news and experimentation were considered suspect and evil.
- Defenders of lamaism act like this religion was the essence
of the culture (and even the existence) of the Tibetan people. This is
not true. Like all things in society and nature, Lamaist Buddhism had a
beginning and will have an end. There was culture and ideology in Tibet
before lamaism. Then this feudal culture and religion arose together with
feudal exploitation. It was inevitable that lamaist culture would shatter
together with those feudal relations.
- In fact, when the Maoist revolution arrived in 1950,
this system was already rotting from within. Even the Dalai Lama admits
that the population of Tibet was declining. It is estimated there were
about 10 million Tibetans 1,000 years ago when Buddhism was first introducedby
the time of the Maoist revolution there were only two or three million
left. Maoists estimate that the decline had accelerated: the population
had been cut in half during the last 150 years.
- The lamaist system burdened the people with massive exploitation.
It enforced the special burden of supporting a huge, parasitic, non-reproducing
clergy of about 200,000that absorbed 20 percent or more of the region's
young men. The system suppressed the development of productive forces:
preventing the use of iron plows, the mining of coal or fuel, the harvesting
of fish or game, and medical/sanitary innovation of any kind. Hunger, the
sterility caused by venereal disease, and polyandry kept the birthrate
- The mystical wrapping of lamaism cannot hide that old
Tibetan society was a dictatorship of the serf owners over the serfs. There
is nothing to romanticize about this society. The serfs and slaves needed
- Tibet Meets the Maoist Revolution
- Through the 1930s and '40s, a revolutionary people's
war arose among the peasants of central China. Under the leadership of
the Communist Party and its Chairman Mao Tsetung, the revolution won overall
state power in the heavily populated areas of eastern China in 1949. By
then, U.S. intrigues were already starting at China's northern border with
Korea, and French imperialists were launching their colonialist invasion
of Vietnam along China's southern border. Clearly, the Maoist revolutionaries
were eager to liberate the oppressed everywhere in China, and to drive
foreign intriguers from China's border regions.
- But Tibet posed a particular problem: In 1950, this huge
region had been almost completely isolated from the revolutionary whirlwind
that swept the rest of China. There were almost no Tibetan communists.
There was no communist underground among Tibet's serfs. In fact, the serfs
of Tibet had no idea that a revolution was happening elsewhere in their
country, or even that such things as "revolutions" were possible.
- The grip of the lamaist system and its religion was extremely
strong in Tibet. It could not be broken simply by having revolutionary
troops of the majority Han nationality march in and "declare"
that feudalism was abolished! Mao Tsetung rejected the "commandist"
approach of "doing things in the name of the masses." Maoist
revolution relies on the masses.
- In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss how Maoist
revolution got its foothold in Tibet, and how the revolution grew into
great mass storms that blew away the lamaist oppression.
- Bringing the Revolution to Tibet
- By 1949, Mao's People's Liberation Army had defeated
all the main reactionary armies in central China. The day of the poor and
oppressed had arrived! But the big powers in the world were moving quickly
to crush and "contain" this revolution. French troops invaded
Vietnam, south of China's border. By 1950, a massive U.S. invasion force
would land in Korea with plans to threaten Chinaitself.
- The western mountains and grasslands of China's border
areas are inhabited by dozens of different national groupings, whose cultures
are different from China's majority Han people. One of those regions, Tibet,
had been locally ruled as an isolated, "water-tight" kingdom
by a class of serf-owners, headed by the monk-abbots of large Lamaist Buddhist
monasteries. During the Chinese civil war, Tibet's ruling class conspired
to set up a phony "independent" state that was really under the
wing of British colonialism.
- Maoist revolutionaries were determined to bring revolution
to Tibetto secure China's border regions against invasion and to liberate
the millions of oppressed Tibetan serfs there. There was no doubt that
Mao's hardened peasant-soldiers could defeat any army of Tibetan feudalists.
- But the revolution faced a problem: The huge, sparsely
populated region of Tibet had been completely isolated from the revolutionary
war sweeping the rest of China. In 1949 there was no force among the Tibetan
masses to carry out real liberation. There was yet no rebel underground
among Tibet's serfs. There were almost no Tibetan communists or even Han
communists who spoke Tibetan. The masses of Tibetan serfs had never heard
that a great revolution had swept the rest of their country. Tibetan serfs
had been taught that their current misery and poverty was justifiedcaused
by their own sinfulness in earlier lives.
- Mao Tsetung taught that a true revolution must rely on
the masseson the needs, wishes, and actions of the oppressed people
themselves. Maoism calls this principle the Mass Line. Mao said: "It
often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively
they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to
make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not
make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become
conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise
we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. Unless they are conscious and
willing, any kind of work that requires their participation will turn out
to be a mere formality and will fail."
- In October 1950 the People's Liberation Army (PLA) advanced
into the grasslands and mountains of southwest China. At Chamdo, they easily
defeated an army sent against them by the Tibetan ruling class - and then
they stopped. They sent a message to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
- China's new revolutionary government offered Tibet's
rulers a deal: Tibet would be reattached to the Chinese republic, but for
the time being the regime of Tibetan serf-owners (called the Kashag) could
continue to rule as a local government, operating under the leadership
of the Central People's government. The Maoists would not abolish feudal
practices, or challenge the Lamaist religion until the people themselves
supported such changes. The People's Liberation Army would safeguard China's
borders from imperialist intervention, and foreign agents would be expelled
from Lhasa. About half of the Tibetan population lived in regions of Tsinghai
and Chamdo that were not under the political rule of the Kashag. These
regions were not covered by the proposal.
- The Tibetan serf-owners signed this special "17-point
agreement" and on October 26, 1951, the People's Liberation Army peacefully
marched into Lhasa.
- Both sides knew that struggle would eventually break
out. How long could the aristocrats and monasteries continue to enslave
"their" serfswhen everyone could now see Han peasants who
had liberated themselves from similar conditions using guns and Maoism?
- The most powerful serf-owning families started to plan
an armed uprising. The Dalai Lama's brother traveled abroad to cement ties
with the CIA, to get arms and request political recognition. Monasteries
organized secret conferences and spread wild rumors among the masses: like
saying Han revolutionaries fueled their trucks with the blood of stolen
Tibetan children. Long mule-trains of U.S. arms started winding their way
from India to key Tibetan monasteries. The CIA set up combat training centers
for its Tibetan agents, eventually based in the high altitude of Camp Hale,
Colorado. CIA planes dropped weapons into Tibet's eastern Kham region.
- Applying Mao's Mass Line to the Special Conditions of
- Meanwhile, Mao instructed the revolutionary forces to
win over the masses for the coming revolutionwithout provoking an
early polarization in which the masses might be against the revolution.
Mao wrote: "Delay will not do us much harm; on the contrary, it may
be to our advantage. Let them [the lamaist ruling class] go on with their
senseless atrocities against the people, while we on our part concentrate
on good deedsproduction, trade, road-building, medical services and
united front work (unity with the majority and patient education) so as
to win over the masses."
- One red soldier later said, "We were given much
detailed instructions as to how to behave."
- The Tibetan masses were too poor to spare any grain for
the revolutionary troops. So the PLA soldiers often went hungry until their
own fields were ready for harvest. They were taught to respect Tibetan
cultures and beliefseven, for now, the intense superstitious fears
that dominated Tibetan life.
- During those first years, the PLA worked as a great construction
force building the first roads connecting Tibet with central China. A long
string of workcamps stretched thousands of miles through endless mountains
and gorges. Alongside these camps, the Han soldiers raised their own food
using new collective methods. Serfs from surrounding areas were paid wages
for work on the road.
- The rulers of old Tibet treated the serfs like "talking
animals" and forced them to do endless unpaid laborso the behavior
of these PLA troops was shocking to the Tibetan masses. One serf said,
"The Hans worked side by side with us. They did not whip us. For the
first time I was treated as a human being." Another serf described
the day a PLA soldier gave him water from the soldier's own cup, "I
could not believe it!" As serfs were trained to repair trucks, they
became the first proletarians in the history of Tibet. One runaway said:
"We understood it was not the will of the gods, but the cruelty of
humans like ourselves, which kept us slaves."
- The PLA road camps quickly became magnets for runaway
slaves, serfs, and escaped monks. Young serfs working in the camps were
asked if they wanted to go to school to help liberate their people. They
became the first Tibetan students at Institutes for National Minorities
in China's eastern cities. They learned reading, writing, and accounting
"for the agrarian revolution to come"!
- In this way, the revolution started recruiting activists
who would soon lead the people. The first Communist Party member from central
Tibet was recruited in the mid-1950s. By October 1957, the Party reported
1,000 Tibetan members, with an additional 2,000 in the Communist Youth
League. (See "Recruiting Young Rebels to the Revolution.")
- All through Tibet's eastern rural areas and the valleys
around Lhasa, the People's Liberation Army acted as a huge "seeding
machine" of the revolutionjust as it had during Mao's historic
Long March of the 1930s.
- Any Hint of Change Shook the Water-tight Kingdom
- Once the first white-sand road was completed, long caravans
of PLA trucks arrived, carrying key goods like tea and matches. The expanded
trade and especially the availability of inexpensive tea improved the diet
of ordinary Tibetans. By the mid-'50s, the first telephones, telegraphs,
radio station and modern printing had been organized. The first newspapers,
books and pamphlets appeared, in both Han and Tibetan. After 1955, Tibet's
first real schools were founded. By July 1957 there were 79 elementary
schools, with 6,000 students. All this started to improve the life of poor
people and infuriated the upper classes, who had always monopolized all
trade, book-learning and contact with the outside world.
- When revolutionary medical teams started healing people,
even monks and the upper classes started showing up at the early clinics.
The first coal mine opened in 1958 and the first blast furnace in 1959.
This undermined superstitions that condemned innovation and preached that
diseases were caused by sinful behavior.
- Starting in 1956, increasingly intense armed revolts
organized by feudal landowners started in Han-Tibet border areas. These
areas were not covered by the 17 points, and the serfs there were being
encouraged by the revolutionaries to stop paying land rent to the monasteries
and estates. In 1958 a communist leader in Tsinghai wrote, "The great
socialist revolution in the pastoral areas has been a very violent class
struggle of life and death."
- Some forces within the Communist Party urged compromise.
They suggested slowing down the land reform and closing down the schools
and clinics that were opposed by the lamaists. Teachers and medical teams
were withdrawn. But this did not stop the conspiracies of the lamaists.
- In the late '50s, the Tibetan ruling class pressed ahead
with a full-scale revolt. They believed that the intense struggles breaking
out in central Chinacalled the Great Leap Forwardmight give them
an opening to drive out the PLA. CIA support was increasing, and trained
agents were in place.
- Serf-Owners' Revolt Triggers Revolution
- "Historically, all reactionary forces on the verge
of extinction invariably conduct a last desperate struggle against the
revolutionary forces."Mao Tsetung
- In March 1959, armed monks and Tibetan soldiers attacked
the revolutionary garrison in Lhasa and launched a revolt along the Tibet-India
border. One monk later said, "All of us were told that, if we killed
a Han, we would become Living Buddhas and have chapels to our name."
Without much support among the masses, the lamaists were soon dug in at
some shrines. The main revolt was over within a few days.
- During the fighting, the Dalai Lama fled into exile.
This flight is portrayed by lamaists as a heroic, even mystical event.
But it is now well documented that the Dalai Lama was whisked away by a
CIA covert operation. The Dalai Lama's own autobiography admits that his
cook and radio operator on that trip were CIA agents. The CIA wanted him
outside of Tibetas a symbol for a contra-style war against the Maoist
- Defeated in their revolt, large sections of the upper
clergy and aristocracy followed the Dalai Lama south into Indiaaccompanied
by many slave-servants, armed guards and mule-trains of wealth. In all,
13,000 went into exile, among them the most hard-core feudal forces and
their supporters. Suddenly, many of Tibet's Three Mastersthe rich
lamas, the high government officials, and the secular aristocratswere
- Revolutionary forces mobilized to root out the feudalist
conspiracy. And a thousand Tibetan students rushed back from the National
Minorities Institutes to help organize the first great wave of revolutionary
change in Tibet.
- The Dalai Lama's Kashag government had largely supported
this counterrevolutionary revolt and was dissolved. New organs of power
were created in every region called "Offices to Suppress the Revolt."
The new regional government was called "Preparatory Committee for
the Autonomous Region of Tibet" (PCART)in it, new Tibetan cadres
and veteran Han cadres worked together.
- This first stage of the revolution was called "the
Three Anti's and the Two Reductions." It was against the lamaist conspiracy,
against forced labor, and against slavery. In the past serfs had paid three-quarters
of their harvest to the masters, now the revolution fought to reduce that
"land rent" to 20 percent. The other reduction eliminated the
massive debts that serfs "owed" to their masters.
- This campaign attacked the heart of Tibet's feudal relations:
Forced ulag labor was abolished. The nangzen slaves of the nobles and monasteries
were freed. The masses of slave-monks were suddenly allowed to leave the
monasteries. Arms caches were cleaned out of the main monasteries, and
key conspirators were arrested.
- Some people like to talk about "struggle for religious
freedom in Tibet"but throughout Tibetan history, the main struggle
around "religious freedom" has been for the freedom not to believe,
not to obey the cruel monks and their endless superstitions. The sight
of thousands of young monks eagerly getting married and doing manual labor
was a powerful blow to superstitious awe.
- Women's liberation got off the groundunder the then-shocking
slogan "All men and women are equal!" Revolutionary property
changes helped ease old pressures for polygamy. With a large new pool of
eligible men, there was no longer the same pressure for women to accept
a situation where one man could have many wives. With the redistribution
of the land, women were no longer under the same pressure to marry several
brothers in one familya practice that had been used to limit the population
who depended on small plots of land.
- Without the land rent, the huge parasitic monasteries
started to dry up. About half the monks left them and about half the monasteries
- In mass meetings, serfs were encouraged to organize Peasant
Associations and fight for their interests. Key oppressors were called
out, denounced and punished. The debt records of the serf-owners were burned
in great bonfires. Women played a particularly active role. They are seen
in the photographs of those days leading such meetings and denouncing the
oppressor. Soon, the serfs seized the land and livestock. Ex-serfs, former
beggars, and ex-slaves each received several acres. Serfs received 200,000
new deeds to the land and herdsdecorated with red flags and pictures
of Chairman Mao.
- Serfs said: "The sun of the Kashag shone only on
the Three Masters and their landlord henchmen, but the sun of the Communist
Party and Chairman Mao shines on usthe poor people."
- Sharp Class Struggle
- These revolutionary moves took intense and often bloody
class struggle. There was all the complexity, heroism, mistakes, advances
and setbacks of real-life revolution.
- The revolutionaries aroused the class hatred of the serfs.
The serf-owners countered by accusing revolutionary Tibetans of being foreign
collaborators and destroyers of holiness. Sometimes the revolutionary forces
had the upper handand huge changes happened in the lives of the people.
In other places the feudal forces gained the upper handand tried to
wipe out any challenge. For years, there were pitched battles, raids, and
executions by both sides. As Mao Tsetung teaches: "A revolution is
not a dinner party. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence
by which one class overthrows another. Without using the greatest force,
the peasants cannot possibly overthrow the deep-rooted authority of the
landlords which has lasted for thousands of years."
- The revolutionary army was a powerful force backing the
upsurge, and many eager serfs volunteered to join the People's Liberation
Army. But Tibet is a huge land of isolated valleys. Organizers in the widely
scattered settlements were largely on their own. They risked everything
for the people and were often killed by feudal gangsjust like the
early Klan killed freed slaves in the days after the U.S.civil war.
- Sharp struggle also broke out in the new Institutes of
National Minoritiesoften along class lines. Some Tibetan students
from aristocratic background intended to become a new elitesome resented
it when land reform affected their serf-owning families back in Tibet.
They also rejected moves toward social equality: demanding to have servants
who would make their beds and clean their rooms, and they refused to mingle
with fellow students from slave and serf backgrounds. Similar issues divided
the new schools in Lhasa itself: aristocrat-students demanded that slave-students
carry their "master's" books. Lamas were sent in to "oversee
education" and conduct prayers before and after study sessions. These
early struggles prepared the students from serf, slave and beggar classes
for the day when such issues would be struggled out throughout Tibet's