BEIJING, March 20 -- How much property did the 14th Dalai Lama own before fleeing Tibet in 1959?
A great deal, according to a white paper titled Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet , recently published by the Information Office of the State Council. Following is an article published in the People's Daily Thursday in response to readers' inquiries:
In 1959, the Dalai Lama personally owned 160,000 liang (a Chinese weighing unit equal to 50 grams) of gold, 95 million liang of silver, more than 20,000 pieces of jewelry and jadeware, and more than 10,000 pieces of silk and satin fabric and rare fur clothing, including more than 100 robes inlaid with pearls and gems, each worth tens of thousands of yuan.
Before sweeping democratic reform was launched by the central government in 1959, Tibetan people had suffered under a system of feudal serfdom at the hands of religious-political rulers.
The serf-owner class, consisting of three major estate-holders - local administrative officials, aristocrats and upper-class monastery lamas - exerted extremely brutal political suppression and economic exploitation on the serfs and slaves.
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 their serf owners) and duiqoin (small households with chimneys emitting smoke). They had no means of production or personal freedom, and only lived on tilling plots for estate-holders for survival.
The picture shows a family of serfs living in a shabby tent. Miserable life of serfs . (File Photo)
In addition, nangzan, about 5 percent of the old Tibet's population, were hereditary slaves regarded as "speaking tools."
Statistics released in the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the 17th century indicate that Tibet then had more than 3 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 monastery and upper-ranking lamas.
The monopoly of means of production by the three major estate-holders remained unchanged until the adoption of democratic reforms in 1959.
According to statistics, the family of the 14th Dalai Lama possessed 27 manors, 30 pastures and more than 6,000 serfs. About 33,000 ke (one ke equals 14 kilograms) of qingke (highland barley), 2,500 ke of butter, two million liang of Tibetan silver, 300 head of cattle, and 175 rolls of pulu (woolen fabric made in Tibet) were squeezed out of its serfs every year.
It is known that each Dalai Lama had two money-lending agencies. Some money from "tribute" to the Dalai Lama was lent at an exorbitant rate of interest.
According to incomplete records in the account books of the two agencies, they lent 3,038,581 liang of silver as principal in 1950, and collected 303,858 liang in interest the same year. Governments of various levels in the old Tibet also had many such agencies, and lending money and interest collection became a duty of local officials.
A survey made in 1959 showed that the three major monasteries, namely Drepung, Sera and Ganden, in Lhasa, lent a total of 22,725,822 kilograms of grain and collected 399,364 kilograms in interest.
Also, a total of 57,105,895 liang of silver was lent for 1,402,380-liang interest.
Relevant statistics show revenue gained from usurious loans made up 25 to 30 percent of the total incomes of the three monasteries.