II. Democratic Reform and Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet
12. What kind of social system was in force under the Dalai Lama in old Tibet? Was the old Tibet really the last "Shangri-La"?
A: There are people from the West who compare Tibet to the Shangri-La of The Lost Horizon, written by British novelist James Hilton in 1933, likening this region to a utopian Land of Peach Blossoms. They find it inconceivable that, as late as the 1950s, Tibet still functioned as a feudal serfdom system under a theocratic dictatorship, in a manner similar to the integration of religion and politics in Medieval Europe.
Tibet's feudal serfdom, as practiced in early feudal society, and carrying with it many traces of slavery, was an exploitative, inhuman system.
In terms of the nature of the political system in force in Tibet, its distinguishing features were the combination of religious authority and political power. The Dalai Lama was both the religious and political head of Tibet. The local government was composed of the most high-ranking monks and nobles, who represented the interests of the serf-owning class. Serfs and slaves, then accounting for 95 percent of the Tibetan population, were owned by the three estate-holders (officialdom, monasteries and nobles) for life, and, as such, had no vestige of personal freedom. The feudal lords could beat ,abuse, punish, sell, present as gifts, imprison and even kill slaves with impunity. When slaves met for the first time, they did not exchange their own names, but those of their masters. According to Tibet's regional code, society was arbitrarily divided into classed and ranks, and people were divided into three social classes - upper, middle and lower-each class having its own further subdivision into these three ranks. According to the law regarding compensation for the life of a murdered person, it was stipulated that "people are classified into different ranks and classes, and the value of any one life is estimated accordingly." The value of a person from the upper echelons, for example, a prince or Living Buddha, was equal to the price of gold of his body weight, while that of a person of lowest class could be equal to the price of a straw rope. Tibet's judicial system meted out horrifying punishments, such as gouging out the eyes, cutting off the noses or ears, and amputating the hands and feet of offenders.
Regarding the economy, the three major estate-holders, who accounted for less than 5 percent of Tibet's total population, were almost exclusive owners of arable land and grassland, forest, and livestock. Serfs and slaves, on the other hand, who made up over 95 percent of the total population, were deprived of all means of production. Serfs had no land or freedom, and were completely dependent on estate-holders for their material survival. Masters controlled the birth, death and marriage rights of their serfs, so when serfs married, agreement between their masters had first to be obtained. Children of serfs were registered the day they were born and designated as slaves for life.
Regarding societal conditions under such a system, Tibet's economy and culture remained stagnant for centuries, and its population declined from several million at its peak to only 1 million in 1951. Epidemic diseases often spread unchecked, and life expectancy was only 35.5 years. The Tibetan ethnic group, having formerly created a splendid culture, had an illiteracy rate of over 90 percent. Before the democratic reform in 1959, out of Lhasa's 37,000 population, 4,000 to 5,000 were beggars, while in Xigaze, with a population of less than 10,000, there were 2,000 to 3,000 beggars. Homeless people often died on the street.
Historical records indicate that the basic human rights of the people in old Tibet were non-existent. The Dalai Lama, now in exile, was the religious and political ruler of old Tibet, and therefore responsible for the sufferings of the people.
13. Why was the Democratic Reform implemented in 1959? How did it benefit the Tibetan people?
A: The feudal serfdom under a theocracy constituted the ruling power of old Tibet. The Tibetan people suffered from harsh political oppression, cruel economic exploitation and had a generally miserable existence. In 1951, the central government and the local government of Tibet signed the 17-Agreement. Taking into consideration Tibet's history and social conditions, the agreement ruled that Tibet's social system must be reformed. However, there would be no compulsion on the part of the central government, of Tibet of its own accord. The central government's patience and efforts in re-education and persuasion were regarded by the reactionary clique of the upper Tibetan strata as a sign of weakness. They staged an armed rebellion in 1959. In accordance with the wishes of the Tibetan people, the central government quickly quelled this rebellion, and began instituting the democratic reforms and abolishing the feudal serfdom. A million of Tibetan serfs were liberated, and would henceforth no longer be sold, transferred, or forced to labor as chattel. Serfs and slaves who had hitherto been treated as "speaking beasts of burden" cast off their shackles and became, for the first time, "men" in the true sense of the word, the masters of their own and Tibet's destiny. This was of epoch-making signified immeasurable progress in the history of human rights development. Within Tibet's democratic reform, estate-holders were treated differently. The means of production of serf-owners who participated in the rebellion were confiscated and distributed to slaves and serfs. Serf-owners who did not participate in the rebellion were subject to the peaceful reform that was implemented, and a policy of redemption was adopted in terms of their means of production, whereby it was purchased by the people's government and then redistributed to slaves and serfs. Thus, democratic reform garnered the understanding and cooperation of the majority of the upper strata.
14. How was the regional ethnic autonomy implemented in Tibet?
A: Regional ethnic autonomy is a major political system whereby China administrate the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities in compact communities. China's Constitution has provisions regarding regional ethnic autonomy, and the Law of the People's Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy has been promulgated. According to the Constitution and the Law of the People's Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, Tibet enjoys broad self-government rights, including legislation, Tibetan language utilization, human resource management, and natural resource exploration, Since the founding of Tibet Autonomous Region, the local people's congress and its standing committee has formulated more than 120 local regulations, and within the ambit of certain national laws, special implementation methods with Tibetan characteristics have been adopted. Apart from the standard national holidays, the Tibetan New Year and the Xodon Festival are also defined as public holidays within Tibet. Owing to its special geographical situation, Tibet has a 35-hour working week-5 hours less than in other areas. The chairman of the Standing committee of the People' Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region, chairman of the People's Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region, chairman of the government of Tibet Autonomous Region, and other major local leading posts are all occupied by Tibetan residents, as a means of increasing the total number of Tibetan cadres. The People's Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region has adopted the Regulations Concerning the Study, Use and Development of the Tibetan Language, which specifies that equal stress should be laid on the Tibetan and Chinese languages, with the greater emphasis on the former. All laws, rules, regulations, government documents and announcements should be written in both Chinese and Tibetan. In lawsuits, if the litigant participant is Tibetan, the case should be heard in the Tibetan language. Implementation of the regional ethnic autonomy guarantees the political and economic rights of the Tibetan people.
15. Does Tibet Autonomous region have the right to formulate and implement local regulations?
A: Established in September 1965, Tibet Autonomous Region is one of the five ethnic autonomous regions in China. According to China's Constitution and the Law of the People's Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, Tibet Autonomous Region enjoys extensive autonomous rights, involving politics, economy, culture and social life. Tibet rights include: --Formulating autonomy regulations and specific regulations in accordance with local political, economic and cultural characteristics. There regulations become effective upon approval from the National People's Congress. --Enforcing state laws and policies in accordance with the actual situation in the locality. If any decisions, decrees and instructions emanating from the higher-level state departments do not suit the autonomous localities, the self-government organs may alter or simply not implement them, provided that they have the approval of a higher-level government department. --Adopting flexible policies and measures to speed up the economic and cultural development of the autonomous region without violating the Constitution and state laws. --Employing the spoken and written languages in common use in the locality in performing their duties. --Adopting various measures to train ethnic minority cadres, scientist and technicians according to the need of socialist construction. --Organizing local public security forces for the maintenance of public order in accordance with the military system of the state and practical local needs with the approval of the State Council. --Administrating local finance and planning local economic development. --Administrating local education. Science, culture, public health, and sport, protecting and sifting through the cultural heritage, and developing local culture. Since March 1979, the People's Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region and its standing committee have adopted and issued over 120 local rules, specific regulations and decisions with legal effect, covering the fields of political power construction, economic and social development, marriage, education, language, judiciary, and wild life and natural resource protection. All these rules and regulations have Tibetan characteristics.
16. Can Tibetan cadres in Tibet exercise their rights to participate in administration of national and regional affairs?
A: It is clearly stipulated that Tibetan and other ethnic minority deputies to people's congresses at various levels must account for at least 80 percent of total deputies. This policy enables many ethnic minority cadres to take leading posts at various levels, and Tibetan cadres have now become the mainstay of social development in Tibet. The main leaders of local government, people's congress and CPPCC are all Tibetans.
China is a multi-ethnic country, and an the ethnic groups are united and cooperate well. As regards state affairs, the National People's Congress, the highest organ of state power, includes both Han and ethnic minority deputies in discussions of important policies. The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, and the 10th Panchen Erdeni (Chosgyi Gyanstsen) were selected vice-chairmen of the NPC standing committee, and some Tibetan cadres were elected members of its standing committee. In this capacity, they participate in discussions of state affairs with other members when deciding national policies. This is an unprecedented feat.
Regarding local affairs, the state gives Tibet right to administrate its own affairs. The people's congress system has been further perfected to guarantee full exercise of the rights of local people. Local regulations and policies are discussed and adopted during local people's congress, thereby enabling the Tibetan people to administrate their own affairs. Most members of the standing committee of the local people's congresses, governments, courts and procuaterates are Tibetans and many important posts in local people's congress governments, people's courts and procutratorates are held by Tibetans, giving Tibetans full play to their role in regional ethnic autonomy.