This is Part 1 of a series of 8 Articles best read in conjunction.
Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8
A closer examination of the impact Tibetans experienced due to their encounter with the Han Chinese.
The Chinese government declared the 28th of March ‘Tibetan Serfs Emancipation Day’, an annual holiday when the Tibetans are to celebrate their ‘liberation from serfdom’ by the Han Chinese.
When in 1950 the Chinese PLA invaded Tibet, they repeatedly told the Tibetans that the 'Han People’ had come to liberate and assist them. See Footnotes: i
This begs a closer examination of the encounters and experiences by the Tibetans with these ‘Han People’, and what cause for celebration they might have on this day.
Ever since ancient times the Han people would view ‘border people’, and in fact all other races, as barbarians and see them as beasts beneath the noble, superior Han race.
These ‘border people’ were referred to with the added characters of dog for the people of the north, a reptile for the Min and Man people and a sheep for the Qiang, etc.
The Tibetans were referred to in various terms, including ‘fan’ or ‘barbarians’; ‘t’u-fan’ or ‘agricultural barbarians’, and ‘hsi-fan’ or ‘western barbarians’; an attitude which primarily shaped their conduct and interactions with these other races.
These racist attitudes harboured by the Han people is best expressed by Wang Fuzhi, a contemporary of the late Ming and early Qing dynasty, in the following missive:
“And the Barbarians you may exterminate them and it will not be cruel, you may loot and plunder their lands and it won’t be unfair and unjust, you may deceive them and defraud them and it won’t be unrighteous; because all these notions only apply to man of verbal intercourse, and do not apply to different species.”
 Propaganda and Reality
Exhibitions assembled by the CCP to commemorate the ‘Tibetan Serfs Emancipation Day’ depict all manner of torture instrument, photographs, documents, relics of bones and skulls, etc. to ‘prove the barbarity’ of the old Tibet.
The CCP has made this part of a diplomatic offensive designed to quash any questioning of the legitimacy of the Han nation ‘owning’ Tibet.
The Chinese, in newly found confidence over their economic success, are displaying supreme self assurance, and their bullying and cowering into compliance with their view of the world is taking on an ever more sinister and menacing degree, meted out to nations large and small.
CCP propaganda paints a picture of a downtrodden Serfdom and an exploitative and cruel Aristocracy, who ruled over the ‘Serfs’ as a class of slaves in brutal oppression.
In order to justify the ‘liberation’ of Tibet, the Chinese need to portray Tibetan society as “Hell on Earth” and turn it into a “Class Struggle”, which clearly is not borne out by historical facts, but is essential in the Marxist/Communist/CCP doctrine, where class is the nemesis of the egalitarian society and takes precedence over national identity.
We shall revisit “Hell on Earth” again later.
See Footnotes: ii
The type of social strata practised in Tibet in fact was a benign form of peasant / landowner relationship, with the landowners most often not much better off than the labourers themselves.
Indeed, there was a kinship amongst all of the population which was unique to Tibet, and bonded landlord and peasant in a much deeper sense than just their common economic fate. Peasants often had their own plot of land they could cultivate, and paid the landowner in service of labour or produce as their circumstances afforded them.
Tibet as a country was very poor but content, with very little difference between rich and poor.
The workers were not bonded to the aristocrats and could move on to work for other landowners if they felt they could improve their lives by doing so.
In “Tibet through dissident Chinese eyes”, Yiu Yung-chin and others express the sentiment that by contrast, China was a much more iniquitous society, where there were huge disparities of wealth, and widespread cruelty between the landowners and the peasants, with torture, beatings to death and rape of peasant tenants commonplace.
Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang, one of the main leaders of the Tibetan rebellion, commented on this in his memoirs by stating:
“Critics of the Tibetan agrarian and social system are apt to overlook some very relevant factors which countered its apparent faults. In spite of differences of status or material possessions, there was no great gulf between the rich and the poor. The landowner was more a patriarchal head of household than an exacting or oppressive master. The universal belief in the principles and teachings of Buddhism encouraged, on the one hand, generosity and desire to improve the lot of the less fortunate and, on the other, the absence of envy or resentment on the part of the
Han Chinese propaganda repeats ad nauseum the allegation that in the old Tibet there were no schools, however there were several governmental efforts establishing public schools, many private schools were available, and the thousands of monasteries provided education to anyone, regardless of background or social status.
In his “Memories of life in Lhasa under Chinese rule” Tubten Khétsun relates his experience with schooling in the 1940s, first at one of the many private schools and then college at the Drepung monastery.
“This type of school suited the needs of the society at that time, and drew students from all social strata. .….. There was no set fee to be paid as a condition of attending school, and students paid different rates according to their means. …….the school gave exactly the same instruction to all students, regardless of the offerings they had made. ……. In Chinese Communist propaganda distributed both internally and externally, it is forcefully stated formerly only the Tibetan aristocracy had the opportunity of a formal education and that this was completely denied the ordinary people. Some foreigners have been misled by this without checking the facts for themselves and the allegation has been repeated in some foreign publications, and although the younger generation of Tibetans do not necessarily believe it, the fact that some foreigner has said so makes them doubtful, and if they lack determination to seek the truth, they do not bother to question those of us with direct experience of Tibetan society at that time about what it was really like.”
Catriona Bass writes of education pre Chinese occupation in her book “Education in Tibet: policy and practice since 1950”:
“Wealthy landowners or traders would make arrangements with religious or lay scholars to educate their sons and daughters in basic literacy and numeracy. Some families would gather a number of children together, sometimes educating the children of their servants, and, in the towns of Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse, small schools were established on this basis.”
Born in 1935, the current, fourteenth Dalai Lama, then still a teenager, also made many reforms in the short time he had as head of state. He established a reform committee which was charged with overseeing wide ranging reforms from the Judiciary, Public Education, Communications, Transport and other aspects of Tibetan society which the Dalai Lama intended to modernize and reform.
He quashed the practice of Debt Inheritance, breaking the chain of debt from one generation to the next and consequently exonerating the thus affected peasantry of any debt burden which may have encumbered them. He also declared an amnesty on all debt owed to the government, absolving all debtors of such obligations.
He also established an Independent Judiciary among other reforms.
On the agenda was a major land reform which would have seen the larger estates of the land owning families becoming wholly government owned and controlled again, and the land then allocated to the people who worked and cultivated it at the time, however the Chinese occupation terminated such efforts.
Even Goldstein argues that a link between the peasantry and feudalism is not only untenable, but that the peasantry were not serfs in the context of Tibetan society, but were often free to exonerate their obligation to the landowner and buy their own plot of land, and or / move to other estates, and even have their own employees working for them.
The many contemporary accounts from travellers, who had extensive first hand experience of Tibet as it was prior to the Chinese invasion, depict a country which was poor but content.
They consistently lack any such absurd descriptions as the CCP now tries to misrepresent, and foist on the old Tibetan society in an attempt to divert from the illegality of their occupation of the country.
What such travellers highlight though, is the gratuitous cruelty and barbarity the Chinese inflicted upon the Tibetans during times of military incursions and limited control they managed to exert at times over Tibet. See Part 2
Certainly not the sort of onerous ‘serfdom’ CCP tries to portray Tibetan society before their occupation.
■ The notion of “Han” is in itself an invention which based its justification on the concept of a common people opposed to Manchu rule, and included all the people of very different cultural, linguistic and ethnic background and were earlier part of the Ming Dynasty.
The revolutionaries needed more than the term ‘yellow race’ which had wide currency at the time, and which of course by its very nature included the Manchu people.
This term ‘yellow race’ was used widely in the nineteenth century in the extensive process of self-victimisation and self pitying, namely the yellow race being ‘oppressed’ by the white race, in the course of blaming all ills of the late Manchu empire on these external influences.
Zhang Bingling, who morphed from being a Reformist to a fervent Revolutionary, introduced the term ‘Hanzhong’, Han race, which based its foundation in common surnames carried by this ‘Han race’. Historian Sima Qian, who purportedly lived between 145 and 90 BC, provided a basis for this with his mythical account of Chinese history, which credits Huangdi, 黄帝, or Yellow Emperor as the founder of the Chinese nation, and bringing order and structured government to earth, plus inventing just about every aspect Chinese civilization.
He was credited with having some 25 children, but here the numbers vary, and different accounts claim varying numbers of progenies, and sons.
Zhang Bingling made the mythical figure of the Yellow Emperor, who supposedly lived between 2697 and 2597 BCE, the arch ancestor of all Han people, which was based on the common surnames from the descendants of Huangdi.
It served the revolutionaries of the latter part of the fading Qing Empire to unite the disparate people under Manchu rule and foment the antagonism and common purpose required to overthrow the Qing rulers.
Today the notion of Han is deeply rooted in the psyche of the 'Chinese' and provides them with a sense of one race, one purpose and one nation.
Though genetically, nor culturally or ethnically, the Han race does not exist, but the term is used here for the purpose of identifying the people for whom the label is relevant in the context, and who now identify themselves to be of the 'Han race'.
The South African Ambassador Ndumiso Ndima Ntshinga reportedly opined: ” Obviously, the quality of the life of Tibetans have changed dramatically since 1959. It is quite encouraging to see that the survivors of that horrible system of feudalism lived through”.
The Chilean Ambassador Fernando Reyes Matta is quoted as having voiced his opinion “that it is essential to put together such documents, photographs and various references so that foreigners had the chance to learn more about the truth and the reality of Tibet.”
• In the aftermath of the financial crisis, western countries have succumbed to prostrating themselves to the Han nation in ever more indecorous manners.
In another development but patently related in its acquiescence to Chinese demands, the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband overturned a longstanding position of Britain to regard Tibet, implicitly, as an occupied country by not recognising China’s sovereignty over Tibet.
Miliband slyly included this bombshell buried in a statement on the ministry’s website: "Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China."
China’s response was an intensified recalcitrant and harrying demeanour towards the Tibetan delegation which was to resume ‘negotiations’ with Chinese officials over Tibet, and blasted the exiled Tibetans and the Dalai Lama with ever more contemptible rhetoric.
This is Part 1 of a series of 8 Articles best read in conjunction.
Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8