This is Part 4 of a series of 8 Articles best read in conjunction.
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8
A closer examination of the impact Tibetans experienced due to their encounter with the Han Chinese.
 Under PRC Occupation
When the Chinese invaded independent Tibet in 1950, the Tibetan economy was flourishing, with trade thriving and taking place with India, all its neighbours, and countries as far as England and the rest of Europe.
There were as many as 2,500 to 3,000 monasteries in Central Tibet alone and over 6,000 in whole of the Tibetan Plateau.
Theoretically the government owned all the land in Tibet and shared it out to the monasteries, estates and peasants. In practice the land was mostly passed on hereditarily and so the monasteries cultivated somewhere between thirty five and fifty percent of the arable land, while the larger estates held a little less than a quarter and the government also about twenty to twenty five percent, with peasants and nomads cultivating the balance in their own right. Peasants also cultivated about half of the land as their own plots on the estates they worked on and paid rental in produce or labour to the manor.
An other group, the 'Tsongpa' made up a large section of society and earned their living as traders and craftsmen and various skilled trades.
There was also a section of society which pursued vocations which were seen as less desirable, butchers, tanners, beggars or travelling entertainers, and also ferrymen or itinerant labourers.
Monks at that time numbered about ten to fifteen percent of the male population, so the close interconnection between the monasteries and the general population was very widespread and permeated the whole of society, from peasantry to gentry.
The monasteries acted also as financial institutions, and extended loans to peasants and aristocrats alike, besides financing social projects for the benefit of the whole society, as well as loans to the government and larger trading companies.
They were the banks and treasury of the Tibetan economy and provided the necessary capital for all commerce and trade.
It is important to understand the close interactions and connections the whole Tibetan society had with the monasteries through monastic family members, where almost every family had a member in the ecclesiastic community.
This provided access to finance and resources through the monasteries, which cared for the welfare of all of society.
A close knit society with the fabric woven and steeped in Buddhism and kinship, forged by the harsh conditions the land imposed on its inhabitants!
This can bee seen in the profound and deep rooted reverence and veneration monks were held, and the monastic society as a whole, by all of Tibetan society. See Footnotes: i
Monasteries also took care of the supply of food staples and maintained granaries to store the harvest and distribute it as needed, and in times of shortage would see to equitable distribution.
They also held deposits in valuables of whatever nature, from gold, silver and anything of value borrowers would deposit, besides a vast accumulation of treasures of a proud heritage stretching back millennia, plus scriptures, texts and artworks of incalculable value.
All this amounted to virtually the total sum of Tibetan wealth, treasures and equity the country had accumulated through sweat, trade and industrious production over many millennia.
The monasteries also represented the social and religious hub and focal point of Tibetan society, the place of learning and education as they also acted as schools, the place to meet, to seek solace; the spiritual home for every Tibetan of whatever standing.
After the invasion, and particularly after the 59 uprising the Han Chinese went about to systematically destroy all the monasteries in Tibet, but not before they had looted them of the entire store of wealth, even all the granaries were looted to feed the Han invaders, every single scrap of valuables was stolen and taken back to China.
And what wasn’t of any immediate or obvious value in the eyes of the Han Chinese, like Buddhas or scriptures, pictures or artefacts was wantonly destroyed.
The entire population in turn was forced to hand over their personal valuables as well.
Anyone caught hiding anything deemed of value was severely tortured, brandished as a ‘reactionary’ or ‘counterrevolutionary’ and faced incarceration, life in a Laogai, or execution.
Most of the higher ranking lamas were tortured and killed, countless monks were incarcerated and disappeared in the many slave labour camps (Laogai) and were never seen again.
Out of the 6,000 monasteries, almost every single one, bar about six, was reduced to rubble by the Han Chinese, long before the onset of the Cultural Revolution.
Thus the Han Chinese looted the entire wealth of a sovereign nation, destroyed the entire heritage of a proud independent people and pursued the very last piece of meagre possessions even the poorest of farmer and peasant might have owned.
Every house was visited and looted, and even life stock and equipment was forcibly taken from every Tibetan.
As late as 1962, convoys of trucks were observed laden with this loot, taken from monasteries and forcibly appropriated from the Tibetan population, heading back towards China.
The so called “Agreement of the Central Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” had this to say in point thirteen:
“13) The People’s Liberation Army entering Tibet shall abide by all the above-mentioned policies and shall also be fair in all buying and selling and shall not arbitrarily take a single needle or thread from the people.”
Countless tons of artefacts crafted in gold and silver were thus looted and molten down in china. Brass, wooden and other artefacts were either sold on the international market, molten down or destroyed.
In essence, Tibetan society was dispossessed of its entire assets, every possession, the entire cultural heritage; the whole fabric of Tibetan society was smashed, looted and destroyed.
This obliteration and looting of the entire inventory of temples is equal to any aggressor invading a country today, say Canada, the UK, US, China, or any other country, and pilfering the entire wealth from all the people, looting the treasury and all the banks, and destroying every bit of community assets, like town-halls, government buildings, schools, Universities, every single vestige of their entire civilisation built over thousands of years, wantonly destroyed. And simultaneously massacre all the clergy, administrators, public servants, teachers, educators, plus large section of society in addition.
Virtually nothing would remain, and the people would be left destitute and without any economic means for survival.
Tsering Dorje Gashi, in his book “New Tibet - Memoirs of a Graduate of the Peking Institute of National Minorities”, which was published in 1980, remarks:
"Priceless works of art, literature, and religious relics and works that were a model of Tibetan artistic perfection and achievement were taken out of the Potala and the various monasteries.
Idols and images made of gold, silver, brass and precious stones and metal were taken to China and eventually they found their way into the markets of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo where antique-collectors from the West bought them for exorbitant prices. A rough estimate of the foreign exchange earned by China from the sale of Tibetan religious and art objects is more than 80 billion American Dollars."
This was in 1980, yet does not take into account all the gold and silver artefacts which were molten down by the Han, plus everything else they've looted.
In 1962, well before the onset of the cultural revolution (1966-76) the Panchen Lama stated that “china’s democratic reforms in fact had already reduced the number of monasteries by some 97 percent and decimated the monastic population by 93 percent.
Of the estimated 600,000 ecclesiastic population prior to the invasion, over 120,000 were murdered, executed and tortured to death, plus many more were forcibly defrocked, forced to publicly copulate with the opposite gender and were subjected to many more forms of depraved humiliations and barbarities.
It was in fact a wilful and systematic annihilation of an entire heritage of a once proud and independent country.
As early as in their 1959 report on Tibet the ‘International Commission of Jurists’ has accused China of Genocide, and the numbers of deaths in Tibet under Chinese rule would qualify for such claims:
1.2 million dead, which is broken down as follows:
36% in combat, 28% starvation, 14% in prisons and labour camps, 13% by execution, 8% through torture, 1% suicide.
China violated the ‘Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide’ in every aspect.
Violations include such acts as:
• Mass killings, indiscriminate aerial bombing and shelling of monasteries and villages, the deportation of several tens of thousands of children to China, murder, indiscriminate imprisonment, systematic rape, forcible marriage of monks an nuns, torture and cruel and degrading treatment on a large scale, violations of rights of privacy, forcible transfer of family members, indoctrination of children and turning them against their parents, large scale deportations of Tibetans, confiscation and compulsory acquisition of private property, suppression of freedom of thought by acts of genocide against Buddhists to eradicate Buddhism, freedom of expression through the destruction of scriptures, the oppression and arbitrarily imprisonment of members of the Mimang Tsongdu movement, cruel punishments to anyone just expressing a desire for Tibet as an independent country, the banning of all assemblies of a few people other than the Chinese organised sessions for the purpose of indoctrination, public vilifications and denunciations, denial of economic, social and cultural rights where all economic resources are used for supporting Chinese forces and new settlers, etc.
After the invasion the Han invaders sought to break resistance to their presence by intimidation and “re-education”.
They ordered meetings called “Thamzing” (批判鬥爭大會 or in short 批鬥大會) "Struggle Sessions", and everyone in every village had to attend.
These meetings amounted to nothing more than sessions of denigration, persecution and torture.
Children would be forced to denounce their parents, and often ordered to torture or kill them.
Nuns and monks would be forced into sexual intercourse in public and forced to marry.
Peasants would be ordered to torture their former landlords, or their revered Lamas, and often forced to execute them in various hideous ways imposed by the Han.
These hapless peasants would be primed for weeks by indoctrination and told all manner of fabricated lies to encourage them to perform this public castigation and retribution as a showcase to encourage others to follow suit.
Victims of such persecution were not only the obvious targets of former landowners or Buddhist Lamas, but anyone who didn’t completely acquiesce and showed any resistance to Han presence and dictate.
Peasants became targets in the same way, for not handing over their meagre possessions, for instance such as farm animals, ornaments, coins or anything else of value, or for not denouncing their landlord, lama, relatives or family members.
In order to inflict maximum terror, and as a deterrence to any resistance, the Han conducted these Thamzing sessions all over occupied Tibet, in every village and town.
They employed the whole arsenal of tortures known to them.
Some had urine or excrements forced down their throats, others were hung from their wrists with their hands tied behind their backs and had fires lit below them, or were torn asunder by horses or dragged behind a horse till they succumbed to their horrific injuries. Or they were tied and thrown into a river, had their tongue ripped out or buried alive.
Others were forced to inflict barbaric beatings against their own family members, parents, siblings, or their revered Lama, all under the threat of incurring sever beatings and torture themselves, or being executed for resistance and being a counter-revolutionary.
During, and after these Thamzing session many had their arms, ears, fingers, nose and genitals cut off, burned or mutilated, and the female victims routinely were gang raped by their Han tormentors, time and again and finally killed.
A monk, who begged the Han not to use the Buddhist scriptures they had taken from his monastery as toilet paper, had his arm cut off and mocked to ask god to grow him another one.
Many who did not satisfy the Han in every respect and perform every depravity asked of them, were selected for execution and paraded through the village to the execution ground, or transported into a slave labour camp called Laogai, where they inevitably died a slow and agonising death through deprivation, hunger and lack of even the most basic human needs of sanitation and care.
Once the Tibetan uprising was quashed in 1959, the Han Chinese went on to completely wipe out all Tibetan independence and identity and implemented their own form of slavery through collectivisation, disowned all the Tibetans of their land, and settled the country with their own kin.
Tibetans, farmers and nomadic herders alike were forced into communes, which amounted to no more than labour camps run by the Han, for the benefit of the Han.
Executions and torture was commonplace and the ripping out of the tongue was a practise employed by the Chinese to prevent the Tibetan victims from shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama” or “Free Tibet” before their inevitable death.
Anyone resisting the Chinese occupiers was either executed or imprisoned in one of the many Laogai.
Other forms of torture employed by the Han were: burying and burning alive, beating to death, disembowelling, crucifixion, beheading, etc.
The Han ordered the Tibetans to plant hybrid wheat varieties instead of the traditional barley, which is well suited to the Tibetan conditions, but which the Han didn’t like.
Thus the Tibetans were forced to plant this Han crop, which inevitably failed, leading to food shortages in Tibet.
Tibet never before experienced any famine in its two thousand year recorded history until the Han Chinese forced the Tibetans to plant their ill suited crop.
It was virtually only Tibetans which suffered from these devastating famines as the Han requisitioned the available crop for themselves.
The Chinese never brought any provision with them to support the occupying forces, but requisitioned supplies from the meagre production of food from the Tibetans, and this added to the dire food shortages even in years of relatively good harvest yields.
The same “Agreement of the Central Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” stated in point sixteen:
“16) Funds needed by the military and administrative committee, the military area headquarters and the People’s Liberation Army entering Tibet shall be provided by the central People’s Government……”
Tibetans suffered greatly from the famine of 1959 – 61 which had resulted from the Great Leap. None of the areas of Tibet had poor harvests at that time, but all food was forcibly taken from the Tibetans for the Han Chinese in Tibet and even the provinces adjacent to Tibet. The Chinese explained that the Tibetans were now part of the Chinese masses and therefore bore responsibility to share the fate of the Han; they must also support the PLA and Han Chinese cadres in Tibet in return for the help which they had provided to Tibet.
In all some 300,000 to 400,000 Tibetans died of starvation as a result of Han mismanagement and the confiscation of their food supplies for the Han themselves.
■ Even under severe torture Tibetan peasants would refuse to denounce or accuse a monk, or physically harm them in one of the ubiquitous Thamzing sessions (so called ‘struggle sessions’, public gatherings where Tibetans were forced to denounce, torture or kill members of the community and often even their own family members) the Han Chinese would hold to inculcate the Tibetans of the “evils” of the old society they’ve come to destroy.
These peasants belie this propaganda smear, and demonstrate that the peasantry held no resentment against the monks, the monasteries, or even the gentry; quite to the contrary.
This is Part 4 of a series of 8 Articles best read in conjunction.
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8