The Tibetan language belongs to the Tibetan sub-branch of the Tibetan-Myanmese language branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. According to geographical divisions, it has three major local dialects: Weizang, Kang and Amdo. The Tibetan script, an alphabetic system of writing, was created in the early 7th century. With four vowels and 30 consonants, it is used in all areas inhabited by Tibetans.
The areas where Tibetans live in compact community are mostly highlands and mountainous country studded with snow-capped peaks, one rising higher than the other. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau rising about 4,000 meters above sea level is run through from west to east by the Qilian, Kunlun, Tanggula, Gangdise and Himalaya mountain ranges. The Hengduan Mountains, descending from north to south, runs across the western part of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
Animal husbandry is the main occupation in Tibet where there are vast expanses of grasslands and rich sources of water. The Tibetan sheep, goat, yak and pien cattle are native to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The yak is a big and long-haired animal, capable of with-standing harsh weather and carrying heavy loads. Known as the "Boat on the Plateau," the yak is a major means of transport as well as a source of meat. The pien cattle, a crossbreed of bull and yak, is the best draught animal and milk producer. In farming, the fast ripening and cold- and drought-resistant qingke, a kind of highland barley, is the main crop. Other crops include wheat, pea, buckwheat and broad bean. In the warmer places in the river valleys, there are rape, potato, turnip, apple and walnut. People also grow rice and cotton in river valleys in southern Tibet where the weather is very warm.
The dense forests in the Tibetan areas provide shelter for many precious animals such as sunbird, vulture, giant panda, golden-haired monkey, black leaf monkey, bear and ermine. The forests also produce precious medicines such as bear's gallbladder, musk, pilose antler, caterpillar fungus, snow lotus and glossy ganoderma.
These areas are also richly endowed with hydropower and mineral resources. There are enormous amounts of hydropower and terrestrial heat for generating electricity, and huge reserves of natural gas, copper, iron, coal, mica and sulfur. The landlocked lakes abound in borax, salt, mirabilite and natural soda. Oilfields have been found in recent years in the Qaidam basin in Qinghai and the northern Tibet Plateau.
The Tibetans first settled along the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River in Tibet. Evidence of the new and Old stone age culture was found in archaeological excavations at Nyalam, Nagqu, Nyingchi and Qamdo. According to ancient historical documents, members of the earliest clans formed tribes known as "Bos" in the Shannan area. In the 6th century, the chief of the Yarlung tribe in the area became leader of the local tribal alliance and declared himself the "Zambo" (King). This marked the beginning of Tibetan Slavery Society and its direct contacts with the Han People and other ethnic groups and tribes in northwest China.
At the beginning of the 7th century, King Songzan Gambo began to rule the whole of Tibet and made "Losha" (today's Lhasa) the capital. He designated official posts, defined military and administrative areas, created the Tibetan script, formulated laws and unified weights and measures, thus establishing the slavery kingdom known as "Bo," which was called "Tubo" in Chinese historical documents.
After the Tubo regime was established, the Tibetans increased their political, economic and cultural exchanges with the Han and other ethnic groups in China. The Kingdom of Tibet began to have frequent contacts with the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Tibetan and Han peoples got on well with each other. In 641, King Songzan Gambo married Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty. In 710, King Chide Zuzain married another Tang princess, Jin Cheng. The two princesses brought with them the Culture and advanced production techniques of Central China to Tibet. From that time on, emissaries traveled frequently between the Tang Dynasty and Tibet. The Tibetans sent students to Changan, Capital of the Tang Dynasty, and invited Tang scholars and craftsmen to Tibet. These exchanges helped promote relations between the Tibetans and other Ethnic groups in China and stimulated social development in Tibet.
From the 10th to 12th century, Tibet fell apart into several independent regimes and began to move towards Serfdom. It was at this time that Buddhism was adapted to local circumstances by assimilating certain aspects of the indigenous religion, won increasing numbers of followers and gradually turned into Lamaism. Consisting of many different sects and spread across the land, Lamaism penetrated into all spheres of Tibetan life. The upper strata of the clergy often collaborated with the rich and powerful, giving rise to a feudal hierarchy combining religious and political power and controlled by the rising local forces.
The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) founded by the Mongols in the 13th century brought the divided Tibet under the unified rule of the central government. It set up an institution called Xuanzhengyuan (or political council) and put it in charge of the nation's Buddhist affairs and Tibet's military, governmental and religious affairs.
Phagsba, a Tibetan lama, was given the title of imperial tutor and appointed head of the council. The Yuan court also set up three government offices to govern the Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China and Tibet itself. The central government set up 13 Wanhu offices (each governing 10,000 households) in Inner and Outer Tibet east of Ngari. It also sent officials to administer civil and military affairs, conduct census, set up courier stations and collect taxes and levies. Certificates for the ownership of manors were issued to the serf owners and documents given to local officials to define their authority. This marked the beginning of the central authorities' overall control of Tibet by appointing officials and instituting the administrative system there.
The ensuing Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) carried over the Tusi (headmen) system in the Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China. In Tibet proper, three sect leaders and five secular princes were named. These measures ensured peace and stability in the Tibetan areas during the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and the feudal economy there developed and culture and art flourished. Tibet's contacts with other parts of the country became more frequent and extensive.
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last monarchy in China, set up a government department called Lifanyuan to administer affairs in Tibet and Mongolia. In Tibet, the Qing emperor conferred the titles of the "Dalai Lama" (1653) and "Bainqen Erdini" (1713) on two living Buddhas of the Gelugba sect of Lamaism. The Qing court began to appoint a high resident commissioner to help with local administration in 1728, and set up the Kasha as the local government in 1751. In 1793, the Qing army drove the Gurkhas invaders out of Tibet and formulated regulations concerning its administration.
The regulations specified the civil and military official appointment systems and institutions governing justice, border defense, finance, census, corvee service and foreign affairs, establishing the high commissioners' terms of reference in supervising Tibetan affairs.
In other areas inhabited by Tibetans in northwest and southwest China, the Qing court continued the Tusi (headmen) system established by the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and put them under the administration of the Xining Commissioner's office (established in 1725) and the Sichuan governor (later the Sichuan-Yunnan border affairs minister).
After the Republic of China was founded in 1911, the central government set up a special department to administer Mongolian and Tibetan affairs. In 1929, the Kuomintang government set up a commission for Mongolian and Tibetan affairs in Nanjing and established Qinghai Province. In 1939, Xikang Province was set up. The Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China, except Tibet, were placed under the administration of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Xikang and Yunnan provinces respectively.
After the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921, its central committee clearly stated in its Agrarian Revolution Program that the feudal privileges of Tibetan princes and Lamas would be abolished. During its Long March northward to fight the Japanese invaders, the Chinese Worker and Peasant Red Army passed through Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Xikang, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai, where they mobilized the poor Tibetans to carry out land reform and establish democratic political power of the laboring people. Areas inhabited by Tibetans were liberated one after another after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Tibet proper was liberated peacefully in 1951.
Before the democratic reform was carried out, the Tibetan areas were dominated by the serf system that integrated political and religious powers.
The local government set up by the Qing Dynasty in Tibet, which was called Kasha, was run by four Kaloons (ministers), three laymen and one lama. The local government consisted of two offices. One was called Zikang (auditor's office), which was formed by four lay officials who administered all affairs about lay officials and audited local revenue, corvee and taxes. The other was called Yicang, a secretarial office formed by four lamas who administered all affairs about religious officials. The Tibetan local government accepted, in name, the leadership of the Dalai Lama or a regent.
Owing to historical developments, there were some regional regimes beyond the control of the local government. In Outer Tibet, an internal affairs office called Nangmakang was formed by Bainqen's important Kampos, which was later called Bainqen Kampo Lija (changed into a committee after liberation). It accepted, in name, the leadership of Bainqen. Similarly, several other areas were governed by the local sect leaders or headmen. These were the legacies of the Tusi and Wanhu systems.
The basic administrative unit, equivalent to a county, was called Zong in Tibetan and the unit under it, equivalent to a district, was called Si, short for Sika or manor. Some large Sikas had the status of the Zong. Certain tribal organizations still existed on a few pastoral areas, which were subject to the leadership of the Tibet local government.
In Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, some Tibetan areas came under the administration of the provincial governments in the Qing Dynasty. But most of the areas were still under the jurisdiction of Tusi officials and big monasteries.
The local regimes established on the basis of feudal serfdom that integrated political and religious powers were in the hands of feudal manorial lords, who were either lamas or laymen. They expanded the Tibetan army or formed local retainer forces to protect their reactionary rule. They formulated laws and regulations, set up prisons and used instruments of torture. Even the manors and monasteries had their own private prisons. They seized serfs' property by hook or by crook, punished them at will and executed serfs trying to run away or accused of violating the law. They used such shocking tortures as gouging out the eyes, cutting off the nose or hands, hamstringing or breaking the kneecap.
Tibetan society was rigidly stratified. The people were divided into three strata in nine grades, according to the size of the land they possessed. The social ladder extended from senior officials, hereditary aristocracy and higher lamas all the way down to herdsmen, serfs and craftsmen. But, generally speaking, these people fell into two major opposing classes -- the serf owners and the serfs.
The Tibet local government was legally the owner of all the land and pasture. It in turn parceled out the land to the aristocrats and monasteries as their manors. The officialdom, the nobility and the clergy thus became the three major categories of feudal lords.
The manors held by the officialdom, called Zhungchi, were directly managed by the local government and contracted out to serfs for rent. Part of the rent was used as remuneration for senior officials and the rest portioned out to government offices as their operating expenses.
Noble titles in Tibet were hereditary or granted for meritorious services. Ranking was commensurate with the amount of property possessed. There were about 200 to 300 noble families in Tibet. About 20 of them owned scores of manors each.
The manors of monasteries were bestowed by the local government or donated by the nobles. Some of them were the property of the monasteries and the rest belonged to higher lamas. A number of manors owned by monasteries were totally controlled by the top living Buddhas or lamas there.
The three major categories of feudal lords and their henchmen accounted for about five percent of the Tibetan population. The nobles and the monasteries each owned about 30 percent of the land in Tibet and the remaining 40 percent belonged to the local government.
The land and pasture in the Tibetan areas other than Tibet were controlled by headmen, local officials and other members of the ruling groups and monasteries.
Thralpas were persons doing unpaid labor. In Tibet, a thralpa tilled a small piece of land rented from the manorial lord, which was called thralkang land. To obtain such a piece of land, a thralpa had to perform all kinds of services for the local government and do unpaid labor on the manor.
Dudchhong, meaning small household, is a lower rank among the serfs made up of bankrupt thralpas. Dudchhongs were not allowed to till thralkang land. Instead, they had to depend on manorial lords or richer thralpas, doing hard work for them while tilling a tiny piece of land to feed themselves.
Five percent of the Tibetans were house slaves, called Nangzan.
With no means of production or personal freedom, they were the most heavily oppressed class in Tibet and had to do the hardest jobs all their lives.
Besides, some remnants of clan society still lingered on in the nomadic tribes in remote areas. On the other hand, in villages close to the Han people's farming areas, a landlord economy had emerged.
Serfs in all Tibetan areas were overburdened with exorbitant rents in cash or in kind. More than 70 percent of their annual proceeds were taken away by manorial lords, plunging them into dire poverty.
Apart from paying exorbitant rents, serfs had to do all kinds of corvee labor, which was called Ulag.
Taxes and levies in Tibetan areas were innumerable. Some levies had been temporary at first and were later made regular. In certain places, scores or even more than 100 different kinds of tax were recorded.
All the manorial lords, especially the monasteries, were usurers. They cruelly exploited the serfs by forcing them to accept loans at usurious rates of interest or exchange of unequal values. Usurious loans often ruined the serfs and their families or reduced them to beggary or slavery.
The serfs and slaves, who accounted for over 95 percent of the population, were bound for life to the land of the manorial lords, ordered about and enslaved from generation to generation. They were freely given away as gifts, donations or dowries, sold or exchanged for goods. Long shackled by feudal serfdom, the population of the Tibetan ethnic group showed little growth and production stagnated.
Under the rule of feudal serfdom, which combined political and religious powers, the Tibetans' social life and customs and habits bore obvious marks of their historical traditions and distinctive culture.
As a rule, a Tibetan goes only by his given name and not family name, and the name generally tells the sex. As the names are mostly taken from the Buddhist scripture, namesakes are common, and differentiation is made by adding "senior," "junior" or the outstanding features of the person or by mentioning the birthplace, residence or profession before the names. Nobles and Living Buddhas often add the names of their houses, official ranks or honorific titles before their names.
All Tibetans, men and women, like to wear ornaments. Men usually wear a queue coiled on top of the head. Some cut their hair short, like a canopy. Women, when coming of age, begin to plait their hair into two queues or many tiny queues which are adorned with ornaments. Both men and women wear felt or fine fur hats. They wear long-sleeved silk or cloth jackets topped with loose gowns which are tied with a band on the right. Women in some farming areas wear sleeveless gowns or home-spun wool. Herdsmen and women do not wear jackets, but are clad in sheepskin robes, with sleeves, collars and fronts edged with fine fur or dyed cloth laces. Men wear trousers and women wear skirts. All men and women wear woolen or leather boots. Men have long waistbands while women in farming areas wear aprons with beautiful patterns. They use woolen blankets as mattresses or cushions and their quilts are made of sheepskin or wool. Poor peasants and herdsmen have neither mattresses nor quilts.
They often leave one or both arms uncovered while tying the sleeves around the waist, making it convenient for working. The Tibetan gown which is very big also serves as both mattress and quilt at night. Lamas wear the kasaya, a patchwork outer vestment of purplish red felt. They wrap their bodies with long pieces of cloth and wear aprons, tall boots and monks' hats.
Zamba, roasted qingko barley or pea meal mixe d with tea, is the staple food of Tibetan peasants. Tea with butter or milk is the favorite of all Tibetans. Buttered tea is made in a wooden tub. In pastoral areas, the staple foods are beef and mutton. They eat out of wooden bowls and with short-handled knives which they always carry with them. The Tibetans take five or six light meals a day and have a liking for qingko wine. Sour milk and cheese are also standard fare. In some areas, people also eat rice and noodles. Women in pastoral areas use butter as ointment to protect their skin. Lamas may eat meat.
People in the farming areas live in stone houses while those in pastoral areas camp in tents. The Tibetan house has a flat roof and many windows, being simple in structure and color. Of a distinctive national style, Tibetan houses are often built on elevated sunny sites facing the south.
In the monasteries, the main hall also serves as the prayer hall, with dagobas of different sizes built in front of the main entrance for burning pine and cypress twigs. There are numerous prayer wheels, which are to be turned clockwise in praying for happiness and hoping to avert disaster.
Communications were poor in the old days, with yaks and mules as the chief means of transport. Riding horses were reserved for the manorial lords, who decorated the saddles according to their ranks and positions. Cattle hide rafts, wooden boats and canoes hewed out of logs were used in water transportation. Suspension, cable and simple wooden bridges were seen occasionally.
In some big towns and monasteries, there were a few carpenters, blacksmiths, stone carvers and weavers. They, too, had to perform services and pay taxes to manorial lords and were looked down upon by other people.
Farmers used crude implements such as iron plough shares, hoes, sickles and rakes and wooden tools. Cultivation was extensive, with crop rotation and fallow. Weeding and manuring were done very rarely, resulting in low output. In livestock breeding areas, the tools were even more primitive. Herds were moved about with the seasons, and the herdsmen never laid aside fodder nor built sheds for the winter. Farmers and livestock breeders had no way of resisting natural calamities and pests, but praying to gods for protection. Natural disasters usually devastated large tracts of land and took heavy tolls of animals.
The Tibetan family is male-centered and marriage is a strictly inner-class affair. Marriage relationships vary from place to place. In some areas, cousins on the male line are forbidden to marry while cousins on the female line who are several times removed are allowed to marry each other. In other areas, cousins on the male line who are several times removed may marry each other, with no restrictions on intermarriages between relatives on the female line.
Monogamy is the principal form of marriage. There is no inhibition on social intercourse between young men and women before marriage.
The husband controls and inherits the property of the family and the wife is subordinate to the husband, even if he is married into a woman's family. The proportion of polygamy is small. Marriages between serfs had to be approved by their manorial lords. When serfs on different manors got married, one party had to pay a certain amount of ransom to the manorial lord of the other party or the manorial lord of one party had to give a serf to the other lord as compensation. Without the permission of their manorial lords, the serfs could not get married all their lives.
The commandments of the yellow sect Lama, which holds a predominant position in Lamaism, forbid the monks to marry. Monks belonging to the other sects are free to marry and the weddings are held at religious services in their lamaseries.
The most common form of burial in Tibet is sky burial, called Jator, meaning "feeding the birds." The bodies are taken to the Jator site in the mountains and fed to vultures. Upon the death of a reincarnate living Buddha, a grand ceremony is held. Having been embalmed with spices and antiseptics, the body is wrapped in five-colored silk, and enshrined in a dagoba. The bodies of ordinary living Buddhas and higher lamas are usually cremated after being rubbed with butter, and the ashes are kept in a designated place as the last dedication to the monastery. But cremation is forbidden in the harvest season. All these forms of burial indicate that the deceased have gone to the next world.
In the old days, ceremonies and religious rites were held for weddings, burials or births in the homes of manorial lords. For the serfs, however, these meant nothing but extra services. Women had to give births outside their houses and women serfs had to work only a few days after delivery. Lack of proper medical care and nutrition resulted in a very high infant mortality rate.
The strict social caste system was manifested even in the use of language. The Tibetan language has three major forms of expression: the most respectful, the respectful and the everyday speech, to be used respectively to one's superiors, one's peers and one's inferiors.
The social distinctions were also reflected in people's dresses, houses, horses and Hadas – silk scarves presented on all social occasions to show respect.
Lamaism belongs to the Mahayana School of Buddhism, which was introduced into Tibet in the seventh century and developed into Lamaism by assimilating some of the beliefs and rites of the local religion called "Bon." Lamaism is divided into many different sects, each claiming to be the orthodox. Apart from the Red sect, all the others, including the White sect, the Sakya sect and the Yellow sect, established at different times local regimes that integrated political and religious powers.
The Yellow sect practices the institution of reincarnation of living Buddhas. The Dalai Lama and Bainqen Erdini are supposed to be the reincarnations of two Grand Living Buddhas of the Yellow sect. It was stipulated during the Qing Dynasty that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the Bainqen Lama and other Grand Living Buddhas of the Yellow sect had to be approved by the Qing court or determined by drawing lots from a gold urn. When a Grand Living Buddha dies, his disciples are required to choose a child, in most cases from a noble family, to be his reincarnation. Monasteries of the Yellow sect are scattered all over the Tibetan areas. The most famous of them are the Sera, Drepung, Zhashi Lumpo and Qamdo, as well as Lapuleng in Gansu and Ta'er in Qinghai.
In the western part of Tibet and the pastoral areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, the early Tibetan native religion, the Bon, known locally as the Black sect, is still active. There are also Taoist temples built by the Han people, mosques built by the Huis and some Christian and Catholic churches built by foreign missionaries in a few places.
A large amount of cultural relics, including ancient scripts, woodblock, metal and stone carvings, have been preserved in the Tibetan areas. The engraved block printing technique was introduced from other parts of China. Some books were written in Sanskrist on loose leaves. Apart from the two well-known collections of Buddhist scriptures known as the Kanjur and the Tanjur, there are works on prosody, language, philosophy, history, geography, astronomy, mathematics and medicine as well as novels, operas, biographies, poetry, stories and fables, which are all distinguished for their unique styles. Many of the early works, such as the Thirty Rules of Tibetan Grammar, the four-part Ancient Encyclopedia of Tibetan Medicine, Feast of the Wise, the epic Princess Wen Cheng, world's longest epic poem King Gesser, the biographical novels Milarib and Boluonai, the Sakya Maxims and the Love Songs of Cangyang Gyacuo (the Sixth Dalai Lama), are very popular and have been translated into many languages and distributed in China and abroad.
Education in the Tibetan areas used to be monopolized by the monasteries. Some of the lamas in big lamaseries, who had learned to read and write and recite Buddhist scriptures and who had passed the test of catechism in the Buddhist doctrine, would be given the degree of Gexi, the equivalent of the doctoral degree in theology.
Others, after a period of training, would be qualified to serve as religious officials or preside over religious rites.
Tibetan medicine has a long history. Doctors of this school of medicine pay great attention to practical skills. They diagnose illnesses by observation, auscultation, smelling, interrogation and pulse feeling. They also know how to collect medicinal herbs and prepare drugs and are skilled in acupuncture, moxibustion and surgery. Tibetan doctors are especially outstanding in veterinary medicine.
The Tibetans have their own calendar. They designate the years by using the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), yin and yang, and the 12 animals representing the 12 Earthly Branches. A year is divided into four seasons and 12 months; which have 29 or 30 days.
The technique of Tibetan sculpture is superb. The portraits of the Grand Living Buddhas are the very images of the persons depicted. Tibetan painting features fine lines, well-knitted composition, vivid expressions of figures and bright colors. Tibetan architecture is unique in style, with buildings neatly arranged or rising like magnificent towers and castles. The Potala Palace in Lhasa was built on the sunny side of a mountain slope. With golden roofs and white-washed walls, the building rises naturally with the slope, looking extremely imposing. It is a masterpiece of Tibetan architecture.
Maxims and proverbs are very popular among the Tibetans. The metaphors are lively and pregnant with meaning. Tibetans are also good dancers and singers. Their songs and music are well-modulated in tone and the words fit well with the tunes. They often dance while they sing. Their dancing is beautiful with movements executed either with the arms and waist or with legs and feet, and the tap dance is most typically Tibetan. Most of the musical instruments were introduced from the interior of China. Long-handled drums and trumpets are the main musical instruments used by the lamas. They can depict natural sounds, the cries of animals and the singing of birds that can be heard at a great distance. Religious dances are often performed by people wearing masks of deities, humans or animals. The Tibetan opera is one of the famous opera forms in China. It is performed without curtain or stage. In the past, all performers were men. Wearing masks, they danced and sang to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Sometimes the orchestra would chime in with the singers, creating a lively atmosphere.
There are many taboos and activities that bear a strong mark of religion. Buddhists are forbidden to kill. Many wild animals, including fish, field vole, Mongolian gazelle and vulture, are under protection. The Tibetans, rich or poor, all have family niches for keeping Buddha statues. Most people wear a metal amulet box, about the size of a cigarette case, on the breast, and turn prayer wheels. It is forbidden to turn prayer wheels counter-clockwise and stride over ritual objects and braziers.
The Tibetan New Year is the most important festival in Tibet. People in their holiday best extend greetings to each other and go to the monasteries to receive blessings. On the 15th day of the first moon, all major monasteries hold religious rites and all families light up butter lamps when night falls. It is also the occasion for lamas in the Ta'er (Ghumbum) monastery in Qinghai and the Qoikang monastery in Lhasa to display their exquisite and beautifully decorated butter carvings.
With the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the Tibetan areas in the western part of the Country was liberated one after another and the Tibetans there entered a new period of historical development.
In 1951, representatives of the Central People's Government and the Tibet local government held negotiations in Beijing and signed on May 23 a 17-article agreement on the peaceful liberation of Tibet. Soon afterwards, the central government representative Zhang Jingwu arrived in Lhasa and Chinese People's Liberation Army units marched into Tibet from Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan in accordance with the agreement.
China's First National People's Congress was held in Beijing in 1954. The Dalai Lama, Bainqen Erdini and representatives of the Tibetan people attended the congress and later visited various places in the Country. The State Council then called a meeting at which representatives of the Tibet local government, the Bainqen Kampo Lija and the Qamdo People's Liberation Committee formed a preparatory group for the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region after repeated consultations and discussions. In April 1956, a preparatory committee for the purpose was officially set up.
Regional autonomy and social reforms were introduced cautiously and steadily in one Tibetan area after another according to their specific circumstances arising from the lopsided development in these areas due to historical reasons.
A number of autonomous administrations have been established in Tibetan areas since the 1950s. They include the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Yushu, Hainan, Huangnan, Haibei and Golog Tibetan autonomous prefectures and the Haixi Mongolian, Tibetan and Kazak Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province; the Gannan Tibet Autonomous Prefecture and the Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province; the Garze and Aba Tibetan autonomous prefectures and the Muli Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan Province; and the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.
In light of the historical and social development of the Tibetan people, the central government introduced democratic reforms in various places according to local conditions and through patient explanation and persuasion. Experiments were first carried out to gain experience.
A campaign against local despots and for the reduction of rent and interest was unfolded in the Tibetan areas of Northwest China in 1951 and 1952. In farming areas, people were mobilized to abolish rent in labor service and extra-economic coercion in the struggle to eliminate bandits and enemy agents. Sublet of land was banned. But rent for land owned by the monasteries was either intact or reduced or remitted after consultation. In pastoral areas, aid was given to herdsmen to develop production and experience was accumulated for Democratic reforms and socialist transformation there.
In the Tibetan areas of Southwest China, peaceful reforms were introduced between 1955 and 1957 in the farming areas. Feudal land ownership and all feudal privileges were abolished after consultation between the laboring People and members of the upper strata. Usury was also abolished and slaves were freed and given jobs. The arms and weapons of manorial lords were confiscated. The government bought out the surplus houses, farm implements, livestock and grain of the landlords and Serf owners.
It was clearly laid down in the agreement on the peaceful liberation of Tibet that democratic reforms would be carried out to satisfy the common desire of the peasants, herdsmen and slaves. But, in light of the special circumstances in Tibet, the central government declared that democratic reforms would not be introduced before 1962. However, the reactionary manorial lords, including monks and aristocrats, tried in every way to oppose the reforms.
In March 1959, the former Tibetan local government and the reactionary clique in the upper strata tore up the 17-article agreement under the pretext of "safeguarding national interests" and "defending religion" and staged an armed rebellion in Lhasa. They instigated rebel forces in different places to attack Communist Party and government offices and kill people, while abducting the Dalai Lama and compelling people to flee the country.
The State Council, acting upon the request of the Tibetan people and patriots in the upper strata, disbanded the Tibet local government (Kasha) and empowered the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region to exercise the functions and powers of the local government. With the active support of the Tibetan laboring people and patriots of all strata, the People's Liberation Army soon put down the rebellion.
The Preparatory Committee began carrying out democratic reforms while fighting the rebels. In the farming areas, a campaign was launched against rebellion, unpaid corvee service and slavery and for the reduction of rent and interest. In the pastoral areas, a similar campaign against the three evils was coupled with the implementation of the policy of mutual benefit to herdsmen and herd owners. All the means of production belonging to those serf owners and their agents who participated in the rebellion were confiscated, and the serfs who rented land from them were entitled to keep all their harvests for that particular year. All the debts laboring people owed to them were abolished. The means of production belonging to those serf owners and their agents who did not participate in the rebellion was not confiscated but bought over by the state. Rent for their land was reduced and all old debts owed by serfs were abolished. In the monasteries, the feudal system of exploitation and oppression was abolished and democratic management was instituted.
Land and other means of production including animals, farm implements and houses confiscated or bought by the state were redistributed fairly and reasonably among the poor serfs, serf owners and their agents, with priority given to the first group. In livestock breeding areas, while the animals owned by manorial lords and herd owners who participated in the rebellion were confiscated and distributed among the herdsmen, no struggle was waged against those who did not participate, their stock was not redistributed, and no class differentiation was made. Instead, the policy of mutual benefit to both herd owners and herdsmen was implemented.
Under the leadership of the Communist Party, the million serfs overthrew the cruel system of feudal serfdom and abolished the regulations and contracts that had condemned them to exploitation and oppression for generations. They received land, domestic animals, farm implements and houses and were emancipated politically.
In September 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was officially established. The Tibetans have since embarked on a road of socialist transformation, cautiously but steadily.
The great victory in the democratic revolution and the ensuing socialist transformation brought about tremendous changes to the whole Tibetan community. Since 1980, the central government has introduced a set of special policies to enable the Tibetan people to recoup their strength and make up for the damage they had suffered during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976).
The policies include remission of taxation on collective and individual producers for a long time to come; authorization of private use of land and livestock by households for a long time while public ownership of land, forests and grassland is upheld; protection of the farmers' and herdsmen's right of determination in production and encouragement of a diversified economy based principally on household operations; free disposal of farm and animal by-products on the market, and encouragement of individual and collective industrial and commercial enterprises.
All these have brought forth the initiative of the Tibetan people and stimulated the growth of the local economy. Tibet has also received support and aid from the central government and other areas of China. From 1952 to 1984, the central government gave a total of 7.9 billion yuan to Tibet in the form of financial grants.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, some provinces and cities and the state economic departments built 43 major construction projects in the region. These included a geothermal power station at Yangbajan, auxiliary facilities for the Qinghai-Tibet highway, the premises of Tibet University, a hotel, a theatre, a training center with audio-visual teaching aids and a stadium in Lhasa, a solar energy power station at Xigaze, and a hospital and an art gallery at Zetang.
Rapid developments have been reported by all trades and services in Tibet. Starting from scratch, Tibet's industry boasted more than 300 factories and mines by the end of 1984, covering power generating, metallurgy, woolen textiles, machinery, chemical engineering, pharmaceuticals, paper making and printing. They turned out more than 80 products, with a total value of 168 million yuan a year. The bleak and desolate Bangon, Markam and Qaidam areas have become major industrial centers. Good harvests have been reaped consecutively. In 1984, total grain output reached 494,000 tons and the animals in stock by the end of the year numbered 21.68 million, nearly double the 1965 figure.
Communications facilities also grew rapidly. There was no highway in Tibet before liberation. Since the People's Liberation Army marched into Tibet, several major trunk roads were built, including the Qinghai-Tibet highway (1954), the Sichuan-Tibet highway (1954), the Yunnan-Tibet highway (1976) and the Xinjiang-Tibet highway (1957) which linked up the Tibetan areas. A network of motor roads fanning out from Lhasa has been formed, extending to almost all counties. In 1984, the total length of roads open to traffic in Tibet reached 21,500 kilometers. The people's air force made the first successful flight from Beijing to Lhasa in 1956 and since then regular air services have linked [Lhasa] with Xining, Chengdu, [[[Lanzhou]] and Xi'an. Roads also connect Tibet with the Kingdom of Nepal. The Longhai Railway runs through the Tianzhu Tibetan Prefecture in Gansu and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway starting from Xining has already reached Golmud in Qinghai.
Radical changes have also taken place in culture and education. The one million serfs who were deprived of education before liberation are attending schools in Tibet or nationalities institutes in other parts of the country. With no institution of higher learning before, Tibet had three such institutions by the end of 1985 as well as 2,600 middle and primary schools, with a total enrolment 87 percent more than in 1965. Many Tibetan professors, engineers, doctors, veterinarians, agronomists, accountants, journalists, writers and artists have been trained. The Tibetan language and customs and habits are enjoying respect and the outstanding heritage of Tibetan culture has been carried forward. Medical and health organizations have been established in all parts of the region, which had more than 500 hospitals by the end of 1984. A special team of medical personnel are making a systematic study of Tibetan medicine and pharmacology.
The living standards of the Tibetan people have been rising steadily. The peasants, who lived in rickety sheds and never had enough food, have moved into bright and spacious houses with glass windows and stored up more grain and meat than they can consume. Brightly decorated furniture, television sets and cassette recorders have also made their way into the home of former serfs. However, about small percentage of the peasants and herdsmen have not yet shaken off poverty, although their living conditions are better than in the old days.
Religious activities are protected by the government. Temples have been renovated and repair. Buddhist statues, volumes of scriptures, ancient porcelain articles and other precious relics lost during the ten-year turmoil of the "cultural revolution" have been returned to the monasteries. Among them was a bronze statue of Sakyamuni brought to Tibet by Princess Brikuthi from Nepal in the 7th century. It is now kept in the Qoikang Monastery in Lhasa. An institute of Buddhist theology has been set up and preparations are being made to restore the scripture printing house. Tibet now has several thousand lamas, and the government sets no limit to the number of monks in the monasteries.
Tibetan officials and government functionaries are increasing rapidly. By the end of 1985, there were 31,900 officials and government functionaries of Tibetan and other minority nationalities, accounting for 62 percent of the total. The principal positions in the governments at all levels are now held by members of these minority ethnic groups. Their ability and educational standards have been improving steadily.