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Full text: Democratic Reform in Tibet -- Sixty Years On
update:March 28,2019

During the construction of the Sichuan (Xikang)-Tibet Highway in 1950, the people in Tibet realized that they were neither providing corvée labor to the PLA, nor being enslaved by serf owners, but working for themselves and their own future generations. The construction workers in Jomo Dzong (present-day Bayi District of Nyingchi City, Dzong is roughly equivalent to today’s county) and Tsela Dzong (present-day Mainling County of Nyingchi City) said, “The PLA soldiers are living gods. Those who spoke ill of the PLA are wolves in sheep’s clothing and demons hidden among our Tibetan people.”

In July 1954, ice collapse caused disastrous floods in the upper reaches of the Nyangchu River. The floods drowned 91 people in Gyantse Dzong and Panam Dzong, destroyed 170 villages, affected more than 16,000 people, swallowed over 4,000 ha of land, and drowned about 8,000 head of cattle and sheep. In response, the central government allocated 800,000 silver dollars for disaster relief. The CPC Gyantse Working Committee and the local PLA garrison fought the floods and provided succor to the victims. Despite limited supplies, they provided 730,000 kg of food, loaned 560,000 kg of seeds, distributed farm tools to a value of 15,000 silver dollars, donated 28,000 meters of tent cloth, and contributed cash and clothes to a total value of more than 100,000 silver dollars.

As a contrast, in March 1956, Nagchu Dzong (present-day Seni District of Nagqu City) was stricken by a catastrophic blizzard. The government of Tibet did not send relief to victims, but urged them to pay their rents without offering any reduction or exemption. The headman of Damshung Dzong even prevented the CPC Nagchu Working Committee from distributing highland barley and tea among the victims. Through these incidents, the people in Tibet acquired a better understanding of the CPC and the PLA, and realized that only by abolishing feudal serfdom could they start a new life.

The contrast awakened the people in Tibet. Some serfs stood up to oppose oppression and exploitation; some cast off the control of their serf owners and fled. According to Pasang, formerly a slave and now a senior official, she had been forced into hard labor for her master when she was a teenager. Unable to tolerate any more beatings from her master, she fled at the age of 15. In 1956, more than 100 peasants in Lang Dzong and Palbar Dzong gathered for a meeting to demand democratic reform. On July 25, 1956, some 65 peasants in Lhunzhub County of Lhasa submitted a letter carrying their finger prints to the 14th Dalai Lama, saying, “We are all peasants. We are more anxious for democratic reform than anyone else.”

Seeing the contrast, some members of the upper class in Tibet began to support democratic reform. From 1952, the CPC Tibet Working Committee organized several dozen delegations from Tibet to visit other parts of China, including delegations to visit the central government, delegations to celebrate the anniversaries of the founding of the PRC in Beijing, visiting groups, and delegations of Buddhists. As the delegates witnessed the rapid development elsewhere, some patriotic individuals from the upper class changed their minds and began to support the idea of democratic reform in Tibet.

A peasant from Pangcun Village of Doilungdeqen District in Lhasa recalled two incidents. In 1956, the central government invited the manor owners in Tibet to visit other parts of China, and after the visit, one of them named Chadrak Kelzang Sherab decided to free his serfs and distribute his land to them. In 1956, a Tibetan women’s delegation led by Thangme Konchog Palmo, an aristocrat, completed a trip outside of Tibet. On their return, they publicized the policies and benefits of democratic reform among the peasants in the suburbs of Lhasa, and persuaded many members of the Tibetan Patriotic Youth Association and the Tibetan Patriotic Women’s Association to stand up for democratic reform in Tibet.

In September 1957, Palgon Chogdrup, a headman in Gyantse, savagely tortured a serf called Wangchen Pungstog. Hearing of this, Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, then a Kalon (cabinet minister) of the government of Tibet, was furious, saying, “The people in Tibet are sure to choose socialism and anxious to start democratic reform. This is what they need. They want to boost political, economic and cultural development and pursue happiness. It is also an inexorable law of human development and an unstoppable trend of progress.”
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