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Image Archives of Former Serfs in Tibet
By:Xinhua
update:December 21,2021
On March 28, 1959, the Communist Party of China (CPC) led the people in Tibet to launch the democratic reform, abolishing Tibet's feudal serfdom under theocracy.
 
The democratic reform liberated the serfs in Tibet, marking a historic leap in the social system. Now, with the poverty alleviation drive, the region's 3.5 million people are ushering in a moderately prosperous life.
 
 
Tseten
 
 
Photo taken on Sept. 26, 2021 shows a portrait of Tseten in Nagqu City of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)
 
Born in 1934, Tseten was once a serf and lived under cruel feudal serfdom before the democratic reform in Tibet in 1959.
 
"My parents had seven children, and the whole family were serfs," she said. At that time, her family herd cattle and sheep for serf owners.
 
They lived without a house and suffered from starvation.
 
Tseten recalled that she had never worn shoes before she was 20.
 
Her family were allocated with a horse, a dozen yaks and more than 50 sheep after the democratic reform.
 
Tseten (C) poses for a photo with a family member and a villager in Nagqu City of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Sept. 26, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)

 
Shodolek
 
 
Shodolek poses for a portrait in Gaiba Village, Nedong District of Shannan, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, June 23, 2021. (Xinhua/Jin Yiqing)
 
Born in 1946, Shodolek and his whole family were once serfs who had to do heavy works endlessly before the democratic reform in Tibet in 1959.
 
"The serf owner gave us, a family of five, just a little expired tsamba for meals every day," Shodolek recalled.
 
At that time, serfs were always beaten by serf owners besides suffering starvation and cold. At the age of only 40, mother of Shodolek passed away due to the lack of medical care.
 
After the democratic reform, great changes have taken place in the lives of Shodolek and the villagers. His family was allocated farmland, and Shodolek even later served as the secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) branch of his Village.
 
Now, Shodolek has built a two-story building where four generations of his family live together.
 
 
Shodolek drinks butter tea at his home in Gaiba Village, Nedong District of Shannan, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, June 23, 2021. (Xinhua/Jin Yiqing)
 
 
Thubten Gyaltsen
 
 
This is the portrait of Thubten Gyaltsen taken on May 11, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
 
Thubten Gyaltsen, 81, led a miserable life before the democratic reform in Tibet in 1959.
 
His parents passed away because of heavy workload as serfs in his childhood. To make a living, Thubten started working for the rich at the age 13.
 
"Being in rags and starvation was the most profound memory of my adolescence," he recalled.
 
Thubten embraced a brand new life in 1959 when democratic reform was launched and feudal serfdom was finally abolished in Tibet.
 
"The Communist Party of China has liberated us and we have finally stood up," said Thubten, a Party member who has served the people for three decades.
 
Living with his family in a spacious house, Thubten is now enjoying a happy life.
 
 
Thubten Gyaltsen (R) talks with his family in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region on May 11, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
 
 
Migmar Tsamjo
 
 
Migmar Tsamjo poses for a portrait in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)
 
Migmar Tsamjo was born in 1933. She herded cattle for the serf owner and lived a miserable life in childhood. She fled from the serf owner in 1955, and was later rescued by the People's Liberation Army. She then was sent to Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan Province and began to study at a college.
 
In 1959, democratic reform was launched and feudal serfdom was finally abolished in Tibet. A million serfs and slaves were emancipated.
 
Recalling bitter days of the past, Tsamjo said that "today's happy life is something I never dreamed about."
 
Tsamjo now lives a happy life with her family in Lhasa.
 
 
Migmar Tsamjo watches TV at her house in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)
 
 
Chodar
 
 
This is the portrait of Chodar taken on Nov. 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Purbu Zhaxi)
 
Chodar, 86, once was a serf who lived a miserable life. He fled from his village when he was 17 because he couldn't bear the oppression from the serf owner.
 
After the democratic reform in Tibet in 1959, great changes have taken place in his hometown. He went back to his village at the age of 35.
 
"There is no more oppression from serf owners after the democratic reform, and we have farmland to plant and cattle and sheep to raise," Chodar said.
 
Now Chodar enjoys a happy life with his family.
 
 
Chodar (2nd L) poses for a photo with his family members in the county of Dinggye in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region on Nov. 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)

 
Tsering Drolma
 
Tsering Drolma poses for a portrait in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)
 
Tsering Drolma, born in 1940, is a retiree living in the urban area of Lhasa. She was once a serf and led a miserable life in childhood. At the age of 8, she was too young to do heavy work, thus she could earn few rations from the serf owner. Apart from starvation, she had to endure the coldness as her serf owner made her sleep outdoors with livestock at night.
 
"What a felicity it was to bathe in the sunshine a little earlier every day. The sun is unbiased to bring its warmness to everyone," Tsering said.
 
After the democratic reform in Tibet in 1959, Tsering's life has been greatly changed.
 
"Starvation and coldness have gone away from my life. I have three children. Two of them have received college education," said Tsering happily. Now her retirement pension ensures her stable life.
 
Tsering has donated money to local elderly people and people with disabilities for several times. "As my sufferings had come to an end, I've tried to offer my helping hands to those in need," she said.
 

 
Tsering Drolma looks at a group photo of her grandchildren with her at her house in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)
 
 
Wangyel
 
 
Photo taken on May 12, 2021 shows a portrait of Wangyel in Qumig Village of Gyangkar Township, Dinggye County, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
 
Wangyel, born in 1951, was once a serf leading a miserable life since childhood. He and his mother depended on each other as his father died in his thirties.
 
Together with tens of thousands of other serfs, Wangyel embraced a brand new life in 1959, when the democratic reform was launched in Tibet and feudal serfdom was abolished. His family secured land, houses and livestock. Wangyel entered elementary school, studied medicine after graduation, and became a village doctor in his hometown.
 
Wangyel, who is kind and obliging by nature, has been getting along well with the villagers. He later started serving as the head of the village committee and the secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) branch of his village.
 
As sandstorms constantly frequented the local area, Wangyel strived for funds of sand control and organized villagers to plant trees to improve the environment.
 
Wangyel also devoted himself to helping locals lead a better life by developing collective economy. At present, the household number of the village has grown from 18 to 206, with an average annual per capita net income of more than 10,000 yuan (about 1,571 U.S. dollars).
 
"My parents would be very gratified to see the present life if they could live till now," said Wangyel.
 
 

 
Wangyel (2nd R) poses for a photo with his family in Qumig Village of Gyangkar Township, Dinggye County, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, May 12, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)

 
Dawa Lhadron
 
 
Dawa Lhadron poses for a portrait in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)
 
Born in 1945, Dawa Lhadron is now living a happy life in Lhasa.
 
However, it seems like a nightmare for her to look back on what she had suffered as a serf in childhood.
 
"The biggest dangerous factor for me to herd sheep for serf owner was those eagles, as they tend to dive in the sky and carry the lambs away," said Dawa. In order to take good care of sheep, she had to keep an eye on the sky for fear of potential aggression from eagles. If it happened, she needed to clasp those lambs under her robe within seconds and rushed to escape from the attack, commonly ending with tumbling and injuries.
 
"Given limited rations from my serf owner, it was normal for me to eat edible wild fruits and herbs to allay my hunger," said Dawa. For young Dawa, her fear towards the eagle was like what she felt about her serf owner, who would abuse her and skimp her rations when a sheep was carried away by an eagle.
 
In 1959, democratic reform was launched and feudal serfdom was finally abolished in Tibet. A million serfs and slaves were emancipated. From then on, problems like what to eat and what to wear do not concern Dawa anymore.
 
Nowadays, it has become a daily routine for Dawa to take exercise and practices Taiji (Tai Chi) with her friends. A happy smile could be found on her face from time to time.
 
 
Dawa Lhadron (L) and a friend walk on a street in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Dec. 7, 2021. (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)
 
 
Losang Dorje
 
 
Losang Dorje poses for a portrait in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, April 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Zhang Rufeng)
 
Born in 1942, Losang Dorje was a porter for his serf owner, transferring goods such as salt. He would walk 30 kilometers while shouldering 50 kilograms of goods and be subjected to lashing if he failed to arrive on time.
 
In 1959, democratic reform was launched and feudal serfdom was finally abolished in Tibet. A million serfs and slaves were emancipated.
 
"After the democratic reform, my family was given yaks. And I got a job to bring enough foods on the table. Now I have a big family, with great-grandchildren," Dorje said.
 
 
Losang Dorje walks with his great-grandchildren in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, April 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Zhang Rufeng)
 
 
Tsering Dondrup
 
 
Tsering Dondrup poses for a portrait in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, May 13, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
 
Born in 1947, Tsering Dondrup lives in Jianggang Village, Nyalam County of Tibet.
 
Tsering and his family members served as enslaved farmers for their serf owner in old Tibet. Drudgeries including farming, collecting firewood and cow dung fell on them with little rations that could be earned from serf owner. When it came to harvest, the ripe highland barley they had planted were claimed by serf owner. "If we show any sluggishness during work, the serf owner would hit our forehead with a stick," said Tsering.
 
In 1959, democratic reform was launched and feudal serfdom was finally abolished in Tibet. A million serfs and slaves were emancipated. Life of Tsering and his fellow villagers has been greatly changed. In the 1960s, Tsering joined the Communist Party of China and became the director of his village afterwards.
 
Nowadays, the pension and allowance that Tsering has received from the government every month can ensure him a happy and stable life. Starvation has gone away completely from Tsering's life, with various kinds of food filling his refrigerator instead.
 
 
Tsering Dondrup and his wife are pictured at home in Jianggang Village of Nyalam County, Xigaze City of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, May 13, 2021. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)■
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