Tibetan Society At The Time of The Invasion
Chinese sources were to justify their invasion and annexation on two grounds. One is that they had in law a technical right, based on historical precedent, to exercise sovereignty over Tibet. The other is that their takeover was a liberation from the appalling backwardness in which its feudal class structure, with its serfdom and slavery, had reduced the Tibetan people.
Donald S.Lopez argues that at the time:-
"traditional Tibet, like any complex society, had great inequalities, with power monopolized by an elite composed of a small aristocracy, the hierarchs of various sects . . and the great Geluk monasteries."
These institutional groups retained great power down to 1959.
The thirteenth Dalai Lama had reformed the pre-existing serf system in the first decade of the 20th century, and by 1950, slavery itself had probably ceased to exist in central Tibet, though perhaps persisting in certain border areas. Slavery did exist, for example, in places like the Chumbi Valley, though British observers like Charles Bell called it 'mild'. and beggars (ragyabas) were endemic. The pre-Chinese social system however was rather complex.
Estates (shiga), roughly similar to the English manorial system, granted by the state and were hereditary, though revocable. As agricultural properties they consisted of two kinds: land held by the nobility or monastic institutions (demesne land), and village land (tenement or villein land) held by the central government, though governed by district administrators. Demesne land consisted on average of one half to three quarters of an estate. Villein land belonged to the estates, but tenants normally exercised hereditary usufruct rights in exchange for fulfilling their corvée obligations. Tibetans outside the nobility and the monastic system were classified as serfs, but two types existed and functionally were comparable to tenant farmers. Agricultural serfs, or "small smoke" (düchung) were bound to work on estates as a corvée obligation (ula) but they had title to their own plots, owned private goods, were free to move about outside the periods required for their tribute labour, and free of tax obligations. They could accrue wealth and on occasion became lenders to the estates themselves, and could sue the estate owners: village serfs (tralpa)were bound to their villages but only for tax and corvée purposes, such as road transport duties (ula), and were only obliged to pay taxes. Half of the village serfs were man-lease serfs (mi-bog), meaning that they had purchased their freedom. Estate owners exercised broad rights over attached serfs, and flight or a monastic life was the only venue of relief. Yet no mechanism existed to restore escaped serfs to their estates, and no means to enforce bondage existed, though the estate lord held the right to pursue and forcibly return them to the land.
Any serf who had absented himself from his estate for three years was automatically granted either commoner (chi mi) status or reclassified as a serf of the central government. Estate lords could transfer their subjects to other lords or rich peasants for labour, though this practice was uncommon in Tibet. Though rigid structurally, the system exhibited considerable flexibility at ground level, with peasants free of constraints from the lord of the manor in order once they had fulfilled their corvée obligations. Historically, discontent or abuse of the system, according to Warren W. Smith, appears to have been rare. Tibet was far from a meritocracy, but the Dalai Lamas were recruited from the sons of peasant families, as the sons of nomads could rise to master the monastic system and become scholars and abbots.
Read more about this topic: Tibet (1912–1951)
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