Anna Louise Strong Reference Archive
Our first trip in Lhasa was to a Sunday picnic in Norbu-Linka — the name means. "Jewel Park" — where the Dalai Lama had his summer palace. He had, we learned, at least three palaces there, an old one, a new one and a pavilion known as "Ferryboat to Eternity" built on a pond. He much preferred his New Palace, which he had built in 1954-55, to the lofty but gloomy Potala and had been in residence in the early days of the March rebellion. Since three thousand armed rebels, including the undisciplined Khampas, had also been "in residence" in Jewel Park, it was clearly a large area. They had been dislodged by battle, so we were prepared to find some damages, if not the wholesale havoc the foreign press assumed.
When our nineteen foreign correspondents arrived at Jewel Park on a beautiful morning, we saw before us a ten-foot wall of clean fitted rock with a handsome gateway gleaming in the sun. Jewel Park, we learned, is an enclosed forest about half a mile square, surrounded by a high wall. The rebels had camped in the forest and made fortifications against the wall. These had been demolished in battle and the outer wall had been somewhat damaged but was now repaired. That was why it looked so new.
We had little time to admire the architecture of wall and gateway. Hundreds of people, mostly children and young folks, were lined up on both sides of the road to greet us with flowers in their hands. As we left our autos, they rushed towards us, each handing a bouquet of flowers to some chosen recipient. My hands were soon full of seven large bouquets, most of them given by children. The crowd seemed largely primary and secondary school young people and former serfs, with bright red sleeves for Sunday best. I saw however several women whose manner, dress and grooming indicated them as of the upper class.
I especially recall a woman whose well-groomed hair and skin, well-matched clothing and decorum of manner indicated her as a noble woman, possibly for the first time mingling with serfs in a picnic. She stood at first in front of the crowd but was pushed back into it by the rush. She fixed eyes on me and came steadily but without pushing, and I felt she was picking me out because I was a woman and well along in years. She could not speak my language nor I hers but she handed me her very neat bunch of flowers with a look that said, as plainly as speech: "We are trying to build a good Tibet. Deal fairly with us." I have seldom been more moved.
Inside the gate the road lay straight ahead. To the left lay a wide forest park in which groups of people were dancing to home-made music; on the right rose a yellow wall, some six feet high, beyond which we occasionally glimpsed tops of buildings. These were dwellings for the Dalai Lama's retainers, guards;, tutors. Some distance along this wall we came to a gate which led directly into the Dalai Lama's New Palace. The size of Jewel Park may be judged from the fact that the New Palace enclosure was itself about a city block long by half a block wide, yet it was only a fraction of Jewel Park.
The gate was opened for us and we entered a well-kept garden, where groups of shade trees were interspersed with areas of bright sunlight, in which flamed brilliant beds of flowers. The palace itself was like a dream palace from Hollywood, a long two-storey rectangle of cream stucco, with brown framed windows, decorated by many golden fixtures, ornamented a bit too lavishly, set in bright flowers and shady trees. The yellow wall around it, high enough to give full privacy, permitted a circling view of nearby forest and distant mountains. How the man who had built this for himself must love it! He had moved to it from the thirteen storey Potala in the first days of March before winter was over. Four days later, the rebellion began and seven days after that, the rebels had taken the Dalai Lama out of Jewel Park and out of Lhasa, perhaps forever. His servants and gardeners still tended the house and garden. Would the Dalai Lama ever come back?
No fighting had reached the New Palace because of its distance back in the park. But the rebels camped in the forest had kept the Dalai Lama from contact with the outer world. Two stray practise shots by undisciplined Khampas in the days before the battle had hit the palace. One had knocked off a cornice and the other had pierced a window in the room where the Dalai Lama was sitting and passed near his head. This had made His Holiness express much anger against "the Sikang troops", and had led to his statement in the letter to General Tan Kuan-san that the rebels, under pretext of protecting him, were endangering him. The window and the cornice had both been repaired.
Inside the palace was much less inviting. The first floor was a maze of tiny dark rooms for bodyguards and servants; I later found this a characteristic of feudal architecture in Tibet. Upstairs, where the Dalai Lama himself had lived in lonely splendor, and where no woman had ever penetrated the lodging, not even for cleaning, until we came, the rooms were much more gaudily decorated but not much larger or better lighted than the servants' rooms below. I found them disturbing and not really pleasant, because every inch of wall, floor and ceiling was decorated with carvings, paintings, rugs in the hot, restless colors, orange, yellow and red. Nor were the rooms as well lit as the size of the windows, seen from the yard, had indicated. Some were draped with hangings that admitted no outside light, and in others the windows were in alcoves, and brought little cheer to the room.
He seemed to have lived in a small, tight treasure-box, encased in splendor but with little space or light. His bedroom was hardly more than a cell, some eight by ten feet, with a low, wide bunk set into the wall, still holding the bedding that the Dalai Lama had left. Its woodwork was carved and painted sumptuously, but the turned-back blankets were heavy and coarse, and under them lay only a padded quilt of white cotton, somewhat soiled. It had been March when he left, and cold. In color the room was warm enough, all yellow and gold and red lacquer, every inch decorated with Buddhas. It was hardly a room for rest.
Most of the other rooms seemed designed for different kinds of scripture reading or conference. The room through which the bedroom was approached seemed a "morning room" where the scriptures were read on arising. It was not large, perhaps twelve feet by twelve, with a thick orange carpet and red and gilt lacquer walls. Its feature was the low divan, not very different from the bed, but equipped in mid-front with a handsomely carved lectern, so that the Dalai Lama might squat on the divan for reading, with a table nearby for extra manuscripts and books. One wall of this room was filled by a deep glass case containing three statues of different aspects of deity: the Kwan-yin, or goddess of mercy, in the center; a formidable demon on the right known as the "Dula", the protector of Tibet, and the "Record-Keeper" on the left. None of these gods looked happy or companionable; whether the record-keeper records sins or something lesser, I do not know. A modern radio of Soviet-make stood on a table, a present from the Soviet ambassador to Peking, given the Dalai Lama on his trip in 1954. On another table a plain green pitcher had been left from a serving of the Dalai Lama's buttered tea.
Even this room seemed poorly lighted but there was a window, placed rather awkwardly in a corner, and next to it stood the only chair in the room, a small padded yellow rocker, even more awkwardly twisted into position to look through the window at the mountain view. No one arranging a room would have placed it so clumsily. It must have been moved there by the Dalai Lama to look at the far away hills.
From this room opened the only bathroom I saw anywhere in Lhasa, fitted with fairly modern fixtures, advertising "Shanks' Vitreous China". The fixtures were disconnected. I saw no running water in Jewel Park, or anywhere else in Lhasa. A city water works was said to be planned but had not yet been built.
A series of scripture-reading rooms ran along the northern side of the palace. In the first of these the low divan with lectern was repeated, in gilt and lacquer, and every inch of wall was covered with painted scenes in the life of Buddha. Opening from this was a small room containing the "secret canons". Then came the only large room, some twenty-five feet square, with a throne and pulpit for "presiding at ceremonies". This also was heavy with ornament in red and gold. Its thick rug was dark red with a stylized border, its walls were covered with gods and demons and men engaged in strange deeds, its golden throne was a gift from the Khampas in the name of the "Four Rivers and Six Ranges", which had proved to be an underground organ of terrorism and sabotage.
I glanced very briefly at the rooms along the eastern end of the palace, one for debating the scriptures and two others for receiving government ministers or Living Buddhas. Murals here were historical and showed the wedding of King Srontsan with the Princess Wen Cheng and the history of Buddhism in Tibet. I went downstairs with a sense of oppression. How beautiful this palace had seemed from the garden! How glad I was now to get out of it into the sun! How burdened it was with men's ancient sins and worship, all carved in red and gold.
Down the road from the New Palace we came to another enclosure and entered the "Ferryboat to Eternal Bliss", an ornate summer pavilion on an artificial and rather stagnant pond. Crowds were gathering for lunch and I was led to a reserved area with a view of the water, where candies, cakes and fruit were laid out and tea of three kinds was being served: the pale jasmine tea of China, the strong black tea with milk, as in Britain, and the green "buttered tea" of Tibet. 1 tried the latter and didn't like it, but I admit its nutritive value for it was thick with the rancid yak butter churned into it. I settled for the pale hot jasmine. Presently there came also sour milk and tsam-ba, and great bowls of yak butter. I mixed this all under direction and agreed that it was nourishing. I refused the barley beer.
As I turned my eyes from the sunlit pond I found myself sitting next to Living Buddha Jaltsolin, the "reader" to the Dalai Lama who had carried to him the first letter from General Tan Kuan-san during the rebellion, and been thereafter imprisoned by the rebels. He was a kind-looking, dignified man whom I always seem to call "Bishop", which indeed expresses his rank. He told me that the rebels had threatened him several times but had not actually ill-treated him and the "imprisonment" had been a house arrest in the house assigned to him within Jewel Park as the Dalai's "reader". The rebels had tried to force him to go with them to India but he had said that the Dalai Lama had given him a task to do in Lhasa, after which they had let him remain. He had remained in his house until all fighting was over.
I asked if he had any news of the Dalai Lama from India. When he said that he had not, I asked if he expected the Dalai Lama's return.
"According to his past desires he would wish to return," replied Jaltsolin, "but he is in hard conditions and it is not clear whether he can get away."
Had Jaltsolin any message for people abroad? He thought it over and then launched into a rather long message, in which he wished "that all people in the world might enjoy peace and none might suffer oppression". Then he became specific.
"Here in Tibet, people used religion to exploit other people. Living Buddhas thought how to get more lands and serfs and treasure. This is not the Buddha's teaching. When the big monasteries oppress the small ones, and the upper lamas oppress the poor lamas, this is not freedom of religion. I myself did not like it, even in the past. I think the Dalai Lama, as I knew him, did not like it. We are now learning that only by abolishing exploitation can we abide by the teaching of Sakyamuni. It was through the Communist Party that the people got freedom of religion. Because of this I can now serve the people and follow truly the teachings of Buddha. I am very glad of this. . . .
"Tell the American people that the Tibetan people have received full liberation and will move towards happiness now."
I told the Living Buddha that not only in Tibet, but in all the lands I knew, men of wealth and power had used religion to oppress the people. But also in all lands there had been men of religion to whom religion meant the service of the people. I mentioned some such that I knew in America. Jaltsolin seemed pleased.
I left the "Ferryboat to Eternal Bliss" and walked across the park to find the "Tibetan Opera". Everywhere we came upon groups of people, dancing folk-dances of many kinds under the trees or in open glades. They told me that in the past the Dalai Lama had opened Jewel Park once a year to public use at a festival in June, but that now it would probably be opened oftener. The New Palace had not been open to anyone but the Dalai Lama's personal guests; we were the first outside visitors. Before we left Tibet, howeever, the New Palace also was being opened to occasional public view. The authorities seemed to be feeling their way in such matters, testing the popular demand.
Across the park we came to an open space which was protected from the direct sun by a very large white canvas, swung aloft by ropes to trees in a manner I was to learn was a habit in Tibet. "Auspicious designs" appliquéd on the canvas stood out dark against the sunlight, because of double thickness. An audience of several hundred was seated on the ground around the open space, and we were given places of honor in chairs, where we were shaded from the sun but had a view of the pines and the distant blue sky and hills.
Groups of dancers whirled on the improvised stage under the high canvas. Their black heart-shaped masks, dark variegated costumes and wild leaps were so ferocious that I took them as "devil-dancers" — a Western term that I did not find used in Tibet — until I learned that this was an opera about King Srontsatn's wooing of Princess Wen Cheng, and these were dancers of the king's court. They were followed by equally wild dancers in yellow silk robes and big red hats who were the king's attendants preparing for the trip to the Great Tang Court! The king himself danced among them; you knew him by his "scepter", a long wand with a music box at its end that made tinny noises. The king's dance with his ministers in incredilble costumes merged in an eye's twinkling into a scene in the Great Tang Court itself at 1,500 miles distance.
Before the ugliest Tang Emperor ever seen, and a Princess who was the most hideous woman ever on any stage — both of them with enormous head-dresses of paper flowers on wires that stuck out four times as big as their heads, — the envoys came from many nations to seek Wen Cheng in marriage, doubtless because of her connection with the Tang Dynasty since no other attraction was apparent. The Indian suitor came with a group of dancing dervishes, and sundry tribes unknown to modern days also sought the princess. Srontsan did best on the test questions and finally the golden Buddha statue was reverently placed in a sedan-chair and started on its 1,500-mile trek to Lhasa with the Princess Wen Cheng walking alongside. Loud drums saw the royal couple off the stage and many dancing yaks surrounded them. Each yak was danced by two men under a single animal-skin, one carrying the fore part, the other the rear. Since the rear man could not see through the animal skin, and the yaks were greatly excited by the double acquisition of a princess and a Buddha, some hind-legs got separated from their fore-legs and tangled with the audience, which quickly moved out of the way. ...
It was a very energetic performance of one of Tibet's most ancient and popular operas by Lhasa's best professional troupe.
* * *
The following day we called on Ngapo Ngawang Jigme — usually known as Apei — in the building of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. An imposing four storey building with gold roof and cornices in old Tibetan architecture had been erected in a small park opposite the Potala to house this committee.
Apei, its Secretary-General, and hence chief executive for Tibet, received us in a large reception room to which a rug of deep yellow gave the tone. The windows looked out on tall, green mountains and potted plants stood on all the sills. On one wall hung a great map of the world, on another a map of China, on a third an enormous scarlet banner inscribed in Tibetan script.
Since Apei himself was a noble owning four thousand square kilometers of land and 2,500 serfs, and yet was chief executive of a government which was to abolish serfdom, we asked him about the ways in which this change would occur and what the nobles' attitude was towards it. He also gave details of how the previous kashag had obstructed the 1951 Agreement, and told us how he was reforming his own estate.
Thirty percent of the nobles, said Apei, had supported the central government against the rebellion. These were the "progressive wing", who realized that serfdom was a backward form of society and must be abolished for the sake of Tibet's future. The central government offered an unusually good arrangement in its proposal to buy out the property of all loyal nobles instead of confiscating it. Hence the "progressive nobles" basically supported the reform. Rebel estates were confiscated, but this did not necessarily mean that the whole estate was thus taken. Ownership was complicated; a family estate might belong to several brothers with children involved and only one brother might have been a rebel. In that case only the share of the rebel brother was confiscated but all this accounting took time.
Even the progressive nobles had difficulties and misgivings which the local government sought to allay. These concerned chiefly the final stage of the reform; they worried about how much compensation they would get. The local government was still in process of determining this through committees on which the nobles themselves sat. The central government was prepared to give considerably more than a hundred million US dollars to the redemption fund.
The progressive nobles were in general reconciled to the first stage of the reform, in which land rents and interest rates were drastically reduced. They recognized that the heavy rates in Tibet were far out of line with the customs of the modern world and were a heavy burden on Tibet's progress. This year the land rents would be no more than twenty percent of the crop, and interest rates no more than twelve percent a year. This was a very sharp cut in the nobles' gross income but was balanced in two ways. The first was that the nobles were relieved from the heavy taxes and labor duties which they had owed to the kashag and the burden of which they had passed on to the serfs. The feudal government had been very complicated, corrupt and expensive. Now that the central government paid for the army and for government transport, and even at present for the costs of Tibet's local government above the county level, the demands on the nobles for taxes would be very much less. The local government itself was being organized on a much more efficient basis, cutting out duplication and graft.
Moreover, the nobles had lived very extravagantly under the old system, not because this greatly increased their comfort, but because it was due to their rank to have several retainers always following them about. Now the progressive nobles had taken the initiative in introducing a simpler fashion of living. Hence, even with land rents and interest rates sharply reduced this year, most of the nobles were not really much worse off than before. The chief worry in the present stage was the fear that the serfs would bring the nobles up before accusation meetings. Since the Communist Party promised that this would not be done against any but the rebels, the progressive nobles approved, on the whole, of the first stage of the reform.
Efforts were being made to combat the ancient attitude towards physical labor, which for centuries the upper class had regarded as a base activity, fit only for slaves. Joint drives were organized to clean up Lhasa, to improve irrigation, and for other tasks of the common good. Members of the upper class and even some lamas were beginning to take part. The feudal attitude towards' labor also began to disappear when nobles went as delegates to the other parts of China, and saw the great wealth that labor created.
The take-over of nobles' property and its division among the former serfs would proceed as fast as the new Peasants' Associations were ready to handle the distribution. The compensation for this final stage was not finally determined for the question was complex. In general, land would be redeemed at a price equal to its net income per acre for six years. Livestock and implements would be valued at market prices, though there were no unified prices in Tibet. One complexity came from the fact that every big noble operated through many sub-landlords, most of them serfs of the tsaiba type. Their interests also had to be considered.
Apei himself, by preliminary estimate, stood to get between eight and nine hundred thousand yuan from the government for his estates. This would last his very large family for decades, until not only the children but any grand-children were educated and settled in jobs. Even without this compensation, Apei had a good salary from the government as Secretary-General of the Preparatory Committee. Many nobles were not so fortunate. Some would find the compensation inadequate, especially if they lacked education or experience for administrative work. In their cases there would be adjustments, for the policy was that none of the loyal nobles should suffer a loss in livelihood through the reform. They would of course lose the attendance of hundreds or thousands of serfs, but the new power-plants and modern industries would bring a convenience of living which even the nobles had not previously enjoyed.
Such was the view of the progressive nobles; I was to hear more of it when I had tea with Mrs. Apei in "the house they had chosen to keep". This view had grown through the eight years' contact with Peking. Many nobles had visited other parts of China and seen the greater conveniences of modern life.
The former kashag, said Apei, had obstructed in every way the fulfilment of the pledges taken in the 1951 Agreement. They had made no moves towards incorporating the Tibetan Army into the People's Liberation Army, nor had they made any moves in the direction of democratic reform. On the contrary, they had obstructed schools, hospitals, experimental farms, and even sabotaged the fulfilment of proposals that they themselves had made.
In 1954, for instance, when the Dalai Lama and Pan-chen Erdeni went to Peking for the session of the National People's Congress, fifty or sixty Tibetan officials went with them and stayed some months to make extensive tours. At that time the Tibetan delegates themselves stated that the Tibetan Army lacked discipline and was a burden on the people and that they would reorganize it step by step, first introducing the same system and education as that of the PLA and then incorporating it into the PLA. The proposal to set up the Preparatory Committee came from the Dalai Lama's own entourage. The proposal to add Chamdo to Tibet was made by the Tibetans and the National Congress acceded. A proposal was made on the currency, for Tibet was in throes of inflation because the kashag was printing its own currency without backing or restraint. It was proposed to stop printing currency and that currency already circulating should be recalled by four million silver dollars which the central government should give. The central government was also to pay 700,000 silver dollars annually for the kashag's costs of government.
All this was proposed by the Tibetans, on the basis of many telegrams collected by the Dalai Lama from all parts of Tibet. But after the central government had agreed, and the Dalai Lama had returned with his entourage to Lhasa, the kashag obstructed all these reforms. It did not dare express open opposition, because the proposals had been made by the Tibetans themselves, but underground obstruction was carried on by instigating lower officials and the big monasteries to oppose the changes and by intimidating any progressive officials who tried to carry them out. The kashag continued to print currency and its value kept dropping. The kashag could not prevent the formation of the Preparatory Committee, because all other parts of Tibet chose their delegates and the kashag did not dare stay out. But if any of the kashag delegates took their duties honestly in the Preparatory Committee, the kashag withdrew them. So the work of the committee in organizing and enlarging Tibet as an Autonomous Region could not progress. Meantime the kashag organized rebellion, beginning in 1955 in Sze-chuan on the way back from Peking.
This was because the kashag was dominated by the biggest and most reactionary serf-owners, who had never had any intention of permitting reform.
Apei had begun the reform on his own estate already. He had not had time to visit it for he was busy in Lhasa and his lands were some distance away. He had called to Lhasa fifteen representatives from his stewards and sub-landlords and peasants, and had explained the reform to them in detail, and worked out with them the way in which each unit of the big estate of 4,000 square kilometers might handle its affairs. He had made stock-taking of land, livestock and implements to facilitate the coming purchase.
Since the abolition of personal servitude was part of the first stage of reform, Apei had set free his nantsam, the house and field slaves. This was a more complicated process than may appear. "It is not enough to set nantsam free," said Apei. "They must be given housing, food, seed and implements, or they will starve." Nantsam formerly had no housing but slept in kitchens and stables. Nantsam also would share in the distribution of land. Some nantsam would probably remain as house servants but would get wages and be free to leave. Some might eventually go away to jobs in cities.
The abolition of serfdom, it was clear from Apei's description, is not done by a single decree. Even when done by government purchase and without violence, it is a complex process of organization and adjustment. Apei felt it a point of honor that the lands and serfs which his family had owned for a thousand years should be reorganized with proper consideration into the modern ways of life. He intended to set an example in Tibet.
After the long talk over tea-cups, Apei took us up to the fourth floor of the building to see the offices of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Erdeni. By tradition these must always be on the top floor of any building, since nobody else is permitted to be above them. The Dalai Lama, though absent in India, was still the chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region, and his office was kept for his possible return. It was a luxurious two room suite, with a deep red rug in the outer office, a large desk for a secretary's use, and pale gold over-stuffed chairs for small conferences. The inner room was meant for privacy and rest. Here a large gold-draped divan with handsome carved end-pieces, was set on a floral rug, with two elaborately carved chests and two chairs in blue upholstery conveniently placed. The color scheme was not unlike that of the New Palace in Jewel Park, but the effect was utterly different, for the large well-placed windows gave a sense of light and space and a fine mountain view.
The Panchen's suite, as vice-chairman and now Acting Chairman, was almost an exact duplicate at the other end of the same floor, except for slight differences in decoration and the fact that the windows faced west. Across the hall was a larger reception room for conferences which either the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Erdeni might summon or wish to attend. This duplication and equality repeated the theoretical position they do not always attain in actual life.
* * *
On invitation from Mrs. Apei, I went to have afternoon tea with her and three other noble women in the house the Apeis have chosen to keep. It lay at the northest end of Lhasa at the top of a long slope that swept down to the Lhasa River and that gave a wide southern view across the valley to the hills beyond. It conveniently modern home I saw in Tibet.
As we entered the gate., my eyes fell on the large stone, three-storey castle which at first I thought would be where the Apeis lived. It still belonged to them but some of their children still occupied it temporarily but Mrs. Apei said: "That old place was never comfortable and now that the serfs are free, we couldn't live there with all those small dark servants' rooms on the ground floor. Let the government buy it and make it over as dormitory or offices as they like. We built our new house a few years ago."
The new house was off at one side, a modest structure in what might be called California ranch-house style, square main one-storey building with a long wing to the left. A few low steps led to a porch and an entrance hall, from which I saw that the wing to the left held the kitchen and servants' quarters, while the family rooms extended around the hall to the right. The living-room, in which tea was prepared, was large enough for a family and a few guests but not for pretentious entertaining. Its entire south wall was of plate glass windows which gave on a walled garden of flaming flowers, beyond which was the view of hills. The hardwood floor was well covered with good rugs. The ceiling was blue, the wall dull orange with a three foot base-board of dull green wood. It would have passed in Hollywood as a daring color scheme in exquisite taste. Heavy draw-curtains of brown lined with yellow silk edged the window, and inside them were thin white curtains dotted with tiny lilac flowers.
Most of the seats in the room were the low hassocks covered with fine rugs, which provide seats in Tibetan style, but near the window stood a divan of normal Western height, well-cushioned with pillows, and flanked by two comfortable chairs of fine wood with good upholstery. The coffee table was set near them and Mrs. Apei led me towards them. "For guests from outside Tibet," she smiled.
Mrs. Apei wore a dress of brown wool with orange-yellow silk sleeves; a brown and pink striped apron covered her skirt. For jewelry she had a gold bracelet and gold wrist-watch, diamond ear-rings and a triple-strand necklace of small pearls which to my inexperience resembled those I myself possess from Wool-worth's but which probably cost a good deal more. It may be easier in Tibet to get real pearls than to reach a Woolworth store. Mrs. Landui to whom my hostess introduced me, wore a black dress with a flowered jumper and seemed older than Mrs. Apei, though she was only forty-eight to Mrs. Apei's forty-five. Her husband, I learned, was a member of the Preparatory Committee which governed Tibet. He was, in fact, a rather important member, for he had been nephew of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and entrusted by him with the care of records. He was thus able to testify in a meeting in Lhasa that the Simla Conference had never been ratified while the McMahon Line, which India claimed as boundary, had been long ago repudiated by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and had never come into existence at all. Mrs. Tsuiko, a member of the Women's Preparatory Committee, was definitely an older woman who sat knitting quietly during most of our talk. Mrs. Song Tun was wife of a progressive noble whom the rebels had wounded, a story I had not time to get.
Mrs. Apei told me that she had come from a serf-owning family. "My family income as well as my husband's," she said, "came from the labor of peasants and herdsmen. My husband always had an official post, but official salaries were not high. The real income was from the estates. We had estates in both the farming and the pastoral regions and drew income both from peasants and herdsmen. It never occurred to us that there was anything wrong in this, we thought it the proper way to live."
Before 1951 Mrs. Apei never discussed any politics. That was not a woman's sphere. She had a tutor in the home but did not learn to read and write. "I learned to keep accounts so that I could list the household property," she said. "Girls were not supposed to need book knowledge." She did not learn the alphabet until after 1951 when she was not far from forty years of age.
Mrs. Apei's awakening began with her visit to Peking. She went with her husband from Chamdo when he went to negotiate the 1951 Agreement. She was carrying her ninth child, a boy, who was born in Peking. Despite her pregnancy she took time to see many things in various parts of China.
"The land reform was just finished," she said. "I heard people talking about the goodness of this change. I saw that the working people lived better and were happier than in Tibet. I saw that our way of life was wrong because only a few could enjoy life and the great majority of Tibetans were very miserable. I saw clearly that not only the rich but also the working people have the right to a good life." She began to study the alphabet and then to read and write. In 1954 she became one of the founders of the "Preparatory Committee for Patriotic Women" through which Tibetan women began to be "equal in politics".
I was astounded to learn that Mrs. Apei had twelve children. "All mine," she affirmed with a smile, "and all lived". She added: "Tibetan women usually have many children, but it is seldom that most of them live." She thought the reason hers lived might have been because she "always took care of them herself and gave them close care".
Her oldest daughter was twenty-two and was married in Kalimpohg, India; the second daughter was married in Lhasa. The next two boys and two girls were studying in Peking in the Central Institute of National Minorities. "The central government pays all their needs," she said. "The eldest son is good in mathematics and expects to be an engineer." Six were at home, four of them in the Lhasa Primary School and two not yet of school age.
If all the twelve children should ever come home at once, the present modest house that the Apeis have chosen to keep will be rather crowded. But Mrs. Apei thinks it most unlikely that the children will all return at the same time. "The girls will marry, the boys are thinking of jobs in all parts of Tibet. Sons no longer bring their wives to their father's home." The house the Apeis have chosen is just the right size for modern living, with rooms for children still going to school, and for some who come on visits, with quarters down the wing for a few servants, but not for a clutter of serfs.
"When my husband had a post with the kashag," she smiled, "four or five servants had to go with him just to show his rank wherever he went. That is part of a past life."
Mrs. Landui had had ten children. Only four had survived. This may have been why she looked older than Mrs. Apei. She had sent her two oldest to India to study in 1947, but she brought them back in 1951 and sent them to Peking. The two younger had gone from the start to Peking to study. "Why should they go to India when we now have our own schools to go to," she said. "They can get as good medical training in Peking and much more useful political knowledge since they will live in Tibet."
It was in India, however, that Mrs. Landui first learned that there was another way of life than serfdom. She went there in 1947 to take the children to school. "They didn't have serfs in India," she said, "and I felt in my heart that our backward system must change. When I asked the question in Tibet, there was no answer. It was a question women should not ask. After 1951 I saw that China was better, for now in China all nationalities are equal and women are equal with men. I began to study and then we founded the Patriotic Women, and I began to get my questions answered. Now I myself am no longer willing to live in the way we lived before."
Mrs. Tsuiko, the oldest of the women, had been knitting quietly while we talked. When I turned to her, she said that she also had "lived on the labor of serfs" from her youth to the present year, but this did not mean that she had lived comfortably. "The land was badly used at random and production was never high."
"In the past way of life," she added, "if anyone was ill, there was never any good doctor. Women did not study and were not supposed to discuss politics. Sometimes one heard that elsewhere in China women could read, and that people there travelled even on airplanes. But we did not know if this were true or not, because there was no communication. Only after 1951 when Han comrades came to Lhasa did I begin to study and have political views."
I asked all the women whether they had formerly thought of Tibet as part of China or as "independent". They replied that they had not thought of it at all. "We were never drawn into political discussion." But after 1951, they "learned from history" that Tibet had always been "connected with the motherland". They thought this a very good thing, because thus they were part of a strong country in which the many nationalities were equal.
"If Tibet were not part of a strong China, the Tibetans would become slaves of the imperialists," they said. "This has happened with many small nations of Asia. Those people in Tibet who talked about 'independence' always had some foreign connections. Why do so many British and American writers concern themselves with Tibetan 'independence'. Is it for the good of the Tibetans or for their own good?"
"This is the way it seems to us now," said Mrs. Landui modestly but firmly. "Before 1951 we women never heard about such things."
How sincere were these women in their protestations of loyalty to the new society? Who can tell when they themselves are changing? But they will put a good face on it and help organize the changes for the sake of themselves and their children. So loyalty will grow to the new future. The eight years of contact with Peking have made change easier for them and for Tibet.