Anna Louise Strong Reference Archive
One of our first trips to the countryside was to a village east of Lhasa to meet the newly elected Peasants' Association and learn from them the various types of former serfs.. Our autos turned right at Jok-hang Monastery, through the narrow, winding stonewalled streets of the city, past markets set out on curbs or in nooks between buildings till we came to the eastern bridge over the Lhasa River. Here the fifteen hundred mile highway begins that goes over fourteen high ranges and eleven difficult rivers to Szechuan; it was built in 1954. We halted several minutes by the bridge for it is long and narrow, permitting only one-way traffic controlled at both ends, and we had to wait for a long line of peasant carts and donkeys coming into the city to market, interspersed with a few big trucks of the wider-ranging auto-transport. The river flowed fast and turbulent under the bridge and beyond it, large cumulus clouds rolled white in a deep blue sky above tall green hills.
Through hills and pastures we wound irregularly for several miles to a township called Tsai-kumtan, from the names of two manorial estates. Here we were halted by a procession of villagers who came to greet us with drums and flags. As I got out of the car, old men and women grabbed both of my hands in greeting while small children danced about with glee.
We continued down the road on foot, with the flags and drums now trailing us, turned across a pasture and under trees to an open lawn near a large dilapidated building, apparently an accessory structure in a rambling estate. A large white canvas plentifully appliquéd with "auspicious designs" of wheels and swastikas in dark blue, soared over the greensward like a flying roof, supported by ropes to the building and to trees. This we had learned already to know as the typical Tibetan canopy for a summer picnic, shielding from the direct sun while giving access on all sides to the winds and the view. Under it was set a rectangle of low tables for tea and refreshment, flanked by the typical Tibetan low cushioned seats, made of small, stiff mattresses hinged in the middle, folding back into a double thickness, like an ottoman or large hassock. These are convenient for gatherings, for they are easily carried around, will stand on uneven ground without wobbling, and can either seat two or three people at the height of a Western-style sofa, or double that number if they are opened out to the height of a mattress. Their worn, rather soiled exteriors were quickly covered for us with gay, hand-woven rugs, and the total effect was that of a casual but festive banquet-hall on grass surrounded by trees.
The procession scattered to stand around the edges of this festive enclosure while we were introduced to the leaders: Puntso, five months ago a household slave, now a committee member of the Peasants' Association of the township, already assuming functions of local government; Purbu, chairman of the Peasants' Association of this chika, or manor, formerly a serf of the type we were to know as duichun; and Wangtu, another committee member of the township Peasants' Association, a former lama who had left the monastic life. In a short opening speech — it had to be short since it was twice translated, first into Chinese, then into Western languages — Puntso told us that the township Peasants' Association had three branches, one in a big manor named Tsai, a second which included two manors, of which this Kumtan was one, while the third included three smaller estates.
The township comprised 1,172 souls in 329 households. Of these sixty-nine families had been the type of serf known as tsaiba, (or chaba, or thralba, for the dialect varied from village to village) who had relatively stable plots of land for their own use, for which they paid the lord by a definite amount of labor. One hundred and seventeen families were duichuns, (also pronounced dudchhungs), serfs whose less stable land holdings were paid for by a proportion of the crop. One hundred and thirty were lantzams, (or nansens or nantsams), serfs of house and field who hardly differed from slaves. (Thirteen were families of the upper strata.)
The cultivated land of the township was given as 7,923 kes. A ke is a measure of grain, which seemed to vary from twenty-seven to thirty pounds, and a ke of land is the amount of land a ke of grain will sow. We worked it out as roughly the size of a Chinese mou, one sixth of an acre. There were thus somewhat more than thirteen hundred cultivated acres. These had belonged to thirteen manorial lords, a term including both noble families and also monasteries. Four of the nobles and five of the monasteries had joined the rebellion. Their lands were therefore confiscated and their crops would go this very year to the serfs who tilled them. These serfs, however, were no longer serfs, for serfdom had been abolished by the resolution adopted July 17th by the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region, in other words, the local government of Tibet. Since that time, the peasants had been organizing their local governments by village and township, preparing for the future elections which should set up a permanent structure of an autonomous Tibet, and work out the final land reform.
The Kumtan manor in which we stood, and the lands and serfs around it, had belonged to Khemey, one of the bigger nobles of Tibet whose family had been in government for generations, and who owned many manors and serfs. Khemey had been one of the Dalai Lama's emissaries to the conference in Peking which signed the 1951 Agreement for the "peaceful liberation of Tibet". Later Khemey had been a secret and still later an open organizer of the rebellion, and had gone with the Dalai Lama to India. He had not resided on this manor, and in fact, had not often even visited it, despite its nearness to Lhasa. He left" his various manors to his stewards and busied himself with higher politics. He had owned in this township not only the manor but two of the smaller monasteries, wondering just how a person could own a monastery, I asked: "You mean that Khemey helped finance them, contributed to their support?"
"Not exactly," was the answer. "We mean that the monastery contributed to Khemey. The monastery collected gifts from the people, and also made loans at high interest, and Khemey got five times the share of a lama, of whatever the monastery took in."
Khemey had owned 303 souls in this manor, counting the children. He had twenty-two tsaiba families, forty-five duichun families and eighteen nantsam families. Every year they sowed 2,500 kes (420 acres) of land. Of these about 96 acres were managed by Khemey's steward directly, with the nantsams doing the labor; twenty-two acres were allotted to twenty-two tsaiba families in return for labor, and the remaining three hundred and more acres were rented out to tsaiba and duichuns and paid for by a part of the crop. The official terms for these rentals did not sound onerous, being around one fourth of the crop, but when the serfs finally paid what they owned on seed loans, implements and cattle loans and food loans, all at exorbitant interest, about seventy percent of what they took in went to Khemey, either as rent for land and house, or in payments on debts.
All three types of serfs were subject to the lord's orders, to forced labor of various kinds, to flogging for whatever the lord considered misconduct. All had to get permission to marry or to leave the manor for even a short absence. If a lord had a serf tortured or even killed, the lord would not be punished. Yet within the three types of serfs there were differences. "Tsaibas and duichuns were like subjects of the lord while the nantsams were like his slaves," explained Puntso. "Tsaibas and duichuns usually had homes which they were allowed to build on the land of the lord, and which they occupy continuously by custom, though the houses of course belong to the lord on whose land they are built. Nantsams do not usually have homes; they sleep in kitchens and store-rooms and cowsheds and out-buildings. They can seldom maintain stable families, in part because they have no place to live and in part because the lord may send husband or wife to work in another manor whenever he chooses. Tsaibas and duichuns can in part organize their own work, though they may be taken from it for many occasions of forced labor; but nantsams do not organize their own work, since they are working all the hours of the day under the orders of the lord's steward. Nantsams also are sometimes sold or given as presents. If the daughter of a lord marries, she takes some nantsams with her to her new home as her dowry, but the tsaibas and duichuns are not thus taken for they stay with the land."
"Between tsaibas and duichuns the main difference is that the tsaibas pay for their land by labor while the duichuns pay with part of the crop. Tsaibas are also more stable; they are listed as part of the land in all of the land deeds since the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Duichuns are more recent; many of them are runaway serfs from other areas or lamas expelled or fleeing from monasteries, and since no commoner could exist in Tibet without a master, they found their new master here. If the former master finds them, he can take them back, but more often they send him a poll-tax and he lets them stay."
From this description I gathered that the tsaibas seemed an original serf-class, from the early days when the nomad tribes settled to the land and the chief apportioned plots to his retainers in return for their duties to him; that nantsams derived from a past time of chattel slavery, but that duichuns indicated the disintegration of serfdom, the faint beginnings of free enterprise. So I asked: "Could one say that duichuns are like the tenant farmers in the rest of China before the liberation?"
The local leaders shook their heads and Puntso replied: "No, for tenant farmers could leave the land but duichuns cannot except by running away which is perilous. Moreover the lord can reduce tsaiba and duichuns to nantsams if he likes. It is not customary and not considered proper for the lord to do this without reason. But he can force the duichuns into many kinds of debt, and there is even one kind of debt that can never be paid, but which bears high interest forever. And when tsaibas or duichuns cannot pay their debts, then the lord can take away their houses and possessions and livestock if they have any, and turn them into nantsams. ..."
After this short briefing, our party of correspondents split into several groups and went to visit the newly liberated peasants in their homes. I chose to go first with an energetic, intelligent-looking woman of forty-one named Deidji, a former nantsam, who was now vice-chairman of the Township Peasants' Association, hence practically a member of the new local government. She was dressed in her best for the occasion, in a dark jumper of rough home-made wool known as pulu over a white shirt of some heavy homespun material, and decorated by an apron similarly hand-woven in stripes of many gay colors. She wore a bracelet of bone on her right wrist and a bright woven band around her hair.
As we went along through archways and across rough courtyards of cobblestones and earth, a crowd of children followed who, when they saw my camera, were all so ready to be photographed that it was difficult to get any individual poses or small groups. Serfdom had marked their small bodies with malnutrition, but their eagerness of soul had responded very quickly to the excitements of five short months of freedom. With us came also several men carrying some of the mattress-cushions for our further use. Among them I met Deidji's husband, ten years older than she, and somewhat taller, with a coat and trousers similarly of pulu, a shirt similarly of homespun, to which he had added tall leather boots and a broad-brimmed hat of woven straw.
Through a door that opened directly from a stable courtyard we entered what Deidji called "our nice new home, given us just seven days ago". When I saw the place I thought she was indulging in irony, but when I saw the pride with which she said: "It used to be a store-house for yak-dung, but the Peasants' Association cleaned it out and gave it to us," I knew that she admired the place.
Coming in from the bright sun it was too dark to see at first clearly, but soon I made out a room about eight by ten feet in size, with a dirt floor, and walls of rock and earth, and with two openings in the wall each about eighteen inches square which let in air and light, and which were crossed by bars to keep out large animals. Since the wall was thick and the openings not very high, they let in what for me seemed insufficient light; and since they had no glass, I judged they might at times let in too much of the air. There was no furniture except a bed of boards in a corner, covered by a black yak-skin, a neat heap of clothing and other possessions near the entrance door, a small wooden bench and a pot hanging on a nail. Poor and bare as it was, I understood Deidji's pride in it when I later saw the place from which she had moved: a similar store-room of earth and rock, but only half the size and with a single window-opening, and a roof so leaky that the floor of earth was often soaked from rain and took a long time to dry. To Deidji this eight by ten dim shelter of rock and earth was "a nice, dry home".
Mattress-cushions were brought and piled on the floor and we sat down with Deidji, her husband Puntso Tseren, two interpreters and all the other listeners that could crowd in, to hear Deidji's story of their former way of life, and of their hopes for their two children, a son aged twenty-one and a daughter of eight.
"We worked for the lord all the daylight hours and all the days in the year," said Deidji. "I first cleaned floors and furniture in the manor and then I worked in the fields in sowing and harvest, and helped to level the ground by dragging wooden plates from my shoulders. I also tended seventeen yaks and cows and milked them when they were fresh. I carried butter and cheese on my back to the lord's house in Lhasa. In slack time I spun wool." To this the man added that he had worked as a groom, caring for eight mules and transporting barley and salt and tsamba and yak-dung to Lhasa and fodder for Khemey's horses in the city. The son had worked for the lord as a shepherd from the age of fifteen.
"For this work," continued Deidji, "the lord gave us every month two kes of tsamba for each of us (fifty pounds of barley flour) and every year enough pulu for a suit of clothes, and also a pair of boots. The children got nothing; we fed them from our own tsamba. When our son became a shepherd he also got two kes of tsamba. He was promised clothes but he never got them. Before he was a shepherd he worked on the manor and was promised one and a half ke of tsamba but never got it. So since we did not have enough food, we had to go in debt."
"Did you get any food besides tsambal" we asked.
"We got yak butter, but not the real butter. When the lamas in the lord's monasteries had buttered tea, part of the butter floats to the top when the tea is churned and this is thrown away. They throw it into a pail for the serfs. Of this 'butter' we got one and a half pounds a month but not always. Only when enough was thrown away. We also got tea leaves but only after they had been used for several stewings of tea. At New Year's Festival we got some meat and vegetables. They made a feast of noodles with shreds of meat and turnips cooked in them. For the first five days of the festival we had two meals a day. There was not very much meat in it. There were twenty-three nantsam families on this manor, and we got one yak leg for all the twenty-three. Sometimes if a sheep or a cow died, we would get it. Otherwise we had just tsamba all the year.
"We never got a coin of money from the lord, but we had to have a coin and also a hata (ceremonial scarf) to give the lord if we asked his permission to marry or for absence. At these times we had to buy tobacco and tea and a hata to present our request. So, since we did not have enough food from the work we did for the lord, we looked for ways to get more. We asked the lord's steward to rent some land to us to grow our own food. Nantsam do not have this right, because all their daylight hours belong to the lord. But we gave hatas and appealed three times and they let us rent four kes of land (two thirds of an acre).
"We paid two and a half kes (75 lbs) for the rent of the land, but actually it was more. For the lord kept a false measure and also when the grain was sent to him to sample, he kept the sample. So we paid really almost four kes of grain. We worked all daylight on the lord's land and at night we worked our own land. Sometimes we got friends to do our service so that we could work our land. We also had to plough our land and we had no animal so we paid thirty taels for an animal for two days (about sixty cents). In a good harvest we could get eleven kes of grain, in a bad harvest only six or seven and in an average harvest nine kes. The harvest depended also on our work, and we had little working-time. So an average harvest would pay for the rent and the seed and the ploughing, and a good harvest would give us extra food, but with a poor harvest we went still more in debt."
The husband then took up his special story. "Once Khemey's daughter came out to stay in the manor. She had a fine saddle and she required good care, so I took her saddle up to the second floor. (The upper class live on the second floor, the first floor being for storage rooms and servants' rooms.) Two or three months later the steward called me and said that the saddle had disappeared and also some woolen pieces and he accused that I was a thief. For a whole day he flogged me with a heavy whip, demanding that I confess. Many times such accusations were falsely made against serfs and they were flogged to confessing. But I would not confess, for I thought the steward stole the saddle himself.
"When I would not confess, they threw me into the jail here." (Manors had private jails in cellars without light and with no conveniences for washing or relieving nature, but only a floor of earth and rock.) They took me out and flogged me again. Three times they did this till the flesh came off the back of my thighs, and scars remain to this day. When I still did not confess they took me to the court at the Potala Palace and put me in jail there for nine months. The steward sealed my house and flogged my wife and seventy-year-old mother and put them out of the house in the court, without any possessions. When I came back from the Potala jail there were no possessions left." (This was a previous wife; both she and the aged mother were now long since dead.)
"This is the first time we ever heard the serfs' stories," commented a correspondent who had come to visit Deidji with me. "When we were in Tibet in 1955, we only talked with bailiffs and lords, because Peking had an agreement which left the nobles in power. This is probably the first time anyone from outside got to talk to the serfs."
We asked how they lived at present. Deidji answered: "Thanks to the benefaction of the Communist Party we have a good life. We paid no interest for the seed loan and we did not have to give hatas and make presents to borrow seed. Since Khemey was a rebel and fled to India, the crop on his land will be ours this year. There is a field of 475 kes (79 acres) on which we worked formerly under Khemey's steward. This year we worked it together and share the crop. Every worker has one share, and we have also a half share for our son who worked in the fields this summer before he went to the interior to study. So we shall have two and a half shares from the big field and besides this, we have the crop from our own small plot. The crop will be good this year, for we had time to work it. We shall get at least six times our seed. As soon as this crop comes in we shall have plenty of food."
"All this good life should have been ours eight years ago," said the husband with a touch of bitterness. "But because the lords obstructed it and the kashag conspired against it, the good life was stopped till this year. Even yet we cannot say that life is very good, for we do not yet have much buttered tea to drink, but at least when we have it, we drink in quietness, without fear.
"For the lords rebelled against the Central Government and the Central Government deposed them, and the whips and shackles and torture instruments were destroyed by the working people's own hands. When I was thrown in jail here I was shackled and they made a special wooden handcuff for me that hurt. And now I myself destroyed with my own hands that wooden handcuff.
"And we remember now how the lords told us tales of the Communists and the tales were not true. They said the Communists ate horse meat and dog meat and took the wife from the husband and the children from the parents. And we know now that this is not true. We began to know it when the PLA first built the highway. The lords said the highway was only for the good of the Hans. But the working people found the highway a benefit, and those who worked on the road got paid in money wages, as well as food and clothes and shoes, and they bought themselves golden ear-rings and mules.
"Even then life began to be better for some of the working people, and now it will be better for us at harvest and for our children it will surely be very good. Always I wanted to send my son to school to learn to read and to have some trade like a tailor. This was impossible, but now my son has gone to study in the interior and when he comes back he will be a skilled worker for a factory. He will not be weighed down by all those things that weighed down my head. Even my eight-year-old daughter is going to Lhasa to primary school."
Deidji took up the theme. "In the past there was a sun shining over our heads but it belonged to the lord.
Now we have a sun of our own! Even I, at my age, begin to get education. They sent me from the township as 'observer' to the Preparatory Committee in Lhasa and I heard with my own ears when they declared the democratic reform. I sat there for twenty-one days in the room of the government with the nobles, and I heard them say that ula (corvee) is no more, and slavery is no more, and the government will buy the land of the nobles and give it to the tillers, and that even this year, on the rebel lands, the harvest goes to the peasants who sowed it. I heard them say that our Peasants' Associations should become government, for the people must make their own freedom and their own law. I heard the Pane hen Erdeni himself declare it. I got knowledge for twenty-one days."
She had ducked her head in reverence as she mentioned the Panchen Erdeni, and from this slight bow she began to rock back and forth with her hands in a gesture of prayer while the tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks unheeded as she continued: "Only by the benefaction of the Party do I sit here on a cushion in this dry home from which nobody can throw me."
There was not a dry eye in the dark little room when Deidji finished. It was clear why the peasants had chosen her to government. She was a natural spell-binder, a voice for the Tibetan personality, expressing the demands of the people with passion, poetry and fire.
* * *
Anything after Deidji would have been anti-climax, yet we had still to visit other types of serfs. We delayed briefly while Deidji insisted on showing us her former leaky hovel, across the courtyard, so that we might see how much better it is when the dirt floor is dry, and then we went through other courtyards to visit Purbu, a duichun, and chairman of the Peasants' Association of the manor.
The house was definitely better than Deidji's; it was built for a house and not for manure storage. Its walls were also of rock and earth and its floor of dirt, but it was nine by twelve in size with an actual glassed window, and it had a kind of porch, also of rock and earth and without roof but with a low rock fence which gave a slight sense of possession and a place to sit. The woman who sat there, however, perched on a small saw-horse and supporting her balance with a cane cut from a peeled bough, was in much worse case than Deidji. She was totally blind, and looked so old and feeble that I took her for Purbu's aged, decrepit and practically dying mother, and could hardly hide my shock when he told me that she was his wife.
She had been a tsaiba when Purbu married her, one of the class of serfs whose use of land is fairly steady down the centuries, paid for every year by labor. She had lost her tsaiba rights when her blindness made this labor impossible for her. Purbu himself was willing to do this labor for her; in fact, he actually had done it during the period when one eye went out from trachoma while the woman worked on at whatever she could do. He was quite willing to keep on doing her labor duty after both eyes went, but the lord's steward decided otherwise, and it was for him, not for Purbu, to decide. Purbu said there wasn't really much difference whether you paid for land by labor or by grain; it was a matter of the lord's convenience and for the serf it was always hard. But it would have been a comfort for his wife to know that even in her blindness, her status as tsaiba and her land claim was good.
Purbu had belonged to Tashi Lhumpo Monastery, in the Panchen Erdeni's area, many days' journey away; in fact, he belonged there still and paid an annual poll-tax for his release. One of the neighbors said Purbu had been a lama, who left the monastery to marry. Purbu himself only told us that he had run away and settled here. Purbu had clearly a story of inner tragedy, but whether it was another woman that he had married and lost, or whether this one had been attractive in youth, or whether he married her because she was a widow with a bit of land who needed a man, we never learned. Nor did we learn whether Purbu considered her blindness a judgement on him for leaving the monastery. All this was his affair.
Anyway, here he was on Kumtan Manor, paying his poll-tax to Tashi Lhumpo for permission, and paying in grain and some ula labor to Khemey for the use of house and land. That had been his lot until the past few months. Now he was a free man, chairman of the peasants' association of the manor, which implied some ability.
What Purbu chiefly gave us was an insight into the book-keeping of land and grain. He cultivated eight kes of land (about one and two thirds acres). He used eight kes of seed grain, (about 216 pounds) and he got about thirty-two kes of grain at harvest, four times the seed. He paid in rent eight kes of grain, which at first did not seem excessive, being apparently only one fourth of the total crop. But Purbu explained that the lord had different measuring baskets for seed given out and crop taken in. The payments to the lord were in "big fce", several pounds more than the ordinary ke; moreover, you had to send samples of grain to the lord at harvest, and he kept the samples. Then Purbu owed heavy interest on the seed he borrowed and the food and implements he also borrowed from the lord.
"So, when the harvest came," said Purbu, "it never quite covered the bills. We have a saying: 'When the threshing is over, the grain disappears.' That is how it was with me."
There were some small accounts, both in income and in payment, besides the main harvest. Purbu got income from the straw which he sold, for fodder or used himself for his two mules; he also gathered the mule dung and dried it and sold it for fuel. Against this he had expenses. He owed the poll-tax to the monastery, and he owed to Khemey, not the full ula duties of a tsaiba, but nonetheless certain labor duties, which duichuns owed. Pie had to give the lord three days' work at harvest, and two days in the repair of ditches, and in any flood emergency he had to work as long as might be needed without pay.
There was also payment in ula to be made for owning animals. Each of Purbu's two mules must work two days for the lord at harvest, and at New Year's Festival they must carry fuel to Lhasa, so many loads that it took several days. The lord could also impose temporary ula. Last autumn when the rebels were killing and looting in Loka, and Khemey had an estate there, he made his Loka serfs transport his harvest half way to Lhasa and he made his Kumtan serfs bring it the rest of the way. He wanted to get his grain out of "the disturbance" which his own followers made.
"If you have chickens," continued Purbu, "every hen pays ula, giving five eggs to the lord several times a year".
"If duichuns have all these payments, is it better to be a duichun or a nantsam?' I asked.
"The main difference," said Purbu, "is in the amount of freedom. I have two mules and even though they pay an ula tax to the lord, yet they are my mules. I have a house and land by rent, and even though the rent is high and the harvest quickly goes, and even though the lord can take me for ula from time to time, yet most of the time I can arrange my own work. This is not possible to a nantsam, all of whose hours of work belong to the lord."
* * *
Across the road from Purbu's house was the house of a tsaiba named Ngoju. It was a step above Purbu's house, for though it also was of rock and earth with a dirt floor, it was larger, about ten by fifteen feet in size, and had two rooms, with two windows of real glass. Its small rock porch was also larger and on it handicraft went on. Members of the family made packages of pine twigs to sell in Lhasa, where they are burned as incense in festivities.
Ngoju told us he got this relatively large house because there were four adult workers in his family, himself, his wife and two grown sons. They received ten kes (l2/3 acres) of allotted land for these four adults, and paid for it by giving the full time labor of one person throughout the year. When his sons were smaller, and he had only two adult workers, he got half the land, and paid half the labor. The serf fed himself when he labored for the lord, because he was paid by land for this labor.
"When you work half the time for the lord," I asked, "who chooses which days you work?"
"The lord chooses them," replied Ngoju, "but there is a custom. The lord is not supposed to take all the days at harvest; it is custom that he takes five days and then gives five days to the serf. The lord does not always do this. If he wants labor, he demands it and there is nothing the serf can do. So it is better to have four workers in the family and give one of them full time to the lord."
Other peasants had joined us on Ngoju's porch and discussion began about the different kinds of serfs and how these came to be. Tsaiba, they said, had always been and they were listed with the land in all the land deeds for generations past. Nantsam also had always been, but they were not always with the land, for they might be sold or given away, or go with a daughter of the lord when she married, and took nantsam with her as dowry. Duichuns were mostly not local people but had run away from a bad master somewhere else, and sought another master here.
"A man had to have a master in the old Tibet," they said, "otherwise he was an outlaw."
Duichuns, thus, seem the beginning of disintegration of serfdom, the beginning of a small, and illusory freedom. A serf ran away, left home and friends, took great risks of recapture and flogging and even death, to find at a great distance, another master who might be better. Yet if the old master found him, he might be taken back, though often the old master agreed to accept a poll-tax for release. Duichuns had been increasing in Tibet.
Discussion turned to the way in which the lord could make one kind of serf into another kind. "When runaways come," said one man, "the lord often takes them as nantsam instead of duichun. But if a man is strong, and looks as if he might run away again, then the lord lets him be a duichun."
"Nantsam are a kind of slave," said another, "and some have been nantsam for generations but others were tsaiba or duichun who fell into debt to the lord which they could not pay. Then the lord took their house and mules and chickens for the debt and made them into nantsam."
One of the men present had been a tsaiba who was made into a nantsam by the lord but who later became a tsaiba again. I asked how this occurred.
"I was tsaiba on a manor owned by Khemey, and disputes arose and the steward moved some of the serfs to another manor. I had no land-right at this other manor so they made me a nantsam there. But later I got some savings and Khemey allowed me to be tsaiba again and have a piece of land."
"How could you get saving as a nantsam?" I asked.
"The People's Liberation Army came to the area," he replied, "and they needed yak-dung for fuel so the price of yak-dung went up. I collected yak-dung and sold it to the PLA and got enough money to buy a big gold ear-ring. (Tibetan men think it very jaunty to have a single ring, at least an inch in diameter, swinging from a smaller clasp in the ear.) "When I was summoned to the manor-house I hid the ear-ring but of course they knew of it. So Khemey's son-in-law flogged me, he said for disobedience, but I knew it was for daring to have an ear-ring. Then he said: 'Now I'll make you tsaiba again and you will put your money into my land.' He meant that if I had money I should pay it for mules and seed."
Everyone was impressed by this tale for a nantsam who rose by savings was a rarity. The others thought, however, that Khemey would not have made him a tsaiba unless he had been one formerly, that "regular nantsam" would hardly be allowed to rise. There were exceptions even to this; a groom by winning races with his lord's colors might become a "favorite" and be indulged. Tsaiba or duichun might rise or fall, for their income depended on the harvest. Tsaiba with several small children might easily go into debt to feed them and be made nantsam.
A few tsaiba, not more than three in a hundred, they thought, became well enough off to have serfs of their own. They did this by "adopting" into their family some runaway stranger, and using him to do their labor service for the lord. A tsaiba who showed this characteristic might be in line for becoming a steward or bailiff, rising through the exploitation of other serfs.