Anna Louise Strong Reference Archive

When serfs stood up in Tibet


The terrace to which we descended was a long level stretch of earth from one to two hundred feet wide and darkened by a high canopy of huge trees many centuries old. Some two thousand lamas in wine-red robes were sitting on the ground in this green dimness, the smell of their unwashed bodies diffusing heavily on the still air. They faced the hill where a long narrow stage had been erected on an outcrop of rock, now softened with thick rugs. Our group of correspondents were given seats at both ends of this stage, its center being taken by the group of lamas conducting the meeting.

Between the stage and the audience stood the three accused persons, a Living Buddha and two former Iron Bar Lamas, all now deeply bowing from the waist towards the assembly in the posture customary in Tibet when accused persons face their judges; we had first seen it in the accusation meeting at Lhalu's manor some days earlier. A shout of "Yes!" went up from the crowd as we entered, and two thousand right arms shot energetically into the air in affirmative vote. The Living Buddha Ngawang Amda was being accused.

Living Buddhas are presumed to be reincarnations at men in the past who became so wise and holy that they might have gone straight to Nirvana at death, had they not chosen to return to earth to help save mankind. There were a probable thousand of them in Tibet and the Tibetan areas of adjoining provinces. They out-ranked all clerical and secular dignitaries

Except the Dalai Lama and Panchen Erdeni who themselves were Living Buddhas of a special type. They two alone held first rank in the feudal scale of monks in Tibet, all other Living Buddhas holding second rank, and cabinet ministers coming only third. Living Buddha Ngawang Amda was now being accused by the poor lama Lobsang Gombo who had no rank at all, being little better than a serf.

I noted at once that no attack whatever was made against the belief that Living Buddhas actually exist in holy incarnations down the ages; this was an article of faith. Nowhere in Tibet, or in the rest of China for that matter, have I seen direct attacks on religion such as were common in the early days of the Russian Revolution in the "anti-religious museums". This audience of lamas in Drepung took for granted the existence and the holiness of Living Buddhas. The accuser asserted only that Nowan Amda personally was a fake.

Ngawang Amda, it was stated, had gained the title of "Living Buddha" by bribing the kashag for it, so the title was a fraud. He had been taught by an aged cleric, who was now over seventy, and Ngawang Amda gave no food to this aged tutor to whom he owed the reverence all disciples owe their teachers. Was this a Buddha act? Ngawang Amda had claimed to converse with spirits and to foretell the future; specifically he had taken money from an old woman on the pretext of being able to cure her sickness but the woman died. Ngawang Amda had forced many lower lamas to take up arms and fight against the lawful government. Yet fighting is contrary to Buddha's teaching and fighting against the lawful government is especially a sin. Lastly and worst of all, Ngawang Amda had sold to the poorer lamas "charms guaranteeing them against wounds and death in battle" and these charms had not worked! For all of which reasons Ngawang Amda was a fake!

"Wasn't it he who bade us join the rebellion?" shouted the accuser. . . . The audience shouted: "Yes!" and two thousand arms rose in air.

"Confess yourself a fraud and repent!" cried the accuser. The Living Buddha made no direct reply. He was too busy warding off the small bits of padded cloth that hurtled at him through the air. Lamas to whom he had sold those "charms against wounds" were throwing them back at him, shouting: "See if these charms can protect you!" One of the rejected "charms" was passed to me; it was a small pad of reddish material, of the type used for lama's robes, with a Buddha picture pasted on it. It was supposed to be pinned on or under the robes. We never heard whether Living Buddha Ngawang Amda repented, and it hardly matters to anyone but

Ngawang Amda. His accuser gave place to another accuser, who brought charges against one of the former Iron Bar Lamas, stating that when he, Zambala, once wore his clothes wrongly, the said Iron Bar Lama threatened to flog him within an inch of his life and only desisted when Zambala agreed to sign a pledge never to speak to any Hans. Zambala leaned from the stage over the Iron Bar Lama whom he was accusing, grabbed the latter's robe and shook it, shout :

"Didn't you cheat us and beat us and make us wear against the government?"

The audience shouted: "He did!" Then Zambala took from his robe a piece of paper and shook it under the nose of the Iron Bar Lama, saying: "See here the pledge you made me sign." He demonstratively tore it up.

The audience came in energetically with: "Wipe out the feudal oppression!"

Accusations came fast and our interpreters could only give us brief high-lights. Bienchun, a third accuser, cried at the other Iron Bar Lama: "Once when I shouted in the temple you beat me so that I could not stand for five months." Another charged that once when he had to leave the Scripture Chanting to go to the toilet, the Iron Bar Lama flogged him very brutally for this. Another man accused the Iron Bar Lamas of fining poor lamas if they let their hair grow too long. Another claimed that the Iron Bar Lama on the right had given him three hundred lashes "and never had a reason at all".

A lower lama named Ngawang Djaba accused the second Iron Bar Lama: "Once when I accidentally pushed against someone on my way to the Scripture Chanting, you flogged me and took all my possessions and all the possessions of my disciples." He pulled back his robe, exposing his shoulders and chest and cried: "Look at the scars of your beatings."

Then Ngawang Djaba turned on the Living Buddha, saying: "You cheated people and got money by claiming to talk with the dead! You said the Hans would all be killed and the PLA would never enter Drepung! If you are a Living Buddha and a diviner, then how did the PL A come?"

"Confess! Repent!" thundered the audience.

"Did we ask him to get us arms from Jewel Park?" continued the accuser. "No!" the audience shouted in reply.

The faces of the assembled lamas were dark with pain and confused anger, as if they had suffered long and unendurably but were only beginning to identify the causes. They had believed, as their fathers had before them, that each man's misery is caused by the sins he committed in past incarnations which he cannot even recall, and that he can do nothing to escape misery but must accept it humbly in the hope of a better incarnation the next time. Now, under the influence of the political discussions, they began to find the cause of their long misery in the system of serfdom, and in specific acts of flogging, torture and injustice inflicted by the upper class. They began to believe that they might do something to change this and that to change it would be a good deed, not a sin.

The interpreter told us between-times that the three accused persons were not the biggest offenders. People much worse than these had been unearthed in the discussions of the past months, but many of them had lied, and might even be in India. There was, for in-stance, the "arch-rebel" Thubten Tseren, who had a house of his own in the monastery and a "pearl head-chess costing ten thousand silver dollars" and who was famous as a "woman-chaser". The disciples who loaned his rooms testified that he had large quantities of foreign cosmetics and that the number of 'mothers and sisters" who visited him and spent the right was very great.

A striking example of villainy was Chinpa Tsimei, nicknamed the "Foul-mouthed Tiger", who owned a three-storey house in Drepung with ten servants including one young lama who "shared his bed". One of his disciples had estimated that his master "had raped over a thousand women in the thirty-five years between his twentieth and fifty-fifth birthday". In his prime Chinpa Tsimei had managed a branch monastery of Drepung's for six years, during which, said his disciples, "he raped nearly all the young women in the six surrounding estates." Even after he was sixty, "whenever he visited a manor, they had to supply a woman serf to his bed". It was charged that he had tried to rape the wife of his steward and when the woman resisted and her husband helped her, Chinpa Tsimei had the couple flogged and there crippled by the "dried skin torture" after which he exiled them to the frozen, almost uninhabited wastes off Heiho.

In connection with Chinpa Tsimei it was stated that young lamas of tender age had been in special demand by the upper lamas as sexual objects, and that fights and even killings had taken place over the possession of handsome boys. . . . There was no way of checking such stories nor did we try to. . . . The mere repetition of such accusations by lamas who had been "disciples" of upper lamas whom they now accused, testified to a "way of life" in Drepung, if not to the precise incidents.

*   *   *

Leaving the meeting, I picked up a group of four lamas who were willing to talk and we found a quieter and sunnier row of stone steps at the end of the terrace, where the privacy and sunlight were a welcome change from that sombre assembly under the trees. With us went, as interpreter, a comely young Tibetan woman named Norbu Choma, a former serf who had run away to study in interior China and who was now a member of the "working team" reforming Drepung. She wore a long gray-green dress with pink under-sleeves, and had very neat and abundant glossy black hair.

The four with whom I thus sought exclusive inter-view were of varying ages: Champa Sheva, aged 30, whose home was near Lhasa and who was the most vocal of the group; Lobsang Tienba, aged 45, who had walked all the way from Szechuan and had not seen his family for twenty-two years; Yishi Nyima, aged 28 who remains in my memory chiefly from the long sary which he kept twisting around his wrist; and Tsashi Tseren, aged 25, whom I never had time to question in detail and who took part only in the general questions I asked.

Champa Sheva, with whom I began, said that he was put in Drepung at the age of seven, and had lived in the monastery twenty-four years. "My family lives not far from Lhasa, and the son of our master be-came a lama in Drepung and wanted a servant, so he took me at the age of seven. I was called a disciple but was actually his servant, to sweep, to cook, to clean, to carry out his will in any way he chose."

"How did he treat you?" I asked.

"For food he gave me the spoiled left-over tsamba, and of this two small bowls a day. My hunger was never stilled. When anything went wrong I was beaten for it. When I was eleven, dark spots appear-ed on my face and for this he beat me, and put me out of the monastery, but later I came back. When I was fourteen I saw a Tibetan opera and for this I was beaten and driven away again but again I return-ed. At eighteen my master drove me from his house entirely. Then I found another place to stay in the monastery, a small hut of mud and rock where I could neither stand nor lie at length but could curl for shelter. For this I paid rent by working for the upper class lama who owned the hut. Whenever my master saw me he cursed me and called me names and said bad things against my family, and when he went to his home to visit he told my family bad things against me and he never let me visit them at all." [1]

"Why did you stay in the monastery and keep coming back to it, if you were treated so badly?" I asked.

"A serf cannot live without an owner," replied Champa Sheva. "He would be driven about and punished as outlaw."

From the age of eighteen Champa Sheva had lived by begging, "both inside and outside the monastery", but never got enough to satisfy hunger. He went daily to the Scripture Chanting because, "If you did not go, you were beaten, and if you went, you got buttered tea, four cups in the Main Chapel after Scripture Chanting, but it is made with unboiled water and there is very little tea or butter in it. In Loseling College they gave you four cups of buttered tea which was better, but this was only at festivals. When a big contribution was made to the monastery, most of it went to the top lamas, but some of it went to give extra food to all the lamas.

"Sometimes I, came back from the Scripture Chanting, so beaten that I could not stand up because I had done something incorrect in the reading or the tea drinking. The upper lamas sat on mattress-pads but the poor lamas sat on the stone floor and it is not easy to squat correctly for hours on cold stone. In drinking the buttered tea there is a correct way to present the cup and a correct way to hold it and drink it and if in any of these things you are incorrect you are beaten. If the kisu comes to any place where you are and you do not see him as he comes and at once how and pay attention, then also you are beaten. If you even raise your eyes above the knees of the top lamas they beat you and they have the right to take out your 'disobedient eyes' for this, but I did not see this done."

*   *    *

The next biography came from forty-five-year-old Lobsang Tienba. At first he told me that he had walked all the way from Szechuan to Lhasa because he "wanted to be a lama in Lhasa". This seemed like a strong religious inclination until I questioned further. Then I learned that he had come to Lhasa to escape maltreatment and even death at the hands of a Living Buddha in Szechuan who was master of his entire family and who demanded the boy as his "personal servant" at the age of thirteen, on the grounds that, since there was already an older brother "to carry on the family", Lobsang Tienba must be given to the monastery.

"My parents did not agree to let me go," said Lobsang Tienba, "so the master had them beaten and said they must pay fifty ping of silver for my release. They had no silver so they had to send me to the monastery to serve the Living Buddha. But then my elder brother was killed working in a tin mine, and my mother begged for my release to be her eldest son. But still she had no fifty ping and I could not get release. Then my master gave me a message to carry and said I must be very punctual with it, and there was no time left to be punctual and my mother thought he sought excuse to kill me, and she said I had better go to Lhasa as a lama and save my life. So I walked all the way to Lhasa, begging my way. I was then seventeen."

After two years in Lhasa, Lobsang Tienba had gone back home to see his mother. The move was ill-advised. "My master heard of it and captured me, and had me beaten with over two hundred lashes and thrown into jail in handcuffs for a year. The marks of that beating and those handcuffs are still on me after twenty-five years. When I had been in jail for a year my mother succeeded in raising fifty ping of silver among the neighbors and bought my release. After that I worked two years as a coolie, staying at home where I was now the eldest son. But we heard again that my master planned to capture me and ill — want or kill me, so I left a second time for Lhasa when it was twenty-three. I labored here for the monastery and I paid twelve taels a month for a hut and they give me tsamba but I had nothing to mix with my tsamba but cold water, for I had no possessions but my beggar's staff and begging bowl for these twenty-two years. In all these years I never dared go home again for fear of that master."

*    *    *

There was no time to get detailed biographies of the two other lamas for there were several general questions I wanted to ask. The first was about food and clothing. By putting together what they told with statistics gathered later, I learned that the lower lamas were supposed to get from 135 to 150 pounds of grain a year and four pounds of butter, which was not even half as much food as they needed. They got "four bowls of buttered tea" daily in the Scripture Hall but only one brick of tea was used for several thousand lamas so it was water rather than tea that was served. They were supposed to get in money a hundred tales of Tibetan silver, which amounted to between two and four American dollars a year. Actually they seldom got this, for they had many fines to pay and these were deducted, so that the lower lamas were nearly always in debt.

A kampo got nominally thirty times as much as a poor lama, but actually he got much more than that. There was no standard of comparison for the kampo, coming from a noble family, usually held personal property in one or more manorial estates. Moreover, the entire financial power of the monastery was in the hands of the kampos who ran the Lhachi Conference, and who not only diverted much of the income to their personal possession but sold the right of inspecting manorial estates and other privileges.

The four lamas told me that their clothes had been rags. When I looked at the robes they were wearing, which were neat enough, they said that these had been given them after the putting down of the rebellion. The clothing and materials left in Drepung by rebels who fled had been confiscated by the "Committee for Putting Down Rebellion" and given to the most ragged of the lamas for clothing. At the same time the handling of grain had been placed in the Committee's hands, so that all lamas were now properly fed.

"The kisu made the serfs in the manors give the best grain," they said, "but this good grain went to the upper lamas or was sold for profit. We lower lamas got poor grain mixed with chaff and gravel. After the rebellion was crushed we opened the kisu's storehouse and found much grain but the grain on the bottom was so old that it was decayed."

Since Drepung was called a "teaching monastery" I asked whether any of the four had learned to read. All shook their heads. Champa Sheva alone had made the attempt.

"From self-study," he said, "I learned to read a vary little in the scriptures, but this cannot be used to read the newspaper for the scriptures are not in the language of every day. To study further was impossible, because of the tasks I had to do in order to live." None of the others, "disciples" in Drepung for years or even decades, knew even a single letter of the alphabet.

When lamas were first taken into the monastery, they told me, they were graded as to the years of labor they must give. Some had ten years, some twenty or more; they carried water and wood and other loads and swept the ground and cleaned the ow and made repairs. During this period they were new lamas", the lowest grade. After this they be-come "competent lamas", and were supposed to have better work, but in this better work they had to "show hospitality" to the upper lamas, and this cost money so that they had to go in debt. . . . Only by a very hard climb could a lama hope to reach the higher grades where he was given a chance to study. "But the sons of nobles have it easy," they declared. They rise to a high post very fast." It was "open secret" that the post of Iron Bar Lama could be had for a thousand silver dollars. They claimed to know twenty cases of lamas who were "flogged into cripples" because they could not give presents to upper lama-despots. One sixteen-year-old lama who "fail-ed to respect" the nephew of Chinpa Tsimei had been killed. This was brought to the attention of the Iron Bar Lama, and he took cognizance of the killing by fining, not the killer, but the "teacher" of the small lama.

"The monastery is a hell in the universe that you cannot escape from," these four lamas said.

"How did you first hear of the People's Liberation Army and any of the new ideas?" I asked. Champa Sheva gave the answer, with the others chiming in.

"We heard at the Great Prayer Festival at New Year that there would be rebellion. The top lamas said that the PLA intended to destroy religion and kill all old people and that they were 'living demons, eating human flesh'. We made preparations .to fight them. Some went to Jewel Park to fight and the rest assembled here on the eastern hill and were given arms. Some were afraid to fight and ran away but then we were told that if anyone ran away his whole family would be thrown into the river. Then we heard gunshots from Jewel Park and it was said that Sera Monastery was half destroyed.[2] So many lamas ran away from Drepung while the rest dug trenches and prepared to fight.

"After two days there came two Tibetans of good repute from the valley below us, who said that some of the PLA were already down in the valley and had asked them to come to Drepung to explain that all law-abiding lamas would be protected, and religion would be protected, and all who had been coerced to fighting would not be punished, and those who had fought, if they surrendered, would come to no harm. Then all the poor lamas wanted to surrender it once but the two Iron Bar Lamas and one kampo hid arms under the Buddha statues and prepared to fight. The three kampos you met today said: 'Let us discuss this with the PLA'. All the poor lamas supported this and the others could not fight without the poor lamas, so representatives were sent to the valley to talk with the PLA. It was decided to surrender.

"Then the PLA came into Drepung and found the weapons under the Buddha statues and arrested the top lamas who hid them but nobody else. After this the soldiers went away but sent the working teams. They arranged for everyone to study the policy of the government, and now we live very happily for there is no more flogging, and everyone has now for the first time religious freedom and also enough to rat."

"Does this food come from Drepung's estates or from government subsidy?" I asked.

They replied that it came from the stores already in the monastery, and there was enough grain to feed everyone for six months. No more grain would come from the manorial estates, because the government had confiscated these, since Drepung was a rebel, and all their grain from now on would go either to the government or to the manorial serfs who produced it. So in six months the lamas in Drepung were expected to work out plans for survival, both as a monastery and as individuals. Those who wished to leave had freedom to leave but the government asked them not to leave in a hurry but first to plan the monastery's future and then decide what they themselves individually wished to do.

It was expected in future that able-bodied lamas would labor for their own support, that the monastery would still collect contributions from believers, and these would be honestly spent under a committee on which all lamas had a voice, and that, if all this was not enough to support the lamas, the government would give a subsidy. Just how this subsidy would come they did not know but it was understood that Drepung was entitled to upkeep as an "historical monument" and that aged lamas who could not work would get "relief", and perhaps there would be payments for learned lamas who were needed as teachers and theologians. The learned lamas would be in charge of religion, but all arrangements for life and work would be "democratically" decided.

I asked the four lamas their individual plans. Each had his view.

Said Champa Sheva: "Now that there is no more flogging and torture, I think I shall continue the religious life. I also expect to do productive labor for my support and to help the Tibetan people, perhaps by irrigation work. I want to learn to read and write and study the scriptures."

Said Lobsang Tienba: "I have spent half a life in darkness and without freedom. I do not want any more it. Now the people stand up and I want to stand with them. I want first to go to Szechuan to see my old mother, who is seventy-seven years old and I have not seen in twenty-two years. Then I have decide what to do. I do not think I shall stay in monastery, but in any case I shall take part in productive labor, either in Lhasa or Szechuan."

Said Yishi Nyima: "My life in the past was worse in the life of a draft animal. Nonetheless I want a religious life. I want to be a good lama and also to take part in useful labor, and also to study more." Said Tsashi Tseren: "Life in the monastery has been

too painful. Under no conditions do I want to stay, or to be a lama any more. I will remain in Drepung until he finish the political classes and learn the government policies. Then I will go away to seek work. My family lives near by."

*   *   *

In two long personal interviews with Wei Huang of the Religious Affairs Committee of the new Tibet government, and Liang Kun, of the Working Committee, the picture of Drepung given us by its lamas had confirmed and supplemented by a general view of the government's policy towards monasteries in Tibet.

The charges of widespread physical destruction of monasteries, which were made abroad, were flatly denied. No monastery in Tibet has been physically destroyed, they stated. Nor has any monastery been noted of relics or treasure by the PLA. (I checked this statement in many quarters and found it everywhere confirmed.) A few monasteries were damaged in battle, and these have been repaired. The only serious damage was to Ramogia Monastery in Lhasa where heavy fighting took place, damaging part of the roof and one wall. This is under repair but will take time. The government's attention to repair of monasteries seemed worth noting. I was amazed to learn that repairs had been made in Drepung to the extent of five hundred man-days of labor and the government had paid for this, though it was caused not by any war damage but by long neglect.

"Tibetan building uses a kind of brittle cement called Aga, that cracks in winter," they said. "We have paid for repairs to the Main Chapel, to various buildings in four of the colleges and to the Dalai Lama's private residence there."

"Why did you repair the Dalai Lama's residence?" I asked in surprise. "He never lives there and won't come back to it, and nobody else is permitted to use it after him, since that is sacrilege."

Wei looked at me with reproof as he replied: "That house cost Tibetan workers a lot of labor and we must respect their labor and keep the building in shape for whatever the future brings."

The form of organization we had seen in Drepung — the various Tsatsang, or colleges, the Lhachi Conference of top administrators, the kisu for finance and business — was typical of the other monasteries, according to both Wei and Liang. The government's method of dealing with it was also typical. ... A “working team" was introduced consisting largely of tibetan personnel, and a "Committee to Put Down rebellion" was formed from the lamas themselves for temporary political study and investigation. In Drepung said Wei, they expected this team to end meeting in about a fortnight more. Then it would be resolved; its last act would be to help set up a new administration for the monastery. The former religious leaders would remain in charge of religious activities, in administration of daily life would be under a democratic administration" in which the lower lamas would have representation. Some offices would automatically be abolished; there was no further place of a manager of manorial estates or the collection of money, since these activities would not remain.

The system of organization will be discussed by the lamas themselves," said Wei Huang. "All that it require is that they obey the laws of the land.

They are no longer allowed to own manorial estates, or to run courts, jails, tortures and flogging. They must respect the ‘freedom of person' of the lower lamas, who have the right to attend or not to attend services, and even the right to leave the monastery entirely. We hope they won't leave too fast."

This opened several interesting questions. "Are they free to attend or not to attend your political courses?" I asked. Wei Huang laughed. We expect them to attend for since they took part in armed rebellion their first duty is to know the laws of their country. We might consider them prisoners and make this a requirement, but we don't. We hold the classes and discussions near their residences and those who don't come will be reminded, b ut if they persist in staying away, nothing is done. Most of the younger lamas want to come. It is their first glimpse of the possibility of a better life. But there are some among the older lamas who never leave their rooms but sit constantly in meditation staring vacantly at the world. We do not bother them. They have disciples who take them their food."

This led me to ask about hermits who are reputed to stay in caves for years. Wei told me that there was such a hermit in the west end of Lhasa district, who had lived for fifty years in a cave on mountain without coming down. "The working team asked if they should go up to investigate and I told them not to interrupt his meditations yet, but to get in contact with his disciples and see if the old man was getting enough to eat. ... If not, they should add some food to his basket. By winter they should be acquainted with the disciples and then perhaps they might make a trip to see how the old man gets along. Fifty years is a long time." Wei's tones combined pity for the old man with pride in the tenacity of the hermit with the longest record in the Lasha area and perhaps among hermits of the world.

Were all monasteries in Tibet required to go through these changes? I asked. Reports from the Panchen Erdeni's area, which our group also visited, indicated that there was no military control there, to working teams and, as yet it seemed, no reform. The lamas in Tashi Lhumpo, for instance, were very numerous but also Very ragged. No clothing seemed I have been confiscated from upper lamas to clothe the poor.

The answer to this was given flatly and clearly by both Wei Huang and Liang Kun combined.

First, all monasteries in Tibet without exception, whether rebels or non-rebels, must obey the laws. This means they can no longer operate courts, jails, floggings, tortures, nor own serfs and manorial estates, for run a business of usury. They must be democratized to permit the lower lamas' representation in all affairs of their daily livelihood. The difference between rebel and non-rebel monasteries is that the rebel manorial estates and feudal properties are confiscated, while the state pays compensation to the non-rebel monasteries. Another difference is that the biggest rebel monasteries are put under temporary military control while the non-rebel monasteries are expected to reform themselves. These differences are important but do not affect the future obligation of all monasteries to obey the same laws.

"Secondly, we do net expect to enforce all this at once. It is not the function of the military nor have we enough personnel. We respect the Panchen Erdeni and the non-rebel monasteries and wish to have them time to make their reforms. The Panchen Erdeni has greatly helped the reform by putting behind it the highest religious authority in Tibet. We are not sending inspectors to check monasteries on his territory to see how fast they comply. We leave them to the Panchen Erdeni. We already know that some of his monastery chiefs are inquiring how things are done in Drepung in order to plan their own changes. We also know that any monasteries that fail to reform will in time be corrected by their own lamas and by the Tibetan people and this is the proper way.

"The task of our military control is simpler and more temporary. We are not trying to reform all the monasteries in Tibet. We are not going to run monasteries by military control. We are doing a six months' job with limited personnel and we expect to finish in another month. We picked the ten biggest rebel monasteries, put them under control and helped their lower lamas organize and we try to make them examples of what a democratic law-abiding monastery should be. We expect other monasteries to learn from them and copy them; Drepung alone has seven hundred branches that should learn from Drepung. The rest can be left to the Tibetan people and to the lamas themselves and to the new democratic government in which the peasants and lower lamas will have a voice. If any monastery keeps on flogging lamas, the lamas will just leave.

"We ourselves did not know the conditions of life in the monasteries when we began this task. All that we knew was that Drepung had carried on armed rebellion and must be brought to order. Through our talks with the lower lamas, through the discussions in political classes, and through the accusation meetings, the entire relation of this monastery to the exploitation of the Tibetan people, to its own lower lamas and to rebellion became exposed, both to us and to the lower lamas themselves. This stage of development is ending; within a month, our working ms will leave.

"We also learned through this how deeply the Tibetan people hate the monasteries. Drepung has committed so many crimes in the past that there was an wide demand in Tibet to abolish Drepung entirely. We felt that, because of its religious prominence and past fame, it was better to preserve it and reform it from within. As a national historic monument it should be supported permanently but how long it will remain a monastery depends on the choice of its own lamas and such Tibetan people as choose to be lamas. THIS is for them to say."

"Will you forbid the sending of small children into the monastery?" I asked. "Will you allow parents to send them for religious education?" The reply was that this question had not arisen and was not likely to arise. "Our monasteries offer no education for children," they said. "Do not confuse them with the religious schools of the West. A few top lamas like the gesi are very learned in Buddhist theology, but most lamas, even at the age of fifty, cannot even read and write. Children are not sent to monasteries for schooling. The nobles seldom send young children. The serfs were compelled to send them. The parents never liked to do it and are not likely to continue now that they are free to refuse."

I expressed surprise at Wei Huang's hope that the lower lamas "would not leave the monasteries too fast". Liang Kun confirmed this hope, saying that most of the poor lamas were "in haste to leave the monastery" and "we have to make persuasion to induce them to stay". Why should a Communist Committee induce lamas to stay in a monastery? I asked. It would be hard to convince anyone in the West that the Communists could be sincere in this.

Both Wei and Liang replied that there were many reasons why "the lamas should take time to make up their minds". They said: "Just now the repute of the monasteries is very low because so many crimes have been exposed, so the desire to flee from monasteries is very high. But if tens of thousands of lamas leave at once, it will be hard for the Tibetan people to find housing and jobs for them, and it will be hard for the older lamas, many of whom are unfit to leave, to find people to care for them. The social organization already established should not be too suddenly broken up.

"Each lama should consider what it is he is seeking. Does he want to go home? Let him visit his family. Does he want to marry? Let him consider that some4 monastic sects permit marriage and this can be discussed with the monastery where he is. If he has any desire for the religious life, he should not yield to a temporary revulsion. And in any case, before he leaves, he should give the benefit of his experience and ideas for the monastery's reorganization. Here in a body of men, with considerable labor power, with housing, with buildings for assembly, with land for cultivation. Someone will have to decide what to do with these monasteries. Those who have lived in them longest should have some ideas. They should discuss with their fellows what useful activities can do on here. They should discuss the problems they have in common, of marriage and production, and the relation of these problems to the future of Tibet. This is to the benefit of the lamas' own development, and also beneficial to the country. Meantime the viillage they come from will keep their share of land for them, farming it through the Peasants' Association, to give them time for careful choice."

The reasons seemed to me clear and sound, and full of hope for the future of Tibet.


1.I did not ask him whether his service was partly sexual but the tensions that surrounded his master's attitude and his frequent expulsions and return, and especially his expulsion at the age of eighteen when as ordinary servant he was grown and able, seem to indicate that it was.

2.This was not true.