Anna Louise Strong Reference Archive

When serfs stood up in Tibet


The first reaping in the Lhasa area was announced for early September in a barley field of sixty acres in the southern part of the east suburb. I went to see. In Loka the harvest was already in full swing and in Takun area finished; on one or two estates in Loka they had begun to distribute the land. Other members of the correspondents group went to report it. Mine was the first in the Lhasa area which is further north and higher in elevation. Harvest is later there.

We approached the field on a dirt road, jolting slowly over mud-holes. Our first sight was not at all impressive. The reaping was some distance from the road, beyond a rough area of tall grass. We left the cars and picked our way through weeds and grass and burrs towards the distant crowd of people bending in the sun. There was a far sound of singing. But as we advanced, the people annoyingly receded towards the distant hills. They seemed moving faster than we.

I was getting tired from the rough ground, the heat of the sun, and the many irregular ditches of water over which we had to jump. At first I thought they might be for irrigation, later they seemed to be surplus water, drained rather casually from the field, until later we learned that they were both. Certainly this field showed little order. We came to a stream of wide that our Tibetan hosts waded it by taking off their shoes and rolling up their trousers. One of them took me over on his back, which exhausted me more than it seemed to exhaust the porter. I was becoming more tired from just getting there than the Tibetan peasants were from bringing in the grain.

We finally reached an open space, cleared of standing grain but very full of rough stubble. It was still hard to walk and the sun was very hot, so I sank on a pile of straw not yet taken away, got out note-hook and camera and looked around for the reaping. .More than a hundred people were at various distances at the fringe of the field but most of them chose this moment to sit down on the ground and rest. They began to sing. The circles were far enough apart so that they did not all sing the same tune. A few women were still bringing sheaves to toss on a great pile not far from me, and I took some pictures. They also sat down. The only people still reaping appeared to be half a dozen men of the People's Liberation Army who had come to help. They were lustily swinging away at the barley with hand sickles; they wore big round hats against the sun. I found enough energy to photograph them. They presently sat down too.

It seemed at first a rather disorderly harvest. The ground was very rough, there were no even rows, the barley was mixed with a lot of wild grass, tangled, bent over, uneven in height. To me it seemed just random ears of barley in a sea of grass. And why were there so many reapers? The field, I had heard, belonged to twenty-five tsaiba families. Far more than a hundred people were getting it in.

Yes, replied my Tibetan hosts, the reapers included not only the tsaiba families, but many people who came to help them, from two inhabitants' committees in Lhasa and also from the People's Liberation Army. A mid-morning rest was being taken. The tsaibas themselves were clearly much impressed by the dignity of an occasion that had brought so much attention from so many friends. They were having a wonderful time receiving guests and shewing them where to reap. This kind of thing had never happened before.

The reapers began to rise from their brief rest. The singing continued as they reaped. Again they were pushing out the edges of the field faster than I could keep up. Men and women cut grain, tied it in sheaves, tossed the sheaves on great piles. A tsaiba named Norbu had halted near me and began to explain. I was not impolite enough to tell him what I thought of the field but I approached it delicately by asking what crop they expected to get.

To my surprise he said the crop would be unusually good for this field. "We shall get about eleven kes of grain from each ke of seed," he said with satisfaction. "This is not a good field; it has too much

wild grass. It Is the field we twenty-five tsaibas had for our own food. We never had time to get the grass cleaned out because we had to work the master's land and do all our labor duties for him before we could work on our own field. This field always suffered; it was never fertilized nor irrigated, and not much weeded. We never got more than five kes of crop from one of seed. This year the rebellion was quelled just before we began sowing. We had no need to sow until we got the loan from the government; the rebels had taken all our grain. We knew this crop would be our own. We fertilized twice and weeded three times and we shall now get eleven kes of crop for every ke of seed." Norbu added that they would also have a crop from a better field that they used to sow for the master. [1]

I would not have thought the field had ever been weeded, or that it had any crop that could be considered good. But Norbu knew, and was clearly happy. I asked what he would do with his grain. He replied that he would keep some for seed, sell some to buy clothing for his children, and grind the rest into tsamba, the barley flour that is Tibet's staple food, and that is first parched and then ground, so that it can be carried about in a bag, rolled into a paste at any time or place and eaten, already more or less cooked.

Norbu revealed more reasons for his smiling face. In the past, he said, his family "never ate well" and had only ragged or patched clothing. This year they would have enough tsamba and even some vegetables. In the past, if you planted vegetables, you never had them to eat. This year the government lent seed without interest and just at the time when things looked hardest when the rebels had taken the grain and the time had come to sow. The fields had been sown without trouble and now, at harvest, you could reap whatever field was first ready, without doing the master's field first. So many friends came to help that it was very merry! Moreover, you had freedom! You could stop and talk with a guest. Formerly if you even washed your face or combed your hair or took a bath so that an overseer saw you clean and tidy, he would call you a fancy idler and give you a task.

It seemed pretty good to Norbu. Next harvest would be even better. For the next sowing would have clean seed. In the past the grain all went into the masters' storage, and all the seed in Tibet was rather mixed and usually with some grass. This year they would keep their seed grain clean.

When we came to the stream-crossing on the way back I told them I knew a much better way to carry people than on backs. I showed them the four-handfold I had learned in mountaineering and two of them carried me across with much interest in learning this new way.

*   *   *

Reports next came from Loka and Takun where the harvest was further advanced because the elevation is lower. These areas lie side by side southeast of Lhasa with Takun furthest east. Both, especially Loka, whose cultivated area is 83,000 acres to Takun's 33,000, are known as the "granary of Tibet". "Loka" means "south of the mountain"; it borders on India. 1 has good soil and climate, a crop yield of sixteen to twenty-two bushels per acre, sometimes running up to twenty-seven, and a population of 160,000.

Loka boasts itself the origin of Tibetans, and even the origin of all men on earth. The mythical monkey-king who married a she-devil and thus begat mankind — a Tibetan myth that antedated Darwin by centuries — was said to have lived in Loka, near its capital Tsetang. It is better proved that Tibet's first notabIe king, that Srontsan Gambo who married Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty, was king in Tsetang before he moved his capital to Lhasa.

Most of the Lhasa nobles came from Loka; like Srontsan Gambo they found in its granary a wealth with which to expand. They kept the Loka estates, sometimes with as many as ten thousand serfs. This was especially true of the big rebel leaders. Surkong had six Loka estates. Khemey, whose estate we saw in the "village east of Lhasa", had also a Loka estate. The rebels made their main base in Loka, using it for air-drops of foreign weapons and as camping ground for the Khampas. Later, after the rebels were crushed in Lhasa, they saw in Loka their "second capital" from which to lead a long guerrilla war all over Tibet. For this, Loka was adapted by its grain supply, its long border with India, on which sixteen passes led abroad, and the combination of defense with easy access to much of Tibet given by the Tsangpo River which borders Loka on the north.

The rebels forgot the human factor. The peasants of Loka were so brutally handled by the rebels for an entire year that they became especially energetic in helping the People's Liberation Army. As we saw in an earlier chapter, the "political campaign" waged by the PLA with the help of the local peasants brought in more rebel surrenders than the military campaign. By the time the rebellion was crushed in Loka, it was rather late for sowing. So the PLA made special efforts to rush the seed grain, to replace what the rebels had looted, and the policy of pledging the entire harvest of the rebels to the tillers —a pledge made to stimulate sowing — was first made in Loka. The PLA also lent horses and men to help the sowing. All this cooperation brought about in Loka an exceptionally energetic reform drive. The first distribution of "land to the tiller" came here.

When our group of correspondents visited Loka in early September, they found the "three abolitions drive" practically completed. The Loka agents of the rebel owners had been arrested; some were in jail, others, after "struggle meetings" with the peasants, resided in their former homes under surveillance by their former serfs. Feudal debts had been cancelled to the amount of 1.7 million bushels, more than ten bushels per capita, hence more than enough to feed the Loka population for two years. This gives an indication of the weight of the feudal debt. Sixteen thousand nantsams had been freed, not only by abolition of servitude but by some provision of housing and food. The distribution of land had begun in several places and on some estates had been completed. Loka was the try out; nowhere else in Tibet had land been distributed yet.

The policy of distribution was appearing. Former serfs were usually given the land they had been accustomed to till. No attempt was made to reach exact equality. Tsaibas had regular plots that were already known. Nantsam got parts of the master's field on which they had worked as field hands. It was usually better soil than the tsaibas' land, so the nantsams were given a smaller piece. This allocation better suited their needs, for nantsam had smaller families, and no livestock or implements except what they got in the distribution from the master's estate. Nantsam, moreover, were the most likely to form mutual aid teams quickly to work together on the same land they had worked on for the master. By having their land together, they would more readily be able, with only a few draft animals, to reach a good yield.

Landlords, their agents, and relatives of rebels also got land if they chose to work it; even men who fled with the rebels had land reserved for their return unless they had been ring-leaders. For men who had left the area to become lamas, similar shares were reserved until their final choice should become clear. All this extra land for absentees would meanwhile be worked by the Peasants' Association and used for common village needs. If this somewhat burdened the Peasants' Association, it also strengthened its power and increased the amount of collectively managed land. The precise bit of land to be owned by each household was finally settled by exhaustive discussion among all the villagers.

Once a household got ownership of a piece of land, the enthusiasm was very great. In places visited by the correspondents where the land had been distributed for three weeks, mutual aid teams had been quickly formed and fertilizer gathered. In Kesong Manor, some 440,000 pounds of manure and rubbish had been heaped up, to be used as fertilizer. Here the peasants also declared that they were paying more attention now to personal hygiene.

"In the past you didn't dare wash your face, for the overseer would think you were showing off, but now you wash your face several times a day. You even wash your hair and your dirty shirts. You sing out loud in the fields without worry. If you sang in the fields formerly, the boss would say: 'You'll attract the hail from heaven. Will you take responsibility for that?' But now you sing as much and as loud as you like. We put new words to the old songs. We even have dramas and dances at the rest period in the fields."

At one manor near Tsetang, the correspondents came upon the actual act of land-marking by merely following the crowd.

"Half a mile out from Tsetang," one of them reported, "we saw a crowd of peasants who said they were going to distribute land. We went along. On the way we fell into talk with a leading member of the Peasants' Association and he showed us the list of the amounts of land different households were to get."

The peasant leader told them that the list had been made by discussion of the peasants at several levels. The Standing Committee of the Peasants' Association first made a preliminary draft, then the entire Association discussed it, then section meetings of peasants from different fields, then the Standing Committee revised the draft in accordance with the suggestions made, and finally the Peasants' Association discussed it and passed it. The discussion had gone on constantly for three weeks.

When the correspondents came to the field, they saw that the land was being measured off by a committee. Then the chairman announced: “This land is given to such and such a household.” The new owner then drove in stakes that he had prepared and often set up a signboard with his name. Other peasants congratulated him and helped him with the stakes. As soon as anyone staked his plot, he usually went to the next plot to help his neighbor. About forty households were thus taking up land in this field; others would be given land in another field on the following day.

What may have been the first distribution of land in Loka — and if so, it was the first in all Tibet — was made on August 6th and 7th on Khemey's manor and was visited by the correspondents nearly a month later, when all the subsequent changes could already be seen. This manor was not a large one; it had 1,551 kes (260 acres) of cultivated land and eighty households with 393 people. About half of the households, — the twenty-nine tsaibas and some of the duichuns — had huts of stone as their regular homes and had also regular plots of land they were accustomed to cultivate and for which they paid the master either by labor or by crop. The other half, which included ten nantsam families and most of the duichuns had neither regular houses nor plots of land nor any implements or animals. The manor possessed livestock, numbering 16 horses, 15 oxen, 31 donkeys, 147 sheep or goats.

"We went to the place where the donkeys were kept," reported the correspondents, "and we found that twenty nantsams had also slept there in open stone stalls, with a roof and some walls but not fully walled in."

One of the nantsam, a twenty-one-year-old girl named Tsewang Chuchi, was now the chairman of the Peasants' Association. The correspondents talked with her and got the story of her life. Her father was a stable slave, who looked after horses. He was still alive but her mother was dead. She had a brother and two younger sisters. She herself had begun to tend yaks before she was ten years old. At the age of sixteen she had become a full time house slave in the manor, carrying water and tea and preparing food for the master, who was the resident agent of the absentee owner. She got of course no wages, but was supposed to get about 43 pounds of tsamba each month, and a small bit of salt and "a little piece of butter if the master was feeling happy". Once each year she was given enough coarse unbleached homespun wool for a robe, but neither underwear nor shoes.

"To get shoes I sold some of my tsamba and went hungry," she said.

Her master had her flogged with some frequency, sometimes with sticks, sometimes with the hard flat pieces of leather known as "palms" which are like shoe-soles on a long stick. "All nantsams were flogged," she said, calmly.

During the rebellion the rebels had come to the manor-house and talked with the agent and later the agent had taken her out to a field where twelve rebels had raped her. In the quelling of the rebellion, this agent had been captured and the girl had accused him before an "accusation meeting". Others also had accused him. He was now in jail.

"In the past we lived worse than animals," the young woman chairman told the correspondents. "Now we have stood up! In the past we wore rags; now we have a change of clothing from the master's stock of goods. In the past we nantsams slept with the donkeys and now we sleep in the manor-house."

The land division here had been done under the chairmanship of this young woman. The first 17 kes (three acres) of land had been set aside for a new primary school. Then 80 kes (13.6 acres) had been set aside for peasants who fled in the rebellion and who might return. All this land as well as the school land would meanwhile be cultivated by the Peasants' Association. The rest of the land had been divided among the former serfs as their own property. It came to an average of 3.5 kes (just over half an acre) per person, some two or three acres per family. The nantsam had smaller shares but their land was better; it came from the master's own field which they had cultivated as slaves. Thirty-six people had been freed from the ula labor duties; these were the members of tsaiba families who toiled full time without wages to pay for their family's use of a bit of land.

The nantsam who had slept in the donkey stalls were moved into the manor-house where every family was given one room. The former livestock and implements and furniture of the manor were divided among the nantsam because they had none of their own. The best room in the manor-house went to Tsewang Chuchi because, as chairman, she had to receive official visits. She shared the room with her father and two younger sisters; the brother was sent away to study and become skilled. Tsewang Chuchi's family got only 7 kes (1 1/6 acres) of land in the distribution. This was less than half the average for a family of five. She thought this proper because her father was unable to work more and her sisters too young and her brother would learn a trade.

A primary school had already been built and had twenty-one pupils; it was used in the evening for an adult school of 60 people who were learning to read and write.

Such was the distribution of land on Khemey's manor in Loka on August 6th and 7th, 1959 . . . possibly the first distribution of land in Tibet historically, and certainly one of the very first.

In Takun [2] area the harvest was already completed. Takun is the warmest part of Tibet. Most of the land drops down to less than 10,000 feet elevation, so everything grows well on the good soil. Fruit trees grow wild in the woods and cultivated in the villages. Forests are thick; the timber in Lhasa comes from these forests. There is even a place in Takun where the land dips to a valley of only two or three thousand feet elevation. Bananas grow there. It is odd to think of bananas in Tibet. They might almost as well be in the South Seas for all the good they do to the rest of Tibet. There is no transport or communication to those bananas!

Because it is hard to reach, Takun is sparsely settled. The cultivated land is only some 33,300 acres, less than two-fifths of the land in Loka. The crop is normally a little better than in most of Tibet; it runs to 18 or 20 bushels an acre. This year it jumped to 30 bushels. The reason of course was, as in Loka, that the rebellion was crushed and the former serfs knew that the crop would be their own. It was sown some weeks before the rebellion; when the rebels were put down, the grain already stood four to twelve inches high. After that, the peasants did a lot of weeding and watering that formerly they never had time to do.

All this I learned from Chao Chia-li, of Hsinhua News Agency, who had just returned from Takun.

He knows the area; he has been there every year for the past four to check on how that area was getting on. He said that the highway from Lhasa to Chamdo runs along the northern edge of Takun, so when the Khampas came into Tibet to help start the rebellion, they poured through the north of Takun. For an entire year they looted and devastated the people in Takun before the rebellion broke in Lhasa. Some Khampas stayed in Takun, as an offshoot from the main rebel base in Loka. The peasants in Takun were therefore very willing to help the People's Liberation Army put down these bandits. Rebels in Takun were beaten quickly; they fled into Loka and some probably went with the Loka rebels to India.

Peasants in Takun said that harvests as good as this one had sometimes occurred before, but not often. "Nine times in ten you cannot get a harvest so good," they said. "But now we have stood up and so has the harvest!"

Formerly all the crop was taken to the lord's warehouse. His agents supervised the harvest and saw to this. Half of the crop usually belonged to him anyway for the use of land; most of the rest was due him in payment on debts. On fields worked by the nantsams the master of course owned it all. This year when they got the big crop, the peasants didn't know where to put it. They had no storage sheds; they had never stored before. Some moved into smaller houses and put the grain in their own house.

Others cut timber in the woods and built a storage shed.

Nobody thought about selling grain because they had never had grain to sell. They had never had even enough to eat. Chao thought that by the time the land was distributed in Takun, the storage facilities would also be made available to common use. By that time the peasants would be thinking of selling some surplus grain to buy other things they need. Just now, he said, the peasants were so excited over seeing enough grain to eat that they hated to let any of it go.

Here also the peasants were singing and laughing in the reaping. Chao took down some of the songs and translated them for me. I don't know how they sound in Tibetan. They aren't very good by the time they get into English but they give the idea. The first was made up in a field in a place called Chala where a hundred people were reaping and loading grain on donkeys to take home. They made up the song and sang it while they reaped.

Big bosses in Chala stuck up very high, Like scripture banners that blow in the sky. In the big storm the banners came down, And sunlight came out all over Tibet. O, the Working Team in Chala, The Happiness Team in Chala Brought the sun of Chairman Mao To warm Tibet!

Another song was written by a woman named Dumu, a tsaiba who in the past had seen every harvest taken for debts and forced labor duties, and sometimes after a hard year's work had had to mortgage the livestock and personal ornaments for food. This year her family got forty bushels, enough to feed them all for a year, to keep for seed, and even a bit over. This year a lifelong debt of 500 bushels that had come down the generations, was cancelled in the reform; this was like getting ten years' food. Dumu wrote a song saying:

In the past we were a small tree!

The lords cut the twigs with knives.

The monasteries cut the trunk with an axe.

The kashag dug the roots with a spade.

The labor duties were knives and axes

Chipping bark and bough till the tree died.

Now the people are a great tree!

The roots grow deep in the heart of the poor.

Nobody dares to cut the boughs.

Nobody dares to dig the roots.

The Communist Party waters the tree

And keeps it ever green.

Chao told me another song but it did not come from Takun. It was sung there because it was being sung all over Tibet. Nobody knows where it started but it has become a very popular song. It runs :

The Dalai Lama's sun Shone on the lords. Chairman Mao's sun Shines on the people! Now the lords' sun sets And our sun rises!

Songs like this sound best when sung by peasants in a harvest-field.

*     *     *

A three-day festival came in Lhasa in the first week of September. It was called the "harvest festival", but it did not come at the end of harvest, for in most of Lhasa the reaping was not quite ready to begin. The festival date had been fixed three centuries ago by the Fifth Dalai Lama on his return from Peking, where the Ching Emperor had given him the title of "the Dalai Lama, King of the Law in the Western Land of the Buddha, Spiritual Lord on Earth, All-knowing, Holder of the Thunderbolt by order of the Emperor", and assigned him the task of "unifying the tribes" of Tibet. Just why the Fifth Dalai Lama picked this date for the "harvest festival" is not stated by history, but it may have been the best time for the monasteries to inspect the harvest and decide how much to collect from it. In 1959 it hit most of the Lhasa area just before the reaping. Everyone turned out for a good time.

While the monasteries celebrated by prayers and chanting of scriptures and burning of extra butter, … Park was opened for a great picnic. For the first time in Tibet's history, the people were permitted to enter the palaces. The young folks danced and sang and put on amateur drama in the main park under the trees, while the older people inspected the grandeur of the Old Palace of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, and the New Palace built by the present Dalai Lama and the "Ferryboat to Eternal Bliss". Nobody reported their thoughts about this grandeur; probably these were somewhat mixed. It was one more step in their education and their mastery of the land.

On the following day, the peasants of a village west of Lhasa invited a few of the correspondents to join their festival in the field. They would celebrate both the beginning of reaping and the completion of the 'Three Abolitions Drive".

We left the city after an early lunch and drove several miles west till, just beyond Drepung Monastery, we turned to the left on a soft dirt road that led down to a wide green pasture on which several hundred people were gathered in a very colorful crowd. At the moment of our arrival, most of them were seated on the ground, protecting themselves from the damp by hassocks, rugs or bits of canvas, and facing a canopied and decorated platform where a man was making a speech. Behind the crowd and partly encircling it were a dozen large tents of a splendor I had never seen in canvas, pavilions of different shapes and sizes, most of them clearly designed with some sense of architectural form. Still further out the landscape was encircled by mountains, some of them already dusted with the first snowfall of autumn and others struggling through a mass of changing clouds.

The meeting ended as we drew nearer and people began to disperse about the field. Several members of the Peasants' Association came to greet us and assigned to us one of the pavilions in which we might deposit wraps and lunch-boxes and where we might take refuge in case of rain. They told us that these gay tents were "holiday pavilions" of rebel nobles, now "borrowed" by the Peasants' Association for the festival. I began to notice the pavilions in some detail. Most were of white canvas, appliqued with "auspicious designs" in vivid dark blue, but one pavilion had an open front draped with orange scallops, and another had a rear wall of brilliant scarlet. They were all very gay.

The crowd seemed even more colorful close at hand than from a distance. Not only had all the peasants come out in their best clothing, which meant that the women had sleeves of scarlet or bright green or blue, showing through a jumper-style over-dress. But many people wore costumes that seemed especially designed either for the stage or for a festival show. Some fifty horsemen, gathering for the races, had costumes of leather and bright feathers that recalled the wild Indians of the Buffalo Bill shows of my youth. I especially noticed one giddy-looking youth who had at least a dozen colors in his trousers and jacket, topped off with a large round hat of scarlet leathers. A big quiver of feather-tipped arrows swung from his shoulder and at times almost knocked off his hat.

Girls circulated in equally festive costumes and high beaded head-dress offering barley beer and buttered tea from giant pewter pitchers of antique design. About half of the people were settling in groups to drink buttered tea or barley beer and the other half were forming in a long procession which presently marched off towards the hills with drums and banners, and with big portraits of Mao Tse-tung and Liu Shao-chi at the head. While I was wondering whether or not to follow them, a man who had been on the stage came up to explain the festival. Kao Tung-chuan was a member of the Party Committee

of the west suburb of Lhasa under which this area came. This, he said, was a celebration by Nan-gawosi Village, an unusually large village of over two thousand people. In most of Tibet the manorial estate is larger than the village and contains several villages. Near Lhasa, however, the villages tend to be larger and the estates smaller. Nangawosi Village contained people from seventeen estates. The meeting of the morning, which ended as we approached, had reported the successful conclusion of the "Three Abolitions Drive". The procession that had left the pasture had gone to inspect the harvest in the fields and give awards to the best cultivation. It would be hard to follow them for the ground was rough. They would return within an hour or two. There would be displays of horsemanship, and later archery and dances.

I asked why the pictures of Mao Tse-tung and Liu Shao-chi had led the procession. Kao replied that this was the idea of the local committee which was looking for something to make the festival interesting. For three hundred years they had gone to the fields with prayers and pictures of gods and this year they thought it would be more interesting to take Chairman Mao and Chairman Liu to the field and show them the best plots, and drink a toast to them over the best wheat, the best barley and the best peas. After all, Chairman Mao had something to do with this harvest. Then the best fields would be marked with flags of honor until they were reaped. Reaping was set for two or three days away.

Kao said that the san fan drive here had been timed to end so that its final report could be made at the festival, as it had been in the morning speech. Ten meetings had been held and thirty-three people had been accused, including agents in charge of estates, rebel lords and a few top lamas of Drepung. One of the accused, acting as agent for Dondhup, the former county chief, had killed six working people, including a pregnant woman who could not pay a debt and had therefore been flogged so that she and the child in the womb had died.

The most unusual case was the killing of a peasant for sacrilege, because the peasant had the courage to kill a leopard which had come from the hills to prey upon the livestock. After the leopard had devoured several domestic animals and molested people, the encourageous peasant tracked him down and killed him.

The agent declared: "That leopard was a god! How dare a man lay hands on him!" The agent had the peasant flogged to death for his action. This was one of the six "murders" of which the agent was accused.

"What constitutes a successful san fan drive?" I asked. "And what happens to that agent and to the other thirty-three accused?"

Kao replied that the aim of the drive was to awaken the people to the evils of serfdom, so that they realized not only their own suffering but its source in the evil system; to make them know that they are now masters in their land and need not fear their former master nor stand in awe of his opinion; to arouse them to take the responsibility for their own future. One aim is to cancel the feudal debts in the people's might, because these are a heavy weight on the community.

"This village this morning burned debt tokens for 13,032 kes (21,000 bushels) of grain and 14,340 ping of silver, equivalent to several years' total income of the village, debts that weighed down society for generations, always increasing and never paid. They were burned today." He pointed to a heap of smouldering ashes on the edge of the pasture and added: "When all these things are done, then the drive of |the 'Three Abolitions' is considered a success."

"The fate of the accused is in their own hands/' Kao added. "The peasant meetings accuse but cannot judge or sentence. That lies with the court, to which the peasants can refer the charges. If a man admits his crimes and repents, he may go home from the meeting. If he is obdurate, he may go back to jail, for usually he is already under arrest. But even if a man like that agent comes to court accused of six murders, the court will take cognizance of the fact that these killings were made not only because of the man's brutality, but because of the way of life under serfdom. Even that agent was trying to please his master and was acting under superstition. Even he may change. But in the san fan drive his case is incidental. The drive has succeeded when it has awakened the people."

A flurry of rain made us retreat for a short time to our pavilion. Then the sun came out, the procession came back from the fields, and we all assembled for the riding, archery and dances. The performances were to take place on a road that ran between the now empty grandstand and the slope where the people had been sitting for the meeting. They sat down again for the races, and our group was given seats of honor in the front row on hassocks covered with bright rugs.

Whence came, I asked, those wonderful costumes that looked like costumes in a theater or at a fancy-dress ball? I was told that some were actually borrowed from the theater but most of them were owned by the people. They were old national festival costumes, passed down in families. Some of the better off tsaiba owned such costumes, and one very bitter oppression was the need to sell for food a costume that came down generations. Some of the riders' costumes had belonged to the nobles, who kept them for their stable-grooms to use in exhibition-riding, to the honor of the manor from which they came.

The "races" began. They were not races in the usual sense; there would have been no room for these on the road. They were competitions in horsemanship in which each rider displayed his talents. One rode with hands in air, striking poses as if his body were part of the horse's body; another hid behind the horse, hanging to a stirrup and holding himself by an arm thrown over the saddle. Others were content to show special speed or dash, displaying their elegant costumes of red, yellow or blue in amazing designs. Most of them carried great quivers of arrows over their shoulder and wore incredible hats. The horses also were decorated, some with trappings that nearly reached the ground.

When the fifty-odd horsemen had exhibited their talents several times to the crowd and to the local experts who judged them, they began to combine archery with riding. Two targets were set on the far side of the road, about one hundred and fifty feet apart, and each horseman tried to shoot arrows in succession into both targets on the gallop. Many hit the first target but few the second. The second target was too near the first, and a galloping man had hardly time to draw the second arrow from the quiver, fit it and shoot it and hit the target. Two men succeeded in hitting both targets; they were given loud applause.

Riding and archery were followed by dancing. The amateur dance troupe wore more colors than anyone yet. Their faces were covered by masks of black and gold, their heads by drapes of scarlet brocade, their legs by very full wine-red bloomers. Over these they wore streamers of floating blue and gold down the back, and of scarlet, rose and white brocade from the shoulders. The colors were not as random as they sound; they followed an intricate pattern of wild but sophisticated harmony. Several dancers wore gold crowns of cardboard several inches wide, cut in high peaks.

At last we came to the award of the hatas, which apparently were given not only to a few top victors, but to all who had notably contributed in riding, archery or dance. Riders and dancers lined up in a big circle; the judges presented hatas. The rider with the big scarlet feather hat had for some time been exchanging glances with me that might have been called flirtatious if I had been younger. I admired his very gaudy costume and jaunty air, and he seemed impressed by the distance an aged lady had travelled to this festival.

He was barely two feet from me when the judges gave him his hata. He pirouetted suddenly and dropped the ceremonial scarf over my hands with a bow as low and as consciously theatrical as that of the male lead in a ballet. The crowd took notice and began to applaud. Promptly the remaining five riders also dropped their hatas over my arms so that I stood there under six hatas with people applauding. The festival had drawn in a foreign guest. Everyone seemed pleased by this.

An old peasant approached me, lifted my chin with his hand to get a good look at my face and asked my age. I replied that it was seventy-three. Murmurs of respect for my age went around.

A woman remarked: "It is very good when a woman as old as you comes all this way to see our festival and our reform."

That was for me the high point of the festival, and not because I had been chosen to receive the remark. These peasants, less than two months out of serfdom, were fully aware not only that they organized for their own future, but also that their actions were historic for the world. They wanted the world to know.


1.Harvest figures are difficult in Tibet and not exact. They are reckoned not in amount of grain per unit of land, but in crop per unit of seed, and the average has been very low, at lour times the seed. The size of a ke differs, for the master had two measures. A big ke, when he took the crop from the serfs, might run to 34 pounds, a small ke, when he gave out seed, might be only 27 pounds. A ke of ground was the amount that a ke of grain would sow, which was about one-sixth of an acre. Taking a ke as 27½ pounds, the past yield of this field was 13.7 bushels per acre, the present yield 30 bushels and the expected yield on the good field 55 bushels. All these figures are higher than the Tibet average but the Lhasa area is a good area.

2.Also called Lhuntse.