[Marxism] A serf in Tibet

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Jul 28 14:14:37 MDT 2004

Yesterday I had some of my students bring music from their countries to class.  Most of them are Chinese.  One young woman brought an album by a Tibetan singer called Han Hong and played a track from it which was absolutely stunning, a song called 'Tibet Plateau'.  (I've actually borrowed the CD and am playing it while I write; the CD is called "Awake")

Anyway, I did an internet search on Han Hong I was so impressed with her singing and music.  Among the things the search turned up was a set of stories of women from Tibet and what a hell life was under the Dalai Lama and his gang of slave-owners.

Here's one of the stories:

Ceringlhamo is now 65 years old. For the first 33 years in her life, she was a langsheng, meaning "serf" in Tibetan-a serf in the middle of the twentieth century. But in the last 32 years, she has been a free woman, and a master in her own country! Together with 11 other serf families, she organized the first mutual-aid team of langsheng in Tibet. Later she was cited a national advanced worker, national "March 8th Pace-Setter" in addition to being elected a deputy to the National People's Congress and the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region's people's Congress.
  Now she's retired and lives with her youngest daughter. Her 3-year-old grand-daughter is as sturdy as tree, and follows her like a shadow, wherever she goes. From time to time, she will sweetly call her "grandmother", which makes Ceringlhamo so happy that she grins from ear to ear.
  The passage of time often serves to dim people's memories, but Ceringlhamo says that she can never forget her life as a serf, which was like a living nightmare.

                 I Used to Be a Serf

  BOTH my parents were serfs. I was born in Shanglin, Longzi County in the Shannan area. From the day I was born I was a serf belonging to the serf owner. I lived in Shanglin for twelve years together with my parents, though the life we lived was worse than beasts of burden.
  After one New Year's Day, according to the lunar calendar used by the Zang nationality in Tibet, the feudal lord mover from longzi to Jieba in Naidong County, bringing with him only my brother and me. Since that time, I've never seen my parents nor heard anything about them.
The cruel feudal system of serf owning must seem remote to people of other nationalities, but to Tibetans it's as if it just happened yesterday. Until 1959, Tibet had been a world of the officials, nobities and high-ranking monks of the monasteries, whilst serfs and slaves lived in hell. Serfs and slaves in Tibet were classified into three grades: chaba, duiqiong and langsheng. Chaiba and duiqiong were serfs, who did farm work for serf owners, generation after generation. They had no personal freedom. Duiqiong's status was even lower than chaba and they lived an even worse life. The meaning of langsheng in Tibetan is "fed by a household", so langsheng are actually indoor-slaves-serf owner's properties, which might be given away as gifts, mortgaged or sold, langshengs' descendants were also langsheng; they were slaves for generations.
  In jieba, I grazed horses and cattles, took care of children and plaited woollen threads. From sunrise to sunset, there was always work waiting for me. I'd grown up in bitterness. That year as I was 25, when New Year's Day was just over, the serf owner's family received a guest, who was also a serf owner and brought with him a few serfs. Amongst them was a young man who often helped me with my work. Without thinking, I fell in love with him. With the land as our bed and the moonlight as our quilt, we were married without any ceremony. Shortly afterwards I became pregnant. Thinking that I would be a mother soon, I was as happy as any other woman would be, but at the same time I was also worried for a langsheng had no right to choose his/her spouse. It was up to owners to decide if a langsheng could marry, when, and to whom. Eventually our secret was discovered by the serf owner, who was furious and said we had violated his domestic rule and dirtied his manor. Several days later, he took my husband 
  Pregnant with child, I still worked from dawn to dusk. On April 15, according to the Tibetan calendar, which fell coincidently on the day for people to go on holy pilgrimages round the deity mountain, I felt labor pains. I knew that my child was a bout to come into the world so I found several pieces of ragged cloth and placed them on the floor of a yak sty, where I gave birth to my first son. Like me, he was a langsheng who had nothing from the day he was born. What was worse, was that he would never be able to see his father.
  Fortunately he did not arrive in winter so I untied my apron and wrapped him up. On the third day after giving birth I resumed work, leaving my baby behind. I could only breast-feed him hastily during my meal-breaks. When he was a bit older, I tied him on my back with a string . . . .
  Several years passed in this way. Then I married another langsheng belonging to the serf owner. My new husband was ten years younger than me. In another cattle sty I gave birth to my second son, but the serf owner didn't agree with our marriage, and wanted to sell my husband to another serf owner. Fortunately a work team arrived in Jieba to undertake democratic reform, which saved my second home from separation.
  The feudal serf system was finally abolished. We were given a house, land, cattle, sheep, cooking utensils and some furniture, and more importantly, became free persons. However I still couldn't get any news about my parents learning how to follow the plough, till the land, and plant highland barley. Unexpectedly, we got a bumper harvest the first year. Our production has continued to develop, our life has improved, and I have been elected a model worker and a deputy to the People's Congress.
  My name, "Ceringlhamo" has becoor my first husband, although I made many enquiries.
The next year, when the spring plouging commenced, the emancipated serfs set up many voluntary productive mutual-aid teams. I belonged to one of the last twelve langsheng households, whom no teams wanted to take in as we had little family property and were incapable of doing farm work (as langsheng were family slaves, they didn't even have the chance to learn farm work).
  I was born brave and stubborn. I took the lead, organized the other eleven langsheng households and set up the Langsheng mutual-aid team in Jieba township with myself as the head. I didn't know until later that it was the first langshen mutual-aid team in Tibet. On our own land, we began by me known by many people since then, but in fact, I'm still the same as before-only the world has changed. My name, Ceringlhamo, means "fairy of longevity" in Tibetan, but only today, in the socialist society, have I , a former slave, really become "a fairy of longevity".
                         Translated by LIN GUANXING

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