The purest air and the bluest sky in the
world. This is what I first saw in Tibet when I went there
some 20 years ago.
Under the blinding sunshine
were men wrapped up in sheep hides. With chest and arms
exposed to the air, they chatted merrily with girls with
deeply sun-tanned cheeks.
Out of my
love for art, I spent one year there.
From my Tibetan friends I came to
understand how Tibet had groaned under serfdom before 1959,
the year the Democratic Reform took place in the region.
About 95 percent of the Tibetan people were either serfs or
slaves under serfdom. They owned no fields, no grassland, no
forests and no production tools, all of which belonged to
the serf and slave owners. These serf and slave owners, who
made up less than 5 percent of the Tibetan population,
controlled everything. They were free to transfer, mortgage,
sell or buy their slaves or use them as gifts.
Not only the local authorities but also
large monasteries, manorial lords and tribal chiefs were
empowered to handle legal cases and set up jails.
According to the legal code then
enforced in Tibet, the Tibetans were divided into nine
grades in three classes. Serfs and slaves were listed at the
bottom of the social level. If they violated any rules set
by their owners, punishments included gouging out eyes,
cutting off tongues, hands and feet, pushing people off
cliffs, drowning and beheading. I once saw victims who had
suffered some of these punishments.
When the 17-Article Agreement was
signed for Tibet's peaceful liberation in May 1951, the
central government allowed the local government of Tibet to
retain the old social system and pledged not to embark on
reform until conditions were appropriate. The 14th Dalai
Lama expressed his support for the People's Liberation Army
(PLA) to enter Tibet "to consolidate national defense,
expel imperialist forces and defend the unification of the
territory of the motherland."
Under the instigation of reactionary
forces, however, the 14th Dalai Lama tore up the 17-Article
Agreement and staged an armed rebellion. When the rebellion
was suppressed, he fled to India and lives there to this
The central government then
started to undertake democratic reform and the changing of
the old social system. Serfs and slaves won emancipation.
Some 40 years have passed. Tibet has
achieved bumper harvests, and livestock breeding has
developed apace. The region's agricultural output value has
increased many hundredfold. Modern industries, transport,
school education, medicare, science and technology, which
did not exist in Tibet before, all now show shining
progress. Tibet has got rid of the closed feudal system and
entered a modern society. My friends, who were former
slaves, told me: "We have jumped from hell to
Not all in Tibet are
satisfied with the situation. There were those who did not
want to accept the loss of the paradisiacal life they
enjoyed under serfdom. They collaborate with overseas
anti-China forces to mislead people who were ignorant of the
situation. I came across many of these people abroad.
During a painting show I held in India,
an Indian woman pointed at a portrait, saying "The old
Chinese man is well painted." When I told her the old
man was a Tibetan, the Indian woman burst into laughter.
"If you say Tibet is part of China, India will be part
of China in the future." I told her Tibet has been part
of Chinese territory since the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th
century. India is an independent country, and China has
never claimed one inch of Indian territory. I advised her to
read books on that period of history.
Some of my American friends yearn to
understand Tibet. One of them phoned me, saying an
encyclopaedia stated that "China occupied Tibet in the
1950s." He asked me to explain this. He had no vicious
intent in making this inquiry. I asked him whether the book
said Tibet was an independent state before the 1950s and he
said no. I then explained that it was very natural for Tibet
to win liberation, then I asked him when Beijing and
Shanghai were liberated, would it have been correct to say
they were "occupied by the Chinese?" Obviously
When Richard Gere
"advised" the Chinese leaders to "leave
Tibet" during an Oscar awards ceremony, I flew into a
rage. I brought together some reporters for a press
conference and refuted his fallacy. I told them the history
of Tibet, advising them not to view the central government's
liberation of Tibet in the same light as the white people's
attempts to drive the Indians out of the United States. I
also told them how the central government and various
fraternal provinces offered aid to Tibet.
The central government and the whole
country are doing their best to assist Tibet in economic
construction, but there are people who allege that the
Chinese are "invading" and "occupying"
Tibet. I can hardly allow such slander.
When people are told the truth, they
understand. They were appalled to see documents issued by
the local government of Tibet in the late 1940s, and the
human skulls, blood, skin and intestines, which were used as
sacrifices to the Dalai Lama when he celebrated his
birthday. They are relieved to learn the Tibetan population
has risen from fewer than 1 million in 1955 to 2.6 million
today (with less than 3 percent of them Han people); and
their life expectancy has increased from 35 years to 67
However, what I have said is
almost nothing when compared with the uproar stirred up by
Westerners. The majority of people outside China know almost
nothing of the truth about Tibet.
West resorts to movies to mislead the public. "Seven
years in Tibet", shot in 1997, turns a devoted Nazi
into a hero defending human rights. At the same time, no
stone is left unturned in the attempt to slander the PLA
sent to defend the border area.
this Nazi was dandified as a brilliant young man, all the
members of the PLA were acted by ugly actors to leave
viewers with a bad impression. When they entered Tibet in
the movie, they trampled on Tibetan Buddhist mandalas. This
is how they were described, although the PLA entered Tibet
with insufficient food in their stomachs and never bothered
Tibetans along the way. The movie claims 1 million Tibetans
were butchered (although there were fewer than 1 million
Tibetans in Tibet at that time).
other hand, when I watched "Changes in Tibet", a
TV series, I was satisfied. It recorded how Tibet won
peaceful liberation, how the PLA entered Tibet, how the
armed rebellion was suppressed, and how the Democratic
Reform was conducted. The director, Zai Junjie, was with the
PLA 18th Army. He knew the truth. All the heroes in the TV
play are identified clearly by name and rank for
authenticity. The TV play makes it possible for viewers to
appreciate this history and become acquainted with those who
The author is a sculptor
now residing in the United States. This article was
originally published in the bimonthly English-language
magazine China's Tibet.
November 29, 2001)