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The Last "Dark Ages"


Rich and beautiful Europe experienced a period known as the "Dark Ages" when barbaric methods of torture were used and the inhuman rule that serf-owners had the right to sleep with a female serf before she married her husband was enforced . However similar practices continued to exist in old Tibet for another 400 years.

Before 1959, Tibet had long been a society of feudal serfdom under the despotic political- religious rule of lamas and nobles. The masses of serfs in Tibet did not even possess fundamental rights. Serf-owners, principally local administrative officials, nobles and upper- ranking lamas, accounted for less than 5 percent of Tibet's population but they owned all of Tibet's farmlands, pastures, forests, mountains and rivers as well as most of the livestock. The serfs making up more than 90 percent of Tibet's population lived no better than the slaves in the plantations in the southern states of America. The serf-owners could sell or transfer their serfs, present them as gifts, or use them as mortgage payments for debts. They could even exchange them,molest them or maltreat them. When two serfs got married, the husband and wife still belonged to different owners and their children were fated to be serfs from the moment they were born.

The statutory code of old Tibet stipulated that people were unequal in status by dividing people into three classes and nine ranks. In a peculiar law concerning the value of human life, it was written that the lives of people belonging to the highest rank of the upper class such as a prince or leading living Buddha, were calculated to be worth the weight of the dead body in gold whilst the dives of people belonging to the lowest rank of the lower class, such as women, butchers, hunters and craftsmen were worth a straw rope. The judicial system of old Tibet gave monasteries and serf - owners the right to judge lawsuits. The judicial system itself was characterized by its bloodcurdling system of cruel tortures: punishments issued by the courts were extremely savage and cruel and included gouging out the eyes, cutting off the ears, hands or feet; pulling out tendons; throwing the criminal into water or shutting the criminal into a wooden case lined with nails facing inwards. These bloody historical facts were displayed in an Exhibition of Tibetan Social and Historical Relics in the Beijing Cultural Palace of Nationalities. Imagine what people thought when they saw the amputated limbs, the flayed human skins and the ghastly torture implemented.

One letter kept in file which attracted much attention. It read:

''Rab Ge:

A Buddhist ceremony will be held here. We need meat, hearts and blood from all kind of animals, 4 human heads, intestines, pure blood, turbid blood, earth from ruins, the menstrual blood of a widow, the blood of a leper, water from beneath the surface of the earth, earth raised in a whirlwind, brambles growing towards the north, excrement of both dog and man and the boots of a butcher. All these should be sent to Tsechykhang on the 27th.

Tsechykhang , the 19th"

From this letter, we can imagine how many serfs would have been killed for that single ceremony. In such barbaric and brutal times, Tibet's economic and social development was out of the question. The economy in Tibet had been at a standstill for a long time and was even declining as was the output of grain. Crude wooden ploughs were the basic tools for agricultural production; the primitive method of herding were causing the deterioration of both the pastoralland and the breeds of livestock; disease was epidemic and harmful beasts were rampant. The serfs were cruelly exploited. They were forced not only into hard labour but also to bear the heavy burdens of corvee and tax. Living in poverty and starvation, they were struggling for existence on the brink of death all year round. In the 1950s, there were more than 4,000 beggars in the city of Lhasa, out of a population of only 37,000. The rate was even higher in Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. Because of the high frequency of uncontrolled epidemics, the average life-span of a Tibetan was only 35.5 years.

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