March 7, 2007
A Review of Life in the Red Flag People’s Commune
By Dhondub Choedon
This book portrays the life and circumstances of a young Tibetan woman having to live under the Chinese Communist Party (1959-1965). It also expresses her societal classification of being a wulagpa, perhaps better referred to as a Tibetan serf by modern understandings. With Choedon’s accounts of living under the Communist commune or influence, she enables the reader to understand the social, economic, and political aspects that Tibetans had to undergo. She explains the different so called “reforms” and responsibilities placed upon the Tibetan people, which was in reality Chinese propaganda to further assimilate Tibetans with the Chinese way of life. This paper reviews the harsh realities that a Tibetan woman had to endure while under the influence and control of the Chinese communist ideals and her efforts to maintain her tides with the Tibetan culture.
This book portrays the life and circumstances of a young Tibetan woman having to live under the Chinese Communist Party. It also expresses her societal classification of being a wulagpa, perhaps better referred to as a Tibetan serf by modern understandings. With Choedon’s accounts of living under the Communist commune or influence, she enables the reader to understand the social, economic, and political aspects that Tibetans had to undergo. She explains the different so called “reforms” and responsibilities placed upon the Tibetan people, which was in reality Chinese propaganda to further assimilate Tibetans with the Chinese way of life. These responsibilities were imposed by the Chinese in order to maintain not only order, but also discipline in accordance to the communist ideals set forth by the teachings of Mao, Lenin, and Stalin.
Choedon was born in 1942 in the Nyethang Dzong of the Lhoka region of Tibet. Her father was Dhamchoe and the family name was called Bhawung (Introduction). The family consisted of six members, all of whom rendered the wulag service. Being a wulagpa is a term that can be compared to being a serf in Europe. They were the poor class and its members had to endure much labor. Being a wulagpa meant those between the ages of 15-60 had to leave for work; if someone didn’t want to work, one had to send a substitute in his/her place. Those in the wulag service were not paid because it was considered a tral or sort of payment for the personally owned land which had been given by the monastery (Introduction). She was married to a man named Namgyal in 1962 and had two daughters. Due to Chinese policy of couples working in different areas, they rarely saw each other. From 1964-1966 her husband was accused and arrested for being a right-wing revisionist because he regarded Lenin’s ideas as superior to that of Mao’s (Introduction). Her home was in the Chiso Estate of the Dhargyal-Ling Monastery, which was a branch of the Ling Labrang. Twenty families comprised this estate, and their labor was the main source of income for the monks in the monastery. The most unfortunate class of citizens in Tibet, beggars, were never seen within the estate community. Everyone worked in accordance to their responsibilities and felt loyalty to the monks within the monastery. Choedon’s family lived a meager and simple life, with little degree of burden or concern. However, this lifestyle would soon change when the Chinese begin their occupation of her home in 1959.
The Chinese invaded Choedon’s area in 1959 and occupied the Dhargyal-Ling Monastery; making it their PLA (People’s Liberation Army) headquarters. The Chinese declared they were liberating the Tibetan people from years of seclusion and religious ideals, preventing its people from understanding the modernity of the world. They caused many Tibetans to assimilate to Chinese values, traditions, language, and political ideology. By 1961, Choedon was enrolled at the Bentzang Monastery to undergo political indoctrination for three months. By 1965, Choedon’s home was under the Red Flag Commune (4). Whatever wealth that had been accumulated within the commune should have belonged to the Tibetans, but the Chinese were the ones who controlled and decided to whom and by what amount these resources would be given out.
The commune that Choedon lived under and many others established throughout the region were set up to essentially sustain the Tibetan people within a given area. It’s similar to the European ghettos where the Jew’s lived while under Nazi German control in World War II. Life there comprised of restrictions, necessary duties, and Tibetans were constantly surrounded by Chinese communist propaganda. The Chinese “liberation” and the “democratic reform” promised to bring an equal distribution of wealth and a sense of equality among its people, but it proved that was not the case. The wealth of the rich Tibetans was not dispersed equally; instead it was the “wealth of production and the wealth of livelihood” which was distributed. For example, the wealth of production included the cattle, sheep, goats, and even old Tibetan farming implements. The wealth of livelihood consisted of old clothes, houses, and utensils of clay. The more valuable resources such as gold, silver, or brass were sent to the Tibetan aristocrats or Chinese officials (1). Private property or anything of personal value for that matter was either confiscated by the Chinese or regulated to some extent in the form of taxes.
The book describes the many methods of influencing the Tibetan people to “change” their ways and become essentially Chinese. One means of achieving this goal was the formation of the Chinese Youth League to “destroy the old and establish the new.” This meant that Tibetans needed to separate themselves from all traditional Tibetan customs, and replace them with Chinese practices. Choedon explains that her hair was cut short, dresses and names were changed, their language was to be in correlation with Chinese phrases, all earrings or bracelets resembling Tibetan culture were removed, and finally they had to sing Chinese songs which praised the ideals of Mao and the communist ideology. By establishing a youth league, the Chinese were able to influence the young Tibetans and divert their thinking towards that of Chinese perspectives and modernity. Through this method, the next generation of Tibetans would be Chinese and the traditional Tibetan way of life would be abolished. Certain requirements imposed onto the youth included, love of the motherland (China), good class consciousness, being good in the study of politics and culture, and being good in obedience to the party. By following these requirements, the Chinese would be surely to succeed in breeding a new generation of Tibetans unaltered and loyal to the Chinese practices and political rationales.
Choedon’s accounts on the aspects that defined the Tibetan life under the strict Chinese control provide the realization that the Tibetans were being exploited to the highest degree. She reveals how her experiences of being both a Tibetan and wulagpa in society resulted in much inequality. For instance, though the economic production of goods and certain commodities (grain, salt, butter, meat) had increased, the Chinese failed to distribute and provide the Tibetan people with an adequate equal share. Instead that wealth was given to the Tibetan elite and Chinese officials, while the local Tibetans were given only a small ration in order to sustain their meager living. Throughout Choedon’s book, the motive of her narrative is to briefly bring to light the particular effects that the Chinese influence had on the people of Tibet. From the Chinese invasion to the economic and political influence of Communist ideology, from the Cultural Revolution to the deteriorating conditions of Tibet, it is clear that the way of life which Tibetans had endured for so long was now being slowly abolished from their history. The purpose of her story is to show the world the reality of the Chinese occupation as opposed to the “liberating” notion that they declared to the people. In essence, the telling of her story shows that Tibetans were meant to obey and serve the purposes and policies of the Chinese rulers. Choedon’s narrative demonstrates that with the increasing domination, power, and wealth of the Chinese, values such as equality and compassion became less important. She ends her book by realizing that every act in life has its consequence. It is only unfortunate that the Tibetans had to suffer and continue to experience a lack of autonomy. But perhaps through her personal experiences expressed in this book the world will realize the true nature and state of Tibetans.