THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION AND

PASTORAL COMMUNES,

1966-81

THE EMERGENCE OF THE "GREAT PROLETARIAN CULTURAL REVOLUTION"

in eastern China in late 1966 set in motion forces that engulfed the nomads in a decade of pain and suffering and almost destroyed their way of life. The Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards reached Lhasa almost immediately, immersing the more accessible regions of Tibet in a reign of terror and chaos. In more remote areas like Pala, the full force of the Cultural Revolution only arrived in 1968-70. Political "struggle sessions" and class conflict began in earnest, private religion was banned, and word reached the nomads that private ownership of livestock was to be replaced by people's communes.

Coming on top of their loss of religious freedom, the news that they would lose their livestock and ft-eedom to work and trade as they saw fit was more than they could bear. They (and the nomads in the areas around them) rebelled. The overwhelming majority of Pala nomads adopted the name of one of Tibet's two Red Guard groups (Gyenlo or "revolutionaries"), and interpreted the intent of Mao's call to 'pull down those in authority" to mean expelling the local government officials and reinstituting complete religious and economic freedom under their own leadership. Since the army in China had declared itself neutral in the struggle between the competing Red Guard groups, the nomads mistakenly believed it would also remain neutral in their struggle for religious and economic freedom. The Pala rebels arrested the few Pala nomads who supported the pro-communist-party Red Guard group (Nyamdre or "alliance"), captured and executed two district-level Tibetan officials who had been especially cruel in implementing class struggle," and drove out the rest, taking control of their area for three months during the summer of 1969.

Their success was short-lived. Guided by loyal Tibetan cadre, the People'r, Liberation Army, as in 1959, once again came to Pala -but this time to attack rather than support the nomads. Armed almost solely with matchlock rifles and swords, the nomads' rebellion disintegrated immediately. The rebel leaders were arrested and punished and a commune system was instituted in Pala.

At this time, the class background of each nomad family was reexamined, and households were reclassified as "poor," "middle," or "rich" based on factors such as the number of servants and hired hands they had. The "rich" were designated as "exploiters" of the masses and //class enemies," and overnight, their lives were turned topsy turvy.

Wanam recalled for us the day in 1970 when the local Tibetan leaders of the Cultural Revolution suddenly appeared before his tent and, without any prior warning, ordered him out and expropriated all his wealth.

They called me a reactionary and a class enemy and told me that from today on all my animals and goods were confiscated and I must live under the "guidance" of the people just as the poorest of the poor lived in the old society. We had about 1,200 sheep and goats and 100 yak at this time. Right then and there they ripped off my earring, rings, necklace, and took my silver flint-strike and bullet holder. They also confiscated my new sheepskin robe saying that it was too good for the likes of a class enemy like me. In its place they gave me an old, worn ne. But this was not all. They also took all of my family's household possessions and food stores, leaving us only one pot, one bag of 55 pounds of barley grain per person, and a little tsamba. And then they took away our fine yak-hair tent giving us in its place an old, tattered canvas tent. We were stunned-our whole life's wealth was eliminated in a matter of minutes. We didn't know how we would survive since they also said that we could not join the people's commune but had to fend for ourselves, alone and without help. Our sole means of support were the 40 goats they left us (eight goats per person), only 10 of which were milk goats.

Another former class enemy told us:

They forced me to stand before 'the people" bent over at the waist, eyes looking at the ground, for hours while individuals yelled and screamed at me for exploiting them. Yanchen (a female official) even jumped and sat on my back like I was a horse while berating me for my crimes. But I never understood any of this. I hadn't mistreated anyone. I was rich and had lots of animals, but that was due to my own capabilities, so how could that be a crime. It was very difficult. At first I didn't want to admit my crimes but it was futile and I soon decided my only hope for survival was to play along and admit to everything while demonstrating my change of heart. Two years after the commune began they allowed me join it. Before that I could barely survive on the few goats they left with me. I hunted a lot but with no gun I had to climb above the cornered animals and kill them by throwing down rocks. Occasionally I go some private work from commune members such as tanning skins, but we were always on the verge of starvation. After we were in the commune life was still hard but at least the fear of starvation was not ever-present.

Some nomads scrambled to change or avoid a "bad-class" label by denouncing spouses or parents. Trinley, for example, was a poor man who had married the only daughter of a wealthy nomad and became a part of her household. Since he was not in the "wealthy" class by birth, he and his son caved in to the suggestions of officials that they now show their true class origins by divorcing (and denouncing) the wife/mother. Trinley did so and was made a commune leader as a reward. His former wife ultimately died alone from what appears to be a combination of disease, malnutrition, and despair. Trinley nowada is so ridden with guilt that he is only partially functional.

Nomad communes were relatively simple to implement despite the seeming incongruity of the concepts of "commune" and "nomads." The subsistence technology (milking, churning, herding, moving, and so forth) remained identical, but the nomads were transformed from private owners of animals to holders of a share in the commune's property-or as one nomad more bluntly put it, 'We were nothing more than servants of the commune. The commune took all our animals and productive implements such as pails and chums, and we had to do whatever work they told us."

The old pattern of winter trading trips to obtain grain continued ' but now transactions were between nomad communes and farming communes rather than economically independent families.

When we asked the nomads whether the commune paid them for their animals and equipment, one man explained, "The 'class enemies' of course got nothing. For the rest of us, after taking all the animals and wealth, they assigned monetary values to each item in order to calculate the total worth of the conimure. This figure, divided by the number of I members,' established the monetary value of a single person's share. If the animals and equipment you 'gave' were worth more than this amount, you got some money back. I was classified as a "n-dddle-class" nomad because I had had 200 sheep and 20 yak, and I actually got back 500 yuan at this time. But I lost all my freedom."

Unlike the traditional period when each family performed all the necessary productive activities, during the commune era individuals often specialized in only one or two activities such as herding yak or milking. All the pastoral tasks such as milking, shearing wool, and so forth were assigned a work-point value from one to 10, for example, milking received 10 points whereas spinning wool thread only three and yak herding five. Work "points" were awarded each day depending on the nature and amount of each person's work. and once each month, the commune 5ecretdry race to each encampment to record in a master ledger the daily activities (and points) of each nomad over the previous 30 days. Each nomad was given a small booklet in which he or she could record daily work; illiterates without friends to help had to memorize their work record until the secretary arrived.

Page143.gif (233573 bytes) Each year, the commune's total production less its taxes to the government was converted to a monetary figure and divided by the total number of work points accrued during the year. This yielded a cash value for each work point. Each nomad then obtained an equal, but minimal amount of food and other products. This was usually just a bare subsistence level. The value of this amount was then subtracted from the household's total work points. If a household had leftover work points after this, it received additional goods and/or cash, but if it were short work points, it had to repay the commune or go into debt to it.

Some households with many able workers did reasonably well under the commune's system of payment, but the quality of life for the overwhelming majority of nomads deteriorated markedly in comparison with the previous decade and the traditional society. This was partially the result of the high taxes and forced quota sales and partly because the nomads did not care for the commune's livestock as carefully as their own. But it was also because officials interested in enhancing their own reputations falsely claimed increases in production. Paying the accompanying increase in the total taxes required a greater percentage of real production and left less to be divided.

Work was constant-seven days a week, with massive "public works" projects such as fencing off pastures with stone walls undertaken when there was no real work. People had no control over their lives. They were powerless and felt like slaves, ordered here and there by their new masters. One nomad who had been poor in the old society poignantly expressed the general feeling, "At least before the commune if you were hungry you could always find work as a herder or servant, or outright beg for food, but during the commune, you just stayed hungry."

However, no attempt was made to din-dnish the geographic scope of pastoralism during the commune period either by extrapolating nomad pastureland, resettling nomads in agricultural areas, or resettling Tibetan or Chinese (Han) farmers in nomad areas. Full-scale pastoralism, therefore, continued during the Cultural Revolution. On the other hand, the traditional culture came under severe attack.

Page145.gif (167364 bytes) The nomads' hatred of this system derives not just from the economic hardships they endured. As much or more they hated the class struggle sessions and the complete destruction of all remnants of Buddhism in their society. The policy known as "destroying the four olds" (old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits) was energetically implemented with the aim of eliminating the traditional culture and creating in its place a new homogeneous and atheistic communist culture. Private religious activities were forbidden, religious buildings including monasteries and prayer walls were torn down, and the nomads were forced to abandon the deeply held values and customs that were the essence of their cultural identity. For example, men were required to cut their distinctive hair-style of bangs and two braids, and women were required to break the strong taboo against females slaughtering animals. This was a terrible period since the nomads' values, norms and morals were deliberately turned upside down and, furthermore, food was often inadequate. The propaganda and class struggle sessions 'conducted by Tibetan cadre contradicted and ridiculed everything the nomads understood and felt, creating feelings of anxiety, guilt, worthlessness, and low self-esteem. In a sense, the government attempted to reduce Tibetan ethnic identity to language alone; all the rest of their rich culture-their values and customs-was rejected as superstition, deceit, and exploitation. Chinese policy during this period sought to maintain pastoral production but destroy the social and cultural fabric of the nomads' traditional way of life. From the nomads' point of view, they had become an exploited subject class treated far worse than they had been under the "serfdom" of the old society. None of them believed they would ever again see a day when they would be allowed to follow their traditional way of life again-the "old society" appeared dead!

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