CHINA'S

POST-CULTURAL REVOLUTION TIBET

POLICY

Page146.gif (202948 bytes) HISTORY IS NOT STRAIGHTFORWARD AND YESTERDAY'S inconceivable often becomes today's commonplace. The end of the Cultural Revolution in China proper in 1976 and the destruction of the "Gang of Four" brought a new group of leaders to the fore in the Chinese Communist Party whose views changed the fate of the Pala nomads. Holding an entirely different economic and cultural philosophy from Mao and the Gang of Four, they viewed the "Cultural Revolution" as a catastrophe for China and terminated communes, imp eme nting a more market-oriented rural economic system called the "responsibility" system. Responsibility for production was shifted from the commune to the household.

Page147.gif (143004 bytes) The full impact of these changes reached Pala in 1981 when the hated commune system was ended. Overnight, all the commune's animals were divided equally among its members. Every nomad -infants one week old, teenagers, adults, the elderly-received the same share of 37 animals: five yak, 25 sheep, and seven goats. A household of five, therefore, obtained 25 yak-, 125 sheep and 35 goats in addition to the 30-40 "private" goats it had been allowed to maintain during the commune era. Each household regained complete responsibility over its livestock, managing them according to their own plans and decisions. Pastureland was allocated at the same time to small groups of three to six households living in the same home-base encampment.

An aided benefit was Beijing's decision to exclude Tibetan peasants and nomads from all taxes and quota sales until at least 1990 because of the poverty of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Without taxes and with careful management and hard work, the number of livestock each household received in 1981 fulfilled basic subsistence needs and should have yielded a modest surplus as well. Several nomads commented that it would have put them just within the "lower middle class" in the old society.

The new Chinese leadership also instituted policies eliminating persecution on the basis of class Page148.gif (200014 bytes) background, and attempted to right some of the terrible injustices that took place during the Cultural Revolution by monetary restitutions to the "class enemies" whose animals and belongings had been confiscated. A number of Pala nomads received restitutions, and one who was among the richest in the old society received thousands of Chinese dollars (yuan)-a small fortune in Tibet where, by comparison, the annual salary of a university instructor in Lhasa is about 2,500-3,000 yuan.

The new policies also brought a new local government to Lagyab Ihojang. Pala, which had been a commune, became a shang (Xiang). The shang has little real power and functions primarily as a liaison between the government and the nomads, transmitting, for example, higher level decisions and or-ders to the individual nomad households, and collecting information on topics such as the number of sheep and goats and passing it up to the district. It controls no income or resources and has little to no impact on locally relevant policy It does, however, play an important role in the arena of family law and local disputes, hearing and deciding cases usually in consultation with the local communist-party secretary and the district officials at Tsatsey. Because of this, the nomads are concerned about the quality of their local leaders.

Page149.gif (101114 bytes) The two shang heads are elected from a slate of candidates chosen by the district officials. Despite the external control of nominations, we found that the list of candidates in Pala in recent elections included most nomads we would have thought appropriate. In fact, one of the two shang heads during our stay was a former monk and class enemy who is highly respected and liked by virtually all nomads. As our research ended, a new government was about to be installed which was supposed to place even nominations for local officials in the hands of the nomads. The plan called for a nominating election to precede the official election.

One of the most notable aspects of the post-1980 reforms was the reinstatement of considerable religious freedom. During the period of our fieldwork in Pala the nomads were free to practice their Page150.gif (207457 bytes) religion as they chop.o, and religion had regained its importance in their lives. Nomads were pursuing the cycle of religious rites that typified the traditional society. Most families had small altars in their tents and flew prayer flags from their tent poles and guylines. Nomads no longer feared open displays of religion; some even wore Dalai Lama buttons and others displayed his photograph openly in their tents. Individuals turning prayer wheels, counting rosaries and doing prostrations were common sights, and even one of Pala's four communist-party members now intones Buddhist prayers. Even government functions, such as the summer horse-race fairs at the district, included unofficial, but open, religious components-for example, monks reading prayers in a special large "temple" tent.

Page150a.gif (99403 bytes) The depth of these changes was pointedly illustrated one afternoon in December 1987 when a few nomads brought a newly purchased radio to our tent and and sat listening to the Government of India's (All India Radio',g) Tibetan-language shortwave broadcast of news, Tibetan music and religious prayers. Because they had the volume turned up and our tent was just a few feet from that of a party leader, we asked if they weren't concerned that he would overhear. The nomads laughed at this suggestion and jokingly retorted, "Why should he care? He listens also."

Nomads make pilgrimages to monasteries and holy sites and travel to visit Lamas without asking anyone's permission. Some are also actively supporting the reemergence of monasticism by donating animals and food to help rebuild small local monasteries, and by hiring monks to conduct prayers at life crises, e.g., the death of a household member. The small Drigung Kajupa monastery in Tsatsey, Page151.gif (194311 bytes) rubble when we first arrived in 1986, was rebuilt with local funds and functional when we departed in 1988. The comments of one old woman epitomize the depth of the feelings involved: "I feel sorry for all those who died during the commune period because they couldn't do religious prayers and have the proper death rites. It was a terrible time for us. But I feel happy to be again able to recite my prayers every day and do prostrations and circumambulations (around the prayer wall)."

These traditional practices did not reappear all at once or 'in an orderly sequence. At first, the nomads feared that the new policy was a devious trick launched to expose pockets of "rightist" thinking, and individuals were reluctant to take the lead and risk being singled out. Change occurred gradually as individuals took single actions that, in effect, tested the general policy. When no protest or punishment came from the Tsatsey district officials above them (all of whom are ethnic Tibetans), the desirable practice spread, and this process is still going on.

Page152.gif (156553 bytes) The reemergence of nomad "mediums" (individuals whom deities possess and speak through) exemplifies this. It is an aspect of the traditional Tibetan Buddhist religious system that is considered unnecessary "superstition" not only by the communists but to an extent also by the refugee government-in-exile. Yet it reappeared in Pala in the winter of 1987 when an adult in one camp took ill and was in great pain for days before he died. A man from the same encampment went into trance spontaneously during the illness and was possessed by a deity who gave a prognosis and explanation of the disease. When no official criticism of this event occurred in the ensuing weeks and months, he and others fashioned the traditional costume worn by mediums, and he is now sought by others in Pala in cases of illness.

What has been occurring, therefore, is a form of what anthropologist Anthony Wallace calls cultural revitalization.8 In their contact with the dominant and alien Marxist cultural system, the nomads were told that their traditional leaders were contemptible enemies of the people and their old values and norms were immoral and exploitive. Compelled to abandon the traditional beliefs and symbols that gave meaning to the world around them and to actively embrace a new "communist" culture consisting of norms and values that they considered repugnant, they experienced a crisis of morality and meaning. This was further exacerbated when they had to put the new morality into practice by Page153.gif (99355 bytes) persecuting and physically punishing the newly defined "class enemies," many of whom were friends, spouses, and kinsmen. China's new post-1980 policies created conditions wherein individual Tibetans were able to resurrect a more satisfying culture by readopting traditional components of their cognitive and affective systems and discarding components of the "revolutionary" culture they had been forced to profess. They have done this not just with religion, but with all facets of their way of life. For example, as we have seen, hunting wild animals and butchering livestock are again taking on the stigma they had in the traditional society.

Page154.gif (139678 bytes) Current marriage patterns also reveal the reemergence of traditional attitudes and values. A number of today's wealthy families, for example, favorably consider a potential spouse's high-status family background from the old society, and almost all nomads now refuse to marry someone from the traditional "unclean" stratum. Similarly, nomad practitioners of traditional Tibetan medicine are again active in the area, and traditional singing and dancing often spontaneously erupt when the young from several camps come together.

And in the broader Tibetan social arena, the nomads have resumed the traditional practice of hiring scores of villagers who travel 20-30 days to Pala each summer to work tanning sheep and goat skins, carving prayer stones, molding day figurines of deities, building prayer walls, and constructing Page155.gif (82640 bytes) storehouses and residences in exchange for live animals. This practice not only is reestablishing social boundaries between farmers and nomads, but is also reaffirming the social worth of the nomads' pastoral way of life and the view that theirs is the easier, more productive life.

The post-1980 cultural policy in Tibet, therefore, has allowed individual nomads in Pala to revitalize their cultural system, constructing a more satisfying and coherent view of the world around them and, in the process, reestablishing pride in their customs. Although all nomads realize that the government is the final arbiter of how far this process can go, and although there was considerable individual variation in the extent and timing of this process (some nomads being less interested in adhering to traditional religious and -social values), the bulk of the traditional cultural system was essentially operational again in 1988, and the nomads were pleased by this thoroughly unexpected turn of events.

However, the nomads' knowledge (and fear) that the current government could intervene again at any time and impose its alien values has left a feeling of vulnerability, anxiety, and anger, despite their positive Objective assessment of the current situation.

Page155a.gif (140307 bytes) These fears about the stability of the current state ideology have been exacerbated by their feelings of powerlessness at the local level. At the very nadir of a vertical chain of command, they feel their views and concerns are not taken seriously, Page156.gif (83437 bytes) notwithstanding a system of sending delegates to a 'People's Congress" at the county level. The nomads complain that new decrees and orders are passed down from above and, even when contradictory or ill thought out, are enforced.

District and county officials continue to exert tremendous control over the nomads' lives through their control of political, legal, and economic institutions. The nomads are reluctant to openly disagree with district and county officials, and especially to go over their heads by appealing to higher authorities to protest actions and policies. They feel that Page158.gif (180284 bytes) they have no leverage against officials who use their powerful positions for their own gain or to help friends and favorites, and fear, not without reason, that any officials whom they challenge and criticize will find an opportunity to pay them back with interest. The following discussion of controversies regarding illegal quota Page158a.gif (184262 bytes) sales and forced livestock reductions illustrates well the nature of this powerlessness.

All of this has retarded development of positive attitudes toward the state, and to a considerable extent, underlies the obvious incongruity between the positive objective effects of Beijing's new policy in Tibet and the Tibetans' often negative reaction to the government that enacted  them. Page159.gif (166200 bytes)                                Page159a.gif (146850 bytes)                                

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