SERFS OF TIBET

· Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism
Authors

SERFS OF TIBET

I felt the need to write this article because so many people are so misinformed about the Gelugpa sect (Headed by the Dalai Lama) of Tibetan Buddhism. So many people still believe the propaganda out of the Dalai Lama and his priests, with the connivance of the CIA, (Counter Intelligence Agency of America,) that the People’s Republic of China is portrayed as the aggressor, occupier, and demon. Thus there are still many people who believe that the Dalai Lama should be allowed to return and regain control of Tibet so that he is able to re-establish his old empire once again. But people should know the real facts of (Old) Feudal Tibet.

Contents

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INTRODUCTION to OLD TIBET (pre-1959)

[The author’s views or highlighting are show either in italics or bold italics. All sources are linked.)

For hundreds of years, the Dalai Lama’s of Tibet has had a free hand in the practice and administration of their religious and administrative affairs, due mainly to the corrupt and effective of the Chinese rule from Beijing especially when transport and communications connections with Tibet were atrocious. Also China’s government was weak and ineffective, having been corrupted and eroded by hundreds of years of exploitation by Opium traders. This fact has often been overlooked in the deterioration of the effectiveness of Chinese rule.

So did the Dalai Lama’s of Tibet rule with a benign, patriarchal, benevolent rule in accordance with the teachings of Buddhism? The facts shown below show that far from benevolent, the Dalai Lama’s and their hierarchy ruled with a very autocratic, exploitative, cruel, serfdom, even more cruel than that that existed in the middle ages in Europe’s Period of Serfdom as is illustrated below.

Thus for any peoples or nations to support the return of the Dalai Lama’s return to the old status quo would be like supporting Serfdom and Slavery in Tibet for the 97% of the indigenous Tibetan peoples, which of course is totally unacceptable.

The photographs below illustrate in no uncertain way the brutality and the primitive exploitation of the Tibetan people, keeping them in a state of slavery in order to enrich the Priests and Nobles of Tibet with not a single ounce of compassion for the sufferings of the people. The methods for controlling the people as Serfs and Slaves was cruel and barbaric and in no way conformed in the teachings of Buddhism. Thus the hypocrisy of the Gelugpa Buddhists knew no bounds. And those people or nations who supported the Gelugpa Buddhists were no better hypocrites and barbarians.

When the Peoples Republic of China freed the Tibetan serfs and slaves in 1959, their motives were as altruistic as that of Abraham Lincoln when he freed the American slaves.

THE MYTH OF (Old) TIBET

I will begin by quoting extracts from a respected author Michael Parenti’s article, “Friendly Feudalism – The Tibet Myth.”
For many (Buddhists,) Buddhism is less a theology and more a meditative and investigative discipline intended to promote an inner harmony and enlightenment while directing us to a path of right living.
A glance at history, however, reveals that not all the many and widely varying forms of Buddhism have been free of doctrinal fanaticism, nor free of the violent and exploitative pursuits so characteristic of other religions.
But what of Tibetan Buddhism? Is it not an exception to this sort of strife? And what of the society it helped to create? Many Buddhists maintain that, before the Chinese crackdown in 1959, old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La. The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.”
A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counter-reformation.”  In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet.
His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers.
For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.”
In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelugpa sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/great beings, high officials and ordinary people/who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.”  An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be.  This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.
Religions have had a close relationship not only with violence but with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.”

Deprung Monastery – Largest Landowner – 25,000 Serfs

Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen (serfs.) The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama hinself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-storey Potala Palace.”
Secular leaders also did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs.  Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.”  In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.
Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their peasant families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they were bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated rape, beginning at age nine.  The monastic estates also conscripted children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.
In old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery.  The majority of the rural population (over 90%) were serfs, and an additional 5% were Slaves.

No Schooling or Medical Care for Serfs

Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went “WITHOUT SCHOOLING OR MEDICAL CARE.”
THEY WERE UNDER A “LIFETIME BOND” TO WORK THE LORD’S LAND (OR THE MONASTERY’S LAND) WITHOUT PAY, TO REPAIR THE LORD’S HOUSES, TRANSPORT HIS CROPS, AND COLLECT HIS FIREWOOD.
They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location.
As in a free labour system and unlike slavery,

L0rd’s had No Responsibility for Welfare of their Serfs

the overlords had NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SERF’S MAINTENANCE AND NO DIRECT INTEREST IN HIS OR HER SURVIVAL AS AN EXPENSIVE PIECE OF PROPERTY.
The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might labourers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.
One 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf, reports: “Pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished”; they “were just slaves without rights.” Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture those who tried to flee. One 24-year old runaway welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” He testified that under serfdom he was subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold. After his third failed escape, he was merciless beaten by the landlord’s men until blood poured from his nose and mouth. They then poured alcohol and caustic soda on his wounds to increase the pain, he claimed.

TAXES ON SERFS

The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their years and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they travelled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 toi 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being cast into slavery.
The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.
The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation–including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation–were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.”21 Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet.
In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, gouging out eyes, breaking off hands, and hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disembowelling. The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master’s cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away.
Earlier visitors to Tibet commented on the theocratic despotism. In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people.
In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft.” Tibetan rulers “invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people.
In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them. . . . The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.” As much as we might wish otherwise, feudal theocratic Tibet was a far cry from the romanticized Shangri La so enthusiastically nurtured by Buddhism’s western proselytes. [1]

SOME PHOTOS OF OLD TIBET – One Picture worth 10,000 Words

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Carrying loads 3 times body weight to Potala Palace

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Serf Carrying Owner Up Mountain Path

Shackled Serf Tilling Soil

Serf Herder had Foot Amputated by Tribal Chief [2]

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Serf Child Starves on Street

 

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Museum: FingerCrushers, Whips, Eye Gougers

 

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Shackled Serfs

 

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Tserch Wang Tuei blinded for stealing sheep from his Monastery

 

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This Serf had both hands amputated

 

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These Cangued Serfs have to Beg Others to feed them or starve to death [3]

 

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Serf Saved his severed arm [4]

 

The Inhuman Practices of Tibetan Serfdom in Old Tibet

Before the Democratic Reform of 1959 (Liberation from Totalitarian (Dalai Lama) Rule) Tibet had been a society of feudal serfdom under a despotic religious-political rule of lamas and nobles, a society which was darker and more cruel than the European serfdom of the Middle Ages.Before the Democratic Reform of 1959 Tibet had long been a society of feudal serfdom under the despotic religion-political rule of lamas and nobles, a society which was darker and more cruel than the European serfdom of the Middle Ages. Tibet’s serf-owners were principally the three major estate-holders: local administrative officials, nobles and upper-ranking lamas in monasteries. Although they accounted for less than 5 percent of Tibet’s population, they owned all of Tibet’s farmland, pastures, forests, mountains and rivers as well as most livestock. Statistics released in the early years of the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century indicate that Tibet then had more than 3 million ke of farmland (15 ke equal to 1 hectare), of which 30.9 percent was owned by officials, 29.6 percent by nobles, and 39.5 percent by monasteries and upper-ranking lamas. Before the 1959 Democratic Reform, Tibet had 197 hereditary noble families and 25 big noble families, with the biggest numbering seven to eight, each holding dozens of manors and tens of thousand of ke of land.

Ninety Percent of Tibet were Serfs, Five Percent were Slaves

Serfs made up (more than) 90 percent of old Tibet’s population.They were called tralpa in Tibetan (namely people who tilled plots of land assigned to them and had to provide corvee labor for the serf-owners) and duiqoin (small households with chimneys emitting smoke). They had no land or “personal freedom,” and the survival of each of them depended on an estate-holder’s manor. In addition, “nangzan” comprised 5 percent of the population were hereditary household slaves, deprived of any means of production and personal freedom.

Serf Owners Owned the Bodies of their Serfs

Serf owners literally possessed the living bodies of their serfs. Since serfs were at their disposal as their private property, they could trade and transfer them, present them as gifts, make them mortgages for a debt and exchange them. According to historical records, in 1943 the aristocrat Chengmoim Norbu Wanggyai sold 100 serfs to a monk official at Garzhol Kamsa, in Zhigoin area, at the cost of 60 liang of Tibetan silver (about four silver dollars) per serf. He also sent 400 serfs to the Gundelin Monastery as mortgage for a debt of 3,000 pin Tibetan silver (about 10,000 silver dollars). Serf-owners had a firm grip on the birth, death and marriage of serfs. Male and female serfs not belonging to the same owner had to pay “redemption fees” before they could marry. In some cases, an exchange was made with a man swapped for man and a woman for woman. In other cases, after a couple wedded, the ownership of both husband and wife remained unchanged, but their sons would belong to the husband’s owner and their daughters to the wife’s owner. Children of serfs were registered the moment they were born, setting their life-long fate as serfs.

Serf owners ruthlessly exploited serfs through corvee and usury

The corvee tax system of old Tibet was very cruel. Permanent corvee tax was registered and there were also temporary additional corvee taxes. Incomplete statistics indicate the existence of more than 200 categories of corvee taxes levied by the Gaxag (Tibetan local government). The corvee assigned by Gaxag and manorial lords accounted for over 50 percent of the labor of serf households, and could go as high as 70-80 percent. According to a survey conducted before the Democratic Reform, the Darongqang Manor owned by Regent Dagzhag of the 14th Dalai Lama had a total of 1,445 ke of land, and 81 able-bodied and semi-able-bodied serfs. They were assigned a total of 21,260 corvee days for the whole year, the equivalent of an entire year’s labor by 67.3 people. In effect, 83 percent of the serfs had to do corvee for one full year.

The serfs engaged in “hard Labour” year in and year out and yet had no guaranteed food or clothing

Often they had to rely on money borrowed at usury to keep body and soul together. The annual interest rate for usurious loans was very high, while that for money borrowed from monasteries was 30 percent, and for grain 20 or 25 percent. Monetary loans from nobles exacted a 20 percent interest, while that for grain amounted to 20 or 25 percent.
Gaxag had several money-lending institutions, and the Dalai Lama of various generations had two organizations specialized in lending money. Incomplete records in the account books of the two cash-lending bodies of the Dalai Lama in 1950 show that they had lent out about 3.0385 million liang of Tibetan silver in usurious loans.

Snowballing interest of usurious loans created debts which could never be repaid by even succeeding generations

and debts involving a guarantor resulted in bankruptcy of both the debtor and the guarantor. The grandfather of a serf named Cering Goinbo of Maizhokunggar County once borrowed 50 ke of grain (1 ke equal to 14 kg) from the Sera Monastery. In 77 years the three generations had paid more than 3,000 ke of grain for the interest but the serf-owner still claimed that Cering Goinbo owed him 100,000 ke of grain. There was another serf named Dainzin in Donggar County who in 1941 borrowed one ke of qingke barley from his master. In 1951 when he was asked to repay 600 ke, he was forced to flee, his wife was driven to death and his seven-year-old son was taken away to repay the debt by labor.
In order to safeguard the interests of serf-owners, Tibetan local rulers formulated a series of laws. The 13-Article Code and 16-Article Code, which were enforced for several hundred years in old Tibet, divided people into three classes and nine ranks.

They (rulers) clearly stipulated that people were unequal in legal status.

The codes stipulated:
(1) “It is forbidden to quarrel with a worthy, sage, noble and descendant of the ruler;”
(2) “persons of the lower rank who attack those of the upper rank, and a junior official who quarrels with a senior official commit a serious crime and so should be detained;”
(3) “anyone who resists a master’s control should be arrested;”
(4) “a commoner who offends an official should be arrested;”
(5) “anyone who voices grievances at the palace, behaving disgracefully, should be arrested and whipped.”
The standards for measuring punishment and the methods for dealing with people of different classes and ranks who violated the same criminal law were quite different.

In law concerning the penalty for murder,

it was written,
“As people are divided into different classes and ranks, the value of a life correspondingly differs.” The lives of the highest rank of the upper class, such as a prince or leading Living Buddha, are calculated in “gold” to the same weight as the dead body.

The lives of people of the lowest rank of the lower class, such as  women, butchers, hunters and craftsmen, are worth a straw rope.

Any servant who injures his master has hands and feet chopped off

In the law concerning compensation for injury, it was stipulated that a servant who injures his master should have his hands or feet chopped off; a master who injures a servant is only responsible for the medical treatment of the wound, with no other compensation required.

Making use of written or common law, the serf-owners set up penitentiaries or private jails. Local governments had law courts and prisons, as had large monasteries. Estate-holders could build private prisons on their own manor ground.

Punishments (for serfs and slaves) were extremely savage and cruel, and included

(1) Gouging out the eyes;

(2) Cutting of ears, hands, and feet;

(3) Pulling out tendons of legs, and throwing people in the river.

In the Gandan Monastery, one of the largest in Tibet, there were many handcuffs, fetters, clubs and other cruel instruments of torture used for gouging out eyes, and ripping out tendons.
Many materials and photos showing limbs of serfs mutilated by serf-owners in those years are kept in the hall housing the Tibetan Social and Historical Relics Exhibition in the Beijing Cultural Palace of Nationalities.

Under the centuries long feudal serfdom (in old Tibet,) the “Tibetan serfs were politically oppressed, economically exploited and frequently persecuted (and abused.)”

A saying among serfs,
“All a serf can carry away is his own shadow, and all he can leave behind is his footprints.”
OLD TIBET can be said to have been on of the World’s regions witnessing the

(Old Tibet) The MOST SERIOUS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS.”

(But all this was glossed over by the Dalai Lama.)

RUTHLESS SUPPRESSION BY THE DALAI LAMA’S

Despite the cruel rule of the feudal serfdom, Tibetan labouring people never ceased their resistance struggles. They strove for their personal rights by making petitions, fleeing, resisting rent and corvee and even waging armed struggle.
However, they (serfs and slaves) were subject to ruthless suppression by the three big estate holders. The law of old Tibet stated,

“All civilians who rebel commit felonies.”

In such incidences not only is the rebel himself would be killed, but his family property would be confiscated and his wife be made a slave.
The 5th Dalai Lama once issued the order,
“Commoners of Lhari Ziba listen to my order:
‘I have authorised Lhari Ziba to chop off your hands and feet, gouge out your eyes, and beat and kill you if you again attempt to look for freedom and comfort.”
This order was reiterated on many occasions by his successors  (Dalai Lama’s in power) [5]

COMMENTS

Can anyone doubt that Old Tibet was liberated, in 1959, from a  “Feudal Totalitarian Theocracy?”
It raises some profound questions about “Man’s Ethics and Morality and His sensitivity to the sufferings of others.” It questions the  practice of Morality and Human Rights in Tibetan Buddhism.
How can Buddhists, who aim to improve ethics and morality in man through contemplation and self-improvement, and believe that every life (even insects) is sacred and must be spared, become so insensitive and indifferent to the sufferings of his fellow man (serfs and slaves) that the Buddhist hierarchy can pass laws to permit serfs to be punished by gouging out their eyes, or having their limbs chopped from their bodies or even killed? This evidence of the compartmentalising of the mind into separate isolated and immune value systems highlights the fascinating workings of the mind and ethics. That this dual system of compassion and brutality can exist side by side and be accepted by Dalai Lama’s, Priests and Buddhist scholars without question boggles my mind. This practice has existed since the dawn of Tibet till 1959 with no questions or challenges to its brutality and savagery. Is this Tibetan culture that the Dalai Lama wants to preserve and is supported by the ignoramus of this world?

REFERENCES

[1] Friendly Feudalism-The Tibet Myth: http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html

[2] Photos of Old Tibet: http://www.chinaembassy.bg/eng/dtxw/t552932.htm
[3] Photos of Old Tibet: http://www.cctv.com/english/special/tibetexpo/02/index.shtml
[4] Serf’s severed arm: http://downthecrookedpath-meditation-gurus.blogspot.com/2011/10/tibetan-serfs-never-forget-their-past.html
[5] How Tibetan Serfs were treated: http://www.china.org.cn/e-white/tibet/9-4.htm
Additional References:
[1a] The Dalai Lama had 6000 serfs: http://www.antimoon.com/forum/t13141.htm

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