From Serfs to Living a Well-off Life

The Kesong community in Changzhu Town, Shannan City is the first village in Tibet to carry out the democratic reform. It has established the first grassroots Party organization, the first farmers’ association and the first people’s commune in Tibet’s history. by Qiao Zhenqi

72-year-old Sonam Dorjee. by Qiao Zhenqi

On March 18, 2019, as the sunlit Mount Gongburi gathers energy to revive from the long winter, we sit around 72-year-old Sonam Dorjee in the courtyard of a Tibetan-style house in Kesong Village, Shannan City, Tibet Autonomous Region. While sipping fragrant butter tea, we listened to the stories about Tibet’s democratic reform that took place 60 years ago, and the oppression of local serfs by their owner, Suokang Wangqing Geli.

 “I was eight years old when I became a chaba (serf). We farmed land and handed our harvested crops over to the landlords. But work was endless, and at that time we felt that we could never pay them enough throughout our lives,” Sonam Dorjee recalled.

Before the democratic reform in Tibet, the community was called the Kesong Manor. It was one of the six manors of serf owner Suokang Wangqing Geli in Shannan. In May 1959, guided by the local labor committee, Kesong established the first rural Party branch in Tibetan history and became the first to implement the democratic reform.

This marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China and the 60th anniversary of Tibet’s democratic reform. After four decades of the country’s reform and opening up, Kesong has been given an entire makeover. From a manor of a serf lord, it transformed into a new socialist rural community that is striding toward a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In 2017, all residents of Kesong were lifted out of poverty. In 2018, per capita disposable income of the community reached 19,735.5 yuan (around US$2,948), 98.7 times that of 1978.

Villagers of Kesong compiled and directed the historical play Serfs’ Tears, which tells the stories of three generations of Chilai Dorjee’s family, serfs of the Kesong manor, throughout the feudal serf society, the peaceful liberation of Tibet and the democratic reform, and reproduces the barbarism and darkness of the serfdom system. In March 2011, the play was written and directed by more than 20 actors from the Kesong neighborhood committee. Since 2017, it has been performed by the Naidong district art troupe.  by Qiao Zhenqi

Bianba Ciren, secretary of the Party branch of Kesong.  by Qiao Zhenqi

Today, Sonam Dorjee’s family runs a furniture cooperative and receives an annual income of more than 600,000 yuan (US$89,500). “In the beginning, the government offered us discount loans. I used these loans to set up this furniture cooperative.” With the support of the state policy, and the freed minds and hard work of Tibetan people, many leaders in Kesong, such as Sonam Dorjee and Bianba Ciren, taught the villagers to raise their income through manufacturing and engineering contracting. Today’s Kesong has become a typical example of becoming a moderately prosperous society in Shannan.

“We know where the benefits come from and who the beneficiaries are,” said Sonam Dorjee. He will never fear again for the endless repayment of debts.

Tapestry with the patterns of the Potala Palace in a Tibetan home.  by Qiao Zhenqi

Tibetan specialties – kasai (fried Tibetan pastry), buckwheat cake and yak jerky.  by Qiao Zhenqi

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