Governmental Organization of Old Tibet


Old Tibet was rigidly stratified, the highest status was Buddhist monk, or Lama, the next were nobles and the lowest were serfs and slaves Government officials were Lamas and nobles who made up the ruling class, while serfs and slaves, as the class to be ruled had no political status. The Dalai Lama is the top leader in both religious and people's world, who grasped the powers of religion and administration. He is the most senior living Buddha in Tibet. His position was passed down through reincarnation, not hereditary system. The Dalai Lama can be from an aristocratic family, or a common farmer's family. The present 14th Dalai Lama was from a farmer's family in Qinghai Province. According to the old Tibetan system, the holder of the post of Dalai Lama became the highest noble in Tibet overnight, even if he was born to a poor family. The Dalai Lama represents the interest of nobles, not that of poor people. According to Tibetan practice, the Dalai Lama can not take over the reins himself until he is 18 years old and gain the academic degree of Gexe at the three major temples of the Gandan, the Drepung and the Sera Monasteries. Before the Dalai Lama takes the reins, the power is held by the Prince Regents. Only the Living Buddhas were in a position to serve as Prince Regent. In Tibet, the most famous of these Living Buddhas were "the four lings," namely, Daingyailing, Gundeling, Cemoinling and Xedeling, who were referred to as Hutogtus. Hutogtu, which means "reincarnation" in Mongolian language, was an honorific title the Qing court conferred to the Living Buddhas in Tibet and Mongolia. The said four Hotogtus all received honorific titles from the Qing court. Living Buddhas at the Hutogtu level found their way into the record written by the Qing Commission for the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, and their reincarnation had to be confirmed by and receive honorific title from the central government. The Living Buddha Dezhug of the Mulu Monastery was qualified for the Prince Regent too. The abbot of the Gandan Monastery of the Gelug (Yellow) Sect was entitled to be the Prince Regent too, but only under special conditions. That the Hutogtu served as the Prince Regent was a system introduced by the Qing court, and no alternation had ever since been made of it. Before the 14th Dalai Lama reached the stipulated age for him to become the religious and administrative leader of Tibet, Tibet was ruled by two Prince Regents: the Hutogtu Razheng and the Living Buddha Dazhag. Dazhag, a Living Buddha below the Hutogtu level, became the Prince Regent in Tibet under special condition. The administrative organ under the rule of the Dalai Lama or the Prince Regent was called the Kashag. With "Ka" meaning order and "shag" housing, Kashag means the place where order was issued. While many foreigners translated the Kashag into "cabinet," which is basically correct in nature, the Kashag was in fact an administrative organ formed under the imperial edict of the Qing emperor. In the 59th reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi or in 1720 A.D., when the Qing troops had driven the invading Zungar Mongols out of Tibet, the Qing court had the 7th Dalai Lama Galsang Gyamco escorted to Tibet from his residence monastery of Taer in Qinghai. Following a grand ceremony held too install the Dalai Lama in the Potala Palace, the Qing court announced end to the official position of Dibas who were then in charge of political affairs, and the introduction of a new system for Galoins to jointly hold the political and administrative power in Tibet. The Qing court stipulated that the offices of Galoins be set up in the Jokhang Monastery, and the number of Galoins be determined by the Qing court itself (it was three in the 60th reign of Emperor Kangxi, five in the first reign of Emperor Yongzheng, and four in the 16th reign of Emperor Qianlong). In the 16th reign of Emperor Qianlong and thereafter, the Qing court stipulated that all Galoins be in charge of political affairs in Tibet under the leadership of the Dalai Lama and the Qing High Resident Commissioner in Tibet. Prior to 1959, the local government of Tibet was called the Kashag government. According the Qing court stipulation, the Kashag was composed of three laymen and one Lama Galoins, who were all the third-rank officials (while the Dalai Lama and the Prince Regent were the second-rank officials); all major matters had to go through the Kashag, whose decision, however, had to win approval of the Dalai Lama or the Prince Regent before it was carried out; the Kashag would report matters which were too important to be handled, such as matters concerning war, peace talks and the election of the Prince Regent, to the Dalai Lama or the Prince Regent, and asked for the permission to hold the "national assembly" or Chomdu in Tibetan language. Participants to the assembly included officials representing various government institutions, abbots of the three major monasteries and representatives of nobles. Serfs and slaves had no right at all to attend the assembly. As a matter of fact, such meetings were manipulated by a small number of master Lamas and nobles. Comparatively more important matters or matters which the Kashag government was unwilling to handle were often brought to the meeting for perfunctory discussion. Under the Kashag government were two offices: Yigtsang or the secretariat, and Tsekhang or the auditing office. Yigtsang or the secretariat was slightly lower than the Kashag in terms of position, but it operated directly under the Dalai Lama or the Prince Regent. It took care of the Dalai Lama's seals, and all Kashag's documents had to be sent to Yigtsang for stamping with these seals before they were issued. Yigtsang consisted of four Dzongyer (secretary general), who were all higher-than-fourth-rank Kainqung Lama officials. They supervised management over all monasteries in Tibet. Yigtsang was in charge of the transfer and appointment of Lama officials, and the drafting of documents for the Dalai Lama or the Prince Regent. When the Kashag felt it need to report some important matters to the Dalai, it had to do so through Yigtsang. Yigtsang, which was put under the Kashag, operated directly under the leadership of the Chief Khenpo of the Dalai Lama (or Chikyap Khenpo). Tsekhang or the auditing office was empowered to enact and issue statues. In the meantime, it managed financial work and handled matters involving all laymen officials and nobles, such as the number of manors the nobles owned, the amount of taxes they should pay the government and the number of men they should sent to serve in the army. Tsekhang was also responsible for training the children of nobles. Whenever the child of a noble received an official promotion, he would register with Tsekhang for training for two to three years. Tsekhang was composed of four Ziboin, who were all the fourth-rank laymen officials. Whenever there was a vacancy in the Kashag, a layman Galoin was chosen mainly from among the four Ziboins, while a Lama Galoin was selected chiefly from among Dzongyer. Other government organs, like Yigtsang and Tsekhang, were composed of laymen and Lama officials. This was also the case with local government organs, such as those in Chikyap (equivalent to a prefecture) and Dzong (equivalent to a county). Other organs of the Kashag included Ma Tsekhang (the headquarters of the Tibetan army), Zhupo Lekhung (Food Office), Soinam Lekhung (Office in Charge of Farming) and Moin Tsekhung (Office in Charge of Pharmaceuticals and Calendar Making). Chikyap, the largest administrative unit, was equivalent to a prefecture. Each Chikyap was composed of one or two Chikyaps meaning superintendents. These Chikyaps were all higher-than-fourth-rank laymen or Lama officials, each with a tenure of three or four years. They would go on serving as Chikyaps or be transferred to other posts according to the decision of the Kashag. Of all Chikyaps, the superintendents in Qamdo enjoyed more power than others simply because they were concurrently Galoins. Qamdo superintendents were usually referred to as "Qamdo Kashag." Dzong, next to Chikyap, was equivalent to a county. Each Dzong was composed of one or two Dzongboins who were equivalent to county magistrates. Manors of nobles and monasteries were called Xika, which was smaller than Dzong (but some Xika was at the same administrative level with Dzong). Each Xika was complete with Xidois, who were in charge of day-to-day affairs of the manors. Dzongboin was higher than Xidoi in terms of official rank. According to the stipulations of the Kashag, both Dzong and Xika were divided into three classes: the first-class Dzong had one layman and one Lama Dzongboin who were both fifth-rank officials; the second-class Dzong had only one Dzongboin assumed by a sixth-rank layman or Lama official alternatively (this was also true with Xika, where a sixth-rank layman and Lama official might serve as the Xidoi alternatively); the third-class Dzong had only one Dzongboin assumed by a seventh-rank layman or Lama official (this was also true with Xika, where a seventh-rank layman or Lama official might serve as the Dzongboin). Old Tibetan society was politically rigidly stratified, following an official system characteristic of the temporal and religious administration. In old Tibet, broad masses of slaves and serfs were reduced to the powerless position.

2. Legal Statutes of Old Tibet


Laws in force in old Tibet fell into two categories: Buddhist law and the law of the land or the political law. The Buddhist law refers to commandments for monks and nuns, including the Commandments for Sramanera (novice) and the Commandments for Bhiksu (mendicant). While the Buddhist law applied to monks and nuns, the law of the land or the political law applied to laymen. Articles of these laws had been in force ever since the Tubo Dynasty, and no significant change had been made for more than 1,000 years. Major ones included the 13-Article Code and the 16-Article Code, which underwent revision during the period of the 5th and the 13th Dalai Lamas. Old Tibet also followed some laws enforced during the Yuan (1271-1368) and the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. They covered a wide variety of areas such as criminal activities, punishment, marriage and properties. Some contained stipulations geared to defend the rigidly stratified social system. For instance, it was stipulated in the 13-Article Code and the 16-Article Code that "as people are divided into different classes, the value of a life correspondingly differs." The life of people at the top group of the top class was valued in gold amounting to the weight of their bodies, while the life of people at the lowest group of the lowest class was valued at a strip of straw rope. The law drew a clear demarcation between the rich and the poor and between masters and slaves. For instance, when a servant's opposition to his master led to the latter's serious injury, the former's hand or foot would be cut off; however, the master just had to provide with medical treatment to his servant if he beat and injured his servant. Any offense against the Living Buddha would lead to even more serious punishment. According to the law, it was a criminal act for the slaves to complain loudly about their grievances. The law stipulated that slaves must not "fight the saint and the nobles;" it was downright outrageous for the slaves to "cry out about their grievances towards the royal palace" and "would be arrested and whipped." This contrasts sharply with materials distributed by the Dalai Lama, which claim that the slaves "held legal status" and "could go to the court;" and they enjoyed "the right to file charges against their masters and even bring the case to higher authorities." In areas under the rule of the feudal lords, the lords enacted and enforced laws according to his own will. His documents, slogans and orders could not be neglected. The law guaranteed the right of the three major lords in Tibet to own land and slaves. In his document issued to the nobles in the Year of Wooden Monkey, the 5th Dalai Lama said: "If you (slaves) seek ease and freedom, I will empower Ziba (accountant) in Lhari to whip you and slain you." Monasteries and the government enjoyed the same legal power in making legal decisions. When a monk violated the law, the could be punished only by his monastery. He would not be punished by the government according to the law unless he had been expelled out of the monastery. Religion received special protection from the law, and was involved in the implementation of the law. For instance, when a vow had to be made to distinguish right from wrong, a caldron of cooking oil was set in front of the statue of the Buddhist guardians. The law enforcer threw one white and one black cobblestones into the boiling oil for the vowers to fetch with hand. Whoever picked up the white cobblestone was the winner. Obviously, this was a cruel method to distinguish right from wrong. The law was complete with detailed explanations, and supplemented with regulations concerning punishment and cases already handled. Law breakers were punished in accordance with these explanations and listed cases. Judicial punishment in Tibet was very cruel and primitive People accused of a minor charge would have to be stripped off their trousers irrespective of man or woman, and be whipped on the bottom in the public. For those who were accused of a comparatively serious charge, their eyes would be gouged out; tongue, hands, feet, nose or ear be chopped off; or sinew taken out of their feet. Some would be sent into exile as lifelong slaves in remote places such as Lhunze County. Other atrocious punishment included throwing those accused of involvement in revolting or other important crimes into a scorpion cave as a death sentence. Such scorpion caves are found in Namzexag (site of old Lhasa government) and in areas close to Lhasa. In other cases, the accused would be packed up with ox hide except for his head; he then was thrown into the river and drowned. Professor Li Youyi, a Kuomintang government official stationed in Tibet who later became a famous Tibetanologist, published in 1951 a book entitled "Tibet Today." The book reveals a strange punishment he witnessed in Tibet: "When the Tibetan government had captured an artisan who made and sold false gold articles, he was made to hold a piece of rock and salt in hands. His fists were then tightly wrapped up with ox hide, shackled and exposed to the scorching Sun. Before long, blood came out of his fists wrapped up tightly in ox hide. The painful man fainted from time to time, crying at the top of his voice for help. Three days later, his hands and arms became dried and the man was disabled then." Ways to punish the accused were too many to list here.

3. Power and Position of Authority in Old Tibet

The ruling class in old Tibet embraced government officials and land owners, who were mainly nobles and Lamas. They all kept a tight hold over the reins of power. When Tibetan Buddhism began to penetrate into various aspects of daily life worshiping the Living Buddha become a major part of Tibetan Buddhism and an official system characterizing the temporal and religious administration gradually formed. Living Buddha, pronounced Zhugu in Tibetan language, means reincarnation. It has been used in the inheritance system of the Lama chieftains of different monasteries. Dalai and Panchen, the two highest Living Buddhas, are the political and religious leaders of inner and outer Tibet. Due to different territories and the number of dependent people, the Dalai and Panchen have varying political rights, but on religion, they are absolutely equal. The Dalai Lama has always been considered as the incarnation of Avalokitesvara or Buddha of Mercy. He usually lives in Potala Palace, and moves to Norbulingka in summer. His own domestic support system, called Lharang in Tibetan language. In Lharang, there is a Chikyap Khenpo, or indoor butler, whose status equals to Galoin and can show up in Kashag conference representing the Dalai Lama himself. There is also a Zhoinnyern Qinbo in charge of information, a Simboin Khenpo supervising the Dalai Lama's daily life, a Suboin Khenpo in charge of his eating and drinking and a Qoiboin Khenpo taking care of of his daily religious activities. They are supplemented by bodyguards responsible for day to day security and several Zeqags, in charge of personal property and finances. The Panchen Lama has always been regarded as the incarnation of Amitabha or Buddha of Infinite Light. The Panchen Lama lives in Tashilhunbu Monastery, one of the six biggest monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism. Directly under the Panchen Lama, a Tibetan language organ, the Nangmekang, handles political and religious affairs. It is comprised of important Khenpos with the Department of Internal Affairs. During the period of the ninth Panchen Lama, the organ was changed to "The Council of Panchen's Khenpos," and in the period of tenth Panchen Lama, it was again changed to "Commission of the Council of Panchen's Khenpos." The Panchen Lama himself also has the similar service structure as that of the Dalai Lama, providing him with daily advice on religious, economic and living affairs. Gyaibo Zhugu, a Living Buddha, is ranked next to the Dalai and Panchen Lamas. His name means Big Living Buddha and he acts as Prince Regent. Because Hutogtus carry out the role, their religious and political positions are important. Each Hutogtu has his own monastery - Living Buddha Razheng belongs to the Gyaichacang of Sera Monastery, while his own is the Razheng Monastery. Even if they did not not act as Prince Regent, they could have a generous income, and lead a comfortable life. Each Hutogtu has a Lharang, and has housekeepers in their manor in charge of collecting rent and administering the serfs. In Tibet, Big Living Buddhas have absolute seniority in their own areas. They grasp the religious and political rights within their territories, even the Kashag government could not put their orders through without the assistance of the Big Living Buddhas, Like Hutogtu Pagbalha in Qamdo Prefecture. There are also many Small Living Buddhas whose political position is higher than that of Lamas. Few Small Living Buddhas have their own temples or manors, usually lodging in a monastery, living on the name of Living Buddha and his donations. Their reincarnation is not assured, however, and sometimes the lineage ceases after several generations. In Tibet, the monastic social group is the same as society, with rigid stratification and different labor division. Some Lamas chant scriptures, practice divination and pray for the happy life for laity during their birth, death, wedding, funeral and disease. Other Lamas are responsible for general duties including physical labor while others are artisans, specifically in charge of sculpting, painting, printing and block cutting within the monasteries. Some Lamas study medicine and astrology, while others safeguard the security and order of the monasteries during important religious activities. Previously, Lamas in monasteries were divided into different strata, Living Buddha, Khenpo, monastery-keepers and Lamas of important position were the upper class, accounting for about four percent of the total. They monopolized power in the monasteries, and enjoyed special privileges. The remaining Lamas neither had any powers nor rights. Some of them were driven into the monasteries by cold and hunger, some of them hoped to escape from hard work or seek shelterand some were forced to enter the monasteries to carry out unpaid work. An investigation in two small temples under the Drepung Monastery in the early 1950s found of 287 Lamas, 124 had been taken to the monastery when they were very young, 126 were carrying out hard labor to pay off debts and 31 were forced to enter the monastery as a way of corvee. Only six entered of their own free will - just two percent. Monks had to undertake a series of feudal obligations as well as labor. According to the regulations of the monasteries, the feudal obligations and labor could be substituted by paying money. Few Lamas could afford the money, so they had to serve upper-class Lamas day and night, and generally led a miserable life. The Drepung Monastery stipulated that if someone want to be exempt from labor had to donate a meal to all Lamas of his temple and distribute 15-grammes silver to every Lama, 30-kilogrammes silver to the temple fund - an amount which easily totalled between 300 and 400 kilogrammes and totally unaffordable. Nobles, another section of the ruling class, included governmental officials, and the families of the Dalai and Panchen. Throughout Tibetan history, there have been around 400 families who were recognized as nobles including Lama officials. The succession was sometimes discontinued because of the death of the patriarchies or the disability of male members. Some of their properties were confiscated and some titles were abolished for political reasons. By 1959, there were less than 200 noble families in Tibet. They were divided into three categories - tribal chiefs of Tubo Dynasty, who had been considered as the subordinate of imperial court, with the family history being traced back to the reign of Songzan Gambo, such as Dokar family, families that rendered outstanding services to previous dynasties and families of Dalai and Panchen of all generations, called Yaoxi. From the seventh Dalai Lama to the 14th, seven families had been formed, such as the Lhangdun and Lhalu families. The 200 noble families have strong political and economic powers. Half the laymen and Lama officials in local Tibetan government were from these families. Each hereditary noble family has several with large areas of land. Dorin himself had more than 40,000 ke in land. A noble name was hereditary and promotion from a small noble to a big one was difficult. Although the small nobles occupied a certain position in the government, power was centralized in the hands of the over 20 big nobles. If a senior noble committed a crime he was downgraded to a lesser nobility - or even stripped of his status. If a serf or farmer wanted to be a noble, he had to be a family member of a reincarnated Dalai or Panchen. The current 14th Dalai Lama was born in a common farmer's home in Qinghai Province, China. After he became the 14th Dalai Lama, his family obtained the position of big noble.