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The Mi-ser in Tibetan Society: why is it problematic to refer to the peasantry of pre-1959 Tibet as "serfs"?

Categories of mi-ser: an analysis

Goldstein (1986: 90) explains that
   [t]he mi-ser system prevalent in Tibet, [...] was intricately
   linked with economic production and labor. It was an efficient
   system of economic exploitation that guaranteed the country's
   religious and secular elites both land resources and a permanent
   and secure labor force to cultivate that land without burdening
   them with any direct day-to-day responsibility for the mi-ser s
   subsistence. It was a system of production for use rather than for
   market, that served the needs of an elite who were detached from
   direct production.

Whilst this pithy account succinctly sketches the general contours of the socioeconomic system prevalent in pre 1959-Tibet, it might be beneficial to provide a few contextual details. Most importantly, the "Tibetan mi-ser were neither a homogeneous category nor inevitably impoverished or abused with no chance of social or economic mobility" (6). In fact, there existed at least four different subcategories of mi-ser who varied widely in the nature of their obligations and socio-economical upward and downward mobility (7). Secondly, a considerable number of mi-ser rivalled or excelled the aristocratic (sger-pa) and government-related strata (gzhung-rgyug-pa) as presented in the appendix to this paper (8). Moreover, there are important systematic and analytical distinctions to be made between mi-ser tied to monastic estates (chos-gzhi'i mi-ser), mi-ser tied to noble estates (sger-ba'i mi-ser), and khral-pa tax paying mi-ser 'bound' to the government (gzhung-rgyug khral-pa) (9; 10). The stratification of the individual sub-groups of mi-ser is listed in ascending order of tax-burden, rights, social standing and economic opportunity (11):

1. The mi-ser without status (12)

Mi-ser who would leave the estate of their lord (dpon-po) without express consent would lose status and legal protection from the lord. If recaptured, they would face corporal punishment and imprisonment as corrective measure sanctioned by the central government (13). Having escaped their landlord's estate, mi-ser held this status in transition from one status to another--after three years without a claiming party, the mi-ser without status could either take up government responsibilities as gzhung-rgyugs-pa or attain the documented status of a mibogs on another estate (14).

2. The mi-ser not wielding rights to cultivate tenement lands for subsistence and profit from the landlords estate

a. hereditary servant or tshe-g.yog. According to Goldstein "this type closely approximated slaves" (15) since they, by birth, neither held land tenement rights nor were they paid for their services (16).

b. tax-appendage mi-ser, also known as "helpers of the tax-payer" mi-ser (khral-rogs, khral-skyong or khral-snon) (17).

c. human-lease or mi-bogs. Mi-ser of this category could leave their lord's estate against a yearly fee to be specified by the landlord (18), for example, if hired by an affluent khral-pa mi-ser (19) or "bound" dud-chung (20). The hiring party would in some cases pay the fee (21) directly to the landlord from whom the mi-bogs was to be rented. More often, a mi-bogs would pay the fee himself and seek employment on his own. Economic opportunities included military service--often in substitution for more affluent (non)-government khral-pa mi-ser unwilling to be conscripted by the government--agricultural labour, trading, craftsmanship, and sometimes setting up a business (Michael: 1982, 46). In this way, the mi-bogs gained freedom of movement and could readily make profit from which to pay his fee, all the while remaining under the legal protection of his lord who would come to his aid if disputes were to arise.

3. Mi-ser wielding rights (22) to cultivate tenement lands for subsistence and profit from the landlord's estate

a. "Bound" dud-chung mi-ser (23) held insignificant rkang (24) of land that generally did not yield abundant crops. Yet, at the same time, they had to face a considerably lighter tax-load than the khral-pa mi-ser (25). Obligations included payment in crops, herding-animals, money (lag-'don) and services such as spinning wool and estate maintenance and labour on the manorial demesne land.

b. The khral-pa ("taxpayer") mi-ser derived this appellation not from the fact that his was the only category of taxed peasant-subjects, but because his "tax obligation was the most varied and in particular included the difficult corvee carrying tax" (26) (rkang-'gro) that forced him to maintain by his own means a considerable amount of pack-animals that could not be gainfully employed for his own purposes (27). Instead, gzhung-rgyugs-pa miser (28) could claim these animals for corvee assignment (khal-ma), usually in combination with accompanying personnel ('u-lag) that had to be provided by the khral-pa. The manpower and pack-animals could be claimed for official travel at any point, "on an open-ended basis" and by authority of the government. (Goldstein, 1971a: p. 527). Unlike landless mi-ser, they held the hereditary and legal rights to both reap profits gained from the cultivation of tenements (that remained in the possession of the landlord) (29) and reinvest these profits according to their own preference, unlocking an economic upward-mobility difficult to rival by most classes of mi-ser.

4. The government mi-ser

The gzhungs-rgyugs-pa mi-ser ("government" mi-ser), comprised a class "bound" to the respective "government serf type corporate village" (30) and a class "bound" to the governing district. This type of mi-ser can further be classified as "administrative mi-ser" and "non-administrative mi-ser".

a. Non-administrative government mi-ser contained the following sub-strata:

I. Firstly a variant of the mi-bogs category in that it comprised of runaway mi-ser who have not been claimed by their landlord for three years and thereafter obtained governmental "human lease status at a nominal annual cost" (Goldstein, 1986: 105), together with the concomitant legal protection.

II. The second type of non-administrative government mi-ser was bound to the land and held rights and duties largely comparable to the "taxpaying" khral-pa mi-ser with the simple exception that he was accountable to a governmental estate steward appointed by the district commissioner (rdzong dpon) (31), rather than a private land-owner (Goldstein: 1986, p. 89). Government khral-pa had both individual (household) tax-duties and tax-obligations to be provided from the community as a whole (32).

b. "administrative government mi-ser" did not have any obligation to pay taxes derived from agriculture and its derivatives, or be legally accountable either to a landlord or the governmental estate steward. Instead, they would collect taxes for the government, record income, and in doing so travel along the governmental transportation and communication network (sa-tshig), demanding manpower and animal corvee service as discussed in (3b).

Difficulties arise when attempting to find a singular, unifying term for this range of socio-economic groupings and their underlying power-structures. Goldstein has suggested a non-feudal version of "serfdom" as conceptual framework for analyzing the Tibetan phenomenon, wherein the mi-ser features as "serf". Following Bloch's definition of the term, he categorizes a "serf' as an individual, who

(a) was hereditarily tied to land and lord.

(b) in contradistinction to 'slaves proper' had rights and possessed (but did not own) productive resources (land) from which to derive his livelihood.

(c) were subjects to their landlords legal and institutionally buttressed right [to extract resources from them and] to command them to accomplish work for him.

Goldstein (1986: 80)

Systematic Context

Although indeed all mi-ser were "hereditarily tied to land and lord" (33) (first characteristic in the definition of "serfdom"), it is necessary to contextualize the precise nature of these ties with the opportunities that sprung from it in order to avoid a distorted picture. The "landlord"--an aristocrat, ecclesiast or a government rdzong-dpon--grants legal protection to the mi-ser in return for tax obligations (34) that included services, perishable goods, livestock and financial remuneration. This legally binding and officially documented contract was compulsorily inherited through "parallel descent" (35) on the side of the mi-ser and was fixed as an inalienable, built-in feature of the estate-structure, binding also for a new landlord, in case of estate take-over (36).

As for the third characteristic of "serfdom" listed above--the fact that the landlords held a "legal and institutionally buttressed right [to extract resources from them and] to command them to accomplish work for him"--this criterion again has to be put into perspective. Firstly, the serfs also held the "right to initiate legal action against their lords" (37). In this way the estates had only very limited, delegated juridical authority to carry out minor legal duties and to settle local quarrels. The state alone-- through the district magistrate and, in the final instance, the Dalai Lama's government--had full juridical authority (38). What is more, if a mi-ser complained to the Lhasa government about any act of oppression by his estate owner, the Lhasa government would investigate, and its decision was binding on the estate owner

(Michael: 1982, 46).

Furthermore, the contractually delimited tax and service-obligations (39) were demanded not from individual mi-ser personally but from the khral-pa household as a conceptual entity (40). Whilst a mi-ser was certainly held accountable for delivery of demanded goods and services, he was neither forced into being part of the production process, nor was he given quomodo parameters for the extraction procedure of the required goods and services. As a consequence, khral-pa mi-ser were free to "delegate" tax-service demands made by the government (e.g. "conscription tax" (41)) to paid mi-bogs--thereby effectually transcending structural limitations by economic means. Khral-pa mi-ser also were entitled to "outsource" work-processes necessary for the acquisition of profit (42). If done with sufficient economic acumen, khral-pa mi-ser could rest ascertained that both the contractually set annual government duties and sporadic unforeseen demands made by their lords were fulfilled whilst profits kept growing without direct and continuous involvement. Instead, the khral-pa could go on extended pilgrimage, start trading ventures, pursue craftsmanship and engage in a multiplicity of other activities that no "serf" as such could foster any realistic hopes of ever participating in (43). Having a legally buttressed, documented right (lag-'dzin) (44) to cultivate or even sublet tenement plots, the khral-pa had a firm base (rten), from which they "could not be evicted" (45) and from which to derive their livelihood and foster economic expansion. Speaking from a purely structural standpoint, the degree to which de jure parameters of "serfdom" could be transcended depended directly on a mi-ser's individual capacity to make financial profit and efficiently delegate responsibilities (46). The empirical figures found in Michael (1982: 46) (47) indicate that a considerable amount of mi-ser did in fact achieve a level of affluence that secured personal, social and economical freedom unattainable in most societies whose social system is marked by "serfdom" (48). If a "landless" mi-bogs decided to work on a contractual basis as wage-earner, he could expect to be paid for his service and labour and could decline or agree to a work-offer on an individual basis (49)--all the while under legal protection from the lord who had granted him mibogs status. Apart from working as wage-earners, mi-bogs could, and often did, become tsong-pa, i.e. traders and private entrepreneurs, who could become very wealthy. Although most of them remained nominally mi-ser, their mi-bog [...] was negligible in comparison to their practically untaxed income from trade and business. Many tsong-pa came from rural origins but did well with their enterprises, so their income matched or surpassed that of the wealthy aristocratic families"

(Michael: 1982, 119).

This feature in particular--"a form of market competition for labor resources" (50) and private enterprise--runs counter to most popular conceptions of "serfdom", as a social order primarily based on the systematic extraction of unpaid labour from the 'serfs'. Instead, in pre-1959 Tibet, "rural life at the ground level was [...] characterized by considerable flexibility" (51): the freedom to engage in trade and to set up economic enterprises was readily attainable by both mi-ser who did not hold the right to cultivate lands for personal use and those who did (52).

Nevertheless, it needs to be stated that in line with Prof. Goldstein's presentation, mi-ser classes 2(a-b) did in fact experience a high degree of non-economic and systematic compulsion from which they were generally unable to escape for lack of economic opportunity and social standing. Also, the damaging effects on personal initiative that ensued from their situation need to be taken into consideration (53). Yet, since "landless" mi-bogs did not have hereditary access rights to "productive resources ... from which to derive their livelihood"--which features as second criterion in Goldstein's definition of "serfdom"--they also fail to qualify as "serfs".

Concluding remarks

It goes without saying that none of the observations made in this paper would carry any cogency without the untiring effort of Prof. Goldstein in compiling ample, sharp, and detailed analyses of the Tibetan social system throughout more than five decades of dedicated work. It also needs to be stated in support of Prof. Goldstein's perspective--and in defense of his specific use of terminology--that Vladimirtsov (1948: 110-168), in his analysis of the social system of mediaeval Mongolia, comes to the conclusion that a highly stratified form of "nomadic feudalism" characterised the relationship of Mongol overlords with their conquered tributary vassal states during the Yuan and Ming dynasties of the 16th and 17th centuries (1948: 15). Even domestically, the Mongol clans would enter 'feudalistic' relationships with each other where entire clans would pledge fealty to more powerful Mongol tribes and consequently become their 'serfs' (Mongolian: unagan bogil) (54). Since the Mongols

exercised a very strong influence on Tibet through Yuan administrative rule from 1270-1350 CE (55) and also went to great lengths in actively remodeling the Tibetan social and administrative system (56), it would not be very far fetched to look for corresponding features of the same "nomadic feudalism" which characterized Mongol society in Tibet at that period of time.

Surprisingly, however, and much in support of the basic arguments of this article, the same socio-economical upward mobility (57) that enabled the Tibetan mi-bogs, "bound" and runaway mi-ser (58) to overcome the in-built limitations of "serfdom" can be found in their mediaeval Mongolian equivalents. Vladimirtsov (1948: 125) explains: "au temps de Ehinggis-han, les unagan bogol n'etaientpas des 'esclaves' mais des 'vassaux serfs', pouvantfacilement acceder auxplaces d'honneur, devenir par exemple noyan-chiliarque" (59). Considering these points, it is difficult to agree with the contention that either the Mongolian unag an bogol or the Tibetan mi-ser thus "clearly fits the definitions of serfdom cited in the beginning of the paper" (60).

If indeed a translation for the term mi-ser is to be essayed at all, any authoritative designation needs to be based on an accurate assessment of the systematic function of the mi-ser population (61). Analytically, the mi-ser as a socio-economic and political unit needs to be seen in contradistinction to the governmental, aristocratic and ecclesiastical holders of estates, who act as systematic antipodes. Since these latter groups "constitute the ruling class organized into a state" (Carrasco: 1959, 210), it might be more practicable to present the mi-ser more as "non-aristocratic lay subjects" than as 'serfs'.


The social stratification of subjects surpassing the mi-ser in socio-political significance at the time of Skal-bzang rgya-mtsho (the 7th Dalai Lama) 1708-1758 CE

This classification is entirely based on Schuh's interpretation and German translation of the official letter commissioned by Skal-bzang rgya-mtsho to Zilgnon dbang-rgyal rdo-rje, an official of the stupa at Bodhnath, Nepal (See Schuh, 1974: 430-1).
(a) Citizens whose high social status excels their
politico-administrative significance:

rgyal-po      Local lords whose political authority is
              limited by the central government
rgyal-rigs    Exceedingly affluent high nobility
mkhan(-po)    Abbotts
slob(-dpon)   Tantric ritual master
bla-gnyer     Administrator at a reincarnate master's estate

(b) Citizens performing highly respected civic duties that excel their
high social status:

bka'(-blon)         Members of the governing council (bka-shag)
mda'(-dpon)         Provincial governor
rtsis(-dpon)        Finance minister; chief accountant (Compare
                    Carrasco: 1959, 95).
hor & sog (-dpon)   Leaders of the Mongol tribes known as Hor and Sog.

(c) Officials at District-level:

a.k.a. rdzong-dpon    district governor
gzhis-sdod            Administrator of government--property
yong(-sdud-pa)        Tax-collector
bkar('jug-pa)         Administrator of granaries/storehouses
gnyer(-pa)            either "low-level administrator" (62)
                      or estate steward (63)
                      (phyag-mdzod; gzhis-gnyer)
las-'dzin             administrative employees

(d) Officials at local level (rdzong and tsho) (64)

[rdzong-dpon] (65)   governors of the rdzong comprising 1 lay
                     official, 1 monk official (66).
[rdzong-gnyer]       "storekeepers" (Carrasco: 1959, 93) of the
                     bka'-rgya (reserve store) and rdzong-mdzod
(tsho-)dpon          provost of the tsho
lding(-dpon)         "Cohort leader".
bcu(-dpon)           "Leader of ten"

(e) Mi-ser and foreign travelers (as discussed in this paper)

Caveat: Dargyay (1982: 26) argues that a considerable degree of spyi-pa'i miser (commoners) actually rivaled and outclassed nobility in affluence and social status despite their "technical" classification as "commoners" [cmp. footnote 8 in this paper]. Further invaluable information concerning the hierarchical and social status of individual bureaucrats of the dga'-ldan pho-brang government administration can be found in Petech (1973: 8) as discussed by Cuppers (in Krasser (ed.): 1997(1), 189-92), who also provides further references to other noteworthy sources such as the rdzong-gzhis dang dkar-yong-sogs-kyi[s] [m]tshon-pa'i rtsis-su gtong-'jog-skor-gyi rtsa-tshig (available from the Bavarian State Library of Munich, Germany) and the blang-dor gsal-ba stonpa'i drang thig dwangs-shel-gyi me-long nyer-gcig-pa written by the Sdesrid Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho of the fifth Dalai Lama (compare Footnotes 5 and 7 (ibid.). See also Richardson (1980).


(1.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 522.

(2.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 521. Michael (1982: 47) perceives the term 'serfdom' to be "a misnomer and very misleading". Instead he argues for a Weberian "bureaucracy" to be a more fitting analytical framework, presenting it as "a term that may be used for the political and religious system as well as for the social order" (ibid. 45).

(3.) Goldstein (1986: p.80).

(4.) See Goldstein (2007: 10).

(5.) Attainable, in Michael's analysis, by "marriage, appointment or enterprise" (1982: 119).6 Goldstein: 1986, p. 90.

(7.) Goldstein: 1986, p. 93. Dargyay (1982: 30-32) shows ways in which a miser could actually benefit from a demotion in the social system and actively sought to effectuate the latter.

(8.) See Dargyay (1982:26).

(9.) Compare Dargyay (1982: 22-6), who also argues that the gzhung-rgyug khral-pa deserves a special categorization (in our paper: category 4, below), since the "prestige and responsibility which they held, tended to make the governmental tax-payers into a solid group, into almost a special cultural structure, or what is called a 'subculture' by sociologists" (ibid. 23).

(10.) Without specifying the exact point in time at which these figures were applicable, Carrasco (1959: 86) informs us that the Church held 42% of the land, whilst the government estates controlled 37% of arable land, followed by the nobility with 21%.

(11.) Dargyay (1982: 27) shows that stratification was more pronounced in the towns and cities than amongst villages and nomads. Nevertheless, rural strata in Dargyay's study (ibid. 29) are presented congruent to the analysis in this paper (cmp. ibid. 29). Carrasco (1959: 28) evaluates social rank on the basis of "1. ownership of land and herds, and 2. The amount of self-determination exercised by the family" (in Dargyay: 1982, 27).

(12.) Michael (1982:46) lists a stratum of professional beggars (yawa) which is difficult to categorize, and which he presents as stratum below the class of mi-ser. Carrasco classifies them as "out-castes", including "corpse-cutters, butchers, fishers, and smiths" (1959: 121). Similar difficulties occur with an unambiguous classification of the 'untouchables' (rab gyab pa). This "caste, which has been described in Barbara Nimri Aziz, Tibetan Frontier Families (New Delhi, 1978), pp. 56-66, appears to have been recognized as a special social stratum only in the South Tibetan area of Dingri, the location of Aziz's study" (ibid. 201, note 7).

(13.) Goldstein: 1986, p. 95.

(14.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 529.

(15.) Goldstein: 1985, p. 95.

(16.) Goldstein: 2007, p. 6. It should be noted, however, that a convicted criminal could re-enter the social system as "servants in the nobleman's household to fetch water, sweep the house" and work as "shepherds" (Dargyay: 1982, 26).

(17.) Dargyay 1982: 31.

(18.) Goldstein: (1971[a], p.5). Michael (1982, 118, citing Shuh: 1976) contends that this fee was "in practice a very small amount".

(19.) Goldstein: 1986, p. 96.

(20.) Goldstein: 1971(a), p. 4.

(21.) "Human lease status fees varied significantly in size and nature. The fee was typically money but sometimes also labor or goods or even both" (Goldstein: 2007, p.11).

(22.) Carrasco (1959: 44).

(23.) Coleman points to the fact that Goldstein's (1986) article defines dud-chung mi-ser as "landless serfs" whereas his earlier presentation posits that they did hold rights to cultivate small tenements 1971(a), p.5 (Coleman: Master's Thesis, Ch. 3). Michael (1982: 117), too, classifies dud-chung as mi-bogs mi-ser.

(24.) rkang is a unit in the measuring of lands that considers factors such as geographical size, fertility and climatic conditions (Goldstein 1971[b], p. 7).

(25.) Goldstein: 1971(a), p. 5.

(26.) Goldstein (1971[a]: p. 4). Michael (1982: 117).

(27.) Since khral-pa 'tax-payer' mi-ser both had to pay taxes in goods and service to the government and their respective (usually sger-ba or 'noble') estate, Dargyay (1982: 25) classifies them as "dual-tariffed tax-payers".

(28.) See mi-ser category 4b.

(29.) Goldstein: 2007, p. 10. In fact, landlords themselves never exercised any property rights over the land allocated to them (Carrasco: 1959, 211), all lands remained property of the ruler.

(30.) Goldstein (1971[a]: p. 4). Michael (1982: 117-8).

(31.) Goldstein: 1971(a), p. 4.

(32.) Goldstein: 1971(a), pp. 10-13. Michael (1982: 120) explains the administration of villages through elders (of the khral-pa stratum), who were chosen either by election or rotation. It was up to the leading families to decide how to meet the tax-obligations on the village level. In nomadic areas, communities were linked to the government officials via the tribal chieftain and their direct subordinates, the headmen (mgo-pa).

(33.) Compare Dargyay (1982: 22-5), who observes that the nexus of rights and obligations towards the respective estate was inherited by government-taxpayer--mi-ser, noble-estate mi-ser and monastic estate mi-ser families alike. This included the "petition for man separation" (mi-bkrol zhu-ba) that needed to be granted before a mi-ser can leave an estate: in this way he is tied to "land" and "lord" (Carrasco: 1959, 108).

(34.) It is important to note that according to Michael (1982: 115), both clerical and aristocratic estates were tax exempt, although "[a]dditional estates, acquired or granted, were taxable to different degrees".

(35.) Daughters would be tied to the contractual specifications inherited from her mother whilst sons would be born with the rights and obligations of their fathers. See Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 522. Dargyay (1982, 31), however, reports that in her investigated area social status was inherited through paternal descent: "Even if only the father belonged to the 'common people' (spyimi), his children inherited this rank".

(36.) Goldstein: 2007, p. p.10.

(37.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 523: "fa serf felt his lord had (or was) overstepping his authority-whether this involved land, taxes, or the lord's settlement of some dispute-the serf could unilaterally take his grievance to the central government for adjudication". The government, too, had a strict penal system to follow, the khrims-yig which, according to Rahul (1969: 44), "laid down what punishments were to be inflicted for the various offences. These codes, Shal lche bchu drug pa and Shal lche bchu gsum pa, were very nearly the same in substance", yet the latter underwent revision under "Changchub Gyaltsen of Phagmo Drupa and Later By the Dalai Lama VandDesi Sangye Gyatso" (ibid. 44).

(38.) The district governors' (rdzong-dpon) office as well was subjected to scrutiny and clear regulations against nepotism, partiality, corruption, sexual abuse and the like (see shes-rab sdong-bu in Carrasco: 1959, 93).

(39.) See Dargyay (1982: 58-80) for a detailed investigation of the tax-system in noble estates, clerical estates and governmental estates. See Schuh, D. (1974), for a discussion of public taxes (e.g. 'gab-bre; sgo-khral; la-khrod; 'babsdud; sga-khral; se-ba etc.

(40.) Dargyay notes (1982: 25) that this rule applied only to the sger-ba mi-ser working at noble-manors rather than the chos-gzhi'i mi-ser working at clerical estates.

(41.) Tib. dmag-khral.

(42.) Michael (1982: 119).

(43.) Michael (1982: 118-9).

(44.) Goldstein: 1971(a), p. 8.

(45.) Goldstein: 1971(a), p. 4.

(46.) The following examples illustrate the importance of economical prowess as a mi-ser's key assett to personal freedom from "serfdom": A "bound" mi-ser could only leave the estate to marry a mi-ser of another estate if an agreement was reached that either (a) the landlord was to be provided with a replacement workforce or (provided by the mi-ser or the landlord whose estate he was to marry into) or (b) if a mi-ser transferred to mi-bogs status, which involved a fee and sporadic duties. See Goldstein (2007: p. 11) and Carrasco (1959: 108). Furthermore, a mi-ser could only 'out-source' work-processes and services to other mi-ser if he could pay the wages, and a mibogs could only enjoy legal protection from a land-lord if he was able to pay the mi-bogs fee.

(47.) According to Aziz (1978: 68 as cited by Michael: 1982, 117) the "bound" mi-ser (category 3 in our scheme) comprised 54% of the traditional village. Dargyay (1982: 27), citing Peissel (1973: 86), makes a similar assessment, concluding that "government and private tax-payers owned together about fifty percent of the whole of the cultivated land". Category 2c mi-bogs miser, classified by as "landless laborers who were free to sell their labor" provided 43% of the population (Michael: 1982, 117). Uncertainties in categorization, definition and empirical methods aside, the study cited by Michael indicates that the great majority of the traditional Tibetan population indeed fell under the categories of the khral-pa/dud-chung and mi-bogs categories, although it might not exactly have been the 97% as presented in the study. Another important indicator of 'serfdom' or any of its derivative systems is the degree of economic polarization. According to Dargyay (1982: 80), almost "half the profits of the noble and monastic estates were returned to the subjects in the form of provisions and salaries, and the governmental tax-payers delivered a relatively large proportion of their annual income to the state as taxes. This had the effect of preventing large amounts of wealth from being hoarded by the extensively landed gentry, and on the other hand assured that a certain amount of the total proceeds flowed into the poorer social levels by way of remuneration. It contributed to the prevention of sharp divisions being formed between the rich and the poor; this balancing tendency in the Tibetan economic system was a further factor in the stability of the social structure."

(48.) In sum, Michael's verdict (ibid.) on his own figures contends that "[a]ll miser were thus much better off and economically far more independent than the termserf implies". Compare Goldstein (2007, p.13), who comes to a similar conclusion.

(49.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 527: "the 'human-lease' holding serf was free to decide how and for what purpose to commit himself as a resource. He could work where and at whatever he liked and for contracted wages or lease rather than as corvee service".

(50.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 528.

(51.) Goldstein: 2007, p.12.

(52.) According to Michael (1982: 46), who argues that both types of mi-ser "were free to engage in other enterprises, particularly trade, a major source of income on which there was no taxation to speak of. As a result, a substantial proportion of the mi-ser were traders (tsong-pa), a well-to-do group, which, together with the du-chung, made up the largest proportion of the town-dwellers."

(53.) Goldstein: 1971(b), p. 523: "This vulnerability of serfs was exacerbated further since lords held primary adjudicative rights over their serfs, including the right to mete out even severe punishment and imprisonment."

(54.) Les "relations de servitude se manifest[aient] lorsqu'un clan se trouvait dans la situation de vassal-serf (unagan bogol) d'un autre clan (Vladimirtsov: 1948: 123).

(55.) See Petech (1990: 40-44, 62).

(56.) Petech (1990: 139-140), Kaschewsky (1971: 7).

(57.) Compare Michael (1982: 116), who describes a "considerable social mobility of individuals (perhaps with the exception of a small outcast group of yawa) [...] aside from this open ladder for both spiritual and mundane advancement, the status structure was even less constraining than is sometimes believed." He describes the village aristocracy as consisting of "well-to-do families--who might be farmers or herdsmen or traders--who had not only practically but also legally risen from the status of mi-ser to one of social prestige, which they transferred to their children", concluding that the "very existence of their status is an indication of the social mobility in the agricultural and nomadic communities" (ibid. 121-2).

(58.) As noted above, the "runaway" mi-ser could reapply for entrance in the social system as mi-bogs mi-ser and soon thereafter enjoyed the same opportunities.

(59.) Vladimirtsov (1948: 135) explains the administrative chain of command of the Mongol system as being headed by a Khan, followed by the "Imperial Prince", the "myriarch", "Chiliarch" and the "leader of a hundred". An unagan bogil, or' serf' in the Mongol system, could thus head a sub-division to the myriarchy.

(60.) Goldstein: 1986, p. 108.

(61.) A term derived from a mi-ser's systemic function is helpful since otherwise "the application of the term mi-ser to all people in these various sectors of economic and social life conceals more than it explains" Michael (1982: 117).

(62.) Schuh (1974: 431).

(63.) Carrasco (1959: 101)

(64.) Schuh, D. (1974: 431) argues that the lho-tsho dgu as territorial units appear to have been introduced at a different time than the standardized rdzong administrative system devised by 'Phags-pa. Whilst these systems had not been fully integrated, the tsho is presented as subservient to the rdzong. Carrasco (1959: 92) shows there have been 53 districts and 123 sub-districts in pre-1959 Tibet.

(65.) rdzong-dpon and rdzong-gnyer do not figure in Schuh's account and are supplied by merit of Carrasco's study (1959: 92)

(66.) rdzong-dpon and rdzong-gnyer do not figure in Schuh's account and are supplied by merit of Carrasco's study (1959: 92)


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Date:Mar 22, 2013
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