How a Ti­betan Serf Was Named Af­ter the Found­ing of New China

As a serf in old Ti­bet, he didn’t de­serve a name. Not un­til he was 20 did he have an of­fi­cial name - Jian­guo, “the found­ing of the state.

Fiji Sun - - China News -

Wang Jian­guo, 70, didn’t have a name un­til he was 20. Mr Wang was born a serf in old Ti­bet’s Nagqu.

His par­ents, both beg­gars at the time, sent him to work for a no­ble fam­ily to avoid star­va­tion when he was just eight.

He herded sheep in the day, and slept in a sheep­fold at night, in ex­change for a piti­ful amount of tsampa that could barely fill his stom­ach.

He only had a rug made of ragged sheep­skin on his back even in win­ter, us­ing it as a cover when he was sleep­ing.

But he couldn’t sleep well, not only be­cause of the cold, but also due to the pain in his knees and feet, as they were ex­posed all year round.

“Serfs like me had noth­ing to eat or wear. Some were so hun­gry that they would steal a lamb or a yak, risk­ing eye-goug­ing or leg­break­ing if they were caught and handed over to the old gov­ern­ment,” he re­called. He of­ten saw his mas­ter strip serfs and tie them to wooden col­umns, be­fore whip­ping them ruth­lessly.

“A hun­dred lashes was the most le­nient pun­ish­ment I counted, some­times it could amount to sev­eral hun­dred. The mas­ter even un­leashed dogs to at­tack you at night,” Mr Wang said.

He can still re­mem­ber the fear and ter­ror, even though he was very young at the time. Also as a serf, he didn’t de­serve a name. His par­ents called him Nima, and peo­ple around him called him “Nima the serf ” af­ter he was sent to serve his mas­ter. It was his very first name.

In 1959, the theo­cratic feu­dal serf sys­tem was abol­ished in Ti­bet. Wang, turn­ing 10 that year, re­united with his par­ents.

The fam­ily re­ceived sheep and yaks from the new gov­ern­ment. With prop­erty, they fi­nally

had a sta­ble life.

Get­ting a name

Ten years later, he spent al­most two days, walk­ing nearly 100 km to a nearby county to en­list. Dur­ing regis­tra­tion, he was asked for his name. But he couldn’t an­swer.

He said his brother who joined the army sev­eral years ear­lier gave him­self a Han name Wang Yongjun - Wang from his fa­ther’s Ti­betan name of Wang­dui, and Yongjun mean­ing “sup­port the army.”

A sol­dier was in­spired and said: “Why don’t you name your­self Wang Jian­guo, as you were born in 1949, the same year the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China was founded.”

In Chi­nese, Jian­guo lit­er­ally means “the found­ing of the state.” It is a pop­u­lar name in China for peo­ple born in 1949 to mark the found­ing of New China.

So the 20-year-old had an of­fi­cial name for the first time in his life.

A year af­ter, he joined the Com­mu­nist Party of China when he was work­ing on the front­line. In 1988, he was de­mo­bilised as the head of a lo­cal armed forces de­part­ment and trans­ferred to a new post - a deputy Party sec­re­tary of the trans­port de­part­ment of Nagqu Pre­fec­ture, now a city.

In old Ti­bet, over 95 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion were serfs. But thanks to the peace­ful lib­er­a­tion and demo­cratic re­form in Ti­bet, those peo­ple’s lives were com­pletely trans­formed.

Life of Chair­man Mao in­spires Wang

In 1993, Mr Wang ap­plied for an early re­tire­ment due to health is­sues. When asked if he had any other re­quire­ments, he said he had only one wish: to take the Chair­man Mao bust in his of­fice with him.

Mr Wang and his wife and son now live in a two-storey house with a court­yard in a nice neigh­bor­hood in down­town Lhasa, cap­i­tal of Ti­bet Au­tonomous Re­gion.

The Mao bust is placed in the most prom­i­nent po­si­tion in the liv­ing room. “Without Chair­man Mao, there would be no life with dig­nity for Ti­betan peo­ple. The bust has be­come the most trea­sured thing in my fam­ily,” he said.

Ti­bet has been through peace­ful lib­er­a­tion, demo­cratic re­form, es­tab­lish­ment of the au­tonomous re­gion and re­form and open­ing-up over the past 70 years, re­al­is­ing the fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion of its so­cial in­sti­tu­tions and all-round so­cial progress. Once the op­pressed, the peo­ple have be­come the main force in mod­ernising Ti­bet.

“I owe ev­ery­thing I’ve got to the Party,” he said.

Photo: Xin­hua

Wang Jian­guo shows his ID card, with his name in both Man­darin and Ti­betan.

Photo: Xin­hua

Wang Jian­guo wipes the Mao bust at home.

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