LHASA, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Nearly 50 km west of Lhasa's city center, hidden in the middle of nowhere in the Lhasa River Valley surrounded by craggy mountains, is the obscure village of Shexing, a former manor of the 14th Dalai Lama's parents and the now home to about 400 Tibetan farmers.
Sunday is the "spring ploughing day", the 20th day of the Tibetan new year and an auspicious date to begin farming according to the Tibetan calendar, calculated on the basis of star movements.
All the villagers were dolled up in their best clothing: traditional costumes, hats or scarves and boots for the elderly, elegant silk jacket and costumes for young women, and colorful down coats with Mickey Mouse or other Disney images for children.
Ten-year-old Awangdasan stood out as the "chief seeder" for this year's ceremony. The third-grader was born in the Chinese year of the rabbit, with an auspicious birth date that implied good harvest, said village official Alodanba through an interpreter.
Awangdasan was dressed in a brown costume, with a hand-knitted, green and brown woolen sweater underneath and a scarlet hat on his head. A shy boy with few words, he quietly held a small bucket of highland barley, and followed two cattle -- both hybrids of bull and yak, to spread the seeds on the ploughed ground.
Eleven tractors, all privately-owned, followed them to plough the field, in the middle of which a fire had been lit. As a tradition, housewives from every family added firewood, highland barley and flour to the fire to keep it burning and giving off thick, but not suffocating, smoke, a gesture to worship gods and pray for harvest.
Not every inch of the village's 133 hectares of farmland was ploughed and planted Sunday. "It was just a ceremony, but an important event for all Tibetan farmers," said Alodanba. "Everyone will begin working in the fields tomorrow."
At the end of the ceremony, every family offered a hada, a white, Tibetan-style scarf to the "chief seeder", the cattle and the tractor drivers. At least 60 men and women stood in a circle to dance Tibetan dances and sing songs to hail their hometown.
"In my lovely homeland there is a pagoda made of gold; on top of the pagoda there is a beautiful mural; even after three days of rain and snow, the mural remains unchanged..." as one of the songs goes.
"We love to sing about the beautiful things in our life: the mountains, rivers, blue sky, and love between young men and women," said village official Alodanba. "In one word, we sing and dance to express our wish, for everyone to be healthy and for our homeland to be peaceful."
FEUDAL MANOR LOST
In Shexing Village today, few people remember the life before 1959, the year feudal serfdom was abolished in Tibet.
The village used to be a manor of the 14th Dalai Lama's parents. "No one remembered seeing his parents here. They entrusted a relative to take care of the holding," said Siniloshang, 68.
Siniloshang, who was a village official for 40 years before he retired last year, moved to Shexing Village to live with his wife's family in 1960. "I just heard the elderly people say the manor's housekeeper, Longsaiphuntsok, was cruel to the serfs. Every time he passed on horseback, whoever was on his way must turn around and run as far as possible."
As a young man, Siniloshang used to hear the elderly villagers sing a doggerel, which, with black humor, told the life and mindset of the serfs. The doggerel goes as follows, when translated into English:
"No food, no drink, but not a second's hesitation when there's work to be done; No shoes, no socks, trek along on your bare feet, day and night, all year round. So? Pray you had ironclad hoofs, and eyes of an owl so that you can work tirelessly day in, day out."
Today, not a single house of the former manor is still standing. "The old houses were shared among the poor villagers after 1959 and have been torn down over the years," said Siniloshang.
In a government-sponsored project, the villagers are building new homes with subsidies ranging from 24,000 to 45,000 yuan (3,530 to 6,620 U.S. dollars). By the end of this year, every family will move into their new homes, said Siniloshang.
Siniloshang was elected village secretary shortly after he was married. "It was a 'democratic election'," he said. "There were about 10 candidates but no ballot. So we just put our hats on the ground and the villagers voted by throwing peas into the hat of the ideal candidate."
Life was tough in the village, as few crops survive at an altitude more than 3,700 meters high. The villagers mainly plant highland barley and a little wheat, peas and occasionally, rape.
But thanks to the rich clay resources in the Lhasa River valley, most villagers make two incomes nowadays by farming and working at a local brickyard. "When they're not busy in the fields, they can work at the brickyard for 30 to 50 yuan a day," said Siniloshang.
The village, surrounded by mountains on all sides, had little access to traffic before the plateau highway linking Qinghai and Tibet was built in the 1950s. Today, a few families have bought trucks to bring in supplies to and from the inland regions. "Theserich families report 20,000 yuan of per capita income a year," said Siniloshang.
The average per capita annual income in Shexing Village is about 4,000 yuan a year, incomparable with the city dwellers but higher than the average 3,400 yuan in Maxiang Township, a cluster of six villages including Shexing.
"Until 1967, no one was able to read or write except a living Buddha at the village monastery," said Siniloshang. "The first village school was founded in the late 1960s."
Today, all the children go to the village primary school and move to the county seat of Doilungdeqen for secondary education. At least six young people have entered college, the oldest of whom, Zhasang, has secured a job at the Agricultural Bank of China in Nyemo County, in the suburbs of Lhasa.