LHASA: Yarlung Zangbo River, the longest plateau river in China and one of the highest rivers in the world, runs through the city of Shigatse in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. People living on the north bank have to cross the roaring river to reach the city’s downtown area and beyond.
Phumtsog, 88, a villager from Dongkar Town, and three generations of his offsprings have different versions of stories of crossing the river but are witnesses of the great changes in Tibet — from backwardness to progress and from poverty to prosperity spanning seven decades.
Recalling bitter days of the past, Phumtsog said that “children were taken as serfs at a very young age when their baby teeth had just fallen out, and they had to work for their masters from dawn to dusk.”
Phumtsog used to live a miserable life just like about 1 million serfs in old Tibet. Things began to change since the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951. One million serfs were liberated in 1959 when the feudal serfdom was abolished through democratic reform.
In 1956, Phumtsog, who was in his 20s, managed to cross the Yarlung Zangbo River on a boat made of bull hide and joined the Chinese People’s Liberation Army stationed in Shigatse. He received basic education in the army for the first time in his life. He also committed himself to ethnic unity and rendered help toward local production.
“I did not feel tired even after working around the clock, as the service was for the public, rather than for feudal masters,” Phumtsog said. He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1958.
Phumtsog’s son Dawa Tsering inherited the tradition of river-crossing on a bull-hide boat. At the age of 8, Dawa Tsering began to go to primary school in a town on the other side of the river.