BEIJING -- Serjor Drolkar was a herding serf until 1959, when Tibet underwent democratic reform.
"The memories of the first 13 years of my life are all about hardship, cold and hunger," said Serjor Drolkar, now 64.
A Tibetan man holding a national flag attends a ceremony to mark the first Serfs Emancipation Day in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet autonomous region, on March 28, 2009. [Xinhua]
Serjor Drolkar said that 1959 was a turning point in her life, when the Chinese central government launched democratic reform in Tibet, which ended feudal serfdom and emancipated the serfs and slaves there.
"I remembered that one day, I attended a mass gathering with several other children. I couldn't quite follow what was being said. But one People's Liberation Army officer told us, 'You don't have to be servants anymore. You're free now.' I knew what that meant."
Serjor Drolkar began going to school, later studying medicine in college. She retired as vice president of Tibet University.
Serjor Drolkar was not alone in Tibet in experiencing the vicissitudes of life, rising from serfdom to become masters of their own destiny and the nation.
Before 1959, serfs and slaves accounted for about 95 percent of the population in Tibet, according to Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, a living Buddha of the Kagyu sect and also vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region People's Congress.
"They possessed no means of production or personal freedom, not to mention basic human rights," he said.
In contrast, Tibetans now account for more than 86 percent of officials at county-level governments and and more than 70 percent at the provincial level in Tibet, according to official statistics.
Ragdi, 71, former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the top legislature, also had a tragic childhood.
He was a servant for herd owners. He remembered that he was bitten by a dog while begging and nearly died of infection, because his family had no money for a doctor.
Baje, another former child serf, can still remember scrambling with dogs for leftovers discarded by serf owners.
Now with an annual household income of 10,000 yuan (1,463 US dollars), she and her family live in a two-story building in Trandruk Township, Shannan Prefecture. With a solar water heater on the roof, she said her family could have a hot bath whenever they wanted.
"Only those who have suffered in the winter can understand the warmth of sunshine," said Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet regional government, who was also a peasant in old Tibet.