83-year-old former serf: I want to live another 60 years

83-year-old Norjo lives in Lage Village, Gungtang Township, Damshung County, southwest China's Tibet. Before the democratic reform in Tibet, Norjo and his mother, aunt, and three brothers had to go begging to make a living.

When Norjo was 19 years old, Tibet was in the fourth year of its peaceful liberation. The Qinghai-Tibet Highway was about to be opened to traffic, and construction on Damshung Airport had begun. Norjo was just one of tens of thousands of builders.

More than 60 years later, old Norjo still remembers that after more than a month of work, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) gave him 46 silver dollars, 23 kilograms of tsampa, a half-kilogram of yak butter, and one brick of tea.

That was the first time he had gotten such a generous pay! He used the money to buy a few livestock for his family, and then he bought some candy. It was also the first time he tasted the aromatic flavor of barley wine.

"From that moment, I didn't want to die," old Norjo said, remembering how he felt back then.

In Norjo's childhood memories, his home was a small tent baking in the plateau sun. "It looks like a pile of bird droppings far away and is made of some rags actually," Norgjo says.

His family of six crowded inside, and the broken tent could not protect them against the wind and rain or stop wild wolves on the mountain. Their clothing, only a piece of worn Tibetan robes, was still "decent", and whoever went out to beg would wear it.

Every year, after taxes were paid, there was not much grain left for the family. In the spring, the family would dig for silverweeds on the grassland, which they used to exchange for a small amount of food. They also dug some colored plants, so his mother could beg for some dye work, and maybe they could exchange for some tsampa.

In the autumn, when Buddhist ceremonies were held at Jangra Monastery, what Norjo most awaited was the fire ritual, because after the ceremony, he could grab some of the offerings from the fire to eat. This was the only time he had enough to eat.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that making offerings in fire is to feed demons and ghosts. Stealing these offerings was despised by everyone. But hunger is enough to destroy all human dignity, and Norjo couldn't care that much.

After the PLA came to Damshung, heartfelt laughter finally came out from Norjo's little family tent. He said: "At that time, I finally felt that it was worth to be alive."

In 1959, the reactionary aristocrats in Tibet launched an armed rebellion. Norjo joined a contingent to support the front line of the PLA. A few months later, when he and his companions returned home with a car of tea bricks, their hometown had changed.

The democratic reform had changed the fates of people like Norjo. He became a member of the village's security protection committee, got married, and had children.

In the spacious pastoral yard, there are two houses lined up to the south. There is also a new house to the west, which was funded by the government. On the eaves of the house, a scented cloth that is changed during the Tibetan New Year floats in the wind.

"Now we are all old, and there are not many livestock left at home, but we have pension insurance, grassland ecology subsidies, and dividends from the village collective. Life is very comfortable, and I have also bought a van," Norjo said.

"In another two months, we will leave the winter grazing area and move to the ‘Sunshine Villa' one kilometer away. The community is well equipped and the environment is particularly good."

"I want to live another 60 years!" Norjo says with a smile.