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Tibet in 50 Years
Special> Tibet in 50 Years
UPDATED: March 4, 2009
Full Text: Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet
Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China March 2009, Beijing

Tibet's one million serfs and slaves became masters of the land and other means of production for the first time, making them full of enthusiasm for production and life, and giving rise to a rapid change in Tibet's social situation and living conditions. When the land reform was basically completed in 1960, the total grain yield for the whole of Tibet was 12.6 percent higher than in 1959 and 17.5 percent higher than in 1958, the year before the land reform. Moreover, the total number of livestock was 10 percent more than in 1959. During the democratic reform, Tibet's first supply and marketing cooperative, first rural credit cooperative, first community primary school, first night school, first literacy class, first film projection team and first medical organization were established. By the end of 1959, 28 neighborhood committees had been set up in Lhasa, offering jobs to over 8,700 vagrants and beggars, providing relief to more than 8,500 poor people, and taking in over 120 childless, aged, sick and disabled people. In 1960, Ngachen Hydroelectric Station was completed and put into use, bringing electric lighting for the first time to the citizens of Lhasa. In 1959 and 1960, dozens of small-scale modern factories were set up in Tibet, employing over 20,000 Tibetan workers. Tibet's roads built in those two years totaled 12,500 km, and reached over 90 percent of the counties in the region.

Abolishing theocracy, and implementing the separation of state and religion, and the freedom of religious belief. During the democratic reform, means of production, including land and livestock, originally owned by monasteries involved in the armed rebellion were all confiscated, while a policy of redemption was introduced with regard to the means of production of monasteries which had not participated in the rebellion. During the democratic reform, on the one hand, citizens' freedom of religious belief, and patriotic and law-abiding monasteries were protected by decree. Citizens' freedom to become a monk or nun and to resume secular life, regular religious activities as well as historical monasteries and cultural relics were all protected. On the other hand, a policy of political unity, freedom of religious belief and separation of politics and religion was adopted, abolishing monasteries' feudal privileges in economy and politics, repealing monasteries' feudal occupation and exploitation, and personal slavery, as well as feudal management and hierarchy inside the monasteries, and ensuring that all religious beliefs were politically equal. Public funds and properties inside the monasteries were managed democratically, serving as production funds and for supporting monks and nuns as well as regular religious activities; the monasteries' management committees uniformly administered the land distributed to monks and nuns in accordance with their labor ability, and managed production. When the income of a monastery was unable to cover its regular expenses, the government would grant a subsidy. Through the democratic reform, all the monasteries in Tibet elected their own management committees, conducting democratic management. The democratic reform enabled the true features of religion to emerge, effectively safeguarding the Tibetan people's freedom of religious belief, and laying a foundation for the introduction of the political system of people's democracy in Tibet.

Establishing the people's democratic state power, ensuring that the people enjoy rights as their own masters. Overthrowing the system of feudal serfdom, the emancipated Tibetan people of various ethnic groups established people's democratic organs of state power. By the end of 1960, Tibet had established 1,009 organs of state power at township level, and 283 at district level, 78 at county level (including county-level districts) and eight at prefecture (city) level. The number of cadres of Tibetan and other minority ethnic groups totaled over 10,000 in Tibet. Among them, township-level ones were all from the Tibetan ethnic group, more than 90 percent of the district-level ones were from the Tibetan ethnic group, and over 300 Tibetan cadres held leading posts at and above the county level. More than 4,400 liberated serfs and slaves were trained as cadres at the grass-roots level. In 1961, a general election was held all over Tibet. For the first time, the former serfs and slaves were able to enjoy rights as their own masters. Thousands of liberated serfs and slaves, dressed in splendid attire, holding hada (white symbolic scarves) in both hands, actively participated in the election of power organs and governments at all levels in the region, exercising their democratic rights with great political enthusiasm and a deep sense of responsibility. In August 1965, the election at the level of township and county was completed in Tibet. One thousand three hundred and fifty-nine townships and towns conducted elections at the basic level, and 567 townships and towns held their people's congresses. The people's democratic organs of state power at county level were established in 92 percent of the region, with the majority of participants being liberated serfs and slaves. In addition, 54 counties held their first people's congresses to elect the county magistrates and deputy magistrates, and established people's committees. In September 1965, the First People's Congress of Tibet was convened, at which the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region was officially proclaimed. Over 80 percent of the 301 deputies to the congress came from the Tibetan and other ethnic minorities. More than 11 percent were patriots from the upper strata and religious figures. Most deputies of the Tibetan ethnic group to the congress were liberated serfs and slaves. The founding of the people's democratic organs of state power politically guaranteed the Tibetan people's rights as their own masters.

The surging tide of democratic reform took only a few years to overthrow the feudal serfdom system that had been practiced in Tibet for centuries. The reform liberated Tibet's million serfs and slaves politically, economically and socially, brought an entirely new look to Tibet's society, and ushered in a new era for Tibet's development. It was an epoch-making reform in Tibet's history of social advancement and development of human rights, marking the beginning of rapid social development in Tibet.

III. Tremendous Historic Changes Over the Past Half-century

Over the past five decades since the democratic reform, and with the care of the Central People's Government and the support of the people of the entire country, the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, as their own masters, have displayed great enthusiasm in building a new happy life, promoting development of local economy and society in a frog-leaping manner and scoring world-shaking historic achievements in various undertakings.

Tibet has experienced historic changes in its social system, which provides an institutional guarantee of the people's right to be their own masters. In 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was founded, marking the establishment of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet and a historic leap from theocratic feudal serfdom to socialism featured with people's democracy. From then on, Tibet entered a new era, with the people becoming their own masters. The former serfs and slaves have since enjoyed political rights to equal participation in the administration of state affairs and to independent administration of local and ethnic affairs. The people of Tibet, as other ethnic groups in China, enjoy all the rights guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution and other laws. They can directly elect, in accordance with the law, deputies to the people's congresses at county, district, township and town levels, and the latter elect deputies to the people's congresses at the national, autonomous regional and municipal levels. Through the people's congresses at various levels, the people of Tibet exercise their rights, in accordance with the law, to participation in the administration of state and local affairs.

In the elections for the people's congresses at the autonomous regional, prefectural (municipal), county and township (town) levels in 2007, the proportion of participating residents was 96.4 percent, and as high as 100 percent in some places. Of the more than 34,000 deputies, directly or indirectly elected, to the people's congresses at the above four levels, more than 94 percent were members of the Tibetans or other ethnic minorities. Of the deputies to the current NPC, 20 are from Tibet, including 12 Tibetans, one Monba and one Lhoba.

Tibetans' rights to independent administration of local and ethnic affairs are guaranteed. Since 1965, the posts of chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress and chairman of the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region have all been held by Tibetans, and the chief leaders of the standing committees of people's congresses and the people's governments at various levels in the autonomous region are also Tibetans. So are the chief leaders of local courts and procuratorates at all levels. Tibetans and other ethnic-minority people compose 77.97 percent of the staff of current state organs at the autonomous regional, prefectural (municipal) and county levels.

The Tibet Autonomous Region not only has the right to formulate local regulations as a provincial-level state organ, it can also decide on local affairs, and formulate self-government regulations and separate regulations in line with local political, economic and cultural characteristics. Where the resolutions, decisions, orders and instructions by superior state organs do not apply to the conditions in Tibet, the Tibetan autonomous organs can request adjustment or suspension of the relevant documents.

Statistics show that since 1965 the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region has enacted 250 local regulations, resolutions and decisions with regulatory nature, which cover political power buildup, economic development, culture and education, spoken and written languages, justice, relics protection, protection of wild animals and plants, and protection of natural resources. They protect the special rights and interests of the Tibetan people in the spheres of politics, economy and social life, and promote the development of various local undertakings.

Immense social changes have been made as the economy leaps forward with each passing day. To boost local economic and social growth, the Central Government has adopted a series of preferential policies toward Tibet over the past half century, and given it strong support in terms of finance, materials and manpower.

From 1951 to 2008, state investment in infrastructure in Tibet exceeded 100 billion yuan. In the period from 1959 to 2008, a total of 201.9 billion yuan from the central budget went to Tibet, an annual growth of nearly 12 percent, and 154.1 billion yuan in the period 2001-2008 alone. Since 1994, the Central Authorities have paired more than 60 central state organs, 18 provinces and municipalities, and 17 state-owned enterprises with the entities in Tibet, to help the latter's economic development. By the end of 2008, a total of 11.128 billion yuan of assistance funds had been put in place, 6,056 assistance projects launched, and 3,747 cadres from across the country dispatched to work in Tibet.

Thanks to the care of the Central Authorities and the support of the whole nation, Tibet has witnessed remarkable progress in economic and social development. From 1959 to 2008, the local GDP soared from 174 million yuan to 39.591 billion yuan, an increase of 65-fold or an average annual growth of 8.9 percent at comparable prices. Since 1994 the local GDP has grown at an annual rate of 12.8 percent on average, higher than the national average for the same period. Also, from 1959 to 2008 the per capita GDP soared from 142 yuan to 13,861 yuan, an increase of 13,719 yuan.

In the old times, there was not a single highway in Tibet. Today, a convenient transportation network has taken shape, radiating from Lhasa in all directions, with highway transportation as the major part and air, rail and pipeline transportation developing in coordination. In 2008, all counties in Tibet became accessible by highways, the total length of which reached 51,300 km, 44,000 km more than the 7,300 km in 1959; the volume of passenger transport increased by nearly 107-fold compared with that in 1959, and that of cargo transport by more than 11-fold.

An extensive energy system has been formed, with hydropower as the mainstay backed up by geothermal, wind and solar energy sources. From 1959 to 2008, electricity production in Tibet increased by 16.8 percent annually on average. Nearly 2.1 million residents, or 73 percent of the local population, now have access to electrical power. The use of clean energy is encouraged in rural areas, and methane is available to 43,000 households. Due to the rapid expansion of telecommunications, optical cables have reached all counties, and telephones all townships. Subscribers to fixed-line telephones and cell phones number 1.562 million, making 55 phones available for every 100 people.

In the old days, Tibet's agriculture and animal husbandry were completely at the mercy of the elements. Nowadays, modern facilities have been widely introduced, and the capacity to prevent and alleviate damage from natural disasters has been notably improved, with 36 percent of the contribution coming from science and technology. Grain output rose from 182,900 tons in 1959 to 950,000 tons in 2008; the output per mu rose from 91 kg to nearly 370 kg; and livestock on hand from 9.56 million head at the end of 1958 to 24 million head at the end of 2008.

There was no industry in the modern sense in old Tibet. Now, a modern industrial system with Tibetan characteristics has been put in place, with mining, building materials, folk handicrafts and Tibetan medicine as the pillars, and power, farming and animal product processing and foodstuffs as supplements. The industrial added value skyrocketed from 15 million yuan in 1959 to 2.968 billion yuan in 2008. Modern commerce, tourism, catering, entertainment and other industries that had never been heard of in old Tibet are now booming as primary industries in the region.

People's living standards have been greatly enhanced, and their subsistence and development conditions much improved. Before the democratic reform in 1959, Tibetan peasants and herdsmen had barely any means of production. Debt-ridden almost their whole lives, they hardly expected any net income. But since 1978 the per capita net income of Tibetan peasants and herdsmen kept increasing by 10.1 percent a year until 2003, when it rose to 13.1 percent, reaching 3,176 yuan in 2008. The per capita disposable income of urban dwellers in Tibet stood at 12,482 yuan in 2008, which was 21 times that of the 565 yuan in 1978.

Before the democratic reform, more than 90 percent of Tibet's residents had no private housing, the peasants and herdsmen had very poor living conditions, and the per capita housing of urban dwellers was less than three sq m. At that time, Lhasa had a population of 20,000 only, and nearly 1,000 were poverty-stricken or beggar households huddling in tattered shelters on the outskirts. Today, with the construction of a new countryside and the comfortable housing project under way, 200,000 households, comprising nearly one million peasants and herdsmen, have moved into modern houses. By 2008, the per capita housing area was 22.83 square meters in rural areas and 33.00 square meters in urban areas.

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