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Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Latest
UPDATED: January 19, 2009
Tibet Sets 'Serfs Emancipation Day'
Tibetan legislators endorsed a bill Monday to designate March 28 as an annual Serfs Emancipation Day

Tibetan legislators endorsed a bill Monday to designate March 28 as an annual Serfs Emancipation Day, to mark the date on which about 1 million serfs in the region were freed 50 years ago.

The motion for the bill was submitted last week to the second annual session of the ninth regional People's Congress (legislature) for review.

"The 382 legislators attending the session unanimously voted for the proposal," said Legqog, director of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Regional People's Congress.

On March 28, 1959, the central government announced it would dissolve the aristocratic local government of Tibet and replace it with a preparatory committee for establishing the Tibet Autonomous Region under Communist rule.

The move came after the central government foiled an armed rebellion staged by the Dalai Lama and his supporters, most of whom were slave owners attempting to maintain serfdom.

That meant the end of serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy, with the Dalai Lama as the core of the leadership. About 1 million serfs and slaves, accounting for 90 percent of Tibetan population in the1950s, were thus freed.

Among the lawmakers who reviewed the bill was Gaisang, 62, chief executive officer of the Yamei Ethnic Handicraft Ltd. Corp.

"The day should have been established earlier," he said, beaming. "It is necessary to have the day remembered to comfort the old, who were once serfs, and teach the young who have little idea of that part of history."

"My parents, who were both serfs, didn't live to see the day. They died several years ago." he said.

The entrepreneur was born to the family of tralpa (a kind of Tibetan serf) in Bilang County, Xigaze. His childhood memories were bare feet, patched clothes and a leather whip as thick as a finger.

"If you dared to offend the lord, what was in store for you was at least 50 lashes," he said.

The low point for him came in 1954, when the nearby Nianchu River flooded, inundating crops.

"Thousands of kilograms of grain rotted in the warehouses of the aristocrats, while serfs died from starvation," he recalled.

According to Gaisang, serfs then were bought and sold like animals.

His aunt, Canggyoi, was sold from Xigaze to Lhasa in her teens, and his parents didn't even know.

Gaisang's parents found his aunt, whose name had been changed by her new owner, after a week-long search in Lhasa and they cried for joy.

Now Canggyoi has a daughter and two grandchildren. Like other people above 80, she gets a pension of 300 yuan (about $44) a year. Her family's annual net income is about 5,000 yuan.

Dark era

Gaisang's story is hardly exceptional.

According to Gaisang Yeshes, former head of the Tibetan Press of Ancient Books and a sociologist with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, serfdom developed before the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

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