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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

In March 1957, he was notified that the trial of democracy had stopped, and he was sent to study in Shaanxi Province.

"I was told that the reform would only be launched when the nobles would really support it in addition to the public appeal," the old man said over a cup of ghee (tea) made by his wife, also a native Tibetan.

He was among the many taken by surprise in March 1959, when the Dalai Lama and some of the serf owners instigated an armed rebellion. Chinese historians believe that the rebellion was intended not just to postpone the reform, but to continue the feudal serf system forever.

Rabgy returned Lhasa the next month, only to see ruins everywhere: craters in the streets, holes left by bullets on the roof of the Ramoche Temple and water in the Jokhang Temple.

The People's Liberation Army soon quelled the rebellion and the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he established a "government in exile". Later, democratic reform was introduced to free the serfs and end their misery.

Possessions of participants in the rebellion were confiscated and given to serfs for free.

Migmar Dondrup, who now lives in a two-story house of about 400 square meters, remembers when the landowners' assets were distributed.

He got 1.4 hectar of land and quilts the family had never used, having slept under a piece of goat furs before the reform.

Xinza Danzengquzha, 68, a living Buddha in Nagarze, Xigaze, said: "People brought out the contracts and burned them, dancing and singing around the fire."

Also a lawmaker, the former aristocrat said he learned a lot in his work after reform, including carpentry and painting.

He later worked as an editor and translator of Tibetan books and documents. He studied for three years in Beijing and went abroad several times for research. "My horizons were broadened by reform," he said.

Meanwhile, as a living Buddha, he still performs Buddhist rites.

Day to remember

The reform didn't mean the abolition of the traditional religion in the Himalayan region. After 50 years have passed, there are 1,700 monasteries open in Tibet, which draw tens of thousands of pilgrims every year. Strolling in the streets of Lhasa, tourists can easily find crowds of lamas and believers chanting Buddhist mantras and praying at monasteries and Buddhist statues.

March 28, 1959 was a big day to Gaisang, when the central government announced that it was dismissing the Gaxag government (the former Tibetan local government).

"Nobody who experienced those dark days would want to go back," he said.

"However, that part of history is largely unknown to young people," he added, noting that among participants in the March 14 riot last year, many were young.

"Had they known the bitterness of the old days, they would cherish their current lives more," he added. "That's why we need to commemorate Serfs' Emancipation Day."

Xinza said: "China's battle against separatists reached its climax in 2008. It is necessary to establish the day so as to have our descendants remember it forever."

Foreign views vary

This year was the first time that Indian journalist Prerna Suri visited Tibet. The correspondent from New Delhi TV, who traveled to Tibet to cover the legislative session, said her five-day visit was a good opportunity to learn more about Tibet.

"If [establishing Serfs' Emancipation Day] can increase people's belief in the government, it is a good thing," she said.

Naindra P. Upadhaya, Consul-General of Nepal to Lhasa, praised the decision to create the holiday.

He has been in Tibet for 15 months. "Life is getting better here every year," he said, adding that this proved the benefits of democratic reform.

Not everyone sees it the same way.

Thomas Mann, a member of the Brussels-based European Parliament, said having such a day was "unequalled humiliation of Tibetans," according to a report on the Deutsche Welle website. And Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, called the decision as a "hype". The organization is among the most active advocates of "Tibet independence."

Gaisang Yeshes showed understanding of these criticisms. "The day was a festival to most Tibetan people, but doomsday to a few others," he said.

The professor compared the day to September 22, 1862, when slaves were freed in the United States by the milestone "Emancipation Proclamation" signed by then U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

"But the difference is, Tibetan people soon gained the right to vote, while black people still struggled for voting rights 100 years later," he said.

Gaisang from Xigaze said he was proud to have become a lawmaker when he started life as the son of a serf. "Now I can vote, with a say in the decision-making of the government," he said. "This was unimaginable half a century ago. People were then praying all day not to be beaten."

"I didn't dare to dream about this when I was young, in patched clothes and shivering at the sight of the leather whip," he said. March 28, 1959 was "the day that changed my life."

(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2009)


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