The Bright Starting Point for the Modernization of Tibet —Written on March 28, the Tibetan Serf Emancipation Day

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-19 18:15
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 The Second Plenary Session of the Ninth People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region unanimously passed a historic resolution on January 19, 2009 making March 28 the Tibetan Serf Emancipation Day.

 On this day 51 years ago, Tibet experienced a great historic shift. With the victory of the Tibetan counter-insurgency, a million serfs, under the leadership of the CPC, completely threw off the oppressive rule of three major estate-holders, including local administrative officials, aristocrats and upper-level lamas in the monasteries, eliminated the extreme decadence and the evil system of serfdom and launched the magnificent democratic reform movement. This marked the beginning of the march from the darkness into the light for Tibet, from backwardness towards progress, from poverty towards prosperity, from dictatorship towards democracy and from a closed state towards openness. With this shift, all the ethnic groups in Tibet began to enjoy all the rights stipulated in the provisions of the Constitution and the law through the system of people’s congresses and the system of ethnic autonomy. They not only gained freedom of person, but even more importantly, gained a new political life, and the former serfs became today’s masters of society. All the ethnic groups in Tibet began making progress on the broad road of socialism with Chinese characteristic and writing a great new chapter in leapfrog development and long-term peace and security under the guidance of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, particularly in the new period since the implementation of the reform and opening up policy. 

 Feudal serf society is a historical stage that human society has gone through and a form of slavery in a private ownership society, a system of slavery, a system of serfdom and system of hired labor. The main characteristic of relations of production in this system of serfdom was a system of people oppressing other people and people exploiting other people. Due to a complicated mix of historical factors, the Tibetan local government, temples and nobles preserved this evil system until 1959. This system of serfdom was more evil and more cruel and inhuman than the system of slavery practiced in Europe in the Middle Ages and the system of black slavery practiced in the US. The 1959 revolution for democracy eliminated forever the feudal serfdom that had been practiced in Tibet for nearly a millennium and liberated a million serfs. This victory of a modern social system over the decadent and backwards social system was a historical inevitability. Although there are still a small number of Tibetan separatists today in the international community quibbling over the system of serfdom, the brilliant achievements made in Tibet over the past 51 years sparks admiration and inspiration in every fair-minded Chinese and foreign observer because of the total elimination of this evil social system from the region. They can see that this is a towering monument for the global movement to eliminate slavery and international cause of human rights.

  Residents of Kesong Village, Naidong County, Shannan Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, the best known village in the democratic reform of Tibet, holding a celebration of the forthcoming Emancipation Day for Tibetan Serfs on March 26, 2010.   / Photo by Xinhua reporter Pubu Zhaxi

 The end of the Tibetan feudal serf society was the end result of the development of internal political, economic, social and cultural problems in the old Tibet society and was a historical inevitability. Politically, less than 5% of the people belonged to the serf owners controlling the fate of over 95% of the people in the serf class. Serfs belonged to the owners of the land. The birth and death of a serf had to be registered and a head tax paid. Economically, serfs were subject to the exploitation and oppression of the serf-owner class, responsible for many different types of labor, paying rent in kind for use of the land and subject to usury. Culturally, Tibetan Buddhist belief tightly controlled Tibetan traditional education, philosophy, song and dance, literature, medicine and theatre, shackling the people’s morals and ideology. Modern science and technology and advanced ideology were rejected and any advance towards democracy, even the smallest tentative step, was mercilessly squashed. In particular, the theocratic form of government authority that combined government and religion closely integrated government administration and religious affairs and gradually snuffed out any openness in Tibetan culture. Living a life of extreme poverty, the Tibetan people paid a huge price for carrying on the heavy religious traditions totally divorced from reality and the loss of personal freedom stretching back many generations. Until theocracy was eliminated and the serfs, the overwhelming majority of the Tibetan population, were liberated from their masters through the 1959 democratic reform, the basic political foundation could not be laid for Tibet to begin developing a socialist society and begin comprehensive economic and social development.

 We view March 28, 1959 as a new historical beginning, the day when Tibet began progressing toward a modern society and a moment that defined the spirit of the times. Historians in the international community divide the history of human civilization into three stages, ancient, Middle Ages and contemporary. In terms of development stage, modernization has the concept of passage of time, and in terms of implications of development, modernization is mainly in contrast to the spirit of the times in the middle ages. The democratic reform of 1959 marked a new material beginning as well as a new cultural, intellectual and ideological beginning for the modernization of Tibet. Before democratic reform, Tibet basically retained the traditional serf society. After 1959, when theocracy was eliminated and the serfs, the overwhelming majority of the Tibetan population, were liberated from their masters, the socialist system was instituted in Tibet, providing the institutional guarantee for Tibet’s modernization. History shows that even though Tibetan modernization started some 300 years later than that in Europe, it has left an indelible imprint on the development history of human civilization.

 We view the start of democratic reform in Tibet as a new historical beginning for the modernization of the Tibet Autonomous Region because at that time the form of Tibetan society and the ideology of the people began developing by leaps and bounds. The start of the 20th century England began an invasion of Tibet and forced the Qing government to sign two humiliating treaties, the Treaty of Lhasa and the Convention between Great Britain and China Respecting Tibet. The Qing high commissioner stationed in Tibet during the last years of the Qing dynasty, Zhang Yintang, strongly asked the Qing government to rectify the way it was handling the issue of Tibet and to smash the plot of imperialist Britain to occupy Tibet and proposed a number of measures such as taking a survey of rent accounts, building a business center, reorganizing the Tibetan army, reducing punishments, rejuvenating education and reforming habits and customs. These measures, however, did not bring industrial development to Tibet and had even less effect on the traditional Tibetan power structure. In 1914, the thirteenth Dalai Lama attempted to carry out political, economic, cultural, military and social reform to save the dying feudal system of serfdom. The measures proposed by the thirteenth Dalai Lama, as the general representative of the ruling class in feudal Tibet, could not fundamentally affect the social base of the system of serfdom. Following his death, the “new government” he promoted quickly fell apart. Following this, a Western-style capitalist society with democratic elections and a four-year term for government leaders were experimented with in Tibet to replace the feudal ruling class structure, but they were defeated by the acute opposition of the feudal ruling class. History has shown that democratic reform in Tibet could only be realized under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. After the peaceful liberation of Tibet, a small number of high-level leaders used ethnic and religious issues to pull the wool over the people’s eyes and engaged in treachery because they feared the change would damage their interests. In an attempt to permanently retain their privileged rule under the feudal system of serfdom, they set off a fully armed rebellion in March 1959. On March 28, 1959, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China issued a decree dissolving the local Tibetan government. Under the leadership of the CPC, all the ethnic groups in Tibet launched a magnificent democratic reform movement, eliminating the feudal land ownership system and the attachment of the serfs to their owners existing in old Tibet. With the completion of the land reform, the million serfs of Tibet were totally liberated in terms of politics, economics and intellectual, cultural and ideological matters, the productive forces of society were greatly liberated and all the ethnic groups in Tibet truly made the historical leap from feudal serfdom to socialist society and started out on the new road of socialist modernization. 

 There are two different ways in the world to carry out the process of pursuing modernization; one is modernization adopting the capitalist production model and the other is modernization using the socialist production model. The 1959 democratic reform in Tibet was a dynamic manifestation of adopting the socialist production model in pursuing modernization. History has shown and continues to show that socialism possesses incomparable superiority and great vitality. Only the CPC and socialism could save Tibet and lead Tibet in modernization. More and more people in the world are seeing the attraction and brilliance of socialism because of the progress Tibet has made in modernization.

(From Qiushi in Chinese, No. 8, 2010)

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