A Monumental Turning Point in History

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 08:59
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 May 23, 1951, representatives of the local government of Tibet signing the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. In 1951, the Chinese central government and the local government of Tibet signed the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (the 17-Article Agreement). The peaceful liberation of Tibet completely freed Tibet from the shackles of imperialist invasion, creating conditions for the common progress and development of Tibet and other parts of the country. / Photo by Xinhua

 On May 23, 1951, The Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (the 17-Article Agreement) was signed in Beijing by the Central People’s Government and the former local government of Tibet. The signing of this historic agreement formally marked the peaceful liberation of Tibet. This was an event of monumental proportions, putting Tibet on the path to modern civilization. For the people of Tibet, it marked the beginning of a new life; for the imperialist forces, it spelt their historical end in Tibet. From that point on, the people of Tibet, united under the leadership of the CPC, went on to create miracle after miracle on the roof of the world, propelling Tibet from the darkness into the light, from backwardness to progressiveness, from autocracy to democracy, from poverty to prosperity, and from self-containment to openness. This was the beginning of a new era in the history of Tibet. It was also the dawn of a new period of solidarity, prosperity and development within the Chinese nation.

 The peaceful liberation of Tibet

 Tibet has been an inseparable part of Chinese territory since ancient times. The people of different ethnic groups of Tibet are important members of the Chinese nation. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the central government, following a tortuous and bitter struggle, eventually succeeded in the peaceful liberation of Tibet. With this, Tibet became a member of an equal, united, cooperative, and loving family of ethnic groups comprising the motherland, and embarked on a new path of solidarity, progress, and development.

 The peaceful liberation of Tibet signaled the complete unification of the mainland and forever freed Tibet from the shackles of imperialism. Western imperialist powers gradually began to penetrate the borders of the Tibetan region following the onset of the Opium War. British imperialists, who had launched two bloody wars of aggression in Tibet, sought to incite revolt among separatist forces within Tibet’s leading class in a vain attempt to establish a break-away “Tibetan state.” After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, a handful of separatists from the leading classes colluded with imperialist powers to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from entering and liberating Tibet. Standing against the Central People’s Government, they sought to preserve their feudal serfdom system under theocratic rule. With the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the remnants of the imperialist powers were finally cast out of Tibet, forever putting an end to the national humiliation endured by China at the hands of imperialists in modern history. Thus, the complete liberation and unification of the Chinese mainland had been achieved, the separatist delusions of the imperialist powers and the reactionary clique in Tibet’s former ruling class had been shattered, and China’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty had been safeguarded. 

 The peaceful liberation of Tibet rocked the social foundations holding the feudal serfdom system together and sowed the revolutionary seeds for democratic reform. Before the liberation, the three pillars of Tibet’s ruling class (local administrative officials, aristocrats, and upper-ranking lamas in the monasteries), representing less than 5% of the total population, held a monopoly over Tibet’s land, the absolute majority of its livestock, and over the lives of the region’s serfs and slaves. Serfs and slaves, who accounted for over 95% of the population, had no means of production and absolutely no personal freedom whatsoever. From the dark depths of oppression, one million serfs saw hope of a new society following the peaceful liberation of Tibet. Progressive elements among the serfs and patriotic youths in Tibetan society overcame an array of social barriers to take part in the revolution, and calls for democracy in Tibetan society surged. This paved the way for the collapse of the feudal serfdom system.

 The peaceful liberation of Tibet created the necessary social conditions for the realization of regional ethnic autonomy and the establishment of the socialist system. Following the signing of the 17-Article Agreement, the CPC made active and sincere efforts to promote the establishment of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet, which would allow the people of Tibet to effectively become their own masters. The Party showed a remarkable level of restraint and patience in its efforts to bring around the leading class in Tibet, even pushing back the schedule for democratic reform on numerous occasions. Through the exemplary conduct of Chinese Communists, the serfs and patriotic personages in the upper echelons of Tibetan society gradually came to realize that the root cause of poverty, backwardness, and imperial oppression in Tibet lay in the feudal serfdom system under theocratic rule. Through the exemplary conduct of Chinese Communists, the people of Tibet realized that following the CPC, tearing down the feudal serf system, and embracing the cause of socialism was the only way that a backward and stagnated Tibet could progress toward wealth, prosperity and power. Following peaceful liberation and a process of democratic reform, the Tibet Autonomous Region was formally established on September 1, 1965. This signified the official establishment and operation of regional ethnic autonomy with Chinese characteristics in Tibet. 

 The peaceful liberation of Tibet promoted solidarity between China’s different ethnic groups and created conditions for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Each of China’s multiple ethnic groups contributed to the founding and development of the motherland. Prior to the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese nation was torn and divided; Tibetan society was split by vying religious sects, and the people lived in despair and poverty. Following the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the Tibetan people have become an equal member of a great family of all ethnic groups comprising the motherland. As they began to interact with other ethnic groups more frequently, misunderstandings gradually disappeared, and the sense of kinship between different ethnic groups deepened. The Tibetans, the Han, and people from other ethnic groups are as close as brothers. Standing together, living in peace, and developing in harmony, jointly they form a bastion of iron. History has taught the Tibetan people that the unity of the motherland is essential if the country is to develop, if the people are to live and work in peace and contentment, and if society is to progress. 

 The achievements of Tibet

 In the 60 years that have passed since the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the Tibetan people, under the leadership of the CPC, have shattered the old system, created a new society, embraced freedom, become their own masters, and found their pride. During this historical process, fundamental changes have occurred to the political, social, economic, and cultural standing of the Tibetan people. 

 Glorious achievements have been made in the development of Tibet’s economy. At the time of its liberation, Tibet was in a state of dire poverty and its people living in destitution and despair. Faced with this situation, the CPC Central Committee prioritized efforts to develop the Tibetan economy and improve the living standards of the Tibetan people. Five successive meetings on work in Tibet have been held and a series of special policies have been enacted in order to rally the support of the entire country behind Tibet. These efforts have brought about a historical leap forward in the development of Tibet’s economy. In 2010, Tibet’s GDP reached 50.746 billion yuan, 83.3 times greater than the GDP in 1959 according to comparable prices. Moreover, the GDP per capita exceeded 17,000 yuan, 34 times greater than the total in 1959. Annual regular revenue has reached 3.61 billion yuan, and has maintained an annual growth of more than 20% for eight consecutive years. All towns and townships and over 80% of the administrative villages in the region are now accessible by highway, with the total length of highways standing at 58,000 kilometers. This mileage is 50,700 kilometers more than it was in 1959. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway has been built and put into operation, while the construction of the Lhasa-Xigaze Railway has commenced. Currently, Tibet has five major public airports which operate 21 international and domestic air routes. Tibet’s total power generating capacity stands at 974,000 kW, with electricity reaching 82% of the population. We have built a modern telecommunications network covering the entire region, ensuring that all townships have access to broadband and that all villages have telephone connections. In 2010, the net income per capita of farmers and herders in the region reached 4,138.7 yuan, 118 times greater than the average income of 35 yuan in 1959. Standards of living have been remarkably improved. 

 Tibet’s political system has taken a historic stride forward. Once Tibet had been peacefully liberated, the process of democratic reform and the subsequent founding of the autonomous region resulted in the abolishment of the feudal serfdom system under theocratic rule, which had been practiced in the region for centuries, allowing the working class to assume their position as the masters of the country and society. A series of new political systems were established and gradually improved in Tibet, such as the system of people’s congresses, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and the system of autonomy at the grassroots level. The achievements that Tibet has made in the development of socialist democracy have been nothing short of incredible. As of the present, the People’s Congress of the Autonomous Region and its Standing Committee have formulated more than 250 local regulations and specific regulations covering politics, the economy, culture, and education. Of the deputies to different levels of people’s congresses in Tibet, 94.4% are people from Tibetan ethnic group or from other minorities. Of Tibet’s deputies to the National People’s Congress, 12 are from the Tibetan ethnic group, 1 is from the Monba ethnic group, and 1 is from the Lopa ethnic group. Moreover, people of Tibetan origin and people from other minorities account for 70.42% of provincial-level officials serving in the autonomous region and for 86% of leaders serving at the county and township levels. 

 Tibetan culture has thrived and prospered. Following Tibet’s peaceful liberation, and particularly after its democratic reforms, major efforts have been devoted to the development of socialist culture, which has effectively promoted ethnic solidarity at the ideological level. We have placed a great emphasis on the continuation, protection, and development of the fine elements in traditional Tibetan culture. The central government has invested heavily in programs to restore and protect cultural relics such as the Potala Palace, Norbu Lingka, and Sagya Monastery. The Epic of King Gesar has been included in the List of World Intangible Cultural Heritage, ensuring that it receives timely support and protection. A large number of outstanding cultural works that embody rich local features and the spirit of the times have emerged. Great attention has been paid to the study, application and development of the Tibetan language. The international-standard Tibetan character code makes Tibetan the first written language of China’s minority languages to have its own international standard. Tibetology studies and the modern press and publication industry have developed at a rapid pace. In 2010, radio and television broadcasts reached 90.28% and 91.41% of the population in Tibet respectively.

 Progress has been achieved in social programs in all aspects. Tibet attained its target of ensuring nine-year compulsory education for all children in 2010. According to statistics, the enrollment ratio of school-age children in Tibet is 99.2%. In addition, rates of enrollment in junior middle school, senior middle school, and higher education among the corresponding age groups are now 98.2%, 60.1% and 23.4% respectively. The rate of illiteracy among young people has dropped to 1.2%, and the average length of schooling has reached 7.3 years. This signals the complete formation of a modernized ethnic educational system in Tibet encompassing pre-school education, compulsory education, secondary education, higher education, vocational education, and special education. There are a total of 184 scientific research institutes and promotion organizations in Tibet, employing more than 48,500 professional scientific and technological staff. Tibet has become a national leader in the research of Tibetology, plateau ecology and Tibetan medicine. The region has also become one of the very first places in China to have realized medical insurance for all urban residents, and has also established a system for the provision of free medical care in agricultural and pastoral areas. Since the liberation, the average life expectancy of Tibetans has gone from 35.5 years to 67 years. Tibet has also succeeded in establishing a preliminary social safety net covering both urban and rural areas. It was the first place in China to guarantee a minimum standard of living in agricultural and pastoral areas, and has since realized total coverage. 

 Tibet’s ecological state has been effectively improved. Ecological and environmental protection initiatives began for the very first time following the liberation of Tibet, and started to develop on a constant basis following the launch of democratic reforms. We now plan the development of the ecological environment in step with the planning of economic and social development. Efforts have been made to protect natural forests, reclaim forest areas occupied by farmland, reclaim grasslands occupied by grazing grounds, prevent desertification, water loss and soil erosion, manage small watersheds on a comprehensive basis, and prevent geological hazards. At present, we have established 21 ecological function protection zones, 7 national forest parks, 3 geological parks, 1 national scenic spot, and 47 nature preserves of various categories. The total protected area accounts for 34.5% of Tibet’s overall land area. Protection initiatives have allowed the percentage of forest coverage in Tibet to go from less than 1% to 11.91%.

 The future of Tibet

 With grand aspirations, a solid footing and a wealth of valuable opportunities, we are now setting our sights on greater things. In a decade’s time, when we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet, we shall have created a moderately prosperous society together with the rest of China; by the middle of the current century, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet, we shall have succeeded in full modernization along with the rest of the country.

 To march toward a brighter future and achieve our grand aspirations, we must hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics with unwavering resolve. This is the choice of history, the choice of the people, and the choice of the times. We must commit ourselves to socialism with Chinese characteristics, adhere to the socialist theoretical system with Chinese characteristics, follow the leadership of the CPC, devote ourselves to the socialist system, persevere with the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and commit to a path of development with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan features. We must bolster the ideological bond that brings the people of Tibet together in a concerted struggle. 

 To march toward a brighter future and achieve our grand aspirations, we must center our efforts on economic development. Development is the only means by which we can change the backward face of Tibet, improve the lives of its people, and consolidate the political harmony and stability that the region enjoys. We must strive toward the faster, sounder, and grander development of Tibet’s economy and society. To do this, we must base our strides forward on scientific development, resolve various conflicts and problems via comprehensive planning, and vigorously implement an industrial strategy of “boosting the primary industry, focusing on key points in the secondary industry, and promoting the large-scale development of the tertiary industry.”

 To march toward a brighter future and achieve our grand aspirations, we must ensure social stability with unwavering resolve. Social stability has been one of the key factors in Tibet’s rapid economic development and a major contributor to the significant improvement in the region’s standard of living since its peaceful liberation, and especially after the democratic reforms. Only with stability can we promote the economic development of Tibet, maintain the harmonious unity between different ethnic groups, and protect the happy life that has not come easily. We need to act with foresight, take action to cement the foundation, and work together for the stability of Tibet and the security of the entire country.

 To march toward a brighter future and achieve our grand aspirations, we must devote ourselves to improving the livelihood of the people. We need to vigorously implement the strategy of invigorating Tibet with science and education, strengthening the region with talent, promoting public health, and benefiting the people with culture. We should accelerate social development centered on improving the livelihood of the people, further improve the working and living conditions of the people, promote the development of social programs, resolve issues of urgent public concern, and increase the living standards of the people. People of all ethnic groups should be able to enjoy the fruits of China’s reform and development. We should do more to benefit them and make their lives more affluent. 

 To march toward a brighter future and achieve our grand aspirations, we must maintain an unwavering commitment to consolidating and developing our socialist ethnic relations, which are characterized by equality, unity, mutual assistance, and harmony between different ethnic groups. Social stability, national unity, and harmony are a blessing of the Chinese nation; they represent both the will of all ethnic groups, and the fundamental interests of all people in the ethnic minority regions. We must cherish our national unity dearly, continue the fine tradition of standing together as one, urge all ethnic groups to live, work and develop together in harmony, and make constant efforts to consolidate and develop our socialist ethnic relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance, and harmony. National unity should be a source of strength. With it, we should promote the great development of various undertakings and work together to create a better future for Tibet.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.10, 2011)

Note: Authors: Zhang Qingli, Secretary of the Party Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region; and Padma Choling, Chairman of the People’s Government of Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China 

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