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Momentous Democratic Reform in Tibet
Special> Tibet in 50 Years> Contents> Momentous Democratic Reform in Tibet
UPDATED: March 9, 2009 NO. 10 MAR. 12, 2009
Democratic Reform
Carrying out democratic reform and abolishing the feudal serfdom of theocracy was an inevitable requirement for social progress. It was a major task of the people's democratic revolution led by the Communist Party of China, and was the only solution for social development in Tibet

Carrying out democratic reform and abolishing the feudal serfdom of theocracy was an inevitable requirement for social progress. It was a major task of the people's democratic revolution led by the Communist Party of China, and was the only solution for social development in Tibet. Moreover, it reflected the yearning of the overwhelming majority of the Tibetan people. In 1959, the Central People's Government carried out a great historical reform in Tibetan history, and profoundly changed the fate of the Tibetan people by launching the democratic reform and abolishing serfdom, a grim and backward feudal system.

The People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, when the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) won decisive victories over the Kuomintang troops. Beiping (now Beijing) and provinces like Hunan, Yunnan, Xinjiang and the former Xikang were all liberated peacefully from the rule of the former Kuomintang Government. In light of the actual situation in Tibet, the Central People's Government also decided to use peaceful means to liberate Tibet. In January 1950, the Central People's Government formally notified the local authorities of Tibet to "send delegates to Beijing to negotiate the peaceful liberation of Tibet." In February 1951, the 14th Dalai Lama sent Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme as his chief plenipotentiary, and Kemai Soinam Wangdui, Tubdain Daindar, Tubdain Legmoin and Sampo Dainzin Toinzhub as delegates to Beijing to handle with full power the negotiations with the Central People's Government. On May 23, 1951, the 17-Article Agreement was signed in Beijing and Tibet was thus liberated peacefully. The peaceful liberation enabled Tibet to shake off the trammels imposed by imperialist aggressor forces, brought to an end to the long-term isolation of Tibet and stagnancy of its social development, thus creating favorable conditions for democratic reform and social progress in Tibet.

The 17-Article Agreement gained the approval and support of people of all ethnic groups in Tibet. On September 26-29, 1951, the local Tibetan government held a meeting to discuss the Agreement, joined by all ecclesiastical and secular officials and representatives from the three prominent monasteries. The participants concurred that the Agreement "is of great and incomparable benefit to the grand cause of the Dalai Lama, and to Buddhism, and the politics, economy and other aspects of life in Tibet. Naturally, it should be carried out." The 14th Dalai Lama sent a telegram to Chairman Mao Zedong on October 24, 1951, stating that "On the basis of friendship, the delegates of the two sides signed on May 23, 1951 the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. The local Tibetan government as well as ecclesiastical and secular people unanimously support this Agreement, and, under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Central People's Government, will actively assist the PLA troops entering Tibet in consolidating national defense, ousting imperialist influences from Tibet and safeguarding the unification of the territory and the sovereignty of the motherland." In 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama participated in the First National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, with the former elected vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee and the latter a member of the same committee. The 14th Dalai Lama addressed the meeting, fully endorsing the achievements made since the implementation of the 17-Article Agreement three years previously, and expressing his warm support for the principles and rules regarding the regional autonomy of ethnic minorities. On April 22, 1956, he became chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region Preparatory Committee. In a speech at the founding of the committee, he reaffirmed that the Agreement had enabled the Tibetan people to fully enjoy all rights of ethnic equality and to "embark on a bright road of freedom and happiness."

The reform of the social system in Tibet is clearly defined in the 17-Article Agreement. Article 11 provides: "In matters related to various reforms in Tibet, there will be no compulsion on the part of the Central Authorities. The local government of Tibet shall carry out reforms voluntarily, and when the people raise demands for reform, they shall be settled by means of consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet." Following the peaceful liberation, amidst the ever-growing demand of the Tibetan people for democratic reform, many enlightened people of the upper and middle classes also realized that, if the old system were not reformed, the Tibetan people would never attain prosperity. In light of Tibetan history and the region's special situation, the Central People's Government adopted a circumspect attitude toward the reform of the social system in Tibet, patiently persuading and waiting for the ruling strata to carry out the reform, and giving them adequate time for the reform. In 1956, the Central People's Government made a decision that no reform should be carried out in Tibet within six years, still awaiting a change in the attitude of the upper ruling class about the reform. During his visit to India in January 1957, Premier of the State Council Zhou Enlai handed a letter from Chairman Mao Zedong to the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, and the accompanying senior local Tibetan government officials. The letter informed them of the Central Government's decision that reform would not be conducted within six years; whether reform should be carried out after six years would still be decided by Tibet according to its own situation and conditions then. On February 27, 1957, Mao Zedong further pointed out clearly in On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, "According to the 17-Article Agreement reached between the Central People's Government and the local government of Tibet, the reform of the social system must be carried out, but the timing can only be decided by the great majority of the people of Tibet and their public leading figures when they consider it practicable, and one should not be impatient. It has now been decided not to proceed with democratic reforms in Tibet during the period of the Second Five-Year Plan (1958-62--ed.). Whether they will be proceeded within the period of the Third Five-Year Plan (1963-67--ed.) can only be decided in the light of the situation at that time." We can thus see that the Central People's Government showed utmost patience and made the greatest concessions.

However, some members of the Tibetan ruling class were hostile to reform, and wanted to preserve serfdom forever so as to maintain their own vested interests and privilege. They deliberately violated and undermined the 17-Article Agreement, and intensified their efforts to split the motherland, until finally they staged armed rebellions. In March and April 1952, acting Silon (chief minister--ed.) Sicab Lukangwa and Losang Zhaxi of the local Tibetan government gave secret support to an illicit organization known as the "People's Conference" to oppose the 17-Article Agreement and create disturbances in Lhasa, demanding that the PLA "pull out of Tibet." In May 1955, as the 14th Dalai Lama returned to Tibet via Sichuan Province, two accompanying local Tibetan government officials--Galoin Surkang and the Junior Tutor Trigyang--took two different routes on the pretext of participating in Buddhist activities. The former took the northern route through Garze and Derge, while the latter followed the southern route via Chatreng and Lithang. On their way, they met with local headmen and abbots of various monasteries, plotting an armed rebellion against democratic reform. The leader of the "People's Conference," Gyale Choze, and four others, on the pretext of welcoming the return of the Dalai Lama, made a special trip to Ya-nga and Kangding. They helped Trigyang organize an armed rebellion in collaboration with reactionary headmen, the abbot of Litang Monastery and some Kuomintang secret agents long-hidden at the monastery. They pledged by mixing their blood to stage the armed rebellion. In 1957, Losang Samten (third elder brother of the Dalai Lama) incited Chimed Gonpo, the headman of Jomda Dzong in Qamdo to act upon "the Dalai Lama's orders" and gather rebels to launch a local armed uprising. In May 1957, with the support of galoins Neuxar Tubdain Tarba and Xainga Gyurme Doje, a rebel organization named "Four Rivers and Six Ranges" (namely, the four main rivers and six mountain ranges in Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan Province in southwestern China--ed.), and later rebel armed forces named "religious guardians" were founded. They raised the slogan of "Independence of Tibet" and "Oppose Reform," and further intensified their rebellious activities. The armed rebels harassed Qamdo, Dengqen, Heihe and Shannan. They disrupted communication lines, attacked institutions and troops stationed there by the Central Authorities. They looted, cruelly killed officials, persecuted people, and raped women.

In view of the situation, the Central People's Government repeatedly urged the local government of Tibet to punish the rebels and maintain public order. However, the reactionary clique of the upper social strata in Tibet took the extreme forbearance of the central government as a sign of weakness. They declared: "For nine years, the Hans have not dared to touch our most glorious and sacrosanct system. When we attacked them, they could only parry our blows without being able to strike back. So long as we transfer a large number of troops to Lhasa from outside, the Hans will surely flee at the first blow. If they don't run away, we will carry His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Shannan, and gather our strength there to launch a counter-attack and seize back Lhasa. If all these efforts fail, we can go to India."

With the support of foreign anti-China forces, the reactionary clique of Tibet's upper class elaborately plotted and instigated a full-scale armed rebellion in Lhasa on March 10, 1959. On February 7, the Dalai Lama took the initiative, and said to Deng Shaodong, Deputy Commander of the Tibet Military Area Command, and other officers: "I was told that after its return from studies in the hinterland, the Song and Dance Ensemble under the Tibet Military Area Command has a very good repertoire. I would like to see its show. Please arrange it for me." Deng and the other officers expressed immediate readiness, and asked the Dalai Lama to fix the time and place for the performance. They also conveyed the Dalai Lama's wish to Surkang and other galoins of the local Tibetan government and Paglha Tubdain Weidain, adjutant general of the Dalai Lama. On March 8, the Dalai Lama said he would go to the performance in the Tibet Military Area Command Auditorium at 3 p.m. on March 10. The Tibet Military Area Command made careful preparations for the occasion. But on the evening of March 9, the Miboin (official in charge of public security of old downtown, equivalent of the present Chief of the Public Security Bureau of Chengguan District of Lhasa) of Lhasa alarmed the citizens of Lhasa by saying "Tomorrow, the Dalai Lama will go to the Military Area Command for a banquet and a performance. The Hans have prepared a plane to kidnap the Dalai Lama, and take him to Beijing. Every household should send people to Norbulingka (the residence of the Dalai Lama - ed.) to urge him not to attend the performance in the Military Area Command." The next morning, the rebels coerced more than 2,000 people to mass at Norbulingka, spreading the rumor that "the Military Area Command is planning to poison the Dalai Lama," and shouting slogans such as "Independence of Tibet" and "Away with the Hans." The rebels injured Sampo Cewang Rinzin, a former galoin of the local Tibetan government and at that time a deputy commander of the Tibet Military Area Command. They stoned to death Kainqoin Pagbalha Soinam Gyamco, a progressive patriot and member of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. His body was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged through the downtown area as a warning. Subsequently, the rebel leaders convened a so-called "people's congress" and a "people's conference of the independent state of Tibet," intensifying their efforts to organize and expand armed rebellion. They brazenly tore up the 17-Article Agreement, and declared "the independence of Tibet," launching a full-scale armed rebellion against the motherland.

Although Norbulingka was controlled by the rebels, and it was hard to make contact with the Dalai Lama, Tan Guansan, the acting representative of the Central Government, managed to send three letters to the Dalai Lama on March 10, 11 and 15, respectively, through patriots. In the letters, Tan expressed his understanding of the Dalai Lama's situation as well as his concern for the latter's safety. He pointed out that the rebels were making reckless military provocations, and demanded that the local Tibet government immediately take measures to stop them. The Dalai Lama wrote three letters in reply to Tan on March 11, 12 and 16, respectively. In his letters, the Dalai Lama wrote "Reactionary, evil elements are carrying out activities endangering me on the pretext of ensuring my safety. I am taking steps to calm things down." "The unlawful activities of the reactionary clique cause me endless worry and sorrow.... As to the incidents of yesterday and the day before, which were brought about on the pretext of ensuring my safety and have seriously estranged relations between the Central People's Government and the local government, I am making every possible effort to deal with them." In his letter of March 16, he said that he had "educated" and "severely criticized" officials of the local Tibet government. He also expressed the desire to go to the Military Area Command a few days later. However, on the evening of March 17, the Dalai Lama, together with galoins Surkang, Neuxar, Xaisur and other rebel leaders, fled from Lhasa to Shannan, the "base" of the armed rebel forces. When the armed rebellion failed, they fled to India.

After the Dalai Lama left Lhasa, about 7,000 rebels gathered to wage a full-scale attack on the Party, government and army institutions before dawn on March 20, 1959. The PLA, driven beyond forbearance, launched, under orders, a counterattack at 10 a.m. the same day. With the support of patriotic Tibetan people, the 1,000-odd PLA troops completely put down the armed rebellion in Lhasa within two days. Before long, the PLA rapidly quelled the armed rebellion in other places in Tibet.

Just as Chairman Mao Zedong pointed out that "The Dalai Lama's plotting to launch a rebellion started just after his return from Beijing in 1955. He prepared this rebellion for two years - from early 1957, when he returned from India, to 1958." After he fled from China in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama and his clique went further and further down the road to splitting the motherland. They established the so-called "Tibetan government-in-exile," publicly declared "Tibetan independence," reorganized rebel forces to carry out military harassment along the Chinese border for many years, engaged in long-term international anti-China activities, and instigated many riots in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas.

The armed rebellion in Tibet was supported from the very beginning by foreign anti-China forces. According to a Western report on January 26, 1971, a certain country's intelligence agency trained members of the "Four Rivers and Six Ranges" in February 1957 on a certain Pacific island. From 1956 to 1957, the above-mentioned intelligence agency handpicked some 170 rebels, and sent them to the "Kamba guerrilla training base" in that country. Several hundred trained "Kamba guerrillas" were air-dropped into Tibet, carrying submachine guns, and small gold boxes containing the portrait of Dalai Lama. This intelligence agency trained 2,000 Tibetan guerrillas in total. From July 1958 to February 1959, it launched two weapon air-drops to rebellious armed forces, including 403 rifles, 20 sub-machine guns, 60 boxes of hand-grenades, and several bags of Indian rupees. In November 1958, it transported 226 loads of weapons to the Shannan rebel army via the Indian-occupied area to the south of the "McMahon Line." In January the following year, it transported 40 loads of goods to Shannan rebel army via Nepal and Shekar. It launched more than 30 air-drops to the Kham rebel army, and dropped over 250 tons of goods, including approximately 10,000 M1 Garand Rifles, assault rifles, 57 mm recoilless guns, and antiaircraft machine guns. According to another Western report on August 16, 1999, a certain Western country air-dropped more than 400 tons of goods to Tibetan guerrillas from 1957 to 1960. This country "spent $1.7 million on such operations in Tibet annually."

While the Dalai Lama was fleeing, the above-mentioned intelligence agency re-equipped a plane and air-dropped goods for him and his companions on the way, keeping contact with the rebel army and nearby intelligence stations via radio, and recording the whole course of the flight. Based on a Hong Kong report on February 11, 1974, according to participants in the operation, the Dalai Lama's flight from Lhasa was planned by the Western intelligence agency. The country's spy planes sneaked hundreds of miles into Tibet, providing protection for the Dalai Lama clique from air, air-dropping food, maps, radios and money, as well as strafing Chinese installations and taking photos of the operation.

Since the reactionary Tibetan ruling class had taken the road of betraying their country, on March 28, 1959, Premier Zhou Enlai promulgated a State Council Decree dissolving the local Tibetan government. The Preparatory Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region took over local government power, and the 10th Panchen Lama acted as its chairman. At the same time, the Central People's Government implemented a policy of "quelling the rebellion while conducting the reform," and led the Tibetan people to start the surging tide of democratic reform, wrecked the feudal serfdom of theocracy, and realize the lifelong wish of a million serfs and slaves of being their own masters.

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