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UPDATED: September 8, 2015
Full Text: Successful Practice of Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet

II. Embarking on the Road to Development and Progress

After three important historical stages - from its peaceful liberation and democratic reform to the establishment of the autonomous region - Tibet has taken the road of regional ethnic autonomy. This historic process was a correct choice the people made to realize liberation and be their own masters, and it was in the fundamental interest of all ethnic groups of Tibet.

-- Driving out imperialist forces, and realizing peaceful liberation

After the Opium War of 1840, imperialist forces intensified aggression on China, gradually reducing the country to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society. China's Tibet region also suffered imperialist aggression. In face of the British invasions of 1888 and 1904, Tibetan military and civilians put up a heroic resistance, but it failed due to the corrupt Qing government and declining national strength, and feudal serfdom. Britain coerced the Qing government, even bypassing it and directly forcing the local government of Tibet to sign unequal treaties, thus grabbing a series of privileges in Tibet that seriously damaged the sovereignty of China. Economically, it forcibly opened trading ports there, making Gyantse and Yadong two ports where permanent British trade representatives resided and official institutions were set up. Militarily, it stationed troops, one company in Gyantse and a platoon in Yadong. In addition, it built such infrastructure as posts, telecommunications, and courier stations managed and run by the British that served Britain's pillaging, and provided long-term service for British and Indian officers and a few Tibetan separatists.

It was the urgent desire of all ethnic groups in Tibet and of upper-class patriots to free Tibet from imperialist aggression. The founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949 was a great inspiration for the people of Tibet. They keenly expected the Central People's Government of China to liberate Tibet and drive out imperialist powers at the earliest opportunity. On October 1, 1949, the very day the People's Republic was founded, the 10th Panchen Erdeni telegraphed Chairman Mao Zedong and Commander-in-Chief Zhu De, expressing his support for the Central People's Government and urging the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to liberate Tibet as soon as possible. In December 1949, Reting Yeshe Tsultrim, aide to the Fifth Regent Reting Rinpoche who suffered persecution from pro-British forces, arrived in Xining, Qinghai Province, to report to the PLA on imperialist attempts to destroy Tibet's internal unity, urging the PLA to liberate Tibet without delay. Sherab Gyatso, a famous master of Tibetan Buddhism, delivered a talk in Xi'an, denouncing the imperialists for hatching a plot through which Lhasa authorities would seek "independence."

Through the efforts of the Central People's Government and of the people of Tibet, the Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (the "17-Article Agreement") was signed on May 23, 1951. The first article stipulated, "The people of Tibet should unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces; they will return to the family of the People's Republic of China." In the agreement, the local government of Tibet promised to "actively assist the PLA in entering Tibet and consolidating national defense." On May 25, Chairman Mao Zedong of the People's Revolutionary Military Committee of the Central People's Government issued an order, so marking the PLA's entry into Tibet. All ethnic groups of Tibet expressed heartfelt support for and a warm welcome to the PLA, and helped the troops enter Tibet.

The PLA troops' entry to Tibet to drive out imperialist forces and abolish unequal treaties that imperialist forces had imposed on the people of Tibet was a major historical event signifying that the Chinese nation, including the Tibetan group, had realized liberation and independence. It utterly changed the history and destiny of Tibet, and provided its various ethnic groups with a fundamental guarantee of being liberated and becoming masters.

-- Abolishing feudal serfdom, and the people becoming masters

In the mid-1950s, feudal serfdom under theocracy came to an end. To preserve serfdom, the reactionary forces from the upper class of Tibet tore up the "17-Article Agreement" and staged an all-out armed rebellion in Lhasa on March 10, 1959. On March 22, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) issued the Instructions on Several Policy Issues about Carrying out Democratic Reform in Suppressing the Rebellion in Tibet (draft), demanding that troops mobilize the people to carry out democratic reform amid the battles to suppress the rebellion. On March 28, Premier Zhou Enlai promulgated a State Council decree, dissolving the local government of Tibet and ordering that local government power be taken over by the Preparatory Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region, with the 10th Panchen Erdeni acting as its chairman. In the meantime, the Central People's Government implemented a policy of "suppressing the rebellion while conducting reform," and led the Tibetan people in a surging tide of democratic reform. The reform wrecked the feudal serfdom under theocracy, liberating the people and making them their own masters, so creating important social and historical conditions for the establishment of regional ethnic autonomy.

Abolishing the feudal serfdom and establishing the people's regime created institutional conditions for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet. By the end of 1960, Tibet had established 1,009 organs of state power at the township level, 283 at the district level, 78 at the county level (including county-level districts), and eight at the prefecture (city) level. Meanwhile, more than 4,400 liberated serfs and slaves had become government officials at various levels. All township-level government officials were from the Tibetan group, 90 percent of district-level government officials were Tibetan, and more than 300 Tibetans held leading posts at or above the county level.

In April 1961, general elections at the township level were held all over Tibet. Hundreds of thousands of liberated serfs and slaves exercised the democratic rights that they had never enjoyed. In August 1965, elections at the township and county levels were completed in Tibet. Altogether 1,359 townships and towns conducted elections at the basic level, and 567 townships and towns held their people's congresses to exercise their functions and power. The people's democratic organs of state power at the township level were established in 92 percent of the Region, the majority of participants being liberated serfs and slaves. In addition, 54 counties held their first session of people's congresses to elect the county magistrates and deputy magistrates, established people's committees and elected deputies to the people's congresses.

Abolishing economic privileges of serf owners enabled the people to become owners of the means of production, greatly liberated the productive forces, and protected Tibetan people's right to subsistence, laying the physical foundation for the practice of regional ethnic autonomy. The feudal serfdom not only infringed upon human rights and destroyed human qualities, but also effectively put a brake on development of social productivity and left people's basic need for clothing and food unguaranteed. During the democratic reform, about 20,000 "nangzan" settled, and were allotted 2,520,000 kilograms of grain. The democratic reform liberated and developed Tibet's social productivity; as a result, the working people of Tibet were freed from heavy corvee, taxes, and usurious exploitation, and were able to keep all the fruits of their hard work. Their enthusiasm for production ran unprecedentedly high.

Abolishing religious privileges of serf owners shattered the people's spiritual shackles, providing ideological and cultural conditions for the implementation of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet. Under theocracy, religion was directly controlled by serf owners and used as a tool for ruling and oppressing the people. To sanctify feudal privileges and enslave the people spiritually, the three major estate-holders regarded any new idea, new culture or scientific knowledge that was contrary to their will as heresy, imprisoning people's thinking and hindering the spread of education and scientific and cultural development. Through the democratic reform, Tibet abolished all feudal privileges, implemented the policy of freedom of religious belief, and separated religion from government, so preventing religion from interfering in its politics, economy, culture and social life. The people were thus freed from the spiritual shackles of theocracy.

-- Establishing Tibet Autonomous Region, and taking the socialist road

It was a common wish of the people of Tibet to exercise regional ethnic autonomy. The "17-Article Agreement" stipulated, "According to the ethnic policy in the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), under the unified leadership of the Central People's Government, the Tibetan people shall have the right to exercise regional ethnic autonomy." In 1954, after the First National People's Congress closed, Mao Zedong, top leader of the Central People's Government, met with the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Erdeni. Mao told them, "Tibet will not have a military and political committee; instead, the Preparatory Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region will be established to prepare for the exercise of regional ethnic autonomy." The two agreed. Later, according to stipulations in the Constitution about the practice of regional ethnic autonomy, the central government started work on the establishment of Tibet Autonomous Region. In November 1954, the central government proposed to establish the Preparatory Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region. At its Seventh Plenary Meeting held in March 1955, the State Council specifically studied and discussed the matter and issues relating to Tibet's construction. Following the meeting, the central government gave specific instructions on the matter. On April 22, 1956, the founding conference of the Preparatory Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region was held in the newly built Great Hall of Lhasa. Over 300 delegates and non-voting delegates from all ethnic groups, social strata, religions, and social groups throughout Tibet attended the conference. This was the first time in the history of Tibet that people of broad representation gathered for democratic consultation and discussion. The 14th Dalai Lama became chairman of the Preparatory Committee, while the 10th Panchen Erdeni became first deputy chairman. The Preparatory Committee was a consultative administrative body as an organ of political power, an important stepping stone for the exercise of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet. Its establishment pushed forward the establishment of Tibet Autonomous Region. However, the armed rebellion in 1959 seriously affected the work of its establishment. After the rebellion was quelled, the establishment was carried out smoothly.

On September 1, 1965, the First Session of the First People's Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region was inaugurated in Lhasa, and the organs and leaders of the Region were elected, with Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme as the chairman of the People's Committee. A large number of liberated serfs held leading posts in organs of political power at different levels of the Region. The establishment of Tibet Autonomous Region signified that Tibet had set up the people's democratic government and begun to exercise thoroughgoing regional ethnic autonomy. Since then, the people of Tibet have enjoyed the right to handle local affairs themselves, and embarked on the socialist road to development and progress.

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