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Beijing Review Exclusive
Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Beijing Review Exclusive
UPDATED: March 23, 2009 NO. 12 MAR. 26, 2009
Masters of Their Own Destiny

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the democratic reform in Tibet, which thoroughly eradicated the feudal serfdom there that had lasted for thousands of years. The reform emancipated 90 percent of the Tibetan population from serfdom and handed them control of their own region, where they now enjoy all the freedom and political rights of citizens. This reform also laid a foundation for the establishment of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.

Before the democratic reform, all Tibet's social wealth was controlled by serf owners, who accounted for less than 5 percent of the total population. Serfs and slaves could be freely bought and sold, transferred, exchanged and used to pay for debts as if they were personal property. Serfs worked their whole life for serf owners, just to survive. The reform granted serfs and slaves freedom and for the first time they began to live like human beings in the real sense. The democratic reform is a milestone in Tibetan history and is also a great step forward in human rights history. On January 19, 2009, the Second Session of the Ninth People's Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region designated March 28 as Serfs' Emancipation Day.

Fifty years ago, in Tibet, only the three categories of the upper ruling strata, including officials, aristocrats and upper-ranking lamas, had the right to participate in politics. At that time, there were no elections and the masses had no right to vote. Tibet's local government was in nature a protector for the upper ruling strata. In September 1965, the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region marked the full implementation of the regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.

The past five decades have seen great changes in various aspects of Tibetan society. In 2008, Tibet had 1,339 health institutions, compared to 62 in 1959, with the average life span jumping to 67 years from 35.5. Tibet's total population had increased to 2.87 million from 1.23 million in 1959, of which, Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups accounted for over 95 percent. In the 1950s, there were no schools in the real sense in Tibet. But today, Tibet has already developed a complete education system. In 2008, the region had 884 primary schools, 119 middle schools and 1,237 teaching sites. It also had six higher-learning institutions with 30,000 students. All over the country, 28 junior middle schools in 20 provinces and municipalities have opened classes exclusively for students from Tibet. Inland senior middle schools and universities have accumulatively recruited 100,000 students from Tibet.

Tibetan people's freedom of religious belief is well protected. Since the 1980s, Tibet has gradually resumed celebrating more than 40 religious festivals. Lamas and religious believers celebrate various religious and traditional events every year. Up to now, Tibet has more than 1,700 religious sites and 46,000 monks and nuns living in temples.

Today, the serfdom has been totally ruled out in Tibet. The biggest fruit of the democratic reform conducted 50 years ago is that the Tibetan people's human rights (the right to subsistence and the right to development) are truly protected.

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