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Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Latest
UPDATED: March 30, 2009
Tibet Celebrates Serfs Emancipation Day

The first Serfs Emancipation Day was celebrated across Tibet autonomous region on Saturday, while people from elsewhere in China expressed their wishes to the Tibetans.

Celebration Across Tibet

In Lhasa, readers of the broadsheet Tibet Daily and Tibet Economic Daily found that Saturday's edition of both newspapers became thicker, special issues were published to introduce the changes since democratic reform in 1959.

In the Ngaqen village, fully attired Tibetans gathered in the village club to watch the televised grand celebration held on the square in front of the Potala Palace about 30 kilometers away in the seat of Lhasa.

Tsamjo, 66, who lived in a two-story building, said her life was better than "the landlord in the past".

She had worked as a serf for seven years before the democratic reform. "At that time, our plot of land was smaller than a palm, and our room was as big as the nose of a cow," she said.

After the ceremony, villagers performed traditional Tibetan dances and held a contest of tug-of-war.

In the Tashigang village of Dagze county, more than 1,000 people enjoyed their own party.

"We have prepared for about a month for the party on our own holiday," 19-year-old Degyi said while doing the makeup.

As a young girl, she admitted that she had little knowledge about the past. "But I feel sad whenever listening to my grandparents telling the stories," she said.

In the Qamdo prefecture in east Tibet, slogans written on red scrolls hailing the Serfs Emancipation Day could be seen on major roads, where sellers in vegetable markets were waiting for their customers, monks in monasteries were chanting sutras and street vendors were soliciting business. Life was as peaceful as ordinary days. In the Tianjin square, dozens of passers-by stopped to watch performances for the holiday.

In Beijing, Serfs Emancipation Day became the hottest topic among students in the Tibet Middle School. Many students hummed the old song "Freed serfs sing in happiness".

"My grandparents were both serfs," said an eleventh-grader Dawa Dorje.

"They told me that they tied stones to their feet as shoes, and my granny became blind because she had no money to cure her eye illness," she said.

Currently there are 810 Tibetan students in the school, whose accommodation, clothes, health care were all funded by the government.

Main celebration for the holiday was held on the square in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital city of Tibet, at 10 a.m.

The gathering was presided over in both Tibetan and Mandarin by Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the regional government of Tibet, who was dressed in a traditional Tibetan robe. It was attended by about 13,280 people.

After the national flag was hoisted against the backdrop of the grand Potala Palace and snow-capped mountains in the distance, representatives of former serfs, soldiers from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and students delivered speeches.

Tibet's Communist Party chief Zhang Qingli was the last to speak.

"Burying feudal serfdom and liberating the one million serfs in Tibet was a natural development in history ... a milestone in the worldwide campaign to abolish slavery, a sign of progress in human rights," he said.

"Tibet belongs to China, not the a few separatists or the international forces against China. Any conspiracy attempting to separate the region from China is doomed to failure. The sky in Tibet will forever be blue, and the national flag will flutter high," he noted.

The ceremony lasted for more than an hour.

Remembering The Past

As usual, foreign "critics" jumped up before the Serfs Emancipation Day, saying China exaggerated the cruelty of traditional Tibetan life to disguise a power grab, and that "serfdom" is too loaded to describe the Tibetan system.

But 73-year-old Baya in Qamdo, who was born to be a Tralpa, or a kind of serf whose life was better among all, said she would never return to the old society.

"I began to graze cattle when I was nine years old," she said. "There were many wolves in the pasturing area, and the aristocrats always asked us to deliver messages in midnight."

"We were afraid of the ghost, and I once witnessed a horde of wolves attack a lama..." she was apparently still in fear.

What they wore then was goat's skin, dried under the sun, because they didn't have cloth. They didn't have shoes.

"If the feet bled, we just apply the oil of the goat to the wounds," she said.

Dinner was potherb soup. "We didn't have Tsampa (food made of barley floor) to eat, let alone rice and wheat."

Baya said her first taste of sugar was after the People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet. The sugar was brought to there from Yunnan Province.

Zhao Qingui, a 73-year-old Tibetan veteran soldier, joined the PLA in 1950.

"At that time, only the aristocrats had tooth paste, tooth brush, biscuit, wool and fruits. The majority of people, or the serfs, could only wish not to be starved," he said.

Sun Huanxun, a PLA veteran who went to Tibet also in 1950 and stayed there, recalled what he saw in Lhasa before the democratic reform.

"Serfs wailed and begged from passers-by, some of whom had their legs chopped by the landlords, some have their eyes gouged out and some without hands," he said.

In contrast, the landlords were in luxurious dress, some riding on the backs of their slaves. "In their houses there hung whips, knives and shackles," he added.

Qi Jiguang, a historian from the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, recited the sentences he read from slave contracts: "I would be your slave so long as the snow-capped mountain didn't collapse, the water from rivers didn't dry up."

The Khesum village in Shannan Prefecture was hailed as the first village to implement the democratic reform. Before the Serfs Emancipation Day, residents in the village wrote an open letter:

"We could never forget the old adage: there are three knives over the heads of serfs--heavy labor, heavy rent, and high interest; there are three paths before their eyes--flee from famine, become slave, or go begging."

"We would never return to the dark, backward, and cruel fuedal serfdom society. We would cherish the life now like cherishing our own eyes," it reads.

For Better Future

Chinese President Hu Jintao visited an exhibition marking the 50th Anniversary of Democratic Reform in Tibet, at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing.

During his visit, he said that the "good situation" in today's Tibet was "hard-earned and should be highly cherished."

He also noted that the reform 50 years ago was "the most extensive, profound and progressive social transformation in the history of Tibet. Tibet should move from being "basically stable" to "peaceful and stable in the long run," he stressed.

On the Serfs Emancipation Day, 25 villagers from the Ngoklog village in Qamdo joined the Communist Party of China.

"I am happy to join the Party on this special day," said Asum.

Gyezang, 33, is an English teacher from Xigaze. "Establishment of the day could help us remember the darkness in the past and cherish the life more," she said.

Dawa Lhamo, a nine-year-old student from the No. 3 primary school in Lhasa, was happy on Saturday although she was not familiar with the past.

"I will become a soldier when I grow up, to protect Tibet," she said.

People from outside Tibet also expressed their wishes to Tibetans.

Chen Qiuxiong, leader of a working group dispatched from eastern Fujian Province to help with development of Tibet, said they have built a number of infrastructure projects serving farming and animal husbandry in Tibet and helped with the development of culture and education and health care as well as poverty reduction.

"Tibet is now in the period of development and stability, and we will do more for the development of the region," Chen said.

Liu Lumei, a deputy researcher with the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Academy of Social Sciences, said that the establishment of the Serfs Emancipation Day embodies the common wish of all the Chinese people for the stability and development in Tibet.

(Xinhua News Agency March 29, 2009)

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