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Special> National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010)> Backgrounder
UPDATED: March 4, 2009 NO. 11 MAR. 19, 2009
Full Text: Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet
Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China March 2009, Beijing


Tibet has been an inseparable part of China since ancient times. The peaceful liberation of Tibet, the driving out of the imperialist aggressor forces from Tibet, the democratic reform and abolition of theocratic feudal serfdom in Tibet were significant parts of the Chinese people's national democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism in modern history, as well as major historical tasks facing the Chinese Government after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Prior to 1959, Tibet had long been a society of feudal serfdom under theocratic rule, a society that was even darker than medieval society in Europe. The 14th Dalai Lama, as a leader of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism and also head of the Tibetan local government, monopolized both political and religious power, and was the chief representative of the feudal serf owners, who, accounting for less than 5 percent of the total population of Tibet, possessed the overwhelming part of the means of production, and monopolized the material and cultural resources of Tibet. The serfs and slaves, making up over 95 percent of the total population, suffered destitution, cruel oppression and exploitation, and possessed no means of production or personal freedom whatsoever, not to mention other basic human rights. The long centuries of theocratic rule and feudal serfdom stifled the vitality of Tibetan society, and brought about its decline and decay.

In 1951, the Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (hereinafter the 17-Article Agreement) was signed. The Agreement enabled Tibet to repel the imperialist forces and realize peaceful liberation, and created the essential prerequisites for Tibet to join the other parts of the country in the drive for common progress and development.

The 17-Article Agreement prescribed the necessity of reforming the social system of Tibet, and stressed that the local government of Tibet shall carry out reform voluntarily. However, in consideration of the special circumstances of Tibet, the Central People's Government adopted a circumspect attitude toward the reform. With great patience, tolerance and sincerity, it reasoned and waited for the local upper ruling strata of Tibet to carry out reform voluntarily. Instigated and supported by imperialist forces, however, some people in the upper ruling strata, despite the ever-growing demand of the people for democratic reform, were totally opposed to reform and proclaimed their determination never to carry it out. In an attempt to perpetuate feudal serfdom, these people publicly abandoned the 17-Article Agreement and staged an all-out armed rebellion on March 10, 1959. In order to safeguard the unity of the nation and the basic interests of the Tibetan people, the Central People's Government took decisive measures to quell the rebellion together with the Tibetan people. Meanwhile, a vigorous democratic reform started on a mass scale in Tibet. The reform overthrew Tibet's feudal serfdom system under theocracy and liberated about 1 million serfs and slaves, ushering in a new era with the people becoming their own masters. The democratic reform was the most extensive, deepest and greatest social reform in the history of Tibet, and signified an epoch-making event in Tibet's history of social development and the progress of its human rights, as well as a significant advance in the history of human civilization and universal human rights.

Over the past half century, thanks to the care of the Central People's Government and aid from the whole nation, the liberated people of all ethnic groups in Tibet have, in the capacity of masters of the nation, enthusiastically participated in the grand course of constructing a new society and creating a new lifestyle, and worked unprecedented miracles in Tibetan history. The social system of Tibet has developed by leaps and bounds; its modernization has advanced rapidly; Tibetan society has undergone earth-shaking historic changes; and remarkable progress has been witnessed in the cause of human rights that has attracted worldwide attention.

The year 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the democratic reform in Tibet. The magnificent process of the democratic reform and the profound changes that have taken place in Tibet over the past 50 years shed light on the laws governing the social development of Tibet and expose the lies and rumors of various kinds spread by the Dalai Lama clique about the so-called "Tibet issue," and the evil nature of the 14th Dalai Lama through facts, making clear historical rights and wrongs, and the truth about Tibet and its development and changes.

I. Old Tibet--A Society of Feudal Serfdom under Theocracy

Before the democratic reform in 1959, Tibet had been a society of feudal serfdom under theocracy, a society characterized by a combination of political and religious power, and ruthless political oppression and economic exploitation by the serf-owner class, comprising the three major estate-holders--local administrative officials, nobles and upper-ranking lamas in the monasteries--of the broad masses of serfs and slaves. For centuries, the Tibetan people had been living in dire misery and suffering from the harshness of life, and their society had sunk into a grave state of poverty, backwardness, isolation and decline, verging on total collapse.

Medieval theocratic society. British military journalist Edmund Candler, who visited Lhasa in 1904, recorded the details of the old Tibetan society in his book The Unveiling of Lhasa: "… at present, the people are medieval, not only in their system of government and their religion, their inquisition, their witchcraft, their incarnations, their ordeals by fire and boiling oil, but in every aspect of their daily life."1 The most distinctive feature of the social system of old Tibet was theocracy, a system which ensured that the upper religious strata and the monasteries were together the political power holders as well as the biggest serf owners, possessing all kinds of political and economic privileges, and manipulating the material and cultural lives of the Tibetan people for their own advantage. The Unveiling of Lhasa goes on, "The country is governed on the feudal system. The monks are the overlords, the peasantry their serfs." "Powerful lamas controlled everything in Tibet, where even the Buddha himself couldn't do anything without the support of the lamas," he added.2 Statistics show that before the democratic reform in 1959 Tibet had 2,676 monasteries and 114,925 monks, including 500 senior and junior Living Buddhas and other upper-ranking lamas, and over 4,000 lamas holding substantial economic resources. About one quarter of Tibetan men were monks. The three major monasteries - Drepung, Sera and Ganden - housed a total of more than 16,000 monks, and possessed 321 manors, 147,000 mu (15 mu equal 1 hectare, it is locally called ke in Tibet--ed.) of land, 450 pastures, 110,000 head of livestock, and over 60,000 serfs. The vicious expansion of religious power under theocracy depleted massive human resources and most material resources, shackled people's thinking and impeded the development of productivity. Charles Bell, who lived in Lhasa as a British trade representative in the 1920s, described in his book Portrait of A Dalai Lama: The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth that the theocratic position of the Dalai Lama enabled him to administer rewards and punishments as he wished, because he held absolute power over both this life and the next of the serfs, and coerced them with such power.3 American Tibetologist Melvyn C. Goldstein incisively pointed out that Tibetan society and government were built upon a value system dominated by religious goals and behavior; religious power and privileges, and the leading monasteries "played a major role in thwarting progress" in Tibet; religion and the monasteries "were heavy fetters upon Tibet's social progress"; and "This commitment... to the universality of religion as the core metaphor of Tibetan national identity will be seen... to be a major factor underlying Tibet's inability to adapt to changing circumstances."4

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