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CHINA AIMS AT DALAI LAMA WITH NEW TIBET HOLIDAY

January 21, 2009

By EDWARD WONG
The New York Times
January 20, 2009
 
BEIJING — Chinese leaders have never minced words when it comes to the Dalai Lama. Last year, during the Tibetan uprising,
the government labeled the Dalai Lama "a jackal clad in Buddhist monk's robes." Now, it has come up with a name to celebrate
the date the Communists declared rule over Tibet after forcing the Dalai Lama to flee — Serf Emancipation Day.
 
On March 28, 1959, the Chinese Communist Party announced the creation of the Tibet Autonomous Region and dissolved the old
Tibetan government. Legislators in Tibet passed a bill on Monday mandating an annual celebration of that event by
designating a special title for the date. The bill will be reviewed by the ninth regional People's Congress, according to
Xinhua, the official state news agency.
 
Beijing has long said that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, ruled over a feudal system that had kept the
majority of Tibetans enslaved. Serf Emancipation Day will "mark the date on which about 1 million serfs in the region were
freed 50 years ago," Xinhua reported, adding that 90 percent of the Tibetan population in the 1950s was serfs or slaves.
 
The article added that the creation of the Tibet Autonomous Region "came after the central government foiled an armed
rebellion staged by the Dalai Lama and his supporters, most of whom were slave owners attempting to maintain serfdom."
 
"That meant the end of serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy, with the Dalai
Lama as the core of the leadership," Xinhua added.
 
The bill creating Serf Emancipation Day was approved by all 382 legislators in attendance at the session, Xinhua reported.
 
The move to celebrate the day as a holiday comes just months before the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight to
India. The Dalai Lama left Lhasa on March 17, 1959, with an entourage of 20 men, six of them cabinet ministers. He now lives
in exile in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, in India, where he continues to advocate for Tibetan autonomy free of China's
encumbrances.
 
There was no immediate reaction from the Dalai Lama's office in Dharamsala to the new Tibetan holiday.
 
The Chinese government is wary of the coming anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight, and there has been talk throughout the
Tibetan regions of western China that the Chinese military presence will be in full force there through March. The largest
uprising of Tibetans in recent years took place last March, after peaceful protests by monks were suppressed. Tibetans in
Lhasa then took to the streets and killed ethnic Han Chinese civilians, prompting a military crackdown.
 
The Tibetan protests spread throughout western China, catching the Chinese government by surprise and revealing the
widespread disaffection by Tibetans living under Chinese rule.
 
Though the recent harsh statements about the Dalai Lama are attempts by the Chinese government to discredit him — "a jackal
clad in Buddhist monk's robes and an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast," for example — support for the
Dalai Lama remains strong throughout Tibet. Many Tibetans secretly own photos of the Dalai Lama and proudly show them to
foreigners passing through.
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