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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China marks 50 years since exile of Dalai Lama

March 29, 2009

The Associated Press
March 27, 2009

BEIJING (AP) -- Testimonials about the misery of
life in old Tibet kicked off celebrations Friday
for the newest holiday on China's political
calendar — an anniversary that marks the
communist government's overturning of the region's feudal hierarchy.

Publicized in TV documentaries, editorials in the
state-run media and museum exhibitions, what
Beijing calls "Serfs Liberation Day" likens the
end of the Dalai Lama's rule in Tibet 50 years
ago to Abraham Lincoln's emancipation of the slaves.

"Abolishing old Tibet's theocratic feudal system
is an important milestone in the world's
anti-slavery movement," senior Communist Party
leader Jia Qinglin said at a conclave to kick off
celebrations in Beijing on Friday, the eve of the
anniversary. It "is one of the greatest and most
exciting events in human history."

But the effort to promote the anniversary has
injected new tensions into the turbulent
relationship between the government and Tibetan
minorities and underscored the chasm between the
way Chinese and Tibetans view their history.

Celebrations Saturday in the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa are being prepared in great secrecy, though
they will be nationally televised. "The
celebrations are secret. We're not even sure what
they are," said Chen Xuan, an editor for the Web
site of the government's Tibet Daily newspaper.

A year ago Tibetan communities erupted in violent
protests against Chinese rule, drawing a swift
clampdown by paramilitary forces that has
remained in place. Security has been tightened in
recent weeks because March is often a flash point
— a time when Tibetans mourn and rise up in
protest over the failed 1959 revolt that sent
their revered Dalai Lama into exile.

"The period since March-April 2008 has seen a
hardening of attitudes against Tibetans, which
draw on long-standing attitudes that view them as
primitive and 'ungrateful' natives who are
predisposed to violence," Tsering Shakya, an
expert on modern Tibet at the University of
British Columbia, wrote in a recent article.

March 28 marks the date when Beijing ended the
revolt and placed Tibet under its direct rule for
the first time in history. The idea of
celebrating it gained momentum among retired
Communist cadres after last year's riots and
raucous, anti-China demonstrations that followed
the Beijing Olympic torch relay in the West.

In China's official version of events, Tibet in
mid-century was a remote medieval backwater,
where most of the population lived in servitude
to the Buddhist theocracy and nobility — until
the communist government stepped in.

Chinese rule has brought economic development,
higher living standards and infrastructure to the
remote Himalayan plateau where people
traditionally eked out a living by farming and
herding. But Tibetans say they have lost
religious and cultural freedoms and become marginalized in their homeland.

The intensity of this year's campaign and the
effort to win international acceptance for its
point of view was a new step for a more confident
Chinese leadership. As part of the effort, five
legislators from Tibet went on a 13-day public
relations campaign to the U.S. and Canada,
drawing rather mixed reviews from the experts and politicians they met.

"There's nothing new, but the fact is, sending
Tibetan members of National People's Congress is
an indication that they certainly want to try
very hard to change China's bad image," said
Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings
Institution in Washington who met with the delegation.

During the kickoff ceremony Friday at the Great
Hall of the People in Beijing, a half-dozen
speakers reflected on the improvements in Tibet
in the last 50 years and the crucial role of the Communist government.

Special emphasis was given to the serfs and
slaves who once served Tibet's Buddhist
monasteries and nobility but who then benefited
from land reform and the purging of the traditional elite.

"I began doing adult's work when I was 10 years
old, sometimes I was so tired I couldn't even get
up," 73-year-old former serf Yixi Luozhui said in
Chinese. These days, he said, food is abundant
and modern conveniences like cars, televisions
and cell phones are common in ordinary Tibetans' homes.

"The people say 'the Communist Party's policies
are like the sun on a clear day in Lhasa.' It's
so good. You are rich even if you don't want to be rich," he said.

The Dalai Lama, in exile in India for 50 years
but still revered by many Tibetans, was vilified
during the meeting by government leaders for inciting separatism.

The Panchen Lama, a high-ranking Buddhist cleric
who was enthroned by Beijing and scorned by many
Tibetans, did so without naming the Dalai Lama.

"I sincerely thank the party for giving me these
bright eyes to allow me to tell right from wrong,
to recognize who really loves the Tibetan people
and who is willing to take any measures to
destroy the peace and stability in Tibet for their own purposes," he said.

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