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10:11 Jan 21 2009

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Scholar hails Tibet's "Serfs Emancipation Day"
10:10, January 21, 2009  

The emancipation of Tibetan serfs 50 years ago was a victory of the people, said a Chinese Tibetologist on Tuesday, one day after the regional legislature of Tibet endorsed the setting of "Serfs Emancipation Day".

On March 28, 1959, the State Council issued an order to dismiss the local government of Tibet and replace it with a preparatory committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region. On the very day, about one million serfs were freed.

"It marked the end of the old time and the rise of a new era in Tibet as it ushered in a great social change in the region," said Wang Xiaobin, a scholar with the China Tibetology Research Center.

In the 1950s, Tibet was a serfdom, which was contrary to the utopian land of "Shangri-la" depicted by British author James Hilton in his novel "The Lost Horizon", Wang said.

Under the Tibetan serfdom, serf owners, who accounted for less than five percent of the population, occupied all the cultivated land and grassland and the majority of the livestock in Tibet, according to Wang.

The owners could exploit their serfs by using their labor, levying taxes on them, and profiteering by giving loans to their serfs at an interest of 10-30 percent. Serfs, sometimes, had to repay their debts generation by generation, Wang said.

Before 1959, 80-90 percent of Tibetan serfs owed debts to their owners, and 30-40 percent of these serfs were paying debts that were borrowed by older generations, Wang said, citing a survey.

The old Tibetan law divided Tibetans into three classes, in nine grades. The inferiors had to be punished if they offended the superiors.

Under the old law, the cost of a first-grade superior was equal to gold weighed as much as his corpse, while the cost of the ninth-grade inferior was a straw rope, Wang said.

After March 28, 1959, serfdom-based feudal regimes of all levels were toppled and the people's democratic rule was established in Tibet. The Democratic Reform was launched, in which the liberated serfs were given cultivated land and cattle, for the first time in their lives.

In 1961, the first-ever elections of people's congresses of different levels were held in Tibet, with all former serfs and slaves allowed to use their rights of electing or being elected.

In 2002, 93.09 percent voters in Tibet joined in the elections, while in some areas, the voting rate was 100 percent. Minority lawmakers made up over 80 percent of the total at the regional and prefectural levels and over 90 percent of the total at the county and town levels.

Since 1959, all the chairpersons of the regional people's political consultative conferences are Tibetans.

Currently, 87.5 percent of chairperson and vice chairpersons of the regional legislature, 69.9 percent of regional legislature's standing committee members, and 53.3 percent of chairman and chairpersons of the regional government are Tibetans or other ethnic minorities, according to Wang.

Meanwhile, some former Tibetan aristocrats have been appointed leading officials at regional levels, and some of them are working together with their former serfs.

Since 1965, the year the Tibet Autonomous Region was founded, two major classes -- serfs and serf owners -- in Tibet have vanished forever as there has been a fundamental change in the nature of the regime.

Over the past 50 years, Tibet has promulgated and implemented 10 five-year plans for economic and social development. Under the care of the central authorities and the support by the whole country, Tibet has had local infrastructure improved and people's living standards largely enhanced. A number of Tibetan millionaires have emerged in Tibet, according to Wang.

In 2007, the GDP of Tibet topped 30 billion yuan (4.38 billion U.S. dollars), with an averaged per-capita income of over 12,000 yuan, and the regional financial income exceeded 2 billion yuan.

Source: Xinhua

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