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Grand celebration held to mark Serfs Emancipation Day in Tibet

A grand celebration to mark Tibet's first Serfs Emancipation Day was held this morning at the square in front of the Potala Palace in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The meeting 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, a soldier whose grandparents were serfs and students delivered speeches.

Tsondre, a 69-year-old farmer from the suburbs of Lhasa, recalled changes in his life after democratic reform.

"I was born to a serf's family and was made a monk in the Sera Monastery when I was young," said the old man, adding that he would never forget his tragedy.

He cited a Tibetan adage to describe the misery of serfs: "All that I can take is my own shadow, all that I can leave are my footprints."

He was at the lowest level in the monastery, doing all kinds of chores throughout the year without getting enough to eat.

"Due to hunger, many people like me went out to beg for food, but if we were discovered by high-level monks, we could be clubbed or whipped."

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

"Slaves 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.

On March 28, 1959, the central government announced it would dissolve the aristocratic local government of Tibet and replace it with a preparatory committee for establishing the Tibet Autonomous Region. That meant the end of serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy.

After democratic reform, serfs were given land, cattle and means of production.

"New buildings mushroomed and our savings grew, a road was built to my home, television and telephone service came to my house, all children could receive an education ... the change was dramatic," Tsondre said.

"If some people want to separate our country and destroy our happiness, we would never agree," he said.

Tibetan legislators endorsed a bill on January 19 to designate March 28 as an annual Serfs Emancipation Day, to mark the date on which about 1 million serfs in the region, accounting for 90 percent of the Tibetan population, were freed 50 years ago.

The move was intended to have people, especially the young, understand and remember the misery of serfdom and cherish the life they enjoy now.

Soldier Jamyang Sherab's grandparents were serfs.

"My grandfather was hounded to death by the landlord and my grandmother lived a miserable life with my father and aunt, until the PLA soldiers came," he said.

"They then gained land and cattle, settling down in Jomda County in Qamdo prefecture."

Growing up with this story, Jamyang Sherab developed an affinity for the army and became a soldier in 1998.

"I was sent to Estonia for an international contest among scouts, and our team was the runner-up," said the uniformed soldier proudly.

Namgyel Lhamo, an 11th-grader in Lhasa, said she was lucky not to have experienced the old society.

"Now that children don't have to live in despair for not being able to attend school, don't have to subsist under the whip of landlords or in dark and wet stables ... we shiver at the cruelties we heard of and could hardly imagine how could such feudal serfdom based on the blood and tears of serfs could have existed," she said.

Last year on March 14 "when we were sitting in the classroom, rioters came ... and torched our school. We were scared for quite a long time. We can't let anyone ruin our peaceful life," she said.

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

"Burying feudal serfdom and liberating the one million slaves 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.

"Just as Europe couldn't return to the medieval era, and the United States couldn't go back to the times before the Civil War, Tibet would never restore the old system," 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 fail," he noted.

The ceremony lasted for more than an hour, before attendants, sitting under the blue sky, waved katas upon its conclusion.


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