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Serfs Emancipation Day in Tibet
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Tibetan legislators endorsed a bill Monday to designate March 28 as annual Serfs Emancipation Day, to mark the date on which aboaut 1 million serfs in the region were freed 50 years ago.

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 under Communist rule.

The move 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.

Serfdom developed before the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), says Gaisang Yeshes, former head of the Tibetan Press of Ancient Books and a sociologist with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences.

The system was further developed after the Dalai Lama became the paramount leader of Tibet. Serfs, who accounted for more than 90 percent of the population of old Tibet, were treated as private property by their owners, including the family of the Dalai Lama.

Slaves' eyes were often gouged out, fingers chopped off, noses cut and the tendons of their feet removed. The 14th Dalai Lama seemed to have been "ignorant" of these kind of events.

On March 10, 1983, he said in India: "In the past, we Tibetans lived in peace and contentment under the Buddhist light shinning over our snow land."

Day to remember

"Nobody who experienced those dark days would want to go back," said Gaisang Yeshes. "However, that part of history is largely unknown to young people."

He said that among participants in the March 14 riot last year, many were young.

This year was the first time that Indian journalist Prerna Suri visited Tibet. The correspondent from New Delhi TV, who traveled to Tibet to cover the legislative session, said her five-day visit was a good opportunity to learn more about Tibet.

"If (establishing Serfs Emancipation Day) can increase people's belief in the government, it is a good thing," she said.

Naindra P. Upadhaya, consul general of Nepal in Lhasa, praised the decision to create the holiday.

He has been in Tibet for 15 months. "Life is getting better here every year," he said, adding that this proved the benefits of democratic reform.

Not everyone sees it the same way. Thomas Mann, a member of the Brussels-based European Parliament, said having such a day was "unequalled humiliation of Tibetans."

Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, called the decision "hype."

Gaisang Yeshes showed understanding of these criticisms. "The day was a festival to most Tibetan people, but doomsday to a few others."

The professor compared the day to September 22, 1862, when slaves were freed in the United States by the milestone "Emancipation Proclamation" signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

(Shanghai Daily January 22, 2009)

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