Serfs Emancipation Day
|Serfs' Emancipation Day|
|Also called||Serfs' Liberation Day|
|Next time||28 March 2021|
|Serfs' Emancipation Day|
|Literal meaning||Tibet one million serfs liberation commemoration day|
Serfs' Emancipation Day, observed annually on 28 March, is a holiday in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China that celebrates the emancipation of serfs in Tibet. The holiday was adopted by the Tibetan legislature on 19 January 2009, and was promulgated that same year. In modern Tibetan history, 28 March 1959 was the day that the Tibetan government was declared illegal by China, which, according to the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese academics, liberated Tibetans from "feudalism" and "theocracy".
The holiday was announced to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of "democratic reform" of the Tibetan feudal theocratic social structure on 28 March 1959, where according to China, one million people were freed from serfdom. The People's Republic of China had been established since 1949, and has had control over Tibet since 1951. Mao Zedong had entered into negotiations with the 14th Dalai Lama to initiate land reform, but was told in 1957 that any reforms would have to be approved by the Tibetan nobility. Mao was surprised by the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which Chinese historians call an attempt by feudal lords to continue the system forever, but the Dalai Lama calls a "national uprising". In retrospect, the Dalai Lama also prefers the term "poor people" for Tibetans, for which he says the designation "serf" is questionable. He also alleges that the Government of Tibet had drawn up plans to gradually lower hereditary debts, but that the central government was hesitant, preferring to do things their own way.
On 28 March, in what China Daily called the simultaneous "end of serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy", Zhou Enlai issued a State Council Order declaring the "dissolution" of the government of Tibet. The order also directed the People's Liberation Army to suppress the uprising, confiscate the possessions of the rebels, and give them to the serfs, which by China's estimate, comprised 90% of the population in Tibet. Reportedly, serfs were burning their feudal contracts and dancing in the streets. Anna Louise Strong marks 17 July as the precise date when feudal debts were abolished by the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. Warren W. Smith concurs, and further suggests that the government has chosen 28 March instead as "counter-propaganda" to the 2008 Tibetan unrest.
In presenting it to the Tibetan legislature, Pang Boyong, Deputy Secretary General of the Tibetan Regional Congress Standing Committee, said the bill is aimed at "reminding all the Chinese people, including Tibetans, of the landmark 'democratic reform' initiated 50 years ago; since then, millions of slaves under the feudal serfdom became masters of their own". On 19 January 2009, at the second annual session of the ninth regional People's Congress in 2009, 382 legislators voted unanimously for the bill, designating 28 March annually as Serfs' Emancipation Day.
Serfs' Emancipation Day was celebrated in Lhasa on 28 March 2009. The procession started at 10 a.m. at Potala Palace, and the then-Governor Qiangba Puncog presided over the event, wearing traditional Tibetan dress. Local Communist Party secretary Zhang Qingli was also in attendance. "Representatives of former serfs", students, and soldiers gave speeches in Tibetan and Mandarin. Tibetan students and herders gathered and waved Chinese national flags. About 13,280 people were in attendance.
The office of the 14th Dalai Lama denounced the holiday, saying that China was trying to declare new holidays to "avoid the situation" in Tibet. Kent Ewing of the Asia Times called the holiday "a reminder of the feudal system that existed in Tibet before the Chinese invaded in 1950", but believes that the holiday will embitter Tibetans. Tsering Shakya echoes the Dalai Lama's condemnations, and also calls the celebrations "A choreographed spectacle" for "the delivery of public mass compliance to the leadership in Beijing" in response to "the widespread protests that engulfed the Tibetan plateau in March–April 2008" (see 2008 Tibetan unrest).
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