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China Declares Provocative New Holiday in Tibet

January 23, 2009

New holiday to mark the 50th anniversary of failed Dalai Lama-led rebellion
Buzzle - Costa Mesa,CA
January 20, 2009
China has declared a new Tibetan holiday, to be called Serfs Emancipation Day, to mark the 50th anniversary of its defeat of a pro-independence uprising, state media reported yesterday.
The rebellion's failure led to the Dalai Lama's flight into exile and the date ­remains extremely sensitive. Last year's bloody riots in the capital, Lhasa, broke out following peaceful protests marking the uprising.
There is still a heavy security presence in the capital's center and the authorities are anxious over potential unrest on such a significant anniversary.
The new holiday, to be celebrated on 28 March – the date Beijing announced the dissolution of the Tibetan ­government – was approved by the Communist-controlled Tibetan legislature.
"On 28 March 1959 Tibetan serfs and slaves, who accounted for more than 90% of the region's population, were freed 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," Xinhua news agency said.
The announcement reflects the gulf between Chinese and Tibetan views of their history and Beijing's efforts to discredit the Dalai Lama, who has said he would not wish to see a return to the old system.
China says Tibet is historically part of its territory, while the Tibetan government-in-exile argues it was effectively independent for centuries.
Beijing also accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama insists he seeks only autonomy.
The new holiday may be intended both to make China's case for its rule of Tibet overseas and to win over younger Tibetans chafing at Beijing's control – although many are likely to resent the authorities' portrayal of the man they revere.
Zhou Yuan, head of the history department at the Chinese Centre for Tibetan Studies in Beijing, told Reuters: "The Dalai Lama has been trying to embellish the old feudalistic serfdom, which was actually even worse than the middle ages in Europe.
"The younger generation might have been influenced by both the Dalai Lama and some western propaganda, so [marking] this date will help them understand that period of time," he said.
But Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said the announcement would "rub salt into the wounds" of Tibetans.
"It's a time of crackdown in Tibet and this attempt to rewrite history is provoking and irresponsible … It risks creating the conditions for further unrest and instability," she said.
"It's a bitter irony that Tibetans are now living under far greater oppression than they experienced before – yet the Chinese are using the rhetoric of liberation and emancipation."
The move comes days after China renewed its attack on the Dalai Lama, accusing him of "sabotage" to slow development in Tibet.
Melvyn Goldstein, professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and author of A History of Modern Tibet, said that a system similar to Europe's manorial estates had existed in Tibet before the 1950s. Bonded peasants worked on land owned by nobles or monasteries without wages, living on what they grew on tenement land.
"The Dalai Lama says the system was not good and he was happy to get rid of it," Dr Goldstein added. "[But] it was not like serfdom in Russia, selling people here and there.
"Serfdom has become a loaded term … even though it's fair to say it, perhaps a neutral term would be better."
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