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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Mysterious old Tibet, with its serfs and slaves

April 14, 2009

By Celeste Fong
The Star Online (Malaysia)
from The Beijing Express
April 12, 2009

THINK of Tibet and most will relate it to the
Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple Monastery in Lhasa,
the Dalai Lama or Tibetan Buddhism.

Perhaps, the word "mysterious" will come to mind
too. However, not many have an idea of Tibet’s
history which suggests a somewhat different
picture, especially on slavery and the Tibetan serfs.

An exhibition in Beijing on Tibet’s 50 years of
achievement, which is held at the Cultural Palace
of Nationalities here, takes visitors through the
showcase of relics and exhibits as well as hold
talks by experts on the old Tibet.

Titled "50th Anniversary of Democratic Reforms in
Tibet," the exhibition has five sections: the
Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, the Crackdown on
the Armed Rebellion; the Demo­cratic Reform in
Tibet, Half a Century of Conflict between
Reunification and Separa­tion, the Progress and
Regress, and the Social and Economic Development
and Achieve­ments in Human Rights.

It started in February and was originally slated
to end on April 10 but the organisers and
co-organisers -- the Information Office of the
State Council, the United Front Department of the
CPC Central Committee, the State Ethnic Affairs
Commission, the Tibet Autonomous Region, the
Central Archives and the Xinhua News Agency --
have extended the exhibition to the end of this
month. Last month, the foreign media were invited
to attend the exhibition, which also featured a
question-and-answer session for the media with
the Chinese Tibetologists Zhang Yun and De Ji Droma.

Outside the Cultural Palace of Nationalities,
tour coaches and university buses were parked
along the auxiliary road off the Chang’an Avenue,
which is now under a five-month renovation.

Tour guides were busy waving their little flags
to gather their respective tour members even
after entering the exhibition halls.

The media were given pamphlets, a DVD video
titled Tibet’s Past and Present and books like
China’s Tibet, Fifty Years of Democratic Reform
in Tibet, and Eyewitnesses to 100 years of Tibet.

State media were busy interviewing foreign media
for their views and comments on the exhibition.

Many expressed interest in the exhibits, saying
that they were unaware of Tibet’s past in this
aspect, particularly on the slavery and feudal
serfdom; and awed by the rarely displayed original documents.

 From the exhibition, visitors learnt that Tibet
has been an inseparable part of China since ancient times.

Prior to 1959, Tibet had long been a society of
feudal serfdom under theocratic rule, a society
which was even darker than medieval society in
Europe, according to the white paper titled
"Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet"
published by the Information Office of the State Council.

"Production was mostly monopolised by three major
estate holders -- the local administrative
officials, nobles and upper-ranking lamas in the
monasteries and their agents -- and they
accounted for less than 5% of Tibet’s population.
They owned all of Tibet’s farmland, pastures,
forests, mountains, rivers and beaches as well as most livestock," it said.

"About 90% of old Tibet’s population was made up
of serfs, called ‘tralpa’ in Tibetan."

Enlarged historical photographs at the
exhibition, including pictures of serfs living in
shabby tents and tilling the land of their lords.
"Undeniably, Tibet has developed so much under
the Central Government’s rule and aid has been allocated to Tibet.

"I hope people will understand the truth about
Tibet and its development and changes," said an
official with the Chinese government when asked.

"What is the so-called Tibet issue?" he asked,
urging people to learn more about the history of
Tibet and check the facts before embracing lies
and rumours about the so-called Tibet issue.

Later at the question-and-answer session, Zhang
and De briefed the foreign media on the
achievements in Tibet by elaborating the Tibet
policy of the Chinese government and provided
figures and examples on how the government had
invested tremendously in Tibet to improve the
life of the people there, listing other political and social achievements too.

To a question, Zhang said: "In old Tibet, serf
owners could randomly strip serfs of their
possessions. Being the owners of serfs, they can
even dispose of the serfs and their children at will.

"Serfs and slaves, who made up over 95% of the
population of old Tibet, had no personal freedom.
The children of serfs were registered and documented as soon as they were born.

"They had to serve as serfs all their life. Where
can one find human rights in old Tibet? There
were only feudal serf owners’ privileges."

The exhibition, in other words, is an interesting
and interactive way of showing the official
stance and views of the Chinese government on
Tibet, besides marking the occasion of the 50th
anniversary since the exile of the Dalai Lama.

And on March 28, Tibet observed its first Serfs
Emancipation Day, which has also been made an annual public holiday.

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