Why Did Democratic Reform Take Place in Tibet in 1959?

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May 23, 1951, the former Tibetan Local Government plenipotentiary representatives – Ngapoi Awang Jinmei, Kemai Soinam Wangdü, Thubten Tenthar, Tubdain Legmoin and Sangpo Dengdengzhu – together with Li Weihan, Zhang Jingwu, Zhang Guohua, and Sun Zhiyuan – the plenipotentiaries of the People’s Government, signing the “Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” in Beijing (referred to as the “17-Article Agreement”). Vice Chairman Zhu De, Vice Chairman Li Jishen and Vice Premier Chen Yi also attended the Signing Ceremony.

Original Article: 为什么西藏的民主改革发生在1959年

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Translator’s Note: The history of Tibet in the West is flawed. Since 1945 it has been the victim of US anti-intellectualism, as well as US Cold War disinformation. The so-called ‘Pro-Tibetan Movement’ in the West is a dangerous cult peddling this pseudo-history of Tibet. Needless to say, the ‘Pro-Tibetan Movement’ in Tibet is viewed as just another manifestation of Western racism and a Eurocentric misunderstanding of Chinese and Tibetan affairs, with no relevance to modern Tibet. On occasion I receive various communications of no academic worth which parrot this US disinformation about Tibet. This is a typical manifestation: 

‘It was an invasion labelled as peaceful liberation by Communist Chinese.
China has never administrated Tibet before. Tibet had its own passport, currency, stamp, police and armed forces, school, culture, tradition custom, diplomatic relationships with other countries, etc..etc..  The gathering of these peoples (very possibly compel to attend) to celebrate Tibet liberation is nothing more than just mockery to Tibetans all over the world including the true nature of the evils, deceitful and greedy Communist Chinese’

A quick checklist of the facts soon dispels this commonly believed nonsense in the West (and in the capitalist East): 

1) Over a thousand years ago, the armies of Tibet ‘invaded’ and ‘annexed’ large parts of Western China and exported millions of Tibetans into these conquered areas.  

2) It was the actions of Tibetans which integrated Tibet with China – and not the actions of the Han Chinese. 

3) Millions of Tibetans peacefully live their lives in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces – being Citizens of the People’s Republic of China.  

4) When the imperial Han Chinese won their independence from Tibetan rule – Tibet and Western China were considered inseparable by both Han Chinese and Tibetan people.  

5) Under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Tibet was administered as part of China. The British invasion of Tibet in the early 1900s manufactured briefs delusionary ideas of Tibet being ‘separate’ from China. Britain wanted to use Tibet as a bulwark against an imaginary threat from Imperial Russia.  

6) This did not work as the 13th Dalai Lama ordered the murder of all Westerners living in Tibet and parts of China where Tibetans dominated. (This was despite the 13th Dalai Lama being ‘invited’ to the UK after his ordered massacre had been carried-out).  

7) An ‘Independent’ Tibet was ultimately rejected by the High Lamas as it ‘cut-off’ Tibet from the massive Tibetan population living in Western China. (This was viewed as demising the traditional power-base and influence of the High Lamas).  

8) The British (Imperialist) notion of an ‘Independent’ Tibet was first rejected by the Tibetans and not the Han Chinese. 

9) Whilst Tibet was under the administration of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) – the West said nothing. Whilst Tibet was under the administration of the ‘Nationalist’ (Republic of China) [1911-1949] – the West said nothing. It was only after the success of the Socialist Revolution achieved in 1949 that ‘Communism’ in China (and Tibet) became an issue for the West – as the US-dominated Western Europe entered the contrived ‘Cold War’ phase of its anti-Soviet policy.  

10) Before, during and after WWII (1939-1945), the 14th Dalai Lama was heavily influenced by the Hitlerite regime of Nazi Germany, which saw the 14th Dalai Lama receive instruction from a number of Nazi German War Criminals hiding-out in Tibet.  

11) This Nazi German influence (which saw Tibetans as linked historically to the superior ‘Aryan’ Race, and the Chinese Han ethnicity as being racially inferior), influenced the thinking of the 14th Dalai Lama to allow the CIA of the United States to operate in Tibet during the 1950s.  

12) Such was the corrupt thinking of the 14th Dalai Lama that he allowed Buddhist monastics (who had taken vows of peace and non-violence) to be trained by insurgent Americans to ‘kill’ with fire-arms and explosives, etc. 

All this ignorance and foreign intervention has been swept away, and Tibet is now a thriving ‘modern’ region of China. Not only this, but since the re-founding of the Chinese Buddhist Association in 1953, Tibetan Buddhism is now stronger than ever, with all the corrupts elements removed and its original teachings reinvigorated. This is very different to the ‘Christianized’ and ‘secularized’ distorted Buddhism taught in the West by the 14th Dalai Lama and his clique. This is the same ‘Buddhist monk’ who is paid $200,000 per year by the CIA, and who spends his time living in luxurious 5-star hotels, or being chauffeur driven in bullet-proof limousines, etc.  ACW (15.5.2019) 

On May 23, 1951, after the signing of the “Agreement on the Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet by the Central People’s Government and the Tibetan Local Government” (the “17-Article Agreement”), Tibet’s localised historical development entered a new era. In order to implement the provisions of the “17-Article Agreement”, the Central Government proceeded from the specific reality of conditions on the ground in Tibet, accurately judged the situation, carried out in-depth work, and adopted a series of policies and measures to deal with problems and challenges: on the military front the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into Tibet and after taking the surrender of the ‘Nationalist’ forces stationed in the region, established a ‘Liberated’ Tibet (immediately abolishing all the corrupt and destructive practices of ‘Lamaism’ which had oppressed the Tibetan people for centuries). The Tibetan military region is stationed on the frontier of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and consolidates national defense; economically, the PLA stationed in Tibet carried out large-scale production, opened up trade routes with India and Nepal to obtain supplies, and accelerated the construction of Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet highways operating from the mainland to Tibet, and fundamentally solved the problems of education, health provision, construction, communications, travel and economic development. In terms of organization, the Tibet Work Committee was established to guarantee Unified Leadership; in politics, it was prudent and steady, boldly acting to establish the most extensive Anti-Fascist United Front whilst actively pursuing a resolute struggle against the extreme rightwing reactionary forces. These were great and necessary achievements (which countered feudal backwardness and foreign intervention in the region), but there could be no immediate democratic reform at this time. 

With regard to democratic reforms in Tibet, Article 11 of the “17-Article Agreement” stipulates: “The Central Government does not (remotely) impose any reforms upon Tibet, which must be carried-out according to local conditions and because of the ‘direct’ needs of the local population. The Local Government in Tibet was tasked with carrying-out reforms automatically (and independently). When the people ask for reforms, the Tibetan Leaders had to negotiate a solution to solve the problem.” Considering the actual situation in Tibet, even if faced with a barbaric, cruel and backward political and religious system, the Central Government possessed great patience and hoped (in a peaceful way), for reforms to implemented. However, the implementation of the “17-Article Agreement” encountered obstruction from the feudal serf-owning forces from the very beginning. Mao Zedong (and the Communist Party of China) pursued a continuous policy of instructing the PLA in Tibet to do only good things such as engage in production, develop trade, repair roads, and educate the masses to understand the Revolution and the nature of their ‘Liberation’. in the past, if the serf-owner boycotted the opening of primary school in Lhasa, the primary school would be closed. At the same time, the oppression-stricken serfs were eager to gain personal freedom and look forward to reforms. Some cadres and soldiers could not tolerate the terrible condition of the enslaved serfs and demanded open democratic reforms. The Central Government has always adhered to the principle of “prudent and steady progress”. The Tibet Working Committee was encouraged to seriously investigate and study, to prevent a separation between theory, reality and the masses. On the other hand, the Central Government has repeatedly adopted concessionary policies to be applied the upper-level conservative forces in Tibet. The fundamental reason for this was that the economic foundation, political foundation and social foundation of Tibet’s reform were relatively weak. These issues could not be resolved only by military superiority. Peaceful realization of democratic reform was the basic option at that time. 

In September 1955, the “Replies of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the nature of the reforms currently under way in Tibet” pointed out that any reforms carried out by the Tibetan people are part of the overall task of the transitional period of the Chinese Nation, taking into account the particularities of the Tibetan region. Within a certain historical time period, there can only be democratic reform under certain conditions, a process which requires time and takes a special approach. On September 4, 1956, the “Directive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Democratic Reform of Tibet” was sent to the Tibet Working Committee, demanding that democratic reform must be a peaceful reform, and that the upper (feudal) classes must be prepared for two aspects: First, repeated consultations, These reformist policies must have their true consent; second, they must re-organise for the upper ranks (both politically and culturally), so that they strictly abide by the provisions of the “17-Article Agreement,” and must not lose faith in the process. “From the current working basis of Tibet, cadre conditions, upper-level attitudes and recent events in the Qamdo area, the conditions for reform in Tibet have not yet matured, and our preparations will not be completed within a year or two. Therefore, the implementation of democratic reforms will certainly not be the first five-year plan, or it may not be the second five-year plan, and could be even postponed to the third five-year plan. It should be said that this policy is a concession to the upper classes of Tibet. “From now on until the time of reform, we must embrace the upper class and incorporate it into a United Front, cultivate Tibetan cadres, develop Party Members and increase the membership of local Revolutionary groups, help the masses increase production, and improve the lives of the people as much as possible (in order to prepare for the eventual reform). In April 1957, according to the central government’s policy of “not reforming for six years”, non-Tibetan people were withdrawn from Tibet in large numbers. The military and political personnel (of Han origination) were reduceby 92% for Cadres and 70% for troops stationed in Tibet. This was an important manifestation of construction and stability, as indigenous Tibetans took-over the roles of Revolutionary activity.  

In May 1957, the “Directive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Democratic Reform and Construction of Tibet” re-emphasized that “the democratic reform of Tibet is one of the important contents of the agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, and it must be implemented sooner or later.” The Tibetan people must undergo democratic reforms in order to obtain political and economic liberation and create the preconditions for a gradual transition to Socialism. “The democratic reforms we advocate, no matter how peaceful they are attained, cannot fail to touch the foundation of feudal rule. Because its purpose is to change the serfdom of Tibet to the People’s Democratic Tibet.” “The Central Government has reconsidered the historical and realistic situation of the Tibet region and decided to be at least six years from this year, even longer. During this time, no democratic reforms were carried out in Tibet.” It was not until March 1959 that the Xiaxia (Tibet Local Government) tore up the agreement and launched an armed rebellion. The public slogans proposed by the Central Government were designed to only calm down and defuse the immediate violence of the rebellion, but did not mention democratic reform. The specific policy was to change the border through reform, with the rebel areas being changed first, with the unrehabilitated areas only temporarily being rehabilitated. The Lhasa area was reformed first, followed by Shannan, Changdu and Dingqing. The Panchen jurisdiction was de-emphasized as a means to diminish the religious influence that justified several religious cults operating in various locations.  If there had been no ‘Lamaist‘ inspired armed-uprising, then these measures would not have been necessary. As matters transpired there was implemented a series of principle reforms which involved the application of specific measures. For example, the production materials of the insurgent lords were confiscated and distributed to the poor peasants and herders in Tibet. For the lords who have not participated in the rebellion, the policy of redemption was adopted. The Chinese State financed production materials and distributed them to the poor peasants and herdsmen. Since then, serfdom (and the ownership of serfs) was abolished, with the individual land-ownership system established for farmers and herdsmen. 

In the eight years from 1951 to 1959, the Tibetan masses also “read for eight years, considered for eight years, and understood for eight years the differences between the old and new systems.” They realized the darkness and opposition of the feudal serf-system from their own personal experience of this oppression. The essence of human nature, recognizing that reform is the only choice for Tibetan society, laid the social foundation for the smooth implementation of democratic reforms. The Central Leadership of Mao Zedong (and other political leaders) prioritized the handling of various complex issues; focusing on encouraging the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to participate in the work of the United Front; carrying-out the work of the masses by doing good things as a means to breakthrough ignorance and encourage friendship; communication policies to resolve the gap between ethnic groups; to establish a patriotic mass group as a starting point to lay a good mass foundation; to strike at a small number of dangerous separatists, to win opportunities for quelling the rebellion and achieving democratic reform, and created good conditions. In 1959, the local reactionary upper strata of Tibet launched an armed rebellion to defeat Socialism and re-establish a unified (feudal) political and religious system reliant upon the establishment of serfdom. As this Lama-led political violence and upheaval upset the harmonious balance of Tibetan society, the conditions created by the Dalai Lama (and his clique) generated the historical opportunity for early democratic reform. As a result, Tibet’s local history entered a new and brilliant page. 

(The author – Zhang Yun [张云] – is the Director and Researcher of the History Research Institute of the China Tibetology Research Center) 

Related Reading: 

Great Change through Vicissitude 

On March 28 this year (2016), it was the 57th anniversary of the Liberation of Tibet’s millions of oppressed serfs. Fifty-seven years ago, Premier Zhou Enlai signed an order from the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, announcing the dissolution of the former Local Government of Tibet, whilst the Preparatory Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region exercised the authority of the former Tibetan Local Government. Since then, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the millions of Tibetan serfs have carried out a democratic reform movement that completely destroyed the feudal serf system, turned over the old order and liberated the masses – truly becoming the master. This is not only a great pioneering work in the history of Human Rights in China, but also a milestone in the history of Human Rights in the world. 

In the 57 years of the game, the vicissitudes of the ancient and modern times have occurred in the land of Tibet, and the social development path that has been completed in other places for more than a thousand years has been completed. Whether it is the speed and quality of social and economic development, or the changes that have occurred to local workers themselves, they have achieved a historic leap. A new Socialist modernization of new Tibet is rising, and the ancient snowy plateau is achieving a magnificent new life… 

Overthrowing the Old Tibetan Feudal System of Serfdom 

The social system before the democratic reform in Tibet was a feudal serfdom of the unity of politics and religion, administered through a dictatorship of monks and nobles. The serf-owner class, which accounts for about 5% of Tibet’s population, was the officials, the aristocratic, and upper classes of monks of the temple, which possessed most of the means of production. The serfs and slaves, who account for more than 95% of the Tibetan population, possessed neither land nor personal freedom. “Even if the snow mountain becomes ghee, it is occupied by the lord; that is, the river becomes milk, and we can’t drink it. Although life is born by parents, the body is occupied by the official.” It is today, many times from all over Tibet. The old people who came here will still shed tears of grief whenever they hear the old folk song. 

The “Thirteen Codes” and “Sixteen Codes” popular in old Tibet divide people into three grades and nine grades. The Code stipulates that any crime committed against a superior is paid for by creating a corpse (of a previously living person), and the price of the lower-class person is only that of a straw. The serf owners can buy, sell, transfer, give, mortgage and exchange serfs at will, and can also use the barbaric punishment of the serfs which breaks hands, breaks legs, gouging out the eyes, ear-cutting, cramping, and tongue-cutting. 

The feudal serf system lasted for nearly a thousand years and had become an extremely decadent and declining social system that ran counter to the world trend in modern times, and has brought Tibet into an extremely poor, backward, and shrinking state. A large number of facts prove that by the middle of the 20th century, there were many social conflicts and crises in Tibet. The majority of serfs were escaping from impasse, constantly launching petitions, fleeing, resisting rent increases and resorting to armed resistance. “The system of political and religious unity has gone down like a lamp powered by oil.” Ngapoi Awang, who served in the Local Government of old Tibet, said in the 1940s that Tibet “has gone on its own and will not last long. The serfs died, the nobles could not survive, and the whole society would be destroyed.” 

In the mid-to-late 1950s, some of the upper-level ruling groups in Tibet ignored the increasingly strong social reforms of the people, fundamentally opposed reform, and clamored for “long-term failure to change, and never allow change”, trying to maintain the feudal serf system forever. On March 10, 1959, an armed rebellion was launched throughout Tibet. In this regard, the Central People’s Government decisively defeated this reactionary rebellion and led the Tibetan people to carry out democratic reforms of the social system. Democratic reform has greatly liberated the productive forces of society and completely cleared the way for the political and cultural modernization of Tibet. 

Twenty-Three Consecutive Years of Double-Digit Economic Growth 

At the end of last year (2015), the total GDP of Tibet exceeded 100 billion yuan for the first time, with a growth rate of 11%. The economic growth rate maintained double-digit growth for 23 consecutive years. According to the Statistics Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region, from the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2014, the GDP of Tibet has achieved steady growth of 10 billion yuan for six consecutive years, and has successively crossed 40 billion to 90 billion. Some economic indicators in Tibet are among the best in the west and even the whole country. The speed of development and the benefits achieved are growing in the same direction, and the industrial structure is also increasingly optimized. 

The industry in Tibet has experienced a history of development from nothing to nothing. In the Lhasa National Economic and Technological Development Zone, there are more than 1,000 registered enterprises with a registered capital of more than 20 billion yuan. Last year, the Lhasa Economic and Technological Development Zone realized a tax of 17.92 billion yuan. In recent years, Lhasa has also invested in supporting the pure land health industry, involving mineral water, saffron beverages, maca and Rhodiola health products, and has attracted investment from many domestic top 500 companies. At present, Tibet has initially formed a pattern of seven-zone and seven-zone characteristics of agriculture and animal husbandry in the northeastern Tibetan yak, Tibetan cows, high-quality grain and oil in Tibet, pollution-free vegetables in the suburbs, and Tibetan pigs. 

At present, Tibet’s traffic construction is accelerating, and it is becoming a history that “it is difficult to enter Tibet, it is difficult to find Tibet, and it is difficult to hide in Tibet”. At the end of 2013, the only county in the country that did not have access to highways, Tibet Medog County, was officially opened to traffic. In mid-August 2014, the railway from Lhasa to Shigatse was officially opened. In September last year, the high-grade road from Lhasa to Linzhi was officially opened to traffic. During the “Thirteenth Five-Year Plan” period, Tibet will strive to build a three-hour economic circle with Lhasa as the core and radiation in Shigatse, Shannan, Linzhi and Nagqu. As of the end of last year, the number of navigable cities across the country and Tibet reached 40, and the number of routes increased to 63. The five major airport networks with the Chengdu-Gonga Airport, Linzhi Bunda, Linzhi Milin, Ali Kunsa and Shigatse Airport as the feeder lines were formed. 

The distance between remote Tibet and other countries through foreign communication and logistics is getting faster and faster. For Abuwangjiu, a herder in a remote town in Naqu County, Tibet, this means he possesses a black Apple mobile phone – which has become a must-have for his grazing activities. Not only did he do a lot of business on this phone, but has also relieved a lot of loneliness and monotony associated with watching ovr grazing animals. More than 95% of herders in this area now have mobile phone. Tibet’s express delivery business has developed rapidly. In addition to the original postal EMS, Tibet now has more than 20 large-scale express delivery companies such as Yuantong, China Railway Express and Civil Aviation Express. Residents of Naqu County state that the items ordered online are generally available in three days. 

Strong Support from the Central and Sister Provinces and Cities 

The development and progress of each step in Tibet embodies the cordial care and special support of the Party Central Committee and the State Council, and embodies the vigorous and selfless assistance of the brother provinces and cities and the central backbone enterprises across the country. 

Since the third Tibet Work Symposium in 1994 made a major strategic decision on “supporting Tibet, taking responsibility for film, and rotating regularly”, 17 provinces and cities, 17 central enterprises, and 66 central state agencies have supported all of Tibet. In counties and districts and directly affiliated departments, tens of thousands of Tibetan Aid Cadres gathered in the snowy plateau from Tiannanhaibei. Over the past 20 years, Tibet Aided Units and provinces and municipalities have promoted more than 8,300 projects and distributed more than 30 billion yuan of aid funds to settle in the plateau. In recent years, in accordance with the requirements of project and funds to the agricultural and pastoral areas to the people’s livelihood, all the counterparts in Tibet have invested more than 80% of the Tibet aid funds in housing, medical treatment, schooling, transportation, and drinking, Projects such as communication have effectively broadened the channels for farmers and herdsmen to increase their income and greatly improved the production and living conditions of agricultural and pastoral areas. 

In August last year (2015), the Sixth Central Tibet Work Symposium was held, clarifying the important principles of Tibet’s work of “regulating Tibet according to law, enriching the people and building Tibet, building Tibet for a long time, rallying people’s hearts, and forming a solid foundations”, once again for Tibet’s current and future period. The leaping development and long-term stability have pointed out the correct road. 

This year (2016) is the first year of the “Thirteenth Five-Year Plan”. All the brother provinces and cities will further increase their efforts to aid Tibet. It is reported that Beijing has arranged a total of 362 million yuan of aid and 37 projects. Anhui will further increase its support for Shannan. Now it has planned more than 40 Tibet aid projects, and the implementation of funds has exceeded 700 million… 

At the moment, local support is more powerful, and its form is more flexible and diverse. In mid-August last year, 143 medical professionals from the Mainland entered Tibet, and initially established a group-based assistance from 7 counterparts to support the provincial and municipal aid to 7 People’s Hospitals in Tibet, including the Beijing Union Medical College Hospital.  The relevant leaders of the Tibet Autonomous Region told the reporter that the aided Tibetan medical teams helped the targeted hospitals to strengthen and refine management, improve rules and regulations, improve the working standards, regulate practice, optimize the medical procedures, and improve the quality of medical care. 

Change the Quality of Ideas, Improve Overall Development 

Dan Zengzhu, Deputy Secretary-General of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, said that since the democratic reform, the biggest and most fundamental change in the snowy plateau has been the change of people’s perspective, the change of people’s ideas and the improvement of their quality compared with the achievements of material life. It laid the most solid foundation for the modernization of Tibet. 

Wen Weibing is a lawyer of a law firm in Beijing. In 2014, he signed up for the volunteer service of “Tibet Without Lawyers” and was sent to Zhacao County, Shannan City. “The legal awareness of the Tibetan people is constantly improving.” Wen Weibing said that farmers and herdsmen are no longer fighting to make trouble, but seek counsel and constructive debate. After the expiration of the two-year service, he proposed to the General Office to open a branch in Lhasa and was approved. In addition, the awareness of the masses in Tibet has grown. Gelong, a 48-year-old villager from Yuba Village, Jiazhulin Town, Gongga County, Shannan City, borrowed 320,000 yuan from the bank through the farmer’s joint guarantee. In the past few years, the family has had three cars and nearly 2 million yuan in fixed assets. In the remote back town of Medog County, with the help of the bank’s “financial husband” service, the people are equally skilled in the use of POS machines. 

From the serfs who have no life and no life guarantees in the past to the natural people in the traditional farming society, the natural people who drive cattle and the shepherds – today’s modern citizens now possess a legal consciousness, business consciousness and scientific consciousness, the “people” in the snowy plateau have experienced a profound inner and outer changes. At present, Tibet not only has its own master’s and doctoral degrees, but also has a group of experts and scholars who are well-known throughout the country. Since the establishment of the autonomous region, nearly 30 research institutes have been created, with more than 52,000 professional and technical personnel, and a number of academic achievements, as well as generating a reputation in the world.  

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