On March 28, 1959, the Chinese central government announced the dissolution of Tibet's local government after the latter staged an armed rebellion in order to retain the politico-religious serfdom in the region, and established the Tibet autonomous region organizing committee.
With the support of all ethnic groups, the central government and the committee soon put down the revolt and launched a wide range of democratic reforms, which led to the abolition of the centuries-old serfdom, emancipating millions of serfs and slaves in the region. On Jan 19, 2009, the people's congress of the Tibet autonomous region, its legislature, passed a resolution setting March 28 as the annual commemorative day for the liberation of millions of serfs.
The launching of the democratic reforms in 1959 is a milestone in Tibet's as well as human history, not least because it started the process of increased productivity in the region, and promoted equality and justice. It is on March 28, 1959, that Tibet began its journey from "darkness" to "light" and from autocracy to democracy.
The democratic reforms started more than half a century ago added a new chapter to the history of civilization, progress and human rights. As such, it can be compared with the abolitionist movement in the United States in mid-19th century. But unlike the American abolitionist movement that was launched under the leadership of the emerging US bourgeoisie, the democratic campaign started against serfdom in Tibet in 1959 was on a smaller scale and led by the Chinese proletariat. Despite the differences in time and scale, the two events are milestones in the history of civilization and share many similarities.
To end the violent confrontation with backward forces, both countries chose to use force. And in both places there were furious class struggles and conflicts of interests between progressive and conservative forces when it came to the question of abolishing serfdom and slavery. The serfdom in Tibet and the slavery system in the US both were against the trend of history and created obstacles for national unity and solidarity.
The US' hard-won victory against slave owners in the south showed that only by abolishing slavery and freeing the slaves could the northern capitalist class led by then president Abraham Lincoln unite the country and turn it into a powerhouse.
The armed uprising which Tibet's manor lords plotted with the support of foreign forces in 1959 was aimed at not only maintaining the decayed serfdom in the region, but also at severing Tibet from China, similar to the American south seeking to split from the United States. In response, the central government had to take resolute measures not only to quell the rebellion but also to push forward sweeping democratic reforms and maintain national unity.
The abolition of slavery after the northern forces triumphed in the American Civil War helped the US clear obstacles for its rapid capitalist development. For example, the settlement of the land issue for farmers accelerated the development of the US' vast western region, laying a solid foundation for its transformation into the most advanced capitalist country.
Similarly, democratic reforms in China's Tibet helped the region take a huge systematic leap, making local people masters of their lives and inspiring them to increase productivity. Given that a number of measures were usually taken by Tibet's manor lords and slave owners in the US to restrict the freedom of serfs and slaves and/or subject them to brutal physical torture, the slavery in the US and the serfdom in China's Tibet both were serious violations of human rights.
Also, the campaigns launched by the two countries to abolish serfdom and slavery, despite being different, followed the trend of history, made the social development process humane and promoted civilization and progress.
The author is director of the Institute of History Studies, affiliated to China Tibetology Research Center.