On January 19, 2009, Tibetan legislators endorsed unanimously a bill designating March 28 as Serfs Emancipation Day, a day designated officially to mark the freeing of 1 million serfs from serfdom 50 years ago.
For many ethnic Tibetans, this day represents a celebration of freedom (from cast and class based oppression), economic empowerment, and social and political liberation that has been a long time coming. The day has been held hostage for so long partly because the government, in hopes of trying to convince the Dalai Lama to return back to China, had not wanted to mark the occasion while the Dalai Lama was still in exile. But one cannot hold back a celebration of freedom forever, and fifty years has been a long time…
Many Tibetans in exile – under the leadership of the Dalai Lama – have expressed outrage at the holiday. They see this as an underhanded way for the Chinese government to celebrate the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile.
However, Mr. Dalai Lama, if you are the religious and cultural, non-political leader you claim to be, allow yourself to see that the celebration of the end of an institution as oppressive as serfdom is inherently a celebration of freedom and empowerment – a celebration of humanity itself.
You have been known for euphemizing serfdom and the condition of the common people in old Tibet in the past. You have pronounced while in exile, for example, that “[i]n the past, we Tibetans lived in peace and contentment under the Buddhist light shinning over our snow land. … Our serf system is different from any other serf system, because Tibet is sparsely populated, and Buddhism, which is for the happiness and benefit of the people, advises people to love each other.”
In reality, however, serfdom – including the Tibetan form – is a form of slavery and is a despicable human enterprise no matter how one views it.
In old Tibet, serfs accounted for more than 90 percent of the population and were treated as private property by their owners (mostly aristocrats, monasteries and government officials). Landowners were entitled to legally insult, punish, buy and sell, give away, whip and even kill their serfs.
Serfs were classified into three categories in accordance with their possessions — Tralpa, Duchung and Nangsan, with the last confined to live lives in the most miserable of conditions. The brutality of landowners have been well documented, including in photographs showing instances where slaves’ eyes have been gouged out, fingers chopped off, noses cut and the tendons of their feet removed.
As late as the late 1940’s, in celebration of one of your birthdays, local government officials had ordered human skulls, blood, skin and guts to be prepared in your honor.
Over the last 50 years, you have tried to build a wall of fear, distrust, and hate between ethnic Tibetans and their Chinese brethren. I wonder if you still remember yourself famously pronouncing once that ethnic Tibetans and their Chinese brethren must always work and live together as one people? Do you remember the decade or so in which you had worked tirelessly with the government of the People’s Republic of China in implementing reform for the benefit of the common people? Do you remember that you yourself (and in fact, all Dalai Lamas dating back to great Fifth Dalai Lama) had obtained your (their) legitimacy of title and status from the Chinese central government?
If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Tibet Autonomous Region and the greater Chinese nation, if you seek continued reform, empowerment and liberalization for one fifth of humanity, including the Tibetan people: Come here to this gate! Open (or re-open as the case may be) the gate of unity and collaboration! Tear down this wall of fear, hate, and distrust!
Join us in a celebration of life and freedom. And if you can … work to return … so we can build a more open, tolerant, peaceful and harmonious society in modern Tibet – together…