Lawmakers in Tibet yesterday on Friday proposed the creation of a holiday to mark the quelling of a pro-independence uprising in the remote Himalayan region 50 years ago.
The proposal was the latest attempt by China to dampen pro-Dalai Lama sentiment in Tibet by focusing attention on the region’s feudal past and highlighting the economic benefits brought by Chinese rule.
The campaign has been particularly aggressive in the wake of anti-government protests in the capital, Lhasa, last year that turned into deadly riots.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the region’s legislators proposed that “Serfs Emancipation Day” should fall on March 28.
Xinhua cited Pang Boyong, deputy secretary-general of the legislative’s standing committee, as saying the holiday was aimed at “reminding all the Chinese people, including Tibetans, of the landmark democratic reform initiated 50 years ago.”
The entry of Chinese forces into Tibet in 1949 was followed by efforts to transform the Buddhist, feudal order into a socialist, secular society. Tibetans rebelled on March 10, 1959, to try and oust the Chinese, but the uprising ended after 20 days with the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile.
Most Tibetans still remain fiercely loyal to the exiled spiritual leader. He is reviled by Beijing, which sees him as a backer of separatist activity in Tibet.
“The Dalai Lama has been trying to embellish the old feudalistic serfdom which was actually even worse than the Middle Ages in Europe,’’ said Zhou Yuan, head of the history department at the Chinese Center for Tibetan Studies in Beijing. “Setting this date makes this point in history clearer and helps foreign people and young Chinese people understand this history better.”
But Michael Davis, a law professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong who writes about Tibet, said such a move demonstrated the government’s insensitivity toward the Tibetan community.
“They’re clearly countering what they view as international and local Tibetan failure to understand what they think happened,” Davis said.
Fu Jun, a spokesman of Tibet’s Communist Party branch, confirmed in a telephone interview that the proposal was being discussed by legislators at the ongoing second annual session of the regional People’s Congress in Lhasa, and said the date would be announced soon.
He declined to comment further as the meeting was still under way, but Xinhua said about 400 lawmakers would review the motion and that the bill to establish the date was expected to be endorsed when the session ends on Monday.
March 28, 1959, was the date the central government announced it would “dissolve the aristocratic government of Tibet and replace it with a preparatory committee for establishing the Tibet Autonomous Region,” Xinhua said.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, while many Tibetans say their land was virtually independent for centuries.
The government has invested billions building infrastructure, including the world’s highest railway. But critics of Chinese rule in Tibet say the region remains one of China’s poorest and most of the benefits of economic development have gone to members of the Han Chinese majority, rather than to Tibetans.
Earlier this week, state media reported that Tibet should see its economy grow by 10 percent this year. Economic growth in Tibet is a point of pride for the central government, which offers it as proof of its concern for Tibetans.