China is preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising – which saw the Himalayan territory’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, flee into exile – with a ‘strike hard’ campaign and propaganda on the evils of feudal oppression in pre-1949 Tibet.
The massive Chinese security crackdown in Tibetan areas initiated earlier this month has prompted the Tibetan government-in-exile, located in the northern Indian town Dharamsala, to appeal to the international community for help.
The “strike hard” campaign and intensification of China’s other “hard line policies will cause much more violation of fundamental rights and freedom of the Tibetan people,” said Kesang Yangkyi Takla, Tibet’s foreign minister, according to a statement released Thursday on the government-in-exile’s website.
Takla appealed to parliaments, governments and individuals around the world to “actively intervene” to prevent a crackdown similar to the one that followed anti-Chinese protests in Tibet last March.
Chinese state media reports say that 81 people – targeted for criminal activities – have been detained so far in the crackdown which started on Jan. 18. But Tibet’s government-in-exile says the “strike hard” campaign has been launched to prevent political protests in a year laden with tense anniversaries.
Earlier this month, Beijing-backed Tibetan lawmakers approved Mar. 28 as a new annual holiday in Tibet, called serfs’ emancipation day, to mark the day on which China says one million people were freed from serfdom 50 years ago in the Himalayan region.
Since the proclamation of the holiday Chinese propaganda tsars have launched a massive media effort to portray what they call “pre-liberation Tibet” as a medieval fiefdom of suffering and torture, where a few lords and lamas owned all the assets, including the serfs who worked for them and lived under lifetime debts.
The new holiday is aimed at “reminding all the Chinese people, including Tibetans, of the landmark democratic reform initiated 50 years ago,” Pang Boyong, deputy secretary general of Tibet’s regional parliament, said after the approval of the legislation, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Accompanied with graphic archival photos of emaciated children and serfs blinded by their lords, main print outlets in China have all carried feature spreads dedicated to the new emancipation day.
The ‘Beijing Youth Daily’ hailed the new holiday as a day that marked “the liberation of slaves and people’s victory”. The Guangdong-based ‘Southern Weekend’ and the English-language ‘China Daily’ all printed stories of escapees from serfdom that painted life under the rule of the Dalai Lama in the theocratic Himalayan region in the bleakest colours.
“Many foreigners often compare Tibet in the past with the utopian paradise of Shangri-La created by British writer James Hilton in his novel ‘Lost Horizon’,” Tibetologist Wang Xiaolin wrote in a commentary in the Beijing Youth Daily. “Few of them can even imagine that Tibet until the 1950s was like a country in medieval Europe where 95 percent of the population lived under feudal oppression.”
China has always held that Tibet is an integral part of its sovereign territory. It also insists that the march of the People’s Liberation Army in the region in 1950-51 brought liberation to Tibetan people from the feudal rule of the Dalai Lama.
It was on Mar. 28, 1959 that the communist party announced the dissolution of the existing government of Tibet. A few days before that, the Dalai Lama and some 10,000 followers were forced to flee to India following the crushing of a mass Tibetan uprising.
The 49th anniversary of the Mar. 10 Tibetan Uprising last year led to widespread protests by monks and civilians in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas. Fearful that this year’s more important anniversary may see a return of the riots, Beijing has been keen to put forward its own view of the historical events of 1959.
But the move has been dismissed by Tibetan exile groups as an effort to rewrite history and avoid addressing the problems facing the region.
“It is best not to avoid the situation, that we accept the reality that there is a problem inside Tibet and that was clearly demonstrated by the demonstrations we saw took place in March of last year,” Tenzin Takhla, joint secretary in the office of the Dalai Lama, said in a statement earlier this month.
“So I think the Chinese, instead of trying to hide this fact by declaring these new holidays, they should address the issue realistically and seriously.”
In the latest attempt to promote its own beliefs on Tibet, Beijing has cast the controversial figure of the tenth Panchen Lama as an example for Tibetans pursuing ethnic unity.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the death of the monk – the second most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy – communist party officials have lauded him as an enemy of separatism and a patriotic example to be followed by all Tibetans.
“He was always at the forefront of the struggle against separatism and resolutely protected ethnic unity,” an op-ed written by Du Qinglin, a senior communist official in charge of religious and ethnic groups, said in the People’s Daily this week to mark the Jan. 28 death anniversary.
But while it is true that the late Panchen Lama initially supported the communist party in its endeavours to subjugate Tibet, he is also among the few contemporaries of Chairman Mao Zedong who dared to criticise and oppose his policies in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Panchen Lama opposed independence for Tibet in his belief that the new communist rulers would create a more just and prosperous Tibet. Yet the scenes of religious desecration, killings of monks and hunger he saw during his trips to Tibet in the late 1950s shook his faith.
Against the advice of his aides who feared for his safety, Panchen Lama drafted a 70,000-word document which denounced Mao’s policies of land collectivisation and destruction of religion in Tibet.
The hard-hitting report alleged that Tibetans were undergoing mass starvation, Buddhism was being annihilated and that Tibetan nationality would either cease to exist or be completely assimilated. Since the text of the Panchen Lama’s petition has never been published in mainland China, it has been easy for Beijing to conceal the monk’s struggle of loyalties.
After he presented the petition to Chinese leaders in mid-1962, the Panchen Lama was criticised and denounced as a traitor and spent over a decade in solitary confinement or under house arrest. He was freed in 1977, after Mao’s death, and rehabilitated a year later.