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Full text: Democratic Reform in Tibet -- Sixty Years On
update:March 28,2019

Throughout human history, slavery and serfdom have existed in most parts of the world. The two systems were renounced as backward and outdated as new ideas and enlightenment emerged in modern times, and abolitionism or abolitionist movements began to appear in many countries, ringing the death knell of slavery and serfdom. With the rise of the bourgeois revolution in Europe and the United States, the two were successively abolished in France, Britain, Russia, and the United States. In 1794, during the French Revolution, France put an end to slavery. Britain enacted the Slave Trade Act in 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. In 1861, Russia abolished serfdom with a top-down peaceful reform. In 1865, by virtue of victory in the Civil War, the US federal government abolished slavery and forced labor by means of a constitutional amendment.

The end of the Second World War ushered in a new era of development, when peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom became the goals of human society. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations clearly stated: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” In 1956, the United Nations adopted the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Article 1 of the Convention states that “Each of the States Parties to this Convention shall take all practicable and necessary legislative and other measures to bring about progressively and as soon as possible the complete abolition or abandonment of the following institutions and practices...”

On October 1, 1949 the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded, opening a new era in Chinese history. Under the leadership of the CPC, a new socialist system was established, making the people the masters of the country. On May 23, 1951, the Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (hereinafter the “17-Article Agreement”) was signed, officially proclaiming the peaceful liberation of Tibet.

In view of unbalanced social development and special circumstances in some places, Liu Shaoqi, then chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), said at the First Session of the First NPC in 1954: “Ethnic minority areas that have not completed democratic reform can complete it in some gentle manner in the future and then gradually move forward to socialism.”

In 1953, Xinjiang completely abolished all remaining feudal serfdom. Beginning in 1956, democratic reform was also carried out in Tibetan areas of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces. In Yunnan Province, parental slavery among the Lisu, Jingpo, and Va ethnic groups and the slavery of the Mosuo people in Yongning were abolished in 1956 through peaceful negotiation; slavery among the Xiaoliangshan Yi people in Ninglang and feudal slavery in Deqen Tibetan area were abolished in 1958. From early 1956 to late 1957, democratic reform was carried out in the Liangshan Yi ethnic area in Sichuan Province which completely abolished slavery. The abolition of serfdom was a major trend of social progress in China in the 1950s. However, Tibet at that time was still ruled by feudal serfdom under theocracy, which seriously obstructed social development and the process of civilization.

– Agricultural production was stagnated by theocratic feudal serfdom in Tibet for a long time.
Before the 1950s, agriculture in Tibet remained bound to extensive farming methods or even primitive slash-and-burn farming. Wooden tools were widely used, and the average yield was only four or five times that of seeds sown – not much different from hundreds of years ago. Most of the food, clothing, and supplies were made by hand by individuals or manors. There was no vitality in society.

– Feudal serfdom under theocracy caused sharp conflicts and opposition between serf owners and their labor.
By exploiting serfs, serf owners hoarded social wealth and spent it on extravagant and dissipated lives, in addition to supplying ecclesiastical and secular officials and their servants. Serfs, who were brutally deprived of the fruits of their hard work by serf owners, lived a miserable life. As they could barely survive, they had no choice but to rebel or flee.
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