Quote: “Serf Emancipation Day”

Comrades and friends:

Today, on the arrival of the anniversary of serf liberation in Tibet, we are holding a forum in the solemn Great Hall of the People, and celebrate, with people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, the quelling of the rebellion in Tibet, the fifty years of implementation of democratic reforms. First, in the name of the Central Committee and the State Council, I want to express my highest consideration and cordial greetings to those who for fifty years have defended the achievements of Tibetan democratic reform, protected Tibet’s stability and national unity, the workers of all Tibetan nationalities who made contributions to a new socialist Tibet, farmers and herdsmen, intellectuals, cadres, and people from all walks of life, as well as the PLA troops stationed in Tibet, Tibet People’s Armed Police troops, and police officers! To all those who for a long time have cared about Tibet, loved Tibet, supported Tibet’s development and progress – all nationalities, overseas Chinese, international friends -, I express my heartfelt thanks! […..]


今天,在“西藏百万农奴解放纪念日”来临之际,我们在庄严的北京人民大会堂召开座谈会,与西藏各族人民一起隆重庆祝西藏平息叛乱、实行民主改革50周 年。首先,我代表党中央、国务院,向50年来为捍卫西藏民主改革成果、维护西藏稳定和国家统一、建设社会主义新西藏作出贡献的西藏各族工人、农牧民、知识 分子、干部和各界人士,以及人民解放军驻藏部队指战员、武警西藏部队官兵和公安干警,表示崇高的敬意和亲切的问候!向长期以来关心西藏、热爱西藏、支持西 藏发展进步的全国各族人民和海外侨胞、国际友人,表示衷心的感谢!

Historical facts can not be changed, and epochal tides can’t be resisted. No matter how the Dalai clique masks itself and what kind of sophistry, no matter how it instigates and sabotages, this can’t change the objective truth that Tibet has since ancient times been an inseparable part of China, and it can’t obliterate the fifty years of enormous success in the democratization of Tibet, and it can’t shake the determination of the Chinese people, Tibetan compatriots included, to safeguard national unity, can’t obstruct Tibet’s development, progress and prosperity within the great family of the motherland. […..]

历史事实不可改变,时代潮流不可阻挡。无论达赖集团如何伪装和狡辩,无论达赖集 团如何煽动和破坏,都无法改变西藏自古是中国不可分割一部分的客观事实,无法抹杀西藏民主改革50年的巨大成就,无法动摇包括藏族同胞在内的全体中国人民 维护国家统一的坚定决心,无法阻挡西藏在祖国大家庭中繁荣发展进步的坚实步伐。[…..]

Jia Qinglin (贾庆林), CPPCC chairman, on March 27

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13 Responses to “Quote: “Serf Emancipation Day””

  1. Socialism trumps Theocracy anyday !


  2. “…the objective truth that Tibet has since ancient times been an inseparable part of China…”

    Mmmm….well, I can’t quite agree with this statement, despite being a little sympathetic to the Chinese positioning on Tibet.

    What both Tibetan separatists and those who support the Chinese central government’s position often overlook, or fail to appreciate, is the fact that, as the political scientist Dibyesh Anand has pointed out, “the very idea of presenting one’s case in terms of sovereignty or exclusive national jurisdiction is a feature of modernity – a modernity where Western ideas have been more or less hegemonic.” The West then, has supplied the very categories and vocabulary that both parties in this dispute employ in the discourse of sovereignty, even though an absolute understanding of sovereignty and independence was alien to both Chinese and Tibetans before the twentieth century and even though both parties identify themselves as politically and culturally non-Western. As Barry Sautman and June Teufel Dreyer have both pointed out, “while both parties marshal their historic ‘facts’ as resources in a highly statist debate over sovereignty, they fail to question the concept of sovereignty itself, as well as related concepts such as autonomy and self-determination. Their acceptance of these concepts…amounts to an unquestioning acquiescence to the hegemony of Western ideas.”

    Imperial China, as Anand I think correctly argues, “operated with its neighbours on bilateral relations of fealty and patronage.” Traditional Sino-Tibetan relations, he adds, “were considered by the British as ‘irrational’ and lacking legitimacy for not conforming to their ‘modern’ ideas of diplomacy.” Sino-Tibetan relations prior to the middle of the twentieth century were, in Western eyes, very fuzzy. The relationship was understood by the Chinese imperial officials in terms of Confucian tributary relations and by the Tibetans as Buddhists in terms of mchod-yon – Chinese then, did not need to force the Tibetans to accept their control in writing and nor did the Tibetans need to assert their independence and disabuse the emperor of his belief in his sovereignty over Tibet. Tibetans did not declare their ‘independence’ but nor did they surrender their autonomy to imperial China. This traditional relationship generally worked to the satisfaction of both, and wasn’t constructed as a ‘problem’ until the socio-cultural and political environment was altered, first, as Anand explains it, “by the arrival of Western colonial powers in Asia, and second, by the [subsequent] transformation of the traditional Chinese Confucian-dominated polity toward a more European type of political system, which produced a republican China and the growth of Chinese nationalism.” Tsering Shakya also pushes this line of reasoning in his book, “The Dragon in the Land of Snows”.

    As many scholars have argued, the exercise of interpreting Sino-Tibetan relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in terms of suzerainty and autonomy was linked to the dynamics of British imperialism. As numerous treaties signed between Britain and China in the nineteenth century show, the British accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and sought to operationalise their interests in Tibet through China. However, the Tibetans refused to comply with these. The British tolerated this situation until they perceived a serious threat from Russia to the security of their Indian colony, and so Tibet came to be regarded as an important buffer state. British Indian officials then decided to take matters into their own hands, suddenly declaring China’s suzerainty over Tibet to be a ‘constitutional fiction’ as a way of justifying their 1903 invasion. By 1906 the British had reverted to its old stance, once again recognizing China’s ‘exclusive rights’ in Tibet.

    “The placing of the West within, rather than outside, the discourses on the Tibet Question,” suggests Anand, “can also be examined by looking at the theme of Western representations of Tibet and their interface with Tibetan (trans)national identity.” As the works of postcolonial scholars like Stuart Hall have emphasised, “Western representational practices affect and have an effect on the identity of the represented.” It is necessary then, to consider the politics of representation when considering the rise of Tibetan nationalism. As the anthropologist Peter Bishop has argued, “many Europeans and North Americans use the idea of Tibet as an imaginative escape, as a sort of time-out – a relaxation if you like, from the rigid, rational censorship of their own society.” This then, adds Anand, “explains the unease of many Westerners with the ‘modernization’ of Tibet under the aegis of the Chinese state.” Hence writings about Tibet are sometimes conservative protests against modernism and globalisation. Claire Scobie for example, in her travel narrative Last Seen In Lhasa, laments the apparent loss of her imaginary Tibet. ‘The tide of consumerism was washing up the beach and with it a swell of new shops and supermarkets, giant billboards of David Beckham and Chinese sylphs advertising Oil of Olay,’ she complained. ‘After centuries of isolation, in little over fifty years, Tibet had been forced into global participation and ubiquity.”

    “Exotic Tibet,” argues Anand, “is more about the West’s self-image than about Tibet…a lot of what is behind the support for Tibetans today may not be actual support for the Tibetans, but unconscious support for western ideas of what is right for the Tibetans.” The American Tibetologist, Robbie Barnett, also argues along these lines. Some Westerners, however, as Amaury de Riencourt has observed, also see this ‘virtual Tibet’ (as the Canadian historian A. Tom Grunfeld has called it) as an antidote to Chinese communism – though China in my opinion is today a capitalist society, politically administered and regulated by a market-preserving single-party system with a soft authoritarian rule. As Orville Schell remarks in his book “Virtual Tibet”, no serious appreciation of the Tibet Issue is possible by those whose support for Tibet is connected to such anti-Chinese sentiment.

    The importance of ‘exotic Tibet’ lies in the impact it has on the very construction and contestation of categories of Tibet and Tibetans, for as Anand argues very rightly in my opinion, “the language of stereotype about Tibet not only creates knowledge about Tibet, in many ways it creates Tibet, a Tibet that Tibetans in exile have come to appropriate and deploy in an effort to gain both standing in exile and independence” for Tibet, which they hope to regain political control of. Interaction then, with a Western audience, is a very important dynamic shaping Tibetan identity/Tibetanness in the diaspora. “Rather than painting Tibetans as mere victims,” says Anand, “it is now recognised that they have been active in the appropriation and internalization of western representations, and in the creation and preservation of their own cultural, political and religious identity….recognising the dominance of nationalism as a source of legitimacy in contemporary international politics, Dharmasala has molded its expositions on Tibetan identity accordingly.”

    “Tibet as a nation,” adds the anthropologist and Tibetologist, Ashild Kolas, “is not a historical reality but a product of post-exile imagination.”

    In soliciting support, the TGIE has linked this new nationalism to other transnational ideas of political expression: democracy, human rights, peace, environmental protection, international Buddhism and New Age Orientalism have all been influential in shaping the Tibetan identity claims in terms of universalist discourses such as those of world peace, environmentalism, the need to preserve spiritual havens, the protection of global indigenous sovereignties, and so on.

    In the world of realpolitik, it is highly unlikely that the Chinese central government in Beijing will ever allow the Tibetan Autonomous Region to exercise full political autonomy so long as it feels that its sovereign claims to the region are under threat from the separatist cause. The divisiveness of the old Tibetan ruling elite, operating from their base in Dharmasala, presents then, the main obstacle to addressing the Tibet Issue in a way that could prove mutually satisfying for both parties. The situation on the ground has changed enormously since the 1950s, when the Seventeen-Point Agreement was signed. The collapse of that agreement – sabotaged as it was by the old elite now residing in Dharmasala – was an opportunity lost. The rising tide of Tibetan nationalism since then has greatly complicated matters, driving the wedge between the two parties even deeper. So deep in fact, that it’s now hard to see a way out.

    That said, the Chinese central government in Beijing also needs to move ground a little if it wants to loosen the wedge. As Tsering Shakya argues, from a Tibetan perspective, “one of the biggest grievances is that the Chinese authorities equate any expression of Tibetan identity with separatism. The government seems to think that if it allows any kind of cultural autonomy, it will escalate into demands for secession. This is something the government has to relax. In Tibet, everything from newspapers and magazines to music distribution is kept firmly under control, whereas all over China there are increasing numbers of independent publishing houses. The joke in Tibet is that the Dalai Lama wants ‘one country, two systems’, but what people there want is ‘one country, one system’—they want the more liberal policies that prevail in China also to apply in Tibet.”

    For the Chinese to ‘relax’ though, Tibetan nationalists need to first alleviate their Chinese administrators of fear by relaxing their campaigns for independence, both from within and from outside the TAR. Rather than using the language and institutional framework of a hegemonic West, an alternative imagining of political communities – one that allows for the kind of relationship that existed between the two parties prior to the middle of the twentieth century – ought to be at least seriously looked into and considered as a possible way forward. Such was the spirit in fact, to at least some extent at least, of the Seventeen-Point Agreement of 1951.


  3. MAJ:

    your comment was more in extenso than RichinTampa’s… I think I’ll have to re-read and think about it for a while. For now, I’d say that the creating of a fictional Tibet of their own mind is pretty much what some of my students (and / or their parents) are into.

    The joke in Tibet is that the Dalai Lama wants ‘one country, two systems’, but what people there want is ‘one country, one system’—they want the more liberal policies that prevail in China also to apply in Tibet.
    That sounds interesting, but I’m not sure that we’ll know in our lifetime what Tibetans would choose if they had a choice. To me, the looks like a (small) piece of anecdotal evidence.

    Anyway, to alleviate the Chinese administrators’ fear would be a task for professional therapists, rather than for politicians. Beijing doesn’t only distrust the national minorities – it even distrusts the Han Chinese. My guess is that the elites do so, too. A Chinese Confucian wrote some kind of state-of-society article some years ago – there’s an English translation of it here. He may exaggerate China’s current status, so as to make his alternative concept just the more attractive, but the way he tries to stay above the masses as an intellectual is what I find most interesting.

    Last but not least, I think any nationality has to make its own choices. Even to advocate pragmatism is something I’m reluctant to do. Some lines written by Farish a Noor, a historian, on the blog of a Malaysian politician made me thoughtful a year or so ago:
    Having said that however, it should also be remembered that nationalism was used against itself in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of the 1930s-40s and that many a liberation movement still see the securing of an independent nation-state as one of the first goals to be achieved in any struggle for self-determination. Anyone who doubts that should talk to the Palestinians, Tibetans or East Timorese who will tell you how and why they were — and remain — prepared to die for a nation-state of their own…. He didn’t write it in a Sino-Tibetan context, but nationality claims loyalty more successfully than an empire can.

    Tibetan nationalism may be suicidal. But they will have to make their choices, and I can’t think of either imaginable choice – adaptation or struggle – as objectionable.

    Thanks for your comment, and welcome back with more input any time!


  4. a follow-up:

    I hope that the Han Chinese and the Tibetans will find ways to become fellow citizens in a country with a government accountable to both nationalities. But if that is going to happen, it is probably still a long way off.

    Questions about whose hegemony is at work in a discussion may often be overlooked, but I think that more importantly, the way both the Shang Dynasty, or the CCP, or Westerners may have written their histories leaves out of account what history is before it becomes a record.
    I quoted my favorite para about historical bookkeeping elsewhere before, but let me do it again…
    We must restitute to past generations what they once possessed, just as every present tense is in its possession: the abundance of a possible future, the uncertainty, the freedom, the finiteness, the inconsistency (…)
    (Thomas Nipperdey).

    The official Chinese records are trying to take the Tibetans’ possession out. But no matter how deep the mess the Tibetans are in may be – they do possess that past. They only haven’t reclaimed it yet. Peacefully or not, in a way we can’t forecast, they will do that some day, at some stage of the process.
    Beijing knows this. That’s why the CCP is nervous. Their insecure hegemony may also explain why the argument remains static, albeit using more or less modern vocabulary.


  5. “I hope that the Han Chinese and the Tibetans will find ways to become fellow citizens in a country with a government accountable to both nationalities” – Justrecently

    Yes, I can agree with you totally on this one. And you’re no doubt right too when you say that such an eventuation remains a long way off.


  6. On March 30 2009 Mark Anthony Jones cites me as having said that “Tibet as a nation is not a historical reality but a product of post-exile imagination.”

    Could you please remind me when, where and in what context I said that, since it’s really a big surprise to me. I can’t find it in anything I’ve published. Have we ever met?



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