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Tibet: Change and Development (Part I)

2003/10/14
by Wang Wen May 23 this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet. Fifty years ago, Tibetans lived as feudal serfs under temporal and religious administration, characterized by the joint dictatorship of clerical and secular officials and nobles. In such a system, all rights and property were in the hands of a small number of people. Serfs and slaves, who made up more than 95 percent of Tibet's population, did not own any means of production, and were totally dependent on the "three manorial lords" (government officials, nobles and monasteries), who constituted less than 5 percent of the population but owned all the land and forests and most of the livestock. In addition to heavy land rents, the serfs had to pay dozens of taxes and perform many different types of corvee labor. Belonging to their owners from birth, many serfs were sold or transferred multiple times during their lifetime. The research results of Chinese Tibetologists show that old Tibet under feudal serfdom was a much darker place than Europe in the Middle Ages. In 1949, the Chinese Liberation War swept across the country. Beijing, Hunan, Xinjiang and Yunnan were liberated successively in a peaceful way. At that time, Tibet was the only region on the mainland of China that had not been liberated, and imperialist aggressive forces and their influence continued to exist there. But Tibet's liberation was the general trend of the times and the aspiration of the Tibetan people and patriotic personages. Under such circumstances, the Central People's Government and Chairman Mao Zedong made an important policy decision to strive for the peaceful liberation of Tibet and urged the then local Tibetan authority to dispatch a delegation to Beijing for negotiations. On May 23, 1951 the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (also known as the 17-Article Agreement) was signed between the Central Government and the local government of Tibet. The principal contents of the 17-Article Agreement were as follows: • The local government of Tibet shall actively assist the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to enter Tibet and consolidate national defense; • The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet; • The Central People's Government shall be exclusively responsible for all external affairs in Tibet; • Tibetan troops shall be reorganized by stages into a part of the national defense forces of the PLA; • The Central People's Government shall not alter the existing political system in Tibet nor will it alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama; • The religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people shall be respected, and the monasteries shall be protected; • The demands in regard to social reforms in Tibet shall be settled through consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet; and • The Tibetan people have the right to regional ethnic autonomy. Then, the Dalai Lama and Bainqen Erdeni respectively sent a telegram to Chairman Mao Zedong of the Central People's Government, expressing their support for the 17-Article Agreement and their resolve to safeguard the territorial sovereignty of the motherland. Tibetan monks and laymen from various social strata and Tibetan leaders in different parts of the country also expressed their support for the Agreement. The peaceful liberation of Tibet marked a great turning point in the history of Tibet, symbolizing the end of aggression and control of the imperialists over the people of various ethnic groups in Tibet and the defeat of the imperialist conspiracy to split China. It helped realize the unity of the Chinese nation, including the Tibetan ethnic group, and opened broad prospects for Tibetan progress and development. It also laid a solid foundation for the Democratic Reform carried out in 1959 in Tibet and paved the way for subsequent Tibetan construction. Earthshaking changes have taken place in Tibet over the past five decades since its peaceful liberation. Since the 1980s in particular, Tibet has entered its best period of economic development by properly handling the relationships between stability and development, dependence on aid and self-reliance, and industrial restructuring and development of a specialty economy.
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