Serfs' Emancipation Day

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Serfs' Emancipation Day
Also calledSerfs' Liberation Day
Date28 March
Next time28 March 2023 (2023-03-28)
Serfs' Emancipation Day
Simplified Chinese西藏百万农奴解放纪念日
Traditional Chinese西藏百萬農奴解放紀念日
Literal meaningTibet one million serfs liberation commemoration day

Serfs' Emancipation Day, observed annually on 28 March, is a holiday in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China that celebrates the emancipation of serfs in Tibet.[1][unreliable source?] The holiday was adopted by the Tibetan legislature on 19 January 2009, and was promulgated that same year. In modern Tibetan history, 28 March 1959 was the day that the Tibetan government was declared illegal by China,[2][self-published source] which effectively marked an end to serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy, with the Dalai Lama as the core of the leadership.[3]


The holiday was announced to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of "democratic reform" of the Tibetan feudal theocratic social structure on 28 March 1959, where according to China, one million people were freed from serfdom.[4] The People's Republic of China had been established since 1949, and has had control over Tibet since 1951. Mao Zedong had entered into negotiations with the 14th Dalai Lama to initiate land reform, but was told in 1957 that any reforms would have to be approved by the Tibetan nobility. Mao was surprised by the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which Chinese historians call an attempt by feudal lords to continue the system forever,[5][unreliable source?] but the Dalai Lama calls a "national uprising".[4] In retrospect, the Dalai Lama also prefers the term "poor people" for Tibetans, for which he says the designation "serf" is questionable. He also alleges that the Government of Tibet had drawn up plans to gradually lower hereditary debts, but that the central government was hesitant, preferring to do things their own way.[6]

On 28 March, in what China Daily called the simultaneous "end of serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy", Zhou Enlai issued a State Council Order declaring the "dissolution" of the government of Tibet.[7] The order also directed the People's Liberation Army to suppress the uprising,[8] confiscate the possessions of the rebels, and give them to the serfs, which by China's estimate, comprised 90% of the population in Tibet. Reportedly, serfs were burning their feudal contracts and dancing in the streets.[5][unreliable source?] Anna Louise Strong marks 17 July as the precise date when feudal debts were abolished by the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region.[9][unreliable source?] Warren W. Smith concurs, and further suggests that the government has chosen 28 March instead as "counter-propaganda" to the 2008 Tibetan unrest.[10]


In presenting it to the Tibetan legislature, Pang Boyong, Deputy Secretary General of the Tibetan Regional Congress Standing Committee, said the bill is aimed at "reminding all the Chinese people, including Tibetans, of the landmark 'democratic reform' initiated 50 years ago; since then, millions of slaves under the feudal serfdom became masters of their own".[11] On 19 January 2009,[12][unreliable source?] at the second annual session of the ninth regional People's Congress in 2009, 382 legislators voted unanimously for the bill, designating 28 March annually as Serfs' Emancipation Day.[5][unreliable source?]


Serfs' Emancipation Day was celebrated in Lhasa on 28 March 2009. The procession started at 10 a.m. at Potala Palace, and the then-Governor Qiangba Puncog presided over the event, wearing traditional Tibetan dress. Local Communist Party secretary Zhang Qingli was also in attendance.[13][unreliable source?] "Representatives of former serfs", students, and soldiers gave speeches in Tibetan and Mandarin. Tibetan students and herders gathered and waved Chinese national flags. About 13,280 people were in attendance.[12][unreliable source?]


The office of the 14th Dalai Lama denounced the holiday, saying that China was trying to declare new holidays to "avoid the situation" in Tibet. Kent Ewing of the Asia Times called the holiday "a reminder of the feudal system that existed in Tibet before the Chinese invaded in 1950", but believes that the holiday will embitter Tibetans.[14] Tsering Shakya echoes the Dalai Lama's condemnations, and also calls the celebrations "A choreographed spectacle" for "the delivery of public mass compliance to the leadership in Beijing" in response to "the widespread protests that engulfed the Tibetan plateau in March–April 2008" (see 2008 Tibetan unrest).[15]

See also


  1. ^ Shanshan, Wu. "Tibetans Celebrate Serfs' Emancipation Day". Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  2. ^ Rossetti, Lorenzo. "History of Tibet from the origins to 1959". Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Tibet sets 'Serfs Emancipation Day'".
  4. ^ a b Leitsinger, Miranda (20 January 2009). "Date for Tibetan 'Serfs Emancipation Day' set". CNN. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  5. ^ a b c "Tibet sets 'Serfs Emancipation Day'". Local Governments News. China Internet Information Center. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  6. ^ Laird, Thomas. The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (2006) Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1827-5 pp. 317–319
  7. ^ "National Uprising". The Government of Tibet in Exile. 2 February 1996. Archived from the original on 12 April 2008. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  8. ^ Shakya, Tsering (1999). The dragon in the land of snows: a history of modern Tibet since 1947. Columbia University Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-231-11814-9.
  9. ^ Strong, Anna Louise (1976). "8". When serfs stood up in Tibet. Beijing: New World Press.
  10. ^ Norbu, Jamyang (20 March 2009). "Warren Smith on "Serf Emancipation Day"". Shadow Tibet. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  11. ^ Dasgupta, Saibal (11 January 2001). "China to celebrate Dalai Lama's exit from Tibet with a public holiday". The Times of India. Times News Network. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  12. ^ a b "Celebration for Serfs Emancipation Day starts in Tibet". China Daily. Xinhua. 28 March 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  13. ^ "Grand celebration of Serfs Emancipation Day". Xinhua. 28 March 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  14. ^ Ewing, Kent (26 February 2009). "China closes the door on Tibet". Asia Times. Archived from the original on 1 March 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  15. ^ Shakya, Tsering (22 March 2009). "Tsering Shakya on "Serf Emancipation Day"". Shadow Tibet. Retrieved 2 August 2010.