The coming March 28 is a memorable date in the history of world human rights. Fifty years before that day, China's Tibet started democratic reform in its land of more than 1.2 million square km. The event put an end to the centuries-old feudal serfdom under theocratic rule and gave freedom to some 1 million serfs.
The democratic reform of Tibet 50 years ago constituted an important chapter in the worldwide movement to abolish slavery, marking historic progress of world human rights. The date should be remembered and celebrated by all those who are concerned about human rights.
The picture shows a family of serfs living in a shabby tent. Miserable life of serfs . (File Photo)
Serfdom confined serfs to the land of their owners, and subjected serfs to cruel exploitation through human bondage. Serfdom not only fettered the growth of productive forces, but also strangled people's freedom. Along with the start of the Industrial Revolution and the awakening of humanism, this system that went against the tide of history should have long been swept onto the rubbish heap of history.
Unfortunately, the system did not die out in some parts of the world until recent decades. African Slave Trade by some European countries to Americas lasted more than four centuries. Plantations that used large number of slaves still existed in southern United States till the 19th century.
To the eyes of some Western scholars, Tibet before March 28, 1959, presented a similar dark picture. American Tibetologist Melvyn C. Goldstein noted that the old system of Tibet was to confine labor to the land so that land owners could greatly benefit from it.
In his book "Old Tibet Faces New China," French traveler Alexander David-Neel wrote, "All the farmers in Tibet are serfs saddled with lifelong debts, and it is almost impossible to find any of them who have paid off their debts."
Charles Bell, who lived in Lhasa as a British trade representative in the 1920s, described in his book "Portrait of A Dalai Lama: The Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth" that the theocratic position of the Dalai Lama enabled him to administer rewards and punishments as he wished, because he held absolute power over both this life and the next of the serfs, and coerced them with such power.
The "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" passed at the UN Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, stipulates that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person," and "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
By comparing the serfdom of old Tibet with the above principles, people can see serfdom totally violated the basic rights of human beings. On the top of this evil system were a group of serf owners led by the Dalai Lama who tried by every means to make the system last forever.
Yet, no one can reverse the trend of history. The feudal serfdom and slavery are doomed to elimination as they hindered productivity, violated human rights and distorted human nature.
The past centuries witnessed actions taken by various governments to abolish slavery and free slaves. The British parliament banned British ships from slave trade in 1807. Haiti abolished slavery in 1803, followed by Brazil and Cuba in 1888, just to list a few.
In 1862, then U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed all slaves in Confederate States of America following a rebellion by slave owners in some southern states. The proclamation went down as a great landmark inthe annuals of worldwide movement against slavery.
The 1959 democratic reforms in Tibet likewise ushered in a brand new era to Tibet after a rebellion by a handful of serf owners was quelled.
The abolition of slavery marked an major step forward in the development of human rights in the world. People have every reason to commemorate the date when serfdom was abolished in Tibet. It helps people to reflect on what is right and wrong, evil and virtue, and provide an occasion to mourn for those who lost their lives under the dark system.
Therefore, it has become the common practice in the world to commemorate the abolition of slavery. For instance, then French President Jacques Chirac designated May 10 as the date to commemorate the abolition of slavery. In 2007 the United Nations and countries across Africa, America and Europe held various activities to mark the 200th anniversary of the end of transatlantic slave trade.
In 2008, the U.S. Congress offered apologies to African Americans and their descendants for the sufferings caused by slavery that was once practiced in the country.
Marking the end of serfdom in Tibet is aimed to let history shed light on the future and remind people to treasure and safeguard what they have achieved in promoting human rights. Today, longing for their lost paradise, former serf owners headed by the Dalai Lama are still trying to whitewash serfdom of the old Tibet with all kinds of lies. However, their attempt to return Tibet to the dark old days is doomed to failure.