|BEIJING – Ahead of the politically sensitive 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight into exile and the crushing of a Tibetan rebellion, China has told Tibet to celebrate the event as a liberation from feudalism.
Friday's proposal by China-backed lawmakers in Tibet to commemorate "Serfs Emancipation Day" reflects how differently the Chinese government and Tibetans view historical events that still create friction today.
It also underscores the Chinese government's efforts to discredit the Tibetan spiritual leader and press people living in the Himalayan region to forget any thoughts of a new separatist rebellion.
China has been preparing for the possibility of more unrest in Tibet since deadly rioting in the capital Lhasa on March 14 last year sparked the biggest anti-government protests among Tibetans in decades — and a major military crackdown.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the region's legislators proposed that the holiday should fall on March 28, the date in 1959 when China announced the dissolution of the Tibetan government.
Xinhua said about 400 lawmakers would review the motion and that they are expected to endorse the date when the session ends Monday.
China's plan to celebrate the crushing of the independence uprising highlights Beijing's concerns about Tibetan anger against the state, the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile said.
"There is a lot of anger in Tibetans against the Chinese oppressive rule and cooking up another anniversary is the result of the nervousness of the Chinese communist government," said Sonam Norbu Dagpo, international relations secretary for the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India.
"Tibetans will be forced to participate in a commemoration (when) in fact the Tibetans became slaves of the Chinese and were not emancipated in 1959," Dagpo said.
When Chinese forces entered Tibet in 1949, they tried to transform the Buddhist, feudal order into a socialist, secular society. Tibetans launched a rebellion on March 10, 1959, to try to oust the Chinese, but the uprising ended shortly after when the Dalai Lama fled into exile.
Most Tibetans still remain fiercely loyal to the exiled spiritual leader, but he is reviled by Beijing, which sees him as a backer of separatist activity in Tibet.
"The Dalai Lama has been trying to embellish the old feudalistic serfdom which was actually even worse than the Middle Ages in Europe," said Zhou Yuan, head of the history department at the Chinese Center for Tibetan Studies in Beijing.
"The younger generation might have been influenced by both the Dalai Lama and some Western propaganda, so (marking) this date will help them understand that period of time," he said.
But Michael Davis, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who writes about Tibet, said the move demonstrated the government's insensitivity toward the Tibetan community.
"They're clearly countering what they view as international and local Tibetan failure to understand what they think happened," Davis said.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, while many Tibetans say their land was virtually independent for centuries.
Tibetans surged into the streets of Lhasa on March 10, 1959, in part to protect the Dalai Lama from an alleged kidnapping plot. In the following days the uprising grew as Tibetans attacked Chinese targets.
Worries about a Chinese counteroffensive grew. The Dalai Lama, his family and close retainers fled to India. Days later, the Chinese army began steady shelling and the last resistance in Lhasa was quickly quelled. On March 28, China's then-Premier Zhou Enlai announced that the local Tibetan government was dissolved.