Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, December 22, 2003

Tibet won't forget gift of freedom

Mao Zedong, founder of New China, is still cherished and revered profoundly by Tibetan farmers and herders who were once maltreated and downtrodden as serfs.


Mao Zedong, founder of New China, is still cherished and revered profoundly by Tibetan farmers and herders who were once maltreated and downtrodden as serfs.

With the approach of the 110th annivesary of the birth of Mao, local governments in the Tibet Autonomous Region are busy preparing celebrations to mark the occasion.

However, farmers and herders like Lobsang in a village near the regional capital Lhasa have their own ways to pay tribute to the late beloved leader they affectionately call Chairman Mao.

Once a serf, 78-year-old Lobsang said many of his fellow villagers enshrine statues or portraits of Mao in their homes and they also present Hadas, a long white silk scarf regarded by Tibetans as a symbol of respect and bless, to the shrines.

"We tried to pray to gods to save us from the abyss of misery as serfs, but it didn't work," Lobsang said. "It was Chairman Mao who finally liberated us."

In the eyes of many Tibetan farmers and herders, Lobsang said, it was Mao who brought them land, cattle and sheep, so they cherish Mao as a great savior.

The central government led by Mao secured the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951 and then launched a democratic reform in 1959.

Without the peaceful liberation and democratic reform, said Che Huaiming, a Lhasa-based historian, former serfs would not enjoy any freedom and Tibetans would never have experienced such mind-boggling social and economic changes.

"So, it is not grandiloquent to say that Mao and the Communist Party of China he led made an epoch in the history of Tibet," Che said.

Before 1959, Tibet lagged far behind modern civilization as a mixture of serfdom and feudalism. Historical documents available show that nobles, monastery hierarchy and serf owners who accounted for 5 per cent of the Tibetan population at that time owned 95 per cent of production materials of Tibet.

Redi, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress, was a servant to tribal chiefs and living Buddha when he was a little child, and he almost lost his life several times as a result of cruel punishment by his owners.

He survived the miserable life and is now a leader of the national legislature but his younger brother died of hunger before the democratic reform.

In the early 1950s, when Mao Zedong was the country's chairman, highways from Sichuan and Qinghai provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to Lhasa were built, which Che said played a crucial role in Tibet's development.

The autonomous region on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, dubbed "roof of the world," also saw its first airport open to flights in 1956.

The central government decided to promote education in Tibet after the peaceful liberation and, by 1977, Tibet boasted more than 4,000 primary schools and over 50 high schools.

However, Che recalled, there were only two schools in Tibet before 1950, and they were only available to children from noble or rich families.

While the introduction of modern technology boosted social and economic growth in Tibet, Che said, it was the democratic reform that enabled former serfs to enjoy freedom and equal rights.

Redi said Tibet had one of its best periods of development after the democratic reform, which brought about a great change of the social system in Tibet. After the reform, Tibet enjoyed substantial progress in economy, culture, education and public health.

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