Serfs Emancipation Day

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Serfs Emancipation Day
Official name Bàiwàn Nóngnú Jiěfàng Jìnìan Rì (西藏百万农奴解放纪念日)
Also called Serf Liberation Day
Type Cultural, government
Date March 28
Next time 28 March 2022 (2022-03-28)
Frequency annual

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; pinyin: Bàiwàn Nóngnú Jiěfàng Jìnìan Rì), on March 28, is an annual holiday in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, which celebrates the emancipation of serfs in Tibet. The holiday was adopted by the Tibetan legislature on January 19, 2009, and was promulgated that same year. In modern Tibetan history, March 28, 1959 was the day that the Tibetan government was declared illegal by China,[1] which, according to official Chinese history, liberated Tibetans from feudalism and theocracy. The head of that former government, the 14th Dalai Lama, calls the holiday a diversion from current problems in Tibet.


The holiday was announced to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of "democratic reform" of the Tibetan feudal theocratic social structure on March 28, 1959, where according to China, one million people were freed from serfdom.[2] 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,[3] but the Dalai Lama calls a "national uprising".[2] 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.[4]

On March 28, 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.[5] The order also directed the People's Liberation Army to suppress the uprising,[6] 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.[3] Anna Louise Strong marks July 17 as the precise date when feudal debts were abolished by the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region.[7] Warren W. Smith concurs, and further suggests that the government has chosen March 28 instead as "counter-propaganda" to the 2008 Tibetan unrest.[8]

The bill

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".[9] On January 19, 2009,[10] at the second annual session of the ninth regional People's Congress in 2009, 382 legislators voted unanimously for the bill, designating March 28 annually as Serfs Emancipation Day.[3]


Serfs Emancipation Day was celebrated in Lhasa on March 28, 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.[11] "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.[10]


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.[12] 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).[13] Tibet Support Groups have rejected "Serf Emancipation Day" as a propaganda tool.[citation needed]

See also


  1. Rossetti, Lorenzo. "History of Tibet from the origins to 1959". Retrieved 2012-07-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Leitsinger, Miranda (2009-01-20). "Date for Tibetan 'Serfs Emancipation Day' set". CNN. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Tibet sets 'Serfs Emancipation Day'". Local Governments News. China Internet Information Center. 2009-01-19. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Laird, Thomas. The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (2006) Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1827-5 p317-319
  5. "National Uprising". The Government of Tibet in Exile. 1996-02-02. Archived from the original on 2008-04-12. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Strong, Anna Louise (1976). "8". When serfs stood up in Tibet. Beijing: New World Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Norbu, Jamyang (2009-03-20). "Warren Smith on "Serf Emancipation Day"". Shadow Tibet. Retrieved 2010-08-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Dasgupta, Saibal (2001-01-11). "China to celebrate Dalai Lama's exit from Tibet with a public holiday". The Times of India. Times News Network. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Celebration for Serfs Emancipation Day starts in Tibet". China Daily. Xinhua. 2009-03-28. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Grand celebration of Serfs Emancipation Day". Xinhua. 2009-03-28. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Ewing, Kent (2009-02-26). "China closes the door on Tibet". Asia Times. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Shakya, Tsering (2009-03-22). "Tsering Shakya on "Serf Emancipation Day"". Shadow Tibet. Retrieved 2010-08-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>