OTTAWA -- The marking of Serfs Emancipation Day will serve as an "important reminder" for the West that the old Tibet had never been a Utopia-like "Shangri-la", a leading Chinese tibetologist said here on Friday.
It carries "significant historic importance" for the legislature of the Tibet Autonomous Region to set March 28 as the annual Serfs Emancipation Day to mark the date on which about 1 million serfs in the region were freed 50 years ago, said Hao Shiyuan, who heads a visiting delegation of Chinese scholars on Tibet, at a news conference in Ottawa.
"The day should have been established earlier," Hao said. "Domestically it's necessary to have the day remembered to teach young generations not to forget that part of history."
"It can also serve as an important reminder for the West that the old Tibet before 1959 had never been a Shangri-la -- a paradise on earth," Hao said.
Hao, also director of the Tibet Historical and Cultural Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said it is mostly through works or memoirs of some Western explorers, scholars who ventured into Tibet from the 18th to the 20th centuries that the world gradually got to know the cruelty of the serfdom in the region, which had existed there until the democratic reform in 1959.
"It is actually the westerners who first drew a parallel between the old Tibet and the dark medieval Europe," Hao said. "And it is also the westerners who first called the old Tibetan social system as the hierarchic characterized by theocracy."
Ironically, he said, some western countries now have shown "a loss of memory" on what Tibet used to be under the Dalai Lama's theocratic rule, and accused China's democratic reform in Tibet as "infringing upon human rights".
"It is also untrue that Tibet culture is nearing extinction as the Dalai Lama has claimed," Hao said. "On the contrary, it has entered the best historical period for perservation and development. "
He asked the reporters present to ask the Dalai Lama, if meeting him in person, such questions like: what are the signs that the Tibetan culture was eclipsed or destroyed in Tibet? What kind of Tibetan culture has vanished, or how many Tibetans no longer speak their native language?
In old Tibet, it was a privilege of the nobility and the small number of monks to learn the proper Tibetan language, whereas serfs and slaves, who accounted for 95 percent of the total population at the time, had no right to education.
Now the illiteracy rate in Tibet has dropped significantly, as almost all school-age children in Tibet have the access to education with subsidies from the government.
On March 28, 1959, the Chinese central government announced it would dissolve the aristocratic local government of Tibet and replace it with a preparatory committee for establishing the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The move came after the central government foiled an armed rebellion staged by the Dalai Lama and his supporters, most of whom were slave owners attempting to maintain serfdom.