Speech at the Third Forum on the Development of China's Tibet
Vice Chairman, the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region & Vice President, China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture
On arriving in Greece, this ancient and magical land, I'm deeply impressed by its ancient civilization and the hospitality of the Greek people. Greece is the cradle of Western civilization and its glorious ancient civilization has made impacts on the process of world civilization. It's my great pleasure to visit this beautiful country, where the Forum on the Development of China's Tibet is held. I would like to take this opportunity to give a simple introduction to Tibet–its basic facts, present development and the future.
Tibet is one of China's five provincial-level ethnic minority autonomous regions. The region covers more than 1.2 million square kilometers at an average altitude of over 4,000 meters in southwest China and has a population of more than 3 million, among which over 91 percent are Tibetan and other minorities. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet. Over the past 60 years, Tibet has undergone a great historic process starting with peaceful liberation and proceeding to democratic reform, the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the reform and opening up era. Along the track of modern civilization, the ancient and magical Tibetan Plateau has made general reforms to fundamentally transform its image from being closed, poor and backward to open, rich and civilized.
Politically, the modern democratic system has been basically established and the right to implement regional ethnic autonomy has been fully guaranteed. Before the democratic reform in 1959, Tibet remained a society of feudal serfdom under theocracy, dark and backwardness. The 14th Dalai Lama, as leader of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism and also head of the Tibetan regional government, monopolized both political and religious power. Under this regime, serf owners, accounting for less than 5 percent of the total population of Tibet, held in their possession an overwhelming part in the means of production; the serfs and slaves, making up more than 95 percent of the total population, possessed no means of production. In 1959, the democratic reform was launched in Tibet, abolished theocratic rule with the Dalai Lama as its supreme leader. In 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was established. With the implementation of the system of regional ethnic autonomy, millions of serfs and slaves became modern citizens who, with democratic rights, were able to enjoy equal rights to participate in the administration of state affairs and to deal with local and ethnic affairs on their own. At present, of the deputies to the National People's Congress, 20 are from Tibet, of whom 14 are Tibetan or other ethnic minorities. Of more than 34,000 deputies to people's congresses at all levels in the autonomous region, more than 94 percent are Tibetan or other ethnic minorities. Every chairman of the standing committee of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region and every chairman of Tibet's regional government are Tibetan.
Economically, a modern market economy has been established and people of all ethnic groups in Tibet can fully enjoy economic freedom and the fruits of development. The long centuries of theocratic rule and feudal serfdom in old Tibet stifled the vitality of Tibetan society and made it stagnate with extremely low levels of productivity and social development for a long time. Over the past 60 years of development, Tibet has established an industrial production system with local features. It's now transforming from a traditional agricultural society to a modern industrial one and the people's pioneering enthusiasm has been greatly aroused. In 1951, Tibet's GDP was only US$20 million. In 2010, the region witnessed its GDP reach US$7.946 billion and per capita GDP amounted to more than US$2,600. People there have been living a relatively comfortable life. Especially since the comfortable housing project was carried out in 2006, 275,000 families, totaling 1.43 million farmers and herdsmen, have moved into new, comfortable houses.
As for social development, education, medical care, culture and other social undertakings have achieved full progress and people of all ethnic groups in Tibet can enjoy more rights to development.
-- Education: Before the peaceful liberation, there was not a single school in the modern sense in Tibet. The enrollment rate for school-aged children was fewer than 2 percent, while the illiteracy rate was as high as 95 percent among the young and the middle-aged. Now, Tibet has a nine-year compulsory education system. The children enjoy "three guarantees" during this period, i.e., the state guarantees all tuition as well as food and lodging expenses for students from Tibet's farming, pastoral and impoverished urban families. The enrollment rate for primary school- aged children has reached 99.2 percent; the illiteracy rate among the young and the middle-aged has fallen to 1.2 percent. The average educational period of people above 15 years old in Tibet has reached 7.3 years.
-- Medical care: Before the peaceful liberation, there was not a single modern medical institution in Tibet, except for only several small government-run institutions of Tibetan medicine, a small number of private clinics as well as sporadic private Tibetan medicine practitioners. With malignant diseases spreading, the average life expectancy was only 35.5 years. The population, at a slow growth rate, had only increased by 58,000 for 200 years before the peaceful liberation. Now, Tibet implements a healthcare system based on free medical services in a comprehensive way. The average life expectancy has increased to 67 years. The total population of Tibet has risen from 1.05 million before the peaceful liberation to more than 3 million, or an increase of almost 2 million.
-- Culture: Tibet's excellent traditional culture is inherited, protected and developed. The Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and the Norbulingka have been on UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage list. Tibet's 76 distinctive cultural items, including Tibetan opera, folk handicrafts and folk art, have been listed among items of state-level intangible cultural heritage. Great importance has been attached to the learning, use, protection and development of the Tibetan language. The region hosts 14 Tibetan magazines, 10 Tibetan newspapers, a special Tibetan radio station and a Tibetan satellite TV channel that broadcasts 24 hours a day. The radio and TV coverage rate has reached 90.28 percent and 91.41 percent, respectively.
-- Religion: Most of the people of the Tibetan, Moinba, Lhoba and Naxi ethnic groups believe in Tibetan Buddhism, while others are Muslims or Catholics. At present, there are more than 1,700 venues for religious activities, with some 46,000 resident monks and nuns. Religious activities of various kinds are held normally, with people's religious needs fully satisfied and their freedom of religious belief fully respected.
Finally, in international communications, Tibet embraces the rest of the world with an active and open attitude. Tibetans firmly believe a Chinese saying: "Mount Tai is large because it was not picky about the size of its rocks. All the rivers and seas run deep for they do not reject small streams." With an open and inclusive attitude, we actively face and accept all the advanced civilization achievements in the world, as long as they will promote the development and progress of Tibet. We warmly welcome friends from all over the world. In 2010, Tibet received 1,195 foreign government officials and journalists in 336 groups, as well as 228,300 foreign visitors. This year, we are also very glad to have hosted the Greek delegation of scholars and journalists, as well as the Greek parliament delegation.
For these 60 years, the central government and people all over the country have provided special care and strong support for Tibet so that it has achieved such progress. Since 1980, the central authorities have held the central working conference on Tibet five times, formulated a series of special preferential policies and paired 18 provinces and municipalities, more than 60 central state organs, and 17 state-owned enterprises with entities in Tibet to help the latter's economic development. From 1952 to 2010, 300 billion yuan from the central budget went to Tibet and central direct investment amounted to more than 160 billion yuan.
Tibet has made some achievements for the past 60 years; however, due to some historical, natural and social factors, it is still an underdeveloped area on the whole.
Compared with its developed counterpart provinces and cities or even developed countries, a larger gap still exists between them. It still has a very long way to go on the way to modernization.
At present, China is in a new historical period of building a prosperous society in a comprehensive way, speeding up reform and opening, and accelerating modernization. At the fifth central working conference on Tibet in 2010, the central authorities, taking into consideration the overall national situation and actual conditions of Tibet, set the development goal for Tibet over the next decade. The Tibet Autonomous Region will largely make efforts in the following four aspects: safeguarding and improving people's livelihoods, cultivating competitive industries with local features, strengthening infrastructure construction and enhancing ecological construction and environmental protection. By accelerating the transformation of economic development and promoting social harmony and stability, Tibet strives to achieve leapfrog development, maintains lasting peace and stability, and guarantees a well-off society along with the whole country by 2020. I firmly believe, with special care of the central government, strong support of people all over the country, as well as joint efforts and hard work of people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, we will definitely be able to reach this goal, since the past 60 years have laid a good foundation for its development. Tibet will have a better tomorrow!
Tibet cannot make progress without the care and support of our international friends, including the Greek people. Here, on behalf of 3 million Tibetans, I would like to express our heartfelt thanks for you. We sincerely welcome you to pay a visit to Tibet and have a look here. Our two sides should facilitate more exchange and communication to further deepen the great friendship that exists between our two countries.