OTTAWA -- A Tibetan living Buddha on Monday compared the emancipation of serfs in Tibet 50 years ago to the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1862, saying the two are of similar significance.
"They are both milestones in the history of human rights," Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, a living Buddha of the Kagyu sect, said when meeting with Peter Milliken, speaker of the Canadian House of Commons.
Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak (2nd R), living Buddha and head of a five-member delegation of the Tibetan deputies to China's National People's Congress, answers questions from experts during a discussion with the delegates from the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada in Vancouver, March 24, 2009. [Xinhua]
The Tibetan Autonomous Region People's Congress, the regional legislature, endorsed a bill on January 19, 2009 to designate March 28 as an annual Serfs Emancipation Day, to mark the date on which about 1 million serfs in the region were freed 50 years ago.
Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak (R), living Buddha and head of a five-member delegation of the Tibetan deputies to China's National People's Congress, talks with Tsering Shakya, a professor with the Asia research center of the University of British Columbia, during a discussion with the delegates from the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada in Vancouver, March 24, 2009. [Xinhua]
Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak, who is also vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region People's Congress, said serfs and slaves accounted for about 95 percent of the total population in Tibet before 1959. "They possessed no means of production or personal freedom, not to mention other basic human rights," he said.
Serfs were seen as the private property of landowners, mostly the nobles, monasteries and government officials, according to historical records. Landowners could legally insult, punish, buy and sell, whip, and even brutally kill their serfs.
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.
That meant the end of serfdom and the abolition of the hierarchic social system characterized by theocracy, with the Dalai Lama as the core of the leadership.
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.
"By setting the Serfs Emancipation Day, we hope that history will not be forgotten," Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak said.
Milliken said the Canadian House of Commons hopes to improve exchanges with the Chinese parliament and help improve relations between Canada and China.
He also said that Canada and China share broad interests and the current global economic recession makes cooperation and exchanges between the two countries even more important.
Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak is leading a five-member delegation of Tibetan deputies of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, in Canada for a visit.
On Monday, the delegation also met with Ken Sunquist, Assistant Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and held talks with members of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate.