Thursday, July 14, 2011

Basic Human Rights in Tibet


How are human rights in Tibet? This is an issue made a mess of on the international scene. A fair evaluation of the human rights situation in Tibet depends on an answer to these two questions: First, whether human rights conditions in Tibet have improved under the leadership of the Communist Party of China or remained unchanged or even worsened; and second, whether or not the unique interests and rights of Tibetans as an ethnic minority group have been effectively protected. I would like to provide some basic facts as an answer to these questions.

I. From a Historical

Perspective, Improvement of Human Rights Conditions in Tibet Is Fundamental

To assess human rights conditions in Tibet, one cannot evade a basic fact. That is, before 1959 when it was ruled by the Dalai Lama, Tibet was a theocratic society practicing a feudal serf system. It was darker than Europe in the Middle Ages. Serfs and slaves, who made up more than 95% of the population in Tibet, suffered exploitation and suppression whose cruelty was rarely matched elsewhere in the world. They had neither personal freedom nor basic human rights. In 1959, democratic reforms were carried out and the feudal serf system was abolished in Tibet. The Tibetan people have since won liberation politically, economically and in social life. And human rights conditions there have improved fundamentally. This is reflected in the following aspects:

Tibetans voting qt a People's Congress Session

1.Tibetan society began shedding poverty and ignorance and embarked on a road of modernization; and people had improved rights of subsistence and development. Before 1959, officials, aristocrats and upper-stratum members of the clergy, the three ruling classes making up less than 5% of the local population, owned all farmland, pastureland, forests, mountains and rivers and most livestock in Tibet, whereas serfs and slave, who constituted more than 95% of the population, did not own any land and other means of production. They had to attach themselves to the manors of feudal lords or served as their domestic servants, suffering from the triple exploitations of forced labor, rent and usury and living on the verge of death. According to statistics, coffee imposed on serfs for the Gaxag (the local Tibetan government) and manor owners accounted for more than 50% of the total amount of their labor. Before 1958, the amount of loans at usurious rates in Tibet was equivalent to twice the combined output value of the region's agriculture and animal husbandry. More than 60% of Tibet's farmers and herdsmen were burdened with a heavy debt. Many serfs were forced to go begging and countless numbers of them died of hunger and cold.

After the abolition in Tibet of the system of land ownership by serf owners in 1959, people in Tibet were no longer subject to exploitation by the serf owners in the forms of heavy corvee, rent and usury. As a result, productivity has gone up sharply.


In the last 40-plus years, with support from the Central Government and people of the en tire country, Tibet has made rapid progress economically, socially and culturally. Tibetans’ conditions of subsistence and development have improved greatly.

In 2000, Tibet’s gross regional product reached 11.74 billion yuan (US$ 1.4 billion), double that of 1995, quadruple that of 1990 and equivalent to more than 30 times its annual gross regional product before its peaceful liberation. The proportion of agriculture and animal husbandry in Tibet’s gross regional product dropped to 30.9% in 2000 from 90% 50 years before, while the production of the second industry rose to 15% and that of the tertiary industry 54.1%.

Modern industries have developed in the region from zero. Energy production and transportation have become booming industrial sectors. By the year 2000, a total of 401 power stations had been built in Tibet. They have a combined generating capacity of 356,200 kw and generate 661 billion kWh of electricity a year. By comparison, before the peaceful liberation of Tibet, there was only one power station with a generating capacity of only 125 kw and electricity was supplied to only a handful of feudal lords.

A fairly well developed transportation network has taken shape in Tibet where in the past not a single highway existed. Tibet's road network centers on Lhasa and consists of 15 trunk highways and 375 feeder highways with a combined length of 25,300 km. Highways now lead to almost all counties and more than 80% of all townships. Trunk highways connect Tibet with Qinghai, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Nepal. There are now two civil aviation airports in Tibet, the Konka in Lhasa and the Bangda in Changdu. Domestic and international air routes connect Lhasa with Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi'an, Xining, Shanghai, Kunming, Diqing (in Yunnan), Hong Kong and Kathmandu in Nepal. Construction of a railway leading to Tibet began in June 2001. In the near future, Tibet without a railway will become history.

The telecom industry in Tibet has developed ahead of other economic sectors. A modem telecom network now covers the entire region. Digital technology is adopted for the network and transmission is via optical cables and the satellite. Mobile telephone is an integral part of the network. At present, the network has a 280,000-line capacity and 206,000 line subscribers. The mobile telephone system has a capacity of 123,000 lines and 98,000 users. There are also nine Internet website operators in Tibet with about 4,513 subscribers.

Thanes to social and economic development, people's living standard has gone up remarkably. In 2000, Tibet produced 962,200 tons of grain and kept 22.66 billion head of livestock. The region was basically self-sufficient in grain and cooking oil, while its per-capita share of meat and milk was higher than the national average. In old Tibet, most people did not have houses of their own, with Lhasa, Xigaze, Changdu and Nagq swarming with beggars. In 2000, the per-capita income of urban residents in Tibet reached 6,448 yuan and that of farmers and herdsmen 1,331 yuan. Most farmers and herdsmen have enough to eat and wear and some of them have been fairly well off. Along with the improvement of people's living standard, their consumption structure has changed. Such consumer durables as refrigerators, washing machines, motorcycles and wristwatches have begun entering ordinary Tibetan homes. Quite a number of newly well-off farmers and herdsmen have built new houses and some have even bought motor vehicles. At present, per-capita living space in Tibet ranks first in China.

Tibet has kept pace with the rest of China or even the rest of the world in developing modem means of information dissemination such as radio and TV broadcasting, telecom services and the internet. By the year 2000, radio broadcasting had covered 77'7% of the population in Tibet and TV broadcasting 76'l%. People in most areas of Tibet can get to know what are happening in China and the rest of the world via radio and TV. And they can acquire and exchange information via telephone, telegraph, fax and the Internet.

A former Tibetan serf whose eyes were gouged by his lord in the 1950s.

In old Tibet, medical care was almost non-existent for the ordinary people. Today, there is in Tibet a medical service network that, with its center in Lhasa, covers both urban and rural areas of the region and combines traditional Chinese medicine, Western medicine and Tibetan medicine. By the year 2000, the number of medical institutions in Tibet had increased to l, 254 with a total of 6,440 hospital beds; and the number of medical workers reached 10,957. In terms of the number of hospital beds and medical workers for every l, 000 residents, Tibet is above the national average level. At present, cooperative medical care in rural Tibet has a coverage of 80%, and the rate of planned vaccination for children in Tibet has reached 97%.

Gone are the days when people had nowhere to go, and no money, for medical services. The level of Tibetans' health has greatly improved. The incidences of epidemics that often struck Tibet in the old days such as smallpox, cholera, sex diseases, macula, scarlet fever and typhoid fever have fallen sharply, and some epidemics have gone out of existence.

In Tibet, the mortality of pregnant and lying-in women has dropped from 50 per thousand in 1959 to 7 per thousand today; and infant mortality from 43 per thousand to 6.61 per thousand. Average life span in Tibet has increased from 35.5 years in the 1950s to 67 years now. The population grew slowly in old Tibet. During the 200 years before the 1950s, the population there hovered at one million (according to a census made by the Qing government during 1734--1736, Tibet's population at the time was 941,200; in 1953, the population as reported by the local Tibetan government headed by the Dalai Lama was one million, up only 58,000 in 200 years). In the 40 years after democratic reforms were carried out there, Tibet's population had reached 2.62 million, up by more than 160%.

There was not a single school of a modern sense in old Tibet, where monasteries monopolized education, school attendance by school--age children was below 2%, and illiteracy among young and coddle--aged people was as high as 95%. Today, education is widely available in Tibet. The State has spent huge sums of money in developing education in the region, where a fairly complete educational system has taken shape. The system consists of general education, preschool education, adult education, vocational education and special education. By the year 2000, there were in Tibet 956 schools with a total enrollment of 381,500; school attendance by school-age children had reached 85.6%, illiteracy had dropped to 32.5%; and people having received undergraduate and graduate education numbered 33,000, 1 .26% of the population, higher than the national average. Tibet has not only its own professionals with master's and doctor’s degrees but also its own specialists and scholars having a national reputation.

2. The Tibetan people have broken away from cruel exploitation by serf owners and become their own masters. Old Tibet was a theocracy. As one of the leaders of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama was also the head of the local government. He was the chief representative of all self owners, religious and secular. Serf owners owned the very person. They could freely buy and sell, transfer, give away, mortgage and exchange their serfs as their private property. They had absolute right over the serfs' life, death and marriage. Serfs had no freedom of the person, nor any political right. When a male serf and a female serf who did not belong to the same feudal lord wanted to marry each other, a "redemption fee" had to be paid. The children of serfs were destined to be life-long serfs. The 13 “Rule Code" and the "16Rule Code" that were effective in Tibet for several hundred years classify people into nine levels of three grades, stipulating and maintaining the inequality of Tibetans in political status in the form of law. A code book stipulates: "Serfs and women shall not be allowed to participate in military and political affairs" For people of different ranks having committed the same offence, criteria for penalty measurement and punishment are different. The rule on the pricing of killed persons stipulates: for a person of the upper level of the upper grade, the price of his life is gold of an amount equivalent to the weight of his body; for persons of the lower level of the lower grade such as women, butchers, hunters and craftsmen, the price of a life is a straw rope. A more ridiculous rule says that when a man rapes a woman, the woman will be punished with a fine. In Tibet, the local government and big monasteries all had courts and prisons, and feudal lords could set up illegal prisons in their manors. Serf owners could abuse and beat their serfs at will and often put serfs to barbaric punishments such as chopping off a hand, chopping off a foot, immersing them in water, gouging an eye, cutting off an ear and pulling out a foot tendon.
The democratic reforms overthrew the old Tibetan government riding roughshod over the people, its army, courts and prisons, abolished the codes of old Tibet and their barbaric punishments, abolished serfs' personal attachment to feudal lords, and abolished the feudal hierarchical system and the theocratic system. A million serfs and slaves won liberation and, like people of other ethnic groups of China, became masters of their own country. From then on, they have enjoyed safety of the person, freedom of the person and all civil rights as provided for by the Constitution and laws. After the democratic reforms, a general election was held in Tibet. Former serfs and slaves cast their votes for the first time in history and elected organs of power and governments at different levels in Tibet. In 1965 the Tibet Autonomous Region was established. The Tibetan people have since then enjoyed the right to participate, on an equal footing, in the running of state affairs and the right to handle, on their own, affairs of their region and their nationality.
Since 1965, according to statistics, of deputies to the Tibet Regional People's Congresses of successive terms, those from Tibetan and other ethnic minority groups account for about 80%, and most of them are the offspring of former serfs and slaves. At present, among deputies to the National People's Congress, there are 19 from Tibet, of whom 80% are of Tibetan and other ethnic minorities. Of the 450 deputies to the Tibet Regional People's Congress, 82.44% are of Tibetan and other ethnic minorities.

Women in Tibet, who in the past were at the bottom of the society, now have the same rights and status as men. Since the first general election in Tibet, in elections for the Tibet Regional People's Congress of successive terms, the rate of participation by women has reached more than 90%. At present, in people's congresses of all levels in Tibet, woman deputies make up more than 15% of the total number of deputies. Woman cadres in the region now number more than 22,000, 32.8% of the total number of cadres; and woman professionals number about 13,000, 40. 123% of the total.

II.Tibetan People's Right to Autonomy Has Been Well Pretected

When evaluating human rights conditions in Tibet, people should not neglect this basic fact, that Tibetans are an ethnic minority in China, that Tibet is where most Tibetans live and that in Tibet, Tibetans constitute about 95% of the local population.

To ensure that Tibetans as an ethnic minority enjoy the rights of equality, non-discrimination and special protection, the Chinese Government has instituted in Tibet a system of regional autonomy of ethnic minorities in accordance with the Constitution and Law of Regional Autonomy of Minority Nationalities. Under this system, citizens of Tibetan origin, like citizens of other ethic groups in China, enjoy all civil rights as prescribed by the Constitution. No discrimination is allowed because of race, language and religious belief. At the same time, the Central Government adopted special preferential policies for Tibet with regard to its political, economic and cultural aspects and its social life to safeguard Tibetan people's special interests and equal rights in real terms.

In accordance with Law of Regional Autonomy of Minority Nationalities, since 1965, Tibetan citizens have assumed the posts of chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Regional People's Congress of successive terms, chairman of the regional government of successive terms, main leaders of the standing committees of people's congresses at different levels in Tibet and main leaders of governments at different levels in the region. Tibetan citizens have also assumed the posts of major officials of procuratorates and courts of different levels in the region. At present, cadres of Tibetan and other ethnic minorities in Tibet number 50,000, 74.9% of the total number of cadres in the region. People of Tibetan and other minority ethic make up 82.4% of deputies to the regional people's congress, 92.62% of deputies to county people's congresses and 99% of deputies to township people's congresses. They make up 71 .4% of the chairman and vice--chairmen of the standing committee of the regional people's congress, 80% of members of the standing committee of the regional people's congress, 77.8% of the chairman and vice--chairmen of the regional government, and 69'36% of the total number of professionals in Tibet.

Tibet Autonomous Region has the right to enact local laws and regulations and to decide local affairs and formulate autonomy-related regulations and specific regulations in accordance with local political, economic and culture conditions. If resolutions, decisions, decrees and directives from higher State organs are not suited for conditions in Tibet, the Tibet autonomous government can apply for permission to implement them in a flexible way or to stop implementing them. According to statistics, since 1965, the regional people's congress and its standing committee have enacted and promulgated more than 160 local laws, regulations and legally-binding resolutions and decisions. Their content covers political power arrangement, economic development, culture, education, spoken and written languages, the judicial system, and preservation of cultural relics, wildlife and natural resources.

The enactment and implementation of these local laws, regulations, specific regulations and implementation flexibility show that Tibetan people have enjoyed the right to manage affairs of their region and their ethnic group. And they have effectively safeguarded Tibetan people's special interests in political, economic, social and other aspects. For example, aside from having legalized national holidays, the Tibetan legislature and government have designated traditional Tibetan holidays such as the Tibetan New Year and Xodoin Festival as the region's holidays. In accordance with Tibet's unique natural and geographical characteristics, work time for workers and staff is set at 35 hours a week, five hours less than elsewhere in China.

The State has adopted preferential policies for Tibet in areas of finance, taxation and banking and provided the region with financial, technical and human resources support. From the 1950s to the year 2000, the Central Government spent a total of close to 50 billion yuan in Tibet as investment and subsidies. It also supplied Tibet with huge amounts of materials. In the years after 1984, nine provinces and municipalities spent a combined 477 billion yuan building 43 aid projects in Tibet. Since 1994, the Central Government has directly launched 62 projects in Tibet involving a combined investment of 4.86 billion yuan; in the meantime, 15 provinces, centrally administered municipalities and ministries under the Central Government gave aid gratis to Tibet by launching 716 projects there with a combined investment of 3.16 billion yuan. Over the years, more than l, 900 cadres were sent to work in Tibet as a form of aid. Such aid and support have vigorously promoted economic development in Tibet and improved the life of the Tibetan people.

From 1994 to 2000, Tibet's gross regional product increased by 150%, averaging an annual growth rate of 12.4%, the per-capita income of urban people in Tibet went up by 79.5% and that of farmers and herdsmen by 140%. During the same period, the number of people below the poverty line in the region dropped from 480,000 in the early 1990s to 48,000.

Tibetan people's freedom of religious belief and customs have been respected and protected. In the democratic reforms, theocracy was abolished in Tibet, as were the secular privileges of monasteries and the feudal administrative and hierarchical systems within monasteries there. Political power and religion were separated, and internal administration in monasteries was democratized. A system has thus been established under which Tibetan people have the right to exercise their freedom of religious belief and conduct normal religious activities. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-- 1976), citizens' freedom of religious belief in Tibet, as elsewhere in China, was encroached upon. But as soon as the Cultural Revolution ended, the Government took a series of measures to safeguard Tibetan people's freedom of religious belief. Some traditional religious festivals were restored, as were many places of worship, ensuing that religious believers in Tibet can conduct normal religious activities.

Since 1978 when China began implementing reform and open policies, the State has appropriated more than 300 million yuan and a big amount of gold and silver for the repair and Preservation of monasteries in Tibet. For the repair of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the State appropriated more than 55 million yuan, and repair lasted more than five years. This was the most expensive, biggest repair project for the palace in several hundred years. At present, there are in Tibet a total of 1,787 monasteries and places for religious activities (300 more than when democratic reforms began), and resident lamas and nuns there number 46,300. Major religious festivals and activities of all kinds are held normally in Tibet. Every year, visits to Lhasa by Tibetan pilgrims exceed one million. In the homes of religious believers throughout Tibet, there are prayer rooms or Buddhist shrines. While preserving their traditional ways, Tibetan people have assimilated many new things in their lifestyle involving clothes, food, housing, wedding, funeral and other aspects.

Tibetan people's freedom to learn, use and develop the language of their own ethic group has been given effective protection. A law of Tibet Autonomous Region Provides for an equal footing for Tibetan and Chinese languages and the dominant role of the Tibetan language in Tibet. Governments at various levels in Tibet have a Tibetan language directing committee or an editing-translation department to promote the development of the language. The Tibetan language is a compulsory course at all schools in Tibet. Tibetan-language textbooks and teaching reference materials for primary and secondary schools have been published in Tibet. Tibet University has compiled 19 Tibetan-language teaching materials for trial use. The Tibetan language is in common use throughout Tibet. Both Tibetan and Chinese languages are used for laws and regulations, decisions, documents and public decrees of the Tibetan legislature and government, and on signboards of public institutors and public places in Tibet. Courts and procuratorates in Tibet use the Tibetan language to deal with cases filed by, and involving, ethnic Tibetans and issue legal documents in the Tibetan language. In recruiting workers, cadres and students, preferences are given to users of the Tibetan language. Newspapers, radio and TV networks in Tibet use both Tibetan and Chinese languages. Tibet People's Radio has 20.5 hours of Tibetan- language programs a day, 50% of its total program time (41 hours). Tibet TV, the regional TV network, has 12 hours of Tibetan-language programs a day, and its special Tibet-language channel began formally broadcasting programs via satellite in 1999. Tibetan-language newspapers and periodicals formally published in Tibet now number 23. Tibet Daily now uses a computerized Tibetan-language editing and typesetting system. Major progress has been made in IT standardization for the Tibetan language. Tibetan-language coding has been certified as being up to State and international standards. Tibetan has thus become the first language of an ethnic minority people in China to have an international standard.

Fine traditional Tibetan culture has been preserved. The State has provided huge sums of money and gold and silver for the repair and preservation of key cultural sites in Tibet. The Potala Palace and Qoikang Monastery have been listed as World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO. The collation of Tibetan-language Tripitaka, a key project supported by the State, has been completed. The Tripitaka of the Bonbo belief, known as the "cyclopedia" of Tibet's ancient society, has been collated and published in its entirely. King Gesar is handed down orally and known as "a Homeric epic of the orient." With the support of the State, efforts of dozens of years have resulted in the collection of more than 300 volumes of King Gesar, of manuscripts and wood--block prints. More than 70 Tibetan--language and over 20 Chinese-language volumes of the epic have been collated and published. For a few volumes of the epic, English, Japanese and French editions have been published.

Artistic forms popular among the Tibetan people such as ballad, dance, opera and storytelling, after collation and innovation, have assumed better means of expression and appeal to refined taste. The State has spent money building a big number of well-equipped cultural and recreation facilities in Tibet, including the Tibet Museum, libraries, exhibition halls and cinemas. By 2000, there were throughout Tibet more than 400 places for popular cultural activities; 25 troupes, including the regional song and dance ensemble, the Tibet opera troupe and the Tibet modern drama troupe; more than 160 contingents of spare-time performers and 17 horse-back teams of performers.

It should be admitted that, owing to Tibet's adverse natural conditions--a cold climate and a lack of oxygen--because of its great altitude, owing to its birth out of a backward feudal society and its low starting point in social development, and also owing to the mistakes committed in China in promoting social development and the development of human rights in Tibet such as the serious mistake of the Cultural Revolution, a fairly big gap exists between Tibet and the coastal areas in Southeast China in the level of social, economic and cultural development. And in human rights conditions in Tibet, there is still much room for improvement. But viewed from the two basic aspects as elaborated above, it can be said that the 50 years since the peaceful liberation of Tibet, especially the more than 40 years since democratic reforms were carried out there, have witnessed great progress, rather than retrogression, in human rights conditions in Tibet. At present, human rights conditions in Tibet are at their best in the region's history.


By: Dong Yuhu

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