|Soldiers hold the flag-raising ceremony at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, March 28, 2011. More than 3,000 people joined in the ceremony on Monday to celebrate the Serfs Emancipation Day, which is marked every year on March 28 to commemorate the end of feudal serfdom in Tibet. (Xinhua/Gesang Dawa)
LHASA, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Celebration activities were held across southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region Monday, the 52nd anniversary of the emancipation of Tibetan serfs.
More than 3,000 people from all walks of life gathered in a square in front of the Potala Palace, watched the flag being raised, sang the national anthem and celebrated the historic date that marks the freedom and equal status of all Tibetans.
"Fifty-two years ago we turned over a glorious page in the history of human rights, by ending feudal serfdom and freed the serfs," said Qin Yizhi, secretary of Lhasa's municipal committee of the Communist Party of China, at the rally. "But this special date reminds us of the past."
Monday is the third "Serfs Emancipation Day," an occasion celebrated across the plateau region, with Tibetans dressed in traditional costumes, singing, dancing and staging dramas based on their real life experiences or those of their parents.
Two years ago, March 28 was designated the day to commemorate the 1959 democratic reform in Tibet, which ended feudal serfdom and freed about 1 million Tibetan serfs, accounting for more than 90 percent of the region's population.
Many of the former serfs are still alive today.
REMEMBER THE PAST, CHERISH THE PRESENT
Shortly after the first ray of sunlight gleamed across the region's sky on Monday, Tsering Chodron, 101, raised a five-star flag in her family's courtyard in the border town of Zham. The flag was a present from a group of People's Liberation Army soldiers that raised the national flag at Beijing's Tiananmen Square every day.
"The first 50 years of my life were dark and with no dignity," said Tsering Chodron, a former serf. "My life as a human began only after 1959."
She was among up to 1 million serfs that gained freedom thanks to the central government's democratic reform launched in Tibet on March 28, 1959.
On the eve of the anniversary, a group of farmers in Nedong County, Shannan Prefecture, staged a self-directed drama to recount their miserable past.
The drama, named "Tears of the Serfs," tells the tragic life of serf Trinley Dorje and his family. Despite its simple plot, the drama moved many people to tears.
Padma Yonten, 63, cried when he saw Trinley Dorje's preteen son being whipped by a housekeeper at the Khesum Manor where the family of six worked as slaves. "I was like that poor child. All serf children began working at 8 years old, herding or running errands."
Soinam Wangyal, 80, never missed the peach blossom festival held in Bayi Town of Nyingchi Prefecture every March. He and his wife Thubten, 72, not only took delight in the fragrance and warm spring air, but also felt a sense of security and happiness in the merrymaking crowd that poured into the orchards.
As a child, Soinam Wangyal had to work ceaselessly from dawn till dark, surviving on only two spoonfuls of tsamba and two tiny buckwheat pancakes a day. He never had shoes or trousers.
"All the serfs were constantly beaten -- even my grandma, at 70, could not avoid being beaten," he said. "As a child I wished I had been a bird, or even a worm, instead of a serf."
His wife Thubten never knew how or why her father had disappeared on an errand to carry goods for the serf owner. "He never came back and we never heard from him again. Maybe he was killed by robbers or the serf owner."
After the 1959 reform, Soinam Wangyal's family were allocated cropland and cattle. He was also elected head of the local production team. Thubten received government-sponsored training on modern farming techniques in the neighboring Sichuan Province. Their shared past plight allowed them to form a close connection and the two were married in the 1960s.
Today, their home village Drache reported a per capita annual income of 10,360 yuan. The village, with a population of 469, runs a dairy farm that produces 300 kilograms of milk a day and has a 30-hectare vegetable production base.
The couple's son, Tobgye, runs a pig farm where more than 200 pigs are raised.
"It's a time people enjoy everything they do," said Soinam Wangyal.
DEVELOPMENT, STABILITY STRESSED
Since the 1959 emancipation of serfs, Tibet has maintained rapid social and economic growth.
Last year in particular, Tibet's GDP reached 50.8 billion yuan (7.75 billion U.S. dollars), with an annual growth rate of 12.4 percent, said Padma Choling, chairman of the regional government, in a televised speech Sunday.
Meanwhile, the per capita net income of both farmers and herdsmen hit 4,319 yuan, twice the 2005 figure.
He underscored development and stability as two critical tasks for Tibet, warning that any attempts to jeopardize Tibet's stability and progress were doomed to failure.
China's central government plans to achieve leapfrog development and lasting stability in Tibet. By 2020, the per capita net income of farmers and herders in Tibet should be close to the national level, according to the plan announced last year.
Tibet's capacity to provide public service and infrastructure must also be comparable to the nation's average by 2020, through more government investment and better management.
The central government earmarked 137.8 billion yuan for 188 key infrastructure construction projects in Tibet in the 2006-2010 period. By the end of last year, 109 of these projects had been completed and the other 79 were underway.
Last year alone, a total of 16 billion yuan from the central budget was earmarked for the investment in Tibet, up 46 percent year on year.
Tibet's economy has steered in one of the fastest growing periods in history, with hefty investment in infrastructure construction projects such as airports, highways and railways.
Among the most important projects were an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway from Lhasa to Xigaze, Gunsa Airport in the northern Ngari Prefecture, Bangda Airport of Qamdo, and a 100,000-kilowatt photovoltaic plant in Ngari.
By the end of 2010, Tibet had finished renovating 80 percent of its state highways and constructed sealed roads to 54 counties, bringing the total road mileage to 58,000 kilometers.
Meanwhile, the ongoing construction of a highway to the isolated Metok County and Tibet's first ever expressway linking Lhasa and Gongkar Airport will shorten travel time for Tibetans.
Tibet will start building another extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway from Lhasa to Nyingchi, in the next five years, according to the region's plan for economic and social development in the 2011-2015 period.