What will you be doing for Serf Emancipation Day?

Update: Had to add this photo, via this excellent blog.

A totally spontaneous celebration by ethnic Tibetans unable to restrain their joy over the chance to participate in Serf Emancipation Day and thank their gracious Han saviors.

A totally spontaneous celebration by ethnic Tibetans unable to restrain their joy over the chance to participate in Serf Liberation Day and thank their gracious saviors.

Is this too much?

Saturday, March 28, China will observe a newly created holiday: Serf Emancipation Day, which commemorates the day in 1959 when the Tibetan government was dissolved after the Chinese government crushed a Tibetan uprising and the Dalai Lama went into exile. The holiday was established following last year’s Tibetan protests and riots against Chinese rule and is intended to highlight what Beijing says is the social and economic progress that Tibetans have made over the last 50 years.

In conjunction, China’s state media has unleashed a propaganda blitz surrounding the holiday. Over the last twenty-four hours, headlines on state-run Xinhua news agency have included: “Ending serfdom in Tibet, a giant step in human rights progress that deserves commemoration,” “China calls on overseas Tibet report to be objective” and “Former female serfs recollect tragic past.” (None, however, quite reach the extremes of this report from a few of weeks ago: “A religious ceremony for the Dalai Lama used human blood, skulls and skin“).

I’m reading in Peter Hessler’s River Town about how every time he turned on CCTV, they seemed to be featuring happy minority children performing folk dances, and how most of the time they were Tibetan. Always bouncing with joy and glee. The propaganda never stops, and it never improves. (At least Goebbels and Karl Rove did it with flair and imagination.) Whether or not China’s claims to Tibet are legitimate and whether or not things are better for most Tibetans now than they were pre-Liberation isn’t the point. The point is looking ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world for the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners media blitz that everyone’s going to laugh at. Serf Emancipation Day.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 143 Comments

@Michael Tourton
“‘Fraid not. Political killings, persecution, and exile went on here in Taiwan too. And the economic miracle of the 1970s and 1980s, brought to you by US intervention, has made people forget how badly-managed the economy was in the 1950s and early 1960s”

I am not saying that the Kuomintang regime was perfect, but comparing both system I really doubt that they would have surpassed what Mao regimes did in Mainland China if they had stayed in power too.

It is just a case of choosing between two evils, as usual.

About the American intervention, you could also considerer that CH success would not have been possible without American intervention. With foreign investment, outsourcing of production and access to the foreign market, American for the most part, I really doubt that CH economic miracle would have taken place.

They would still be trapped in the population/resources mismatch

March 29, 2009 @ 3:30 pm | Comment

@”The statement like that shows your lack of some basic knowledge”
Thanks for remind me of my ignorance. I recognize it I try to do my best to improve.
Are you also ready to recognize yours?

“When Kumingtang was in power, British warship sailed freely in Yangze river”
And? I really mucht doubt that the colonialism that china suffered before the war would have continued after 1945
Hey” They could have even recovered HK sooner 😛

“If not for rampant corruption”
Sounds familiar today…. Milk anyone? Did you ordered a school construction lately?

” and hyperinflation, ”
Thankfully mot yet. But that pile of dollars CH have…. It seems hyperdeflation is more dangerous know. Yes, extremes are always dangerous

“Kumingtang would not collapse so fast. ·”
Kuomingang took the brunt of the Japaneses invasion. Just number of casualties and lost of crack units. Both Mao and Chiang Kai-shek knew that the great CH showdown would come after WWII. Mao played his cards better, in that respect he was in an easier position. Just doing enough against Japan forces for propaganda aims, while letting his opponent get the brunt of the attack… and casualties.
But I do not deny the prestige, specially after the almost single handed victory of Russian against Germany, of the Socialist-soviet model.
People really believed that it was the future. A scientific method of government and economy that would bring a new era to human kind.
The faith, passion… and fanatism of that great hope tilted the scales in favor of the communist ideal.

What came afterwards… everyone knows.

During the celebration when comunist forces enered Beijing a young son asked his father why thy were so happy. When you grow up you will know” He answered full of hope.
Yes, with time, the son knew….

“Citing Kumingtang as good governance ”
I am not talking good governance, Kuomintang was also far from it. I was talking to choose between to evils. A question of proportion.
Body count or lifes count put it simple

“is like citing prostitute for her virtue.”
You may be surprised of the virtues of some prostitutes. Specially those that had no chance to use their bodies to make ends meet… or to buy health treatment to dying relatives… or more banally as only way have access for a fleeting moment of life to some simple luxuries they see ons sat TV.
Dont be too hard on them, not even you knows what would you do if you were in their situation.

March 29, 2009 @ 3:51 pm | Comment

Damn! I dont like to write such long posts. Sorry for that.

March 29, 2009 @ 3:52 pm | Comment

“This is one of the stupidest (and that’s saying something) aspects of the CCP’s anti-Dalai Lama campaign. He was a very young man when he was forced to flee his homeland. There really wasn’t much of a past in which he could have subjugated or mistreated anyone. ”

On the contrary, your comment shows your bias and lack of logical thought. Dalai Lama is THE embodiment of a horrible and inhuman system. 1959 event did lead to the emancipation of serfs, who are the majority of the population. You may not like the ideology behind CCP’s action. But that action does hold moral high ground.

Western media has portrayed old Tibet as peaceful and happy kingdom. That is just a big lie, repeated thousands times. This serf holiday effectively forces people to look at the facts and re-examine the history, and help people to recognize the true nature of Tibet system before 1949.

“And Si was right on the money when saying that “it should be about whether or not the tibetans have the basic human right of self expression and determining their own future now, not whether they had it in the past.”

No. Si was wrong. Not every minority will have its right to determining their own future. If that happens, the world will be chaos. Even though US people recognize the pain on native indian, US will never uproot current residents and return the land to Indian. With the same logic, it is not fair to uproot all Han people in Tibet and kick them out of Tibet.

Instead, the point should be about whether Tibetans have the equal opportunity to develop each individual to their full potential. Anyone with any real knowledge about China will know that the preferential treatment to minority is so good that it causes the resentment of other Han people. I would advise you doing some research before making judgement quickly.

March 29, 2009 @ 4:09 pm | Comment

Steve, we could argue all night about Tibet/China and national minorities and Han and who is better off and so on. But the real point of this post is that proclaiming a national holiday called “Serf Emancipation Day” and celebrating it with a bunch of singing and dancing Tibetans while simultaneously censoring things like YouTube for spreading dissenting opinions on the subject is about the worst possible way for the PRC to make its case vis Tibet. Like Jeremiah said, it comes across like The Onion, only no way the Onion could do it funnier.

March 29, 2009 @ 5:13 pm | Comment

I bet that Steve

1. has never been to Tibet.
2. has never spoken to a Tibetan.
3. is posting from the evil US of A.

March 29, 2009 @ 5:46 pm | Comment

“The system in Tibet before 1949 is similar to that in medieval Europe. ”

However, the system in place across most of rural China is also pretty similar. Local officials abuse their powers with impunity, peasant farmers toil on narrow strips of land which they do not own and must contribute part of their produce in rent – how is this so different from feudalism?

March 29, 2009 @ 8:21 pm | Comment

Yes indeedy, Steve is posting from the USA.

FOARP. sounds like feudalism to me.

Steve, we’ve talked about these things before. I’m not going into the hornet’s nest you’re trying to stir up. Suffice it to say you’re wrong about everything.

March 29, 2009 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

@Lindel

Where did you get the idea that there is only one millionaire and one fighter jet pilot in Tibet?

This guy is the first Tibetan to reach 100 million net worth, that’s why he was picked. He is worth more than the TGIE for God’s sake! The Dalai Lama is definitely not the only Tibetan who can afford Gucci shoes and flight first class these days.

http://www.gmw.cn/CONTENT/2009-02/26/content_891556.htm

He was born in 1947 to a serf family, which means he is automatically a serf. He family owed the nobles 700kg of barley at a 33% annual interest rate, there was no way the family can pay it off in their life time.

In 1959, at age 13, he witnessed celebration and excitement of the burning of those serf and loan contracts. His family received 26 mu of land, 3 cows and some carpets from the government.

In 1960, a CCP cadre ask him if he wanted to go to school, he said yes. A PLA truck took him to Xining from Lahsa, he then rode the train for the first time to Xianyang.

He studied for 3 years at an ethnic minority university in Xianyang. He then volunteered to go back to Tibet to teach. From 1965 to 1969, he taught at a county primary school.

Because of his good command of putonghua, he was then transferred to the military and promoted as a cadre. After 14 years of service, in 1983, he was transferred to a local industrial bureau.

At the end of 1983, he quit his “iron rice bowl” job and started Shigatse’s first ever handicraft trading company. He is now the CEO of a company that has a 30-million annual revenue. Because of the opening of the Qinghai-Tibetan rail way, the company is now able to sell their products in other provinces in China and even overseas. He is also a member of the Tibetan People’s Congress. He voted YES for the “Serf Emancipation Day”.

March 29, 2009 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

“…fly first class… “, sorry.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:00 pm | Comment

“However, the system in place across most of rural China is also pretty similar. Local officials abuse their powers with impunity, peasant farmers toil on narrow strips of land which they do not own and must contribute part of their produce in rent – how is this so different from feudalism?

No, you are completely wrong. The situation in Tibet was much worse. In the system embodied by Dalai Lama, peasants were unfree, much like the serfdom developed during Europen middle age. Also, in Tibet, the administration was essentially theological government. Reglious and secular power was shared by one system before. Well, even today, more or less.

The bottom line is that, 1959 event did lead to the emancipation of serfs. That was indeed a right step for human development and did hold high moral ground.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

“Steve, we’ve talked about these things before. I’m not going into the hornet’s nest you’re trying to stir up. Suffice it to say you’re wrong about everything.”

Well, I have no intention to make you angry. But you do realize claiming that I am wrong about everything is quite a broad statement. If you are comfortable making that statement without presenting evidence, that is fine with me.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:07 pm | Comment

Steve, a.) you didn’t make me angry and I didn’t say you did; b.) I’m kind of joking, trying to make the point we’ve rehashed these things many time before, and you’re wrong, at least to my satisfaction. I know if we try to engage item per item on your point about Tibet, which are all over the map – American Indians included, of course – the thread will get even more hopelessly out of control, and besides we all know where the other stands.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:14 pm | Comment

“FOARP. sounds like feudalism to me.”

Richard, please refer to my post to FOARP to understand the key difference is that Daila Lama’s system involves unfree labor.

The bottom line is that before 1949, peasant in Tibet was unfree. After CCP took power in 1959, those peasants became free. Is there anything wrong calling it emancipation? Is it the right step in human development?

March 29, 2009 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

If they’re so delighted at their freedom, let them vote. If they’re truly emancipated, let them choose. If it’s all love and joy, let the media in.

Look, I know China did invest a ton of money in Tibet and sought to modernize and improve it, at least in their eyes. I know there were injustices and serfdom. I know the Western media’s biases and the complexities of this issue, historically ad politically. I hate black and white simplifications. And I won’t partake in it. The DL has a cult following and I’m always wary of celebrity humanitarians. You are taking part in it, on the other side, that all was merry and jolly after liberation. Unfortunately, the notion that it was a liberation, shared by virtually all the Chinese people I know, is not shared by those who were liberated, many of whom were treated with appalling brutality at the time of their sweet emancipation.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:21 pm | Comment

“But the real point of this post is that proclaiming a national holiday called “Serf Emancipation Day” and celebrating it with a bunch of singing and dancing Tibetans while simultaneously censoring things like YouTube for spreading dissenting opinions on the subject is about the worst possible way for the PRC to make its case vis Tibet. Like Jeremiah said, it comes across like The Onion, only no way the Onion could do it funnier.”

Well, I do not intend to defend any political sensoring. You can make fun of how stupid is in CCP’s handling of western media.

The key question is, “Does the discussion on serf emancipation day in Tibet makes you learn more about Tibet?” If it does, then that day served its purpose.

Just like Richard and TOARP, they learned that Tibet’s peasant was unfree in old Tibet, just like medieval system in middle age in Europe. We will all benefit if the discussion is not based on ignorance.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

“That was indeed a right step for human development and did hold high moral ground.”

Yes Steve; the murder, beating, disappearing, incarceration, and torture of countless Tibetans since ’emancipation’ has been especially compassionate.

“Western media has portrayed old Tibet as peaceful and happy kingdom. That is just a big lie”

You’ve nearly got it, Steve. Replace ‘western’ with ‘Chinese’ and ‘old’ with ‘new’ and I think you’ll have a light bulb moment.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:36 pm | Comment

Steve, again, I never said what you are attributing to me. I read what Foarp wrote above and simply responded, “Sounds like feudalism to me.” You read so much into things, and you only read into things that which confirms your stereotypes about Westerners and about me and the commenters here, and most of these are false. I said before, rather flippantly, you’re “wrong about everything.” Now I’ll say it literally and more seriously.

But this is what’s known as trolling. It’s where you take a thread off it’s topic and then make it all about your own ranting. I can see that you’re sitting on the site waiting for the next comment to swoop on, because now the thread’s about you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we should all know what you’re doing…

March 29, 2009 @ 10:36 pm | Comment

“Unfortunately, the notion that it was a liberation, shared by virtually all the Chinese people I know, is not shared by those who were liberated, many of whom were treated with appalling brutality at the time of their sweet emancipation.”

Your statement touches a philosophic issue, i.e., whether brutality and violence was justified to rid of old brutal system? Just like people arguing whether French revoluation was worthwhile given all the killings and brutality.

Despite all the killing happened after French revolution, French revolution is still the right step in human development. Well, at least that is my view.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

Just speculating, maybe the inspiration for “Serf Emancipation Day” came from the US “National Freedom Day”

National Freedom Day is a U.S. holiday celebrating the end of slavery and commemorating freedom. It is observed on February 1st, the day in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.

http://www.questia.com/aboutQuestia/eventsm.html

March 29, 2009 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

Steve, that is criminally asinine. To compare the invasion of Tibet with the French Revolution takes chutzpah, which you have in droves, though you’ve got little else.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:48 pm | Comment

“But this is what’s known as trolling. It’s where you take a thread off it’s topic and then make it all about your own ranting. I can see that you’re sitting on the site waiting for the next comment to swoop on, because now the thread’s about you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we should all know what you’re doing…”

I have never digressed from your topic. The question is whether “serf emancipation day” is such a useless stupid idea?

My point is that, “no, it is actually a good idea. It will educate lots of ignorant people.”

March 29, 2009 @ 10:53 pm | Comment

I just saw Hooya, and think it’s time to close this thread.

In case no one told you, the US NEVER set up former slaves with shit-eating grins who danced and cheered the glories of their emancipation a la Serf Emancipation Day. Your logic is wiped out by your own example, fortunately: None of us have ever heard of this “holiday.” It is uncelebrated and unknown. It is not an actual holiday, just a commemorative date, just as there are commemorative dates referring to winning various battles in wars. The US never made a friqqin’ media circus about it and shoved it down the throat of the world. Idiot. No comparison, no correlation, just another pathetic fenqing attempt to say, “Look, America does the same thing.” Morons.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

@Steve – “in the system embodied by Dalai Lama, peasants were unfree, much like the serfdom developed during Europen middle age.”

The only difference is the level of severity. Chinese peasants are ‘not free’, they are still officially subject to the Hukou system. Essentially the only real difference is the freedom to seek work away from the safety net offered by the Hukou system in the industrial cities – something which anyway has only been available since the start of ‘reform and opening’.

Otherwise, whilst punishment like blinding and the lopping off of limbs has not been exercised in China proper since 1949, the death penalty has an incredibly broad application, and extra-judicial punishment has also been widely used. The use of hired toughs to keep peasants in line has also been widespread.

China’s peasants are still as much ‘农奴’ as, say, the Russian peasantry of 1917, the French peasants of 1780, or the British peasants of the pre-enclosure age. In fact more so, as in each of these cases a class of landed farmer existed which was smashed in China after 1949 and has only recently been revived in a limited form. It is only when they are given ownership of their land, and are allowed to take a proper part in the cash economy that feudalism will be truly left behind in China. The recent land reform act went only a short step towards this.

Considering all this, ‘Serf Liberation Day’ has still not actually dawned in China, and this festival is a nationalistic sham.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:55 pm | Comment

Thanks FOARP, but don’t expect to get anywhere. Unlike Conscience way up at the top of this thread, Steve isn’t here to listen or learn, just to lash out.

March 29, 2009 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

Well, just the gall to name this thing “emancipation” is enough to make me, an African-American vomit.You guys just had a post about racism, or is it just plain ignorance on the part of Chinese people, or as one person wrote indifference on the part of Chinese people, on how others view them. Hailing from Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln” I have a particularly concise understanding of the word emancipation, and what it means/meant to to those who actually were “emancipated” by that very proclamation. For them to use this particular term to cover for that sham they are running is an affront, and tells you pretty much all you need to know about “One world, one dream, China”, somebody please get me a bucket…kuai dian!!!

March 30, 2009 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

@Ra

Well said Ra!

March 30, 2009 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

Smell gunpowder here.

Met you, Richard, on Mar. 18th in paddy field with Lonnie Hodge. You’re a good man, good luck with the new job.

To Concience
You r a good guy,really. Can’t find anyone more sincere than you for years in my life. I really want to me someone like you.

March 30, 2009 @ 4:27 pm | Comment

Thanks, Mr. Guangzhou. I appreciated Conscience’s comments as well. Wish all my commenters were that smart.

March 30, 2009 @ 7:04 pm | Comment

To In Guangzhou
Thank you for your comment, I am really flattered. Those words just flowed from the bottom of my heart. I do acknowledge disadvantages of China in certain aspects, but“儿不嫌家贫”, if I , together with my generation do not shoulder the responsibility to build our country, to commit our efforts to modernization drive, who will? “天下兴亡, 匹夫有责”,the Chinese cultural heritage is instilled into our soul.

I am not everyone, but I am someone; I can not do everything, but I can do something; what I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.

I also would like meet you one day and exchange views.

March 30, 2009 @ 9:55 pm | Comment

To Richard
Thank you for your praise. It is you for whom all of us should be thankful. You provide us this opportunity to voice opinions, and to enrich our thoughts by sharing and learning. Your wisdom guides us to think deeply about a problem and attain a mature view by abandoning black and white simplicity.

I am not everyone, but I am someone; I can not do everything, but I can do something; what I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Those words are also for you, Richard, your personal cultivation on this plot of land produces a garden of brilliant colors, appealing wonders and drifting fragrance. (Victorian tea party? More than that)

Your words may affect numbers of people’s views, so do honor this mission and make contributions to beautify our life. (wow, am I going too far?) Anyway, please do make positive efforts to bridge differences between East and West, also for those who are blessed with benefits of two civilizations.

March 30, 2009 @ 9:55 pm | Comment

“天下兴亡, 匹夫有责” was authored by a renowned scholar in ancient China,

“I am not everyone, but I am someone; I can not do everything, but I can do something; what I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.” was written by a Westerner.

Different times, different civilizations, different people, yet common noble spirit and pursuits.

March 30, 2009 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

If Serf Emancipation Day is an CCP’s PR stunt, maybe we should not celebrate July 4th as a holiday because it would offend the Brits.

April 1, 2009 @ 1:44 am | Comment

Pug, Americans WANT to celebrate the 4th of July. No one forces us to. Awful analogy.

April 1, 2009 @ 7:47 am | Comment

@Richard – Peter Hessler also mentioned coming home to the United States and seeing pictures of Native Americans dancing on television and finding them practically identical to those he about national minorities which he saw on Chinese television. Of course, the US government did not turn the anniversary of the end of the Sioux war, declare it “Tribes Liberation Day” and force the surviving Sioux to go through the motions of celebrating their ‘liberation’ whilst at the same time cracking down on any and all dissent.

April 2, 2009 @ 12:17 am | Comment

” . . did not take“. Damn, I appear to be having an English malfunction, writing dozens of job apps at the same time as doing you dissertation will do that to you . . .

April 2, 2009 @ 12:21 am | Comment

I was thinking it might be best to move Serf Emancipation Day to today, April 1st, because it is one of the funniest ideas I’ve read about today…

April 2, 2009 @ 3:13 am | Comment

“天下兴亡, 匹夫有责”

I think JFK’s words fit the idea better

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

April 2, 2009 @ 4:19 am | Comment

“@Lindel

Where did you get the idea that there is only one millionaire and one fighter jet pilot in Tibet?”

i got this idea from you and your discussion of the wonderful tv gala. and that i have never seen mention of either before you brought it up.

so how many tibetan fighter pilots and millionaires are there?

why did take so long for single examples of each to appear in the media?

April 2, 2009 @ 4:27 am | Comment

“i got this idea from you and your discussion of the wonderful tv gala. and that i have never seen mention of either before you brought it up.”

Lindel, that is very good logic. This is wonderful way to turn ignorance into your advantage.

April 2, 2009 @ 4:56 am | Comment

Conscience, thanks for the kind (overly kind) words.

April 2, 2009 @ 11:04 pm | Comment

Richard, 别客气,you deserve those words.
Keep on going, we will support you, be with you when you need help. :)

April 4, 2009 @ 10:51 am | Comment

[…] Potala Palace was closed for visitors on the Serfs Emancipation Day, but I was lucky enough to have played with them for a while. […]

April 2, 2010 @ 9:14 am | Pingback

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