I. The Establishment and Development of Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet
II. The Tibetan People Enjoy Full Political Right of Autonomy
III. The Tibetan People Have Full Decision-making Power in Economic and Social Development
IV. The Tibetan People Have the Freedom to Inherit and Develop Their Traditional Culture and to Practice Their Religious Belief
V. Regional Ethnic Autonomy Is the Fundamental Guarantee for Tibetan People as Masters of Their Own Affairs
China is a united multi-ethnic country. The Han-Chinese population makes up more than 90 percent of the total population. The populations of the other 55 ethnic groups, including the Tibetan people, are relatively small, and such ethnic groups are customarily called ethnic minorities.
In order to protect the equal and autonomous rights of ethnic minorities, the Chinese Government, in view of the reality that ethnic-minority people live together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas, regards exercise of regional ethnic autonomy in areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities as a basic policy for solving the ethnic issue and a fundamental political system for implementation of the people's democracy. Regional ethnic autonomy means, under the unified leadership of the state, regional autonomy is exercised and organs of self-government are established in areas where various ethnic minorities live in compact communities, so that the people of ethnic minorities are their own masters exercising the right of self-government to administer local affairs and the internal affairs of their own ethnic groups.
The Tibet Autonomous Region is one of the five autonomous areas in China at the provincial level where regional ethnic autonomy is exercised, as well as an ethnic autonomous area with Tibetans as the main local inhabitants. In the Tibet Autonomous Region there are a dozen other ethnic groups besides the Tibetans - Han, Hui, Moinba, Lhoba, Naxi, Nu, Drung and others. They have lived in the region for generations, and Moinba, Lhoba and Naxi ethnic townships have been established there.
Since regional ethnic autonomy was implemented in 1965 in Tibet, the Tibetan people, in the capacity of masters of the nation and under the leadership of the Central Government, have actively participated in administration of the state and local affairs, fully exercised the rights of self-government bestowed by the Constitution and law, engaged in Tibet's modernization drive, enabled Tibetan society to develop by leaps and bounds, profoundly changed the old situation of poverty and backwardness in Tibet, and greatly enhanced the level of their own material, cultural and political life.
To recall the four glorious decades of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet, and to give an overview of the Tibetan people's dramatic endeavors to exercise their rights as their own masters and create a better life under regional ethnic autonomy is beneficial not only to summing up experiences and creating a new situation for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet, but also to clarifying rights and wrongs, and increasing understanding of China's ethnic policy and the truth about Tibet among the international community.
I. The Establishment and Development of Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet
Tibet, situated on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is one of the border areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities. In view of the then transport and communications conditions and realities of Tibet and other border areas where ethnic minorities live, Chinese central governments throughout history have adopted administrative methods different from those exercised in the heartland of the country. After Tibet became part of the territory of China in the 13th century, the central governments of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republic of China, while assuming the responsibility of approving the local administrative organs, and deciding and directly handling important affairs concerning Tibet, maintained, by and large, the region's original local social setup and ruling body, widely appointed upper-strata ecclesiastic and secular members to manage local affairs, and gave the Tibetan local government and officials extensive decision-making power. This played a historically positive role in safeguarding the unification of the country, but as the feudal autocratic rulers in various periods exercised an ethnic policy marked by ethnic discrimination and oppression, keeping the original social system and maintaining the power of the local ruling class for their administration of Tibet, they did not solve, nor could they possibly solve, the issue of ethnic equality and that of enabling the local people to become masters of their own affairs.
Even in the first half of the 20th century, Tibet remained a society of feudal serfdom under theocracy, one even darker and more backward than medieval Europe. The ecclesiastical and secular serf owners, though accounting for less than five percent of the population of Tibet, controlled the personal freedom of the serfs and slaves who made up more than 95 percent of the population of Tibet, as well as the overwhelming part of the means of production. By resorting to the rigidly stratified "13-Article Code" and "16-Article Code," and extremely savage punishments, including gouging out eyes, cutting off ears, tongues, hands and feet, pulling out tendons, throwing people into rivers or off cliffs, they practiced cruel economic exploitation, political oppression and mental control of the serfs and slaves. The right to subsistence of the broad masses of serfs and slaves was not protected, let alone political rights.
After the Opium War of 1840, China was reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country. Tibet, like other parts of China, suffered from the aggression of imperialist powers, which grabbed all kinds of special privileges by means of unequal treaties, subjected Tibet to colonial control and exploitation, and, at the same time, groomed separatists among the upper ruling strata of Tibet, in an attempt to sever Tibet from China. Therefore, the removal of the fetters of imperialism and feudal serfdom became a historically paramount task for safeguarding the unification of the country and realizing the development of Tibet.
The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 ended the dark history of the semi-colonial, semi-feudal China, realized unification of the country, unity of ethnic groups and people's democracy, and brought hope to the Tibetan people that they could control their own destiny in the large family of the motherland. It was expressly stipulated in the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which had the status of the provisional Constitution, that "All ethnic groups within the territory of the People's Republic of China are equal, unity and mutual assistance shall be practiced, discrimination against and oppression of ethnic groups, and acts undermining the unity of the ethnic groups shall be prohibited; the people of all ethnic minorities shall have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs and religious beliefs; and regional ethnic autonomy shall be practiced in areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities." In the first Constitution of the People's Republic of China, promulgated in 1954, the principles of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all ethnic groups, and the system of regional ethnic autonomy were officially included in the fundamental law of the state. Proceeding from the fundamental interests of the Tibetan people, the Central People's Government has profoundly changed the destiny of Tibet and realized and developed the rights of the Tibetan people as masters of their own affairs through great strategic decisions and measures such as peaceful liberation of Tibet, promotion of democratic reforms, establishment of the autonomous region, carrying out socialist construction, reform and opening-up.
- Peaceful liberation laid the foundation for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.On May 23, 1951, the "Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" ("17-Article Agreement" for short) was signed, and Tibet was peacefully liberated. The peaceful liberation put an end to imperialist aggression against Tibet, enabled the Tibetan people to shake off political and economic fetters, safeguarded the unification of state sovereignty and territorial integrity, realized equality and unity between the Tibetan ethnic group and all other ethnic groups throughout the country as well as the internal unity of Tibet, and laid the foundation for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.
The "17-Article Agreement" provides that "According to the ethnic policy in the Common Program of the CPPCC, under the unified leadership of the Central People's Government, the Tibetan people shall have the right to exercise regional ethnic autonomy." According to the provisions of the "17-Article Agreement," the Preparatory Group of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region was established in November 1954, and began preparations for the establishment of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. In March 1955, the State Council held a special meeting to deliberate and adopt the "Decision of the State Council on Establishment of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region," which expressly stipulates that "The Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region shall be responsible for preparatory work for the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and an organ with the nature of a political power and accountable to the State Council, its principal task being to prepare for the exercise of regional ethnic autonomy in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the '17-Article Agreement' and the actual situation of Tibet." In April 1956, the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region was established in Lhasa, with the 14th Dalai Lama as the chairman, the 10th Panchen Lama the first vice-chairman and Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme the secretary-general. The establishment of the Preparatory Committee enabled Tibet to have a consultative work organ with the nature of a political power, and vigorously promoted the realization of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.
- The Democratic Reform cleared the way for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.When Tibet was peacefully liberated, in consideration of the reality of Tibet, the "17-Article Agreement," while confirming the necessity for reform of the Tibetan social system, provided that "The Central Government will not use coercion to implement such a reform, and it is to be carried out by the Tibetan local government on its own; when the people demand reform, the matter should be settled by way of consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet." But in face of the ever-growing demand of the people for democratic reform, some people in the upper ruling strata of Tibet, in order to preserve feudal serfdom, and supported by imperialist forces, staged an armed rebellion all along the line on March 10, 1959, in an attempt to separate Tibet from China. On March 28 of the same year, the State Council announced the dismissal of the original local government of Tibet, and empowered the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region to exercise the functions and powers of the local government of Tibet, with the 10th Panchen Lama as its acting chairman. The Central People's Government and the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region led the Tibetan people in quickly quelling the rebellion, implemented the Democratic Reform, overthrew the feudal serfdom under theocracy, and abolished the feudal hierarchic system, the relations of personal dependence, and all savage punishments. As a result, a million serfs and slaves were emancipated, and became masters of the country as well as of the region of Tibet, acquired the citizens' rights and freedom specified in the Constitution and law, and swept away the obstacles, in respect of social system, to the exercise of regional ethnic autonomy