Page last updated at 10:44 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Serfs' Emancipation Day for Tibet

By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

A Chinese flag flies in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa
China says it liberated Tibetans from feudal rule; many Tibetans dispute this.

China has declared a new annual holiday in Tibet called Serfs' Emancipation Day, to mark the end of what it says was a system of feudal oppression.

The local parliament in Tibet has passed a bill which declares 28 March as the new holiday.

The announcement comes in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the escape into exile of the Dalai Lama.

The 49th anniversary a year ago led to widespread protests by monks and others in and around Tibet.

Emancipation or tragedy?

China's position on Tibet is built on two beliefs - firstly, that Tibet is an integral part of Chinese sovereign territory, and secondly, it believes that the Chinese Communist Party liberated the Tibetan people from the oppressive feudal rule of the Dalai Lama.

James Reynolds
There's a simple, easy way for governments across the world to lock into place their own particular views of history: create a national holiday
James Reynolds

China is keen to promote its beliefs - particularly because the 50th anniversary of the escape into exile of the Dalai Lama is just a few weeks away.

It was on March 28th 1959 that the Communist Party announced the dissolution of the existing local government in Tibet - following the Dalai Lama's escape a few days' beforehand.

China says that this move freed about one million Tibetans from serfdom and slavery.

But Tibetan groups in exile see it all very differently. For them, the events of March 1959 and the exile of the Dalai Lama from his homeland were a tragedy.

One exile group has called the new holiday an effort at rewriting history, which is provocative and irresponsible.

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