Tibet and China: the past in the present

by Tsering Shakya*

China’s official commemoration of its “liberation” of Tibet in 1959 is underpinned by a colonial vision that denies Tibetan voice and agency, says Tsering Shakya.


28 – 03 – 2009

The Chinese government proclaimed in January 2009 that for the first time a festival called “Serf Liberation Day” is to be celebrated in Tibet, in commemoration of the events of 1959 when Chinese forces occupied Lhasa and established direct control over the country following the uprising of Tibetans against their encroaching rule.

The decision – a response to the widespread protests that engulfed the Tibetan plateau in March-April 2008 – was carefully crafted and presented as if it reflected the heartfelt sentiments of the Tibetan people. The announcement of this “liberation day” – 28 March 2009 – was made by the Tibetan members of the standing committee of the regional National People’s Congress in Lhasa, a body that represents China’s promise of autonomy to Tibetans but which in fact functions invariably as a conduit for the iteration of Chinese Communist Party directives rather than expressing local views.

It is indeed possible that such an initiative may have come from one group of Tibetans – senior party apparatchiks on the receiving end of internal criticism for their failure in 2008 to guarantee a loyal and docile populace. But this itself is telling of the nature of the Serf Liberation Day initiative: for in an authoritarian regime, the failure of a client administration leaves performance as one of the few options available. It is natural then that authoritarian regimes have a love of public displays of spectacle, engineered to perfection, in which the people are required to perform ceremonial displays of contentment. Read the rest …