– The central government upheld the 17-Article Agreement and honored its promise not to carry out reform for six years.
The 17-Article Agreement stipulated, “In matters related to reform in Tibet, there will be no compulsion on the part of the central government. The local government of Tibet shall take initiative to carry out reform, and when the people raise demands for reform, the central government shall consult with the leading personnel in Tibet to settle the issue.” Following liberation, amidst the growing demand of the Tibetan people for democratic reform, many enlightened people of the upper and middle classes also realized that, if the old system were not reformed, the Tibetan people would never attain prosperity.
In consideration of Tibetan history and the region’s special situation, the Central People’s Government adopted a circumspect attitude of patient persuasion, waiting for the ruling elite to carry out reform, and giving them adequate time to do so. In 1956, still awaiting a change in the attitude of the ruling upper class, the Central People’s Government made a decision that no reform should be carried out in Tibet for six years. During his visit to India in January 1957, Premier of the State Council Zhou Enlai handed a letter from Chairman Mao Zedong to the 14th Dalai Lama and 10th Panchen Lama, and the accompanying senior local Tibetan government officials. The letter informed them of the central government’s decision that reform would be deferred for six years; whether reform should be carried out after six years would still be decided by Tibet in accordance with its own situation and the prevailing conditions. The Central People’s Government showed the utmost patience and made every concession.
– The armed rebellion was quelled and democratic reform was implemented.
Reforming the social system was an essential requirement of social development and the fundamental aspiration of the Tibetan people. To preserve serfdom, the reactionaries from Tibet’s upper class planned a series of activities to split Tibet from China, in blatant violation of the 17-Article Agreement. These led to a full-scale insurrection on March 10, 1959. The Central People’s Government, together with the Tibetan people, took decisive measures to suppress the rebellion, and subsequently implemented a democratic reform in Tibet that brought feudal serfdom to an end.
Through this reform, the theocratic system was annulled and religion was separated from government. The feudal serf owners’ right to own the means of production was abolished and private ownership by farmers and herdsmen was established. The personal bondage of serfs and slaves to the officials, nobles and upper-ranking monks was annulled, and they won their freedom as individuals. Former serfs and slaves were granted around 186,700 hectares of land in the democratic reform.
During this period Tibet’s first supply and marketing cooperative, first rural credit cooperative, first community primary school, first night school, first literacy class, first film projection team, and first medical institution were established. The Ngachen Hydroelectric Station was completed and entered service, bringing electric lighting for the first time to the citizens of Lhasa.
Democratic reform represented an epoch-making change in Tibetan society and in the human rights of its people. It granted political, economic and social emancipation to a million serfs and slaves, effectively promoted the development of social productive forces in Tibet, and opened up the road toward modernization.
– The Tibet Autonomous Region was established to launch Tibet on the path to socialism.
The democratic reform in Tibet coincided with the introduction of democratic politics. After the rebellion broke out in March 1959, the State Council issued an order to dissolve the Tibetan local government and decided to have the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region exercise the duties and power of local government. Later, the Qamdo People’s Liberation Committee and the Panchen Kampus Assembly were abolished, and a centralized people’s democratic government was set up. In 1961, a general election was held across Tibet. For the first time, the former serfs and slaves were able to enjoy democratic rights as their own masters, as they elected people’s governments at all levels. Many emancipated serfs and slaves took up posts of leadership at various levels in the region. In August 1965, elections were completed in townships and counties across Tibet. In September, the First Session of the First People’s Congress of Tibet was convened in Lhasa, at which the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Regional People’s Government were officially proclaimed. With regional ethnic autonomy established and through the socialist transformation of agriculture and animal husbandry, Tibet embarked on the road of socialism.
The founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region and adoption of the socialist system provided a guarantee for the realization of ethnic equality, solidarity, mutual help, and common development and prosperity in the region. It also created the conditions for all ethnic groups in Tibet to enjoy equal rights to participate in the administration of regional and state affairs. In this way, an institutional structure was put in place that would allow Tibet to develop along with other parts of China.
IV. Rapid Development of Various Undertakings
Thanks to the leadership of the Central People’s Government and strong support from the rest of China, and to the great endeavors of people of all ethnic groups in the region, Tibet is catching up with other parts of the country in terms of socioeconomic development. With a more solid base, it enjoys better opportunities and enormous potential.
– Sustained and rapid socioeconomic development
Over the last seven decades, the central government has introduced many favorable policies for the region, covering tax and finance, infrastructure, industrial development, education, health, cultural preservation, environmental protection, and other fields. The central government increases its fiscal transfer to Tibet every year, and has planned and carried out a number of major projects at different stages which have a bearing on the long-term development of the region and the living standard of the people. As a result, the local people enjoy much better working and living conditions, and their sense of gain, happiness, and security is growing. From 1994 to 2020, the provinces and equivalent administrative units, central government departments, along with state-owned enterprises (SOEs) directly under the central government, provided support to Tibet in the form of paired assistance through 6,330 projects, representing a total investment of RMB52.7 billion. They also selected and dispatched 9,682 outstanding officials to assist the region. In 1951, Tibet’s GDP was only RMB129 million. In 2020, its GDP exceeded RMB190 billion. There has been substantial economic growth and significant improvements to the economic structure. In 2020, Tibet’s retail sales of consumer goods reached RMB74.6 billion, more than 2,000 times larger than in 1959.
Xizang Shimo Jiyao, a book published in 1930, described the roads in Tibet as extremely rough and dangerous for passengers and their horses. In the old days, it took between six months and a year to make a round trip between Lhasa and Xining in Qinghai or Ya’an in Sichuan. Since 1951, Tibet has gradually built a comprehensive transport network composed of highways, railways, air routes, and pipelines. Highways with a total length of 118,800 km have been built, providing access to all administrative villages in the region. Ninety-four percent of towns and 76 percent of administrative villages have direct access to asphalt and concrete roads. Some 700 km of expressways and grade-one highways are in service. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Lhasa-Xigaze Railway have been completed and opened to traffic. The construction of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway has begun. A number of feeder airports have been built, including Bamda Airport in Qamdo, Mainling Airport in Nyingchi, Peace Airport in Xigaze, and Gunsa Airport in Ngari. Tibet now has 140 domestic and international air routes in operation, reaching 66 cities. With a modern communications network mainly consisting of optical cables and satellites, Tibet is part of the information expressway. All administrative villages have mobile phone access, and optical cable broadband coverage has reached 99 percent. Before 1951, Tibet had only one hydropower station, which supplied electricity only to a handful of aristocrats. Now, a comprehensive energy network is in place, with hydro power as the mainstay, supplemented by solar, wind, and geothermal power. In 2020, Ngari Prefecture was connected to the central Tibet power grid, completing the full coverage of the main power grid across the whole of Tibet.
A great effort has been made to develop agriculture, animal husbandry, green industries and tertiary industries adapted to local conditions. In 1965, the total value of output from Tibet’s agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, and fisheries was no more than RMB264 million. In 2020, it reached RMB23.4 billion. In 2015, grain yield was over 1 million tonnes, and the yield of highland barley exceeded 795,000 tonnes. The region now has a modern industrial system with distinctive local features, covering clean energy, natural drinking water, farming and animal product processing, folk handicrafts, Tibetan medicine, and building materials, among others. The clean energy industry is developing rapidly, with a total installed capacity of 4.23 million kw and generation output of over 9 billion kwh. In 2020, despite the impact of Covid-19, the growth rate of the added value of industrial “enterprises of designated size” (enterprises with a turnover exceeding RMB20 million per annum) reached 9.6 percent, which was the highest in the country. Tourism in the region maintained rapid growth momentum, receiving more than 35 million tourist visits. There has been widespread development of service industries. E-commerce services are fully available at the city, county, township, and village levels, and total online retail sales exceeded RMB20 billion. The high-tech digital industry has seen multiple innovations, and the scale of digital economy surpassed RMB33 billion.