Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet

III. Tremendous Historic Changes over the Past Half-century

Over the past five decades since the democratic reform, and with the care of the Central People's Government and the support of the people of the entire country, the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, as masters of their own destiny, have displayed great enthusiasm in building a new happy life, promoting development of local economy and society in a frog-leaping manner and scoring historic achievements in various undertakings, which captured world attention.

-- Tibet has experienced historic changes in its social system, which provides an institutional guarantee of the people's right to be master of their own.

In 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was founded, marking the establishment of the regional autonomy system for ethnic minorities in Tibet and a historic leap from feudal serfdom under theocracy to socialism featured with people's democracy. From then on, Tibet entered a new era, with the people becoming master of their own destiny. The former serfs and slaves have since enjoyed political right to equally participate in the administration of state affairs and to deal with local and ethnic affairs on their own. The people of Tibet, as other ethnic groups in China, enjoy all rights guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution and other laws. They can directly elect, in accordance with the law, deputies to the people's congresses at county, district, township and town levels, who in turn elect deputies to the people's congresses at the national, autonomous regional and municipal levels. Through the people's congresses at various levels, the people of Tibet exercise their rights, in accordance with the law, to participate in the administration of state and local affairs.

In the elections for the people's congresses at the autonomous regional, prefectural (municipal), county and township (town) levels in 2007, 96.4 percent of residents with voting right participated in the electoral process. In some places the voting rate was 100 percent. Of more than 34,000 deputies, directly or indirectly elected, to the people's congresses at the aforementioned four levels, more than 94 percent were members of the Tibetans or other ethnic minorities. Of the deputies to the current National People's Congress, 20 are from Tibet, including 12 Tibetans, one Monba and one Lhoba.

Tibetans' right to independently administrate local and ethnic affairs is guaranteed. Since 1965, the posts of chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress and chairman of the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region have all been held by Tibetans, and the chief leaders of the standing committees of people's congresses and the people's governments at various levels in the autonomous region are also Tibetans. So are the chief heads of local courts and procuratorates at all levels. Tibetans and other ethnic-minority people compose 77.97 percent of the staff of current state organs at the autonomous regional, prefectural (municipal) and county levels.

The Tibet Autonomous Region not only has the right to formulate local regulations as a provincial-level state organ, it can also decide on local affairs, and formulate autonomy statutes and separate regulations in line with local political, economic and cultural conditions. When resolutions, decisions, orders and instructions made by higher-level state organs do not suit to situations in Tibet, the autonomous organs can request adjustment or suspension of the relevant documents.

Statistics show that since 1965 the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region has enacted 250 local regulations, resolutions and decisions with regulatory nature, which cover political power buildup, economic development, culture and education, spoken and written languages, justice, relics protection, protection of wild animals and plants, and protection of natural resources. They protect the special rights and interests of the Tibetan people in the areas of politics, economy and social life, and promote the development of various local undertakings.

-- Immense social changes have taken place as the economy leaps forward with each passing day.

To boost local economic and social growth, the central government has adopted a series of preferential policies toward Tibet over the past half century, and given it strong support in terms of finance, materials and manpower.

From 1951 to 2008, state investment in infrastructure in Tibet exceeded 100 billion yuan. In the period from 1959 to 2008, a total of 201.9 billion yuan from the central budget went to Tibet, growing nearly 12 percent annually on average. Among the investment, 154.1 billion yuan was allocated in the 2001-2008 period. Since 1994, the central authorities has assigned more than 60 state departments, 18 provincial and municipal governments, and 17 state-owned enterprises to assist Tibet's economic development through projects. By the end of 2008, a total of 11.128 billion yuan of assistance funds had been put in place, with 6,056 assistance projects launched, and 3,747 cadres from across the country dispatched to work in Tibet.

Thanks to the care of the central authorities and the support of the whole nation, Tibet has witnessed remarkable progress in economic and social development. From 1959 to 2008, the local GDP soared from 174 million yuan to 39.591 billion yuan, a 65-fold increase or an average annual growth of 8.9 percent at comparable prices. Since 1994 the local GDP has grown at an annual rate of 12.8 percent on average, higher than the national average for the same period. Also, from 1959 to 2008 the per-capita GDP soared from 142 yuan to 13,861 yuan, an increase of 13,719 yuan.

In the old days, there was not a single highway in Tibet. Today, a convenient transportation network has taken shape, with highway transportation as the backbone and air, rail and pipeline transportation as supplement, stretching from Lhasa to all directions. In 2008, nearly all counties in Tibet became accessible by highways. The total length reached 51,300 km, 44,000km more than that in 1959. The volume of passenger transport in 2008 was almost 107 times that in 1959, with an 11-fold increase of cargo transport volume in the same period.

An extensive energy system has been formed, with hydropower as the mainstay, backed up by geothermal, wind and solar energy sources. From 1959 to 2008, electricity production in Tibet increased by 16.8 percent annually on average. Nearly 2.1 million residents, or 73 percent of Tibet's population, now have access to electrical power. Because of the promotion of clean energy in rural areas, methane has been adopted at 43,000 households. Thanks to the rapid expansion of telecommunications, optical cables have reached all counties, with telephone cables to all townships. The number of subscribers to fixed-line telephones and cell phones reached 1.562 million, which means 55 phones are available for every 100 people.

In the old days, Tibet's agriculture and animal husbandry were completely at the mercy of the weather or elements. Nowadays, modern facilities have been widely introduced, and the capacity to prevent and alleviate damage from natural disasters has been notably improved, with 36 percent of the contribution coming from science and technology. Grain output rose from 182,900 tonnes in 1959 to 950,000 tonnes in 2008. Meanwhile the grain output per mu rose from 91 kg to nearly 370 kg, with the amount of livestock rising from 9.56 million at the end of 1958 to 24 million at the end of 2008.

There was no modern industry in old Tibet. Now, a modern industrial system with Tibetan characteristics has formed, with mining, building materials, folk handicrafts and Tibetan medicine as pillar industries, and power, farming and animal product processing and foodstuffs as supplement. The industrial added value skyrocketed from 15 million yuan in 1959 to 2.968 billion yuan in 2008. Modern commerce, tourism, catering, entertainment and other industries that had never been heard of in old Tibet are now booming as primary industries in the region.

-- People's living standards have been greatly enhanced, with their subsistence and development conditions much improved.

Before the democratic reform in 1959, Tibetan peasants and herdsmen had barely any means of production. Debt-ridden almost for the whole life, they hardly expected any net income. But since 1978, the per capita net income of Tibetan peasants and herdsmen kept increasing at an average rate of 10.1 percent per year, reaching 3,176 yuan in 2008. The annual growth rate in the 2003-2008 period was 13.1 percent. The per capita disposable income of urban dwellers in Tibet stood at 12,482 yuan in 2008, which was 21 times that of the 565 yuan in 1978.

Before the democratic reform, more than 90 percent of Tibet's residents had no private housing, the peasants and herdsmen had very poor living conditions, and the per-capita housing of urban dwellers was less than three sq m. At that time, Lhasa had a population of 20,000 only, and nearly 1,000 were poverty-stricken or beggar households huddling in tattered shelters on the outskirts. Today, with the construction of a new countryside and the comfortable housing project underway, 200,000 households, comprising nearly one million peasants and herdsmen, have moved into modern houses. By 2008, the per-capita housing area was 22.83sq m in rural areas and 33.00 sq m in urban areas.

A social security system has been basically put in place to cover both cities and countryside in Tibet. In 2008, the allowances for each family of the infirm elderly without children, which is guaranteed food, clothing, medical care, housing and burial expenses, was raised to 1,600 yuan. In 2006, Tibet led other farming and pastoral areas in China with a system of basic subsistence allowances which covered all peasants and herdsmen with an income below 800 yuan.

Before the peaceful liberation, there was no medical institution in the modern sense in Tibet, except for three small, shabby government-run organizations of Tibetan medicine and a small number of private clinics, with fewer than 100 medical workers altogether. If the nearly 300 Tibetan medical practitioners in the farming and pastoral areas were included, the total number of medical workers would still have fallen below 400 - less than four medical workers for every 10,000 residents. Smallpox, cholera, venereal diseases, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, tetanus and other epidemics were prevalent.

After the peaceful liberation, and especially after the democratic reform in Tibet, the Chinese government adopted various measures to prevent diseases, and soon got some diseases that seriously harmed people's health under control. Since the 1960s, smallpox has been eliminated in Tibet, and the incidence of infectious and endemic diseases has declined by a big margin. Today, Tibet leads other places in introducing the medical insurance system for urban residents, and is building a medical system in the farming and pastoral areas based on free medical service, which now grants each farmer and herdsman an annual 140 yuan of medical allowance. By 2008, there were 1,339 medical organizations in Tibet, 1,277 more than in 1959; 7,127 hospital beds, 6,647 more than in 1959; and 9,098 medical workers, 8,307 more than in 1959. The number of hospital beds and medical workers for every 1,000 residents were 2.50 and 3.05, respectively, or 2.11 and 2.41 more than in 1959.

Thanks to the improvement of medical services, the average life expectancy in Tibet has increased from 35.5 years in 1959 to 67 years at present. According to the fifth national census, carried out in 2000, Tibet had 13,581 senior residents aged 80-99, and 62 people aged over 100 years. Tibet is one of a few Chinese provinces and autonomous regions having a high ratio of centenarians among total population. The total population in Tibet increased from 1.228 million in 1959 to 2.8708 million in 2008, of which more than 95 percent were Tibetans and members of other ethnic minorities. The past 50 years have seen the fastest population expansion in Tibet for centuries.

-- Traditional ethnic culture is protected and developed, and freedom of religious belief is respected.

The Chinese government has made huge efforts to promote the learning, use and development of the Tibetan language. In Tibet, importance is given to both the Tibetan and Han Chinese languages, with priority given to Tibetan. At present, both languages are used in teaching in all schools of the farming and pastoral areas, as well as some urban areas, with the major courses being taught in Tibetan. Teaching is also conducted in the two languages in high schools. Moreover, the Tibetan language courses have been available at Tibetan high schools in the hinterland areas of China. In the matriculation examinations for institutions of higher learning and secondary vocational schools, Tibetan is a subject of examination, and the score is included in the total score. Since the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region, both Tibetan and Han Chinese have been used for resolutions and regulations adopted by the people's congresses at all levels, and official documents and public announcements of people's governments at all levels as well as their subordinate departments. During judicial proceedings, Tibetan is used in hearing any case involving Tibetan people, and the written Tibetan language is used for legal papers. Both Tibetan and Han Chinese are used for official seals, credentials and signs of all entities; logos of government departments, factories and mines, schools, bus and train stations, airports, shops, hotels, restaurants, theaters, scenic spots, sports venues and libraries; and street and traffic signs. Since its establishment in 1959, Tibetan People's Radio (TPR), with focus on Tibetan-language broadcasting, has developed 42 programs in Tibetan and the Khampa dialect, including 21 hours and 15 minutes of news broadcasting in Tibetan and 17 hours and 50minutes of broadcasting in the Khampa dialect every day. The Tibet Television Station formally opened a Tibetan satellite TV channel, which has been broadcasting 24 hours a day since October 1, 2007. At present, there are 14 Tibetan-language periodicals and 10 Tibetan-language newspapers in Tibet. Computer information processing of the Tibetan script was realized in 1984, and a Tibetan-script operating system compatible with Chinese and English versions was developed. In 1997, an international-standard Tibetan character code was approved, making the Tibetan script the first ethnic-minority script in China with an international standard.

The Tibetan cultural heritage is being effectively protected, inherited and developed. The completion of the Tibetan volumes in a 10-tome folk culture series, including Annals of Chinese Operas, A Collection of Chinese Folk Ballads, A Collection of Folk Dances of China's Ethnic Groups, A Collection of Proverbs, A Collection of Folk Performing Art Genres, A Collection of Folk Songs of China's Ethnic Groups, A Collection of Traditional Operas and Music, and A Collection of Folk Tales, has enabled a large number of major items of the Tibetan cultural heritage to be saved and protected in an effective way. The state has also earmarked special funds for the collection, collation and publishing of the text of the lengthy oral epic Life of King Gesar. This is listed as one of the major scientific research projects. So far, over 300volumes of the masterpiece have been collected, with the publication of 62 volumes in the Tibetan language and over 20 volumes translated into the Han Chinese, and many volumes have been translated into English, Japanese and French. The Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and the Drepung, Sera, Ganden, Tashilhunpo, Sakya and many other monasteries have been placed under the protection of the state since the democratic reform in Tibet. Moreover, since the early 1980s more than 700 million yuan has been channeled from central and local coffers for repairing a number of venues of cultural relics under state protection and major monasteries of various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, and helping them open to the public. From 1989 to 1994 the central government allocated 55 million yuan and a great amount of gold, silver and other precious materials for the renovation of the Potala Palace. In 2001, a special fund of 330 million yuan was apportioned to maintain and repair the Potala Palace, the Norbulingka and Sakya monasteries. In 2007, the central government allocated another 570 million yuan for the overall repair and protection of 22 key cultural relics sites in Tibet during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010). Such an investment was unprecedented in China's history of cultural relics protection.

The freedom of religious belief and normal religious activities of the Tibetan people are protected. Today, there are more than 1,700 religious venues in Tibet, with more than 46,000 resident monks and nuns, which can fully meet the needs of religious believers in Tibet. Various traditional Buddhist activities are carried out in the normal way - from sutra studies and debates to abhisheka (consecration) and other Buddhist practices, as well as the system of academic degrees and ordination through examinations. According to incomplete statistics, there are now more than 60 classes for sutra studies in Tibet, with 6,000 novice monks. As a unique way of passing on Tibetan Buddhism, the Living Buddha reincarnation system receives respect from the state. In Tibet, religious activities are rich in content and diverse in form, with religious festivals celebrated frequently. Since the early 1980s, more than 40 religious festivals have been successively resumed. Monks and laymen organize and take part in the Sakadawa Festival, Shoton (Yogurt) Festival and other religious and traditional activities every year.

-- Modern education and the media are developed in an all-round way; the educational level of the people is constantly improving.

In old Tibet there was not a single school in the modern sense. The enrollment rate for school-age children was less than two percent, while the illiteracy rate was as high as 95 percent. During the past 50 years, the central government has invested a huge amount of funds in education in Tibet, making Tibet the first place in China to enjoy free compulsory education in both urban and rural areas. Since 1985, the state has set up boarding primary and high schools in farming and pastoral areas, and covered all tuition as well as food and lodging expenses for students at the stage of compulsory education from Tibet's farming and pastoral families. In 2008, all 73 counties (cities and districts) in Tibet realized six-year compulsory education and basically wiped out illiteracy. In 70 counties, nine-year compulsory education is being practiced, and the illiteracy rate has fallen to 2.4 percent overall. The enrollment rate for primary school-age children has reached 98.5 percent, that for junior high school 92.2 percent, and that for senior high school 51.2 percent. There are 884 primary schools, 117 high schools and 1,237 teaching venues now in Tibet. The average educational level of people in Tibet reached 6.3 years in 2008. There are six institutions of higher learning, with about 30,000 students and an enrollment rate of 19.7 percent, and 10 secondary vocational schools, with the number of students totaling 21,000. Over the past 20 years, in 20 hinterland provinces and municipalities of China, 28 junior and senior high schools have classes specially for Tibetan students, 53 key senior high schools and over 90 institutions of higher learning have accumulatively enrolled 36,727 junior high school students, 30,370senior high school students (including secondary vocational school students), and 12,000 university and college students. With these efforts, more than 18,000 professionals have been trained for the development of Tibet. At present, the number of Tibetan students in these schools has reached 18,640. Modern science and technology in Tibet has developed rapidly, and the number of related personnel keeps increasing. There were 46,508 professionals of various kinds in 2007; among them 31,487 are of ethnic minorities, with Tibetans as the majority. Large numbers of highly educated Tibetans, including some with PhD and MA, as well as scientists and engineers, have become a major force in promoting Tibet's development.

The modern press and publishing industry in Tibet started from scratch, and has developed rapidly. Now, Tibet has two publishing houses for books, and two for audio-visual products, 35 printing houses of various types, 23 openly distributed newspapers and 34 periodicals. Each of Tibet's seven prefectures and (prefecture-level) cities has newspapers in Tibetan and Han Chinese. Tibet has nine radio and TV stations, 39 medium-wave transmitting and relay stations, 76 FM radio transmitting and relay stations above the county level, 80 TV transmitting stations above the county (including port city) level, 76 cable TV transmitting stations and 9,111 radio and TV stations at the township and village levels. From 1978 to 2008, the radio and TV coverage rates in Tibet have risen from 18 percent and two percent to 88.8 percent and 89.9 percent, respectively, achieving the target of extending radio and TV coverage to each town and administrative village of the region. In addition, there are 564 movie-projection agencies, 82 movie-projection management agencies, 478 projection teams and 7,697 projection locations in Tibet's farming and pastoral areas, covering 98 percent of the region's administrative villages, with each farmer or herder watching 1.6 movies per month. Besides, there are 257 public art and cultural centers at all levels, 10 professional art performance troupes, 18folk art performance troupes, and 660 amateur performance teams. The development of the media and cultural services provide convenience for the people in Tibet to acquire the latest news, get access to knowledge and information, and entertain themselves in their spare time, enriching their cultural life.

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