What and When Is Serfs Emancipation Day?

Potala Palace decorated for Serfs Emancipation Day in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Editorial credit: honeyedG / Shutterstock.com

Serf Emancipation Day is a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of serfs in Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The holiday commemorates the freedom granted to over one million people who had been held in serfdom. The serfs were freed from serfdom on March 28, 1959 and the day is celebrated annually in commemoration of the beginning of democratic freedom

Origin of the Holiday

In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was formed. By 1951, China had taken control of Tibet. Mao Zedong, a Chinese communist revolutionary engaged the 14th Dalai Lama in a negotiation with the main aim of initiating land reforms. In 1957, the response was that such reforms were not to be consented by an individual but by the Tibetan nobility. In 1959, there was the Tibetan uprising against serfdom. Although Dalai Lama referred to the uprising as a national uprising by poor people, it was largely acknowledged by the Chinese as an attempt by the well-established nobles to maintain the status quo forever. Dalai Lama alleged that the Tibet Government should lower the underlying debts although the government was not ready to do so.

On March 28, 1959, Zhou Enlai, PRC's first “prime minister” gave State Council orders to not only dissolve the Tibet Government but also to suppress the rebellion. The People’s Liberation Army was ordered to take away by force all that the rebels possessed and hand them over to all the serfs. The failure of the uprising led to a violent crackdown of all Tibetan movements that were involved in the fight for independence. Meanwhile, the surfs were destroying their contracts and celebrating on the streets. July 17, 1959, is recorded as the exact day when feudal debts were completely abolished.

Creation of the Day

Pang Boyong, the Deputy Secretary of the Tibet's Congress Standing Committee, presented a bill to the house in 2009. The objective of the bill was to remind both the Chinese and Tibetans of the democratic reforms that begun 50 years ago. Since 1959, many slaves under feudal serfdom have regained freedom and become their own masters. On January 19, 2009, a bill recognizing the holiday was voted unanimously by the majority of the legislators. During the second annual session of the 9th Regional People’s Congress, the Serfs Emancipation Day was designated to be celebrated on March 28 every year.


The maiden celebrations were held on March 28, 2009, in Lhasa. Qiangba Puncog who was the Governor presided over the event. Putting on the Tibetan traditional regalia, the Governor led the procession from the Potala Palace. The event was graced by Zhang Qingli, the secretary of the Local Communist Party. Speeches were given by students and some soldiers in the regions of Tibet and Mandarin. Many representatives of former serfs were recognized and allowed to address the gathering. Tibetan Students waved the Chinese national flags. The occasion was attended by over 13,000 people.


Among those who denounced the holiday was 14th Dalai Lama. He said that China was just declaring an additional holiday to downplay the incident in Tibet, a condemnation echoed by Tsering Shakya. The Asian Times columnist Kent Ewing termed the celebrations as “reminder of the feudal system” and further believed that it will revive the bitterness in the Tibetans.


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