On 1 September the Chinese government marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of a regional government in Tibet. Tibet was occupied by Chinese communist troops in 1950 and part of that territory was designated the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) 15 years later. However, the TAR does not correspond to the pre-invasion territories of Tibet, with much of the original Tibetan territories of Kham and Amdo being incorporated into bordering Chinese provinces.
State media praised the economic development in Tibet during this time, and said such achievements were only possible under Chinese rule. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters “Before implementing democratic reforms, Tibet was under the dark serf system. Only today are Tibetans true masters of their own house.”
China’s top leaders met in Beijing a week prior to the anniversary to determine Tibet policy for the 21st century. The closed meeting of the Politburo, presided over by Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, stressed the importance of eliminating ‘separatism’ and accelerating economic development in Tibet. The direction of policies expressed at the meeting indicated a continued emphasis on hardline policies against Tibetan culture and religion, and the further assimilation of Tibet into the wider Chinese economic and cultural model.
A 52-member Chinese government delegation attended the festivities in Lhasa, with Jia Qinglin, ranked fourth in the Communist Party hierarchy, serving as master of ceremonies. The events were seen as a significant opportunity for Beijing to demonstrate its own representation of Tibetan autonomy and the PRC’s ownership of Tibetan areas.
Jia noted that Tibet had undergone “tremendous changes” in the past decades. He also underlined the region’s two major tasks, development and stability, saying “Separatist activities must be strictly cracked down on in accordance with law, so as to ensure social stability and state safety.”
Jia shook hands with a group of Buddhist monks and urged them to be “patriotic” and praised the PLA for crushing the Tibetan uprising in 1959 and the Lhasa riots in 1989, saying PLA troops were “not afraid of bloodshed, not afraid of sacrifice, fought heroically, successfully completed their mission and put down the rebellion … and put down the disturbance,” the People’s Daily quoted Jia as saying.
Women and men in colorful local costumes danced and sang at the foot of the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, the region’s exiled god-king. Chinese soldiers also marched in formation, some carrying an enormous Chinese flag.
Only a select group of Tibetans were invited to attend the ceremony and were given detailed instructions of what traditional Tibetan clothes to wear. It is normal in the buildup to such occasions for officials to threaten withdrawal of Tibetans’ pensions or pay if they do not show suitable enthusiasm and Western tourists in Lhasa reported that Lhasa residents were forced to hang Chinese flags from their homes under threat of reprisal.
Security in Lhasa had been tightened prior to the anniversary, with reports that armed police and soldiers had been increasingly visible on the streets of Lhasa in the preceding weeks. Sources in Tibet reported that around ten Tibetans were detained in Lhasa by the Chinese State Security Bureau (SSB) in the days leading up to the festivities. Some Lhasa residents were banished from the capital and sent to rural villages and made to check in daily at local police stations until the heightened security period ended on September 10.