It’s official: Tibet has moved from darkness to light,poverty to affluence,dictatorship to democracy and seclusion to opening up. So proclaims the notice at an exhibition in Beijing marking the 50th anniversary of Tibet’s democratic reforms. To celebrate,officials in Tibet have designated March 28th Serf Liberation Day. Lest anyone not share the mood of rejoicing,security will be tightened,dissidents kept behind bars and foreigners firmly steered away from the region.
With grim determination the authorities are trying to manufacture joy. Floral displays bedeck parts of Lhasa. The official media are filled with stories of happy Tibetans. In Beijing,the Tibet exhibition aims to show how the region has flourished under Communist rule after centuries of slavery and suppression. Pride of place goes to a diorama showing former serfs merrily chucking feudal documents into the fire.
But just in case,back in Lhasa,armed police are still patrolling the streets after an outbreak of rioting in March last year. Security forces are also on full alert across the Tibetan plateau amid fears that Tibetans may stage their own commemorations. Many associate March 1959 not with liberation but with Tibet’s failed uprising against China and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India. Dozens of Tibetan monks have been detained in Ragya,a remote town in neighbouring Qinghai Province,after violent protests there on March 21st triggered by the disappearance of a colleague who had raised a pro-independence flag.
As the anniversary approaches,China is in no mood to take chances. Alarmed by last year’s widespread unrest in Tibetan-inhabited areas,the government is waging offensives on all fronts. Chinese pressure prompted the South African government to deny a visa to the Dalai Lama,who had been due to take part in a conference of fellow Nobel peace prize-winners on March 27th in Johannesburg. The organisers-South Africa’s football authorities-responded by postponing the event indefinitely.
YouTube may also be a victim. Access to it has been blocked in China since shortly after the Tibetan government-in-exile released video footage (denounced as a lie by China) purporting to show Tibetan protesters being beaten by Chinese police. No such slur is permitted in Beijing. The cause of human rights in Tibet,says an exhibition brochure,has made remarkable progress.
© The EconomistNewspaper Limited 2009