Tibetans forced to celebrate Mao’s 130th birthday

Chinese officials have spread propaganda showing ‘poor, underprivileged’ Tibetans before Mao’s 1950 invasion.
By Lobsang Gelek for RFA Tibetan
2023.12.28
Tibetans forced to celebrate Mao’s 130th birthday A woman walks past images depicting the late Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong at a stall in an antique market in Beijing on December 26, 2023, the 130th birth anniversary of communist China's founding father.
Jade GAO/AFP

Chinese authorities in Tibet forced locals to celebrate the 130th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth on Tuesday, crediting the late leader with “the peaceful liberation of Tibet” in 1950, which Tibetan authorities in exile consider an invasion and the start of an illegal annexation.

Officials used Mao’s birthday “to spread false information and distort facts about Tibet’s past history, in the hope of making the Tibetan people believe this disinformation,” a young Tibetan in Lhasa told Radio Free Asia, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.

The source said the public celebrations for Mao depicted an independent, pre-invasion Tibet as backwards and impoverished in order to justify the region’s invasion and annexation by China, which argues that Tibet was historically always a part of its territory.

“Chinese authorities use and disseminate pictures of poor, underprivileged Tibetan families from the 1940s and 1950s at these events to make it seem like the whole of Tibet at the time was poverty-stricken and in the same condition,” the person said.

“While it’s true that Tibet has witnessed development since the Chinese first invaded the country, the fact remains that many of the world’s free countries also underwent significant development over the same period, without the need for any ‘peaceful liberation,’” they said.

Mao’s government invaded Tibet in 1950 and subsequently took over the region completely in 1959 after a failed uprising by locals, which led Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of followers to flee into exile across the border in India and elsewhere in the world.

Chinese officials have exercised a tight grip on the region ever since, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and expression of cultural and religious identity. In October, Beijing changed Tibet’s romanized name to “Xizang” to further erode its independent identity.

17-point agreement

As part of its propaganda campaign on Mao’s birthday, the source inside Tibet told RFA, Chinese authorities were again promoting the idea that the Dalai Lama in 1951 signed the “17-Point Agreement” with Beijing and had promised Mao in a telegram he would abide by it.

Experts and rights groups, however, say the Tibetan side was forced to sign the document under duress by the occupying Chinese forces, who threatened all-out war if they declined. The Dalai Lama later repudiated the agreement after arriving in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, just across Tibet’s border.

ENG_TIB_MaoBirthday_12272023.2.jpg
Tourists from Tibet wearing a protective mask (R) and a scarf as a mask (C) walk in front of the portrait of late communist leader Mao Zedong (back) at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on January 23, 2020. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP)

The source said it was a tense time for Tibetans, with many forced to bite their tongues as the local Chinese authorities celebrated Mao.

“Any Tibetan who tries to share the real facts about Tibet’s past – in particular Tibet’s history as an independent country – is immediately apprehended by Chinese police and faces their wrath,” they said.

Tibet Policy Institute director Dawa Tsering said the forced celebrations for Mao seemed particularly twisted given many Tibetans know some of the worst atrocities against their forebears occurred under his rule.

“The ‘peaceful liberation of Tibet’ was in reality a forceful occupation of Tibet by Chinese authorities, who brutally tortured Tibetans for opposing the occupation and compelling the helpless Tibetans, under duress, to sign the 17-Point Agreement,” Tsering told RFA.

Nyima Woeser, a researcher at the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which is based in Dharamsala, India, added that more than 1 million Tibetans are estimated to have been killed at the hands of Chinese “oppressive policies” in Tibet since Mao’s 1950 invasion.

“Every year, the human rights abuses inside Tibet continue to worsen … with no sign of a let-up,” Woeser said.

Translated by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan.

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Wangchuk
Jan 05, 2024 03:17 PM

Mao made life in Tibet worse for the average Tibetan, not better. Mao is responsible for the genocide in Tibet which killed nearly 1 million Tibetans including the famine from the Great Leap Forward. Tibet would be better off today without Chinese rule. Bhutan has a similar culture & religion to Tibetans & an agricultural economy like pre-1959 Tibet. Yet Bhutan's per capita GDP is higher than the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Independent Bhutan has been far better off economically without the CCP than Tibet has been with the CCP.