US President Abraham Lincoln would have supported China’s efforts to end serfdom in Tibet, a senior Chinese official has said.

During a press conference at the 19th party congress on Thursday, Yang Xiaodu, deputy secretary of China’s anti-graft body, answered a question from a CGTN reporter. The state broadcaster’s reporter Robert L. Kuhn asked about the anti-corruption drive and how to achieve a balance between human rights and party discipline.

yang xiaodu
Photo: Screenshot/CGTN.

Yang said that “the question of human rights is a very modern question… so it always has certain conditions.”

He went on to say that he worked in the Tibet Autonomous Region for a long time, and therefore understood that human rights was an interesting question. He recounted how he met a former assistant secretary of state on a visit to the United States.

“I said in the hearts of Chinese people, Lincoln is a hero, because he freed the slaves. On this point the Chinese people and the American people have the same understanding – this is a human rights issue.”

“In turn, we freed the serfs in Tibet, how come American friends cannot understand this? From Lincoln’s perspective, he should have supported China’s overturning of the serfdom in Tibet.”

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China claims that the communist government freed the people of Tibet from “misery” and “slavery” under a feudal serfdom controlled by the Dalai Lama and his followers. It celebrates Serfs Emancipation Day every March to celebrate what it calls the freeing of one million Tibetan serfs.

Chinese forces entered Tibet in 1950. Despite China’s insistence that its occupation of Tibet was a peaceful liberation, the Central Tibetan Administration – also called the Tibetan Government in Exile – claims it was “marked by systematic destruction of monasteries, the suppression of religion, denial of political freedom, widespread arrest and imprisonment and massacre of innocent men, women and children.”

Tibetans accuse Chinese officials of repressing their religion, eroding their culture, and economic discrimination. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, a common form of protest against Beijing’s rule.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to free those held as slaves in the rebel states during the American Civil War.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.