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'Red Building' history provides pointers to the future

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In 2013, the Red Building was designated a national cultural relic protection site. It has since been the subject of government-led protection efforts. In 2018, a project was launched and led by the county's cultural bureau to collect documents about the building and Bomi's revolutionary history.

China DailyUpdated: May 24, 2021

Bomi, a county in the Tibet autonomous region, sits among snow-capped mountains and is home to more than 2,000 glaciers.

However, it is most famous for the "Red Building", whose revolutionary history makes it a key attraction for tourists. The name reflects both the building's color and China's revolutionary spirit.

Descendants of the 18th Army of the People's Liberation Army troops who entered Tibet in 1951 pose for a group photo in front of the Red Building in Bomi, Tibet. PALDEN NYIMA/CHINA DAILY

In 1959, the central government announced the dissolution of the local Tibetan government and the launch of democratic reforms to replace the dominant feudal serfdom system.

Located in the region's southeast, Bomi lies on National Highway 318, between Sichuan province and Tibet. The section is often called one of China's most beautiful stretches of road.

In addition to its many glaciers, the county has abundant natural resources including the mountains, peach blossom observation sites, forests and plentiful wildlife.

The Red Building is located in the compound of the county's Party committee. The wooden structure is built in the Soviet architectural style and its outer wall is located in the northwest, offering a southeast-facing view.

Its overall shape is concave, and it was built in 1953 by the Kham-Tibet Road Management Bureau, a road construction body, to provide an office and dormitories. Later, the building was used as offices by the government of Zhamu, as Bomi was once known to locals.

The building is best known for its role as a command center during the "Battle to defend Zhamu", which occurred in January 1959, during an armed rebellion by members of the Tibetan upper class.

About 60 people were surrounded by more than 2,000 rebels, who they fought for more than a week before reinforcements from the People's Liberation Army arrived.

According to Zhang Qingchong, a local official who is devoted to preserving Bomi's revolutionary culture, the defenders comprised PLA troops, local officials, residents and a few members of the Tibetan upper class.

Under the leadership of Meng Xianmin, then county chief, they fought for as long as 10 days, until the rebellion was defeated with the support of the PLA reinforcements, which greatly encouraged the army's troops in other parts of the region.

A tour guide relates the history of the Red Building to visitors at the site. PALDEN NYIMA/CHINA DAILY

Cultural relic

In 2013, the Red Building was designated a national cultural relic protection site. It has since been the subject of government-led protection efforts. In 2018, a project was launched and led by the county's cultural bureau to collect documents about the building and Bomi's revolutionary history.

The project included a book, a documentary, construction of a sports stadium and the creation of an opera related to revolutionary culture.

"So far, related documents containing more than 24 million (Chinese) characters have been collected," said Zhang, a former deputy head of Bomi's Go township. In 2018, he was hired by the county government to work on the preservation of its revolutionary culture.

The Henan province native chose to work in Tibet after graduating from university in 2016. After making great efforts, he now has a deep understanding of Bomi's history and geography.

"In 2016, I was assigned to work as a civil servant in Go township, but I only stayed three months because I was moved to work with the cultural bureau on the preservation and research of revolutionary culture and related tourism," he said.

"I designed all the exhibitions about the Red Building and also collected all the historical documents."

He added that rather than serving as a township official, he has thrown himself into the job of preserving the Red Building's revolutionary culture and history.

Zhang has also focused on the preservation and collection of the revolutionary culture and history of nearby Nyingchi, and his contribution means the city's red history has been almost fully documented.

When Zhang was given the job of collecting documents about the Battle to defend Zhamu, he was disappointed that he was unable to find any written information or anyone who could tell him the complete story.

However, he refused to give up, so he traveled to many places in Tibet and other parts of China to complete his task.

In 2018, he spent more 130 days on field trips, visiting more than 200 witnesses and insiders at a number of locations including Tibet, Beijing, Xi'an in Shaanxi province, Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Zhengzhou in Henan province.

The cultural relics he unearthed included revolutionary documents containing more than 24 million Chinese characters, more than 100 artifacts, 25 manuscripts written by participants and more than 1,200 photos.

The volume of work meant he rarely had time for proper meals, so he often only had bread and milk during his trips. Moreover, he usually worked until late at night transcribing the recordings he had made.

He recalled how a relative of one of the PLA soldiers involved in the battle refused to speak to him on seven separate occasions. However, when Zhang made his eighth approach, the relative was impressed by his good faith and agreed to talk to him.

The interview provided Zhang with many valuable stories and photos of the event.

Although some families were not initially supportive of Zhang's mission, they were eventually convinced when he explained the importance of his task.

"Some old comrades sent me documents by post, despite opposition from their families," he said, adding that the work was hard but he enjoyed the process and was inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the older generation.

"I hope more of the younger generation will carry on that revolutionary spirit to help it shine in the modern era."

In November 2018, the Red Building was officially designated a patriotic education base for Tibet, a patriotic and national unity education base for Nyingchi and a national unity education base for Bomi.

In 2019, a number of sites around the building were rated as national 4A-level tourism scenic spots and listed as cultural protection sites under national-level key protection.

After the building was officially opened to the public in 2018, it began receiving visitors at all times of the year.

"Since the end of 2018 when the building was opened, I have received more than 600 tourist groups, and more than 10,000 people have paid visits to the site," Zhang said, recalling the time he narrated the history to visitors 11 times in just one day.

Sonam Wangchuk, a retiree in Bomi, said today's good life is reflected in the history of the Red Building.

"We need to remember this history and pass on the 'Red Building Spirit' and history to future generations," he said.


May 23, 1951

The central government and the local Tibetan government sign the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.

March 28, 1959

The central government announces the dissolution of the local Tibetan government.

The Preparatory Committee of the Tibet autonomous region assumes authority and begins exercising the local government's functions. People from all ethnic groups launch sweeping reforms to overthrow the feudal serfdom system.

Sept 9, 1965

The Tibet autonomous region is founded.

Jan 19, 2009

The second session of the Ninth National People's Congress of the Tibet autonomous region adopts a resolution to designate March 28 as the annual Serfs Emancipation Day to commemorate the liberation of millions of serfs across Tibet.

The first such celebration is held the same year.