Rebellion in Tibet

Rebellion in Tibet

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On March 10, 1959, Tibetans band together in revolt, surrounding the summer palace of the Dalai Lama in defiance of Chinese occupation forces.

China’s occupation of Tibet began nearly a decade before, in October 1950, when troops from its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the country, barely one year after the Communists gained full control of mainland China. The Tibetan government gave into Chinese pressure the following year, signing a treaty that ensured the power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the country’s spiritual leader, over Tibet’s domestic affairs. Resistance to the Chinese occupation built steadily over the next several years, including a revolt in several areas of eastern Tibet in 1956. By December 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, the capital, and the PLA command threatened to bomb the city if order was not maintained.

The March 1959 uprising in Lhasa was triggered by fears of a plot to kidnap the Dalai Lama and take him to Beijing. When Chinese military officers invited His Holiness to visit the PLA headquarters for a theatrical performance and official tea, he was told he must come alone, and that no Tibetan military bodyguards or personnel would be allowed past the edges of the military camp. On March 10, 300,000 loyal Tibetans surrounded Norbulinka Palace, preventing the Dalai Lama from accepting the PLA’s invitation. By March 17, Chinese artillery was aimed at the palace, and the Dalai Lama was evacuated to neighboring India. Fighting broke out in Lhasa two days later, with Tibetan rebels hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. Early on March 21, the Chinese began shelling Norbulinka, slaughtering tens of thousands of men, women and children still camped outside. In the aftermath, the PLA cracked down on Tibetan resistance, executing the Dalai Lama’s guards and destroying Lhasa’s major monasteries along with thousands of their inhabitants.

China’s stranglehold on Tibet and its brutal suppression of separatist activity has continued in the decades following the unsuccessful uprising. Tens of thousands of Tibetans followed their leader to India, where the Dalai Lama has long maintained a government-in-exile in the foothills of the Himalayas.

READ MORE: How the Dalai Lama Took the Throne at Age 4

Rebellion in Tibet - HISTORY

Anna Louise Strong Reference Archive

When serfs stood up in Tibet


When rebellion flamed in Lhasa in mid-March of 1959 and the defeated rebels fled to India taking with them the Dalai Lama, the world press handled it as a ruthless suppression of Tibet. An overwhelming Chinese army was pictured — one newspaper ran it up to several hundred thousand — massacring the Tibetan nation, with "fifty thousand armed men in a man-hunt for the god-king" across the Tibetan wilds.

Even before I left Peking I knew that this was nonsense. Apei had told me that no attempt whatever had been made to detain the Dalai Lama, since "to try to take him from armed rebels would have endangered his life". This was borne out by the complete indifference shown in Peking at his departure to India it seemed to be felt that his absence would make easier the coming reforms.

In Lhasa we learned that the total number of armed rebels had been estimated at about 20,000, mostly concentrated in Lhasa and Loka, and that the total PLA force in those parts of Tibet where rebellion occurred had been some 5,000 men. Specifically, in Lhasa itself there had been only ten companies of PLA infantry, two of which were kept throughout on reserve, and one artillery regiment, an indication of some fifteen hundred men. These had been enough to put down some 7,000 armed rebels in forty-seven hours.

Casualty statistics were unavailable but the "wholesale slaughter" in the Western press had left in August just sixty wounded rebels in the Lhasa General Hospital, which had handled all rebel casualties except those that could walk home from field clinics. Later, in a private dinner with army chiefs, I was told that rebel casualties, both killed and wounded, might have reached six hundred in Lhasa. The figure seemed borne out by the general appearance of the city, where a few buildings, damaged in battle, were being repaired by the brisk appearance of citizens, who referred to men killed in battle as special individuals, not as masses and by the mood of joyous harvest everywhere.

The victory was far greater in importance for the future than the size of battles or casualties indicates. When four of the six kaloons, who composed the kashag, Tibet's local government, led rebellion and later fled into India, they freed Peking from the 1951 pledge to leave the political structure of Tibet unchanged. When seventy percent of Tibet's 642 noble families and 2,136 monasteries joined the rebel forces, yet proved unable to enlist more than 20,000 rebels, half of whom were obviously unwilling, the dominance of Tibet's ruling class over the souls of Tibetans was broken. Thus the rebellion, and its defeat, with the dispersal of the leading serf-owners and their flight into India, opened the way to the quick abolition of serfdom. The suppression in Lhasa of what was hardly more than a large scale riot, became a watershed in history between a thousand years of serf society and a future in which Tibet proceeds towards socialism.

The rebellion was thus seen to be no "national conflict", but an uprising by serf-owners who were unable to mobilize followers. But if it failed to become a civil war, even dragging in finally the intervention of foreign powers, as the rebels clearly intended, in a war to separate Tibet from China, this was because Peking's strategy was based not only on arms, but on careful political planning, and especially because in the eight years after the 1951 Agreement, Peking had built support among the people of Tibet.

When the serf-owning rulers of a society in which serfdom had been the way of life for a thousand years, agreed in 1951 to move towards socialism under the leadership of Peking, the stage was clearly set for a long struggle. This must have been known to both sides from the start. Yet Peking's Communists and Tibet's serf-owners both signed that 1951 Agreement, and the Dalai Lama wired Mao Tse-tung that Tibet's "officials, monks and people", were giving it unanimous support. Both sides had reason for postponing struggle, both counted on the changes time might be made to bring.

Tibet's ruling nobles, knowing their army defeated in Chamdo, gained through the Agreement continued control of Tibet's local government, for Peking pledged to "leave unchanged the political structure, the powers of the Dalai Lama, the income of the monasteries" and not to "use compulsion for reform". They counted on preventing or delaying reform through their control of Tibet's government, monasteries and people, whom they owned, body and soul, as serfs. They played for time in which Peking's policies might change or be corrupted, or foreign powers might act against China or might at least give aid and arms to rebellion in Tibet. They began at once to work for this.

Peking also needed time. The People's Liberation Army had beaten the Tibetan Army but had not "won Tibet". It had won from Tibet's local government the recognition that Tibet was part of "the motherland of China", and the right to place the PLA in frontier posts towards India and Nepal as "the national army". This was the first essential at the time, for in 1951 American troops were fighting Chinese in Korea and off Taiwan and threatening to fight in Indo-China, while Washington was raising the question of "Tibet's independence" as Britain had done for decades, as a means of detaching Tibet from China. The immediate need was to secure China's territorial sovereignty with Tibetan support. For this Peking postponed reforms in Tibet for an indefinite number of years, while binding the Tibetan nobles to eventual reform.

Peking knew that the serf-owning nobles hated the idea of any reform of serfdom, and hardly dreamed what socialism was that even the serfs, hungry and tortured as they might be, were bound in soul by age-old suspicion of the Hans and by a religion which taught that their misery was direct result of their karma, a destiny decreed by their sins in a past incarnation, and therefore to be borne with patience in the hope of a better next incarnation. Tibet's serfs dared not sit down in the same room with nobles, nor face them directly on the road they had no dream of what "freedom" might be. Peking counted on the political and economic measures that would slowly knit Tibet to the rest of China and on winning at least part of the nobles to the knowledge that even for them, serfdom did not offer a good life, and that they might better sell their estates to the central government. Most of all, Peking counted on the changes that would grow in the souls of serfs through contact, even distant, with China's dynamic life.

So, from the very "unanimous acceptance" of the 1951 Agreement, both sides began to prepare for future conflict for the loyalties of the Tibetans. Peking began with the behavior of the People's Liberation Army, with the great highways, that knit Tibet to the motherland of China, not only in a military but in a political and economic sense, with hospitals, schools, experimental farms, seed loans without interest, free gifts of better farm tools to peasants. The serf-owners prepared by anti-Han agitation, by rumors that the hospitals poisoned, that the schools endangered the soul, by withholding land from the experimental farms and even from the roads. When these measures failed to halt the slow march of progress, the serf-owners turned to conspiracy and promoted revolts, first in the Tibetan areas of adjoining provinces and finally in Lhasa itself.

Even before the battle of Chamdo, Peking's strategy began with instructions given to the PLA in Szechuan, as they prepared for Tibet. In the strategy of winning indifferent or even initially hostile groups, the PLA has long experience this helped it to win all over China. In Szechuan in 1950, the PLA troops were instructed, not only in the general attitudes of friendship and equality towards minority nationalities, but in the special ways they must act in Tibet. I was told of this instruction by Captain Yang who went from Szechuan to Lhasa in those years.

"We learned enough of the Tibetan language for first contacts we learned the polite greetings for different social classes, the proper way to pass shrines on the road and the way to respect the Tibetan religion. We must not enter any religious places, neither the monasteries nor the special rooms or corners in the homes where the religious images are kept". The "hardest discipline" was the absolute prohibition of hunting or fishing anywhere in Tibet. This was hard because food was scarce and transport difficult on the long way, and open hills and rivers were full of game and fish. But the PLA was forbidden this indulgence because the Tibetan religion forbids the killing of animals, and though Living Buddhas evade this precept, the PLA must not evade.

"This discipline was severe but very useful," said Captain Yang. "Our reputation went ahead of us we were even called 'the army of Buddhas'. This was one cause why part of the Tibetan Army came over to us in Chamdo, because we respected their beliefs."

The second move in Peking's strategy was the eight months' halt of the PLA in Chamdo, awaiting the 1951 Agreement. For when at last the troops moved into Tibet towards Lhasa, they were able to stop at every populated point on the way and explain that they were the "national army" by agreement of the Dalai Lama with Peking. They behaved with greater consideration towards the people than any army had before, not only in that they abstained from rape and loot, but in that they paid actual money for transport service, which in Tibet was usually done by forced labor, on orders of a government paper. The PLA did not ask, and did not know, whether the money they paid for draft animals and porters actually went to the serfs who did the work, or whether their masters took it. What was important was that the serfs knew the PLA paid money, and the idea of wages became a new idea, undermining the old habit of forced labor.

On reaching Lhasa, the PLA was given a formal banquet by the kashag, but underground sabotage against the PLA at once began. Fuel for its cooking was unavailable. When the PLA tried to raise its own food, the kashag made it hard to buy or lease land, though wasteland lay everywhere. By persistence, the PLA secured land of poor quality, and by the third year was able to raise its own vegetables. It never secured enough land to grow all its own grain but imported this with difficulty from other provinces of China.

The third move in Peking's strategy was the building of three great highways, connecting Tibet with the rest of China, militarily, politically and economically. Its advantages for Tibetans have been noted in the previous chapter, the improved communications, the consequent lowering in prices of consumer goods, like tea and textiles, the wages paid to serfs. The schools, hospitals, experimental farms, seed loans and farm implements have also been noted. All these new developments were sabotaged by the kashag. The two primary schools in Lhasa never filled up with pupils, the experimental farms had difficulty securing land, the hospitals were beset by rumors that "the Han doctors poison patients", the seed loans were often diverted from the peasants to their masters, the farm implements were put into warehouses on the plea that "iron poisons the soil". Yet despite the slow rate of progress, as people told me, "the consciousness of the people increased".

Open opposition to Peking began in 1953 when a kaloon named Lokongwa, led a demand that the PLA and all Hans be expelled from Tibet. The Dalai Lama dismissed Lokongwa and the latter went into India, where he organized in Kalimpong the foreign contacts for future rebellion, securing air-drops from Chiang Kai-shek and an undisclosed amount of aid from sources in India. In 1954 the Dalai Lama and Panchen Erdeni visited Peking as deputies to the session of the National Congress. They toured various parts of China and the Dalai Lama expressed much pleasure in the "motherland's great achievements". This was the time when he wrote that extravagant "Hymn to Mao Tse-tung", comparing his deeds with those of "Brahma, creator of the world". On his return to Lhasa by the newly built Szechuan-Tibet Highway in early 1955, members of the Dalai Lama's retinue dropped off in west Szechuan and toured the Tibetan monasteries there to organize rebellion.

This "Kangting rebellion" broke in winter of 1955-56, and took the form of murdering central government officials and Han citizens, there being no PLA forces in the area. As soon as any PLA troops arrived, they easily put down the rebels, but these fled into deeper hills and eventually into Chamdo. It was estimated that there were 10,000 armed rebels at the highest point. Arms were easy to get, for at least 50,000 rifles had been left in that area from the warlord battles between Tibetan and Szechuan warlords. The few air-drops from Chiang Kai-shek of American weapons and radio transmitters were hardly needed, except for the sense of foreign support they gave the rebels. The Szechuan-Chamdo rebellion was "basically suppressed" by the end of 1956, though isolated groups would remain as "bandits" as long as any monastery fed them, until local "people's control" was organized. The bulk of the defeated rebels moved into Tibet and lived by looting the peasants and by connivance of the kashag until they joined the Lhasa rebellion. They were the Khampas, or Sikang troops, cavalry, wild, undisciplined, accustomed to living by loot.

A later, smaller rebellion broke out in spring of 1958 in the Tibetan areas of Chinghai and Kansu, led by monasteries and pasture lords against the "democratic reform" in the pastures. At this stage, the "democratic reform" went no further than reducing the excessive land rents and usury charged by the monasteries, and removing the monasteries' right to maintain courts and jails. After the rebellion was suppressed, the "democratic reform" went further, giving "freedom of person" to lamas, whereupon a fairly large part of the lamas left the monasteries and went home to take up land.

As these revolts were suppressed, documents were found that showed them to have been inspired from Lhasa and organized through the monasteries as a "holy war" against Communism. Printed curses against the Chinese Communists, found on dead rebels and behind Buddha pictures in monasteries, connected the rebellion with printing facilities in India. An organization emerged called the "Four Rivers and Six Ranges". When located in Lhasa, it claimed to be a fund-raising appeal for the Dalai Lama it was later found to be the organ of terrorism and sabotage and air-drops for rebellion in Tibet.

Rebellion moved in 1958 into Tibet proper. Airdrops of American weapons began in Loka, a large area southeast of Lhasa known as "the granary of Tibet" whose long border with India facilitated foreign contacts and whose food supply gave rations for armed forces. Armed rebels from Loka, including Khampas, began raiding the PLA transport of lumber, which was being brought to build a new power-plant in Lhasa. Complaints also poured into the PLA headquarters that the rebels were terrorizing, looting and raping the Tibetan people.

"All such complaints were referred to the kashag, which was the government of Tibet, responsible for local law and order," I was told by all PLA officers. "The kashag always agreed to handle them, but actually was conniving with the rebels."

This scrupulous respect for the kashag was taken by Tibet's upper class as a sign of Peking's weakness. In February 1959 when pilgrims from all Tibet began pouring into Lhasa for the Great Prayer Festival, the Monlam, which lasts three weeks and begins the Tibetan New Year, the provocations grew bolder. A member of the kashag demanded the right to occupy the State Trading Office of the central government. When this was refused, the Tibetan Army set up machine-guns, trained on the Communist Party headquarters. Thus the stage was set for the launching of open rebellion.

It began March 10th in the morning. The Dalai Lama had fixed that date to attend a theatrical performance at the Military Area Command of the PLA. Camera-men, tape-recorders and leading functionaries waited outside the auditorium for the honored guest, and a water-cart sprinkled the road to lay the dust for the Dalai Lama's car. He failed to appear but a radio-mechanic came running to stammer: "Reactionaries are holding the Dalai Lama in his summer palace in Jewel Park. They are killing progressives. People who live near the Park are in panic, seeking a place to hide."

Down the road came armed, mounted Tibetans, leading a horse on whose back had been thrown the bloody corpse of a prominent progressive noble, exposed to terrify the people. A Tibetan employee in the Central Government offices sprang to a sub-machine-gun, shouting: "We cannot endure this lawlessness. I will fight".

"We have no orders yet", said a Han, restraining his Tibetan comrade with difficulty. This set the tone of disciplined restraint which was to last for ten days more.

A meeting of leading rebels, from the kashag and the three big monasteries, held on the 10th in Jewel Park, declared Tibet's independence from China, and wired the announcement to Kalimpong, India, asking that the news be spread. Then for ten days the terror built up in Lhasa. The rebels went around conscripting men into their army under pain of death. They dug fortifications in parks and on the hills. They demolished the mosque in Lhasa in a nationalist frenzy against Moslems. On the 15th came the report that the rebels had raped all the nuns in a nunnery near the Jokhang. Other reports of atrocities poured into the PLA and the PLA kept referred them to the kashag, demanding that the kashag act to restore order.

The People's Liberation Army itself remained in barracks, closing its compound gate. Inside the barracks, it made dugouts, awaiting orders from Peking. The various civilian offices of the central government in nine or ten different places — the state trade, the transport company, the postoffice, the bank, the school and hospital, the working committee of the Communist Party, all closed the gates of their walled compounds and began making dugouts in their yards. None of the civilians asked for help from the troops or sought refuge with the PLA they had weapons and training sufficient for the first defense of their compound walls. Their Tibetan employees, however, asked permission to bring their families into the compounds from the city, where the rebels raged through the streets. This was granted and the Tibetan employees with their families camped in the auditorium and the office buildings.

On the 16th a news-photographer went around in an armored car and took photographs of rebel demonstrations and the fortifications they were digging. He also got pictures of a man whose eyes had been gouged out by the rebels because he had helped the PLA transport, and another whose nose was cut off for the same reason. These were on stretchers, being taken to hospital. In general, the hospital was closed as the out-patients, who usually numbered 700 to 1,000 daily at this period, had stopped coming. They could not have got through the rebel-held streets.

During these days three letters were sent by General Tan Kuan-san of the Military Area Command to the Dalai Lama in his summer palace and three letters were sent from the Dalai Lama in reply to General Tan Kuan-san. The first letter was carried by Living Buddha Jaltsolin, the Dalai Lama's reader. He reached the Dalai Lama but was then imprisoned by the rebels in the Jewel Park. The remaining letters were handled by Apei, in contact with different lamas in attendance on the Dalai Lama they were later acknowledged by the Dalai Lama in India.

The letters claimed that the Dalai Lama was detained in Jewel Park by the rebels against his will, and depicted him in distress and anger, sometimes expecting to "bring the reactionaries to order" and again proposing to "come in secret" to General Tan "as soon as I have people I can trust".

On the 18th word came that the Dalai Lama had left Lhasa. "The rebels kidnapped him last night", it was said. The exact conditions in which he left were still a mystery, but it was known that he remained for several days in Loka with the rebels, and after the rebels were defeated in Lhasa, he left with them for India. In India, he said that he came of his own free will. Whether he was throughout the leader of rebellion, as Nehru, in receiving him, seemed to assume, and the letters he sent to General Tan were deliberate deceit, or whether, a tool of stronger, older men, he wavered, dreamed that his godhead might win without battle, and later yielded to defeat on the road to India, was being debated. In any case, he left Lhasa with the rebel leaders before the battle was joined, awaited its outcome in Loka, and did not return.

From India in following months several anti-China statements were issued in the Dalai Lama's name, either by his entourage of reactionary serf-owners or by his older brothers, whose connections with Washington and Taiwan were hardly concealed, but some in the presence of the Dalai Lama himself. Of these the strongest was the June 30th statement, handed out as a press release in English to world reporters in the Dalai Lama's presence. It denounced every act of Peking towards Tibet from the 1951 Agreement to the present, demanded an independent and "Greater Tibet", and refused even to deal with Peking directly, since he would not trust Peking's word, but would only deal through a third power, presumably India. It was so extreme that Western commentators said the Dalai Lama had chosen to "slam the door" against possible return to Tibet.

Peking's only response was to publish the charges, side by side with the dozens of very laudatory statements which the Dalai Lama had issued regarding China's policy in the past eight years. Peking gave him the benefit of the doubt and kept his posts and palaces waiting in case he should choose to return. Peking did not even deprive him of his titular post of Tibet's local government nor of his vice-chairmanship in the Standing Committee of China's Central Government. But his once great prestige in Tibet faded rapidly when he departed. [1]

The puzzle to me was not so much the Dalai Lama's action as the fact that the People's Liberation Army remained in its quarters for ten days from March 10th to 20th while the rebels raged through Lhasa, conscripting men under threat of death, raping, murdering, blinding. When I asked PLA men, as I did several times, the reply was always the same: "The kashag was still the lawful government and the people of Lhasa had not yet taken sides. In such situations our strategy is always never to start or develop the fighting but let the enemy start it and continue it until it is fully clear to all people who are the aggressors and the destroyers of law. Then, when we counter-attack, we have the people with us their support shortens the fighting and lessens the casualties in the end. The rebels lost the people of Lhasa in those ten days."

The rebel artillery began their all-out attack at 3.40 a.m. before dawn on March 20th. Bursts of fire came from Potala Palace, from Jewel Park, from Iron Hill, the highest point in Lhasa. At once the whole city resounded with rifle and artillery fire. In all the compounds of the Hans the people awoke and remained awake till dawn. Rebels charged the walls of the compounds of the Transport Company and the Working Committee they were repelled. Elsewhere the attack was only by artillery, and the people found refuge in the dugouts. Tibetan employees were saying: "When do we counter-attack? Is our artillery asleep?" One of the Han editors wrote in his diary before dawn: "The reactionary clique has finally chosen the road to self-destruction."

At 10 a.m., [2] on orders from Peking, the People's Liberation Army went into counter-attack, in assault by a single company straight up Iron Hill. This was the steepest and highest hill in Lhasa the rebels had trenches and artillery on the sides and the top, and covering artillery from Potala Palace. By 1.30 p.m., Iron Hill was taken. Only a few rebels were here killed or captured most of them ran away beyond the hill. The taking of this height by a single company was the fiercest fight in the entire conflict and it gave the PLA command of Lhasa. Members of the company told me how they went up.

Said Fu Lo-min: "I was squad leader in the first platoon. I dashed up with three men to take a house where the rebels had a machine-gun nest. The hill was very steep but in eight minutes we got on the roof, all four with automatics. Here I was hit in the leg by a bullet but continued to give command till other units stormed up and covered our advance. After we got on the roof we seized the machine-gun. It was British-made. The rebels threw away arms on the hill and ran. Most of the ones we met seemed to have been coerced." Fu gave as reason for the quick victory "good direction from our commanders, good support from the Tibetan people. They were coming right behind us bringing us food."

Chang, of the heavy machine-gun platoon, said: "Our task was to cover the units that took the hill. A heavy machine-gun is a strong force and with it we wiped out strong rebel points. At first we fired from the foot of the hill but after the hill was taken we went to the top to hold it. The local Tibetan people encouraged us and helped carry our equipment up to wipe out the bandits".

From Iron Hill the PLA dominated Jewel Park where the main force of 3,000 rebels was encamped. New companies now moved on Jewel Park and took it by seven that evening. Here the greater part of the rebels were captured only a few were killed or got away. As twilight fell, the PLA posted a few troops to hold Iron Hill and Jewel Park and moved the bulk of its forces to surround the city of Lhasa for the night.

All day on the 21st, the PLA cleaned up rebel groups in Lhasa. Some surrendered quickly, some ran away and hid in people's houses, only a few fought hard. The hardest fighting of that day was at Ramogia Monastery which the rebels had turned into a fort. The PLA sent a small group into Ramogia for parley the rebels killed some of them. After that the fighting was fierce. Ramogia was taken in a few hours, with some damage done to its front wall and a corner of roof.

By nightfall the only rebels holding out were in the Potala and Jokhang. So the PLA went over to a political campaign. The two kaloons who had remained loyal, Apei and Sampo Tsewang-rentzen, went with megaphones to call upon the rebels to surrender. If they surrendered, their lives were guaranteed. The rebels talked it over all night and came out at nine in the morning with hands in air. The camera-men were waiting to take pictures of the surrender.

Thus Lhasa was cleared of rebellion in forty-seven hours. "For the next two weeks", we were told by the army chiefs in Lhasa, "our troops fanned out around Lhasa for thirty miles, cleaning up rebels in the hills. Meantime the people of Lhasa, who had seen that we did not kill captives, were turning over to us the rebels who hid in the houses and whom they induced to surrender. By April 5th we had liquidated 5,600 rebel troops, some of them killed but most of them captured. We estimated that 1,400 had run away. We captured 79 artillery pieces with 20,000 shells, and 10,395 rifles with ten million rounds of ammunition! Weapons were from all countries, Britain, America, France, even old arms from Tsarist Russia."

The kashag was still recognized until March 28th as the lawful local government of Tibet, though four of its six members had led rebellion, and three of them had taken the Dalai Lama from Lhasa. It might still have been possible, after the rebel defeat, for the three kaloons to return with the Dalai Lama, state that they had only taken him out of the fighting, and make their peace with Peking. When they chose instead to proceed into India, the State Council in Peking abolished the local government of Tibet on March 28th, — two days before it would have been in India, issuing decrees from a foreign land, — and instructed the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region to take over its powers. Since this Committee had been formed in 1956, amid universal acclaim, for that very purpose, and the two loyal kaloons were among its members, the functions of government were continued without a break.

The Dalai Lama, as chairman of the Preparatory Committee, remained titular head of Tibet even in absence. The Panchen Erdeni, as first Vice-President, was asked to become Acting Chairman, "until the Dalai Lama's return." The Panchen accepted by wire from his seat in Shigatse in which no armed rebellion had occurred. He arrived in Lhasa by car on April 5th in the afternoon, was welcomed by dignitaries of army, state and religion and conducted to a "new palace" in Shirtsit Park, while the populace burned pine needles and prostrated themselves as he passed. The palaces of the Dalai Lama, the Potala and Jewel Park, which two weeks earlier had housed the rebels, lay empty in the sun.

Meantime the Panchen Erdeni went rapidly through the routine that established him in Lhasa: a banquet on April 6th given by military and political personages in his honor ceremonial visits on the 7th to Jokhang and Ramogia Monasteries where he worshipped and recited sutras with two Living Buddhas as attendants and the opening session of the Preparatory Committee as the new local government where he presided as Acting Chairman on the 8th. Next morning he left by plane for Lanchow and thence to Peking as head of the Tibetan Delegation to the National People's Congress of China.

The People's Liberation Army now moved from Lhasa out into Tibet, to put down rebels in the name not only of the government of China, but also in the name of Tibet's new local government which, under the Panchen Erdeni, had declared for reform. Wherever the troops now went, they confiscated the great whips and torture instruments from the monasteries and manor-houses, and turned them into the county governments under military control. They announced that, on all the lands of the rebels, the harvest this year would go to those who sowed it, without rent or taxes. This was an emergency measure to promote the sowing but, as Apei told me: "It is the kind of measure from which one does not retreat." The PLA was giving out seed grain in quantities to peasants the rebels had looted.

On April 7th and 8th, the PLA crossed the Tsangpo River southeast of Lhasa, and moved into Loka, the rebel's main base. This great rectangle of grain land, with its sixteen supply routes into India and Bhutan, its air-drop in the center, and the wide, swift river guarding the north, was designed by the rebels as their "new capital", to supply a long guerrilla war all over Tibet. The rebel forces here were later found to have been some 12,000, almost twice as many as in Lhasa. The PLA forces here fought forty-seven engagements in two weeks, disposed of two thousand rebels — some killed, some wounded, but most of them captured — and occupied the four main towns.

An incident of that period shows the nature of the rebel forces. There were many high marches through mountains, and most of the PLA troops had frozen or blistered feet. Corporal Chou and Private Yen, falling behind their detachment because of bad feet, encountered a force of a hundred rebels. They took good positions with one sub-machine-gun, one rifle and some grenades. As the rebels advanced, the two men shot and killed three leaders and wounded another on this the remaining ninety-six surrendered under a lesser leader, and turned over 90 horses, 29 rifles, 14 muskets and 76 swords, for which the PLA men figured they had "expended 26 sub-machine-gun bullets". The PLA men ordered them to load the weapons on the horses and then went off with the horses and two captives to lead them, to find their detachment, leaving the other ninety-four captives to await their return, under command of the leader who had surrendered. By dawn they caught up with their detachment, reported the battle, turned over the booty. Other PLA men then went back with the two captives and found the ninety-four rebel prisoners, who had been waiting all night. This episode, with its mixture of weapons, its totally passive rank and file, waiting for someone to lead them and feed them, indicates the morale of the conscripted serfs.

At the end of April, the PLA began the second phase of the Loka campaign, a political and military struggle combined. Notices were posted in the towns and meetings were held among the people, announcing that no captured rebels would be killed, that those who surrendered voluntarily would not even be imprisoned nor accused in public meetings of past misdeeds and rewards would be given for "meritorious deeds" in restoring order. The leader of the ninety-six who had surrendered was given a reward of one hundred yuan for "saving the cost of a battle". The townspeople and the peasants and the captured rebels themselves were urged to go into the hills and find the other rebels and induce them to surrender.

Fathers went to bring back sons, wives to bring back husbands, peasants to round up groups of neighbors whom they now saw as "deceived". The task was not without danger for rebels in the hills might shoot first without parley or might seize and torture the emissaries. But the local people knew their way around and had many successes to them it became a matter of bringing home peasants who might otherwise become bandits. Thus a captured rebel company commander named Lobsang, now working for the PLA, went into the hills and brought over a leading rebel chief with 43 men. In another place seven hundred local people joined the PLA in a search of the hills. Among them was a woman of seventy, who said: "When you people come so far to help us clean up bandits, then everyone must help." In a place called Lhagyari, a girl tending sheep was approached by two rebels who asked her for "news of the PLA". When she replied that there were many PLA and they did not kill prisoners, the men asked her to lead them to the PLA. One of them then turned over a rifle and the other a sword. Within a month three thousand more rebels had been disbanded with the aid of the local people.

In reporting the campaign, the PLA estimated that there had been 12,000 armed rebels in Loka, of whom 2,000 had been disbanded in the first part of the campaign and 3,000 in the second, and the remaining 7,000 had fled into India, taking with them many relatives, servants and also the peasants on the border whom they conscripted as transport service.

"The rebellion," they analyzed, "was not a fight for nationalism or religion, but a fight of serf-owners to continue serfdom. Only the leaders fought hard of the rebels in the ranks, about eighty percent had been coerced or deceived. There was conflict within the rebel ranks, between the people of Tibet and the Khampas, between the lamas and the Tibetan army these conflicts even reached armed clashes. The rebel ranks had thus so little morale or unity that, when a few leaders were killed or captured, at a little explanation the ranks fell apart."

A thousand PLA men now went in twenty groups to organize the peasants who were technically still serfs, and to prepare them for the coming reform. The first "law and order" groups to round up outlaws, were expanded into "Peasant Associations" to enforce the "three abolitions" and eventually, to organize township and county government. For by this time the Panchen Erdeni and the other Tibetan deputies were returning from Peking, and the second session of the Preparatory Committee was under way.

When the Panchen Erdeni left Lhasa for Peking in early April, the medical teams were helping the wounded and the women the rebels had raped, the PLA in Lhasa was distributing seed grain to peasants the rebels had looted, and other PLA forces were crossing the Tsangpo to begin the Loka campaign. When the Panchen returned to Lhasa in mid-June, the people were working peacefully and the fields were green with new grain. Primary schools were growing swiftly when the schools organized by the central government proved insufficient, the people of Lhasa themselves set up twenty-three "special schools" in which all ages came to study side by side.

For two months various groups of the PLA and the Preparatory Committee and Working Committee, had been touring Tibet on various errands, and also collecting informations, opinions and demands from the people. Everywhere the people were asking: "When will the reform begin?" Everywhere they knew that the confiscation of the whips and torture implements was only the first symbol, the promise of harvest to the tiller only the first pledge. The abolition of serfdom by law was awaited. Serfs and household and field slaves were coming to the various offices, asking: "How shall we set about the reform?" Members of the upper strata also were coming, volunteering to be the first to carry out the reform on their manors. People's county governments had been organized already in a few counties. The Tibetan people were becoming masters in their own house.

On June 28th, under the Panchen's chairmanship, the second plenary session of the new local government of Tibet opened. The first session had been held on April 8th, in which the Preparatory Committee had formally assumed power. The second session was to pass the "democratic reform". Already it could take account of hundreds of newly organized "peasants' associations", sending greetings, prepared to carry the reform through. Six hundred people of all social strata attended the session as "observers", from all parts of the land. Among them were one hundred serfs, sent by the new Peasants' Associations, sitting down in the same room with nobles for the first time in Tibet's long history.

After three weeks' discussion, the "democratic reform" was proposed in two stages. The first stage would be the "san fan and shuang jian", the "three abolitions and two reductions". Rebellion, forced labor, and personal servitude were to be abolished, exorbitant land rents and interest to be reduced. Peasant associations, under supervision of the military control, would enforce these new decrees. Land rents would be negotiated with nobles and monasteries that had taken no part in rebellion, but would be about twenty percent of the crop on rebel lands the harvest would go to the tiller, without rent or taxes this year. Meantime the new local government of Tibet would negotiate with all loyal nobles and monasteries for the purchase of their estates, with cattle and implements, leaving to each of them whatever house they chose to live in, and whatever land they needed for personal use. When this was accomplished, the second stage of the "democratic reform" would come: the free distribution of land to the former serfs.

The plenary session closed July 17th, with the adoption of the "democratic reform". Across the roof of the world the news spread like wildfire, to peasants' and herdsmen's meetings and to new loudspeakers in market-places. In Lhasa they sang and danced in the streets.

Already the staff for the reform was coming, prepared for eight years by Peking. Over ten thousand Tibetans had been getting some education in other parts of China, most of them serfs who had run away to the PLA. Of these 3,400 were returning to help the reform fifteen hundred came in early June, the rest after the June graduations. Five hundred and fifty Tibetan cadres, civil servants in autonomous Tibetan districts in adjoining provinces, were being transferred into Tibet of these one hundred and twenty-five had enough experience to become county secretaries or district chiefs. Within Tibet itself the "activists" among the serfs were growing fast, illiterate still, but learning from local experience. There were even lamas who had taken part in suppressing rebellion and who were now helping to organize villages.

All of these together would be the staff to organize the new Tibet. They were not nearly enough for so wide a land. But everywhere new people were rising and learning. There had been no staff at all eight years ago.

In Peking I had seen the first group of returning Tibetan students take off by special train at the end of May. I had asked the man who came from Lhasa to pick them, whether any of these could have gone to Tibet safely before the rebellion. He shook his head. "They would have been safe in our offices," he replied, "but they could not have gone safely into the villages for the armed retainers of the serf-owners might have caught them, and they might have paid with, their lives.

"Now they can go safely with only normal caution. For the serf-owners concentrated all those armed retainers into a rebel army, and the rebels are beaten and scattered, some captured, some in India, a few hiding out in distant hills. Now the serfs have awakened, and the people of Tibet will protect the reform."

Looking back at the eight years in which these events were prepared one sees that all of those years were needed. The careful approach of the PLA, which began to win Tibetans before the battle of Chamdo, the eight months' delay in Chamdo, that the PLA might enter Tibet by agreement with its local government the slow advance towards Lhasa explaining in every populated point, paying for goods and services the three great highways that knit Tibet with the rest of China the schools, hospitals, experimental farms, seed loans, gifts of implements, which, even though sabotaged, were known to the people — all these awakened the people while the staff for the coming reform was prepared.

The rebellion also played its part for when it was launched in Lhasa the Tibetan people had not yet chosen sides. It took the terrorist acts of the rebels, the disciplined waiting by the Hans in their compounds, the quick, final counter-attack by the PLA that cleared the city of disorder with minimum loss of life. It took the flight of the kashag's majority into India and the empowering by Peking, after the kashag's flight, of the Preparatory Committee, already designed for government, with the Dalai Lama still chairman, even in absence, while meantime the Panchen Erdeni led.

Thus the Tibetan people were never forced to choose between loyalty to Peking and to Lhasa. When the PLA moved out across the land to confiscate the whips and torture implements and tell the serfs that the harvest would be theirs, they went in the name of Peking and of Lhasa too. The people, without conflict of loyalties, could realize how deeply they hated those old torments and how they could now be free.


1.Not until 1964 at the December session of the National People's Congress of China did Premier Chou En-lai report that not only the 1959 armed rebellion by "the Dalai clique" but the Dalai's subsequent actions in India proved him a traitor and that the State Council had "decided to remove him from the posts of Chairman and member of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region".

Tibet’s Uprising 50 Years Later

A failed Tibetan uprising on March 10, 1959, in the capital Lhasa led to the expulsion of the religious leader the Dalai Lama and continues to reverberate throughout China’s efforts to become a major world power.

Robert Barnett, an adjunct professor at Columbia University, describes the significance of the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan revolt.

ROBERT BARNETT: I’m Robbie Barnett, and I’m the director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University in New York.

March the 10 th is a really important day in modern Tibetan history. It marks the 50 th anniversary of a popular uprising in Lhasa that had spread across the country in 1959 against Chinese rule in Tibet. The Chinese sent an army into Tibet some nine years earlier, in 1950, to take over Tibet, claiming it as part of China’s territory. This hadn’t worked out very well, and there was a lot of anger among ordinary Tibetans. An army was formed that was a religious army and within the capital there was a popular movement against the Chinese. It failed. The army opened fire on the rebels, and the Dalai Lama had to flee to India along with about 80,000 other people. And those Tibetans still live in exile in India, and have done ever since.

But March the 10 th is also important because it’s been the day on which several occasions in recent years, 1989 particularly and last year, 2008, Tibetans staged protests, initially peaceful in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet, against contemporary Chinese rule. And so it’s become a very significant day for Tibetans who are unhappy about the Chinese presence there.

In the early 1980s after Mao (Zedong) died and Deng Xiaoping took over, who now seems as a kind of visionary leader of China at the time, there was really a lot of hope in Tibet and a lot of good conversation between Tibetans and Chinese about a new dispensation that would be workable for Tibetans within China where they’d be allowed to develop their own religious institutions and ideas, and develop business and the economy according to local needs.

That collapsed in the late 󈨔s and by the 1990s a new vision had emerged in China’s policy circles that was never openly discussed but clearly visible by actions from the ground where Tibet would be very strongly run by Chinese leaders from China and particularly the Tibetan culture would be trimmed. Certain elements would be cut out to avoid the risk of Tibetan nationalism, which was then connected by this new generation of Chinese Communist Party leaders to things like Tibetan language, and Tibetan religion, in particular the Dalai Lama.

So in 1994, China began for the first time in some 15 years a ban on worship of the Dalai Lama and a ban on his photograph and a ban on any kind of religious worship or religious practice at all for anyone who worked in the government, even if they were the person who cleaned the floor in a government office. Since then, in Tibet, they’re not allowed to practice any religion, and that also applies to all students in Tibet.

So this is a very hard-line policy. It didn’t apply to all areas of religion and culture. Ordinary people were allowed to go to temples and so on. But this has meant a very, very tough regime for Tibetans, except those who just want to earn money and not get involved in these aspects of their traditions. So Tibetans have been living under very hard conditions for the last 15 years especially. And this seems to have led to a lot of tension and frustration.

Competing viewpoints
One of the big problems behind this issue is it involves a lot of deep-seated emotion on all sides. Of course, Tibetans who are very passionate about independence and about the huge numbers who have died fighting for that in Tibet in the last 50 years. It’s a really significant issue for them.

But there’s also Chinese people who feel deeply angered and even embittered by what they understand or are taught to have been — the so-called 100 years of humiliation by Western powers attacking China in the past. And they now see the Tibet issue as part of that history of the West trying to humiliate China, trying to contain it and clip its wings by encouraging independence (in Tibet).

And we do see among Westerners a strain of anti-Chinese feeling. There’s this anxiety about China emerging as a rising power, possibly an aggressive one. So there are big emotional issues here. The hard thing to remember in all of this is that from the Chinese point of view — whatever one feels about its rightness or its rationality — they believe and they are entitled to believe — there’s evidence for this — that they have been helping Tibetans. They believe they helped them in the 1950s by freeing them from Imperialists — that’s the British and the Americans — although there were only six of those present in the country at that time.

And then in 1959, they changed the terms they used, but they believed they were then freeing them from some imagined terrible brutality of the serf society, although the evidence of that is rather lacking in terms of brutality. They still now are talking about having given this great gift to Tibetans, and in recent decades they argue that they brought these backward people to modernity, and they certainly have given them massive improvement in infrastructure and wealth in the cities to the middle classes — no question of economic benefit there.

So I think it’s very difficult for Chinese people to put that aside and say “why are these people so ungrateful to us? Why are these Westerners interfering when we’re giving so much?” Of course, outsiders and Tibetans will say “well, why should we have to pay for this? This is what every state gives its citizens.” In China it’s welcomed as something that ought to be encouraged. But you shouldn’t have to co-opt people’s religions or emasculate their traditions or not allow them to run their own areas — that would be the reply I think from the Tibetan people.

And one of the big questions for China is why bother attacking the Tibetan religious leader when he claims to give people religious freedom? And also a more difficult and important question perhaps is why did China push the Tibetans to go for rapid GDP growth with massive infrastructure construction in the last 15 years instead of pushing for human-capacity building? That’s the kind of development you need in Tibet.

And even the Chinese leaders have said that’s what they want inside China as well but it hasn’t happened in Tibet. Instead, the Chinese have encouraged a lot of migration into Tibetan towns and so they’ve enflamed the situation there rather than cooling it.

Global repercussions
The significance of the Tibet issue covers a lot of people, and here at the university, I often have colleagues discussing it. A lot of people think the Western interest in Tibet and the film stars and the Buddhists and so on are involved because of the kind of mystical fascination with a kind of imagined group of people who are seen as special in some way. But that certainly is an effect that influences a lot of people.

But I think the real question is why is this issue on the front pages of the policy books for people who deal with China and America and the West. Why is it a major issue in international relations? This is an anomaly almost on an unprecedented scale for a country that is not on the front lines of strategic world interest. I think the answer to this is nothing to do with the religion or even to do with the very successful publicity and PR activities of the Dalai Lama over the last decades. I think it’s to do with the perception that China is becoming the emerging world leader and major member of the world community.

Increasingly so now we have really a collapse of the claim of the West. You have a successful functioning capitalist system with the current economic crisis that makes China even more important and even more confident. But that importance and that confidence is constantly undermined by the running sore that is Tibet. And that sore, that Achilles’ heel of China occupies a third of its land territory. It’s also the land between the two giants of Asia — China and India.

And this becomes hugely important because China’s rule of that territory, the rule of the Communist Party, is actually an unsettled claim. It’s a very young dynasty, it’s only been there for 50 years, and it depends, unlike most states, on producing the goods for its citizens — economic or local freedoms or whatever they demand — it had to produce to keep the claim to be the rightful rulers of China. And it’s not producing the goods that it promised Tibetans.

So China’s looking somehow to be at risk of wobbling as a successful state, and I think that’s very serious for the international community. Even though the issues aren’t usually seen in this way, that’s the underlying question here, I think.

Tibet Timeline

The following BBC Tibet timeline is a chronology of key events in the history of Tibet. The Tibetan plateau has had a long, peaceful and mysterious history. Images of great lamas, meditators, flowers and yaks come to mind of the ancient Tibet. More recently since the invasion by China, Tibet's history becomes turbulent and filled with frustration and suffering.

A chronology of key events: Courtesy of the BBC

7th-9th century - Namri Songzen and descendants begin to unify Tibetan-inhabited areas and conquer neighbouring territories, in competition with China.

822 - Peace treaty with China delineates borders.

1244 - Mongols conquer Tibet. Tibet enjoys considerable autonomy under Yuan Dynasty.

1598 - Mongol Altan Khan makes high lama Sonam Gyatso first Dalai Lama.

1630s-1717 - Tibet involved in power struggles between Manchu and Mongol factions in China.

1624 - First European contact as Tibetans allow Portuguese missionaries to open church. Expelled at lama's insistence in 1745.

1717 - Dzungar (Oirot) Mongols conquer Tibet and sack Lhasa. Chinese Emperor Kangxi eventually ousts them in 1720, and re-establishes rule of Dalai Lama.

1724 - Chinese Manchu (Qing) dynasty appoints resident commissioner to run Tibet, annexes parts of historic Kham and Amdo provinces.

1750 - Rebellion against Chinese commissioners quelled by Chinese army, which keeps 2,000-strong garrison in Lhasa. Dalai Lama government appointed to run daily administration under supervision of commissioner.

1774 - British East India Company agent George Bogle visits to assess trade possibilities.

1788 and 1791 - China sends troops to expel Nepalese invaders.

1793 - China decrees its commissioners in Lhasa to supervise selection of Dalai and other senior lamas.

Tibet Timeline - Foreigners banned

1850s - Russian and British rivalry for control of Central Asia prompts Tibetan government to ban all foreigners and shut borders.

1865 - Britain starts discreetly mapping Tibet.

1904 - Dalai Lama flees British military expedition under Colonel Francis Younghusband. Britain forces Tibet to sign trading agreement in order to forestall any Russian overtures.

1906 - British-Chinese Convention of 1906 confirms 1904 agreement, pledges Britain not to annex or interfere in Tibet in return for indemnity from Chinese government.

1907 - Britain and Russia acknowledge Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.

1908-09 - China restores Dalai Lama, who flees to India as China sends in army to control his government.

1912 April - Chinese garrison surrenders to Tibetan authorities after Chinese Republic declared.

Tibet Timeline - Independence declared

1912 - 13th Dalai Lama returns from India, Chinese troops leave.

1913 - Tibet reasserts independence after decades of rebuffing attempts by Britain and China to establish control.

1935 - The man who will later become the 14th Dalai Lama is born to a peasant family in a small village in north-eastern Tibet. Two years later, Buddhist officials declare him to be the reincarnation of the 13 previous Dalai Lamas.

1949 - Mao Zedong proclaims the founding of the People's Republic of China and threatens Tibet with "liberation".

1950 - China enforces a long-held claim to Tibet. The Dalai Lama, now aged 15, officially becomes head of state.

1951 - Tibetan leaders are forced to sign a treaty dictated by China. The treaty, known as the "Seventeen Point Agreement", professes to guarantee Tibetan autonomy and to respect the Buddhist religion, but also allows the establishment of Chinese civil and military headquarters at Lhasa.

Mid-1950s - Mounting resentment against Chinese rule leads to outbreaks of armed resistance.

1954 - The Dalai Lama visits Beijing for talks with Mao, but China still fails to honour the Seventeen Point Agreement.

Tibet Timeline - Revolt

1959 March - Full-scale uprising breaks out in Lhasa. Thousands are said to have died during the suppression of the revolt. The Dalai Lama and most of his ministers flee to northern India, to be followed by some 80,000 other Tibetans.

1963 - Foreign visitors are banned from Tibet.

1965 - Chinese government establishes Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

1966 - The Cultural Revolution reaches Tibet and results in the destruction of a large number of monasteries and cultural artefacts.

1971 - Foreign visitors are again allowed to enter the country.

Late 1970s - End of Cultural Revolution leads to some easing of repression, though large-scale relocation of Han Chinese into Tibet continues.

1980s - China introduces "Open Door" reforms and boosts investment while resisting any move towards greater autonomy for Tibet.

1987 - The Dalai Lama calls for the establishment of Tibet as a zone of peace and continues to seek dialogue with China, with the aim of achieving genuine self-rule for Tibet within China.

1988 - China imposes martial law after riots break out.

1989 - The Dalai Lama is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

1993 - Talks between China and the Dalai Lama break down.

1995 - The Dalai Lama names a six-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism. The Chinese authorities place the boy under house arrest and designate another six-year-old boy, Gyancain Norbu, as their officially sanctioned Panchen Lama.

2002 - Contacts between the Dalai Lama and Beijing are resumed.

Tibet Timeline - Rail link

2006 July - A new railway linking Lhasa and the Chinese city of Golmud is opened. The Chinese authorities hail it as a feat of engineering, but critics say it will significantly increase Han Chinese traffic to Tibet and accelerate the undermining of traditional Tibetan culture.

2007 November - The current Dalai Lama hints at a break with the centuries-old tradition of selecting his successor, saying the Tibetan people should have a role.

2007 December - The number of tourists travelling to Tibet hits a record high, up 64% year on year at just over four million, Chinese state media say.

2008 March - Anti-China protests escalate into the worst violence Tibet has seen in 20 years, five months before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games.

Pro-Tibet activists in several countries focus world attention on the region by disrupting progress of the Olympic torch relay.

2008 October - The Dalai Lama says he has lost hope of reaching agreement with China about the future of Tibet. He suggests that his government-in-exile could now harden its position towards Beijing.

2008 November - The British government recognises China's direct rule over Tibet for the first time. Critics say the move undermines the Dalai Lama in his talks with China.

China says there has been no progress in the latest round of talks with aides of the Dalai Lama, and blames the Tibetan exiles for the failure of the discussions.

A meeting of Tibetan exiles in northern India reaffirms support for the Dalai Lama's long-standing policy of seeking autonomy, rather than independence, from China.

2008 December - Row breaks out between European Union and China after Dalai Lama addresses European MPs. China suspends high-level ties with France after President Nicolas Sarkozy meets the Dalai Lama.

Tibet Timeline - Anniversary

2009 January - Chinese authorities detain 81 people and question nearly 6,000 alleged criminals in what the Tibetan government-in-exile called a security crackdown ahead of the March anniversary of the 1959 flight of the Dalai Lama.

2009 March - China marks flight of Dalai Lama with new "Serfs' Liberation Day" public holiday. China promotes its appointee as Panchen Lama, the second-highest-ranking Lama, as spokesman for Chinese rule in Tibet. Government reopens Tibet to tourists after a two-month closure ahead of the anniversary.

2009 April - China and France restore high-level contacts after December rift over President Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama, and ahead of a meeting between President Sarkozy and China's President Hu Jintao at the London G20 summit.

2009 August - Following serious ethnic unrest in China's Xinjiang region, the Dalai Lama describes Beijing's policy on ethnic minorities as "a failure". But he also says that the Tibetan issue is a Chinese domestic problem.

2009 October - China confirms that at least two Tibetans have been executed for their involvement in anti-China riots in Lhasa in March 2008.

Popular History: The Suppression of a Rebellion in Tibet

With appetite growing on the Chinese Internet for more information about the history of China’s dealings with Tibet, one elderly blogger has stepped up to feed it. The blogger, 72-year-old Jiang Dasan (江达三), is a retired pilot who was stationed in western China with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in the 1950s. The following is the first of eight posts on his experiences with the PLA in Tibetan regions that have been circulating widely since the eruption of the Lhasa riots. Translated by CDT:

In the summer of 1958, Western China experienced instability.

In May of 1951, the Chinese central government and the Dalai Lama, acting as representative of the Tibetan government, signed the “Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” and Tibet declared it had been peacefully liberated. After the agreement had been signed, however, top Tibetan leaders and businessmen unwilling to part with their privileges began organizing troops and preparing for violent resistance against the central government. These troops were the beginnings of what would later become the formidable so-called “Four Rivers and Six Mountains Defenders of the Teachings,” (四水六岗卫教军 Tibetan: Chushi Gandrug).

The United States has a strong interest in supporting Tibetan independence. On several occasions, the CIA air-dropped weapons and espionage equipment to the “Defenders of the Teachings.” With American support, this self-proclaimed protectors of religious faith mobilized local reactionaries, launched surprise assaults on People’s Liberation Army bases and convoys, stole supplies, inflicted serious damage on PLA units stationed in Tibet and brought disaster on the Tibetan people.

From the beginning we tried to implement the party’s minorities policy, carrying out thought work to the best of our ability in order to impel them. But repeated efforts had little effect. They began to assassinate local officials. On one occasion, an official of ours went out to do his work with sincere intentions. They [the Tibetans] pretended to present him with a hada. When our official bowed his heads to receive it, they drew blades and beheaded him with a single stroke!

If this is tolerable, what is intolerable? Reality gave us an education. We’ve returned to the old magic formula: First attack by force, politics as a second course (军事打击为住,政治争取为辅). Working only through politics, they don’t understand your power. They see you as weak and pliant.

At that time, we discovered a few top people in the vicinity of Xining—lammas, living Buddhas, nobles, headmen, etc—were getting ready to launch a violent attack. One afternoon, the PLA unit stationed there rounded roughly a hundred of them up in three military trucks and, using a reinforced battalion, drove them to the Xining airport under the pretext of taking them to “attend” an air show.

…That day, we were standing about 50 meters from the southern end of the runway with 20 barrels of gasoline filled to the brim, arranged in a target with a radius of 10 meters or so.

After the Tibetan leaders arrived, there were taken to the center of the airport to “watch the battle.” First were two Lavochkin La-11s from the Air Force’s 26th Division that flew up to 1000 meters then turned around. When they were roughly 2000 meters away from the runway, they began a fierce dive while strafing the oil barrels with their machine guns. All you saw was the tongues of fire coming out the planes’ guns and suddenly the oil barrels exploded into the sky with a vicious roar. Add in the piercing sound of the planes as they dove and it was enough to make the average person tremble with fear. The La-11s each took a turn flying around the airport and spraying the ground with bullets then landed to make way for two Du-2 bombers from the 25th Division. They also flew from west to east, at an elevation of 600 meters, and began to bomb the mountain to the south, each plane carrying three 250-kilogram demolition bombs. The bombs hit their targets exactly, sending plumes of smoke into the sky, shaking the ground and sending out deafening shock waves. This frightened “the spectators” like they’d never been frightened before, particularly the superstitious lammas and living Buddhas, who’d never seen planes before and, out of fear and respect, referred to the bombers as “spirit eagles” (神鹰 note: this is the Chinese phrase for condor, the birds involved in Tibetan sky burials). At that point they really believed the PLA was “Heaven’s Army” (天兵天将) A few people couldn’t take it and fainted, some pissed in their pants, and others shouted slogans at the top of their voice: “Long live the Communist Party! Long live Chairman Mao!” A truly strange and ugly scene.

After that, we went to the airport lounge to have a discussion. No fighting spirit to speak of. One after the other, they all expressed their support for the Party’s minority policies and the People’s Government, saying they wanted to bring the Tibetan people in step with the Communist Party and be models of national solidarity. We knew, with these people, one or two lessons were far from enough. Our work going forward would be long and arduous. But this one air show definitely had a stabilizing effect on the situation at the time. Striking while the iron was hot, officials went back and launched mass work, using their invincible position to capture the vast majority of the people. Soon after that, there was an obvious change in the situation all across Qinghai. Everywhere was noticeably more stable. In a few places, there were still scattered groups of rebel bandits running around and continuing to resist. Dealing with them was a simple matter of encirclement and suppression with ground troops and the 25th Air Force Division.

Just Thirteen Years Old, But Fit To Be An Emperor

Namri Songtsen’s assassination was the result of an attempted coup d’etat . He was poisoned, most likely by his enemies. However, it was his son Songtsen Gampo that managed to quickly crush these enemies and defeat the attempted coup. And it was Songtsen Gampo that would rise as the first and foremost leader of the Tibetan Empire after successfully solidifying his father’s achievements and further expanding his territories. He is regarded as the first emperor of the Tibetan Empire.

According to several semi-historical accounts that survived in Tibet, Songtsen Gampo was just 13 years old when his father was poisoned. Even so, he succeeded to the throne and crushed his opposition. As the ruler of the Tibetan Empire, Gampo was credited with numerous innovations and developments that greatly benefited his people and his empire. After completing the submission of the Tibetan Plateau and greatly extending his borders, Songtsen Gampo focused on cultural achievements.

It is stated that he sent his chief advisor and minister, Thonmi Sambhota of the Thumi Clan, all the way to India to be educated there, and devise a script for classical spoken Tibetan. The pattern chosen for the development of this script was based on the Brahmi and Gupta scripts used in India at the time.

Thonmi Sambhota returned to Tibet and apparently spent a great deal of time in a hermitage developing his script. The result was the Tibetan script, which was used for the writing of the very first literary works in Tibet, historical records, and important court documents. Soon after, Songtsen Gampo decided to move the seat of his empire to a new and far better location in the Kyichu Valley, which is today the site of the major city of Lhasa.

The glorious Buddhist Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa was constructed during the early Tibetan Empire by Songtsen Gampo. ( vladimirzhoga / Adobe Stock)

During his rule, the Tibetan Empire became a major regional power, and began importing not only goods, but also scientific and cultural developments from India, Nepal, and China. Furthermore, he is credited with creating a major legal code, and a powerful, organized army. Also, during his rule the famous Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa was constructed. Today, the monastery is regarded as the most important religious center in all of Tibet.

A lot of Songtsen Gampo’s power lay in his strong army and large numbers of soldiers. During his rule, several major military campaigns were undertaken, which mostly solidified his power. Early on he led a brief campaign in northern Tibet, utterly defeating the Sumpa tribe. Between 635 and 636, the Tibetan Empire undertook a major military campaign against the Tuyuhun Kingdom, around the shores of Lake Koko Nur. This dynastic kingdom controlled several important trade routes into China. Songtsen Gampo was decisively victorious against this kingdom.

Next in line for conflict was the Chinese Tang dynasty and its territories at the edges of the Tibetan Plateau. These two empires clashed between 635 and 638, and the Tibetans emerged victorious. The result of this victory was the marriage between the Chinese princess Wencheng and Songtsen Gampo (or possibly Songtsen Gampo’s son). The marriage happened around 640 AD, and that is when Buddhism first arrived at the court of the Tibetan Empire, brought by the princess. Thus, Songtsen Gampo is traditionally credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet.

A copper plated Sakyamuni Buddha statue from the Tibetan Empire period. (Mountain / CC0)


The earliest inhabitants of Tibet were pastoral people. They herded goats, cattle, and sheep. By 100 BC people in Tibet learned to irrigate the land and grew rice and barley as well as raising herds of livestock. In the 6th century AD, Tibet was divided into different kingdoms but early in the 7th century AD, Tibet became a single, unified state.

Also in the early 7th century, a form of writing was created in Tibet based on Indian writing. Tibet became a highly civilized nation between India and China. It was also powerful. In 763 AD the Tibetans captured the Chinese capital Changan.

The earliest religion of Tibet was called Bon. It was a shamanistic religion. Its followers believed there were good and evil spirits everywhere in nature. The shamans could communicate with the spirits and act as intermediaries.

However, in the 8th century, Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from India. The first Buddhist monastery was built at Samye in c.779 AD. Bon did not die but it adopted many Buddhist teachings. Tibetan Buddhism also adopted Bon beliefs.

However, a ruler named Lang Darma 838-842 persecuted Buddhists, and after his death, Buddhism declined. Moreover, in the 9th century, Tibet split up into warring states. n Buddhism revived in Tibet in the late 10th century. Men like Rinchen Zangpo 958-1055 who founded monasteries and temples, and the Indian teacher Atisha 982-1055 led the revival. Furthermore, in 1073 the great Sakya monastery was founded.

In the early 13th century the Mongols conquered a vast empire across Asia. In 1207 Tibet submitted to the Mongols. As a result, although Tibet became a vassal state it was never fully absorbed into the Mongol Empire.

Then in 1247 Goden Khan, the Mongol leader, made Sakya Lama temporal ruler of Tibet. He became the first priest-ruler of Tibet.

Later Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China, made the Sakya lama his spiritual adviser. It was a symbiotic relationship. The lama advised the emperor and in turn, received his patronage and protection.

However, in 1350 the Tibetans rebelled against the Sakya lama and overthrew him. Tibet then became a secular state.

In the 15th century several new monasteries were founded in Tibet. In 1409 at Gandan. In 1416 at Drepung, at Sera in 1419 and at Trashilingpo in 1447.

In Tibet, Buddhists were divided into several sects. One of these was called the Gelug pa or yellow sect. In 1578 the leader of the sect, Sonan Gyats met the chief of a Mongol tribe called the Tumet. The Mongols were converted to Buddhism and the two men formed an alliance. Sonan Gyats was given the title Dalai Lama. However, he was called the third Dalai Lama. The two previous leaders of the sect were posthumously named the first and second Dalai Lamas.

Sonan Gyats, the third Dalai Lama, became the spiritual adviser of the Mongols while the Mongol chiefs became his patrons and protectors.

The early 17th century was a period of civil war in Tibet. Then in 1640, the Mongols entered Tibet to support the Fifth Dalai Lama. In 1642 they made him temporal ruler as spiritual leader of Tibet. From then on the Dalai Lama was a priest-king.

When the Dalai Lama dies it is believed that he is reincarnated as a child. When the child is discovered he becomes the new Dalai Lama. Under the Fifth Dalai Lama Tibet was prosperous and powerful. However, when the Dalai Lamas died his second in command, the Desi, kept the death secret. The Desi ruled in the Fifth Dalai Lama’s name. He also concealed the discovery of a child believed to be the 6th Dalai Lama. The 6th Dalai Lama was finally installed in 1697.

However, his less than pious ways angered the leader of the Tumet Mongols. In 1705 the Mongols attacked Tibet and they killed the Desi. They also deposed the 6th Dalai Lama, who they claimed was an impostor. The leader of the Tumet, Lhasang Kan installed a man of his choice as Dalai Lama. However, the Tibetan people refused to accept him.

In 1707 another Mongol people, the Dzungars invaded Tibet and killed Lhasang Kang. The Chinese were alarmed by the Dzungar success. In 1720 they sent a representative called an Amban to Tibet. They also stationed Chinese troops there. In time the Chinese began to see themselves as overlord of Tibet.

In the 18th century, Tibet isolated itself from the rest of the world. However, in the early 20th century, Tibet suffered a British invasion. At that time the British ruled India. While the British did not seek to rule Tibet they feared that it would fall under Russian influence.

The Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia and the Chinese representative or Ambman declared that the Dalai Lama was deposed. The Tibetan people ignored him. The British then forced Tibet to sign a treaty allowing some trade with the British Empire and excluding ‘foreign influence’ (Russia) from Tibetan affairs.

The Chinese were alarmed by the British invasion of Tibet. They feared that if Tibet fell into British hands then China would fall under British influence. In 1909 the Chinese invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to India.

However, in 1911 a revolution broke out in China and the emperor was overthrown. Chinese troops in Tibet were forced to withdraw. In 1912 the Dalai Lama returned. However, in 1913 Chinese troops returned and occupied parts of Tibet.

In 1914 the British persuaded the Chinese to accept a treaty called the Simla Convention. The treaty divided Tibet into 2 regions, Inner Tibet and Outer Tibet. The Dalai Lama ruled Outer Tibet (although China claimed suzerainty or loose control). The Chinese were given partial control over Inner Tibet, although the treaty said Tibet would not be absorbed into China.

Neither side was satisfied with the treaty. In 1918 the Chinese invaded Tibet again but were forced to retreat.

In the 1920s and 1930s, some attempts were made to modernize Tibet but it remained a traditional and very isolated country. It was also a feudal society. Most of the land was owned by monasteries or by rich families. Most of the people were serfs. In 1951 Tibet was annexed by China. However, in 1959 resentment of Chinese rule led to a rebellion. The rebellion was quickly crushed and the Dalai Lama fled to India.

Under Chinese rule, serfdom was abolished and in 1965 Tibet was made an autonomous region.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

In 2006 a railway was built from Beijing to Lhasa. It is the highest railway in the world. However, in March 2008 rioting took place in Lhasa. Nevertheless, at the present time, the Tibetan economy is growing rapidly and the region is rich in minerals.

Today the population of Tibet is over 3 million.

Potala Palace

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1. I use “theocracy” as the nearest western equivalent of the Buddhist society that existed in Tibet. Although Tibetologists and Tibetans are likely to object to the term, I use it as a political and social concept within the western political science. The conceptual framework for this analysis of the Tibetan revolt derives from the social systems theory of social change put forward by Johnson , Chalmers A. in his book Revolutionary Change ( Boston : Little, Brown , 1966 )Google Scholar .

2. See the full document in Sen , Chanakya (ed.), Tibet Disappears ( New York : Asia Publishing House , 1960 ), p. 48 Google Scholar .

3. When an English-type school was opened in Tibet as a first step towards modernization, it is said that Chinese bribed the abbots of Drepung, Sera and Ganden Monasteries in Lhasa to force the Tibetan Government to close down the school.

4. I have in mind books such as Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer Tibet and Its History by H. E. Richardson, My Journey to Lhasa, by Alexander David-Neil, and well-known books by Sir Charles Bell, Professor Guiseppe Tucci, and George Patterson, all of whom visited Tibet on several occasions.

5. See the English translation in Tibetan Review, May–June, 1973, pp. 10–11. For a more cautious and scholarly treatment of the subject, see Snellgrove , D. L. and Richardson , H. E. , A Cultural History of Tibet ( New York : Praeger , 1968 )Google Scholar .

6. See Suzuki's , Chusei article, “China's relations with Inner Asia,” in Fairbank , John F. (ed.), The Chinese World Order ( Cambridge : Harvard University Press , 1974 ), pp. 180 –97Google Scholar .

7. Norbu , Dawa , “ The Tibetan response to Chinese Liberation ,” in Asian Affairs , Vol. 62 ( 10 1975 ), p. 266 Google Scholar .

8. Wilson , Dick , The Long March 1935 ( New York : Viking Press , 1971 ), p. 221 Google Scholar .

10. Moseley , George , “ China's fresh approach to the national minority question ,” The China Quarterly , No. 24 ( 10 – 12 1965 ), pp. 16 – 17 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

11. See Takla's , T. N. interesting article, “Notes on some early Tibetan Communists,” Tibetan Review, 06 – 07 1969 , pp. 7 – 9 Google Scholar .

12. Quoted by Wilson , , The Long March 1935, p. 220 Google Scholar .

13. Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung , Vol. V ( Peking , 1977 ), p. 64 Google Scholar . I am grateful to my friend Jeremy Partial for translating this important document from Chinese.

14. Norbu , Dawa , Red Star Over Tibet ( London : Collins , 1974 ), pp. 116 –17Google Scholar . For the general policy toward national minorities as such, see Dreyer , June T. , “Traditional minorities elites and the CPR elite engaged in minority nationalities work,” in Scalapino , Robert A. (ed.), Elites in the People's Republic of China ( Seattle and London : University of Washington Press , 1972 ), pp. 416 –50Google Scholar .

15. See the full document in Sen , , Tibet Disappears, pp. 78 – 81 Google Scholar .

16. See the most interesting revelation by a group of Guards , Red , “How the revolt in Tibet broke out,” Tibet 1950–1967 ( Hong Kong : Union Research Institute , 1968 ), p. 690 Google Scholar .

17. Norbu , , Red Star Over Tibet, p. 125 Google Scholar .

18. The Chinese imaginative policy between 1951–59 is still little known to the world outside. I have attempted to show this policy in operation in my book. See Chaps. 6–9, Red Star Over Tibet.

19. Sinha , Nirmal C. , “Seventeen-point agreement: vindication and liquidation of Tibet's independence,” Tibetan Review, 09 1974 , p. 21 Google Scholar .

20. Take for example Dergue which was halved into Chinese and Tibetan territories separated by the Drichu river. Juchen Thubten who was one of the chiefs at Dergue and who now lives at Dharmasala told me in an interview in 1976, “Once you have crossed the Drichu, you are in Tibetan territory and you can do anything you like: including kill Chinese and get away with that.” Thubten was sent twice to Lhasa in the mid-1950s to plead with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government that they persuade the Chinese to extend the same liberal policy to Kham as well. His missions were in vain.

21. Dr Singh , Gopal (ed.), National Integration: Tibet Issue ( published by the editor in New Delhi , 1964 ), p. 18 Google Scholar .

22. Andrugtsang , Gompo Tashi , Four Rivers, Six Ranges ( Dharmasala, India : Information and Publicity Office of HH The Dalai Lama , 1973 ), pp. 37 – 39 Google Scholar .

23. For the Chinese accounts and views of the revolt, see Concerning the Question of Tibet ( Peking : Foreign Languages Press , 1959 )Google Scholar .

24. Patterson , George N. , “ China and Tibet: background to the revolt ,” The China Quarterly , No. 1 , 01 – 03 1960 , p. 96 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

25. The last piece of information is from The Guardian, 2 September 1954.

United States involvement [ edit | edit source ]

The United States funded training and arms for the guerrillas in Tibet prior to the uprising and for several years following. From 1959 to 1964, Tibetan guerrillas were secretly trained at Camp Hale by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). ⎨]

The Tibetan project was codenamed ST Circus, and it was similar to the CIA operation that trained dissident Cubans in what later became the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In all, around 259 Tibetans were trained at Camp Hale. Some were parachuted back into Tibet to link up with local resistance groups (most perished) others were sent overland into Tibet on intelligence gathering missions and yet others were instrumental in setting up the CIA-funded Tibetan resistance force that operated out of Mustang, in northern Nepal (1959–1974).

Rebellion in Tibet - HISTORY

Tibet, province-level administrative region of China, located in a high-mountain area in the southwestern part of the country. It is officially called the Xizang Autonomous Region.

Throughout its long history, Tibet at times has governed itself as an independent state and at other times has had various levels of association with China. Regardless of China's involvement in Tibetan affairs, Tibet's internal government was for centuries a theocracy (state governed by religious leaders), under the leadership of Buddhist lamas, or monks. In 1959 the Dalai Lama (spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and at that time the head of Tibet's internal government) fled to India during a Tibetan revolt against Chinese control in the region. China then took complete control of Tibet, installing a sympathetic Tibetan ruler and, in 1965, replacing the theocracy with a Communist administration.

The TAR covers an area of about 1,222,000 sq km (about 472,000 sq mi). It is bounded on the north by Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province on the east by Sichuan and Yunnan provinces on the south by Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), India, Bhutan, and Nepal and on the west by India. Lhasa is the region's capital and largest city. Some Tibetans contend that Tibet includes parts of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces where ethnic Tibetans live.

With an average elevation of more than 4000 m (12,000 ft), Tibet is the highest region on earth. For this reason, it is sometimes called the Roof of the World. Most of the people in Tibet live at elevations ranging from 1200 m (3900 ft) to 5100 m (16,700 ft). Tibet is also one of the world's most isolated regions, surrounded by the Himalayas on the south, the Karakoram Range on the west, and the Kunlun Mountains on the north.

The southern part of Tibet is situated entirely within the Himalayas, and many of the world's highest summits are located in the main Himalayan chain, which extends along Tibet's southern frontier. Among the principal peaks are Mount Everest (8848 m/29,028 ft), the world's highest mountain Namcha Barwa (7756 m/25,445 ft) and Gurla Mandhata (7728 m/25,354 ft). The Kailas Range, a chain of the Himalayas, lies parallel to and north of the main chain and has peaks of up to 6700 m (22,000 ft). Between the Kailas Range and the main chain is a river valley that extends about 1000 km (about 600 mi). The Brahmaputra River (known in Tibet as the Yarlung Zangbo) flows from west to east through most of this valley. The Kailas Range slopes north to the Tibetan Plateau (Qing Zang Gaoyuan). This vast tableland extends to the Karakoram Range on the west and the Kunlun Mountains on the north. The Tibetan Plateau, which slopes gradually from south to east, is broken by mountain outcroppings and has an average elevation of about 4570 m (about 15,000 ft). The eastern part of Tibet is a rugged region with numerous smaller mountain ranges interspersed by deep valleys.

The mountains in Tibet form Asia's principal watershed, or dividing line, between westward-flowing and eastward-flowing streams, and Tibet is the source of many of the continent's major rivers. The Brahmaputra is Tibet's most important river. The Indus, Ganges, and Sutlej rivers have their headwaters in western Tibet. The Salween River (Nu Jiang) rises in central Tibet and the headwaters of the Mekong (Lancang Jiang), Yangtze (Chang Jiang), and Huang He (Yellow River) are found in northern Tibet. Many of Tibet's rivers have potential for hydroelectric development. The Tibetan Plateau is dotted with numerous somewhat salty lakes, including Ngangla Ringco in the west and Nam Co (Na-mu-ts'o) in the east.

Vegetation on the Tibetan Plateau is extremely sparse, consisting mainly of grasses and shrubs. Scattered wooded areas occur in the extreme west and east. Most vegetation, however, is concentrated in the Brahmaputra, Indus, and Sutlej river valleys. These areas support a number of species of trees, including conifers, oaks, cypresses, poplars, and maples. Apple, peach, pear, and apricot trees are cultivated in the valleys.

Tibet is home to a variety of wildlife. Musk deer, wild sheep, wild goats, wild donkeys, yaks, and Tibetan antelope are common in mountainous areas. Other large mammals include leopards, tigers, bears, wolves, foxes, and monkeys. Birdlife includes geese, gulls, teal, and other species of waterfowl, as well as pheasants and sand grouse.

Tibet has a dry, cold climate with an average annual temperature of 1° C (34° F). Temperatures in the mountains and plateaus are especially cold, and strong winds are common year round. The river valleys experience a more moderate climate. Lhasa and central Tibet have an average temperature of 0° C (32° F) in December and an average of 17° C (60° F) in June. The daily temperature range is great. On a typical summer day, the temperature can rise from 3° C (37° F) before sunrise to 27° C (81° F) by midday. In general, temperatures in Tibet frequently drop suddenly after sunset. The average annual precipitation is 381 mm (15 in), with the largest amount falling in the southeast.

Tibet is rich in mineral resources, although only a few have been exploited because of inaccessibility, a lack of industrial capacity, and Buddhist admonitions against disturbing the earth for fear of harming living creatures. Gold is found in many areas, and significant deposits of iron ore, coal, salt, and borax are also present. Other known mineral resources include oil shale, manganese, lead, zinc, quartz, and graphite. Jade, lapis lazuli, and other precious and semiprecious stones are also found.

Since 1959 the Chinese government has capitalized on some of Tibet's resources by mining chromite, tinkalite, and boromagnesite constructing hydroelectric and geothermal plants and logging timber. In eastern Tibet, serious environmental concerns have been raised over the extent of pollution and deforestation resulting from these projects.

The population of the TAR was 2,196,010 at the time of the 1990 census, yielding an average population density of 1.8 persons per sq km (4.7 per sq mi), the lowest of any region in China. Because the 1990 census was the first properly conducted count, population figures for Tibet prior to that date were largely imprecise estimates. Experts believe that before Chinese Communists began controlling Tibet in the 1950s, the region's population was declining due to illness, poor pre- and postnatal care, and a sizeable proportion of men becoming celibate monks. It is estimated, however, that the population has nearly doubled since that time, as a result of better health care, increased availability of food, and relative political stability.

The vast majority of Tibet's people live in rural areas, and a large but diminishing part of the population is nomadic (having no fixed residence) or seminomadic. Lhasa, the capital and largest city, is Tibet's principal center of trade, tourism, commerce, education, and government, and the headquarters of the region's major religious institutions. Xigazê (Shigatse), the second largest city, is also an important trade and commercial center and the home of the Panchen Lama, the second most important leader in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

The majority of people in Tibet are ethnic Tibetans, and the largest minority are Han Chinese, China's majority ethnic group. According to the 1990 census, 3.7 percent of Tibet's population was Han Chinese however, this and other population figures are believed to be incomplete, as they do not include the much larger number of Han who have come to Tibet looking for work opportunities and have not officially registered as residents. The large number of Han has exacerbated already tense relations between Tibetans and China's central government over governmental policies in Tibet. There are also smaller populations of ethnic Lhoba, Moinba, Deng, Xiaerba, and Hui (Chinese Muslims).

Most people in Tibet speak Tibetan, a language of the Tibeto-Burman subfamily of Sino-Tibetan languages. Various dialects of Tibetan are spoken in different regions. Putonghua (Mandarin) Chinese, China's official language, is also used, particularly by Han Chinese, government agencies, and most commercial enterprises. People can request the use of Tibetan within the legal system. Little Chinese is heard in Tibet's rural areas.

Tibetan Buddhism is the religion of the overwhelming majority of the population. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from India, originally in the 7th century, and then, after a period of persecution, it was reintroduced in the 11th century. Tibetan Buddhism evolved into four sects: the Nyingma, which bases its teachings on translations of the earliest works from the 7th century the Kagyu, which was founded during the 10th and 11th centuries the Sakya, which was founded during the 11th century and led by Tibet's principal political rulers before the Dalai Lamas and the Gelugpa, which originated in the late 14th century and became the largest of the four. The Dalai and Panchen Lamas belong to the Gelugpa sect.

Historically, religion permeated every aspect of Tibetan life. The only educational system was religious, all cultural and intellectual activities were centered around religious beliefs, and the heads of government were Buddhist monks. However, from 1966 to 1972, during the Cultural Revolution, religious practice in Tibet was completely curtailed. Bands of Red Guards, youths loyal to Chinese leader Mao Zedong, destroyed temples and other religious structures in Tibet, and persecuted monks and nuns.

Today, Buddhism is practiced widely in Tibet. Many monasteries and other religious buildings have been rebuilt, and monks and nuns are once again openly practicing their religion. Tibetan Buddhists are expected to recite prayers and mantras regularly, prostrate themselves at religious shrines, make offerings to temples and monasteries, and participate in various other religious rituals. Tibetans also enjoy a number of religious and cultural festivals, including Lohar, the Tibetan New Year Monlam, which celebrates the victory of Buddha over his opponents Sakadawa, which celebrates the anniversary of the birth, death, and enlightenment of the Buddha and the Butter Lamp Festival, which commemorates the death of Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Chinese government still enforces various restrictions, which many Tibetans deeply resent. These include a limitation on the number of clergy and the number of religious buildings. Moreover, police agents are assigned to the monasteries to prevent political activities. At times, the government also outlaws the public display of the Dalai Lama's picture.

Prior to the 1950s there was no formal educational system in Tibet and very few people were literate. Most Tibetan monks were taught to memorize religious scriptures rather than read them. The Chinese introduced secular, formal state schooling in 1952. By the mid-1990s there were more than 3000 schools in Tibet and the literacy rate was estimated at about 50 percent. Tibetan is the language of instruction in lower grades, shifting to Putonghua in later years. In the mid-1990s Tibet had four institutions of higher learning, all located in Lhasa: Tibet University, the Institute for Nationalities, the Agricultural and Animal Husbandry College, and the Tibetan Medical College.

Since assuming control in the 1950s, the Chinese Communist administration has improved Tibet's transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, Tibet's economy has grown and diversified. As a result, Tibetans in urban areas now enjoy considerably more material benefits in the form of food, clothing, housing, technology, and entertainment. Far less improvement has occurred in rural areas. Modern conveniences have also allowed for a wider dissemination of traditional culture. Tibet has a number of professional opera and theatrical troupes, which perform throughout the region and elsewhere. There are Tibetan-language television and radio programs, as well as newspapers and books.

In spite of these material changes, however, Tibet remains one of the poorest regions in China, particularly its rural areas. In the mid-1990s the average annual per capita income for city dwellers was about $120, while rural people earned about half that amount. Although the Chinese government contributes subsidies to help offset Tibet's low standard of living, controversy has developed over who benefits from this aid. China's central government has admitted that more money has gone to better the lives of Chinese officials and workers in Tibet than the lives of Tibetans.

Throughout most of Tibet's history, women were treated as second-class citizens. Although the Chinese government legalized the equality of women in the 1950s, everyday practice continues to lag far behind the law. In the mid-1990s a small number of Tibetan women held positions in local government, higher education, and the arts.

Subsistence agriculture dominates the Tibetan economy. Arable land, concentrated mostly in the river valleys, is limited in area. The principal subsistence crops are barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, potatoes, and various vegetables and fruits. Cotton, soybeans, walnuts, tea, and hemp are grown as commercial crops. Livestock raising is the primary occupation of the Tibetan Plateau region. In addition to sheep, cattle, and goats, the herds include camels, yaks, horses, and other beasts of burden.

Some coal mining takes place in Tibet. The region's manufacturing sector has expanded since 1959 but remains limited to small-scale enterprises producing such goods as textiles and electrical equipment. The production of local handicrafts constitutes a major supply of income. Craft items include woolen carpets, fabrics, aprons, quilts, clothing, furniture, wooden bowls, gold and silver jewelry, and Tibetan hats.

There are no railroads in Tibet. The road system, which did not exist before 1950, has grown to about 22,000 km (about 14,000 mi). A trans-Tibetan highway now runs from west to east. Other highways connect the region with Xinjiang and Qinghai to the north, Sichuan to the east, and Nepal and India to the south. Tibet has two commercial airports the more important one is located near Lhasa. Since the 1980s tourism has become an important source of revenue in Tibet. Most visitors stay in the Lhasa area, although Xigazê and the base camp of Mount Everest are also popular sites.

Tibet is officially an autonomous region of China, which means that an ethnic Tibetan heads the regional government. In reality, however, major decisions are made by the central government in Beijing. Ethnic Tibetans comprise about 70 percent of government cadres (administrators) in Tibet. The most powerful officials in Tibet, including the head of the local Communist Party office, are typically Han Chinese.

Prior to the 7th century, when Buddhism was introduced into Tibet by missionaries from India, the history of the region is unclear. Buddhist missionaries developed an alphabet for the Tibetan language and initiated translations of Buddhist sacred texts. They also conducted a relentless struggle against Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet, which was based largely on shamanism (seeShaman). In the period of Buddhist penetration, which led to the development of Lamaism (Buddhism characterized by hierarchical organization of lamas, or monks), Tibet was a strong kingdom. Toward the end of the 10th century the kingdom began to disintegrate, eventually splitting into a number of small principalities. Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan incorporated the area into his empire in 1206. In the 15th century the Mongols named the head of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism the Dalai Lama (monk with an ocean of wisdom) and in the 1640s they granted him political power in Tibet.

In the 18th century Tibet came under the control of China. However, in the course of the following century, Chinese authority diminished steadily. Meanwhile, British colonial officials in India, including administrator Warren Hastings, attempted to secure a foothold in the region. These efforts proved unsuccessful, mainly because of Tibetan resentment of an unsuccessful Nepalese invasion of Tibet in the 1790s, which the British had supported.

In 1904 the British, who were alarmed over purported Russian influence in Tibet, invaded the region. At that time, Tibet had considerable autonomy under Chinese authority. In 1906 the British and Chinese governments established an agreement by which Britain recognized the Chinese Empire as Tibet's suzerain power (state that controls another state's international affairs). The agreement also provided for the Chinese government's payment of a large indemnity to the British, who subsequently withdrew their troops. In 1907 the British and Russian governments concluded an agreement pledging noninterference in Tibetan affairs and acknowledging Chinese suzerainty.

Following the revolutionary overthrow of China's Qing dynasty in 1911, Tibetans reasserted their independence and began expelling all Chinese officials and troops from the region, which they accomplished by 1913. That year representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet met in Simla, India, to discuss Tibet's status and borders. The representatives reached a tentative agreement that provided for a region known as Inner Tibet to become part of China proper and for Chinese suzerainty over an autonomous Outer Tibet, located further west. Despite British and Tibetan acceptance, the Simla agreement was never ratified by the Chinese government, and China later repudiated the convention, refusing to abandon its claim to all of Tibet. Relations between China and Tibet grew increasingly strained, culminating in 1918 in an armed conflict in eastern Tibet. Later that year, the British helped negotiate a truce between Tibet and China. Subsequent efforts to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful.

In October 1950, little more than a year after the Communist Party had gained control of mainland China, Communist troops invaded Qamdo (Chamdo) on Tibet's eastern border. To rally the Tibetans against the advancing Chinese force, the regent, governor ruling for the 15-year-old 14th Dalai Lama, invested the Dalai Lama with full authority. However, in May 1951 the Tibetan government capitulated, signing a treaty that gave the Dalai Lama power in domestic affairs but ceded control of foreign and military affairs to the Chinese government. The treaty also provided for the return from China of the 12-year-old Panchen Lama-the Lamaist spiritual authority-whose predecessor had gone into self-imposed exile in 1923 because of monetary and political disputes with the 13th Dalai Lama. Chinese military units reached Lhasa in October. The Panchen Lama arrived there in April 1952.

The Chinese made efforts to improve communications in Tibet. They completed airfields in various parts of the region and constructed military highways. A purge of anti-Chinese officials in Tibet was reportedly carried out in early 1953. The following year, the Indian government recognized Tibet as part of China and withdrew the troops it had stationed at two Tibetan trading posts. Under the terms of an agreement signed in 1955, India ceded to China its control of telephone, telegraph, and postal systems in Tibet.

Tibetan Revolt In 1954 the Dalai Lama was appointed to a nominal position in the Chinese government. In 1956 a committee was established to prepare a constitution for Tibet as an autonomous region of China the Dalai Lama was named chairman and the Panchen Lama first vice chairman of the committee. Guerrilla activity against the Chinese regime broke out in areas of Sichuan Province where ethnic Tibetans were living. The Dalai Lama, who was visiting India at the time, threatened not to return to Tibet. The Chinese government announced that the socialist transformation of Tibet would be postponed, but the rebellion in the east was not contained. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama voluntarily returned to Lhasa. The rebellion grew with the aid of the United States Central Intelligence Agency until March 1959, when it flared into a full-scale revolt in Lhasa. The rebellion was to last until 1971, but after 1959 it was more a nuisance to the Chinese government than a real threat. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he established a community of Tibetans. The Chinese made the Panchen Lama the acting head of the region. On October 21, 1959, the United Nations (UN) approved a resolution deploring the suppression of human rights in Tibet. A similar resolution was passed on March 9, 1961. These resolutions occurred at a time when the UN was preventing China's Communist government from membership in the organization.

Tens of thousands of Tibetans fled Tibet after the Chinese invasion. Most settled in India. Others took refuge in the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. In 1965 Tibet was formally established as an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, and the Communist government announced that the region would undergo steady socialist reorganization.

Recent Developments In 1978 the Panchen Lama, who had been jailed in 1964 for criticizing Chinese rule of Tibet, was reinstated to his official positions. He appealed repeatedly to the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. In 1980 the Chinese admitted that Tibet had been misgoverned and announced reforms for the region. Tibetans found the reforms insufficient, and violent demonstrations protesting Chinese rule occurred in October 1987. In 1988 negotiations between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, which had taken place periodically over the previous decade, broke off. The Dalai Lama refused to publicly renounce Tibetan independence, and China refused to compromise on the issue of greater autonomy for Tibet.

In 1993 more demonstrations by Tibetans took place, in addition to several acts of terrorism against the Chinese. In 1995 a new conflict emerged in Tibet over the selection of the next Panchen Lama. The search committee identified 28 possible candidates and conveyed that information to the Dalai Lama in India. The Dalai Lama selected one boy, a six-year-old named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the 11th Panchen Lama. The Chinese government, angered at having the selection process usurped by the Dalai Lama, cited the historical role it had allegedly played in the selection process of previous Panchen and Dalai Lamas. They inaugurated their own candidate, a six-year-old named Gyaincain Norbu. They held Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family in detention and began a renewed campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama. Fresh rumblings erupted within the Tibetan independence movement. In May 1996 the Chinese began a crackdown on Tibetan monasteries that resulted in the injury and death of several monks. According to some experts, talks resumed secretly between the Dalai Lama and Chinese government officials in late 1996, only to break off several months later when China sentenced the leader of the Panchen Lama search team to a long prison term.

Watch the video: The Tibetan uprising 1959


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