Amongst some interesting theories about the origins
of Tibetans, the most striking one is that they may owe their
origins to a group of Turkish tribesmen who are thought to have
escaped from western Asia around 150 BC after a defeat by the
fierce Hun people. There’s a certain link between Tibetans and
Central Asian Turks, especially Tangut Turks and Monghols whom
they shared borders for a long time. But there’s not much information
about Tibetan history prior to arrival of Buddhism and the King
Songsten Gampo, as those years are thought as dark ages.
The very first kings of Tibet lived in the southern province of
Yarlung, on the border with Bhutan and they’re called Yarlung
kings. But the most remarkable king was Songsten Gampo (630-649
AD) who reigned for 19 years. He was not only a warrior but also
a good ruler and a learned man. He moved his capital from Yarlung
to Lhasa and built a fort where the great Potala Palace stands
today. He sent his minister Thonmi Sambhota and sixteen students
to India to study Buddhist texts. Thonmi Sambhota is thought to
be the person who derived Tibetan script from Sanskrit and Kashmiri
scripts. But there’s another theory that Tibetan script is based
on and developed from Ma-yig script of Khotan in east Turkestan,
which existed before Songsten Gampo.
Successors of Songsten Gampo continued expansion of Tibetan Empire
and supported Buddhism. Tibetan armies fought with Chinese on
their eastern frontier. They became so powerful that they even
forced the Chinese to pay them yearly tax of 50,000 rolls of silk.
When Chinese emperor Wang Peng Wang refused to pay in 763 Tibetan
king of that time, Tresong Detsun invaded Chinese capital of Chang’an.
In 783 a peace treaty was agreed between Tibet and China. The
treaty still exists today written on a stone pillar in Lhasa.
The decline of Tibet in terms of power started with the clashes
between Bon religion (original religion of Tibet like shamanism)
supporters, mostly royal family and relatives and the supporters
of newly adopted Buddhism. The most remarkable king who ruled
Tibet between 797-804 Muni Tsenpo was the greatest reformer and
attempted to transfer money from rich to poor not even sparing
the royal family. His attempts at equality aroused great opposition
among the nobles and further divided the Tibetans. He was poisoned
by his own mother in order to avoid more violence that his reforms
Muni Tsenpo’s grandson King Ralpachen is also remembered with
affection by Tibetans. He encouraged Buddhism by founding temples
and monasteries. He was assassinated by someone from anti-Buddhist
party. Unfortunately Ralpachen did not have an heir and reign
passed to his brother, Lang Darma who was a supporter of Bon religion.
This period was a big set back for the development of Buddhism
in Tibet. A Buddhist monk called Lhalung Pelgye Dorjee who invented
the Black Hat Dance to perform the murder, himself assassinated
For four hundred years after the death of the
last king, Lang darma in 843, Tibet was divided into many little
states and a chief or a lama ruled each. The only thing uniting
the country during these years was the spread of Buddhism. As
a result monasteries became very powerful and began to acquire
wealth and land and the head lama might well rule over much of
the surrounding countryside. When a chief died, his widow or daughter
would sometimes rule the little kingdom with vigour and wisdom.
Women in Tibet have always had a share in the control of their
During the 12th and 13th centuries the priests
of the Buddhism in its Lamaistic form were steadily extending
their influence among people always prone to believe in spirits
and mysticism. When the invasions of Jenghis Khan and the rumours
that nothing survived that lay in the path of the Mongol hordes
were heard, Tibetan chieftains and lamas held a meeting in Lhasa
and agreed to pay a tribute to Jenghis Khan to prevent him to
attack Tibet. Mongol emperor agreed and Tibet was saved from his
ferocious armies. After the death of Jenghis Khan, Tibet stopped
paying the tribute, which annoyed his grandson, Prince Godan.
But Prince was not just a harsh warrior and was greatly interested
in Buddhism and he ordered a lama to go to Mongolia to advise
his ignorant people on how to conduct themselves morally and spiritually.
Impressed Prince of the Sakya Lama’s teachings gave him the title
of supreme ruler on his return to Tibet. The lama never returned
back, he stayed in Mongolia and translated the Buddhist scriptures
into Mongolian, which was not a written language at that time
with his nephew Dogon Choegyal Phagpa. Phagpa used the authority
to rule on his return to Tibet and this was the start of unique
relationship between the Tibetan Lamas and the Mongol leaders.
In 1270 Khublai Khan, the first Mongol Emperor of Chinese converted
to Lamaism thus the power and prestige of Sakya Lamas increased.
King Chang-Chub Gyal-tsen, who inaugurated the Second Monarchy
in Tibet, broke the power of Sakya. He continued to promote the
religion but discarded many of the Chinese and Mongolian innovations
introduced by the Sakya priest-kings. The Sakya Hierarchs had
depended on the Mongol Emperors, but the new dynasty known as
Sitya depended on China. The Sitya dynasty ruled in Tibet for
three hundred years till 1635. The affinity between Mongolia and
Tibet has always remained strong.
Birth and development of Buddhism in
the 8th Century in Tibet
Tresong Detsun invited the great Indian teacher Shantirakshita
- known to Tibetans as Khenchen Zhiwatso- to come and teach the
Buddha’s doctrines throughout in his lands. At that time the Bon
religion was still powerful in Tibet and Khenchen Zhiwatso decided
that Tibetans were not ready yet to receive his teachings and
went back to Nepal to send the great Tantric teacher Padmasambhava
to teach in Tibet.
(Statue of Buddha Shakyamuni in the Norbulingka
Padmasambhava known as Lopon Rinpoche in Tibet was successful
as he had gained enlightenment through Tantric path which is the
short but much harder path and had so much experience and power
over evil spirits whom Tibetans seem to believe very much. The
very first monastery is founded in Samye. Samye monastery became
the centre for translating sacred scriptures. Lopon Rinpoche travelled
far and wide across Tibet to give his teachings but he did not
destroy all the Tibetans’ old beliefs, rather adapted them to
fit in with the Buddha’s teachings. That’s where the differences
of Tibetan Buddhism come from.
Over the centuries, a number of different Buddhist sects grew
up in Tibet. These sects have slightly different rules and teachings
but they all follow the words of the Lord Buddha in their own
Indian teacher, Atisha who arrived in Tibet on
one of the heroes of the Buddhist revival in western Tibet, Yeshe
Od’s invitation taught monks to follow a purer and more disciplined
path. His followers were called Kadampa. The ideas of Kadampa
were later adopted by the Gelukpa sect. However, some monks chose
not to follow Atisha and continued practising the older teachings
of Lopon Rinpoche and were known as the Nyingmapa – Old believers,
which is the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Two of Atisha’s disciples deviated slightly from their master’s
teachings and founded lineages of their own, which are known as
Kargyupa and Sakyapa sects. Kargyupa was founded by a great translator
called Marpa. One of his disciples was the much loved Milarepa,
who was a great poet and his songs are still remembered and sang
by nomads and farmers to this day.
The Sakya monastery was founded by a great scholar called Khon
Konchog Gyalpo. It became famous for its purity and learning.
Sakya Lamas ruled Tibet in the 13th and 14th centuries with the
support of the Mongols.
The last and the largest sect, Gelukpa was founded by a great
religious teacher called Tsong Khapa (1357-1419). Gelukpa means
the “perfect virtue”. It was from this sect that the Dalai Lamas
were to come. The biggest and most important Gelukpa monasteries
are Sera and Drepung of which the replicas are built in India.
In 1788 Hindu Gurkhas attacked Tibet from Nepal
unexpectedly. Manchu Emperor sent army to repel Gurkhas and also
decided to increase his influence in Tibet. He made a suggestion
for choosing the future Dalai Lamas and send a golden urn to Tibet
to be used for this purpose. He decreed that Tibet’s communication
with outside world should be controlled by China and foreigners
prevented entering the country. But among these reforms only one
was put in action, which was the isolation of Tibet from the rest
of the world. In 1841 and 1855 Tibet had to deal with two more
attacks from Dogras and Gurkhas but did not receive any military
aid from China. So Tibet declared sovereignty in 1913. The “Patron”
(China) could no longer protect his “Priest” (Tibet).
Dalai Lama – “Ocean of Wisdom” and the Structure of Government
Dalai Lama is the supreme political and spiritual head of Tibet.
His whole life is devoted to maintaining the Buddhist religion
(he follows practices of all four sects) and serving his people.
They are originated as the spiritual followers of Tsong Khapa
–the founder of Gelukpa sect- first achieved their supreme position
in Tibet in the time of the great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th
century. In 1642, the Mongol Prince Gushri Khan, helped the Fifth
Dalai Lama (1617-1682) to become the supreme political and spiritual
ruler of Tibet. For the Dalai Lama is regarded by Tibetans as
the human manifestation of Chenresig, Lord of Compassion. This
gives him a god-like authority. Moreover, many Tibetans watch
their ruler grow up from childhood, and therefore feel an added
warmth and affection for him. Each one is an incarnation of his
predecessor and is discovered, never elected or appointed.
Tashilhunpo Monastery was established in 1447 by Panchen Gedun
Drup, retrospectively known as the First Dalai Lama. Successive
abbots were given the name Panchen because of their scholarship.
The fifth Dalai Lama gave his teacher, Panchen Lobsang Chokyi
Gyaltsen (1570-1662), the ownership of the monastery and some
additional estates. After that Panchen Lamas were selected on
the basis of reincarnation, each successive Panchen Lama retaining
ownership of the monastery and estates.
Contrary to Chinese Communist propaganda, the Panchen Lamas and
other high lamas exercised authority only and were not involved
in the political administration of any part of Tibet. After the
invasion of Tibet the Chinese Communist government consistently
tried to use the late Panchen Lama to legitimise its position
and urged him to denounce, and take the place of, the Dalai Lama
on a number of occasions. But the Panchen Lama refused to do so,
and suffered many years of imprisonment and maltreatment as a
In theory, the Dalai Lama is the absolute ruler.
In practice, he is bound by various checks, which make sure that
he follows the traditions and customs of his country. As being
both political and spiritual leader of Tibet, his civil service
is divided into two branches - religious and lay. There were 300
specially trained monks in the monastic civil service known as
Tsedrung, and an equal number of hereditary nobles in the lay
civil service, known as Shodrung. Noble families were obliged
to provide at least one boy for government service at little or
no salary. The lay official below the Dalai Lama was the Prime
Minister and the cabinet called Kashag, which was the most important
ruling body in Tibet. After the Chinese invasion in 1959 the government
formed itself in Dharamsala exactly in the same structure. There
is no government representing the so-called Autonomous Tibet,
which is the size of only one and a half of traditional Tibet
Below the Kashag came all the different offices, which dealt with
the direct administration of the country, e.g. finance, foreign,
military, treasury and district offices.
Tibet was divided into three great regions known as Doto (Kham),
Dome (Amdo) and U-Tsang (central and western Tibet). Each of these
regions was ruled by a provincial governor called Chikyab. The
districts were administered by two officials called Dzongpons.
The present Dalai Lama had plans to reform the administration
of the remote districts from Lhasa along with the land-owning
system, but he was forced to flee his homeland before this could
be carried out.
Two Rival Empires; British India and
In the late 19th century, British power in India
was advancing towards the great rock barrier of the Himalayas.
To the north and east lay China, but Russian Empire also started
creeping closer to Tibet’s borders from north-west. Although neither
Russia nor Britain wished to take territory from Tibet, each was
concerned that the other should not exert undue influence in Tibet
Britain and Tibet had had their first contact in the second half
of 18th century, between the third Panchen Lama and Warren Hastings-governor
of India- and this had led to friendly exchanges. George Bogle
who went to see the Panchen Lama in 1774 married Panchen Lama’s
After a long quiet period between Britain and
Tibet until 1876, Britain’s wish to visit Tibet was refused. By
1895 the Russians had reached the Pamirs, which caused a great
concern for British. Tibet was the only buffer between Russian
Empire and British India. After some attempts of negotiating with
Tibet through Chinese, Britain government in India sent a mission
to Tibet to deal with the Lhasa government directly. Purpose of
the mission was two- fold: to agree to trade rights and to see
what the Russians were up to in Tibet. Sikh and Gurkha troops
commanded by British officers attacked Tibetan army, which was
wiped out in a very short period of time. Colonel Francis Younghusband
who could not find any high rank Tibetan officials to negotiate
carried on moving towards Lhasa and camped just before Lhasa.
(The first Europeans to visit the Holy City for more than a generation.)
As a result 1904 Convention was settled outstanding disputes on
the Indian Tibetan frontier, agreed to the opening of trade centres
with residents British agents at Gyantse, Gartok and Yatung and
contained a clause excluding any other foreign power from political
influence in Tibet. The British were dealing with Tibet as a separate
and independent state capable of making its own treaties, for
the Convention made no mention of China at all.
However in 1907, the British signed a Convention
with Russia in which they both agreed not to negotiate with Tibet
except through China. (One explanation of this inconsistency on
the part of the British may be that the 1904 treaty was made by
the government in India, while the latter was negotiated by the
government in London. Tibetans were not a party to 1907 one and
they never felt themselves bound by it.)
British invasion caused confusion in Tibet and China panicked
thinking of losing influence over Tibet and sent troops to Tibet
and started negotiations with British over the trade agreements.
Eastern border of Tibet became under Chinese control and in the
face of the threat the Dalai Lama for the first time in Tibetan
history appealed to the outside world for help against the Chinese.
The protest made by British in Beijing did not stop the Chinese
and in February 1910 the troops of General Chung Ying reached
Lhasa. The Dalai Lama at that time escaped and took refuge in
Historians have rightly seen the 1910 invasion
as a turning point in the relationship between Tibet and China.
Up until this time, when the Chinese had interfered in Tibetan
affairs, they had not been openly opposed by the Tibetans. But
the events of 1910 mark a completely break from this. The corruption
of the court in Beijing and internal problems of China such as
famine and political unrest led to revolution in China in 1911.
That meant the end of Chinese interference in Tibet and 1912 all
the Chinese troops were shipped back to China.
The conference at Simla was called by the British in 1913-at The
Dalai Lama’s request- to try to settle the differences between
Tibet and China once and for all. The role of the British was
merely to act as mediators, for their particular interest was
to encourage a peaceful agreement between the delegates, in order
to ensure a stable northern border for their empire.
After lots of arguments the British persuaded
the delegates of both sides to accept the idea of an autonomous
Tibet under the over lordship of China. “Autonomy” meant in practise
that neither China nor Britain would interfere with the administration
of Tibet, nor send any troops into Tibet. Over the problem of
the frontier, the British proposed the idea of “Outer” and “Inner”
Tibet. Outer Tibet would consist of the huge area west of Yangtse
river that had been governed independently by the Tibetans for
centuries, thus will remain autonomous from the Chinese, but Inner
Tibet would consist of the semi-independent border areas. Chinese
officials could be appointed there, but the area was not to be
converted into a Chinese province.
Neither China nor Tibet was completely happy
with these proposals, but after six months of negotiations, both
sides agreed to sign the agreement. When the news reached China
the Chinese government refused to recognise it, but Britain and
Tibet signed the agreement which reaffirmed Tibet’s position as
an independent power capable of making her own treaties.
The Chinese Invasion
At the time of invasion by troops of the People’s
Liberation Army of China in 1949, Tibet was an independent state
in fact and at law. The military take over constituted an aggression
a sovereign state and a violation of international law. Today’s
continued occupation of Tibet by China, with the help of several
hundred troops, represents an outgoing violation of international
law and of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people to independence.
The Chinese communist government claims it has a right to “ownership”
of Tibet. It does not claim this right on the basis of its military
conquest in 1949, or its alleged effective control over Tibet
since 1959. They do not base their claim on the so-called “Seventeen-Point
Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” which was forced
upon Tibet in 1951. Chinese claim is based on historical relationships-primarily
Mongol or Manchu rulers of China with Tibetan Lamas as we have
looked at earlier under the titles of The Origins of Tibet and
first kings and Gurkha Wars. However, there is no evidence of
Chinese authority or influence in Tibet between 1911 and 1951
to support Chinese claim. The International Commission of Jurists’
Legal Enquiry Committee on Tibet reported in its study on Tibet’s
legal status: “ Tibet demonstrated the conditions of statehood
as generally accepted under international law from 1913 to 1950.
In 1950 there was people and a territory, and a government, which
functioned in that territory, conducting its own domestic affairs
free from any outside authority. From 1913-1950 foreign relations
of Tibet were conducted exclusively by the Government of Tibet,
and countries with whom Tibet had foreign relations are shown
by official documents to have treated Tibet in practice as an
independent state.” [Tibet and Chinese People’s Republic, Geneva,
The Status of Tibet between 1912-1951
The territory of Tibet largely corresponds to the geological plateau
of Tibet, which consists of 2.5 million square km. At different
times in history wars were fought and treaties were signed concerning
the precise location of boundaries. The population of Tibet at
the time of Chinese invasion was approximately six million. That
population constituted the Tibetan people, a distinct people with
a long history, rich culture and spiritual tradition. They are
distinct from the Chinese and other neighbouring nations. Not
only have the Tibetans never considered themselves to be Chinese,
the Chinese have also not regarded the Tibetans to be Chinese
(hence, for instance the references to “barbarians” in Chinese
The government of Tibet was headquartered in
Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. It consisted of a Head of State
(the Dalai Lama), the cabinet of ministers (the Kashag), a National
Assembly (the Tsongdu) and an extensive bureaucracy to administer
the vast territory of Tibet. The judicial system was based on
that developed by Emperor Songsten Gampo (7th C.), Lama Changchub
Gyaltsen (14th C.), the Fifth Dalai Lama (7th C.) and the thirteenth
Dalai Lama (20th C.) and was administered by the magistrates appointed
by the Government.
The international relations of Tibet were focused
on the country’s neighbours. Tibet maintained diplomatic, economic
and cultural relations with countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim,
Mongolia, China, and British India and to a limited extent with
Russia and Japan. Tibet’s independent foreign policy is perhaps
most obviously demonstrated by the country’s neutrality during
the World War II. Despite strong pressure from China, Britain
and the USA to allow the passage of military supplies through
Tibet to China when Japan blocked the strategically vital Burma
Road, Tibet held fast to her declared neutrality.
Today China claims that “no country ever recognised Tibet”. However,
the treaties, the conduct of negotiations and certainly the maintenance
of diplomatic relations of Tibet are surely forms of recognition.
Relations with Nationalist China
China’s position was ambiguous during this period
(1911-1949). On one had, the Nationalist Government unilaterally
announced in its constitution and in communications to other countries
that Tibet was a province of the Republic China (one of the five
races of the Republic of which one of them is Turks of east Turkestan).
On the other hand, it recognised that Tibet was not part of the
Republic of China in its official communications with the government
and Dalai Lama asking them to join the Republic of China. Several
invitations were to Nepal as well, but neither Nepal nor Tibet
accepted these offers.
In 1919, an unofficial Chinese delegation went
to Lhasa, ostensibly to present religious offerings to the Thirteenth
Dalai Lama, but in reality to urge the Tibetan leader to negotiate
an agreement with China. Several other Chinese envoys were made
consequently in later years, but none of them were accepted by
United Nations Debates
When Chinese Communist armies started entering
Tibet in 1949, the Tibetan Government sent an urgent appeal to
the United Nations to help Tibet resist the aggression. The General
Assembly as advised by Britain and India not to take any action
for the time being in order not to provoke a full-scale attack
This became especially evident during the full debates on the
issue in the United Nations General Assembly in 1959,1960, 1961
and 1965 took place. Many governments asserted similar opinions
expressed by the Ambassador of the Philippines who referred to
Tibet as an “independent nation” and added: It is clear that on
the eve of the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was not under the
rule of any foreign country”. He described China’s occupation
as “the worst type of imperialism and colonialism past or present”.
The Nicaraguan representative condemned the Chinese invasion of
Tibet and said: ”The people of America, born in freedom, must
obviously be repelled by an act of aggression…and particularly
when it is perpetrated by a large state against a small and weak
one.” Similarly the Government of United States condemned and
denounced Chinese “aggression” and their “invasion” of Tibet.
Recognition of Tibet’s right to self-determination
The Permanent Tribunal of Peoples, which met
in Strasbourg for a week to hear extensive testimony and arguments
in November 1992, found that the Tibetans meet the generally accepted
legal criteria of ‘a people’ with the right to self-determination”.
The Tribunal concluded that, “the presence of the Chinese administration
on Tibetan territory must be considered as foreign domination
of the Tibetan people.”
In an unrelated conference, several week later,
thirty eminent international lawyers from many countries in Europe,
Africa, Asia and the Americas met in London for four days to consider
issues relating to the exercise of the right to self-determination
by the Tibetan people. After extensive consideration of evidence,
including the Chinese Government’s White Paper, and after a lively
legal debate, the conference participants concluded, in a written
1- Under the international law the Tibetan People
are entitled to the right to self-determination, that this right
“belongs to the Tibetan People” and that “it is not for the state
apparatus of the PRC, or any other nation or state to deny the
Tibetan people’s right to self-determination”.
2- “Since the military action of 1949-50, Tibet has been under
the occupation and domination of the PRC and has been administered
with the characteristics of an oppressive colonial administration.”
3- “In the particular case of Tibet and having regard to its long
history of separate existence”, the Tibetan people’s claim to
self-determination, including independence, is compatible with
the principles of national unity and territorial integrity of
states. [International Lawyers’ Conference Statement on Tibet-London
1993, London, January 10, 1993,p.6-8]
The Chinese government was invited to participate in both events,
but declined to do so.
The “Seventeen - Point Agreement”
In April 1951 the Tibetan Government sent a five-member
delegation to Beijing, led by Kalon Ngapo Ngawang Jigme. The delegation
had the authority to put forward the Tibetan stand and listen
the Chinese position, but not to conclude an agreement. On April
29 negotiations opened with the presentation of a draft agreement
by the leader of Chinese delegation. It was unacceptable by Tibetan
delegation but they were forced to sign it and denied any contact
with Lhasa to discuss it further with the government. They were
given only one choice of either signing the agreement or accepting
the responsibility for an immediate military advance on Lhasa.
The seventeen clauses of the agreement, among
other things, authorised the entry into Tibet of Chinese forces
and empowered the Chinese Government to handle Tibet’s external
affairs. On the other hand, it guaranteed that China would not
alter the existing political system in Tibet and not interfere
with the established status, function and powers of the Dalai
Lama or the Panchen Lama. The Tibetan People were to have regional
autonomy, and their religious beliefs and customs were to be respected.
Internal reforms would be inflicted after consultation with the
leading Tibetans and without compulsion.
The Dalai Lama wanted to renegotiate the agreement
with the Chinese government. However, on September 9, 1951 around
3,000 Chinese troops marched into Lhasa, soon followed by some
20,000 more, from Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) in the north, he
effectively lost the ability to either accept or reject any Tibet-China
The National Uprising in 1959 and the
flight of the Dalai Lama
Following the entry of Chinese troops into Lhasa,
every effort was made to undermine the sovereign authority. This
was carried out in three ways: First, political and regional divisions
were created among Tibetans under the policy of divide and rule.
Secondly, certain social and economic reforms, calculated to change
the fabric of Tibetan society, were instituted against the wishes
of Tibetans. Thirdly, various organs of the Chinese Government,
and new bodies under their authority, were set up alongside the
existing Tibetan institutions.
• Between November 24, 1950 and October 19, 1953
China incorporated a large portion of Kham Province into neighbouring
Chinese Sichuan province. Kham was divided into two so-called
Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and Autonomous District. On September
13, 1957 another portion of southern Kham was named the Dechen
Tibetan Prefecture and put under Yunnan Province.
• The bulk of Amdo, together with a small area of Kham was reduced
to the status of a Chinese province, and named as Qinghai. One
portion of Amdo was named Ngapa Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
and merged with Sichuan Province. The remaining area of Amdo was
sub-divided into Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous District and Ganlho
Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and incorporated into the Chinese
province of Gansu.
• On September 9, 1965 China formally established the so-called
Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, placing under its administration
the whole of U-Tsang and areas of Kham.
• China stripped numerous ethnic Tibetans like Sherpas, Monpas,
Lhopas, Tengpas, Jangpas etc. –who consider themselves to be Tibetan-
of their Tibetan identity, reclassifying them as distinct Chinese
The first major popular resistance group, Mimang
Tsongdu (People’s Assembly) banded together spontaneously and
handed the Chinese Military Command a petition demanding the withdrawal
of the PLA and an end to Chinese interference in Tibetan affairs.
The two Tibetan Prime ministers, Lukhangwa and Ven. Lobsang Tashi,
who had made no secret of their opposition to Chinese rule and
opposed the ‘Seventeen Point Agreement”, were forced to resign
and five Mimang Tsongdu leaders were jailed, driving the organisation
In 1954 the Dalai Lama visited Beijing at China’s
invitation. The special autonomous position of Tibet, embodied
in the Seventeen Point Agreement was formally abolished by the
new Constitution by the Chinese People’s Congress. Preparatory
Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet was to function as
the central administration instead of Tibetan Government and Dalai
Lama was made its Chairman without any authority.
Full-scale guerrilla warfare broke out in the summer of 1956 in
result of Chinese violence. Refugees from eastern and north-eastern
Tibet began to arrive in Lhasa in large numbers.
In March 1959, there was a general fear that
the Chinese were planning to abduct the Dalai Lama and take him
away to Beijing. Fear for the safety of the Dalai Lama became
acute when the Chinese Army Command invited the Tibetan leader
to a theatrical show in the military barracks and instructed that
he was not to be accompanied by his bodyguards on March 10. On
March 10, 1959 a massive demonstration took place and thousands
of people surrounded the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, the Norbulingka,
to prevent him form attending the Chinese show. The Dalai Lama
had to flee to India to appeal for international help to save
his people on the night of March 17 with the help Kham guerillas.
Killings in Tibet between 1949-1979
Mode of Death U-tsang
Tortured in prison93,560
Killed in fighting 143,253
Starved to death 131,072
Struggled to death
Democratic reforms in exile
In 1959 the Dalai Lama re-established his government
in India, soon after his flight from Tibet, and a serious of democratic
changes were initiated. The parliament-in-exile, was constituted.
In 1961 the Dalai Lama prepared a draft constitution for future
Tibet and sought the opinion of Tibetans on this matter. Despite
the strong opposition, the Dalai Lama insisted on the inclusion
of a clause, which states that the executive powers of the Dalai
Lama should be exercised by the Council of Regency. Hence the
National Assembly, by a majority of two-thirds of its total members
in consultation with the Supreme Court, decides that this is in
the highest interest of the State.
The Dalai Lama also announced that on the day
Tibet regains her independence, the Tibetan people must decide
for themselves what system of government they want. In 1990 further
changes were introduced by increasing the strength of the Assembly
of Tibetan People’s Deputies from 12 to 46. More constitutional
powers were given to ministers. In 1992, the Dalai Lama announced
that he would not play any role in the future government of Tibet
and it would be elected by the people. The guidelines of future
Tibet’s politics also stated: “Future Tibet will be a peace-loving
nation, adhering to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence). She
will have a democratic system where the government will be committed
to preserving a clean, healthy and beautiful environment. Tibet
will be a completely demilitarised nation.”
Human Rights in Tibet today
The death of Mao Zedong in September 1976 resulted
in a change in Chinese policies. The change was economic liberalisation
and openness, and even some degree of leniency on political prisoners.
But the liberalisation and openness did not affect the attitude
towards political freedom in Tibet. The arrests of political activists
carried on in masses in 1982, 1987, 1988. In 1990 China announced
the lift of Martial Law and the first Australian Human Rights
Delegation to China was permitted to visit Tibet in July 1991.
The Martial Law was lifted on paper but it continues to exist
in practice. Amnesty International, in its 1991 report, also confirmed
this adding; ”the police and security forces retained extensive
powers of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial”
Arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions,
disappearances, executions, torture in prisons are very common
and there is no freedom of movement in Tibet.
Socio-economic Conditions and Colonialism
“The price Tibet paid for this development was
higher than the gains.” This was the Panchen Lama’s last verdict
on three decades of Chinese rule in Tibet. Chinese government
claims great economical advancement and growth in Tibet; bumper
crops, industrial growth, improvement of infrastructure and so
forth. These claims were made even when Tibet was suffering its
only famines in the nation’s history (1961-1964 and 1968-1973).
It is fairly obvious that it is not the Tibetans
who have benefited from the social and economic developments in
Tibet but the Chinese settlers, their government and military.
One Chinese leader who had the honesty and courage to admit the
failure of Chinese policies supposedly designed to bring improvement
to the lives of Tibetans had not benefited from the much-vaunted
Chinese “assistance”. He visited Tibetan families in several communes,
including one called the “Anti-imperialist Commune”. Disgusted
by the poverty of Tibetans, he called a meeting of top functionaries
of TAR and demanded to know if all the financial assistance earmarked
for Tibet had been “ thrown into Yarlung River.” He complained
that, contrary to Chinese propaganda claims, the living standards
of Tibetans had gone down since 1959, and that the large Chinese
presence in Tibet-particularly government cadres- was an obstacle
to the development. He immediately announced that steps should
be taken to raise the standard of living to pre-1959 levels in
three years, and withdraw eighty-five percent of Chinese cadres.
The TAR Party Secretary, Yin Fatang, summed up Hu’s impression
of Tibet as a region steeped in “poverty and backwardness” [Red
Flag, No. 8 1983]
Soon after the invasion of Tibet, China imposed
far-reaching collectivisation programmes. Nomads, like farmers,
had all their herds confiscated and were themselves divided into
brigades and communes. The nomads tended their herds with no right
to the product of their labour; the case applied to farmers. They
survived each year on average rationed diet of five pounds (a
pound is half a kilo) of butter, ten pounds of meat and four-five
khel (a khel is between twenty-thirty pounds) of tsampa (barley
According to official Chinese statistics, the
level of annual subsidies to the TAR in the late 1980s was around
one billion-yuan or $270 million. What Chinese government would
not admit is that she has earned far more from Tibet that she
has given. In monetary terms, the volume of Tibetan timber taken
to China far exceeds the amount of financial assistance it claims
to have given. And this doesn’t even taken into account the vast
mineral resources such as uranium, gold, silver, iron, copper,
borax, lithium, chromate, etc. as well as priceless art treasures
carted away to China.
In any case, the bulk of China’s financial subsidy
goes towards the maintenance of Chinese personnel in Tibet. It
also goes to pay incentives to Chinese settlers. The Tibetans
benefit very little from it. During the late 1970-and early 1980s
an average subsidy of $128 was spent on every town-dweller, and
only $4.50 on each rural inhabitant. The urban areas of the TAR
are dominated by Chinese settlers and personnel, who form overwhelming
majorities in major towns like Lhasa, Nyingtri, Gyangtse, Nagchu,
Ngari, Shigatse, Tsethang, Chamdo etc. The Tibetan population
on the other hand, is concentrated mainly in rural areas.
Even the items subsidised are those that are
consumed by Chinese rather than Tibetans. The staple diet of Tibetans
is barley (for tsampa), though urban or richer families add wheat
and rice to their diet. However, it is only the price of rice
and wheat, which is subsidised. These form the staple diet of
Chinese settlers. Roads may run through most Tibetan villages,
but a public transport system is almost non-existent in the majority
of rural Tibet. China’s modern transport system does not benefit
the majority of Tibetans. In some villages busses run once a week
and people still use horses, mules, yaks, donkeys and sheep as
mediums of transportation.
It is the same with the health service which
concentrates 90% in urban areas and the ones who are sent to rural
areas are mostly unqualified and have little prospect of finding
employment in China. There have also been numerous reports of
Chinese doctors and health personnel using Tibetan patients as
guinea pigs to practise their skills.
In independent Tibet, over 6000 monasteries and
nunneries served as schools and universities, fulfilling Tibet’s
educational needs. In addition, Tibet had many non-monastic schools
run by the government as well as by individuals. For the Chinese
Government, these traditional learning centres were homes of “blind
faith” and nurturing grounds for “feudal oppression”. In the place
of Tibetan monasteries, China forced the Tibetans in rural and
nomadic areas to found independently funded “People’s Schools”
which do not get a penny from the Chinese government grants. There
are 2450 primary school in Tibet. 451 of the are funded by the
government. Over 2000 of these schools are funded by people. These
schools don’t have sound foundation and are not properly equipped.
The level of education is either nil or very low. Only 45% of
the school aged children go to school. Out of them 10.6% manage
to graduate to the lower-middle school. There are not enough teachers
in these schools and the ones are not qualified enough. Facts
on paper do not seem to be the same in practice, as in rural areas
these schools are either used as warehouses or shut down because
of lack of teachers or resources. The literate grandparents are
the brutal reminders of Chinese neglect that their grandchildren
couldn’t read or write.
Public condemnation of religion and humiliation
and ridicule of religious people became a usual practice of Chinese
towards Tibetans. Religious texts were burnt and mixed with field
manure, the sacred mani stones (prayers engraved stones and slates)
were used to build toilets and pavements, monks and nuns were
forced to copulate in public and taunted to perform miracles,
ruined monasteries and temples were turned into pig stays, starving
monks and nuns in Chinese prisons were told to get food from “the
Population Transfer and Control
Although China no longer bombs or sends Red Guards
to destroy Tibet’s monasteries, her aim still remains the same
as before, which is total elimination of Tibetan religion and
culture. Chinese in large quantities are constantly being moved
into Tibet. In 1985, in Lhasa alone, there were 50,000 to 60,000
Chinese civilian residents. From 1985 to 1988 a further influx
of Chinese immigrants doubled the population of Lhasa. Tibetan
areas out side of TAR include the whole present day Qinghai Province
and the portions of Kham and Amdo merged with the Chinese provinces
of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. The concentration of Chinese population
in these areas is the highest. Beijing government offers an array
of benefits to civil servants and civilians to encourage the Chinese
settlement in Tibet, such as long holiday leaves, less tax, high
In 1984 China imposed a birth control policy
on Tibetans to have only two children. In Shigatse and Gyatsa
1087 women were sterilised by force. In Kham and Amdo 2415 women
were sterilised in 1983. Mobile birth control teams roam countryside
and rural areas where they round up women for abortion and sterilisation.
Even women well advanced in their pregnancy are forced to undergo
abortion followed by sterilisation.
As a result of Chinese population transfer and
birth control policy Tibetans find themselves marginalized in
their own country in economic, political, educational and social
In 1992, only 300 shops were owned by Tibetans
out of 12,227 shops and restaurants in Lhasa City. In southern
Kham, Chinese owned 133 businesses whereas Tibetans owned only
15. In Amdo according to a British journalist, Tibetans are reduced
to “tourist curious”.
Tibet’s environment is in danger
Tibet is the source of the five biggest rivers of Asia. Ninety
percent of Tibet’s river run off flows down across her borders.
The Machu (Yellow River), The Tsangpo, the Drichu(Yangtze) and
the Senge Khabab (Indus) are among the five most heavily silted
rivers in the world. The total area irrigated by these rivers,
from the Machu basin in the east to the Senge Khabab in the west,
support 47% of the earth’s human population. Chinese have built
huge dams, such as Longyang Xia and are carrying on to do so,
such as the hydro-power station at Yamdrok Yutso to provide power
and other benefits to the Chinese population and industries both
in Tibet and China. While Tibetans are displaced from their homes
and lands, tens thousands of Chinese workers are brought in from
China to construct and maintain these dams.
She also has the loftiest mountains and the highest
plateau, ancient forests and many deep valleys untouched by human
disturbances. Tibet is also 70% grassland, which form the backbone
of the country’s animal dominated agrarian economy. The domestic
animal population is as big as seventy million and supports nearly
a million herdsmen.
Over the last four decades there has been widespread
degradation of these vital pastures. The conversion of marginal
lands to agriculture for Chinese settlers has become the greatest
threat to Tibet’s grasslands. This has led to extensive desertification,
rendering the land unusable for agriculture or grazing. Especially
Amdo region has suffered of this problem.
Tibet possesses the world’s highest solar energy
potential per unit after Sahara, an estimated annual average of
200 kilocalory/cm, as well as significant geothermal resources.
In 1949 Tibet’s forests covered 221,800 square
kilometres, by 1985 this area went down to 134,000 square kilometres.
Chinese who needed pulp for their paper production did not control
their policy of deforestation in Tibet. It was a lot cheaper than
importing from Austria for instance. I met an Austrian who worked
in China for five years in a company selling raw paper to China
from Austria. She said Chinese realised the damage they have given
to Tibet’s environment and consequently to whole Asia, but it
is too late. As the surrounding countries of Tibet owe their heavy
rains and monsoon season to the forests of Tibet. This year (2004)
monsoon rainfall in the Himalayas was a lot less according to
Tibet’s rich mineral mines are being exhausted
by the Chinese as well as wild life. Hunting sport of Chinese
wiped out serious number of Tibetan Antelope and herds of yaks
and wild asses.
China is reported to have stationed about ninety
nuclear warheads in Tibet. The Ninth Academy, China’s North-West
Nuclear weapons research and Design Academy in Tibet’s north-east
area of Amdo, is reported to have dumped an unknown quantity of
radioactive waste on the Tibetan Plateau.
Achievements of exile Tibetans
(Tibet Children's Village)
China insists that the Chinese presence in Tibet is justified
because of the help that is offered to develop and civilise the
culturally and economically backward Tibetan People. Tibetans
are capable of managing their own affairs left to themselves.
The thriving exile community is the best evidence of this.
The Tibetan Government-in-Exile, the host Indian Government and
International aid agencies have invested 1.5 billion Indian rupees
in educating Tibetans in exile since 1959. Tibetan Government-in-Exile
allocates 65% of its budget to the education of the children of
Tibetan community in exile. This does not include the amount invested
in monastic education.
in the newly established Tibetan monasteries and Nunneries in
India, Nepal and Bhutan, there are about 11,000 monks and nuns.
Many specialised institutions have been established in India to
preserve the endangered Tibetan culture. The Tibetan Medical and
Astrology Institute in Dharamsala provides traditional Tibetan
medical services to patients all over the world. Some come to
Dharamsala just to get treatment from this centre from abroad.
(I met a Turkish family from Uzbekistan who came to Dharamsala
for a week to get Tibetan medicine treatment.)
The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives(LTWA)
in Dharamsala and Tibet House in New Delhi, serve as facilities
to educate foreign students in Tibetan philosophy, language and
culture. The LTWA is the premier internationally-recognised centre
for studies in Tibetology.
The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA)
in Dharamsala has preserved traditional Tibetan Opera, dance,
songs and music. Many of the performing arts teachers in the various
Tibetan schools in India and some singers who perform in India
and abroad were trained at TIPA.
The Tibetan Cultural Printing Press in Dharamsala,
and other tibetan publishing centres, preserve the culture by
printing the Buddhist canon, the Kagyur and Tengyur, along with
thousands of other traditional Tibetan publications and scriptures.
Today, there are 84 Tibetan schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan
with enrolment of 26,000 students at primary, middle and secondary
levels. Seventeen of these are residential. In addition, there
are 55 pre-primary schools. According to statistics compiled by
the Planning Council of the Tibetan Government- in –Exile in Dharamsala,
altogether about 92% of Tibetan children in exile are aged between
six and seventeen are attending schools. School education is free
for all Tibetan children. Every year 405 students finish their
senior secondary school education and 200 to 250 of these graduates
join universities in India or abroad.
; (A Class in Dharamsala)
Some families send their children to Dharamsala purely for education
and since 1979, over 5000 monks and nuns fled to India to pursue
religious studies. The Tibetan community in Dharamsala is constantly
growing. There are new arrivals every week either for political
or religious reasons. Dalai Lama has an audience for new arrivals
to welcome them to their new lives and give them his blessings
whenever he is in town.
The new life in India for Tibetan asylum seekers is not completely
promising as even though the are issued with leave to remain,
that has to be renewed yearly until further notice. They are not
granted indefinite leave to remain and they all have concerns
about changes in Indian policy about Tibetan refugees.
There is freedom of speech, performing arts, running business
and having children in India but the uncertainty of future hangs
over all the Tibetans who are struggling to survive in a totally
different environment and climate as well as culture. New generation
who were born in India has got Indian mannerism and adopt Indian
life style and customs despite the fact that there is a big movement
of preserving Tibetan culture and language.
Tibetan youngsters are multi-lingual speaking
one or two Tibetan dialects, English, Hindi and Nepali.
During my stay in Dharamsala as a volunteer English
teacher for Multi- Education Centre, Tibet Charity I met some
monks who had to stay in Nepal for a while before actually arriving
in India hence the reception centre for Tibetan refugees in Nepal
works very hard. Especially when they have to care for Tibetans
who walked over the Himalayas under snow for weeks and arrived
in Nepal with frostbites on their limbs. Many toes and fingers
are lost to frostbites and some became disabled for the rest of
When the Dalai Lama first arrived in 1960, Mc
Leod Ganj was a sorry sight. It had been devastated by earthquakes
and abandoned by its colonial clientele. The task of rebuilding
Tibet in exile began then and within twenty years this derelict
hill station in Himachal Pradesh was transformed into “Little
Lhasa”. Monasteries and temples, schools and orphanages, libraries
and institutes for the propagation of Tibetan culture were established
and gradually added to. They were built using such untraditional
materials as concrete and brick; but upon the whole they replicate
Tibetan designs and motifs.
Half way between Mc Leod Ganj and Dharamsala,
Tibetan Government-in-exile was built in a campus where every
small house represents a ministry of the government. It felt quite
bizarre to descent down through the courtyard of ministry of finance
of Tibetan government on my way to LWTA to attend my Buddhist
philosophy lesson on the first day. It had a fairy tale air in
this campus looking unreal, but they all were at work, running
the government within a foreign government.
(Tibet Children's Village)
As a Tibetan who was raised in Tibetan Children’s Village, the
co-ordinator of Volunteer Tibet took me there on a visit with
some of the other volunteers. Knowing of the early days of TCV
from Dervla Murphy’s writing, I was impressed of seeing an established
big boarding school with sections for all children from babies
to teenagers. Today TCV is the second biggest attraction in Mc
Leod after Dalai Lama’s Temple and supported by a number of celebrities
such as Richard Gere. They also try to raise awareness for Tibet’s
Freedom Movement in the West where people are sensitive for the
Before I went to Dharamsala to join the
Tibetan community when I said I was going to teach English to
Tibetan monks where Dalai Lama lived people in Turkey thought
I was going to Tibet. They did not know that Dalai Lama had escaped
Lhasa in 1958 and lived in India since then. They were educated
people and reading newspapers regularly. As a person who’s been
living abroad I had not realised that Turks do not know much about
Tibetans and what’s been happening in Tibet. I hope this piece
of writing will raise some awareness of Tibetan Movement amongst
Turks who live in Turkey and it will start some interest in supporting
the Tibetan community in exile and in Tibet under Chinese rule.