34. China/Tibet (1950-present)


Crisis Phase (January 1, 1950-March 9, 1959): The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claimed sovereignty over Tibet on January 1, 1950, and the Chinese government announced that it intended to intervene both politically and militarily in the affairs of Tibet.  Representatives of the PRC government and Tibet held talks in Kalimpong, India beginning on March 7, 1950.  The Chinese government demanded that representatives of Tibet arrive in Beijing by September 16, 1950, but Tibetan officials ignored the demand.  Chinese government troops invaded Tibet on October 7, 1950, and Chinese troops captured the town of Qamdo (Chamdo) on October 19, 1950.  Tibet requested military assistance from India. The spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, referred the matter to the United Nations (UN) on November 11, 1950. The UN General Assembly condemned the Chinese invasion of Tibet on November 18, 1950.  On December 19, 1950, the Dalai Lama left Lhasa for the town of Yadong on the Tibetan-India border.  Chinese and Tibetan representatives signed the Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet in Beijing on May 23, 1951, which allowed the Dalai Lama to control internal affairs in Tibet.  The Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa on 17 August 1951.  Tibetans rebelled against the Chinese government in eastern Tibet (Sichuan Province) beginning in May 1956. Qimai Gongbo led a rebellion against the Chinese government in the Qamdo region beginning on July 21, 1956.  The Dalai Lama traveled on an official visit to India from November 1956 to February 1957.  The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided military assistance (weapons, ammunition, training) to Tibetan rebels beginning in December 1956.  On December 18, 1956, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution calling for the end of Chinese repression against the Tibetans. Khamba tribesmen rebelled against the Chinese government in eastern Tibet beginning in August 1958.

Conflict Phase (March 10, 1959-March 31, 1959):  Tibetans began a rebellion against the PRC government in Lhasa on March 10, 1959.  The Dalai Lama departed from Lhasa on March 17, 1959.  Tibetan rebels launched attacks against Chinese government officials and troops on March 19, 1959, and Chinese troops launched a counter-offensive against the Tibetans on March 20, 1959.  Chinese government troops captured Lhasa on March 25, 1959, resulting in the deaths of some 2,000 Tibetan rebels. The Chinese government dissolved the Tibetan government headed by the Dalai Lama on March 28, 1959, and the Panchen Lama assumed control of the Tibetan government on April 5, 1959. The Malayan government condemned the Chinese government’s use of military force against the Tibetans on March 30, 1959, and Prime Minister Nehru of India expressed support for Tibetan rebels on March 30, 1959. The Dalai Lama and some 80 supporters fled into exile in India on March 31, 1959.  Some 87,000 Tibetans and 2,000 Chinese government troops were killed, and some 100,000 Tibetans fled as refugees to India, Nepal, and Bhutan during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (April 1, 1959-present):  The PRC government closed the monasteries in Tibet, and imposed Chinese law and custom in the region.  The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) established a seven-member commission of inquiry (Burma, Ceylon, Ghana, India, Malaya, Norway, Siam) headed by Purshottam Trikamdas of India on July 26, 1959.  The Dalai Lama referred the matter of Tibet to UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold on September 9, 1959. The UN General Assembly condemned China’s disrespect for human rights in Tibet on October 21, 1959.  Some 340,000 Tibetans died during famines caused by economic reforms between 1960 and 1962. The Chinese government established the Tibetan Autonomous Regioni (TAR) on September 9, 1965.  In 1974, the PRC government ended its repression of Tibet and granted amnesty to Tibetans who had earlier been imprisoned.  The US CIA ended military assistance to Tibetan rebels in 1979.  The Tibetan government-in-exile sent three fact-finding missions to Tibet from August 1979 to July 1980.  Representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile began a first round of talks with the PRC government in Beijing on April 24, 1982.  A second round of talks began on October 19, 1984.  Six Tibetans were killed during demonstrations in Lhasa on October 1, 1986, and some 500 individuals were arrested for their involvement in the demonstrations.  On March 8, 1989, the PRC government imposed martial law and deployed 2,000 troops in Lhasa following several days of clashes between Tibetans and government police.  Some 400 individuals were killed during clashes.  Tibetans demonstrated against the PRC government in Lhasa beginning on September 27, 1989.  The PRC government lifted martial law in Lhasa on May 1, 1990.  Chinese government police shot and injured several Tibetans during protests near Lhasa on May 7-14, 1996. On May 20, 1996, Amnesty International (AI) condemned the government for the violent suppression of the Tibetan protesters. The European Union (EU) Parliament condemned China for its repression of Tibetans on May 23, 1996. The EU Parliament condemned China for human rights violations against Tibetans on March 13, 1997. The EU Parliament appealed for peaceful negotiations between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama on May 14, 1998. Some 3,100 Tibetans fled as refugees to India in 1998. Some 128,000 Tibetans were refugees in neighboring countries in December 1998, including 110,000 refugees in India and 18,000 refugees in Nepal.  The special envoy of the Dalai Lama held four rounds of talks with the PRC government from September 9, 2002 to July 1, 2005.  Representatives of the Dalai Lama began a fifth round of talks with PRC government officials on February 16, 2006.  Tibetans rioted against Chinese government rule in Lhasa and other Chinese provinces on March 14-16, 2008, resulting in the deaths of at least 19 individuals.  Representatives of the Dalai Lama held talks in Beijing in July 2008.  On October 27, 2009, the PRC government confirmed that two Tibetans were executed for their involvement in the  March 2008 riots in Lhasa.  Padma Choling, an ethnic Tibetan, was appointed as governor of Tibet by the PRC government on January 15, 2010.  PRC government police raided a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Sichuan Province on April 21, 2011, resulting in the deaths of two individuals.  Lobsang Sangay was declared the winner of the election for prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile with 55 percent of the vote on April 26, 2011, and he was officially sworn in as prime minister in Dharamsala, India on August 7, 2011.  Some 49,000 Tibetan exiles throughout the world cast ballots in the election.  Jigme Gyatso, a Tibetan political prisoner since 1996, was released from prison by the PRC government on March 30, 2013.

[Sources: Amnesty International (AI) press release, May 20, 1996; Beijing Review, March 13-19, 1989, March 20-26, 1989, March 27-April 2, 1989; Bercovitch and Jackson, 1997, 69, 82-83; Brewer, 1986, 223-241; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), March 14, 2008, March 16, 2008, April 29, 2008, May 3, 2008, May 5, 2008, July 1, 2008, April 8, 2009, October 27, 2009, January 15, 2010, July 22, 2010, April 23, 2011, April 27, 2011, August 8, 2011, February 1, 2013, April 2, 2013, April 25, 2013; Brogan, 1992, 169-182; Butterworth, 1976, 149-150, 212-213, 261-263; Clodfelter, 1992, 1153; Donelan and Grieve, 1973, 79-82; Facts on File, November 10-16, 1950, May 25-31, 1951, March 19-25, 1959, March 26-April 1, 1959, April 2-8, 1959, April 9-15, 1959; Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), March 6, 1989, March 7, 1989, March 8, 1989, March 10, 1989, March 14, 1989, April 30, 1990; Grunfeld 1996; Keesing’s Record of World Events, May 9-16, 1959, November 7-14, 1959, February 1988, March 1989, May 1990; Langer, 1972, 1341; Los Angeles Times (LAT), March 8, 1989; New York Times (NYT), May 1, 1990, March 16, 2008; Richardson 1962; Smith 1996; Tillema, 1991, 215-216; Voice of America (VOA), November 5, 2012.]


Selected Bibliography

Grunfeld, A. Tom. 1996. The Making of Modern Tibet, revised edition. Armonk, NY and London: M. E. Sharpe.

Richardson, H. E. 1962. A Short History of Tibet. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.

Smith, Warren W. 1996. Tibetan Nation: A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Tibetan Relations. Boulder, CO:
Westview Press.