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Historical Introduction

4th May 1959. Tibetans Surrender in Lhasa Tibetans file out of the Potala Palace to surrender to the Chinese Communists. After two day s fighting, the People s Liberation Army completely crushed the rebellion in the city of Lhasa. Scanpix

Tibet, emerged in the first millennium as a Central Asian major power and centre of Buddhist culture. It was then subject to control by the Mongols and China. During the 18th-19th centuries it existed in isolation and having restored de facto independence in 1913, has since 1949 been subject to the world's longest running ethno-territorial and cultural conflicts and Communist experiments. The invasion of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1950 and annexation of Tibet to China in 1951 ushered in mass repressions and cultural genocide that intensified in 1959 after forced collectivization and a crackdown of the Tibetan uprising, followed by new repressions. Tens of thousands are believed to have been killed during the uprising. According to estimates, up to one-tenth of all Tibetans spent time in labour camps in the 1950s and 1960s and lost their lives or health to inhumane conditions there - in some provinces, less than 10 per cent are said to have returned alive and well. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader and head of government, fled to India with 100 000 other Tibetans, including much of the intellectual elite. According to dissidents, some 70 000 Tibetans starved to death in 1959-1963 during and after the Great Chinese Famine. Before the Chinese Cultural Revolution started in 1965, the occupation had already cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans. By the end of Cultural Revolution, the number of Tibetan genocide victims had possibly reached 0,6 to one million. Pressure on Tibetan culture and memory culminated with Communists destroying Buddhist monasteries, scriptures and other heritage.The largest mass murders took place in 1968 when the Cultural Revolution was nearing its end.

A less obvious onslaught has taken the shape of deliberate Chinese colonization since the 1980s. After completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, Stalinist-style colonization has intensified in recent years and the percentage of Tibetans in Tibet Autonomous Region has been steadily falling. According to some sources, Tibetans make up only 42% of population in Tibet's capital Lhasa. In other regions, where Tibetans remain a majority, environmental woes have been caused by extensive mining. Although torture and fast-track executions have never ceased, the repressions of 1980s are minor compared to the destruction of 1960s and early 1970s. Since the 1987 unrest, about 1000 deaths have been confirmed. A majority of those are victims of 1987 and 2008 mass protests and refugees shot on the India-Nepal border. Estimates of the number of political prisoners and political detainees range from a few thousand to ten thousand. The unrest of March 2008, with over a hundred dead and a thousand arrested, will probably change the picture as conclusions are yet to be made.
Tibet's isolation and the lack of comprehensive statistics make it hard to compile data on victims. Official Chinese data are unreliable and incomplete, as are the accounts by Tibetan government in exile.