Chinese Invasion and Dominance
In 1949 the People's Republic of China began invading, occupying, and colonizing Tibet. China entered into
Buddhist monks await the recitation of the Kalachakra Readings by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, in Sarnath, India. Gyatso fled Tibet in 1959 when Chinas mounting oppression of indigenous groups threatened his safety; he was awarded the No
Buddhist monks await the recitation of the Kalachakra Readings by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, in Sarnath, India. Gyatso fled Tibet in 1959 when China's mounting oppression of indigenous groups threatened his safety; he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent efforts to end Chinese rule there. [ALISON WRIGHT/CORBIS]
Tibet immediately after the communist victory over the Chinese Nationalists, imposed a treaty of "liberation" on the Tibetans, militarily occupied Tibet's territory, and divided that territory into twelve administrative units. It forcibly repressed Tibetan resistance between 1956 and 1959 and annexed Tibet in 1965. Since then it has engaged in massive colonization of all parts of Tibet. For its part, China claims that Tibet has always been a part of China, that a Tibetan person is a type of Chinese person, and that, therefore, all of the above is an internal affair of the Chinese people. The Chinese government has thus sought to overcome the geographical difference with industrial technology, erase and rewrite Tibet's history, destroy Tibet's language, suppress the culture, eradicate the religion (a priority of communist ideology in general), and replace the Tibetan people with Chinese people.
In China itself, communist leader Mao Zedong's policies caused the death of as many as 60 million Chinese people by war, famine, class struggle, and forced labor in thought-reform labor camps. As many as 1.2 million deaths in Tibet resulted from the same policies, as well as lethal agricultural mismanagement, collectivization, class struggle, cultural destruction, and forced sterilization. However, in the case of Tibet, the special long-term imperative of attempting to remove evidence against and provide justification for the Chinese claim of long-term ownership of the land, its resources, and its people gave these policies an additional edge.
The process of the Chinese takeover since 1949 unfolded in several stages. The first phase of invasion by military force, from 1949 to 1951, led to the imposition of a seventeen-point agreement for the liberation of Tibet and the military takeover of Lhasa. Second, the Chinese military rulers pretended to show support for the existing "local" Tibetan government and culture, from 1951 through 1959, but with gradual infiltration of greater numbers of troops and communist cadres into Tibet. A third phase from 1959 involved violent suppression of government and culture, mass arrests, and formation of a vast network of labor camps, with outright annexation of the whole country from 1959 through 1966. Fourth, violent cultural revolution, from 1966 through 1976, destroyed the remaining monasteries and monuments, killed those resisting the destruction of the "four olds," and sought to eradicate all traces of Tibetan Buddhist culture. A fifth phase of temporary liberalization under Hu Yao Bang was quickly reversed by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and led to a mass influx of settlers beginning in the early 1980s. Martial law and renewed suppression took place between 1987 and 1993, with intensified population transfer of Chinese settlers. Finally, from 1993, direct orders of the aging Chinese leadership placed Tibet under the control of an aggressive administrator named Chen Kuei Yuan. Chen proclaimed that the Tibetan identity had to be eradicated in order for remaining Tibetans to develop a Chinese identity. Since Tibetan identity was tied up with Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhist culture was in itself seditious, or "splittist," as the Chinese call it.
Chen also was able to use China's growing economic power to invest heavily in internal projects in Tibet, bring in millions more colonists, and he extracted unprecedented amounts of timber, herbs, and minerals from the land. He also toughened up the policies of the People's Liberation Army and the Public Security Bureau.
In 1960 the nongovernmental International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) gave a report titled Tibet and the Chinese People's Republic to the United Nations. The report was prepared by the ICJ's Legal Inquiry Committee, composed of eleven international lawyers from around the world. This report accused the Chinese of the crime of genocide in Tibet, after nine years of full occupation, six years before the devastation of the cultural revolution began. The Commission was careful to state that the "genocide" was directed against the Tibetans as a religious group, rather than a racial, "ethnical," or national group.
The report's conclusions reflect the uncertainty felt at that time about Tibetans being a distinct race, ethnicity, or nation. The Commission did state that it considered Tibet a de facto independent state at least from 1913 until 1950. However, the Chinese themselves perceive the Tibetans in terms of race, ethnicity, and even nation. In the Chinese constitution, "national minorities" have certain protections on paper, and smaller minorities living in areas where ethnic Chinese constitute the vast majority of the population receive some of these protections.
In the 2000s, many view the Chinese genocide in Tibet as the result of the territorial ambitions of the PRC leadership. It is seen as stemming from their systematic attempt to expand the traditional territory of China by annexing permanently the vast, approximately 900,000-square-mile territory of traditional Tibet. Tibet represents about 30 percent of China's land surface, while the Tibetans represent .004 percent of China's population. Tibetans were not a minority but an absolute majority in their own historical environment. Chinese government efforts can be seen as aiming at securing permanent control of the Tibetans' land. For this reason, some observers see genocide in Tibet as not merely referring to the matter of religion, that is, of destroying Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese policies have involved the extermination of more than 1 million Tibetans, the forced relocation of millions of Tibetan villagers and nomads, the population transfer of millions of Chinese settlers, and systematic assimilation.
The Dalai Lama
A Tibetan government in exile exists under the leadership of the Dalai Lama in India and Nepal. During the cold war years, the Dalai Lama avoided politics, but tried to work with the Chinese occupiers from 1951 until 1959. He left Tibet to bring the Tibetan genocide to the world's attention. In the early 1980s, he tried to negotiate with Deng Xiaoping and succeeded in sending several fact-finding missions to Tibet. In the meantime, the exile government has worked to preserve the seeds of Tibetan culture and society.
In 1989 the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize for his travels around the world to spread the Buddhist message of peace and reconciliation. He has informed the general public of many countries about the Tibetan struggle. His overall policy of nonviolence has been followed by most Tibetans. Despite the historical record, the Dalai Lama calls for dialogue and reconciliation. He has publicly offered to Beijing to lead a plebiscite and campaign to persuade his people to join the Chinese union in a voluntary and legal manner, under a "one country, two systems" formula, as in the cases of Hong Kong and Macao under the following circumstances: (1) all the high-plateau provinces are reunited in a natural Tibet Autonomous Region; (2) Tibet is allowed to govern itself democratically with true autonomy over internal matters; (3) Tibet is demilitarized except for essential border garrisons; and (4) the environment is respected and economic development controlled by the Tibetans themselves.
There were renewed discussions over Tibet starting in 2002 and several delegations made visits to the region.