Compiled and Edited by Mel Fenson

Known as the “Land of Snows, “Tibet is nestled on the “Roof of the World,” atop the vast Tibetan plateau. Along its southern border with India lay the Himalayas, dominated by the majestic Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth, and the most sacred mountain to both Buddhists and Hindus. To its east is China, which now controls Tibet. At the core of Tibet's rich cultural heritage are its ancient Buddhist traditions and beliefs. Its monasteries - those that have not been destroyed by the Chinese - exhibit intricately ornamented architecture, and are home to Buddhist monks, who have not fled the country. The impressive Potala Palace in Lhasa, which was formerly the chief residence of the Dalai Lama, has been converted into a museum by the Chinese, but only some rooms are open to the public. Now dominated by Chinese rule, Tibetans struggle to maintain their traditional beliefs and ways, a task that becomes more difficult day by day as the Chinese tighten their grip.

Tibet has known strife for centuries and has been involved in many power struggles with various factions in China. Its first European contact came in 1624, when Portuguese missionaries were allowed to open a church there. They were expelled in 1745 at the Lama's insistence. Russian and British rivalry for control of Central Asia in the 1850s prompted the Tibetan government to ban all foreigners and shut its borders.

In 1910, the Chinese Army invaded Tibet and the 13th Dalai Lama fled to India. When the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty in China was overthrown and the Republic of China was established in 1911 under Yuan Shikai, he declared Tibet and Mongolia to be provinces of China. The Tibetans continued to fight the Chinese until a “Surrender Agreement” was signed and the Chinese were expelled in 1912. The Dalai Lama returned to Tibet from India that year and proclaimed Tibetan independence in 1913.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatsho, was born in 1935 and enthroned at Lhasa in 1940.

Tibet remained neutral during the Second World War between 1941-1944 and refused permission for the Americans or the Chinese nationalists to transport military supplies through its territory. In 1947, Tibet sent a trade delegation to open formal relations with India, China, Britain and the USA.

In 1949, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China defeated the Chinese Nationalists and Mao Zedong proclaimed China to be the People's Republic of China. In late 1949, China again enforced a long-held claim to Tibet, as the People's Liberation Army invaded it, stole its sovereignty, occupied its territory, and deprived its people of their basic human rights. Tibet was no longer a peaceful, independent nation.

China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for four centuries and has arbitrarily governed the Himalayan region with an iron fist since its Communist troops gained control there. Contrary to that notion, the reality is that Tibet has had a written history of more than 2000 years and has always existed as an independent sovereign state, prior to Chinese occupation. Furthermore, in 1914, a document signed by Britain, China and Tibet had recognized Tibet as a fully independent country. In spite of that agreement, because Tibet had no representation in the United Nations, the world stood blindly by in 1949-1950 and allowed China to breach Tibet's freedom, occupy its land and wreak destruction on its people, institutions and culture.

In 1950, at the age of 15, the 14th Dalai Lama became Tibet's official head of state. In 1951, Tibetan leaders were forced to sign a treaty dictated by China, known as the "Seventeen Point Agreement," which outlined the terms of its annexation of Tibet. Although the agreement professed to guarantee Tibetan autonomy and to respect the Buddhist religion, culture and traditional values, the Chinese government ignored its promises. In spite of the fact that Tibet is technically autonomous from the central Chinese government, its current government is being directed from Beijing. Unfortunately for the Tibetans, the Agreement also allowed the establishment of Chinese civil and military headquarters at Lhasa. Over the years, China has intensified its socialist campaigns and its purges against Tibetans and has moved considerable army reinforcements into Tibet to control its people.

By the mid-1950s, mounting resentment against Chinese rule led to outbreaks of armed resistance by Tibetans. Crushing the uprising, the Chinese army killed thousands of Tibetan soldiers and imprisoned large numbers of Tibetan civilians. Tibetan refugees were prevented from leaving the country. It has been estimated that more than 1.2 million Tibetans have died since that time as the Chinese government has carried out its systematic process of genocide and cultural and religious oppression. In its effort to destroy Tibetan religion, nearly 6000 Buddhist monasteries and temples have been destroyed by the Chinese. Tibetan religious objects, manuscripts and cultural artifacts have also been ruthlessly looted or destroyed and centuries of sacred Buddhist teachings have been lost. With the erosion of its society, Tibetan culture may be hard to find in the next few decades.

The situation in Tibet became worse, when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai issued an “Order of State Council” dissolving the government of Tibet on March 28, 1959. That action was followed by a major Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in Lhasa. As Chinese forces crushed the Tibetan revolt, tens of thousands of Tibetans were again slaughtered by the People's Liberation Army of China. At that time, the 14th Dalai Lama and most of his ministers were forced to flee to northern India for their safety, where Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister granted asylum to the Dalai Lama and some 80,000 other Tibetan refugees. The Dalai Lama and his ministers, while still en route to India, reacted promptly to the Chinese ultimatum by declaring that the new Chinese controlled administration installed in Lhasa would never be recognized by the people of Tibet. Upon his arrival in India, the Dalai Lama re-established the Tibetan Government in exile and publicly declared, "Wherever I am, accompanied by my government, the Tibetan people recognize us as the Government of Tibet.”

In 1965, China established the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), however, the current borders of the region incorporate only the western quarter of Tibet. Tibet’s historic homeland, from ancient times until 1959, has encompassed more than double this geographic area.

Factors which contribute to China’s non-negotiable position on controlling Tibet may include its dense mineral deposits, which include: gold, uranium, coal, copper, chromium, mica, borax, iron, zinc, and lithium, and the fact that the Yangtse and Yellow Rivers, which flow from Tibet are the sole source of water for a large proportion of the Chinese population.

Foreign visitors which had been banned from Tibet in 1963 were again allowed to enter the country in 1971. The end of the Cultural Revolution, during the post-Mao era in the late 1970s, led to some easing of repression in Tibet, when Deng Xiaoping became the leader of the Communist Party of China and received approval from the Central Committee to begin making reforms.

In the 1980s, China introduced its "Open Door" reforms and encouraged international investment, but resisted any move towards greater autonomy for Tibet. In 1987, the Dalai Lama called for the establishment of Tibet as a zone of peace and continued to seek dialogue with China with the aim of achieving genuine self-rule for Tibet within China.

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

In 1995, the Dalai Lama named 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 stirred up resentment when they placed the boy under house arrest and designated another six-year-old boy, Gyancain Norbu, as their officially sanctioned Panchen Lama.

In 2002, an affront to the Tibetan people occurred when a tall monument was constructed in front of the Dalai Lama's former residence, the Potala, to celebrate the glory of the People's Liberation Army.

In 2007 December, the number of tourists traveling to Tibet hit a record high at just over four million visitors, according to Chinese state media.

In March 2008, five months before Beijing hosted the Olympic Games, anti-China protests escalated into the worst violence Tibet had seen in 20 years. Pro-Tibet activists in a number of countries attempted to focus world attention on Tibet by disrupting progress of the Olympic torch relay.

Criticizing French leader Sarkozy's plan to attend the games, European Parliament Vice President Edward McMillan-Scott, stated that, “The regime in Beijing is arbitrary, brutal and paranoid and uses torture as a terror weapon," according to story in, an independent media portal dedicated to EU affairs. Although some world leaders threatened to boycott the games, they continued as planned with leaders from about 80 countries in attendance.

In November 2008, there was another blow to Tibetan freedom, when the British government recognized China's direct rule over Tibet for the first time.

In March 2009, China promoted its own appointed Panchen Lama, as the spokesman for Chinese rule in Tibet.

Today, over six million Tibetans are believed to still be living in Tibet and the fate of its unique national, cultural and religious identity remains seriously threatened. Buddhist culture continues to erode as it is manipulated by China's policy of occupation and oppression, and Tibetans are under constant threat from the Chinese government.

Since the Chinese invoked their authority over Tibet, the Peoples Republic of China has implemented a massive program of population transfer of Han Chinese (the ethnic majority of China) into Tibet, causing Tibetans to become a minority in many parts of their own country. The railway linking Lhasa and the Chinese city of Golmud, which opened in July 2006 accelerated Han relocation there and facilitated the movement of Chinese military into Tibet.

The harsh reality of many in Tibet is that thousands of people, including women and children, are imprisoned there because of their political, religious or ethical views and have been given punishments ranging from a few years of imprisonment to death sentences. Even when Tibetan children as young as ten whisper the words "Tibet is independent" or "Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama," the Chinese accuse them of trying to "split the motherland" and often sentences them to prison. Just possessing an image of the Tibetan national flag can lead to a seven-year jail term. There are some who have spent more than two decades of their lives inside prison. Tibetans have repeatedly staged non-violent demonstrations for independence from China – without its cries for help being heard by other nations.

One well known story of Chinese oppression is that of eighty-year-old Ama Adhe, a Tibetan woman now living in Dharamsala India. She was arrested by the Chinese in 1958, along with 300 other women, and taken to a jail in China for supporting the Tibetan struggle which led to the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the communist regime of China.

Ama described the conditions in jail as inhuman. She recalled, “We were given either very little food or no food for days and 150 women died within one-and-a-half-years. Many of us used to eat the soles of our shoes made of leather. After three years, only four of us remained alive. While we were being shifted to a prison in Tibet, I saw a pile of bodies and I was horrified," she said. Her husband had died before she was imprisoned. Her son fell into a river and died while she was being taken away by the Chinese forces. Her daughter was cared for by a friend. Ama was finally released in 1985 after spending 27 years in prison. Chinese forces released her on condition that she would not reveal anything about her time in jail to anyone.

Ama attempted to get out of Tibet and go to India in 1986 and 1987 but failed. She was finally able to get to there in 1988, where she met the supreme Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who asked her to tell the “truth” to the world about Chinese persecution of Tibetan people. Following that, she co-authored a book with Joy Blakeslee, "Voice That Remains," to tell her story about the conditions under Chinese rule in Tibet and to reveal to the world the truth about the inhuman treatment and misery suffered by Tibetan political prisoners imprisoned by the Chinese.

Standing as a permanent memorial site to commemorate Tibetans who have suffered and died as a result of Chinese occupation, the Tibet Museum or Demton Khang, established in June 1998 in Dharamsala, India, provides international exhibitions and photographic and audio visual archives to educate the global community about the ongoing abuses waged by the Chinese government against the Tibetan people.

Today, the Dalai Lama, continues to live in exile in Dharamsala, India, but travels the world to tell Tibet's story and keep its heritage alive. The present population of exiled Tibetans is estimated to be over 140,000. About 100,000 are in India and many have spread to other countries. Tibetan struggle continues as China tightens it grip on Tibetan people and their culture and continues its policies of human rights abuse.

According to an April 2002 story in National Geographic, there is a new reality emerging in Tibet today. Although Tibetans cling to their religion and the old ways, modern influences are beginning to take hold as a new economy fueled by China's investment in Tibet's infrastructure develops. China has invested in agriculture and transportation, and built new schools and hospitals. The Chinese have also built airports and installed a telecommunications network. China has halted deforestation in some Tibetan areas and is replanting trees to prevent flooding into China.

There are four lakes in the vicinity of Lhasa that are holy to Buddhists,; the Chinese are using one of these, Yamdrok, to generate hydroelectric power. But, since the lake is not being replenished, it apparently is draining and may disappear within 20 years or so. In the interest of attracting tourists, the Chinese government has also restored some Tibetan monasteries and other cultural landmarks, but not to respect the beliefs of the Tibetans; their purpose is to make money. The steep admission prices, as much as $14, go to the government, not to the monasteries.

Although China has made economic investments in Tibet, according to an article by Edward Wong published in the New York Times on June 5, 2009, the Chinese government's economic modernization program in Tibet, “has left many Tibetans feeling increasingly disenfranchised. Tibetans have had an enormous difficulty finding work in their homeland, while ethnic Han Chinese migrants seemed to have a monopoly on jobs in restaurants, hotels and stores.”

It is evident today that China will never release it territorial claim to Tibet, but in spite of its oppressive hold on Tibet, it has brought a new higher standard of living to some Tibetans, which they did not have under the old monastic rule. Even though Tibetans despise Chinese rule and have suffered indignities, cultural destruction, imprisonment, and death under their unrelenting control, many young Tibetans do not want to return to the old, often abusive, theocracy.

The extreme Chinese oppression in Tibet today not only controls the lives of Tibetans, it also affects tourists, who travel there. Travelers have reported that the country is run like a police state. Chinese troops armed with rifles and riot shields now continuously march in Barkhor Square in the heart of Lhasa. Sentries are posted everywhere, some with binoculars, and they are supported by security cameras and speech collectors. Soldiers and police will pursue any tourist who they believe took a photo of them. Tibetans are harassed and searched by Chinese police for no apparent reason. After the 2008 uprising, Chinese soldiers visited every house in the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa to search for pictures of the Dalai Lama and other "subversive material" and anyone possessing these things could be arrested and thrown in jail.

Chinese control Tibetan uprising in
Lhasa March 11, 2008
International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Photo

Monks from Labrang Monastery
Protest March 2008

International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Photo

For more information see:
A Great Mountain Burned by Fire

When a Tibetan goes to an internet shop, their national ID is recorded and linked to the ID number of the computer they use. And they must be very careful as to what they write. When tourists enter the country, their luggage is searched. Books are singled out for special scrutiny. Guards flip through the pages looking for pictures of the Dalai Lama or other photos they consider objectionable. Copies of Lonely Planet are confiscated. The same process occurs when leaving the country.

March 10, 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Beijing's rule. Chinese control of Tibet was again protested by Tibetans and supporters around the world. In a March 9, 2009 Press Release, Amnesty International said it had received reports of a number of human rights violations being carried out against the population as the Chinese cracked down on Tibetans prior to protests. Chinese actions against Tibetans, included arbitrary detentions, arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention and imprisonment of peaceful protestors and other prisoners of conscience, torture and other ill-treatment, and violations of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Amnesty International has called for, "The authorities to immediately open Tibet and allow independent human rights monitors and international media into the region," according to Roseann Rife, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific deputy program director. She added, "The authorities should also issue a standing invitation to the U.N. human rights experts to visit the region."

A U.S. State Department Press Release by Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman Office of the Spokesman, Washington, DC, on March 10, 2009, stated that, “Today marks the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. The United States respects the territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China and considers Tibet to be part of China. At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Tibetan areas. We described those concerns in our just-released Annual Country Report on human rights practices in China. We concluded that China’s Government has acted against global human rights standards by significantly increasing cultural and religious repression in Tibetan areas. We urge China to reconsider its policies in Tibet that have created tensions due to their harmful impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods. We believe that substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, consistent with the Dalai Lama’s commitment to disclaiming any intention to seek sovereignty or independence for Tibet, can lead to progress in bringing about solutions and can help achieve true and lasting stability in Tibet.”

Meanwhile, ignoring China's human rights abuses, U.S. Companies continue the trend of outsourcing American jobs to China.

Four days before the Nobel Committee awarded him the 2009 Peace Prize, President Obama, chose not to meet with the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace winner, during his recent trip to Washington DC. According to an October 11, 2009 CBS News Report, “Powerful U.S. lawmakers honored the Dalai Lama with a human rights award.” The report added that, “President Barack Obama faced harsh criticism for delaying a meeting with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, until after he visits Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing in November.” China exerts pressure on foreign governments not to meet with The Dalai Lama. The CBS report further stated, “The Obama administration needs Chinese support for crucial foreign policy, economic and environmental goals and wants to establish friendly ties between Hu and Obama during next month's visit.” President Obama is the first U.S. president in nearly two decades, who has not met with the Tibetan leader. The Dalai Lama has met with the last three sitting U.S. presidents during his visits to Washington.

The Dalai Lama has said he does not advocate violence or a separate and independent Tibet. He has said he wants a genuine autonomy that preserves the cultural heritage of the region. Stephanie Brigden, director of Free Tibet recently stated, ”World leaders must respond urgently and publicly to the Tibet crisis by taking immediate action.” She added,“They should demand that China call off its security stranglehold in Tibet as an essential first step towards backing the Dalai Lama's initiative in finding a long-term and negotiated settlement to China's occupation of Tibet." Perhaps, the Dalai Lama or his successors will someday succeed in achieving Tibetan autonomy, religious and cultural freedom, prisoner release, and the end of human rights abuse under Chinese rule. Until that time, Tibetans will continue their protests against oppression and their struggle for a Free Tibet, and hope that other free and democratic nations of the world will join them in their fight for human rights.


This article was edited from information obtained from: Tibet, A Wounded Civilization, by Francoise Pommaret (Discoveries Series, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers); The Voice That Remembers: A Tibetan Woman's Inspiring Story of Survival, by Ama Adhe and Joy Blakeslee; Tibet Since 1950, Silence, Prison or Exile, Edited by Melissa Harris and Sidney Jones (Aperature-Human Rights Watch); A Portrait of Lost Tibet, by Rosemary Jones Tung (Holt, Rinehart and Winston/New York); The Silent War in Tibet, by Lowell Thomas, Jr. (Doubleday & Company, Inc.); and web sources, including:;;;;;;




Cover | Contents | Archive | Contact