A Short History of Tibet

Ancient History:

Tibet is an ancient country located between India and China in the Great Himalayan mountains. Known as the “Roof of the world” or the “Land of Snows”, it is a place of great natural beauty and environmental significance for the world.  During Tibet’s ancient history it existed as a single independent country of Tibet. Tibet was unified as a single country under King Songtsan Gampo in the 7th century. The Tibetan empire extended into large parts of China and Central Asia.  Buddhism was established as the religion in Tibet assimilating the local Bon traditions. Tibetan language is spoken in Tibet.  The lineage of the Dalai Lamas became the spiritual and political leaders in Tibet. They are believed to the recognised reincarnations of the Buddha of Compassion.

In 821 / 822 CE, Tibet and China signed a peace treaty. A bilingual account of the treaty including the details of the borders between the two countries are inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.

History since 1900:

1904 – British military expedition led by Colonel Francis Younghusband enters Lhasa and UK trade mission established under the Lhasa treaty agreed with the Tibetan government.

1911 – the UK government recognises Tibet as de facto independent and official communications are conducted directly with the Tibetan government.

1937 – Two year old Lhamo Thondup is recognised as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and is named Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso – the current 14th Dalai Lama who now lives in exile in India. He begins his education as a Buddhist monk.

1948 – The United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights was set out and proclaims “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

1949 – The People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China cross the Tibetan border and begin the process of the ‘liberation’ of Tibet.

1950 – In October, over 40,000 Chinese troops attack the capital of the Tibetan region of Chamdo. The 8,000 strong Tibetan army are quickly crushed with over 4000 Tibetans killed. On 17th November an emergency session of the Tibetan National Assembly is convened. The Dalai Lama only at 15 assumes full authority as Head of State.

1951 – Under extreme pressure, a Tibetan delegation in Beijing sign the 17 point agreement. In return for pledging to guarantee Tibet’s autonomy and respect the Buddhist religion and culture of Tibet, this gives China control over Tibet’s external affairs and allows Chinese military occupation. The agreement is NOT recognised by the Tibetan government. Over 20,000 troops enter Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

1954 – The young Dalai Lama travels to Beijing to engage in peace talks with Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese leaders. His efforts are thwarted by Beijing’s unflinching and ruthless stance.

10th March 1959 – With fears for the Dalai Lama’s life, Lhasa erupts into protest calling on China to leave Tibet. The uprising is brutally crushed by the occupying Chinese army and over the next six months around 87,000 Tibetans are killed as a result of the unrest.

12th March 1959 – Tibetan Women’s Association formed in Lhasa to challenge the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Over 15,000 women demonstrate against Chinese occupation. Protesting peacefully outside the Potala Palace many of these women suffered brutally at the hands of the Chinese troops. They were arrested, imprisoned and tortured without trial. Most of those imprisoned did not survive.

17th March 1959 – The Dalai Lama disguised as a soldier leaves Lhasa to escape to India over the Himalayan mountains. En-route to India, he declared the new administration installed in Lhasa was totally controlled by the Chinese and not recognised by the people of Tibet. Upon arrival in India, the Dalai Lama re-established the Tibetan government in exile. In the ensuing months over 80,000 Tibetans cross the Himalayas to India.

1959 – The Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group was formed by Hugh Richardson who was the British representative in Lhasa in the 30’s and 40’s along with other ex-diplomats and foreign office officials.

1959, 1961, 1965 – Resolutions in support of Tibet are passed at the United Nations calling for respect of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people and their distinctive cultural and religious life.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1959 – 1962) led to great famine in Tibet. Approximately 1.2 million Tibetans are estimated to have died since 1950 due to violence, torture, starvation and other causes under the Chinese Rule.

1963 – Tibet is sealed off and foreign visitors are banned. The shut down lasts eight years until 1971. The Dalai Lama approved a democratic constitution for the Tibetan people and began the development of the world’s newest democracies.

1965 – Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is established by the Chinese government.

1966 – The Cultural Revolution reaches Tibet resulting in widespread destruction of thousands of monasteries, with monks and nuns cast out into the land. Many ancient and valuable religious and cultural artefacts were destroyed.

1970’s – Ongoing program of large scale relocation of Han Chinese into Tibet.

1987 – At the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in Washington, the Dalai Lama proposes a Five-Point Peace Plan as a first stage towards resolving the conflict in Tibet.

1988 – In an address to the European Parliament in Starsbourg, the Dalai Lama elaborates on the Five Point Peace Plan and puts forward his “Middle Way” approach. This suggests a meaningful autonomy within the People’s Republic of China, whereby Tibet would be a self governing democratic political entity founded on the agreement of the people for common good. Protests occur in Tibet which are crushed.

1989 – The Dalai Lama is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1993 – Behind the scenes the contact between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government are broken off.

1995 – Six year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese authorities place the boy under arrest and another six year old boy Gyancain Norbu is nominated as their official Panchen Lama. The recognised Panchen Lama and his family are missing till today and their whereabouts are unknown.

2002 – Communication between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government resumes after a break of nine years with a round of informal discussions in Beijing. Since then there have been five further rounds of talks with no tangible results.

2006 – The Golmud-Lhasa railway link opens bringing mass tourism from mainland China and an added huge influx of Han Chinese migrants further marginalising Tibetans inside Tibet. Mandarin is now the commonly used language in Lhasa.

October 2007 – President George Bush presents the Dalai Lama with top civilian medal in the US, the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Chinese regime steps up its re-education policy where Tibetan monks and nuns are forced to denounce their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Refusal results in years of imprisonment, torture and death in the infamous prisons such as the Drapchi prison.

For example Tibetan woman Ngawang Sangdrol who spent several years being held and tortured at Drapchi prison. After lobbying by individuals, organisations, French, Swiss and American governments, she was released on medical parole from Drapchi prison in October 2002. She has quoted that all political prisoners are tortured and the Chinese authorities adopt a lenient position in terms of the torture towards a prisoner if international attention is mobilised.

The human rights casualties are not possible and very painful to include in a leaflet. Please refer to the Tibet Society or Amnesty website www.tibetsociety.com or www.amnesty.org.uk.

March 2008 – In desperation of the increasingly hard line policies of the Chinese authorities, monks demonstrate in Lhasa on the 10th March. Following a severe crackdown by the local Chinese regime, protests and demonstrations by Tibetan people spread throughout the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other traditionally Tibetan areas. Hundreds of Tibetans are killed or injured by the Chinese Government’s Police and troops. Thousands more are detained.