As it Turns Out

Tibet and China have centuries of interactive history, neither agreeing on the other’s versions.

Tibet, a challenge to the world’s conscience

Tibet and China have centuries of interactive history, neither agreeing on the other’s versions. In 1949, Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “liberated” Tibet from “imperial forces” and “a reactionary feudal regime in Lhasa,” Tibet’s capital.

In 1950, the 15-year-old Dalai Lama, assumed full political power of Tibet (head of state and spiritual leader). While striving to prevent China from a complete takeover, he attempted to keep Tibetans peaceful toward their invaders. He met with Indian Prime Minister Nehru, Chinese Premier Chou En-lai, and Chairman Mao trying to restore his autonomous government, but failed.

In 1951, Tibetan officials were forcibly coerced into signing a treaty (Seventeen Point Agreement) allowing integration with China. In 1956, the PLA began “bombing and pillaging monasteries in Eastern Tibet, arresting nobles, senior monks and guerrilla leaders and publicly torturing and executing them to discourage the large-scale and punitive resistance they were facing.”*

Even though Tibetans are known for being devoutly religious and peaceful, they finally waged war against their oppressors. From 1959 to 1964, the American CIA aided in arming, financing and training Tibetan guerillas to fight (supposedly similar to the CIA operation that trained Cuban rebels before the Bay of Pigs Invasion.)

The March 1959 finale to this horribly lopsided war was the Lhasa Uprising, a miserable defeat with Tibetan death tolls estimated at 86,000. One week later, the Dalai Lama and select government officials narrowly escaped Lhasa with their lives, taking political asylum in India. There the Government of Tibet in Exile was established. Approximately 80,000 Tibetans followed; today there are more than 120,000 in India and surrounding countries.*

Some Tibetan resistance lasted until 1972, when President Nixon pursued diplomatic relations with China and withdrew military and financial support from Tibet. (Kenneth Conboy/James Morrison, “The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet.”)

Since 1972, it has only gotten worse. Tibetans are made to publicly denounce the Dalai Lama, must study government propaganda, and are forbidden to possess a likeness of him or the Tibetan flag. Working on the Tibetan youth, the Chinese have denied access to monasteries or religious ceremonies, denied them studies in their own language, and made mandatory study of Chinese interpretation of Tibetan history.

“The bosses of Beijing like to present themselves as modernizing inheritors of an ancient nation-state, one that has thrown off the shackles of European and Japanese domination and is regaining its rightful place in the world. But in Tibet, the Chinese are the colonizers,” stated a recent Boston Globe editorial. China believes that Tibetans should be grateful for economic development that has brought floods of Han Chinese into Tibet, diluting their Tibetan population and culture.

The latest conflict began peacefully this year on March 10, when Lhasan monks asked China for release of imprisoned monks in commemoration of the 49th anniversary of those fallen in the 1959 Lhasa Uprising. But the conflict has grown violent as China beats and arrests peaceful demonstrators, proving to the world that China still employs police-state methods in dealing with Tibetans. China only fans a fire never fully extinguished

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Bainbridge Island) says he supports boycotting the Olympics Opening Ceremony. He added he had sponsored a bill that was just approved by the House “that calls on China to end its crackdown on peaceful Tibetan protesters, put a stop to cultural and religious repression in Tibet and engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama on long-term solutions that respect the dignity of all Tibetans.” (Seattle Times, April 15, 2008)

The Dalai Lama has spent his life in spiritual pursuit of non-violence and negotiation. He has traveled the world with this message, beseeching help for his beloved Tibet. He has done what he can and his strong desire now is to peacefully regain control of Tibet’s government while remaining part of China. He says there are no further concessions Tibet can make.

We all watch the world’s superpowers carefully, including the United States. What are some things we can do to help besides watch?

*Source: The Government of Tibet in Exile at

To hear the Dalai Lama’s Seattle speeches at Marylin Olds may be reached at