China and Tibet Under PRC Rule

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Tibetan Perpective

In 1949, the People's Liberation Army marched into Tibet and news outlets all over China proudly proclaimed that Tibet had been liberated from "foreign imperialists." Tibetans, however, had a different take. Previous treaties between Tibet and the British government in India had been passed onto Nehru’s post-Colonial government, which seemed hesitant about getting involved, though publicly voiced support for the Tibetan cause. The Seventeen Article Agreement of May 23, 1951 was signed under considerable pressure from the Chinese government, which also forced the Tibetans to recognize the Maoist candidate as the seventh Panchen Lama. At the time there existed a considerable strain on already scant Tibetan resources that had been initially caused by the garrisoning of Chinese troops in the region.

Throughout this period, the Dalai Lama tried to remain conciliatory as the Chinese propaganda machine rapidly disempowered him, reducing him to a mere figurehead. By 1958, a revolt of guerilla fighters had materialized which was met by fierce resistance from the Chinese, including artillery shelling, and widespread "cases of genocide." The rebels held much of Southern Tibet and allowed other peoples to return to their native regions. Despite requests, Nehru never visited during the revolt, in part because the Chinese government could not guarantee his safety. The Dalai Lama tried to adopt a moderate, compromising tone, saying, "My most urgent moral duty at that moment was to prevent a totally disastrous clash between my unarmed people and the Chinese army." However, he was soon forced into exile, where he met a hero's welcome in India. Thousands of refugees left in the ensuing period. A UN Resolution overwhelmingly passed acknowledging the cultural and religious legacy of Tibet and that its traditions should be preserved. The actions of the Chinese government, however, were not discussed in this resolution, and no political or military intervention was forwarded.
Scholar's Perspective

In 1913 the 13th Dalai Lama expelled Chinese officials from Tibet. Tibet retained its own army and controlled its borders, used its own currency and had its own government. For four more decades, Tibet appeared to be independent. However, the Tibetan elite feared modernization and poorly instituted policy to ensure independence. After WWII China continued to be a real threat to Tibet, which was still not recognized internationally as in independent state. Mao and the PRC set out to “peacefully liberate” Tibet by “gradually” winning over the Tibetan elite and the Dalai Lama. This policy of “gradualism” was not completely successful, so China invaded Tibet in October of 1950. In 1951, the “Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” appeared: the Dalai Lama sent a delegation to Beijing in March to sign a document stating that China had sovereignty over Tibet, but that Tibet could rule itself until “the leaders and people of Tibet wanted reforms.” Factions in the CCP split in their support for either the Dalai or Panchen Lama.

Fan Ming favored the Panchen Lama over the Dalai Lama, and he accepted the Panchen Lama’s word of Tibet being apart of China as if the he were speaking for all of Tibet. Fan called for a “back Tibet” and a “front Tibet”, and he argued against the power that Mao was giving to the Dalai Lama. Different factions within the CCP were, in actuality, siding with different factions within Tibet. Eventually Fan was arrested on accusations of attempting to split “the unity of Tibet”. In March of 1959, an uprising occurred in Lhasa, and the Dalai Lama fled into exile. Mao’s “gradualist” approach was seen as one of his greatest failures by his Chinese peers. From the 1980’s to the present-day, Tibet has become a “small ethnicity” policy. China aims at “a high degree of integration of Tibetans with the rest of China.” This policy has come about due to a series of events—such as failed negotiations with the Dalai Lama (and his own international campaign), as well as the feeling that fostering higher degrees of Tibetan culture only add to the “counter-productiveness to China’s national interests”. To fully understand Sino-Tibetan relations, one must explore and analyze the different factions within both the Chinese and Tibetan sides.
Chinese Perspective

The peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951 by the People's Liberation Army struck a huge blow against the so-called "Tibetan Independence" movement. However, troops under CCP Central Committee direction were forced to put down a rebellion in 1955 led by Tibetan separatists who resisted the abolishment of feudal law and inhumane living conditions. Although the Seventeen Article Agreement was signed in 1951, granting Tibetans human rights for the first time, the situation in Tibet was still in dire need of Chinese military intervention.

At the time of Tibetan liberation, the two classes in Tibet were serf owners and serfs. The former class made up only five percent of the population and owned all the land, while the latter class, composed of 95 percent of the population, worked the land and owned no means of production themselves. The owners often abused their workers terribly. After the Seventeen Article Agreement abolished serfdom, the CCP Tibet Work Committee came into Tibet to meet with serfs to inspire class struggle against the ruling elite. However, former serf owners and ruling-class elites resisted the reforms put in place by the CCP and instead incited riots and began an armed resistance that led to the slaughter of many Han Chinese soldiers and innocent Tibetan civilians that stood in their way. The rhetoric used by the separatists cited religious freedom and independence for Tibet as the means to justify their violent behavior.

The fighting continued throughout the mid to late 1950s. In 1959 the Central Government put forward a directive of "conducting reform while quelling the rebellion." Finally, after getting the situation under control, feudalism was no longer the de facto economic and social system in Tibet. In 1965, the Tibetan Autonomous Region was official founded after the implementation of many democratic reforms such as the right to vote for all Tibetans. Although the 14th Dalai Lama and his clique, who had led much of the bloody, separatist rebellion, set up a "government-in-exile" in Dharamsala, India in 1960, Tibet still remained a part of the Chinese Motherland.


13th Dalai Lama (1876-1933): born Thubten Gyatso, responsible for negotiating the Simla Convention with Great Britain that asserted Tibetan independence

CCP: Chinese Communist Party, the political party of the People’s Republic of China

Dharamsala: city in northeast India that is the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. It is the home of the Dalai Lama and roughly 150,000 Tibetans

Fan Ming: officer in the People’s Liberation Army who led the 1951 invasion into Tibet for the PRC

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964): a political leader of the Indian National Congress, a pivotal figure in the Indian independence movement, and the first Prime Minister of India

Panchen Lama: along with the Dalai Lama, one of the two highest ranking lamas in the Gelugpa sect

Seventeen Article Agreement, aka Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet: singed in 1951 by the People’s Republic of China and the 14th Dalai Lama affirming Tibetan political autonomy but returning it Chinese sovereignty