Tibet has had a long and eventful history, and has been both independent and occupied at various stages of its past. However, either independent or occupied, Tibet has always maintained a distinct and unique identity which remains a unifying force for Tibetans today.
Key dates in Tibetan history
602 Namri Songtsen, lord of Yarlung, becomes the first king of Tibet. Namri Songtsen (also known as Namri Lontsen), united the Tibetan central states at the beginning of the 7th century.
620-49 Reign of King Songtsen Gampo; Tibet grows into an empire and Lhasa becomes the capital city.
821 China-Tibet Peace Treaty: “Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet and Chinese shall be happy in China”. The peace treaty was an acknowledgement of the stalemate between the two countries after 200 years of Sino-Tibetan conflict. The treaty stated that the Chinese recognized Tibetans as equals and Tibet as a separate state, with its own inviolable territory. The treaty was engraved on a stone pillar in front of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.
842 King Langdarma is assassinated; Tibet fragments into several states, not to be unified again for 400 years.
1261 Tibet reunited, with the Grand Lama of Sakya as king.
1717 Dzungar Mongols invade Tibet.
1721 Qing emperor declares Tibet a tributary state; first Amban, the official Qing representative, is sent to Lhasa.
1854-56 Nepal defeats Tibet; the ensuing peace treaty requires Tibet to pay tribute.
1904 British troops under Colonel Younghusband enter Tibet and occupy Lhasa. The British feared that Russia would use Tibet as an invasion route to India and were worried that the Russians would take the place Mongols had once had as rulers of Tibet.
1910-12 A Qing army led by General Zhao Erfeng invades and occupies Tibet, causing the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government officials to flee.
1912 The last Qing emperor abdicates; The Republic of China claims Mongolia and Tibet. In April the Chinese troops surrender and are removed from Tibet by the end of the year. In July the Dalai Lama returns to Tibet. A presidential mandate on October 28th 1912 restoring the rank and title of the Dalai Lama whilst making it clear that Tibet was under Chinese authority.
1913 The 13th Dalai Lama proclaims Tibet independent; paper money and coins are issued. Mongolia and Tibet conclude a treaty of mutual recognition. With both Britain and China making claims on Tibet a tripartite conference on Tibet’s status is held in October 1913 at Simla, in India, involving Tibet, China and Britain. It is here that Tibet claims independence under the leadership of the Dalai Lama.
1914 Britain and Tibet agree to a treaty signed in Simla, establishing the status of the Indian-Tibetan border from Bhutan to Burma known as the McMahon Line. India still regards this as the official border today, but China does not, as it does not recognize Tibet’s treaty with Britain.
1918 The Tibetan army, led by British-trained officers, defeats the Chinese army. Tibet and China sign a peace treaty; China refuses to ratify the treaty.
1933 The 13th Dalai Lama dies; Reting Rimpoche is selected as Tibetan regent.
1937 Britain publishes the Simla Convention and begins enforcing the McMahon Line.
1940 The 14th Dalai Lama is enthroned; a Chinese delegation attends ceremony.
1943 Britain affirms that Tibet is “already self-governing and determined to retain [its] independence”.
1947-49 A Tibetan Trade Mission travels to India, Britain, U.S. and China; the mission is received by the British Prime Minister Attlee. However, neither the US or Britain consented to recognize Tibet as an independent country.
1949 The People’s Republic of China is proclaimed by the Chinese Communist Party.
1950 Radio Beijing announces: “The task of the People’s Liberation Army for 1950 is to liberate Tibet.” 40,000 Chinese troops invade Tibet in October, unprovoked and with no accepted legal basis for claims of sovereignty. Fifteen-year-old Tenzin Gyatso is given full powers to rule as the 14th Dalai Lama – the Tibetans’ spiritual and temporal leader.
The Tibetan’s response was that they did not want to be ‘liberated’ and the government in Lhasa appealed to both Britain and India for assistance. The Government of India at that time could not afford to fight the Chinese in Tibet. Britain was skeptical that China could take Tibet by military force, and therefore advised Tibet not to provoke the Chinese by making any bold declarations of independence.
1951 China imposes the 17-Point Agreement in which it agrees to refrain from interfering with Tibet’s government and society. The treaty was signed by the Tibetan side under duress on 23 May 1951. The Chinese promised not to “alter the existing political system in Tibet” and that “in matters relating to various reforms in Tibet there would be no compulsion on the part of the central authorities”.
1953 Mao Zedong promises the Dalai Lama that the Chinese will leave Tibet once ‘liberation’ is complete.
1959 National Uprising – an explosion of Tibetan resistance is brutally suppressed by the People Republic of China. An estimated 430,000 Tibetans are killed (Chinese estimate: 87,000 killed).
On 10 March 1959, fearful that the Chinese intended to kidnap the Dalai Lama and take him to Beijing, 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Norbulinka palace. Over the next days the Uprising grew. On 12 March 5,000 Tibetan women marched through the streets of Lhasa holding banners demanding Tibetan independence.
As a result the Dalai Lama was forced to flee in exile on 17 March 1959, disguised as a regular soldier. Thousands of Tibetans followed him into exile.
First UN resolution passed on Tibet, formally voicing the United Nations’ “grave concern at the continued violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Tibetans” and calling for “respect of the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life.”
1960 – 1962 340,000 Tibetan peasants and nomads die in Tibet’s first recorded famines following the destabilisation of the economy, after an influx of Chinese settlers and forced agricultural modernization.
Second UN resolution passed on Tibet.
1965 China redefines Tibet’s borders by establishing the so called “Tibet Autonomous Region” consisting of U-Tsang and small portion of Kham. The bulk of Tibet, which lies outside “TAR”, was incorporated into China’s other provinces – Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunan.
Third UN resolution passed on Tibet.
1966 6,000 Buddhist monasteries are destroyed during Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”.
Late 1970s The Dalai Lama starts to make political speeches abroad and international support for Tibet begins to grow.
1987 Tibetans begin a new era of protest. Police fire on a massive pro-independence demonstrations in Lhasa.
1988 The Dalai Lama puts forward the ‘Strasbourg Proposal’ in which he calls for genuine autonomy for Tibet rather than independence. Qiao Shi, China’s security chief visits Tibet and vows to “adopt a policy of merciless repression”.
1989 Protests in Lhasa show that Tibetans are still willing to risk their lives and liberty to stand up against the Chinese rule. The Chinese authorities respond with brutal force, and footage of troops beating monks shake the international community.
The Dalai Lama receives the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 1989, International Human Rights Day.
1995 Six year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima, recognised by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, disappears, along with his family. China selects and enthrones another child. Gendun’s location and safety remain unknown.
1996 China launches a patriotic re-education campaign, removing photos of the Dalai Lama from monasteries.
1999 The 40th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising is marked by protests in Lhasa.
2007 State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 makes it illegal for lamas to reincarnate without Chinese government approval. The Dalai Lama is awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States.
2008 The largest protests in Tibet since 1959 erupt, with over 100 separate incidents across the entire Tibetan plateau. The Chinese authorities react with brutal force against unarmed protesters, sparking international outrage. China’s Olympic torch is met by worldwide protests over Tibet, and Tibet supporters highlight China’s hypocrisy in hosting the Olympics while killing innocent Tibetans.
2009 Fearing a repeat of the 2008 Tibetan uprising, Tibet is put under a state of de-facto martial law, but this does not prevent over a thousand Tibetans from protesting in order to mark 50 years of peaceful resistance to the Chinese rule.
2011 His Holiness the Dalai Lama devolves his political role. Dr. Lobsang Sangay takes over the reins of the Central Tibetan Administration as its democratically elected Sikyong.
2009 – 2013 The Chinese oppression reaches new alarming levels, forcing Tibetans to resort to drastic protest means : since 2009, 124 Tibetans are confirmed to have self-immolated inside Tibet. Many foreign governments, parliaments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issue declarations urging China to put an end to the oppression inside Tibet and to resume dialogue with the Tibetan side.
Top photo: Pedro Saraiva
Fifth photo down: Ryan Gauvin