A Long Look Homeward

A Long Look Homeward, is dedicated to Tibet’s recent history: the Chinese occupation and the Tibetan exile experience.

  • 1. Tibet: Introduction

    Tibet is commonly known as the “Roof of the World”. More than two thirds the size of India, it stretches for about 2,500 kilometers from west to east. At present there are about six million Tibetans living throughout the world.
    “Lofty snowcapped mountains, followed by rocky ranges and forests surround Tibet. Four of Asia’s greatest rivers – the Brahmaputra, Indus, Mekong and the Yellow River (Machu) – originate in Tibet. Abundant minerals and unique varieties of plants and wildlife can also be found there.
    Buddhism was introduced during the 7th century AD, replacing the native religion, Bon. It has become an inseparable part of our identity. Almost every family had images of Buddhist deities in their home. A small number of Tibetans still practice Bon and there are also some Muslims and Christians.
    Most Tibetans made their living from animal husbandry or agriculture, and others through trade and craftsmanship. While the government, monasteries and aristocracy held much of the land, which was cultivated by tenant farmers, still there were many independent farmers who owned land.
    Women shared equal responsibilities as men in most aspects of social life, and some were very in uential politically. Tibetans have an
    old saying: ‘Even a nun can become the ruler of Tibet if that brings happiness to the land’. This proverb symbolizes the general spirit of religious, social and political freedoms of our old Tibet”.
    Curator: Shewo Lobsang Thargey, former official of the Tibetan Government in Tibet


    Tibet was an independent country for more than 2000 years. It had its own government and civil services, legal system, currency, an army and police force.
    “Our relationship with China dates back a long time. In the eighth century Tibetans occupied the ancient capital of China-Xian. In certain periods China had some in uence in Tibet, and at other times we were both under foreign rule . In no way was Tibet ever a part of China.
    From the end of the nineteen century onwards, the British and Russian empires sought to gain in uence in Tibet. In 1904, the British army invaded Tibet. This resulted in signing a peace convention that in fact recognized Tibet as a fully independent country.
    Our government, Ganden Phodrang, was rst established in 1642. Its conduct was based on the Tibetan code of law established during King Songtsen Gampo’s rule (620 – 650 AD). It held both the secular and religious authority and was headed by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader. Noblemen and monk-o cials jointly held all positions in the administration.
    The 13th Dalai Lama tried to reform and modernize our government and country. He established a telegraph service, a modern army and also supported the founding Tibet’s rst English-medium school.
    Before he died, the 13th Dalai Lama issued a testament warning against the great dangers to our country from the spread of communism. The 14th Dalai Lama was only 15 years old in 1950 when his predecessor’s warning came true.”
    Curator: Rinchen Dolma Taring, founder of the Tibetan Homes Foundation, Mussoorie, Dehradun.


    One of the rst tasks announced by the newly-established People’s Republic of China in 1949 was the ‘liberation’ of Tibet. Soon after, Tibet was invaded.
    “On October 7, 1950, a force of about 40,000 Chinese soldiers launched a three-pronged surprise attack through Derge, Riwoche and Sibda. Our small force of less than 6,000 soldiers were overwhelmed and the invading forces closed in on Chamdo.
    In a hastily-called meeting in Chamdo, it was decided that the governor Ngabo should leave from Chamdo and the city’s arsenal be set on re. Our regiments had no choice but to surrender. The city assumed a chaotic atmosphere and the bon re of weapons and ammunition raged for two days.
    Back in Lhasa, the fall of Chamdo seemed incomprehensible. Attempts made by monastic and army forces to resist the Chinese advance failed, and the Tibetan government tried to halt the invasion through diplomatic negotiations.
    On May 23, 1951, the Tibetan delegation sent to negotiate with the Chinese government in Beijing was forced into signing the 17-point Agreement which declared the ‘peaceful liberation’ and annexation of Tibet to China.
    The whole of Kham became a marching ground for the invading Chinese army. They soon reached Lhasa.”
    Curator: Sonam Tashi, former O cer in the Bodyguard Regiment of the Tibetam army.


    Active resistance to Chinese occupation began in Kham and Amdo from the time of invasion and evolved into a full-scale guerilla war in eastern Tibet by 1956. In the beginning of 1958, resistance leaders from Kham formed the Chushi Gangdruk (‘Four Rivers, Six Ranges’) guerrilla movement in Lhasa.
    “On June 16, 1958 the ag of a united Tibetan resistance movement, the Tensung Danglang Maggar (Volunteer Freedom Fighters for Tibet), was hoisted for the rst time in Driguthang, Lhokha. Andrug Gompo Tashi was nominated as our chief commander. Many recruits from all parts of Tibet joined us and we soon had more than 5,000 members.
    Fighting began soon after. At Nyemo we faced our biggest battle. Less than 1,000 of us successfully fought against a much bigger Chinese force.
    On March 10, 1959, a national uprising broke out in Lhasa, resulting in the death of thousands of Tibetans. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama could no longer stay safely in Tibet and decided to ee into exile. We secured his escape route and escorted him all the way to the Indian border. To me, this was our biggest achievement.
    We fought about 103 battles with the Chinese. For a while we controlled parts of southern and eastern Tibet but, lacking equipment and training, we were nally overpowered by the much larger Chinese forces and had to ee.”
    Resistance activities were soon renewed from Mustang in Nepal and continued until the early 1970s.
    Curator: Ratu Ngawang – former member of Chushi Gangdruk and deputy commander of Tensung Danglang Maggar


    China’s measures to rule over Tibet entailed mass-scale physical destruction combined with policies aimed at erasing Tibetan culture, religion and ultimately its identity.
    “Since its occupation of Tibet, Beijing has destroyed over 6,000 monasteries and religious institutions. The handful of monasteries that remain today – and many others renovated by Tibetans themselves – are used simply as tourist attractions and not serious spiritual centers. Ancient scriptures, images and sculptures were destroyed, melted or sold in international art markets. In the early years of its occupation, Chinese used religious scriptures as shoe soles.
    The physical torture and psychological traumas Tibetans experienced during interrogations and imprisonment and public struggle sessions were beyond human comprehension. Reportedly, about 1.2 million Tibetans died as a direct result of Chinese rule through executions, torture, hunger and in labor camps.
    Yet, it is the destruction of the Tibetan psyche that has been most severe. The stealing of our homeland, attempts to eradicate our religion, and the creation of con ict and distrust among Tibetans have caused long-term damage to the Tibetan mentality and way of life.
    The other destruction involves China’s unbridled exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources, massive deforestation and mining, damming of rivers and excessive hunting have severely damaged Tibet’s fragile ecosystem. Some parts of the Tibetan Plateau are used as nuclear
    test sites and dumping grounds for nuclear waste. The impact of environmental destruction in Tibet is felt not only on the Tibetan Plateau but also in mainland China and elsewhere in Asia.”
    Curator: Hortsang Jigme, former director of the Cultural and Research Center, Norbulingka Institute, Dharamshala


    Human rights violations by China in Tibet began with the occupation and continue to date. They consist of a combination of gross abuses of individual human rights as well as an institutionalized and systematic assault on the collective rights of the Tibetan people.
    “On 22 November 1989, I participated in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa with five other nuns from my nunnery. We were immediately arrested and taken to a detention center.
    I was interrogated for two months. We were hung from the ceiling, cigarettes were stubbed on our bodies, and we were beaten severely with metal rods. Some female prisoners had electric batons inserted in their private parts.
    I was then sentenced to seven years‘ imprisonment and moved to Drapchi Prison. Conditions there were hard – there was never enough food nor other basic necessities and all prisoners were made to work.
    We were not allowed to practice any of our religious duties. Nevertheless, we secretly made rosaries out of bread and prayed together. We staged protests against our guards and some of us even recorded a cassette of freedom songs, which was smuggled out of prison. The punishments for those caught carrying out these activities were severe.
    After I was released from prison, I was not allowed to rejoin my nunnery and my movements were restricted. Most of my relatives and friends were too scared to maintain contacts with me. I then decided to escapes to India.”
    Curator: Rinzin Choenyi – nun, formerly of Shungseb Nunnery, Tibet


    Ever since China occupied Tibet, one of its main objectives has been to systematically degrade the culturally distinct and independent state of Tibet by forcibly assimilating it into China’s mono-ethnic nation.
    “At rst, the Chinese leaders launched a massive campaign of ‘democratic reforms’ aimed at demolishing the cultural and national sovereignty of Tibet. This process reached its peak with the creation of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (‘TAR’) in September 1965.
    In 1966, under the banner of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards ransacked and destroyed the most distinguished symbols of Tibetan civilization – the monasteries and the holy Buddhist scriptures. In
    a relatively short span of time, over three-quarters of our ancient civilization lay ruined.
    The ‘reform’ policies introduced in Tibet in the 1980s brought
    about some economic improvements, but the subtle cultural policy
    of Sinicization continues unabated. Today, our religion and our institutions are subjected to ‘socialist orientation’. The Chinese language is given priority in education and administration, thus marginalizing Tibetans in every sphere of life. Even more worrying is Chinese population transfers that is diluting our culture and reducing Tibetans to a minority in our own country. China is actively engaged in denying us our history, culture – our very identity.
    Time is indeed running out for our civilization. Tibet’s issue is the issue of its culture. A cultural renaissance must begin its momentum in Tibet and in exile to preserve our culture and identity before it is too late.”
    Curator: Kunchok Tsundue – Chief Planning O cer, Planning Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration

  • 8. ESCAPE

    Since 1959, over 150,000 Tibetans have ed into exile. Hundreds
    of them died on the way as a result of Chinese attacks and harsh conditions. Half-a-century later, thousands continue to escape each year from oppression and persecution in Tibet under China.
    “In the winter of 1993, a Chinese ‘re-eduction’ team came to our monastery. I refused to obey their orders to denounce His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and realized I had no choice but to leave. I decided to escape to India.
    A few weeks later, I started my journey with three other Tibetans. We walked through high mountain passes where we hoped to avoid Chinese army patrols. As we moved higher we were caught in heavy snowstorms and lost our way. Our blankets got carried away in the storm and we all su ered frostbite but had no choice but to continue walking.
    After three days we reached an encampment of Tibetan nomads in Sikkim. We were totally exhausted and su ered extreme pain from our frostbite. The nomads took us to an Indian army post for medical treatment. I was more worried about being reported back to the Chinese than about my health.
    We were hospitalized in Gangtok but my condition did not improve. After six months my legs and some of my ngers were amputated.
    Two of us were nally allowed to go to Dharamshala, India, but the other two, who were in better physical condition, were sent back to Tibet. When we reached Dharamshala, we were taken for an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I cannot remember anything that happened there, I just cried.”
    Curator: Migmar Tsering, monk, formerly of Dhargyeling Monastery, Tibet


    “Tibetans today su er repression, intimidation and torture. Those who exercise their fundamental human rights and freedom of expression are arrested, tortured and given long prison terms on charges of disturbing national stability.
    The Chinese government conducts extensive ‘patriotic re-education’ campaigns in Tibet’s monasteries and nunneries. Resistance to these campaigns is met with arrest, imprisonment, torture and expulsion from monasteries and nunneries.
    The Chinese government always boasts about its achievements in developing educational and health facilities in Tibet, but in reality, very few Tibetans enjoy any of these bene ts. The best schools
    and hospitals are located in major cities and admission to them is prohibitively expensive. Moreover, most Tibetans live in rural areas, where these facilities are still poor or non-existent.
    The Chinese government encourages a large number of Chinese migrants to settle in Tibet, reducing the Tibetans to a minority in our own country.
    Apart from eroding Tibet’s distinctive religion and culture, the in ux of Chinese settlers is putting pressure on many aspects of traditional Tibetan livelihood. Low prices are xed for agricultural products and traditional artifacts produced by Tibetans, and Tibetan farmers and businessmen are heavily taxed. The failure of many Tibetans to nd employment altogether leads, in many cases, to destitution.
    With the introduction of economic reforms and the so-called open door policy, Tibet’s natural resources are facing increasing exploitation. Tibet’s forests, mineral resources and hydro-energy are exploited for the bene t of China. This exploitation is endangering Tibet’s fragile ecosystem.”
    Curators: Jampel Monlam, former political prisoner Migmar Tsering, therapist, Delek Hospital, Dharamshala

  • 10. THE BURNING QUESTION: Why are Tibetans turning to self-immolation?

    Tibet has been under virtual martial law since the 2008 people’s peaceful protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau. Due to China’s repression for over 60 years and her persistent hardline policies, Tibetan people inside Tibet have begun protesting through self- immolation.
    From February 2009 till March 2016, a total number of 143 Tibetans have self-immolated. Of this number, 124 have died whereas the whereabouts and conditions of those who survived remain unknown. Tibetans, mostly young and healthy, soak themselves in ammable liquids and shout slogans demanding freedom for Tibetans and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, as ames consume them.
    Furthermore, restricted access for the world media and tourists prevents the international community from understanding the ongoing crisis in Tibet.
    Sixty years of Chinese occupation and rule have failed to address the grievances of the Tibetan people. The genuine Tibetan aspirations for basic freedoms and the preservation of Tibetan culture and identity have been met with repressive measures, which have led to political repression, economic marginalization, cultural assimilation and environmental destruction in Tibet. Hence, in the absence of space for conventional forms of protests, Tibetans have resorted to the drastic action of setting oneself on re, believing it is the only way to bring the world’s attention to the plight of the Tibetan people.


    Following the National Uprising in 1959, and the ight of the Dalai Lama into exile, about 80,000 Tibetans ed to neighboring countries. Initially kept in refugee camps and employed as road workers in Northern India, most Tibetans have since been settled in about 50 Tibetan settlements and communities in India, Nepal and Bhutan. A government and parliament in exile, which are the true voice of the Tibetan people in and out of Tibet, were established soon after the arrival of the Dalai Lama into exile.
    Through its o ces and institutions, the Tibetan community in exile strives to preserve the Tibetan heritage and keep the struggle for Tibet alive. More than 80 schools have been built in exile, as well as about 190 monasteries and nunneries. The Central Tibetan Administration runs
    its own businesses and welfare associations, and keeps representative o ces in 12 countries throughout the world. At present there are around 130,000 Tibetans in exile. Most live in India, Nepal and Bhutan, with smaller communities in the USA, Switzerland, Canada and other western countries.
    “I reached India as a refugee in 1959. We all felt sad and hopeless, but the arrival of the Dalai Lama into exile gave us courage to face the di culties ahead. Soon after, the rst o ces of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile were established, and I was called for service. We formed a parliament-in-exile and drafted a democratic constitution for the rst time in our history. The rst Tibetan school in exile was also opened.
    Despite its own great di culties, India helped us immensely in our time of need. Most Tibetans were initially employed as road workers in Northern India, but we soon realized that we needed a more solid structure in order to maintain our culture and struggle in exile. We requested the Indian Government to allow us to build our own settlements and they responded positively.
    In 1960, the rst Tibetan settlement was set up in Bylakuppe, Karnataka. It was soon followed by many more in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Conditions in most settlements were very di cult in the beginning, but we slowly managed to develop agriculture and other sources of income. Schools and monasteries were built in most settlements.
    We‘ve accomplished a lot under the di cult conditions in exile. The Tibetan community in exile is a successful and vibrant community. Its experiment in democratization has reached its peak with the devolution
    of political power by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the democratically- elected Sikyong. Our commitment to Middle Way Approach for the restoration of freedom in Tibet has remained consistent. These are some of our greatest achievements.”
    Curator: Mr. Tashi Phuntsok, Secretary, Department of Information and International Relations, CTA, Dharamshala

  • 12. FUTURE VISIONS FOR TIBET - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

    Speaking from a spiritual point of view, Tibet, our land of snow, was prophesized by Lord Buddha. It is a blessed, pure land. By nature, its people are compassionate and religious minded. This is how we view ourselves, and how the rest of the world views us.
    From a worldly point of view, it is a country with a very long history. Archeological ndings have revealed that we are a people whose history dates back to six to eight thousand years. The Tibetan people inhabit the highest plateau in the world.
    In the past, our people went through many hardships. However, we have managed to survive as a people. If the Tibetan people were given the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to any cause, not only the cause of Tibet, they would do exceptionally well. We have also preserved our culture, particularly the Buddhist culture, which is a bene t to Tibet as well as to the rest of the world. Our Buddhist culture has spread to Mongolia and the Himalayan areas. Tibetan Buddhism is considered as a reliable and unfailing tradition.
    The Buddhist teaching has in fluenced the nature of the Tibetan people. We have a culture with compassion, at its core. Our people are kind and gentle. These are among the most precious and important qualities in today’s world. Our culture with compassion and mercy as its core, and gentleness and morality as its essence, has the potential to bene t not only Tibetans, but also the whole world. We have a culture of caring not only for human being, but also animals, we do not unnecessarily use, kill or harm living beings. These qualities are bene cial to the whole world.
    We also have a culture of contentment and not taking too much from nature. As we see today, human greed and unlimited wants have caused additional problems to the world and immeasurable harm to animals. In view of this, the future economic development of Tibet should be based on the principle of non-violence and peace. Just as our mountain environment is beautiful and cool, so should we strive to tame and make our minds peaceful through our Buddhist practice of compassion. In this way we can create an environment of peace in Tibet. In my Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet, I proposed that future Tibet should be a demilitarized, peace sanctuary.
    The future political system of Tibet should be democratic. There
    are many political systems, of which the most viable is the one that gives people the opportunity to take collective responsibility and allows them elect their own leaders. This is the best and most stable political system. Therefore, we should strive to make future Tibet a
    free democracy. If we could achieve this, then our land will become a place where human beings and all other living beings can live in peace in their beautiful mountain environment. In this way, we can set an example for the whole world. This is possible and achievable. I always pray and wish for this.
    The number of Chinese supporters for the cause of Tibet continue to increase. China and the Arya land of India are our most important neighbours. There are Tibet supporters in these two countries and in the Himalayan kingdoms bordering Tibet. There are large numbers of Tibet supporters throughout the world. I will be very happy if all of them support our e orts to achieve our future goals.