10th March 1959, The Chinese Government invited the Dalai Lama to attend a special Chinese theatre performance.
But their invitation was accompanied by a strange demand.
They asked the Dalai Lama to attend the performance, but without his bodyguards.
This alarmed the people.
People wondered if the Chinese government was trying to kidnap the Dalai Lama.
Or to arrest him, or even maybe, assassinate him?
The thing was, some days before this, the Chinese government had sent their soldiers to Tibet’s capital Lhasa.
The city was surrounded by the Chinese military by then.
The Dalai Lama lived in this city.
This beautiful palace was his residence.
The Potala Palace.
As soon as the followers of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetian citizens found out about this invitation, there was a big uprising.
People came out of their homes and surrounded the palace.
They were willing to protect their leader at all costs.
Tensions were rising.
The communication between the Chinese authorities and the government led by Dalai Lama was broken.
The threat had progressed to such levels that there was no reasonable chance of the Dalai Lama’s escape.
This, about 7 days later, on 17th March 1959, Dalai Lama went undercover.
He put on a disguise and escaped the palace.
And just like that, the Chinese army invaded and took control of this once-sovereign country.
Friends, this is the story of a sovereign Tibet.
That existed once upon a time.
A great country occupied by China.
How China Invaded Tibet | Escape of Dalai Lama
How did this happen?
Come, let’s try to understand this in today’s article.
“High in the Himalayas, Tibet has through the centuries, preserved its ways and customs.
Tibet’s religious tradition is personified by the Dalai Lama.
Revered by his people as the living Buddha.”
“The image of a leader whose efforts of conciliation, had met with brutal contempt by Communist China.”
Friends, if you look at history, there were 3 provinces in Tibet.
Look at the map,U-Tsang, Amdo, and Kham.
These existed since the Tibetian Empire.
The combined area of these provinces happened to be huge!
Almost 2.5 million km².
Archaeological evidence shows us that humans have been living in the Eastern Tibetian areas for 4,000- 5,000 years.
The Tibetian civilisation is very old.
But this area was unified around the 7th century AD, by the Yarlung Dynasty.
This was done by Namri Songtsen, and his son Songtsen Gampo.
Credited as the founder of the Tibetian Empire.
During this era, border disputes between China and Tibet began.
By China, I mean the then Kingdom in China and the then Kingdom in Tibet.
There were border disputes between them.
But in the year 821, a formal peace treaty was signed by the Chinese and Tibetian kingdoms to clearly define the borders and to ensure that Tibetans remain happy in Tibet, and the Chinese remain happy in China.
This was an important time in Tibetan history because, during this time, Buddhism entered Tibet.
King Gampo had two Buddhist wives, One from Nepal and another from China.
It’s said that they influenced him to adopt Buddhism.
But there was a strong push among the Tibetanswhen King Trisong Detsen ascended to the throne, He ruled from the years 755 AD to 797 AD.
An Indian teacher is credited here.
He was invited from India to Tibet.
Tibetan Buddhism began mainly due to him.
Today, he is known as Guru Rinpoche by Tibetans.
Around then, Nalanda University’s head Shantarakshitawas invited me to Tibet to teach Buddhism.
But returning to geopolitics, in the year 1240, Mongols invaded Tibet.
In 1247, Ghenghis Khan’s grandson, Godan Khan, Met a Tibetan Lama Sakya Pandita, Under his influence, Godan Khan adopted Buddhism.
Friends, this religion emphasises the concept of learning a lot.
Buddhism talks about introspection.
To continue learning.
But, I’d like to tell you an important thing where Tibetan Buddhism is a bit different from mainstream Buddhism.
A new, interesting concept developed in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetans started believing that the teachers who teach us, the compassionate teachers keep being reincarnated.
They are reborn. And in each of their births, we can identify them when they are young, And once identified, they should be brought to Lhasa, and given the same prestige, they received in their previous life.
Friends, these teachers are known as the Lamas.
In Tibet, there are many such Lamas, on various levels of the hierarchy.
At the top, is the Dalai Lama.
Considered the most important teacher.
For their culture, and their religion.
Moving on with our story, in 1720,
the next major invasion of Tibet took place.
This time, by the Qing Dynasty in China.
In this invasion, two provinces of Tibet, Kham and Amdo, were turned Chinese in all aspects by this dynasty.
They were renamed Qinghai in 1724.
Yup, and just like that, Tibet lost these two provinces to China.
The remaining region of Tibet
acted as a tributary state to the Qing Dynasty.
They remained independent to some extent but were under the indirect influence of the dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty ended in 1912when the Xinhai Revolution took place in China and the Republic of China was born.
Meanwhile, all of the Chinese troops were thrown out of Lhasa.
The then Dalai Lama said, Clearly emphasising the independence of Tibet.
But it didn’t mean that the newly formed Chinese government accepted Tibet’s sovereignty.
China wanted to continue asserting its influence.
The new Chinese government also claimed Tibet.
The British had to get involved in solving this dispute.
They asked them to come to Shimla and have a conference.
To get to a solution through discussions.
The conference was held in 1914,
Representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet came together, But they couldn’t get to any conclusions.
China did not sign the Shimla Convention, But the British and the Tibetans did.
This helps develop friendship between the two countries.
Over the next 40 years, Tibet continues to be an Independent country.
Completely free and autonomous.
Between 1912 and 1950, there were no foreign influences.
Everything was calm and people were peacefully living in Tibet.
And then came a big twist in our story in 1949.
How China Invaded Tibet | Escape of Dalai Lama
Under Mao Zedong, the Communist revolution was seen in China.
The ROC government was pushed to Taiwan.
And the People’s Republic of China was born, PRC.
Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army defeated the ROC’s army.
And the China that we know today, was born.
Mao Zedong threatens Tibet, that he will liberate Tibet and integrate it with Motherland.
In 1950, an announcement was made on Radio Beijing.
The army was given a task for the year, “Tibet’s Liberation”.
Where liberation meant Occupation.
“Mao revived China’s old imperial ambitions impose its sovereignty on Tibet.
To force the Tibetan authorities, to admit that the Chinese forces marching upon their country were, not an army of conquers, but an army of liberation from Western Imperialism.”
Mao Zedong was a staunch communist.
He was strictly against all religions.
He wanted no religions and no hierarchies.
And he believed that Tibet was a part of China.
During his win, a significant Tibetan person showed their support.
The 10th Panchen Lama.
As I told you, the Dalai Lama is at the top of the hierarchy, in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is the apex, Friends, the Panchen Lama is the immediate subordinate of the Dalai Lama.
He is in the second spot.
The then Panchen Lama had said that they were excited to see that the People’s Liberation Army had won in China.
And that they wanted Tibet’s Liberation, on the behalf of the entire Tibetan people asked China to accept his supreme respect and support.
This new twist in the story may surprise you.
Why would a Tibetan Lama support the Chinese Communist government?
Friends, there is a simple reason for this.
The 10th Panchen Lama was given his position by the Republic of China government.
The government in Lhasa had chosen someone else but the ROC government gave this position to someone else.
ROC had done this so that he could be in opposition to the PRC.
But when Mao’s PRC won in 1949, he started supporting PRC.
He was a Chinese puppet.
Neither the Tibetan people nor the Tibetan government had any influence on him.
Oh, I forgot to tell you one important thing, The Panchen Lama was 12 years old then.
So you can imagine the agency he might have had. On 1st January 1950, the People’s Republic of China declared the national sovereignty of the Tibetan regions. And as proof, they used the statement of the 12-year-old boy.
After this, the Chinese government demanded that the Tibetan government send their representatives to Beijing.
By 16th September 1950.
The Tibetan officials ignore this demand.
They assumed that even if the Chinese government claimed Tibet to be theirs they do not have to pay heed to it.
But the Chinese government’s demand was more of a threat.
Within a month, on 7th October 1950,
The soldiers of the Chinese army invaded Tibet.
“The troops came from all over.”
By crossing the Yangtze river, they entered the eastern provinces of Tibet.
And captured the city of Chamdo within two weeks.
It is estimated that they were around 40,000 to 80,000 soldiers of the Chinese Army.
Imagine this, when the population of Tibet back then was only 1 million.
A huge area with a low-density of population.
In such an area, sending an army of 40,000-80,000 soldiers to a city.
They used such brute force to invade.
After this invasion, there was much uproar in Tibet.
Tensions were rising.
The 14th Dalai Lama had to become the head of the state of Tibet at a young age.
At the age of only 15 years.
From the perspective of Tibetans, it was necessary to do so, because, in Tibet, the figure of the Dalai Lama is very important.
The most important spiritual figure, and their leader.
If the position of the leader was vacant, how would people feel motivated?
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The 15-year-old Dalai Lama took the issue to the United Nations.
In the General Assembly of the United Nations,
this invasion was discussed, and on 18th November 1950,
the United Nations officially condemned the Chinese invasion.
But since the United Nations doesn’t have an army
that it could send to China to fight China,
So there weren’t many changes on the ground.
But there was a change in China’s strategy.
Even though the Chinese military was in an advantageous position,
they had established almost total control.
China wanted to show the world that they weren’t forcefully occupying the area,
So to do that, to maintain the ‘legitimacy’ of their claim,
China called the Tibetian officials to negotiate.
In 1951, Tibet sent a delegation to Beijing, But in Beijing, the Chinese government presented a lengthy document and asked them to sign it.
That was the agreement that they had to sign.
The delegation wasn’t given a chance to consult with the Dalai Lama, or to consult the Tibetan government.
They were forced to sign the document.
How China Invaded Tibet | Escape of Dalai Lama
What was the document?
It was the Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibetan Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.
Later shortened to be known as the 17-point Agreement.
The first point of the agreement was a bit scary for the Tibetans.
The first point states that “The Tibetan people shall unite and… …shall return to the family of the Motherland, the People’s Republic of China”
The rest of the point makes it seem like China’s actions were justified in some way.
Because the other points mention that Tibet would be given autonomy.
Buddhism would be respected, And the existing political system of Tibet,won’t be changed by the Chinese government.
The positions and powers of the Dalai Lama would continue.
Friends, this is why people do not protest.
The Tibetans start to accommodate the Chinese government.
When the 16-year-old Dalai Lama read this agreement, He accepts it for the same reasons.
The problem was that, over the next few years, China reneges on its promises.
The points in the agreement were just a formality.
In reality, China does just the opposite.
Around 1954-55, Dalai Lama went to China for the first time and was impressed with the development in China.
With heavy industries, a well-planned transport system, and good infrastructure, he believed that there was a lot to be learned from China.
But he was unaware that it was all a strategy of China.
These were the first steps of China’s Re-education plans.
During these years, the Chinese government invited several Tibetan officials and Tibetan citizens to witness China’s development.
To urge them to become like China.
Several Lamas and citizens were invited to join their political re-education programs.
The true purpose of these re-education plans was revealed years later.
Mao Zedong believed in ‘One Country, One Culture, One Nation
He was so unyielding about these things, he wanted the same culture all over China.
Everyone believes in the same things.
He couldn’t tolerate any form of diversity.
In a way, he was trying to convert people.
In November 1956, the Dalai Lama visited India
and met some Tibetan freedom fighters in India.
These freedom fighters were some guerilla warriors.
He found out that some guerilla warriors in Tibet had taken up arms to try and fight against Chinese occupation.
After talking to them, it changed Dalai Lama’s perspective.
He found out the truth about what China was doing.
China had suppressed the freedom of the Tibetans completely.
It wasn’t a Liberalisation, China was colonising them. A large number of war crimes were committed in Tibet.
Villages were set on fire,
And by 1959, a proper Tibetan resistance had emerged.
During the same time, there were constant protests in Tibet against the Chinese occupation.
New tensions were seen every day in Lhasa.
Friends, this was the same time when the Chinese government invited Dalai Lama, to watch a special theatre performance in China.
And asks him to come without his bodyguards.
The Chinese army had surrounded Lhasa.
The Tibetan citizens gathered outside the palace of the Dalai Lama.
To protect the Dalai Lama.
He had an advisory, known as the State Oracle, During the previous two instances when the Dalai Lama had asked the Oracle
about what he should do, the Oracle had advised him to remain there and continue negotiating.
But this time, the Oracle said, “Go, go tonight.”
He told him to flee at night to save his life.
It was 17th March 1959, there was much uproar in Lhasa.
In his autobiography, Dalai Lama mentions that the Oracle was meditating,
when he suddenly grabbed a pen and made outlines on paper, On the paper, he drew the escape route, explaining how and where Dalai Lama should escape.
While the Oracle was advising the Dalai Lama, there were two big explosions.
Two bombs went off in Lhasa’s Jewel Park.
Dalai Lama put on a disguise and escaped from the palace.
With him, were his mother, his sister, his younger brother, and some top officials.
Somehow he managed to avoid the army and find his way out of the city of Lhasa.
As soon as the Chinese government got to know about it, They start sending military planes.
Search parties were sent to find out where Dalai Lama has escaped to.
Military planes started an all-day search operations to look for the Dalai Lama.
And as you’d know, the Tibetian landscape is very open.
There aren’t many trees there.
It makes it difficult for one to hide.
In such a case, there was only one way to hide.
Travelling only at night.
After walking for several nights, they reached the Eastern Himalayan ranges.
At one point, the Chinese military aircraft were quite close to them.
They passed by so closely, that he was sure it was the end for them.
Because there were no places to hide.
But by chance, the planes did not see them and passed them by.
There weren’t many culinary options on this long journey.
They had to survive on insects.
Remember, this was the royal family of Tibet.
Throughout their lives, they had wonderful things to eat.
And then suddenly, they were on a journey with no proper food or shelter, and they had to be constantly on the run.
On this journey, they received help from an unexpected ally, the CIA.
Yup, that’s right.
America’s Central Intelligence Agency.
CIA had already stationed its agents in India and Tibet.
America feared that there might be a threat of World War III.
The Cold War was underway.
And China was an ally of the Soviet Union.
For diplomatic reasons, India had allowed the CIA’s presence.
CIA operatives were training Tibetians in guerrilla warfare.
During the people’s uprising on 10th March 1958, the CIA was aware that the Dalai Lama wasn’t safe.
CIA-trained Tibetans had built this protective force of the people who accompanied the Dalai Lama on this journey.
They kept on walking for about 2 weeks.
Walking through the perilous Himalayan range, they reached the last Tibetan village.
On the Indian border.
They could have taken a shortcut through Bhutan, but they didn’t because of the danger of the Chinese military.
On 26th March, upon reaching the border, he wrote a letter to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
In this letter, for the first time he mentions that he was against the Seventeen-Point Agreement.
He explained the situation in Tibet and his circumstances to Nehru.
And requests asylum from Nehru.
When Pandit Nehru read this letter, he immediately sent a detachment of the Assam Rifles.
The soldiers of the Indian Army received the Dalai Lama on the border.
And on 31st March, Dalai Lama and his group entered India through Arunachal Pradesh.
On the same day, Pandit Nehru announced to the Indian Parliament, that the Dalai Lama should be treated with respect.
10th March is celebrated as the National Uprising Dayby the Tibetans living all around the world.
What happens to Tibet in this story?
On 25th March 1959, the Chinese Army entered Lhasa.
On 28th March, the Tibetian government was dissolved.
After that, China forces its idea of ‘One Nation, One Culture’ upon Tibet.
Till 1965, the CIA continued its efforts to help the Tibetan rebels.
To support guerrilla warfare, so that there could be a rebellion against the Chinese army.
So that they could fight and win.
They are given weapons and trained, but this remained unsuccessful.
How China Invaded Tibet | Escape of Dalai Lama
After America gave up, from 1966 onwards, Mao got the opportunity to force his agenda without any obstacles.
From 1966 to 1976, the largest attack on Tibetan culture was seen.
Buddhist monasteries were destroyed.
Cultural sites were ruined.
During these 10 years, about 1 million Tibetans, were either killed, overworked, or they starved to death.
More than 6,000 monasteries and shrines were destroyed.
Around then, the first famines were seen in Tibet.
A place with no famines in recorded history up till then, But after the Chinese occupation,
about 300,000 people died in the famine.
Tibet’s natural resources were exploited.
80% of the forests were destroyed.
The Chinese government disposed of nuclear and toxic waste in Tibet.
As a result, the highest poverty rate even today is seen in the Tibetian regions, in the entirety of China.
34% of the Tibetans living in the farming areas of Tibet are below the poverty line.
There have been several uprisings and revolutions in Tibet.
But they have been unsuccessful till now.
After the occupation, the largest protests were seen in 1987-1989.
There was a large crowd on the road to protest.
Martial law was declared in China.
Foreign journalists were banned from Tibet.
After their failure, the following major protests were in 2008.
The protests were seen in China’s Beijing Olympics, in these protests more than 100 Tibetans were killed, and more than 1,000 went missing.
The future is even more uncertain for Tibetans.
The Dalai Lama is 87 years old now, as of 2022.
A frequently asked question is who will be the next Dalai Lama?
Following the Chinese occupation, it was seen that the two most recent Panchen Lamas, were appointed by the Chinese.
The 10th Panchen Lama was appointed by the ROC, and the PRC selected the 11th Panchen Lama.
In this case, China would want to have the next Dalai Lama as their puppet.
As a solution, the current Dalai Lama said that it is time to end the tradition passed down for ages.
He says that the next Dalai Lama should be democratically elected.
He wishes that the Tibetans would do so.
But to have free and fair elections under the Chinese government seems extremely doubtful.
This year on 25th January, China issued a directive to the workers employed
in the Tibetian government institutions.
To renounce the Dalai Lama and his followers.
Today, the Chinese government says that Tibet’s matters are China’s internal matters.
The same ‘internal matter’ argument is brought up by the dictators.
But interestingly, and you might be surprised to know, Tibet isn’t the only area in China where this is happening.
In China’s Northwest, there’s the area of Xinjiang.
The culture over there was distinct from the rest of China.
More than 1 million Uyghur Muslims over there, have been put into ‘re-education camps.’
The same thing that’s being done to the Tibetans.
In the East, China is trying to do the same in Hong Kong.
The people in Hong Kong want democracy, they want to be liberal, but Chinese beliefs are being imposed over there.
Additionally, China also claims Taiwan to be theirs. So overall, in the places that have a different culture, this Chinese policy is being forced.
On the Buddhists in Tibet.
On the Uyghur Muslims.
On the people of Hong Kong in the East.
It is hoped that the Chinese government would someday weaken, and these regions will launch a joint revolution against their dictatorship.
To win their freedom.
One good thing is that
at least the Tibetans are treated well in India.
All Indian governments have been very helpful to the Tibetan refugees.
Back in the 1960s, the Karnataka government had allocated 3,000 acres of land to create the first Tibetian-exile settlement.
Apart from this, in Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tilla, the land was allocated for the Tibetan refugees.
Today, there are more than 150,000 Tibetan refugees in India.
Though they have not been offered Indian citizenship, their status can be revoked at any time.
But they are temporarily living a peaceful life.