Tibet Recent History

Tibet in the 18th and 19th centuries

In 1717 the Dzungar Mongols invaded Tibet, but were quickly driven from Tibet by the Tibetan army.

Due to the unrest in Tibet, the Manchu Emperor K’ang-Hsi managed to gain a foothold in Tibet. In order to secure Manchu influence in Tibet, the Manchu Emperor Yung-Cheng first appointed two civilian representatives of the emperor – known as Ambane – with a garrison under a military commander in Lhasa in 1728. The task of the two ambans was initially to advise the Tibetan government as an observer. Over time, however, the Manchus began to expand their influence in the Tibetan government. Tibet became a protectorate of the Manchu emperors under Tibetan administration.

In view of the increasingly weaker position of China as a semi-colony after the first opium war (1840/1842), the Mongolian Manchu emperors were no longer able to maintain their obligation to protect Tibet in the second half of the 19th century.

20th century until today

The political situation in Tibet changed in the 20th century. The British government in India showed a growing interest in Tibet around 1850. Tibet’s isolated position due to its geographical and religious location was exploited by the Manchus in the 19th century to claim rule over Tibet. In terms of foreign policy, they pretended that China represented Tibet in political matters. In order to determine the real status of Tibet, Great Britain asked the Manchu government in 1878 for permission to send a British research expedition to Tibet.

The Manchu government agreed, but the Tibetan government forbade the expedition to step on Tibetan soil. In 1890 Great Britain negotiated with the Manchu government of China over the border between Tibet and Sikkim, which was then a British protectorate. The Tibetan government refused to recognize this agreement on the grounds that treaties with China over Tibet were not binding.

To contact the Tibetan government, Great Britain sent a military expedition to Tibet in 1903. The British Army defeated the Tibetan Army and invaded Lhasa. In 1904, Tibet and Great Britain signed the so-called “Lhasa Convention of 1904”, in which Tibet undertook not to make any concessions of a territorial or political nature to foreign powers without the prior consent of the British government.

This convention between Tibet and Great Britain without the participation of the Manchu government of China meant the sovereignty of Tibet. However, it was revised by two other treaties signed by Great Britain in 1906 with China and 1907 with Russia without Tibetan involvement in favor of a recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

The Manchu government took Lhasa by Chinese troops in 1910, which led to the flight of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (1876-1933), to India. However, with the fall of the Manchu Dynasty and the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1912, the political situation in Tibet changed radically. In 1911 the Tibetans drove the Chinese soldiers out of Tibet.

With this the supremacy of the Manchus over Tibet finally fell. In 1912, the Chinese president claimed that Tibet as a Chinese province was part of China.

After his return to Lhasa from exile in India, the 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed the independence of Tibet in 1913. In 1914 the Simla tripartite conference took place between the equal plenipotentiaries of Great Britain, Tibet and China.

The “Simla Conference” was the first real attempt to resolve the Sino-Tibetan differences and to define the border of Tibet. However, no concrete solution to this question could be found. In 1918 another border war broke out between Tibet and China.

From 1912 to 1949/50, Tibet was completely independent. Immediately after the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Tsetung’s leadership in 1949, however, Tibet was forcibly occupied by troops of the People’s Liberation Army. Tibet protested to the United Nations against the Chinese occupation in vain. The People’s Republic of China appropriated Tibet during the reign of the current 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

In order to avoid a bloodbath, the Dalai Lama tried in vain to find a peaceful settlement of the armed conflict between his people and the invading Chinese troops.

Without consulting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in Lhasa, the Tibetan delegation in Beijing had to sign the so-called “17-point agreement for the peaceful liberation of Tibet” in 1951 under Chinese dictates. This unequal treaty was based on the premise that Tibet was part of China.

Tibet was officially annexed by the People’s Republic of China. The Tibetan resistance movement reached its tragic climax in the open popular uprising on March 10, 1959 in Lhasa. According to official Chinese information, around 87,000 Tibetans were killed. On March 28, 1959, the Tibetan government was dissolved and the “Tibet Autonomous Region Preparatory Committee” was established. At the same time, the Tibetan currency was declared invalid.

At the urging of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama had to leave the Tibetan capital on March 17, 1959 under strict secrecy and flee to India. More than 85,000 Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama into exile.

The Dalai Lama made several requests for help from India to the world public and to the United Nations. The International Commission of Jurists accused the People’s Republic of China of committing acts of genocide in Tibet with the aim of eliminating the Tibetan population as a religious group.

The General Assembly of the United Nations then adopted a non-binding resolution in the fall of 1959 condemning the actions of the Chinese occupying forces in Tibet and calling on the Chinese government to respect the fundamental human rights and the right to self-determination of the Tibetan people. However, this resolution brought no results for the Tibetan people.

In 1981, for example, only around 300 visitors came to Tibet, while in 2005, according to official reports, there were already around 100,000. And still over 80% of the population are farmers or shepherds.

Before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, there were liberation campaigns in Tibet, particularly by Buddhist monks. China put down the uprising, leaving well over 100 dead and thousands sent to re-education camps.

Tibet Recent History