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The Annexation of Tibet

Tibet annexation

In the early 1950s, a delegation of 6 Tibetan delegates arrived in Beijing under tense circumstances. Just months prior, Communist China had invaded Tibet, and their army was on a Rampage. However, they suddenly expressed a desire for dialogue. The Tibetans, realizing they stood no chance on the battlefield, decided to engage in talks.

Tibet annexation

in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama went into exile in India in response to hostilities with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The PRC annexation and flight of the Dalai Lama created several waves of Tibetan refugees and led to the creation of Tibetan diasporas in India, the United States, and Europe. The Tibet Autonomous Region was established following the PRC annexation, although Tibetan independence and human rights emerged as international issues, gaining significant visibility alongside the 14th Dalai Lama in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 17-Point Agreement

Once in Beijing, China’s intentions became clear. There was no agenda to discuss, no plan to debate. There was only 1 document to sign: the 17-point agreement.

This document would formally bring Tibet under China’s control. The Tibetan delegates, faced with the choice of signing the agreement or risking their lives, chose to sign.

On the 23rd of May 1951, the 17-point agreement was signed, and Tibet was formally annexed by China. Tibet annexation


Historical Context

The history of Tibet is a tapestry of events that stretches from the 7th century to the present day. The Tibetan kingdom was a formidable force in Central Asia until its downfall in the 9th century. Following this, Tibet was a region of fragmented states and nomadic tribes. In the 14th century, Tibet regained its independence from the Mongols and Yuan dynasty, and was governed by a series of noble houses and later by the Dalai Lama, the leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet annexation

Tibetan legend traces the origins of the Tibetan people to the union of a monkey and a female demon. The Chinese Tang dynasty annals (10th century CE) place the Tibetans’ origin among the nomadic pastoral Qiang tribes recorded about 200 BCE as inhabiting the great steppe northwest of China.

The Tibetan Empire came into existence in the 7th century, during the reign of the Tang Dynasty in China. Both entities coexisted as neighbors until 670, when peace was disrupted, leading to 2 centuries of conflict between China and Tibet. Tibet, a formidable force at the time, even briefly captured China’s Imperial Capital. However, after two centuries of conflict, they signed a Peace treaty in 821, known as the Sino-Tibetan Treaty stating as text engraved here on a pillar in Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple  – “Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet, & Chinese shall be happy in China”.  Tibet annexation

In the 17th century, the senior lama of the Gelug school, the Dalai Lama, assumed the role of head of state with the aid of the Khoshut Khanate. In the early 18th century, the Dzungar Khanate occupied Tibet and a Qing dynasty expeditionary force attacked them, conquering Tibet in 1720. It remained a Qing territory until the fall of the dynasty.

Tibet annexation

The Dalai Lama and China

The Dalai Lama, both the Spiritual and Political head of Tibet, had a complex relationship with China. The nature of this relationship is still a matter of debate.

In the next centuries, many Invaders came, the Mongols, the Ming Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, the British, and Tibet had different relationships with each other.Tibet annexation

It was during this time, that the Dalai Lama emerged the year 1578 a Mongol ruler Altan Khan made the Declaration that declared Sonam Gyatsu as the Dalai Lama, now Sonam gyatsu was a Buddhist leader who belonged to the Gelugpa school of Buddhism. 

his successors would hold 2 rules one was the spiritual head of Tibet and second was political hit

among the Dalai Lama’s the 5th one, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, was very powerful they called him the great fifth. he took power in 1642 just two years later a new Dynasty captured the Throne of China the Qing Dynasty in 1652, the great fifth visited China, the Qing Emperor was in awe of him. he gifted him a golden album and a golden seal he also proclaimed him as the Dalai Lama and this relationship was important for both sides but what was the nature of this relationship that’s a question that still haunts Tibet. Tibet annexation

China says Tibet was effectively a province sort of like a Vassal state of China but Tibet disagrees, they say It had friendly relations between 2 independent states. this setup continued until the 20th century that’s when the British entered the picture, and that sentence usually means trouble for all parties and that’s exactly what happened.

China claims that Tibet was effectively a province, sort of like a vassal state of China. However, Tibet disagrees, stating that it was friendly relations between two independent states.


The British and the Communists

The 20th century brought new challenges for Tibet. The British entered the picture, and in 1906, China struck a deal with Britain that China has Suzerainty over Tibet, i.e., the Right of a Country to Rule over another Country. now Suzerainty is a bit complicated, it means control but not full control. Tibet annexation

However, this treaty gave confidence to the Chinese, and they tried to annex Tibet for the first time in 10 centuries. The Dalai Lama ended up fleeing to India.

The Communist Invasion

in 1911, the Chinese Revolution broke out. the Chinese threw out the Qing Dynasty, the Tibetans threw out the Chinese. Tibet was independent again but then came the Communists.Tibet annexation

In 1949, Mao Zedong captured Power in China and wanted Tibet. Mao’s plan had 2 parts: first, try politically, and if that fails, attack.

Tibet annexation

In October 1950, China invaded Tibet. Their soldiers crossed the border and attacked Chamdo, a city in Eastern Tibet. The Tibetans were totally outmatched.

Tibet annexation

China’s Army had 3 million soldiers. Tibet’s entire population was 1 million. so Chamdo was captured within days.

it’s around this time that the 14th, the current Dalai Lama assumed Political duties. he was just 15 years old at the time. the Tibetans could not leave their highest office empty, not during a war so the 15 year old llama took charge

Tibet annexation

The Aftermath

after taking Chamdo, China hit the pause button. they knew the message had been delivered if Tibet resisted, China would crush it and that’s why the Tibetan delegation went to Beijing to avoid the worst case scenario and on paper, the 17-point agreement was signed. which states :- Tibet annexation

  • Tibet could have Regional autonomy
  • that the Dalai Lama’s Powers would be untouched
  • the Buddhist religion will be respected and
  • llamas and monasteries will be protected

it does sound acceptable but China did the exact opposite.

Mao wasn’t a liberal Democrat, he was a hardcore communist of the 20th century. he did not just hate Buddhism, he hated all religions.

Tibetans believed that China would honor its word in 1954,  the Dalai Lama traveled to China, he stayed there for 1 year. he met with Mao and other Chinese leaders. For the young Dalai Lama China was a Wonderland. Cars, Factory, shiny buildings, things he’d never seen before he later talked about how surprised he was. how he liked Marxism and how he wanted to join the Communist party, but China had other plans

Mao’s Marxism was brutal and authoritarian, he wanted Uniformity, 1 Nation, 1 culture, 1 language, so back in Tibet there was discontent. people were unhappy with China’s so-called reforms, they rebelled around this time. Tibet annexation

Dalai Lama began his 2nd foreign trip this time to India he met some Tibetan Freedom Fighters, here he talked to them he understood their sentiments and that’s when the Dalai Lama realized what was happening, how his own people were suffocating under Chinese rule. he went back a Changed Man

every Rebellion needs a few key ingredients, leadership, a loyal population and foreign support. Tibet had the first 2, but not the last. the Dalai Llama hoped for support from India and Britain, but neither country helped.

New Delhi kept diluting its Tibet policy and Britain was simply not interested, but 1 agency did help the Tibetans and that’s the CIA- America spy agency. they trained some Tibetan Rebels until the 1960s or rather until it suited their interests for now back to our story

The Tibetan Rebellion peaked in 1959, the reason was an invitation from China. a Chinese General invited the Dalai Lama to see a dance performance with 1 condition, he was asked to come without his bodyguards

sounds fishy right, the Tibetans thought so too. Rumors spread that China would arrest the Dalai Lama, so hundreds of people surrounded his Palace sort of like a human wall to protect him

Dalai Llama fled Tibet, he disguised himself as a soldier, gathered his family and advisors, and fled, they traveled only at night for 2 weeks. No one knew, where he was, killed? captured? or simply lost. Tibet annexation

Then on the 30th of March 1959, he re-emerged in India. He requested political Asylum which was granted back in Tibet. the Dalai Lama’s decision was proven right.

China slaughtered thousands of Tibetan soldiers, burned down monasteries, executed monks. it was Ethnic Cleansing

7 decades later, the wounds are still fresh. The Dalai Lama is the Public Enemy Number One in China. He lives in India’s Dharamshala. Tibetans are still treated as 2nd-class citizens in China. Their culture is being wiped out, their monasteries are targeted, and their spiritual leader is called a separatist.

Tibet annexation


Today, the world has largely forgotten Tibet. There is a Tibetan government in exile here in India, but the movement is losing steam. As long as the Dalai Lama is alive, people may remember it.

But after that, he’s 87 years old, so the question of succession remains. China wants to appoint its own. Will the Dalai Lama name a successor? So far, he’s given mixed signals. An entire generation of Tibetans is growing up outside their homeland. They’ve never seen Tibet, and maybe they never will. That is the legacy of China’s invasion. They got the land, but not the people.

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