World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China

Article Id: WHEBN0014615536
Reproduction Date:

Title: Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of Tibet, Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibet, Fan Ming, Sinicization of Tibet
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China

The incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China was the process by which the People's Republic of China (PRC) gained control of the area comprising the present-day Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). These same regions came under the control of China after attempts by the Government of Tibet to gain international recognition, efforts to modernize its military, negotiations between the Government of Tibet and the PRC, a military conflict in the Qamdo area of Western Kham in October 1950, and the eventual acceptance of the Seventeen Point Agreement by the Governments of China and, under duress, Tibet, in October 1951. The Government of Tibet and Tibetan social structure remained in place in the TAR under the authority of China until the 1959 Tibetan uprising, when the Dalai Lama fled into exile and after which the Government of Tibet was dissolved.


In 1846, the British Empire converted Nepal into a semi-autonomous protectorate, in 1853 conquered Sikkim, in 1865 invaded Bhutan, and in 1885 colonized Burma, occupying by force the whole southern flank of Tibet, which remained the only Himalayan kingdom free of British influence. During most of the nineteenth century, the British government dealt with Tibet through the Chinese government which had suzerainty over Tibet through Qing representative or amban. The British invasion of Tibet in 1903 caused the flight of the Dalai Lama to Mongolia and then to China. After the invasion an unequal treaty was signed in 1904 between the remaining authorities in Tibet and Colonel Younghusband as a "Convention between Great Britain and Tibet" thus converting Tibet into a British protectorate[1] with some degree of independence. London, however, was aghast at the initiative undertaken by Younghusband and his sponsor, Lord Curzon, and sought to placate the Manchu Qing by disavowing much of the settlement. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and a failed Chinese expedition in 1913 to reconquer Tibet, the regions of Ü-Tsang and western Kham, comprising the present-day TAR were then under the control of the Government of Tibet, supervised by the British.

In 1913, shortly after the British invasion of Tibet in 1904, the creation of the position of British Trade Agent at Gyantse and the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, most of the area comprising the present-day Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) (Ü-Tsang and western Kham) became de facto independent from the rest of present-day China[2] under a British protectorate, with the rest of the present day TAR coming under Tibetan Government rule by 1917.[3] Some border areas with high ethnic Tibetan populations (Amdo and Eastern Kham) remained under Kuomintang or local warlord control.[4] The TAR region is also known as "Political Tibet", while all areas with a high ethnic Tibetan population are collectively known as "Ethnic Tibet". Political Tibet refers to the polity ruled continuously by the Chinese and Tibetan governments since earliest times down to 1951, whilst ethnic Tibet refers to regions north and east where Tibetans historically predominated but where, down to modern times, Tibetan jurisdiction was irregular and limited to just certain areas.[5]

At the time Political Tibet obtained de facto independence, its socio-economic and political systems resembled Medieval Europe.[6] Attempts by the 13th Dalai Lama between 1913 and 1933 to enlarge and modernize the Tibetan military had eventually failed, largely due to opposition from powerful aristocrats and monks.[7][8] The Tibetan government had little contact with other governments of the world during its period of de facto independence,[8] with some exceptions, notably India, Great Britain, and the United States.[9][10] This left Tibet diplomatically isolated and cut off to the point where it could not make its positions on the issues well known to the international community[11] and it was restricted by treaties that gave the British Empire authority over taxes, foreign relations and fortifications.

Government of Tibet's attempts to remain independent

In July 1949, in order to prevent Chinese agitation in political Tibet, the Tibetan government expelled the (Nationalist) Chinese delegation.[12] In November 1949, it sent a letter to the US State Department and a copy to Mao Zedong, and a separate letter to Great Britain, declaring its intent to defend itself "by all possible means" against PRC troop incursions into Tibet.[13]

In the preceding three decades, the conservative Tibetan government had consciously deemphasized its military and refrained from modernizing.[14] Hasty attempts at modernizing and enlarging the military began in 1949,[15] but proved mostly unsuccessful on both counts,[16] It was too late to raise and train an effective army.[17] India did provide some small arms aid and military training,[18] however the PLA remained much larger, better trained, better led, better equipped, and more experienced than the Tibetan army.[19][20][21]

In 1950, the 14th Dalai Lama was 15 years old and had not attained his majority, so Regent Taktra was the acting head of the Tibetan Government.[22] The period of the Dalai Lama’s minority is traditionally one of instability and division, and the division and instability were made more intense by the recent Reting conspiracy[23] and a 1947 regency dispute.[10]

Preparations by the People's Republic of China

Both the PRC and their predecessors the Kuomintang had always maintained that Tibet was a part of China.[21] The PRC also proclaimed an ideological motivation to liberate the Tibetans from a theocratic feudal system.[24] In September 1949, shortly before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made it a top priority to incorporate Tibet, Taiwan, Hainan Island, and the Pescadores into the PRC,[25][26] peacefully or by force.[27] Because Tibet was unlikely to voluntarily give up its de facto independence, Mao in December 1949 ordered that preparations be made to march into Tibet at Qamdo (Chamdo), in order to induce the Tibetan Government to negotiate.[27] The PRC had over a million men under arms[27] and had extensive combat experience from the recently concluded Chinese Civil War.

Negotiations between the Government of Tibet and the PRC prior to hostilities

On 7 March, a Tibetan delegation arrived in Kalimpong to open a dialogue with the newly declared PRC and to secure assurances that the PRC would respect Tibetan "territorial integrity", among other things. The onset of talks was delayed by debate between the Tibetan delegation, India, Britain, and the PRC about the location of the talks. Tibet favored Singapore or Hong Kong (not Beijing, at the time called Peking), Britain favored India (not Hong Kong or Singapore), India and the PRC favored Beijing, but India and Britain preferred no talks at all. The Tibetan delegation did eventually meet with the PRC’s ambassador General Yuan Zhongxian in Delhi on 16 September 1950. Yuan communicated a 3 point proposal that Tibet be regarded as part of China, that China be responsible for Tibet’s defense, and that China be responsible for Tibet’s trade and foreign relations. Acceptance would lead to peaceful Chinese sovereignty, or otherwise war. The Tibetans undertook to maintain the relationship between China and Tibet as one of priest-patron:

"Tibet will remain independent as it is at present, and we will continue to have very close 'priest-patron' relations with China. Also, there is no need to liberate Tibet from imperialism, since there are no British, American or Guomindang imperialists in Tibet, and Tibet is ruled and protected by the Dalai Lama (not any foreign power)" - Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa[28]

They and their head delegate Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa, on 19 September, recommended cooperation, with some stipulations about implementation. Chinese troops need not be stationed in Tibet, it was argued, since it was under no threat, and if attacked by India or Nepal could appeal to China for military assistance. While Lhasa deliberated, on 7 October, Chinese troops advanced into eastern Tibet, crossing the border[29] at 5 places. The purpose was not to invade Tibet 'per se' but to capture the Tibetan army in Chamdo, demoralize the Lhasa government, and thus exert powerful pressure to send negotiators to Beijing to sign terms for a handover of Tibet.[30] On 21 October, Lhasa instructed its delegation to leave immediately for Beijing for consultations with the Communist government, and to accept the first provision, if the status of the Dalai Lama could be guaranteed, while rejecting the other two conditions. It later rescinded even acceptance of the first demand, after a divination before the Six-Armed Mahākāla deities indicated that the three points could not be accepted, since Tibet would fall under foreign domination.[31][32][33]

Invasion of Tibet

After months of failed negotiations,[34] attempts by Tibet to secure foreign support and assistance,[35] and PRC[36] and Tibetan troop buildups, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) crossed the Jinsha River on 6 or 7 October.[37] Two PLA units quickly surrounded the outnumbered Tibetan forces and captured the border town of Qamdo by 19 October, by which time 114 PLA[38] soldiers and 180 Tibetan[38][39][40] soldiers had been killed or wounded. Writing in 1962, Zhang Guohua claimed "over 5,700 enemy men were destroyed" and "more than 3,000" peacefully surrendered,[41] though that appears to be hyperbole. Active hostilities were limited to a border area northeast of the Gyamo Ngul Chu River and east of the 96th meridian.[42] After capturing Qamdo, the PLA broke off hostilities,[39][43] sent a captured commander, Ngabo, to Lhasa to reiterate terms of negotiation, and waited for Tibetan representatives to respond through delegates to Beijing.[44]

Behavior of the PLA

After confiscating their weapons, the PLA soldiers gave the prisoners lectures on socialism and a small amount of money, before allowing them to return to their homes.[45] According to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the PLA did not attack civilians, and were generally well-behaved.[46]

Further negotiations and incorporation

The PLA sent released prisoners (among them Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, a captured governor) to Lhasa to negotiate with the Dalai Lama on the PLA's behalf. Chinese broadcasts promised that if Tibet was "peacefully liberated", the Tibetan elites could keep their positions and power.[47] At the same time, Jigme and other released captives testified to their good treatment by the PLA. The Government of Tibet then sent representatives to Beijing to negotiate.

El Salvador sponsored a complaint by the Tibetan government at the UN, but India and the United Kingdom prevented it from being debated.[48]

Tibetan negotiators were sent to Beijing and presented with an already-finished document commonly referred to as the Seventeen Point Agreement. There was no negotiation offered by the Chinese delegation; although the PRC stated it would allow Tibet to reform at its own pace and in its own way, keep internal affairs self-governing and allow religious freedom, it would also have to agree to be part of China. The Tibetan negotiators were not allowed to communicate with their government on this key point, and pressured into signing the agreement on 23 May 1951, despite never having been given permission to sign anything in the name of the government. This was the first time in Tibetan history its government had accepted - albeit unwillingly - China's position on the two nations' shared history [49] Tibetan representatives in Beijing and the PRC Government signed the Seventeen Point Agreement on 23 May 1951, authorizing the PLA presence and Central People's Government rule in Political Tibet.[50] The terms of the agreement had not been cleared with the Tibetan Government before signing and the Tibetan Government was divided about whether it was better to accept the document as written or to flee into exile. The Dalai Lama, who by this time had ascended to the throne, chose not to flee into exile, and formally accepted the 17 Point Agreement in October 1951.[51] According to Tibetan sources, on 24 October, on behalf of the Dalai Lama, general Zhang Jingwu sent a telegram to Mao Zedong with confirmation of the support of the Agreement, and there is evidence that Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme simply came to Zhang and said that the Tibetan Government agreed to send a telegram on the 24th of October, instead of the formal Dalai Lama's approval.[52] Shortly afterwards, the PLA peacefully entered Lhasa.[53]


For several years the Tibetan Government remained in place in the areas of Tibet where it had ruled prior to the outbreak of hostilities, except for the area surrounding Qamdo that was occupied by the PLA in 1950, which was placed under the authority of the Qamdo Liberation Committee and outside the Tibetan Government’s control.[54] During this time, areas under the Tibetan Government maintained a large degree of autonomy from the Central Government and were generally allowed to maintain their traditional social structure.[55]

In 1956, Tibetan militias in the ethnically Tibetan region of eastern Kham just outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, spurred by PRC government experiments in land reform, started fighting against the government.[56] When the fighting spread to Lhasa in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. Both he and the PRC government in Tibet subsequently repudiated the 17 Point Agreement and the PRC government in Tibet dissolved the Tibetan Local Government.[57]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Shakya 1999 p.4
  3. ^ Feigon 1996 p.119
  4. ^ Shakya 1999 p.6,27. Feigon 1996 p.28
  5. ^ The classic distinction drawn by Sir Charles Bell and Hugh Richardson. See Melvin C. Goldstein,'Change, Conflict and Continuity among a community of Nomadic Pastoralists: A Case Study from Western Tibet, 1950-1990,' in Robert Barnett and Shirin Akiner, (eds.,) Resistance and Reform in Tibet, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1994, pp. 76-90, pp.77-8.
  6. ^ Shakya 1999 p.11
  7. ^ Feigon 1996 p.119-122. Goldstein 1997 p.34,35.
  8. ^ a b Shakya 1999 p.5,11
  9. ^ Shakya 1999 p.7,15,16
  10. ^ a b Goldstein 1997 p.37
  11. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.36
  12. ^ Shakya 1999 p.5,7,8
  13. ^ Shakya 1999 p.20. Goldstein 1997 p.42
  14. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein,A History of Modern Tibet:The Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955, University of California Press, 2009, Vol.2, p.51.
  15. ^ Shakya 1999 p.12
  16. ^ Shakya 1999 p.20,21. Goldstein 1997 p.37,41-43
  17. ^ Goldstein, 209 pp.51-2.
  18. ^ Shakya 1999 p.26
  19. ^ Shakya 1999 p.12 (Tibetan army poorly trained and equipped).
  20. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.41 (armed and led), p.45 (led and organized).
  21. ^ a b Feigon 1996 p.142 (trained).
  22. ^ Shakya 1999 p.5
  23. ^ Shakya 1999 p.4,5
  24. ^ Dawa Norbu, China's Tibet policy,Routledge, 2001, p.195
  25. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.41.
  26. ^ Shakya 1999 p.3.
  27. ^ a b c Goldstein 1997 p.44
  28. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955, University of California Press, 2009, Vol.2,p.46.
  29. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955, University of California Press, 2009, Vol.2,p.48.
  30. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, vol.2, p.48-9.
  31. ^ Shakya 1999 p.27-32 (entire paragraph).
  32. ^ W. D. Shakabpa,One hundred thousand moons, BRILL, 2010 trans. Derek F. Maher, Vol.1, pp.916-917, and ch.20 pp.928-942, esp.pp.928-33.
  33. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955, Vol.2, ibid.pp.41-57.
  34. ^ Shakya 1999 p.28-32
  35. ^ Shakya 1999 p.12,20,21
  36. ^ Feigon 1996 p.142. Shakya 1999 p.37.
  37. ^ Shakya 1999 p.32 (6 Oct). Goldstein 1997 p.45 (7 Oct).
  38. ^ a b Jiawei Wang et Nima Gyaincain, The historical Status of China's Tibet, China Intercontinental Press, 1997, p. 209 (see also The Local Government of Tibet Refused Peace Talks and the PLA Was Forced to Fight the Qamdo Battle, "The Quamdo battle thus came to a victorious end on October 24, with 114 PLA soldiers and 180 Tibetan troops killed or wounded."
  39. ^ a b Shakya 1999, pg. 45.
  40. ^ Feigon 1996, p.144.
  41. ^ Survey of China Mainland Press, no. 2854 p.5,6
  42. ^ Shakya 1999 map p.xiv
  43. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.45
  44. ^ Shakya 1999 p.49
  45. ^ Laird 2006, pp. 301.
  46. ^ Laird 2006, p. 305.
  47. ^ Laird, 2006 p.306.
  48. ^ Tibet: The Lost Frontier, Claude Arpi, Lancer Publishers, October 2008, ISBN 0-9815378-4-7
  49. ^ 'The political and religious institutions of Tibet would remain unchanged, and any social and economic reforms would be undertaken only by the Tibetans themselves at their own pace.' Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama,Grove Press, 2007, p.307.
  50. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.47
  51. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.48 (had not been cleared) p.48,49 (government was divided), p.49 (chose not to flee), p.52 (accepted agreement).
  52. ^ Kuzmin, S.L. Hidden Tibet: History of Independence and Occupation. Dharamsala, LTWA, 2011, p. 190 - ISBN 978-93-80359-47-2
  53. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.51
  54. ^ Shakya 1999 p.96,97,128.
  55. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.52-54. Feigon 1996 p.148,149,151
  56. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.53
  57. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.54,55. Feigon 1996 p.160,161. Shakya 1999 p.208,240,241. (all sources: fled Tibet, repudiated agreement, dissolved local government).


  • Feigon, Lee. Demystifying Tibet: Unlocking the Secrets of the Land of Snows (1996) Ivan R. Dee Inc. ISBN 1-56663-089-4
  • Ford, Robert. Wind Between The Worlds The extraordinary first-person account of a Westerner's life in Tibet as an official of the Dalai Lama (1957) David Mckay Co., Inc.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State (1989) University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06140-8
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (1997) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21254-1
  • Grunfeld, A. Tom. The Making of Modern Tibet (1996) East Gate Book. ISBN 978-1-56324-713-2
  • Knaus, Robert Kenneth. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival (1999) PublicAffairs . ISBN 978-1-891620-18-8
  • Laird, Thomas. The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (2006) Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1827-5
  • Shakya, Tsering. The Dragon In The Land Of Snows (1999) Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11814-7
  • Robert W. Ford Captured in Tibet, Oxford University Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-19-581570-2
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.