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The Sinicization Of Tibet

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By Devika Mittal *

In 1950s, China incorporated Tibet into its territory and since then, it has began a major reform of all aspects of Tibetan life - social, religious, political and economic. The Tibetans had organised an armed resistance but it could not challenge the Chinese army. As a result of this, thousands of Tibetans fled from Tibet and seek asylum in nearby countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan where they have created refugee or exile communities. But other forms of resistance had been continued and is still continued by Tibetans in Tibet and in exile.

In 1951, the Chinese Government had pressurised the Tibetan Government to sign the “Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”. Amongst the 17 points of the “Agreement” were clauses authorizing the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet and empowering the Chinese Government to control Tibet’s external affairs. It guaranteed that China would not alter the existing political system in Tibet and not interfere with the cultural and religious beliefs and would grand regional autonomy to Tibet. After the formal acceptance by the Tibetan Government, soon, the whole of Tibet was virtually under the PLA’s sway and from this position China refused to reopen negotiations and Tibetans and the Dalai Lama had effectively lost the ability to either accept or reject any Tibet-China “Agreement".

Gradually, even the autonomy offered to the Tibetans to preserve their traditional belief and lifestyle in the agreement was flouted. Their traditional political system, economy and religious beliefs have been suppressed.

Chinese rule has forced the traditional living as nomads to lead a sedentary commune life and forbidden from roaming with their herds in search of seasonal pastures. One of the important ways to undermine and suppress the Tibetans has been the large influx of Chinese migrants in Tibet. The migrants are offered higher salaries than their counterparts in China. They have taken almost all the jobs of the artisans, market stalls, restaurants and repair units. This has led to food shortages and unemployment among the Tibetans. The police also favors the Chinese. It expels the illegal Tibetans immigrants from the hinterlands to the city but pays no attention to the illegal Chinese migrants.

Similarly, the religious and cultural life of Tibetans has suffered. There is a dominance of Chinese language in the education system. As for religion, Tibet’s social and religious systems are considered to be "alien to China's atheistic taste". The Chinese had vandalized monasteries, nunneries, temples, and other cultural institutes. All articles of value and precious stones were looted and sold. Religious texts were burnt and mixed with field manure. The sacred mani stones were used for making toilets and pavements. Monks and nuns were forced to copulate in public and taunted to perform “miracles”. Ruined monasteries and temples were turned into pigsties; starving monks and nuns in Chinese prisons were told to “get food from the Buddha”(DIIR 2001: 37-8). It is also to be noted that even when Chinese have been forced to restrict their control over Tibetans through violence, the strategy to undermine and degrade cultural beliefs have been continued. It is, infact, intensified.

The PLA or the People's Liberation Army has also committed atrocities on the civilians. They are accused of torture, rape and killing of the civilians. The document by the Department of Information and International Relations(DIIR) of Central Tibetan Administration states,

An internal Chinese military document states that from 1952 to 1958, the PLA crushed 996 rebellions and killed over 10,000 Tibetans in the northeastern region of Kanlho. Golog, another Amdo area, saw its population halved from an estimated 140,000 in 1956 to about 70,000 in 1964. Referring to this area, the late Panchen Lama told Beijing’s leaders: “If there was a film made on all the atrocities perpetrated in Qinghai Province, it would shock the viewers. In Golog area, many people were killed and their dead bodies rolled down the hill into a big ditch. The soldiers told the family members and relatives of the dead people that they should celebrate since the rebels had been wiped out. They were even forced to dance on the dead bodies. Soon after, they were also massacred with machine guns.

All forms of protests and resistance movements have faced similar consequences. By the end of 1994, the authorities had adopted a new series of measures to eliminate the roots of protest movements. These were the "anti-Dalai" or the "anti-splittist" campaigns. The Third Forum of Tibet had advocated this "struggle" was not a " a matter of religious belief, nor a matter of the question of autonomy, it is a matter of securing the unity of our country and opposing splittism...No one should be careless about it. This is a life-and-death struggle".

Thus, new security measures were adopted to tighten control over the tibetans. People were forced to provide information about colleagues and neighbours on the fear of losing housing, employment, education, a place in the monastery, etc. Telephone hotlines were set up. During religious festivals, special security cameras were installed on pilgrim routes and at key sites. In 1995, the authorities had introduced a new strategy for the suspects wherein they would be detained for short periods, for two days every week. They would be tortured with sophisticated torture techniques that would leave no visible marks. These would include exposure to extreme temperatures or making detainees stand in icy water in winter or sit in crippling positions for long periods. From the year 2000, the suspects would also be taken to PSB (Police Security Bureau) guesthouses where they were interrogated and tortured, often for four to 24 weeks. This technique was used typically against people suspected of communicating information on the situation inside Tibet to the outside world. When the victims were released, they were warned against telling anyone about their detention.

The report of DIIR submitted to the United Nations committee against torture in 2000 had also stated that since 1996, there has been an increasing rise in the death of tibetan prisoners due to torture in jails. Torture in prisons include hard labor, the forced extraction of blood, inadequate and unhygienic food and water, psychological torture to humiliate and degrade them on the basis of their religious beliefs. The report mentioned that some people were forced to carry human feces on the thanka (a sacred religious painting). There have also been reports of nuns being raped.

In Tibet, militarisation has meant a deterioration of their traditional political, economic and cultural life. The militarisation attempts to eliminate the Tibetan identity. The military forces also commits inhuman atrocities on the civilians. This is because militarism or militarisation is, as Walter Benjamin argued, the compulsory, universal use of violence as a means to the ends of the state. Violence has been used to preserve the state. In both the regions, the militarisation is embarked on "protecting" the interests of imagined communities called nations, even though they violate human rights. It is, as if, a situation of citizen rights v/s human rights.

It is another tragic reality of the world. The modern nation-states were crafted by dividing territories. Since their formation, there has been a persistent struggle for controlling as well as extending territory. In order to survive, they also instilled strong and blinding emotions of patriotism. And in all this struggle for "territory", they forgot the inhabitants of the territory. China claims Tibet, not Tibetans.


Anderson, Benedict 1983 Imagined Communities. London Verso.

Benjamin, Walter. 1968. Critique of Violence. In Reflections. New York: Schoken Books.

DIIR. 2001. Tibet under Communist China. Publication Information missing.

DIIR. 2000. Torture in Tibet. (Last accessed on 24th May 2013).

Harris, Nigel. 1993. "Tibet and Empire", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 39: 2069-2070.

McGranahan, Carole. 2005. "Truth, Fear, and Lies: Exile Politics and Arrested Histories of the Tibetan Resistance", Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 4: 570-600.

* Devika Mittal is a core member of Mission Bhartiyam. She can be mailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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