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Tibet and China, page 3

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The Simla Convention (1914)

Representatives of Great Britain, China, and Tibet met in 1914 to negotiate a treaty marking out the boundary lines between India and its northern neighbors.

The Simla Convention granted China secular control over "Inner Tibet," (also known as Qinghai Province) while recognizing the autonomy of "Outer Tibet" under the Dalai Lama's rule. Both China and Britain promised to "respect the territorial integrity of [Tibet], and abstain from interference in the administration of Outer Tibet."

China walked out of the conference without signing the treaty after Britain laid claim to the Tawang area of southern Tibet, which is now part of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Tibet and Britain both signed the treaty.

As a result, China has never agreed to India's rights in northern Arunachal Pradesh (Tawang), and the two nations went to war over the area in 1962. The boundary dispute still has not been resolved.

China also claims sovereignty over all of Tibet, while the Tibetan government-in-exile points to the Chinese failure to sign the Simla Convention as proof that both Inner and Outer Tibet legally remain under the Dalai Lama's jurisdiction.

 

The Issue Rests

Soon, China would be too distracted to concern itself with the issue of Tibet.

Japan had invaded Manchuria in 1910, and would advance south and east across large swaths of Chinese territory through 1945.

The new government of the Republic of China would hold nominal power over the majority of Chinese territory for only four years before war broke out between numerous armed factions.

Indeed, the span of Chinese history from 1916 to 1938 came to be called the "Warlord Era," as the different military factions sought to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.

China would see near-continuous civil war up to the Communist victory in 1949, and this era of conflict was exacerbated by the Japanese Occupation and World War II. Under such circumstances, the Chinese showed little interest in Tibet.

The 13th Dalai Lama ruled independent Tibet in peace until his death in 1933.

The 14th Dalai Lama

Following Thubten Gyatso's death, the new reincarnation of the Dalai Lama was born in Amdo in 1935.

Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, was taken to Lhasa in 1937 to begin training for his duties as the leader of Tibet. He would remain there until 1959, when the Chinese forced him into exile in India.

 

People's Republic of China Invades Tibet

In 1950, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of the newly-formed People's Republic of China invaded Tibet. With stability reestablished in Beijing for the first time in decades, Mao Zedong sought to assert China's right to rule over Tibet as well.

The PLA inflicted a swift and total defeat on Tibet's small army, and China drafted the "Seventeen Point Agreement" incorporating Tibet as an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama's government signed the agreement under protest, and the Tibetans repudiated the agreement nine years later.

 

Collectivization and Revolt

The Mao government of the PRC immediately initiated land redistribution in Tibet.

Landholdings of the monasteries and nobility were seized for redistribution to the peasants. The communist forces hoped to destroy the power base of the wealthy and of Buddhism within Tibetan society.

In reaction, a uprising led by the monks broke out in June of 1956, and continued through 1959. The poorly-armed Tibetans used guerrilla war tactics in an attempt to drive out the Chinese.

The PLA responded by razing entire villages and monasteries to the ground. The Chinese even threatened to blow up the Potala Palace and kill the Dalai Lama, but this threat was not carried out.

Three years of bitter fighting left 86,000 Tibetans dead, according to the Dalai Lama's government in exile.

 

Flight of the Dalai Lama

On March 1, 1959, the Dalai Lama received an odd invitation to attend a theater performance at PLA headquarters near Lhasa.

The Dalai Lama demurred, and the performance date was postponed until March 10. On March 9, PLA officers notified the Dalai Lama's bodyguards that they would not accompany the Tibetan leader to the performance, nor were they to notify the Tibetan people that he was leaving the palace. (Ordinarily, the people of Lhasa would line the streets to greet the Dalai Lama each time he ventured out.)

The guards immediately publicized this rather ham-handed attempted abduction, and the following day an estimated crowd of 300,000 Tibetans surrounded Potala Palace to protect their leader.

The PLA moved artillery into range of major monasteries and the Dalai Lama's summer palace, Norbulingka.

Both sides began to dig in, although the Tibetan army was much smaller than its adversary, and poorly armed.

Tibetan troops were able to secure a route for the Dalai Lama to escape into India on March 17. Actual fighting began on March 19, and lasted only two days before the Tibetan troops were defeated.

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