Is there a cultural genocide in Tibet?

Tibet

Tibet's annexation by China

In 1911, after more than 2000 years in China, the imperial era ended, and the Republic of China was founded a little later. Tibet declared itself independent immediately after the fall of the Qing Dynasty (also: Manchu Dynasty) and remained so until 1951.

After the founding of the republic, China was marked by wars and a civil war lasting two decades. With the victory of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong and the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the situation changed for Tibet, because Mao had made the "return of Tibet to the Chinese motherland" one of his political goals soon after he came to power.

In October 1950, the Chinese People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet to bring about the "peaceful liberation of Tibet," according to the official phrase. In fact, 80,000 Mao soldiers invaded Tibet and annexed the country. Tibet had nothing to oppose the Chinese armed force and had to start negotiations with China. They resulted in the "17-point agreement" that the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, was reluctant to sign.

This agreement guaranteed China full sovereignty over the Tibetan territories and the stationing of troops. In return, China guaranteed regional political autonomy and clergy rule as well as religious, cultural and extensive political freedoms.

The oppression of Tibet begins

In the 1950s, China massively intervened in the political life of Tibet. Chinese farmers were settled in Tibet in large numbers. A new tax policy as well as interventions in the social structure and traditional culture of the country led to unrest and massive protests on the part of the population. In 1958 a Tibetan guerrilla formed that openly operated against the Chinese oppressors.

When the Dalai Lama refused to stop the Tibetan rioters, the Chinese threatened to arrest him. Rumors of his kidnapping in Beijing sparked a popular uprising in Tibet on March 10, 1959, which was bloodily suppressed by the Chinese.

The Dalai Lama managed to escape to India, where he arrived on March 30, 1959. Since then he has lived in exile in India and tried from there to influence Tibet politically and religiously.

According to Chinese sources, 87,000 Tibetans were killed in the riots and another 80,000 fled to India, Nepal and Bhutan. China was now embarking on large-scale political "cleansing". Communism was elevated to the status of an official state doctrine, and the traditional class structures in Tibet were dissolved.

The interference with religious life was devastating. Tibetan Buddhism was suppressed, monks and nuns harassed and arrested. The time of open oppression of Tibet began.

The Effects of the Cultural Revolution

When Mao Zedong's power in the Communist Party began to wane due to serious political mistakes, he triggered the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" at the end of 1965. It was a movement that radicalized the communist class struggle and aimed to secure power for Mao.

By means of the notorious "Red Guards", the notorious "Red Guards," which had been brought into line, Mao began a civil war-like campaign against the so-called "bourgeois-reactionary line". Millions of established officials and intellectuals fell victim to denunciation, torture and murder. War was declared on the "Four Elders": old ideas, old cultures, old habits and customs should be systematically wiped out - also in Tibet.

Mass murders in Tibet

In the years 1966 to 1969 the Chinese attacked Tibet and its millennia-old culture with immeasurable fury. The terror of the Cultural Revolution struck land and people, buildings and traditions. 6,500 temples and monasteries were looted, burned and destroyed down to the last foundations. Around 1.2 million Tibetans were killed - monks and nuns were also tortured and murdered.

Around 80 percent of the Buddhist sites were destroyed, and more than 90 percent of the monks and nuns were prevented from practicing their religion. For Tibet, the years of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1969 mean an ineradicable trauma that has not yet been resolved.

Years of stagnation

It was not until Mao's death in 1976 that Tibet also came to rest. Under the reforms of his successor, Deng Xiaoping, a slow economic liberalization of Tibet began. Gradually, local workers were also admitted to management positions, industrialization and infrastructure were expanded, and educational opportunities for Tibetans were expanded.

The country was opened to mass tourism in 1985, which resulted in a half-hearted rebuilding of some of the monasteries and cultural monuments of Tibet.

After four decades of repression, there were repeated unrest in the country between 1987 and 1989, each time being suppressed by force of arms. In 1989, the Chinese rulers even declared martial law on Lhasa.

Since 1988, the Dalai Lama has no longer demanded independence for Tibet, but only greater autonomy. Negotiations with China failed several times, including on the question of Tibet's borders. While China wants to maintain the current autonomous status only for the province of Tibet, the Tibetans are demanding autonomy for the historic Tibetan settlement areas in the neighboring provinces as well.

Tibetan independence: controversial under international law

To this day, it is controversial whether Tibet is to be regarded as a sovereign state or not. After the declaration of independence in 1911, Tibet was not recognized by other states. There was hardly any international protest against the military conquest by China in 1950 - but more for political reasons in order not to anger important China.

China points out that Tibet belonged to China as early as the 14th century. The Tibetans argue with the founding of the state in 1911. In addition, the centuries-old relationship between China and Tibet did not justify China's claims to territory. During the Manchu dynasty from the 18th century onwards, the Dalai Lama was the spiritual mentor of the respective emperor; in return the emperor granted protection to the Tibetans.

The Tibetans are becoming a minority

An end to the painful history of Tibet is still not in sight. Due to the consistently positive perception of Tibet abroad, China's policies of oppression have become more subtle. So many Chinese are now settling in Tibet that the Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own country. Immigration has been increased by the connection of Tibet to the national Chinese railway network since 2006.

The Tibetans in exile rate China's massive immigration policy as a creeping genocide of the Tibetan people. The immigrant Chinese have the greater educational potential and continue to occupy key positions in politics and business.

Religious life in Tibet is still closely monitored today, and the number of Buddhist monasteries, monks and nuns is limited to a minimum. China has been tightening its tone towards the Dalai Lama since the mid-1990s. Possession and distribution of pictures of the Dalai Lama are prohibited in Tibet.

Human rights violations against Tibetans and attacks against Buddhist monks and nuns continue to be the order of the day. The land ownership of the Tibetan monasteries was nationalized.

Loss of identity

After more than half a century of bloody rebellion against the general ban on religion and political oppression, Tibetan culture is also threatened by increasing secularization. Responsible for this is on the one hand the consumption-oriented zeitgeist that spills from China to Tibet, and on the other hand the paralysis of the Tibetan people, who suffer from mass unemployment, lack of prospects and the consequences of alcoholism, drug use and prostitution.

The future Tibetan generations in particular lose touch with their roots. Access to their own culture and interest in Tibetan Buddhism are steadily declining, with fewer and fewer Tibetans speaking their own language.

In addition to the creeping but obvious destruction of Tibetan culture, there is ecological overexploitation of the land. The uniformity of unimaginative concrete construction is increasingly shaping the architecture of cities. Ruthlessly operated opencast mining, the karstification of large areas of land and large-scale deforestation without reforestation have led to irreparable damage to the unique landscape of Tibet.

China has been expanding vocational training and job transfer programs in Tibet since 2019. Officially, they are primarily intended to fight poverty. However, the programs also serve the assimilation policy of the Chinese central government. The rigorous surveillance system is also being expanded with the help of databases and close-knit social controls. The government in exile sees parallels here with the oppression of the other large minority in the country, the Uyghurs.

Like the Dalai Lama, many Tibetans fear the demise of Tibetan culture and the loss of Tibetan identity in the long term.

Government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India

In 2018, around 6.3 million Tibetans lived in Tibet itself, a good half of them in the province of Tibet and the other half in neighboring provinces. In 2008, in the run-up to the Olympic Games, there was the last major uprising against Chinese repression.

An estimated 120,000 to 150,000 Tibetans are in exile - mainly in India and Nepal. In Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives, is the seat of the government in exile, which took over the political offices of the Dalai Lama in 2011. Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay, who was elected by the Tibetans in exile and confirmed in office in 2016, is the head of government. The ruling party is the National Tibetan Democracy Party (NDPT). The negotiations between China and representatives of Tibet have come to a standstill as the central government refuses to negotiate with the Tibetan government-in-exile.