New Internationalist

Tibetan Timeline

Issue 420

629 King Songtsen Gampo begins his reign in Tibet. Nomadic groups first come together under his leadership to form a unified society.

763 King Trisong Detsen forms an alliance with Siam and defeats the Chinese army. He installs a puppet Emperor in China and retreats.

1244 Godan Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, advances into Tibet. Tibetan lamas instruct the Mongolian people in return for military protection. Thus begins what was known as the ‘lama-patron’ relationship that would also be the basis of Tibet’s future relationship with China.

1280 Kublai Khan conquers China.

1578 Sonam Gyatso (1543-88) is given the title of Dalai Lama by Altan Khan, ruler of the Tümed Mongols. The first and second Dalai Lamas were awarded their titles posthumously. ‘Dalai’ means ‘ocean’ in Mongolian.

1617 The fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Losang Gyatso, is born. He later declares himself head of all Tibet rather than just a reincarnation of the Drepung Monastery. He is called upon by the Chinese to dissuade the Mongolians from further aggression.

1718 Tibet is freed from Mongolian occupation with the help of Chinese troops.

1726 China is called upon to mediate in a conflict between Tibetan ministers. China uses the opportunity to establish a military base in Lhasa. China’s current claim to Tibet stems from this period.

1792 China helps Tibet in a war against the Nepalese Gurkhas. The Chinese Emperor declares his envoys as the provincial governors of Tibet.

1793 China decrees that the search for religious reincarnations, including the Dalai Lama, must be organized by Chinese envoys.

1806 Due to internal conflicts Chinese influence over Tibet begins to diminish.

1895 The 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso (1876-1933) begins his rule. Tibet rejects the Chinese method of drawing lots to choose the Dalai Lama and returns to the traditional method of testing young boys to see if they can recognize articles belonging to the former leader.

1903 A British military ‘expedition’ led by Colonel Francis Younghusband marches into Lhasa.

1904 The ‘Treaty of Lhasa’ between Britain and Tibet is signed. Article 9 states that no foreign power has the right to intrude into Tibet’s internal affairs.

1910 China sends an army into Lhasa, destroying much of eastern Tibet along the way.

1912 In the wake of the Manchu dynasty falling during the 1911 Chinese revolution, Tibetans expel the weakened Chinese from Lhasa. The Dalai Lama declares Tibet’s independence to Chinese President Yüan Shih-Kai. Most scholars recognize this as the beginning of de facto independence for Tibet.

1935 On 6 July the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is born.

1947 India gains independence from Britain. It continues to uphold the British position that Tibet should be free from foreign influences.

1949 Mao Zedong’s troops gain control of China.

1950 In October the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marches into Chamdo in the east of Tibet with 40,000 troops. Tibet’s 8,000-strong army is defeated in two days. The Tibetan Government appeals to the UN for help. The US, India and Britain decide not to intervene in case it is viewed as an ‘imperialist conspiracy’. Full executive powers are granted to the 15-year-old Dalai Lama.

1951 A ‘17-Point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ is signed by Tibetan delegates in Beijing, under military pressure from China, officially recognizing China’s sovereignty over Tibet. China agrees not to interfere with Tibet’s traditional system of government or its citizens’ religious and cultural freedoms. But Chinese troops occupy the capital of Lhasa, becoming increasingly oppressive, and the ‘17-Point’ agreements prove to be empty promises.

1954 India officially recognizes China’s sovereignty over Tibet.

1959 On 10 March, an uprising begins in Lhasa, triggered by the Chinese attempting to persuade the Dalai Lama to go unaccompanied to a military base. China clamps down, killing an estimated 87,000 Tibetans. On 17 March the Dalai Lama flees Lhasa and at the end of the month is granted asylum by India. Thousands of his compatriots follow him into exile. The Dalai Lama then repudiates the ‘17-Point Agreement’, claiming Chinese duress.

1960 A CIA-funded Tibetan guerrilla base is established in Mustang, Nepal, to continue covert resistance against the Chinese occupation. The Tibetan Government-in-exile moves from its temporary base to Dharamsala, northwest India.

1966 Mao Zedong’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ begins. According to official Chinese statistics, 79 per cent of Tibet’s religious sites were destroyed and 93 per cent of monks had to take off their robes.

1971 China stations its first nuclear weapons in Tibet’s northeastern Amdo province.

1976 The death of Mao Zedong and the end of the ‘Cultural Revolution’.

1984 The Tibetan Government-in-exile announces that 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of Chinese occupation since 1950.

1987 The Dalai Lama presents his Five Point Peace Plan during a speech in Washington.

1988 The Dalai Lama addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He suggests a compromise whereby Tibet could have autonomy for its internal affairs under China’s sovereignty, with China remaining responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy (known as the ‘Middle Way’). He is criticized for this position by some Tibetan groups.

1989 China declares martial law in Tibet after three days of protest demonstrations in Lhasa. The Dalai Lama wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

1990 A reception centre for refugees is opened in Dharamsala.

1991 US President George H Bush signs a congressional resolution declaring Tibet an occupied country.

1995 The Dalai Lama announces Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year-old child in Tibet, as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism. He is kidnapped by China, which enthrones another six-year-old boy as the 11th Panchen Lama. The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his parents remain unknown.

1999 The World Bank approves a $160-million loan to China to resettle some 58,000 Chinese farmers in Amdo. Tibetans argue that the cultural survival of local nomadic people is threatened.

2000 The 17th Karmapa Lama, 14-year-old Orgyen Trinley Dorje, the third-ranking lama in Tibetan Buddhism, escapes Tibet for India.

2001 Tibetans in exile vote for the first time to select the kalon tripa (prime minister). Samdhong Rinpoche is elected with over 80 per cent of the votes.

2006 A new railway is opened, linking Lhasa and the Chinese city of Golmund. Critics say this will further increase the influx of Han Chinese into Tibet.

2008 In March, protests break out in Lhasa. According to Tibetan sources, over 150 Tibetans are killed and over 2,000 arrested. In August, China hosts the 29th Olympic Games in Beijing. Pro-Tibetan protests arise all over the world, severely disrupting the passage of the Olympic Torch. In October, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband makes a parliamentary statement officially recognizing China’s sovereignty over Tibet.

2009 Tibetans cancel New Year celebrations due on 25 February in mourning for those killed by Chinese forces in the 2008 uprising, and in protest at the continuing crackdown. The usual singing and dancing is replaced by silence and the lighting of butter lamps both in Tibet and in exile.

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