Tibetans are betrayed by their hopefulness, the Chinese by their suspiciousness. – Tibetan Saying
The number of works written on the Sino-Tibetan relationship is as vast as the history between these neighbors in the Himalayan region. The following can only be considered a “quick reference” for the newcomer to the topic, and for that reason I have added some notable titles for the interested reader at the end of this chapter
These days, Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the “roof of the world”, is governed as an autonomous region of China. Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region, but the allegiances of the majority of Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat.
Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.
In 1950, China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region, and summoned a Tibetan delegation the following year to sign a treaty ceding sovereignty to China. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighboring Chinese provinces.
Since then, and even continuing at present day, there have been periods of unrest and sporadic uprisings as resentment to Beijing’s rule has persisted.
In 1959, after a failed anti-Chinese uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and set up a government-in-exile in India. Most of Tibet’s monasteries were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s during China’s Cultural Revolution. It is believed, that thousands of Tibetans have been killed during periods of repression and martial law. [A52]
The cause of the continuing dispute is China’s claim that Tibet has officially been part of the Chinese nation since the mid-13th Century and, consequently, should continue to be ruled by Beijing. Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.
The awareness of the Tibet-China conflict is still very much alive due to the continuing activities of the Dalai Lama. Since fleeing Tibet in 1959, he has traveled the world advocating more autonomy for his homeland, yet stressing non-violence, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1989. [A50]
However, solid political support by Western nations and their governments has been sparse at best. To quote Melvyn C. Goldstein: “The Dalai Lama knows intellectually that he needs more friends in Beijing, not Washington or New York City, but he finds it emotionally difficult to take appropriate actions to achieve that end.” [B8]
The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama
By Melvyn C. Goldstein
Autonomy or Assimilation
By Warren W. Smith Jr.
Tibet’s Last Stand?
The Tibetan Uprising of 2008 and China’s Response
By Warren W. Smith Jr.
Contemporary Tibet: Politics, Development, and Society in a Disputed Region
By Barry Sautman and June Teufel Dreyer