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  •   Overview: Tibet

    Dalai Lama/AP
    Tibet's Dalai Lama in an April 1998 interview. (AP)
    (Updated: November 1998)
    Independence for Tibet came in 1911, following the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the surrender of Chinese imperial troops to the Tibetan Army. From 1911 to the late 1940s, Tibet avoided most foreign influences and was considered to be an independent state.

    But in 1949-50, the newly founded People's Republic of China invaded the Himalayan nation, eventually occupying half the country by 1951. In May of that year, Tibet was forced to sign the so-called "17 Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet," which gave China control over the Tibetan region.

    Resistance to the occupation grew as Chinese troops reportedly destroyed key religious structures and imprisoned monks and other community leaders. In 1959 Tibetans angrily rose up, conducting demonstrations in the capital of Lhasa. China crushed the opposition, reportedly killing some 87,000 people. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's head of state and spiritual leader, escaped and set up a base camp in Northern India.

    Chinese rule of the mountainous region brought repression and hardship for many Tibetans. During China's Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1969, Chinese troops continued their destruction of prominent religious sites and monasteries. Tibetans were imprisoned and monks indoctrinated in massive "re-education" efforts. By 1979, an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans had died as a result of Chinese rule, according to charges leveled by the Tibetan government in exile.

    Reports of Chinese repression continued, as the resurgence of demonstrations and other activities in support of Tibet's independence began again in 1987. In 1989, martial law was declared in Lhasa and remained in force for roughly a year, according to human rights organizations.

    In 1995, China struck again at the core of the Tibetan independence movement by arresting the Panchen Lama, the boy selected by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnated, second-highest religious leader in Tibet. The boy has not been seen in public since that time. China, meanwhile, has chosen its own boy to represent the Panchen Lama.

    Recently the Dalai Lama and Tibetan experts have expressed concern over development projects and other policies that have encouraged a massive influx of Han Chinese into Tibet – a situation that Tibetan leaders fear will overwhelm Tibet's traditional culture and dilute Tibetan demographic dominance. The Tibetan government in exile has estimated that more than 500,000 new Chinese have settled into Tibet since 1994.

    In June 1998, Chinese president Jiang Zemin stunned American officials by discussing Tibet publicly during a summit with Bill Clinton, suggesting that China was ready for talks on the condition that the Dalai Lama renounce Tibetan independence.

    The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, continued his campaign to bring attention to human rights violations in his homeland. During a November speech in Washington, he pleaded for international help, saying that his people were "fed up" with Chinese rule, and that Tibet and Tibetan culture were "in danger of extinction." – Tim Ito, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive producer

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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