Sinicization of Tibet

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The sinicization of Tibet is a term used by some critics of Chinese rule in Tibet to refer to the cultural assimilation that have occurred in Tibetan areas of China (including Tibet Autonomous Region and surrounding Tibetan-designated autonomous areas) which have made these areas more closely resemble mainstream Chinese society. They say that these changes have been most evident since the incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China in 1950/51 and have been facilitated by a broad range of active economic, social, cultural and political reforms introduced to Tibetan areas by the Chinese Government over the last six decades. Critics also point to the government-sponsored migration of large numbers of Han Chinese into the Tibet Autonomous Region as a major component of sinicization.

The government of Tibet in exile alleges that the consequence of Chinese policies is the disappearance of certain elements of Tibetan culture, which has sometimes been very controversially termed "cultural genocide".[1][2] It says that these policies intend to make Tibet an integral part of China in order to control any desire for Tibetan self-determination.

On the other hand, the Chinese government argues that its policies have been highly beneficial to Tibet and that any cultural and social changes are the inevitable consequences of modernization. It says that Tibet's economy has expanded and that improved basic services and infrastructure projects have led to significant improvement in quality of living among Tibetans, while the Tibetan language and culture have been protected.


Early developments[edit]

Main article: Battle of Chamdo

In the decades preceding 1950, after the collapse of Qing Dynasty, the region roughly corresponding to the modern-day Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) was a de facto independent nation. It also printed its own currency and postage and conducted international relations with foreign countries. It claimed three provinces Amdo, Kham, and Ü-Tsang (but had only control of west Kham and Ü-Tsang). Since 1950, China reorganized the area somewhat, by making east Kham part of Sichuan, and west Kham part of the newly established Tibet Autonomous Region.[3]

During the Republic of China era following the fall of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century, the Chinese Muslim General Ma Bufang, warlord and Governor of Qinghai is accused by Tibetans of having carrying out Sinicization and Islamification policies in Tibetan areas, spreading along Chinese holidays like New Year and Chinese celebrations along with the Islamic religion and making them marry non Tibetans.[4] Forced conversion and heavy taxes were reported under his rule.[5]

After Mao Zedong won the Chinese civil war in 1949, his goal became the unification of the "five nationalities" under the big family, the People's Republic of China, and under a single political system, the Communist Party of China.[6] Aware of Mao's vision, the Tibetan government in Lhasa sent a representative, Ngabo, to Chamdo, Kham, a strategically high valued town near the border. Ngabo had orders to hold the position while reinforcements were coming from the Lhasa and fight off the Chinese.[7] On October 16, 1950, news came that the People's Liberation Army was advancing towards Chamdo and had also taken another strategic town named, Riwoche, which could block the route to Lhasa.[8] With new orders, Ngabo and his men retreated to a monastery where the People's Liberation Army finally surrounded and captured them,[9] though they were treated with respect.[9] Ngabo wrote to Lhasa suggesting a peaceful surrender instead of war.[10] During the negotiation, the Chinese negotiator laid the cards straight on the table, "It is up to you to choose whether Tibet would be liberated peacefully or by force. It is only a matter of sending a telegram to the PLA group to recommence their march to Lhasa."[11] Ngabo accepted Mao's "Seventeen-Point Agreement", which constituted Tibet as part of the People's Republic China, in return for which Tibet would be granted autonomy.[12] In the face of discouraging lack of support from the rest of the world, the Dalai Lama on August 1951, sent a telegram to Mao accepting the Seventeen-Point Agreement.[13] However the delegates signing the agreement were forced to do so and the Tibetan's Government's seal used was forged.[14]

The incorporation of Tibet into China is known in official Chinese historiography as "The Peaceful Liberation of Tibet"; the Dalai Lama calls it a colonization,[15] and the Tibetan Youth Congress agrees that this event was both an invasion and colonization.[16] However, the Chinese government points to improvements in health and the economy as justifications for their assertion of power in the historically Chinese region; the Dalai Lama disputes this, and states that China has favored Han Chinese immigration into the region.[15]

Prior to the event, the economy of Tibet was dominated by subsistence agriculture. Thus, the stationing of 35,000 Chinese troops in the 1950s weighed heavily on the food supplies in Tibet. At Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama's visit to Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1954, Mao informed him that he would migrate 40,000 Chinese farmers to Tibet.[17][18][19]

In the 1960s, as part of the Great Leap Forward, Chinese authorities forced Tibetan farmers to cultivate maize instead of barley, the traditional crop of the Himalaya region. However, the decision proved to be disastrous, resulting in the failing of the harvest and the starving of thousands of Tibetans.[20][21]

Cultural Revolution[edit]

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was a revolution involving students and laborers of the Communist Party of China that was initiated by Mao and was carried on by the Gang of Four between 1966 and 1976 with the intention of preserving Maoism as the leading ideology of China. It was an inter-party struggle to eliminate political opposition against Mao.[22]

The Cultural Revolution affected the whole of China and Tibet suffered greatly as a result. Red Guards attacked civilians who were branded traitors to communism. More than six thousand monasteries were looted and destroyed. Monks and nuns were forced to leave their monasteries to "live a normal life", while those who resisted were imprisoned. Prisoners were forced into hard labor, tortured, and executed. The Potala Palace was nearly harmed, but the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai prevented the Tibetan Red Guards from causing damage.

Recent developments[edit]

China's "National Strategic Project to Develop the West", launched in the 1980s following the end of the Cultural Revolution, encourages the migration of Chinese people from other regions of China into Tibet, luring them there with attractive bonuses and favorable living conditions. Often, people volunteer to be sent there as teachers, doctors and administrators to assist in the development of Tibet.[23] Citing the low quality of the labour force and less-developed infrastructure, the Chinese government has encouraged a flow of migrants to stimulate competition and to transform Tibet from a traditional planned economy to a market economy, following economic reforms set forth by Deng Xiaoping.[24]

Since the end of the 1990s, ethnic Tibetans have become a minority in the "Greater Tibet" as claimed by Tibetan exile groups; as of 2003, the population consisted of an estimated 6 million ethnic Tibetans and 7.5 million non-Tibetans of different ethnic groups.[2][25] However, they remain the majority ethnic group by a wide margin in the Tibet Autonomous Region proper, comprising around 93% of the population in 2008.[26]

The 2008 attacks by Tibetans on Han- and Hui-owned property were alleged to be due to the large Han Hui influx into Tibet.[27] George Fitzherbert has said that "Tibetans complain of being robbed of their dignity in their homeland by having their genuinely loved leader incessantly denounced, and of being swamped by Chinese immigration to the point of becoming a minority in their own country."[28] The Chinese government has put significant resources into the development of Tibet in recent years as part of the China Western Development policy. In 2009, the Chinese government invested over $3 billion into the region, 31% more than was invested in 2008.[29] One of the most significant investments is the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, completed in 2006 at a cost of $3.68 billion, leading to an increase of tourists coming from the rest of China.[30] The Shanghai government contributed $8.6 million to the construction of the Tibet Shanghai Experimental School, where 1500 Tibetan students receive an education exclusively in Chinese, with the exception of Tibetan language courses.[31] Some young Tibetans feel that they are both Tibetans and Chinese and are fluent in both Tibetan and Mandarin.[32]

Education and employment[edit]

Since 1949, the Chinese government has used the minority education system to cause Tibetans to acquire the Chinese language. Minority education has therefore been considered a central aspect of Sinicization pressures. Since the early 2000s, however, there has been a process of Tibetanization of Tibetan education in Qinghai's Tibetan regions. Through the grassroots initiatives of Tibetan educators, Tibetan has been made able available as the main language of instruction in primary, secondary and tertiary education, although more so in some prefectures than in others.[33] However, the Tibetan language remains marginalized in the important realm of government employment, with only a small minority of public service (cadre) positions mandating a Tibetan college degree or Tibetan language skills.[34]

Population growth[edit]

In 1949, there were between 300 and 400 Han Chinese residents in Lhasa.[35] In 1950, the town covered fewer than three square kilometres and harboured around 30,000 inhabitants. The Potala Palace and the village of Zhöl below it were considered separate from the city at the time.[36][37] In 1953, according to the first population census, Lhasa numbered about 30,000 residents, including 4,000 beggars and not counting the 15,000 monks.[38]

By 1992, Lhasa's permanent population was estimated at a little under 140,000 people, including 96,431 Tibetans, 40,387 Han Chinese and 2,998 sundry. Added to that figure are perhaps 60,000 and 80,000 temporary residents, for the most part Tibetan pilgrims and traders.[39]


In 1989, Robert Badinter, a high-profile French criminal lawyer, participated in an episode of Apostrophes, a well-known French television program devoted to human rights, in the presence of the 14th Dalai Lama. Talking about the disappearance of the Tibetan culture in Tibet, Robert Badinter used the term "cultural genocide".[40] Subsequently, for the first time in 1993, the Dalai Lama used the same term to describe the destruction of the Tibetan culture.[41] More recently, at the time of 2008 Tibetan unrest, he accused the Chinese of cultural genocide in their crackdown.[42]

In 2008, Professor Robert Barnett, director of the Program for Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, stated that it was time for accusations of cultural genocide to be dropped: "I think we have to get over any suggestion that the Chinese are ill-intentioned or trying to wipe out Tibet."[43] He also voiced his doubts in a book review he published in the New York Review of Books, saying: "Why, if Tibetan culture within Tibet is being 'fast erased from existence', [do] so many Tibetans within Tibet still appear to have a more vigorous cultural life, with over a hundred literary magazines in Tibetan, than their exile counterparts?"[44]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Burbu, Dawa (2001) China's Tibet Policy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7007-0474-3, pp 100–124
  2. ^ a b Samdup, Tseten (1993) Chinese population – Threat to Tibetan identity
  3. ^ Burbu, Dawa (2001) China's Tibet Policy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7007-0474-3, pp 86–99
  4. ^ Woser (10 March 2011). "Three Provinces of the Snowland, Losar Tashi Delek!". Phayul. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  5. ^ Blo brtan rdo rje, Charles Kevin Stuart (2008). Life and Marriage in Skya Rgya, a Tibetan Village. YBK Publishers, Inc. p. xiv. ISBN 0-9800508-4-7. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  6. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 208
  7. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 209
  8. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 211
  9. ^ a b Schaik 2011, p. 212
  10. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 213
  11. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 214
  12. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 215
  13. ^ Schaik 2011, p. 218
  14. ^ Laird, Thomas (2006). The story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. London: Atlantic Books. p. 307. ISBN 9781843541448. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  15. ^ a b "Tibet profile - Overview". BBC News. 13 November 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  16. ^ "50 years of Colonization". Tibetan Youth Congress. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  17. ^ (German) Forster-Latsch, H. and Renz S., P. L. in Geschichte und Politik Tibets/ Tibet unter chinesischer Herrschaft.
  18. ^ (German) Horst Südkamp (1998), Breviarium der tibetischen Geschichte, p. 191.
  19. ^ (German) Golzio, Karl-Heinz and Bandini, Pietro (2002), Die vierzehn Wiedergeburten des Dalai Lama, Scherz Verlag / Otto Wilhelm Barth, Bern / München, ISBN 3-502-61002-9.
  20. ^ Shakya, Tsering (1999) The Dragon in the Land of Snows, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-7126-6533-9
  21. ^ Stein, Rolf (1972) Tibetan Civilization, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-0806-1
  22. ^ MacFarquhar, Roderick & Michael Schoenhals (2006) Mao's Last Revolution, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-02332-1, p. 102
  23. ^ Peter Hessler (February 1999). "Tibet Through Chinese Eyes". The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  24. ^ Tanzen Lhundup, Ma Rong (25–26 August 2006). "Temporary Labor Migration in Urban Lhasa in 2005". China Tibetology Network. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  25. ^ Pinteric, Uros (2003): International Status Of Tibet, Association for Innovative Political Science, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
  26. ^ "Cultural shift". BBC News. 
  27. ^ "Beijing renews tirade". Sunday Pioneer. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  28. ^ 'To engage with China's arguments concerning Tibet is to be subjected to the kind of intellectual entrapment, familiar in the Palestinian conflict, whereby the dispute is corralled into questions which the plaintiff had never sought to dispute. Tibetans complain of being robbed of their dignity in their homeland by having their genuinely loved leader incessantly denounced, and of being swamped by Chinese immigration to the point of becoming a minority in their own country. But China insistently condemns such complaints as separatism, an offence in China under the crime of 'undermining national unity', and pulls the debate back to one about Tibet's historical status. Foreigners raise questions about human rights and the environment, but China again denounces this as a foreign intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, and pulls the debate back to Tibet's historical status.' George Fitzherbert, 'Land of Clouds', Times Literary Supplement, 30 June 2008 p. 7.
  29. ^ Edward Wong (24 July 2010). "'China’s Money and Migrants Pour Into Tibet'". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  30. ^ Xinhua News Agency (24 August 2005). New height of world's railway born in Tibet. Retrieved 25 August 2005. Archived 25 April 2009 at WebCite
  31. ^ Damian Grammaticas (15 July 2010). "Is development killing Tibet's way of life?". BBC. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  32. ^ Hannue (2008). Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han:, ISBN 988-97999-3-6.
  33. ^ Zenz, Adrian (2010). "Beyond Assimilation: The Tibetanisation of Tibetan Education in Qinghai", in Inner Asia Vol.12 Issue 2, pp.293-315
  34. ^ Zenz, Adrian (2014). Tibetanness under Threat? Neo-Integrationism, Minority Education and Career Strategies in Qinghai, P.R. China. Global Oriental. ISBN 9789004257962. 
  35. ^ Roland Barraux, Histoire des Dalaï Lamas – Quatorze reflets sur le Lac des Visions, Albin Michel, 1993, reprinted in 2002, Albin Michel, ISBN 2-226-13317-8.
  36. ^ Liu Jiangqiang, Preserving Lhasa's history (part one), in Chinadialogue, 13 October 2006.
  37. ^ Emily T. Yeh, Living Together in Lhasa. Ethnic Relations, Coercive Amity, and Subaltern Cosmopolitanism: "Lhasa’s 1950s population is also frequently estimated at around thirty thousand. At that time the city was a densely packed warren of alleyways branching off from the Barkor path, only three square kilometers in area. The Potala Palace and the village of Zhöl below it were considered separate from the city."
  38. ^ Thomas H. Hahn, Urban Planning in Lhasa. The traditional urban fabric, contemporary practices and future visions, Presentation Given at the College of Architecture, Fanzhu University, 21 October 2008.
  39. ^ Heidi Fjeld, Commoners and Nobles. Hereditary Divisions in Tibet, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen, 2005, p. 18.
  40. ^ Les droits de l'homme Apostrophes, A2 – 21 April 1989 – 01h25m56s, Web site of the INA:
  41. ^ 10 March Archive
  42. ^ BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | 'Eighty killed' in Tibetan unrest:
  43. ^ Robert Barnett, Seven Questions: What Tibetans Want, Foreign Policy, March 2008.
  44. ^ Robert Barnett, Thunder from Tibet, a review of Pico Iyer's book, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Knopf, 275 p., in The New York Review of Books, vol. 55, number 9. 29 May 2008.
  • Schaik, Sam (2011). Tibet: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press Publications. ISBN 978-0-300-15404-7.