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China's Takeover of Tibet (1949-1959)

Jampa Chodok, a Tibetan who now lives in a refugee camp in Nepal, was a freedom fighter during the years after China invaded Tibet in 1949. He recalls watching the masses of Chinese soldiers – whose numbers would soon grow to over 20,000 – gather on Tibet’s eastern border and advance toward Lhasa, the capital city (Weibel, Two Tibetan Refugees). Chinese President Mao Zedong had ordered the two-year invasion with the intention of “liberating” Tibet. The Tibetan government, led by the 16-year-old Dalai Lama, sent a peace delegation to negotiate in Beijing; the delegation was forced to sign a document called the Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, which forced Tibet to submit to Chinese rule while still being allowed to retain some autonomy (R.F. 287). The army, however, continued to occupy the region throughout the ensuing decade, and tensions between Tibetans and their Chinese occupiers grew steadily throughout the 1950’s because of “discrimination and the suppression of traditional practices”. In March 1959, Chinese officials fired artillery rounds on the Dalai Lama’s palace in Lhasa, which soon led to a full-scale Tibetan rebellion (Weibel, Two Tibetan Refugees; “Timeline: Tibet”). The uprising was brutally suppressed by the Chinese government – over 87,000 people were killed during the two-day incident and its aftermath (“Timeline: Tibet).
Tibetans gathering outside the Potala Palace in Lhasa on March 10, 1959, during the uprising.

Luckily, the Dalai Lama was able to escape the chaos in Lhasa. Jampa Chodok, along with several resistance fighters, successfully protected their spiritual leader and some of his followers during their flight across the Himalayas and into northern India. Although some 80,000 people would follow a similar path over the two years following the rebellion, Chodok headed back to Tibet to fight for his country’s liberty (Weibel, Two Tibetan Refugees). After being pushed back out of Tibet by superior Chinese numbers, Chodok and many other members of the resistance reverted to guerrilla warfare in northern Nepal until the Dalai Lama “instructed all forces to stop fighting” in 1974.