The Tibetan Revolt


The revolt began Kham, in the winter of 1955-1956. The actual fighting started in response to a 1955 order for the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to disarm the Khampas, but political and religious repression since the Chinese occupation of 1950, had generated a climate ripe for insurrection. In January 1956, the Chinese sent 150,00 troops to Kham. During the next two years, the PLA waged a campaign of repression and terror: torturing clergy, burning monks alive and forcing celibate monks and nuns to have intercourse before the troops. Huge numbers of Tibetans were crucified, dismembered, decapitated, buried alive, or sent to the notoriously harsh labor camps of Qinghai province, where many died of starvation and abuse. Entire villages were eradicated and huge numbers of refugees streamed into Lhasa. Labrang Monastery founded in 1709, which had once housed 3,000 monks, was closed in 1956.

After about a year of uneasy cease fire in Lhasa, the Tibetan people once more rose against the occupying Chinese. On 1 March 1959, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was invited to attend a Chinese cultural event at a PLA encampment in Lhasa. He was told not to bring any of his bodyguards and keep the arrangements secret. When word leaked of this, the Tibetans assumed that the Chinese were planning to kidnap their leader. Tens of thousands of Tibetans surrounded the Norbulingka to prevent the Dalai Lama from attending. As a consequence the Dalai Lama declined the invitation, to the fury of the Chinese PLA general. Fighting broke out on 16 March 1959, culminating with the shelling of the Norbulingka. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama fled during the night of March 16-17 disguised as a soldier. It took him two weeks to reach India, crossing high passes in the snow, constantly harassed by the pursuing Chinese.

The fighting continued in Lhasa for three days, 20,000 Tibetans armed with antiquated weapons confronting PLA mortars and cannons. At 2:00 am on 20 March, the Chinese began to systematically shell the city, firing from all directions. Many of the most important and sacred structures were targeted, including the Potala, and Drepung and Sera monasteries. The Drepung was damaged, the Sera Monastery almost completely destroyed, and large holes were blasted in the walls of the Potala. Exiles later reported that the streets were littered with bodies. Chinese tanks rolled into Barkhor Square before the Jokhang on 22 March, effectively ending the rebellion.


Free Tibet!