March 10 Tibetan Uprising

March 10, 1959

It’s been over 50 years since the fated tragic uprising of Tibet in March 1959.

Mao Zedong’s newly empowered government invaded Tibet in 1950 to repudiate the state’s autonomy and enforce the communist line.

The Tibetan governor was taken prisoner by the People’s Liberation Army, leaving a 15 year-old Dalai Lama as the region’s leader. Opposition to Chinese rule grew steadily during the 1950s coming to a head in 1959.

The Khampas—the small Tibetan guerilla fighting force—requested official Tibetan aid from the Dalai Lama in February 1959, but the Dalai Lama refused to violate his position on non-violence.

Dalai Lama with Mao Zedong, 1955

At 25, the Dalai Lama was anxious for a diplomatic resolution. He accepted an invitation by representatives of the Chinese government to attend a theater performance on March 10, 1959…even though he was instructed by the Chinese to keep his attendance a secret and to not be accompanied by Tibetan forces or bodyguards.

As word of the unusual requests of the Chinese government spread, the people of Tibet feared their leader would be kidnapped.

“By the morning of 10 March an estimated 30,000 people had surrounded the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, the Nobulingka, to prevent their leader from going.”

Throughout the next week massive demonstrations against the Chinese government grew in Norbulingka and Lhasa. On the 12th, 5,000 Tibetan women demonstrated in Lhasa.

When on the 16th two Chinese grenades exploded outside the Dalai Lama’s palace, he was finally convinced he needed to leave his home country before a full-on attack could endanger the Tibetan civilians surrounding the palace.

“Dressed in a military uniform and with a gun hanging over his shoulder, the Dalai Lama walked out of the gates of Norbulingka without anyone recognising him…”

He escaped to India, never to return again.

The following week the Chinese bombarded the palace with 800 grenades, killing an unknown number of the thousands camped outside, protecting the Dalai Lama.

“Chinese reports state that 5,600 rebels had been ‘liquidated’ by the beginning of April…Local government was dissolved and military government imposed on Tibet. Thousands were rounded up and imprisoned and tortured. The Chinese conducted house-to-house searches to try and find guerillas, and in any house where they found arms the residents were executed. The authorities in Beijing officially denied that a revolt had taken place, and claimed that the Khampa guerillas had kidnapped the Dalai Lama.”

The Dalai Lama has spent the past half-century in exile, traveling the world, promoting peace and non-violence.

History Leading up to March 10, 1959

Chronology of Events

The Tibetan Independence Movement – Political, religious and Gandhian perspectives – by Jane Ardley

Blog: Students for a Free Tibet