10 Unsettling Reasons You Should Care About What's Happening Right Now In Tibet

Tibetan girl

Photo: David Raccuglia

Tibet, a plateau 13,000 feet above sea level that sits between China and India, remained largely isolated for centuries. It had its own national flag, currency, culture and religion within a population of nomads, farmers, monks and traders dispersed over territory about the size of Western Europe.

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In October 1950— following the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949— the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet and overwhelmed its tiny army. The Chinese government began asserting its claim that Tibet was part of Chinese territory and that its people were crying out for liberation from imperialist forces and the government in Lhasa.

In March 1959 Tibetans rebelled against the occupiers. The uprising was crushed and the Tibetan leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India (followed by more than 80,000 Tibetans). Tens of thousands of Tibetans who remained were killed or imprisoned.

This week marks the fourth anniversary of violent protests that began in the capital of Lhasa and spread throughout Tibet and to Chinese embassies around the world. The protests originally began when monks took the streets to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising against Beijing.

The total Tibetan population is about 6 million. Of them, 2.09 million live in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)— an area created by the Chinese government in 1965 and consisting of the about half the size of historical Tibet— while the rest live in the Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

The black and white photos are selected from the photographic journal “Portrait of a Culture in Exile” by David Raccuglia.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Chinese political campaigns promote atheism and strengthen government efforts to discourage Tibetan from fostering their unique culture and religion

Source: U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2006 Report

LANGUAGE: In October 2010 thousands of Tibetan students protested Beijing's plan to replace Tibetan textbooks and shift school instruction to Mandarin

Source: Radio Free Asia

FORCED RELOCATION: Nomad settlement policies relocate Tibetan nomads to pre-fabricated housing communities, thereby separating them from the sustainable livelihoods they have practiced for centuries

Source: United Nations Human Rights Council, February 16, 2012


POPULATION TRANSFER: The Chinese government creates economic incentives to encourage Han Chinese and other nationalities to migrate to the TAR while it invests massively to consolidate its control over this vast territory on the border with India

Source: David Brown, the US Consul General for Chengdu, according to a cable released by WikiLeaks


POVERTY: Tibetans struggle with poverty, inadequate education and competition because the main beneficiaries of economic success in Tibet are the Han-dominated urban areas as opposed to rural areas where 87 per cent of Tibetans live

Source: U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2005 Annual Report


CHILD CARE: 56 per cent of children aged 2 to 7 have moderate or severely stunted growth (compared with international standards) as well as medical problems and potentially impaired intellectual development as a result of malnutrition

Source: Erik Eckholm, New England Journal of Medicine, Published: February 1, 2001


WOMEN'S RIGHTS: Government officials openly use violent methods to coerce citizens to undergo sterilizations or abortions or pay heavy fines for having 'out-of-plan' children

Source: U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2011 Annual Report



TORTURE: Due to a lack of independent and fair courts as well as ambiguous domestic laws regrading political crimes, Tibetans are victims of arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture to extract spurious confessions, and inhumane prison conditions

Source: Manfred Nowak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment


ENVIRONMENT: In the past 50 years there has been deforestation, soil erosion, extinction of wildlife, overgrazing, uncontrolled mining and nuclear waste dumping in Tibet resulting from Chinese policies to extract Tibet's abundant natural resources

DESPERATION: 25 Tibetans (20 men and five women) have self-immolated in protest since March 16, 2011, including self-immolations on March 4 and 5 of this year that were the first by Tibetan laywomen in Tibet's history

The government in Beijing is focused on other things

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