Later the same day, rebels held an illegal "People's Congress" that severed ties with the central government and pledged to do all in its power to achieve independence. They elected leaders of a self-styled "Tibetan independence movement" and established a military command. The aristocratic regime sent two of its officials and six of the so-called "people's representatives" to the Indian consulate to ask for support.
That evening, 1,400 monks assembled in downtown Lhasa accompanied by armed groups. From then on the situation in the city went from bad to worse. Wang Qixiu said there was widespread plundering, killing and even rapes. The rebels forcibly recruited Tibetan males and threatened to kill Tibetans who did not severe ties with Han Chinese.
The militia's orders were that, if the insurgents attacked, each unit should fight separately at their own positions and try to defend themselves. The Postal Bureau immediately started constructing fortifications, and collected a six month supply of food, as well as fuel, arms and ammunition. A transmitting station was set up well away from the main Post Office to ensure safe and clear communications. The Tibet Military Area Command sent a squad to defend the transmitter.
"The streets were empty except for a very few passers-by. Han officials no longer dared venture out alone. Party committees in the various workplaces told employees to form teams of at least 10 if they had to go out on business, and said they should carry weapons," Wang recalled.
But he said that even in the darkest days, the Post Office continued to open as usual to deal with telegraphs and mail. In fact, telegraph operators were much busier than before processing telegrams from the CPC Tibet Work Committee to Beijing. These telegrams were a communications lifeline with the central authorities.
On the night of March 17, 1959, the Dalai Lama, his family, and leading officials and some Tibetan troops, about 700 people in total, fled to India. The escape was premeditated, and the time and route had been planned in advance. Tan reported this to the CPC Central Committee, but Chairman Mao Zedong ordered the liberation army not to intercept the Dalai Lama and to let him go where he wanted, whether to Shannan in Tibet, or over the border into India. Tan followed Mao's orders and the liberation army more or less turned a blind eye to the escape. US aircraft flew into Tibet several times to spy on the positions of the liberation army, provide air cover for the Dalai group, and drop food, maps, radios and money to them.
The Dalai Lama left the political and military power of the Tibetan Local Government in the hands of the "people's conference," which was organizing and directing the rebellion in Lhasa. The Tibetan army, armed monks and insurgents from nearby provinces, were headquartered in the Norbu Lingka Summer Palace on the outskirts of Lhasa, from where they continued to fight against the PLA. Surkang Wangqen Geleg, on behalf of the Dalai Lama, designated Lhuntse Dzong as "capital of the Snow Lion state," and appointed Sicab Lukangwa and Losang Zhaxito as chief administrators. At this point the insurgents believed the rebellion had been successful, and were expecting to achieve "Tibet independence" and block reform of the feudal system. But they were wrong.
On the afternoon of March 19, 1959, new orders came from the Militia Corps Command saying that that the insurgents were planning attacks that night and ordering the militia in every unit to raise its vigilance and prepare to defend their positions. The order was passed on to militia members as they finished their evening meal.
At 3:40 AM, early March 20, the rebels launched their attack. Lhasa was turned into a battlefield. Rifle shots, machine gun fire and artillery fire rained down and lit up the night sky.