Since early time before Christ, ancient people began to reside on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in southwest China. After a prolonged period of time, tribes that had scattered on the plateau gradually united and formed a nationality known as the Tibetan ethnic group today.
Having suffered successive wars in the early period of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Tibetans fostered cordial relations with the Tang court by marriage links. Tibetan people began their trade ties with the Central Plains in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) on a barter basis. As time went on, in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), the already multi-ethnic realm of China was reunified, with Tibet organically included as an administrative unit ruled by the central court of Yuan. Since then, Tibetans, along with other ethnic groups under the central authorities, had experienced the rise and fall of dynasties and witnessed resultant changes in the history of China.
Early in the seventh century, the powerful Tang Dynasty was founded in the Central Plains, ending the disintegration and chaotic situation that had prevailed in the region for more than 300 years. At the same time, Tubo leader Songtsan Gambo welded together more than 10 separate tribes and established the Tubo Kingdom covering a large part of what later became known as Tibet. He twice sent ministers to the Tang court requesting a member of the imperial family be given to him in marriage, and in 641, Princess Wencheng, a member of Emperor Taizong’s family, was chosen for this role. During the reign of Songtsan Gambo, political, economic and cultural relations between the two nations became increasingly friendly and extensive. This pattern of friendly relations was carried on during the next 200 years or more.
In 821, then Tubo King Tri Ralpachen dispatched envoys to Chang’an, capital of the Tang Dynasty for three times, asking for alignment. Muzong, then Emperor of the Tang Dynasty, appointed his senior officials to hold a grand alignment ceremony in the western suburb of Chang’an. In the next year, the Tang Dynasty and the Tubo Kingdom formally concluded their alliance pact in the eastern suburb of Lhasa. The two sides of the alliance reiterated their close relations bound by marriage and decided to treat each other as a member of one family. The alignment was recorded on three Tang-Tubo Peace Pledgement Monuments, one of which still stands in front of the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa.
In 842, the Tubo Kingdom broke up, and rival groups of ministers, members of the royal family and various tribes plunged into internecine struggle that was to last in varying levels of intensity for the next 400 years. Reeling under the detrimental impact of such activities on their economic and cultural development, people on the Tibetan Plateau looked to the emergence of a formidable regime on the Central Plains to someday come to their rescue. Those who could no longer stand the bitterness fled to areas in present-day Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368)
In the early 13th century, the leader of the Mongolian people, Genghis Khan, established the Mongol Khanate in the north of China. In 1247, Mongol Prince Godan invited Pandit Gonggar Gyamcain, an eminent monk with the Sagya Sect that greatly influenced Buddhist worship on the Tibetan Plateau, to a meeting in Liangzhou (present-day Wuwei in Gansu Province). Pandit Gonggar Gyamcain offered the submission of Tibet to the Mongol Khanate and the acceptance of a defined local administrative system. In return, the Sagya Sect was given political power in Tibet. In 1271, the Mongolian conquerors took Yuan as the name of their dynasty. In 1279, they finally unified the whole of China. The newly united central authorities continued control over Tibet, including it as a directly governed administrative unit.
Taking into account the concrete characteristics of the local historical traditions, social situation, natural environment, ethnic group and religion, the Yuan authorities adopted special measures in the administration of Tibet that differed from the policies applied to the other 10 administrative areas.
First, in 1270, Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan conferred the official title of Imperial Tutor on Pagba, a leading Tibetan lama of the Sagya Sect. This was the highest official post of a monk official in the Chinese history. From then on, Imperial Tutor became a high-ranking official in the central authorities directly appointed by the emperor, taking charge of Buddhist affairs in the whole country, and local affairs in Tibet.
Second, shortly after the Yuan Dynasty was founded, the Zongzhi Yuan was set up to be responsible for the nation’s Buddhist affairs and Tibet’s military and government affairs. In 1288, it was renamed Xuanzheng Yuan. The Prime Minister usually acted as the executive president of the Xuanzheng Yuan, concurrently, while a monk nominated by the Imperial Tutor held the post of vice president. This marked the first time in Chinese history that a central organ was set up specially taking charge of Tibetan affairs.
Third, Tibet was divided into different administrative areas, and officials with different ranks were appointed to consolidate administrative management, with the Imperial Tutor assuming overall responsibility.
Since Tibet was incorporated into the map of the Yuan Dynasty in the mid-13th century, China had experienced the rise and fall of dynasties and the resultant change in the central authorities. However, this in no way altered the central administration’s rule over Tibet.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
In 1368, the Ming Dynasty replaced the Yuan Dynasty. The Ming abolished the system of the Xuanzheng Yuan as a central organ to deal with Tibetan affairs, and stopped conferring the official title of Imperial Tutor on Tibetan monks. But, the Ming rulers introduced a new system of granting official titles to Tibetan monks. The highest-ranking monk official was called Prince of Dharma, which was different from Imperial Tutor in the Yuan Dynasty. He was not stationed in Beijing. He had no right to be in charge of the Buddhist affairs nationwide, nor had he a fixed manor. This points up to the fact that the official post was honorary in nature. Though varying in rank, these Princes of Dharma could not exercise control over each other, nor could they engage in administrative affairs. They were directly under the central administration.
The central authorities of the Ming, following the administrative system of the Yuan, set up local administrations in Tibet to respectively govern the military and political affairs of front and rear Tibet, Qamdo and Ngari areas.
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
After replacing the Ming in 1644, the central authorities of the Qing Dynasty introduced a set of rules and regulations for rule over Tibet. As these rules and regulations were legal in nature, they were very effective.
First, creating a legal administrative area of Tibet. While dividing the national administrative areas, the Qing central authorities defined, by legal regulations, the boundaries between the administrative areas of Tibet and Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Xinjiang. The administrative area of Tibet (then called U-Tsang) was equivalent to that of the present Tibet Autonomous Region.
Second, deciding on Tibet’s political and administrative management systems, and the organizational form of local political power. The Ordnance for the More Effective Governance of Tibet promulgated in 1793 by the Qing court and the Legal Code of the Qing Dynasty stipulated that, in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni were respectively in charge of the religious affairs in the Lhasa (front Tibet) and Xigaze (rear Tibet) areas, and part of the government affairs. They were not under each other. But, the high commissioners the Qing court stationed in Tibet took the overall control over the area.
Third, conferring official titles on the religious leaders in Tibet. In 1653, the central administration conferred on the Fifth Dalai Lama the official title “All-Knowing, Vajra-Holding Dalai Lama.” In 1713, it conferred on the Fifth Panchen the official title of Panchen Erdeni. Thereafter, it became an established practice for all Dalai Lamas and Panchen Erdenis to have their titles conferred on them by the central authorities.
Fourth, in order to prevent the religious leaders from seeking personal gain by abusing their position and authority, or expanding their forces, the central authorities, in 1793, introduced a new system of determining the reincarnation of a deceased Living Buddha, the Dalai or Panchen by drawing lots from a gold urn. This then became the only permissible system for choosing a successor to the Dalai Lama, Panchen Erdeni or the Grand Lama. Under the new system, names of the reincarnation candidates were written on lots that were put into the gold urn. One lot was drawn under the supervision of the High Commissioner, and the chosen one was the designated soul boy--the successor to the Dalai Lama, Panchen Erdeni or Grand Lama. The selected successor could not become the legal heir until formally approved by the central administration. This became a key measure for the Qing central government to strengthen administration over religious affairs in Tibet, and fully embodied the central authorities’ sovereignty over Tibet.
Republic of China (1912-1949)
China experienced great historic changes after the Revolution of 1911, which brought down the Qing Dynasty and led to the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. During the Republic of China, which brought together the Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan ethnic groups, the central power changed hands frequently, but its policies related to Tibet remained unchanged in terms of upholding the national unity, state sovereignty and territorial integrity.
First, maintaining state sovereignty over Tibet by enacting laws and issuing official documents. Article 3 of the General Outline of the Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China, enacted under the auspices of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Interim President, stipulated that Tibet was one of the 22 provinces of the Republic of China. This legalized the rule of the Government of the Republic of China over Tibet. Stipulations concerning Tibet in the Constitution of the Republic of China promulgated later all stressed that Tibet is an inseparable part of Chinese territory, and the Central Government of China exercises sovereignty in Tibet.
Second, establishing the Council for the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs and the Commission in Charge of Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs. The Council for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs was set up in 1912 to operate directly under the State Council in its capacity as a central state organ to take charge of Tibetan and Mongolian affairs. It was renamed the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs in 1914. In 1927, the Republic of China moved its capital to Nanjing, now capital of Jiangsu Province, and the Nanjing Government was founded. Before long, the Nanjing Government announced the establishment of the Commission in Charge of Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs. The commission members included people of great influence in the Mongolian and Tibetan areas, such as the Ninth Panchen Erdeni, the 13th Dalai Lama and Tibetan government representatives stationed in Nanjing including Gongjor Zongnyi, Zhamgyia Hutogtu and Master Xeirab Gyamco, a very famous Buddhist master who served as vice chairman of the commission.
Third, giving additional honorific titles to the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni, and having representatives preside over the reincarnation and enthronement ceremonies for them. In the early days of the Republic of China, the 13th Dalai Lama, who was deprived by the Qing government of his honorific title and left Tibet for India, managed to get in touch with the Government of the Republic of China, and expressed his wish to return to Tibet. On October 28, 1912, Interim President Yuan Shikai announced the restoration of the honorific title of the Dalai Lama. Before long, the 13th Dalai Lama returned home. To ease internal contradictions between the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni, Yuan, on April 1, 1913, issued an order to give an additional honorific title to the Ninth Panchen Erdeni to honor what he had done to defend the unification of the motherland.
In December 1933, when the 13th Dalai Lama died, the local government of Tibet submitted a report to the Central Government in accordance with historical precedence. The Central Government granted the late master the additional honorific title of Master in Defense of the Country and sent Huang Musong, Chairman of the Commission in Charge of Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, to Tibet to mourn his demise. In 1938, under the auspices of Regent Living Buddha Razheng, Lhamo Toinzhub in Qinghai was found and determined as the reincarnated soul boy of the late 13th Dalai Lama in accordance with the religious rituals and historical precedence. In 1940, Wu Zhongxin, Chairman of the Commission in Charge of Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, went to Tibet, in his capacity as central government representative, to preside over the ceremony enthroning the 14th Dalai Lama.
When the Ninth Panchen Erdeni passed away in Qinghai on his way back to Tibet in December 1937, the Nationalist Government granted him the honorific title of Master. And in 1938, the Central Government sent Dai Chuanxian, President of the Examination Yuan, to Garze to mourn the demise of the Ninth Panchen Erdeni. In early 1949, the Nationalist Government sent its envoy to announce that Guanbo Cidain was the 10th Panchen Erdeni, and he attended celebrations held at the Tar Monastery in Qinghai. In August, Guan Jiyu, Chairman of the Commission in Charge of Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, was sent by the Nationalist Government to preside over the enthronement ceremony of the 10th Panchen in Qinghai.
Fourth, bringing in upper-class monks and lay people to participate in state administration. During the period of the Republic of China, whenever the National Assembly met, there would be Tibetan delegates who participated. For example, from November 15 to December 25, 1946, when the National Assembly met in Nanjing to work on the Constitution of the Republic of China, 17 delegates including Tudain Sangpi and Jijigmei, came from Tibet.
People's Republic of China (founded in 1949)
The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. Given the historical conditions and the reality in Tibet, the Central People’s Government decided to adopt a policy for the peaceful liberation of Tibet.
The peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951:
On October 1, 1949，the People’s Republic of China was founded. The Gelug Sect (Yellow Sect) in Tibet boasted two Living Buddha incarnation systems including the one for the Panchen Erdeni. The 10th Panchen Erdeni Qoigyi Gyaincain cabled Chairman Mao Zedong, PLA Commander-in-Chief Zhu De，expressing strong support for the Central People’s Government and the hope that Tibet would be liberated at an early date. On November 23, 1949 Chairman Mao Zedong and PLA Commander-in-Chief Zhu De replied. Later, the Central People’s Government called many times on the local authorities of Tibet to achieve peaceful liberation of Tibet and sought agreement through various channels.
However, the local government of Tibet led by Regent Dagzha and the forces of pro-imperialist separatists rejected all positive approaches from the Central Government for the peaceful liberation of Tibet, and obstructed the people dispatched by the Central Government for this purpose. They also assembled 8,000 Tibetan troops and militia and deployed them at Qamdo and along the west bank of the Jingshajiang River, seeking to prevent the PLA from marching westward. To smash the scheme of the enemy and crack down the pro-imperialist separatists, the PLA liberated Qamdo on October 24, 1950, with the assistance of the people of the Tibet
an ethnic group, which created favorable conditions for the peaceful liberation of Tibet.
After liberation of Qamdo, the PLA could have gone on to further liberate the whole of Tibet, but the CPC Central Committee and the Central People’s Government stuck to the policy of peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951 and sent decisive orders to hold bacl the PLA and carry out the mass work locally at Qamdo while waiting on the local authorities to dispatch representatives to Beijing for negotiation. At the same time, the Southwest Military and Government Committee and the PLA Southwest Military Area jointly released the 10-Article Notice for the Liberation of Tibet in Tibetan and Chinese.
Persuaded many times by the Central Government and moved by the policy, the 14th Dalai Lama and the local government of Tibet eventually expressed their desire to seek a peaceful solution in January 1951.
On April 29, 1951 the plenipotentiaries of the Central People’s Government and the local government of Tibet started negotiations at the Communications Department of the Beijing Military Control Commission. Agreement was reached on all important issues within a month. A grand signing ceremony for the Agreement Between the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (also known as the 17-Article Agreement) was held at Qinzheng Hall in Zhongnanhai on May 23, 1951.
After the signing of the agreement on peaceful liberation of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama sent a cable to Chairman Mao Zedong, saying: “The Tibetan Local Government as well as the ecclesiastics and secular people unanimously support this agreement, and under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Central People’s Government, will actively support the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Tibet to consolidate the national defense, drive out imperialist influences from Tibet and safeguard the unification of the territory and sovereignty of the motherland.” The 10th Panchen Erdeni also telegraphed Chairman Mao, expressing his acceptance of the 17-Article Agreement and his resolution to uphold the unity of the motherland’s sovereignty.
According to the agreement, the military forces of the PLA in Tibet entered Lhasa smoothly and they were greeted by a grand welcoming ceremony consisting of more than 20,000 people including officials from the local government of Tibet and the monks and lay people. Soon after, the PLA forces in Tibet entered successively the frontier strategic points, such as Nagqu, Ngari, Zayu, Gyangze, Xigaze and Yadong. Wherever the troops arrived, they were welcomed by the Tibetan people. By this time, Tibet was truly liberated and the unity of the Chinese mainland was achieved.
In 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Erdeni came to Beijing to participate in the First Session of the First National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China. At the session, the 14th Dalai Lama was elected as vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, and the 10th Panchen Erdeni, member of the NPC Standing Committee.
Democratic Reform in 1959:
After the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, Tibet continued to follow the feudal serfdom. Since the conditions were not yet ready for excising such reform, Chairman Mao, in a report on ‘Questions Concerning Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People’, fully stated the policy on Tibet of “sustaining for six years without change”. The policy was, in fact, another concession to Tibet and its purpose was to await full public awareness of the targets of peaceful reform.
However, a high-level reactionary group in Tibet was against the reforms from the start. They went so far as to openly tear up the 17-Article Agreement and announced the “independence of Tibet” on March 10, 1959. They organized Tibetan forces to surround the Tibetan Military Area and the organs of the Central Government in Tibet and launched a full attack early on March 20th. In order to maintain the unity of China, the Central Government issued an order to put down the rebellion in Tibet, announcing that the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region was to act as the local government. Tibet entered a new stage of suppressing rebellion and carrying out reform.
The Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region passed in July 1959 the ‘Resolution on Democratic Reform’, deciding to completely put down the rebellion, fully arouse the masses to action and carry out Democratic Reform throughout the region. The first step of Democratic Reform was against rebellion, against the ula corvee labor system and against slavery in reduction of rents and reduction of interest (known in brief as the “3A2R” movement). The serfs and slaves, in the process of struggling against the rebellion, exposed and criticized the crimes of the rebels for their burning, killing and pillaging, for the harm they had done to the people, for their activities in undermining unity, and for their opposition to the Central Government. They denounced through their own experiences their untold suffering that the serf owners imposed on them to squeeze and destroy them ruthlessly with the ula corvee labor and slavery system. The serfs and slaves awakened in the 3A movement had their own leaders. Through selection they organized their own leadership institute, the Farmers’ Association, forming their own power center. Several months later, the Farmers’ Associations were founded widely in the areas where Democratic Reform was excised and they guided the work in the reduction of rents and interest.
Under the policy, the land of the estate-holders involved in the rebellion was “to be reaped by those who had planted it”; the land leased by the estate-holders (and their agents) who had not participated in the rebellion was “to be reduced in rent by 20 percent”; all the debts borne by the serfs to the three estate holders before 1958 were abolished and the debts owing to the estate-holders who didn’t participate in the 1959 rebellion were reduced in interest to a rate of one percent a month. The achievement resulting from “reducing rent by 20 percent” and abolishing the old debts was considerable. According to statistics from 1959 to 1960, when the Democratic Reform was nearly completed, the usury and debts abolished in the region as a whole were about equal to 400 million kilograms of grain, which fundamentally removed the heavy chains from the serfs.
As the struggle against rebellion won an essential victory and the “3A2R” movement developed further, destroying completely the land occupation system of the three estate holders and eliminating the base of the feudal serf system had become an urgent demand for the serfs to win complete liberation. The third plenary session of the Preparatory Committee of Autonomous Regions was held in late September 1959 and passed a ‘Resolution on Abolition of Feudal Serf-Ownership of Land and Introduction of Farmer Land Ownership’. The Resolution decided to satisfy the just demands of the million serfs by abolishing the feudal serf-ownership of land and introducing farmers’ land ownership. It particularly stressed the land reform policy in farming areas and emphasized that the livestock breeding ownership in pastoral areas would remain unchanged while carrying out the “3A2B” policy (to struggle against rebellion, against ula corvee labor system and against slavery while being beneficial to hired herdsmen and beneficial to herd owners).
Most of the work for land reform in farming areas was carried out in the winter of 1959 and the spring of 1960. The first step was to confiscate the land and other means of production of serf owners and their agents involved in the rebellion; For serf owners and their agents who did not participate in the rebellion, their excessive land, livestock (limited to the countryside), houses and farm tools were to be handed over. By the end of 1960, when land reform of the whole region was nearly accomplished, the land distributed to serfs and slaves accounted to more than 2.8 million ke (about 186,000 hectares) in total, 3.5 ke (about 0.23 hectare) per capita.
According to the policy, the excessive land, livestock, farm tools and houses of the serf owners and their agents, who had not involved in the rebellion, were bought out. The farmland bought out accounted for over 900,000 ke (about 60,000 hectares) in total, livestock 82,000 head, farm tools 20,000 sets, and 64,200 houses. These were evaluated at market prices to be paid by the government within 8-13 years. In September 1961, over 2,000 households obtained their buy-out certificates and the first-stage payment was made. Progressive personages who had not been involved in the rebellion were given suitable jobs and some became leaders in the Preparatory Committee of Autonomous Regions.
The primary work of Democratic Reform was basically accomplished by the end of 1961.
The Democratic Reform completely overturned the reactionary, backward feudal serf system and enabled the million serfs to be freed from the rigid control and oppression of serf owners and obtain their rights as human beings, which changed the conditions of human rights of the people in Tibet and paved a way for social development in the region.
Establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965
Tibet exercises national regional autonomy according to the PRC Constitution. The State protects the political rights of all Tibetan ethnic groups in equal administration of State and local affairs, especially the autonomous rights of the Tibetan people in self-administration of local affairs and ethnic affairs. These rights reach every corner in political, economic, cultural and social development. According to the actual historical situation of Tibet and in consideration of the factors concerning the political, economic, religious, cultural and other features, a special, flexible policy differing from those in areas of other nationalities in China was adopted when implementing national regional autonomy.
On March 9, 1955, Premier Zhou Enlai presided over the 7th enlarged session of the State Council, which passed the ‘Decision on Establishment of the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region’. The decision points out that “the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region is a governmental organ in charge of the preparatory work for founding the Tibet Autonomous Region and it is controlled by the State Council. Its primary mission is to prepare for the establishment of regional autonomy in Tibet according to the stipulations of the PRC Constitution and the agreement for the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, as well as the actual conditions of Tibet.” The State Council also decided to appoint the Dalai Lama as Chairman of the Committee, the Panchen Erdeni as the first Vice Chairman and Zhang Guohua as second Vice Chairman.
The ceremonial founding conference for the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region took place in the newly built Lhasa Hall on April 22, 1956. The establishment of the Preparatory Committee of Autonomous Regions enabled Tibet to take an important step forward in practice of national regional autonomy, which was a cornerstone for Tibet on its way to development.
While national regional autonomy developed smoothly in Tibet, some diehard high-level personages who still favored the serf system instigated armed rebellion on March 10, 1959. When the rebellion was put down and the Democratic Reform was implemented, local people’s power was founded at different levels. From the actual conditions of Tibet, the Preparatory Committee of Autonomous Regions passed in July 1959 the ‘Organization of Peasants Associations in Various Counties, Districts and Townships in Tibet’, stipulating that the peasant associations at district and township levels may act as primary political power. By April 1965, seven prefectures and one city, as well as 72 counties, had established people’s governments, in addition to people’s governments in 20 districts and 300 townships. In March 1962, the Preparatory Committee issued ‘Instructions on Carrying Out Election of Grassroots Cadres in Whole Region (Draft)’. By July and August in 1965, the elections in townships and counties of the whole autonomous region were nearly finished. There were a total of 1,359 townships and towns involved in basic-level elections, while another 567 townships and towns held people’s congresses acting on behalf of the People’s Congress. The two together constituted 92 percent of the total townships and towns in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The people’s political power at basic level was thus founded with absolute predominance of serfs and slaves. There were in the region 54 counties that held a first session of the people’s congress, through which county magistrates and vice county magistrates were elected and the people’s commissions of counties were established. At the same time, 301 deputies were elected to the People’s Congress of the Autonomous Region.
Based on this, and after the approval of the Central Government, the First Session of the People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region was held in Lhasa on September 1-9, 1965. The Tibet Autonomous Region was officially founded and Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei became its first Chairman.