Tibetan Flag in Tibet in the 1940s

Timelines of Tibet’s history

Tibet has a rich history as a nation, existing side-by-side with China for centuries. In 1950, the newly established Chinese Communist regime decided that Tibet must become a permanent part of the People’s Republic of China and launched an invasion.

For China, possessing Tibet gave access to rich natural resources and allowed it to militarise the strategically important border with India. With 40,000 Chinese troops in its sparsely populated country, the Tibetan government – led by the still teenaged Dalai Lama – was forced to recognise China’s rule in return for promises to protect Tibet’s political system and Tibetan Buddhism.

China failed to keep its promises and ongoing Tibetan resistance came to a head on 10 March 1959. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans surrounded the Potala Palace in Lhasa fearing that the Dalai Lama was about to be kidnapped or assassinated. The uprising was brutally suppressed and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile.

The 10th of March is now commemorated as National Uprising Day by Tibetans and supporters across the world.

To this day Tibet remains an independent state under illegal occupation.

Tibet in the Last Century



Independence Reaffirmed

The Qing emperor abdicated following the establishment of the Republic of China. All Chinese troops were expelled from Lhasa. The Dalai Lama reaffirmed Tibet’s independence saying “We are a small, religious, and independent nation.”




Shimla Treaty

Britain, Tibet and China met to negotiate the borders of India and her northern neighbours. The treaty gave secular control of Qinghai to China and recognised the autonomy of the rest of Tibet. China refused to sign as a result of south Tibet being ceded to British India.




Chinese Invasion

Radio Beijing announced: “The task of the People’s Liberation Army for 1950 is to liberate Tibet.” In October, 40,000 Chinese troops invaded. 15-year-old Tenzin Gyatso was given full powers to rule as the 14th Dalai Lama.




17-Point Agreement

This affirmed Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and stated that China would not “alter the existing political system in Tibet” and that “in matters relating to various reforms in Tibet there would be no compulsion on the part of the central authorities”.




Tibetan National Uprising

As Lhasa became filled with refugees from eastern Tibet, the resistance movement grew. The Chinese responded with widespread brutality. On 10 March, fearful of plans to abduct the Dalai Lama, 300,000 Tibetans surrounded Potala Palace to offer protection. A week later the Dalai Lama fled over the mountains to India.




Famine and Destruction

The Great Leap Forward, Mao’s catastrophic campaign to rapidly transform an agrarian economy into a communist society, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan peasants and nomads. Thousands of monasteries were also destroyed during this period.




Tibet Autonomous Region

One of Tibet’s three provinces, U-Tsang, was formally inaugurated as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Along with Amdo and Kham, historical Tibet was about the size of western Europe. The former was renamed Qinghai and the latter incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan.




The Cultural Revolution

Mao’s movement to enforce communism on every aspect of society led to the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and cultural sites.




The Middle Way

In 1982, a high level Tibetan delegation arrived in Beijing to uphold talks with China. In 1988, the Dalai Lama offered the ‘Strasbourg Proposal’ calling for autonomy over domestic affairs; no progress was made. Also, Qiao Shi, China’s security chief, visited Tibet and vowed to “adopt a policy of merciless repression”.




Tibetan Unrest

Numerous protests across Tibet lead to deaths and political prisoners. On the 30th anniversary of the National Uprising thousands took to the streets. The authorities responded with brutal force, expelled all foreigners and declared martial law. The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.




Religious Repression Intensified

In 1995 six-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima, recognised as the 11th Panchen Lama, became the world’s youngest political prisoner when he was taken by Chinese authorities. The following year China launched a patriotic re-education campaign.




Global Protests, Beijing Olympics

Observance of National Uprising Day led to widespread protests across Tibet. A brutal crackdown is initiated by the authorities. Protests supporting Tibet erupted in cities across North America and Europe, targeting Chinese embassies and the Olympic torch relay.




Self-Immolation Protests

On 16 March 2011 a young monk from Kirti Monastery named Phuntsog set himself on fire in Ngaba. Since then, there have been over 135 self immolation protests. Self-immolation protests peaked in 2012 when more than 80 took place. There have been far fewer since 2013 but they are still a feature of Tibetan resistance. These acts, along with other significant protests over the last few years, demonstrate Tibetans’ fundamental rejection of Chinese rule.




New Forms of Protest

Since the violent response to the widespread protests of 2008, large protests have continued occasionally but Tibetans have also sought new ways to defend their identity and basic rights. This has included nomads protecting their land by blocking the arrival of construction vehicles, young people walking down the street with the Dalai Lama’s banned image, students protesting the replacement of Tibetan language with Chinese in schools, and artists writing poems and songs celebrating Tibet’s culture and nationhood. China has continued to respond to Tibetan protests and expressions of national pride with lethal violence and punitive sentences.


Tibet from 602 to 1904



Imperial Age

The central Tibetan states were united when Namri Songsten became the first king of Tibet. Lhasa was appointed capital and this imperial age continued until 842 when King Langdarma was assassinated.




China-Tibet Peace Treaty

This was signed after 200 years of conflict over border regions. It established Tibet as independent with its own inviolable territory: “Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet and Chinese shall be happy in China.”




Mongol Invasions

Mongols invaded in 1240 and 1244. In 1247, Mongol prince Godan Khan met Tibetan lama Sakya Pandita. Sakya yielded Tibet and Khan converted to Buddhism with Sakya as his spiritual advisor.




Mongolian Yuan Dynasty

Kublai Khan developed a priest-patron relationship with the Sakya Lama. Tibet retained some autonomy and enjoyed religious authority throughout the Mongolian empire. It remained administratively separate from the conquered Chinese provinces.




Ming Dynasty

The Mongol empire in China fell to the ethnic Han Chinese. Tibet had broken from the Mongols prior to this and did not pay tribute to Ming emperors. Chinese scholars argue that lamas accepted titles and that this is evidence of China’s sovereignty at this time – this is disputed.




Dalai Lama Lineage

Mongol ruler Altan Khan bestowed the title Dalai Lama on Sonam Gyatso, leader of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism. In return, the Dalai Lama proclaimed Altan Khan to be a reincarnation of Kublai Khan, which gave legitimacy to his rule.




Manchurian Qing Dynasty

In 1717 the Dzungar Mongols invaded Tibet. The Qing Emperor sent troops and crushed them in 1720. Taking advantage of Tibet’s instability, the Qing then declared Tibet a tributary state and colonised Kham and Amdo, occupying them as the Chinese province of Qinghai in 1724.

This was a period of great change and instability within Tibet and across the region, with the Qing dynasty’s influence extending into Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Nepal and India.





The fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, moved to Lhasa and the Potala Palace was constructed during this period. He is credited with unifying Tibet and establishing diplomatic ties with China, and is known as “the Great Fifth”. He did not kowtow to the emperor.




Waning Qing Dynasty

The influence of the Qing dynasty over Tibet declined in this period, becoming more symbolic from the mid-19th century. The 13th Dalai Lama later described the relationship as that of patron and priest and not based on the subordination of one to the other.




British Invasion

The British expedition was a temporary invasion by British Indian forces under the support of the Tibet Frontier Commission. Their mission was to establish diplomatic relations and resolve the dispute over the border between Tibet and India. In August 1904, the expedition stretched to Gyantse and reached Lhasa. The British mission ended in 1904.


Further reading

Further reading


In Tibet, any sign of loyalty to the Dalai Lama can be met with arrests, lengthy sentences, torture and ‘re-education’ programmes. Despite 70 years of China’s oppressive occupation, Tibetans remain fiercely loyal to their spiritual leader.

Further reading


The Chinese government justifies its occupation by claiming that Tibet has been part of China for around 800 years. Its claim is not supported by the facts.

Further reading


Tibet is located to the southwest of China, also bordering India, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan. The historical territory of Tibet would make it the world’s 10th largest nation by geographical area.

We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.