At a state-run boarding school in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, June 2021. Martin Pollard / Reuters

China’s brutal treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang has won tremendous international attention in recent years, with human rights groups decrying the systematic detention in internment camps of a million people, as well as the Chinese state’s attempts to suppress Uyghur culture and the practice of Islam. But the plight of another oppressed ethnic group has flown largely under the radar. In Tibet, the Chinese state has also embarked on a campaign to quash the identity of a distinct people. Its chief weapon in Tibet is not dystopian camps but something seemingly more quotidian: residential schools.

Nearly a million Tibetan children live in state-run residential schools on the Tibetan plateau.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tibetan Buddhist monks celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama, Kathmandu, Nepal, July 2023. Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

In 1954, China’s paramount leader Mao Zedong met Tenzin Gyatso, the then 19-year-old who was the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. “Religion”, Mao acerbically observed to the young Dalai Lama, “is poison”. Five years later, Chinese forces would roll into Tibet and take over the country, driving the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetans into exile. The communists, who espoused atheism and derided religions, sought to yoke Tibet to China by squashing its local culture and historical institutions; destroying Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries, and cultural artifacts; and suppressing the practice of the Tibetan Buddhist faith.

In more recent times, however, Beijing has taken an inordinate interest in the ins and outs of Tibetan Buddhism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Students in a physical education class at the Shangri-La Key Boarding School during a media-organized tour in Sichuan province, China, in September. (Andy Wong/AP)

“Genocide” is a powerful charge, often leveled at repressive regimes and warring states when they are openly mass murdering civilians. But some genocides take place slowly and methodically, without large-scale killing and outside the public’s view.

Tibetans are making a strong case that the Chinese government is attempting to wipe out their national identity — which can qualify as a type of genocide. China’s strategy depends on the world ignoring what it is doing. And, tragically, it seems to be working.

Since China invaded Tibet in 1950 (and later annexed it), Tibetan refugees have worked to defend human rights and national culture in their homeland.…  Seguir leyendo »

The One Million Tibetan Children in China’s Boarding Schools

One day in late November 2016, back home in Tibet, I received a distressing call from my brother telling me I needed to check on his granddaughters. “Something very strange is happening”, he said.

My young relatives, who were 4 and 5 years old at the time, had just enrolled in a boarding preschool that the Chinese government had established in my hometown, Kanlho, a seminomadic region in the northeast corner of the Tibetan plateau. Their new school was one of many — I have personally tracked about 160 in three Tibetan prefectures alone — and part of Beijing’s growing network of preschools in which Tibetan children are separated from their families and communities and assimilated into Chinese culture.…  Seguir leyendo »

L’année ne commence pas partout le même jour. Dans des temps anciens, son début a souvent coïncidé avec l’arrivée du printemps et dans diverses régions du monde, c’est encore ainsi. Quant au peuple Tibétain, il entre ce 12 février, en fonction de calculs liés au calendrier lunaire, dans l’année « Bœuf de Métal ».

Mais le Nouvel an tibétain, le Losar, la plus importante fête tibétaine, pourra-t-il même être célébré ? Si dans la plupart des lieux où vivent les quelque 150’000 Tibétaines et Tibétains qui ont pu fuir leur pays, les mesures sanitaires entravent les rassemblements, dans leur patrie occupée depuis sept décennies, c’est pour des raisons politiques que les réunions sont étroitement surveillées voire interdites.…  Seguir leyendo »

Paramilitary police officers swap positions during a change of guard in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibert, in October. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The world is finally responding to the Chinese government’s mass atrocities against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s northwest province of Xinjiang. But now Beijing is replicating some of its worst practices — including rounding up hundreds of thousands of innocent people in military-style reeducation camps — in other parts of China. This year, Beijing built and filled massive camps in Tibet, which had been the original testing ground for cultural genocide, political indoctrination and forced labor. Tibetan leaders are pleading for the world to pay attention.

“When it comes to human rights violations in China, Tibet was Patient Zero,” Lobsang Sangay, the president of the Tibetan government in exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration, told me during a visit to Washington last week.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Chinese government is forcing Tibetans to give up herding and farming to become wage laborers, cutting them off from ancient traditions and sacred landscapes. And that’s just the point. Credit Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua, via Getty Images

Before Xinjiang, there was Tibet. Repressive policies tested there between 2012 and 2016 were then applied to the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in northwestern China: entire cities covered in surveillance cameras, ubiquitous neighborhood police stations, residents made to report on another other.

Now that process also works the other way around. Xinjiang’s coercive labor program — which includes mandatory training for farmers and herders in centralized vocational facilities and their reassignment to state-assigned jobs, some far away — is being applied to Tibet. (Not the internment camps, though.)

Call this a feedback loop of forcible assimilation. It certainly is evidence of the scale of Beijing’s ruthless campaign to suppress cultural and ethnic differences — and not just in Tibet and Xinjiang.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tourists take photos of the Potala Palace beneath a security camera in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Sept. 19, 2015. (Aritz Parra/AP)

Last week, China’s National People’s Congress set in motion new, restrictive legislation for Hong Kong. Activists in Hong Kong have already dubbed this move as the final nail in the coffin of the Basic Law, which guaranteed the people of Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy to govern their own affairs.

Beijing has previously made promises of autonomy in other restive regions — like Tibet. Grasping how Chinese leaders have repeatedly offered Tibetan autonomy, only to rescind it, reveals what the future might hold for Hong Kong.

China annexed Tibet in 1951

Following a brief military campaign in Tibet, in 1951 Mao Zedong promised the rooftop of the world the right to self-governance — if Tibet in return accepted it would become a part of the newly founded People’s Republic of China.…  Seguir leyendo »

Las relaciones entre la India y China no han sido particularmente cálidas en los últimos meses. Pero recientemente han entrado en una fase gélida en la que los líderes chinos están furiosos por la visita del Dalai Lama al estado de Arunachal Pradesh, en el nordeste de la India -estado que China reclama como propio-. El 8 de abril, en medio de fuertes protestas por parte del gobierno de China, el Dalai Lama habló ante devotos provenientes de todas partes en el monasterio histórico en la ciudad fronteriza de Tawang, donde nació el sexto Dalai Lama hace más de tres siglos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Portraits by Liu Yi of Tibetans who have self-immolated, in his studio, Beijing, December 25, 2012. Andy Wong/AP Images

February 27, 2009, was the third day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. It was also the day that self-immolation came to Tibet. The authorities had just cancelled a Great Prayer Festival (Monlam) that was supposed to commemorate the victims of the government crackdown in 2008. A monk by the name of Tapey stepped out of the Kirti Monastery and set his body alight on the streets of Ngawa, in the region known in Tibetan as Amdo, a place of great religious reverence and relevance, now designated as part of China’s Sichuan Province.

At least 145 other Tibetans have self-immolated since then.…  Seguir leyendo »

Le toit du monde. C’est ainsi que l’on appelle le Tibet depuis longtemps. C’est une expression qui évoque des images de sommets enneigés, de pics montagneux, de glaciers, d’étendue de permafrost [un sol dont la température se maintient en dessous de 0 °C pendant plus de deux ans consécutifs] et de nomades vivant des ressources locales. Mais un toit, c’est aussi le symbole de la maison, du foyer, c’est la structure qui protège ceux qui y vivent. Et, comme chacun sait, si le toit va mal, c’est toute la maison qui est en danger. Les glaciers du Tibet sont en train de fondre, le monde doit le savoir.…  Seguir leyendo »

The 80th birthday Monday of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, is an occasion to celebrate the life of an extraordinary individual. Since his flight from Tibet to India in 1959, the Dalai Lama has built religious, educational and political institutions to serve and unite the Tibetan community in exile. He has travelled the world to promote the Tibetan cause and expound the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. And he has formulated a conciliatory “Middle Way Approach” to resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict that respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity even as it seeks to preserve Tibet’s culture, religion and identity. These accomplishments, and the Dalai Lama’s infectious laugh and warmth, explain why he is such a beloved and respected figure throughout the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Beijing has no shortage of issues to confront. There's the South China Sea, uncontrollable corruption, a slowing economy and factional disputes within the party and military. But Chinese officials also face one of the most difficult challenges in modern statecraft: how to conquer a myth.

Despite China's attempts to dislodge its mythic appeal, Tibet as Shangri-La seems firmly set in the world's imagination. The once-independent nation, set high on a broad plateau adjacent to the Himalayas, is a worldwide symbol of mystery, aspiration, spirituality and possibility. World leaders remain eager to meet with its exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who can fill auditoriums anywhere he travels.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Feb. 27, 2009, three days into the Tibetan New Year, a 24-year-old monk in his crimson and yellow robe emerged from the confines of the Kirti Monastery into the streets of Ngawa, in a the Tibetan area of southwestern China. There, in the shadow of a 98-foot-tall monument to the gods of longevity, the man burst into flames — thus sparking the first of many self-immolations that spread across the Tibetan regions of China.

The New Year celebrations had been muted, as Tibetans privately remembered those who had suffered in a harsh Chinese crackdown on Tibetans a year earlier — all of those who were murdered, jailed or disappeared.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nationalism arouses solidarity and generates identity politics that threaten ethnic and religious minorities. Defining the “we” also defines the “they” — and the latter is inexorably marginalized.

Identity politics carry with them a high risk of sectarian or communal violence. State abuses of authority, and impunity for abusers, often transform grievances into a shared collective identity among victimized minorities, generating defiance, militancy and a cycle of violence.

China’s Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang, and Buddhist Tibetans, are resisting assimilation despite sustained efforts by ethnic Han Chinese. Both groups harbor strong resentments against Han-ification that sometimes erupt into violence — direct action that’s quickly suppressed by security officials.…  Seguir leyendo »

Around noon on Feb. 19, an 18-year-old named Nangdrol set himself on fire near the Zamthang Monastery in the northeast Tibetan town of Barma. In a note left behind, he wrote, “I am going to set myself on fire for the benefit of all Tibetans.” Referring to China’s ethnic Han majority as “devils,” he added, “It is impossible to live under their evil law, impossible to bear this torture that leaves no scars.”

Over the last three years, close to 100 Tibetan monks and laypeople have set themselves on fire; 30 people did so between Nov. 4 and Dec. 3. The Chinese government is seeking to halt this wave of self-immolations by detaining Tibetans it accuses of being instigators.…  Seguir leyendo »

Since 2009, 43 Tibetans have set themselves on fire while shouting slogans for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and crying for freedom for Tibetans. These people include monks, nuns, nomads and students. Two were mothers. All but 11 have died. Yet their actions and the issue of Tibet have not generated the commensurate attention or support. Instead, the Chinese government casts blame on these Tibetans and refuses to examine the root causes of their actions.

Despite repeated appeals by the central Tibetan administration, which is based in India, to refrain from such drastic actions, Tibetans persist in self-immolations.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the early 1980s, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, I wore a "Free Tibet" patch on my backpack. Two summers ago, when I returned to my old Nepalese village with my 16-year-old daughter, she affixed the same words to her water bottle.

And still, Tibet is not free.

In fact, it's less so. My Peace Corps years corresponded to a brief period of liberalization in Tibet, following the death of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong. But the Chinese cracked down in the late 1980s and early 1990s, restricting religious practice and Tibetan language instruction. Chinese authorities imposed martial law in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa after riots in 1989 and again in 2008, when hundreds of protesters were killed or detained by security forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

Il y a trois ans, de Lhassa à Litang, les Tibétains se soulevaient contre la domination chinoise au Tibet. Nous n'encourageons pas les manifestations, mais il est de notre devoir sacré d'apporter notre soutien et d'être la voix de nos courageux compatriotes privés de parole.

En 1950, lorsque l'armée chinoise est entrée au Tibet, les Chinois ont promis le "paradis socialiste" aux Tibétains. Après plus de soixante ans de domination chinoise, le Tibet n'a rien d'un paradis socialiste. Ce n'est pas le socialisme qui y règne, mais le colonialisme ; au lieu d'un paradis, on n'y trouve que tragédie. Le gouvernement chinois devrait s'en rendre compte.…  Seguir leyendo »

Three years ago, Tibetans from Lhasa to Lithang rose up against Chinese rule in Tibet. Earlier this week, a Tibetan monk set himself on fire — the second self-immolation this year, and a testament to China’s continuing repression and Tibetans’ continued resistance. We do not encourage protests, but it is our sacred duty to support our voiceless and courageous compatriots.

In 1950, when the Chinese Army first came to Tibet, they promised a socialist paradise for Tibetans. After more than 60 years of misrule, Tibet is no socialist paradise. There is not socialism but colonialism; there is no paradise, only tragedy.…  Seguir leyendo »