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Sinicization of Tibet

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Title: Sinicization of Tibet  
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Subject: Human rights in Tibet, History of Tibet (1950–present), 2008 Tibetan unrest, History of Tibet, 1987–89 Tibetan unrest
Collection: Cultural Assimilation, Tibet
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Sinicization of Tibet

The sinicization of Tibet is a term used by some critics of Chinese rule in Tibet to refer to the cultural assimilation that have occurred in Tibetan areas of China (including Tibet Autonomous Region and surrounding Tibetan-designated autonomous areas) which have made these areas more closely resemble mainstream Chinese society. They say that these changes have been most evident since the incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China in 1950/51 and have been facilitated by a broad range of active economic, social, cultural and political reforms introduced to Tibetan areas by the Chinese Government over the last six decades. Critics also point to the government-sponsored migration of large numbers of Han Chinese into the Tibet Autonomous Region as a major component of sinicization.

The government of Tibet in exile alleges that the consequence of Chinese policies is the disappearance of certain elements of Tibetan culture, which has sometimes been very controversially termed "cultural genocide".[1][2] It says that these policies intend to make Tibet an integral part of China in order to control any desire for Tibetan self-determination.

On the other hand, the Chinese government argues that its policies have been highly beneficial to Tibet and that any cultural and social changes are the inevitable consequences of modernization. It says that Tibet's economy has expanded and that improved basic services and infrastructure projects have led to significant improvement in quality of living among Tibetans, while the Tibetan language and culture have been protected.


  • History 1
    • Early developments 1.1
    • Cultural Revolution 1.2
    • Recent Developments 1.3
  • Education and Employment 2
  • Population growth 3
  • Controversy 4
  • See also 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7


Early developments

In the decades preceding 1950, after the collapse of Sichuan, and west Kham part of the newly established Tibet Autonomous Region.[3]

During the Republic of China era following the fall of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century, the Chinese Muslim General Ma Bufang, warlord and Governor of Qinghai is accused by Tibetans of having carrying out Sinicization and Islamification policies in Tibetan areas, spreading along Chinese holidays like New Year and Chinese celebrations along with the Islamic religion and making them marry non Tibetans.[4] Forced conversion and heavy taxes were reported under his rule.[5]

China calls the entry of its army into Tibet in 1950 a "peaceful liberation"; the government of Tibet in exile calls it an "invasion" and "colonization". However, the Chinese government points to population increases and quality of life improvements as justifications for their assertion of power in the historically Chinese-claimed region.

Prior to the invasion, the economy of Tibet was dominated by subsistence agriculture. Thus, the stationing of 35,000 Chinese troops in the 1950s weighed heavily on the food supplies in Tibet. At Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama's visit to Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1954, Mao informed him that he would migrate 40,000 Chinese farmers to Tibet.[6][7][8]

In the 1960s, as part of Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, Chinese authorities forced Tibetan farmers to cultivate maize instead of barley, the traditional crop of the Himalaya region. However, like many of the policies implemented during the Great Leap Forward, the decision proved to be disastrous, resulting in the failing of the harvest and the starving of thousands of Tibetans.[9][10]

Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution was a revolution involving students and laborers of the Chinese communist party that was initiated by Mao and was carried on by the Gang of Four between 1966 and 1976 with the intention of preserving Maoism as the leading ideology of China. It was an inter-party struggle to eliminate political opposition against Mao.[11]

The Cultural Revolution affected the whole of China and Tibet suffered greatly as a result. Red Guards attacked civilians who were branded traitors to communism. More than six thousand monasteries were looted and destroyed. Monks and nuns were forced to leave their monasteries to "live a normal life", while those who resisted were imprisoned. Prisoners were forced into hard labor, tortured, and executed. The Potala Palace was nearly harmed, but the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai prevented the Tibetan Red Guards from causing damage.

Recent Developments

China's "National Strategic Project to Develop the West", launched in the 1980s following the end of the Cultural Revolution, encourages the migration of Chinese people from other regions of China into Tibet, luring them there with attractive bonuses and favorable living conditions. Often, people volunteer to be sent there as teachers, doctors and administrators to assist in the development of Tibet.[12] Citing the low quality of the labour force and less-developed infrastructure, the Chinese government has encouraged an in-flow of migrants to stimulate competition and to transform Tibet from a traditional planned economy to a market economy in line with the rest of China.[13]

Since the end of the 1990s, ethnic Tibetans have become a minority in the "Greater Tibet" as claimed by Tibetan exile groups; as of 2003, the population consisted of an estimated 6 million ethnic Tibetans and 7.5 million non-Tibetans of different ethnic groups.[2][14] However, they remain the majority ethnic group by a wide margin in the Tibet Autonomous Region proper, comprising around 93% of the population in 2008.[15]

The 2008 attacks by Tibetans on Han- and Hui-owned property were alleged to be due to the large Han Hui influx into Tibet.[16] George Fitzherbert has said that "Tibetans complain of being robbed of their dignity in their homeland by having their genuinely loved leader incessantly denounced, and of being swamped by Chinese immigration to the point of becoming a minority in their own country."[17] The Chinese government has put significant resources into the development of Tibet in recent years as part of the China Western Development policy. In 2009, the Chinese government invested over $3 billion into the region, 31% more than was invested in 2008.[18] One of the most significant investments is the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, completed in 2006 at a cost of $3.68 billion, leading to an increase of tourists coming from the rest of China.[19] The Shanghai government contributed $8.6 million to the construction of the Tibet Shanghai Experimental School, where 1500 Tibetan students receive an education exclusively in Chinese, with the exception of Tibetan language courses.[20] Some young Tibetans feel that they are both Tibetans and Chinese and are fluent in both Tibetan and Mandarin.[21]

Education and Employment

Since 1949, the Chinese government has used the minority education system to cause Tibetans to acquire the Chinese language. Minority education has therefore been a central aspect of sinicisation pressures. Since the early 2000s, however, there has been a process of tibetanisation of Tibetan education in Qinghai's Tibetan regions. Through the grassroots initiatives of Tibetan educators, Tibetan has been made able available as the main language of instruction in primary, secondary and tertiary education, although more so in some prefectures than in others.[22] However, the Tibetan language remains marginalized in the important realm of government employment, with only a small minority of public service (cadre) positions mandating a Tibetan college degree or Tibetan language skills.[23]

Population growth

In 1949, there were between 300 and 400 Han Chinese residents in Lhasa.[24] In 1950, the town covered fewer than three square kilometres and harboured around 30,000 inhabitants. The Potala Palace and the village of Zhöl below it were considered separate from the city at the time.[25][26] In 1953, according to the first population census, Lhasa numbered about 30,000 residents, including 4,000 beggars and not counting the 15,000 monks.[27]

By 1992, Lhasa's permanent population was estimated at a little under 140,000 people, including 96,431 Tibetans, 40,387 Han Chinese and 2,998 sundry. Added to that figure are perhaps 60,000 and 80,000 temporary residents, for the most part Tibetan pilgrims and traders.[28] In 2008, Lhasa had 400,000 people,[29] with a majority still being Tibetan.


In 1989, Robert Badinter, a high-profile French criminal lawyer, participated in an episode of Apostrophes, a well-known French television program devoted to human rights, in the presence of the 14th Dalaï Lama. Talking about the disappearance of the Tibetan culture in Tibet, Robert Badinter used the term "cultural genocide".[30] Subsequently, for the first time in 1993, the Dalaï Lama used the same term to describe the destruction of the Tibetan culture.[31] More recently, at the time of 2008 Tibetan unrest, he accused the Chinese of Cultural genocide in their crackdown.[32]

In 2008, Professor Robert Barnett, director of the Program for Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, stated that it was time for accusations of cultural genocide to be dropped: "I think we have to get over any suggestion that the Chinese are ill-intentioned or trying to wipe out Tibet."[33] He also voiced his doubts in a book review he published in the New York Review of Books:"Why, if Tibetan culture within Tibet is being 'fast erased from existence', [do] so many Tibetans within Tibet still appear to have a more vigorous cultural life, with over a hundred literary magazines in Tibetan, than their exile counterparts?"[34]

See also

Further reading

  • Fischer, Andrew M. Population and economic foundations of inter-ethnic conflict in the Tibetan areas of Western ChinaUrban Fault Lines in Shangri-La: Crisis States Working Paper No.42, 2004. London: Crisis States Research Centre (CSRC).


  1. ^ Burbu, Dawa (2001) China's Tibet Policy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7007-0474-3, pp 100–124
  2. ^ a b Samdup, Tseten (1993) Chinese population – Threat to Tibetan identity
  3. ^ Burbu, Dawa (2001) China's Tibet Policy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7007-0474-3, pp 86–99
  4. ^ Woser (10 March 2011). "Three Provinces of the Snowland, Losar Tashi Delek!". Phayul. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  5. ^ Blo brtan rdo rje, Charles Kevin Stuart (2008). Life and Marriage in Skya Rgya, a Tibetan Village. YBK Publishers, Inc. p. xiv.  
  6. ^ (German) Forster-Latsch, H. and Renz S., P. L. in Tibet unter chinesischer HerrschaftGeschichte und Politik Tibets/ .
  7. ^ (German) Horst Südkamp (1998), Breviarium der tibetischen Geschichte, p. 191.
  8. ^ (German) Golzio, Karl-Heinz and Bandini, Pietro (2002), Die vierzehn Wiedergeburten des Dalai Lama, Scherz Verlag / Otto Wilhelm Barth, Bern / München, ISBN 3-502-61002-9.
  9. ^ Shakya, Tsering (1999) The Dragon in the Land of Snows, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-7126-6533-9
  10. ^ Stein, Rolf (1972) Tibetan Civilization, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-0806-1
  11. ^ MacFarquhar, Roderick & Michael Schoenhals (2006) Mao's Last Revolution, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-02332-1, p. 102
  12. ^ Peter Hessler (February 1999). "Tibet Through Chinese Eyes". The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  13. ^ Tanzen Lhundup, Ma Rong (25–26 August 2006). "Temporary Labor Migration in Urban Lhasa in 2005". China Tibetology Network. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  14. ^ Pinteric, Uros (2003): Status Of Tibet, Association for Innovative Political Science, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
  15. ^ BBC News . 
  16. ^ "Beijing renews tirade". Sunday Pioneer. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  17. ^ 'To engage with China's arguments concerning Tibet is to be subjected to the kind of intellectual entrapment, familiar in the Palestinian conflict, whereby the dispute is corralled into questions which the plaintiff had never sought to dispute. Tibetans complain of being robbed of their dignity in their homeland by having their genuinely loved leader incessantly denounced, and of being swamped by Chinese immigration to the point of becoming a minority in their own country. But China insistently condemns such complaints as separatism, an offence in China under the crime of 'undermining national unity', and pulls the debate back to one about Tibet's historical status. Foreigners raise questions about human rights and the environment, but China again denounces this as a foreign intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, and pulls the debate back to Tibet's historical status.' George Fitzherbert, 'Land of Clouds', Times Literary Supplement, 30 June 2008 p. 7.
  18. ^ Edward Wong (24 July 2010). "'China’s Money and Migrants Pour Into Tibet'". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  19. ^ Xinhua News Agency (24 August 2005). New height of world's railway born in Tibet. Retrieved 25 August 2005. Archived 25 April at WebCite
  20. ^ Damian Grammaticas (15 July 2010). "Is development killing Tibet's way of life?". BBC. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  21. ^ Hannue (2008). Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han:, ISBN 988-97999-3-6.
  22. ^ Zenz, Adrian (2010). "Beyond Assimilation: The Tibetanisation of Tibetan Education in Qinghai", in Inner Asia Vol.12 Issue 2, pp.293-315
  23. ^ Zenz, Adrian (2014). Tibetanness under Threat? Neo-Integrationism, Minority Education and Career Strategies in Qinghai, P.R. China. Global Oriental.  
  24. ^ Roland Barraux, Histoire des Dalaï Lamas – Quatorze reflets sur le Lac des Visions, Albin Michel, 1993, reprinted in 2002, Albin Michel, ISBN 2-226-13317-8.
  25. ^ Liu Jiangqiang, Preserving Lhasa's history (part one), in Chinadialogue, 13 October 2006.
  26. ^ Emily T. Yeh, Living Together in Lhasa. Ethnic Relations, Coercive Amity, and Subaltern Cosmopolitanism: "Lhasa’s 1950s population is also frequently estimated at around thirty thousand. At that time the city was a densely packed warren of alleyways branching off from the Barkor path, only three square kilometers in area. The Potala Palace and the village of Zhöl below it were considered separate from the city."
  27. ^ Thomas H. Hahn, Urban Planning in Lhasa. The traditional urban fabric, contemporary practices and future visions, Presentation Given at the College of Architecture, Fanzhu University, 21 October 2008.
  28. ^ Heidi Fjeld, Commoners and Nobles. Hereditary Divisions in Tibet, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen, 2005, p. 18.
  29. ^ EN.TIBET.CN (11 January 2008) Tibet gives concern for vehicle exhaust
  30. ^ Les droits de l'homme Apostrophes, A2 – 21 April 1989 – 01h25m56s, Web site of the INA:
  31. ^ 10 March Archive
  32. ^ BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | 'Eighty killed' in Tibetan unrest:
  33. ^ Robert Barnett, Seven Questions: What Tibetans Want, Foreign Policy, March 2008.
  34. ^ Robert Barnett, Thunder for Tibet, a review of Pico Iyer's book, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Knopf, 275 p., in The New York Review of Books, vol. 55, number 9. 29 May 2008.
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