Introduction to Tibet

“Tibet today is one of the most repressed and closed societies in the world.”
Senator Robert Menendez, Chair of US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 2012

Photo credit Pedro SaraviaChina invaded Tibet in 1950. Its occupation has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and the imprisonment and torture of thousands more.

After a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India followed by over 100,000 Tibetans.

Since 1959, Tibetans have continued to oppose and resist China’s rule and China has responded with intense repression.


  • Free Tibet uses the term ‘Tibet’ to refer to the three original provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo.
  • When the Chinese refer to Tibet, they invariably mean the Tibet Autonomous Region or TAR, which includes only U-Tsang.
  • The Chinese renamed Amdo as the province of Qinghai and Kham was incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan.


In 2014, US think tank Freedom House ranked Tibet among the twelve worst countries in the world for repression of political and civil rights.

See below for a summary of the challenges faced by Tibetans as a result of China’s occupation. For more detailed information, use the menu on the left.

Economic discrimination

Photo credit Jim McGill

  • The language of business in Tibet is now Chinese. Many Tibetans are not literate in Chinese and are disadvantaged in business and the jobs market.
  • Most Tibetans work in agricultural sector while most economic activity outside of agriculture is controlled by the central government or state owned corporations.
  • In urban centres Tibetans are a minority as a result of Chinese encouragement of ethnic Chinese migration.
  • Most tourist activity is located in urban centres where the main employees are ethnic Chinese migrants.
  • The Chinese government has forced thousands of Tibetans to abandon their traditional rural nomadic lifestyle and move into new housing colonies or towns. Many of these people do not have the skills or experience to compete for jobs in the urban environment.

Religious suppression

  • Since 1949, the Chinese have destroyed over 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and shrines.
  • By 1978 only 8 monasteries and 970 monks and nuns remained in the TAR.
  • The number of monks and nuns allowed to enter monasteries and nunneries is limited. Any reference or images of the Dalai Lama are banned.
  • The Chinese government places officials in every monastery to monitor and often to control religious activity.

Read more about the treatment of monks and nuns in Tibet.

Political oppression

  • The Chinese have responded to uprisings with extreme violence and around 300,000 Chinese soldiers are posted in Tibet.
  • Tibetans are subject to intense surveillance of their daily activities and communications.
  • China has repeatedly violated UN conventions through extensive use of torture against Tibetan political prisoners – often monks or nuns.
  • Tibet is governed directly by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. No Tibetan has ever been appointed Party Secretary – the most senior government post – in the TAR.

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