Tibet History

Tibet history over the last 1500 years covers a complicated relationship with its mighty eastern neighbor China. The political past shows a connection that is not as biased as many now believe it to be. Over many centuries, a power struggle has endured, with the stronghold shifting back and forth as China’s relationships with both the Mongolians and Japanese evolved. An association between China and Tibet first began in 640 AD when the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo united with the daughter of Chinese Emperor Tang Taizong.

Tibetan Empire

Tibetan Empire
Tibetan Empire

Tibetan King Gampo added several Yarlung River Valley sections to Tibet during his reign over his kingdom set amidst the majestic Himalayas, and, over the years, his descendents overthrew a huge Chinese region that today includes the provinces of Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Gansu, all between about 663 and 693. Over centuries to follow, these regions continued to be volatile, changing hands between rulers often. Kashgar is an important point in Tibet history; it was here where the Chinese regained their hold in 692, taking it from the Tibetans. Relations between the two countries have almost always been fairly hostile, with both being occupied by foreign rulers at one point or another. Ghengis Khan, a Mongolian warlord, along with other Mongol heirs, ruled both China and Tibet. In the first part of the 1600s the Manchu Empire, or Qing Dynasty, ruled both China and Tibet from 1644 through to 1911 when the Chinese Revolution began. It was then that the Manchu Empire was struck down and the Tibetan rising against Imperial troops - occupying Lhasa - began. This was the long-awaited road to independence for Tibet.

Chinese Dynasties

Chinese Dynasties
Chinese Dynasties

From the seventh to ninth centuries, the Tang Dynasty ruled. The onslaught of this period is when the Tibetan/Chinese union first took place between Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo and Princess Taizong. The 13th and 14th century saw rule by the Mongol Dynasty, which spread continent-wide. (This is often the point many believe China and Tibet were united, when they were only united by the fact they shared the same authority.) The mighty Mongol confederation defeated both the Jin and the Song Dynasty during this period in Tibet history and also named Tibetan Buddhism their official religion which created a special relationship with the Tibetans. The Ming Dynasty ruled between the 14th and 17th centuries. There is much speculation among scholars on the exact nature of the relationship between Tibetans and the Ming. Many say Tibet conducted its own foreign relations with neighboring countries while other disagree. Some speculate that favorable relationships between Tibetan Lamas and the Ming Court have been mostly left out of historical documents.

Post-1950 Era

Post-1950 Era
Post-1950 Era

From 1950 onward, Tibet experienced significant and volatile historical periods. Both the Chinese Communist invasion and subsequent occupation of Tibet occurred; thousands of temples were destroyed while both civilian and Buddhist monks were killed. The Tibetan revolt between 1956 and 1959 was when the 14th Dalai Lama headed into exile in India while Chinese troops were planning to bomb his residence, the Potala Palce in Lhasa. 

The Chushi Gandrug Resistance Movement from 1956 through 1974 was supported through aid offered by The American C.I.A., just as China and the U.S. began re-establishing a relationship. Weapons supplied by Americans were used by Tibetan guerillas against Chinese occupation until aid was halted in 1970. Tibetan rebels fled to their neighbors in Nepal.

Indigenous People

Indigenous People
Indigenous People

Archaeologists say Tibetans have been in their homeland for about 3,000 years. They are composed of several tribal groups, who as a whole are called Ch’iang. The slow expansion of this large group of people saw a major move along the Tsangpo River Valley, and especially along the Valley of the Kings, or Yarlung Valley area. Today, most indigenous Tibetans reside along the Indu and Tsangpo Rivers where lower elevations and higher rainfall offer ideal agricultural conditions. Indigenous nomadic and semi-nomadic herdsmen live on arid, alpine Changtang Plateau in the north. The two largest cities of Shigatse and Lhasa are also home to many indigenous Tibetan people.

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