A Brief History of Tibet
Tibet is an ancient nation with a recorded history dating back to 127 B.C.E. After uniting the plateau into a single country, the Tibetan Empire reached its peak during the 7th and 8th centuries, conquering parts of Nepal and India, the Silk Route states, and briefly even T’ang China.
Traditional Tibetan history preserves a lengthy list of rulers whose exploits become subject to external verification in the Chinese histories by the 7th century. From the 7th to the 11th century a series of emperors ruled Tibet – see List of emperors of Tibet – of whom the three most important in later religious tradition were Songtsän Gampo, Trisong Detsen and Ralpacan, ‘the three religious kings’ (mes-dbon gsum), who were assimilated to the three protectors (rigs-gsum mgon-po), respectively Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī and Vajrapāni. Throughout the centuries from the time of the emperor the power of the empire gradually increased over a diverse terrain so that by the reign of the emperor in the opening years of the 9th century, its influence extended as far south as Bengal and as far north as Mongolia.
Perhaps the first historical International Medical Conference was held during the reign of the 33rd Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo (617-650 A.C.E.), the eminent physicians from India Bhardvaj, Han Wang Hang De from China, and Galenos from Persia were invited to share their knowledge with Tibetan physicians. Each physician wrote a treatise that was later incorporated into a seven volume text called the Mijigpe-Tsoncha (A Fearless Weapon), which, was presented to the king. And, In the 8th century, King Trisong-Deutsen invited several great physicians for the second ever known medical conference at Samye, Tibet. In attendance there were eminent physicians from India, China, Persia, East Turkestan, and Nepal. The Elder Yuthog Yonten Gonpo represented Tibet. The conference lasted for several days, during which the delegates discussed the theories and practices of their medical systems in comparison to those of the others. For more information on the History of Tibetan Medicine.
The Tibetan kings imported Buddhism from India from the 6th to the 9th century, and became so devoted to its teachings of nonviolence and enlightenment that they neglected their military empire. Consequently, central rule was largely nonexistent over the Tibetan region from 842 to 1247.
In the 13th century, Tibet surrendered to the Mongols to avoid an invasion and became a tributary to the Mongol Empire until 1368. During China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Tibet was completely independent under three Tibetan ruling houses.
In 1642, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama created the Ganden government, with a unique monastic/secular-coordinated administration. This government demilitarized Tibet and officially formed it into a spiritual nation that supported Buddhist education above all, and was economically self sufficient.
In foreign affairs, the Dalai Lama became the mentor of the new Manchu emperor of Manchuria and China, and received worldly protection for Tibet, in exchange for his providing spiritual teachings to the Manchurians and maintaining the peace with the Mongolians and Uighurs.
In 1904, the British invaded Tibet, to impose trade upon theTibetan government, and to prevent Tibet’s coming under the protection of Russia.
In 1949 and 1950, the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China invaded the eastern provinces of Amdo and Kham.
In 1951, when world governments, including India, England, and the US, declined to confirm Tibet’s inviolate national status, the Chinese government imposed the so-called “17-point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” on the Tibetan government and soon after marched unopposed into the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Resistance to the Chinese occupation escalated, particularly in eastern Tibet, and Chinese repression increased dramatically.
In 1959, China’s military crackdown on rebels in Kham and Amdo led to the “Lhasa Uprising.” Full-scale resistance spread throughout Tibet. Fearing capture of the Dalai Lama, unarmed Tibetans surrounded his residence, and the Dalai Lama fled to India.
Since the invasion, an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans were killed as a result of the Chinese occupation.
Following the Lhasa uprising and the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet in 1959, the government of India accepted the Tibetan refugees. India designated land for the refugees in the mountainous region of Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile are now based.
The plight of the Tibetan refugees garnered international attention when the Dalai Lama, spiritual and religious leader of the Tibetan government in exile, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Prize on the basis of his unswerving commitment to peaceful protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He is highly regarded as a result and has since been received by government leaders throughout the world. Among the most recent ceremonies and awards, he was given the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush in 2007, and in 2006 he was one of only five people to ever receive an honorary Canadian citizenship. The PRC consistently protests each official contact with the exiled Tibetan leader.
The community of Tibetans in exile established in Dharamsala and Karnataka, South India, has expanded since 1959. Tibetans have duplicated Tibetan monasteries in India and these now house tens of thousands of monks. They have also created Tibetan schools and hospitals, and founded the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives — all aimed at continuing Tibetan tradition and culture. Tibetan festivals such as Lama dances, celebration of Losar (the Tibetan New Year), and the Monlam Prayer Festival, continue in exile.