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Despite 70 years of Chinese oppression, Tibet continues to resist

Seven decades ago this week, the Chinese army invaded Tibet, a region that had been effectively independent since the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. But, since no country recognised Tibetan independence, China could go into the region unhindered, moulding Tibet into the province-like dependency it is today. After a vicious civil war with the Nationalists that ended with the victory of China’s Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, Mao Zedong moved contingents of the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) to the west, to conquer Tibet, an area China had claimed for centuries.After the fall of the Qing dynasty, central control had weakened, and Tibetans had tried, in vain, to establish their own state.But as no Chinese troops were strong enough to occupy the territory, Lhasa, ruled by religious Lamas, operated as a de facto independent state for four decades.”Even the Chinese will accept, reluctantly, that it was de factoin practice independent from at least 1912,” says Robert Barnett, currently a visiting scholar with the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London. But in October 1950, the status quo came to an abrupt end.”The PLA were on the border of Tibet and China, and they had to try and carry out that invasion before the winter of 1950 set in,” says Barnett.”It was quite difficult for them.” The troops, worn out after years of civil war, did not make it into central Tibet. The rest of the region, and the capital, Lhasa, remained untouched – for “at least another year”.”During that year, they persuaded the Tibetans to agree to surrender,” Barnett says.”They had no choice,” as none of the big powers of the time, the UK, the US, India, or neighboring Nepal, had recognised Tibet as an independent state.