The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional National Autonomy was not implemented in Tibet and instead under Mr Chen Kuiyuan’s regime the rights of the Tibetan people have been suppressed and there has been growing unrest.

China regards ethnic relationships as “plurality and unity within the configuration of the Chinese nation.”  The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has developed policies in line with this view including policies about self-governance of ethnic minorities and religious freedom, preservation of ethnic cultures and language. Under the hardliners rule of the Mao era, the Tibetan ethic regions were strategically divided into five different provinces in order to minimise the Tibetan unrest. This made it more difficult for the liberal minded leaders in the 1980s to implement the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional National Autonomy” (LRNA), which is a law establish to determine the rights to pursue autonomy of ethnic minorities. These more reformist leaders, including Hu Yaobang and the tenth Panchen Lama, tried to rule Tibet within the framework of LRNA when they were working with the Tibetan people in 1980s. However, between 1992 to 2000, Chen Kuiyuan, a hardliner among the communist party, reversed their reform’s when he was acting as the General Secretary of Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Thus the more liberal policies regarding culture and religion instigated by Hu Yaobang and the Panchen Lama were lost. Chen’s policy targeted the Tibetan culture by attacking the religious community, intellectuals, the education sector and the Dalai Lama. Chen’s attack on Tibetan culture began in the TAR in 1994 and it spread to other Tibetans regions.  In this way the PRC failed to deliver the provision of LNRA. This has resulted in constant unrest amongst the Tibetan people and in 2008 the Tibetan unrest took the form of a mass protest against PRC’s rule and presently Tibetans are taking drastic action such as self-immolation to protest against PRC rule.

The Law of the Peoples Republic of China of Regional National Autonomy (LRNA) was developed during the reform period in order to give the right to ethnic minorities to be autonomous within the Chinese nation.  However, many of these laws have not been implemented in the Tibetan ethnic regions due to the geographical division of the Tibetan regions into different provinces, lack of self-governance and cultural assimilation by individual leader’s policies. An example of an article of the LRNA, which has not been implemented in Tibetan regions, is article 4 which states, “The organs of self-government of a national autonomous area shall exercise the function and powers of the local organs of states”.[1] This is an important law that allows national autonomous areas to self govern. This law has not been implemented in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) as the highest position of General Communist Party secretary has never been held by a Tibetan and has been always held by a Han Chinese since 1959. This is significant because the General Secretary of the party is the highest representation of the TAR to the central government, therefore the most powerful position in the TAR and this position has the power to make major political decisions which impact on Tibetans.

The issue of self-governance is important because the Tibetan and Han Chinese have vastly different culture, language and religion. This is a barrier for Han officials who do not speak Tibetan language nor understand their cultural needs. The significance of having a non-Tibetan ruler a Tibetan ethnic region was highlighted in the late 1980’s when Hu Jintao was the general communist party secretary of TAR in 1988 to 1992.[2] During that time, the Tibetans protested against Chinese rule in Tibet and they demanded a genuine self-government in Tibet. However, in response to this demonstration, the Chinese authorities heavily cracked down on the protests and many Tibetans were killed. In this case, Hu Jintao failed to assess people’s need and failed to negotiate with Tibetan people, and instead he responded with force. This was violation of the human rights of Tibetans and Hu Jintao was directly responsible.  This highlights the problem of not having a Tibetan leader ruling over a Tibetan ethnic area.

The Tibetan people have asked for autonomy with self-governance under a single administration for all ethnic Tibetans who live cross the region but this has been denied.[3] Currently Tibetans live in five different provinces, the TAR, Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan. This is a problem because in order for Tibetans to effectively self govern, they need to be under a single administration, because decisions made in one region, such as the TAR, do not impact the Tibetans who live outside of TAR. The division of the Tibetan regions under different administrations affects Tibetans in their daily lives, for example, traditionally Tibetans have travelled between the Tibetan ethnic areas for cultural, work, study and religious purposes. For example, a monk who lives outside the TAR may travel to Lhasa in the TAR to pursue further monastic studies, however, because it is under a different administration, they are unable to live there permanently. This is in contrast to the Inner Mongolia and Uyghur regions, which have been given autonomy under a single administration. Therefore, in order to effectively self govern, and to allow traditional regions of common cultural heritage to be united and to allow free access between these areas for cultural and economic purposes it would be better to unite the Tibetan regions under a single administration.

Religious freedom in Tibet is a critical issue that has lead to civil unrest. The Tibetan people are deeply religious minded people and Buddhism is the main religion in Tibet. The provision of the article 11 of the LNAR provides freedom of religion and states that the government will not interfere with individuals or organisational religious activities.[4] However, this article has not been implemented in Tibet and many Tibetans have been punished based on their beliefs. For example, the Dalai Lama has been the spiritual leader of Tibet since the sixteenth century and there is an unbreakable relationship between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. However, the Tibetan people are not allowed to keep Dalai Lama’s picture in their home and if they do, they risk imprisonment. The Chinese Government have denied the religious traditions of the Tibetan Buddhists in the traditional way of selecting spiritual leaders (Lama’s). An example of this is the PRC’s interference in the selection of the 11th Panchen Lama, who is the second highest spiritual leader in Tibet. They denied the Tibetan people selection of the Panchen Lama and they selected a different boy.[5] This is a clear interference of the government into the religious activities of the Tibetan people.

During the reform era, some liberal minded people such as the Chinese Hu Yaobang and the tenth Panchen Lama created new initiatives to preserve Tibetan culture and religion. In particular their policies were in accordance with article 10 of LNAR which states:

The organ of self-government of national autonomous areas shall guarantee the freedom of the nationalities in these areas to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and their freedom to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs.[6]

In the 1980’s under Hu Yaobang and Panchen Lama’s leadership, strategies for economic recovery and cultural restoration were made in order to help the Tibetan people to recover from the culture destruction inflicted by the Cultural Revolution. They established Tibetan schools and Tibetan universities, which educated Tibetans in their traditional arts including Tibetan medicine.[7]  Their programs produced many Tibetan scholars with expertise in traditional knowledge and in various fields. When Hu Yaobang visited to Lhasa in 1980, he made significant changes amongst the officials by removing 50 percent of the Chinese officials from Lhasa and replaced them with senior Tibetan officials. He made a famous speech in Lhasa in which he stated, “To exercise nationality autonomy in the region fully -that is to say, to let the Tibetans really be master of their own lives”[8]. The Tibetans through out the regions welcomed this statement. The Dalai Lama has expressed that Hu Yaobang actions were based on the Tibetan people’s needs.

The policies initiated by the Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping, along with 10th Panchen Lama would have been very effective if the authorities had genuinely implemented and sustained them. However, these policies were not continued due to a change in leaders. In 1992 to 2002 the communist party general secretary of TAR was Chen Kuiyuan, who was known to be a hardliner amongst the PRC leaders. He created major new policies, which discriminated against the Tibetan culture and religion. He described the Tibetan Buddhist faith as the ultimate threat to Tibet’s separation from China.[9] Therefore Chen Kuiyuan established various policies on Tibet, which focused on anti Dalai Lama propaganda, the destruction of Tibetan culture, the restriction of Tibetan intellectuals and the encouragement of Han migration into Tibetan regions to outnumber the local Tibetans.[10] Although none of Chen’s policies were in accordance with the LNAR, the PRC let him to carry these extremely harsh policies in Tibet. These unprecedented hardliner policies applied onto ethnic Tibetans, in the post reform era, became a source of deep dissent among Tibetans.

Tibetan Buddhist culture was targeted under the leadership of Chen. He established re-education programs in which communist party officials were sent to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries and promoted PRC propaganda. As part of this re-education program, the monks and the nuns had to swear their allegiance to the PRC over Buddhism. These intensive sessions have been carried out every year for two or three months since 1994. These tactics were used during the culture revolution to change people’s ideology and they are still being used in Tibet to control Tibetans. This policy was started in the TAR and became a precedent and has spread all over the Tibetan ethnic regions. This has created resentment and distrust towards PRC, which lead to the 2008 Tibetan protests against the PRC’s rule in Tibet.

Under Chen’s leadership in the TAR, many Tibetan intellectual writers, singers and teachers were viciously attacked. For example, Tsering Woser was the editor of the Chinese language journal based in Lhasa the Tibetan literature but the authorities dismissed her position as editor and banned her published Chinese language books[11]. Woser is currently living in Beijing but she faces constant harassment by the authorities and is regularly under house arrest. In 2008 there were many Tibetan writers and singers arbitrarily arrested because of their writing or their composition of Tibetan songs. One of these scholars of the Tibetan language, Shog Dung, published a book the Division of Heaven and Earth in 2009, after which he was arrested[12]. These kinds of attacks on Tibetan intellectuals are very common in Tibet.

Chen established a strategic policy to assimilate the Tibetans into the Han Chinese population, which was the strategy he used in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region when he was the general secretary of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. In Inner Mongolia, the majority of the population these days are Han Chinese and the Mongols are losing their language and culture. Under Chen’s leadership in the TAR he encouraged mass migration of Han Chinese into Tibet. The building of the rail link from Gormo to Lhasa was portrayed as sign of economic development in Tibet but instead it has been used to transport Han migrants’ workers and Han tourists into the TAR. In 2006, it transported 1.5 million passengers to Lhasa, of which 40 precent were tourists and 30 present business people and migrant workers and the rest were students and traders etc.[13] These numbers did not include military transportation and if it had included military transportation then this number would significant higher because there is a large number of military base in Tibet. As result of mass Han migration, the local Tibetans are losing their cultural identity including language, which was Chen’s strategic plan to assimilate Tibetans with Han.

Chen’s hardline policies in Tibet were the major stimulus for the 2008 Tibetan protests against Chinese rule. These were the biggest Tibetan protests against PRC’s rule in Tibet since 1959. The protests started in Lhasa in the TAR and spread across all the other Tibetan regions. The protests took place in the most suppressed regions, Ngaba in Sichuan province, Labrang in Gansu province, and Rebkong in Qingghai province.[14] These areas were the key places where there had been a revival of the Tibetan culture and religion during the reform era. However, Chen’s model of hardliner policies has spread to these areas and thus the Tibetan people in these areas are the most repressed by the authorities. Therefore, the Tibetans of Ngaba, Rebkong and Labrang areas were the major sites of protest against Chinese rule in 2008.

The continuation of this authoritarian regime in Tibet has created resentment among the younger generation of Tibetans. Today the protests against the PRC’s rule have become more desperate and taken the form of self-immolations. There have been 36 Tibetans self-immolations in the recent years as a protest against these hardliner policies.[15] The majority of the protestors are under the age of 30. These desperate acts demonstrate that the current policies in Tibet have failed. The Tibetans are frustrated and despairing at the repression in their daily life that they feel self-immolation is the only way to express their desperation.

The continuation of these hardliner policies in Tibet and the lack of the implementation of the LRNA, which was established to protect the rights of minorities, are driving Tibetans further away from being unified under the Chinese nation. The repression of the Tibetans over many years, the lack of self governance and destruction of their culture and religion which is entitled to them under the LRNA, has lead to a sense of distrust of the PRC. This is driving patriotism among the Tibetans. Tibetans feel they are discriminated and excluded from the Chinese nation which is leading to a growing movement for independence from China.

The LRNA has not been implemented in Tibetan ethnic regions. In particular, the articles relating to self-governance, the right to practice religion and the preserve ethnic culture have not been implemented. During the reform era of the 1980’s, there was some restoration of the cultural and religious destruction, which was committed in the pre reform era, initiated by the Hu Yaobang and Panchen Lama. However, in the 1990’s, Chen Kuiyuan became the General Secretary of TAR and he created new policies which replaced the policies developed by Hu Yaobang and the 10th Panchen Lama regarding the preservation of Tibetan culture and religion. Chen established a strategy to eliminate the Tibetan identity through attacks on religion, culture and language, by targeting Tibetan intellectuals, religious groups and schools. Chen’s model of cultural destruction spread to other Tibetan regions. As result, Tibetan’s are frustrated with the destruction of their culture, religion, language and ethnic identity. This was one of the major causes for the 2008 Tibetans protest against the PRC’s rule in Tibet. Since this time the protest’s have been continued in Tibet but devastatingly they are now taking the form of desperate acts such as self-immolation.


Ma, R. A New Perspective in Guiding Ethnic Relations in the Twenty-first Century: ‘De-politicization’ of Ethnicity in China. Asian Ethnicity 8, No. 3, (2007): pp. 199-217.

Mackerras, Colin. China’s minority cultures: Identities and integration since 1912. New York: St. Martin’s press. 1995.

Mackerras, C. (1995). China’s Minority Cultures: Identities and Integration Since 1912. New York: St. Martin’s Press. (2003), China’s ethnic minorities and globalization. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

60 Year of Chinese Misrule Arguing Culture Genocide in Tibet, The International Campaign for Tibet, 2012, (accessed April 28, 2012).


Norbu, Dawa. “1995. Han Hegemony and Tibetan Ethnicity”. International Studies 32 no. 3 (1995): 297-314.

Anonymous. “Lamas at Loggerheads; China, Tibet and the Dalai Lama”. The Economist (US) 400  no 8747 (2011): 39.


Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional national Autonomy. China. Org, CN, 1984. (accessed April 21, 2012).

Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People, The Central Tibetan Administration, 2008. (accessed April 24, 2012).

The Chinese Frontiersman and the Winter Worms -Chen Kuiyuan in the T.A.R.,1992-2000, Columbia University, 2001. (accessed April 24 2012).

[1] Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional national Autonomy. China. Org, CN, 1984. (accessed April 21, 2012).

[2] Norbu, Han Hegemony and Tibetan Ethnicity, 16.

[3] Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People, The Central Tibetan Administration, 2008. (accessed April 24, 2012).

[4] Article 11, Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional national Autonomy. China. Org, CN, 1984. (accessed April 21, 2012).

[5] Anonymous. “Lamas at Loggerheads; China, Tibet and the Dalai Lama”, 39

[6] Article 37, Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional national Autonomy. China. Org, CN, 1984. (accessed April 21, 2012).

[7] The Chinese Frontiersman and the Winter Worms -Chen Kuiyuan in the T.A.R.,1992-2000, Columbia University, 2001. (accessed April 24 2012).

[8] The Chinese Frontiersman and the Winter Worms -Chen Kuiyuan in the T.A.R.,1992-2000, Columbia University, 2001. (accessed April 24 2012).

[9] The Chinese Frontiersman and the Winter Worms -Chen Kuiyuan in the T.A.R.,1992-2000, Columbia University, 2001.

[10] Ibid.

[11] 60 Year of Chinese Misrule Arguing Culture Genocide in Tibet, The International Campaign for Tibet, 2012, (accessed April 28, 2012).

[12] Ibid, 102.

[13] Ibid, 97.

[14] Ibid, 85.

[15] 60 Year of Chinese Misrule Arguing Culture Genocide in Tibet, The International Campaign for Tibet, 2012, (accessed April 28, 2012).

About Himalayansun

I am passionate about human rights.
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