A Preliminary Survey of China’s Genocide Campaign in Tibet: 1950 to 2023


The International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (ICJ), in their report on Tibet of June 24, 1959, stated that there was prima facie ev­idence that Communist China had “…committed acts of genocide in Tibet, with the intention of destroying the Tibetan nation and the Buddhist religion in Tibet.”[1] The situation has progressively worsened. Right now in 2023, a systematic but low-profile genocide program is being carried out throughout Tibet.


Following the March ‘59 Uprising, and the escape of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese occupation authorities imposed punitive measures on the Tibetan population, confiscating food grain from individual farmers and emptying district, monastic, and central government granaries all over Tibet, where, according to the Dalai Lama “food supplies had been sufficient for centuries.”[2] By the end of 1959 young children and the old began to die. In the following years full-scale famine hit the Tibetan population.

Some see this tragedy as part of the Great Chinese Famine (1959-1962) which killed upwards of 55 million people. But unlike China, no communes had been established in pre-59 Tibet and it had not experienced drought or crop failures. The first major book on China’s famine noted that “…no other group in China suffered more bitterly from the famine than the Tibetans, of whom perhaps one in five died during these years. In the birthplace of the current Dalai Lama in Qinghai province, at lease 50 per cent of the population starved to death.”[3]

Tibet’s famine resulted largely from the confiscation of food grain, which was used (in part) to pay China’s debt to the USSR following the 1956 Sino-Soviet split.[4] “Even in places as far away as Gansu (Amdo), villagers protested that they had to go hungry because Mao was shipping grain to Cuba.”[5] The 10th Panchen Lama in a secret report to Chou Enlai described the uniqueness of the famine that Tibet suffered: “There was never such an event in the history of Tibet.” He added that the famine was “the result of official policies, not of any natural disaster.”[6]  

The famine in Tibet could be compared to Ukraine’s Holodomor or ‘Terror- Famine’ of 1932-34, in which millions of Ukrainians died in Stalin’s genocidal retribution for their independence movement. A unique aspect of the Tibet famine was its duration, which according to China expert Jasper Becker “… was endemic for twenty years.”[7]

MASSACRES 1950 — 1975.

    “It is beyond dispute that there have been massive deaths in Tibet in the period approximately between 1950 and 1975” according to historian Elliot Sperling.[8] Many of these mass killings happened in the wake of uprisings in numerous district and tribal areas of Amdo and Kham, where reprisal campaigns by the Chinese military resulted in wholesale massacres of tribes and communities, comparable to the genocidal massacres of native Americans by the US army at Wounded Knee and Sandy Creek.

Some of these massacres in Tibet had been noted in earlier exile publications as Warriors of Tibet [9] but more recent writings from inside Tibet by Shokdung, Naktsang Nulo etc., and also by non-Tibetan specialists as Francoise Robin, Barbara Demick, Jianglin Li, Benno Weiner and others now provide us better researched information on this tragedy. The exile Tibetan government has compiled a figure of 1.2 million deaths for this period, though one cannot know the exact number without access to Chinese records. Nonetheless historian Sperling has commented “… the fact that a large-scale slaughter took place ought to be unquestioned.”[10]

The late Tenth Panchen Lama denounced China’s genocide in Tibet in Beijing on March 28, 1987. In a speech at a meeting of the TAR Sub-Committee (of the National People’s Congress) in Beijing he said: “In Amdo and Kham, people were subjected to unspeakable atrocities. People were shot… they were massacred with machine guns. They were all buried there.”[11]

Mass executions at Dodé, Lhasa, 1970.


    In May 2012, a mass grave at Nangchen country in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was discov­ered when excavation work for a building project started. Elsewhere in Yushu, in the grasslands near Pal-thang, another construction project uncovered more of the same: three mass burial pits filled with human remains. But not everything had decomposed. There were remnants of the clothes that the victims were wearing when they were thrown in: both lay clothing and monastic robes. The long hair of some of the dead was also still there.

“According to elders these pits were from the 1958 massacres. Several trucks were needed to take the remains away.”[12] Mass graves are still being discovered elsewhere in the Tibetan Plateau in recent years as construction, roadbuilding, and mining has increased with China’s push for “development”.


    Though official data on the killings in Tibet may be unavailable it is possible to gain an understanding of the scale of this conflict through the collated and analyzed results of China’s first reliable census data, derived from China’s 1982 census. The Tibetan Plateau in 1982 shows a widespread imbalance between males and females, an imbalance that can really only be explained by violent struggles and mass killings.

In the published cartographic data[13] the entire PRC is rendered largely blue while the Tibetan Plateau stands out in red as the largest expanse of territory in which the number of women consistently outstripped that of men. Yushu is in the red.

Map of sex ratio in the PRC, Population Atlas of China, 1987


A principal feature of China’s genocide campaign in Xinjiang has been the locking up and “brainwashing” of its ethnic Muslim minority people in numerous “Political Reeducation” camps.

In Tibet such “Political Reeducation” camps have been set up usually within monastery compounds, as many arrested protesters and activists were monks and nuns. In the 80’s such camps were set up in Drepung, Ganden and other monasteries around Lhasa. After the 2008 uprisings reeducation camps were established in various monasteries in Eastern Tibet, notably Kirti monastery in Amdo.

In 2017 a Tibetan monk inmate of a camp at Sog County “reform through re-education center” in Nagchu Prefecture of TAR, managed to smuggle his prison journal out of Tibet, which was obtained by Voice of America. He provides a lengthy account of brutal hardships and torture in the camp.[14]  An independent Indian researcher has reported that internment camps like those built in East Turkestan for the Uyghur population are now spreading into Tibet. “New satellites images show the recent construction of several prison-like camps in Chinese occupied Tibet.”[15]


Many hundreds of thousands of previously self-sustaining Tibetan pastoral and nomad families have and are being forcibly relocated to “urban settlements” that bear a troubling resemblance to old Stalinist labor camps. The architectural scheme is a standard one: row upon row of uniform cinder-block huts often surrounded by high walls, without a temple, a school or even a store. A little distance from the outside walls police cars maintain constant surveillance, as an award winning 2008 British television documentary[16] revealed in chilling detail. Unable to speak or read Chinese the Tibetan inmates of these settlements, particularly the men, are slowly sinking into unemployment, depression, and alcoholism.

The relocation programs which started in the grasslands of Kham and Amdo has now (in 2021) extended to the nomads of theborder regions of Central and Western Tibet for “security reasons.”[17] The latest count is over 1.4 million nomads relocated.


Burning of religious texts in Lhasa 1967

During the Cultural Revolution the Chinese occupation authorities in Tibet, made an extraordinary attempt not only to replace the written Tibetan language with Chinese, but to also forcibly discourage the use of the spoken language throughout the Tibetan plateau.[18] This was in addition to the destruction of many thousands of monastic libraries, large-scale burning of rare and precious traditional literature – when these were not used as toilet paper by Chinese soldiers and officials.[19]

In subsequent decades official campaigns to replace Tibetan with Chinese at schools, colleges, media, government offices and even in law courts in Tibet, have had considerable success. China is resolving this accomplishment with their latest boarding school campaign.


Chinese authorities in Tibet have set up a region-wide network of Chinese language boarding schools for Tibetan children, separating them from their parents and homes to reduce their contact with their native language and culture. For over 800,000 Tibetan children aged 6 to 18,(78% of school going children) attendance is mandatory. Classes in the schools are taught primarily in Chinese and feature intense political indoctrination according to a detailed and authoritative report by Tibet Action Institute.[20]  Time Magazine citing the U.N, claims that “China’s Residential Schools Separate aMillion Tibetan Children From Their Families.”[21]

Starting in the 1880’s children from indigenous communities across Canada were taken from their parents by the government and sent to “boarding schools” funded by the state and run by the Catholic church.These schools were designed to assimilate and Christianize indigenous children. In July 2021 Pope Francis apologized for the boarding school program run by the Catholic Church in Canada for indigenous children. The pontiff specifically stated that genocide had taken place at these schools.[22] In the US there were more than 350 government-funded, and often church-run, Indian Boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries.[23]


Raphael Lemkin the Polish lawyer who coined the term “genocide” and initiated the Genocide Convention in the UN, said: “Genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate violent destruction of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the eventual aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”

[1] International Commission of Jurists. The Question of Tibet and the Rule of Law. Geneva: 1959, p. 206.  

[2] Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, The Free Press, 1996, p166.

[3] Ibid. p.166.

[4] Frank Dekotter, Mao’s Great Famine, Bloomsbury, 2010.

[5] Ibid. p. 114.

[6] https://www.subliminal.org/tibet/testimony/1962-panchen.html

[7] Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, The Free Press, 1996. p.177

[8] Elliot Sperling, “The Body Count”   https://info-buddhism.com/Body_Count-Mass_Death_in_Tibet-Elliot_Sperling.html

[9] Jamyang Norbu, Warriors of Tibet, Wisdom, Boston, 1986

[10] Elliot Sperling, Ibid.

[11] “The Panchen Lama Speaks”, DIIR, Dharamshala, India 1991

[12] Sperling Ibid.

[13] The Population Atlas of China. Oxford University Press, 1987.

[14] https://www.voanews.com/a/tibetan-re-education-camp-journal-tells-of-china-s-tactics-now-used-on-uighurs/4932153.html

[15] https://theprint.in/defence/china-claims-it-has-no-gulags-but-satellite-imagery-shows-3-new-ones-coming-up-in-tibet/190940/

[16] Jezza Neuman & Tashi Despa,, Undercover in Tibet , Channel 4, 2008.

[17] “Forced relocations and militarization of border regions continue in Central Tibet” https://www.tibetwatch.org/news/2021/4/30/forced-relocations-military-buildup-tibet

[18] Pema Bhum, Six Stars with a Crooked Neck: Tibetan Memoirs of the Cultural Revolution,

[19] Anthony P.King, “Tibet Endangered Civilization”, Agenda, March 1998.

[20] “Separated From Their Families, Hidden From the World” Tibet Action Institute. 2021

[21] https://time.com/6253481/china-tibet-million-children-separated-residential-schools/

[22] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/30/world/americas/pope-francis-canada-genocide.html

[23] https://boardingschoolhealing.org › Education


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