China’s Methods of Non-Democratic Control Relative to The Tibet Independence Movement

Photo credits: Raimond Klavins

The Tibet independence movement was rooted in a deep-seated history of oppression and violence from the Chinese government. Tibet has faced decades of religious restriction and persecution which has caused them to form an identity separate to that of the rest of China greatly influencing their desire to secede (Angmo). China did not respond well to their citizens’ demands for upholding their cultural identities and demands for independence. China answered protests with violence: killing their citizens to silence them; they utilized propaganda and surveillance to quell these movements from a distance and internally. China used oppressive non-democratic methods of control to exert control over their citizens rather than meet their needs.

Violent Methods of Controlling Protest and Uprisings

In an attempt to mitigate protesting and uprisings from the Tibet region China utilized inhumane levels of force to maintain control, with little regard for the humanitarian impact and the lives of their own citizens that would be lost due to the use of such levels of violence. Typically protestors can expect to risk some type of injury as the response from the Chinese police force is rarely restrained, “Police used water cannons and tear gas for crowd control,” (Watts). However, China’s response is often even more extreme, especially when looking at their response to the March 14th protests in Lhasa, Tibet. Gunfire was a constant sound from sacred temples and the streets were covered in the bodies of protestors or onlookers who were piled into armored trucks, “Lhasa looked like a battlefield,” (Dolma). A reporter recounts seeing a 50 year old man and his son around age 6 who were injured and bleeding after being beaten by police only to then be forced into a police van and likely detained (Dolma). Even those who desperately tried to escape the violent protests weren’t safe from police fire as a witness recounts seeing a young couple running from nine police officers who then proceeded to open fire on them, the woman fell and attempted to get back up only to be shot again (Dolma).

Following the conclusion of protests, activists still weren’t safe and could expect to be tracked to their homes, “On March 15 morning that armed police opened fire on a Tibetan family in Karmakut Sang and killed all the family members, even their children, inside their house,” (Dolma). Many others were either killed or arrested in this way with no clear cut evidence of their supposed involvement with the protests, “A 70-year-old rinpoche was tortured in prison but released after the authorities learnt that he did not take part in the demonstration. This rinpoche told his friends that many Tibeten demonstrators were dying in this way,” (Dolma). China’s use of force exemplifies their priority of maintaining order rather than sustaining the lives of their citizens or responding to the needs they are expressing through these protests.

China asymmetrically increased the concentration of police forces in the politically volatile region of Tibet preventatively. China increased the concentration of its troops significantly at the first signs of protest with over 100 tanks occupying the region following the March 14th protests (Dolma). All across Tibet the government has constructed over 600 police outposts referring to them as “convenience police posts,” (Security in Tibet). These implementations from China were simply meant to create fear and give the Tibet movement absolutely no hope of making it off the ground due to their relative sizes.

Censorship, Surveillance, and Propaganda

China utilized both censorship and surveillance mostly to maintain control domestically. Following the Tibet protests, China implemented a new security system called “Grid,” the media heavily propagandized this institution with an emphasis on its goal of, “Delivering social services, such as providing employment, medical care, and schooling for the children of migrants and local residents, saying they are ‘to create conditions of effective social management and participation in a harmonious society and a good situation for all,”(Security in Tibet). However, the system mostly just led to increased surveillance, especially of those considered to be “special cases” by China like newly released prisoners, “According to one Chinese scholar, the grid system is designed to ensure that ‘information is proactively gathered about people, events, and things so as to build up a database of urban components and events … through which relevant departments and work units can proactively uncover problems in a timely manner,’” (Security in Tibet).

China also utilized what is known as “Red Armband Patrols” which is a volunteer surveillance group meant to integrate surveillance into everyday life (Security in Tibet). This patrol group would enact raids of peoples houses to ensure no one was in possession of anything that could be considered treasonous like Tibetan flags or photos of the Dalai Lama and they would also do random inspections of businesses to see if staff members were being productive on the job (Security in Tibet). For the most part, the media portrayed these searches, “not as security operations but as home visits carried out for educational purposes,” (Security in Tibet) what they were attempting to educate on was unclear.

In the Dalai Lama’s speech regarding the events following the March 10th protests he makes it evident that the People’s Republic of China Party was attempting to sway the rest of the world into believing that, “Except for a few “reactionaries”, the majority of Tibetans enjoy a prosperous and contented life,” (Lama) and attempts to rectify this falsehood and dissolution the world to the persecution Tibetans face daily. Throughout these conflicts, China’s main weapon was that of control through the media, monitoring, and/or house raids.

China attempted to isolate the cause of the protests by executing and detaining the leaders of these separatist movements. The regime is keen to recognize the influence of religious leaders and mitigate their power. Oftentimes, this meant Monasteries were isolated to the public and in the case of the Drepung Monastery following the March 10th protests this meant being surrounded by over 1500 soldiers (Dolma), “Some of the monks were arrested and beaten. The rest were confined to their monastery,” (Angmo). Phone lines were also cut to the Monasteries so monks couldn’t access food for sometimes days at a time (Dolma). China recognizes the power a uniting figure like the Dalai Lama can have on the morale of a movement separates them from the public.

China’s authoritarian government has so far remained successful at preventing this independence movement from coming fully to fruition. They utilized extreme violence: executing its citizens in the midst of protest. They utilized the spread of misleading information: making their citizens believe that the surveillance groups were there to help them, not solely to monitor them. China attacked their citizen’s at the core of their movement, exiling their religious figures and isolating their holy spaces. All of these methods of non-democratic rule were meant to destroy morale and remove the conviction from these protests. This oppressive movement characterizes China as caring little for the needs of its citizens, finding it easier to execute rather than listen to them. Despite this, the independence movement Tibet still fights for its independence given the deep rooted history of their conflict.

Work Cited

Angmo, Disket. “A Brief History of Tibetan Protest and Its Implication of the Nature of Tibetan Independence Movement.” The Tibet Journal, vol. 44, no. 1, 2019, pp. 3–11. JSTOR, Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

“China: Alarming New Surveillance, Security in Tibet.” Human Rights Watch, 20 March 2013, Accessed 17 February 2024.

Dolma, Norzin. “Uprising in Tibet 2008.” Central Tibetan Administration, Department of Information and International Relations Central Tibetan Administration, 2010, Accessed 22 February 2024.

Lama, Dalai. “Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to all….” His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, 6 April 2008, Accessed 19 February 2024.

Watts, Jonathan. “Protests in Tibet erupt into violence | Tibet.” The Guardian, 14 March 2008, Accessed 16 February 2024.

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