Why Tibetans Commemorate the 108th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Tibet’s Independence?

In his Proclamation of the Tibetan Independence, on 13th February 1913, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, declared: “Tibet is a country with rich natural resources; but it is not scientifically advanced like other lands. We are a small, religious, and independent nation. To keep up with the rest of the world, we must defend our country. In view of past invasions by foreigners, our people may have to face certain difficulties, which they must disregard. To safeguard and maintain the independence of our country, one and all should voluntarily work hard. Our subject citizens residing near the borders should be alert and keep the government informed by special messenger of any suspicious developments. Our subjects must not create major clashes between two nations because of minor incidents.”

The proclamation was made after the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama returned to Tibet from exile in India, in January 1913. At the time of the Dalai Lama’s return to his landlocked Tibetan Kingdom, the Manchu dynasty had been dissolved in the course of the Chinese revolution. For nearly forty years afterwards, Tibetans enjoyed self-rule – only for it to come to an end in 1949, after Mao Tsetung declared “peaceful liberation” of Tibet from foreign imperialists.

For Tibetans, Mao’s declaration was not only a brutal attack on Buddhist religion and the Tibetan culture but an illegal occupation of their peaceful nation by Communist China. The Tibetan people have a proud history of independence with the successive Dalai Lamas enjoying spiritual patronage over Mongols and Chinese emperors.

Just as it did more than a thousand years go, today, a doring (pillar) stands outside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city. On its stone sides the Tibet-China Treaty of 821-822 AD is carved, signifying the legacy of a free and independent Tibet.

“Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet, and Chinese shall be happy in the land of China,” reads a key text in the treaty, clearly describing the borders between Tibet and China.

Tibetan blogger – Ugyen Gyalpo

A New York-based Tibetan blogger, Ugyen Gyalpo, on his social media posting, “It’s such a paradox to say Happy Independence Day when our country is still under colonization. But what is not paradoxical is when we don’t take ownership of our historical past which is the basis of our fight. We must own our past and not suppressed it. We have compromised enough.

“We celebrate 4th of July like it is our own. We celebrate 15th of August like it is our own. We celebrate Canada Day, like it is our own. But we are hesitant to celebrate and reclaim our historical proclamation of independence on this day in 1913 by the 13th Dalai Lama. Are we living and embracing the world of alternate distorted facts. The only thing that separate our fight with China is the truth and if we are trying to be politically correct by denouncing anything to do with Independence, we are stabbing yourselves to death,” Gyalpo added.

Tibetan rangzen (Independence) activist and writer, Tenzin Tsundue in India launched his month-long Peace March from Dharamsala to Delhi on the Losar, Tibetan New Year – 12th February.

On the eve of one-man’s 500 kilometres Peace March, Tsundue posted on his social media, “I am going on a March from tomorrow, Dharamshala to Delhi to highlight the issue of Tibet as a missing link in the India-China conflicts.”

Tibetan independence activist and writer – Tenzin Tsundue

Tsundue’s mission is clear: “To fully appreciate the complexities of the Sino-Indian border conflict, the people of India must understand the issue of Tibet. The Indian government and its people must understand very clearly that India’s border will be permanently secure only when the Tibetan issue has been resolved”.

Tsundue will be asking the people he meets on the road “to sign an online petition asking the Government of India to repeal its One-China policy”. He also hopes that his “campaign will converge with a global campaign asking governments to repeal their One-China Policy.”

Tsering Passang, Convener at The Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM), who after recently taking part in the weekly vigil outside the Chinese Embassy, on 10th February, to mark the 108th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Tibetan Independence by the 13th Dalai Lama, said, “China must relinquish its grip on Tibet and allow Tibetans to exercise their basic rights including their freedom of speech. Tibetans have the rights to self-determination for Tibet, and China being a Permanent Member of the United Nations, it must upheld the founding principle of the world’s body that affect the Tibetan people.”

Tsering Passang, outside the Chinese Embassy on 10th February 2021 with Tibetan protester “Ignyen”

For those who haven’t read the Proclamation of Independence Issued by the Great 13th Dalai Lama, please see below:


Translation of the Tibetan Text

“I, the Dalai Lama, most omniscient possessor of the Buddhist faith, whose title was conferred by the Lord Buddha’s command from the glorious land of India, speak to you as follows:

I am speaking to all classes of Tibetan people. Lord Buddha, from the glorious country of India, prophesied that the reincarnations of Avalokitesvara, through successive rulers from the early religious kings to the present day, would look after the welfare of Tibet.

During the time of Genghis Khan and Altan Khan of the Mongols, the Ming dynasty of the Chinese, and the Ch’ing Dynasty of the Manchus, Tibet and China cooperated on the basis of benefactor and priest relationship. A few years ago, the Chinese authorities in Szechuan and Yunnan endeavored to colonize our territory. They brought large numbers of troops into central Tibet on the pretext of policing the trade marts. I, therefore, left Lhasa with my ministers for the Indo-Tibetan border, hoping to clarify to the Manchu emperor by wire that the existing relationship between Tibet and China had been that of patron and priest and had not been based on the subordination of one to the other. There was no other choice for me but to cross the border, because Chinese troops were following with the intention of taking me alive or dead.

On my arrival in India, I dispatched several telegrams to the Emperor; but his reply to my demands was delayed by corrupt officials at Peking. Meanwhile, the Manchu empire collapsed. The Tibetans were encouraged to expel the Chinese from central Tibet. I, too, returned safely to my rightful and sacred country, and I am now in the course of driving out the remnants of Chinese troops from DoKham in Eastern Tibet. Now, the Chinese intention of colonizing Tibet under the patron-priest relationship has faded like a rainbow in the sky. Having once again achieved for ourselves a period of happiness and peace, I have now allotted to all of you the following duties to be carried out without negligence:

  1. Peace and happiness in this world can only be maintained by preserving the faith of Buddhism. It is, therefore, essential to preserve all Buddhist institutions in Tibet, such as the Jokhang temple and Ramoche in Lhasa, Samye, and Traduk in southern Tibet, and the three great monasteries, etc.
  2. The various Buddhist sects in Tibet should be kept in a distinct and pure form. Buddhism should be taught, learned, and meditated upon properly. Except for special persons, the administrators of monasteries are forbidden to trade, loan money, deal in any kind of livestock, and/or subjugate another’s subjects.
  3. The Tibetan government’s civil and military officials, when collecting taxes or dealing with their subject citizens, should carry out their duties with fair and honest judgment so as to benefit the government without hurting the interests of the subject citizens. Some of the central government officials posted at Ngari Korsum in western Tibet, and Do Kham in eastern Tibet, are coercing their subject citizens to purchase commercial goods at high prices and have imposed transportation rights exceeding the limit permitted by the government. Houses, properties and lands belonging to subject citizens have been confiscated on the pretext of minor breaches of the law. Furthermore, the amputation of citizens’ limbs has been carried out as a form of punishment. Henceforth, such severe punishments are forbidden.
  4. Tibet is a country with rich natural resources; but it is not scientifically advanced like other lands. We are a small, religious, and independent nation. To keep up with the rest of the world, we must defend our country. In view of past invasions by foreigners, our people may have to face certain difficulties, which they must disregard. To safeguard and maintain the independence of our country, one and all should voluntarily work hard. Our subject citizens residing near the borders should be alert and keep the government informed by special messenger of any suspicious developments. Our subjects must not create major clashes between two nations because of minor incidents.
  5. Tibet, although thinly populated, is an extensive country. Some local officials and landholders are jealously obstructing other people from developing vacant lands, even though they are not doing so themselves. People with such intentions are enemies of the State and our progress. From now on, no one is allowed to obstruct anyone else from cultivating whatever vacant lands are available. Land taxes will not be collected until three years have passed; after that the land cultivator will have to pay taxes to the government and to the landlord every year, proportionate to the rent. The land will belong to the cultivator.

Your duties to the government and to the people will have been achieved when you have executed all that I have said here. This letter must be posted and proclaimed in every district of Tibet, and a copy kept in the records of the offices in every district.

From the Potala Palace.

(Seal of the Dalai Lama)”

Source (and further reading): Tibet: A Political History, Tsepon W.D. Shagapda, New Haven, 1967, pp. 246-248.

Author: Tsering Passang (Tsamtruk)

Tsering Passang is passionate about Tibet and the Tibetan issue. He was born in a Tibetan refugee camp in western Nepal. An NGO professional with nearly 20 years of experience in international development charities, Tsering has led Tibetan Community UK from 2014 to 2016 as its Chairman. Amongst his pioneering initiatives as the Community Leader, Tsering spearheaded "Tibetans Helping Tibetans" initiative and within months, it resulted in securing the sponsorship of 30 Tibetan refugee children for their education in India from 25 UK-based Tibetan families. Prior to his current appointment as the Director of Tibet Foundation, Tsering served as Special Adviser to the Tibet Society, the world's oldest Tibet support group. He also worked for Tibet Relief Fund for over eight years, raising vital funds for Tibetan children’s education in India and Nepal. From 2001 to 2007, he worked for Tibet Foundation as Art & Culture Programme Manager. Tsering has conducted multiple field trips to India and Nepal over the past two decades. After returning from his 2008 personal trip to Mustang, Tsering saw a need to provide training to those Tibetan teachers working in rural areas. Within a year, with the support of western teaching professionals, Tsering initiated the vital training programme for the teachers. Over 50 Tibetan refugees and ethnic Tibetan teachers from Mustang, Manang, Dhorpatan, Pokhara and Kathmandu attended the trainings delivered in Mustang, Kathmandu and Pokhara. He developed partnerships with the local NGOs and schools in Nepal. From 2014 to 2016, Tsering served on the boards of Tibet Society and Tibet House Trust. He also served as the Chairman and a Trustee of the Tibetan Refugee Charitable Trust. Tsering continues his advocacy work on Tibet. He has attended and engaged with parliamentarians, special advisers and officials from the UK, UN, the US and EU. Tsering has also spoken at important public and closed forums – audience included governments representatives, policymakers, rights advocates, lawyers, journalists, NGO professionals, university students and researchers. In addition to his writings on the Tibetan affairs, published in the British, Nepalese and Tibetan media, Tsering was interviewed by the BBC, Sky News and Reuters. He is also frequently interviewed by the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and Voice of Tibet. Tsering has conducted special interviews with leading Tibetan political figures - President of the Tibetan Government-in-exile (Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala) and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's former Special Envoy (Washington-based) and former Representative (London-based) for a Tibetan YouTube channel – LondonNey Production. Tsering’s personal blog: www.tsamtruk.com Tsering's latest initiative is the creation of the Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM) - an advocacy group with the object of highlighting the issues affecting the Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims as well as other peoples persecuted by the Chinese regime.

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