Archives / June 5, 2023

Exile and Freedom: 50 years

Interview with Tempa Soepa – March 26, 2009
On March 31, the Dalai Lama reached the Indian border in Tawang district of what is today the State of Arunachal Pradesh. A new life as a refugee was starting. 
What are the circumstances which lead to the ‘escape of the century’? Claude Arpi travelled to Dharamsala and met Mr Tempa Soepa who had been intimately linked to the events as a young officer who helped coordinating the escape. Unfortunately for him, he did not make it with the Dalai Lama’s party and was arrested. He spent the following 20 years in a Chinese gulag under the most atrocious conditions. Today, though retired, this very discreet man works in the Private Office of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.

‘We cleared the way for the Dalai Lama’ – March 31, 2009 (
Ratuk Ngawang was one of the senior leaders of the Chushi-Gangdruk (Four Rivers, Six Ranges), a Tibetan guerrilla outfit which fought against Chinese rule and played a key role in the ‘Dalai Lama’ escape to India in March 1959. After the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, Ratuk commanded the Tibetan secret regiment, known as the Special Frontier Forces, based in Uttar Pradesh.
Now 82, Ratuk lives in the Tibetan colony of Majnu Ka Tilla in Delhi, and has recently published his memoirs (in Tibetan) in which he recounts his early life in Kham province of Eastern Tibet and the escape to India with the Dalai Lama. In an exclusive interview to Claude Arpi, he reminisces about how his team cleared the way for the ‘Dalai Lama’ escape, killing all Chinese soldiers along the way, the uprising of March 10, 1959, and his meeting with Phunwang, the first Tibetan Communist.

Interview Thubten Samphel – March 13, 2009 (
Fifty years ago on March 10, 1959, the entire population of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, revolted against the Chinese troops who had invaded the Land of Snows in 1950.
The uprising failed, and the Tibetan temporal and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, had no choice but to flee his country and take refuge in India. He was followed by 85,000 of his countrymen. 
Thubten Samphel, now the Secretary of the Department of Information of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, was one of them. Samphel, who fled his country as a child, was educated in one of the best colleges in India, and now works as the spokesperson of the Dalai Lama’s Administration. He has recently penned down his experiences as a refugee in a book, Falling through The Roof, published by Rupa & Co. In a relaxed atmosphere surrounded by his children, the next generation of refugees, he told Claude Arpi what it feels like to be a refugee for 50 years. 

50 Years Later, Tibet Simmers – March 11, 2009 (The Pioneer)
That was in 1959. Fifty years later, the Tibetans still deeply resent the occupation of their country. The two-month unrest in March/April 2008 was the latest proof of just how little they have come to terms with the Chinese presence in Tibet. In early-February this year, a news items on Radio Lhasa spoke of “50 years of democratic reforms in Tibet during which the PLA and armed forces stationed there treated Tibet as their native land and the local people as their parents, while in return the Tibetans treated the PLA and armed forces as their near and dear ones”. Notwithstanding such claimed bonhomie, martial law, however informal, had to be clamped on Lhasa to ‘protect the stability of the motherland’. 
In China, there is often a vast gap between ‘official’ statements and the reality.

Fifty Years to this day: Paradise Lost – March 10, 2009 (
Recently, I collected a number of historical documents on the 1959 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa and the subsequent flight of the Dalai Lama, from his native Land of Snows for an unknown new life in India. These old communiques, clippings, transcripts of Parliament debates as well the United States State Department’s and Moscow’s views on the uprising of the Tibetan people in Lhasa make fascinating reading. The strangest documents, however, emanate from the Communist leadership in Beijing…

Truth from the Facts: Fifty Years After The Revolt In Lhasa – March 10, 2009 (Statesman)
The Chinese have a problem. They are not able to look at facts straight. Already fifty years ago, on March 10, 1959, when the entire population of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital revolted against their rule, their mouthpiece,  Xinhua blamed Tibetan ‘rebellious bandits’ for attacking their ‘Liberation’ army. The communiqué said: “Betraying the motherland [China], the Tibetan Local Government and the upper-strata reactionary clique colluded with imperialism-assembled rebellious bandits and launched armed attacks against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The valiant units of the PLA stationed in Tibet completely smashed the rebellious bandits. Now, the units of the PLA, assisted by patriotic people of all sections, both monks and lay, are mopping up the rebellious bandits in other places in Tibet.” 

The 1959 Tibetan Uprising: Rebels with a Cause – March 6, 2009 (
Fifty years is long in the life of a man. It is long also for a nation. 
Fifty years ago, on March 10, 1959, the population of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital revolted against the Chinese Communist invaders. A few days later, the Dalai Lama, the temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people fled his country. Since then, he lives as a refugee in India. 
Ironically, it was a Chinese communiqué issued in Beijing on March 28, 1959 by the New China News Agency which gave a stunned world the first details of the uprising (’rebellion’ in Communist jargon). “Violating the will of the Tibetan people and betraying the motherland, the Tibetan Local Government and the upper-strata reactionary clique colluded with imperialism-assembled rebellious bandits and launched armed attacks against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Lhasa during the night of March 19. Acting on orders to put the rebellion down, the valiant units of the PLA stationed in Tibet completely smashed the rebellious bandits in the city of Lhasa on the 22nd. Now, the units of the PLA, assisted by patriotic people of ail sections, both monks and lay, are mopping up the rebellious bandits in other places in Tibet,” the communiqué said.

Will the Ox be as auspicious as the Rat? – February 17, 2009 (The New Indian Express)
“The year 2008 was an extraordinary one in the history of the People’s Republic of China. In that year China overcame a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province; successfully hosted the 29th Olympic Games and Paralympics in Beijing; and greeted the 30th anniversary of the adoption of reform and opening-up policies”. Thus starts the new white paper on defence published by Beijing a few days before the Chinese New Year (January 26).

Thirty Years on, will China keep its promises – Janury 7, 2009 (
Hardly two years after the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (and Mao Zedong’s death), a diminutive man climbed the rostrum for the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. He was to change the face of China.

Negotiating with China – November 27, 2008
At the end of the 6-day conclave attended by more than 500 Tibetan leaders gathered in Dharamsala to decide the future course of action in the Tibetan struggle, the Dalai Lama addressed the delegates.
One of his remarks was that India has been too ‘over-cautious’ on the Tibet issue; he sought New Delhi’s help to resolve the soon 50-year old issue. The Tibetan leader told his countrymen: “In 1959-60, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru took personal interest in Tibet… of late New Delhi’s view about Tibetan issue has been over-cautious.”

Road ahead for Tibet still in darkness – November 16, 2008 (New Indian Express)
“Since I was very young, I realised that the transformation of our governance into a democratic system was of utmost importance for Tibet’s immediate and long-term interest. Therefore, after taking responsibility as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, I worked hard to establish such a democratic set-up in Tibet,” the Dalai Lama said recently. As soon as he went into exile in 1959, the Tibetan leader continued his efforts to democratise Tibetan society.

Thirty odd years for nothing? – November 13, 2008 (
Sometime in November 1978, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother arrived without warning in Kanpur where his brother was giving a religious teaching. The Dalai Lama remembered: “To my surprise, he announced that he had heard through some old and trusted friends of his in Hong Kong that Xinhua [New Agency] wanted to make contact with him.” Thondup wanted the permission to go ahead. The Dalai Lama was thoughtful. As he wrote later: “The developments of the past two years all looked very promising [after Mao’s demise]; however, as the ancient Indian saying goes, when you have once been bitten by a snake, you become cautious even of rope.”

The end of the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way? – November 12, 2008 (
For the first time since the Tibetans took refuge in India in 1959, the Dalai Lama has called a special meeting to decide the future course of action over the Tibetans’ relation with China. 
Considering the ’serious situation inside Tibet’, the Dalai Lama used article 59 of the Tibetan Charter that empowers him to call a ’Special Meeting.’ Kalons (cabinet ministers), current and former members of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, government officials, Tibetan NGOs, and intellectuals will participate in the meeting be held from November 17 to 22 in Dharamsala. 

Beijing stalls Tibet talks – November 10, 2008 (The Pioneer)
The Dalai Lama has almost given up hope on securing a breakthrough with China on Tibet’s future status. This may delight the Chinese but their celebrations are bound to be short-lived. By failing to reach an accord, China has prepared the ground for strife.

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