Dharamshala — On the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Tibetan Uprising, a new report from Free Tibet’s research partner "Tibet Watch" publishes never-before-seen images from the protests which kick-started the international Tibet movement.
The photos, obtained from a close relative of a Tibet Watch researcher who had worked for the Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) Department of Security, capture the strife and tragedy of individual Tibetan protesters who were beaten and killed during the rebellion.
With assistance from the CTA alongside the Gu Chu Sum Movement Association of Tibet, Tibet Watch has spent months getting the images verified. Along with interviews and archival research Tibet Watch has sought to share the experiences of the protesters in the photographs and provide a timeline to the events.
The report documents Chinese governmental policy towards Tibet since the 1950s when its military forces began their occupation of Tibet and provides an overview of the harsh circumstances in which Tibetans have lived for nearly seven decades. It then extensively investigates the 1987 protests which kick-started a Tibet-wide resistance running from September 1987 until March 1989.
The introduction to the report reads: "On 7 March 1989, a decree imposing martial law on Lhasa was issued by Chinese Premier Li Peng and China’s State Council. This move by Beijing firmly brought about a halt to a significant period of protest against Chinese rule in Tibet, led by monks from all three major monasteries in Lhasa: Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery and Ganden Monastery. The protest which kick-started this new phase in Tibetan resistance took place 30 years ago, on 27 September 1987."
According to the report, "The first protest to take place after the relatively quiet and open preceding few years was carried out by a group of 21 monks from Lhasa’s Drepung Monastery. The young monks had seen Chinese state media’s critical coverage of the Dalai Lama’s trip to the US and decided to do something to show their support.
"Starting very early in the morning, in order to escape attention, they walked from Drepung Monastery to Lhasa and gathered in a tea house before embarking on a circuit of the Barkhor at around 9am. They carried a Tibetan national flag hand drawn on a piece of cotton. The slogans they shouted included “Tibet is independent” and “May the Dalai Lama live ten thousand years”. They were gradually joined by a crowd of around 100 lay people.
"Even though the 21 monks were arrested along with five lay people, that day of the first protest the crowd was dispersed without violence... Four days after the first protest, a group of 23 monks from Lhasa’s Sera Monastery protested on the symbolic date of China’s National Day, 1 October. They also carried a Tibetan flag and made circuits around the Barkhor while shouting slogans for Tibet’s independence. Another demand made by these protesters was that the Drepung monks who had protested and been arrested in September should be released."
The chaos that ensued led to the 1988 and 1989 protests, more well known than the original 1987 rebellion, photos of which only now have been published.
Tibet Watch director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren says, “Relatively little is known about the early protests in 1987, although they were the catalyst for the better documented protests of 1988 and 1989. These images shine a light on the key protests of this turbulent time and the brave struggle of Tibetans involved in the resistance movement. They expose the brutality of China’s occupation and show the extreme lengths the authorities were prepared to go in order to carry out the suppression of Tibetan resistance. The report also highlights the legacy of those protests and China’s response. The protests may have been crushed but they have an enduring legacy in the strength of the international Tibet movement which they inspired. That inspiration remains at the heart of everything we do and will keep us going until the day Tibet is free.”