Australia Tibet Council

Enabling everyone in Australia to be part of change in Tibet

Tibet uprising 1988


Six decades of China’s failed policies in Tibet have created deep resentment among the Tibetan population. Since the 1950s, they have challenged China’s occupation through various non-violent means.

The first major uprising took place in Tibet’s capital Lhasa on 10 March 1959 when thousands of Tibetans took to the streets to protest the invading Chinese forces. The uprising was brutally crushed by the Chinese troops, leading to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans fleeing into exile in India.

The second wave of demonstrations took place in Lhasa in the late 1980s in what became the first pubic protests in Tibet to be witnessed by western tourists.

There has been a surge of resistance by Tibetans in Tibet in recent years, most notably the widespread protests in 2008. The Chinese government responded to the protests by deploying more security forces, arresting hundreds of Tibetans and strengthening its hardline policies, including patriotic education among both the monastic and lay communities.

Mass public protests have continued since 2008, in many cases involving thousands of students demanding the right to study in Tibetan language and ordinary Tibetans protesting against China’s mining operations in their towns.

Apart from these protests and largely unknown to the world outside Tibet, Tibetans have started channelling their spirit of resistance into various social, cultural and economic activities in their everyday lives to promote Tibetan culture and language and reject Chinese institutions and businesses. This grassroots movement, called Lhakar, began in the aftermath of the uprising in 2008.

Public protests took a tragic turn since 2009 as an increasing number of Tibetans resort to setting their bodies on fire as the ultimate act of protest against China’s rule. More than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated, an overwhelmingly large number of them in 2012. They were monks, nuns, farmers, nomads, students and mothers from all the three traditional Tibetan provinces calling for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Self-immolations fact sheet