On this day in 1959, protests began in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in defiance of Chinese military occupiers. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was slated to attend a theatrical performance at the local Chinese base outside of Lasa; fearing he would be abducted by Chinese authorities, thousands of Tibetans began mobbing the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama’s residence. Soon, the protests had evolved into a general objection to Chinese hegemony that dated back to 1951. Thousands of women took to the streets (an event commemorated by Women’s Uprising Day in Tibet) as armed Tibetan fighters began fortifying Lhasa against the inevitable Chinese attack.
Although Buddhists tend to prefer non-violence, the Tibetan defenders of Lhasa fought till the brutal end with machine guns and grenades. Entrenched on the roof of the Jokhang temple, rebels held their positions for days as passive resistors formed a human blockade around the main temple buildings. Following a Chinese artillery strike, the Dalai Lama – aided by rebel troops – managed to flee the country under the PLA‘s (People Liberation Army) nose. By March 23rd, the rebels were finally defeated when a Chinese tank smashed into the Jokhang courtyard. Tibet remained under even harsher Chinese control, and in the ensuing weeks and months, thousands of monks and dissidents were imprisoned or murdered. The Dalai Lama, however, remains free, a living symbol of Tibet’s de jure (unofficially) independence.