Not surprisingly, there is a wide range of opinion. The Free Tibet advocates’ numbers a genocide of 1.2 million.

Third Party commentators have posited a wide range of figures - from a conservative 30,000-50,000, to around 100,000. One estimated up to 200,000. Some estimate as low as 2-5,000. Importantly, all of these figures are well below the 1.2+ million genocidal figure that the West considers conventional wisdom.  

Nonetheless,  a large number were killed during the 1950 retaking of Kham and Amdo, but more in the hundreds.  In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India, several thousand but under 10,000 protectors of the Dalai Lama and rebels were killed.  The then Tibetan Government In Exile officially claimed 87,000 up to 430,000 Tibetans were killed in the 1959 uprising and ensuing guerilla warfare.  But most commenters consider these figures to be unsupportable.

The TAR escaped the violence of the anti-Landlord campaign in the 1950s because of Mao's gradualist approach towards transforming Tibet into socialism. Thus, Tibet essentially remained unchanged as a feudal theocracy through the 1950s.

But it was during the Cultural Revolution that hundreds if not thousands of monks and nuns were killed, with tens of thousands more being beaten, torture, maimed, and imprisoned.  The actual numbers are also hard to confirm, with one side claiming incredulous high casualties and the other side claiming incredulous low casualties.

Like the all the competing historic claims and legal claims, this too is the very kind of "smoke-and-mirrors" debate that consumes so much time and essentially ends up clarifying nothing and resolving even less.

But I have two in-lieu of suggestions:

1. The first is to focus on what the situation is NOW - and how we can move towards Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transcendence.

2. The second is to understand the modern context,  i.e., post Cultural-Revolution and post-revolutionary violence. The current China is a modernized, open-door, and globalist society.  It is no longer militantly revolutionary and officially condemns the Cultural Revolution as a mistake.

Of course, many Tibetans were killed during the battle to retake Amdo after liberation. Many more were later killed during the Lhasa uprisings in the 1950s.

But under Mao's "gradualist" winning the TAR into socialism, there was no violent take-over of the TAR. No aristocratic families or monastery abbots were killed en masse during the anti-Landlord campaigns that swept China. The Tibetan feudal infrastructure was in fact largely left untouched.  

It was during the Cultural Revolution of 1965-1975, under the "Smash the 4 Olds" campaign, that looting, destruction, and shutting down monasteries took place.  Uncounted numbers of abbots, rinpoches, and dedicated monks were beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and killed.  No official numbers have ever been released, but certainly the casualties were on a massive scale. The Free Tibet movement estimates in the tens of thousands.

But many of the lackadaisical monks - the majority of the monk population - were simply sent home to their parents to work and earn a living.  They were not killed, but their release decimated the monk ranks.

In the old Tibetan monastic system, the quantity of monks was karmically meritorious over the quality of each monk. Thus, peasant families send a son to a monastery to build family merit and also to feed one less mouth.

Thus, many monks felt no real "calling to the cloth," but were essentially ersatz monks supported by monastic taxation and donations.  Historically, many held jobs and operated small businesses in nearby towns.

Often, large monasteries ended up running more of a residential hall than a serious college with a strict Buddhist curriculum.  The percentage of serious student monks- the Geshi - was typically quite small.

Click here to go the next Q & A

Click here to return to 7 Key Questions


"Can we talk?..."


an investigation into how we know what we know;

of distinguishing truth & fact

from deep seated beliefs and reflexive opinion.