China, Tibet, and a Message of Non-Violence

The ninth child born to a farming family in the Chinese border region of Amdo in 1935, 2-year-old Lhamo Thondup was recognized by Tibetan monks as the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, considered a manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Renamed Tenzin Gyatso, he was brought to Lhasa to begin a 16-year education in metaphysical and religious texts to prepare him for his role as spiritual leader.

The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949, and its aftermath, introduced brutal repression in which thousands of Tibetans were executed in prisons or starved to death in prison camps. Hundreds of monasteries, temples, and other cultural and historic buildings were pillaged and demolished. In their effort to eradicate Tibetan culture and identity, the Chinese forced Tibetans to dress like Chinese people, to profess atheism, to burn books, and to condemn, humiliate, and kill their elders and teachers. His life in jeopardy, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in northern India along with 80,000 Tibetans in 1959. He has never returned to his homeland.

Meanwhile, new waves of repression erupted in the 1960s and 1980s that continue in the present. To date, the Chinese government has murdered, massacred, tortured, or starved more than 1 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the population. In the face of this state oppression, where do Tibetans gather strength to continue the struggle? His Holiness the Dalai Lama inspires Tibetans to embrace their beliefs and hold fast to their dreams. He has demanded that we think of those who have stolen his land and massacred his people not as murderers and thieves but as human beings deserving of forgiveness and compassion.

In this lesson, students examine the conflict between China and Tibet, religious freedom, and nonviolence as a solution to conflict. After reading the Dalai Lama’s interview from Kerry Kennedy’s book “Speak Truth to Power” and reviewing the International Human Rights Framework, students will dive into activities that inspire them to become human rights defenders in their own communities.

Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates.