For Tibetans, March is the most critical month of the year. It is on March 10 when Tibetans commemorate an uprising against Chinese occupying forces in 1959.

Since late February, Tibet has been in a lockdown, which will last for at least a month. Visitors are not allowed and foreigners had to leave the region before the lockdown.

Meanwhile, People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities have been gearing up for this time they consider politically sensitive. In 2009, a U.S. diplomatic cable revealed that the PRC State Council has ramped up efforts to spread positive news about Chinese rule in Tibet. The security bureau has also been keeping close tabs on the region to ensure stability.

Soon after its founding in 1949, the PRC imposed repressive policies on Tibet in the name of democratic reform. The efforts were soon met with widespread resistance. In the 1950’s, Chushi Gangdruk (Four Rivers and Six Ranges in Tibetan), an organization of guerrilla fighters was founded, and Mimang Tsongdu, an underground anti-Chinese group, came into existence.

Since 1951, when China signed the Seventeen Point Agreement with Tibet, the region has been under Chinese control. But on March 10, 1959, the first mass revolt erupted in Lhasa. Tibetans gathered around the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama’s residence, to guard the spiritual leader. Anguish, fear, and suspicion among Tibetans against the Chinese constituted the leading cause that turned the mass gathering into the first Tibetan National Uprising against China. It is interpreted that the first Tibetan National uprising occurred to protect the Dalai Lama, who is regarded as the symbol of Tibet as a nation.

March uprisings in history

The government more or less tamed Tibetan public expressions of resentment until the second major mass protest broke out in 1987, when a monk group from the Sera monastery called for independence. This protest surprised the Chinese government, who had expected moderation of restrictions on religious freedom and the opening of trade and tourism to win the Tibetan population’s loyalty.

On March 5, 1989, a protest involving thousands of Tibetan laypeople and monastic institutions took place. The government crushed the protest in two days, and imposed martial law for 13 months.

In 2008, while China was preparing to host the Beijing Olympics, an event designed to showcase modern China, a group of monks staged a demonstration in Lhasa, displaying slogans related to Tibet’s independence and the Dalai Lama. Lay Tibetans later joined the monk groups with the Tibetan national flag, which has been prohibited since 1950. The protest spread to other Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan, involving about 30,000 participants. The Chinese government’s military suppression of the protest was widely criticized and led to a popular call for the Olympic boycott.

This March marks the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day. In the last six decades, the Chinese government has sought to prevent a recurrence of a movement on the scale of 1959 with three policies: “economic development and integration,” an anti-Dalai Lama campaign, and a systematic suppression of religious freedom. But the three major protests mentioned above, plus 157 cases of self-immolation, show that these policies have not been successful.

Despite constant concern raised by human rights groups, scholars within China, and internationally, the Chinese government continues to maintain the same repressive measures. It is important that we continue to question the intention of these failed policies.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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