(Ibid.) As a result, life expectancy in pre-1950 Tibet was thirty-six years; 95% of Tibetans were illiterate and a similar percentage of the population was hereditary serfs and slaves owned by monasteries and nobles. (Hessler, 1999)
In such a back drop, Mao's Communism, which promised the emancipation and rule of the poorest peasants, ought to have been embraced with open arms by the Tibetan peasants. The fact that it took almost a decade, after the initial foray of the Communists into Tibet in 1951, to do so was mainly due to two reasons. The first was the recognition of the special status of Tibet by the Chinese Communist leadership and its slow introduction of social and economic reforms in the region leaving the ruling elite intact; the second was the deep rooted deference for religion among the Tibetans combined with a complete absence of the tradition of class revolt in Tibet. However, when China decided to take direct control of Tibet after the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion and targeted the monasteries and the monks for "special attention," the erstwhile deeply religious poor Tibetans joined their new masters in the brutal destruction of the Buddhist temples all over Tibet. The ferocity with which the Tibetan population destroyed their previous deeply revered places of worship has surprised many analysts; according to Lixiong, it was a case of 'rotation of gods' -- Mao Zedong had replaced the Dalai Lama as the god in their minds as he had proved more powerful.
All of above, does not mean that the Tibetan masses did not suffer under the Chinese Communist rule, particularly during the Cultural Revolution. It is recognized by most people, including the Chinese officials, that the ultra-leftist policies of the Cultural Revolution inflicted tremendous human and economic damage on Tibet. But the damage caused was the result of a misplaced and over-zealous policy relying on the disastrous concept of peoples' communes and centralized control that also applied to the rest of China; it was not a case of deliberate persecution of the Tibetans by the Han Chinese, as alleged by the supporters of Tibet's independence. After the death of Mao and the coming to power of moderates such as Deng Xioping, however, the Chinese government has set about redressing the wrongs in Tibet. Massive Chinese investment has poured into Tibet since that time and respect for Tibetan culture and religion has been restored. The results of the new policy in Tibet have been remarkable and have brought tremendous improvements in living standards. For example, in 1979 the average income of Tibetan farmers and herdsmen was 147 RMB which had increase to 903 RMB in 1994, and rate of economic growth in Tibet is even higher than in China (Lixiong, 2002).
It is, of course, also true that despite the visible improvement, the nationalist feelings in Tibet have not lessened and the Dalai Lama is still a symbol of Tibetan nationhood and enjoys the status of its highest spiritual leader. This was amply reflected in the widespread pro-independence disturbances towards the end of 1987, leading ultimately to the imposition of martial law in March 1989, which remained in force for over a year. The disturbances hold a lesson for the Chinese too -- their 'redressing of wrong' policy in Tibet that lays stress on economic development is not enough. Since the Dalai Lama has given up his demand for secession from China, they must consider bringing him back into Tibet and make peace with him, otherwise the region would remain a potential tinderbox. The Western powers must realize that the stretegic and political importance of Tibet to China is so great that it would never allow its secession; they must not encourage and support the Tibetan pro-independence forces, as the CIA did during the 1959 rebellion with disastrous results.
Hessler, P. (1999). "Tibet through Chinese Eyes." The Atlantic Monthly. Volume: 283. Issue: 2.
Lixiong, W. (2002). "Reflections on Tibet." New Left Review. March-April 2002. Retrieved on November 19, 2006 at http://newleftreview.org/A2380
Particularly the Tibetans in exile
The Dali Lama has pursued the "middle way approach" since the 1970s after renouncing independence but seeking "genuine autonomy."