Answering the question ‘Why isn’t Tibet free?’ is simple. But you’d have to ignore why it was asked in the first place. There was and is controversy. The fact that China annexed Tibet in 1950 and there is still a Free Tibet movement shows that this controversy has deep roots.
Once upon a time in Central Asia, Tibet emerged as a large and powerful empire extending from Afghanistan south into India and east as far as
China’s capital Chang’an. But by 750 Tibet had lost most of its territories to China. This was the beginning of over 1300 years of changing rule over Tibet.
Various Chinese dynasties ruled Tibet, including the 13th century Mongol Yuan Dynasty and later, the Manchu Qing Dynasty. In the early 20th century, the new Republic of China offered to restore the Dalai Lama's title but the Dalai Lama refused any Chinese title and declared himself ruler of an independent Tibet. In 1913, Tibet and Mongolia concluded a treaty of mutual recognition and for the next 36 years the 13th Dalai Lama and the regents who succeeded him governed Tibet.
In 1950 the Peoples Republic of China annexed Tibet and declared it the Tibet Autonomous Region. The people of Tibet however staged anti-Chinese demonstrations and continued to consider the Dalai Lama their spiritual and political leader. In 1959 the Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India and established a government in exile.
China responded with brutal repression of allegiance to the Dalai Lama and from 200,000 to one million Tibetans died and some 6,000 monasteries were destroyed in the following years. The Chinese government flooded Tibet with Han Chinese administrators and made Chinese the language required in schools and for work examinations. In effect, China was waging cultural genocide by attrition in order to eliminate allegiance to any authority other than the Chinese Communist Party.
Tibet embodied a unique culture; a separate branch of Buddhism, a unique written and spoken language, sacred art, educational system, spiritual culture heroes and a mystique as the occult repository of ancient knowledge. With the exile of the Dalai Lama, other leading Tibetan religious leaders fled to the West, eventually teaching,
giving lectures, writing books and spreading the Dharma. They were welcomed and supported by what became a world-wide Free Tibet movement, which exists to this day.
Clearly the controversy results from a clash between geopolitical realities and compassion and empathy for a people and culture that many believe should be preserved. A clash between power and morality.
The Free Tibet mission is as follows:
Our vision is a free Tibet in which Tibetans are able to determine their own future and the human rights of all are respected. We campaign for an end to China's occupation of Tibet and for international recognition of Tibetans' right to freedom. We mobilize active support for the Tibetan cause, champion human rights and challenge those whose actions sustain the occupation. We are entirely funded by our supporters across the world.