Deportation of Tibetan Prisoners


Above 9 May 1959 file photo currently in Bettman-Corbis archives showed Tibetan rebels filing out of the Potala Palace to surrender. The Tibetan Uprising against the Chinese authorities in 1959 was one of few undocumented conflicts during the 20th century. The above photo, which contained no information as to how it was taken and by whom, is thus extremely rare.

The photo was thought to be a Chinese propaganda piece. The deportation of the prisoners appears organized and orderly. The column was led by a man bearing a pole to which white scarves are tied as a symbol of surrender and one red flag; to the right stands a Chinese, carrying a photocamera. The photo creates the impression of a peaceful, carefully planned operation with Lhasa’s main attraction in the background, as if this were a postcard. However, the ‘harmless’ impression conveyed by this photo was contradicted by all other reports of the massacre in Lhasa, after which there were ‘piles and plies of bodies reaching up to the branches of the trees’. No corpses, no wounded, no signs of violence–the photograph shows none of the atrocities that accompanied these deportations.

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