The term Tibet is used in China to refer to the central and western parts of the Tibetan Plateau, which were the areas ruled by the government of the Dalai Lama from its base in Lhasa in the 1940s. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet, declaring it part of the newly-established People’s Republic of China (PRC). Direct rule was imposed after a failed uprising in 1959, which led the Dalai Lama and some 80,000 other Tibetans to flee to India. Since 1965, this area has been known by the Chinese authorities as the Tibet Autonomous Region (the TAR). It is a province-level administrative entity within the PRC, divided into seven prefectures, with its capital at Lhasa.
Many foreign and exile writers use the word Tibet to refer to a much larger area – the Tibetan Plateau, or the totality of areas within the PRC which were traditionally inhabited by Tibetans. These eastern Tibetan areas, often called Amdo and Kham by Tibetans, are nowadays divided mainly into “Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures” which are under the administration of the western Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan or Yunnan. About 53% of the 6m or so Tibetans in China live in these eastern Tibetan areas.
Here the term “Tibetan films” – or more properly, “Tibetan-related films” – refers not just to films made in the TAR, but to films made anywhere within the PRC that were set in the larger Tibetan area, including both the TAR and the eastern Tibetan areas. There were 24 such films made by PRC film studios in the years 1950 to 1995, and a roughly equal number since then. About 50 television drama series or television dramas in the PRC have been set in Tibetan areas and shown on Chinese tv channels, many of them recounting the victory of the PLA over opposing forces in Tibetan areas in the early 1950s.
This table shows the annual number of Tibet films and tv dramas (meaning films and tv dramas set in Tibet or featuring Tibetan characters) produced in the PRC between 1950 and 2012. The blue lines show the number of films, and the red lines shows television drama series.
All of the PRC’s mainstream or studio-produced Tibet films and Tibet television drama series were made by ethnic Chinese directors and distributed in Chinese-language versions. This selection shows examples from various periods and genres of mainstream Tibetan films produced by state studios and television companies since the founding of the PRC in 1950. (It does not include documentaries, or arthouse fiction films set in Tibet, a significant number of which have been made by Tibetan directors working more or less independently of the studio system since 2004.)