Tibet's religion, language, and traditions were isolated from Chinese influence for centuries by the world's highest mountains, and Indian Buddhism rather than Chinese Confucianism helped build the foundations of Tibetan society.
In the decades following its armed conquest of the region, China tried to impose Chinese culture in the vast Tibetan plateau "through military occupation and the destruction of monasteries and monks," Mr. Tsering says.
Yet religion still pervades nearly every aspect of daily life in Tibet. Every Tibetan makes a pilgrimage, sometimes on hands and knees, to Lhasa, which means "the place of the gods." The Dalai Lama is considered the center of Tibet's spiritual universe and decades after his departure is still fervently revered.
Armed attacks on Tibet have in the last decade been replaced by a much less visible invasion of Tibet's remaining temples: the silent replacement of leading monks loyal to the Dalai Lama with pro-Beijing figures, Tsering adds.
The Chinese leadership is attempting to strengthen its political control by "destroying Tibet's religion and civilization from within," Tsering says.
He and other Tibetan exiles say that a "peaceful war" over Tibet's cultural identity and future has replaced the armed conflicts of the past. But the clash continues to claim casualties.
They cite as an example the recent struggle over the search for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second highest religious leader. Tibetans believe that high lamas, or monks, like the Dalai and Panchen are able to choose the timing and place of their rebirth.
Days after the 10th Panchen died in 1989, China's State Council, or cabinet, said that it would fund a golden shrine to him and helped organize a search party to track down his new incarnation.
But Chadrel Rinpoche, abbot of the Panchen Lama's Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in eastern Tibet, faced an impossible dilemma when Communist Party officials named him to head the search committee.
Centuries-old Tibetan custom dictates that senior monks consult countless mystical markers on the rebirth, which should then be interpreted by the Dalai Lama.