History of Tibet (1912–1949): Wikis


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The history of Tibet between 1912 and 1949 marked the span of Tibet's de facto independence, from the fall of the Qing dynasty to the invasion of Tibet by the People's Republic of China in 1950 that would see Tibet annexed to become the Tibet Autonomous Region within China.


Declaration of independence

Following the Xinhai Revolution and the downfall of the Qing dynasty, Tibetan militia launched a surprise attack on the Qing garrison stationed in Tibet. Afterwards the Qing officials in Lhasa were forced to sign the "Three Point Agreement" which provided for the surrender and expulsion of Qing forces in central Tibet. In early 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama, who had fled to India when the Qing invaded Tibet in 1910[1], returned to Lhasa and issued a proclamation distributed throughout Tibet which condemned "The Chinese intention of colonizing Tibet under the patron-priest relationship", and stated that, "We are a small, religious, and independent nation."[2][3]

China's provisional President Yuan Shikai sent a telegram to the Dalai Lama, restoring his earlier titles. The Dalai Lama spurned these titles, replying that he "intended to exercise both temporal and ecclesiastical rule in Tibet."[4] In 1913, the Dalai Lama issued a proclamation that stated that relationship between the Chinese emperor and Tibet "had been that of patron and priest and had not been based on the subordination of one to the other."[2] "We are a small, religious, and independent nation," the proclamation stated.[2]

In early 1913, Agvan Dorzhiev and two other Tibetan representatives[5] signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia in Urga, proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China. The 13th Dalai Lama later told a British diplomat that he had not authorized Agvan Dorzhiev to conclude any treaties on behalf of Tibet.[6][7] Because the text was not published, some initially doubted the existence of the treaty,[8] but the Mongolian text was published by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences in 1982.[5]

The Simla Convention of 1914

In 1913-14, conference was held in Simla between Britain, Tibet, and the Republic of China. The British suggested dividing Tibetan-inhabited areas into an Outer and an Inner Tibet (on the model of an earlier agreement between China and Russia over Mongolia). Outer Tibet, approximately the same area as the modern Tibet Autonomous Region, would be autonomous under Chinese suzerainty. In this area, China would refrain from "interference in the administration." In Inner Tibet, consisting of eastern Kham and Amdo, Lhasa would retain control of religious matters only.[9] In 1908-18, there was a Chinese garrison in Kham and the local princes were subordinate to its commander.

When negotiations broke down over the specific boundary between Inner and Outer Tibet, the British chief negotiator Henry McMahon drew what has become known as the McMahon Line to delineate the Tibet-India border, amounting to the British annexation of 9,000 square kilometers of traditional Tibetan territory in southern Tibet, namely the Tawang district, which corresponds to the northwest extremity of the modern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, while recognizing Chinese suzerainty over Tibet[10] and affirming the latter's status as part of Chinese territory, with a promise from the Government of China that Tibet would not be converted into a Chinese province.[11][12]

Later Chinese governments claimed this McMahon Line illegitimately transferred a vast amount of territory to India. The disputed territory is called Arunachal Pradesh by India and South Tibet by China. The British had already concluded agreements with local tribal leaders and set up the Northeast Frontier Tract to administer the area in 1912.

The Simla Convention was initialed by all three delegations, but was immediately rejected by Beijing because of dissatisfaction with the way the boundary between Outer and Inner Tibet was drawn. McMahon and the Tibetans then signed the document as a bilateral accord with a note attached denying China any of the rights it specified unless it signed. The British-run Government of India initially rejected McMahon's bilateral accord as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.[13][14]

The McMahon Line was considered by the British and later the independent Indian government to be the boundary; however, the Chinese view since then has been that since China, which claimed sovereignty over Tibet, did not sign the treaty, the treaty was meaningless, and the annexation and control of parts of Arunachal Pradesh by India is illegal. This paved the way to the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the boundary dispute between China and India that persists today.

In 1938, the British finally published the Simla Convention as a bilateral accord and demanded that the Tawang monastery, located south of the McMahon Line, cease paying taxes to Lhasa. In an attempt to revise history, the relevant volume of C.U. Aitchison's A Collection of Treaties, which had originally been published with a note stating that no binding agreement had been reached at Simla, was recalled from libraries.[15] It was replaced with a new volume that has a false 1929 publication date and includes Simla together with an editor's note stating that Tibet and Britain, but not China, accepted the agreement as binding.

The 1907 Anglo-Russian Treaty, which had earlier caused the British to question the validity of Simla, had been renounced by the Russians in 1917 and by the Russians and British jointly in 1921.[16] Tibet, however, altered its position on the McMahon Line in the 1940s. In late 1947, the Tibetan government wrote a note presented to the newly independent Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claims to Tibetan districts south of the McMahon Line.[17] Furthermore, by refusing to sign the Simla documents, the Chinese Government had escaped according any recognition to the validity of the McMahon Line.[18]

Relations with China during China's warlord era

The division of China into military cliques kept China too weak to intervene in Tibet, and the 13th Dalai Lama ruled undisturbed until his death in 1933. At that time, the government of Tibet controlled all of Ü-Tsang (Dbus-gtsang) and western Kham (Khams), roughly coincident with the borders of the Tibet Autonomous Region today. Eastern Kham, separated by the Yangtze River, was under the control of Chinese warlord Liu Wenhui. The situation in Amdo (Qinghai) was more complicated, with the Xining area controlled after 1928 by the Hui warlord Ma Bufang of the family of Muslim warlords known as the Ma clique, who constantly strove to exert control over the rest of Amdo (Qinghai). Southern Kham along with other parts of Yunnan belonged to the Yunnan clique from 1915 till 1927, then to Governor and warlord Long (Lung) Yun until near the end of the Chinese Civil War, when Du Yuming removed him under the order of Chiang Kai-shek.

In 1918, Lhasa regained control of Chamdo and western Kham. A truce set the border at the Yangtze River. At this time, the government of Tibet controlled all of Ü-Tsang and Kham west of the Yangtze River, roughly the same borders as the Tibet Autonomous Region has today. Eastern Kham was governed by local Tibetan princes of varying allegiances. In Amdo (Qinghai), ethnic Hui and pro-Kuomintang warlord Ma Bufang controlled the Xining area. The rest of the provinces were under local control.

During the 1920s and 1930s, China was divided by civil war and occupied with the anti-Japanese war, but never renounced its claim to sovereignty over Tibet, and made occasional attempts to assert it. During the reign of the 13th Dalai Lama, Beijing had no representatives in his territories.

After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama

Since the expulsion of the Amban from Tibet in 1912, communication between Tibet and China had taken place only with the British as mediator.[3] Direct communications resumed after the 13th Dalai Lama's death in 1934,[3] when China sent a "condolence mission" to Lhasa headed by General Huang Musong.[19]

Soon after the 13th Dalai Lama died, according to some accounts, the Kashag reaffirmed their 1914 position that Tibet remained nominally part of China, provided Tibet could manage its own political affairs.[20][21] Since 1912 Tibet had been de facto independent of Chinese control, but on other occasions it had indicated it would be willing to accept nominal subordinate status as a part of China, provided that Tibetan internal systems were left untouched, and provided China relinquished control over a number of important ethnic Tibetan areas in Kham and Amdo.[22] In support of claims that China's rule over Tibet was not interrupted, China argues that official documents showed that the National Assembly of China and both chambers of parliament had Tibetan members, whose names had been preserved all along.[23]

China was then permitted to establish an office in Lhasa, staffed by the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission and headed by Wu Zhongxin (Wu Chung-hsin), the Commission's director of Tibetan Affairs.[24], which Chinese sources claim was an administrative body.[23]; but the Tibetans claim that they rejected China's proposal that Tibet should be a part of China, and in turn demanded the return of territories east of the Drichu (Yangtze River).[24] In response to the establishment of a Chinese office in Lhasa, the British obtained similar permission and set up their own office there.[25]

The 14th Dalai Lama

In 1935 the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born in Amdo in eastern Tibet and was recognized as the latest reincarnation. He was taken to Lhasa in 1937 where he was later given an official ceremony in 1939. China claims that the Kuomintang Government ratified the current 14th Dalai Lama, and that KMT representative General Wu Zhongxin presided over the ceremony; both the ratification order of February 1940 and the documentary film of the ceremony still exist intact.[23] According to Tsering Shakya, Wu Zhongxin (along with other foreign representatives) was present at the ceremony, but there is no evidence that he presided over it.[25]

In 1942, the U.S. government told the government of Chiang Kai-Shek that it had never disputed Chinese claims to Tibet.[26] In 1944, during World War II, two Austrian mountaineers, Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter came to Lhasa, where Harrer became a tutor and friend to the young Dalai Lama, giving him sound knowledge of Western culture and modern society, until he was forced to leave in 1959.

Tibet established a Foreign Office in 1942, and in 1946 it sent congratulatory missions to China and India (related to the end of World War II). The mission to China was given a letter addressed to Chinese President Chiang Kai-sek which states that, "We shall continue to maintain the independence of Tibet as a nation ruled by the successive Dalai Lamas through an authentic religious-political rule." The mission agreed to attend a Chinese constitutional assembly in Nanjing as observers.[27]

André Migot, a French doctor who travelled for many months in Tibet in 1947 described the complex border arrangements between Tibet and China, and how they had developed:[28]

In order to offset the damage done to their interests by the [1906] treaty between England and Tibet, the Chinese set about extending westwards the sphere of their direct control and began to colonize the country round Batang. The Tibetans reacted vigorously. The Chinese governor was killed on his way to Chamdo and his army put to flight after an action near Batang; several missionaries were also murdered, and Chinese fortunes were at a low ebb when a special commissioner called Chao Yu-fong appeared on the scene.

Acting with a savagery which earned him the sobriquet of "The Butcher of Monks," he swept down on Batang, sacked the lamasery, pushed on to Chamdo, and in a series of victorious campaigns which brought his army to the gates of Lhasa, re-established order and reasserted Chinese domination over Tibet. In 1909 he recommended that Sikang should be constituted a separate province comprising thirty-six subprefectures with Batang as the capital. This project was not carried out until later, and then in modified form, for the Chinese Revolution of 1911 brought Chao's career to an end and he was shortly afterwards assassinated by his compatriots.

The troubled early years of the Chinese Republic saw the rebellion of most of the tributary chieftains, a number of pitched battles between Chinese and Tibetans, and many strange happenings in which tragedy, comedy, and (of course) religion all had a part to play. In 1914 Great Britain, China, and Tibet met at the conference table to try to restore peace, but this conclave broke up after failing to reach agreement on the fundamental question of the Sino-Tibetan frontier. This, since about 1918, has been recognized for practical purposes as following the course of the Upper Yangtze. In these years the Chinese had too many other preoccupations to bother about reconquering Tibet. However, things gradually quieted down, and in 1927 the province of Sikang was brought into being, but it consisted of only twenty-seven subprefectures instead of the thirty-six visualized by the man who conceived the idea. China had lost, in the course of a decade, all the territory which the Butcher had overrun.

Since then Sikang has been relatively peaceful, but this short synopsis of the province's history makes it easy to understand how precarious this state of affairs is bound to be. Chinese control was little more than nominal; I was often to have first-hand experience of its ineffectiveness. In order to govern a territory of this kind it is not enough to station, in isolated villages separated from each other by many days' journey, a few unimpressive officials and a handful of ragged soldiers. The Tibetans completely disregarded the Chinese administration and obeyed only their own chiefs. One very simple fact illustrates the true status of Sikang's Chinese rulers: nobody in the province would accept Chinese currency, and the officials, unable to buy anything with their money, were forced to subsist by a process of barter.

André MigotTibetan Marches

and also:

"Once you are outside the North Gate [of Dardo or Kangting], you say good-by to Chinese civilization and its amenities and you begin to lead a different kind of life altogether. Although on paper the wide territories to the north of the city form part of the Chinese provinces of Sikang and Tsinghai, the real frontier between China and Tibet runs through Kangting, or perhaps just outside it. The empirical line which Chinese cartographers, more concerned with prestige than with accuracy, draw on their maps bears no relation to accuracy."[29]

In 1947, Tibet sent a delegation to the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi, India, where it represented itself as an independent nation, and India recognised it as an independent nation from 1947 to 1954.[30] This may have been the first appearance of the Tibetan national flag at a public gathering.[31]

In 1947-49, Lhasa sent a "Trade Mission" led by the Tsepon (Finance Minister) W.D. Shakabpa to India, Hong Kong, Nanjing (then the capital of China), the U.S., and Britain. The visited countries were careful not to express support for the claim that Tibet was independent of China and did not discuss political questions with the mission.[32] These Trade Mission officials entered China via Hong Kong with their newly issued Chinese passports that they applied at the Chinese Consulate in India and stayed in China for three months. Other countries did, however, allow the mission to travel using passports issued by the Tibetan government. The U.S. unofficially received the Trade Mission. The mission met with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in London in 1948.[33]

Nepalese envoy, Major Bista, with Secretary. Lhasa, 1938.

Scholars have debated the validity of characterizing the socio-economy of Tibet prior to Communism as 'feudal serfdom'. For a discussion of the debate see Serfdom in Tibet controversy. For a description of the traditional social structure see Social classes of Tibet.

Communist takeover

In 1949, seeing that the Communists were gaining control of China, the Kashag expelled all Chinese connected with the Chinese government, over the protests of both the Kuomintang and the Communists.[34] The Chinese Communist government led by Mao Zedong which came to power in October lost little time in asserting a new Chinese presence in Tibet. In June 1950 the UK Government stated in House of Commons that His Majesty's Government "have always been prepared to recognise Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, but only on the understanding that Tibet is regarded as autonomous".[35] In October 1950, the People's Liberation Army invaded the Tibetan area of Chamdo, defeating sporadic resistance from the Tibetan army.

In 1951, representatives of the Tibetan authorities, headed by Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, with Dalai Lama's authorization,[36] participated in negotiations in Beijing with the Chinese government. It resulted in a Seventeen Point Agreement which affirms China's sovereignty over Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later.[37]

See also


  1. ^ Goldstein 1997, p. 28
  2. ^ a b c "Proclamation Issued by His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIII (1913)"
  3. ^ a b c Shakya 1999, pg. 5
  4. ^ Goldstein 1997, p. 31
  5. ^ a b Udo B. Barkmann, Geschichte der Mongolei, Bonn 1999, p380ff
  6. ^ Grunfeld 1996, pg. 65.
  7. ^ Bell 1924, pp. 150-151
  8. ^ Quoted by Sir Charles Bell, "Tibet and Her Neighbours", Pacific Affairs(Dec 1937), pp. 435–6, a high Tibetan official pointed our years later that there was "no need for a treaty; we would always help each other if we could."
  9. ^ "Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, Simla (1914)"
  10. ^ Article 2 of the Simla Convention
  11. ^ Appendix of the Simla Convention
  12. ^ Goldstein 1989, p. 75
  13. ^ Goldstein, 1989, p80
  14. ^ "Convention Between Great Britain and Russia (1907)"
  15. ^ Lin, Hsiao-Ting, "Boundary, sovereignty, and imagination: Reconsidering the frontier disputes between British India and Republican China, 1914-47", The Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History, September 2004, 32, (3).
  16. ^ Free Tibet Campaign, "Tibet Facts No.17: British Relations with Tibet".
  17. ^ Lamb 1966, p. 580
  18. ^ Lamb, 1966, p. 529
  19. ^ "Republic of China (1912-1949)". China's Tibet: Facts & Figures 2002. http://www.china.org.cn/english/tibet-english/lishi.htm. Retrieved 2006-04-17.  
  20. ^ Chambers's Encyclopaedia, Volume XIII, Pergamaon Press, 1967, p. 638
  21. ^ Reports by F.W. Williamson, British political officer in Sikkim, India Office Record, L/PS/12/4175, dated 20 January 1935
  22. ^ Goldstein, 1989, p. 241
  23. ^ a b c Tibet during the Republic of China (1912-1949)
  24. ^ a b Shakya 1999, p. 6
  25. ^ a b Shakya 1999, pp. 6-7
  26. ^ Testimony by Kent M. Wiedemann, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs before Subcommitte on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (online version), 1995
  27. ^ Smith, Daniel, "Self-Determination in Tibet: The Politics of Remedies".
  28. ^ Migot, André (1955). Tibetan Marches, pp. 91–92. E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., New York.
  29. ^ Tibetan Marches. André Migot. Translated from the French by Peter Fleming, p. 101. (1955). E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. New York.
  30. ^ "India Should Revisit its Tibet Policy". Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. http://www.idsa.in/publications/stratcomments/AbantiBhattacharya040408.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-05.  
  31. ^ "CTA's Response to Chinese Government Allegations: Part Four". Website of Central Tibetan Administration. http://www.tibet.net/en/index.php?id=61&articletype=press. Retrieved 2009-01-05.  
  32. ^ Goldstein, 1989, p578, p592, p604
  33. ^ Farrington, Anthony, "Britain, China, and Tibet, 1904-1950".
  34. ^ Shakya 1999, pp. 7-8
  35. ^ TIBET (AUTONOMY) HC Deb 21 June 1950 vol 476 c1267
  36. ^ Goldstein 2007, p96
  37. ^ Goldstein 1989, pp. 812-813


  • Bell, Charles Alfred. Tibet: Past & present (1924) Oxford University Press ; Humphrey Milford.
  • Chapman, F. Spencer. Lhasa the Holy City (1977) Books for Libraries. ISBN 0836967127; first published 1940 by Readers Union Ltd., London
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State (1989) University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520061408
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (1997) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21951-1
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet, Volume 2: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951-1955 (2007) University of California Press. ISBN 9780520249417
  • Grunfeld, A. Tom. The Making of Modern Tibet (1996) East Gate Book. ISBN 978-1563247132
  • Lamb, Alastair. The McMahon Line: A Study in the Relations between India, China and Tibet, 1904 to 1914 (1966) Routledge & Kegan Paul. 2 volumes.
  • Shakya, Tsering. The Dragon In The Land Of Snows (1999) Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11814-7


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