India-China Relations : Historical Status of Tibet

In early 7th century, the nation-state formation process emerged by uniting all the tribes and territories of Tibet into one by a certain person Songtsen Gampo, declaring himself as the King of State. King Songtsen Gampo, the founder of the Tubo Dynasty, sent envoys to the Tang capital city of Chang’an to seek marriage relations. In 641, Princess Wencheng went westward as a bride to Tubo King Songtsen Gampo. From then on, close relations were formed between the Tang Dynasty and Tubo King.

According to ‘Old History of the Tang Dynasty’: “The Tang Princess Jincheng went as a bride to Tubo King (nephew-heir of the King Songtsen Gampo) in 710. Both these Han Princess did their best to introduce the Tang culture to Tubo civilisation, (during Tibet visit, the author saw several such tablets, murals and other pictures; these all showing the text engraved on the east side of stone tablets in Jokhang Temple in Lhasa). The text of the Uncle-Nephew Alliance Tablet gives the history of the matrimonial alliance between the Tang and Tubo and states, their determination of “keeping on everlasting friendship between the uncle and nephew.” “The Tang Emperor and Tubo King as maternal uncle and nephew have met with agreement to become allied as one. They pledged to maintain the alliance forever, so that it may be witnessed and praised by ecclesiastical and secular communities for generations to come.”

In the thirteenth century Temujin (Genghis Khan), who succeeded in subjugating other independent tribes and local forces, founded the Mongol Khanate. In 1247, Sakya Pandita, the chief of the Sakya Buddhist sect in Tibet, and his nephew Phagpa, conferred with Mongol Prince Godan, grandson of Genghis Khan, at Liangzhou (now-Gansu province) on problems concerning Tibet giving its allegiance to the Mongol Khanate. On his accession to the throne in 1260, Kublai Khan granted Phagpa the title of ‘Imperial Tutor’ and jade seal symbolizing the politico-religious power over Tibet, which Phagpa was entrusted. This initiated the combination of temporal and spiritual authority in the Tibetan local regime. In 1271 Kublai Khan named his state the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). In 1279, he unified China’s entire territory. It was then that Tibet became an administrative region under the direct jurisdiction of the central government of China.

Yuan Dynasty established Xuan Zheng Yuan (Commission for Buddhist and Tibet Affairs) in its Central Government to handle Buddhist affairs throughout China, including both the civil and military affairs of Tibet. It also set up a Pacification Commissioner’s Offices in Tibet. U- Tsang was administratively divided into three regions with thirteen wan hu (means 10,000 households). The nomination of officials in Tibet had to be approved by the Yuan court. The Yuan court carried out censuses, imposed taxes and levies and set up post-staging stations and monopoly markets in the Tibetan region.

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, as a chronicler of the world history, wrote a series of epistles to his daughter Indu. (pet name of Indira, means moon in Hindi, later Nehru called her Intu, also means moon in Chinese). Nehru writes, “The administration of the Mongol Empire must have been a very difficult task. It is not surprising therefore that it began to split. Kublai Khan died in 1292. After him there was no great Khan. The Empire divided up into big areas:

  1. The Empire of China, including Mongolia and Manchuria and Tibet This was the principal one under Kublai’s descendent of the Yuan dynasty;
  2. To the far west Russia, Poland and Hungary was the Empire of the Golden Horde (as the Mongols there were called);
  3. In Persia and Mesopotamia (now-Iraq) and part of Central Asia, there was the Ilkhan Empire—which had been founded by Hulagu, and to which the Seljuq Turks paid tribute;
  4. North of Tibet in Central Asia there was a Great Turkey, as it was called, the Empire of Zagatai; and
  5. Between Mongolia and Golden Horde, there was a Siberian Empire of the Mongols.

…Mongol Empire was split up, each one of these five divisions of it was a mighty empire.” (Glimpses of World History, p. 224)

Even before Britain appeared in a leading role, earlier Western colonial forces, which had ensconced themselves in parts of India, had reached out into Tibet. The Portuguese set themselves up in Goa in 1506, and the Dutch and French East India Companies were founded respectively in 1602 and 1664.

Among the Portuguese, in 1600-27 the merchant adventurer d’Almeida was active in Ladakh, the Jesuit d’Andrade founded a mission in western Tibet and the priests Cacella and Cabral got as far as Xigaze. Van de Putte, a Dutch merchant, crossed Tibet twice in 1723 and 1735. The French clerics d’Orville (1661) and de Tours (1707) also travelled and founded missions in Tibet.

All this was contemporary with encroachments on multinational China from her other frontier along the sea coast as well. The Portuguese established their trading post in Macao; the Dutch, till expelled by the Chinese patriot Zheng Cheng Gong (Cheng Cheng-kung, known in Western literature as Koxinga), had their “Fort Hollandia” in Taiwan; and the French had begun to creep up from the Indo-China peninsula.

By land or sea, these developments were part of a world-wide process of colonial expansion by the West in the early period of capitalism, not only against China but against most of the peoples of Asia, Africa and both the Americas.

What British did in South Asian region including India and through incursions in China, and separated several parts of its territory, [Nepal (1898), Bhutan (1865), Sikkim (1889), Assam (separated from Burma in 1826), Burma (annexed with India in 1885 and separated in 1937), Darjeeling and Kalimpong and Ladakh along the foothills of the Himalayas], much in the same way Russia engulfed Tashkent in 1865, Samerkand in 1868, Bukharia in 1869, Khiva in 1873, and the Pamir region in 1896. In Tibet region, the situation remained complex, since two contemporary imperialist contending forces were there face to face with each other. It was entirely spurious incursions of Czarist Russians and British colonialists, tended to argue that they were ‘defending themself, or with a wonderful parody, even ‘saving China’ including Tibet from the designs of the other. In fact, both were equally predatory.

Founder of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, V. I. Lenin once described such of predatory activities correctly in 1900: “If we are to call things by their correct names, we must say that the European governments (the Russian government among the very first) have already started to partition China However; they have not begun this partitioning openly, but stealthily, like thieves, they began to rob China as ghouls rob corpses.”

From early feelers of western colonialism in 15th century to today’s neocolonialism, we should have a cursory look over it before we switch over to study the reality of the McMahon Line.

At one stage the Moghul Empire in India became confined be¬tween the Red Fort and Palam village. Unconsciously, though the colo¬nising spree of the British conquerors, who took possession of every inch of land in subcontinent paved the way for a broader national integration movement achieved largely through anti-British struggles spread over a time—span of a century and a half to say. In China, however, the process of national integration was somewhat different. It was rather similar to the classical patterns witnessed in other regions. The formation of the nation-state in China, which accounts for the emergence of the Peoples Republic, was made possible largely, through popular aspirations to over¬throw foreign aggressors through protracted armed struggle and to help achieving the larger tasks of democratization.

In Ming Dynasty (1360-1644) the policy towards Tibet continued to be that of the previous Yuan Dynasty. The governorship of U-Tsang and a Marshal’s Headquarters were created. The system of the official posts in Tibet ranking from commanders, commissioners to wan hu, qian hu and bai hu was improved. Officials in Tibet were appointed by the central government of China. In carrying out a pacificatory policy, the Ming Dynasty granted various new offices and titles of honour to officials and dignitories in Tibetan areas. Thus the title of ‘Prince of Dharma’ was granted to Khon Drakpa of Sakya sect. ‘Prince of Great Treasure’ to Karma Lama of the Kagyu sect, ‘Prince of the Western Deities and Grand Imperial Tutor’ and later “The Great Compassionate Prince of Dharma’ to Sakya Yeshe of Gelugpa (Yellow-Hat) sect Among a many other titles of honour were those of ‘Initiation State Tutor’, ‘Promotion Prince of the Virtue’, and ‘Guardian Prince, of the Doctrine’ ‘Propagation Prince of the Doctrine’.

Carrying out a pacificatory policy, the Ming Dynasty granted vari¬ous new offices and tides of honour to officials and dignitories as wll as the influential religious leaders in Tibetan areas. The tribute-paying system encouraged trade.

In 1406 Ming Emperor Chengzu conferred or Drakpa Gyaltsen, Grand Lama of Phagmo Drupa regime of the Kagyu sect, the title of ‘Prince of Persuasion (Chanhua)’. The present institution of the Dalai Lama started in 1578, when Altan Khan conferred on the 3rd Dalai Lama an honorific title of ‘All-Knowing Vajra-Holder’, the ‘Dalai Lama’, (the word ‘Dalai’ was taken from the Mongolian dilect means ‘ocean’ and ‘Lama’ from Tibetan means ‘superior master’). The ‘Dalai religion’ is quite fantastic on this earth to understand and its unique custom of the reincarnation of abbotship and complex stratification of a religion.

In 1652 the fifth Dalai Lama paid his respects in Beijing to the Emperor Shunzhi, who, in following year, granted him the title of ‘Buddha of Great Compassion in the West’, ‘Leader of the Buddhist Faith Beneath the Sky’, ‘Holder of the Vajra, the ‘Dalai Lama’ and certificates on sheets of gold inscribed and a gold seal authority. In 1713 the fifth Panchen Lama was granted the title of ‘Panchen Erdeni’ and the gold seal and certificate on sheets of gold. From that time on, the Qing Central Government officially recognized the politico-religious status and powers of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas.

In 1721, after suppressing a rebellion in Tibet, the Qing Court {Qing Dynasty—1644-1911) abolished the title of Drupa (the top adminis¬trator, who had centralized power in Tibet), and replaced him with four Kalons, who should jointly handle administrative affairs. In 1751 the Qing Court established the Kashag (local government of Tibet, later called Gaxag). During the period between disintegration of the Tubo Dynasty and the late 18th century, there was never a standing army in U-Tsang. Soldiers were conscripted to perform military Ula (or Ulag—means Corvee). With the approval of emperor of China, Qianlong, General Fu Kang’an in 1792 proposed that standing army of three thousand men should be built, that all officers be appointed by the Grand Minister Resident of Tibet conjointly with the Dalai Lama and that the army should be inspected regularly by them both.

In 1912, after the founding of the Republic of China, the Cen¬tral Government termed itself a republic of five nationalities—Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan—with a unified territory. The restoration of title of the 13th Dalai Lama “The Loyally Submissive Vicegerent, Great, Good, Self-Existent Buddha of Western Heaven’ was decreed by the President of the Republic of China.

There was, however, a new treaty which should have inhibited such relations, since by the Washington Treaty of 1922 Britain had bound herself not to ‘transgress upon the territorial and administrative integrity of China’.

Before the enthronement ceremony of the 14th Dalai Lama on 22 February 1940, the Nationalist Government sent Wu Zhongxin to Lhasa as special envoy to examine and supervise the reincarnation of the l3th Dalai Lama. On 26 January 1940, the Regent Radreng (Rwa-sgreng); (as per ‘the Dalai Lama religion’ custom, during the period of location of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after the former’s demise, his enthronement and until he become major, the Prince Regent was made the head of the government. The Dalai Lama was, till 1959 democratic reform carried out, ‘three in one ‘—an abbot, a feudal-moneylender and the theocratic and despotic head of the government of Tibet.) Rimpoche made a formal request through Wu Zhongxin to the Chinese Central Government for the omission of the formalities of ‘drawing lots from the Golden urn’ in confirmation of Lhamo Dhondrup as the 14th Dalai Lama. On 2 May, Lin Sen, President of Nationalist Government, issued a decree consenting to the succession of Lhamo Dhondrup as the 14th Dalai Lama and appropriating 4,00,000 Yuan to meet the expenses of his enthronement on request of local government.

On 23 May 1951, the delegates with full powers of the Local Government of Tibet and the delegates with full powers of the Central Government of People’s Republic of China signed “the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.” The 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama cabled the Central Government authorities to express their support of the Agreement. In September 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama and other Tibetan representa¬tives attended the First Session of First National People’s Congress. The 14th Dalai Lama was elected as Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee and the 10th Panchen Lama was elected as a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. In April 1956, the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region was founded; the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama were elected as the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Preparatory Committee respectively.

In March 1959, the Dalai Lama fommented the rebellion of serf- owners and feudals which was curbed by People’s Liberation Army and the splitters of the motherland led by the Dalai Lama had to run away to India and democratic reform carried out in Tibet to lit a real light. Thus it all proved ‘paradise lost to the 14th Dalai Lama and his clique and paradise gained to serfs and slaves of old Tibetan region of China’.

The British colonialists, as has been said earlier, were always concerned with the security of the border of their Indian empire from Russian Czarists colonialists, hence the two contending parties were face to face with each other in Tibet. Though the assumption was not correct and proved otherwise. This can be understood by their own observations about northern border: “They unanimously represent the present mountain frontier as perhaps the most difficult and inaccessible country in the world. The country beyond is barren, rugged and sparsely populated. An advance would interpose between ourselves and our out- puts a belt of the most difficult and impracticable country; it would undufy extend and weaken our military position without, in our opinion, securing any corresponding advantage. No invader has ever approached India from this direction, where nature has placed such formidable barriers.”

(Elgin wrote to Hamilton on 23 December 1897, quoted by D. Woodman, Himalayan Frontiers, pp. 364-65)

Major-General Sir Johnson Ardagh, an old India hand, who was by then director of military intelligence on the British General Staff had submitted to the Foreign Office and the India Office on 1 January 1897. That premise was: “..useless as a buffer between Russia and the Northern Frontier of India citing the ‘eagerness with which (Russia)’ has advanced her border towards India”.

Lord Elgin, the Viceroy of India in 1895 observed: ‘So Safe Was Northern Border!’

But after decade and a half, as the US colonialists divided Columbia (in Latin America). The Russian Czarists inspired by the Americans ploy, divided Mongolia into two regions—outer Mongolia and*inner Mongolia. In January 1913, the Russo-Mongolian agreement at Urga, Mongolian capital, was followed by what purported to be treaty between Mongolia and Tibet. The British were concerned with this development, since by Article 4 of this Treaty, Mongolia and Tibet agreed to ‘afford each other aid against dangers from out and from within.’ The Mongol Government was then under the Russian control, its army was being trained by their officers. Buriat monks, Mongolian by race and living in Russian territory, had commenced the training of Tibetan troops at Lhasa. By Article 5 and 6 Mongols were allowed to travel and trade freely in Tibet and to open industrial establishment there. By Article 2 of the Urga Convention and its Protocol, Russia received a dominant position in Mongolia. Russian rifles had already been sent to Lhasa by well-established Urga-Lhasa trade route. The boundary between Mongolia and Tibet was doubtful. It was clear there¬fore that, it acted on the Treaty, Russia could find indirect hold by Article 3 and 4 of the Tibet portion of the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907. There was at this time a clear danger that Tibet might be driven to seek assistance from Mongolia and through Mongolia from Russia. Mongolia and Tibet are closely related to each other in race, creed, religion and in general ideas. So Britain started to build pressure on Central Government of China with the tacit aim to divide Tibet in the same way as Russian colonialists did in Mongolia.

The main player in the long ploy of the Simla Convention, Sir Charles Bell argues: “The discussions in Simla started on 13 October 1913 and that extended over six months, and dealt very fully with whole Tibetan question. On 27 April 1914 a Convention was initialed by the three plenipotentiaries, Lon-chen Shatra (assisted by Charles Bell himself) for and on behalf of the Government of Tibet, Ivan Chen for and on behalf the Government of China and Colonel Sir Arthur Henry McMahon for and on behalf of the Government of British India, apparently to play a mediatory. The Chief provisions of this Conven¬tion were as follows:

  1. Tibet was divided into two zones, ‘Outer Tibet’ and ‘Inner Tibet’. The former part is nearer to India, including Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo; the latter nearer to China, including Ba-tang, Li-tang, Tachienlu, and large portion of eastern Tibet.
  2. Chinese Suzerainty over the whole Tibet was recognized.
  3. Great Britain not to annex any portion of Tibet.
  4. The autonomy of Outer Tibet was recognized. China agreed to be abstained from interference in its administration which was to rest with Tibetans themselves. She agreed also to abstain from sending troops, stationing civil or military officers (except as in point 6 below) or establishing Chinese colonies there. Britain to be abstained from all these things throughout whole of Tibet, but to retain her Trade Agents and their escorts.
  5. In inner Tibet the central Tibetan Government at Lhasa were to retain their existing rights, which included among other things the control of most of the monasteries and appointment of local chiefs, but China not forbidden to send troops of officials or plant the colonies there.
  6. A Chinese Amban (Commissioner) was to be re-established at Lhasa with a military escort, limited to three hundred men.
  7. The escorts of the British Trade Agencies in Tibet were not to exceed three-fourth of the Chinese escort at Lhasa.
  8. The British Agent at Gyantse was authorized to visit Lhasa, in order to settle matters which could not be settled at Gyantse.

The Convention also abolished the Trade Regulations of 1893 and those of 1908. In their place another Trade Treaty was arranged, to govern the commercial relations between India and outer Tibet These new Trade Regulations are believed to be simple and practical. They should facilitate legitimate intercourse between India and the territories of the Dalai Lama.”

“The Opportunity was also (contended) taken to negotiate the frontier to be established between Tibet and north-eastern India. From the east of Bhutan, along the northern and eastern border of Assam round to the meeting-place of China, Tibet, and Burmese hinterland, as this frontier had never been defined.”…” The negotiations with China broke down on one point only; namely, the frontier to be established between China and Tibet”…

Again in 1927, from British side a compromise was proposed, dividing the country into Outer and Inner Tibet, as already recorded. The boundary between these two was to follow in the main frontier between China and Tibet”… “She (Tibet) would indeed have gained a more favourable boundary than she could reasonably chum at the present time. As for India, she would have gained what she most desired, peace and security on her long northern frontier”. (Sir Charles Bell: Tibet Past And Present pp. 137-38)

It is significant that Charles Bell revealed a fact about the gen¬eral attitude of Tibetan race. He writes on the last page (i.e 244) of his above mentioned book: “Tibet’s natural affinity is no doubt with the races of the Chinese Commonwealth. In religion and ethics, in social manners and customs, there is much common ground. Historically, the connection is from the beginning of time. …This bond with China will presumably remain. … Among Tibetans who have been brought into contact with Indians, some fear that Indians may come to Tibet and endeavour to obtain influence there. For various reasons they do not desire too close a connection with India. And they do not think that India, apart from Britain, has the power to help them against China.” This does not seem true, as author himself observed otherwise during his short visit of Tibet The number of Tibetans insisted upon me to start business and establish an industry there.

Bankrupt Simla Convention : Invalid McMahon Line

The Simla Convention (1914) was total failure so far as the principal aim was concerned. China did not agree to a draft convention drawn up by the British, which looked to the zonal partition of Tibet and refused to allow their representative in Simla to sign the draft. The proposed division would have entailed withdrawal of Chinese admin¬istration from certain areas and the Chinese based their objection upon this. Against both the spirit and letter of this instructions, the British representative, Sir Henry McMahon (the Foreign Secretary of the Govt, of India), proceeded to sign with the Tibetans a secret declaration that the draft convention would be binding upon their two Governments. An explicit instruction from London forbidding McMahon to take this step i.e. to sign a bipartite agreement with the Tibetans—was delayed, and McMahon was able to sign the secret declaration before he received it. Accepting, however, the fait accompli London gave retrospective ap-proval to McMahon’s action of this secret Trade Agreement with Tibet which was never ratified even by the local Tibetan Government.


April 24, 2018