Tibet (1912–51)

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"Kingdom of Tibet" redirects here. For Tibet's usage of this title at other times see Tibet or Tibet (disambiguation).
Area of the Republic of China
Unrecognized state


Flag of the Tibetan Army

Location of Tibet (1912–1951)
Capital Lhasa
Languages Tibetan, Tibetic languages
Religion Tibetan Buddhism
Government Buddhist theocracy[1] and Absolute Monarchy[2]
Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso (first)
Tenzin Gyatso (last)
Historical era 20th Century
 -  Established July 1912
 -  Three Point Agreement 1912
 -  13th Dalai Lama returns 1913
 -  Battle of Chamdo 1950
 -  Seventeen Point Agreement 23 May 1951
 -  Disestablished 24 October 1951
Currency Tibetan skar, Tibetan srang, Tibetan tangka
Today part of  People's Republic of China

The historical era of Tibet from 1912–1951 is marked following the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912, when the Provisional Government of the Republic of China replaced the Qing dynasty as the government of China, whom signed a treaty with the Qing government inheriting all territories of the previous dynasty into the new republic, giving Tibet the status of an "Area" with extremely high levels of autonomy as how it was treated by the previous dynasty. However at the same time, several Tibetan representatives signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China, although both the then leader of Tibet, the 13th Dalai Lama and the Government of the Republic of China did not recognize the legitimacy of the treaty. With the high levels of autonomy and the "proclaiming of independence" by several Tibetan representatives, some Tibetan independence supporters claims this period of Tibet as Tibet's "de facto independence", although most countries of the world, as well as the United Nations,[3] recognized Tibet as a part of the Republic of China.

The era ended after the Nationalist government of China lost the Chinese Civil War against the Chinese Communists Party, when the People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1950 and established the Tibet Autonomous Region, ending the area's 40 years of true autonomy.


Part of a series on the
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See also
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Post-Qing Dynasty (1910s)[edit]

A map of East Asia in 1914 published by Rand McNally, showing Tibet as a part of the Republic of China

Following the Xinhai Revolution and the downfall of the Qing Dynasty in late 1911, Tibetan militia launched a surprise attack on the Qing garrison stationed in Tibet, the Qing officials in Lhasa then were forced to sign the "Three Point Agreement" for the surrender and expulsion of Qing forces in central Tibet. Early 1912, the Government of the Republic of China replaced the Qing Dynasty as the government of China, which according to law, the new republic inherited all territories of the previous dynasty, which included 22 Chinese provinces, Tibet and Mongolia.

Following the establishment of the new Republic, China's provisional President Yuan Shikai sent a telegram to the 13th 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, who had fled to India when the Qing sent a military expedition to establish direct Chinese rule over Tibet in 1910,[5] returned to Lhasa and issued a proclamation that stated that the 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." "We are a small, religious, and independent nation," the proclamation stated.[6][7]

In January 1913, Agvan Dorzhiev and three other Tibetan representatives[8] signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia in Urga, proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China. The British diplomat Bell wrote that the 13th Dalai Lama told him that he had not authorized Agvan Dorzhiev to conclude any treaties on behalf of Tibet.[9][10] Because the text was not published, some initially doubted the existence of the treaty,[11] but the Mongolian text was published by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences in 1982.[8][12]

Simla Convention (1914)[edit]

In 1913-14, a 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.[13] 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[14] 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.[15][16]

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.[17][18]

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 later 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. Hsiao-Ting Lin claims that a volume of C.U. Aitchison's A Collection of Treaties, originally published with a note stating that no binding agreement had been reached at Simla, was recalled from libraries[19] and 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.[20] 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.[21] Furthermore, by refusing to sign the Simla documents, the Chinese Government had escaped according any recognition to the validity of the McMahon Line.[22]

After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933[edit]

Organizational chart of Ganden Phodrang
A seal granted by the Government of the Republic of China to the Panchen Lama, reading "Seal of the Panchen Lama, the National Guardian of Vast Wisdom (Chinese: 護國宣化廣慧大師班禪之印)"

Since the expulsion of the Amban from Tibet in 1912, communication between Tibet and China had taken place only with the British as mediator.[7] Direct communications resumed after the 13th Dalai Lama's death in December 1933,[7] when China sent a "condolence mission" to Lhasa headed by General Huang Musong.[23]

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.[24][25] In his essay Hidden Tibet: History of Independence and Occupation published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives at Dharamsala, S.L. Kuzmin cited several sources indicating then Tibetan government had not declared Tibet a part of China, despite an imitation of Chinese sovereignty made by the KMT government.[26] Since 1912 Tibet had been de facto independent of Chinese control, but on other occasions it had indicated willingness 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.[27] 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.[28]

China was then permitted[by whom?] 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,[29] which Chinese sources claim was an administrative body[28]—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).[29] In response to the establishment of a Chinese office in Lhasa, the British obtained similar permission and set up their own office there.[30]

The 1934 Khamba Rebellion led by Pandastang Togbye and Pandatsang Rapga broke out against the Tibetan Government during this time, with the Pandatsang family leading Khamba tribesmen against the Tibetan army.

1930s to 1949[edit]

The 14th Dalai Lama as a young boy.
The approval certificate of the accession of the 14th Dalai Lama issued by the Government of the Republic of China.

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.[28] 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.[30]

In 1942, the U.S. government told the government of Chiang Kai-shek that it had never disputed Chinese claims to Tibet.[31] 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 1949.

The Tibetan representative who attended the Chinese Constitutional Assembly.

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-shek 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.[32]

Under orders from the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek, Ma Bufang repaired the Yushu airport in 1942 to deter Tibetan independence.[citation needed] Chiang also ordered Ma Bufang to put his Muslim soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942.[19][33] Ma Bufang complied, and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet.[34] Chiang also threatened the Tibetans with bombing if they did not comply.

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.[35] This may have been the first appearance of the Tibetan national flag at a public gathering.[36]

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:[37]

In 1947-49, Lhasa sent a trade mission led by Finance Minister Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa to India, China, Hong Kong, the US, and the UK. 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.[38] These Trade Mission officials entered China via Hong Kong with their newly issued Tibetan 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.[39]

Annexation to the PRC[edit]

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.[40] 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 British government stated in the 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".[41] 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 the Dalai Lama's authorization,[42] 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.[43]

Tibetan society during the era[edit]

Traditional Tibetan society consists of feudal class structure, serfdom and slavery, which was one of the reason the Chinese Communist Party claims that they had to "liberate" Tibet and reform its government.[44]

Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies Donald S.Lopez stated that at the time:

These institutional groups retained great power down to 1959.[46]

The thirteenth Dalai Lama had reformed the pre-existing serf system in the first decade of the 20th century, and by 1950, slavery itself had probably ceased to exist in central Tibet, though perhaps persisting in certain border areas.[47] Slavery did exist, for example, in places like the Chumbi Valley, though British observers like Charles Bell called it 'mild'.[48] and beggars (ragyabas) were endemic. The pre-Chinese social system however was rather complex.

Estates (shiga), roughly similar to the English manorial system, granted by the state and were hereditary, though revocable. As agricultural properties they consisted of two kinds: land held by the nobility or monastic institutions (demesne land), and village land (tenement or villein land) held by the central government, though governed by district administrators. Demesne land consisted on average of one half to three quarters of an estate. Villein land belonged to the estates, but tenants normally exercised hereditary usufruct rights in exchange for fulfilling their corvée obligations. Tibetans outside the nobility and the monastic system were classified as serfs, but two types existed and functionally were comparable to tenant farmers. Agricultural serfs, or "small smoke" (düchung) were bound to work on estates as a corvée obligation (ula) but they had title to their own plots, owned private goods, were free to move about outside the periods required for their tribute labour, and free of tax obligations. They could accrue wealth and on occasion became lenders to the estates themselves, and could sue the estate owners: village serfs (tralpa)were bound to their villages but only for tax and corvée purposes, such as road transport duties (ula), and were only obliged to pay taxes. Half of the village serfs were man-lease serfs (mi-bog), meaning that they had purchased their freedom. Estate owners exercised broad rights over attached serfs, and flight or a monastic life was the only venue of relief. Yet no mechanism existed to restore escaped serfs to their estates, and no means to enforce bondage existed, though the estate lord held the right to pursue and forcibly return them to the land.

Any serf who had absented himself from his estate for three years was automatically granted either commoner (chi mi) status or reclassified as a serf of the central government. Estate lords could transfer their subjects to other lords or rich peasants for labour, though this practice was uncommon in Tibet. Though rigid structurally, the system exhibited considerable flexibility at ground level, with peasants free of constraints from the lord of the manor in order once they had fulfilled their corvée obligations. Historically, discontent or abuse of the system, according to Warren W. Smith, appears to have been rare.[49][50] Tibet was far from a meritocracy, but the Dalai Lamas were recruited from the sons of peasant families, as the sons of nomads could rise to master the monastic system and become scholars and abbots.[51]

Foreign relations[edit]

The division of China into military cliques kept China divided, and the 13th Dalai Lama ruled but his reign was marked with border conflicts with Han Chinese and Muslim warlords, which the Tibetans lost most of the time. 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. Within territory under Chinese control, war was being waged against Tibetan rebels in Qinghai during the Kuomintang Pacification of Qinghai.

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. Qinghai province was controlled by ethnic Hui and pro-Kuomintang warlord Ma Bufang. In 1932 Tibet invaded Qinghai, attempting to capture southern parts of Qinghai province, following contention in Yushu[disambiguation needed], Qinghai over a monastery in 1932. Ma Bufang's Qinghai army defeated the Tibetan armies.

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.

In 1932, the Muslim Qinghai and Han-Chinese Sichuan armies of the National Revolutionary Army led by Ma Bufang and Liu Wenhui defeated the Tibetan army in the Sino-Tibetan War when the 13th Dalai Lama tried to seize territory in Qinghai and Xikang. They warned the Tibetans not to dare cross the Jinsha river again.[52] A truce was signed, ending the fighting.[53][54] The Dalai Lama had cabled the British in India for help when his armies were defeated, and started demoting his Generals who had surrendered.[55]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ James Minahan, Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: S-Z, Greenwood, 2002, page 1892
  2. ^ Nakamura, Haije (1964). "Absolute Adherence to the Lamaist Social Order". Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 327. 
  3. ^ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Decolonization_-_World_In_1945_en.svg
  4. ^ Goldstein 1997, p. 31
  5. ^ Goldstein 1997, p. 28
  6. ^ "Proclamation Issued by His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIII (1913)"
  7. ^ a b c Shakya 1999, pg. 5
  8. ^ a b Udo B. Barkmann, Geschichte der Mongolei, Bonn 1999, p380ff
  9. ^ Grunfeld 1996, pg. 65.
  10. ^ Bell 1924, pp. 150-151
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ Kuzmin, S.L. The Treaty of 1913 between Mongolia and Tibet: new data. - Oriens (Moscow, Russian Academy of Sciences), no 4, 2011, pp. 122—128
  13. ^ "Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, Simla (1914)"
  14. ^ Article 2 of the Simla Convention
  15. ^ Appendix of the Simla Convention
  16. ^ Goldstein 1989, p. 75
  17. ^ Goldstein, 1989, p80
  18. ^ "Convention Between Great Britain and Russia (1907)"
  19. ^ a b 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).
  20. ^ Free Tibet Campaign, "Tibet Facts No.17: British Relations with Tibet".
  21. ^ Lamb 1966, p. 580
  22. ^ Lamb, 1966, p. 529
  23. ^ "Republic of China (1912-1949)". China's Tibet: Facts & Figures 2002. Retrieved 2006-04-17. 
  24. ^ Chambers's Encyclopaedia, Volume XIII, Pergamaon Press, 1967, p. 638
  25. ^ Reports by F.W. Williamson, British political officer in Sikkim, India Office Record, L/PS/12/4175, dated 20 January 1935
  26. ^ Kuzmin, S.L. Hidden Tibet: History of Independence and Occupation. Dharamsala, LTWA, 2011, pp. 95-100, 108.
  27. ^ Goldstein, 1989, p. 241
  28. ^ a b c Tibet during the Republic of China (1912-1949)
  29. ^ a b Shakya 1999, p. 6
  30. ^ a b Shakya 1999, pp. 6-7
  31. ^ 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
  32. ^ Smith, Daniel, "Self-Determination in Tibet: The Politics of Remedies".
  33. ^ [1]
  34. ^ David P. Barrett, Lawrence N. Shyu (2001). China in the anti-Japanese War, 1937-1945: politics, culture and society. Peter Lang. p. 98. ISBN 0-8204-4556-8. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  35. ^ "India Should Revisit its Tibet Policy". Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. Retrieved 2009-01-05. [dead link]
  36. ^ "CTA's Response to Chinese Government Allegations: Part Four". Website of Central Tibetan Administration. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  37. ^ Migot, André (1955). Tibetan Marches, pp. 91–92. E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., New York.
  38. ^ Goldstein, 1989, p578, p592, p604
  39. ^ Farrington, Anthony, "Britain, China, and Tibet, 1904-1950".
  40. ^ Shakya 1999, pp. 7-8
  41. ^ TIBET (AUTONOMY) HC Deb 21 June 1950 vol 476 c1267
  42. ^ Goldstein 2007, p96
  43. ^ Goldstein 1989, pp. 812-813
  44. ^ John Powers, History As Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles Versus The People's Republic Of China, Oxford University Press, 2004 pp.19-20.
  45. ^ Donald S Lopez Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La: University of Chicago Press, (1998) 1999pp.6-10, p9.
  46. ^ Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape, University Press of Kentucky, 1976,p.64.
  47. ^ Warren W. Smith, Jr.China's Tibet?: Autonomy Or Assimilation, Rowman & Littlefield, 2009 p.14
  48. ^ Alex McKay, (ed.) The History of Tibet, Vol. 1, Routledge 2003 p.14-
  49. ^ Warren W. Smith, Jr. China's Tibet?: Autonomy Or Assimilation, pp.14-15.
  50. ^ Melvin Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, Volume 2: The Calm Before the Storm, University of California Press, 2009 pp.9-13.
  51. ^ Donald S Lopez Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La, p. 9.
  52. ^ Xiaoyuan Liu (2004). Frontier passages: ethnopolitics and the rise of Chinese communism, 1921-1945. Stanford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-8047-4960-4. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  53. ^ Oriental Society of Australia (2000). The Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, Volumes 31-34. Oriental Society of Australia. pp. 35, 37. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  54. ^ Michael Gervers, Wayne Schlepp, Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies (1998). Historical themes and current change in Central and Inner Asia: papers presented at the Central and Inner Asian Seminar, University of Toronto, April 25–26, 1997, Volume 1997. Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies. 73, 74, 76. ISBN 1-895296-34-X. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  55. ^ K. Dhondup (1986). The water-bird and other years: a history of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and after. Rangwang Publishers. p. 60. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 


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