The polity of Tibet was a de facto independent state between the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912 and the annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China in 1951.
The Tibetan Ganden Phodrang regime was a protectorate of the Qing dynasty until 1912. When the Provisional Government of the Republic of China replaced the Qing dynasty as the government of China, it signed a treaty with the Qing government inheriting all territories of the imperial government into the new republic. However, it was unable to assert any authority in Tibet. The Dalai Lama declared that Tibet's relationship with China ended with the fall of the Qing dynasty and proclaimed independence. Tibet and Mongolia also signed a treaty proclaiming mutual recognition of their independence from China. With its proclamation of independence and conduct of its own internal and external affairs in this period, Tibet is regarded as a "de facto independent state" as per international law, although its independence was not formally recognized by any Western power.
In 1931 and again in 1946, the Tibetan government sent emissaries to the Chinese National Assembly to discuss Tibet's status but they came back empty-handed.
After the 13th Dalai Lama's death in 1933, a condolence mission sent to Lhasa by the Nationalist government to start negotiations about Tibet's status was allowed to open an office and remain there, although no agreement was reached.
The era ended after the Nationalist government of China lost the Chinese Civil War against the Chinese Communist Party, when the People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1950 and the Seventeen Point Agreement was signed with the Chinese reaffirming China's sovereignty over Tibet the following year.
Fall of Qing dynasty (1911–1912)
Tibet came under the rule of the Qing dynasty of China in 1720 after the Qing expelled the forces of the Dzungar Khanate. But by the end of the 19th century, the Chinese authority in Tibet was no more than symbolic. Following the Xinhai Revolution in 1911–1912, Tibetan militia launched a surprise attack on the Qing garrison stationed in Tibet after the Xinhai Lhasa turmoil. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the Qing officials in Lhasa were then forced to sign the "Three Point Agreement" for the surrender and expulsion of Qing forces in central Tibet. In early 1912, the Government of the Republic of China replaced the Qing dynasty as the government of China and the new republic asserted its sovereignty over all the territories of the previous dynasty, which included 22 Chinese provinces, Tibet and Outer Mongolia. This claim was provided for in the Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor signed by the Empress Dowager Longyu on behalf of the six-year-old Xuantong Emperor: "... the continued territorial integrity of the lands of the five races, Manchu, Han, Mongol, Hui, and Tibetan into one great Republic of China" (... 仍合滿、漢、蒙、回、藏五族完全領土，為一大中華民國). The Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China adopted in 1912 specifically established frontier regions of the new republic, including Tibet, as integral parts of the state.
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." 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, 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.
In January 1913, Agvan Dorzhiev and three other Tibetan representatives signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia in Urga, proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China. The British diplomat Charles Bell wrote that the 13th Dalai Lama told him that he had not authorized Agvan Dorzhiev to conclude any treaties on behalf of Tibet. Because the text was not published, some initially doubted the existence of the treaty, but the Mongolian text was published by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences in 1982.
Simla Convention (1914)
In 1913–1914, a conference was held in Simla between the UK, 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. From 1908 until 1918 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 kilometres of traditional Tibetan territory in southern Tibet, namely the Tawang district, which corresponds to the north-west extremity of the modern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, while recognizing Chinese suzerainty over Tibet 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.
Later Chinese governments claimed that 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 initialled 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.
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, 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. 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. Furthermore, by refusing to sign the Simla documents, the Chinese Government had escaped according any recognition to the validity of the McMahon Line.
After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933
Since the expulsion of the Amban from Tibet in 1912, communication between Tibet and China had taken place only with the British as mediator. Direct communications resumed after the 13th Dalai Lama's death in December 1933, when China sent a "condolence mission" to Lhasa headed by General Huang Musong.
Soon after the 13th Dalai Lama died, according to some accounts, the Kashag reaffirmed its 1914 position that Tibet remained nominally part of China, provided Tibet could manage its own political affairs. 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 that the Tibetan government had not declared Tibet a part of China, despite an intimation of Chinese sovereignty made by the Kuomintang government. 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. 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.
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,
which Chinese sources claim was an administrative body—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). In response to the establishment of a Chinese office in Lhasa, the British obtained similar permission and set up their own office there.
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
In 1935 the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born in Amdo in eastern Tibet and recognized by all concerned as the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, without the use of the Chinese "Golden Urn". After a ransom of 400,000 silver dragons had been paid by Lhasa, contrary to the wishes of the Chinese government, to the Hui Muslim warlord Ma Bufang, who ruled Qinghai (Chinghai) from Xining, Ma Bufang released him to travel to Lhasa in 1939. He was then enthroned by the Ganden Phodrang government at the Potala Palace on the Tibetan New Year.
The People's Republic of China claims that the Kuomintang Government 'ratified' the current 14th Dalai Lama, and that Kuomintang 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. 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. The British Representative Sir Basil Gould who was present at the ceremony bore witness to the falsity of the Chinese claim to have presided over it. He criticised the Chinese account as follows:
The report was issued in the Chinese Press that Mr Wu had escorted the Dalai Lama to his throne and announced his installation, that the Dalai Lama had returned thanks, and prostrated himself in token of his gratitude. Every one of these Chinese claims was false. Mr Wu was merely a passive spectator. He did no more than present a ceremonial scarf, as was done by the others, including the British Representative. But the Chinese have the ear of the world, and can later refer to their press records and present an account of historical events that is wholly untrue. Tibet has no newspapers, either in English or Tibetan, and has therefore no means of exposing these falsehoods.
In 1942, the U.S. government told the government of Chiang Kai-shek that it had never disputed Chinese claims to Tibet. In 1944, the USA War Department produced a series of seven documentary films on Why We Fight; in the sixth series, The Battle of China, Tibet is incorrectly called a province of China. (The official name is Tibet Area, and it's not a province.) 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 Harrer chose to leave in 1949.
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.
Under orders from the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek, Ma Bufang repaired the Yushu airport in 1942 to deter Tibetan independence. Chiang also ordered Ma Bufang to put his Muslim soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942. Ma Bufang complied, and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet. 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. This may have been the first appearance of the Tibetan national flag at a public gathering.
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:
In order to offset the damage done to their interests by the  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.
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.
Tibetan passport for Shakabpa, with visas from various countries.
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. 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.
Annexation by the People's Republic of China
In 1949, seeing that the Communists were gaining control of China, the Kashag government expelled all Chinese officials from Tibet despite protests from both the Kuomintang and the Communists. 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". In October 1950, the People's Liberation Army entered 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, participated in negotiations in Beijing with the Chinese government. It resulted in the Seventeen Point Agreement which affirmed China's sovereignty over Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later. China described the entire process as the "peaceful liberation of Tibet".
Organizational chart of Ganden Phodrang
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After the 13th Dalai Lama had assumed full control over Tibet in the 1910s, he began to build up the Tibetan Army with support from the United Kingdom, which provided advisors and weapons. This army was supposed to be large and modern enough to not just defend Tibet, but to also conquer surrounding regions like Kham which were inhabited by Tibetan peoples. The Tibetan Army was constantly expanded during the 13th Dalai Lama's reign, and had about 10,000 soldiers by 1936. These were adequately armed and trained infantrymen for the time, though the army almost completely lacked machine guns, artillery, planes and tanks. In addition to the regular army, Tibet also made use of great numbers of poorly armed village militias. Considering that it was usually outgunned by their opponents, the Tibetan Army performed relatively well against various Chinese warlords in the 1920s and 1930s. Overall, the Tibetan soldiers proved to be "fearless and tough fighters" during the Warlord Era.
Despite this, the Tibetan Army was wholly inadequate to resist the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during the Chinese invasion of 1950. It consequently disintegrated and surrendered without much resistance.
Snow lion stamp issued in 1912
Snow lion stamp issued in 1912
Snow lion stamp issued in 1912
Snow lion stamp issued in 1912
Snow lion stamp issued in 1912
Snow lion stamp issued in 1912
Snow lion stamp issued in 1920
Snow lion stamps issued in 1933
Tibet created its own postal service in 1912. It printed its first postage stamps in Lhasa and issued them in 1912. It issued telegraph stamps in 1950.
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, 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. A truce was signed, ending the fighting. The Dalai Lama had cabled the British in India for help when his armies were defeated, and started demoting his Generals who had surrendered.
Territorial extent of Tibet and approximate line of communist
advance in February 1950
In 1936, after Sheng Shicai expelled 30,000 Kazakhs from Xinjiang to Qinghai, Hui led by General Ma Bufang massacred their fellow Muslim Kazakhs, until there were 135 of them left.
From Northern Xinjiang over 7,000 Kazakhs fled to the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau region via Gansu and were wreaking massive havoc so Ma Bufang solved the problem by relegating the Kazakhs into designated pastureland in Qinghai, but Hui, Tibetans, and Kazakhs in the region continued to clash against each other.
Tibetans attacked and fought against the Kazakhs as they entered Tibet via Gansu and Qinghai.
In northern Tibet Kazakhs clashed with Tibetan soldiers and then the Kazakhs were sent to Ladakh.
Tibetan troops robbed and killed Kazakhs 400 miles east of Lhasa at Chamdo when the Kazakhs were entering Tibet.
In 1934, 1935, 1936–1938 from Qumil Eliqsan led the Kerey Kazakhs to migrate to Gansu and the amount was estimated at 18,000, and they entered Gansu and Qinghai.
In 1951, the Uyghur Yulbars Khan was attacked by Tibetan troops as he fled Xinjiang to reach Calcutta.
The anti-communist American CIA agent Douglas Mackiernan was killed by Tibetan troops on 29 April 1950.
Tibetan 100 tam Srang (back)
Tibetan 1 Srang silver coin, issued 1919
The Tibetan government issued banknotes and coins.
Society and culture
Traditional Tibetan society consisted of a feudal class structure, which was one of the reasons the Chinese Communist Party claims that it had to liberate Tibet and reform its government.
Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies Donald S. Lopez stated that at the time:
Traditional Tibet, like any complex society, had great inequalities, with power monopolized by an elite composed of a small aristocracy, the hierarchs of various sects . . and the great Geluk monasteries.
These institutional groups retained great power down to 1959.
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. Slavery did exist, for example, in places like the Chumbi Valley, though British observers like Charles Bell called it 'mild', and beggars (ragyabas) were endemic. The pre-Chinese social system however was rather complex.
Estates (shiga), roughly similar to the English manorial system, were 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 labor, and were 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 labor, 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 once they had fulfilled their corvée obligations. Historically, discontent or abuse of the system, according to Warren W. Smith, appears to have been rare. Tibet was far from a meritocracy, but the Dalai Lamas were recruited from the sons of peasant families, and the sons of nomads could rise to master the monastic system and become scholars and abbots.
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