h i s t o r y   o f   t i b e t  |  p r e  1 9 4 9

Tibet is located in central Asia, surrounded by the highest mountains in the world. It is north of India, Nepal and Bhutan, west of China, and south of Russia, Mongolia, and East Turkestan, covering a land mass of three times the size of the state of Texas. Tibet is sparsely populated, but rich in minerals, and home to many many rare fauna and flora. The headwaters of Asia's major rivers are located in Tibet; such as the Indus in Pakistan, Sutlej, Ganges and Brahmaputra in India, Salween in Burma, Mekong in Laos and Thailand, and Yangtse and Yellow River in China.

Tibet is made up of three regions, collectively known as the Chol-Kha-Sum. From Ngari Korsum in Western Tibet to Sokla Kyao, the region is known as U-Tsang; from Sokla Kyao to the upper bend of the Machu (Yellow River) it is known as Dotod or Kham, and from the bend of Machu to Chorten Karpo, it is called Domed or Amdo.

Tibetan history may be divided into four major periods; the rise and the fall of early kings from the 3rd century B.C. to the 13th century A.D.; the rise and the fall of the Sakya rule from 1247 to 1368; the rise and the fall of the hegemony of 1368 to 1644; and the rise of the Dalai Lama's influence and rule from 1644 to the present.

All through these periods, Tibet was not a part of China. The Chinese claim Tibet to have become a part of China when the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo took Princess Wen-ch'eng Kung-chu of the Chinese Emperor T'ai-tsung in marriage; at other times, the Chinese point to the Mongol rule (the Yuan Dynasty); and still other times, China states that Tibet came under Chinese rule at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. With no historical foundation to support their claim, they jump from century to century, hoping to find a period in Tibetan history to legitimize their claim. But there is none.

The Tibet-China relationship, beginning from King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, was based on political and military power to create peaceful coexistence between the two countries. From the Chinese perspective, it was to avoid military confrontation with the Tibetans and the marriage stood as a guarantee for Tibetans from invading China. Starting from the Sakya rule over Tibet, the priest-patron relationship came into being between the Mongol rulers and Tibet. This relationship was inherited by the subsequent rulers in China and the latter used Tibet's influence over the Mongols to hold off their attacks on China. In the priest-patron relationship, the priest provided the spiritual guidance and the patron provided protection of the priest's country. This protection did not make the priest a subordinate to the patron nor the patron the owner of the priest's domain or territories under his rule.

However, during the expansion of the British empire, Britain deliberately used a western political terminology to describe the priest-patron relationship that existed between Tibet and China. The term the British used was 'suzerainty'. Britain stated that China had suzerainty over Tibet and used that as the premise for their dealings about Tibet with China. This may have been designed to stop the Russians from gaining influence in Tibet, which the British saw as a threat to their rule in India.

Tibet refused to accept any treaty in which they were not a party. This refusal lead to the British invasion of Tibet in 1904. Before the Younghusband expedition was set in motion, Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy in India, wrote to the Secretary of State of India revealed that: "We regard Chinese suzerainty over Tibet as a constitutional fiction... a political affectation which has only been maintained because of its convenience to both parties."

The 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia when Britain invaded Tibet. China did not assist Tibet, or protest against the invasion. The Tibetan army was no match for the British, and they were defeated with heavy casualties. The British army marched into Lhasa and imposed the Lhasa Convention of 1904. China was not a party to this agreement. In 1906, Britain signed an agreement with China who accepted the terms of the Lhasa Convention. Tibet was not a party to the agreement and so refused to accept it as binding on them. Britain also signed another treaty with Russia in which they accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and to deal with China in all matters pertaining to Tibet. Tibet was not a party to this agreement and Tibet refused to accept it.

The British insistence on Chinese suzerainty over Tibet encouraged China to stake their claim and invade Tibet in 1910. The 13th Dalai Lama fled for the second time in less than a decade. This time He fled to India and stayed there for over two years. The Dalai Lama returned to Tibet in January 1913, and reclaimed Tibet's independence and expelled the Amban, the Chinese representative in Lhasa, and all of the Chinese soldiers and traders.

In 1914, Tibet, Britain and, at the latter's insistence, China convened border talks in Simla, India. Tibet and Britain signed what is called 'the Simla Convention' which established the border between India and Tibet. The demarcation is called the McMohan Line. In fact, when the newly independent India requested the Tibetan Government to re-negotiate the borders between the two countries, the Tibetan Government decided to wait to give time to know India better.

Until 1949/1950, Tibet's status did not change; Tibet did not renounce her sovereignty to become a part of China. Under international law, by mere occupation of one country by another country, the occupied country does not become a part of the occupying country. Therefore, as long as Tibetans do not renounce their sovereign rights voluntarily, China has no legal basis for their claim over Tibet.

[ copyright | u.s. tibet committee ]

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