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H-ASIA August 22, 1995 Further comment on Tibet, China and the British Ed. note: This item was posted originally over two weeks ago and is in reference to other H-ASIA posts of that time. Unaccountably it was not received and has been reposted. While the thread had seemingly come to a close, the content of this post, reflecting recent research is appropriate even at this late date. F.F.C. ************************************************************************ From: email@example.com From Peter Robb, SOAS, London. My graduate student, Alex McKay, makes the following contribution to the recent debate over Tibet, China and identity: Looking back over the discussion of 'China's strategic world view and Tibet' in the H-ASIA list recently, it seems there are some misconceptions concerning several areas of recent history which I might comment on. My perspective is that of one just handing in my PhD, entitled 'Tibet and the British Raj: 1904-47. The influence of the Indian Political Department Officers', in the History Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. Christopher Cox has chosen a particularly obscure source for his information on the British position in Tibet; I have never heard of it, nor is it in the bibliographies of any of the standard works on the period. It is true that the primary concern of the British in India at the turn of this century was the threat posed by Russia to British India. (Whether this threat was real or not is another issue). But the British did not 'fake an uprising so that they might relocate a military unit there to establish order'. The Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, had been unable to contact the Tibetan leadership, which refused to accept his correspondence. He sent a mission under the command of Colonel Francis Younghusband, an Indian Political Officer, to negotiate an agreement with the Tibetans. The Tibetans refused to negotiate, and the mission eventually fought its way to Lhasa and forced the Tibetans to sign an agreement which gave the British the right to station officers at three 'Trade Agencies', in Gyantse, Yatung and Gartok. Curzon and Younghusband had hoped this mission would lead to the stationing of a British representative in Lhasa, but the British Government in London refused to allow this. There was never really any question of the British 'establishing colonial rule in Tibet'. Whitehall was simply never prepared to take-on the expense, financial and diplomatic. Whitehall always recognised China as the suzerain power in Tibet, and prevented the Government of India from offering any significant financial or military aid to the Tibetans. But James Hoover is not quite correct in stating that the British did not set up a Residency System in Tibet. The Trade Agents, being chosen by the Indian Political Department, were, in effect, diplomatic representatives of the Government of India, and they opposed the policies of Whitehall in regard to Tibet. They wanted to increase British influence in Tibet, chiefly in order to ensure that the Russians did not do the same, and they did succeed in establishing a British mission in Lhasa in 1936-37, though the exact status of this was never articulated. It was theoretically temporary. While it is true that there was a British Indian military unit stationed in Gyantse, it was primarily there as a weapon of prestige, it had no input at all in events in Tibet, athough some training was given to Tibetan troops. The British Indian troops remained in Gyantse, and there were no British troops in Lhasa. The British 'weapons' were personal influence through the cultivation of local allies in Lhasa ruling-circles. While the British Government recognised China as the suzerain power in Tibet, quite what this meant was never clearly defined, not least because the lack of definition was of advantage to the British. The Chinese were expelled from Lhasa after the 1911 revolution when their troops mutineed and were eventually beaten by the Tibetans. The British had no influence or involvement in those events, although the Chinese had made life so difficult for the British Trade Agents, that the Trade Agents were only too happy to see them go, and continued to encourage the Tibetans to keep the Chinese out. In this regard, the standard works are by Alastair Lamb, _Britain And Chinese Central Asia_ (1960), _The MacMahon Line_ (1966) and _Tibet, China and Britain_ (1989), the first two published in Oxford, the latter in Hertingfordbury. On the 1913-50 period, see Goldstein M., _Modern Tibet 1913-50: The Demise of the Lamaist State_ (1989) published in the US and the UK. There is also my article on "The Establishment of the British Trade Agencies in Tibet" in the _Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society_, November 1992. The British presence in Tibet left a number of aspects of Tibet's status undefined - with the result that, although Tibet had functioned as an independent state, and the British representatives had dealt with the Tibetan Government on a day-to-day basis as if it were independent, its status was not recognised by other governments. But I don't share Tom Grunfeld's belief that history is of no importance to the debate. There is a much wider question of the imposition of status on political units by the European powers, but its rather ironical that imperialism for the Tibetans is something carried out by the Chinese. Alex McKay SOAS Univ of London ================================================================= To post to H-ASIA send your message to H-ASIA@msu.edu To temporarily interrupt your H-ASIA service for holidays send a posting to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with the message: SET H-ASIA NOMAIL When you return and wish to resume H-ASIA service send a similar posting with message: SET H-ASIA MAIL Private questions should go to: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org