Background Developments and the Political Setting



Whereas the actual extent of Chinese control in Tibet varied markedly over the years, depending on the stability of the Central Government, its military power and other political factors, domestic as well as foreign, the thesis has generally been upheld that, in spite of all temporary fluctuations, de jure the status of Tibet was that of a component of the Chinese State, quasi-independent internally, but subject to Chinese suzerainty and represented by Peking in all matters of international diplomacy. True, such a legal formula is itself thoroughly ambiguous, and has led to chronic learned controversy as to its import, the end of which is nowhere in sight.1 It is surely not the place here to review or try to unravel once again all the many technical arguments pro and con the definition advanced above. It is submitted, however, that the following set of propositions may perhaps best identify the constants in the disputed question and describe the conjuncture of events as it appeared in the beginning of 1949, i.e., before the advent of the Chinese Communists to power on the mainland and prior to the point where that prospect became a certainty.


Prime Minister Background Development Fourth Rank Tibetan Region Political Setting 
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  1. 1.
    For differing points of view on the legal and historical status of Tibet vis-à-vis China, see Tieh-Tseng Li, The Historical Status of Tibet (New York, 1956); idem, “The Legal Position of Tibet,” American Journal of International Law, Vol. 50, No. 2, PP. 394-404 (April, 1956); Charles H. Alexandrowicz-Alexander, “The Legal Position of Tibet,” ibid., Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 265-274 (April, 1954).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    International Commission of Jurists, The Question of Tibet and the Rule of Law (Geneva, 1959), PP. 75-99; idem, Tibet and the Chinese People’s Republic (Geneva, 1960), pp. 139-165; His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, My Land and My People (New York, 1962), pp. 73-79. As the Dalai Lama notes, on p. 78: “For the first twenty-two years of our independence, there were no Chinese officials of any kind in Tibet, but in 1934, after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, a Chinese delegation came to Lhasa to present religious offerings. After presenting the offerings, the delegation remained in Lhasa on the grounds that it wanted to complete some talks on the Sino-Tibetan border which had been left unfinished. However, the position of these Chinese was exactly the same as those of the Nepalese and British, and later the Indian Missions which were also in Lhasa — and in 1949 even these remaining Chinese were expelled from the country.”Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    E.g., Tägliche Rundschau, October 26,1950; Hsinhua News Agency, Daily News Release, January 26, 1950, p. 166; Chou En-lai’s speech of September 30, 1950, Keesing’s Contemporary Archives (hereafter abbr. as KCA), 1950, p. 11024; also KCA, 1950, p. 11101, and Facts on File, 1950, pp. 35, 163.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    B. P. Gurevich, Osvobozhdenie Tibeta (Moscow, 1958), p. 163.Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    The Dalai Lama, op. cit., p. 83. See, too, the comments in B. P. Gurevich, op. cit., p. 164.Google Scholar
  6. 2.
    “Tibet’s Appeal to the United Nations Against Chinese Aggression,” United Nations Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 9, pp. 675-676 (December 15, 1950). As the Dalai Lama indicates in his memoirs, pp. 85-86: “The next grievous blow to us was the news that the General Assembly of the United Nations had decided not to consider the question of Tibet. This filled us with consternation.”Google Scholar
  7. 1.
    The Dalai Lama, op. cit., p. 85.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    H. Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet (London, 1953), tr. from the German by R. Graves, p. 283.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    For English text of the 1951 agreement, see People’s China, Vol. 3, No. 12, Supplement, pp. 3-5; Russian text in Pravda, May 29, 1951. There were, at the time, persistent rumors that in addition to the 17 published points the agreement also contained 60 secret clauses, see W. Levi, “Tibet Under Chinese Communist Rule,” Far Eastern Survey, Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 3 (January, 1954). This has since been proven untrue.Google Scholar
  10. 1.
    Vide, speech by Li Wei-hau, People’s China, Vol. 3, No. 12, Suppl., p. 8.Google Scholar
  11. 2.
    Cf., W. Levi, op. cit., p. 5.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    B. P. Gurevich, op. cit., pp. 166-167. According to this source, the 15-man party arrived in Peking on April 22, the contingent of 6, traveling via India and Hongkong reached the capital on April 26, the Panchen Lama’s group came the next day. Final negotiations started on April 29, and ended on May 21, 1951. See, too, Facts on File, 1951, p. 171.Google Scholar
  13. 2.
    Speech by Li Wei-han, loc. cit.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    E.g., in his work entitled “On Coalition Government.”Google Scholar
  15. 2.
    For official text in English, see The Important Documents of the First Plenary Session of the Chinese PPCC (Peking, 1949); text in Russian in E. F. Kovalev (ed.), Zakonodatelnye akty Kitaiskoi Narodnoi Respubliki (Moscow, 1952), pp. 50-65. Articles 50-53 pertain to the problem of national minorities.Google Scholar
  16. 1.
    The Dalai Lama, op. cit., p. 88; F. Moraes, The Revolt in Tibet (New York, 1960), p. 68. The importance of the seal is quite easily explained. Had the treaty been signed without the official seal being affixed to it, it would have been quite obvious to anyone acquainted with Tibetan usage and to every Tibetan that the Dalai Lama had not yet given his final consent to the document and, until he did so, the Chinese remained enemies. With a seal on the treaty, even a spurious one, the agreement immediately went into effect as far as the uninformed public was concerned and the population therefore had to treat the newcomers quite differently. Hopefully, any subterfuge would not become known until the Chinese no longer had to fear the wrath of the Tibetans they had tricked. As it turned out, the claim that a hoax had been perpetrated did not leak out until after the Dalai Lama’s flight to India and today it is altogether impossible to verify the truth of the matter. The story circulated by the Tibetans is not per se incredible, but much doubt is cast upon it by the fact that for almost a decade not even a rumor was heard on this subject, and then all at once everything came to light so opportunely. For a sceptic, the whole thing smacks too much of a convenient discovery reeking of the wisdom of hindsight. The Dalai Lama also makes the point, p. 5, that “our government never ratified the agreement which was forced on us.” Technically speaking, there was no need for such ratification, since the text of the treaty made no provision for it. In international law, the agreement was certainly valid as it stood, though in Tibetan constitutional law it may have been quite otherwise, without thereby affecting in any way, however, China’s rights secured under the document.Google Scholar
  17. 2.
    According to F. Moraes, op. cit., p. 69, the validity of the treaty may also be questioned by virtue of the fact that “the Dalai Lama did not accept the agreement until after the vanguard units of the People’s Liberation Army arrived in Lhasa on September 9, 1951, and the main body of the army was on the outskirts of the capital,” claiming that a copy of the document was not submitted to the Dalai Lama until that time and even then under pressure of force and that his approval was “not only obtained under duress but enforced by chicanery.” This is controverted by facts. The Dalai Lama himself admits in his memoirs, p. 88, that he learned of the terms of the agreement in a broadcast over Radio Peking while he was still at Yatung, out of reach of any Chinese and therefore free to reject it at once. He again had an opportunity to do so when he met Chang Ching-Wu alone at Yatung, without fear of reprisal. On neither occasion was the attempt made, so that the charge of duress and chicanery fails. By the time the God-king had returned to Lhasa he was fully familiarized with the contents of the treaty signed in his name and by his behavior had already indicated tacit approval of its provisions.Google Scholar
  18. 1.
    R. Rahul, “The Government of Tibet 1912–1933,” International Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 174 (October, 1962).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 2.
    As a distinct mark of the Dalai Lama’s temporal authority he is given the unique title of official of the first rank.Google Scholar
  20. 1.
    Tsung-Lien Shen and Shen-Chi Liu, Tibet and the Tibetans (Stanford, 1953), p. 104. These four officials were inseparable from the Dalai Lama’s person and accompanied him wherever he went. “Collectively, the four men are known as the Khen-Pos of the Rear.”Google Scholar
  21. 1.
    R. Rahul, op. cit., p. 174.Google Scholar
  22. 2.
    As head of state, the Dalai Lama also had the right to dispense pardon and proclaim amnesties.Google Scholar
  23. 3.
    R. Rahul, op. cit., p. 175.Google Scholar
  24. 4.
    Ibid. Some of the friction apparently arose from the fact that in rank the Silon was equal to the Regent, both being officials of the second class, which displeased the Regent and led him to demand the liquidation of the post of Silon as such.Google Scholar
  25. 1.
    With the proviso that in exceptional cases a legal decision might be rendered by the Dalai Lama himself.Google Scholar
  26. 2.
    G. M. Valiakhmetov, Organy vlasti i upravleniya Tibeta (Moscow, 1958), pp. 30–31.Google Scholar
  27. 3.
    R. Rahul, op. dt., p. 174.Google Scholar
  28. 1.
    F. Moraes, op. cit., p. 59.Google Scholar
  29. 1.
    The close relationship between the throne and the Lama court found official expression in the ritual of the daily morning tea attended by all the members of the court and the Dalai Lama.Google Scholar
  30. 1.
    The Dalai Lama, op. cit., p. 60.Google Scholar
  31. 1.
    The precise powers of the district magistrate are shrouded in mystery, apparently being left up to custom and usage alone. Even the question of tenure leads to disagreement. Thus, according to P. Carrasco, Land and Polity in Tibet (Seattle, 1959), p. 82, “appointments are for short periods of time, usually for three years, although reappointment is possible.” On the other hand, Lowell Thomas, Jr., The Silent War in Tibet (New York, 1959), p. 129, maintains that “since ancient times Tibet was divided into dzongs, which were comparable to a county. The dzongpon was the head official, above the village leaders but below the regional governor. Traditionally the dzongpon had great power, particularly in the outlying areas. He was appointed for no definite period and often held the post for life. He was obligated to pay a fixed revenue from his dzong to Lhasa. Whatever he could collect in excess of the fixed amount was his own profit. He was not salaried and was subject to only loose control from higher authority.” Likewise, H. E. Richardson, A Short History of Tibet (New York, 1962), p. 22: “Although the district officials were under the general supervision of the Provincial Governor they were directly responsible to the Council. They led a comparatively independent existence and had wide power in their own jurisdiction, being guided by a general and traditional set of rules rather than by frequent instructions from the capital on points of detail.”Google Scholar
  32. 1.
    B. P. Gurevich, op. cit., pp. 39-40.Google Scholar
  33. 1.
    H. Harrer, op. cit., pp. 222-223.Google Scholar
  34. 2.
    Cf. P. Carrasco, op. cit., p. 208, who classifies Tibet as either a simple form or a semicomplex type of community under Wittfogel’s theory of Oriental or Hydraulic society.Google Scholar
  35. 1.
    R. Rahul, op. cit., p. 174.Google Scholar
  36. 1.
  37. 1.
    In 1928, for instance, when the Po tribes in north-east Tibet revolted against Lhasa’s officials, the Central Government sent a punitive expedition to pacify them, and three years later annexed the territory within the regular administrative fabric of Tibet. The local ruler, one of the last of the minor princelings who in the past ruled over the eastern outskirts of Tibet escaped to India where he died. G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia (New H aven, 1931), P. 470; J. Hanbury-Tracy, Black River of Tibet (London, 1938), p. 162.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1964

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State University of IowaUSA
  2. 2.Planning Research CorporationUSA

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