Random Thoughts on visiting China to understand Tibet.

by fulltimestudent 25 Replies latest social current

  • fulltimestudent

    The cold war stills plays out on the international political scene in a few places. One of them is Tibet. Here is a summary list of some of the things I've learned, about which I shall post.

    1. One place to see the Tibetan-Chinese connection is at Chengde, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Beijing. Why?

    2. When did Tibet become part of China?

    3. The British invade Chinese Tibet in 1902. Why?

    4. The Dalai lama's persecution of fellow Tibetans.

    5. The CIA trains Tibetans to kill Chinese

    6. Was Tibet a place of peace as the Dalai lama claims?

    7. Who pays for the Dalai Lama's support?

    8. Whats behind the contemporary unrest among Buddhist monks in Tibet?

    9. Where do Tibetans live in China?

  • compound complex
    compound complex

    Thank you, FTS, for posting this information.

    Since reading Seven Years in Tibet over 50 years ago, I've been intrigued by this faraway land; however, my perception of the people and location is colored rosily by Hilton's Lost Horizon.


  • fulltimestudent

    The list I've posted previously, sets out a number of controversial areas of interest on the issue of Tibet. Here's the first

    Why visiting Chengde (in North China) is a good place to start understanding the Tibetan problem?

    For anyone wanting to understand the relationship between China, may I suggest starting in Beijing. Why? Because by starting in Beijing, you will be able to quickly sense how the immense task of modernising China has been proceeding, a modernisation that also is proceeding in Tibet. But more importantly, you will be able to visit Chengde , a small city north of Beijing (not to be confused with Chengdu, in Sichuan - Sichuan borders Tibet, and has a large Tibetan population). This was a former summer holiday area for the Emperor and his entourage. Here you will find not only the former Imperial Hunting park and palace, but also a number of Buddhist Temples, among which you will see this one:


    You likely recognise its similarity to the Potala Palace, the famous landmark in Lhasa in Tibet, once the home of the Dalai Lama. So what is this imitative temple/palace doing so far away in North China? Why was it built? What function was intended for it?

    This Temple/Palace is the Putouo Zongcheng that was built by the Qianlong Emperor between 1767 and 1771, and it served in many ways as a symbol of unity between the Mongolian peoples (including the Manchus).

    Is it important in understanding the relationship between Tibet and China? We will see!

  • fulltimestudent

    Google has thoughtfully provided electronic pages of a book called, Our Great Qing: The Mongols, Buddhism, and the State in Late Imperial China, written by scholar Johan Elverskog, and published by the University of Hawai'i in 2006. You will find it useful to understand the connection.

    In the first chapter, Elverskog opens by describing a scene in 1626, on the banks of the Hun river in modern Liaodong Province. An alliance was being sealed over the blood of a sacrificed white horse and a black ox, as Ooba Khung Taiji swore allegiance in front of God to Nurhaci, the Jurchen ruler. Ooba Khung Taiji took that step so as to gain Nurhaci's support and protection in disputes with other tribal groups of Mongolian origin.

    But, I need to step back for a moment (yes, I know its complex, but that's the way it was). In the last five hundred years BCE, the central states of China slowly coalesced into the Qin Empire (the first Empire) as essentially an agricultural society that could grow enough surplus food to support a centralised bureacracy and military. Much the same as happened in the Persian (Iranian) Empire and the Roman Empire.

    The Qin were opposed and spent much of their military effort in defending against the Steppe people who lived across the wild steppes of southern Siberia, from the East to the west. We find these steppe people impinging on the bureaucratic states right across the Eurasian land mass, but let's keep the eastern side in minds for now. *The Steppe people were loose collections of tribal groups. The large successful Chinese Empires were often able to keep them under control, but whenever these powerful states weakened the steppe people would attack. ( and on the west side, they eventually took control of the Western Roman Empire (as the Huns).

    The history of East Asian could be seen, particularly the area to the North of china (from heaven-smile) as a swirling mass of people out of which form national groups. For example, Japan and Korea from from these peoples who often took control of the local native peoples. And, in the case of China, they would, when the Central State was weak, carve off bits and form their own imitative Empire.

    Sometimes a really exceptional leader would emerge, as, for example, Chiingis Khan of the first Mongol confederation. His raiders conquered China (defeating the Song Dynasty) and Tibet, and formed the Yuan Empire. After 100 years (approx.) they were expelled by Chinese armies under the Ming leadership. The Ming Empire had (at least) nominal suzerainty over Tibet. But the price of Chinese freedom (if you want to call it that) was living in a highly militarised state. Out among the Mongol Steppe people, ambition to conquer never waned. And, that's where we meet the Nurhaci referred to above. Burning ambition to conquer China drove him on, always scheming and plotting to unite the bickering Mongolian tribes. One of the groups Nurhaci sought to incorporate in his alliance were the Tibetans, who had also earlier become allies of the Mongols. It is claimed that it was in that earlier alliance that a Tibetan nobleman had been given permission to call himself 'Dalai Llama,' a claim that seems to be challenged by the current Dalai Llama. Whatever the truth of tht particular issue, there seems no doubt that a close relationship existed between the Qing Empire and the Tibetan nobility. The palace in Chengde can be seen as evidence of that closeness.

    * I think the list on About.com is useful: ancienthistory.about.com/od/europe/tp/040609SteppeTribes.htm

  • shamus100

    A little off=topic but it amazes me seeing the amount of Hmong villagers all over asia that spread out from the west and made it to the east. You see them in nearly every country in Asia - among other tribes.

  • doofdaddy

    I am no friend of the Dalai Lama, as I see him as the pope of Buddhism but hey are you being paid by the Chinese Gov to put this stuff out? I have heard that the CG is doing so, swamping blogs sites and forums with propaganda. Or are you doing your Phd?!

  • fulltimestudent

    CC, thank you for posting. I hope that I do not shatter any mystical illusions concerning ancient Tibet.

    To balance what you've read to date, you may be able to find in a local library, a copy of Peter Fleming's, Bayonets to Lhasa: The British Invasion of Tibet. Peter Fleming is the lesser known brother of Ian Fleming. The invasion of which he speaks was in 1904. The Qing Government of China was at its weakest point (it would soon collapse), and the opportunistic Brits were worried that the Russians (i.e Imperial Russia) already in control of parts of Central Asia would take control of Tibet and be in a position to threaten control of India.

    There are some helpful points to understanding the situarion of that time. The Army unit had not gone 20 miles (from the Indian border) before it came to a Chinese Customs post. So which government had control of the territory? In any case I would argue that the Brits already knew of that customs post. The Chinese Customs had been set up by the British to enable the Chinese government to raise the money neccessary to pay the immense reparations they said China owed Europeans nations. It worked this way. Everytime the west made a military incursion into China, and the Chinese lost, the Europeans (Brits mainly) would say, Oh! You fought our army and cost us a lot of expense, therefore you owe us X amount of dollars, and you must pay us, or we will get angry with you. So the Europeans set up a Customs service under an Englishman, Sir Robert Hart, who did a very efficient job of administering that service. Nonetheless, I think Hart can only be seen as a British agent par excellence, whose job was to keep the Chinese government in line.

    Another incident that is informative, is the first brush with a Tibetan militia of about 300. They were armed with flintlock rifles, no match for the Brits who also a couple of machine guns.

    When the outgunned Tibetans surrendered, they were rounded up into a compound and the Brits attempted to disarm them. Problem was, the guns were the personal property of these men, and they resisted surrendering their weapons - so the Brits machine-gunned them.

    Another comic development was a row between the British Military Commander and the British political cadre on the expedition. The Cadre became fearful that the Army officer was going to have him killed, so he ran away and placed himself under the protection of the Chinese governor of Tibet.

  • shamus100

    Oh gawd, someone else pops in to puke up a troll comment. >:O I'd try checking out the posters history fist before making an ass of yourself.

  • fulltimestudent

    haha!! doofdaddy. I have not yet gotten to Ph.d stage - maybe if I do, I'll die on the day I submit my thesis, die or not die - it'll be a close thing -grin,

    And, no sadly, I'm not yet at the stage that the Chinese government has expressed any interest in my writing skills. But its an interesting idea. If (as he told a Melbourne journalist) the Dalai Lama can be paid $20 million bucks a year for supporting American interests, then the Chinese (who have more money these days) could afford to pay me a million. (second thoughts, in case they are reading this) I'll settle for $50,000 a year.

    OK, to be serious. I entered this degree with two key interests - First, Chinese History (i.e.) the development of China from pre-history to now. The development of China is likely the single most important event of the 20th Century, and secondly, the evidence for intellectual interchange in early history.

    I was stongly influenced to do this by a friend* who lectured at Wollongong University (near Sydney) He kept telling me that I needed to learn intellectual discipline and I should go study. And, yes! scholastic discipline has been great. I've learnt to separate my view of a subject from my emotions.

    Unfortunately, I found that at undergrad degree level, I could not focus only on the two key themes (as above). So I've taken near every study unit I could with an Asian theme, and just to do that, I've had to attend two universities. I've also had to include a lot of Ancient History topics focussed on West Asia. But that's been good for me, in Ancient History I've found it easy to separate my emotions - who cares today whether the Romans were good or bad?

    I also understand how you may feel about some things I write. But I do not write without consideration and wondering why things happened as they did.

    * A great guy - came from Michigan and migrated to Australia. Sadly he died a couple of years back. Miss him a lot, as he had a knack of getting me to re-think conclusions.

    Ps. I write a lot here - for practise. I've had a lot of trouble learning to write so-called, "Academic" essays. So I take opportunities to write and share some of things I've covered in my studies.

  • Broken Promises
    Broken Promises

    I enjoy your posts about China.

    And it's great to see another Aussie on this board - there's not many of us about unfortunately.

Share this