The Qing dynasty placed Amdo under their control in 1724, and incorporated eastern Kham into Ambans to include more direct involvement in Tibetan internal affairs. At the same time the Qing took steps to counterbalance the power of the aristocracy by adding officials recruited from the clergy to key posts.
For several decades, peace reigned in Tibet, but in 1792 the Qing Qianlong Emperor sent a large Chinese army into Tibet to push the invading Nepalese out. This prompted yet another Qing reorganization of the Tibetan government, this time through a written plan called the “Twenty-Nine Regulations for Better Government in Tibet”. Qing military garrisons staffed with Qing troops were now also established near the Nepalese border. Tibet was dominated by the Manchus in various stages in the 18th century, and the years immediately following the 1792 regulations were the peak of the Qing imperial commissioners’ authority; but there was no attempt to make Tibet a Chinese province.
In 1834 the Sikh Empire invaded and annexed Ladakh, a culturally Tibetan region that was an independent kingdom at the time. Seven years later a Sikh army led by General Zorawar Singh invaded western Tibet from Ladakh, starting the Sino-Sikh War. A Qing-Tibetan army repelled the invaders but was in turn defeated when it chased the Sikhs into Ladakh. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Chushul between the Chinese and Sikh empires.
As the Qing dynasty weakened, its authority over Tibet also gradually declined, and by the mid-19th century its influence was minuscule. Qing authority over Tibet had become more symbolic than real by the late 19th century, although in the 1860s the Tibetans still chose for reasons of their own to emphasize the empire’s symbolic authority and make it seem substantial.
This period also saw some contacts with Jesuits and Capuchins from Europe, and in 1774 a Scottish nobleman, George Bogle, came to Shigatse to investigate prospects of trade for the British East India Company. However, in the 19th century the situation of foreigners in Tibet grew more tenuous. The British Empire was encroaching from northern India into the Himalayas, the Emirate of Afghanistan and the Russian Empire were expanding into Central Asia and each power became suspicious of the others’ intentions in Tibet.
In 1904, a British expedition to Tibet, spurred in part by a fear that Russia was extending its power into Tibet as part of The Great Game, invaded the country, hoping that negotiations with the 13th Dalai Lama would be more effective than with Chinese representatives. When the British-led invasion reached Tibet, an armed confrontation with the ethnic Tibetans resulted in the Massacre of Chumik Shenko, after which Francis Younghusband imposed a treaty in 1904 known as the Treaty of Lhasa, which was subsequently repudiated and was succeeded by a 1906 treaty signed between Britain and China.
In 1910, the Qing government sent a military expedition of its own under Zhao Erfeng to establish direct Manchu-Chinese rule and, in an imperial edict, deposed the Dalai Lama, who fled to British India. Zhao Erfeng defeated the Tibetan military conclusively and expelled the Dalai Lama’s forces from the province. His actions were unpopular, and there was much animosity against him for his mistreatment of civilians and disregard for local culture.
After the Xinhai Revolution (1911–12) toppled the Qing dynasty and the last Qing troops were escorted out of Tibet, the new Republic of China apologized for the actions of the Qing and offered to restore the Dalai Lama’s title. The Dalai Lama refused any Chinese title and declared himself ruler of an independent Tibet. In 1913, Tibet and Mongolia concluded a treaty of mutual recognition. For the next 36 years, the 13th Dalai Lama and the regents who succeeded him governed Tibet. During this time, Tibet fought Chinese warlords for control of the ethnically Tibetan areas in Xikang and Qinghai (parts of Kham and Amdo) along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. In 1914 the Tibetan government signed the Simla Accord with Britain, ceding the South Tibet region to British India. The Chinese government denounced the agreement as illegal.
When in the 1930s and 1940s the regents displayed negligence in affairs, the Kuomintang Government of the Republic of China took advantage of this to expand its reach into the territory.
From 1950 to present
The Tibetan Empire emerged in the 7th century, but it soon divided into a variety of territories. The bulk of western and central Tibet (Ü-Tsang) was often at least nominally unified under a series of Tibetan governments in Lhasa, Shigatse, or nearby locations; these governments were at various times under Mongol and Chinese overlordship. The eastern regions of Kham and Amdo often maintained a more decentralized indigenous political structure, being divided among a number of small principalities and tribal groups, while also often falling more directly under Chinese rule; most of this area was eventually incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. The current borders of Tibet were generally established in the 18th century.
Following the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing dynasty in 1912, Qing soldiers were disarmed and escorted out of Tibet Area (Ü-Tsang). The region subsequently declared its independence in 1913 without recognition by the subsequent Chinese Republican government. Later, Lhasa took control of the western part of Xikang, China.
Emerging with control over most of mainland China after the Chinese Civil War, the People’s Republic of China incorporated Tibet in 1950 and negotiated the Seventeen Point Agreement with the newly enthroned 14th Dalai Lama’s government, affirming the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty but granting the area autonomy. Subsequently, on his journey into exile, the 14th Dalai Lama completely repudiated the agreement, which he has repeated on many occasions.
The region maintained its autonomy until 1951 when, following the Battle of Chamdo, Tibet became incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, and the previous Tibetan government was abolished in 1959 after a failed uprising. Today, China governs western and central Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region while the eastern areas are now mostly ethnic autonomous prefectures within Sichuan, Qinghai and other neighbouring provinces. There are tensions regarding Tibet’s political status and dissident groups that are active in exile. It is also said that Tibetan activists in Tibet have been arrested or tortured.
After the Dalai Lama’s government fled to Dharamsala, India, during the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion, it established a rival government-in-exile. Afterwards, the Central People’s Government in Beijing renounced the agreement and began implementation of the halted social and political reforms. During the Great Leap Forward, between 200,000 and 1,000,000 Tibetans died, and approximately 6,000 monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1962 China and India fought a brief war over the disputed South Tibet and Aksai Chin regions. Although China won the war, Chinese troops withdrew north of the McMahon Line, effectively ceding South Tibet to India.
In 1980, General Secretary and reformist Hu Yaobang visited Tibet and ushered in a period of social, political, and economic liberalization. At the end of the decade, however, analogously to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, monks organisations have been critical of the Beijing and Lhasa governments’ approach to human rights in the region when cracking down on separatist convulsions that have occurred around monasteries and cities, most recently in the 2008 Tibetan unrest.
- Peter Aufschnaiter’s 8 Years in Tibet by Peter Aufschnaiter and Martin Brauen
- Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han by Hannü: Tibet through the Tibetans with a Han traveller
- Tears Of Blood: A Cry for Tibet by Mary Craig
- Trekking Tibet by Gary McCue
- The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 (Compass) by Tsering Shakya
- The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama by Thomas Laird
Monasteries & Temples of Tibet • Locations & Activities