Tibet Before 1949

History and Legal Status


Tibet was a fully independent country until the Chinese invaded it in 1949. China’s violation of Tibet’s territorial integrity was denounced as an aggression by virtually all states of the free world, including India. Sadar Vallabhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India stated, “…Recent and bitter history (Chinese invasion of Tibet) also tells us that communism is no shield against imperialism and that the communists are as good and as bad imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts of Assam. They have their ambitions in Burma also”. Similarly Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia strongly condemned and added, “The government of China has offended not only against international morality but also against India’s interests by mobbing into Tibet”.


Early Tibetan Kings


Tibet has a recorded history of statehood extending over 2000 years which began in 127 B.C. During the 7th and 10th Century, Tibet’s empire reached its apogee and extended to China and other Central Asian Countries.

Buddhism was introduced and made the state religion. The first monastery in Tibet was build at Samye. It was during this period, Tibetan armies even seized the Chinese capital at Ch’ang-an (present-day Xian) in 763 A.D. A Peace Treaty was concluded with China in 821/2 and the text of the treaty was inscribed on pillars which are still to be seen in three places: one outside the Chinese Emperor’s palace gate in Ch’ang-an, another before the main gate of Jokhang temple in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa and the third on the Tibet-China border at Mount Gugu Meru.

During the period between 824 and 1247, the whole Tibetan empire collapsed following the assassination of King Wudum Tsen, popularly known as Lhang Dharma for his persecution of the Buddhists. The mighty Tibetan Empire disintegrated into small princedoms and a dark period fell over Tibet. During this period, Tibet’s relations with its neighbouring countries, including China, was minimal.
Relation with Mongols

Between 1247 and 1350, a succession of 20 Sakya Lamas ruled Tibet and it was during their rule that the Mongols, who invaded many countries of Europe and Asian, also invaded Tibet in 1207 followed by China in 1280. This is the period when both Tibet and China were in the same political grouping subjected to Mongolian rule. The Tibetans were able to free themselves from Mongolian rule in 1358 when Phagmo Drupa succeeded the Sakya rule in Tibet. The Chinese followed suit some ten years later, when in 1368 they were able to drive out the Mongols and establish the native Ming dynasty. Today, the Chinese claims that `Tibet has always been part of China’ derive from this period when both Tibet and China were ruled by the Mongols. It is ridiculous claim. By using similar arguments India could now lay claim to Burma on the grounds that they both were once part of the British Empire.


The Dalai Lama


In 1642, the great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, assumed both spiritual and temporal authority over Tibet. He established the present system of Tibetan Government, known as Gaden Phodrang. After assuming the power, the Dalai Lama visited China to demand the Chinese recognition of his sovereignty. The Manchu Emperor of China not only accepted the Dalai Lama as a leader of the independent state, but also treated him as Divinity on Earth. In return the Dalai Lama used his influence to bring the warlike Mongols into acknowledging the Emperor’s sway in China. Henceforth, there started a Priest-Patron Relationship – a new element into the relations of Tibet, China and Mongols, which the Chinese now manipulated to claim that “Tibet has been a part of China’.

The glorious reign of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama was followed by a period of intrigue and instability.


Relation with Manchus


In 1720, the Manchus who controlled China interfered in Tibetan affairs by sending troops to escort the young seventh Dalai Lama, who was born in Eastern Tibet, to Lhasa. When the Manchus troops marched out from Lhasa, they left behind a Resident or Amban-ostensibly to serve the Dalai Lama but in actual fact, to look after their own interests. This was the beginning of Manchu interference in Tibetan affairs. The Manchus gained a nominal control over eastern Tibet during this period which, however, they were thrown out in 1865, when Tibetans recaptured the lost territories. The Manchu’s intervention in Tibet again occurred in 1880 when the Manchus Emperor’s representatives (Ambans) took up residence in Lhasa and tried to engage in nefarious intrigue and meddle in Tibetan affairs. But Tibet never lost her sovereignty. Tha Manchus interference in Tibet ceased in 1912. The Tibetans expelled all the Chinese and Manchu troops from Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet. The Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama reasserted Tibet’s independence through a special declaration in 1913.

The Tibetans also experienced such interference at the hands of Gorkhas and British. At every occasion Tibet never lost her sovereignty. This was confirmed by Tibet’s signing of a treaty with Nepal in 1856 without reference to China or the Manchus and another treaty with the Mongolians at Urga (present day Ulan-bator) in 1913.


1913 and Aftermath


Between the period of 1911-1949, there was no interference of any country in Tibet. Further, Tibetan independence was confirmed at the Treaty of Simla (July 3, 1914), which was concluded between Tibet and British India. In 1942, during the World War II, the supply route between India and China via Burma was cut off by the Japanese. The British government requested the Government of Tibet for permission to open a military supply route through Zayul (Southern Tibet), which was refused by the Tibetan Government. Tibetans trade delegations visited India, the United Kingdom, the United States and China. They were received by all these countries as an official delegation of Tibet. Nepal in 1949, cited its relationship with Tibet to prove its sovereign status while applying for the UN membership. Besides, the representatives of the government of Tibet also took part in the Inter-Asian Conference held in New Delhi on March 23, 1947 followed by Afro-Asian Conference held in Delhi in 1948.

Back To Top