Republican China and Independent Tibet

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Tibetan Perpective

In 1910 the Chinese military invaded Tibet and forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India. He remained there while the Chinese authorities governed from Lhasa with the help of some Tibetan officials until the fall of the Qing in 1911. At this point, factionalism in the military broke out and rule over Tibet became unstable. In India, the Dalai Lama declared Tibet an independent nation. The British intervened on the Dalai Lama’s behalf and the Chinese, under their new president Yuan Shikai, surrendered and came to the negotiation table with the Tibetans. In 1914, the Simla Convention was signed by Tibet and Britain, but the China boycotted the negotiations, refusing to grant Tibet autonomous power and restrict Chinese military and political presence there. A “new” Tibet grew out of the accords: an equal, and well-developed country with political reforms instituted by the Dalai Lama. With experience abroad and excellent political training, the Dalai Lama systematically analyzed and solved the issues plaguing Tibet’s prosperity.

The 13th Dalai Lama was a patriot in the truest sense. He won back control of Tibet and refused to compromise to the Chinese invaders (unlike the Panchen Lama who rubbed shoulders with the Chinese officials during the occupation). During the Dalai Lama’s exile, the Panchen Lama moved into the Dalai Lama’s residences and began to fraternize with the Manchu Amban in public. This outraged the Tibetan people. It is likely, however, that the Panchen Lama’s close ties with the Chinese were the result of his officials had collaborated with the Qing government. When the Dalai Lama finally returned to Lhasa, the Panchen Lama met the Dalai Lama’s entourage and expressed regret that he had capitulated to the Chinese.

After the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa in 1913, Tibet prospered as a free country. Tibet even developed an army that increased its superiority over the Chinese; officers and soldiers were eager to join its ranks to represent their country and fight for its freedom.
Scholar's Perspective

During the Republican period, Tibet became part of the imagined Chinese nation through the spread of Tibetan Buddhist practices and teachings. This popular movement gained momentum by integrating Tibetan Buddhist lamas who received support of prominent political leaders and Chinese monks who relied on the backing from lay Chinese practitioners.

The flourishing of a specifically Tibetan form of Buddhism seems surprising because historically the two traditions did not recognize their common source. Deriving their belief systems from different points in the development of Buddhism, the Tibetan and Chinese Tibetan traditions had distinctive practices and training. Conservative Chinese Buddhists incorporated aspects of the increasingly popular Tibetan form to adapt to the encroachments of modernity, and a small number of new Tibetan Buddhist institutions facilitated society’s conception of a unified Buddhism strongly tied to the formation of the modern nation.

The numerous Chinese sources on Tibetan Buddhism in this period, including those by lay societies and laymen, indicate its widespread appeal. Furthermore, public ceremonies meant to incorporate the teachings of esoteric Buddhism solidified the relationship between religion and country by involving prominent Tibetan Lamas in the project of ‘saving China.’ In Sichuan, for example, the Tibetan Rdo rje gcod pa became famous by receiving invitations from warlords and the laity to perform these ceremonies, which resulted in increased government interest and an elaborate event in 1931 called the Southwest Dharma-assembly for Peace. This ceremony began a heightened exposure to Tibetan material culture and official governmental inclusion of Tibetan Buddhism that has continued to the present.
Chinese Perspective

Since the 13th century Tibet has been under the jurisdiction of the Central Government of China and is an inalienable part of Chinese territory.

After the fall of the Qing dynasty the British imposed themselves unlawfully into the negotiations between China and the territories under its control. British officers aided and abetted Tibetan separatists who tried to instill chaos in China and break apart our unified country. With the goal of invading China and gaining control of Tibet, Britain first advanced the fallacy of the suzerainty and used force to influence Tibetan lamas according to their agenda. Britain plotted to make Tibet its protectorate, taking advantage of the contradictions between the 12th Dalai Lama and the Central Government of the Qing and the disturbances within China. The Simla Conference was a secret deal concocted by Britain to inflame the activities of Tibetan separatists and further entrench chaos within China. The Republican government in China, while under attack itself from western powers, maintained its close ties with the Tibetan ruling bodies so as to protect the sanctity of the Chinese nation.

After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama, the British government in India staged independence protests and other riotous activities in Tibet during the Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. The peaceful liberation of Tibet led by the Chinese defeated India’s interventionist plans. But some separatists in Xikang and Tibet had stepped up their activities for breaking away from the Chinese nation. Such activities ended in failure in 1959. The toiling masses in Tibet were liberated by the Chinese and have once again become masters of their own land in China.


12th Dalai Lama (1857-1875): born Trinley Gyatso, ruled during a time of political unrest in China and strained relations between China and Tibet

13th Dalai Lama (1876-1933): born Thubten Gyatso, responsible for negotiating the Simla Convention with Great Britain that asserted Tibetan independence

Amban: a Manchu high official, often an imperial resident of an outlying territory who acted as regent for the Qing state

Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945): or the Second Sino-Japanese War, set off by Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and most remembered for the brutal invasion and occupation of Nanjing in 1937

Panchen Lama: along with the Dalai Lama, one of the two highest ranking lamas in the Gelugpa sect

Rdo rje gcod pa (1874-?): first fully trained Tibetan monk to teach the Chinese in the Republican period. He studied at Drepung, the largest monastery in Lhasa, spoke Chinese, and became the most active Tibetan teacher in China for many years.

Simla Convention: treaty negotiated by Great Britian, Tibet, and China which China did not ratify. The treaty established the boundary for a Tibetan state.

Southwest Dharma-assembly for Peace: event in 1931 held in Chengdu, organized by Buddhists in Sichuan in order to spread interest in Buddhist across China

Xikang: now-defunct province in present-day Sichuan and Yunnan, southwest China, or the Tibetan province of Kham.

Yuan Shikai (1859-1916): first president of the Republic of China from 1912-1916. Yuan’s thirst for power led him to institute dictatorial rule in 1916 by declaring himself emperor.