The Period of Rival Empires


Forward to Tibet and China Under Mongol Domination

According to extant documents, political and social relations between China and Tibet can be traced back to China's Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907 AD. In the 7th Century, Tibetan King Songsten Gampo consolidated various tribes from the Qinghai-Tibet plateau under his central rule to establish the Tubo Dynasty roughly around the same time. Gampo sent envoys to the Tang capital of Chang'an in order to establish marital ties with the Tang court, and in 641, the Tibetan King married the Chinese princess Wencheng. After this connection was forged, the Tang emperor conferred the titles of Imperial Son-In-Law Governor and Treasured Prince upon Gampo.

Tibetan Perpective

Nyatri Tsenpo, the "Neck-enthroned King," was the first King of Tibet. However, the real history of Tibet begins with the 8th King, Drigum Tsenpo, because he was buried in the first tomb. The minister Longam killed Drigum, but one of his sons, Chatri Tsenpo, succeeded him. The 28th Tibetan King, Tho-tho-ri Nyantsen, is said to have received "The Secret"--the first book of Buddhist scripture in Tibet (233 AD). "The Secret" originated from India, and it was initially unable to be read by the Tibetans because it was written in Sanskrit. The 33rd Tibetan King, Songsten Gampo, instituted ten moral principles and sixteen rules of public conduct for his people. He married the Princess of Nepal. The Nepalese princess, Princess Devi took with her to Tibet the image of the Aksobhya Buddha, and the present-day Tibetans still believe that the Buddha himself blessed the image. Songsten sent Thon-mi Sam-bhota, along with sixteen others, to India to learn Sanskrit and translate "The Secret" into Tibetan script. Eventually Songsten requested the hand of another princess, Princess Wen-ch'eng of China, in marriage. Both the Nepalese and Chinese Princesses had temples constructed in dedication to their respective Buddha. In 640, Tibet occupied northern Burma and all of Nepal for a period of time, while in Lhasa, nine ministers were appointed by Songsten to divide the land. In 645, Songsten constructed a temple in the Chinese province of Shansi. He also sent around 19,000 Tibetan and Nepalese troops to aid the Chinese troops in India. In 649, Songsten died. His tomb is located in the Chongyas Valley near Yalung.

Gar Tongtsen, grandson of Songsten, took over the throne. Gar's son, Gar Tsenya then took over and in 670, the Tibetan army captured the "4 garrisons of Anhsi." In 671, a Chinese army was sent to fight the Tibetans. The Tibetan King, Mangsong Mangtsen, sent one of his ministers to China to demonstrate the unity and strength of the Tibetans. In 676, Mangsong passed away without a born successor, and his son was born several days after his death. Dusong Mangje, Mangsong's successor, died himself while leading the Tibetan army in the Chinese province of Yun-nan. Dusong's son, Tride Tsugtsen, took the throne. In 755, the Tibetan King Mes-Agtshom died. Trisong Detson (his heir) was a strong supporter of Buddhism, which did not sit well with the pro-Bon Ministers in Lhasa. Regardless of this opposition, Trisong invited the Indian pandit Santiraksita to visit Tibet and to teach the Buddhist doctrine. Santiraksita left, but the Tantric Master Padmasambhara took his place. Trisong elected seven "intelligent men" to become "trial monks," and the mission was a success. From 792-794, two schools of Buddhism in Tibet--the "instantaneous system" of the Chinese school, and the "slow system" from the Indian school--were juxtaposed by Trisong and open for debate. Trisong made a declaration that promised to keep the Three Jewels of Buddhism in Tibet. In 783 peace negotiations between China and Tibet took place, which resulted in a Sino-Tibetan treaty. This treaty established the boundaries between China and Tibet. In 823 a stone pillar in Lhasa was erected to commemorate the Sino-Tibetan treaty of 783. In 836, the Tibetan King Ralpachen was killed by pro-Bon Ministers--who were, in actuality, supporters of his brother Darma. As a result, Darma took over the throne and he proceeded to eradicate Buddhism from Tibet. In 842, the Buddhist monk Lhalung Palgye Dorje traveled to Lhasa to assassinate Darma. He succeeded, and he fled to a cave in the mountains and spent his time in deep meditation. Darma's son, O'sung, succeeded him on the throne. However, O'sung was not the sole ruler of Tibet: another king was put on the throne in Yalung. This marked the break of the royal lineage of kings in Tibet, thus ending the Chosgyal Age.
Scholar's Perspective

The myth that Tibetan culture had little influence on greater Asian history, maintained by many scholars both inside Tibet and out, ignores the lasting impact of the Tibetan Buddhist cultural empire on nearly the whole of northeastern Asia well into the twentieth century. From the An Lushan rebellion in 755 until the Sino-Tibetan peace treaty of 821-822, Tibet took advantage of Tang Chinese military weaknesses to claim a vast stretch of territory extending through Mongolia to the southern edge of the Great Wall. Constant fighting with Chinese and Uighurs during a century of military expansion took a harsh toll on Tibetans forces, and by 863 most Tibetan-ruled areas outside present-day ethnic Tibet was lost. Though the Tibetan Empire retained little of its territorial gains through subsequent Chinese dynasties, the channels of cultural exchange planted during a century of Tibetan dominance in the region should not be underestimated.

Perhaps the most profound effect of Tibetan expansion was the spread of Buddhism into mainstream Chinese, Mongolian, and Manchu society, so powerful as to nullify the influence of Islam in the region. Tibetan monks conducted steady relations with the Chinese state even after their territorial losses, holding court positions during the Song dynasty and solidifying a Tibetan-Mongol cultural alliance during the Yuan. Cultural exchange remained vibrant through the Qing dynasty and well into the twentieth century, such that Tibetan--rather than Chinese--became the lingua franca linking scholars from Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, Manchuria, and China. Tibet was also a hub of international trade moving throughout Eastern Asia. Caravans were forced to travel through Tibet so as to join merchants from China with those in Central Asia; this constant traffic did much to reinforce the exchange conduits--economic as well as cultural--that actualized Tibet’s lasting influence.
Chinese Perspective

The Tang dynasty and the Tubo kingdom shared a friendly and symbiotic relationship. The period of the Tang and Tubo empires only saw occasional military conflicts, conflicts that were simply inevitable due to human nature. Instead, both governments got along, and saw there were greater advantages to be had from working together and building close ties. Their relationship is summed up by part of the text of the Tang-Tubo Alliance Tablet: "The Tang Emperor and the Tubo King, as maternal uncle and nephew, have met and agreed to become allied as one." Upon founding the Tubo Empire in the 630's, Songstan Gambo had a great interest in the Tang dynasty under Emperor Taizong. The feudal Tang dynasty boasted a highly developed political, economic, and cultural system that the slavery-based Tubo system could learn from. In 634, Gambo sent an envoy to the Tang capital in order to ask for an adviser. Emperor Taizong agreed, thereby marking the beginning of the Tang-Tubo friendship. This friendship was further solidified by the marriage between Gambo and Tang Princess Wen Cheng. Upon her arrival in Tibet, Princess Wen Cheng taught Tibetans how to reclaim and grow crops, construct water mills and make ropes. Because of the strong relationship with the Tang, Gambo was able to better absorb production techniques and the culture of the Tang in the Central Plains.

The continuation of the strong Tubo-Tang relations was kept alive in the union of the Tang Princess Jin Cheng, and King Tride Tsugdan of Tubo. As a result of these marriages the Tubo received political, economic and cultural instruction from the Tang.

The Tang also benefited from the Tubo-Tang alliance. As a result of Princess Wen Chen's marriage to Gambo, Emperor Taizong was able to spread his policy of pacification. This two hundred year period, marked by two marriages, eight pledges of alliance, and 191 exchanges of envoys--consisted of the exchange of economic, political, and cultural ideas between the Tibetans and the Han. This relationship was made even stronger during the Song dynasty and laid the foundation for the incorporation of Tibet into Chinese territory in the thirteenth century.