Tibet and China: History of a Complex Relationship Is Tibet Part of China? For at least 1500 years, the nation of Tibet has had a complex relationship with its large and powerful neighbor to the east, China. The political history of Tibet and China reveals that the relationship has not always been as one-sided as it now appears. Indeed, as with Chinaâ€™s relations with the Mongols and the Japanese, the balance of power between China and Tibet has shifted back and forth over the centuries.For at least 1500 years, the nation of Tibet has had a complex relationship with its large and powerful neighbor to the east, China. The political history of Tibet and China reveals that the relationship has not always been as one-sided as it now appears. Indeed, as with Chinaâ€™s relations with the Mongols and the Japanese, the balance of power between China and Tibet has shifted back and forth over the centuries. Early Interactions The first known interaction between the two states came in 640 A.D., when the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo married the Princess Wencheng, a niece of the Tang Emperor Taizong. He also married a Nepalese princess. Both wives were Buddhists, and this may have been the origin of Tibetan Buddhism. The faith grew when an influx of Central Asian Buddhists flooded Tibet early in the eighth century, fleeing from advancing armies of Arab and Kazakh Muslims. During his reign, Songtsan Gampo added parts of the Yarlung River Valley to the Kingdom of Tibet; his descendants would also conquer the vast region that is now the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, and Xinjiang between 663 and 692. Control of these border regions would change hands back and forth for centuries to come. In 692, the Chinese retook their western lands from the Tibetans after defeating them at Kashgar. The Tibetan king then allied himself with the enemies of China, the Arabs and eastern Turks. Chinese power waxed strong in the early decades of the eighth century. Imperial forces under General Gao Xianzhi conquered much of Central Asia, until their defeat by the Arabs and Karluks at the Battle of Talas River in 751. China's power quickly waned, and Tibet resumed control of much of Central Asia. The ascendant Tibetans pressed their advantage, conquering much of northern India and even seizing the Tang Chinese capital city of Chang'an (now Xian) in 763. Tibet and China signed a peace treaty in 821 or 822, which delineated the border between the two empires. The Tibetan Empire would concentrate on its Central Asian holdings for the next several decades, before splitting into several small, fractious kingdoms. Tibet and the Mongols Canny politicians, the Tibetans befriended Genghis Khan just as the Mongol leader was conquering the known world in the early 13th century. As a result, though the Tibetans paid tribute to the Mongols after the Hordes had conquered China, they were allowed much greater autonomy than the other Mongol-conquered lands. Over time, Tibet came to be considered one of the thirteen provinces of the Mongolian-ruled nation of Yuan China. During this period, the Tibetans gained a high degree of influence over the Mongols at court. The great Tibetan spiritual leader, Sakya Pandita, became the Mongol's representative to Tibet. Sakya's nephew, Chana Dorje, married one of the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan's daughters. The Tibetans transmitted their Buddhist faith to the eastern Mongols; Kublai Khan himself studied Tibetan beliefs with the great teacher Drogon Chogyal Phagpa. Independent Tibet When the Mongols' Yuan Empire fell in 1368 to the ethnic-Han Chinese Ming, Tibet reasserted its independence and refused to pay tribute to the new Emperor. In 1474, the abbot of an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Gendun Drup, passed away. A child who born two years later was found to be a reincarnation of the abbot, and was raised to be the next leader of that sect, Gendun Gyatso. After their lifetimes, the two men were called the First and Second Dalai Lamas. Their sect, the Gelug or "Yellow Hats," became the dominant form of Tibetan Buddhism. The Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588), was the first to be so named during his life. He was responsible for converting the Mongols to Gelug Tibetan Buddhism, and it was the Mongol ruler Altan Khan who probably gave the title â€œDalai Lamaâ€ to Sonam Gyatso. While the newly-named Dalai Lama consolidated the power of his spiritual position, though, the Gtsang-pa Dynasty assumed the royal throne of Tibet in 1562. The Kings would rule the secular side of Tibetan life for the next 80 years. The Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso (1589-1616), was a Mongolian prince and the grandson of Altan Khan. During the 1630s, China was embroiled in power struggles between the Mongols, Han Chinese of the fading Ming Dynasty, and the Manchu people of north-eastern China (Manchuria). The Manchus would eventually defeat the Han in 1644, and establish China's final imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644-1912). Tibet got drawn into this turmoil when the Mongol warlord Ligdan Khan, a Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist, decided to invade Tibet and destroy the Yellow Hats in 1634. Ligdan Khan died on the way, but his follower Tsogt Taij took up the cause. The great general Gushi Khan, of the Oirad Mongols, fought against Tsogt Taij and defeated him in 1637. The Khan killed the Gtsang-pa Prince of Tsang, as well. With support from Gushi Khan, the Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, was able to seize both spiritual and temporal power over all of Tibet in 1642. The Dalai Lama Rises to Power The Potala Palace in Lhasa was constructed as a symbol of this new synthesis of power. The Dalai Lama made a state visit to the Qing Dynasty's second Emperor, Shunzhi, in 1653. The two leaders greeted one another as equals; the Dalai Lama did not kowtow. Each man bestowed honors and titles upon the other, and the Dalai Lama was recognized as the spiritual authority of the Qing Empire. According to Tibet, the "priest/patron" relationship established at this time between the Dalai Lama and Qing China continued throughout the Qing Era, but it had no bearing on Tibet's status as an independent nation. China, naturally, disagrees. Lobsang Gyatso died in 1682, but his Prime Minister concealed the Dalai Lama's passing until 1696 so that the Potala Palace could be finished and the power of the Dalai Lama's office consolidated. The Maverick Dalai Lama In 1697, fifteen years after the death of Lobsang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama was finally enthroned. Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-1706) was a maverick who rejected the monastic life, growing his hair long, drinking wine, and enjoying female company. He also wrote great poetry, some of which is still recited today in Tibet. The Dalai Lamaâ€™s unconventional lifestyle prompted Lobsang Khan of the Khoshud Mongols to depose him in 1705. Lobsang Khan seized control of Tibet, named himself King, sent Tsangyang Gyatso to Beijing (he â€œmysteriouslyâ€ died on the way), and installed a pretender Dalai Lama. The Dzungar Mongol Invasion King Lobsang would rule for 12 years, until the Dzungar Mongols invaded and took power. They killed the pretender to the Dalai Lamaâ€™s throne, to the joy of the Tibetan people, but then began to loot monasteries around Lhasa. This vandalism brought a quick response from the Qing Emperor Kangxi, who sent troops to Tibet. The Dzungars destroyed the Imperial Chinese battalion near Lhasa in 1718. In 1720, the angry Kangxi sent another, larger force to Tibet, which crushed the Dzungars. The Qing army also brought the proper Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso (1708-1757) to Lhasa. The Border Between China and Tibet China took advantage of this period of instability in Tibet to seize the regions of Amdo and Kham, making them into the Chinese province of Qinghai in 1724. Three years later, the Chinese and Tibetans signed a treaty that laid out the boundary line between the two nations. It would remain in force until 1910. Qing China had its hands full trying to control Tibet. The Emperor sent a commissioner to Lhasa, but he was killed in 1750. The Imperial Army then defeated the rebels, but the Emperor recognized that he would have to rule through the Dalai Lama rather than directly. Day-to-day decisions would be made on the local level. Era of Turmoil Begins In 1788, the Regent of Nepal sent Gurkha forces to invade Tibet. The Qing Emperor responded in strength, and the Nepalese retreated. The Gurkhas returned three years later, plundering and destroying some famous Tibetan monasteries. The Chinese sent a force of 17,000 which, along with Tibetan troops, drove the Gurkhas out of Tibet and south to within 20 miles of Kathmandu. Despite this sort of assistance from the Chinese Empire, the people of Tibet chafed under increasingly meddlesome Qing rule. Between 1804, when the Eighth Dalai Lama died, and 1895, when the Thirteenth Dalai Lama assumed the throne, none of the incumbent incarnations of the Dalai Lama lived to see their nineteenth birthdays. If the Chinese found a certain incarnation too hard to control, they would poison him. If the Tibetans thought an incarnation was controlled by the Chinese, then they would poison him themselves. Tibet and the Great Game Throughout this period, Russia and Britain were engaged in the "Great Game," a struggle for influence and control in Central Asia. Russia pushed south of its borders, seeking access to warm-water sea ports and a buffer zone between Russia proper and the advancing British. The British pushed northward from India, trying to expand their empire and protect the Raj, the "Crown Jewel of the British Empire," from the expansionist Russians. Tibet was an important playing piece in this game. Qing Chinese power waned throughout the eighteenth century, as evidenced by its defeat in the Opium Wars with Britain (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), as well as the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) and the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901). The actual relationship between China and Tibet had been unclear since the early days of the Qing Dynasty, and China's losses at home made the status of Tibet even more uncertain. The ambiguity of control over Tibet lead to problems. In 1893, the British in India concluded a trade and border treaty with Beijing concerning the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet. However, the Tibetans flatly rejected the treaty terms. The British invaded Tibet in 1903 with 10,000 men, and took Lhasa the following year. Thereupon, they concluded another treaty with the Tibetans, as well as Chinese, Nepalese and Bhutanese representatives, which gave the British themselves some control over Tibetâ€™s affairs. Thubten Gyatso's Balancing Act The 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, fled the country in 1904 at the urging of his Russian disciple, Agvan Dorzhiev. He went first to Mongolia, then made his way to Beijing. The Chinese declared that the Dalai Lama had been deposed as soon as he left Tibet, and claimed full sovereignty over not only Tibet but also Nepal and Bhutan. The Dalai Lama went to Beijing to discuss the situation with the Emperor Guangxu, but he flatly refused to kowtow to the Emperor. Thubten Gyatso stayed in the Chinese capital from 1906 to 1908. He returned to Lhasa in 1909, disappointed by Chinese policies towards Tibet. China sent a force of 6,000 troops into Tibet, and the Dalai Lama fled to Darjeeling, India later that same year. The Chinese Revolution swept away the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and the Tibetans promptly expelled all Chinese troops from Lhasa. The Dalai Lama returned home to Tibet in 1912. Tibetan Independence China's new revolutionary government issued a formal apology to the Dalai Lama for the Qing Dynasty's insults, and offered to reinstate him. Thubten Gyatso refused, stating that he had no interest in the Chinese offer. He then issued a proclamation that was distributed across Tibet, rejecting Chinese control and stating that "We are a small, religious, and independent nation." The Dalai Lama took control of Tibet's internal and external governance in 1913, negotiating directly with foreign powers, and reforming Tibet's judicial, penal, and educational systems. History of Tibet | Is Tibet Part of China?