The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922

By Wendy Palace | Go to book overview

4

Delicate work

The Dalai Lama, the China Service and East Tibet, 1904-1909

We all attended one of the Dalai Lama's 'at homes', and were not particularly impressed with his intelligence.

Sir John Jordan on the Dalai Lama, October 1908

East Tibet was bordered by the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan and was entirely different in character to that of Tibet's frontier with India, being subject to greater Chinese influence and control. Its people belonged to a variety of different tribal groupings, some of whom were not Tibetan. Although there were huge monasteries and sizeable towns, like Chamdo, Batang and Ta-chien-liu, most of East Tibet was sparsely populated by nomadic or semi-nomadic herders and traders, as well as by bandits who haunted the trade routes, making any travel hazardous. From the 1880s onwards some British commercial companies had made efforts to investigate the trading potential of the area, drawn by rumours of vast underworked gold and mineral deposits on Sichuan's borders with Tibet. Scientific interest in the cultural life and language of the various tribes living in East Tibet had also led to expeditions of exploration, and there had been numerous attempts to persuade them to trade. There had also been a number of schemes launched to link Tibet with south-west China, using steamboats on the upper reaches of the Yangtse river and a rail link from Burma, both of which had been spectacularly unsuccessful. 1

East Tibet was generally regarded by men of the India Service as quite separate from the rest of the country, primarily because this eastern frontier was staffed by men of the China Consular Service and there was little direct communication between them. The China Service was administered from London by the Far Eastern Department of the Foreign Office which supervised the British legation in Peking as well as liaising with the Chinese legation in London. The consular section of the Service was run by a separate consular department but, inside China itself, the British minister in Peking was directly responsible for the officers in his care. The Far Eastern Department had always enjoyed comparative freedom within the Foreign Office, partly because it dealt with an area far from Europe in

-53-

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The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • 1 - The Younghusband Invasion, 1900-1904 1
  • 2 - Masterly Inactivity 15
  • 3 - Beyond the Frontier 36
  • 4 - Delicate Work 53
  • 5 - Revolution, Invasion and Independence 73
  • 6 - The Simla Conference and the Bipartite Settlement, 1912-1914 92
  • 7 - The China Service and East Tibet, 1914-1918 106
  • 8 - Lhasa Unveiled 126
  • Conclusion 143
  • Notes 150
  • Select Bibliography 180
  • Index 188
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