Magazine article History Today

Editor's Letter

Magazine article History Today

Editor's Letter

Article excerpt

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Tibet, the 'Forbidden Land' ever since 1793 when it banned foreigners from entering, has long been an object of fascination, perhaps to Britons especially, since Colonel Francis Younghusband forced his way to Lhasa in 1904. Something about the vulnerability of an intensely' theocratic society, the exotic beliefs and practices, the beauty and remoteness of the landscape and the evident humanity of the people hits a nerve with many. All the more so since 1959 when the XIV Dalai Lama was forced into exile and had to abandon some of the introversion of his culture in order to appeal to Westerners who knew nothing of the realities of life on the 'roof of the world'.

While he and his followers have won many friends in Europe and America, few of those friends are aware of the historical background to the Chinese intervention, or indeed to the British interest in this remote land. Fewer still realize that eleven hundred years ago Tibet--which seems today a tragic victim of aggressive imperialism from Beijing--was itself an imperial power whose sway extended from the steppes of central Asia to the Bay of Bengal. So as tensions relating to Tibet rise up the news agenda in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games, it is a good moment to explore the complexity of that country's history in the 20th century, and to learn a little of both China's own involvement in the country, and Britain's attraction to it.

Asya Chorley's article (page 14) about the diplomatic mission that took the first-ever British family to Lhasa in 1930 throws a vivid light on all of this. …

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