About Tibet

 

 

Tibet is a plateau region in Central Asia and the home to the indigenous Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 4,900 metres (16,000 ft), it is the highest region on Earth and is commonly referred to as the "Roof of the World."

Tibet was once an independent kingdom but today is part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) with a small part, depending on definitions, controlled by India. The Republic of China (commonly known as Taiwan) also lays a claim to Tibet as part of its exclusive mandate which includes a claim to all the territories currently governed by the PRC. Currently, the PRC government and the Government of Tibet in Exile still disagree over when Tibet became a part of China, and whether the incorporation into China of Tibet is legitimate according to international law. Since what constitutes Tibet is a matter of much debate (see map, right) neither its size nor population are simple matters of fact, due to various entities claiming differing parts of the area as a Tibetan region.

A unified Tibet first came into being under Songtsän Gampo in the seventh century. From the early 1600s until the 1959 uprising, the Dalai Lamas (Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leaders) were, at least nominally, heads of a centralised Tibetan administration, with political power to administer religious and administrative authority over large parts of Tibet from the traditional capital Lhasa. They are believed to be the emanations of Avalokiteśvara (Tibetan:spyan ras gzigs, or 'Chenrezig'), the bodhisattva of compassion.

When the PRC government and some Tibetologists refer to Tibet, it means the areas covering Ü-Tsang and Western Kham, which became present-day the Tibet Autonomous Region, a provincial-level entity of the People's Republic. This definition, however, excludes the former domains of the Dalai Lamas in Amdo and eastern Kham which are part of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan.

When the Government of Tibet in Exile and the Tibetan refugee community abroad refer to Tibet, they mean the areas consisting of the traditional provinces of Amdo, Kham, and Ü-Tsang.

The difference in definition is a major source of dispute. The distribution of Amdo and eastern Kham into surrounding provinces was initiated by the Yongzheng Emperor during the 18th century and has been continuously maintained by successive Chinese governments.

Western scholars such as sinologist A. Tom Grunfeld and anthropologist Melvyn Goldstein exclude Amdo and Kham from political Tibet:

"When the Dalai Lama speaks of Tibet, he speaks for an area more than three times the size of the TAR in which Tibetans live (Kham and Amdo). The historical reality is that the Dalai Lamas have not ruled these outer areas since the mid-eighteenth century" "[Dalai Lama] claimed all of Kham and Amdo in the Simla Convention of 1913-14 – most of these areas in fact were not a part of its polity for the two centuries preceding the rise to power of the Communists in China in 1949....The term ‘Tibet’ refers to the political state ruled by the Dalai Lamas; it does not refer to the ethnic border areas such as Amdo and Kham which were not part of that state in modern times, let alone to Ladakh or Northern Nepal. Until recently, this convention was, as far as I can discern, universally accepted in the scholarly literature"
A modern nation-state usually has clearly defined borders at which one government's authority ceases and that of another begins. In centuries past, the Tibetan and Chinese governments had strong centers from which their power radiated, and weakened with distance from the capital. Inhabitants of border regions often considered themselves independent of both. Actual control exercised over these areas shifted in favor of one government or the other over the course of time. This history is conducive to ambiguity as to what areas belonged to Tibet, or to China, or to neither, at various times.

In spite of the changing nature of the recognised borders between the two countries over the centuries, and arguments about their positions (something common to many modern states as well), there were serious attempts from very early times to delineate the borders clearly to avoid conflict. One of the earliest such attempts was promulgated in the Sino-Tibetan treaty which was agreed on in 821/822 under the Tibetan emperor Ralpacan. It established peace for more than two decades. A bilingual account of this treaty is inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. Here is the main core of this remarkable agreement:

".... The great king of Tibet, the supernaturally wise divinity, the btsan-po and the great king of China, the Chinese ruler Hwang Te, Nephew and Uncle, having consulted about the alliance of their dominions have made a great treaty and ratified the agreement. In order that it may never be changed, all gods and men have been made aware of it and taken as witnesses; and so that it may be celebrated in every age and in every generation the terms of agreement have been inscribed on a stone pillar.
The supernaturally wise divinity, the btsan-po, Khri Gtsug-lde-brtsan himself and the Chinese ruler, B'un B'u He'u Tig Hwang Te, their majesties the Nephew and Uncle, through the great profundity of their minds know whatsoever is good and ill for present and future alike. With great compassion, making no distinction between outer and inner in sheltering all with kindness, they have agreed in their counsel on a great purpose of lasting good—the single thought of causing happiness for the whole population—and have renewed the respectful courtesies of their old friendship. Having consulted to consolidate still further the measure of neighbourly contentment they have made a great treaty. Both Tibet and China shall keep the country and frontiers of which they are now in possession. The whole region to the east of that being the country of Great China and the whole region to the west being assuredly the country of Great Tibet, from either side of that frontier there should be no warfare, no hostile invasions, and no seizure of territory. If there be any suspicious person, he shall be arrested and an investigation made and, having been suitably provided for, he shall be sent back.
Now that the dominions are allied and a great treaty of peace has been made in this way, since it is necessary also to continue the communications between Nephew and Uncle, envoys setting out from either side shall follow the old established route. According to former custom their horses shall be changed at Tsang Kun Yog which is between Tibet and China. Beyond Stse Zhung Cheg, where Chinese territory is met, the Chinese shall provide all facilities, beyond Tseng Shu Hywan, where Tibetan territory is met, the Tibetans shall provide all facilities. According to the close and friendly relationship between Nephew and Uncle the customary courtesy and respect shall be observed. Between the two countries no smoke or dust shall appear. Not even a word of sudden alarm or of enmity shall be spoken and from those who guard the frontier upwards all shall live at ease without suspicion or fear both on their land and in their beds. Dwelling in peace they shall win the blessing of happiness for ten thousand generations. The sound of praise shall extend to every place reached by the sun and moon. And in order that this agreement establishing a great era when Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet and Chinese shall be happy in China shall never be changed, the Three Jewels, the body of saints, the sun and moon, planets and stars have been invoked as witnesses; its purport has been expounded in solemn words; the oath has been sworn with the sacrifice of animals; and the agreement has been solemnized.
If the parties do not act in accordance with this agreement or if it is violated, whether it be Tibet or China that is first guilty of an offence against it, whatever stratagem or deceit is used in retaliation shall not be considered a breach of the agreement.
Thus the rulers and ministers of both Tibet and China declared, and swore the oath; and the text having been written in detail it was sealed with the seals of both great kings. It was inscribed with the signatures of those ministers who took part in the agreement and the text of the agreement was deposited in the archives of each party...."
In more recent times the border between China and Tibet was recognised to be near the town of Batang, which marked the furthest point of Tibetan rule on the route to Chengdu:

"The temporal power of the Supreme Lama ends at Bathang. The frontiers of Tibet, properly so called, were fixed in 1726, on the termination of a great war between the Tibetans and the Chinese. Two days before you arrive at Bathang, you pass, on the top of a mountain, a stone monument, showing what was arranged at that time between the government of Lha-Ssa and that of Peking, on the subject of boundaries. At present, the countries situate east of Bathang are independent of Lha-Ssa in temporal matters. They are governed by a sort of feudal princes, originally appointed by the Chinese Emperor, and still acknowledging his paramount authority. These petty sovereigns are bound to go every third year to Peking, to offer their tribute to the Emperor."
Spencer Chapman gives a similar, but more detailed, account of this border agreement:

"In 1727, as a result of the Chinese having entered Lhasa, the boundary between China and Tibet was laid down as between the head-waters of the Mekong and Yangtse rivers, and marked by a pillar, a little to the south-west of Batang. Land to the west of this pillar was administered from Lhasa, while the Tibetan chiefs of the tribes to the east came more directly under China. This historical Sino-Tibetan boundary was used until 1910. The states Der-ge, Nyarong, Batang, Litang, and the five Hor States—to name the more important districts—are known collectively in Lhasa as Kham, an indefinite term suitable to the Tibetan Government, who are disconcertingly vague over such details as treaties and boundaries."

Mr. A. Hosie, the British Consul at Chengdu, made a quick trip from Batang to the Tibetan border escorted by Chinese authorities, in September 1904, on the promise that he would not even put a foot over the border into Tibet. He describes the border marker as being a 3½ day journey (about 50 miles or 80 km) to the south and slightly west of Batang. It was a "well-worn, four-sided pillar of sandstone, about 3 feet in height, each side measuring some 18 inches. There was no inscription on the stone, and when unthinkingly I made a movement to look for writing on the Tibetan side, the Chinese officials at once stepped in front of me and barred the road to Tibet. Looking into Tibet the eye met a sea of grass-covered treeless hills. And from the valley at the foot of the Ningching Shan [which separate the valleys of the upper Mekong from that of the Jinsha or upper Yangtse] rose smoke from the camp fires of 400 Tibetan troops charged with the protection of the frontier. There was no time to make any prolonged inspection, for the Chinese authorities were anxious for me to leave as soon as possible."  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet)

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