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The Chinese Reaction

The invasion of Tibet and the Lhasa Convention of 1904 dramatically altered Chinese policy toward Tibet. Until then, the Qing dynasty had shown no interest in directly administering or sinicizing Tibet. The British thrusts now suggested to Beijing that unless it took prompt action, its position as overlord in Tibet might be lost, and with Tibet under the British sphere of influence the English would be looking down from the Tibetan plateau on Sichuan, one of China's most important provinces. The Qing dynasty, although enfeebled and on the brink of collapse, responded with surprising vigor. Beijing got the British troops to leave Tibetan soil quickly by paying the indemnity to Britain itself and began to take a more active role in day-to-day Tibetan affairs. Britain's casual invasion of Tibet, therefore, stimulated China to protect its national interests by beginning a program of closer cultural, economic, and political integration of Tibet with the rest of China. At the same time, in the ethnographic Tibetan borderland, Zhao Erfeng initiated a major campaign that quickly converted most of the autonomous native Tibetan states into districts under Chinese magistrates. And, ominously, he launched an active attack on the position of the lamas and monasteries.


At this time the Dalai Lama was languishing in exile, spending time first in Outer Mongolia and then in the ethnic Tibetan areas of what is now Qinghai province. His overture to the Russian czar had proved futile and his position in exile was somewhat precarious since he had been "deposed" by the Chinese government in 1904 because of his flight. Although Tibetans never questioned his legitimacy as their ruler, the increased domination of affairs in Lhasa by the ambans after his departure made him reluctant to return to Lhasa without first achieving some accommodation with the Qing dynasty that would guarantee his control of Tibet. In 1908, therefore, he went to Beijing. Arguing that the amban did not faithfully transmit his views to Beijing, the Dalai Lama requested permission to petition the throne directly (i.e., to bypass the amban as was done before the 1792 reforms). Beijing, however, was in no mood to loosen its control over the unpredictable and independent-minded thirteenth Dalai Lama and rudely refused, although it agreed to his return to Tibet to rule. The Anglo-Chinese and Anglo-Russian conventions had reaffirmed that Tibet was a part of China, and the Qing court felt that it would be easier to control Tibet through the Dalai Lama than risk trying to replace him. But their view of his position can be seen from the humiliating new title they gave him: "loyal and submissive viceregent."[24]

Nevertheless, China did not trust the Dalai Lama to be either loyal or submissive, so unbeknownst to him took steps to ensure he followed Beijing's instructions. Zhao Erfeng, the successful special commissioner who had brutally pacified the Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Yunnan, now sent an army of several thousand troops from Sichuan province to ensure that the Dalai Lama remained compliant. As the thirteenth Dalai Lama arrived in Lhasa in late December 1909, five years after he had fled from the Younghusband expedition, he learned that this Chinese army was on its way. The Dalai Lama, in desperation, sent the following poignant appeal to Britain:


Though the Chinese and Tibetans are of one family, yet the Chinese officer Chao [Zhao] and the Amban Lien are plotting together against us, and have not sent true copies of our protests to the Chinese Emperor, but have altered them to suit their own evil purposes. They are sending troops into Tibet and wish to abolish our religion. Please telegraph to the Chinese Emperor and request him to stop the troops now on their way. We are very anxious and beg the Powers to intervene and cause the withdrawal of the Chinese troops.[25]

And to the Chinese he wrote:

We, the oppressed Tibetans, send you this message. Though in outward appearance all is well, yet within big worms are eating little worms. We have acted frankly, but yet they steal our hearts. Troops have been sent into Tibet, thus causing great alarm. We have already sent a messenger to Calcutta to telegraph everything in detail. Please recall the Chinese officer and troops who recently arrived in Kam. If you do not do so, there will be trouble.[26]

No one intervened, so as that army entered Lhasa in February 1910, the Dalai Lama again fled into exile, this time south to his former enemies in British India.

China again deposed the Dalai Lama and stepped up its efforts to expand its real control in Tibet, its officials assuming more direct command of administration. A Chinese postal service was established and Tibet's first stamps were produced (in Chinese and Tibetan script). Tibet seemed set on a trajectory that would have ended in Tibet's incorporation into China proper. This process, however, was abruptly halted when the Qing dynasty was overthrown in China in 1911.

To ethnic Chinese, the Qing emperors were foreigners who had destroyed China's greatness and relegated it to the pathetic status of "sick man of Asia." From the mid-nineteenth century, China had suffered one humiliation after another: its defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894–1895, for example, ended in the loss of Taiwan and southern Manchuria (the


Liaoning Peninsula) to the Japanese together with the obligation to pay a huge indemnity. This was followed by the anti-Western, anti-Christian Boxer Uprising in 1900, which ended when a multinational Western army marched into Beijing and imposed further humiliating concessions and yet another huge indemnity.

Thus it was that the Chinese organized to overthrow the alien dynasty and restore China's greatness. The revolution began on October 10, 1911, in Wuchang, a town in western China, when soldiers killed their commander and took over the town. From there it spread quickly throughout the country, and four months later on February 12, 1912, the six-year-old Manchu emperor Puyi abdicated. Manchu rule in China was over.


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