Tibet under Qing rule

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Under domination of the Qing dynasty
Qing dynasty and Tibet.jpg
Tibet within the Qing dynasty in 1820.
Capital Lhasa
  Type Qing hierarchy and Kashag
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Dzungar Khanate
Tibet Flag of Tibet.svg
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History of Tibet
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Tibet under Qing rule[ citation needed ] refers to the Qing dynasty's rule over Tibet from 1720 to 1912. Tibet was under Khoshut Khanate rule from 1642 to 1717, with the Khoshuts conquered by Dzungar Khanate in 1717, and the Dzungars subsequently expelled by Qing in 1720. The Qing emperors appointed resident commissioners known as Ambans to Tibet, most of them are ethnic Manchus, who reported to the Lifan Yuan, a Qing government body that oversaw the empire's frontier. [1] Tibet under Qing rule retained a degree of political autonomy under the Dalai Lamas nonetheless.


By the late 19th century, Qing hegemony over Tibet remained in theory but in actuality was a dead letter given the weight of Qing's domestic and foreign-relations burdens. [2] However, Qing began to take steps to reassert their authority shortly after the British expedition to Tibet in 1903–04. [3] After the Qing dynasty was overthrown in 1911, Tibet entered a new political period from 1912 to 1951.



Güshi Khan of the Khoshut in 1641 overthrew the prince of Tsang and made the 5th Dalai Lama the highest spiritual and political authority in Tibet, [4] establishing the regime known as Ganden Phodrang. The time of the 5th Dalai Lama was also a period of rich cultural development.

Hongtaiji insulted the Mongols for believing in Tibetan Buddhism. [5]

With Güshi Khan who founded the Khoshut Khanate as a largely uninvolved overlord, the 5th Dalai Lama conducted foreign policy independently of the Qing, on the basis of his spiritual authority amongst the Mongolians. He acted as a mediator between Mongol tribes, and between the Mongols and the Qing Kangxi Emperor. The Dalai Lama would assign territories to Mongol tribes, and these decisions were routinely confirmed by the Emperor. In 1674, the Emperor asked the Dalai Lama to send Mongolian troops to help suppress Wu Sangui's Revolt of the Three Feudatories in Yunnan. The Dalai Lama refused to send troops, and advised Kangxi to resolve the conflict in Yunnan by dividing China with Wu Sangui. The Dalai Lama openly professed neutrality but he exchanged gifts and letters with Wu Sangui during the war further deepening the Qing's suspicions and angering them against the Dalai Lama. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] This was apparently a turning point for the Emperor, who began to take action to deal with the Mongols directly, rather than through the Dalai Lama. [11]

The 5th Dalai Lama died in 1682. His regent, Desi Sangye Gyatso, concealed the death and continued to act in his name. In 1688, Galdan Boshugtu Khan of the Khoshut defeated the Khalkha Mongols and went on to battle Qing forces. This contributed to the loss of Tibet's role as mediator between the Mongols and the Emperor. Several Khalkha tribes formally submitted directly to Kangxi. Galdan retreated to Dzungaria. When Sangye Gyatso complained to Kangxi that he could not control the Mongols of Kokonor in 1693, Kangxi annexed Kokonor, giving it the name it bears today, Qinghai. He also annexed Tachienlu in eastern Kham at this time. When Kangxi finally destroyed Galdan in 1696, a Qing ruse involving the name of the Dalai Lama was involved; Galdan blamed the Dalai Lama (still not aware of his death fourteen years earlier) for his ruin. [12]

Potala Palace painting of the 5th Dalai Lama meeting the Shunzhi Emperor in Beijing, 1653. 5th Dalai Lama having an audience with Shunzhi.png
Potala Palace painting of the 5th Dalai Lama meeting the Shunzhi Emperor in Beijing, 1653.

About this time, some Dzungars informed the Kangxi Emperor that the 5th Dalai Lama had long since died. He sent envoys to Lhasa to inquire. This prompted Sangye Gyatso to make Tsangyang Gyatso the 6th Dalai Lama public. He was enthroned in 1697. [13] Tsangyang Gyatso enjoyed a lifestyle that included drinking, the company of women, and writing love songs. [14] In 1702, he refused to take the vows of a Buddhist monk. The regent, under pressure from the Emperor and Lhazang Khan of the Khoshut, resigned in 1703. [13] In 1705, Lhazang Khan used the sixth Dalai Lama's escapades as excuse to take control of Lhasa. The regent Sanggye Gyatso, who had allied himself with the Dzungar Khanate, was murdered, and the Dalai Lama was sent to Beijing. He died on the way, near Kokonor, ostensibly from illness but leaving lingering suspicions of foul play. Lhazang Khan appointed a new Dalai Lama who, however, was not accepted by the Gelugpa school. Kelzang Gyatso was discovered near Kokonor and became a rival candidate. Three Gelug abbots of the Lhasa area [15] appealed to the Dzungar Khanate, which invaded Tibet in 1717, deposed Lhazang Khan's pretender to the position of Dalai Lama, and killed Lhazang Khan and his entire family. [16] The Dzungars proceeded to loot, rape and kill throughout Lhasa and its environs. They also destroyed a small force in the Battle of the Salween River which the Emperor had sent to clear traditional trade routes. [17]

Chinese expedition of 1720

Map showing wars between Qing Dynasty and Dzungar Khanate Qing Dzungar wars.jpg
Map showing wars between Qing Dynasty and Dzungar Khanate

In response to the Dzungar occupation of Tibet, a Chinese expedition sent by the Kangxi Emperor, together with Tibetan forces under Polhanas (also spelled Polhaney) of Tsang and Kangchennas (also spelled Gangchenney), the governor of Western Tibet, [18] [19] expelled the Dzungars from Tibet in 1720. They brought Kelzang Gyatso with them from Kumbum to Lhasa and he was installed as the seventh Dalai Lama. [20] [21] A Chinese protectorate over Tibet (described by Stein as "sufficiently mild and flexible to be accepted by the Tibetan government") was established at this time, with a garrison at Lhasa, and Kham was annexed to Sichuan. [16] In 1721, the Qing established a government in Lhasa consisting of a council (the Kashag ) of three Tibetan ministers, headed by Kangchennas. A Khalkha prince was made amban , or official representative in Tibet of the Qing. Another Khalkha directed the military. The Dalai Lama's role at this time was purely symbolic, but still highly influential because of the Mongols' religious beliefs. [22]

The Qing came as patrons of the Khoshut, liberators of Tibet from the Dzungar, and supporters of Kelzang Gyatso, but when they replaced the Khoshut as rulers of Kokonor and Tibet, they earned the resentment of the Khoshut and also the Tibetans of Kokonor. Lobsang Danjin, a grandson of Güshi Khan, led a rebellion in 1723. 200,000 Tibetans and Mongols attacked Xining. Central Tibet did not support the rebellion. In fact, Polhanas blocked the rebels' retreat from Qing retaliation. The rebellion was brutally suppressed. [23]

At multiple places such as Lhasa, Batang, Dartsendo, Lhari, Chamdo, and Litang, Green Standard troops were garrisoned throughout the Dzungar war. [24] Green Standard Army troops and Manchu Bannermen were both part of the Qing force who fought in Tibet in the war against the Dzungars. [25] It was said that the Sichuan commander Yue Zhongqi (a descendant of Yue Fei) entered Lhasa first when the 2,000 Green Standard soldiers and 1,000 Manchu soldiers of the "Sichuan route" seized Lhasa. [26] According to Mark C. Elliott, after 1728 the Qing used Green Standard Army troops to man the garrison in Lhasa rather than Bannermen. [27] According to Evelyn S. Rawski both Green Standard Army and Bannermen made up the Qing garrison in Tibet. [28] According to Sabine Dabringhaus, Green Standard Chinese soldiers numbering more than 1,300 were stationed by the Qing in Tibet to support the 3,000 strong Tibetan army. [29]

Early rule

The Kangxi Emperor was succeeded by the Yongzheng Emperor in 1722. In 1725, amidst a series of Qing transitions reducing Qing forces in Tibet and consolidating control of Amdo and Kham, Kangchennas received the title of Prime Minister. The Emperor ordered the conversion of all Nyingma to Gelug. This persecution created a rift between Polhanas, who had been a Nyingma monk, and Kangchennas. Both of these officials, who represented Qing interests, were opposed by the Lhasa nobility, who had been allied with the Dzungars and were anti-Qing. They killed Kangchennas and took control of Lhasa in 1727, and Polhanas fled to his native Ngari. Polhanas gathered an army and retook Lhasa in July 1728 against opposition from the Lhasa nobility and their allies. Qing troops arrived in Lhasa in September, and punished the anti-Qing faction by executing entire families, including women and children. The Dalai Lama was sent to Lithang Monastery [30] in Kham. The Panchen Lama was brought to Lhasa and was given temporal authority over Tsang and Ngari, creating a territorial division between the two high lamas that was to be a long lasting feature of Chinese policy toward Tibet. Two ambans were established in Lhasa, with increased numbers of Qing troops. Over the 1730s, Qing troops were again reduced, and Polhanas gained more power and authority. The Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa in 1735, temporal power remained with Polhanas. The Qing found Polhanas to be a loyal agent and an effective ruler over a stable Tibet, so he remained dominant until his death in 1747. [31]

The Qing had made the region of Amdo and Kham into the province of Qinghai in 1724, [16] and incorporated eastern Kham into neighbouring Chinese provinces in 1728. [32] The Qing government sent a resident commissioner ( amban ) to Lhasa. A stone monument regarding the boundary between Tibet and neighbouring Chinese provinces, agreed upon by Lhasa and Beijing in 1726, was placed atop a mountain near Bathang, and survived at least into the 19th century. [33] This boundary, which was used until 1910, ran between the headwaters of the Mekong and Yangtse rivers. Territory east of the boundary was governed by Tibetan chiefs who were answerable to China. [34]

The Qing Empire, marked the time when the Qing began to rule these areas. Qing Empire circa 1820 EN.svg
The Qing Empire, marked the time when the Qing began to rule these areas.

Polhanas' son Gyurme Namgyal took over upon his father's death in 1747. The ambans became convinced that he was going to lead a rebellion, so they killed him. News of the incident leaked out and a riot broke out in the city, the mob avenged the regent's death by killing the ambans. The Dalai Lama stepped in and restored order in Lhasa. The Qianlong Emperor (Yongzheng's successor) sent a force of 800, which executed Gyurme Namgyal's family and seven members of the group that killed the ambans. The Emperor re-organized the Tibetan government again, nominally restoring temporal power to the Dalai Lama, but in fact consolidating power in the hands of the (new) ambans. [35] The number of soldiers in Tibet was kept at about 2,000. The defensive duties were partly helped out by a local force which was reorganized by the resident commissioner, and the Tibetan government continued to manage day-to-day affairs as before. The Emperor reorganized the Kashag to have four Kalöns in it. [36] He also drew on Buddhism to bolster support among the Tibetans. Six thangkas remain portraying the emperor as Manjuśrī and Tibetan records of the time refer to him by that name. [16] [37]

The 7th Dalai Lama died in 1757, and the 8th, Jamphel Gyatso, was born the following year, and was identified and brought to Lhasa in 1762.

Gorkha invasions

In 1779, the third Panchen Lama, a cosmopolitan priest fluent also in Hindi and Persian and well disposed to both Catholic missionaries in Tibet and East India Company agents in India, was invited to Peking for the celebrations of the Emperor's 70th birthday. [38] [39] [40] In the final stages of his visit, after instructing the Emperor, he contracted smallpox and died in Beijing. [41] The following year, the 8th Dalai Lama assumed political power in Tibet. Problematic relations with Nepal led to Gorkha invasions of Tibet, sent by Bahadur Shah, the Regent of Nepal, in 1788 and again in 1791, when Shigatse was occupied and the great Tashilhunpo Monastery, the then seat of the Panchen Lamas, sacked and destroyed.

During the first incursion, the Manchu amban in Lhasa spirited away to safety both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, but otherwise made no attempt to defend the country, though urgent dispatches to Beijing warned that alien powers had designs on the region, and threatened Manchu interests. [42] A Qing army found that the Nepalese forces had melted away, and no suppression was necessary. After a renewed incursion in 1791, another army of Manchu and Mongols forces supplemented by strong contingents of Tibetan soldiers (10,000 of 13,000) supplied by local chieftains, repelled this second invasion and pursued the Gorkhas to the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal conceded defeat and returned all the treasure they had plundered. [38] [43] The Qianlong emperor was disappointed with the results of his 1751 decree and the performance of the ambans. A sweeping reform contained in the Twenty-Nine Article Imperial Ordinance of 1793, not only enhanced their status, but ordered them to control border inspections, and serve as conduits through which the Dalai Lama and his cabinet were to communicate. The same Ordinance instituted the Golden Urn system. [44]

Tibet was clearly subordinate to the Qing by the end of the 18th century. But with the arrival of the 19th century, especially with the weakening of the Qing dynasty itself in the later half of the 19th century, Qing authority over Tibet gradually weakened to the point of being minuscule, or merely symbolic. [45] [46] [47] Chinese historians argue that the ambans' presence was an expression of Chinese sovereignty, while those favouring Tibetan independence claims tend to equate the ambans with ambassadors. The relationship between Tibet and (Qing) China was that of patron and priest and was not based on the subordination of one to the other, according to the 13th Dalai Lama. [48] (The 13th Dalai Lama was deposed in 1904, reinstated in 1908 and deposed again in 1910 by the Qing government, but these pronouncements were not taken seriously in Lhasa.) [49] However, in the 1860s the Tibetans still chose for reasons of their own to emphasize the Qing Empire's symbolic authority and make it seem substantial. [50]

The Golden Urn

The defeat of the 1791 Nepalese invasion increased the Qing's control over Tibet. From that moment, all important matters were to be submitted to the ambans. [51]

Induction of Lungtok Gyatso, 9th Dalai Lama, in the presence of Ambans around 1808. Finding of a Dalai Lama.5.jpeg
Induction of Lungtok Gyatso, 9th Dalai Lama, in the presence of Ambans around 1808.

In 1792, the emperor issued a 29-point decree which appeared to tighten Qing control over Tibet. It strengthened the powers of the ambans. The ambans were elevated above the Kashag and the regents in responsibility for Tibetan political affairs. The Dalai and Panchen Lamas were no longer allowed to petition the Chinese Emperor directly but could only do so through the ambans. The ambans took control of Tibetan frontier defense and foreign affairs. Tibetan authorities' foreign correspondence, even with the Mongols of Kokonor (present-day Qinghai), had to be approved by the ambans. The ambans were put in command of the Qing garrison and the Tibetan army (whose strength was set at 3000 men). Trade was also restricted and travel could be undertaken only with documents issued by the ambans. The ambans were to review all judicial decisions. The Tibetan currency, which had been the source of trouble with Nepal, was also taken under Beijing's supervision. [52] However, according to Warren Smith, these directives were either never fully implemented, or quickly discarded, as the Qing were more interested in a symbolic gesture of authority than actual sovereignty; the relationship between Qing and Tibet was one between states, or between an empire and a semi-autonomous state. [53] The Cambridge History of China states that Tibet and Xinjiang were territories of the Qing dynasty since the 18th century. [54]

It also outlined a new method to select both the Dalai and Panchen Lama by means of a lottery administered by the ambans in Lhasa. The purpose was to have the Mongol grand-lama Qubilγan found in Tibet rather than from the descendants of the Činggisid aristocracy. [55] In this lottery the names of the competing candidates were written on folded slips of paper which were placed in a golden urn (Mongol altan bumba; Tibetan gser bum:Chinese jīnpíng:金瓶). [56] [57] The emperor also wanted to play this part in choosing reincarnations because the Gelugpa School of the Dalai Lamas was the official religion of his court. [58] Despite this attempt to meddle in Tibetan affairs, generally the emperor's urn was politely ignored, except when, in the mid-19th century, Qing support was needed against foreign and Nepalese encroachment. [57] The selection was made by the appropriate Tibetan officials using the previous incarnation's entourage, or labrang, [59] with the selection being approved after the fact by the emperor. [60] In such cases the emperor would also issue an order waiving the use of the urn. The tenth Dalai Lama was actually selected by traditional Tibetan methods, but in response to the amban's insistence, the regent publicly announced that the urn had been used. [61] The eleventh Dalai Lama was selected by the golden urn method. [60] The twelfth Dalai Lama was selected by the Tibetan method but was confirmed by means of the lottery. [62] [63]

Nepal was a tributary state to China from 1788 to 1908. [64] [65] In the Treaty of Thapathali signed in 1856 that concluded the Nepalese-Tibetan War, Tibet and Nepal agreed to "regard the Chinese Emperor as heretofore with respect." [66] Michael van Walt van Praag, legal advisor to the 14th Dalai Lama, [67] claims that 1856 treaty provided for a Nepalese mission, namely Vakil, in Lhasa which later allowed Nepal to claim a diplomatic relationship with Tibet in its application for United Nations membership in 1949. [68] However, the status of Nepalese mission as diplomatic is disputed [69] and the Nepalese Vakils stayed in Tibet until the 1960s when Tibet had been part of PRC for a decade. [70] [71] In 1841, the Hindu Dogra dynasty attempted to establish their authority on Ü-Tsang but were defeated in the Sino-Sikh War (1841–1842).

In the mid 19th century, arriving with an Amban, a community of Chinese troops from Sichuan who married Tibetan women settled down in the Lubu neighborhood of Lhasa, where their descendants established a community and assimilated into Tibetan culture. [72] Hebalin was the location of where Chinese Muslim troops and their offspring lived, while Lubu was the place where Han Chinese troops and their offspring lived. [73]

British expedition to Tibet (1903–1904)

The authorities in British India renewed their interest in Tibet in the late 19th century, and a number of Indians entered the region, first as explorers and then as traders. Treaties regarding Tibet were concluded between Britain and China in 1886, [74] 1890, [75] and 1893, [76] but the Tibetan government refused to recognize their legitimacy [77] and continued to bar British envoys from its territory. During "the Great Game", a period of rivalry between Russia and Britain, the British desired a representative in Lhasa to monitor and offset Russian influence.

At the beginning of the 20th century the British and Russian Empires were competing for supremacy in Central Asia. A British expedition was dispatched in 1904, officially to resolves border disputes between Tibet and Sikkim. The expedition quickly turned into an invasion and captured Lhasa, with the Dalai Lama fleeing to Mongolia. In response, the Chinese foreign ministry asserted that China was sovereign over Tibet, the first clear statement of such a claim. [78] Before the British troops arrived in Lhasa, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Outer Mongolia, and then to Beijing in 1908.

A treaty was signed between the British and the Tibetans that was known as the Convention Between Great Britain and Tibet. The main points of the treaty allowed the British to trade in Yadong, Gyantse, and Gartok while Tibet was to pay a large indemnity of 7,500,000 rupees, later reduced by two-thirds, with the Chumbi Valley ceded to Britain until the imdenity was received. Further provisions recognised the Sikkim-Tibet border and prevented Tibet from entering into relations with other foreign powers. As a result, British economic influence expanded further in Tibet, while at the same time Tibet remained under the sovereignty of the Qing dynasty of China. [79]

The Anglo-Tibetan treaty was followed by a Sino-British treaty in 1906 by which the "Government of Great Britain engages not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet. The Government of China also undertakes not to permit any other foreign State to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet." [80] Moreover, Beijing agreed to pay London 2.5 million rupees which Lhasa was forced to agree upon in the Anglo-Tibetan treaty of 1904. [81] In 1907, Britain and Russia agreed that in "conformity with the admitted principle of the suzerainty of China over Tibet" [82] both nations "engage not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government." [82]

Qing control reasserted

Lhasa Amban's yamen from Southeast around 1900-1901. Lhasa, Amban's Yamen from Southeast.png
Lhasa Amban's yamen from Southeast around 1900–1901.

The Qing dynasty put Amdo under their rule in 1724, and incorporated eastern Kham into neighbouring Chinese provinces in 1728. [83] [84] [85] The Qing government ruled these areas indirectly through the Tibetan noblemen.

Tibetans claimed that Tibetan control of the Batang region of Kham in eastern Tibet appears to have continued uncontested from the time of an agreement made in 1726 [33] until soon after the British invasion, which alarmed the Qing rulers in China. They sent the imperial official Fengquan (凤全) to the region to begin reasserting Qing control, but the locals revolted and killed him and two French Catholic priests and burned the church.[ citation needed ]

The Qing Empire in 1910 with provinces in deep yellow, military governorates and protectorates in light yellow. China 1910.jpg
The Qing Empire in 1910 with provinces in deep yellow, military governorates and protectorates in light yellow.

The British invasion was one of the triggers for the 1905 Tibetan Rebellion at Batang monastery, when anti-foreign Tibetan lamas massacred French missionaries, Manchu and Han Qing officials, and Christian converts before the Qing crushed the revolt. [86] [87]

The Qing government in Beijing then appointed Zhao Erfeng, the Governor of Xining, "Army Commander of Tibet" to reintegrate Tibet into China. He was sent in 1905 (though other sources say this occurred in 1908) [88] on a punitive expedition. His troops destroyed a number of monasteries in Kham and Amdo, and a process of sinification of the region was begun. [89] [90]

The Dalai Lama's title's was restored in November 1908. He was about to return to Lhasa from Amdo in the summer of 1909 when the Chinese decided to send military forces to Lhasa to control him. With their 1910 expedition to Tibet the Dalai Lama once again fled, this time to India, and was once again deposed by the Chinese. [91] The situation was soon to change, however, as, after the fall of the Qing dynasty in October 1911, Zhao's soldiers mutinied and beheaded him. [92] [93] All remaining Qing forces left Tibet after the Xinhai Lhasa turmoil.

In 1909 the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin returned from a three-year-long expedition to Tibet, having mapped and described a large part of inner Tibet. During his travels, he visited the 9th Panchen Lama. For some of the time, Hedin had to camouflage himself as a Tibetan shepherd (because he was European). [94] In an interview following a meeting with the Russian czar he described the situation as follows:

"Currently, Tibet is in the cramp-like hands of China´s government. The Chinese realize that if they leave Tibet for the Europeans, it will end its isolation in the East. That is why the Chinese prevent those who wish to enter Tibet. The Dalai Lama is currently also in the hands of the Chinese Government"..."Mongols are fanatics. They adore the Dalai Lama and obey him blindly. If he tomorrow orders them go to war against the Chinese, if he urges them to a bloody revolution, they will all like one man follow him as their ruler. China's government, which fears the Mongols, hooks on to the Dalai Lama."..."There is calm in Tibet. No ferment of any kind is perceptible" (translated from Swedish). [94]

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Khangchenné Sonam Gyalpo was the first important representative of the noble house Gashi in Tibet. Between 1721 and 1727 he led the Tibetan cabinet that governed the country during the period of Qing rule of Tibet. He was eventually murdered by his peers in the cabinet, which triggered a bloody but brief civil war. The nobleman Polhané Sönam Topgyé came out as the victor and became the new ruling prince of Tibet under the Chinese protectorate.

Qing dynasty in Inner Asia Historical territories of the Manchu-led Qing empire

The Qing dynasty in Inner Asia was the expansion of the Qing dynasty's realm in Inner Asia in the 17th and the 18th century AD, including both Inner and Outer Mongolia, Manchuria, Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang.

The 1720 Chinese expedition to Tibet or the Chinese conquest of Tibet in 1720 was a military expedition sent by the Qing empire to expel the invading forces of the Dzungar Khanate from Tibet and establish a Chinese protectorate over the country. The expedition occupied Lhasa and some claim it marked the beginning of Qing rule in Tibet, which lasted until the empire's fall in 1912.


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