Brief History The relationship between Tibet and China goes back thousands of years. The power has also shifted back and forth between the two during Mongol dynasties like the Yuan founded by Kublai Khan (1271-1368), and Chinese dynasties such as the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching (1644-1910). From 1949 to the present, the Chinese Communist Party has been in power in the People’s Republic of China.
By the 1800s, Tibet was also of interest to an expanding Russia to the north and the British Empire in India and Bengal to the south.
The Opium Wars 1839-1842 and 1856-1860
To control trade with the West, China instituted the Canton System in 1756 which limited foreign entrance into China and put the balance of trade between the British East India Company and China in China’s favor. British and American merchants then purchased huge amounts of opium from the British East India factories in India and sold them along the coast of China in the hopes of balancing the trade disparity. At the same time, it hurt the Chinese society by creating addicts. Opium “dens”
In 1838, Qing Dynasty Emperor Dao Guangdemanded action. He arrested the Chinese smugglers and forced the British and American merchants inland to forfeit their opium stocks. Britain responded by attacking China and the First Opium War lasted from 1839-1842. It ended with a British victory and the Treaty of Nanjing, the same Nanjing that 100 years later would be massacred by the Japanese before WWII. British troops capture Chinkiang in the last major battle of the war, 21 July 1842 Chinese militia from up-country, armed with clubs and wicker shields. (Second Opium War) China was forced to pay for the opium it had seized, but more importantly, and many claim fraudulently, also give up the island of Hong Kong indefinitely to the British (no termination date). Honk Kong was not returned to China until 1996, over 150 years later. Hong Kong is considered one of the most beautiful skylines in the world.
A second and final opium war broke out 14 years later for much of the same reasons. It lasted from 1856-1860. This time the French joined the British for another Chinese defeat. The Chinese would rebel again 40 years later against the West for opium trading, unfair treaties, foreign political influence and Christian evangelism in the Boxer Rebellion, 1899-1901, but again lose to an 8-nation alliance against them. Ruins of the "Western style" Xiyanglou complex in the Old Summer Palace, burnt down by Anglo-French forces. The Belvedere of the God of Literature, in the New Summer Palace, just before its destruction by Anglo-French troops in 1860.
So what? Since the relationship between China and Tibet had been unclear since the early Qing dynasty (1600s), China’s defeats in the 1800s left the Tibet situation even more vague. Even the British stepped in and controlled parts of Tibet for a time in the early 1900s.
“In 1474, the abbot of an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery, GendunDrup, passed away. A child born two years later was found to be a reincarnation of the abbot, and was raised to be the next leader of that sect, GendunGyatso. After their lifetimes, the two men were called the First and Second Dalai Lamas. Their sect, the Gelug or "Yellow Hats," became the dominant form of Tibetan Buddhism. The Third Dalai Lama, SonamGyatso (1543-1588), was the first to be so named during his life. He was responsible for converting the Mongols to Gelug Tibetan Buddhism, and it was the Mongol ruler Altan Khan who probably gave the title “Dalai Lama” to SonamGyatso.”” http://asianhistory.about.com/od/china/a/TibetandChina.htm “Dalai Lama” means “Ocean of Wisdom/Teacher” Your teacher took this photo. 7/9/2011 Wash. D.C. Kalachakra
“Lama” is a Tibetan title for a teacher of the doctrines of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is believed to be a reincarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. The Dalai Lama chooses to postpone release from samsara, the cycle of death, rebirth, and suffering and return to Earth to help end suffering. The 13th Dalai Lama, ThubtenGyatso, 1910 Avalokitesvara The 5th Dalai Lama was head of state and spiritual leader of Tibet by 1642. But for the next 200 years, the succeeding Dalai Lamas saw a tumultuous period of wars and invasions. Between the 8th Dalai Lama in 1804 and the 13th Dalai Lama 1895, none of the incumbent Dalai Lamas saw their 19th birthday. The 13th Dalai Lama was about 24 years old when an event called the Boxer Rebellion took place in 1899.
In late 1899, groups from northern China called the Righteous and Harmonious Fists banded together in the name of overthrowing the Qing dynasty and expelling all foreigners. Members of this secret society practiced boxing and calisthenic rituals (hence the nickname, the "Boxers") which they believed would make them impervious to bulletsand other weapons. They dressed lightly to remain agile.
Qing Empress Dowager “The Boxers were only lightly armed with rifles and swords, claiming supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle gunshots, and knife attacks. The Boxers were typical of millennial movements, such as the American Indian Ghost Dance, often rising in societies under extreme stress.” http://www.bu.edu/mille/people/rlpages/millennialism-mw-encyl.html
When the Qing Empress Dowager sided with the Boxers, the Chinese army and the Boxers attacked all foreigners, including many Christians, and Chinese Christians. Thousands were murdered, some burned alive in the churches they sought refuge in.
Once again, the Chinese came out on the losing end, in large part to the fact that there were many other countries that sent troops to China to put down the rebellion against foreigners and foreign trade. In total, there were eight countries allied against China during the Boxer Rebellion.
Against the Chinese Qing army and the Righteous and Harmonious Fists were Japan, Russia, Britain, France, the U.S., German Empire, Austria- Hungary, and Italy. Again, this left China’s relationship with Tibet even more uncertain after losing two “opium wars” and the Boxer Rebellion.
In 1911, China had a revolution and the Qing dynasty was deposed. The revolutionary government apologized to the 13th Dalai Lama and he was returned as the head of state of the independent nation of Tibet. Tibetan flag since 1912
For nearly the next 40 years, China would be preoccupied with Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and World War Two until the Communist Revolution in China in 1949. The 13th Dalai Lama ruled an independent Tibet in peace until his death in 1933. He was reincarnated in the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, two years later in 1935. 13th Dalai Lama 14th Dalai Lama, age 5, 1940
The 14th Dalai Lama was taken to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital in 1937 after he was discovered, for his training. He remained there until he was forced to leave Tibet for India by the Communist Chinese in 1959.
In 1950, a year after the Communists took power, they invaded Tibet. For nearly 10 years, the Tibetans and Dalai Lama tried to work with the Communist Chinese, but it became evident that the Dalai Lama’s life was in danger. The 14th Dalai Lama and Mao Zedong in 1954
Disguising himself as a Tibetan soldier, the Dalai Lama secretly left Lhasa on March 17th, 1959 to go across the Himalayan Mountains on foot. He has never returned. He just celebrated his 77th birthday in Washington D.C. in 2011. Washington D.C. was chosen for the location for the world meditation known as the Kalachakra, or “wheel of time” or “dharma wheel”. For eleven days in July 2011, Buddhist and Tibetan monks from Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and all over the world came to the Verizon Center for a meditation and creation of a sand mandala. I was lucky enough to participate in the event.