China Consolidates Control over Tibet Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Following the murder of Tibet’s last king by his Chinese advisers, China consolidated its indirect rule over Tibet in 1751 and further strengthened its control over the small country after defeating a Gurkha invasion of the region.

Summary of Event

By the late seventeenth century, the emperors of China, ever concerned about invasions from the north and west, were seeking to gain control over their frontiers. Frontier;Chinese This desire for security brought China into conflict with the Mongol tribe of the Zunghars Zunghars (Mongol tribe) on its northwestern border. Because of their shared Gelugpa Buddhist Buddhism faith, the Zunghars looked to the Tibetans for aid against China. This turn of affairs intensified Chinese attention on Tibet. [kw]China Consolidates Control over Tibet (1750-1792) [kw]Tibet, China Consolidates Control over (1750-1792) China;control of Tibet Tibetan-Chinese conflicts[Tibetan Chinese conflicts] Chinese-Tibetan conflicts[Chinese Tibetan conflicts] [g]China;1750-1792: China Consolidates Control over Tibet[1310] [g]Tibet;1750-1792: China Consolidates Control over Tibet[1310] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1750-1792: China Consolidates Control over Tibet[1310] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;1750-1792: China Consolidates Control over Tibet[1310] Gyurme Namgyal Qianlong Yongzheng Fu Qing Labdon Lobsang Tashi Bandi Fu Kangan

In 1642, the Mongols had donated conquered Tibet to the Dalai Lama Dalai Lama to rule. As a living bodhisattva, the Dalai Lama was not meant to rule by force. Thus the fifth Dalai Lama set up a system in which Tibet relied on a foreign force for military protection. At first, this protection was provided by a Mongol khan. The khans could not protect Tibet from China, however, and China’s Zunghar wars led to the annexation of eastern Tibetan lands. In 1694, the Xining Valley Xining Valley was annexed. In 1696, a second annexation pushed China’s border west toward the upper Yangtze River.

Tibet became a Chinese protectorate in 1710. When the Zunghars invaded Tibet in 1717, China came to the aid of the exiled seventh Dalai Lama and restored him to rule in 1720. In return for their help, China was permitted to garrison troops at Lhasa. Lhasa, Tibet A Chinese imperial representative, called an amban Amban (Chinese imperial representative) by the Tibetans, advised the Tibetan government. The Chinese emperor Yongzheng withdrew the garrison from 1723 until the outbreak of a Tibetan civil war in 1727. After the Chinese helped end the civil war, the garrison returned. Two Chinese ambans became advisers to the Tibetan government. In 1740, the Tibetan councilor Polhanas made himself king of Tibet. His son Gyurme Namgyal succeeded him in 1747.

At first, the Chinese trusted Gyurme Namgyal. In 1748, Emperor Qianlong granted his request to withdraw four hundred of the five hundred Chinese soldiers in Lhasa. In 1749, Gyurme Namgyal petitioned the emperor to send Tibetan lamas into Chinese-annexed Tibetan lands. Alarmed at the prospect of the spread of the Tibetan religion in nominally Chinese territory, the emperor refused and sent a new amban, Chi Shan. After his arrival, Chi Shan sent a devastating report to Qianlong. Gyurme Namgyal, the amban wrote, was hated by the Tibetans and was oppressive, proud, and uncooperative. The seventh Dalai Lama loathed the king. Qianlong reserved judgment and sent Fu Qing to Lhasa as a second amban.

Late in 1749, Gyurme Namgyal acted against his older brother. He accused him of rebellion and wrote to the emperor for help. Qianlong worried that this was a pretext to increase Gyurme Namgyal’s power. He replied that the king should let the emperor decide the issue. On October 15, 1749, Gyurme Namgyal visited Chi Shan with gifts. Qianlong became angered by the poor quality of Chi Shan’s reports and replaced him with a new amban named Labdon. While the Chinese deliberated, Gyurme Namgyal reported that his older brother had died on January 25, 1750. Publicly, he claimed his brother had died of an illness, but Gyurme Namgyal had actually sent soldiers to stab him to death.

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In Beijing, a report from Yue Zhongqi, commander in Sichuan, arrived. The commander asked for permission to enter Lhasa with three thousand soldiers and seize and execute the Tibetan king. Qianlong refused, refusing as well to increase the Lhasa garrison. In Tibet, Fu Qing and Labdon realized that Gyurme Namgyal desired to remove all Chinese supervision. He replaced his dead brother’s officials with his own and planned to bring soldiers into Lhasa. Unbeknownst to the Chinese, the king had contacted the Zunghars and invited them to come into Tibet after the expulsion of the Chinese.

On October 8, 1750, Qianlong learned that his ambans planned to kill the Tibetan king. Qianlong was unhappy and advised caution, while authorizing the ambans to act as necessary. On November 11, 1750, the ambans ordered Gyurme Namgyal to their residence. In their bedroom, Fu Qing accused the king of treason. He either grabbed him so that Labdon could kill him or used his own sword. All but one of the waiting Tibetan soldiers were killed, the last one escaping through a window. After the assassination of the king, Fu Qing and Labdon ordered the Tibetan duke Pandita to form a provisional government.

The surviving Tibetan guard, Lobsang Tashi, incited a revolt. About one thousand men attacked the Chinese residence, refusing appeals of the Dalai Lama to disperse. Fu Qing killed some attackers but was wounded three times. To avoid capture, he committed suicide. Labdon died fighting. The mob also killed Chinese soldiers and civilians. The next day, Lobsang Tashi realized that his riot had not led to the widespread anti-Chinese uprising for which he had hoped. He fled toward the Zunghars. One day later, the Dalai Lama appointed Duke Pandita as provisional king and sheltered the surviving Chinese. By November 21, Lobsang Tashi and many of his men were captured, and order was restored.

Emperor Qianlong realized that Lobsang Tashi’s rebellion offered China a chance to consolidate its control over Tibet. Bandi, the new amban in Lhasa, pronounced judgment over twenty-seven captured rebel leaders. On January 23, Lobsang Tashi and six ringleaders were sliced to death. More than ten others were beheaded and another group strangled. All bones in the corpses were crushed, and their heads were displayed on poles in Lhasa.

The new government of Tibet was inaugurated on February 26, 1751. There would be no more Tibetan king. While the Dalai Lama was the spiritual ruler, the government was carried out by a council of four Tibetan ministers and two Chinese ambans. The Chinese forbade contact between the Zunghars and Tibet and directly governed Tibet’s foreign relations with Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. The role of the Chinese ambans was strengthened. They commanded the Chinese garrison at Lhasa of fifteen hundred men, ran the postal communication system between Lhasa and Beijing, and supervised the Tibetan councilors.

Gyurme Namgyal’s wife and son were executed for the acts of the king on March 25, 1751. Moreover, Qianlong sought to escape the judgment of history by blaming a scapegoat for allowing the crisis to get so far out of hand: The former amban Chi Shan was sentenced to death and allowed to commit suicide in Beijing on April 23, 1751. (The gambit was ultimately unsuccessful, as modern historians blame Qianlong for the extent of the rebellion.) Temples honoring Fu Qing and Labdon were erected in Lhasa and Beijing.

The next challenge to Chinese control over Tibet did not come from within: In 1790, Gurkhas Gurkhas from Nepal Nepal crossed into southern Tibet and raided its monasteries. The Chinese persuaded the raiders to return to Nepal, but in 1791, plundering Gurkhas returned. Enraged, Emperor Qianlong dispatched an army under the command of Fu Kangan to fight the Gurkhas. Early in 1792, on the frozen plateaus of the Himalayas, Himalayas overshadowed by Mount Everest (Qomolangma Feng), Fu Kangan met the invading Gurkhas. Amazingly, the Chinese decisively defeated the invaders. Fu Kangan pursued the fleeing Gurkhas through the passes of the Himalayas into Nepal, almost to the gates of Kathmandu. There, the Gurkhas sued for peace, which was granted to them on the condition that they pay tribute to the emperor every five years.

After defeating the Gurkhas, the Chinese strengthened their control over Tibet. From 1792 on, the ambans were given even more powers. A second Chinese garrison was established at the town of Xigaze (Shigatse) to protect the Tashi Lama. With the increased Chinese military presence came an increase in overall power and influence and a corresponding decline in the power of native Tibetan institutions. From this point forward, if there was uncertainty as to who was the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama, the issue would be decided by lot, not by Tibetan council.

Significance

The murder of the last Tibetan king became a welcome opportunity for the Chinese to consolidate their control over Tibet. There was almost no Tibetan opposition to the abolishment of the monarchy, which had been in existence only briefly, from 1740 to 1750. Chinese control was apparently accepted, as long as the spiritual authority of the Dalai Lama was not threatened and the Chinese did not overstress their power.

Defeat of the Gurkhas further consolidated Chinese control. By protecting the Tibetan monasteries, the Chinese demonstrated that their presence in Tibet was not without its benefits. Ironically, the defeat of the Gurkhas drove them into an alliance with the British East India Company. Nepal continued to send tribute to China every five years until 1908.

The system of Chinese rule in Tibet, modified by Qianlong in 1751 and 1792, lasted until the Chinese revolution in 1912, when the last ambans left Lhasa. The Dalai Lama continued to rule Tibet from 1912 until Chinese occupation in 1950 and the annexation of Tibet to the People’s Republic of China in 1951. In 1959, the Dalai Lama and his council of ministers, who had ruled Tibet for 317 years since 1642, left the country for exile.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Places the events in the context of Qing Dynasty foreign policy (uses Wade-Giles). Notes, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norbu, Dawa. China’s Tibet Policy. Richmond, England: Curzon, 2001. Good discussion of the events that are analyzed as roots of the conflict in the twentieth century (uses Pinyin). Index, bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Petech, Luciano. China and Tibet in the Early Eighteenth Century. Rev. ed. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1972. Still most comprehensive, detailed and scholarly account of the events. Uses Wade-Giles for Chinese, and linguistic transliteration for Tibetan names. Notes, chronology, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spence, Jonathan. The Search for Modern China. 2d ed. New York: Norton, 1999. Most widely available book on modern Chinese history in English. The chapter “Conquest and Consolidation” discusses the events in Tibet. Maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Uses Pinyin.

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