Historical relationship of Tibet and China

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Read the series of articles of the Czech sinologist and tibetanist Prof. PhDr. Josef Kolmaš, DrSc..

Articles can be found in the left menu or in the timeline above.

Flag of Tibet

Was there ever a free Tibet? Yes it was.

During the thousand or more years of official contacts between China and Tibet, the political boundaries of the latter and its administrative connection with the Empire underwent many changes. Neither the deserts of Ch’ing-hai , nor the jungles of Yün-nan and the former Hsi-k’ang province, nor the snowy mountains of Tibet proper were able to stop the continuous expansion of the homogeneous Chinese element and its cultural penetration westward and south-westward of the Great Plain, the original seat of the Han Chinese.

14. Dalailama

14. Dalailama, foto: Christopher Michel

This factor, taken together with the willingness on the part of the Tibetans in their early days to learn from their more advanced neighbours in the east, offers some explanation of why Tibet, this mountainous and unknown country somewhere to the far west of China – as it was for the Chinese in the beginning of the Christian era – happened to become in the following centuries a component, and now even an inseparable part (according to the Constitution of 1954), of the national territory of China.

The same process of absorption marked also the political and legal relationship between these two countries. Tibet, once an independent kingdom ruled for centuries by its own royal dynasty, became in the course of a millennium little more than an administrative province of the Chinese Empire, absolutely dependent on the Chinese central government.

My aim in this outline study is to indicate the major changes affecting both the political boundaries and the legal position of Tibet in relation to Imperial China, or, in other words, how the status of Tibet was formed and defined in the course of a long historical process. The history of the relations between China and Tibet may be conveniently divided into six periods corresponding roughly with the reigns of the respective Chinese dynasties. Such a periodization, though not quite usual in the history of Tibet proper, suggests itself spontaneously when one examines the question of Sino-Tibetan relations from the two aspects indicated above.

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