Tibet and the Manchus – before 1717

Tibet during the Manchu or Ch’ing (Qing) Dynasty

In the Ch’ing period a one-thousand year old tradition of Sino-Tibetan relations underwent several radical changes. It was in this period that developments took place on the basis of which Tibet came to be considered an organic part of China, both practically and theoretically subject to the Chinese central government.

In view of the comparative length and complexity of historical developments in this period, as well as the importance of individual facts and events for the definite formation of the character of the modern relationship between China and Tibet, the C h’ing period may be conveniently divided into five subdivisions, each of them constituting an independent chapter in the modern political history of Tibet.

Tibet and Manchus (Quing dynasty) before 1717

The Manchus, remote descendants of the Jürjeds, had harassed the Ming through the greater part of the sixteenth century and began to conquer China proper after the transference of their capital from the banks of Sung-hua-chiang (Sungari River) to Mukden in 1636. In that year also the name of their dynasty, Chin (‘Golden’; 1616-1636), was changed to Ch’ing (‘Pure’) and all territory east of the Liao River was taken from the Chinese. The capture of Peking from the Ming, which followed shortly after (in 1644), was made possible partly because of Li Tzu-ch’engl’s anti-Ming rebellion in China, and partly because of the favourable attitude of the Ming general Wu San-kuei, who was stationed on the Great Wall at Shan-hai-kuan and sought Manchu help against Li Tzu-ch’eng’s rebels. Once in Peking, the Manchus refused to leave, and established their own dynasty on the Chinese throne. The last Ming pretender was eliminated in 1661, but the conquest of China was not completed until an anti-Manchu revolt in the southern and southwestern provinces (1674-1681) had been put down.

Two years before the Manchu occupation of Peking, the Mongols assisted the Fifth Dalai Lama of Lhasa to effect the coup d’etat which overthrew the Gtsang-pa dynasty and its protégé, the Karma-pa sect. Henceforth the Dalai Lama and his Dge-lugs-pa sect were firmly in control of Tibetan affairs. Quick to appraise the turning political tide in China, the Fifth Dalai Lama, an able and far-sighted politician, established relations with the rising Manchu power.

In the traditional context of Tibetan foreign policy his decision represented nothing unusual – the Dalai Lama in new circumstances merely continued the older policy of bolstering up the leading domestic hierarchy with a foreign secular power (cf. the Sa-skya-pa – Yuan alliance or the Karma-pa – Ming partnership). However, we must not be misled by this protector-protégé relationship into thinking that the lamas in Tibet were the sole beneficiaries of this bargain.

Perhaps the Manchus themselves had an equal, if not greater, interest in maintaining a Manchu-Tibetan alliance. For them the Tibetan people, with their religious role, represented a powerful ideological weapon to prevent the martial qualities of their rivals, the Mongols, from reviving.

Even before the Manchus had conquered China, the Ch’ing Emperors had established relations with the Dalai Lama. As early as 1640 an invitation was sent to the Dalai Lama and the temporal king of Tibet to come to visit the Emperor T’ai-tsung (1627-1643), in response to which a mission from Tibet arrived at Mukden, then the Manchu capital, in 1642, bearing letters and presents.

A new invitation, this time to visit the Shun-chih Emperor (1644-1661) in Peking, was sent to both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama in 1648. The Panchen Lama, owing to his great age (the Fourth Panchen Lama Blo-bzang-chos-kyirgyal-mtshan, lived 1569-1662), had to decline, but the Dalai Lama accepted the invitation and came to Peking in the Autumn of 1652 to visit the new Manchu monarch. After his arrival he was lodged in the Hsi-huang monastery built specially for this occasion north of the city. During his nearly six-month stay in the capital, where he was warmly received and treated with great respect and courtesy, the Dalai Lama was granted by the Emperor two special audiences, and before he left for Tibet (in spring 1653) he was proclaimed Dalai Lama by imperial edict. There are as yet no proofs of any official negotiations conducted between the two parties which defined the character of the relationship between Tibet and the Manchu rulers of China at this time.

W.W. Rockhill, the noted American diplomat and scholar, giving an account of this visit, based primarily on Chinese sources, says (“The Dalai Lamas of Lhasa and their Relations with the Manchu Emperors of China, 1644-1908”, p. 18):

“He (i.e. the Fifth Dalai Lama) had been treated with all the ceremony which could have been accorded to any independent sovereign, and nothing can be found in Chinese works to indicate that he was looked upon in any other light; at this period of China’s relations with Tibet, the temporal power of the Lama, backed by the arms of Gushi Khan and the devotion of all Mongolia, was not a thing for the Emperor of China to question.”

Although the first official contact between the supreme heads of Manchu China and Tibet had been established, this in fact had only a relatively minor effect on relations between the two in practice. Judging from subsequent developments in Tibet, it would rather appear that anti-Manchu tendencies became stronger for a time. Military power in Tibet remained even now in the hands of the Mongol “kings”, descendents of Gusri Khan, whereas the Dalai Lama’s secular power was shared with him by the “regent” (SDE – SRID , a newly established office under the Fifth Dalai Lama), Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho (1679-1705), whose attitude towards the second Manchu ruler of China, the Emperor K’ang-hsi (1662-1722), was openly hostile. This was shown clearly by the fact that the regent sided with the opposition to the Manchus in China led by their former ally, General Wu Sankuei; it was also suggested by his actions in hiding from the Manchu court for fourteen years the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1682. His ambiguous attitude was revealed especially when he refused in 1689 to support the Emperor in his struggle against the leader of the Oirat Dsungars, Galdan, who a spired to reunite the Mongols and establish a new Mongol Empire.

The military commander of Tibet, the Mongol Lha-bzang Khan, Gusri Khan’s fifth successor as the “king of Tibet” (1697-1717), rendered great services to the Emperor K’ang-hsi by killing the regent Sangs-rgyas-rgya-mtsho, the absolute ruler of Tibet during the minority of the Sixth Dalai Lama Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho (1683-1706). He then deposed the Sixth Dalai Lama (presumably for misconduct – love-songs written by this Dalai Lama still survive) and proclaimed himself regent, setting up as Dalai Lama a candidate of his own choice, the puppet Ye-ses-rgya-mtsho (1707-1717). The deposed Dalai Lama died soon after on his way to Peking where he was escorted by the Mongols.

The interference of Lha-bzang Khan was immediately resented in all Central Tibet as well as in neighbouring A-mdo, and complaints reached Peking denouncing the regent’s arbitrary conduct. The Emperor sent in 1708 a commission under the Manchu La-tu-hun to Lhasa to investigate the situation. In his report of Lha-bzang Khan’s activities in Tibet it was suggested:

”… considering that the Princes of the Koko-nor are dissatisfied with Latsang and his management of affairs in Tibet, the latter should not be left to manage them alone and an official should be sent to Lhasa to assist him. ”

La-tu-hun’s recommendation was promptly realised. In the following year (1709), the Emperor despatched the first Manchu commissioner, the vice-minister (SHIH-LANG) Ho-shou, to Lhasa to assist [LHA – BZANG KHAN] in managing Tibetan affairs (hsieh li tsang wu). The CH’ING-SHIH-KAO reports this appointment with the comment: SHIH WEI HSI-TSANG SHE KUAN PAN SHIH CHIH SHIH. This marks the beginning of setting up in Tibet of an office to manage (Tibetan) affairs.

Although the chief goal of Ho-shou’s mission to Lhasa (1709-1711) was primarily to strengthen Lha-bzang Khan’s somewhat unstable position and force through the acceptance of Ye-ses-rgya-mtsho as the new Dalai Lama, and although the establishment of a permanent Resident in Lhasa did not yet take place, this mission should be considered as the first successful attempt of the Manchu court at direct intervention in Tibetan affairs, rendered possible, however, by Lha-bzang Khan’s pro-Manchu policy.

However, Lha-bzang Khan’s real position in Tibet was already so weak that the Emperor’s support, rather moral than actual, could not save him. In 1714 his opponents, the Koko-nor Mongols and the lamas from the “Three Seats of Learning”, viz. ’Bras-spungs, Dga’-ldan and Se-ra, and the Bkra-sis-lhun-po monastery turned to Tshe-bang-rab-btsan (1697-1727), Galdan’s nephew and successor as leader of the Oirat Dsungars in the I-li district of northwest Chinese Turkestan, for help. Although the chief of the Dsungars was related to Lha-bzang Khan, he seized this opportunity. A Dsungar army, composed of about six thousand men, crossed the vast uninhabited land of north Tibet, besieged Lhasa for ten days, finally capturing it by the end of November, 1717. Lha-bzang Khan who, with a handful of his soldiers had taken refuge in the Dalai Lama’s palace, the Potala, was killed and his puppet Dalai Lama deposed. Thus the Mongol dynasty of “Kings of Tibet” (1642-1717) was overthrown and the Dsungars for a while gained control over the country.

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