Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the Ind

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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

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Part 3 of 3


David Potter has defined an administrative tradition as having two features; (1) content, consisting of values, norms and structure, and (2) a process of reproduction. If the features continue over three generations it may be defined as a continuing tradition, and Potter has isolated three factors as being necessary for the reproduction of a tradition; (a) obtaining similar successors, (b) shaping them to the tradition, and, (c) support from the political leadership.[134]

The traditions of the Tibet cadre, and the process of their reproduction among succeeding generations of officers, are consistent with Potter's definition. Although the British Tibet cadre lasted for less than fifty years, there were at least four generations of officers within that period; (1) the 'Curzon-Younghusband-O'Connor' era in which British control of Tibet was a realistic possibility; (2) the Bell and Macdonald period culminating in their visit to Lhasa; (3) the Bailey-Weir-Williamson era of Lhasa visits; and (4) the era after the establishment of a position at Lhasa, dominated by Gould, Richardson and Hopkinson.

A fifth generation may also be identified, that of their Indian successors. There was 'no substantial change in the ambience' of the Tibet cadre after the departure of the British, although the 'Imperial style’ and the concern with 'preserving their imperial distinctness' were dropped.[135] Certainly key elements of the tradition, such as location, method, readings, and the ideal of their predecessors, were all passed on to the new generation of Indian officers. We may, therefore, define the cadre as maintaining the key elements of an administrative tradition.

Previous studies of administrative traditions within British India have described a 'Punjab style’ (Wurgaft) or a ’service code’ (Ewing), a collective ethos maintained through selection and training, which bear many similarities with the distinctive group identity passed on in the traditions of the Tibet cadre. But these studies have adopted a more critical perspective on their subject groups than I have found necessary. Wurgaft has described the ’Punjab style’ as a briefly successful one which became part of an imperial mythology that isolated the British from the complex realities of their environment. Ewing found ICS officers were ’hard headed realists who looked upon their time in India as a job and not a mission’, a finding consistent with Bradford Spangenberg’s criticism of ICS officers as ’aspiring to succeed in India primarily in order to provide for a comfortable retirement in England’.[136]

But the cadre seem to have had a far more complex motivation, including disinterested elements. The Tibet cadre does not seem to have been dominated by careerists. Certainly there was ambition, but there was also a strong sense of ’mission’ (which Ewing found lacking in the ICS officers whom she interviewed), that emerges clearly throughout the period under consideration. Thus even ambitious officers promoted to other positions, such as O’Connor, continued to work for what they saw as the benefit of the Tibetans. This continued even after the departure of the British from India and Tibet.

Copland's study of the Political Department is most critical. It describes an 'intellectually second-rate' service, poorly trained in administrative skills, 'dominated by upright but slow-thinking and extremely unimaginative officers', their claimed efficiency 'a mere facade’.[137] As noted, Copland’s criticisms of lack of intellect and administrative skills do not, from my analysis, apply to the Tibet cadre.

These critical studies do provide a balance to what Potter has called 'an active myth-making',[138] those works, many by former imperial servants, which promote a romantically positive view of the imperial services and their officers. This may be compared with the promotion of a similar myth in recent times: that American Government policy and will failed in Vietnam, but the men who served there did not. There is however, a strong element of truth in this type of myth as it applies to the cadre. As will be seen, most cadre officers did their best to strengthen Tibet, albeit under British supervision, but the Tibetan cause was of little concern to Whitehall after World War One, and of no concern at all after World War Two. Thus the Tibetans were abandoned to their fate, despite the efforts of the 'men on the spot'.

My concern here is to analyse the cadre through understanding their mentality, taking the perspective from the 'inside', rather than attempting to deconstruct their image from the 'outside'. This 'insider view', enhanced by the use of participant oral sources, does not produce an uncritical image, but one which represents a history recognisable as 'true' by the two main participants closest to events, the Tibetans and the Tibet cadre. Naturally it reflects the Anglo-Tibetan perspective of the sources, but as Edward Shils observes, traditions are defined by the insiders, not the observers.[139]

Judged by their own standards, rather than by the outcome of their policies, (a matter which was in the hands of higher government), the Tibet cadre were a success. While Copland's conclusions of course apply to a different field than my own, his 'outsider' approach may in itself tend to produce more critical findings, which do not necessarily represent history as seen by the participants, and thus do not enable us to understand the mentality of the period.

Therefore, analysing the accuracy of the cadre's image, and the extent to which the officers themselves lived up to this image, does little to assist understanding. The image was one created by the officers themselves; therefore it was largely self-descriptive. Officers who failed to live up to the image were not considered 'in the mould', and were not re-employed in Tibet. Those who remained there were naturally those who lived up to the image. Thus my concern is to describe the qualities of those 'in the mould' in order to understand their actions, rather than to deconstruct the image itself.


We have seen that the cadre's traditions were originally developed within existing imperial, and more specifically, Political Department traditions of frontier service, and the mythology and reality of the "Great Game". The character and exploits of Younghusband. and the support and ideology of Curzon and other 'forward school' figures such as MacGregor and Dane, provided the direction and much of its character. The traditions established by the early agents, direct disciples of Younghusband, were passed on throughout the 1904-47 period. Just as 'the first generation of frontiersmen in the Punjab had become legendary by the end of the 19th century',[140] so too had Younghusband and the founding officers of the Tibet cadre 30 years later, when they were seen as ideal types to emulate.

The cadre officers were aware of their legendary image; it was part of their identity. They played a large part in creating it, and attempted to live up to it. One consequence of this was that their identification with 'forward' policies was an integral part of their sense of cadre identity as much as it was a reasoned analysis of potential means of protecting the security of India.

Although the romantic image of the Politicals has been criticised by scholars such as Copland and Wurgaft,[141] it was an important part of Political officers' own sense of identity and purpose. A certain amount of pride and self-confidence was usually an integral part of the ambition to attain the higher ranks of the Politicals. While the self-effacing Ludlow deplored the ego of some of his Political Department contemporaries,[142] Gould expressed this pride when he recalled that to a jealous outside world "a Political" might be a term of abuse. To us it was a term of glory.'[143]

The early officers such as Bell and Bailey, modest though they were by nature, learned the need for judicious self-promotion, and for obscuring their failures; this was a part of gaining both career advancement, and the advancement of the policies they favoured. Yet a fine line was drawn in the 'gentlemanly codes' they had learned in school, between quiet self-promotion and immodesty. This was defined by Bailey when he wrote of Sven Hedin, 'I think he did a great deal but it is a pity he did not let other people praise it instead of praising it himself.'[144]

To the Tibet cadre, the most important aspect of promoting their image was the maintenance of traditions within the cadre itself. Service traditions were deliberately passed on to newcomers by serving officers. While Younghusband and his proteges, O'Connor and Bailey, were more colourful figures, and hence featured more in the romantic mythology, the greatest influence on succeeding officers in Tibet was Sir Charles Bell. He was 'disposed to let a newcomer see things for himself and form his own conclusions," 145] but Weir, MacDonald, Williamson, Gould and Hopkinson all acknowledged a great debt to him, and their written work contains constant echoes of Bell's influence, both acknowledged and unconscious. These officers followed Bell in deliberately instilling their 'enthusiasm' and 'sense of mission' in their successors.[146]

Traditions were handed on within the cadre through the system whereby serving cadre officers selected promising individuals with an interest in Tibet, supervised their training, and instilled in them the history and traditions of the British presence there. For example, Ludlow describes how Bailey had taken he and another young officer and 'pointed out the old haunts of the mission in 1904-05[sic]'.[147] This was a deliberate policy, and the British sought to hand down these traditions to their Indian successors after 1947. Hopkinson wrote that he wanted

to get some Indians genuinely interested and sympathetic, who would help to continue the ideas on which British officers, in succession, had tried to work...and try to bring the Indians up to the right idea.[148]

Richardson too, hoped that he might encourage his successor to work 'along the right lines’. [149]

Officers naturally took an interest in the careers of those they had promoted; their own judgment would be considered at fault if their proteges failed. As Younghusband told Bailey's father, 'tell him [Bailey] to be sure and do me credit for I am responsible for him and I want any man I recommend to be a credit to me'.[150]

Most officers also solicited their predecessors' advice. For example, Bailey profited from O'Connor and Younghusband's counsel throughout much of his career, and Gould wrote to Bell in 1936, noting he had tried to meet Bailey and ’pick his brains', and now sought his old superior's advice.[151]

The cadre traditions were jealously guarded. In 1934, when the Italian Professor, Giuseppe Tucci, claimed to have been the first European to visit Rabgyeling monastery in western Tibet, H.Calvert ICS, who had been there en route to inspect the Gartok Trade Agency in 1906, was quick to write to The Times and correct the report. Since 1947 officers such as Richardson and Caroe have also been quick to defend their achievements against any criticism or misinterpretation. [152]


What then were the defining characteristics of the successful members of the Tibet cadre? In common with officials of other Government of India services, they had close family connections with India and shared a middle, or upper-middle class origin. They were educated at British public schools, universities or military colleges, which gave them an almost unquestioning belief in the righteousness of the British Empire.

While made up of officers with very different types of personality, these differences were, at least for public consumption, submerged in a collective identity which incorporated the ideals inculcated in their upbringing and training, ideals which were largely synonymous with those of both 'gentleman' and 'muscular Christian'. Thus while self-confident, and not above subtle self-promotion, they were not immodest, or unsophisticated, and they generally maintained a high standard of ethical conduct. When individuals failed to maintain such standards, this failing was concealed from wider knowledge, in order to maintain the prestige of the cadre.

They were strongly influenced by their reading, in youth, education and service training. The texts they read tended to reinforce their ideals, and their perception of frontier service. Role models such as Sandeman provided precedents for their actions, and an image to emulate. Later officers read books by their predecessors, which further reinforced the cadre image and their identification with it.

There were characteristics which they shared with other frontiersmen. They were 'lean and keen', and they preferred the frontier life to the more comfortable existence of an Indian State; implying that in their character was a 'touch of the recluse'. There was a strong military influence and they were courageous in the military sense, but did not view things exclusively in military terms. An intellect more broad than that often associated with army officers was required.

Like many other frontier officers, the Tibet cadre gained a strong empathy with the local people among whom they served, and the lengthy terms which several officers chose to serve, and their reluctance to retire completely from Tibetan affairs, are indications of this attachment. The pre-existing image of the frontiersman was definitely an aspect of their identity and, as on the North-West Frontier, there was a strong sense of regional cadre tradition.

In common with all Politicals, their selection had been personally approved by the Viceroy, which enhanced their own self-confidence and identification with the ’system’. But nearly half of them were not members of the Politicals when they were first appointed to Tibet. However closely they identified themselves with the Department, this implied a specialisation which contrasts with the ’generalist' ideal of the ICS and the Politicals. This ideal however, had became an increasingly outdated image in the 20th century, as Ewing has noted.[153]

This degree of specialisation within the Tibet cadre is one of their defining characteristics, and emerges most clearly in another integral feature of these men; their scholarship. In the early years officers were not 'a network of scholars',[154] but they developed their increasingly deep knowledge of the country into an expertise which later provided much of the European understanding of Tibet. Along with scholarship, the officers learned the importance of political skills, how to manipulate government opinion to achieve their desired policy aims, as will be examined in more detail in ensuing chapters.

We can see from those who failed to return to service in Tibet, that, given the fitness to live at altitude, the most important aspect of the job was a close identification with the Tibetans. Gaining this was a deliberate policy, and officers who failed in this aspect failed in their duty. Thus officers distracted by family concerns, or unable to endure the mores of Tibetan society, did not succeed.

Despite some circumstantial evidence that the Tibetans were more at ease with married officers (they certainly wondered why officers remained alone), celibacy, a state then considered less unnatural than it is now, was required. It has been argued that sexuality in the British empire was sublimated in duty; this appears to apply to the Tibet cadre. While some of the ’lower ranks’ of supporting staff in Tibet married into the community, or took mistresses there, I have found neither evidence nor rumour that any Political Officer did so.[155] Whether, as Ronald Hyam suggests we should consider, sexual factors played a part in their original decision to serve in the empire, is not revealed in the sources.[156]

Crucial to the Tibet cadre's maintenance of their collective identity and policy was their control of personnel intake. This created a chain of succession in which the influence of an early officer can be seen to emerge in a later period. The Yatung and Gyantse positions were used as training grounds; if the trainees proved suitable they were later returned to the higher ranking positions in Lhasa or Gangtok.

The cadre was, to an extent, a meritocracy. While the Political Department generally was the slowest government service to incorporate local peoples, three of the Tibet cadre were local or Eurasian officers. Acceptance of locals however, came only after long periods in which they had proved their loyalty, and ability to fit in with the ideals and ethos of the cadre, as will be seen in Chapter Three.

There was one other characteristic of the Tibet cadre which was not unique, but which is so often and clearly expressed in the sources that it must be examined in depth. This was the concern with prestige, personal, cadre and national, which we will examine in the next chapter.



[1] Coen (1971, pp.42-43), quoting a farewell speech in Simla on 5 September 1905, by the departing Viceroy, Lord Curzon.

[2] Dewey (1993, p.V11); also see Fieldhouse (1982, p.230).

[3] Officers who served at Yatung during the period when it was of importance (pre 1920), all rose to the higher positions, while only Indian staff chosen from the Provincial Services were posted to Gartok. 19 of the 22 officers we are examining were British; the backgrounds of the three local officers naturally differ in some ways, as will be seen in Chapter Three.

[4] Margaret Ewing has found that 'something of the military mind lingered' and affected the world view of those ICS men who had seen active service in World War One; Ewing (1980, pp.120-121).

[5] While information on the other 13 officers who served in Tibet only briefly, or who acted as Trade Agent Gyantse in the absence of a permanent appointee, is incomplete, their backgrounds appear similar, for example, F.P. Mainprice and Captain J.H. Davis had fathers or grandfathers in the Indian Army, and Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Kennedy IMS won a DSO. and an MC. in World War One. The four Escort Commanders who served as Trade Agent Gyantse in 1944-46 may have had somewhat different backgrounds. For example, Captain Allen Robins, who held a war-time commission, entered Sandhurst without attending a public school.

[6] See Beaglehole (1977, pp.237-55); Crawford (1930, pp.650-51); Dewey (1973, pp.283-85); Heathcote (1974, p .140); Potter (1986, pp.57-58); Razzell (1963, pp.248-60); Spangenberg (1976, p.19).

[7] For example, see Madden & Fieldhouse (1982); Symonds (1991).

[8] Symonds ibid (p.47), quoting H. Edgerton, (Beit Professor of Colonial History at Oxford, c1910.

[9] Heussler (1963, p.82), quoting personal correspondence with Sir Ralph Furse, August 1960.

[10] Moore (1993, p.722).

[11] Potter (1986, p.72); The schools most represented in the Tibet cadre were Marlborough, four officers, and Winchester and Edinburgh Academy, two each.

[12] Potter (1986, pp.58-59, 71-75); Symonds (1991, pp.31-32); Girouard (1981, pp.164-67).

[13] IOLR R/1/4/1035, personal file of B. Gould, Report by H.R. Cobb, 15 January 1910.

[14] Mangan (1986, p.18); McKay (1994, pp.373-74).

[15] Hyam (1990, p.73); McKay ibid\ Potter (1986, pp.73-75).

[16] French (1994, pp.9-10), quoting ’Epistle' by Henry Newbolt.

[17] Dewey (1995).

[18] Symonds (1991, pp.300-301); also see Madden & Fieldhouse (1982).

[19] Symonds ibid (p.36), quoting Lord Curzon, from Lord Ronaldshay, Life of Curzon, London (1928, (1) p.49).

[20] IOLR MSS Eur F157-272; various papers of F.M.Bailey.

[21] Mason (1974, pp.365, 386); Shepperd (1980, p.9).

[22] Heathcote (1974, p.168); IOLR MSS Eur F157-214, Lhasa diary of F.M. Bailey, entry of 1 August 1924.

[23] Hilton (1955, p.12).

[24] Ewing (1980, p.206); Symonds (1991, p.116); also see Beaglehole (1977); Ewing (1984); Potter (1973).

[25] Potter (1977, p.875), quoting Maurice Zinkin ICS, Development for Free Asia, London (1963, p.89); also see Potter (1986, p. 112); Simon (1961, p. 15).

[26] Potter ibid.

[27] Mason (1974, pp.363-66); Potter (1977, pp.876-77); Potter (1986, pp.101, 109).

[28] Potter (1977); Potter (1986, p. 108), quoting Hunt Pope ICS, Cambridge archives.

[29] Dewey (1993, p,V11); also see Dewey (1973, p.262); Potter (1977, pp.888-89).

[30] IOLR MSS Eur F157-144, Younghusband to (Bailey's father) Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey, 12 March 1905.

[31] Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993.

[32] Spear (1978, p. 179)

[33] Potter (1977, pp.875-89); (1986, pp.72).

[34] Walsh (1945, p. 112); Sykes (1945, p. 134).

[35] Simon (1961, pp.11, 100, 110, 198).

[36] Beaglehole (1977, p.249), quoting A.R,Cornelius ICS, 15 October 1928, in IOLR L/S&G/6/351 Collection 3-16a; Ewing (1980, p.200); Simon ibid (p.100).

[37] IOLR MSS Eur F157-142, Bailey's school and college reports.

[38] IOLR MSS Eur F 203-84, Caroe Papers, draft autobiography (untitled), Chapter Two, pp.4-5.

[39] Interview with Mrs R. Collett, March 1993; Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993.

[40] Interview with H. Richardson, November 1990.

[41] Zinkin (1994, p.297).

[42] Lyall (1973, pp.334-36 & passim).

[43] Edwardes (1851, pp.1 & 722-23).

[44] Thornton (1895, pp.24, 36, 290-91, 294-295, 306, 314-316, 320-21 & passim).

[45] For more detail of these incidents see, McKay (1992a), & McKay (1992b).

[46] French (1994, pp.35-37).

[47] Williamson (1987, p.90); Bell's collection is listed in IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 27.

[48] 'I stayed at the Residency with Sir Basil Gould, and the first thing he said to me was "You’d better start your education. Here are some books." -- Bell's Tibet Past and Present...Spencer Chapman's Lhasa the Holy City.'; interview with R. Ford, March 1993.

[49] IOLR MSS Eur D998-17, Hopkinson to Mrs Hopkinson, 14 October 1945; In his 'Report on Tibet August 1945 to August 1948', (MSS Eur D998-39), Hopkinson repeats unacknowledged Bell's description of Tibet as the 'cinderella[sic] of the Indian Foreign Service, a phrase I used in the title of my 1992 'South Asia Research' article.

[50] Morgan (1973, p.58); Trench (1987, p.11); Interview with Mrs A. Saker, April 1993; IOLR MSS Eur F157-319, Bailey typescript autobiography (untitled), p.18; also see Swinson (1971, pp.42-43).

[51] IOLR MSS Eur F157-166, Bailey to his parents, 11 January 1906; R/1/4/1236, Personal file of E.W. FIetcher; NAI FD, 1923 Establishment B39(1), Macdonald's Political Department entry application, various correspondence. MacDonald was refused entry into the Political Department as a result of what now appears his peripheral involvement in events involving his son-in-law, Frank Perry, Escort Commander in Gyantse, 1918-20; see IOLR L/P&S/11/235-2906, India to Bailey 12 December 1923.

[52] IOLR R/1/4/1261, Personal file of A.J. Hopkinson, P.S.Lock to Hopkinson, 16 March 1923.

[53] IOLR MSS Eur R/1/4/2003, Persona! file of P.C. Hailey, various correspondence.

[54] NAI FD, 1906 General B, October 14-15, Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Weir IMS, to Dane, 1 September 1906.

[55] IOLR R/1/4/1297, Personal file of A.A. Russell, Russell to India, 15 February 1924.

[56] Coen (1971, pp.35-36).

[57] Ibid-, Copland (1982, pp.80-81).

[58] NAI FD, 1923 Establishment B39(1), Macdonald's Political Department entry application, file note, 21 December 1922, signature unclear.

[59] NAI FD, 1913 Secret E January 120, file note by Foreign Secretary A.H.McMahon, 3 October 1912.

[60] NAI FD, 1906 General A December 56-59, Morley to India, 6 July 1906.

[61] Trench (1987, p. 13); Fletcher (1975, p.228).

[62] Lamb (1966, fn.22, p.138; Addy (1985, p.192), quoting Morley to Minto, 19 February 1908, IOLR D573-3, Morley Papers.

[63] IOLR MSS Eur F203-84, Caroe papers, draft autobiography of Sir Olaf Caroe, Chapter 8, p.4.

[64] IOLR L/P&S/7/183-168, O’Connor to India, 19 November 1905.

[65] IOLR MSS Eur D998-39, ’Report on Tibet August 1945-August 1948’, by A.J. Hopkinson.

[66] NAI FD, 1913, Secret E January 120, file note by A.H. Grant, 10 September 1912.

[67] These links continued in subsequent years. While Curzon was Foreign Minister at Whitehall, O'Connor and Bailey were posted to control of the British positions in Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan.

[68] Trench (1987, p.13).

[69] Mainprice papers, various diary entries, May to August 1944; Personal information courtesy of his sister, Mrs L.J. Mainprice.

[70] Gould (1957, p.17); Interview with Mrs A. Saker, April 1993.

[71] IOLR MSS Eur F157-219, Younghusband to Bailey, 4 December 1913.

[72] NAI FD, 1907, Secret E September 238-250, O'Connor to India, 13 May 1907, & India to O’Connor, 4 June 1907, 15 June 1907.

[73] IOLR L/P&S/7/214-652, Gyantse Quarterly Trade Report. This report, for the third quarter of 1907, was not submitted by White until 31 January 1908 as he had 'overlooked' it, while preparing for a trip to Bhutan.

[74] Copland (1982, p.78); IOLR MSS Eur F157-219, Younghusband to Bailey, 4 December 1913.

[75] Gould (1957, pp.21, 192-93).

[76] Copland (1978, pp.280-81); Ewing (1980, p.56).

[77] Isolation was also a factor. Gyantse was always an inhospitable posting, and two year terms were usually the maximum served. Gangtok and Lhasa were more congenial, and longer terms were possible.

[78] O'Connor (1940, pp.99-100).

[79] Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993.

[80] The question was raised in the House of Commons by Colonel Howard-Bury, the former Himalayan climber, who asked why two year terms were favoured in Tibet. In reply, the Minister concerned noted the stagnation factor, but the principal reason he gave was that officers felt their promotion prospects would suffer from long service outside India; IOLR L/P&S/12/2345-3200, copy of Hansard entry of 21 May 1930.

[81] Interview with R. Ford, March 1993.

[82] MacLeod (1973, p.1403); Potter (1986, pp.34, 74-75); Robb (1992, p.38).

[83] Interview with Mrs J.M. Jehu, March 1993; Interview with A.H. Robins, April 1993.

[84] Copland (1978, p.287, also see pp.277 & 289); Dewey (1993, pp.5, 7); Misra (1970, pp. 178-79, 246).

[85] Landon (1905, (2) p. 152)

[86] IOLR MSS Eur F157-241, Ludlow to Bailey, 3 June 1930; MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary, entry of 8 November 1926; Fletcher (1975, p.233).

[87] For example, see Mariani (1954, pp.221-23). The officer referred to is Arthur Hopkinson.

[88] For example, Ludlow wrote that, 'If they wanted me I would come back from the ends of earth to Tibet; IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry, 10 November 1926.

[89] Macdonald (1932, p.121).

[90] Interview with A.H. Robins, April 1993; Interview with R.Ford, March 1993; personal correspondence with R. Ford, October 1994; Walter's papers, 'Gyantse to Tibet 1940/1', (unpublished article) p.7.

[91] These files are contained in the NAI Foreign Department Establishment B series, i.e. Gould’s letters are in FD, 1913 Establishment B May 168-173, and FD, 1932 Establishment B180. Williamson's preferences are shown in his personal file; IOLR R/1/4/1319, Williamson to India, 18 August 1923.

[92] Weir was planning for his retirement, and a Second-class Residency would add 100 rupees a month to his pension, while a First-class Residency would add 200 rupees; Weir Papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 9 December 1930.

[93] Hopkinson is the only officer who specified a post he did not want -- Hyderabad. It is illustrative of the different types of personality which were blended into the Politicals that it was the magnificence of the Residency there which inspired Sir Olaf Caroe, later Indian Foreign Secretary, to join the Political Department; IOLR MSS Eur F203-84, Caroe papers, draft autobiography (untitled); Hopkinson’s preferences are in NAI FD, 1928 Establishment B, 47 (14) E/28.

[94] IOLR MSS Eur F157-166, Bailey to his parents, 3 January 1909 [dated 1908 in error]; Bell (1992, p.259); IOLR MSS Eur D998-39, 'Report on Tibet August 1945 - August 1948' by A.J. Hopkinson.

[95] Bell ibid.

[96] NAI FD, 1913 Establishment B May 168-73, File Note, 20 February 1913, signature unclear.

[97] IOLR L/P&S/12-2345, India to Secretary of State, 19 May 1945; Mainprice papers, various correspondence, 1943-44.

[98] IOLR MSS Eur F157-166, Bailey to his parents, 13 January 1908; NAI FD, 1911 Establishment BMarch 10-17, Bell to India, 23 December 1910.

[99] For example, Gould asked for Richardson to be posted to Gyantse, knowing he was interested in Tibet; personal correspondence with H. Richardson, June 1992.

[100] For example, see IOLR MSS Eur F157-236, Laden La to Bailey, 18 September 1930, re a Major Lock's hopes of a Tibet posting.

[101] IOLR MSS Eur F157-236, Laden La to Bailey, 18 September 1930; MSS Eur F157-269, Weir to Bailey, January 1929; Weir Papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 9 December 1930.

[102] NAI FD, 1921 Establishment B Nov 199-223, various correspondence.

[103] Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 24 October 1929; IOLR R/1/4/986, file note by B. Gould, 14 August 1940, file note (unsigned), 27 May 1940 & related correspondence; R/1/4/992, Gould to India, 25 March 1941. The dangers of altitude were real, several deaths occurred among Agency or Escort personnel en route to Gyantse, e.g. Lieutenant Warren, appointed to the Gyantse Escort, died at Yatung in September 1939.

[104] NAI FD, 1910 General BApril 156, file note by Viceroy Minto, 25 March 1910.

[105] Lamb (1960, p.220); McKay (1992a, pp.404-05); NAI FD, 1908 External A April 33-34, various correspondence. For recent laudatory comments on White, see Collister (1987, passim).

[106] Mainprice papers, diary entry, 15-19 October 1943; Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 4 June 1929 & 1 October 1929; NAI FD, 1935 Establishment B32 (54) E, various correspondence.

[107] Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 6 May 1930; IOLR MSS Eur F89 5a 92 & 5a 93 both contain reports on Fletcher sent from Tibet, dated 7 December 1930, apparently by David Macdonald.

[108] Interview with Mrs J.M. Jehu, March 1993.

[109] Mainprice papers, diary entry, 15-19 October 1943; Interview with A.H. Robins, April 1993.

[110] Williamson (1987, pp.186-87).

[111] Interview with A.H. Robins, April 1993; IOLR MSS Eur F80, 5a 92, & 5a 93, various correspondence, 1929-31, Macdonald to Bell.

[112] Re O'Connor, see Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 10 November 1932; re Bailey, see NAI FD, 1930 Establishment B214 E, Bailey to E. Howell, 3 November 1930 & related correspondence; re Perry, Parker, Lee and Martin, see FD, 1910 Secret E Dec. 430-31, Bell to India, 10 November 1910 & related correspondence. It was theoretically possible for British citizens to live at the trade marts if they claimed to be traders, but none were permitted to do so after this loophole had been exploited by an eccentric missionary, Annie Taylor, who lived in Yatung from 1894-C1906.

[113] IOLR MSS Eur F157-269, Mrs Weir to Mrs Bailey, 10 June 1932.

[114] IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Bailey to Norbhu Dhondup, 29 August 1927; L/P&S/12/3982, various correspondence, 1923-27.

[115] IOLR L/P&S/12/4295-5863, Weir to India, 11 September 1932; L/P&S/12/4295-5238, Caroe to Williamson, 4 July 1935, India to Secretary of State, 10 August 1935, and reply, 21 August 1935.

[116] Interview with R. Ford, March 1993.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid; Interview with A.H.Robins, April 1993; interview with Mrs A. Saker, April 1993.

[119] Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993.

[120] Williamson (1987, pp.39 & 207).

[121] For example, see IOLR MSS Eur F157-241, Ludlow to Bailey, 19 November 1944.

[122] Molloy (1991, p.17).

[123] Williamson (1987, pp.39, 207). Women could also cause disputes, there was a long-running vendetta between two Political Officers' wives, which cannot have helped their husbands' relationship; Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 7 September 1930.

[124] 'You were your own master'; interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993.

[125] Interview with R. Ford, April 1993.

[126] Wurgaft (1983, p. XV11), suggests that the 'heroic mythology' attached to the frontier regions arose from a turning 'away from the complexities of contemporary India to a simpler reality that reflected their ideal of paternal rule'; but this ignores the influence of the indigenous placement of the Himalayas as a realm of myth.

[127] Bishop (1989, p.111).

[128] van den Dungan, (1972, p.31).

[129] Wurgaft (1983, p.35).

[130] Orwell (1957, p. 196). George Orwell's description in this article of the ethos of these magazines has not been bettered.

[131] Re Curzon and Younghusband in the "Great Game", see French (1994), and the popular account by Hopkirk (1990).

[132] Campbell (1988, p.123); Eliade (1955).

[133] Younghusband (1985, pp.434-38). The full extent of Younghusband’s spiritual character and beliefs has recently been brought out by Patrick French, see French (1994).

[134] Potter (1986, pp. 13, 249-50). Potter takes a thirty-year period as representing one administrative generation. Here, however, I rely on Shils, who concludes that definition of how long a generation lasts depends upon the context. Potter (1986, p.6); Shils (1981, p. 15). The problem is discussed in Spitzer (1973, pp. 1353-1385),

[135] Interview with J. Lail, October 1993.

[136] Ewing (1980, pp.181-84, 382, 389 & passim ); Spangenberg (1976, pp.53-54); Wurgaft (1983, pp. XV11, X1X, 83, 170).

[137] Copland (1978, pp.277-299).

[138] Potter (1986, p.248).

[139] Shils (1981, p.14).

[140] Wurgaft (1983, p.37),

[141] Copland (1978, pp.277-78, 289, 299); Wurgaft (1983, pp.XVI I-XIX).

[142] IOLR MSS Eur F157-241, Ludlow to Bailey, 26 November 1934, & 4 December 1945.

[143] Gould (1957, p.3).

[144] IOLR MSS Eur F157-166, Bailey to his parents, 2 May 1909.

[145] Gould (1957, p.19).

[146] Awareness of predecessors was also brought about by enquiries after them from the local Tibetans, or, in Mainprice's case, from browsing through the confidential files in the offices, which went back to 1905. Interview with R. Ford, March 1993; Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993, Interview with A.H. Robins, April 1993; Mainprice papers, diary entry of 24 June 1944; Ford (1990, p. 194).

[147] IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry, 12 September 1924.

[148] IOLR MSS F157-258, Hopkinson to Bailey, 5 December 1949.

[149] IOLR MSS Eur F157-259, Richardson to Bailey, 25 February 1949.

[150] IOLR MSS Eur F157-144, Younghusband to Bailey senior, 6 February 1906; also see MSS Eur F157-219, Younghusband to (F.M.) Bailey, 10 May 1906.

[151] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 127, Gould to Bell, 22 March 1936.

[152] IOLR L/P&S/12/4247-1517, cutting from The Times 9 January 1934; also see Caroe (1974); Richardson (1974).

[153] Ewing (1980, p.376).

[154] McKay (1992a, p.407).

[155] This is in contrast to the history of the Politicals' most remote posting, at Kashgar; see Everest-Phillips (1991, p.21 & passim).

[156] Hyam (1990, pp.211-12).
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 6:05 am

Part 1 of 2



In 1903, Secretary of State Lord George Hamilton, in a letter to Viceroy Curzon, expressed the view commonly-held by British-Indian ruling circles that 'our power in India was largely based on prestige'.[1] Prestige, in the British understanding, involved creating an impression of personal and national superiority over the local peoples and local power structures. Superior status was demonstrated through both individual and national behaviour, and through outward forms and symbols. In assuming this superior status, the British in India could claim to be following local custom; the precedent of izzat, the charismatic authority of the Mughal rulers. To this they added aspects which were quintessentially British; Gould dined at eight every evening, and always donned formal dress for dinner, even in camp. [2]

In the wider context, British prestige was a part of the prestige of European civilisation; there was a solidarity of purpose among Europeans generally to demonstrate and uphold the superiority of their society.
Thus Madame Alexandra David-Neel, the French traveller, wrote to Bell when he had her deported from Sikkim, that 'It is not good that Europeans appears[sic] to be quarreling before natives who do not like them.'[3]

The belief that 'natives' were essentially hostile contributed to the social segregation which became a feature of the British Indian social system. Imperial distinctness was preserved by both physical separation, expressed in architecture and living space, and social separation, which was enforced by rules and customs. Again, the Raj claimed local precedence for this. The Hindu caste system and Muslim segregation of women made intercommunal social intercourse difficult, and these local social divisions provided the precedent for the British to remain a distinct 'caste'. This concern for social distinctness predominated in British India despite the existence of a counter trend towards lessening the distance between the races.

Although the British in India believed that maintaining status was crucial to their rule, prestige was, Younghusband claimed, 'little understood in England, but....of immense practical value in the East'.[4] Prestige was considered of 'practical value' because it was believed that if British power was seen as invincible, resistance to it would be considered futile. Prestige was thus an alternative force, a symbol of power which became increasingly important as the British sought to avoid the political and economical cost of using military force as an instrument of policy in India. [5]

There was considerably less social separation from the local people in Tibet than in British India, but the concepts of correct behaviour and appropriate action associated with the maintenance of prestige were equally assiduously followed.

CHAPTER LXIII. Education and Castes.

Education is not widely diffused in Tibet. In the neighborhood of Shigatze children are taught comparatively well the three subjects of writing, arithmetic and reading, but in other places no provision exists for teaching children, except at monasteries, so that the boys and girls of ordinary people are generally left uneducated, especially the latter.

As might naturally be expected, educational establishments are few and far between. The only institutions worthy of the name are found on the premises of the Palace at Lhasa, and of the Tashi Lhunpo monasteries in Shigatze; all the rest are only ‘family schools’.

From the important position which priests command in Tibet, the system of training them is pretty well developed, and it is only at religious schools that one can obtain even a comparatively advanced education. Sons of ordinary people can enjoy the benefit of that education only by joining the order, for otherwise they are refused admission to Government schools.

The doors of those schools are, of course, shut against boys of humble origin.
In Tibet there exists one class which is the lowest in the scale of social gradation. This lowest grade is subdivided into fishermen, ferry-men, smiths, and butchers. Smiths are relegated to this grade in Tibet just as in India, and for the same reason—that they pursue an objectionable occupation in making edged tools used for slaughtering living things, the most sinful occupation of all. People of this lowest grade are even prohibited from becoming priests, and if ever they enter the privileged order it is by some surreptitious means and by concealing[436] their real rank. In this way some men of the lowest origin have become priests at places remote from their native villages. Compared with these despised classes, the ordinary people may be said to enjoy a great advantage.

The classes who are entitled to enter the Government institutions are only four:

1. Ger-pa, Peers;
2. Ngak-pa, the manṭra clan;
3. Bon-bo, the Old Sect clan;
4. Shal-ngo, families of former chieftains.

The Peers consist of the descendants of former ministers and generals, and contain the supreme class called Yabshi which is composed of families of the thirteen Grand Lamas, past and present, and also of the descendants of the first King of Tibet, called Tichen Lha-kyari. They all hold the rank of Duke. The descendants in the direct line of that King still exist to this day, and their head is entitled to occupy the same rank as the Grand Lama, only he does not possess any power in public affairs. The highest posts in the Tibetan Hierarchy are within the easy reach of the Yabshi men, who can become Prime Ministers or other great dignitaries of state provided they are judged to possess qualifications for undertaking those high functions. Even when they do not occupy such elevated positions, they at least hold posts that are of next in importance. All the remarks about the Yabshi apply to the families of the Dalai Lamas, installed at Lhasa, for though the other Patriarchs at Tashi Lhunpo also possess Yabshi of their own, they do not enjoy the same privileges as the others. The descendants of the Dalai Lama’s relatives, and those of the former King, may therefore be considered as forming in practice the royal families of Tibet. These should, for convenience, be set apart as a distinct class, though there are other families that do not differ much from them in origin and privilege. Of these, one called De-pon Cheka (families of generals) represents the descendants of the generals and[437] captains who rendered distinguished services when Tibet engaged in war. The merits of those warriors, long since dead, obtain for their descendants great respect from the public and they enjoy great privileges.

The next grade of the Peerage, but considerably below these, consists of the descendants of families of great historic renown, or of ministers of distinguished service. Though occupying the lowest grade in the herald-book of the Peerage, even the portfolio of the Premier is accessible to these Peers, provided that they are men of ability.

In general, honor and ability seldom go together in Tibet, for official posts are freely sold and purchased, though buyers are limited. High officials of real ability are even regarded as a nuisance by their colleagues, and are liable to be dismissed through their intrigues. Such being the case, by far the greater majority of high official posts are held by men who have obtained them in exchange for money.

The class that ranks next to Peers is that of the Ngak-pas or miracle workers, who are the descendants of Lamas who worked miracles, not the least of them being their marriage in violation of the rules of Lama priesthood. Those Lamas transmitted their ‘hidden arts’ exclusively to this social grade, which thus possesses hereditary secrets. The Ngak-pas play an important part in the social organism of Tibet. For instance they are entitled, as already mentioned, to levy the ‘hail-tax’ in summer, and therefore to assume the function of administrators. They are also held in great awe by provincials and townsmen, as being magicians of power. The simple-minded folk believe that if once they incur the displeasure of a Ngak-pa they may be cursed by him, and therefore may bring upon themselves some calamity. As I mentioned before, the Ngak-pa people occupy the advantageous position of being able to procure money in the[438] shape of proceeds of the ‘hail-tax,’ and of presents coming from all classes of people. Strange as it may appear, the Ngak-pa men, while commanding such advantages, are notoriously poor; they even stand as synonyms for poverty. Their sole consolation is that they are conscious of the great power they hold over all classes of people; and even Peers are often seen to dismount from horseback and give a courteous salute when they happen to meet a beggarly Ngak-pa in the street.


The nation is so credulous in the matter of religion that they indiscriminately believe whatever is told to them by their religious teachers, the lamas. Thus for instance they believe that there are eight kinds of evil spirits which delight in afflicting people and send hail to hurt the crops. Some priests therefore maintain that they must fight against and destroy these evil demons in order to keep them off, and the old school profess that in order to combat these spirits effectually they must know when the demons are preparing the hail. During the winter when there is much snow, these spirits, according to the priests, gather themselves at a certain place, where they make large quantities of hail out of snow. They then store the hail somewhere in heaven, and go to rest, until in the summer when the crops are nearly ripe they throw down the hail from the air. Hence the Tibetans must make[272] sharp weapons to keep off the hail, and consequently, while the spirits are preparing their hail, the Tibetans hold a secret meeting in some ravine where they prepare ‘hail-proof shells,’ which are pieces of mud about the size of a sparrow’s egg. These are made by a priest, who works with a servant or two in some lonely ravine, where by some secret method he makes many shells, chanting words of incantation the while, whereby he lays a spell on each shell he makes. These pellets are afterwards used as missiles when hail falls in the summer, and are supposed to drive it back. None but priests of good family may devote themselves to this work. Every village has at least one priest called Ngak-pa (the chanters of incantations of the old school) and during the winter these Ngak-pas offer prayers, perform charms, or pray for blessings for others. But the Tibetans have a general belief that the Ngak-pas sometimes curse others. I was often told that such and such person had offended a Ngak-pa and was cursed to death.

Having spent the winter in this way, the Ngak-pas during the summer prepare to fight against the devils. Let me remark, in passing, that Tibet has not four seasons, as we have, but the year is divided into summer and winter. The four seasons are indeed mentioned in Tibetan books, but there are in reality only two.

The summer there is from about the 15th of March to the 15th of September and all the rest of the year is winter. As early as March or April the ploughing of the fields and sowing of wheat begins, and then the Ngak-pa proceeds to the Hail-Subduing-Temple, erected on the top of one of the high mountains. This kind of temple is always built on the most elevated place in the whole district, for the reason that the greatest advantage is thus obtained for ascertaining the direction from which the clouds containing hail issue forth. From the time that[273] the ears of the wheat begin to shoot, the priest continues to reside in the temple, though from time to time, it is said, he visits his own house, as he has not very much to do in the earlier part of his service. About June, however, when the wheat has grown larger, the protection of the crop from injury by hail becomes more urgent, so that the priest never leaves the temple, and his time is fully taken up with making offerings and sending up prayers for protection to various deities. The service is gone through three times each day and night, and numberless incantations are pronounced. What is more strange is that the great hail storms generally occur when the larger part of the crops are becoming ripe, and then it is the time for the priest on service to bend his whole energies to the work of preventing the attack of hail.

When it happens that big masses of clouds are gathering overhead, the Ngak-pa first assumes a solemn and stern aspect, drawing himself up on the brink of the precipice as firm as the rock itself, and then pronounces an enchantment with many flourishes of his rosary much in the same manner as our warrior of old did with his baton. In a wild attempt to drive away the hail clouds, he fights against the mountain, but it often happens that the overwhelming host comes gloomily upon him with thunders roaring and flashes of lightning that seem to shake the ground under him and rend the sky above, and the volleys of big hailstones follow, pouring down thick and fast, like arrows flying in the thick of battle. The priest then, all in a frenzy, dances in fight against the air, displaying a fury quite like a madman in a rage. With charms uttered at the top of his voice he cuts the air right and left, up and down, with his fist clenched and finger pointed. If in spite of all his efforts, the volleys of hail thicken and strike the fields beneath, the priest grows madder in his wrath,[275] quickly snatches handfuls of the bullets aforementioned which he carries about him, and throws them violently against the clouds as if to strike them. If all this avail nothing, he rends his garment to pieces, and throws the rags up in the air, so perfectly mad is he in his attempt to put a stop to the falling hailstones. When, as sometimes happens, the hail goes drifting away and leaves the place unharmed, the priest is puffed up with pride at the victory he has gained, and the people come to congratulate him with a great show of gratitude. But when, unluckily for him, the hail falls so heavily as to do much harm to the crops, his reverence has to be punished with a fine, apportioned to the amount of injury done by the hail, as provided by the law of the land.

Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

The third caste is the Bon-bo the name of an old religion which prevailed in Tibet long before the introduction of Buddhism. The priests of this practically extinct religion were allowed to marry, and have left behind them the class of people who represent this old social institution in Tibet. The Bon-bo people have to play a certain distinct rôle in public affairs. This is more of a ceremonial than of a religious nature. It consists in worshipping local deities, and undertaking ceremonies intended to secure their favor. When people marry, they ask a Bon-bo man to pray for them to their local deity. Sometimes he undertakes other kinds of prayer or even performs symbolic rites with a benevolent or malevolent aim, according to circumstances. Families of this particular class are found almost everywhere throughout the country, though in limited numbers. In some remote villages, as Tsar-ka in the Himālayas, all the villagers are said to belong to this class, but in most cases only one or two families are found in one village or in one district. In such cases the Bon-bo are objects of great respect, and they sometimes act as local magistrates or administrators. Even when they pursue any other kind of business, they still command great respect from their neighbors as descendants of ancient families.

Though the Bon-bo are descendants of an old religious order, their present representatives are no longer priests,[439] for they do not preach their tenets to others, nor try to persuade them to become converts. They are simply content to hand down their ancestral teachings and traditions to their children and so maintain their distinct position in society. Not unfrequently the young Bon-bo enter the priesthood, and these take precedence over all the other Bon-bo. Strictly speaking the respect which the people belonging to this particular class enjoy over others at present is due to their honorable lineage.

The fourth class is “Shal-ngo” and is composed of the descendants of ancient families who acquired power in the locality on account of their wealth in either money or land. The Tibetans are in general a highly conservative race, and therefore they succeed in most cases in keeping intact their hereditary property. Their polyandrous custom too must be conducive to that result, preventing as it does the splitting up of family property among brothers. By far the great majority of the Shal-ngo people possess therefore more or less property; and even a poor Shal-ngo commands the same respect from the public as his richer confrère.

Common people are divided into two grades, one called tong-ba and the other tong-du. The former is superior, and includes all those common people who possess some means and have not fallen into an ignoble state of slavery. Tong-du means etymologically “petty people,” and their rank being one grade lower than that of others, the people of this class are engaged in menial service. Still they are not strictly speaking slaves; they should more properly be considered as poor tenant-farmers, for formerly these people used to stand in the relation of tenant-farmers to land-owners, though such relation no longer exists.

Some tong-ba are reduced to more straitened circumstances than the tong-du, but, generally considered, the tong-ba are distinguished from the others by the possession of property,[440] greater or less as the case may be, while poverty is a special feature of the tong-du.

However low the tong-ba may fall in the worldly sense of the word, and, on the other hand, however thriving the tong-du may become, a strict line of demarcation still continues to separate the two classes. Society continues to treat them as before, and as if nothing had happened in their relative fortunes. No ordinary people deign to eat with one belonging to the tong-du class, nor do they ever intermarry with them.

This strict rule of social etiquette is in force even among the four divisions of the lowest class, that is to say, ferry-men, fishermen, smiths and butchers. Of the four, the first two rank higher than the other two. Thus, though smiths and butchers are not permitted to eat in the same room with common people, the other two classes are allowed to do so, only they may not sit at table with a privileged plebeian, but must eat or drink from their own vessels.

It is hardly necessary to add that a strong barrier is set up between these four kinds of social outcasts and the ordinary common people, to prevent their intermarriage
; a man or woman belonging to the latter class, who is so indiscreet as to obey the bidding of his or her heart and to marry one of the despised race, is socially tabooed from his or her own kith and kin. This punishment is permanent, and even when the bond of this mésalliance has been dissolved by divorce, or any other cause, the fallen man or woman can never hope to regain the caste which he or she has forfeited. The mark of social infamy will follow him or her to the grave.

It is curious, however, that the issues of these mésalliances form a social class of their own. They are called tak ta ril, which means a ‘mixed race produced by black and white twisted together’. They occupy a position even[441] lower than that of the four despised classes mentioned above, and are in fact the lowest caste in Tibet.

There is one interesting feature in regard to this rigid canon of social caste, and that is the presence of gentlemen-smiths, who, being men of a mechanical turn of mind, have become smiths from preference. These gentlemen-smiths do not forfeit their birth and rank on this account.

Both by law and custom the higher classes enjoy special privileges, and these go a long way. The children of aristocrats, for instance, are entitled to exact from their humbler playmates great respect and courtesy. When the latter so forget themselves in their disputes and quarrels with their noble associates as to use rough language, they are at once punished, even when they are in the right. It is evident therefore from what has been stated that a plebeian, no matter how wealthy, is obliged to behave respectfully under all circumstances to a man belonging to the Ngak-pa or Bon-bo, even though the latter may be as poor as a church mouse. As each social class forms practically one distinct community with its own particular etiquette, customs and so forth, ranks are more plainly visible on the surface in Tibet than in most other countries. The Tibetan proverb corresponding to the western saying that “blood will out” [personal character, as determined by condition of birth, will eventually, inevitably be revealed] gains a special significance when applied to the state of affairs prevailing in that semi-civilised country.

The aristocrats of Tibet are distinguished by noble mien and refined manners. Conscious of their elevated position, they possess on the whole a high sense of honor. The other privileged castes occupying a lower plane, such as the men of the Ngak-pa and Bon-bo races and the descendants of ancient grandees, still bear the marks of their respectable birth and can easily be distinguished even by strangers from the common people.

The common people are plebeian in their general bearing and appearance, but one thing to their credit is that they are known for strict honesty, and even extreme poverty seldom tempts them into committing arts of larceny. On the other hand, the lower classes or social outcasts are notorious for their criminal propensities to robbery and murder. In practice they are characterised by crime and wretchedness; they are criminals and beggars. Beggars in fact form a community of their own, the profession being hereditary. These classes are deservedly held in contempt by the public, and their faces even seem to justify such treatment, for they are remarkable for ferocity, depravity and vileness.

As I have mentioned before, lads belonging to the higher ranks are entitled to enter Government schools, but the subjects taught there are at best imperfect. The lessons consist only of learning by memory, penmanship and counting. The first subject is the most important, next comes penmanship, the latter receiving even a larger allotment of hours than the other. Counting is a primitive affair, being taught by means of pebbles, pieces of wood, or shells. The subject matters of learning by memory are Buddhist Texts, the elements of grammar, and lastly rhetoric. This last is a subject of great ambition for Tibetan scholars, who are just like Chinese in their fondness for grandiloquent expressions. Documents to be presented to the Dalai Lama and other high personages bristle with high-flown phraseology and with characters rarely used in ordinary writing, and not found even in Buddhist Texts. The fact is that Tibetan scholars at present hold strange ideas about writing, being of opinion that they should aim at composing in a style unintelligible to ordinary persons. The more characters they can use which cannot easily be understood by others, the better proof, they think, have they given of the[443] profundity of their scholarship. The most scholarly compositions are practically hierographic so far as their incomprehensibility is concerned.


The birch-rod is considered to be the most useful implement in teaching; not exactly a birch-rod, however, but a flat piece of bamboo. The cramming of difficult passages of rhetoric being the principal mode of learning imposed on pupils, their masters are invariably of opinion that they must make free use of the rod in order to quicken their pupils’[444] progress. The relation between masters and pupils does not differ much from that between gaolers and convicts. The latter, poor fellows, hold their masters in such dread that they find it exceedingly trying, at the sight of them and their formidable pedagogic weapons, to compose their minds and to go on unfalteringly with their lessons. They cower with fear, and are filled with the perturbing thought that the rod is sure to descend upon them for the slightest stumble they make in the path of learning. The ordinary way of using the rod is to give thirty blows with it on the left palm of the pupil. Prudence counsels the pupil to stretch out his hand with alacrity at the bidding of his hard master, for in case he hesitates to do so the penalty is generally doubled, and sixty blows instead of thirty are given. It is a cruel sight to see a little pupil holding out his open hand and submitting to the punishment with tearful eyes. Surely this is not education but mere cruelty.

I once made an earnest remonstrance on this subject with the Minister of Finance who, in common with the rest, used to teach his boys with a liberal application of the rod. To do justice to the Minister, his method of teaching was much more considerate than that of most of his countrymen, and he very seldom resorted to rough handling, such as binding pupils with cords over-night or compelling them to go without dinner or supper. When however I remonstrated with him on the ground that the infliction of corporal punishment was entirely opposed to all sound principles of education, he at first defended the Tibetan system with great earnestness. We had a somewhat animated though courteous dispute on the subject; but at length, being a man of great candor of mind, he seemed to perceive the merit of my position. At any rate he ceased to use the rod as he did before, and generally confined himself to giving a reprimand when[445] any of his boys went astray with his learning. The Minister afterward informed me that his boys seemed to make better progress when they were spared the rod.

Abuse is also considered as an efficient means of educating boys. “Beast,” “beggar,” “devil,” “ass,” “eater of parents’ flesh,” are epithets applied to backward boys by their teachers, and this custom of using foul language is naturally handed on from teachers to pupils, who when they grow up are sure to pass on those slanderous appellations to the next generation.

While the education of the sons of laymen is conducted with such severity, that of boy disciples by Lama priests is extremely lenient, and is quite in contrast to that of the others. The disciples are not even reprimanded, much less chastised, when they neglect their work. The priests generally leave them to do as they like, much as uxorious husbands do towards their wilful wives, so that it is no wonder that the disciples of Lamas very seldom make any good progress in learning. They are spoiled by the excessive indulgence of their masters. Some of these masters own the evil of their way of education, and are careful not to spoil the youthful pupils placed under their care, and it is precisely from among these latter disciples that priests of learning and ability may be expected.

The memorising part of the Tibetan system of education, as mentioned above, is a heavy burden on the pupils. To give some idea of what an important part this work occupies in their system, I may note that a young acolyte, who has grown to fifteen or sixteen years old, has to commit to memory, from the oral instruction of his teachers, from three hundred to five hundred pages of Buddhist texts in the course of a year. He has then to undergo an examination on what he has learned. Even for a lad of weak memory, the number of pages is not less than one hundred in a year. For those who have grown older, that[446] is for those whose age ranges between eighteen and thirty, the task imposed is still more formidable, being five to eight hundred and even one thousand pages. I was amazed at this mental feat of the Tibetan priests, for I could barely learn fifty sheets in six months, that being the minimum limit allotted for aspirants of poor memory.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

After the Younghusband Mission had demonstrated British military power to the Tibetans, the Tibet cadre followed the strategy used in India. They sought to create an impression of power which would instill in the Tibetans a respect for the British, and influence them to support imperial interests. As Curzon stated,

What I want is that our present intolerable and humiliating relationship with the Tibetans shall not continue, and that they shall be sufficiently impressed with our power as to realise that they cannot look to any other quarter for protection. [6]

This was a common strategy in contemporary European imperial expansion; Russian frontiersmen stressed the need to support Russia's prestige in Central Asia, just as the Tibet cadre promoted British prestige in Tibet. [7]

We have seen that a particular type of officer was considered ideal for service in Tibet. In this chapter we shall examine how this ideal type was considered to embody the characteristics necessary to uphold British prestige (in contrast to local employees, whose failure to do so was regarded as being due to their race). We shall examine how the cadre attempted to restrict the Tibetans' contact with any but this ideal British type, as revealed by their efforts to control European travellers to Tibet, and how the cadre used prestige as a weapon to advance their personal and cadre status within government, and to advance policies they favoured.

This study demonstrates the importance of different forms of prestige to the British in Tibet, and illustrates how concepts of prestige influenced the cadre's image of both Tibet and themselves, and their actions consequent upon this understanding.


Prestige, in British Indian usage, was not an incidental quality, but a potent weapon of British power which was deliberately cultivated. Considerations of prestige were manifest in most British actions, from personal dress and bearing to government policy, and the British concept of prestige was constantly re-evaluated and refined, just as weapons of military power were. In Tibet the maintenance of British prestige was an important factor, both in the field of policy and because its symbols were an important part of an individual officer's self-esteem. Thus Macdonald proudly recalled how, in 1911, when he was inadvertently caught between opposing Chinese and Tibetan forces, they recognised him by his white topee, and both sides stopped firing to allow him to leave the battlefield.[8]

The Escort and Medical Officers played an important part in this process. The Medical Officers' concern with personal status matched that of the Politicals. While the advantages of modern medicine, and its free application to all classes of Tibetans naturally enhanced the British reputation, the 'right type' of doctor was also considered to do 'a tremendous lot for British prestige'. [9]

The Trade Agent's escort symbolised British military power. Attempts to withdraw the escort for political or financial reasons were successfully resisted by the cadre on the grounds that 'it would leave the Trade Agents divested of the needed symbols of authority'.[10] A Gyantse Escort Commander recalled how, when the Trade Agent paid official calls, they 'showed the flag’.

We rode out in great pomp and style. Liveried scouts riding on ahead, then the Mounted Infantry with the bugler, and the men carrying a huge Union Jack, and finally the B.T.A. and Officers. I feel sure the locals found this an imposing sight. [ 11]

Concern with prestige was manifest in an almost surreal attention to detail. When Bailey mentioned in a report that he had presented the Panchen Lama with a white silk scarf (the usual Tibetan practice on greeting a religious figure), his government promptly asked the Political Officer Sikkim, 'whether he considers that it is in any way derogatory to the dignity of British officers to do so.'[12]

When the British concern with prestige was combined with the Tibetans' own concern for details of etiquette, it could result in great importance being attached to the smallest detail of diplomatic ritual. While arranging the Panchen Lama's visit to India in 1906, O'Connor sought to ascertain how far the Viceroy would advance to meet the Lama, and vice versa. This was an important consideration in Tibetan etiquette, but it led even Foreign Secretary Dane, a strong supporter of O’Connor, to comment, 'Really these Tibetan officers are very unreasonable', and to pronounce that 'We are not Buddhists and cannot pay this extravagant spiritual homage.' But O'Connor insisted, and eventually an official in Calcutta was deputed to count the number of steps at the entrance to the Viceregal residence, although he concluded ironically that, 'number of paces to be taken in each case [is] unascertainable.'[13]

This correspondence illustrates the two schools of thought regarding the appropriate British response to local cultures. In the Indian context, Clive Dewey has described how the British 'veered between two clusters of axioms', which he calls the 'Gospel of Uplift' and the 'Cult of Friendship', as they faced the problem of whether to impose Western solutions to Indian problems, or whether to take the local cultural context as the primary reference point in policy formation. [14]

In Tibet, the 'Gospel of Uplift' was represented by Bailey, who considered that it was 'inconsistent with the maintenance of dignity to pander too much to native ideas'. Thus White, who followed this tendency, believed that O'Connor should have 'simply have told the Tashi Lama what he is expected to do'.[15]

O'Connor represented the other school of thought, the 'Cult of Friendship'. He believed that respect for Tibetan traditions enhanced the dignity of the British. The 'Cult of Friendship' which O'Connor followed, and of which Bell was to be the primary exponent, was the path followed by the more successful officers of the Tibet cadre.


We have seen that there was a type of officer considered ideal for service in Tibet; the qualities inherent in this type were those regarded as necessary to the creation of an image of the British which the Tibetans would respect. Hence the definitions of an officer with the necessary prestige match those definitions of the ideal type defined in the previous chapter.

As a part of their self-creation of a role in Tibet -- an aspect which will be considered in Chapter Four -- the Tibet cadre sought to establish their status vis-a-vis the Tibetan and Chinese officials with whom they dealt. During the 1904-13 period the Chinese attempted to use the uncertain status of the British officials to their advantage, and the issue was never fully resolved. Campbell had served in Peking, and his expertise in Chinese etiquette was then of great value; on one occasion he returned a letter as he understood that it was 'addressed to me only by name in a manner only possible [when] addressing an inferior'. [16]

After 1936, when both British and Chinese Missions were present in Lhasa, the two countries were in constant competition to enhance their status with the Tibetans. Thus British and Chinese accounts of the installation of the 14th Dalai Lama differ greatly, as each attempts to claim a higher status for their reception.
The British even reported that when they rode into Lhasa with their dogs carried in a dandy, the Tibetans were favourably impressed by this, as Chinese officials were usually carried in dandies. [17]

Establishing the cadre officer's status vis-a-vis Tibetan officials was easier. Bell sought the highest possible status for the Political Officer Sikkim, and arranged that he rank with the Tibetan Chief Minister. This meant that, although within British India the Sikkim post was never more than a second-class Residency, in Tibet the Political Officer could justly claim, 'You couldn't get any higher.... We were the top of the heap'. [18]

This status was much higher than that to which cadre officers might have aspired had they remained in Britain. But while officers from British middle and upper-middle class backgrounds became the ruling class in India, they reverted to their previous status when they returned to Britain (which must have been a factor in the Political Officer's reluctance to retire from Sikkim), and the British aristocracy were inclined to view the status these men held in India as being unwarranted. This paradox was reflected in British concern that minor Indian princes were treated with great ceremony on European visits, despite their relatively low stature in India. [19]

Individual British officers were keenly concerned to maintain and increase their own personal status, and even when the Tibetans were not directly involved no detail of protocol was ignored. For example, when Campbell was Trade Agent in Yatung, he objected to receiving letters from the Political Officer Sikkim signed by the Gangtok clerk, while when Gould visited Gyantse he insisted on being received at the precise distance (several miles) dictated by Tibetan etiquette. If he reached this spot before his reception party, Gould would sit and wait until they arrived to escort him into the Agency.[20]

In these matters, however 'tiresome' they seemed to witnesses, the officers were supported by their government. Bell reported that Campbell, then in charge of the Chumbi Valley, 'insists and perhaps rightly so on the local people dismounting from their ponies and removing their hats whenever they see him'. Bell was not personally given to demanding such public deference, but he clearly supported the all-important principle of maintaining the highest possible prestige. If the British 'were to represent a superior race, they had to act the part'.[21]

Spangenberg, in reference to the ICS. described their concern with prestige as 'obsessive', but he viewed prestige as an individual concern with career advancement. In Tibet, the cultivation of prestige was an integral part of an officer's duties. The development of both national and personal prestige were aspects of a deliberate policy to strengthen what the British saw as a primary weapon of imperial influence.[22]


British officers were considered inherently able to represent British status, but in 1906, the IMS proposed posting an Indian officer, one Captain D.P. Goil, to Gyantse to replace the first Medical Officer there, Lieutenant Robert Steen. The Political Department objected, stating that, 'On political grounds it is important that the Medical Officer in a pioneer post like Gyantse should be a European.'[23]

The question of whether the necessary British prestige could be maintained by local officers was also raised by the posting of Indian provincial officers to the Gartok Trade Agency. Relations with western Tibetan officials were always problematical, for the Agent's efforts to protect the interests of British Indian traders were at odds with the interests of the Tibetan officials, whose income came from trading and tax gathering, official or unofficial.[24]

It was suggested that a British officer should make an annual visit to Gartok, 'as such a visit would improve, in the eyes of the Tibetans, the status of Thakur Jai Chand' (the first Gartok Trade Agent).[25] But financial and logistical problems meant that visits by British officers to western Tibet became increasingly rare. In their absence, the actions of the Gartok Trade Agents seriously threatened British prestige in this remote region.[26]

As the Indian officers posted to Gartok were from the Punjab Hill States bordering western Tibet, they were invariably open to accusations of bias in favour of traders from their own clan. In addition, the neglected and poorly paid Agents had numerous opportunities to take financial advantage of their post. Jai Chand, although approved personally by Younghusband proved to be 'a thoroughly hopeless person and quite unsuited for his appointment' and he was eventually dismissed for misusing government funds. His successor, Lala Devi Das, while marginally more efficient, also made the fullest possible use of his travelling and personal allowances. [27]

Das’s successor. Pala Ram unnecessarily antagonised the local officials, and was found to have 'little tact and less discrimination...an exaggerated sense of his own importance and...a petulance and lack of dignity which were unworthy of one in his position.' His replacement, Thakur Hyatt Singh, gained such a bad reputation for profiteering that he was banned from entering Tibet after his dismissal, which followed a drunken brawl over a women with a local official.
The Tibetan official was killed soon after by lightning, but he had felt strongly enough about Hyatt Singh to write to the Government of India pointing out the threat to bilateral relations posed by the poor choice of Agents. [28]

While the performance of these Agents was damned in a series of reports by inspecting officer E.W. Wakefield in 1928, he had some sympathy for them on account of their poor pay and conditions, which were held to have contributed to their failures. Wakefield's reports ultimately led the Government of India to conclude that the Agents had not failed through any fault of their own, but because they were not 'of the right class'. In order to increase their prestige, it was decided to select Agents of a higher caste than previously and increase their pay and rank. Wakefield's reforms were apparently successful. His visit, had, the new Trade Agent, Dr Kanshi Ram, reported, enabled the Tibetan officials 'to understand the status of the Trade Agent'.[29] But any improvements were not long lasting; Captain Saker, following his visit in 1942, reported that 'the position of the British Trade Agent has gradually deteriorated', and it must be concluded that the Gartok post was never particularly successful.[30]

The question of whether only a British officer could embody British prestige was never entirely resolved. In 1909 Bell had set out the respective advantages of British and Indian officers for the Yatung Trade Agency. He concluded that if no British officer were available, an intelligent Indian of 'good family' already in local government service, would be cheaper, more capable in administrative work, and 'liable to live on terms of closer friendship with the Chinese and Tibetan officials than a European could do'.[31]

Bell's definition of a suitable Indian officer implied that an Indian could uphold sufficient prestige if he were of 'good family’. A distinction was drawn here between those local social groups who were accustomed to authority, and those outside traditional power structures, with the former group being the target of the Politicals' attempts to 'cultivate the friendship of the local Ruling Chiefs'. [32]

One of the rewards offered to British supporters from the local power structures was government employment in posts of authority which reflected their traditional status.
The British considered that their prestige could be represented by the traditional personal authority of their supporters from local ruling elites, who were accustomed to command and to the external symbols and trappings of authority. However, while they might maintain the prestige of British rule, as members of the subject race these local leaders could not equal the personal status of a British officer.

The Government of India wanted a local officer at Yatung for financial reasons. While this meant that the Trade Agent there would have less status than a British officer, this factor would, if Bell was correct, be balanced by his greater ability to cultivate the friendship of local officials, which was of paramount importance to his role (an issue that is discussed in Chapter Four). In the event, the officer chosen signified a compromise. He was an Anglo-Sikkimese, David Macdonald, a local government employee who had served on the Younghusband Mission. While not from an aristocratic family, he was intelligent and got on extremely well with Tibetans, and even the Chinese.

Macdonald was uniquely well qualified, and thoroughly conversant with British concepts of prestige. As he later recalled 'There was the prestige and pomp of the empire to be maintained and this meant one reflected the glory.' In contrast, when the Lhasa Mission was headed by a local officer of Tibetan origin in the 1940s, it was felt that 'the want of a Political Officer [i.e. a British officer] in charge of the Mission was felt by our friends'. [33]

Questions of manpower and economy, allied to the need to reward local supporters, meant that local employees had to be given positions of authority, but they were generally kept away from the key positions in which policy decisions were made. [David] MacDonald was the only local officer given a Political post in Tibet until the late 1930s, and he was originally appointed to Yatung, which had little or no influence on policy formation.

Ultimately, although the British had to use local employees, they felt that, with the exception of an exceptional individual such as Macdonald, their prestige could only be fully represented by British officers. Local officers had not been trained to command at British public schools, and thus could not be expected to understand and maintain public school codes of behaviour. In consequence, if a local officer failed to maintain the required status and standards of behaviour, his failure was blamed on his race or class, whereas if a British officer failed, it was the individual who was blamed: 'A man who does not play the game at the outposts is a traitor to our order.'[34]


The various locations and cultures in which the British operated prevented a single all-embracing definition of what upheld a British officer’s status, and what adversely affected it. Prestige was localised in application and the boundaries of appropriate behaviour were redrawn in the light of local circumstances and cultures. In Tibet, this process occurred in two areas, religion and language, which provide further insight into the collective mentality of the Tibet cadre.

In British India, following Nietzche's dictum that 'political supremacy always gives rise to notions of spiritual supremacy',[35] the prevailing tendency was that too close an association with Hinduism was apt to be regarded with suspicion. While sympathy and interest in Indian religions was not unknown, Hinduism and Islam were themselves commonly denigrated, Christianity was an important part of British distinctness, and provided a moral justification for British rule. The character of the ideal official was described in terms of what were considered Christian virtues; courage, honesty, truthfulness and so on. But a distinct religion was not made an aspect of British prestige in Tibet. None of the Tibet cadre became practising Buddhists (indeed, most were practising Christians), but the successful officers were all deeply respectful towards Tibetan religion.

Aware that the Tibetans regarded missionaries as a threat to their religion, the cadre totally opposed any attempts to influence them towards Christianity. In this they enjoyed the full support of their government, which steadfastly refused to allow any missionaries to work in Tibet, or even to contact the Tibetan leadership. A sympathetic approach to the local religion was thus another defining characteristic of the Tibet cadre,[36] in contrast to the prevailing trends in India.

In contrast to colonial systems which required the indigenous peoples to learn the language of the dominant power, British Indian officials regarded their ability to learn the local languages as an important part of their personal and national status. While an Indian 'gentlemen' was expected to converse in English, and indeed his ability to do so was a defining mark of his status, British officers were expected to be able to converse with all levels of Indian society, which required a mastery of local language and dialects. As Bernard Cohn has shown, this also enabled the British to use, and to ensure they received, the forms of the local language appropriate to their social status, and thereby maintain prestige. [37]

In pre-1947 Tibet there were only a handful of English-speaking individuals, and these were middle-level government officials who had been educated or trained by the British. Tibetan 'gentlemen', such as Tsarong Shape,[38] were not defined by their command of English. The cadre, therefore, had to learn to communicate in Tibetan, or rely on translators. The choice of O'Connor as the first Gyantse Trade Agent, and of Bailey as his successor, owed much to their being the only candidates capable of speaking Tibetan. In Gartok the first Trade Agent apparently spoke Tibetan but not English; he reported in Urdu. The association of language and prestige had a wider significance that was not restricted to Tibetan. Cohn has shown that there are codes of meaning within official colonial language;[39] a finding which we may apply to Tibet. Throughout the Tibet cadre's reports, certain words and phrases recur. There were those aimed at enhancing the cadre officers' personal reputation, and those which were to reinforce British policy.

Annual reports from the Agencies always contained a positive statement of good relations with local officials. The same phrase, 'Relations with all officials continue to be friendly', occurs in every Yatung report from 1930 onwards. When the Yatung Agent omitted this phrase from the 1939-40 report it was added by the Political Officer Sikkim before the report was submitted to the government. Through the use of this phrase the cadre sought to demonstrate to their government that they were successfully cultivating the friendship of the Tibetans and that their presence there was welcome. This contrasted with alternative evidence which suggested that, particularly in the early period of the British presence, significant elements of the Tibetan power structure opposed their presence. O'Connor, for example, reported that, 'Although the country people and some of the traders are well enough disposed towards us...the monks and officials regard us with ineradicable suspicion and dislike.'[40]

Similarly we may examine descriptions of the Tibetan Government as 'naive', or ’unwilling to make decisions' (as will be seen in Chapter 7.1), and see these statements as justifications for British actions which the Tibetans opposed. Seen through British eyes, the Tibetan Government were often naive, (and many Tibetans today would accept that statement), but by emphasising this, the cadre sought to justify their own actions through the medium of the dominant language.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:00 am

Part 2 of 2


The cadre used prestige as both an instrument of policy towards Tibet, and as a weapon of personal or cadre empowerment within government. The latter aspect is clearly apparent in their efforts to ensure that the cadre had sole control over direct Anglo-Tibetan contacts.

If the Tibet cadre were to succeed in promoting the policies they favoured, and consequently promote their own careers, they had to establish themselves as the sole channel of communication between Whitehall and Lhasa, and ensure that they were Whitehall's only official source of information on Tibet. Other voices, which might present policies opposed by the cadre, had to be silenced.

The clearest example of this is in the cadre’s struggle against the Chinese imperial services, which reflects the wider struggle for influence at Whitehall between the Government of India, and the Foreign Office, responsible for imperial affairs in China. As noted in the introductory chapter, the interests of the Government of India were often in conflict with those of other British interests, such as trade with China. In these circumstances, the Tibet cadre naturally represented India's interests, protecting both their own, and their government's, prestige.

One threat to the cadre's position emerged soon after the Younghusband Mission. Following the 1893 Agreement between Britain and China, British officers of the China Maritime Customs Service were posted to Yatung. [41] These officers had little or no contact with the Government of India prior to 1903, when the fifth officer to serve there, Captain W.R.M. Parr, was attached to the Younghusband Mission. Contact with Parr alerted India to the possibility that their presence could be taken as indicating that the trade marts were Chinese Treaty Ports; in which case they would be open to all foreigners and the Government of India would lose much of its influence in Tibet. 'This', Louis Dane ruled, 'we cannot allow'. But when Parr was replaced by Mr V.C. Henderson in September 1904, the threat became a real danger. [42]

Henderson officially refused to recognise the right of the Government of India, in the person of Trade Agent O'Connor, to be advised of his movements and motives within Tibet, on the grounds that he was an officer of Tibet's suzerain power, China. Unofficially however, he got on well with O'Connor, and revealed Chinese intentions to get rid of the Trade Agencies, as well as his own ambitions -- a posting in Lhasa as 'advisor' to the Amban, which he hoped would mean 'practically running the country'. O'Connor warned his government that 'Henderson, nice fellow that he is, is a very dangerous and skillful opponent to us and the sooner he leaves...the better.'[43]

The issue with which O'Connor was concerned here was not only that Henderson represented the Chinese Government and its plans to establish their authority over Tibet, but that he was not under Government of India authority. It was part of the Government of India's prestige that it represented the highest, and undivided, authority in the region. If its authority was seen to be successfully challenged, even by other British elements, that prestige would, it was held, be damaged throughout the 'East'. Any weakening, or division, of the cadre's authority would also reflect badly on the prestige of individual officers.

The cadre set out to remove the China Customs officers from Tibet, using the need to maintain prestige as their principal argument within government. Maintaining the Tibetan's respect, the cadre argued, required the presentation of the correct type of European to the Tibetans, and the China Customs men were, according to Younghusband, 'not of a particularly refined type and add little to our prestige'. Younghusband warned that the Tibetans 'believed that the Chinese must be superior to us from employing Englishmen in their service.' O'Connor charged that the China Customs men ill-treated the Tibetans, which reflected badly on all British officers, and pointed out that their advice to the Tibetans might be very different to that of the Government of India. [44]

Armed with these allegations, India sought Whitehall's assistance in removing European officials in Chinese employ from Tibet. This was apparently done informally, to avoid creating an issue in which Sir Robert Hart, the powerful Head of Chinese Customs, would intervene to safeguard the prestige and interests of his own force, and, in April 1907, Henderson was replaced by a Chinese officer. The Chinese service, apparently forgetting the previous difficulties, attempted to send another British officer on an inspection visit to the redundant Chinese Customs post at Yatung in 1913. They abandoned the attempt in the face of strong opposition from the Government of India, which instructed frontier officials to prevent the officer from crossing the border. The principle of Delhi's control over European officials in Tibet was now firmly established.[45]

Prestige was also a weapon in the struggle to remove from Anglo-Tibetan relations the influence of the China Consular Service (the equivalent in China of the Indian Political Department).
There were two China Consulates in a position to become involved in Tibetan affairs, but one of these, the Kashgar Consulate, was maintained and staffed by the Government of India, as it was more easily reached from India than from Peking. The Kashgar Consuls were preoccupied with Russian influence in Sinkiang, and the Consulate had only peripheral involvement in Tibetan affairs. [46]

In 1913 however, the China Consular Service opened a post at Tachienlu, on Tibet's eastern border, in order to gather intelligence concerning events on that frontier. The cadre regarded this post as having a pro-Chinese perspective, and it posed a definite threat to their monopoly on the supply of regular intelligence from Tibet, and thus to their authority. Matters improved in 1917 with the posting to Tachienlu of Eric Teichman, whose views on Tibetan policy were in agreement with those of the Tibet cadre, but when Teichman departed in 1919, his replacement was W.H. King, whose pro-Chinese views were seen by Bell as a threat to his efforts to cultivate Anglo-Tibetan ties. [47]

Alastair Lamb has shown how Bell orchestrated a rather unseemly campaign to ensure King’s removal from Tachienlu. Bell showed his mastery 'in the great game of bureaucratic survival and self-promotion', and by forcing King's removal, restored the Government of India's full control over British relations with Tibet.[48]

King's despatches to Peking were sent via Sikkim, where they were seen by Bell and his government. After a long report by King in April 1921, which argued that the Eastern Tibetans would be better off under Chinese rule, Bell, who was then in Lhasa, became sharply critical of King's ability. In the Secretariat they watched with interest as 'Mr Bell and Mr King...are warming to the fray, and vigorously criticizing each other's despatches.' Bell homed in on King's weakness in Tibetan. On one occasion Bell pointed out 'forty lines in Mr King's Tibetan text with eighty-nine mistakes...The style of writing is not that used in letters, and the handwriting is that of an uneducated man' which might 'result in disastrous errors'.[49]

Bell enlisted the aid of the Tibetans, who requested that India withdraw King as he was 'hostile to the Tibetans'. These requests continued after Bell's retirement, and, after a decent interval to avoid the appearance of bowing to Tibetan protests (which, it was believed, would have threatened British prestige), King was withdrawn and the Tachienlu post combined with that of Chengdhu.[50]

The removal of European China Customs officers from central Tibet, and China Consular officers from Tibet's eastern border, enhanced the status of the Tibet cadre, reflecting their increased influence on Anglo-Tibetan relations. Yet their removal also meant that an opportunity of understanding China's perspective on Tibet was lost. But most cadre officers disliked the Chinese as a race, and made little effort to understand them, as evinced by Ludlow's comment to Bailey that 'Williamson hates Kashgar and the Chinks. I agree with him as regards the chinks[sic].'[51]


Prestige was an important factor in British policy towards European travellers' access to Tibet. The Tibet cadre were, to an extent, caught between the conflicting desires of Tibet's conservative ruling class to maintain its isolation, and the outside world, which sought to end it. The cadre generally favoured opening Tibet to foreign visitors, but sought to control both the numbers and the types of visitors allowed, in order to avoid antagonising the Tibetans and to ensure that those visitors allowed into Tibet represented the type of European who would maintain or enhance British prestige.

In the 19th century Tibet had, with Chinese assistance, generally excluded foreigners from its territory, their primary motive being the protection of their religion. In 1873, in order to prohibit unauthorised visits which would upset the Tibetans, India introduced the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, which, while permitting the continuance of traditional local cross-border relations, barred persons who were neither officials, nor (non-European) local inhabitants, from entering Tibet. Travellers required government permission to cross designated 'Inner Lines' set back from the Tibetan border. One unwanted effect of this was to increase Tibet's allure for Western travellers.

Individuals and institutions such as the Royal Geographical Society had hoped that the Younghusband Mission signalled the opening of Tibet to foreign travellers. But the strength of Tibetan opposition to this, allied to fears that Russians and Chinese could then travel freely there, meant that the British continued to discourage most individuals who sought to enter Tibet. Following Bell's visit to Lhasa, access to Tibet was eased at his suggestion, and individuals were permitted to travel on the trade route via Yatung to Gyantse. The Tibetans continued to voice objections to these visitors, but the Government of India was always sensitive to criticism that it was the instigator of Tibet's isolation, and generally allowed travellers on the trade route.[52]

Access to Lhasa, or places away from the trade route, such as Shigatse, remained tightly controlled. The Tibetan Government's approval was required for these visits, and the Governments of India and Tibet regularly played out an elaborate charade, in which each claimed the other was refusing access. In practice, apart from a handful of visitors who obtained a invitation direct from the Tibetans, permission to visit Lhasa was obtained through unofficial representations by the British to the Tibetan Government. Those whose visit was strongly supported by the British were generally approved by the Tibetans, and permission was always forthcoming for British officials. The cadre were thus able to ensure that the British who came in contact with the Tibetan leadership represented the ideal they sought to present.[53]

The Government of India had legitimate reasons for wanting some control over European entry to Tibet. They sought to exclude known criminals, and those seeking to exploit Tibetan ignorance of the outside world. Unauthorised individuals could create incidents such as that involving an American 'adventurer' in 1907, who shot a tribesman in Eastern Tibet in a dispute over ula.[54]

In addition to the criminal element, however, there was another class of visitor the cadre opposed. The usually perceptive Teichman, in supporting the opening of Tibet to visitors, had concluded that 'once the novelty of the thing had worn off none would want to go there but Indian traders and wool buyers'; but Teichman greatly underestimated Tibet's appeal. [55]

Tibet attracted large numbers of Europeans who were outside the mainstream of their own culture, the culture which the Tibet cadre was attempting to present in the most positive light to the Tibetans. Large numbers of religious seekers (particularly Theosophists), eccentrics, adventurers, and even the mentally disturbed, sought to enter Tibet. Such persons were unlikely to present the image of Europeans which the cadre sought to project, and were thus seen as a threat. This 'threat' grew with the increasing number of visitors in the 1920s and '30s.

The cadre were particularly concerned with travellers' dress and mode of travel. Thus they objected to a Swiss traveller with 'only' two coolies who borrowed bedding from the dak bungalow chaukidars as, 'Such conduct...lowers the prestige of foreigners'.
Even in the 1930s they considered that, 'while nowadays no one expects to see a Curzonian frock coat in the middle of a desert, it is a pity that occasionally even Englishmen should travel...looking like sweeps'. To the cadre, the desired ideal visitor represented a particular type whose bearing and behaviour emulated that of the officers themselves. Travellers of that kind were considered to be 'a type which many other tourists would do well to emulate'. [56]

From the perspective of officers whose contact with women was restricted throughout school, university and colonial posting, female travellers were a particular threat to British prestige. Ludlow, noting the visit of one 'weird lady', wrote that 'we do get some funny people as visitors. All the women seem to be only too glad of an excuse to wear puttees and breeches all day long.' Richardson considered it 'particularly undesirable that European ladies should live in the servants quarters of dak bungalows'. To counter this problem, Gould decreed that female travellers were not permitted to travel in Tibet without a male escort. This was even applied to cadre officer's wives, although, in the case of the Politicals, they had usually been socially assessed by the Viceroy, along with their husbands. [57]

The cadres' attitude to religious seekers in Tibet was ambivalent. Travellers who were sympathetic and respectful to Buddhism were less liable to upset Tibetan sentiments. Many of the cadre officers themselves were also personally, as well as professionally, interested in Tibetan religion, and were not untouched by the attractions of the wider shores of Tibetan mysticism. But they were brought up with a belief in scientific lines of enquiry. When a traveller such as the American, Theos Bernard, visited Lhasa as a student of Buddhism, his exotic dress and manner were not unacceptable, but when he claimed to be the incarnation of an important Tibetan religious figure, and to have participated in 'secret ceremonies', British (and Tibetan) support for him vanished.[58]

However, the crucial issue was political. The dress and bearing of religious seekers could be distinct from that of other Europeans without threatening British prestige, for such distinctness was characteristic within Tibetan society. Seekers whose actions did not alienate the Tibetans, and whose later writings and speeches avoided Himalayan politics, and particularly British policy there, were considered acceptable; indeed it appears to have been regretted that there were no British seekers of their type.[59] But if these seekers became at all involved in political issues, they became persona non grata with the British, and generally with the Tibetans also.

The cadre reserved the greatest disapproval for William McGovern, an American lecturer from the School of Oriental Studies in London. McGovern was a member of a self-titled 'British Buddhist Mission [The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland]' which visited Gyantse in 1922, but which was refused permission to visit Lhasa. The India Office had warned Bailey that the Mission, although otherwise composed of Oxford University graduates, 'are a queer crowd... (who), ...clearly show the cloven hoof'.[60]

McGovern returned with his fellows to India, but then secretly made his way back through Tibet in disguise, reaching Lhasa on 15 February 1923. He revealed his presence to the Tibetan authorities, who expelled him from Lhasa six weeks later. His subsequent book, and newspaper articles, widely publicised in Britain, made a number of comments on British policy in Tibet. [61]

McGovern's worst 'crime' in the Tibet cadre's eyes was his statement that there was a pro-Chinese party in Lhasa. Any evidence suggesting the Tibetans, particularly in Lhasa, in any way favoured the Chinese rather than the British was always denigrated. In this instance, Bailey obtained the assistance of Arthur Hinks, the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, with the result that the journal of the society published as strong an attack on McGovern's reliability and reputation as was legally possible to make. The journal claimed that 'whatever little value the story [of McGovern's journey] might have possessed is discounted by Dr. McGovern's obvious predilection for sensational journalism'. His conduct, they claimed, had done 'great disservice to good relations with Tibet', while his 'boast' that Indian frontier police were punished for failing to prevent his visit meant McGovern 'stands self-condemned'. Future references to him by cadre officers were inevitably derogatory; two decades later Bell described McGovern's book as 'a thriller' and incorrectly alleged that his disguise had been penetrated. [62]

The Government of India's embarrassment over the McGovern affair was compounded by Tibetan protests that McGovern had not been punished. Delhi had decided that the available penalty was so small as to be not worth enforcing, as it would only give McGovern more publicity. This led the Tibetans to suspect McGovern's journey was not an illicit one, and provided ammunition for conservative elements in Tibet to oppose Europeans' right to travel in Tibet.[63]

In retrospect it is difficult to see that McGovern’s visit had any great effect on Anglo-Tibetan relations, and it is perhaps surprising that none of the cadre officers, no strangers to illicit journeys themselves, revealed any admiration for McGovern. It may be that the cadre felt their failure to intercept McGovern reflected badly on the controls exercised by their government, and hence harmed their own prestige within the system.[64]

Map of Tibet showing Dr. McGovern's Route to Lhasa

1922-1923. -- British scientific expedition. -- Experience of Dr. McGovern in Lhasa. - Dr. William w. McGovern, the scientific adviser of a British research mission to tibet made a perilous and significant visit to Tibet in 1923 reaching the Forbidden City of Lhasa. In July, 1922, the expedition called the British Buddhist Mission, sailed for India and proceeded to Tibet after receiving permission from the Indian government to travel to Gyantse via Yatung. The Tibetan government, however, refused it permission to continue to Lhasa. McGovern was forced with the others to return to India to keep his word of honor to the government of India but he had studied the country closely in order to return secretly in disguise. He spoke Tibetan fluently. Leaving Darjeeling on Jan. 10, 1923, he made a hazardous journey disguised as a coolie, straight through Sikkim, entering Tibet near Kampa Dzong thence north through the heart of Tsang Province to Shigatse and the Brahmaputra river and on to Lhasa. He arrived in Lhasa bout the middle of February in time for the Tibetan new Year's festivities, when, for twenty-one days the city government is turned over to a government of monks and the Dalai Lama and his cabinet have no control. The results of McGovern's unusual experience in the Forbidden city where he enjoyed the patronage of the Dalai Lama's favorite minister, Tsarong Shape, the strong man of Tibet (although he was compelled to become a prisoner of state to escape the fanaticism of the temporary priestly regime) were the securing of numerous priceless manuscripts and an extraordinary opportunity for observing the life and institutions of the country. Many of his impressions have been recorded in printed form and by the cinematograph camera secretly used. After six weeks stay in Lhasa McGovern was permitted to return to India under escort.

Also in: S. Hedin, Trans-Himalaya: Discoveries and adventures in Tibet.

-- The New Larned History for Ready Reference, Reading and Research: The Actual Words of the World's Best Historians Biographers and Specialists, Volume 10, by Josephus Nelson Larned


For the cadre, the ideal traveller was one whose character and behaviour were of the type thought necessary to uphold European prestige, and whose visit would further British interests in Tibet in some way. Although non-British travellers were generally discouraged, the epitome of the traveller considered ideal was the Italian, Professor Guiseppe Tucci, who made a number of visits to Tibet.

Tucci, already an eminent scholar when he first applied to visit Tibet in the 1920s, cultivated good relations with important British officials such as Basil Gould and the Indian Foreign Secretary E.B. Howell [Evelyn Berkeley Howell], and he gave the British detailed reports of his travels, including maps and copies of his books. Tucci took care not to transgress the Tibetan travel regulations, and he had considerable personal funds, which, together with his professed Buddhism, ensured that he established good relations with the Tibetans. The Government of India continued to support Tucci's travels throughout the 1930s, even after another Tibetologist, Marco Pallis, had written to Delhi criticising Tucci's removal of large numbers of artifacts from Tibet. [65]

In 1946, with Britain and Italy still technically at war, and with the British Council informing the India Office that Tucci had lost his chair at Rome University for supporting Mussolini, support for Tucci was more circumspect. But Richardson in Lhasa, while not prepared to support the Italian officially, suggested to Tucci that he send the Lhasa Mission eight copies of his latest book, 'for distribution as ground bait' to Tibetan officials: Tucci did so and duly got approval for another trip to Tibet. Continued support for Tucci came because his researches were 'a valuable contribution towards...our main aim of policy viz. that Tibet always has had, and continues to have, a separate national existence'.[66]

Although Tucci was the ideal traveller, there was a general reluctance to allow non-British travellers into Tibet. Most foreign travellers were seen as representatives of their native government. As the interests of Japan, France, Germany, America, Russia and China (who provided the bulk of non-British travellers to Tibet), were not normally synonymous with those of the British in Tibet, foreign visitors were viewed with great suspicion. Non-British travellers with sufficient backing from official circles, or a few wealthy individuals who obtained an invitation directly from the Tibetans, were able to visit Tibet, but those who entered from India were closely monitored by British contacts among the guides, syces and other caravan personnel that travellers needed.[67]

Alastair Lamb sees this attitude as a 'deliberate policy of limiting Tibetan opportunities for acquiring knowledge about, and contacts in, the outside world'.[68] Certainly the available evidence suggests that progressive elements of Tibetan society (such as Tsarong Shape, the outstanding secular personality in 20th century Tibet), were keen to contact any foreign travellers. But there were obvious cases where foreign visitors potentially posed a great threat to British Indian interests. One example was the 1939 German Mission to Lhasa.

The German expedition, led by Dr D.E. Schafer, had Himmler's personal support; several of its members were SS. officers. India was placed under considerable pressure by Whitehall, then following Chamberlain's ’appeasement policy', to allow them to enter Tibet. India bowed to this pressure, and Richardson was instructed to assist the Germans to obtain Tibetan permission to visit Lhasa. Richardson was very reluctant to do so, and most unusually received a 'private and personal' telegram from the Viceroy which stated, 'I have to ask you to do what you are asked'.[69]

The Germans, however, achieved little. Before he left Germany, Schafer had accidentally shot his wife and, if British reports are to be believed, was mentally unstable. Schafer also formed an indiscreet relationship with his young caravan leader, and tried to arrange to take him to Germany. The unexpected outcome of the German's visit, Richardson was happy to report, was 'results of lasting value to us...they created an unfavourable impression in Lhasa...and by contrast heightened our prestige'. Richardson thus implied that the Tibetans distinguished between British and Germans, and would henceforth favour the British.[70]

In general, the Tibet cadre were successful in restricting access to Lhasa to British officials of the desired 'type'. Those Europeans who were able to reach Lhasa without British support were either individuals of no political importance, or on missions which failed to achieve their political objects. Neither impaired British prestige in Tibet.


As the British used prestige as a weapon of policy, the question arises as to how successful a weapon it was. English language sources represent the view of the dominant culture, and references to Tibetan views are usually filtered through British perceptions, but what evidence is available suggests the Tibetans were less impressed by the symbols of British prestige than the British hoped. The Tibetans were concerned with their own ceremonial forms, and British adherence to these was undoubtedly contrasted favourably with the approach of the Chinese. But the waxing and waning of Tibetan fondness for the British does not appear to relate to British prestige.[71]

Certainly outer forms such as dress appear to have gained the British nothing. After seeing a picture of the 'Trooping of the Colour', a Tibetan official commented. "You are just like us when you are at home. Why don't you wear bright colours like this when you come to Tibet."[72] Nor were the Tibetans likely to think less of the British when women travelled cheaply or alone. Both were common within Tibetan society. The Tibetans were far more concerned that European women, like men, would affect Tibetan culture; as may be seen by the ban on 'bobbed hair and foreign style shoes’ which the Tibetan Government sought to impose on women in 1946.[73] Similarly the local officials in western Tibet were unlikely to hold the Gartok Trade Agent in any less regard because he indulged in personal trade, as this was the accepted practice among Tibetan officials there.

Several studies have shown how, in the context of British India, architecture was an important weapon in establishing British prestige, with Residencies acting as symbols of British power. [74] Although Richardson stated that ’it never occurred to me that the buildings at Yatung and Gyantse had any importance in terms of prestige’, other cadre officers described the British buildings there as 'incompatible with dignity' or 'a disgrace to the name and prestige of the British Government'. The Tibetan view was expressed by their officials in discussions with Bailey over the building of an English school in Gyantse in the 1920s. Bailey reported that 'They said our houses were always badly made and required repairs so they wanted to build the school themselves.'[75]

Nor do the British appear to have created such a deep impression on the Tibetans as British sources indicate. Many Tibetans, even monks in Lhasa, were actually unaware of the existence of British representatives in Tibet, while to Tibetan officials outside central Tibet, the Government of India was 'a shadowy and far-off power, agreements with which can be safely ignored’.[76]

While the Younghusband Mission had brought home to the Tibetan Government the extent of British power, the Tibetans were well aware of subsequent events in India as it moved towards independence. British leniency in dealing with Indian nationalists was seen as a weakness.[77] Success in two World Wars had little effect on British prestige, for the Tibetans were, much to the frustration of the British, almost entirely indifferent to these events. They may, however, as Lamb suggests for the period after 1942, have made it obvious to the Tibetans that the British were no threat to Tibet, a perspective which was probably to British advantage.[78]

Despite the evidence suggesting that Tibetans interpreted British status in a very different form from that intended, there does not appear to have been any real questioning by the British as to the effectiveness of prestige as a weapon. This was taken for granted, for reasons which reflect the imperial confidence. During the 1940s however, while there was no decline in the British use of symbols of prestige, there was an increasing emphasis on another, apparently more successful, means of impressing the Tibetans. There was an increasing use of financial support for key elements of the Tibetan power structure; a move perhaps, from over-reliance on outdated modes of cultural expression to a more cynical realpolitik. The cadre were again at the heart of this change of policy, which will be examined in Chapter Four, after we have, in the next chapter, examined the role of the intermediaries.



[1] Addy (1985, p.94), quoting IOLR MSS Eur F111-162, Curzon papers, Hamilton to Curzon, 19 February 1903.

[2] Cohn (1983, pp .165-209); Robb (1992, pp.39, 43, 385); Interview with Dr M.V.Kurian, January 1994.

[3] Sikkim State Archives, General 1916, (7) 10/3/(XXII)/1916, David-Neel to Bell, 31 August 1916.

[4] Younghusband (1910, p. 11).

[5] Nilsson (1968, p.115); Yapp (1980, p.12).

[6] Prasad (1979, p.506), quoting Curzon to Secretary of State John Broderick, 7 November 1903.

[7] Allworth (1967, p.57).

[8] Macdonald (1991, p.84).

[9] IOLR MSS Eur F157-241, Ludlow to Bailey, 19 November 1944; Interview with Dr M.V. Kurian, January 1994; re the IMS organisation, see Crawford (1930); Heathcote (1974, pp.63-64).

[10] IOLR L/P&S/12/4217-4253, Gould Mission report; also see L/P&S/12/4166-2754, India to Gould, 12 September 1939.

[11] Walters papers, 'Gyantse to Lhasa 1940/1', (unpublished article).

[12] NAI FD, 1906 External BAugust 61-67, India to White, 30 May 1906.

[13] NAI FD, Secret E March 45-46, O'Connor to India, 23 December 1906; India to O'Connor, 24 December 1906; file notes by Dane, 21 and 23 December 1905. Dane's comment is noteworthy for indicating that the Tibet cadre were seen a distinct entity as early as 1906.

[14] Dewey (1993, p. V11, & passim); Robb (1992, p.38).

[15] McGovern (1924, p.39); NAI FD, 1906 Secret E March 45-46, White to India, 20 December 1905.

[16] IOLR L/P&S/7/216-1287, Frontier Confidential Report of 1 June 1908.

[17] Williamson (1987, p.205). For details of the contrasting accounts of the Dalai Lama's installation, see Lamb (1989, pp.297-98).

[18] Bell (1987, p.455); Interview with Mrs J.M. Jehu, March 1993.

[19] Ballhatchet (1980, pp.116-20); Spangenberg (1971, pp.348-360).

[20] NAI FD, 1916 Index, Estimate May 109-110 Part B; Mainprice papers, diary entry, 5 August 1944.

[21] NAI FD, 1929 External Secret 178-X, File note by Sir Denys Bray, 23 June 1929; FD, 1908 Secret E August 226-229, Bell to India, 16 June 1908; Robb (1992, p.43).

[22] Spangenberg (1976, p. 143).

[23] NAI FD, 1906 External A December 31-38, File Note by V.Gabriel, 16 July 1906.

[24] IOLR L/P&S/11/79-2495, BTA Gartok to Superintendent, Punjab Hill States, 10 December 1913; also see McKay (1992a, pp.410-11, 414-15).

[25] IOLR L/P&S/10-186, Captain Rawling to Dane, 2 November 1905.

[26] The following British officials visited Western Tibet on inspection duties: C. Sherring in 1905, H. Calvert 1906, W. Cassels 1907, N.C. Stiffe 1911, C.M. Collet 1912, G.M. Young in 1912, H. Ruttledge 1926, E.W. Wakefield 1928, F. Williamson 1932 (semi-official), and Captain R.K.M. Saker in 1942. Those before Wakefield were ICS officers. Only Williamson and Saker otherwise served in Tibet; Hugh Ruttledge led the 1933 Everest Expedition.

[27] In addition to his basic salary of 100 rupees a month, he drew around four and half thousand rupees in expenses in 1924; IOLR L/P&S/12/4163, Wakefield report number 6; NAI FD, 1913 Secret E January 79-81, Report of G.M. Young, 29 July 1912. Young's visit was specifically to enquire into the accounts of T.J. Chand.

[28] NAI FD, 1911 Secret E June 170-172, File note by E.H.S. Clarke, 25 May 1911; FD, 1913 Secret E January 79-81, file note by T.W. 7 October 1912; FD, 1911 Eternal B May 20-22, file note by E.H.S Clarke, 17 February 1911: FD, 1905 Secret E February 1398-1445, file note by 'F.Y.' (Francis Younghusband), 4 November 1904; IOLR L/P&S/12/4163, various reports by E.W. Wakefield and G. Worsley, and Barkha Tarjum to India, 15 November 1928, (in Appendix D to Wakefield report Number 2.).

[29] IOLR L/P&S/12/4163, Government of the Punjab to India, 3 July 1930; L/P&S/12/4163- 7900, BTA Gartok to Superintendent Punjab Hill States, 3-9 August 1931.

[30] Saker Papers, The future of the British Trade Agency', copy of a report by Captain Saker, c1942.

[31] NAI FD, 1909 Establishment B December 318-321, Bell to India, 29 July 1909.

[32] See Robb (1992, pp.34, 40-45).

[33] IOLR L/P&S/12/4223-6672, Hopkinson to India, 31 October 1945; MacDonald papers, 'A Himalayan Biography' (p.57), unpublished manuscript by D. Macdonald jnr.

[34] Stewart (1989, p.108), quoting E.W. Howell to Clarmont Skrine c1923.

[35] Nietzche F., Birth of Tragedy. London, 1923 (p.117).

[36] Interview with Mrs R. Collett, March 1993, Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993; also see Bell (1987, p.217); Williamson (1987, p.54); Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 6 April 1930. There are numerous files in which the policy of excluding missionaries from contact with Tibet is articulated; e.g. IOLR L/P&S/10/1011 and NAI FD, 1906 External B January 209-210. Christian missionaries did manage to enter Tibet, but no European missionary in this period reached Tibet's main centres, Lhasa and Shigatse. John Bray, of the Policy Research Institute, London, is currently researching the history of missionary contacts with Tibet.

[37] Cohn (1985, pp.312-13); Robb (1992, p.41).

[38] Born Chensal Namgang Dasang Dadul, Tsarong (1886-1959), who was of humble origin, took the name of the aristocratic family he married into. Shape was a title [see glossary]. Among other posts, Tsarong served as Commander-in-Chief of the Tibetan Army, and as Tibet's Finance Minister.

[39] Cohn (1985).

[40] NAI FD, 1908 Secret E February 307-366, O’Connor to India, 13 January 1908; Yatung Annual Reports for this period are contained in IOLR L/P&S/12/4166.

[41] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E March 294-308; file note by 'K.L.G.', 20 September 1904; also see McKay (1992a, p.417).

[42] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E March 294-308; various correspondence; FD, 1907 Secret E January 538-541, file note by Louis Dane, 2 December 1906. The issue of Yatung as a Treaty Port had apparently first been raised in 1894; see Louis (1894, p.38).

[43] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E March 294-308; various correspondence; FD, 1907 Secret E February 295-353, O'Connor to India, 26 December 1906.

[44] Lamb (1966, pp.39-40), quoting Foreign Office 17/1754, India Office to Foreign Office, 14 February 1905, and 23 May 1905; NAI FD, 1905 Secret E March 294-308, Younghusband to Dane, 27 August 1904.

[45] INA FD, 1905 Secret E March 294-308, various correspondence; FD 1913 Secret E August 276-291, various correspondence; FD, Secret E June 502-511, Mr Chang to Government of Bengal, 3 May 1907. Re the China Customs Service, see Wright (1950).

[46] Another Consulate was opened in Urumchi in 1936, but this was also concerned with events in Sinkiang. There were proposals to open a consulate in Urga after Mongolia gained independence in 1913, but they were not followed up.

[47] Lamb (1989, pp.52-75); IOLR L/P& S /11/81-3122, Sir John Jordan to C.R. Coales, 3 November 1915. Sir Eric Teichman GCMG. KCMG. (1884-1944), who was of German descent, was educated at Charterhouse and Cambridge. He joined the China Consular Service in 1907 and rose to be head of the Service as Chinese Secretary at the Peking Legation from 1924-36. He returned from retirement in 1942, and served at Chunking, where Richardson was also then stationed. Teichman had travelled widely in the eastern Tibet frontier region, and was held in high regard by the cadre, with whose views he was in close accord.

[48] Lamb (1989, pp.101-02, 125-128).

[49] IOLR L/P&S/10/883, various correspondence 1921; Lamb (1989, pp.125-28).

[50] IOLR L/P&S/10/884, various correspondence 1922.

[51] The only officers who appear to have devoted any real attention to the Chinese perspective were Bell, who visited China in 1907, where he read the British Legation files on Tibet, and Campbell, although Richardson also had good personal relations with his Chinese counterparts in Lhasa; NAI FD, 1908 Secret E February 467-482, Bell to Dane, 19 December 1907; MSS Eur F157-241, Ludlow to Bailey, 5 January 1930.

[52] Visits to Yatung were almost unrestricted and the numbers grew annually, culminating in more than 200 visitors in 1945-46, when the journey was popular with military personnel awaiting demobilisation. Bell's policy is outlined in IOLR L/P&S/10/1011 -1286, Viceroy to Secretary of State, 16 May 1921, quoting Bell to India, 9 May 1921.

[53] There are a wide variety of primary sources concerning British control of access to Tibet. Of particular importance is IOLR L/P&S/12/4343, Gould to India, July 1938 (exact date unclear), in which Gould asks whether the grant of permission to the Schaefer Mission should be left 'to the discretion of the Tibetan Government or whether Norbhu should be instructed to obtain the desired permission’. Also see L/P&S/12/4201-6471, Lhasa Mission Report, 24 August 1942, regarding Richardson's obtaining permission for the visit of two American officers.

[54] NAI FD, 1907 Secret E October 381-387, Consulate-General Chengdhu to India, 13 June 1907, and Thakur Jai Chand to India, 12 July 1907; also see FD, 1909 External B January 16-21, various correspondence re W.S.Paxton; IOLR L/P&S/11/286-114, various correspondence re F. Houshka.

[55] IOLR L/P&S/10/716-140, Teichman report, 29 February 1920.

[56] IOLR L/P&S/12/4325, India to Government of Bengal, 23 October 1936; L/P&S/12/4197- 3864, Gould report, 30 April 1937; L/P&S/12/4175-8833, article No.5 by Captain R.K.M. Battye (unpublished).

[57] IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry, 30 September 1926; L/P&S/12/4332, Richardson to India, 5 June 1937; NAI EAD, 1940 Index File No 102 (5)-X; Interview with Mrs A. Saker, April 1993; Williamson (1987, pp.225-26).

[58] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 130, Rev. Tharchin to Bell, 11 December 1937; L/P&S/12/4193, Lhasa Mission diary entries, 24 June 1937, & 4 September 1937; L/P&S/12/4202-6154, Lhasa Mission report, 16 February 1947. Re Bernard, see Cooper (1986); Bernard’s own account (1939) is unreliable.

[59] Examples of religious seekers in this 'acceptable' category include the American, Edwin Schary, and the German-Bolivian, Lama Anagarika Govinda, who travelled in western Tibet during World War One, and in the 1940s, respectively.

[60] IOLR MSS Eur F157-221, Hirtzell to Bailey, 15 November 1922. The term 'cloven hoof may be interpreted as indicating that they were regarded as communist sympathisers; personal correspondence with Dr Brendan Simms (Cambridge University), March 1995.

The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland had been formed to prepare the way for [Allan Bennett].....

Even within his own lifetime Allan Bennett was a controversial figure. In 1894, he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a society concerned with spiritual growth through esoteric knowledge. He gained a reputation as a magician and a man of mystery, which was not completely shaken off even when he embraced Buddhism several years later.....

In piecing together the biography of Allan Bennett, I am heavily indebted to the writings of two of his closest friends: Aleister Crowley
and Dr. Cassius Pereira (later Ven. Kassapa Thera)....

-- Ananda Metteyya [Charles Henry Allan Bennett]: The First British Emissary of Buddhism [Excerpt], by Elizabeth J. Harris

I am Hermes, that am sent from the Father to expound all things discreetly in these the last words that thou shalt hear before thou take thy seat among these, whose eyes are sealed up and whose ears are stopped, and whose mouths are clenched, who are folded in upon themselves, the liquor of whose bodies is dried up, so that nothing remains but a little pyramid of dust.

And that bright light of comfort, and that piercing sword of truth, and all the power and beauty that they have made of themselves, is cast from them, as it is written, "I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven." And as a flaming sword is it dropt though the Abyss, where the four beasts keep watch and ward. And it appeareth in the heaven of Jupiter as a morning star, or as an evening star. And the light thereof shineth even unto the earth, and bringeth hope and help to them that dwell in the darkness of thought, and drink of the poison of life. Fifty are the gates of Understanding, and one hundred and six are the seasons thereof. And the name of every season is Death....

Here is another case.

Now then this two-in-One letter Image, is the third Key to this Law; and on the discovery of that fact, after years of constant seeking, what sudden splendours of Truth, sacred as secret, blazed in the midnight of my mind! Observe now; "...this circle squared in its failure is a key also."5 Now I knew that in the value of the letters ALHIM,6 'the Gods', the Jews had concealed a not quite correct value of π, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, to 4 places of decimals: 3.1415; nearer would be 3.1416. If I prefix our Key, 31 putting Image , Set or Satan, before the old Gods, I get 3.141593, π correct to six places, Six being my own number and that of Horus the Sun.7....

For the first time since the spring of 1904 I felt myself free to do my Will. That, of course, was because I had at last understood what my Will was. My aspiration to be the means of emancipating humanity was perfectly fulfilled. I had merely to establish in the world the Law which had been given me to proclaim: "...thou hast no right but to do thy will." Had I bent my energies from the first to proclaiming the Law of Thelema I should doubtless have found no obstacle in my path. Those which naturally arise in the course of any work soever, would have been quietly removed by the Secret Chiefs. But I had chosen to fight against myself for five years, and "If Satan shall be divided against Satan, how shall his kingdom stand?" The more I strove, the more I encouraged an internal conflict, and stultified myself....

The general principle seems to be "This boat carries Caesar and his Fortunes!" and no doubt Pride in its most Satanic degree is one's greatest asset. But the essence of the practice, as a practice, is to seek out and to face what one fears.

-- Magick Without Tears, by Aleister Crowley

8 August 1901.

There are not only 21 letters; 28 is the proper number. [Note: the normal number in the Enochian Alphabet.] I am standing in the midst of green and see two symbols which represent the whole alphabet. These two in addition make 30. The guide shows a huge world of green transparent – like marble with veins running through it. I stand upon it. Guide takes Wand and the pavement seems to glow with innumerable stars which group themselves in the form of letters of the Cypher. They form in 4 groups representing 4 Elements and then 2 which make the 30 represented. The 2 Elements are unknown to us at present. The other elements are Air [x], Fire [x], Water [x], and not exactly Earth [x]. The Earth here is a mingling of Air with Fire. Water [is] to have no representation here. I see represented a medium which encloses everything. It is Ether, but it seems more. I stand and the letters group themselves from a circle midway between Earth and Heaven, and I am told to count 4 from the order of the letters shown.

This is the order and form shown:


The missing ones refer to the Astral Ether. The Trinity controls the angle. Each corner of 3 letters represents an Archangel or ruler of a 4th part of the Heaven. The lost letters partly belong to the dominion of Lucifer and cannot all be given – not in this dispensation – nor to a human being. His Kingdom is waiting for his restoration


Lucifer, Son of the Morning [Stella Matutina]; his was the region of the Higher Ether.

I am passing up through clear air. On taking [x] (‘O’ [Med’) the whole atmosphere seems agitated and shakes and quivers in huge undulations. I seem to be floating, the light grows dim. The upper Ether represents the higher development of the … [illegible word] the mystery of the Divine Being. The letters represent the 30 Ethers or rather 28 plus 2.

-- The Enochian Experiments of the Golden Dawn, Enochian Alphabet Clairvoyantly Examined (Golden Dawn Studies No. 7

Even the purest of all the Lamaist sects — the Ge-lug-pa — are thorough-paced devil-worshippers, and value Buddhism chiefly because it gives them the whip-hand over the devils which everywhere vex humanity with disease and disaster, and whose ferocity weighs heavily upon all. The purest Ge-lug-pa Lama on awaking every morning, and before venturing outside his room, fortifies himself against assault by the demons by first of all assuming the spiritual guise of his fearful tutelary, the king of the demons, named Vajrabhairava or Sam vara, as figured in the chapter on the pantheon. The Lama, by uttering certain mantras culled from the legendary sayings of Buddha in the Mahayana Tantras, coerces this demon-king into investing the Lama's person with his own awful aspect.78 Thus when the Lama emerges from his room in the morning, and wherever he travels during the day, he presents spiritually the appearance of the demon-king, and the smaller malignant demons, his would-be assailants, ever on the outlook to harm humanity, being deluded into the belief that the Lama is indeed their own vindictive king, they flee from his presence, leaving the Lama unharmed....

In the preliminary worship the pills are made from buttered dough, and the ambrosia or amrita (Tib., dud-tsi or "devil's juice") is brewed from spirit or beer, and offered in a skull-bowl to the great image of Buddha Amitayus. Everything being ready and the congregation assembled, the priest, ceremonially pure by the ascetic rites above noted,53 and dressed as in the frontispiece, abstracts from the great image of Buddha Amitayus part of the divine essence of that deity, by placing the vajra of his rdor-jehi gzun-t'ag upon the nectar-vase which the image of Amitayus holds in his lap, and applying the other end to his own bosom, over his heart. Thus, through the string, as by a telegraph wire, passes the divine spirit, and the Lama must mentally conceive that his heart is in actual union with that of the god Amitayus, and that, for the time being, he is himself that god.54 Then he invokes his tutelary-fiend, and through him the fearful horse- necked Hayayriva (Tamdin), the king of the demons. The Lama, with this divine triad (namely, the Buddha and the two demon kings) incorporate in him, and exhibiting the forms of all three to spiritual eyes, now dispenses his divine favours....

Here the Lama, assuming the threatening aspect of the demon-kings, who are, for the time being, in his body, adds, "Should you refuse to go, then I, who am the most powerful Hayagriva and the king of the angry demons, will crush you — body, speech and mind — to dust! Obey my mandate and begone, each to his abode, otherwise you shall suffer. Om sumbhani," etc. Now, the Lamas and the people, believing that all the evil spirits have been driven away by the demon-king himself, shout, "The gods have won! the devils are defeated!"....

Dwelling in an atmosphere of superstition, the Lamas, like the alchemists of old, do not recognize the limitation to their powers over Nature. They believe that the hermits in the mountains, and the monks in their cloisters, can readily become adepts in the black art, and can banish drought, and control the sun, and stay the storm; and many of their necromantic performances recall the scene of the "witches' cauldron" in Macbeth.

Magic, and this mostly of a sympathetic kind, seems to have crept into Indian Buddhism soon after Buddha's death. In the form of irdhi, or the acquisition of supernatural power, it is a recognized attribute of the Arhats, and even among the primitive Hinayana Buddhists. The Paritta ("pirit") rite of the Southern Buddhists is essentially of the character of exorcism,1 and portions of the text of the Saddharma Pundarika, dating to about the first century of our era, are specially framed for this purpose.

But the Indian cult does not appear ever to have descended to the gross devil-dancing2 and Shamanist charlatanism of the Lamas; though even the Lamas seldom, if ever, practise such common tricks as swallowing knives and vomiting fire, with which they have been credited. They find plenty of scope for their charlatanism in playing upon the easy credulity of the people by working themselves into the furious state of the "possessed," so as to oracularly deliver auguries, and by the profitable pursuits of necromancy and sorcery.

Every orthodox monastery in Tibet, even of the most reformed sects, keeps or patronizes a sorcerer, and consults him and follows his dictates upon most matters; and there are some cloisters near Lhasa specially devoted to instruction in this art. Such are, Moru, Ramo-ch'e, and Kar-mas'a.

The chief wizards are called "Defenders of the faith" (ch'os- skyon), and the highest of these, namely, Na-ch'un, is the government oracle, and is consulted on all important state occasions and undertakings. But every monastery of any size has its own sorcerer, who, however, in the case of the poorer sects, is not usually considered a member of the brotherhood, and he is allowed to marry. They possess no literature, and deliver their sayings orally.

Their fantastic equipment and their frantic bearing, as in figure at page 475, their cries and howls, despite their name, can scarcely be of Sivaite origin, but seem clearly to identify them with the Bon — the grossest of Shamanist devil-dancers. The belief both in ghosts and witchcraft and the practice of exorcism was so deep-rooted in the country, that Padma-sambhava gave it a prominent place in his system, and even Tson-K'a-pa could not do otherwise than take them over into his yellow sect....

The chief sorcerers are called "The revered protectors of religion," Ch'o-kyon or Ch'o-je, and are believed to be incarnations of the malignant spirit called "kings,"4 who seem to be spirits of demonified heroes, and still the object of very active popular worship.5....

The demons who produce disease, short of actual death, are called She, and are exorcised by an elaborate ceremony in which a variety of images and offerings are made.27 The officiating Lama invokes his tutelary fiend, and thereby assuming spiritually the dread guise of this king evil, he orders out the disease-demon under threat of getting himself eaten up by the awful tutelary who now possesses the Lama. The demons are stabbed by the mystic dagger purba.

-- The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by Laurence Austine Waddell, M.B., F.L.S., F.R.G.S.

[61] McGovern's account of his journey is in McGovern (1924).

[62] IOLR MSS Eur F157-269, Bailey's letter of 12 October [19237], apparently to Mrs I. Bailey; RGS, Bailey Correspondence, 1921-30, Bailey to Hinks, 8 April 1924, Hinks to Bailey, 28 April 1924, Mrs Irma Bailey to Hinks, 6 December 1923; Bell (1987, p.355); Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 1924 (2) pp.170-71. McGovern (1924, pp.407-08).

[63] IOLR MSS Eur F157-238, General Pereira to Bailey, 21 May 1923; MSS Eur F157-290, Bailey report, 28 October 1924; L/P&S/10/1011-3605, Viceroy to the Secretary of State, 5 September 1923.

[64] Also unpopular with the 'men on the spot', were the many 'gate-crashers and spongers’, often well-known personalities, who considered they were entitled to free hospitality from British officials; see IOLR MSS Eur D 998-17, Hopkinson to Mrs Hopkinson, 21 March 1945, 12 April 1945 and 21 April 1945; Mainprice papers, diary entry of 11 July 1944.

[65] Tucci responded by advising the Tibetan Government to set up a Department of Antiquities which would, among other duties, prevent the removal of artifacts from Tibet. The Government of India was inclined to accept that until they did, artifacts were better off in Tucci's keeping.

[66] IOLR L/P&S/12/4247, Gould to E.P. Donaldson (India Office), 6 April 1946; this file contains a detailed record of Tucci's applications and related correspondence.

[67] For example, in 1930 the cadre arranged for a particular caravan leader to accompany the wealthy American traveller Sydam Cutting; IOLR MSS Eur F157-236, Laden La to Bailey, 18 September 1930.

[68] Lamb (1989, p.189).

[69] Interview with H. Richardson, November 1990.

[70] IOLR L/P&S/12/4165-7795, Lhasa Mission report 1938-39, by H. Richardson, in Gould to India, 24 October 1939; details of the Schafer mission are contained in L/P&S/12/4343.

[71] The British had some success however, Williamson's wife reports that in Sikkim the locals found it difficult to believe that there were people above the Political Officer; Williamson (1987, P.42),

[72] Ford (1990, p.91).

[73] L/P&S/12/4202-2424, Lhasa Mission report, 3 March 1946. The ban was ineffective. Such edicts often appear to have been moral guidelines, rather than laws in the European sense.

[74] See Nilsson (1968, pp .105, & 111-115); also see Jones (1985, p.53), & Robb (1992, p .174).

[75] Personal correspondence with H.Richardson, October 1990; IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-2781, Gould to India, 22 February 1939; L/P&S/12/4166, Gyantse Annual Report 1929-30; MSS Eur F157-214, Bailey's Lhasa Mission Diary, entry of 14 August 1924. There were numerous problems in maintaining the Agency buildings, particularly at Gyantse, which was subject to flooding and suffered from corrupt and inefficient building contractors.

[76] Richardson & Skorupski (1986, p.V11); NAI FD, 1911 Secret E June 170-172, Government of the Punjab to India, 17 May 1911.

[77] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 92, Macdonald to Bell, 8 July 1930.

[78] After V.E. Day in 1945 it was reported that Britain’s victory was 'a matter of more or less indifference to them'. IOLR L/P&S/12/4201-2859, Lhasa Mission Report of 13 May 1945; Lamb (1989, p.300).
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Thu Sep 12, 2019 12:44 am

Part 1 of 2



The process of European expansion in South Asia created a need for intermediaries between the imperial and indigenous societies. Government officials, and other groups involved in the imperial process such as explorers and missionaries, needed local employees who could translate the language, culture and aspirations of one society to the other. This demand led to the creation of a distinct, and ultimately powerful class of local government officials who served as intermediaries for the British.[1]

These intermediaries played an important part in Anglo-Tibetan relations; and the most trusted of them were appointed to Political Department posts. As individuals and as a class, they were strongly influenced by the character and mentality of the Tibet cadre officers. In this chapter we will examine the careers of the most important of them in order to illustrate how local employees were chosen, trained, and used by the British, and the effects that this process had upon their character, culture and mentality. This study forms part of a wider debate over the role of local intermediaries in the imperial process, and explores the issue which the British in India never fully resolved; what was the ideal character of a local employee? Was he British in all but race, or should he retain certain aspects of his own culture, and if so, which aspects?


During the 19th century the Government of India employed various types of local people to obtain information about Tibet. The most important of these were the pandits (trained surveyors, native to the Indian Himalayas, who travelled in various disguises to clandestinely map Tibet), and the school teacher Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Das CIE. (1849-1917).[2]

The pandits' main duty was to gather geographical data, and they were extremely successful in this task. But whereas they travelled among the lower social classes in Tibet, Chandra Das's mission was to contact powerful figures in Tibetan society in order to collect political information. Just as Political officers were directed to 'cultivate the friendship of the local Ruling Chiefs', Das was under instructions to 'cultivate the friendship of influential persons'.[3]

Chandra Das, a Tibetan speaking Bengali, was the first headmaster of the Bhotia [Bhutia] Boarding School in Darjeeling, which was opened in 1874 specifically to train Bhotia and Sikkimese intermediaries in preparation for the opening of Tibet to the British. In 1891 the Bhotia school merged with the Darjeeling school to become Darjeeling High School.[4]

Das became the first of many intermediaries from the school when he was given a nominal government post as a school inspector, freeing him to travel to Tibet. He was accompanied by Rai Bahadur Urgyen Gyatso, a Sikkimese lama from an aristocratic family, who had been employed as a teacher at the Bhotia School after serving on the staff of the Rajah of Sikkim. Urgyen Gyatso made a number of journeys to Tibet under British auspices, alone, or accompanying Chandra Das. Unlike the pandits, the two schoolteachers continued to be employed as Tibetan specialists after their return to India. [5]

When the Tibetan Government later discovered that Chandra Das had visited Lhasa, and correctly assumed that he had been spying for the British, the strength of their reaction underlined the Lhasa Government's determination to preserve Tibet's isolation. The Panchen Lama's Prime Minister, Kyabying Sengchen Tulku, an incarnate lama from Dongtse Monastery who had been Das's principal sponsor, was executed, and the Dongtse ruling family, the Palhes, close associates of Sengchen Tulku, were severely punished.[6]

Laurence Austine Waddell, Lhasa and Its Mysteries: With a Record of the Expedition of 1903-1904, Cosimo, Inc., 2007, 740 pages, p. 79: "The ruin thus brought about by the Babu's visit extended also to the unfortunate Lama's relatives, the governor of Gyantsé (the Phal Dahpön) and his wife (Lha-cham), whom he had persuaded to befriend Sarat C. Das. These two were cast into prison for life, and their estates confiscated, and several of their servants were barbarously mutilated, their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes gouged out, and they were then left to die a lingering death in agony, so bitterly cruel was the resentment of the Lamas against all who assisted the Babu in this attempt to spy into their sacred city."

-- Sarat Chandra Das, by Wikipedia

The decision to force the Tibetans to open diplomatic relations with British India meant that a new type of intermediary was required, one who was accustomed to dealing with the Lhasa aristocracy. Such people were particularly difficult to locate in such an isolationist society as Tibet, where the ruling class appeared to present a united front against high-level foreign contact. Increasing Western contact with Tibet in the late 19th century had produced a small body of men with experience in guiding European travellers there, but these guides, such as caravan leader Mahmood Isa, were mostly members of the Central Asian trading class, and they had little social status. [7]

Individuals of low social status had neither the contacts, nor the prestige and social skills, necessary to approach and influence the Tibetan ruling class. However the punishment inflicted on the aristocratic Palhe family had alienated them from the Lhasa ruling classes, creating an opportunity for the British to exploit their estrangement, as well as to reward the assistance they had given the British agents.

Kusho Palhese, (later Dewan Bahadur Palhese) exiled scion of the Palhe family, came to Kalimpong when Bell was seeking a suitable Tibetan instructor, and he became Bell's personal assistant. Bell's notebooks reveal the enormous contribution Palhese made to his understanding of Tibet, and Bell was, by the standards of the time, generous in his praise of the Tibetan's contribution to his work. The two men became close friends, and Bell brought Palhese to Britain in the 1920s to assist his research. Palhese's association with the British enabled him to restore the family estates, although Bell's account attributes his primary motivation to more personal factors.[8]

The punishment of the Palhe family also provided O'Connor with his principal assistant, a Buriat monk, Sherab Gyatso (later Rai Sahib Sherab Gyatso; d.1909), known as Shabdrung Lama. He had been a personal attendant of Sengchen Tulku when the lama was executed for assisting Chandra Das. Imprisoned and tortured along with his master, Shabdrung Lama escaped to Darjeeling. There he was given employment as a teacher at the Bhotia school, and as a British agent gathering information from Tibetans in Darjeeling bazaar, before being employed by O'Connor as his personal secretary on the Younghusband Mission. [9]

According to David MacDonald, Shabdrung Lama saw his service with the British as an opportunity for revenge on the Tibetan Government; during the Younghusband Mission he told Tibetans the expedition was to punish them for their treatment of Sengchen Tulku. [10] O'Connor's action in securing the release of two of Shabdrung Lama's colleagues who had been imprisoned in Lhasa since Das's 1882 visit,[11] must have tended to confirm that impression. Certainly it carried an implicit message, that the British supported those who supported them, an essential message to convey if they were to receive loyalty in return. Palhese and Shabdrung Lama differed from later important intermediaries in that their primary loyalty was to a particular officer, rather than to the British in general. Thus Palhese's first loyalty was to Bell; he served on the understanding that if Bell left ’government service today, I leave tomorrow'.[12] Later cadre officers continued to have assistants loyal to them personally, but these assistants were not politically influential.[13]

Michael Fisher has shown that two patterns of service were common among intermediaries in the Indian Princely States. One group of munshis were linked to a particular British patron throughout their careers. In the second group there was a pattern of family service, in which after one family member was recruited, he would endeavor to secure employment in British service for other family members.[14] Both patterns are apparent in Tibet at different times.

In later years the dominant pattern was one of cadre service, largely because the rewards of service with a single officer ceased when that officer departed. The shorter terms served by later Tibet cadre officers also made the individual patron pattern of service less common, and there may be an evolutionary progress from the personal type of loyal assistant to the second pattern Fisher isolated, as British terms of service were reduced. But this move to cadre service was also a symbol of local employees' attempts to strengthen their positions in the imperial hierarchy as British officers appropriated the authority for collection and definition of local knowledge and for communication with the Tibetan ruling class.

Previous studies have shown how in the early stages of the imperial process, local employees were used both to translate, and to gather information concerning the traditional society. Nicholas Dirks has shown how Colin MacKenzie, later the first Surveyor-General of India, relied upon his principal assistant, Kavelli Boria, to gather, collate and interpret the wide variety of information which MacKenzie sought. Boria trained other assistants, including two of his brothers, but after MacKenzie's death they were refused permission to continue the work on the grounds that supervision of such a project was beyond the capability of any 'native'.[15]

MacKenzie, like Bell, fully acknowledged the debt he owed to his local assistant, but, as Dirks demonstrates, when the information which the local assistants had gathered was collated in colonial archives, it became a part of the imperial body of knowledge, rather than local knowledge. The credit for collection went to MacKenzie, not to his local informants, just as Bell was credited with Palhese's knowledge. Similarly, while they were the Political's Tibetan-language examiners until 1909, neither Urgyen Gyatso or Chandra Das played any further significant part in Anglo-Tibetan relations after Curzon's arrival.

Their journeys had been part of the process by which British India extended its influence over the periphery. Firstly new territory was mapped, and thus located within the European imagination, then its power sources were identified, and intermediaries despatched to establish communication with them. When contacts were established -- or refused -- British officers took over.

As the imperial power strengthened its control over the periphery, as it did during the Curzon viceroyalty, the authority for supplying information about, and establishing political ties with, Tibet, was appropriated by British officers. When Europeans appropriated this authority for knowledge gathering and dissemination, 'native' informants came to be seen as unreliable. Where the early intermediaries had been given responsibility for the collection of knowledge, the translation of cultures, and initial contact with the traditional rulers beyond India's frontiers, the authority for these duties passed to British officers. This process, which reduced the importance of intermediaries, was typical of British Indian frontier policies, and may also be observed in the establishment of ties with Bhutan or north-eastern India.[16] In response, the intermediary class sought to strengthen its position within the imperial bureaucracy by transferring its loyalty and service from individuals to government.[17]


While Palhese and Shabdrung Lama were of great personal assistance to Bell and O'Connor, they were, like Chandra Das, unpopular at Lhasa. It proved to be impossible to offer Tibetan employees full legal protection from Lhasa's authority by naturalising them, and Palhese remained the only important Tibetan-born intermediary used by the cadre. [18]

Ideally, what the British wanted was an individual who could match the status and talents of Agvan Dorzhiev, the Buriat monk who acted as an intermediary between Russia and Tibet. A Russian citizen, Dorzhiev took his degree in Buddhism at Lhasa's Drepung monastery and rose to be an assistant tutor to the 13th Dalai Lama; he was thus a member of Lhasa's religious elite. At the same time, he represented Russian interests in Lhasa, and sent valuable information back to Russia. Dorzhiev was a formidable opponent for the British, but they recognised that he was the ideal type of intermediary, a loyal citizen of the imperial power, but highly placed in the local society.[19]

Lacking any existing British Indian equivalent of Dorzhiev, the Government of India began to develop suitable candidates from among the Tibetan-speaking peoples within India. Pupils of the former Bhotia school, set-up for just such purpose, and its replacement, Darjeeling High School, were obvious candidates. These Darjeeling pupils were not necessarily advantaged individuals in local society; many came from marginalised communities on the periphery of traditional society. But the school offered an opportunity for disadvantaged children to progress to imperial employment, where their lack of ties to local power elites could be seen as an advantage by the British.

The Younghusband Mission recruited a number of clerks and translators from the frontier region, and although there are few records of these early employees, it appears that the favoured candidates were Tibetan-speakers who been taught English language and cultural values at Darjeeling High School.[20] After the Younghusband Mission, many of these local staff were given further employment at the Trade Agencies or with the Political Officer in Sikkim. This group formed the basis of an emerging class of intermediaries on the Tibetan frontier, and most of the early influential local employees of the Tibet cadre were from that group.


Prior to the appointment of Pemba Tsering in 1941, the Gartok Agent and his staff were always Hindus, with the occasional Muslim peon. Gartok was considered too isolated and strategically unimportant to require the presence of a British officer, and Hindus from the Garwhal hill-region, who had traditional ties with western Tibet, served there. However, no Hindus or Muslims were chosen by the Political Department for the senior cadre posts.[21]

When they selected local officials for Tibetan service, the cadre favoured the predominantly Buddhist, British Indian frontier peoples. With their close historical, cultural, racial and linguistic ties with Tibet they could be expected to adapt most easily to the Tibetan social system. [22] When it became obvious that India would become independent, Richardson tried to locate suitable Indians to serve in the Gyantse Agency in preparation for more senior cadre posts, but it was not until after Indian independence that any Hindu or Muslim was given a senior cadre post in Tibet.[23]

The British prejudice against using Hindus or Muslims in Tibet can be traced back to the first British visitor there, George Bogel. He noted that it was 'inconvenient carrying Hindu servants into foreign parts'.[24] Later frontier officials distinguished between 'Indians', meaning Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and so on, and the predominantly Buddhist frontier peoples, and maintained a barely-concealed personal preference for the latter. The predilection for hill-peoples over the peoples of the plains went beyond the usual colonial officer's favouring of the peoples among whom he worked. In British India, mountain people were commonly seen as morally and physically superior to those of the plains. [25]

By such actions as rejecting Captain Goil's posting to Gyantse, early cadre officers established a precedent for the exclusion of Hindus and Muslims from any but menial positions in Tibet, and no further consideration was given to employing them there until Indian independence was imminent. An Indian officer, Lieutenant Chatterjee, did serve at Gyantse as Escort Commander, but died at the end of his term there.[26]

When Bell discussed appointing an 'Indian' as Yatung Trade Agent, he claimed that 'Indians are handicapped by their inability to speak Tibetan, by the difference of their religion and by their ignorance of the habits of the people.'[27] Bell’s judgment reflected the ethos of the time; the British obviously had a similar handicap, but were assumed to be able to overcome it. 'Indians' were perceived as a subordinate race, lacking the necessary qualities to overcome these handicaps. Kenneth Ballhatchet describes these stereotypical views of Indians as fitting

the classical models of dominance and subordination. Members of the dominant group ascribe to themselves the qualities needed for the tasks which they wish to monopolize. They are unable to perceive such qualities in persons of subordinate groups, who are excluded from positions in which they can demonstrate these qualities.[28]

There was however, another aspect to the preference for frontier peoples over 'Indians'. It implied that the Tibet cadre recognised that India was a British construction, a state made up of different peoples, some of whom had their strongest ties (socio-cultural, political and economic), with peoples classified as being non-Indian, and existing outside India's borders. While it was necessary for British strategic and administrative purposes to define certain areas as 'Indian', the frontier was perceived as a separate zone, inhabited by peoples whose status was ambiguous, and the artificial nature of the administrative boundary was implicitly recognised.[29]

The exclusion of Indians was also a symbol of the Tibet cadre's sense of identity and purpose. While being an Indian sendee, and orientated towards their central authority in Delhi, the cadre saw themselves as diplomats, serving on the frontier, and among frontier peoples. They had no wish to be drawn back into the Indian administration, with its image of babus and bureaucracy.


Within British India, Anglo-Indians, those of mixed British and Indian parentage, were often subject to greater prejudice than Indians, and they were excluded from several areas of government employment.[30] But in Tibet, Anglo-Indians were preferred to Indians. The difference is difficult to account for, but certainly some aspects of British Indian social attitudes were relaxed on the frontier,[31] and there was the precedent of a number of legendary Anglo-Indian frontiersmen, such as the Hearsey family, and General James Skinner, founder of Skinner's Horse, an irregular cavalry division. Several Anglo-Indian Medical Officers were used, including Dr Dyer, who accompanied Bell to Lhasa in 1920. In the 1940s, two Christian Medical Officers, the Anglo-Indian Dr Humphreys, and Captain M.V. Kurian, paved the way for the subsequent posting of Hindu Medical Officers at Gyantse. [32]

One Anglo-Indian was chosen for a Political post in Tibet, David MacDonald, the son of a Scottish tea planter, who became an important figure on the frontier. Although his father had left India when MacDonald was five years old, the boy was well provided for, receiving the then generous sum of twenty rupees a month in trust. His Sikkimese mother, Aphu Drolma, entered him in the Bhotia Boarding School, from where he entered local government service, before joining the Younghusband Mission.[33] While MacDonald began regular Tibetan service as a Trade Agent, not an intermediary, unlike the other two local officers classified here as Tibet cadre (Norbhu Dhondup and Pemba Tsering) he shared a similar background to the intermediaries, and his career may be more appropriately considered in this section.

MacDonald had a truly multi-cultural background. Raised as a Buddhist with the name of Dorji MacDonald, he converted to Christianity and adopted the name David under the influence of his wife, the Anglo-Nepalese, Alice Curtis. These various influences gave him command of all of the principal languages of the region, Tibetan, Nepali, Hindi, Lepcha and English, and insight into both Buddhist and Christian religious cultures. MacDonald had the character and skills needed to attract the patronage of British officers, a necessary quality for an ambitious individual of his background. He assisted both Charles Bell and Colonel Waddell, Chief Medical Officer on the Younghusband Mission and early scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, to learn Tibetan, and their support gained him Political employ.[34]

Bell's patronage was crucial; MacDonald was held in high regard by Bell, and owed his position to Bell's support. When his patron left, MacDonald lost influence. His efforts to support his son John, and his son-in-law Frank Perry, in various employment schemes on the frontier brought him into conflict with Bailey, the new Political Officer Sikkim, and his final years in Tibet were difficult ones. In retirement however, he ensured the family security by turning his Kalimpong home into a successful hotel, which still exists today. [35]


Tracing the intermediaries' career paths is complicated by both a lack of source material, and the fact that local staff were not normally given fixed-term appointments to a particular post, but were used throughout the British posts on an 'as-needed' basis. [36] However there are sufficient sources to examine the careers of several of the most important individuals, and this produces a number of significant findings.

Norbhu Dhondup, was born in Kalimpong with no aristocratic connections, and is described variously as being Sherpa or Tibetan. Taken from Darjeeling High School by O'Connor to serve as a translator on the Younghusband Mission, he was then given a clerical post at Gyantse. Norbhu gradually worked his way up to become the most trusted intermediary, and in the late '30s was taken into Political employ, the first intermediary to be so honoured. Although originally recruited by O'Connor, Norbhu was not associated with any particular British officer, but became 'the absolute right-hand of every Political Officer. He knew the ways of everybody, how to speak to them, what to say, what not to say, [and] how to be diplomatic.' [37]

Norbhu was personally popular with the British; his character fitted the British ideal of the frontiersman. Gould described him as having 'lots of common sense, a ready laugh and infinite guts'. General Neame, who accompanied Gould to Lhasa in 1936, observed approvingly that Norbhu was 'one of the few Oriental officials...who will tell one his real opinion, palatable or not, and strong and decisive opinions too'.[38]

As Norbhu was a Buddhist, there was some doubt that he could 'put things bluntly' to the Dalai Lama. But Norbhu satisfied his superiors that he could take a firm line where necessary. In the late 1920s he argued that the weakness of the British position required the posting of 'some strong officer, I mean not so polite as we all do now[sic]...[to] deal with the Tibetans more strongly'. Like O'Connor, his original mentor, the strength of Norbhu's written opinions caused the Secretariat to question his tact, but they were assured that despite his 'brusque' telegrams, 'Norbhu Dhondup can be trusted to employ most diplomatic language in his actual dealings with the Tibetan Government'.[39]

Norbhu visited Lhasa on 15 occasions prior to the establishment of a permanent British Mission there in 1936, and developed excellent ties with the Tibetan leadership. They rewarded him with Tibetan aristocratic rank, making him a Dzasa of the fourth grade, and he appears to have had automatic access to the Dalai Lama. His popularity with Lhasa's aristocratic ladies also provided him with a valuable source of information, generally neglected by the British until Mrs Sherriff and later Mrs Guthrie took up residence in Lhasa with their husbands.[40]

By the 1930s, Norbhu had become a trusted 'insider', and was given appropriate honours. Awarded the title of Rai Bahadur in 1923, he was appointed Trade Agent at Yatung in 1936 and subsequently headed the Lhasa Mission, where he was treated with all the ceremony considered necessary to uphold the prestige of a British officer; for example on his arrival at Gyantse from Lhasa in 1941 he was met by Trade Agent Captain Saker with 25 troops, who rode out to escort him into the Agency.[41]

Norbhu headed the Lhasa Mission for around four years in total, and was therefore, by our classification, very much a member of the Tibet cadre. His acceptance by the cadre as an 'insider' was not only due to the manner in which he performed his duty; it owed much to his adoption of British forms of behaviour. He played football, rode well, and acted with 'tact and common-sense'. Yet he also wore particularly colourful Tibetan clothing, was proud of his Tibetan rank and heritage, and, off-duty, aspired to the lifestyle of a Tibetan aristocrat, rather than a British officer. [42]

Norbhu's acceptance by the Tibet cadre suggests that he represented the ideal type of Tibetan the British hoped would emerge from a modern Tibet; one who had retained what the British considered were the best features of his own culture, while adopting the necessary British officers' modes of thought and behaviour. Norbhu was also liked and respected in Lhasa, and his career represents evidence that an individual could understand, and be accepted by, both imperial and local societies, an issue we return to in Chapter Eight.

Norbhu's contemporary, Rai Bahadur Sonam Wangfel Laden La (1876-1937), was a very different type of individual. A Sikkimese, he was a nephew of Urgyen Gyatso, and worked his way up in the Bengal Police. Displaying a great aptitude for intelligence work, he escorted both the Panchen and Dalai Lamas during their visits to India, in return for which he was given the Tibetan rank of Depon. Laden La also visited Europe, accompanying four Tibetan schoolboys who were sent to Rugby school in 1913. Like Norbhu, he made numerous visits to Lhasa in the 1920s and '30s on behalf of the British. [43]

Laden La became an extremely powerful figure on the frontier, and was active in frontier politics in opposition to the growing power of the Nepali community. [44] Unlike Norbhu, he made many enemies in India and Tibet. The independent observer, William McGovern, accused him of using his position for personal profit, and there is considerable doubt that his own claim to personal popularity in Lhasa bore any close relation to fact. As will be seen in Chapter Four, the Dalai Lama personally intervened to prevent his appointment as Trade Agent Yatung. Despite that, Laden La remained of great value to the Tibet cadre, which, in the light of his failures in other areas, suggests this was because of his intelligence skills. As one officer commented 'Laden La is very full of himself, but is very interesting regarding events and personalities in Lhasa.'[45]

Laden La also differed from Norbhu in that he adopted British dress and social customs, and aspired to a British lifestyle.
[46] While he retained the support of the Tibet cadre, he was less successful than Norbhu in cultivating the friendship of the Tibetan leadership, and was not appointed to a Political post. He remained, therefore, by our classification, an intermediary, rather than a member of the Tibet cadre. Thus succeeding local officers of ambition followed the Norbhu model. Ultimately Laden La failed to achieve the desired balance of British and Tibetan understanding and forms of behaviour, and he was not trusted by the Tibetans after his involvement in the events of 1923-24, described in the next chapter.

There was an obvious tension between Norbhu Dhondup and Laden La in addition to that arising from their different life-styles; they represented different local interests and communities. Laden La had connections with Sikkimese aristocracy through his uncle, while Norbhu, though of undistinguished background, was favoured by the Tibetan community with which he identified. These diverging interests have affected subsequent history, with traces of their rivalry remaining among the available oral sources in the Himalayas.

The Rudolphs have shown that competing lineages were common within a particular body of intermediaries in Rajastan.[47] Similarly, British service offered both Norbhu and Laden La the chance to ensure future prosperity for their families, and, ideally, to establish a family administrative lineage. Thus they competed to establish themselves as the most reliable intermediary between British India and Tibet; a contest won by Norbhu, as his promotion to the Tibet cadre indicates. While his son died young, Norbhu's value to the Tibetans may be reflected in the fact that his daughter now works for the Tibetan Government in Dharamsala. Laden La failed to establish a family administrative tradition, but he acquired considerable wealth, and while he died early, his family, like the MacDonalds, established a successful hotel business.

As a nephew of Urgyen Gyatso, Laden La did represent one of the two patterns of service Michael Fisher described.[48] Whereas Palhese and Shabdrung Lama's careers were linked to a British patron, the family tradition of service became the predominant mode among local employees in Tibet: Thus A-chuk Tsering [Rai Bahadur Achuk Tsering], a Darjeeling Tibetan, and his son Lha Tsering, both served as intelligence agents for the Government of India.

Achuk Tsering (left) and Palhese (right), Gangtok Residency, before 1920. Private collection.

Photographer:Sir Charles Bell or Rabden Lepcha?
Collection: Sir Charles Bell
Date of Photo: 1920-1921
Named Person: Achuk Tsering
Date Acquired: Donated 1983
Donated by: St Antony's College, Oxford.
Photo also owned by: Royal Central Asiatic Society

-- Rai Bahadur Achuk Tsering, by The Tibet Album: British Photography in Central Tibet 1920-1950

My predecessor's confidential clerk having left, I took in his place A-chuk Tse-ring, who had worked with me in Kalimpong and Sikkim and was now to be associated with me for many years in Tibetan work. Trustworthy and industrious was A-chuk Tse-ring, and to a high level of general intelligence he added a deep political insight into Tibetan affairs. His death in Lhasa, during the early days of my visit there twelve years later, was a heavy blow to us all....

On the 11th December [1920] Rai Bahadur Achuk Tsering died of heart failure, brought on by a combined attack of influenza and gout. His death was a great shock to us all, and especially to me. We had worked together, almost continuously, for just twenty years, having been first associated in the census of the Kalimpong sub-division. He was a man of great acumen, whose opinion on questions of Tibetan, Bhutanese, or Sikkimese politics was invaluable. I applied immediately for an old friend, Sardar Bahadur Laden La, a Sikkimese in the Bengal Police, who had on my behalf looked after the Dalai Lama and his Ministers during their stay in India from 1910 to 1912. A considerable time, however, elapsed before he was deputed to my Mission, so that he did not join me until the 15th march.

-- Tibet, Past & Present, by Sir Charles Alfred Bell

Tonyot Tsering, a Sikkimese educated in Kalimpong and Patna Medical College, served as a Sub-Assistant Surgeon in Gyantse, and his son. Tonyot Tsering jnr., served at Gyantse under the British, and from 1949 to 1960 at Lhasa under the Indian Government. Bo Tsering, a Sikkimese Sub-Assistant surgeon at Gyantse and Lhasa from 1914 until c 1950, was closely related to Sonam Tobden Kazi, who succeeded Norbhu Dhondup as Trade Agent Yatung. [49]

Family patterns of loyalty could represent great changes in allegiance, symbolising the process by which the British allied with existing local ruling classes after establishing their place at the top of the political hierarchy. Sonam Tobden Kazi was a great-grandson of the Sikkimese Prime Minister Dewan Namgyal, whose treatment of the Darjeeling Superintendent Dr A. Campbell and botanist J.D. Hooker in 1849 precipitated the eventual British take-over of Sikkim. Whilst Dewan Namgyal had been exiled by the British, Sonam Tobden was to be one of their most valuable employees. [50]
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Thu Sep 12, 2019 12:45 am

Part 2 of 2


Just as the British officers of the Tibet cadre were educated and trained to meet the particular requirements of the service, so too were the intermediaries. Their schooling was on the British model, giving them an understanding of British language and culture, and teaching them the correct behaviour patterns as defined by the dominant culture. When the intermediaries' training began, the British frontiersmen provided the behavioural model to emulate. Those accepted for British service were those who potentially matched that model.[51]

The local officials educated and trained by the British formed a distinct group in Himalayan society, readily identifiable by their social behaviour. They passed on these behavioural patterns to their children, who were educated in the same way, thereby creating an bureaucratic 'caste' which still persists today, with many contemporary Sikkimese bureaucrats being descended from former British employees.

Successful intermediaries learned that advancement came from the adoption of both work and certain social patterns of the British model.
We have seen that many of the early lessons the cadre learned were unwritten guidelines, such as those implicit in Sandeman's biography, and it appears that successful intermediaries learned such unwritten codes, and echoed cadre rhetoric while following more practical models implicit in the cadre's actions.

Like the successful cadre officers, the intermediaries studied privately to improve their language skills and local knowledge. For example, Pemba Tsering, the other intermediary who, by virtue of heading the Lhasa Mission for more than a year, can be classified as having become a Tibet cadre officer, was fluent in five languages and worked hard to improve himself. He read English literature and underlined unfamiliar words to look up later. His character matched the British ideal; he was 'straightforward', a man of integrity, with a good sense of humour, punctual, meticulous and disciplined. In the British fashion he relaxed with theatricals, tennis, music, and billiards.[52]

Just as the British officers of the Tibet cadre formed a distinct, and largely self-perpetuating group, so too did the intermediaries. Norbhu Dhondup, like David MacDonald, showed that merit (as judged by the British) was the main factor in promotion, although as recruitment was largely controlled from within the Tibet cadre, selection also depended upon their being approved by the cadre. Intermediaries had little or no contact with the Government of India unless they received a Political posting; their careers were judged by their immediate (British) superiors.

The successful local employees of the Tibet cadre were those who learned British frontier codes of behaviour and patterns of thinking; those who 'understood' the British. But while these men 'behaved just like sahibs', in carrying out their duties, they also maintained their own cultural identity. Along-serving local such as Bo Tsering might speak of "we British", but he remained a Buddhist, and wore local dress off-duty. Just as the British officers did not adhere to Tibetan forms of behaviour in their private life, they did not require, or want, the local officials to abandon their own traditions. In presenting Urgyen Gyatso with his Rai Bahadurship in 1893, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal noted approvingly that, while rendering valuable service to the British, 'he has not forgotten the traditions of his ancestors, nor failed in his reverence for, and duty towards, his religion'.[53]

Dress was a significant issue. Adopting European dress was an indication that the wearers identified themselves with modern society. In the late 1940s, while European dress was already common among local peoples in the frontier region, the leading intermediaries of the time such as Sonam Tobgye and Pemba Tsering, wore traditional dress. Their employers considered that they should not be 'dressing like third-rate Europeans...they must adhere to their own customs and wear their national dress'.[54]

The Government of India did not need its local employees in the Tibetan sector to 'become British'. They needed employees able to understand, and express themselves in British forms, in order to translate their understanding of Tibet to the British. But just as the British in India deeply mistrusted any European who 'went native', so the reverse applied. The result was that successful local employees were those able to function as 'insiders' in both British and Tibetan cultures, while retaining their own cultural identity.


Why did the intermediaries work for the British imperial government? Their motives were quite simple. Even without the various allowances paid, salaries were two or three times higher than in any comparable position, conditions were good, and government employees, even in menial positions, gained great prestige in the local community. Although relationship to a serving government employee was an advantage in recruitment, promotion was on merit, and there was a clear ladder of opportunity in serving the British.

The intermediaries, particularly those from Sikkim, did not then have a sense of loyalty to an independent India. There was little or no independence movement in Sikkim, which, at least in theory, controlled its own internal affairs. Sikkim was isolated between India and Tibet, and very few Sikkimese travelled widely in India or beyond. Even today there is no exile or emigrant community of Sikkimese elsewhere. The result was that the Sikkimese were the ideal imperial bureaucrats, with no geo-political overtones to their service.

While Sikkimese were not confronted by crises of loyalty, problems did arise for Palhese, a Tibetan, and for Norbhu, who identified himself as a Tibetan. Bell recorded that Palhese 'was known in Tibet as "two-headed" because he had to serve two masters'. But, again according to Bell, Palhese was able to reconcile any divided loyalties because 'on most of the main issues the interests of the two countries lay very close together'. [55] The Tibetan perspective is not recorded, but it is noticeable that Palhese was not given any rank by the Tibetan Government, in contrast to Indian-born officers such as Norbhu.

Norbhu was close to retirement age when he was confronted by an issue where British and Tibetan interests were very far apart. Gould recalled how Norbhu, 'brought up in the straight-minded school of Bell, had never...attempted to persuade the Tibetans to believe anything of which he was not himself convinced', until he was required in 1942 to press the Tibetans to accept the 'Trans-Tibet Transport' scheme to open war-time supply routes to China. Norbhu shared the Tibetans' fear that this scheme would increase access to Tibet, and his failure to persuade the Tibetans to accept the plan led to his being replaced in Lhasa by Frank Ludlow.[56] Norbhu reverted to being Trade Agent Yatung for six months before he retired, and he died of tuberculosis just over a year later.

Previous studies have shown how local employees could arrange administrative details to their own advantage. The records upon which revenue collection depended could be tampered with, whether with the connivance of local rulers, or, in the case of intermediaries with no fixed ties to the local community, solely for their own benefit.[57]

There is plentiful evidence of corruption at the lower levels of the British presence in Tibet, by both British and local staff, particularly in regard to building work at Gyantse. Early in his career Norbhu Dhondup was implicated in a case where a building contractor bribed Gyantse Trade Agency staff to win a contract. Norbhu (who denied the accusations) was not charged on the curious grounds that he was absent at the time charges were preferred, and the matter does not appear to have been raised again.[58]

A cadre officer was aware of 'what masses of money...I could make if we wanted to be corrupt'[59]; and two officers, White and Rivett-Carnac, were, as we have seen, involved in cases which cast serious doubts as to their personal honesty. Although incorruptibility was generally part of the image of the cadre officers, the need to maintain that image meant that such cases were not publicised. But in the case of corruption among local staff, evidence for the cadre's attitude is generally lacking. In 1944, however, Frederick Mainprice clearly found corruption among local staff, and noted that 'sacking anyone from the [Gyantse] Agency had been almost unheard of.[60]

Thus there must be a suspicion that some cadre officers, however honest themselves, applied a different standard to their local employees, and were prepared to turn a blind eye to a certain level of corruption if the persons concerned were sufficiently valuable to them. Thus the expectation of extra reward must be considered as a motivating factor for some of those who sought imperial employment.


The British acknowledged that the success of their posts in Tibet relied 'largely on the personality and contacts’ of local employees. [61] Unlike British officers, intermediaries were permanently employed on the Tibetan frontier. This lead to a gradual build-up of experienced local staff, who provided a valuable continuity as the British officers came and went.

While there were originally advantages to the imperial government in recruiting persons with no ties to the local power elites, those recruited tended to form their own power elite, whose support became important to the imperial power. As a loyal body, this elite was then a natural imperial recruiting ground, although the loyalty and ability of each generation had be proven anew. It was clearly in the interests of the intermediaries to promote their family loyalty and service to the British, and to construct this tradition. As the Rudolphs have shown in regard to Jaipur in the same period, 'family traditions' of service were not necessarily long-established. [62]

The recruitment of persons related to those already employed by government was a common pattern in British India, for example in Army recruitment.[63] In Tibet, while there were numerous family connections in service, positions were by no means hereditary; Norbhu, MacDonald, and Laden La all failed to obtain imperial employment for their sons.[64] But there was a very small body of educated personnel suitable for service in Tibet available in the frontier districts, and most of these were related in some way, or became related through marriage. As the preference for recruits who were related to serving personnel was characteristic of the Political Department's recruitment of British officers, it is no surprise that the policy was repeated in the recruitment of subordinates.

The intermediaries' experience meant that part of their duty was to 'guide' newly arrived British officers. This naturally required a great deal of tact; their position might be compared to a battle-hardened sergeant 'assisting' a new officer in wartime. While the intermediaries might wonder ’who have they sent us now?', such tactful instruction was an important part of their function, and was an integral part of the system which allowed the Political Department regularly to rotate its officers' postings.[65]

The process of selecting and training local subordinates was part of the process by which the Tibet cadre ensured the continuity of their traditions. By the 1940s, the process had produced a few individuals who could carry them on. During the last 11 years of the British presence in Tibet, three local employees were promoted to Political Department postings (although they were not, as far as I can ascertain, taken into the Department). Norbhu Dhondup and Pemba Tsering both served as Trade Agent Yatung and Head of British Mission Lhasa, while Sonam Tobden Kazi, 'a worthy successor to Laden La and Rai Bahadhur Norbhu' was being groomed for a senior position with postings as Trade Agent in Gartok and Yatung. [66]

It is difficult to judge the extent to which the Lhasa Mission was ever effectively controlled by a local officer. Their terms overlapped with visits by the Political Officer Sikkim, and Major Guthrie, the Tibetan-speaking doctor attached to the Lhasa Mission from 1945 onwards, was an important figure there in the absence of other British officials. Doubts were expressed in the Secretariat as to the efficiency of the Mission when headed by a local official, and, while the Tibet cadre officers followed their usual tradition of publicly defending their own, it appears they did have some reservations as to whether local cadre officers were of the required standards. [67]

But personal relations between the British officers and local employees were good, with Norbhu being particularly popular. The isolation of the posts, and the easier social relations with Buddhists, as opposed to Hindus, made for a relaxation of the social codes of British India, as did the reliance placed by the cadre on the local employees' experience. While the Tibet cadre officers' regard for those in their charge, particularly in the case of lower ranking servants, fits into the 'paternal' mould described by Lionel Caplan in his study of British relations with the Gurkhas, the Sikkimese today remember the individual officers of the Tibet cadre (as distinct from the policies which they represented) with fondness.[68]


The British presence in Tibet led to the creation of a small 'caste' of peoples on the northeastern frontier of India who identified with British aspirations and culture. The British educated and trained these Tibetan-speaking frontiersmen to act as intermediaries between British India and Tibet because they presumed they could understand Tibet and its people and pass on their understanding to the British. There was, therefore, a reciprocal process of power reinforcement and inculcation of understanding. The British also relied upon their local employees to maintain the continuity and institutional identity of the Trade Agencies, and to carry out much of the day-to-day work there.

The role of the intermediaries in the imperial process has been largely submerged in historical discourse. Most memoirs of colonial officials pay a brief tribute to their great contribution, but their significance has been largely forgotten. Most have remained obscure, and, in common with other marginalised groups, or social classes in the imperial process (including British subordinates, an issue examined in Chapter Seven), their 'voice' has been historically submerged beneath the 'voices' of both imperial and indigenous empowered social classes.

This process has partly been due to the needs of Indian nationalist historians, who have preferred to emphasise those who engaged in indigenous resistance to the Raj and to highlight the oppositional nature of the imperial process. Those who had given great service to the imperial power, such as Norbhu Dhondup, were viewed with less enthusiasm in independent India. However indigenous resistance to colonial rule was arguably less common than support or acquiescence. Just as the subordinate class position of the intermediaries meant that their historical voice was submerged under imperial voices, so the creation of an Indian nation-state obscured the voices of those who had supported the British.

The intermediaries needed to understand both British and Tibetan cultures, but there was considerable mistrust of an individual such as Laden La, who clearly identified himself with the modern imperial society, and who was perceived by many in both camps as having left his own culture behind. The British came to favour, and to promote, those, like Norbhu Dhondup and Pemba Tsering, who were able to function in British society without adopting external British forms of behaviour. The British mistrust of locals who abandoned their own culture consequently created sophisticated and cosmopolitan individuals, at home in both imperial and indigenous societies.



[1] Robb (1984, p.16); For the missionary use of intermediaries, see Bray (1992, pp.371-375). For examples of further studies of intermediaries in British India and the Princely States, see Fisher (1987) and (1991); Frykenberg (1965); Rudolph (1984).

[2] Waller (1990), classifies Chandra Das and his companion Urgyen Gyatso as pandits. For our purposes however, it is important to note that these two men were of a very different class to the usual pandits.

[3] Waller ibid (p.201).

[4] Sandberg (1987, p.163); Waller ibid (p.193, (quoting NAI FD, Secret January 1882, 722-725, Sir Alfred Croft to A.C. Lyall, 12 April 1879}, pp. 194, fn.8, p.292).

[5] MacDonald (1991, pp.138-40); Bell (1992, p.59); Waller ibid (pp.196, 206); Gyatso papers. For Das’s account of his journey, see Das (1902).

[6] Das ibid {pp.80, 101); Johnson (1994, pp.191-206); Waller ibid (pp.193-213).

[7] For details on Mahmood Isa, a Ladakhi Buddhist convert to Islam who led a number of Central Asian exploration parties in the 1890s, see Allen (1982, p.203); French (1994, p.54).

[8] British Museum Bell diaries, various entries; Bell (1946, pp.25-26); IOLR L/P&S/12/4166, Gyantse Annual Report 1926-27.

[9] MacDonald (1991, pp.137-140); Snelling (1993, p.68).

[10] MacDonald ibid (pp. 139-40).

[11] Younghusband (1985, p.307).

[12] Bell (1987, pp.25-26).

[13] For example, Gould had as his personal servant, 'a notorious robber who looked after Gould excellently and maltreated everyone else'; IOLR MSS Eur D998/17, Hopkinson’s Lhasa diary/letter, 27 September 1945.

[14] Fisher (1991, pp.332, 344).

[15] Dirks (1994, pp.279-313).

[16] Re Bhutan, see Collister (1987); re north-east India, see Robb (1994, esp, pp.7-23); also see Ludden (1994, p.253). During Russian expansion in Central Asia a similar process occurred, with local agents being superseded by Russians when security fears (real or constructed) arose; Allworth (1967, p.42).

[17] Dirks (pp.300-01 & passim); Ludden (1994, pp.252-53

[18] NAI FD, 1909 External A April 3-4, Fite note by L.W. Reynolds, 10 March 1909, following an enquiry by F.M. Bailey. As noted, Shabdrung Lama was a Buriat, his actual citizenship is not recorded.

[19] Snelling (1993, pp.26-35). After meeting Dorzhiev in 1912, Gould described him in approving terms as 'a man who impresses one a great deal..[he has a]..frank manner... earnest purpose..[and is],.certainly respected by the Tibetan officials'; NAI FD, 1912 Secret E October 59- 82, Gould to India, 16 July 1912.

[20] As the Rudolphs' study of Jaipur intermediaries indicates 'English communication and a grasp of English customs and expectations...was increasingly required' in this period of the imperial process; Rudolph (1984, p.98).

[21] Murray Hogben concluded that the British were reluctant to admit Indians into the Political Department due to the innate conservatism of the Department, and their doubts over Indians' loyalty and character suitability. The policy also recognised the reluctance of rulers, both in the Princely States, and outside British India, to accept Indian rather than the British representatives of the Raj; Hogben (1981, esp., pp.767-769); also see Copland (1982, p.75); Potter (1986, pp .119-20).

[22] As suitable Ladakhis were needed for service on Kashmir's frontier, this narrowed the field of recruitment to India's north-eastern frontier region.

[23] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-6072, Report on 1946 Mission to Lhasa, by H. Richardson; personal correspondence with R. Ford, November 1994.

[24] Woodcock (1971, p.96), quoting Bogle's journal.

[25] Bishop (1989, passim, esp. pp.46-49). Also see for example, Younghusband (1949, pp.131-32, 141-42).

[26] MacDonald (1991, pp.154-55); IOLR L/P&S/11/235-2906, various correspondence.

[27] IOLR L/P&S/7/229-923, Gyantse Annual Report 1908-09, cover note by Bell, 11 May 1909; NAI FD, 1909 Establishment BDec 318-321, Bell to India, 29 July 1909.

[28] Ballhatchet (1980, p.8).

[29] Further recognition of this 'construction' of India came after Indian independence, when Bell stated that Ladakh, along with Bhutan and Sikkim, had been taken from Tibet by the British, and should be returned; Bell (1987, p.55).

[30] Ballhatchet (1980, pp.4, 164-65.

[31] MacDonald (1991, p.147).

[32] Interview with Dr M.V. Kurian, January 1994; Ballhatchet (1980, pp.164-65) records the prejudice against Anglo-Indian Medical Officers in India as being due particularly to the question of their examining British women. When British women were in Lhasa, a British Medical Officer was available there.

[33] Information on MacDonald is derived from: Interview with Dr K. Sprigg, January 1992; MacDonald papers; MacDonald (1991); McKay (1992c), in which article I erred in naming Alice Curtis’s mother, Palmo Sherpari, as MacDonald's wife; personal correspondence with (MacDonald's daughter) Mrs Betty Cartwright, March 1993.

[34] MacDonald did face prejudice against Anglo-Indians. For example, as late as 1931, RGS. Secretary Arthur Hinks described him as 'much more oriental than I expected; Royal Society for Asian Affairs, Bell collection, Hinks to Bell, 26 August 1931.

[35] IOLR L/P&S/11/235-2906, various correspondence; MacDonald papers, Bell to India, 17 October 1909 (draft copy), Bell to MacDonald, 22 September 1909.

[36] Personal correspondence with H. Richardson, October 1990.

[37] Interview with Mrs J. Jehu, 26 March 1993. Regarding the lack of nationalist consciousness among Sherpas, see the account of Everest climber Sherpa Tenzing in Ullman (1956, pp.27, 145, 278, 282-83).

[38] Gould (1957, p.206); Neame (1939, p.237).

[39] NAI FD, 1907 External B May 245-248, various correspondence; IOLR L/P&S/10/1113- 1758, India to Weir, 7 February 1929; L/P&S/10/1113-5170, Weir to India, 22 July 1929; MSS Eur F157-240, Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 30 August 1927. Norbhu's 'brusque’ telegraphic style may have been due to his lack of expertise in English. Telegram drafting was 'an art in itself; personal correspondence with R.Ford, November 1994.

[40] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197, Gould report of 30 April 1937; Interview with Mrs J. Jehu, March 1993.

[41] Saker papers, Saker to Mrs Saker, 5 September 1941.

[42] Interview with Dr T.Y. Pemba, March 1994; Interview with Mrs J. Jehu, March 1994; Gould (1957, p.206).

[43] Lamb (1966, pp.376, 416). Re the four Tibetans at Rugby school, see Shakya (1986).

[44] Information on Laden La's political activities from local sources courtesy of Dr Michael Hutt, (SOAS), from a forthcoming paper.

[45] McGovern (1924, pp.16-17); Weir papers, Weir to Mrs Weir, 25 May 1930; Following service tradition, MacDonald complimented Laden La in his memoirs, but was extremely critical of both he and Norbhu Dhondup in private correspondence; see MacDonald (1991, pp.21, 297-98), in contrast to IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a92, MacDonald to Bell, 3 February 1930.

[46] Goldstein (1989, p. 122); Interview with Dr K. Sprigg, January 1992.

[47] Rudolph (1984, p.84).

[48] See note 14, above.

[49] Interview with Namgyal Tsering, February 1994; Interview with Dr T.Y. Pemba, March 1994; personal information regarding Norbhu Dhondup courtesy of his daughter, Mrs Dekyi Khedrub.

[50] Lamb (1960, pp.92-110).

[51] Where not otherwise credited, information in this section was obtained in March 1994 during fieldwork in Gangtok, from serving officials of the Government of Sikkim, who are required to remain anonymous.

[52] Pemba Tsering was from a Tibetan family who had settled at Ghoom. His uncle had served as Head Clerk at Yatung under MacDonald, and after he matriculated from Darjeeling High School he was recruited by Bailey. He rose to serve as Head of Mission Lhasa, and as Trade Agent in all three Agencies; Interview with Dr T.Y.Pemba, March 1994.

[53] Interview with A.H.Robins, April 1993; Interview with Dr T.Y. Pemba, March 1994; Gyatso papers, address by Sir Antony MacDonald, 30 October 1893.

[54] Sangharakshita (1991, p.73); IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry of 1 February 1924.

[55] Bell (1987, p.247).

[56] Gould (1957 p.238).

[57] Dewey (1978), Dewey (1993, pp.207), Frykenberg (1965, pp. 126, 234-42).

[58] Re Norbhu, see NAI FD, 1912 External B December 208-244, various correspondence. There are numerous other references in the sources to corruption at the Trade Agencies. For example, see Mainprice papers, diary entries of 14 July 1944, & 23-25 July 1944; also see NAI FD, 1915 Establishment January 125-26 Part B.

[59] IOLR MSS Eur D998/18, Hopkinson to Mrs Hopkinson, 19 May 1946.

[60] Mainprice papers, diary entry of 13 July 1944.

[61] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-6072, Report on 1946 Mission to Lhasa, by H. Richardson.

[62] Rudolph (1984, pp.83, 125, 162).

[63] Mason (1974, pp.314, 350-58).

[64] John MacDonald applied for the post of Trade Agent Yatung when his father retired; NAI FD, Index, 1924-27, File No. 275-E 1924; re Laden La's failed application for a scholarship to Britain for his son, see NAI FD, Index, 1914 Internal July 81-82 Part B.

[65] Interview with R. Ford, March 1993.

[66] Personal correspondence with R. Ford, November 1994. Local employees also had more responsibility at Gyantse in World War Two, during the period when the Escort Officers acted as Trade Agents.

[67] IOLR L/P&S/12/4202-4534, Lhasa Mission Report, week ending 5 August 1945, undated cover note.

[68] Personal correspondence with R. Ford, November 1994; Caplan (1991, passim , esp. p.590). In my interviews with those Sikkimese or Kalimpongese who had served with the British, or whose family had done so, any criticisms were directed at British policies not individuals.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:16 am

Part 1 of 2



We have seen that the distinct collective identity of the Tibet cadre was maintained through its selection process. Those who appeared suitable for the specialised requirements of Tibetan service were usually assessed during a junior posting to Gyantse or Yatung, and, if they proved able to maintain the prestige and further the aims of their predecessors, they were later promoted to the senior cadre posts at Gangtok or Lhasa. This selection process meant that the senior cadre officers shared a similar mentality, which produced a broad continuity of approach to Tibetan policy. The common theme of the policies the cadre promoted was that they were designed, or served, to deepen British involvement in Tibet, and increase Tibetan dependence on British structures and 'advice'. The cadre thus resisted the dominant trend of British Indian policy in this period, which was ’a retreat to the centre'.[1]

While the Government of India's policies emerged as a result of discussion and consensus between opposing, or different, schools of thought, and the cadre's influence is not always apparent in the policies finally adopted after this process, their predominant influence on policy was 'forward'. This meant that their role was considerably more significant than Whitehall had intended and the title Trade Agent' might suggest.

The cadre's aims and methods become more apparent, and the results significant, when we examine the nature of their role in Tibet. It suited the British to avoid precise definition of the cadre's role, as the formal posting of British diplomatic representatives in Tibet would have raised the question of Tibet's status at the expense of relations with China and other powers. In this chapter we will examine how, in the absence of specific instructions as to their function, the Tibet cadre created a particular role for themselves.

The effects of the cadre's definition of their role can be seen in two, sometimes overlapping, areas. In this chapter we will examine the effect that they had on policy by their promotion and support of particular programmes, and this will be developed in the next chapter where we will examine in depth the issue which the cadre saw as most crucial -- British representation in Lhasa. The second area is that of their effect on the image of Tibet held in Western academic and political circles today, which we examine in Chapter Six.


When J.C. White was posted to Sikkim in 1889, his government 'depended upon him to define the limits of his job without recourse to precedent..[to]..bring it more into line with British policy.'[2] Similarly the Trade Agencies were established without an accepted definition of their intended function. What then was the intended role of the Tibet cadre?[3] In that they represented British government and culture, and gathered information about those of their hosts, the cadre can be best defined as diplomats.[4] But the inherently 'forward' nature of their view of the purpose of a British presence in Tibet often blurred the distinctions between diplomat, foreign advisor and 'empire builder'.

Publicly, government maintained that the Trade Agents' duties were ’to further Indian trade in Tibet and generally to protect the interests of British subjects'. Yet it is obvious that they were not qualified to be Trade Agents. None of the officers chosen to serve in Tibet had any experience of customs work or trade, indeed the word 'trade' carried pejorative connotations in official British Indian circles.[5]

Within government, the Agencies' purpose was disputed. In 1904, the Political Department claimed that a civil dispensary at Gyantse would be 'politically advantageous'. However, the acting Viceroy, Lord Ampthill, cautioned that

We must be very careful that anything we do does not even wear the appearance of establishing a political centre at Gyantse and I hope that the Department will refrain from suggesting political intrigue.[6]

It was a vain hope. Although India tried to maintain a non-political definition of the Agents' role when it advised Secretary of State Morley in 1906 that their function 'was without doubt primarily commercial', it was admitted that 'it has been necessary to entrust him [O'Connor] also with important political work, as he is the main channel of communication between the Government of India and the Lhasa Government.'[7]

The term 'Trade' Agent was a convenient fiction, which owed its usage to political circumstances. Whitehall had prevented Curzon from stationing British officials in Tibet for political purposes, but pressure from British and Indian trading interests meant that it had accepted the need for British officers to oversee trade in Tibet. By placing them under the Political Department's command, the Government of India ensured that the Agents' role would be political and diplomatic, as Lord Curzon intended.[8]

Whitehall was thus outmanoeuvered by the 'forward school' and, while the name remained, the pretence that the Agents' primary role concerned trade was largely abandoned after Morley's departure from the India Office. By 1932, government censors did not object to Macdonald describing his duties as including 'watching and forwarding reports on the political situation to the Government of India'.[9] In later years internal government correspondence clearly stated that even the Agency Medical and Escort Officers had a primarily political role, although a trade role remained a convenient fiction for public consumption.

The Gartok post came closest to Whitehall's ideal of a Trade Agency, although it owed its origin to Louis Dane's fear of Russian influence in the region. During the Younghusband Mission, Dane proposed combating Russian influence in Khotan by extending the Indian frontier across western Tibet to the Kuenlun range, a massive commitment which he must have known Whitehall would reject. But Dane appears to have been using what became a common 'forward school' policy-making tactic -- advancing an extreme policy in order to obtain a lesser aim by compromise. When Viceroy Ampthill duly replied that ’HM Government would have a fit if we proposed anything of the kind', Dane promptly made a successful proposal for a trade mart in western Tibet. [10]

As I have discussed elsewhere, the Gartok Agency was created without adequate thought for its location and function, and it proved difficult to attract suitable candidates to the poorly paid post of Trade Agent there. [11] The early Gartok Agents had neither personal knowledge of, nor influence on, policy and events in Central Tibet, and had no direct contact with the Political Officer Sikkim until after 1932. Thakur Jai Chand, the first Agent appointed there, was, however, given instructions as to his duties. He was to send government a weekly diary of 'routes traversed...trade prospects and such political information as he may be able to gather'.[12]

But Dane's fears of Russian influence in western Tibet never materialised, and no Chinese officials ever visited the region. As there was only local intelligence to be obtained in Gartok, it was of little interest to the cadre; the Agency remained largely peripheral to the events with which we deal. The post mainly functioned as a Trade Agency, devoted to assisting Indian traders. Its comparative neglect is further evidence that the cadre's primary role in Tibet was political and diplomatic, and that they considered trade a low priority which could be dealt with by local employees.

The Trade Agents' duties were never defined. Bailey admitted in 1907 that 'I don't know whether I am cantonment magistrate or not', as 'everything is very unsettled'. This was not a situation unique to Tibet. As Gerald Morgan has observed, 'early Political Officers often suggested their own jobs'.[13] This absence of definition fitted the Politicals' belief that frontier officers needed the freedom to act on their own initiative, and that the right type of individual, once trained, could be relied upon to act correctly in the furtherance of British interests. [14]

David Potter has shown that ICS officers, as 'trusted servants of the state, identifying themselves...with the values and interests of those who employed them', fit Rener and Goldthorpe's models of 'service class' professional employees. They could be relied upon to act in accordance with 'the interests and values of the organization' and, in return for the trust endowed in them, 'expected considerable independence and freedom...to...act as they thought best'. The model may be equally applied to the Tibet cadre. Cadre officers were relied upon to act consistently in the service of their employer's values and interests, and, in return, expected 'proof that the Government of India were prepared to support their officers when they necessarily incur responsibilities'.[15]

But how, in the absence of orders, were the cadre to choose what was within their province, and how and why did they define their role as they did? In appointing O'Connor as Gyantse Trade Agent, Younghusband ensured that the foremost British position in Tibet was occupied by an officer whose views on Tibetan policy followed those of Curzon and himself. O'Connor's successor, Bailey, was trained to follow the same path, regularly receiving private advice from Younghusband and O'Connor. In Gangtok, Bell continued and refined these 'forward' policies.

Thus in the formative years of the British presence in Tibet the officers there all represented the 'forward school' of thinking on frontier policy. In creating a 'forward' role for themselves they were filling the role envisaged by their creators. The issues which the cadre identified as important were those left unresolved by the Younghusband Mission -- in particular the question of British representation in Lhasa.

Different men, chosen from different backgrounds, might have identified other goals -- perhaps Tibetan representation in India and abroad, or trade, or even unifying Tibet and China. The point of such speculation is to show that British interests in Tibet by no means demanded the particular programmes promoted by the cadre; indeed their actions could be inconsistent with the policies of Delhi and Whitehall.

The cadre's definition of their role reflected their mentality. Their upbringing, training and sense of identity meant that they saw their role as Curzon and Younghusband intended; as diplomats representing the Government of India, but also in the tradition of frontier officials who were expected to advance British interests and position. Whitehall intended them to be overseers of frontier trade, but as members of what was in effect India's diplomatic corps, the cadre defined their role within the identity and traditions of that service. Information-gathering, which we examine in the next section, provides an example of how this role developed.


Many aspects of Tibetan politics were little-known to the British prior to the Younghusband Mission, and the systematic gathering of political intelligence became a primary part of the Tibet cadre's role, with paid informants used to gather information. I have previously examined how, during the period 1904-09, the Government of India collected information on Tibetan affairs from Tibet's neighbouring governments (particularly Nepal), and from missionaries on the Eastern Tibetan frontier. Other important news was obtained by the interception of Chinese and Tibetan communications through the Indian telegraph system. In Tibet, cadre officers had informants at all levels of society, and gathered news from European travellers and Indian traders. Intelligence gathering was thus recognised as an integral part of the Tibet cadre's duties.[16]

The National Archives of India show that Trade Agents were provided with a regular Secret Service allowance to pay informants. In 1910, this allowance was greatly increased (from 200 to 1000 rupees per month in the case of Yatung), as 'the local people as well as passing travellers require to be bribed liberally in order to brave the risk of being seen about this Agency by the Chinese'.[17]

Lists of the actual recipients of these funds reveal the wide range of informants used. Those listed naturally include those whose interests coincided with the British -- the Nepalese representative in Gyantse (who received a regular monthly payment of 50 rupees). Indian traders, and Bhutanese officials. O'Connor, building on contacts he had established during the Younghusband Mission, extended this range of informants. Villagers were rewarded with one or two rupees, servants of Lhasa officials and clerks at the Panchen Lama's monastery in Shigatse received 10-50 rupees. The Gyantse Jongpon’s clerk and a Gyantse monk were regular paid informants, and a number of other monks from leading monasteries throughout Lhasa and central Tibet also profited. Perhaps O'Connor's greatest success was in obtaining informants from the Chinese army, and there were also regular payments to a 'Chinese Agent from Lhasa'.[18]

Local agents who proved valuable were taken into regular cadre employment. For example, in 1912, A-chuk Tsering, who later accompanied Bell to Lhasa, was employed as a 'Secret Service Agent' at Ghoom under the District Commissioner Darjeeling, watching the movements of two Japanese studying Tibetan language there. [19]

British travellers also received Secret Service payments. In 1914, the botanist Frank Kingdom-Ward received a token 50 rupee payment for his report on south-eastern Tibet, while new light is shed on the nature of Bailey's travels by entries which reveal he received a substantial payment from Secret Service funds for his journey from Peking to Sadiya in 1911.[20]

Hugh Richardson has claimed that information gathering in Tibet was 'done openly' and that 'there was no clandestine activity or the employment of secret agents which are generally associated with the idea of spying'. But although there are no breakdowns of Secret Service expenditure in official records after 1909, there are private papers from later periods which show that Secret Service funds continued to be used to pay local informants. For example in 1944, Gyantse Trade Agent Mainprice refers to a 'Secret Service' payment of 450 rupees. In addition, the Indian archive indexes confirm that what the Government of India themselves termed 'Secret Agent(s)' were still used to report on Tibet in the 1940s.[21]

Therefore, while British sources claim that, due to the open nature of Tibetan aristocratic society, information was freely obtained in Lhasa, there was nevertheless an ongoing use of 'secret agents' by the British throughout the period of their involvement in Tibet. Once the Tibet positions were established in an intelligence-gathering role there was no further need to articulate this role; the tradition had been established.

There was, however, a reorganisation of intelligence gathering in the 1936-37 period, around the time when Gould and Richardson became respectively Political Officer Sikkim and Trade Agent Gyantse. The relevant archives remain classified, but it is possible to reconstruct the effect of these changes from scattered references to intelligence on the northeastern frontier. [22] Much of the responsibility for intelligence gathering in the region was apparently shifted from the Political Officer Sikkim to the Central Intelligence Officer in Shillong.

The Central Intelligence Bureau, which had been created by Curzon in April 1904, came under the Home Affairs Department, although it liaised closely with the Political Department; after 1944 all telegrams concerning Tibetan affairs were copied to the Shillong office. This post was occupied during the 1940s by an Irish police officer, Eric Lambert, and after 1946 he was given an assistant based in Kalimpong with particular concern for Tibetan affairs. Lambert's chosen assistant was Lieutenant Lha Tsering, the son of Bell's confidant, A-chuk Tsering. [23]

Lambert's office became an important influence on Tibetan policy in the '40s, but the close links between Lambert and the Political Officer Sikkim suggest they shared similar aims. For example, in September 1944, Lambert recommended an increase in government contributions to Tibetan monasteries, a policy which was enthusiastically followed by the cadre, as will be seen. [24]

The Government of India may not have had a monopoly on clandestine British operations in Tibet. The foreign policy interests of Whitehall and Delhi were not identical, and Whitehall may have used their own agents in Tibet. Certainly Whitehall took over the duty of obtaining British intelligence in Tibet after 1947, with the British High Commission in Delhi suggesting likely avenues of intelligence. [25]


The cadre's definition of their duties followed Political Department guidelines, written and unwritten. The Department's 'Manual of Instruction' stated that 'The first duty of a Political Officer is to cultivate direct, friendly, personal relations with the Ruling Chiefs with whom he works.'[26] Through friendship, the cadre aimed to influence Tibet's leaders to follow policies favoured by the British. As Mrs Williamson recalled, 'it was important that we get to know people, and...thereby be able to exert a positive influence on Tibet.'[27] The unwritten codes were those inculcated during officers' early training and service in Tibet, and these codes taught the cadre that their role was a 'forward' one, in which the establishment of good relations with local rulers was an important means of advancing British interests.

The withdrawal of the Younghusband Mission from Tibet left a power vacuum which made it difficult for the Tibet cadre to identify suitable 'Ruling Chiefs' whom they might cultivate as supporters. Although the cadre had initially been prepared to work with the Chinese, as Younghusband had done, they found the Chinese 'unpleasant neighbours',[28] whose rule was neither effective, nor beneficial to British interests. China was nominally the suzerain power in Tibet, and was recognised as such by Whitehall, but the British positions in Tibet posed a threat to Chinese power and prestige in the region, and the Chinese, who considered Tibet part of their empire, sought to regain control there. When China re-established a degree of control over Tibet in 1907-11, their presence threatened to destroy any effective British influence there, and, while Whitehall was prepared to sacrifice the Agencies in the interests of wider international relations, the Tibet cadre sought to maintain and strengthen their position. As the Chinese were the main threat to the cadre, they became their enemy; there was no possibility of establishing close personal relations that might have assisted the tri-partite solution favoured by Whitehall. The result was that Tibet in the period 1904-47 was the setting for a struggle between British and Chinese agents for power and influence.

Having discounted the Chinese as suitable 'Ruling Chiefs' to befriend, the cadre were then faced with identifying suitable Tibetan leaders. This meant defining Tibet, an issue we deal with in Chapter Six, and identifying the rulers of this 'Tibet'. The one obvious candidate was the Dalai Lama, who was, theoretically at least, at the apex of the Tibetan system of theocratic government. But with the Dalai Lama in exile in Mongolia, Tibet was ruled by a Regent, the Abbot of Ganden monastery.

The Regent, however, was an unsuitable ruler in British eyes. He was a religious leader, with neither knowledge of, nor interest in, worldly affairs. An alternative leader was needed, but the traditional Tibetan power structure was a complicated system of 'checks and balances' which devolved the power of the Dalai Lama among various monastic and aristocratic factions. The incarnation system also meant regular long periods of rule by a Regent. The effects of this complex power structure were by no means immediately apparent to the British, and greatly complicated the search for leaders to cultivate. [29] As Whitehall prevented their having any direct contact with Lhasa officials, the cadre's first choice as an alternative leader was the most powerful figure the cadre could contact, the Panchen Lama. He had an independent power structure at Shigatse, with his own court and officials, tax-paying territory, and even foreign policy. Significant numbers of Tibetans regarded the Panchen, rather than the Dalai Lama, as their supreme sovereign in both the religious and secular realms. [30]

Soon after the opening of the Gyantse Agency, O'Connor visited Shigatse where he (and subsequently Bailey), got on well with the Panchen Lama, a somewhat worldly figure of similar age to the Agents. The Lama was given various gifts, including modern rifles and a motor car, and in 1906 he was invited to India, where he was treated with great ceremony in (as was clearly stated) an attempt to impress him .[31]

In the immediate post-Younghusband period, before the Tibet cadre identified the Chinese as their enemy, [Indian Foreign Secretary] Louis Dane had seen the Panchen Lama as a potential solution to the Tibetan problem. He considered that if the Chinese replaced the Dalai Lama with the Panchen Lama, the British could then recognise Chinese authority in Tibet, as it would 'effectively settle the unruly Tibetans and exclude Russian influence'. But while Dane sought details of historical precedents concerning the Chinese deposition of the 6th and 7th Dalai Lamas, he also considered the possibility that the Panchen Lama 'may yet be an Indian Ruling Chief.[32]

Given Dane's close relationship with O'Connor, it was no surprise that the Gyantse Agent should promote a plan to centre British policy in Tibet around the Panchen Lama. In February 1907 O'Connor proposed that the Panchen Lama should be encouraged to declare his independence from Lhasa and create a separate state in southern Tibet, ruled from his Shigatse headquarters. Britain should then, O'Connor argued, recognise and support the new entity, which would act as a strong 'buffer state' for British India.[33]

Richardson states that this plan 'suggests that O'Connor was not fully in touch with the depths of Tibetan history and religious feeling'. Even at the time it aroused great opposition. Morley was 'horrified', White attempted to use it to engineer O'Connor's dismissal, and the plan was never acted on.[34] But O'Connor's plan was consistent with 'forward school' thinking. While Tibet was too large for Britain to protect militarily, a southern Tibetan state could have been supported, would have provided a forward position for British interests beyond the Himalayas, and had the potential to be drawn within the frontiers of British India in due course.

O’Connor's perspective was limited, and wider geopolitical implications (such as Russian and Chinese opposition) made it impossible for his government to support the plan. But O'Connor acted before 'Tibet' was created by the British as a geographically determined state with fixed borders, and his relations with the Panchen Lama gave him a different perspective on Tibetan identity to that of later cadre officers, who defined Tibet in accordance with the Dalai Lama's perspective.

The Panchen Lama certainly saw the advantages of a break-away. Bell, who met him in 1906, wrote of their meeting that, 'he opened his mind to me. He wanted to be independent of Lhasa and to deal with the British Government as an independent State'.[35] The Panchen Lama's view of Tibet as a state therefore, cannot be said to have coincided with that of the Dalai Lama, or of the cadre in later years.

Cadre support for the Panchen Lama was soon abandoned. They became preoccupied with holding their ground, and the Chinese prevented them from making personal contact with the Panchen Lama while they made their own efforts to court his favour. The Chinese offered the Lama the Regency in 1907, and persuaded him to stay in Lhasa for six months in 1911, and although ultimately he refused to accept secular power in Tibet, the unfortunate Panchen Lama lost the trust of significant elements of the Dalai Lama's supporters as a result of these flirtations with foreign powers.

Although he corresponded with several cadre officers until the 1930s, the Panchen Lama also lost the trust of the British as a result of his dealings with the Chinese.
In 1913 Bell rejected his request to be represented at the Simla Convention, noting that 'the sentiments of the Tashi Lama and nearly all his court are of pro-Chinese tendency', and it was to China that he went into exile in 1923.[36] His decline is an example of how contact between modern and traditional societies tended to bring about the collapse of traditional structures because of the modern societies' definition of a state as ultimately ruled by a single entity, with whom they preferred to deal.

The Dalai Lama's flight to India in 1910 gave the cadre the chance to befriend the traditional Lhasa leadership. MacDonald earned the Dalai Lama's life-long trust by aiding his flight into exile, and once the Tibetan leader was in India, Bell successfully cultivated his friendship, becoming the Tibetans' most trusted foreign confidant. Bell encouraged the Dalai Lama to begin transforming Tibet into a modern nation-state, guided by British expertise in such matters as the development of mining, improvement of communications, and strengthening of its armed forces.

As the British were forbidden by the 1907 Anglo-Russian convention from intervening in Tibetan internal affairs, Bell concealed the extent to which he guided these changes,
but, while the Dalai Lama was open to other influences, there can be little doubt that Bell was the major influence on his thinking. Bell wrote that 'the Dalai Lama...has accepted all the opinions that I have given him, and has acted on them'.[37]

To avoid a charge of exceeding his instructions, Bell refers to giving advice in his 'private capacity'; but it is doubtful the Tibetans recognised the difference. As with the 'advice' given by Political Agents in Indian Princely States, it was clearly understood by the recipients as intended to be acted upon if British support was to be obtained. In return for the Dalai Lama's acquiescence, Bell supported his rule, advancing policies based on support for the existing power structure in Tibet. In so doing he also created a powerful role for himself as the individual best able to deal with the Tibetan Government, a role his successors jealously guarded.[38]


After Bell's final retirement in 1921, a number of problems arose in Anglo-Tibetan relations. Modernisation policies aroused conservative opposition within Tibetan monastic and aristocratic circles which proved too strong for the Dalai Lama to ignore. When Bailey took over as Political Officer Sikkim he had been out of contact with central Tibetans for more than a decade, and had no close ties with their existing leaders; Bell having ignored the opportunity of taking him to Lhasa.[39] As noted, Bailey also mistrusted Macdonald, and consequently was unable to make use of the then Gyantse and Yatung Trade Agent's experience in dealing with Tibetan opposition to modernisation. In addition, a number of other incidents, such as McGovern's illicit visit to Lhasa, strained Anglo-Tibetan relations. In the years since he had been at Gyantse, Bailey had made a name for himself. He had explored the eastern extremities of the Brahmaputra, been shipwrecked off the China coast, and served at Gallipoli before being withdrawn from war service and sent on an intelligence mission to Tashkent to report on the situation as the Bolsheviks took control. Unlike Bell, Bailey's view of a Political Officer's role was more orientated towards command than advice; McGovern described how, in contrast to Bell, 'Bailey has followed the more ordinary lines of British administrators, who believe it inconsistent with the maintenance of dignity to pander too much to native ideas.'[40]

But Bailey was not lacking influential support. The appointment of his former mentor, O'Connor, as British representative in Kathmandhu, and of Lord Curzon as British Foreign Minister, strengthened his position. As Bailey lacked Bell's long friendship with the Dalai Lama, he attempted to cultivate his own contacts in Tibet's power structure and, given his military background, found natural allies in the newly emerging military forces in Tibet.

Tibet's growing military power was closely associated with Tsarong Shape, who rose from humble beginnings to became Commander-in-Chief of the Tibetan Army in 1915. Tsarong had made his name commanding a small force which held off the Chinese army pursuing the Dalai Lama as he fled to exile in India in 1910, after which MacDonald had disguised him as a British mail-runner to enable him to escape to India. Tsarong was clearly an outstanding individual, a powerful figure in Lhasa politics who enjoyed a close relationship with the Dalai Lama. Tsarong was also exceptional in having a great interest in the world outside Tibet, and while British sources emphasise his ties with them, he was clearly equally interested in meeting other foreigners, for he befriended the Japanese travellers to Lhasa in the 1910-20 period, and in later years always met other foreign travellers to Lhasa. [41]

Bailey naturally identified Tsarong as a potential ally. Tsarong, however, lacked either a monastic or aristocratic power base, and his main supporters, army officers who had been trained by the Gyantse Escort Commander or at Quetta Military College, were suspected by conservative Tibetans of having adopted European values.

With his government still reluctant to allow its officers access to Lhasa, Bailey faced a problem in establishing close ties with Tsarong. In 1922 he managed, apparently without the support of the Government of India, to arrange for General George Pereira, a former military attache at the British Legation in Peking, to visit Lhasa en route from Peking to India. Although officially described as a ’private traveller', Pereira met Tsarong in Lhasa and sent Bailey detailed reports on Tibetan military forces, recommending that to organise their army 'it is absolutely necessary to send a military advisor to Tsarong'.[42]

In Lhasa, Pereira obviously exerted some influence on the Tibetan Government to follow Bell's earlier recommendation that a police force be established in Lhasa. The day after Pereira left Lhasa the Tibetans asked the Government of India to lend them the services of Laden La to establish and train the Lhasa police.[43] This request gave Bailey the chance to develop ties with Tsarong.

Bailey certainly knew that Whitehall would not sanction posting a British military officer at Lhasa, but Laden La was an experienced police and intelligence officer. He was trusted by the Tibetans, and had recently been in Lhasa with Bell. Just as in 1903, when Curzon had recognised that the distinction between a 'political' and a 'trade' agent was not 'mutually exclusive',[44] Bailey realised Laden La could fill a dual role. Bailey therefore persuaded his government that it was of 'great political importance' that Laden La be sent to Lhasa. So keen were government to use Laden La that he was able to demand promotion to Superintendent as a condition of acceptance, although there were no vacancies at that rank, and a special position had to be created for him. [45]

Laden La reached Lhasa in September 1923 and established a 200-man police force. He also established close ties with Tsarong and occupied a central role in subsequent events, the exact nature of which remains unresolved. In May 1924, a fight between police and soldiers ended with Tsarong punishing two soldiers by mutilation, as a result of which one died. Mutilation had been forbidden by the Dalai Lama, and Tsarong’s monastic and aristocratic opponents sought to use this incident to engineer his dismissal. Tsarong’s supporters, including Laden La, sought to preserve his position.[46]

Laden La became involved in what was apparently a half-formed plot to transfer secular power from the Dalai Lama to Tsarong Shape. Had it succeeded, Bailey, who was setting out for Lhasa at this time, could have arrived in Lhasa to be greeted by a new Tibetan Government headed by Tsarong. But the plot was not carried through
, and the full implications of these events was not brought out by Bailey's reports at the time. It was several years before somewhat contradictory versions of the story emerged in private correspondence.

Bailey visited Lhasa between 16 July and 16 August 1924. There he spent much of his time in discussions with Tsarong. Bailey's report reveals that he asked Tsarong what would happen if the Dalai Lama died, perhaps a rather curious question given that he was apparently in good health. Tsarong replied that if the Government of India sent troops it would stop any trouble, but Bailey warned him that his government would not interfere in Tibet's internal affairs. Bailey also advised Tsarong to deposit money in India in case he had to flee into exile. [47]

Bailey's departure from Lhasa was the signal for a series of events which greatly reduced British prestige in Tibet. The struggle between the 'conservative' and 'modernising' tendencies in Tibetan society culminated in defeat for those favouring modernisation. Laden La left Lhasa on 9 October 1924 and the police force lost all power. Tsarong conveniently left Tibet on a pilgrimage to India around the same time, and was removed from his post as Army Commander on his return. In Tsarong's absence his young military supporters were down-graded, and a number of other events in this period (such as the closure of the Gyantse school), illustrated the decline in the British position. In the late 1920s there were indications that the Dalai Lama was again turning to China or Russia for support, as the concluding years of Bailey's term in Sikkim saw Anglo-Tibetan relations at a low ebb. [48]

The decline in Anglo-Tibetan relations at this time has been blamed on a number of causes. Ira Klein has emphasised the wider decline in British power in the East at this time. Other observers have blamed the British failure to supply Tibet with further weaponry, or to obtain Chinese agreement to the Simla Convention. But, as the leading studies of this period have all dismissed any suggestion of British involvement in a plot to depose the Dalai Lama, the events involving Laden La have not been seen as significantly affecting Anglo-Tibetan relations, although that would have gone a long way towards explaining the British decline.[49]

Richardson does not refer to the incident at all, but, in connection with Chinese accusations of British support for 'militaristic lay officials who wanted to substitute some form of civil government for the Lama hierarchy' in the 1930s (allegations which may reflect their belated awareness of earlier events), he states that 'to suggest that the British Government would assist such a group -- if it existed -- [sic]...is...inept'.[50]

Lamb, while noting rumours of a conspiracy between Laden La and Tsarong Shape, is content to note that there is 'not a vestige of evidence' for this in the India Office Library records. Goldstein, surveying these events, writes that ’Ladenla[sic] was an Indian official, and it would have been unreasonable to assume he acted without orders or at least official encouragement'; but footnotes this statement with the contradictory remark that 'This is, however, precisely what happened.'[51]

There is no doubt as to Laden La's involvement, although details of his role took some time to emerge. The Gyantse Khenchung, apparently at the Dalai Lama's behest, informed Norbhu Dhondup in 1926 that Laden La had been involved in a plot against the Dalai Lama, allegations which Gyantse school-teacher Frank Ludlow accepted as true. Then when Bailey was on leave in 1927, the Khenchung gave Trade Agent Williamson (who was acting as Political Officer Sikkim during Bailey's absence), a full account of the incident. The Government of India also accepted that Laden La was involved, judging from the National Archives of India restricted file on this matter titled 'Indiscretion of Laden La in associating with Tibetan officers attempting to overthrow the Dalai Lama.'[52]

The Government of India's treatment of Laden La after the incident is instructive. Far from censuring him, they promoted him to Trade Agent in Yatung, but the posting was cancelled after the Dalai Lama, who now deeply mistrusted Laden La, wrote to Norbhu Dhondup objecting to the appointment as 'he [Laden La] is not altogether a steady and straight-forward man and it is not known how he would serve to maintain Anglo-Tibetan amity.'[53]

When Laden La left Lhasa, ostensibly suffering from a nervous breakdown, he took six months' leave, and then resumed his post, continuing to be regarded as a valuable Agent, sent to Lhasa 'on special duty' whenever the need arose. Bailey strongly supported Laden La. He originally argued that the Khenchung's account was 'inconceivable', and when he finally advised his government that Laden La had indeed 'certainly committed a serious indiscretion' stated that he hoped no action would be taken against him: none was.[54]

Has previous scholarship been correct in rejecting any British involvement in this plot? Bailey was one of the outstanding intelligence agents of his time. An illustration of this is that his disguise in Tashkent had been so good that he was hired by the Cheka (the forerunner of the KGB) to find the British agent (Bailey himself), they knew was in the area. There must be considerable doubt that such an officer would be ignorant of the activities of his own key agent in a crucial post. [55]

Circumstantial evidence points to a 'plot'; we cannot necessarily expect empirical evidence. An experienced intelligence operator such as Bailey would naturally conceal evidence of a failed coup attempt if he could. The reporting of events in Tibet was largely controlled by the Political Officer Sikkim, and Bailey apparently took full advantage of his power to restrict government's knowledge of the matter.

Viewed from the perspective we obtain from knowledge of the cadre mentality, the events of this period can be seen to follow a logical sequence which provides a convincing hypothesis to explain the events of the time and the subsequent decline in Anglo-Tibetan relations. Bailey had apparently come to the conclusion that the only way to modernise Tibet to the extent where it would provide a secure northern border for India was by establishing a secular government in Tibet under Tsarong Shape's leadership. Bailey was seriously concerned about the possibility of Bolshevik subversion in Tibet, and the traditional Tibetan leadership cannot have seemed likely to be capable of resisting determined Russian infiltration.[56]

Pereira's reports must have been a significant influence on Bailey; it is clear from the way in which Bailey arranged permission for him to travel freely in areas normally closed to travellers that he had an important role. MacDonald, who was not then in Bailey's confidence, makes the unusual comment on Pereira's travels that, 'Whether his last journey was inspired by motives other than exploration and the desire to be the first European to reach Lhasa from the Chinese side I do not know, nor did he tell me.'[57]

In sending Laden La to encourage Tsarong, Bailey had an agent whose actions he could disown officially if they failed, while rewarding him later for his efforts. There is of course, the possibility that Laden La acted on his own initiative, in the tradition his 'forward' thinking superiors had inculcated in him. But Laden La was not officially attached to the Political Department at this time, and had he been involved in a foreign conspiracy without significant support from higher British officers it is hard to believe he could have escaped dismissal from government service.

O'Connor, then in Kathmandhu, may also have been involved in this plan. Bailey was in close touch with him at that time, and hopes for Tsarong's leadership echo O'Connor's earlier plans for the Panchen Lama. Bailey’s plan, like O'Connor's, was a typically 'forward' manoeuvre, aimed at tying Tibet more closely to British India and excluding Russian influence, while also serving to place Bailey in the position Bell had obtained, of being a close friend and advisor to a Tibetan ruler.

Bailey knew he could not expect his government to approve the overthrow of the Tibetan Government, but that if it succeeded, with British involvement concealed, they would accept it. Under Tsarong, modernisation on the British model could then proceed, with British 'advisors' ensuring Russian influence was excluded. The subsequent attitude of the Dalai Lama may also be consistent with the existence of a plot. At first he would have had no real proof of British involvement, but he may gradually have come to suspect its full extent. Certainly he later distanced himself from the British, and withdrew his support for British-sponsored modernisation, exploring alternative avenues of support for his regime along lines less liable to arouse monastic opposition or to create a secular alternative to his rule.

Bailey's plan, if such it was, failed for two reasons, both of which also applied to O'Connor's earlier plans for the Panchen Lama. Firstly the policy and financial restrictions imposed by government meant Bailey was unable to offer real support to the 'modernising' faction in the form of military assistance, which would have been decisive. Secondly. Tsarong, like the Panchen Lama, was apparently unwilling to take the decisive step of declaring his claim for power. While this failure by the Panchen Lama has been blamed on the weakness of his character, no such accusation can be leveled against Tsarong. Rather it appears that his loyalty to the Dalai Lama was too strong for him to turn against his benefactor, and Tsarong knew that even if the Dalai Lama died he lacked sufficient support to take over Tibet without British military assistance. Tsarong consequently chose to go on a pilgrimage to India rather than challenge for power.[58]

The events of this period gave the Tibet cadre greater understanding of the Tibetans. They did not make the mistake again of allying with a faction of Tibetan society at the expense of others. As Richardson later wrote

descriptions of this or that official...as "pro-British", "pro-Chinese".. [are]..too facile. The only thing the Tibetans have been "pro" is the preservation of their Religious State. [59]

Support for the Tibetan army was to be finally abandoned as a realistic option after a damning report by Brigadier-General Neame, after his visit to Lhasa in 1936. He concluded that

the Tibetans...are absolutely unmilitary, all their thoughts and energies are devoted to their religious life. The Tibetan Government have absolutely no idea of military organisation, administration or training ....The troops are untrained, unreliable and unpopular. [60]
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:17 am

Part 2 of 2


After the decline in relations with Tibet in the 1920s, an atmosphere of suspicion persisted when Weir visited Lhasa in 1930; Tsarong, who was still an influential figure in Lhasa, prudently kept his distance. However, Weir had a budget of 15,000 rupees for presents to Tibetan officials, an increase of 5,000 rupees from the allowance for the Bailey Mission. He diplomatically avoided raising several controversial issues (such as the Dalai Lama's recent contacts with China), and worked steadily at improving relations. He was assisted socially by the presence of his wife, and in discussions with the Kashag by his government's agreement to allow Tibet supplies of cheap silver. Weir was also careful, in the manner of Bell, to follow Tibetan etiquette.[61]

By the time Weir visited Lhasa again in 1932, Tibetan and Chinese forces had again clashed on the eastern border, and Tibet was now anxious to obtain British support. There were signs that they were reviving the stalled process of modernisation and there was an optimistic tone to the cadre's reports in this period. The more considered and sympathetic approach of Weir, and his successor Williamson, appeared to revive good relations with Lhasa's ruling elite.[62]

The Dalai Lama's death in December 1933 meant that relations with the Tibetan leadership required a new focus. This took some time to emerge. The British realised that 'the time has gone by when the maintenance of British interests in regard to Tibet depended mainly on contacts with a few individuals and pre-eminently with one'.[63]

In Lhasa, amidst an on-going struggle for power and influence, a young incarnate lama from Reting was appointed Regent. The Reting Regent appeared to view the British favourably, and invited Williamson to visit him, but British influence in Tibet at this crucial juncture was weakened when (as will be seen in Chapter Five) Williamson died in Lhasa. When Basil Gould took over in Sikkim, a new era in Anglo-Tibetan relations began. He had firm support from Indian Foreign Secretary Olaf Caroe for a more actively interventionist policy in response to the establishment of a Chinese Mission in Lhasa, and an able assistant in Hugh Richardson, who quickly progressed from Trade Agent Gyantse to Head of Mission Lhasa. He also promoted the experienced Norbhu Dhondup to the reactivated Yatung Agency, and Norbhu also headed the Lhasa Mission in Richardson’s absence.

The focus of British efforts in Tibet was now on Lhasa, where a body of men experienced in Tibetan affairs had unrestricted access to all levels of Tibetan society.
The Gyantse Agency was reduced to little more than a staging post for Lhasa, and the Agents there had little significant input in policy.[64] Only Captain Saker of the later Gyantse Agents showed signs of being suitable for promotion to the higher cadre posts.

With the establishment of the Lhasa Mission the cultivation of contacts among the Tibetan leadership proceeded unhindered. Richardson developed new contacts with Tibet's monastic power structure, and with religious functionaries, such as the State Oracle, who had an influential place in Tibetan society. Richardson proved an expert at those aspects of his duty 'which are not exactly work, although they are apt to consume a good deal of energy and patience', and as a result of these contacts he and Gould developed a greater understanding of Tibetan society than any officers since Bell and Macdonald. [65]

The purpose of establishing good relations with 'Ruling Chiefs' was of course to persuade them to act in accordance with British aims. Meanwhile China's agents sought Tibetan support for Chinese aims. Both sides sought to exclude the other's influence (an aim which did not coincide with their status as World War Two allies), and thus there was a constant battle for ascendancy in Lhasa between the British and Chinese representatives.

The British and Chinese in Lhasa did co-operate in 1942 to persuade the Regent to allow the Trans-Tibet Transport system to be established, but the normal state of relations between them was described by Robert Ford. He later recalled that when he reached Lhasa towards the end of the war, he

was shocked at the mutual mistrust and hostility between British and Chinese...I had thought of as gallant allies....I could hardly believe we had been waging a cold war with them in Lhasa all the time.[66]

Although the cadre succeeded in gaining the friendship of many Tibetans, who did seek and follow British advice,[67] in the face of the Chinese threat a more powerful weapon was needed in the struggle for influence.

The British had always followed the local custom of presenting gifts when visiting important Tibetans. The offering of gifts to a host, or social superior, was part of Tibetan tradition. This gift-giving was highly ritualised, objects retained gift status, being received and then passed on. The British quickly adapted to this system, offering gifts to their supporters. White was so generous in giving modern weapons to various Tibetan officials that he was censured for failing to consider the potential threat these weapons offered to the British. [68]

After the Younghusband Mission a street-song in Lhasa recorded that:

At first they speak of "Foes of our True Faith";
And next the cry is "Foreign Devildom";
But when they see the foreign money bags,
We hear of "Honourable Englishmen". [69]

Charles Bell, finding his efforts to persuade his government to supply arms to Tibet were unsuccessful, took 30,000 rupees with him to Lhasa to present to various influential Tibetans.[70] The extent to which Bell's generosity assisted his success is difficult to gauge; Bell naturally downplayed this aspect in his reports, but under Gould direct financial payment to influential individuals became an increasingly important aspect of the cadre's efforts to influence the Tibetans.

Charles Bell's influence is clearly apparent in many of Gould's policies at this time. Gould, who had been away from Tibet for more than twenty years when he was posted to Gangtok, went to considerable trouble to correspond with Bell without the knowledge of the government by routing this correspondence through one of Macdonald's daughters. Bell had recognised the possibilities of buying support; in 1914 he described how arms sales 'will give us a good hold over the Government of Tibet'.[71]

The Chinese had also traditionally made cash payments to Tibetan monasteries as part of their religious policies (although the political implications were clear), but these cash payments or benefits to individuals, whether by the Chinese or the British, appear to have been outside the traditional ethical limits of this system of exchange.

The arrival of the Chinese Mission in Lhasa in 1934 brought a new urgency to the cadre's efforts to cultivate supporters. There was an increasing emphasis on paying influential elements of Tibetan society in return for their support. This policy was implicit rather than articulated, and, lacking financial support from their government, the cadre had to create their own source of funds 'to keep the Tibetans happy'. [72]

In 1936-37, Gould gave cash payments to Lhasa monasteries and ’certain of the officials'. By the 1940s, Lhasa Mission reports detail regular payments to Tibetan officials and institutions. These proved effective, at least in the short term. Sherriff found his reception at Sera monastery was 'markedly friendly' after he had given the Abbots 700 rupees. When the Drepung Abbots called on the British Mission for the first time in November 1942, Ludlow was in no doubt as to the reason for their visit, 'All this of course' he wrote, 'is due to the sum of money that has recently been placed at my disposal for distribution among monasteries.'[73]

The long term results were less certain. Richardson, in 1946, reported that 'Drepung is still aloof and that 'the monasteries...have always been comparatively inaccessible to social contacts and impervious to the small contacts that are possible'. But the Mission Reports of 1947 indicate that 'Kogbo Khamtsen' college was their 'protecting college' at Drepung, while at Sera two colleges claimed the privilege, and both were given 'a special present’.[74]

It was clearly stated that the continuance of these gifts 'depends on the maintenance of a friendly attitude on the part of the Tibetan Government', and payments were withheld when this was in doubt. After the English school, established in Lhasa in 1944, was closed by conservative elements of the Tibetan Government, Gould vetoed Sherriff's plan to donate 20,000 rupees to the monasteries at the annual Monlam festival.[75]

In the absence of any other effective policy weapon, payments to individual Tibetans became the central pillar of the cadre's policy towards Tibet. This was never officially articulated, and has passed largely unnoticed by historians. The policy was essentially reactive, following the Chinese use of funds in much greater amounts for the same purpose, but its great weakness was that it brought no benefit to Tibet as a whole. Individuals profited, but the Tibetan state remained starved of funds. It also acted to the detriment of Tibet's moral climate, as will be seen. As Richardson later observed 'A good deal of money flowed into Tibet during the war years, but it fell into individual hands and did not do any good to the country.'[76]

The use of British payments to the Tibetans is placed in a different perspective by the fact that the Chinese made similar, and larger payments; British sources record the Chinese giving the Lhasa monasteries 80,000 rupees in December 1943. But in the later war years the British were able to supply items like kerosene and sugar which neither Chinese nor Tibetans could obtain. They also offered customs exemptions on goods imported through India, a significant saving for Lhasa aristocrats, whose lifestyle relied on imports from China and India. [77]

In the 1940s, cadre officers also proved more adept at selecting gifts which would appeal to the young Dalai Lama. While Chinese representatives gave him traditional gifts of carpets and silks, the British gave toys such as a pedal-car, picture books, and a bicycle, which naturally found greater favour with the boy, who was 'always excited and happy' when he heard that British officials were coming to visit him .[78]

Arthur Hopkinson found a means to finance increased payments following Lambert's 1944 proposal to augment contributions to Tibetan monasteries. He formed a syndicate for the procurement of cotton cloth in Bombay and sold it under licence to Tibetans in Kalimpong. Licences to procure cloth under this system were then allocated to Tibetans 'on account of [their]..supposed position or supposed political usefulness past or future'.[79]

The licences were transferable, which meant that the recipients could immediately sell them to established traders at a considerable profit. Richardson was 'constantly being besieged by people who wanted a quota'. He recalls that 'Hopkinson also quite unofficially took a proportion of the profits somehow...and established a Tibetan "cess" fund...and then we used that "cess" fund for keeping the Tibetans happy'. Apparently the only time this fund was referred to in official records was when it ended in 1947
, with the balance of the 'cess' fund, 11,398 rupees, being deposited with the Tibetan Government in order that an annual payment of one trangka per monk could be made from the interest. [80]

Hopkinson’s explanation of the purpose of the quota system policy was that

through the system of cloth procurement...we have deliberately set out to demonstrate to the Tibetans the economic and commercial advantages of the connection with India; in order that, when changes should come, the economic and commercial bonds should hold firm.[81]

Although the British were withdrawing from government in India, the aims of Hopkinson's policy were fundamentally consistent with the aims of Curzon and Younghusband -- to draw Tibet into the Indian sphere. But, in this report, Hopkinson introduced a note of moral caution. He observed that 'The Trans-Tibet Transport system (which we imposed on [an] at first unwilling Tibet at the instance of China)... created a get-rich-quick atmosphere that tended to debauch and demoralise Tibetans'.[82]

This was not the only reference to a decline in the moral climate of Tibet at that time. It may have been typical of the Tibetan system that in the absence of a ruling Dalai Lama there was a decline in the spiritual emphasis in society, but this was greatly accentuated by British and Chinese rivalry. The two Regents in the 1933-48 period were themselves open to bribery, and as Richardson reported in the 1940s 'govt.[sic] here is rather uncouth...most of them heavily involved in trade...under pressure of Chinese bribery'. British sources describing the colourful social life of the Tibetan aristocracy in the 1933-48 period can be read as a discourse on spiritual decline and aristocratic decadence which offers a great contrast to the expected image of a theocratic society. The British certainly contributed to this decline through their policy of profiting individuals, as did the Chinese, to the ultimate benefit of the Chinese Communists. [83]

A decline was also apparent among the British. In 1946-47, the Chinese Communist threat had yet to emerge fully, and the cadre were primarily concerned to train their Indian successors for the usual struggle for influence vis-a-vis the Chinese in Lhasa. But it was now obvious that there was little future for the imperial presence in the East, and, while Richardson was young and energetic, older officers who had not had leave during the war were 'worn out'. Gould had remained at his post for too long, and suffered a mental and physical decline. Hopkinson wrote that 'Everything seems to held together by a bootlace, and all the people I should normally rely on are either going potty or taking to drink or opium or [are] otherwise incapacitated.'[84]


The British cadre officers were not given official instructions on their duties and aims in Tibet. They were free to define their own role, a freedom they considered appropriate; as Bell stated, 'We should not allow the administration of our Agencies in Tibet to become too rigid, too bureaucratic.'[85]

The cadre created a role based on models such as Sandeman, with his 'forward' policies in Baluchistan, and their 'founding fathers' Curzon and Younghusband. Following Political Department instructions and traditions, priority was given to cultivating the friendship of Tibet's rulers, in order to gain their support. The search for supporters continued throughout the 1904-47 period, as deeper levels of authority were identified and befriended by cadre officers, who were also aware of the need to identify and maintain alternative supporters in case established allies proved unsuitable to British interests. The British accordingly kept contact with the Panchen Lama after establishing close ties with the Dalai Lama.

The identification of suitable supporters implied related judgments about the traditional society, how it was constituted and over what area its authority extended. Thus in the period in which O'Connor cultivated the Panchen Lama's support, cadre definitions of Tibetan territory and 'traditional’ authority differed from those in the period in which the Dalai Lama’s support was cultivated.

After potentially supportive elements of local society were identified, they, or the interests they represented, were offered inducements for their support. In India, titles, salutes and other symbols of power were bestowed on British allies. Outside India, recognition of a state's independent status, and diplomatic, financial and military support for that status, were the ultimate British gift, and implied personal rewards for British allies in the new state. Thus the cadre offered the Dalai Lama support for Tibetan aspirations to independence from China. While their government prevented them from offering any significant practical support, the cadre were usually able to provide the Tibetans with just enough supplies of weapons and diplomatic assistance in their struggle with China to retain the support of significant elements of the Dalai Lama's Government.

There was a tension in British India between the tendency to intervene in the affairs of states to protect British interests, and the desire to protect the traditional ruling and social structures of states, the collapse of which might lead to further problems requiring British intervention. Both of these tendencies ultimately depended on co-operation from local power elites; thus it is generally held that 'British policies were all in a sense variations on the theme of control through collaboration.'[86]

Non-intervention in their internal affairs was one reward offered to co-operative Indian Princes. Intervention was in any case, as Copland has shown in regard to the western Indian states, overwhelmingly in support of the existing rulers, whom the British saw as 'natural' leaders, whose rule was most able to ensure social stability. Intervention within India's external frontiers actually became increasingly common as a result of the imperial process of administrative centralisation, and the growth of structures across India.[87] However, intervention became increasingly rare in the areas outside India's external frontiers.

We may apply to the Tibet cadre Fieldhouse's conclusion that

It was an almost invariable rule that those Europeans sent to take control of new colonies felt that their own reputations and careers would be enhanced by success in expanding the effective authority of their parent state. [88]

But while that was how they felt, the conclusions which Fieldhouse and others have reached concerning the 19th century -- that the frontiersmen generated formal imperialism when 'collaboration' between the colonial power and the local elites collapsed -- cannot be sustained in regard to Tibet in the 20th century.

The cadre did not live in an era when they could rely on government intervention to attain their aims. They had to rely on their cultivation of local allies to ensure that Tibet followed their 'advice'. This policy failed in the 1905-10 and 1923-24 periods and the cadre did then attempt to promote policies directly aimed at expanding British authority. But they were unable to impose these policies in the face of Delhi's reluctance, and Whitehall's refusal, to sanction any extension of British involvement in Tibet. Thus the predominant strategy of the Tibet cadre was Bell's policy of support for the Dalai Lama; although these occasions showed that, had they had government support, the cadre’s role might have veered from 'advisor' to 'empire builder'.

Just as ruling structures of the Indian Princely States which had allied with the British survived almost intact when the imperial power withdrew in 1947, so too did much of the traditional Tibetan power structure. This supports the conclusion that policies of collaboration with traditional elites tended to prevent the political and social modernisation of indigenous societies, whose structures prevented progress. [89]

So closely did the cadre identify with Tibet's traditional rulers that a threat to that system was seen as a threat to the cadre's own position. Modernising elements in Tibetan society in the 1940s were generally regarded by the British as Chinese sympathisers, and Tibetan dissidents in India were deported back to Tibet. It was Tibetan conservatives who were now seen as patriotic opponents of the Chinese. [90] Modernisation was only encouraged to the extent that it could be undertaken without threatening the position of British supporters. Direct financial payment to individuals was not a normal policy of the Government of India, although official subsidies were paid to ruling chiefs on the North-West Frontier and in the Persian Gulf. But the Tibet cadre were able to generate their own funds through the sale of cloth quotas, and during the 1935-46 period, gifts of cash, or privileges of great cash value, became the principal reward to British supporters. Yet there was doubt as to value of this policy. As one British observer noted 'If there's one thing you can't do it is bribe a Tibetan, you can give them as much gold and silver as you like, but they will look at you [as if to say] "You can't buy me".'[91]

This view is supported by the lack of evidence for these gifts actually influencing the Tibetans to change their policies in line with British interests. For example, they continued to object to British Indian control of Tawang. But it would appear that the policy was continued due to the absence of any effective alternative, although it may be that it was successful in assuring the flow of information from Tibet, the importance of which is largely implicit, rather than articulated, in the sources.

The policy of direct cash payments to Tibetan institutions and individuals was a symbol of the cadre's impotence. Far from being the ’motor of imperial expansion’ that Yapp describes Political agents as being in the early part of the 19th century, the frontiersmen in mid 20th century Tibet were reduced to acting as a rather ineffectual brake on the imperial ’retreat to the centre'. As Yapp notes, the Politicals’ ability to initiate policy decreased steadily in the late 19th century, as improved communications enabled government to increase its control over the periphery.[92]

By the 1930s, any possibility of British rule being extended into Tibet had ended, and the cadre were unable to obtain any significant support for their plans to strengthen Tibet. Despite their best efforts, Tibet was abandoned by Whitehall. 19th century models thus cannot be applied to India's north-east frontier after Curzon's departure, for the imperial high tide had passed.



[1] Ewing (1980, pp.7).

[2] Singh (1988a, p.266).

[3] If formal instructions were issued to the Gyantse and Yatung Agents these do not appear to have survived.

[4] McKay (1992a, pp.399-419). This is not, however, the view of Hugh Richardson, who stated that 'I was bought up to say what I think. I was never a diplomat'; Interview with Mr H. Richardson, November 1990. The cadre saw themselves as frontier officers of the Government of India.

[5] IOLR L/P&S/11/235-2906, Legislative question by S.C. Ghose, 2 February 1925; Girouard (1981, pp.226-27); McKay (1992a, p.413). In law, the Gyantse and Gartok Agencies were established under Article 2 of the 1904 Anglo-Tibetan Convention, which referred to 'the British Agent appointed to watch over British trade’. This followed a similar definition by which the Yatung Agency was created in Article 1 of the Anglo-Chinese Agreement of 1893.

[6] NAI FD, 1906 External B March 19-31, file note by Viceroy Ampthill, 5 November 1904;

[7] NAI FD, 1906 External B March 19-31, file note by 'K.L.G.', 2 November 1904, file note by Younghusband, 4 November 1904; IOLR L/P&S/7/186-886, India to Secretary of State, 26 April 1906;

[8] The distinction between a trade or political officer was not mutually exclusive after all', IOLR MSS Eur D510/14, Vol. XXXV1, Curzon to Hamilton, 4 June 1903.

[9] Macdonald (1991, p.53).

[10] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E February 1398-1445, Reports by Louis Dane, 21 May 1904, & 13 June 1904; file note by Viceroy Ampthill, 11 June 1904. Sir John Ardagh, Director of Military Intelligence 1896-1901, supported the extension of the Indian border to the Kuenlun range; (Lamb 1989, p.356).

[11] McKay (1992a, p.411).

[12] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E February 1398-1445, Government of the Punjab to T.J. Chand, 9 December 1904,

[13] IOLR MSS Eur F157-166, Bailey to his parents, 5. February 1907, & 13 February 1907; Morgan (1973, p.58).

[14] For example, see Younghusband (1985, pp.10-12).

[15] Potter (1986, pp.59-60). NAI FD, 1907 External A September 82-91, O'Connor to India, 24 February 1907; government generally accepted the principle that 'officers stationed at such outposts must frequently act on their own initiative'. In practice the principle was often ignored; see NAI FD, 1909 Establishment BMay 198-200, file note by 'K.M.', 9 April 1909,; also see Wurgaft (1983, p.35); Ewing (1980, p.200).

[16] McKay (1992a, pp.399-400 & 417-19); NAI FD, 1913 Secret E May 261-502, file note by 'JWE', 10 February 1913. Intelligence gathering was not of course, a one-way-street. The Tibetans used agents to monitor events in India, and maintained an indiscreet watch on the British in Tibet. Visitors to Lhasa were provided with 'guides' who reported their charge's actions to the Dalai Lama; Interview with Mrs J.M. Jehu, March 1993.

[17] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E December 349-353, file note by R.E.Holland, 6 September 1905; FD, 1910 Establishment B October 139-142, Macdonald to India, 14 May 1910, various file notes.

[18] NAI FD, 1906 External B August 180 -181; White to India, 25 July 1906; also see FD, 1908 Establishment B December 165-195, Bell's Secret Service Accounts 1907-1908; Fleming (1984, P-84).

[19] IOLR L/P&S/11/47, A. Tsering to S. Hart (D.C. Darjeeling), 6 May 1913; NAI FD, 1913 Secret E April 364-401, Bell to India, 20 August 1912; Berry (1995, pp.102-03, 121, 136, 153) reveals, however, that the Japanese escaped.

[20] NAI FD, 1912 Secret E January 65-92, detailing Bailey's payment, is classified as it contains a map. However the 'Index for Foreign Department Proceedings for the Year 1912' lists this file in two entries, one of which is obviously a misprint, giving the amount involved as 1,000 and 10,000 rupees respectively; re Kingdom-Ward, see NAI FD, Index 1914 External November 90-93 Part B.

[21] Richardson (1974, p.120); Mainprice papers, diary entry of 16 June 1944; also see NAI FD, 1909 Establishment B February 57-58, file note by M. Wood, 25 January 1909, which notes Secret Service expenditure records will be dispensed with; EAD, Index 1945 File No 118 (2) C.A. contains 'Reports on Tibet from a Secret Agent'. IOLR L/P&S/12/4193-1946, India to Gould, 18 February 1937, indicates that, after 1937, Secret Service expenditure was hidden in 'other expenses'. Also see Ford, (1990, pp.212-13).

[22] NAI FD, Index 1936, lists a classified file No 434-X Secret, containing 'Arrangements for intelligence on the NE Frontier' that may detail this reorganisation.

[23] Griffiths (1971, pp.342-352); Lha Tsering inherited Lambert's post in August 1947; NAI EAD, Index 1944 File No.188 C.A.; Interview with Namgyal Tsering, February 1994.

[24] NAI EAD, Index 1944, File No 592 C.A. Secret, Lambert to Sir Denys Pilditch (Director Intelligence Bureau), 18 September 1944.

[25] IOLR L/P&S/12/1261, U.K. High Commission Delhi to E.P. Donaldson, Commonwealth Relations Office, 5 September 1947. Lamb implies that Frank Kingdom-Ward, the botanist, may have been an agent of Whitehall's; Lamb (1989, fn's 917, 929, 933, pp.436-437).

[26] 'Manual of Instruction for Political Officers', by S.H. Butler, 1909, contained within IOLR L/P&S/7/237-526.

[27] Williamson (1987, p.104).

[28] Battye papers, unpublished report dated 19 August 1935.

[29] Rule by Regent had become the norm during the 19th century; see Lamb (1989, fn 278 p.171); Burman (1977).

[30] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-8573, Weir report, 18 November 1930; L/P&S/7/183-168, O'Connor to White, 23 November 1905.

[31] NAI FD, 1906 Secret E March 45-46, file note by R.E. Holland, 5 December 1905.

[32] NAI FD, 1906 Secret E March 228-245, file notes by Dane, 2 December 1905, & 30 December 1905; FD, 1906 Secret E March 154-191, India to Secretary of State, 23 January 1906, file note by Dane, 12 January 1906.

[33] Lamb (1966, pp. 134-37); Lamb sees this plan as having originated with Curzon, with White heavily involved. [Lamb's reference, PEF 1908/22, No 1226, O’Connor to India, 3 February 1907, is no longer used by the India Office Library].

[34] Richardson (1985, p.15); Lamb (1966, pp.134-37); McKay (1992a, p.402).

[35] Bell (1987, p. 145).

[36] NAI FD, Secret E September 1-27, Bell to India, 18 June 1913; IOLR L/P&S/7/203-1258, India to Secretary of State, 24 July 1907; L/P&S/12/4197-3864, Lhasa Mission Report by B. Gould, 30 April 1937.

[37] Bell (1987, p.381).

[38] For examples of Bell's private advice, see Bell (1992, pp. 184-85, 189). The Dalai Lama also corresponded until his death with Agvan Dorziev and the Japanese scholar Tokan Tada. Re the Princely States, see Copland (1978, p.276).

[39] RGS papers, Everest papers, EE 1/20/13, Bailey to Younghusband, 4 December 1921.

[40] McGovern (1924, p.39); For a somewhat inadequate biography of Bailey, see Swinson (1971).

[41] Regarding Tsarong's career, see Spence (1991).

[42] IOLR MSS Eur F157-238, Pereira to Bailey, 26 November 1922, & 13 December 1922. Pereira's journey is described in Younghusband (1925).

[43] IOLR L/P&S/11/235-2906, Government of Tibet to Bailey, 29 October 1922.

[44] See footnote eight, above.

[45] NAI Home Department, 1923 File No. 42(V) Part B, various correspondence.

[46] NAI Home Department, 1923 File No 42(V) Part B, Chief Secretary Government of Bengal to India, 31 August 1923. The fullest account of these events is in Goldstein (1989, pp.121-136).

[47] IOLR MSS Eur F157-214, Bailey's Lhasa diary, 12 August 1924.

[48] IOLR L/P&S/10/1088, press communique of 14 October 1924; also see Lamb (1989, pp.163-70, 178-80).

[49] Klein (1971a); also see Singh (1988a, p.94).

[50] Richardson (1984, pp. 128-32, 137-38).

[51] Goldstein (1989, pp.133-34); Lamb (1989, pp. 162, fn.317 p. 176).

[52] IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 28 August 1927, & 30 August 1927; MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry, 19 September 1926; NAI FD, Index 1924-27 File No 38(2)-X.

[53] IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Dalai Lama to Norbhu Dhondup, cited in Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 7 October 1924.

[54] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 97, Laden La to Bell, 5 September 1925; L/P&S/10/1088; Bailey to India, 31 July 1927 and various correspondence; MSS Eur F157-240, Dalai Lama to Norbhu Dhondup, 7 October 1924.

[55] IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 1 September 1927, Norbhu informs Bailey that he had told the Dalai Lama 'that Government of India does not know [about the 'plot'] as Political Officer Sikkim has not reported on account of no proper news'[sic]. Re Bailey in Russian Central Asia, see Bailey (1946); and the popular account by Hopkirk (1984).

[56] Lamb (1989, pp.147-48, 152-53); also see FO 371 10291/4178 (1924), Bailey report entitled 'Soviet Activity in Tibet, Bailey to India, 2 September 1924.

[57] MacDonald (1991, p.303).

[58] Regarding the Panchen Lama's character, see Lamb (1966, pp. 18-19).

[59] Richardson (1984, p. 129).

[60] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193, Gould Mission Diary appendix, 31 August 1936.

[61] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-8573, Weir Report of 18 November 1930; L/P&S/10/113-2725, Weir to India, 7 March 1929.

[62] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-1922, Weir Report, 1 March 1933.

[63] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-1175, Gould Report on Williamson Mission, 18 February 1936.

[64] Mainprice papers, diary entry, 15-19 October 1943.

[65] IOLR L/P&S/12/4178-2137, Gould to Caroe, 1 March 1940.

[66] Ford (1990, p.215);

[67] This statement reflects the use of British sources, supported by interviews with locals. Bell however, recorded his assistant Palhese’s's comment that 'the reason why...people liked Mr Macdonald so much, was that he was friendly, hospitable...and humble-minded...The young sahibs of the Political Department, who come as B.T.A.'s are not like that'; British Museum Bell collection, Tibet Notebook 1934, Volume 1.

[68] NAI FD, 1906 External BJuly 236-247, India to White, 12 July 1906.

[69] Bell (1992, p.70). Street songs were a recognised outlet for popular political opinion in Tibetan society; Goldstein (1989) gives a number of examples.

[70] IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry, 3 June 1924.

[71] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5d8, 'Notes on our future policy in Tibet and on the North Eastern Frontier generally', by Bell, for Foreign Secretary McMahon, c1914; MSS Eur F80 5a127, Gould to Bell, 23 March 1936.

[72] Interview with H.Richardson, November 1990.

[73] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193, Gould Mission Diary, 30 March 1937; L/P&S/12/4201, Lhasa Mission Reports, weeks ending 11 July 1943 & 8 November 1942.

[74] IOLR L/P & S /12/4197-6072, Report on 1946 Mission to Lhasa by H. Richardson; L/P&S/12/4202, Lhasa Mission Report, week ending 30 March 1947. This Drepung college is difficult to identify; see Goldstein (1989, p.30).

[75] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-8573, Weir Report, 18 November 1930; L/P&S/12/4216-982, Gould to Sherriff, 21 January 1945. For details of the English school in Lhasa, see IOLR L/P&S/12/4201, Lhasa Mission Reports 1942-45, various entries; also see Dhondup (1986, p p .155-62)

[76] Richardson (1951, p.114).

[77] IOLR L/P&S/12/4201-410, Lhasa Mission Report, week ending 19 December 1943; MSS Eur D998-17, Hopkinson's Lhasa diary/letters, 25 November 1945.

[78] Interview with H.H. the Dalai Lama, March 1994.

[79] IOLR MSS Eur D998-39, 'Report on Tibet August 1945 -August 1948’, by A.J. Hopkinson.

[80] IOLR L/P&S/12/4202-6154, Lhasa Mission Weekly report, week ending 23 February 1947; Interview with H. Richardson, November 1990. 'Cess' has two dictionary meanings; 'tax' or 'rate' and, appropriately given the results noted next, 'bad to' or ’may evil befall'.

[81] IOLR MSS Eur D998-39, ‘Report on Tibet August 1945 -August 1948', by A.J. Hopkinson.

[82] Ibid.

[83] IOLR MSS Eur F157-259, Richardson to Bailey, 18 July [1945?]; Re bribery of Regents see L/P&S/12/4197-6072, Lhasa Mission Report of 1946, by H. Richardson; Lamb (1989, p.310); Kimura (1990, p.172); Goldstein (1989, pp.364, 375, 448-49).

[84] Interview with Mrs E. Hopkinson, April 1993; IOLR MSS Eur D998-18, Hopkinson to Mrs Hopkinson, 19 May 1945. This series of letters sympathetically record Gould's decline.

[85] Bell (1992, p.259).

[86] Robb (1992, p.9); also see Fieldhouse (1984, p.19).

[87] Copland (1982, pp.305-309); Robb (1987, pp.138-29); also see Ashton (1982, p.1X).

[88] Fieldhouse (1981, p.23); also see Mommsen (1980, pp.104-05).

[89] Copland (1982, p.313); Albert (1983, p.18); Mommsen ibid.

[90] IOLR MSS Eur D998-18, Hopkinson to Mrs Hopkinson, 30 June 1946; L/P&S/12/4197- 5896, Gould to India, 24 July 1939 (which refers to 'those patriotic and conservative elements' who were anti-China); NAI EAD, Index 1946 File No 1 (53) N.E.F.

[91] Interview with Mrs J. Jehu, March 1993.

[92] Yapp (1980, pp.580, 588-89); Ewing (1980, p.7); also see Copland (1978, p.295)
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Sat Sep 14, 2019 11:45 pm

Part 1 of 2



Although stationing a British representative in Lhasa was a primary goal of Curzon's Tibetan policy, Whitehall refused to sanction this on grounds of cost and security. After the Younghusband Mission left Lhasa, cadre officers were prevented by their own government from visiting the Tibetan capital, but they considered that if the cadre was to have any real influence in Tibet they needed access to Lhasa. The frequency with which the cadre raised the issue of access to Lhasa, and the emphasis they placed on it, indicates that they considered this the most important problem they faced.

In this chapter, I will examine how the cadre succeeded in establishing a permanent position in Lhasa, in order to demonstrate how they made successful use of the limited means at their disposal to promote a change in policy. I have also briefly examined two contrasting issues which demonstrate why the issue of representation in Lhasa remained a priority, while other issues were neglected, or abandoned after a period of emphasis.

The various models of imperial expansion, proposed by Fieldhouse, Robinson and Gallagher and so on, have not been applied in regard to Tibet. Yet the cadre's promotion of access to Lhasa was a 'forward' policy, which created the potential for drawing Tibet into the British Empire. Efforts to establish representation in Lhasa may therefore be considered within the wider framework of imperial motives.

We have seen in the previous chapter that the cadre created a role which developed the policies initiated by Curzon and Younghusband. The issues which they identified as important were those left unresolved by, or arising from, the Younghusband Mission. The goals which the early cadre officers identified were passed on to their successors, and later cadre officers continued the effort to obtain access to, or preferably representation in, Lhasa; this became the main priority of the 'men on the spot'. Their role in this issue can be followed through three stages: (1) attempts to gain access to Lhasa in the period 1904-1920, (2) regular missions to Lhasa during the period 1921-1936, and, (3) the permanent British Mission in Lhasa 1937-47, and ensuring its continuance.


Before dealing with our main theme of representation in Lhasa, it is instructive to consider briefly two other issues, arms supplies to Tibet and improvements in Tibet's roads, which demonstrate contrasting approaches to policy formation by the cadre. If Tibet was to act as 'buffer state', it required a well trained and well equipped army. The cadre sought to ensure this by arranging weapons and training for the Tibetan army. After rifles supplied by the Government of India in 1914 enabled the Tibetans to defeat Chinese forces in fighting along the Eastern Tibetan border in 1917-18, arms supplies to Tibet became a major issue.[1]

This issue was originally seen by the cadre as one in which they could obtain concrete assistance for Tibet, and improve Anglo-Tibetan ties while enhancing the ultimate goal of security for India's northern border. Thus they promoted arms sales to Tibet at every opportunity. [2] But it became increasingly apparent that there was no realistic prospect of the Tibetan army ever becoming a strong enough force to resist foreign intervention. While arms sales continued into the 1940s, the increased knowledge of Tibet gained by the cadre resulted in a change of policy; after Neame's report in 1936 they ceased to promote the prospect of Tibet's army being made a significant force. [3]

One potentially significant issue which the cadre downplayed, was the question of roadbuilding. Historically, Tibet was isolated from India by the Himalayas, which provided a barrier to largescale trans-border traffic. British attempts to establish regular trade and communications with Tibet, and to encourage its gradual modernisation through the introduction of imported technology and expertise, required improving roads to, and within, Tibet.

Under Article Five of the 1904 Anglo-Tibetan Convention, the Tibetans were to maintain roads leading to the trade marts.[4] But they saw little benefit in this, fearing that improved access would hasten the introduction of foreign ideas, threatening the traditional fabric of Tibetan society. They also quoted a proverb describing the British as the 'road-builders of Tibet', with the implication that when the British had built these roads, others would use them to Tibet's detriment.[5]

The cadre tried to encourage the Tibetans to improve their roads, but with little success. While the Tibetans made occasional repairs on the two main passes from India to Yatung, the Nathu La and the Jelep La, no repairs to the trade route from Yatung to Gyantse were undertaken after minor repairs in 1933-34.[6]

Although their reports regularly noted Tibet's lack of effort in this direction, the cadre, after some initial enthusiasm in the early years, downplayed the roads issue. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, having personal experience of the route, they realised the immensity of the undertaking required to render Himalayan roads suitable for modern traffic. Road-building would have involved the Government of India in considerable expense, and the cadre were well aware they had little chance of obtaining the necessary funding. [7]

Secondly, this issue was closely connected with trade, a field in which the cadre had little expertise, or even interest. It was not one where prestige was obviously involved, and there was little to be gained from making it an issue. Thirdly, we must consider the cadre's sympathy for the Tibetan desire for isolation, and their awareness of the risks to the fabric of Tibetan society (and hence ultimately the security of the Indian border, which might in any case be better served by a lack of roads) in attempting to hurry the modernisation of Tibet.

Consequently, while the road-building issue was of importance to the Yatung and Gartok Agents, who were more concerned with trade, and who could count on the support of local traders who saw the financial advantages of road improvement, wider considerations meant that the issue was a low priority for the senior cadre officers.[8]

In western Tibet, where roads in the modern sense were non-existent, the Trade Agents there had occasion to resort to dynamite to effect a passage up to the Tibetan border. This led to the bizarre suggestion that

the cheapest and most effective way of improving the route in Tibet itself is to authorize the Trade Agent to buy a good drill and to take with him a small supply of dynamite each year...No political negotiations would be necessary...and ...I cannot see that anything but good would ensue.[9]

This suggestion by a provincial official may be seen as symbolising the frustrations of those lesser officials who promoted Tibetan policies that did not coincide with those emphasised by the Political Officers.

The questions of arms supplies and road-building demonstrate that there was a prioritorisation of issues by the cadre, which was liable to change over time. Aims such as road-building, which were not seen as realistic, were put aside. The cadre's increasing understanding of Tibetan society meant that issues such as arms supplies also came to be seen as less important, and were not therefore emphasised by the cadre to the same extent, while other matters (such as the control of travellers, as we have seen) became of higher priority. This is consistent with, and a part of, the finding that the cadre largely defined their own role in Tibet.


Curzon's desire to establish relations with Tibet was based on two obvious concerns: trade, and the security of India in the face of a perceived Russian threat. The latter was of primary importance. Trade issues provided a cause which could be emphasised for public consumption, but there is no doubt that within the Government of India, Russia's intentions were the greatest cause of concern. To exclude Russian influence in Tibet, Curzon and Younghusband agreed that 'the personal influence of a British officer at the capital...[provided]...the best means of preventing serious trouble arising on the frontier'. [10]

The belief that a British representative in Lhasa would be able to ensure that the Tibetans would exclude Russian influence meant that representation in Lhasa became the principal policy promoted by the Tibet cadre; it was 'the one point necessary'.[11]

As there was no attempt to persuade the Tibetans to station a representative in India (an obvious compromise), it is clear that such an agent was not perceived merely as a channel of communications between Delhi and Lhasa. This issue can therefore, be seen to involve wider aims on the part of the 'forward school'. These aims were expressed by Younghusband after he arrived in Lhasa. He found that

the Chinese know nothing of what goes on here and are completely out of touch. Nor do the Tibetans obey a single word they say. If only we were going to keep a Resident here, we could run the whole show.[12]

Younghusband attempted to circumvent Whitehall's ban on a British agent being stationed in the Tibetan capital by making the separate agreement which allowed the Gyantse Trade Agent

to visit Lhasa, when it is necessary, to consult with high Chinese and Tibetan officials on such matters of importance as he has found impossible to settle at Gyantse by correspondence or by personal conference with the Tibetan agent.[13]

Whitehall however, repudiated this special agreement, and O'Connor’s first official act on taking up the post of Trade Agent Gyantse was to inform the Tibetan Government of this. The Government of India was thus left with its principal representative in Tibet stationed in Gyantse and forbidden to visit the Tibetan capital. To make matters worse, the cadre soon realised that all three trade marts were in unsuitable locations. First-hand experience showed that in terms of both trade and politics, Shigatse was a much more important town than Gyantse, Phari than Yatung, and Taklakot than Gartok. The priority given to Lhasa meant that Trade Agencies had been established without sufficient thought for their most suitable location, and, once established under the 1904 Convention, political conditions within Tibet and changes in British policy in the post-Curzon period meant that there was little prospect of relocating them. [14]

The decline in the British position in Tibet in the years following the Younghusband Mission was a natural consequence of new Whitehall policies, which aimed at withdrawing from involvement in Tibet. Whitehall under Secretary of State John Morley saw the security of India's northern frontier as best guaranteed by Chinese paramountcy there. The turning of the tide of British expansion in the Himalayas left the 'men on the spot' in a difficult position as Morley hoped to reverse 'Curzonism' by withdrawing British officials from Tibet entirely.[15]

The Tibet cadre, however, took a very different view from that of Whitehall. They saw the desired solution to the Tibetan problem in Curzonian terms, in that any potential threat to the security of India emanating from the Tibetan border was seen as best solved by extending British influence over Tibet, to the exclusion of the influence of any other foreign power, Asian or European. In attempting to overcome the problem of location, and gain influence in Tibet, the cadre were thus placed in the awkward position of promoting a policy at odds with that of their Home Government.

Initially, under the Vice-royalty of the Earl of Minto [1905-10], the cadre had little support at the highest levels of the Government of India, but circumstances changed after the arrival of Charles Hardinge (Baron Hardinge of Penshurst) as Viceroy. The cadre gained increasing support from Delhi as the Chinese came to be perceived as almost as great a threat to the security of India's northern border as the Russians were.

Hardinge had previously served in the British Legation in Teheran, as Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office with responsibility for Central Asia, and as Ambassador to Russia. These posts had made him personally aware of Russian encroachment on what the British saw as their imperial interests. While Hardinge, unlike Curzon, does not appear to have formulated 'general analyses of policy', he was a key figure in the 1907 Anglo-Russian accord, by which Britain and Russia agreed to acknowledge China's suzerain power in Tibet, and to refrain from sending representatives to Lhasa. Yet Hardinge was determined to 'defend British imperial interests against Russian encroachments'. Thus he had supported the Younghusband Mission, and by 1913, he was convinced of the 'supreme importance...[of being]...represented at Lhasa in view of the spread of Russian influence. [16]


I have previously examined the Political Officers' attempts to gain access to Lhasa during the period 1910-20, when, after a change of policy by Whitehall, their efforts culminated in Charles Bell being permitted to take up a long-standing invitation from the Dalai Lama to visit Lhasa. [17]

The genesis of this invitation lay in the assistance given to the Dalai Lama by David Macdonald at Yatung in 1910. Macdonald had been specifically instructed that while he could shelter the Dalai Lama in the Trade Agency, he was to maintain neutrality in the Chinese-Tibetan conflict. But as the Tibetan leader fled south from the pursuing Chinese forces, Macdonald not only offered the Dalai Lama and his followers sanctuary in the Trade Agency, but deployed the Agency escort to protect him. [18]

Macdonald's interpretation of his orders attracted no censure from government. There can be little doubt that his actions were tacitly approved of by his immediate superior, the Political Officer Charles Bell, who was soon to benefit from the goodwill gained by Macdonald's action. Bell later described MacDonald's assistance to the Dalai Lama as being 'perhaps the chief reason why the British name stands high in Tibet.'[19]

During the Dalai Lama's period of exile, Bell succeeded in cultivating the personal friendship of the Tibetan leader and a number of his court followers. In practice, Bell was able to give the Tibetans very little concrete assistance, for Whitehall, and even many in the Government of India, considered the Dalai Lama was no longer an important political force. The Secretary of State, Lord Morley, for example, described the Dalai Lama as 'a pestilent animal... [who] should be left to stew in his own juice'.[20]

Even when the Dalai Lama returned to rule Tibet in 1912, Whitehall objected to any gestures of support being given to him. Bell and the Tibet cadre, however, offered what support they could. Bell instructed Basil Gould to escort the Dalai Lama as he passed Gyantse, and Macdonald played host to the Dalai Lama in Yatung for five days. Macdonald naturally gained great prestige from this with the local Tibetan community.[21]

Soon after the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa, there was a new initiative by the Government of India to overcome Whitehall's objection to a British officer visiting Lhasa. Following a Tibetan request for an officer to arrange the evacuation of the defeated Chinese forces from Lhasa to India, they despatched Laden La to Lhasa.

After ordering Laden La to Gyantse on 24 May 1912, Viceroy Hardinge, apparently waited a week before informing the Secretary of State that Laden La had been sent to Gyantse with orders to prepare to visit Lhasa. Given the slower communications and pace of government at the time, it appears that by waiting until Laden La had reached Gyantse, and then despatching the telegram to London on a Friday, the Government of India intended to present Laden La's arrival in Lhasa to Whitehall as a fait accompli. On Tuesday June 4th, a telegram was sent ordering Laden La to Lhasa. He received the telegram at 9 am on June 5th and departed later that day, accompanied by Norbhu Dhondup. But while the weekend's delay slowed their reaction, Whitehall eventually halted Laden La on June 9th, 40 miles from Lhasa, following a 'clear the line' telegram ordering them to return to Gyantse. [22]

Whitehall continued to oppose every suggestion of a Lhasa mission. Bell received numerous invitations from the Dalai Lama, all of which he was forced to decline, while efforts after the 1913-14 Simla Conference to send a European China Consular Officer to China via Lhasa were also vetoed, as was a similar proposal by the British Legation in Peking in 1917. [23]

Despite these vetoes, there were a number of changes taking place in the factors preventing a British Mission to Lhasa. Bell's influence at the Simla Convention can be clearly seen in Article Eight of the final agreement between the Governments of India and Tibet. This clause, allowing the Gyantse Trade Agent to visit Lhasa, was virtually identical to the agreement Younghusband had obtained, but Whitehall had repudiated, in 1904.[24] Although this clause appeared to contravene the 1907 Anglo-Russian treaty, the subsequent repudiation of its international treaties by the new Russian revolutionary government made the 1907 agreement a dead letter.

The two principal British officers on the Tibetan frontier, Bell and Macdonald, were growing in prestige and experience, both with the Tibetans and their own government. Their personal relations with the Tibetans prospered, and their expertise in all things Tibetan enabled them to speak on questions of policy with growing authority. Their arguments in favour of representation in Lhasa became the obvious alternative to turn to in the search for new approaches to the Tibetan question.[25]

In 1919, the cadre's flow of information was interrupted by the death of the main sources of information on events at Lhasa, the Tibetan Prime Minister, Lonchen Shatra, and the half-brother of the Maharajah of Sikkim, Lhase Kusho. This deprived the British of Lhasa news at an important time, as a Chinese Mission, nominally from the Kansu Provincial Government, reached Lhasa that year, suggesting the possibility of direct Chinese-Tibetan negotiations without British involvement. Whitehall now began to turn to the alternative policy long advocated by the 'men on the spot'. The British Legation at Peking were also reconsidering their policy of opposition to a British mission to Lhasa, and the powerful Sinophile lobby in the British Foreign Office began to accept the need for alternative approaches. [26]

Finally, and perhaps conclusively, Lord Curzon became British Foreign Secretary in 1919. As Viceroy of India his Tibet policy had been aimed at establishing British representation in Lhasa. Fifteen years later Curzon was now in a position to achieve his original aim, and he had the perfect representative in Charles Bell, who provided a personal link to his own period of involvement on this frontier.

The fact that the 1914 Agreement specified the Gyantse Trade Agent's right to visit Lhasa, rather than that of the Political Officer in Sikkim, appears to have been quietly overlooked in the planning for a Lhasa Mission. While the then Gyantse Agent, David Macdonald, was certainly well qualified to deal with the Dalai Lama, Bell's superior status made him the obvious choice; he had been recalled in January 1920, after eighteen months' retirement, with just such a mission in view.

During the summer of 1920 Bell had repeatedly requested Whitehall's permission to visit Lhasa, but he seems to have had some last minute doubts about the advisability of the visit in view of the lack of tangible support he was permitted to offer the Tibetans. However after consultation with Macdonald, who had no such doubts, Bell lost his doubts, and, in October 1920, while on his annual inspection of Gyantse, Bell was ordered to proceed to Lhasa. [27]


The Bell Mission to Lhasa in 1920-21 marked a major turning point in the history of the British presence in Tibet. It had the effect of opening the Tibetan capital to regular visits by British officials. Norbhu Dhondup and Laden La subsequently made regular visits to the Tibetan capital, and at least one representative of the Government of India visited Lhasa annually.[28] Ultimately, the Bell Mission paved the way for permanent representation in Lhasa, thus fulfilling the original intention behind Curzon's Tibet policy.[29]

For Bell personally, the 1920-21 Mission was the culmination of his career. He had worked for more than ten years to persuade his political masters in London and Delhi that he should be allowed to visit Lhasa. Once there he had to struggle against the caution of the Government of India which sought to shorten his visit, as well as against opposition from monastic elements within Tibet. [30]

Bell stayed in Lhasa from November 1920 until October 1921, being joined briefly by David Macdonald, his staunch supporter and assistant.[31] When Bell finally left, content that he had achieved his aims, he retired a second, and final time, and began writing the then definitive works on Tibetan civilisation. Before his departure however, he submitted a report which was accepted by Delhi and Whitehall as the basis for future policy in Tibet. In this report Bell made a number of proposals which were all later adopted in some form. He recommended that if a Lhasa Mission was established, it should be under the control of the Indian Political Department, and that the Yatung Agency then be abolished in all but name, with the Gyantse Agency greatly reduced. He also recommended that Europeans (although not shooting parties or missionaries) be allowed to visit Gyantse. [32]

Bell's major finding in this report was that Britain should not establish a permanent position in Lhasa -- unless the Chinese first established a mission of their own. Until that time only temporary missions, such as his own, should be sent. Bell argued that Lhasa's isolation, and the danger from 'unruly monks', made a permanent mission inappropriate. But the Politicals maintained at least one post, at Kashgar, which was far more inaccessible from India than Lhasa, and Kashgar and many other positions (particularly on the North- West Frontier) had similar, if not greater, security problems.

In Tibet there are two classes of priests, scholar-priests and warrior-priests, who in Tibetan are called Lob-nyer and Thab-to respectively. The former class of priests come to Sera, as their name shows, with the purpose of study, at an expense of three yen or, if they take the regular course, of eight yen a month. They graduate from the college after a study of twenty years, during which time their special study is the Buddhist Catechism and philosophy, the principal course of the Sera college. As they come to the college after they have finished the study of the regular courses, most of them are from thirty to thirty-five or thirty-six years of age when they graduate, though a few clever priests receive the decree of doctor at the age of twenty-eight years.

The warrior-priests have no money to pay for a course of study in the college. They earn their way by gathering yak-dung from the fields or by carrying from the bank of the river Kichu to the monastery wood which has been brought in boats from Sam-ya-e or Kongbo. Then they serve the scholar-priests as their servants. It is also among their daily tasks to play flutes, lyres, harps, flageolets, to beat drums, and to prepare offerings for the deities. The above tasks may not be too humble for a low class of priests, but the warrior-priests have another strange daily task to do by which they deserve their strange name. Every day they repair to certain hills and practise throwing large stones at a target, and thus test their muscles. They jump, run up mountains, or leap down from high rocks. At intervals they sing popular songs as loudly as they[292] can, for they are proud of their good voices. Then they practise fighting with clubs. When they have no fixed task in the temple, they are seen going by threes or fives to their respective places of practice. The reader may wonder of what use these priests are in Tibet, and will perhaps be surprised to know that they are of great use. When, for instance, the higher class Lamas travel in the northern plains or in some remote district, they take these priests as their body guards. They are very daring. Having no wives to look after, they meet death calmly. So invincible and implacable are these fighting priests that they are the most feared of any in Tibet. They are very quarrelsome, too, though they rarely fall out with one another without some serious provocation.
They scarcely ever fight for a pecuniary matter, but the beauty of young boys presents an exciting cause, and the theft of a boy will often lead to a duel. Once challenged, no priest can honorably avoid the duel, for to shun it would instantly excommunicate him from among his fellow-priests and he would be driven out of the temple. There are chiefs among the warrior-priests, and they have rules of their own, with officers to see them well carried out. This is an open secret, and the warrior-priests are therefore allowed sometimes to do things quite unbecoming to priests or anybody else. When any grave matter occurs, the chiefs are often ordered to attend to it with the other warrior-priests.

A duel being agreed upon, both the fighters go to the appointed place, mostly in the evening. They fight each other with swords while the umpires judge their way of fighting. If either of the combatants does anything cowardly or mean, the umpire leaves the fighters to themselves, till one or the other is killed. If both fight bravely till they are wounded, the umpire bids them stop fighting.[293] He tells them to make peace, and takes them to Lhasa, where they make friends over a cup of chang (beer or wine). The use of all intoxicants being strictly prohibited in the Sera monastery, many warrior-priests, when they go to Lhasa, take the opportunity of drinking much of them, and under that influence they do many rude things.

They are very true to their duties and obligations. They may look a little rough, but they are much more truthful than the nobles and other priests of the land, who, though kind and truthful at first sight, are deceitful and crafty in seeking their own benefit and happiness. The warrior-priests are as a rule not deceitful and cunning at heart, and I have found in them many other points that claim my respect and liking. On the other hand, I was often troubled in my intercourse with the[294] Lamas, who hide a mean and crafty behavior under their warm garments of wool. So far for the two classes of priests....

Some thirteen years ago, a Palpo merchant at Lhasa searched a Lhasa woman on the charge that she had stolen a piece of coral from his shop. When the coral was not found he became so angry that, in spite of her protesting tears, he took her by force into his house. When she was allowed to go out again, she told the people all that had happened. The ‘warrior-priests’ of the Sera monastery heard of the affair and became so irritated about the ill-treatment of the woman that some of them came to enquire into the matter, and having ascertained what they wanted[281] went back to Sera and told their chief, who at once called out the warrior-priests.

These warrior-priests are under one chief, at whose summons they gather themselves together. Many of them were not in residence at that time, but about one thousand assembled. These were preparing to march on Lhasa to wreck vengeance on all the Palpo merchants, when the latter got wind of the matter, Sera being only about four miles from the capital. So they had fled from the city before the bellicose priests entered Lhasa, each armed with sword or a large iron hook. These men broke into the deserted houses of the merchants, and carried off what they found. Among the raiders there were, besides the priests, vagabonds of the city, who dispersed with their spoil the next morning at daybreak. Presently the merchants returned to their houses, and were much distressed to find their merchandise gone—their only property, as they owned no land. Their loss was estimated at something under 230,000 yen.

This affair became a diplomatic question, and it took over five years to settle it. The Tibetan Government had to compensate the merchants and a party of twenty-five Nepālese soldiers came to be stationed at Lhasa. The chief diplomatist in this affair on the Nepāl side was Jibbahadur, whose name has already been mentioned; he was the Clerk of the Nepālese Government, and is the present Nepālese Minister to Tibet....

The Cho-en Joe was a meeting of a kind I had never seen before. In the first place there was a Sakya temple over two hundred and forty yards square, with another and central Sakya temple, one hundred and twenty yards square. A wide pavement ran along inside the walls, where the ordinary priests sat. The same kind of pavement was found on the second and third floors. No priest was admitted into the Sakya temple but the Dalai Lama or the “greater” professors, though they did not always attend the meetings. Some twenty thousand priests attended that celebration, while over twenty-five thousand assembled on the occasion of the festival held at Lhasa for the safety of the Emperor of China. About five in the morning the sound of flutes called all the priests in Lhasa to the place of meeting. They chanted the Scriptures and were given butter and tea, as usual, three times, at intervals of thirty minutes. Of the twenty thousand very few were regular priests, the rest being either warrior-priests or loafers, who came only with the mean object of filling their stomachs. Instead of reciting from the Scriptures, therefore, they were openly doing all sorts of things during the meeting, such as singing profane songs, or pushing each other about. One could see the rowdiness of these warrior-priests, who sat there making obscene jokes, and often quarrelling with one another.

The warrior-priests being so lawless, some guard-priests are detailed to keep order among them. The guard-priest does not judge between the quarrelling priests, but strikes them any time he sees them quarrelling. So he is much feared by the other priests, who take to their huts at the first sign of his presence. Still he often takes them by surprise, and thrashes them most mercilessly on head, limbs or body, so that occasionally they even die from the effects of his rough treatment. This is not, however, considered to be murder, the perpetrator of the deed is not punished, and the body of his victim is simply thrown away for the birds to devour.

Warrior-priests train themselves for two hours in the morning. They take baked flour in tea during that time, and at the end they are given some gruel. Usually the gruel is made of rice, with much meat in it, and is given gratis. Each priest brings a bowl which holds a pint or more, and he takes a bowlful of gruel and three cups of tea. On their way back to their respective lodgings, they receive ge, which in Tibetan means ‘alms,’ from the officers. It is said that some believers give as much as twenty-five sen or fifty sen per head to each of the priests. In this respect some Tibetan merchants, landowners and high officers are very generous, for they are sometimes known to give eight or nine thousand yen in alms to these priests. There are many who give that sum in that way, and much money is known to be sent for that object from Mongolia.

There once was among these priests a Russian spy from Mongolia. He had the degree of doctor, and held the office of Tsan-ni Kenbo. He often made such donations, and his fame had spread far and wide. Such alms-giving, without religious faith, did not improve his spiritual condition in the least; but so many merchants[302] give money for the sake of their business, that this doctor was content to think his alms had also promoted his virtue. In these ways the priests get much money, and the festival season is the best time of the year for them. Sufficiency begets bad conduct, and it is during such times that the priests are most contentious and vindictive, and that duels are most frequent. A duel is not generally fought in Lhasa itself; as a rule they only appoint the place and time for it and fight it after they get back to their own dormitories, because while they are in Lhasa they are under the authority of the magistrate priest of the Rebung temple, and not of their own temples. This magistrate is known to be so severe, strict and exacting, that they are afraid to fight a duel before him, and they patiently wait till they return to their own temples.....

I went back to my own monastery for my examination. It was on April 18th that I presented myself with forty other candidates. I was given both written and oral examinations, besides the recitation of a passage from the Scriptures. The examinations were such as are generally given to those who have finished the common course in Tibetan schools. They were not so difficult for me as I had expected, and I was admitted to the college, though all were not equally fortunate, for only seven out of the forty passed. Among the successful members were a few warrior-priests also. They had run into debt, and had since studied hard to be admitted. But, let me say, their object was something more than mere study. Scholarships were awarded, from fifty sen to one yen and sometimes two yen a month per scholar-priest. The amount was not fixed, but it generally came to some ten yen a year. It was on account of that sum of money that many warrior-priests tried to pass the examination.....

The Sang-joe is also a great occasion of alms and charity, and the priests, especially the acolytes and disciples, go round at dawn to collect alms in the temple when the service is concluded. The people being more generously disposed at this season than at other times give quite liberally. I am sorry to say that this pious inclination on the part of the people is often abused by mischievous priests, who do not scruple to go, in violation of[469] the rules, on a second or even third or fourth round of begging at one time. I was astonished to hear that the priests who are on duty to prevent such irregular practices are in many cases the very instigators, abetting the younger disciples in committing them. The ill-gotten proceeds go into the pockets of those unscrupulous ‘inspectors’ who, urged on by greed, even go to the extreme of thrashing the young disciples when they refuse to go on fraudulent errands of this particular description. Now and then the erratic doings of these lads come to the ears of the higher authorities, who summon them and inflict upon them a severe reprimand, together with the more smarting punishment of a flogging. The incorrigible disciples are not disconcerted in the least, being conscious that they have their protectors in the official inspectors, and of course they are immune from expulsion from the monastery.

These mischievous young people are in most cases warrior-priests. These warrior-priests, of whom an account has already been given, are easily distinguished from the rest by their peculiar appearance and especially by their way of dressing the hair. Sometimes their heads are shaved bald, but more often they leave ringlets at each temple, and consider that these locks of four or five inches long give them a smart appearance. This manner of hair-dressing is not approved by the Lama authorities, and when they take notice of the locks they ruthlessly pull them off, leaving the temples swollen and bloody. Painful as this treatment is, the warriors rather glory in it, and swagger about the streets to display the marks of their courage. They are, however, cautious to conceal their ‘smart’ hair-dressing from the notice of the authorities, so that when they present themselves in the monastery they either tuck their ringlets behind the ears or besmear their faces with lamp-black compounded with[470] butter. When at first I saw such blackened faces I wondered what the blackening meant, but afterwards I was informed of the reason of the strange phenomenon and my wonder disappeared as I became accustomed to the sight.

I am sorry to say that the warrior-priests are not merely offensive in appearance; they are generally also guilty of far more grave offences, and the nights of the holy service are abused as occasions for indulging in fearful malpractices. They really seem to be the descendants of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah mentioned in the bible.

They are often quite particular in small affairs. They are afraid of killing tiny insects, are strict in not stepping over broken tiles of a monastery when they find them on the road, but walk round them to the right, and never to the left. And yet they, and even their superiors, commit grave sin without much remorse. Really they are straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

There lived once in Tibet a humorous priest named Duk Nyon, a Tibetan Rabelais, who was celebrated for his amusing though none the less sensible way of teaching. This priest met on the road a priest of the New Sect, and it may be imagined that sharp repartees must have been exchanged between the two. On the road Duk Nyon noticed a small stone, which he carefully avoided and instead of walking over it walked round it. Next they came to a big rock, which hardly admitted of walking over. The humorist stooped low to give momentum to his body and the next instant he jumped over it. His companion marvelled at this strange behavior of Duk Nyon; he could not understand why he should have avoided a small stone and then should jump over a large one. So the New Sect priest bantered Duk Nyon on what he considered a silly proceeding, but Duk[471] Nyon replied that he had been merely giving an object-lesson to the New Sect folk, who were meticulously exact about small things, but were wont to leap over grave sins without remorse. The story goes that his companion was much abashed at this home-thrust of the humorist. This witty remark of the old priest may be said to hold true even at the present time, for though the Sang-joe presents a solemn and impressive front outwardly, it is full of abominable sights behind the scenes. It is merely a season of criminal indulgence for the warrior-priests and other undesirable classes.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

The Kashgar Consulate was usually staffed by the Indian Political Department. In the 1920s, telegrams took between 11 and 19 days from Delhi to Kashgar, compared with one to two days to Gyantse, while the journey from Gilgit to Kashgar took up to 30 days, more than twice the time taken from Gangtok to Gyantse. An indication of its security problem was that in 1934 the Consulate-General's wife was wounded by a stray bullet in local fighting, and in 1936 there was an apparent attempt to assassinate the Consul.[33]

Bell's real motives for advancing this Lhasa policy emerge in his first book Tibet Past and Present, published three years after his retirement. His time in Lhasa had brought home to him the extent to which the Tibetans desired to protect their religion by maintaining their isolation. Recalling the goodwill gained by Younghusband's withdrawal from Lhasa, Bell argued that this would be lost if a British official was stationed in Lhasa permanently. In addition, this would raise the prospect of China demanding the right to station a representative in Lhasa, with all the attendant risks to Tibetan security that would entail. Finally, definitively, Bell quotes the Dalai Lama as saying

If an Amban must come, I wish to have a British Representative also in Lhasa. But, until an Amban comes, it is sufficient that a British representative should visit Lhasa occasionally, as necessity arises.[34]

Thus we can see that in this important area, Bell's identification of British interests was identical to the Dalai Lama's wishes for his country. Bell clearly followed the Politicals' Manual of Instructions, which stated that Political officers should 'assume an identity of interest between the Imperial Government and the Durbar'.[35]


Although a precedent had been established for British missions to Lhasa, future missions by British Political Officers still generated a great deal of discussion in government. But local employees could now visit Lhasa freely, and the Government of India did not, apparently, seek Whitehall's prior approval for these visits.

The two principal intermediaries used on missions to Lhasa were [Sonam Wangfel] Laden La and Norbhu Dhondup. Laden La, as we have seen in the previous chapter, lost the trust of the Tibetans after his actions in 1923-24, and although he was sent to Lhasa again in 1930 by Colonel [Leslie] Weir, the Tibetans remained suspicious of him. He was detained at Chushul ferry and told 'no useful purpose could be served' by his visiting Lhasa. Laden La appealed to Tsarong Shape, who intervened on his behalf in Lhasa, and after two days he was allowed to proceed.[36]

Laden La claimed that his 1930 mission was a success, a claim apparently accepted by his superiors, for he accompanied Colonel Weir to Lhasa later that year and again in 1932.[37] Other sources however, suggest Laden La was still mistrusted by the Tibetans and that he achieved little in Lhasa. Apart from Norbhu Dhondup, whose critiques of Laden La in his letters to Bailey could have been based on personal differences and professional jealousies,[38] there were also regular complaints about Laden La from the now retired David Macdonald.

MacDonald considered that both Laden La and Norbhu Dhondup were responsible for the downturn in Anglo-Tibetan relations, stating that they were working for their own ends, and giving political information to the Tibetans. In addition, Macdonald alleged that Tsarong had been demoted from Shape to Dzasci rank due to the assistance he had given Laden La in getting to Lhasa in 1930. MacDonald's negative view of Norbhu Dhondup was supported by Mr Rosemeyer, the telegraph officer who supervised the Gangtok to Lhasa line, (and himself an Anglo-Indian). He informed Bell that Norbhu was 'not a patch on your former Chief Clerk A-chuk Tse-ring[sic], who was both shrewd and clever'. [39]

But the presence of other foreign agents at Lhasa meant that an intermediaries' career was not without its dangers. Norbhu's life was, he reported, threatened on several occasions by Russian or Chinese agents; in response, he swore 'I...shall not die before I murder at least two, as I have my rifles and pistols...always loaded'.[40]

The extent to which the Sikkim Political Officers relied on the information obtained by these two intermediaries is difficult to assess. Their visits had the advantage that they could be arranged at short notice, while missions by Political Officers involved considerable preparation, and permission from Whitehall. The two men were thus of great value to the British, despite their shortcomings, and considerable reliance was placed upon their knowledge of the culture and people of Tibet. The Political Officers were aware of the difficult position these men held, but exercised their own judgment in assessing the worth of the reports they produced.[41]
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Sat Sep 14, 2019 11:45 pm

Part 2 of 2


Although the Sikkim Political Officers could now despatch local intermediaries to Lhasa, they saw their own access to the Tibetan capital as of paramount importance, both as a barometer of the state of Anglo-Tibetan relations, and as a matter of prestige. [42] After Bell's Mission, there were five visits to Lhasa by the Political Officer Sikkim before the establishment of a permanent mission there. Bailey visited Lhasa in 1924, Weir in 1930 and 1932, and Williamson in 1933 and 1935.

When a Political Officer wanted to visit Lhasa, he faced the problem of persuading three governments, London, Delhi, and Lhasa, that such a visit was necessary.
After the Bell Mission, Delhi’s support was virtually automatic, but examining how the agreement of Lhasa and Whitehall was obtained provides a clear picture of the cadre's command of internal politics, and of their wider manoeuverings towards achieving the ultimate goal of permanent representation in Lhasa.

Before a Political Officer could visit Lhasa he had to receive an invitation from the Tibetans. These were not always issued as 'spontaneously' as Delhi's reports to the India Office suggested.[43] First Laden La or Norbhu Dhondup were sent to Lhasa with verbal instructions to suggest to the Dalai Lama that he invite the Political Officer to visit Lhasa. Obviously they would also indicate that such an invitation would be accepted. Thus neither side risked the 'loss of face' that would follow an official refusal of the invitation.

Although Bell had been forced to decline a number of invitations to Lhasa prior to 1920, no invitation was subsequently declined by the British. Once, however, the Dalai Lama failed to respond to the British hints. In 1929, Weir's attempts to obtain an invitation through Norbhu Dhondup met with the request that his visit be postponed to avoid complications with China. Although the Dalai Lama wrote to Weir explaining 'it is not at all an attempt to slight you...I would request you not to get disappointed by misunderstanding things', the refusal was taken by the British as a rebuff, and a sign that the Tibetan government had become less partial to them. [44]

The simplest example of the procedure the Political Officers went through to visit Lhasa concerns the 1933 mission. When Williamson wrote to inform the Dalai Lama that he had taken over from Weir as Political Officer Sikkim, the Dalai Lama replied with an invitation for Williamson to visit Lhasa. However, as Williamson had already discussed the matter informally with his government, some degree of pre-arrangement seems likely. [45] Williamson assembled official arguments in favour of his being permitted to take up the invitation. He stated that, if Weir had remained as Political Officer Sikkim, a visit would not have been necessary, but he (Williamson) had not met the Dalai Lama, and 'it is impossible to over-estimate the importance of personal contact', and therefore he should accept the invitation. [46]

The Government of India forwarded Williamson's claims, recommending to the Secretary of State that he be allowed to visit Lhasa. They enhanced Williamson's arguments by claiming that in Lhasa he could restrain Tibet from aggressive activity in the eastern borderlands. After the Foreign Office advised the India Office that they had no objections, the Secretary of State approved the mission.[47]

Only the Dalai Lama had the unquestioned power to issue an invitation to Lhasa. After his death, the Regent wrote privately to Williamson suggesting he telegraph the Tibetan Government, asking if it was convenient to visit Lhasa. The Regent did not 'feel sufficiently powerful to invite me in more definite terms on his own responsibility' but he advised Williamson that if the request was received he could arrange its acceptance.[48]

Getting an invitation from Lhasa was generally easier than ensuring Whitehall's approval for such missions. Hence the Political Officers sought to marshall every possible argument in their favour. The most popular argument was simply the benefit of personal contact, but, in addition to the perennial prospect of mediating between China and Tibet, and between the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, there were many others. Bailey's purpose was said to be the exclusion of foreign influences: Japanese, Indian nationalist, and Bolshevik. [49]

When there was no immediate response from Whitehall to Bailey's request, in an obvious attempt to speed a favourable response, Bailey reported that the Tibetans were anxious for a reply, and that the Tibetan Prime Minister was reported to be in 'very poor health'.[50]

In 1930, Weir used the argument that, as there had not been a British officer in Lhasa since 1924, the Tibetans would soon be able to refuse any further missions on the grounds that relations could obviously proceed without them. He then articulated the cadre's understanding of the Younghusband Mission as having been a means to gain access to Lhasa. According to Weir, if the British kept away from close contact with the Tibetans, 'the entire value of the Tibet Mission of 1904 will be nullified'. For good measure he suggested that the 13th Dalai Lama might soon die, and it was necessary to meet potential new leaders.[51]

If the Political Officer was reticent in suggesting a Lhasa Mission, the initiative could come from the Government of India. In September 1934, the Indian Foreign Secretary, H.A.F. [Herbert Aubrey Francis] Metcalfe, asked Williamson in Gangtok for a report on the Tibetan question. Metcalfe was concerned that Britain's commercial interests in China meant that they would

have great difficulty in persuading His Majesty's Government to take a strong line with the Chinese Government over the Tibetan question, unless we can produce much more cogent arguments than...hitherto... The maintenance of the Government of India's influence at Lhasa in some form is essential, and it would seem necessary to attempt to convince His Majesty's Government of this fact by all the arguments we can muster. [52]

Williamson duly filed a report recommending that he be permitted to visit Lhasa to counter Chinese moves there.[53]

There were now pressing reasons for a new stage in relations with Tibet. The death of the 13th Dalai Lama on 17 December 1933 was followed by the arrival of a 'condolence mission' from the Nanking Government in April 1934. When the main body of the mission departed, they left behind the nucleus of a permanent mission, including a radio operator with a transmitter. (Thus the Chinese were freed from reliance on the Government of India's telegraph system, where their communications were routinely monitored.) While Bell’s 1921 report was not directly quoted, the British response was just as Bell had recommended; if China stationed a permanent representative in Lhasa, India should follow suit.

In 1935, Williamson's main task was thus to ascertain whether the Chinese Mission was indeed to be a permanent one, and if so, whether the Tibetans would accept a permanent British representative as a counter to the Chinese move. On the receipt of this information Delhi and Whitehall were to consider the question of a permanent mission. [54]

British plans to counter the Chinese Mission then suffered an unexpected setback. Frederick Williamson had never enjoyed the best of health in Tibet. On his first posting to Gyantse in 1926 he was suffering from a serious fever, and he did not commence duty for six weeks. On this 1935 mission, Williamson set out against medical advice, and again fell ill en route to Gyantse. His condition continued to decline, but although he was advised to leave Lhasa as early as September, he refused on the grounds that 'duty required his presence', and he died in Lhasa from chronic uraemia on 17 November 1935. The accompanying Gyantse Trade Agent, Captain Keith Battye, 'kept his head' and took over the leadership of the mission. He escorted Williamson's widow back to India after Williamson had been buried in Gyantse.[55]

Williamson's death not only delayed a response to the Chinese presence in Lhasa; the British feared it had damaged their prestige with the Tibetans. This fear may have been unfounded; the Tibetans apparently blamed his death on a more esoteric cause, considering it due to his photographing powerful images of deities at a shrine in Lhasa.[56]

The British Government gave as little publicity as possible to these missions to Lhasa, in order to avoid international complications; but Williamson's death gained unwelcome attention, with questions raised in the British parliament. In February 1936, Communist M.P. Mr Gallacher, asked what Williamson had been doing in Lhasa, and whether the Government of India was intending to appoint a permanent representative there. The British Government played down the visit as a routine one, and blithely denied that it was considering a permanent representative in Lhasa. [57] But the denial was some way from the truth, for the appointment was now being actively considered.


The final report on the Williamson Mission concluded that although the attitude of the Kashag to a permanent British Mission in Lhasa was one of 'distaste', they would give the question of a British representative 'favourable consideration' if they were forced to accept a Chinese representative.[58] In 1936, with the Chinese 'condolence mission' now firmly established as China's representation in Lhasa, Williamson's successor, Basil Gould, began to plan his response following the guidelines Bell had established.

Each succeeding Political Officer's arguments for a Lhasa mission built on the arguments raised successfully by his predecessors. Thus in 1936 Gould was able to muster a number of arguments in favour of his visiting Lhasa. In April, Whitehall was informed that the primary purpose of the intended mission was to arrange for the Panchen Lama's return to Tibet from exile in China. Whitehall approved, subject to an invitation, to obtain which Norbhu Dhondup was duly sent to Lhasa in June. After the invitation was received the mission was approved, and preparations were made on a far more elaborate scale than for previous missions.[59]

The subsequent news that the Tibetans considered British mediation in the Panchen Lama affair would be unwanted interference in Tibetan internal affairs, appeared to remove the basis for Gould's mission. But the Government of India advised Whitehall that 'After discussion with Gould, we are satisfied that the invitation to visit Lhasa must be accepted in spite of this...refusal to accept our intervention.' Whitehall accepted the need for Gould's mission to 'explore the general situation in Tibet', but Gould was to be instructed to 'be cautious in sounding Tibetan Government regarding permanent representation.'[60]

Gould duly arrived in Lhasa on 24 August 1936, with six British officers, the largest contingent since the Younghusband mission.
Gould intended his mission to become permanent, and sought to bolster the party's popularity and prestige by calling David Macdonald out of retirement to act as their Tibetan language instructor; but in the event illness prevented MacDonald from making the journey.[61]

Once he had arrived in Lhasa, Gould had little difficulty in finding arguments for the cadre remaining there. The Panchen Lama was threatening to return to Tibet with a Chinese military escort, and Gould claimed that his presence was strengthening the resolve of the Tibetan Government to resist the Chinese force. In October 1936, Gould proposed that if the Panchen Lama did return with the escort, he should negotiate for a permanent British representative in Lhasa. [62]

The Government of India reported to Whitehall that Gould was making progress towards securing permission for another Everest expedition, an achievement valued by London, and that while Gould had to return to his duties in Sikkim, Norbhu and Richardson could both remain in Lhasa. While noting the financial cost of their remaining was 13,000 rupees a month, Delhi argued that 'The real solution for our difficulties would...appear to be some kind of permanent representation at Lhasa'. Norbhu Dhondup's unofficial efforts to gain Tibetan agreement to this at the time may have been unsuccessful, to judge from Gould's statement that 'the time is not suitable' for discussing this with the Tibetans. Whitehall however agreed to the mission's extension, although it cautiously preferred that Norbhu remain in Lhasa, rather than the British officer.[63]

With this permission granted, Gould set out to create an impression of permanence around his mission. Gould’s understanding of the importance of symbolic gestures is revealed in his use of the mission football team’s regular matches as one means of appearing ’permanent'.[64]

Gould further delayed his departure from Lhasa on the grounds that it would be a 'grave discourtesy' to leave before the Tibetan New Year celebrations, but he finally departed on 17 February 1937. Norbhu Dhondup needed dental treatment in Calcutta, and so Richardson remained in Lhasa until Norbhu was fit to return. When Gould departed he simply informed the Kashag that Richardson would remain to discuss matters outstanding. [65]

The exact status of the Lhasa post was never defined, nor was it covered by any agreement.
No official notification of any intention to create a permanent position was given, then or later, to the Tibetan Government -- or to Whitehall. The post of Head of British Mission Lhasa always remained under the command of the Political Officer Sikkim. The Mission remained in Lhasa until August 1947, when it became the Indian Mission, although Hugh Richardson continued to command the post until 1950. Theoretically it remained temporary, but the officers there were determined not to depart, at least while the Chinese remained in Lhasa. The Tibetans never asked the British Mission to leave, and made the most of it as a channel of contact with the outside world. [66]

Gould had thus achieved his primary aim by following the policy espoused by his former superior, Charles Bell, and 'brought about de facto permanent representation...at Lhasa under the name of a "temporary" Mission'.[67] Gould took the realistic view that the 'prime need is to admit to ourselves that our aims are not ALTRUISTIC' [Gould's emphasis]. British interests were best served by a 'friendly and sufficiently strong and independent Tibet' Thus he had

concentrated on one main objective viz. the establishment of our mission at Lhasa. Round this one distinct forward move [my emphasis] I have endeavoured to throw a purdah of conservatism and of help in such matters as trade and medical work.[68]

There is little doubt that Gould's 'guru', Charles Bell, approved of his former pupil's sentiments and actions.[69]


As the Lhasa Mission remained theoretically temporary, Gould was called upon annually to justify its continuance. The death of the Panchen Lama in December 1937 struck at much of the supposed basis of the British presence in Lhasa, and Gould was asked by his government (presumably pre-empting Whitehall's enquiry), if there was now 'any reason why the Lhasa Mission should not be withdrawn entirely as soon as possible?'[70]

Gould duly responded with arguments, old and new.
Citing Norbhu Dhondup's pessimistic views of the consequences of withdrawal, he argued that Norbhu's presence had prevented the Chinese from establishing a stronger presence in Lhasa. The rising threat from Japan was also cited, while financial concerns were addressed by Gould's claim that the costs of maintaining the post (now 50,000Rs. a month) could be met by savings in the Postal Department. He also pointed out that it might prove difficult to gain permission to return to Lhasa if the mission was withdrawn, and that withdrawal would mean the loss of influence and reliable information. Gould even raised the prospect of a British withdrawal being used as a bargaining chip if China agreed to negotiations over the status of Tibet, a prospect Whitehall always hoped might eventuate. Gould recommended that the British remain until an unspecified time when 'we are able to estimate the present intentions of the Chinese and also of the Japanese.' Gould's arguments were accepted, with the post sanctioned until September 1938.[71]

In August 1938, Gould sought further extension of the position, citing all the usual reasons, adding that the British should be present at the forthcoming installation of the new Dalai Lama. Sanction was duly given for the Lhasa Mission to continue for another year. [72]

Gould subsequently suggested that a Residency be built in Lhasa, capable of conveying both British prestige and 'the impression of stability and permanence which it would be politic to convey.' He added the rather bizarre suggestion, presumably for Whitehall's consumption, that with such a Residency there to symbolise the British presence, an actual representative would not be needed. But Whitehall would only sanction a new Residency if the Tibetans could be persuaded to pay for it.[73]

Gould was not alone in stressing the need to maintain the Lhasa Mission. There was a concerted effort by the various cadre officers to publicise its value. The reports of Richardson and Norbhu in Lhasa, and the Trade Agent in Gyantse, frequently referred to the advantages of having a representative in the Tibetan capital. But Gyantse itself now became little more than a staging post for the Lhasa Mission. Now when important news came from Lhasa the Gyantse Agents found they could inform the local Tibetan officials before they had heard it through their own sources. [74]

After the 1930s, Gould continued an annual repetition of the arguments for the Lhasa Mission's continuance, but these requests, and consequent sanctions, became increasingly routine. Gould had succeeded in his 'major preoccupation' (and that of his predecessors), by establishing a permanent representative in Lhasa.[75] During World War Two the Allies needed to consult the Tibetan Government on a number of war related issues, which brought home to Whitehall the advantages of a representative in Lhasa, and the closure of the post ceased to be a consideration.


In this chapter we have observed how the early cadre officers, following the ’forward' policies initiated by Curzon and Younghusband, identified representation in Lhasa as essential to fulfilling their primary aims despite the policies of their Home Government, which sought to withdraw from further involvement in Tibet. They identified this aim as one which was achievable, unlike improved roads, and it was a policy that survived continued contact with the Tibetans, unlike the emphasis on arms supplies. To achieve this aim, the cadre found themselves forced to play what Lamb has called 'the great game of bureaucratic survival and self-promotion'.[76]

That Bell was finally permitted to visit Lhasa was partly due to events in China, and the Chinese refusal to compromise over Simla, but it was also due to the prestige and expertise that Bell had acquired in his fifteen years on the frontier. This experience increasingly enabled him to function well both inside and outside the 'system'. He also benefited a great deal from the support and advice of David MacDonald.

Bell's great achievement was to translate Curzon’s turn-of-the-century policies into contemporary idioms by adding the knowledge he had gained of Tibet from his friendship with the Dalai Lama, to produce policies which suited the interests of both British India and Tibet, such as those concerning the restriction of European travellers' access to Tibet, noted in Chapter Two.

Bell identified a confluence of British and Tibetan interests in one particular area. The Tibetans sought to exclude foreign influence from Tibet and maintain internal autonomy. The interests of British India demanded that foreign influence be excluded from Tibet, while her internal autonomy was the best guarantee of strength and stability there. Thus Bell sought to guarantee Tibet's continuing independence and safeguard her isolation, while ensuring that the British had access to Lhasa in order to influence Tibet's future; with the British replacing China as Tibet's 'patron'.

Clive Christie has argued that after the Montagu Declaration of 1917, Bell saw Indian independence as inevitable, sooner, rather than later, and that he came to see Tibet's future in an accommodation with China, and, consequently, ceased to stress the need for a permanent representative in Lhasa. [77]

Christie did not have access to papers indicating that Bell relied a great deal at this time on the advice of David Macdonald. In consequence, he has, I believe, underestimated Bell's understanding and manipulation of internal politics as a means of achieving his long-term aims. Bell did not abandon his 'forward' aims as Christie suggests. Rather he made more and more compromises to achieve his primary aim of access to Lhasa. This can be most clearly seen in the issue of arms supplies. In April 1920 Bell had argued that sending a representative to Lhasa without the right to offer arms supplies would render the mission pointless. But when it became apparent the Foreign Office would not agree to these arms sales, Bell, after consulting Macdonald, who recommended the visit go ahead, dropped this demand but went ahead with the mission. [78]

Bell's conditions should, therefore, be seen as 'bargaining chips' which could be sacrificed to the ultimate aim, just as Dane's proposal to extend the Indian border to the Kuenlun mountains was really aimed at gaining approval for a Trade Agency at Gartok. This method of obtaining their principal demands was a typical cadre ploy. The Political Officers inflated their requests for personnel and presents required on visits to Lhasa, knowing that these would be reduced by government. Naturally this is not specified in official documentation, but the search for funds was not only carried out through official channels. For example, when Weir visited Simla for instructions prior to his visit to Lhasa in 1930 he was invited to stay with the Indian Foreign Secretary. For Weir this was 'a chance of saturating him so much with Tibet that I might be able to squeeze a little more money out of Foreign for presents'.[79]

As Lamb notes, the Morley-Minto years had taught the cadre that they needed to be 'somewhat devious' to advance their aims.[80] Thus they couched their appeals for support in often exaggerated terms of threats to the security of India, concealed their true motives for all manner of actions, and often avoided consulting, or even deliberately misled, Whitehall. We cannot, therefore, necessarily accept any particular statement by Bell as indicating his true beliefs and aims, without seeing it in the context of his long term goals.

Once he had achieved the right of access to Lhasa, Bell did not abandon plans for a permanent representative there. Rather, on visiting Lhasa he realised that the interests of Britain and Tibet were reconcilable; a permanent British presence was neither wanted by the Tibetans, nor needed by the British, unless and until Chinese representation occurred. [81]

The policy established by Bell shows his ability to isolate realistic policy goals which were consistent with Tibetan aims. He sought to protect the interests of British India without committing India to protecting Tibet's independence from China by military means. It appears that he reluctantly accepted that China must eventually play a role in Tibet, although even this could be made to serve British interests if it did lead to a British presence in Lhasa. [82] But Bell sought to postpone that eventuality, in the hope that Tibet would develop to the point where it could exist as a strong, independent nation.

An apparent weakness of Bell's policy was that it produced a solution to the representation in Lhasa problem which was based on a reactive policy. But this reveals Bell's understanding of policy formation. British policy towards Tibet after 1905 was essentially reactive in nature. Bell was only permitted to visit Lhasa following the Kansu Mission and the collapse of hoped for talks with China, and a British Lhasa Mission was only permitted after the establishment of a permanent Chinese Mission there.

Bell had come to realise that anything resembling a 'forward' move on the Tibetan frontier would only be permitted by Whitehall as a defensive counter to Chinese (or other foreign) 'forward' moves in the region, real or imagined. Malcolm Yapp has shown in his study of 19th century British Indian strategy, that the idea of a 'foreign threat' to India was commonly used by British frontiersmen as a means of obtaining an additional allocation of resources to their region by relating their problems to wider questions of imperial strategy. Bell and his successors used this method, but it succeeded in this period only after specific, and verifiable, moves by foreign powers, such as the Kansu Mission.[83]

An alternative interpretation of this process is that Whitehall only permitted 'forward' moves on the Tibetan frontier when the flow of information was disrupted. In this perspective, the Younghusband Mission was sanctioned when Tibet refused to respond to British efforts to establish communications with Lhasa, the Bell Mission when the principal British informants in Lhasa had died, and the Lhasa Mission was established when the British lost the ability to monitor Chinese communications from Tibet. Maintaining the flow of information may well have been central to British reaction to events on the Tibetan frontier.

Implicit in the cadre's aim of representation in Lhasa was the potential for transforming a sphere of influence into a British protectorate. [84] This did not occur for two reasons: (1) economic restrictions on the Government of India, and, (2) Whitehall's application of policies based on a global perception. We may conclude therefore, that the cadre's Lhasa policies are further evidence that models of imperialism which emphasise the role of the 'man on the spot’ in exploiting local crisis to persuade the central government to expand the empire, cannot be applied to Tibet after 1905.

In this region, the 'frontiersmen' could, as we have seen, influence policy in the longterm by emphasising a realistic goal. By pursuing consistent lines of policy (such as the need for access to Lhasa) over a period of time, they created alternative policies which were adopted when existing ones failed.[85] But the cadre succeeded in achieving access to Lhasa through internal political manoeuvers and the building up of a body of argument, not by creating 'external incidents', or exploiting 'local crisises'.



[1] Lamb (1989, p.58); for an account of this fighting, see Teichman (1922). During the 1920s and '30s, Tibetan officers were trained by the Escort Commander in Gyantse, and at military college in Quetta, while there were periodic supplies of arms and ammunition for the Tibetan army; see Lamb (1989, pp.19, 121, 222).

[2] An apparently contemporary, unsigned/dated margin note on the Gyantse Annual Report 1919-1920 (IOLR L/P&S/10/ 218-4442), comments that the arms question 'turns up in every report or comment that we get about Tibet.'

[3] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193, Gould Mission Diary 1936, Appendix, by General Neame; also see Lamb (1989, pp.273-75).

[4] This issue is complicated by the fact that Article 7 of the 1914 'Simla Convention' provided for the renegotiation of this, and other, articles of the 1904 Convention, but such negotiations were never held.

[5] British Museum Bell Collection, Notebook No.1, p.22, entry dated 11 February 1913. The Tibetan attitude may also have been affected by their belief that earth spirits would be upset by the disturbances involved in road-building.

[6] IOLR L/P&S/12/4166, Gyantse Annual Reports, 1934-35 -- 1946-47 inclusive.

[7] For example, IOLR L/P&S/12/4163, p.452 (96), India to Government of the Punjab, 12 June 1931, agreed that while the Namgia-Shipki road needed improvement, financial restrictions meant that this could not be carried out.

[8] 'Tibetan traders...have now realised the advantage of a proper road'; IOLR L/P&S/12/4166- 3385, Yatung Annual Report, 1942-43.

[9] IOLR L/P&S/12/4163, Report No 10, by G. Worsley, Superintendent, Punjab Hill States (p.544), C1930.

[10] Younghusband (1985, p.14).

[11] IOLR MSS Eur F112/82, Curzon papers, Younghusband to Curzon, 10 August 1910.

[12] French (1994, p.243), quoting Younghusband to his wife, IOLR MSS Eur F197/177.

[13] Younghusband (1985, p.300).

[14] O’Connor (1931, p.78); McKay (1992a, pp.401, 416).

[15] IOLR L/P&S/7/210-182, Secretary of State to Viceroy, 31 January 1908; 'Curzonism' was Morley's term for Curzon's 'forward' policies; Lamb (1966, p.63).

[16] Busch (1980, pp.39, 43, 67, 91, 112-26, and passim ); Klein (1971a, p.103) quoting Hardinge papers, Hardinge to Lord Crewe, 14 December 1913.
[17] McKay (1992b).

[18] MacDonald (1991, pp.65-73). The implications of this action for the safety of the Trade Agent is discussed in McKay (1992b, p. 122).

[19] Bell (1992, p.111).

[20] Lamb (1966, p.212), quoting Morley to Minto, 30 June 1910, IOLR D573/5, Morley papers.

[21] McKay (1992b, p .128); MacDonald (1991, pp.93-96).

[22] McKay ibid (pp. 127-28).

[23] McKay ibid (pp. 129-31); Lamb (1989, pp.43-44).

[24] Article 8 of the Convention between Great Britain, China and Tibet signed at Simla in 1914, stated that The British Agent who resides at Gyantse may visit Lhasa with his escort whenever it is necessary to consult with the Tibetan Government regarding matters arising out of the Convention of September 7, 1904, between Great Britain and Tibet, which it has been found impossible to settle at Gyantse by correspondence or otherwise.’ The full text of the Convention is reprinted in Richardson (1984, pp.283-90). Bell 'was free to follow my own ideas' in negotiating the new Trade regulations which were attached to this Convention; Bell (1987, p.231).

[25] McKay (1992b, pp.129, 133).

[26] IOLR L/P&S/10/218-1253, Yatung News Report No.1, 1919; L/P&S/10/218-2944, Gyantse Annual Report, 1918-19. For more detail on the views of Peking and Whitehall, see Lamb (1989, p.39, 52-53, 73, 75, & 97); also see McKay (1992b, pp. 130-33).

[27] MacDonald papers, Bell to MacDonald, 16 April 1920, MacDonald to Bell, 24 April 1920.

[28] 1931 may be an exception to this, but it seems probable that Norbhu Dhondup visited Lhasa that year.

[29] Bell was not however, the first British officer to visit Lhasa since 1904; his visit was proceeded by that of a telegraph engineer, J. Fairley, who visited Lhasa more than a month before Bell, while surveying a telegraph line to Lhasa; for details see Cooper (1986b, pp. 12-13). No Europeans had visited Lhasa between the departure of the Younghusband Mission in 1904 and 1920. In the years 1920 to 1935, a total of 21 British officials (including three family members) visited Lhasa, many of them on more than one occasion; for example the telegraph officer, W.P. [Willoughby Patrick] Rosemeyer, made seven visits between 1922 and 1934.

[30] This period is described in Bell (1987, pp.258-384) & (1924b).

[31] He was also accompanied by a Medical Officer, as were all Political Officers on subsequent visits. In Bell’s case his principal M.O. was Lieutenant-Colonel R.S. Kennedy, who had acted as Trade Agent in Gyantse in 1909 while Medical Officer there.

[32] Bell's report to the Government of India, dated 9 May 1921, was included in Viceroy to Secretary of State, 16 May 1921, in IOLR L/P&S/10/1011-1286.

[33] For details, see Kashgar reports at the IOLR in L/P&S/12-2383 & 2384; also see Everest- Phillips (1991).

[34] Bell (1992, pp.71-72, 194-95 & 250). The authority of this quotation may be perhaps be questioned, but can be accepted as consistent with the Dalai Lama's apparent aim of independence, preferably with isolation, but, if necessary, by balancing China and British India.

[35] IOLR L/P&S/7/237-526, 'Introduction to the Manual of Instructions to Officers of the Political Department of the Government of India', by S.H. Butler, 15 June 1909.

[36] Laden La may not have been reported this to the Government of India. The incident is reported in IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a92, Macdonald to Bell, 8 July 1930, & IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a93, 'Private letter from Kalimpong to Macdonald', 9 September 1930, forwarded to Bell by Macdonald, 24 October 1930.

[37] IOLR MSS Eur F157-236, Laden La to Bailey, 18 September 1930; IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 97, Laden La to Bell, 18 September 1930.

[38] For example, see IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 2 October 1931.

[39] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a92 & 5a 93, various letters 1930, MMacdonald to Bell; IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 105, Rosemeyer to Bell, 26 May 1934.

[40] IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 12 August 1925; also see IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a130, Norbhu Dhondup to Bell, 17 August 1937, reporting how Chinese officers drew their guns on him when he reported the fall of Nanking.

[41] Interview with R. Ford, March 1993.

[42] For example, see IOLR L/P&S/12/4166-3129, Gyantse Annual Report 1930-31, various comments.

[43] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-898; this file contains a list of Political Officers' visits to Lhasa which [falsely] indicates that they were all 'spontaneous' invitations, although it admits that the Government of India were prepared to solicit an invitation in Bailey's case.

[44] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-5738, cover note by J.Walton, 7 September 1929; Dalai Lama to Weir, 20 July 1929; also see IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-5170, Weir to India, 22 July 1929.

[45] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-1981, Williamson to India, 16 March 1933.

[46] Ibid.

[47] IOLR L/P & S /12/4175-2146, India to Secretary of State, 13 March 1933; IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-2734 Foreign Office to India Office, 11 May 1933, and draft telegram, Secretary of State to Viceroy, 13 May 1933.

[48] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-2573, India to Secretary of State, 11 April 1935.

[49] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-1402, India to Under-Secretary of State, 6 March 1924.

[50] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-2345, Bailey to India, 23 April 1924.

[51] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-2725, Weir to India, 7 March 1929.

[52] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-6262, India to Williamson, 17 September 1934.

[53] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-898, Williamson to India, 20 January 1935.

[54] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-4682, India to Under-Secretary of State, 28 June 1935; also see Williamson (1987, pp.208-09.

[55] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-1175, Lhasa mission report by Captain Battye, 18 November 1935, cover note by Gould; L/P&S/12/4175-2509, Williamson medical case report; Williamson (1987, pp. 186-87); Battye papers, various diary entries.

[56] Mariani (1952, p.97). Fosco Maraini travelled to Lhasa with Tucci in 1948; his source was an ex-British employee.

[57] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-885, Parliamentary question of 6 February 1936.

[58] IOLR L/P&S/12/4175-1175, Lhasa Mission Report by Captain Battye, 29 December 1935.

[59] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-5041, various correspondence.

[60] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-5304, India to Secretary of State, 22 July 1936 & Secretary of State to India, 30 July 1936.

[61] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-5041, various correspondence.

[62] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-7301, India to Secretary of State, 10 October 1936, repeating Gould from Lhasa, 7 October 1936.

[63] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-8904, India to Secretary of State, 12 December 1936, and draft reply.

[64] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-3864, Lhasa Mission Report by Basil Gould, 30 April 1937; also see McKay (1994, pp.378-381).

[65] Richardson (1984, pp.147-48); IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-514, India to Secretary of State, 22 January 1937. Sergeant [Lt. Col. Sidney] Dagg, a Radio Officer, also remained in Lhasa for a short time before being relieved by Reginald Fox, who remained the Mission Radio Officer until 1950.

[66] Interview with H. Richardson, November 1990; Richardson (1984, pp.147-48).

[67] IOLR MSS Eur F157-259, Richardson to Bailey, 30 March 1957.

[68] IOLR L/P&S/12/4206-4830, Gould to India, 23 September 1944.

[69] Caroe (1960, p.9), describes Bell as Gould's 'guru'.

[70] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-8380, India to Gould, 9 December 1937.

[71] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-8380, Gould to India, 23 December 1937, copying Norbhu Dhondup to Gould, 18 December 1937, & India to Gould, 11 March 1938.

[72] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-6859, Gould to India, 8 August 1938.

[73] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-2781, Gould to India, 22 February 1939, & India to Gould, 25 April 1939.

[74] IOLR L/P&S/12/4166-3792, Gyantse Annual Report 1937-38; IOLR L/P&S/12/4166-3654, Gyantse Annual Report 1938-39; IOLR L/P&S/12/4165-7795, various Lhasa Mission reports.

[75] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-3864, Cover note by H.A.F. Rumbold, 26 June 1937.

[76] Lamb (1966, p. 102).

[77] Christie (1977, p.54 & passim).

[78] Christie (1976, p.500); Lamb (1989, p.111); Macdonald papers, Bell to Macdonald, 16 April 1920 & Macdonald to Bell, 24 April 1920; I have quoted sections of these letters in McKay (1992b).

[79] Weir papers, Weir to Weir snr, 17 June 1930.

[80] Lamb (1966, p. 124).

[81] Lamb emphasises that Bell was also concerned to avoid the danger of a British representative becoming involved with any particular faction in Lhasa; Lamb (1989, p. 123).

[82] Richardson noted that the Chinese Mission provided an excuse for the British presence in Lhasa; IOLR L/P&S/12/4165-7795, Gould to India, 24 October 1939, enclosing Richardson's Lhasa Mission Report for October 1938 to October 1939.

[83] Yapp (1980, esp. pp.10-15).

[84] Regarding this potential process, see Curzon (1907, pp.42 & 47); also see Lamb (1989, pp.117, 277).

[85] McKay (1992b, pp,122, 129, 133).
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Sun Sep 15, 2019 12:10 am

Part 1 of 3



As the cadre were the first modern Europeans to reside in Tibet, they had a unique opportunity to increase European knowledge of the region. This body of knowledge was, prior to the Younghusband Mission, greatly restricted, particularly in regard to details of Tibet's political structures.

The cadre became the primary interpreters of Tibet to the outside world, and the information they obtained and propagated became the basis for much of our modern knowledge of Tibet. But the image which they produced strongly reflects the character and policy aims of these individuals, and the interests and perspectives of the imperial power and its allies within the Lhasa ruling class as they attempted to transform Tibet into a modern nation-state. As the image was advantageous to both power groups, they cooperated in presenting and preserving it. By controlling access to both Tibet, and the body of knowledge built up, the cadre and their Tibetan allies tried to prevent the emergence of opposing images.

That the British sought to produce an image of Tibet was originally implicit in the search for contact and meaning. After Younghusband it became explicit, with the cadre specifically stating that they sought to propagate ideas and images for a political purpose. These ideas and images became part of a battle to establish a view of the country on the international stage, and were an important weapon in the cadre's attempts to transform Tibet into an entity associated with India. Thus Gould stated that 'One of our main political aims...[was]..., showing that Tibet had its own art etc and that in some ways... Tibet is more closely allied to India than to China’.[1]

The cadre's part in the creation of an image of Tibet is a significant issue because, although there is also a 'mystical' image of Tibet, the image resulting from the British perception was, and still is, the dominant one held in political and academic circles. This image was an important legacy of the British presence in Tibet, and continues to shape the European response to Tibet's status today.

In this chapter we will examine the concept of 'Tibet' and 'Tibetan' as it existed before the encounter with the British, and describe how the imperial power engaged in a complex process of defining what was 'Tibetan', and what was 'non-Tibetan' as they attempted to transform Tibet into what would have been, in effect, a modern nation-state according to the European understanding of the term. Policies and image-creation were part of the same political process, and we will examine how this process raised questions as to whether concepts of Tibetan identity could survive the transition to modern statehood. In the following chapter we will demonstrate the means by which this image of Tibet was produced, controlled, and 'sold'.


In seeking ties with Lhasa's ruling elite, the British were implicitly identifying Lhasa as the administrative and political centre of a Tibetan state. But Tibet was not then a nation-state in the European definition. The model of the nation-state was a relatively recent European phenomenon, which may be defined as consisting of a territorial entity, within defined borders, in which a single government was sovereign. Citizens of a nation-state were assumed to be predominantly from a single ethnic group, Germans, Greeks, and so on, or composed of ethnic groups, such as English, Irish, Scots and Welsh, sharing certain aims and assumptions and coming together as a nation-state for mutual benefit. [2]

This European assumption that peoples of a nation-state shared common interests and perceptions meant that in identifying a nation, its peoples were defined as characterised by certain shared qualities. The definition of these qualities created categories of 'insider' and 'outsider' which were applied in defining the nation. (As will be seen, the Tibetans understood these 'insider/outsider' concepts primarily in a religious sense.) Thus certain distinct aspects of culture, geography, language and so on, were identified as definitive qualities of 'Tibet' and 'Tibetanness'. When these definitions had been made, conformity to them became the measure of whether something was Tibetan or non-Tibetan. 'Tibetans' for example, were defined by the British as wearing Tibetan clothing. If they adopted European clothing, this was regarded as diminishing their Tibetan identity.[3]

Officers such as Bell and Gould, who wrote Tibetan dictionaries, helped define the Tibetan language in European understanding, just as the British defined the Tibetan border with India.
They imposed a linguistic standard which complemented other contemporary definitions, of Tibet's territory, leadership and so on, which were required if Tibet was to be within European definitions of a modern nation state. The Tibetans' separate language was, and is, an important part of their claim to a separate identity, and hence separate state, from the Chinese. Thus the cadre's language studies helped to bring out Tibet's separate status, enhancing the political aims of the British and their Tibetan allies.

The effect of this classification of identity was to impose conformity to European definitions as a pre-condition for acceptance of elements as 'Tibetan'. The power of definition was appropriated by European authority. For example, Tibetans were seen by the British as reliant on astrological calculations as to the most auspicious date on which to carry out significant activities. Yet when the Dalai Lama was to visit Calcutta, Bell noted that 'not until I reminded them of the necessity of doing so did the Dalai Lama and party remember to enquire as to auspicious dates’.[4]

As a result of the European definition of Tibet, the required characteristics of Tibetan identity were fixed in (or beyond) time. Thus a British travel writer in the 1930s observed that 'once trains or motors have been introduced... Tibet... will be Tibet no longer'. The effect has lasted; a Tibetan historian today, long-resident in Britain, observes that a friend 'can't get used to the idea of a Tibetan driving a car'. [5]

These characteristics were not constructed without basis. That Tibetans were a distinct ethnic group, more akin to Mongols than to Chinese or Indians, was undisputed; the Chinese defined them as one of the five races forming the Chinese nation. As an ethnic group, Tibetans were clearly distinct from their neighbours. They maintained a unique social system, free of the religiously-sanctioned divisions of Hindu India, with aspects such as fraternal polyandry, which were absent from Han Chinese society. Similarly, Tibetan language and landscape, art, architecture, dress, and diet, as well as their economic and gender relations, were all clearly distinguished from those of neighbouring cultures. These socio-cultural elements of Tibetan identity can be traced back to the earliest recorded periods of Tibetan history around the 7th century AD., and some are clearly earlier.[6]

What was imposed by European classification was a definition which failed to allow for variations such as those occurring in the regions of cultural interface on the periphery of the defined culture. What the British defined as Tibetan was the 'core culture', that of the centre, as represented by their contact with, and allies in, central Tibet. For example, the British expressed their understanding of Tibetan religion in terms which privileged the Gelugpa sect, which predominated in Lhasa and Shigatse, at the expense of sects such as the Bon, whose realms of authority lay in the Tibetan periphery. To the cadre, the area centred on Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse was 'Tibet proper, the seat of the Dalai Lama and his Government'. [7]

Since 1947, it has become increasingly clear that, historically, Tibet included a variety of political and administrative formations, and that a single central administration did not consistently maintain authority there.[8] Tibetan territory included enclaves under the jurisdiction of Bhutan and Sikkim, and, at various times in its history, power centres such as Shigatse conducted dealings with foreign powers without reference to Lhasa. [9]

The principalities which made up Eastern Tibet were particularly reluctant to allow Lhasa to exercise secular authority in their domain, and Lhasa was often, in the Eastern Tibetan perspective, a remote and largely nominal authority. Even the religious authority of Lhasa vested in the leading Gelugpa sect was not necessarily accepted in these areas, where the prevailing sectarian orientation was towards the Nyingma or Bon sects. [10]

The established models of the traditional Tibetan state formation are those hierarchal structures culminating in the office of the Dalai Lama, as propounded by historians such as Hugh Richardson. But Geoffrey Samuel has lately proposed a new model of Tibet's power structure in the pre-British period. He describes it in terms of a 'galactic polity', a 'structure based on a center, and regional administrations that replicated the structure of the center'. The administrations within this system may fluctuate in prominence, and the primary central power focus may shift from one centre to another without significantly changing the overall identity of the system. Samuel's model appears to provide a more realistic, and less Lhasa-centric explanation of the pre-British Tibetan power structure, capable of incorporating extra-territorial elements such as foreign enclaves, and it may be extended into both religious and secular power centres, which were not always synonymous, and are difficult to represent hierarchically, even at a fixed point in time.[11]

Just as Tibet was not a modern nation-state in the sense of having a centralised administration controlled by a single government, it also failed to satisfy the demand that a modern nation-state should have fixed borders. The geographers, Davis and Prescott, have presented evidence suggesting that the concept of boundaries was almost universal in traditional societies (among which, in this sense, we may include Tibet), but that formal delimitation of these borders was not necessarily made unless they became subject to dispute. The case of Tibet's borders would appear to support this conclusion. [12]

Historically, the principal external threat to Tibet had come from China, and the Sino-Tibetan border was defined in a Treaty between Tibet and China as early as 821-22 AD. Disputes in western Tibet led to the fixing of the Tibetan border with Ladakh in 1683, and the Tibet-Nepal border was also clearly established, as can be seen from the 1856 Treaty which followed war between Tibet and Nepal.[13] But as there had been no major disputes with India, or with Tibet's northern neighbours, neither the Indo-Tibetan border nor Tibet's borders with Mongolia and Sinkiang had been formally defined by the 20th century, although in each case their location was apparently clearly understood by both parties.

British definitions of 'Tibetan' privileged certain aspects of culture and nation in line with the European understanding of the necessary components of a state and a people. Thus geographical boundaries were created, as the European definition of a state required fixed boundaries. Peoples within that boundary were defined as Tibetan, and assumed to share the characteristics of the core culture (although the cadre recognised that the drawing of India’s borders had left Tibetan peoples within India).

The peoples of the Tibetan region did share socio-cultural values which contributed to a strong sense of collective identity, and this persisted despite changing institutional loyalties. [14] The key element of this sense of collective identity was the Tibetan Buddhist faith, which was an integral part of their social and political systems. The Tibetans described their own identity by the term nang pa, meaning a Buddhist, or an 'insider'. Non-Buddhists, even those of Tibetan race such as the minority Muslim community, were termed 'phyi pa' or 'outsiders'.[15] The indigenous construction of Tibetan identity was, therefore, primarily religious, and it was this religious orientation which gave a fundamental historical unity to the Tibetan community, particularly in the face of outside threats to their religion, when this unity largely submerged regional and factional divisions within their society.

Our Pon [Bon] tradition is valid, because it believes in the sacredness of feeding life, bringing forth food from the earth in order to feed our offspring. These very simple things exist. This is religion, this is truth, as far as the Pon [Bon] tradition is concerned....

For instance, we think the body is extremely important, because it maintains the mind. The mind feeds the body and the body feeds the mind. We feel it is important to keep this happening in a healthy manner for our benefit, and we have come to the conclusion that the easiest way to achieve this tremendous scheme of being healthy is to start with the less complicated side of it: feed the body. Then we can wait and see what happens with the mind. If we are less hungry, then we are more likely to be psychologically jolly, and then we may feel like looking into the teachings of depth psychology or other philosophies.

This is also the approach of the Pon [Bon] tradition: Let us kill a yak; that will make us spiritually higher. Our bodies will be healthier, so our minds will be higher. American Indians would say, let us kill one buffalo. It is the same logic. It is very sensible. We could not say that it is insane at all. It is extremely sane, extremely realistic, very reasonable and logical....

Philosophies of this type are to be found not only among the Red Americans, but also among the Celts, the pre-Christian Scandinavians, and the Greeks and Romans. Such a philosophy can be found in the past of any nation that had a pre-Christian or pre-Buddhist religion, a religion of fertility or ecology -- such as that of the Jews, the Celts, the American Indians, whatever. That approach of venerating fertility and relating with the earth still goes on, and it is very powerful and very beautiful. I appreciate it very thoroughly, and I could become a follower of such a philosophy. In fact, I am one. I am a Ponist. I believe in Pon because I am Tibetan.

-- Crazy Wisdom, by Chogyam Trungpa

The Tibetan conception of themselves as a political entity was of Tibet as a religious territory, the ideal home of Buddhism. As the primary focus of the Tibetan peoples' sense of identity was their religion, it was the claim to religious authority which legitimised Lhasa's rule, for the Tibetans at least. Thus the Tibetan Government described Tibet in such terms as 'a purely religious country' and 'dedicated to the well-being of humanity... the religious land of Tibet'. They demonstrated that this was not purely rhetoric by such actions as banning, on moral grounds, the export of live animals for slaughter in India.[16]

Studies examining Tibetan national identity are in their infancy, but, in a recent groundbreaking paper, George Dreyfus concluded that the Tibetans' definition of themselves in relation to Buddhism dates to the period from the 12th to the 14th centuries. There was then a deliberate effort by Tibet's rulers to establish a sense of Buddhist heritage in the country, which was aimed at recreating the strong, united Tibetan empire of the 7th to 8th centuries. The 'invention of tradition' in this period attributed the period of Tibetan greatness, which remained in their collective memory, to the Buddhist kings of the empire period.[17][[17] Dreyfus (1994); as Dreyfus notes, there are doubts over the extent to which these kings were Buddhist. Hobsbawm & Ranger (1983)]

The Buddha was born into a noble family.... His father was king Suddhodana, leader of the Shakya clan in what was the growing state of Kosala, and his mother was queen Maya Devi....A prophecy indicated that if the child stayed at home he was destined to become a world ruler. If the child left home, however, he would become a universal spiritual leader. To make sure the boy would be a great king and world ruler, his father isolated him in his palace.... Separated from the world, he later married Yashodhara (Yaśodhara was the daughter of King Suppabuddha and Amita), and together they had one child, a son, Rāhula....

At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father's efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.

Accompanied by Channa and riding his horse Kanthaka, Gautama quit his palace for the life of a mendicant. It's said that "the horse's hooves were muffled by the gods" to prevent guards from knowing of his departure.

Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara's men recognised Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimbisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment.

-- Family of Gautama Buddha, by Wikipedia

Dreyfus's paper is an attempt to resolve the paradoxes inherent in those works which have portrayed nationalism as a modern construct.[18] Dreyfus recognises that while loyalty to a nation-state may be modern, loyalty to a national community is clearly an older phenomenon. He takes from Eric Hobsbawm the term 'proto-nationalism', to describe the Tibetan sense of historical continuity, whereby 'certain memories act as a focus for the formation of a sense of community', a community in which loyalties were to local, regional, ethnic and religious entities, rather than to the 'nation'.[19]

The Tibet which the British encountered was, therefore, a more decentralised polity than was immediately apparent from contact with central Tibet. It was made up of distinct communities of fluctuating importance, with a sense of shared identity based on socio-cultural ties, of which the most important was religious. But the Tibetans were largely devoid of loyalty to the super-personal entities of European statehood. [20] If Tibet was to serve as an effective 'buffer state' for British India, it was necessary to develop the political and administrative structures within Tibet, thereby encouraging the processes which created a 'nation'.


Cadre officers passed through a process of training and selection which produced individuals with a particular character and perspective. This perception was naturally liable to change with time, and there were also wide variations in the way individual officers viewed Tibet. For example, when the Gyantse Trade Agency opened, O'Connor hired a local religious practitioner, who 'kindly expelled all the devils and spirits from the new stables', in a ceremony O'Connor found 'very interesting'. In contrast, Sherriff thought Tibetan religious rites were 'dreadful examples of the backwardness of Tibet... [a]... waste of money'.[21] Despite these variations, however, the cadre's background and training gave them a collective view which included belief in the superiority of European systems of knowledge, which gave priority to empirical evidence, and, implicitly, supported the superiority of European cultural and political systems.

Cadre officers were interested in Tibet; they sought to learn as much as they could about the country and its people because it attracted them. If it did not, they did not continue to serve there. But there was an overlap between political and personal motives for the cadre's information gathering. When officers such as Bailey collected and classified specimens of Tibetan flora and fauna, or climbed unknown peaks, they considered this as a personal (although often profitable) pastime. Yet there was a wider significance to their actions, in that the collection of scientific data in this era had significant implications for national prestige. The discoveries of individuals were seen by nations as 'an important source of national pride'. They also, while adding to the body of European knowledge, helped to define states such as Tibet, by establishing a distinct landscape, with distinct flora and fauna associated with the country. In addition, for the Tibet cadre officers, these discoveries assisted in building personal prestige within the system. Bailey, for example, was widely renowned as the discoverer of the Blue Poppy. [22]

There was another factor involved in this process, what was considered, in the ethos of the time, as a higher purpose. The gathering of positivist knowledge was seen as having a moral function, in enabling 'higher' (European) civilisation to 'know' the world. Increasing the body of knowledge was considered to be part of the 'civilising mission' of the imperial nations. The cadre's 'founding father’, Lord Curzon, was in no doubt that this was part of the wider function of an Indian official. 'It is', he proclaimed, 'equally our duty to dig and discover, to classify, reproduce and describe, to copy and decipher, and to cherish and conserve.'[23]

The collection of knowledge by Europeans, however, involved its conversion into ordered systems in English-language forms, which were considered to be based on scientifically verifiable data. The resulting categories were privileged by the authority of European positivist science above the 'unscientific' knowledge of local sources, which had originally been perceived largely as 'aged metaphysics and infantile legends'.[24]

Local informants did provide specialist data regarded as authentic by the British, but the European ordering of knowledge in distinct categories of specialist information was imposed on this data. Thus the British in Tibet chose to emphasise knowledge obtained from their Lhasa allies (rather than, for example, knowledge obtained from the Eastern Tibet region), and the fact that they could quote Tibetans in support of this knowledge strengthened its authority in the positivist understanding.

The effect of that categorisation of particular local knowledge was to confirm the European understanding of Tibetans as a race sharing particular perceptions, and to institutionalise European systems of knowledge as 'true'. Local knowledge was subordinated by this European appropriation of the power to classify and define elements of the local culture. The imperial systems of knowledge then acted as sources of power, for identifying local elites, defining ’insider’ and ’outsider’ elements of a society, or determining 'natural' frontiers.[25]

The knowledge of Tibet which the cadre developed was, therefore, part of a wider European movement to collate information and classify it within certain established parameters, and the cadre's collection and presentation of information was affected by this European perspective on the purpose and use of knowledge.


In the period leading up to the Younghusband Mission, and in accounts of the Mission, British descriptions of Tibet and its people were predominantly negative. Percival Landon, the London Times correspondent officially attached to the Younghusband Mission, described the Tibetans as a 'stunted and dirty little people', a comment typical of the time. British troops had recently fought Tibet, and contemporary descriptions of Tibetans were typical of the discourse of war. Frontier officers who were later to write laudatory descriptions of the Tibetans commonly described them in such pejorative terms. Even Bell was associated with a report which described Tibetans as 'untruthful and faithless, deceitful and insincere', and Tibetan Buddhism as having become 'a disastrous parasitic disease'.[26]

The Younghusband Mission created an increased demand for information concerning Tibet, not only by the government, but also by the British public, a demand which was filled by a number of works concerning the mission. These works, by officers or journalists accompanying Younghusband, produced a great deal of information concerning Tibet, which was presented in a form designed to legitimise British actions. Thus the Tibetan Government and the religious system surrounding it were presented in a negative light, the use of modern weapons by trained troops against primitively-armed irregular forces was justified, and so on. [27]

The initial British concern in Tibet was to gather information of strategic value, a concern which was never entirely absent. The earliest studies by Bell, O'Connor and their contemporaries, were internal government reports concerned with transport routes into Tibet and other information with an obvious military value. These reports firstly built up knowledge within the system, meaning that Secretariat officials, such as Foreign Secretary Dane, acquired an expertise in Tibetan matters based on the knowledge gathered by the cadre.

In 1909-11, the publication of books by White and Younghusband, and Bailey's 'Blackwoods' article, signaled the replacement of the discourse of war by a more sympathetic approach, which became pronounced in the later works of Bell and Macdonald.[28] Tibet was no longer portrayed as hostile; indeed in Bailey's article it was simply an exotic location for shikar. As will be seen, Bell and MacDonald explained Tibet and its culture in sympathetic and comparative terms designed to portray it as 'familiar', and in later years Richardson and Tucci adopted a more scholarly approach, which assumed the reader’s understanding of this transformation.

Comparing two descriptions of the 13th Dalai Lama's early period of rule, both by cadre officers whom the Tibetans remember as sympathetic to them, clearly demonstrates the change in approach. In 1905, O'Connor described how the young Dalai Lama had acted

in accordance with the dictates of his own untrammeled will. No person or party of the State dared for a moment to oppose him. His brief rule was signalised by numerous proscriptions, banishments, imprisonings and torturings. Neither life nor property was safe for a moment...[29]

Forty years later, Charles Bell described how the Tibetan leader in that period had had

a strong will.... His courage and energy were inexhaustible; he recoiled from nothing... [By]..., skill, tinged with humour... he surmounted the obstacles.... He was young and strong, and he worked continuously.[30]

This change in perspective was initially due to the cessation of hostilities with Tibet, and became pronounced in the new era of Anglo-Tibetan relations which followed Bell's establishment of friendship with the Dalai Lama. It became apparent to the cadre that, historically, the Dalai Lama was the only leader acceptable to all factions of Tibetan society. While there may have been opposition to the application of the Dalai Lama's policies, his personal status was apparently unchallenged, and there is a remarkable lack of evidence of opposition to the system itself. This made the 13th Dalai Lama the ideal figure for the British to befriend; by influencing him, they influenced Tibet. [31]

On one of his first visits to the United States, while visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, told a TIME Magazine reporter that he had a hunch he might have previously incarnated as Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, member of the First Constitutional Congress, and Third President of the United States. Let’s just assume that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s hunch was correct, and he was T. Jefferson, Founding Father of the USA, born April 13, 1743, died July 4, 1826. During most of that time period, the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso, was on the throne in Tibet (1758-1804). But in 1743, when Jefferson was born, the Seventh Dalai Lama was on the throne, so let’s assume that the Seventh Dalai Lama was capable of generating a double to be reborn in Virginia, and that there was no hiccup in Thomas Jefferson’s energy when the Seventh Dalai Lama died, and the Eighth Dalai Lama took over. You might even think harder about this topic, because if the Dalai Lama can generate two incarnations, then it would be wise to have overlapping incarnations, to eliminate the interregnum between one incarnation and the next. Keep this question in mind as you read on, because you will see why the Tibetans would never want to eliminate the interregnum between incarnations – that’s where all the fun happens.

There’s just one more question I want to ask about Thomas Jefferson. Was Jamphel Gyatso’s character at all like Thomas Jefferson’s? According to an article on Minnestoa Public Radio (“MPR”) website, Jamphel Gyatso "was uninterested in politics, and for a 150-year period starting with his reign, day-to-day power was exercised in Tibet … by a series of regents. During Jamphel Gyatso's reign, Tibet fought wars with the Gurkhas of Nepal, and received a delegation from England, which was interested in Tibet because of its strategic location in relation to British India, China, and Czarist Russia." [1] So Jamphel Gyatso/Thomas Jefferson was simultaneously fighting a war with Britain on one side of the world, having them to tea on the other side, and the British none the wiser.

-- The Dalai Lamas, Prisoners of the Potala Junta, by Charles Carreon

The cadre thus turned to the Dalai Lama as the 'natural' leader of Tibet. In return for following Bell's 'advice', the Dalai Lama received British support for his regime. Apart from the material aspect of support - arms supplies, the provision of European technical expertise, and so on - this took the form of the production of an image of Tibet which was designed to serve the interests of the British, and their allies in Tibet.

British interests, from the perspective of the Tibet cadre, required that Tibet be a strong, unified state, capable of excluding foreign influence, and that it follow the 'advice' of a British representative in Lhasa. While the cadre's policies, such as establishing a representative in Lhasa, were aimed at creating this ideal Tibet, they also attempted at the same time to create an image of Tibet which matched the ideal. Thus the image of Tibet which the cadre constructed portrayed the ideal Tibet which their policies were designed to create. While Whitehall refused to recognise Tibet as an independent state, the cadre sought to make Tibetan independence a fait accompli.


The cadre's efforts to create a Tibetan nation-state may be seen to follow the precedent of British influence upon the creation of Indian identity and nationhood. In a recent paper, Peter Robb demonstrates how the process by which the British gradually expanded sovereignty over India contributed to the creation of Indian national structures (those aspects of centralised authority such as government, law, and boundaries), and the development of new processes (those aspects of society with a shared consciousness of unified or related identity, such as traditions, values, and belief systems). [32]

Through establishing India's boundaries and claiming sovereignty within them, and by taking responsibility for the welfare of the peoples therein, the British helped to create India as a single, defined entity, peopled by ’Indians'. They then devised strategies of 'improvement' designed to appeal to various social groups in order to persuade them to support, and identify with, the new state.[33]

The Tibet cadre similarly contributed to the development of a Tibetan state, and a sense of identification and loyalty to that state, by their development of, and support for, Tibetan structures and processes. As Tibet lacked many of the preconditions of statehood, the British had to influence the Tibetans to create or develop the structures which made up a state in the European model, and encourage the growth of the processes which would establish a Tibetan identity in the modern understanding, as will be seen. Again they did this by strategies designed to appeal to local allies, although imperial concerns remained paramount to the British.

We have seen that defined borders were the fundamental indicator of a state in the European model, whereas pre-modern states 'were defined by centres, borders were porous and indistinct, and sovereignties faded imperceptibly into one another'.[34] The primary political requisite of the Tibetan border for the British was to secure India against foreign invasion. This concern with security meant that the Government of India sought a border serving her interests, rather than a border based on mutual agreement between neighbouring states. The British therefore imposed a border, which included elements which were to bring continual problems between India, and its northern neighbour, whether Tibet or China.[35]

The political boundaries imposed by the British, which defined India as a geographical state, were drawn as lines of defence, not to define India along racial, linguistic or religious lines. The state of India was created by these borders; the borders were not marking off a pre-existing 'India'.[36]

The parallel effect of this creation of India on Tibet, was to define it as outside India. This was symbolised administratively by the posting of Foreign Department Politicals, rather than ICS administrators, to represent the Government of India's interests there. This did not immediately preclude attempts by frontiersmen in Tibet, and elsewhere, to expand these frontiers, but, with time, the boundaries acquired a definitive character despite the absence of formal demarcation in some areas.

In fixing boundaries of defence for India, the British twice attempted to define areas of Tibetan territory as 'Indian'. As we have seen, Younghusband tried to make the Chumbi Valley part of India, but Whitehall prevented this, in a significant step towards imposing central control over frontier policy. In the previous century such measures as Younghusband's were almost invariably the prelude for the extension of the frontiers of the British Empire, but now Whitehall had called a halt to expansion, and the frontiersmen were forced to accept Whitehall's authority. Instead of being absorbed into India, and subjected to a process of 'Indianisation', the British defined the Chumbi as Tibetan, and encouraged Lhasa to exert its authority there.[37]

The cadre did not, however, abandon their efforts to secure a border which served India's strategic interests by securing possible invasion routes from, or to, Tibet. Having failed to gain control of the Chumbi, they turned their attention to Tawang, which, as Lamb states, Bell sought to bring inside India 'as a potential replacement for the Chumbi Valley... as a British outpost on the Tibetan plateau: from thence would radiate British political, cultural and economic influence'.[38]

Bell used the Simla Convention to annex Tawang and several smaller areas. In addition to the Convention itself, negotiated between Britain, China and Tibet, there were two separate agreements made then between the British and the Tibetans. These were formalised through an exchange of notes, which were attached to the Convention. One note placed the British Trade Agencies on a firmer footing, the other made Tawang part of India.[39] Tawang was unquestionably part of Tibet prior to 1914, and accepted as such by both Bell and the Government of India. But as Bell advised his government, the Simla Convention meant 'the cession by Tibet to us of the Tawang district.... Also... other tracts of Tibetan territory on... the north-east frontier’.[40]

There is no record of how Bell, the guiding hand in MacMahon’s Simla negotiations, persuaded Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan Chief Minister and representative at the Simla Convention, to agree to cede Tawang. Certainly it was not with the Dalai Lama’s approval. As Bell himself described, the Tibetan leader publicly demonstrated his dissatisfaction with the results of his Minister's negotiations by summoning Lonchen Shatra for an interview at 6 a.m. and then making him wait until 5 p.m. for the audience.[41] But it appears that, in this instance, the dictates of the cadre's primary purpose, ensuring the security of India, meant their allies' claims, however well-founded, were disregarded.

Lonchen Shatra may simply have been naive. The newly independent Tibetan Government were grateful to Bell and his government for sheltering them during their exile, and were concerned with the threat from China, not India. Bell's notes record his plan to absorb Tawang into India, while avoiding direct payment, which would 'make us a party to interference with the integrity of Tibet'. Bell suggested that money should be given later, 'for some supposedly unconnected purpose'. In the event, a different currency was used. A month after Tibet signed the Treaty, and ceded Tawang, the Government of India supplied it with five thousand rifles and half a million rounds of ammunition. [42]

An incidental consequence of the annexation of Tawang may have been Drepung monasteries’s opposition to the British; Tawang monastery paid annual tribute to Loseling College of Drepung, which ceased when the British took over. Loseling was at the centre of opposition to Bell's Lhasa visit. [43]

It is doubtful that Whitehall understood the significance of the annexation, or even knew that Tibetan territory had been taken; within a month of the conclusion of the Simla Conference, Britain was at war with Germany, and events on the periphery of empire were given little attention. But the consequences were far-reaching. The loss of Tawang was never accepted by the Tibetans and, as Tibet legally could cede territory only if it was a sovereign state, which China did not accept, the Chinese also refused to recognise its loss. Tawang was to be an important issue in the 1962 Indo-China war.[44]

The British role in defining the Tibetan frontier was obscured until it was brought out by the works of Alastair Lamb. Officers such as Bell and MacDonald made no mention of Tawang in their memoirs; Richardson refers to the situation there as having aroused ’some resentment from the Tibetan Government' but he does not mention its former status.[45]

The British preferred to refer to Tibet's 'natural' or 'traditional' borders, concepts which reinforced the image of Tibet as a state with clearly defined, rather than constructed, frontiers. But the attempted annexation of the Chumbi Valley, the successful commandeering of Tawang, and O'Connor's plan to divide Tibet, are all evidence that the British did not originally perceive Tibet as a single, geographically defined state. Rather they sought to create a Tibet which served the interests of the Government of India. Thus Tibet's southern borders were created, not determined


Although they had defined Tibet geographically, the cadre were well aware that,

While... there is a definite area within which Tibetan culture and religious ideas are predominant, this area does not necessarily coincide with the effective limits of Chinese and Tibetan administration at any particular time. [46]

As part of their effort to transform Tibet into a modern nation-state, the British therefore encouraged the Tibetan Government to undertake the processes of asserting sovereignty and state responsibility for its citizens.

Lhasa was encouraged to demonstrate its authority over Tibet's outlying areas. For example, Bell gave the Dalai Lama 'constant advice' that he should improve the quality of his administration in Eastern Tibet in order to prevent the local people from favouring Chinese administration. This, Bell stated in an implicit acknowledgement of Tibet's previous lack of unity, would mean that 'eastern Tibetans add their wide territories to the rule of Lhasa and work for a united Tibet'.[47]

Unity was regarded by the British as an essential element of a strong state. It had been one of the advantages which O 'Connor had seen in creating a state in southern Tibet centred around the Panchen Lama. After the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet in 1912, however, Bell was concerned to ensure that future cadre officers should, in their dealings with the Panchen Lama, avoid 'encouraging... any aspirations towards independence of Lhasa'. Bell clearly stated that 'We want a united Tibet'; abetting the Dalai Lama to centralise his administration was one means towards this. [48]

While encouraging the development of national structures, the cadre simultaneously sought to reinforce the processes which linked 'Tibet' and 'Tibetans', and to create a sense of nationalism there. They pursued a variety of schemes which, as Gould clearly stated, were aimed at 'developing the... national consciousness of Tibet'.[49]

One example of this was the stimulus given by Ludlow's school, and the Gould Mission, to the creation of a Tibetan football team. Ludlow's school team adopted 'Tibetan colours' of yellow and maroon. Gould's Mission created a 'Tibetan' team, which played, under British auspices, against other defined races in Lhasa; the Nepalese, the British, the Ladakhis and so on. Similarly, Ludlow and his successors encouraged Tibetan pupils at British schools to wear their national dress, and Ludlow chose to give photos of the Dalai Lama as school prizes, rather than cash. Other policy initiatives, such as donations to monasteries, were designed to give 'the right background to the ideas we seek to propagate'. [50]

There is insufficient evidence to judge the extent to which the British contributed to the Tibetans' adoption of many external symbols of nationality, such as stamps, currency and a flag, but certainly the Tibetans' choice of the tune 'God Save the King' as their national anthem suggests British influence! There were few areas where the cadre could not see (or claim to see) means of developing Tibetan nationalism. Gould, for example, claimed that: 'There are distinct signs that the grant of free transit [for Tibetan goods on Indian railways] tends to foster amongst Tibetans the development of a feeling of nationality.'[51]

The cadre intended these policies to strengthen Tibet, and the position of British allies there, and policies such as supporting the concentration of power in the hands of the Dalai Lama and his administration were designed to appeal to these allies. But this upset the delicate power-balance in Tibet, and without active British intervention there, which was not a realistic option, British allies were unable to complete the processes initiated by the British.

Ultimately, the British were largely unsuccessful in their efforts to foster Tibetan nationalism. The American journalist, Archie Steele, who visited Lhasa in 1944, observed 'few stirrings of nationalism as yet in Buddhist Tibet'.[52] Richardson, asked in 1951 whether Tibet's monks were loyal to their religion or their government, answered that the monks were

madly loyal to their religion and to the Dalai Lama, but [that] they are not very fond of the executive....It is religion and the head of the religion that commands their loyalty.[53]

Before proceeding to give an account, necessarily imperfect, of Tibetan diplomacy, I must explain what is the public opinion of the country as to patriotism. I am sorry to say that the attitude of the people in this respect by no means does them credit. So far as my limited observation goes, the Tibetans, who are sufficiently shrewd in attending to their own interest, are not so sensitive to matters of national importance. It seems as if they were destitute of the sense of patriotism, as the term is understood by ordinary people. Not that they are totally ignorant of the meaning of “fatherland,” but they are rather inclined to turn that meaning to their own advantage in preference to the interest of their country. Such seems, in short, the general idea of the politicians of to-day.

The Tibetans are more jealous with regard to their religion. A few of them, a very limited few it is true, seem to be prepared to defend and promote it at the expense of their private interest, though even in this respect the majority are so far unscrupulous as to abuse their religion for their own ends. In the eyes of the common people, religion is the most important product of the country, and they think therefore that they must preserve it at any cost. Their ignorance necessarily makes them fanatics and they believe that any one who works any injury to their religion deserves death. The Hierarchical Government makes a great deal of capital out of this fanatical tendency of the masses. The holy religion is its justification when it persecutes persons obnoxious to it, and when it has committed any wrong it seeks refuge under the same holy name. The Government too often works mischief in the[494] name of religion, but the masses do not of course suspect any such thing—or even if they do now and then harbor a suspicion, they are deterred from giving vent to their sentiments, for to speak ill of the religion is a heinous crime in Tibet.

I have already stated how in general the Tibetan women are highly selfish and but poorly developed in the sense of public duty. One might naturally suppose that the children born of such mothers must be similarly deficient in this important point. I thought at first that the Tibetan men were less open to this charge than their wives and sisters, but I soon found this to be a mistake. I found the men not much better than the women, and equally absorbed in their selfish desires while totally neglecting the interests of the State. A foreign country knowing this weak point, and wishing to push its interests in the Forbidden Land, has only to form its diplomatic procedure accordingly. In other words, it has merely to captivate the hearts of the rulers of Tibet, for once the influential Cabinet Ministers of the Hierarchical Government are won over, the next step will be an easy matter. The greedy Ministers will be ready to listen to any insidious advice coming from outside, provided that the advice carries with it literally the proper weight of gold. They will not care a straw about the welfare of the State or the interest of the general public, if only they themselves are satisfied.

However, foreign diplomatists desiring to succeed in their policy of gaining influence over Tibet must not think that they have an easy task before them. Gold is most acceptable to all Tibetan statesmen, but at times gold alone may not carry the point. The fact is that Tibet has no diplomatic policy in any dignified sense of the word. Its foreign doings are determined by sentiment, which is necessarily destitute of any solid foundation, but[495] is susceptible to change from a trivial cause. A foreign country which has given a large bribe to the principal statesmen of Tibet may find afterwards that its enormous disbursements on this account have been a mere waste of money, and that the recipients who were believed to have been secured with golden chains have broken loose from them, for some mere triviality. It is impossible to rely on the faith of the Tibetan statesmen, for they are entirely led by sentiment and never by rational conviction.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

Thus it appears that British efforts to foster Tibetan nationalism had had little effect, and that the Tibetans continued to regard themselves as a religious, rather than a nation, state. But the British had built on Tibetan proto-nationalism, and established many of the necessary foundations for the development of nationalism. It appears that, even though the structures of Tibet were destroyed or radically altered by the Chinese invasion, the necessary processes had been started, and that Tibetan nationalism then took its current powerful form in response to the assertion of Chinese imperial control of Tibet. [54] That situation has parallels with the emergence of Indian nationalism in response to the British imperial presence.


As Tibet increasingly came into contact with the outside world, it inevitably faced pressures to modernise its institutions. As the Chinese were themselves modernising on the European model, British and Chinese efforts to modernise Tibet emphasised the same means and objectives. The only question was which country would control the process. Modernisation became part of the cadre's attempts to establish a strong Tibetan identity and locate it in the modern world.

A number of factors are involved in the process of a state's transition from pre-modern to modern, and there is no precise definition of 'modernisation'. I use the term in the sense defined by Stephen Becker in regard to Russian Central Asia. Becker defines four areas in which the transformation of structures and processes takes place. There is an intellectual acceptance of secular and rational ideas, an economic revolution as a result of the adoption of 'post-Newtonian scientific technology', a social transformation involving the growth of literacy, social mobility, and the formation of a new professional class, and a political change towards centralised administration, increased social activity by government, and an increase in public participation in political activity. To this might be added the adoption of symbols of modernity, such as flags, stamps, and national organisations.[55]

Bell used his friendship with the Dalai Lama to ensure that the British guided Tibet's modernisation. During the period 1913-21, he encouraged the Dalai Lama to bring Tibetan structures and processes in line with European models of modern states. Foreign experts were brought to Tibet to assist the development of communications and modern mining techniques; Tibet's military forces were reorganised, and plans were made for the introduction of western-style education. The Dalai Lama was encouraged to reform the economic basis of the country in order to develop the financial resources necessary for modernisation in the absence of foreign financial aid, which Bell could not offer.

These developments were all features of modern states; they also, as Bell recognised, functioned as aspects of imperial power, making the Tibetans 'economically and militarily dependent on us to just that extent that is desirable’.[56] Aspects such as the introduction of western education were designed to ensure that 'the future administrators of Tibet... gain their ideas... from England rather than... any other country.'[57]

Modernisation was to have far-reaching consequences for Tibet. The process raised questions of social values, and threatened to produce rivalries and passions outside accepted and acceptable channels. The required breakdown of existing social structures, and the streamlining of power sources, began to threaten Tibet's fragile national unity, and even the secular position of the Dalai Lama himself. The growth of military power, and social changes, were particularly threatening to the monastic power structure. Bell was made personally aware of these problems during his visit to Lhasa in 1920-21, when his own safety was threatened by monastic elements opposed to modernisation policies.[58]

These threats to Tibetan social stability, not least the events surrounding Laden La in 1923-24, caused the Dalai Lama to abandon the modernisation process in the mid-1920s. Modernisation continued, but at a more gradual pace, and on a piecemeal basis largely outside government control. The cadre became more cautious in promoting changes in Tibet. Only aspects likely to be of obvious and immediate value, such as radio communications and modern medical aid, were now introduced. The result was that at the time of the Chinese invasion Tibetan society had not undergone rapid changes. The cadre had failed to create Tibet as a modern state in the European definition. This sequence of events appears to support W.J. Mommsen's conclusion, that colonial policies of support for established local elites 'often had a decisive effect in preventing the political and social modernization of the indigenous societies'. [59]

The traditional Tibetan power structure under the Dalai Lama was an extremely conservative force, strongly resistant to change. [60] By allying themselves with this elite, the British did aid its survival. They helped prevent the emergence of any alternative ruling structures, and, by acquiescing in Tibet's rejection of modernisation, which might have broken down the traditional structures which were preventing change, they allowed the system to continue largely unaltered. The cadre, in the absence of any significant support from their government for policies which would have produced change, continued to support their local allies, and to regard any elements opposing these allies as being motivated by pro-Chinese (republican or communist) sympathies, with possible Russian connections always considered.[61]
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