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

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Part 2 of 3


The image of Tibet which the British created was multi-faceted, with secondary images (those which support, or have other purposes), around a 'core' image (that which 'gathers and organizes imagery'). [62] The core image was the political one: Tibet becoming a modern nation-state, united under a single government sovereign within its borders, and existing as a friendly neighbour to British India.

This core image was most clearly articulated by Bell, who wove the key ingredients together. Thus he described how 'Modern Tibet... rejects the Chinese suzerainty and claims the status of an independent nation', a nation in which 'national sentiment... is now a growing force'. The Dalai Lama was 'determined to free Tibet as far as possible from Chinese rule.' In this he had the support of the 'the majority of the Tibetan race...[who]... see in him ... the only means of attaining their goal.' In support of this, Bell quoted a Tibetan noble as stating that 'All [Tibetans] like his [the Dalai Lama's] having supreme power'. The attitude to Britain of this 'self-governing country', was 'one of cordial friendship’ and the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying that as British and Tibetans were 'both religious peoples', they could 'live in amity together', whereas the Chinese were not religious, and were thus incompatible with the Tibetans. Tibet would, Bell predicted, ’at length secure[s] recognition of the integrity and autonomy of her territory'. [63]

The core image which Bell articulated was the basis for the British construction of an image of Tibet. Later cadre officers followed his definitions and assumed their readers' familiarity with his works. For example, Spencer-Chapman suggested that readers might compare an illustration in his book with the same scene in an earlier work of Bell's, and Hopkinson could state in 1950 that 'I do not wish to waste your time by repeating facts of ancient history with which you are already familiar from books and articles, such as Sir Charles Bell's.'[64]

The cadre constantly reinforced this core image. Thus typically we read in these works that the 'Dalai Lama is, of course, absolute ruler in all things spiritual as well as temporal.' Cadre officers describe their 'friendly personal discussion[s]' with Tibetan officials, and state that 'Ever since 1912 the Tibetans have, in fact, been unquestionably independent.'[65]

Around this core image were secondary images, designed to reinforce the core image. These could consist of aspects of the core image which were inconsistent with European understanding being presented in positive forms; for example, the Dalai Lama's supreme authority, extreme, and certainly undemocratic by British standards, was defended; 'Naturally there will always be some who from jealousy or other motives criticize one who has the strength of character to assume such autocratic power.'[66]

Other secondary images were subjective judgments whose authority rested on that of their author's empirical observation. Thus, the aristocrats surrounding the Dalai Lama had 'the distinguished bearing and perfect natural manners of an ancient and proud civilization'. Further down the social scale were the 'common people', 'extraordinarily friendly... always cheery', who 'unwashed as they may be... are always laughing'. Certainly, as Richardson notes, with little exaggeration, visitors of different nationalities 'all agree in describing the Tibetans as kind, gentle, honest, open and cheerful': this was one of the attractions of service there. But this portrayal of Tibet in positive and sympathetic terms also served cadre interests by creating the impression of Tibet as a worthy ally. [67]

There were few aspects of the British knowledge of Tibet which could not be used as supporting elements of the core image they sought to project. Evidence of Chinese misrule, or contempt for Tibet, such as their Ambans' failure to learn Tibetan, bolstered Tibet's claim to independence, or contrasted unfavourably with British assistance, and respect for Tibetan culture. Descriptions of the Dalai Lama and his court brought out the well-ordered nature of the society, and the validity of his traditional authority. Phrases such 'The Tibetans believe...' [68] enhanced the image of Tibetans as a unified people.

By emphasising the validity of Tibetan institutions, and the cultural unity of its people, the cadre presented Tibet as a viable and friendly neighbouring state to India, with a historical culture which was of particular value. As we have seen, the cadre were keen to support travellers such as Tucci, who brought out these aspects of Tibet's historical culture. This judgment of Tibetan culture as being of value went beyond the definition of Tibetans by their culture, and clearly implied the possession of qualities which were of 'rare value to the rich diversity of the world'.[69] Tibet was promoted as possessing qualities which the West had lost, as will be seen in Section 6.10.

The reliance on a particular class of allies within Tibet, the Lhasa ruling elite, meant that the British constructed this image in line with the perspective of that elite; it was a Lhasa-centric image, which reflected a delicate balance between the requirements of the British and their Lhasa allies. The British understanding of states as defined by their centre, and their alliance with elements of the Lhasa ruling class, meant that the Lhasa perspective was privileged, and regional perspectives (including those of British observers such as W.H. King referred to in Chapter Two) were submerged.

This perspective was by no means a distortion, but regional and sectarian differences may have been subsumed by this image of unity under the unquestioned religious and secular authority of the Dalai Lama. The information obtained from the Lhasa ruling class did not, for example, articulate the interests of Eastern Tibetan principalities which sometimes aspired to closer ties with China. The need to define Tibetan structures in terms of European political formations may have prevented a fuller understanding of Tibet's power structures, relations with its neighbours, and aspirations.

The image of Tibet created by the British became the dominant political image held in the West, and, as it reflected their perspective, it has been largely accepted as accurate by the Tibetan Government-in-exile.
Those aspects in which scholarship might question its accuracy are those where alternative voices are revealed, albeit without emphasis, in the available British sources. Thus questions should be asked concerning the social harmony, and sense of national and religious identity, of various communities outside Tibet's central provinces of U and Tsang, and of groups such as the Ragyaba, disposers of the dead, whose status virtually equated to India's 'untouchables'.

Such work as has been done in this area does not, however, suggest it is liable to lead to any major revisions of the received image of Tibet beyond a more balanced view of the aspirations of marginalised groups in Tibetan society. Tibet does appear to have been a relatively homogeneous society, with little opposition to the Dalai Lama's rule, and, as the British image reflects the perspective of the Dalai Lama's Government, it is a close reflection of the self-image of the Lhasa Tibetan ruling class, which remains the dominant Tibetan voice today.[70]

So what's the box score?

Let’s examine the history of the 14 Dalai Lamas:

1. The First Dalai Lama didn't even know he was one.
2. The Second Dalai Lama didn't know it either.
3. The Third Dalai Lama was a clever opportunist who usurped the good reputation of the first two “Dalai Lamas” by inventing the lineage and making himself third.
4. The Fourth Dalai Lama was a royal appointee.
5. The Fifth Dalai Lama was a killer-conqueror, and his last fifteen years of "rule" were fraudulent.
6. The Sixth Dalai Lama was murdered at the age of 23, and his appointed successor was denied office.
7. The Seventh Dalai Lama was put on the throne by the Chinese, who treated him as a figurehead.
8. The Eighth Dalai Lama was a hands-off guy who let the Chinese run the country.
9. The Ninth Dalai Lama was murdered and never ruled.
10. The Tenth Dalai Lama was murdered and never ruled.
11. The Eleventh Dalai Lama was murdered and never ruled.
12. The Twelfth Dalai Lama was murdered and never ruled.
13. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama fled twice, and rejected a defense pact from Britain that would have protected Tibet from Chinese aggression.
14. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama abdicated, never ruled the country, and has won the Nobel Peace Prize without garnering any peace.

In the end, the illustrious history of the Dalai Lamas just doesn't exist. Their sad legacy is a testament to the Byzantine manipulations of the Potala Junta. The credulous Tibetan people have been taught that they are led by a god-king, but that king is an invention of unscrupulous political strategists who sell influence as their primary product.

-- The Dalai Lamas, Prisoners of the Potala Junta, by Charles Carreon


The principal competition to the image of Tibet produced by the cadre was, and is, the 'mystical' image, Tibet as a sacred land in which the paranormal was commonplace. This image has co-existed with a political image since the earliest European encounters with the region. [71] The mystic image was created by a different process from that of the political image, a process which has recently been examined in a seminal study by Peter Bishop. Bishop examines the writings of European travellers in and around Tibet during the period 1773-1959 to show how these works influenced the development of the idea of Tibet as a sacred site, ultimately producing an image, or series of images, which separated the concept of Tibet as a sacred site from that of Tibet as a geographical place. [72]

Although Bishop is not concerned with the historical antecedents of this ’sacred Tibet', he might be criticised for neglecting the historical basis for the European construct. Himalayan Tibet, in particular the Mount Kailas-Lake Manasarovar region, has held sacred associations for Indian religions since the pre-Christian era. There are references to the Himalayas in the earliest known Indian text, the Rg Veda, and by the period of 'Classical Hinduism' (c600 BC to c200AD) the Kailas-Manasarovar region was firmly located in the sacred geography of the sub-continent. [73] In addition to numerous references to the Himalayas as sacred sites in both of the classical Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, we have the Skanda Parana text which asserts that 'As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of men blotted out at the sight of the Himalayas'. [74] Tibet's image as a sacred land in the Indian imagination therefore predates the encounter with the West.

European mystical discourse on Tibet was aimed at other Europeans, and was expressed in the language of myth, not reality. Hence it contrasted with the more prosaic views of those in regular contact with the Tibetans. But as the cadre also appealed to a European audience they were forced to confront this alternative image, and they found it could serve as a useful secondary image with which to promote the idea of Tibet as a separate state. The two images were separate, and my concern is not with the construction or content of this mystical image, but the means by which the cadre dealt with it demonstrates their ability to use images for a political purpose.

The mystical image was part of the attraction of service in Tibet. Younghusband in particular understood Lhasa as having a wider, symbolic significance, and underwent powerful spiritual experiences there which led him to pursue this path at the expense of his career in government service. Significantly, this in no way damaged his prestige within the Tibet cadre, and the last British Political Officer Sikkim, Arthur Hopkinson, also retired to a spiritual life (albeit in more conventional form as an Anglican clergyman). Tibetan religion was of genuine interest to most cadre officers, and while, as Mark Cocker has observed, the Younghusband Mission failed to confirm 'the mystic image of Tibet in some empirically verifiable form', it remained part of the allure of service there. [75]

The cadre found that this pre-existing image could serve British interests and reach a wider audience than their own. There was no inherent conflict between the two images. It was not a political issue in the sense that neither the Chinese, nor the Russians, sought political benefit by emphasising Tibet's mystical aura. The mystic image reinforced Tibet's separate identity, and was a positive moral image, both factors which the cadre sought to emphasise; it could, therefore, assist British aims.Consequently, as long as travellers avoided referring to political matters, and maintained British prestige, the cadre had no particular objection to the Tibetan journeys of those sincerely interested in Tibet's spiritual culture. [76] They took a benign view of even the most eccentric of these visitors if they steered clear of political matters, but sought to exclude even renowned scholars whom they considered politically unreliable.[77]

Alexandra David-Neel trod a fine line here. While the British objected to her ignoring their frontier travel regulations, and commenting on the British policy of excluding travellers from Tibet, her works were immensely popular, and enhanced Tibet's separate identity, thus furthering British Indian interests. There was also a personal factor in that David-Neel studied Tibetan mysticism while generally remaining within the Western academic tradition, a synthesis the cadre could admire. By presenting herself as a pro-British European with a similar class background and attitudes to the cadre's own, she gained their acceptance as a harmless, even admirable, traveller from within the tradition of aristocratic European 'eccentrics'.[78]

Thus mysticism added to the attraction of Tibet, and the mystical image was implicitly encouraged by the cadre through their writings. While these inherently contradicted many aspects of the mystical image through positivist analysis, and because the authors had not observed any scientifically inexplicable events there, these works simultaneously enhanced the image by their use of metaphors and symbols of remote space, isolation, and timelessness. For example, the introduction to Younghusband's account of his mission to Lhasa describes Tibet as 'a mysterious, secluded country in the remote hinterland of the Himalayas'.[79] That they did not observe any scientifically inexplicable events was even a matter of regret to the British in Tibet. Spencer-Chapman, Secretary on the Gould Mission to Lhasa in 1936-37, observed that the Tibetans 'may believe implicitly in various psychic phenomena' but that 'I was never fortunate enough to witness these myself.[80]

There were limits to the cadre's endorsement of Tibetan mysticism. In practice the cadre were reluctant to accept incidents which the Tibetans regarded as miraculous. MacDonald described seeing the corpse of a Chumbi Valley monastery oracle, only for the 'corpse' to revive four days later. 'I suppose' wrote MacDonald 'this must have been a case of suspended animation, for no other explanation would fit the circumstances.' On the other hand, Bell, in an unpublished manuscript, observed without comment that the Gangtok Residency had ghosts. There was an 'apparition of an old women, also a boy and girl' which were harmless, but there was also a ghost described as having 'the body of a red mule and the head of tiger'. Bell wrote that 'whenever one of my police orderlies saw it he fired a shot at it immediately’.[81]

It appears that such tales partly reflected a sense of Tibet's distinctive 'Otherness'. Photographs in the officers' books must also have reinforced this sense. For however familiarising the text, there was little or nothing familiar in the photographs, and much that was strange to the European mind, such as frozen waterfalls and 'A Priest..[with]..cup made from a skull, and drum made from two skulls'. This latter image of 'Otherness' proved a particularly strong one; Bell, MacDonald, and Spencer-Chapman all included a similar illustration.[82] Ultimately the cadre were content to support the mystical image because of its political value in demonstrating that Tibet had a valuable, unique culture, and a distinct identity.


The need to present Tibet as both a worthy ally of the British and a separate and distinct entity from China meant that the image which the British constructed contained elements in which Tibet was rendered as ’Other'. It also had elements in which it was portrayed as 'familiar'. This paradox was never fully resolved. As Peter Bishop states, 'Tibet...always sustained an independent Otherness', it was 'imbued with a mixture of both the romance of the unknown and the defence of the known.'[83]

Despite their partial endorsement of Tibet's 'strangeness', the cadre did attempt to define and describe Tibet in terms which would transform it from 'Other' to 'familiar' in the European consciousness. This was part of a wider effort aimed at enabling Europeans to 'know' and understand the world, but it also had distinct political implications. Tibet was not a British colony, but a buffer against Chinese and Russian intrusion into India. This meant that Tibet was not placed in opposition to British interests and was partly removed from colonial discourse. As an 'ally' of British India, Tibet had to be portrayed in a positive, 'familiar', light.

The works of officers such as Bell and MacDonald played an important part in bringing Tibet into the realm of the 'familiar'. One method they used was a common journalistic device, applying comparisons to translate Tibetan institutions and personalities into familiar images. Lhasa was compared with Rome, the Dalai Lama with the Pope, and Sera and Drepung monasteries with Oxford and Cambridge. Bell even translated Tibetan personal names in an effort to make them more 'familiar'; thus he refers to Tsarong (Shape) as 'Clear Eye'.[84]

Spencer-Chapman was a strong exponent of this technique. He noted, for example, that 'As Salisbury Cathedral towers above the city and plain at its feet, so the Potala completely dominates the vale of Lhasa.' He described how Nayapso la 'looks more like a Scottish loch every day except there is no heather on the hills', and, in common with many other observers, found that Tibetan Buddhist 'ritual and chanting recalls a Roman Catholic High Mass'. This effort to present aspects of Tibet in terms familiar to Europeans was made in the language of the dominant culture with which these authors identified, whether they were British or otherwise. Thus MacDonald described how, 'The climate of the Chumbi Valley is ideal, not unlike that of England', although at the time he wrote this he had never been to England![85]

We have previously noted indications that the production of an image of Tibet was principally aimed at readers of the cadre's own social class, and that the earliest emphasis in the building up of a body of knowledge of Tibet was upon items likely to be of military or strategic value against foreign powers.[86] In that this knowledge was shaped by a hierarchical power relationship, as it was produced by the Government of India as a part of their concern with the security of India's northern border, it can be seen to have been produced as an element of colonial domination. Yet knowledge which was of military value had restricted circulation. The image of Tibet ’produced’ by the British (after the early period of conflict with Tibet) was predominantly a positive image. It reinforced, and to an extent created, Tibetan identity, and was thus useful as much to the Tibetan Government as to the Government of India.

Colonial discourses of control were designed to reinforce an image of the subject peoples as requiring, or even desiring, European rule, and were expressed in terms of 'Otherness'. While the cadre certainly promoted such images, particularly in the early years of the Tibetan encounter, once it had become apparent that Whitehall would not permit an extension of British Indian authority across the Tibetan frontier, there was a concerted effort to portray Tibet as a country whose people shared British aspirations towards freedom and independence.

The predominant mode of expression in British Tibetan discourse appears more akin to what Lionel Caplan, in discussing the image of the Gurkhas, has called 'a pastoral mode', than to that of 'Orientalism'. As Caplan notes, scholars such as Ronald Inden have argued that Orientalist writing on South Asia 'places exclusive stress on difference'. Caplan has shown the Gurkha as represented in the writings of British military officers, as 'having become an honorary European, assuming the latter's characteristics and sharing his attitudes to and distance from the Oriental "other",' The cadre attempted to portray Tibetans similarly as 'familiar'.[87]

The 'pastoral' mode, a term originally used by Kenneth Burke, describes a discourse in which subordinate peoples in the imperial process are represented in approving terms, enabling unequal relationships to be portrayed as characterised by 'immense courtesy, respect and affection'. While maintaining the dominant aspect of the relationship, this discourse is not primarily concerned with power, in the sense usually associated with 'Orientalism'. The subjects are not exoticised, rather the shared inherent qualities of both parties are emphasised, and the paternal relationship is portrayed as based on mutual respect. [88]

While this pastoral mode is, Caplan concludes, Orientalist in the sense that it is knowledge which speaks for others, and in that it 'functions as an element of (colonial or neo-colonial) domination', it is principally an attempt to bring the subjects into the 'familiar'. Caplan describes a discourse of 'self-reflection', produced by authors who were primarily ex-Gurkha officers, with 'a vested interest in the subject'. Their production of this perspective can be seen against the background of the authors' desire to protect their interests at a time of change, and was aimed primarily at the dominant class, 'whatever its effect on the subordinate classes'.[89] In the Tibetan context this is characterised by the writings of Bell and Macdonald.

Caplan's conclusion that the 'pastoral' mode represents an attempt to transform its subjects into the 'familiar' equates with that of Bishop, who uses terms which imply transformation of Tibet into a sacred place for the British, 'Such a fundamental reference point must belong ...to a culture, to its sense of itself, to its quest for meaning.'[90] Certainly the spiritual aspect was a crucial factor in transforming Tibet into a 'familiar' place; the mystic image itself was a great attraction. It was also so obviously a means by which Tibet could be presented in a positive light, that it was neither desirable nor possible to eliminate it entirely. Tibet's concern with religion demanded a positive response; the British were not unaffected by admiration for this priority. Thus the discourse was uniquely brought, by Tibet's spiritual ethos, into areas of meaning not normally associated with the definition of region, territory and state. Could a state define itself by religion, and exist with only a token military force?

That Caplan's conclusions may be applied in the Tibetan context becomes apparent in the later writings of officers such as Hopkinson, which contain soliloquies very far removed from 'Orientalism'. Thus Hopkinson described how the Tibetans 'value their independence as much as you or I do'.[91] As noted in more detail in the next section, Hopkinson questioned the value of the Anglo-Tibetan encounter. Observing its effects, he asked 'What benefit will it be to a man or a country if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'[92]

This is very far removed from the discourse of control that is the basis of the Orientalist argument. It also goes beyond the perception of a dichotomy whereby the spiritual superiority of the 'East' meant a consequent inability to construct effective political structures. Hopkinson implied that Tibet's political structures were in some ways superior, and that this was because of their more spiritual basis. In this discourse, Tibet became not only 'familiar', but even superior.

The image of Tibet, however, was never brought fully into the realm of the 'familiar'. The need to emphasise Tibet's social and cultural differences with China meant that the British presented memorable images of Tibetan uniqueness, and these images, such as descriptions of 'sky burials' reinforced concepts of Tibet as 'Other'.

It was just previous to the grand monthly catechising contest that I returned to the Sera monastery. While I was busy with preparation, and in eager expectation of taking part in this important function, one of my acquaintances died and I had to attend his funeral. Incidentally therefore I took part in a ceremony which is perhaps unique in the world. I may observe here that in Tibetan funerals neither a coffin nor urn is used in which to deposit the corpse. It is simply laid on a frame made of two wooden poles, with a proper space between and two cross pieces tied to them. The rectangular space thus described is filled in with a rough sort of network of ropes, and over the netting is spread a sheet of cloth for the reception of the corpse. Another piece of cloth, pure white in color, is thrown over the corpse, and that completes the arrangement. The whole burden is then carried on the shoulders of two men, who insert their heads between the projecting ends of the two longer poles.

Generally a funeral is performed on the third or fourth day after death, the interval being spent in observances peculiar to Tibet. First of all a properly qualified Lama is consulted as to the auspicious day for performing the ceremony; then as to the special mode of funeral and the final disposal of the corpse. The Lama consulted gives his instructions on all these points after referring to his books, and bids the relatives of the deceased read such and such passages in the Sacred Texts, conduct the funeral ceremony on such and such day, and take the bier from the house at such and such an hour of the day.[389] The priest also advises on the mode of burial, of which there are four in vogue; the four modes being distinguishable from each other by the agencies to be brought into service, namely: water, flame, earth, and birds of the air. This last corresponds to the “air-burial” of Buhism.

Of the four kinds of burial, or more properly modes of disposing of corpses, the one generally regarded as the best is to leave the corpse to the vultures, known under the name of Cha-goppo in Tibet; then comes cremation; then water-burial, and last land-burial. This last method of interment is never adopted except when a person dies from small-pox. In this particular case alone the Tibetans observe some sanitary principles, though probably by mere accident and not from any conviction, for they think that this dreadful epidemic is likely to spread if the corpse of a person stricken down by small-pox is left for birds or consigned to a river. Though cremation is considered as a superior way of disposing of dead bodies, the process is by no means easy in a country where faggots are scarce, for the dried dung of the yak is hardly thought proper for the purpose. Hence cremation is confined to the wealthier class only. Water-burial generally takes place near a large stream; but, in consigning a dead body to the water, it is first thoroughly dismembered, and thrown into the water piece by piece. This troublesome course is adopted from the idea that a dead body thrown in whole will not speedily disappear from sight.

These four processes of disposing of corpses originate from Hindu philosophy, according to which human bodies are believed to consist of four elements, earth, water, fire and air, and it is thought that on death they should return to these original elements. Land-burial corresponds to the returning to earth, cremation to fire, water-burial to water, and the bird-devouring[390] to the air, of which birds are the denizens. The bodies of Lamas are mostly disposed of by this last process, while those of a few privileged persons only, such as the Dalai Lama, sub-Dalai Lama and other venerable Lamas, believed to be incarnations of Bodhisattvas, are given a special mode of burial.

‘Air-burial’ was chosen for the friend whose funeral I attended, and I shall briefly describe how this ‘burial’ was performed. Leaving the college at Sera, the cortège proceeded eastward till it reached the bank of a river near which, in a small valley formed between two contiguous hills, stood a big boulder about twelve yards high. The top of this stone was level and measured about fifteen feet square. This was the ‘burial-ground’ for this particular kind of interment. On the summits of the surrounding hills, and even on the inaccessible parts of the rock itself, were perched a large number of vultures, with their eyes glistening with greed. They are always waiting there for ‘burials’. When the bier was placed upon this rock, the white sheet was taken off, and the priest who had come, with the rest of the mourners and sympathisers, began to chant their texts to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. At the same time one man approached the corpse with a broadsword, with which to ‘dress’ it. In ‘dressing’ the abdomen was first cut open and the entrails removed. Next all the various members of the body were severed, after which some other men, including a few priests, undertook the finishing work of final ‘dressing’, which consisted in separating the flesh and bones, just as butchers do with slaughtered cattle. By this time the vultures had gathered in a flock round the place, and big pieces, such as the flesh of the thighs, were thrown to them and most voraciously did they devour them. Then the bones had to be disposed of, and this was done by first throwing them into one of the ten cavities on the rock, and pounding the heap with big stones. When the bones had been fairly well pulverised a quantity of baked flour was added to the mass, and this dainty mixture was also given to the birds. The only thing that remained of the dead body was the hair.

The Tibetans may practically be considered as a kind of cannibals. I was struck with this notion while witnessing the burial ceremony. All the cloths used in the burial go as a matter of course to the grave-diggers, though they hardly deserve this name, as their duty consists not in digging the grave but in chopping the flesh of the corpse and pounding the bones. Even priests give them help, for the pounding business is necessarily tedious and tiresome. Meanwhile the pounders have to take refreshment, and tea is drunk almost incessantly, for Tibetans are great tea-drinkers. The grave-diggers, or priests, prepare tea, or help themselves to baked flour, with their hands splashed over with a mash of human flesh and bones, for they never wash their hands before they prepare tea or take food, the most they do being to clap their hands, so as to get rid of the coarser fragments. And thus they take a good deal of minced human flesh, bones or brain, mixed with their tea or flour. They do so with perfect nonchalance; in fact, they have no idea whatever how really abominable and horrible their practice is, for they are accustomed to it. When I suggested that they might wash their hands before taking refreshment, they looked at me with an air of surprise. They scoffed at my suggestion, and even observed that eating with unwashed hands really added relish to food; besides, the spirit of the dead man would be satisfied when he saw them take fragments of his mortal remains with their food without aversion. It has been stated that the Tibetans are descendants of the Rākshasa tribe—a tribe of fiendish cannibals who used to feed on human flesh; and what I witnessed at the burial convinced me that, even at the present day, they retained the horrible habit of their ancestors.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

The restrictions imposed by Whitehall meant the cadre failed to establish Tibet's precise identity and location, and, in addition, the attraction of the mystical image of Tibet meant that it retained a spiritual location outside geographical place.

The failure to establish Tibet as fully 'familiar' also reflected the fact that for most of the British who served there, Tibet retained at least some degree of 'Otherness'. Most British officers expected service in Tibet to be an encounter with the ’Other', and were content that it should be. While they created a discourse of the 'familiar', even those officers with the greatest understanding confronted those aspects of Tibet, such as the Tibetan's disregard for western scientific 'truths', which while not necessarily significant, remained fundamentally incompatible with European knowledge and understanding.


The process of defining Tibet as a nation, and transforming structures and processes there to create a Tibetan national identity, raised the issue of how, or if, the qualities defined as essential aspects of 'Tibet' and 'Tibetan' could be maintained when Tibet was modernised. Later cadre officers, such as Richardson and Hopkinson, saw in the social structure they encountered, a system with genuine merits, which deeply challenged their view of the value of their own society. They considered that modernisation was corrupting the Tibetan values they admired.

These values were not just those created by the processes which the British had initiated; they were those the British and their allies saw as inherent in Tibetan identity. The religious identity of Tibetan proto-nationalism implied and articulated the privileging of certain ethical and humanitarian qualities. For example, the 13th Dalai Lama, on his accession to power in 1895. proclaimed that the Tibetans' Buddhist character gave them such virtues as 'compassionate hospitality'.[93] These values were seen as threatened by the increasing Tibetan contact with Western culture.

Arthur Hopkinson. the last British Political Officer Sikkim, was particularly concerned that the encounter with modern culture had brought 'the worst aspects of capitalism' to Tibet. [94] In addition to his concern with the political implications of this issue, Hopkinson also began to question the accepted ideas of cultural values which underlay the imperial process. Noting 'the happiness, contentment, self-sufficiency, and liberty' of the Tibetans, he concluded that 'the modern world has more to learn from Tibet than to teach [it]'.[95]

Hopkinson realised that changes in Tibet had had consequences very different from those intended. Some of these results directly threatened British aims there. For example, when the cadre encouraged education in Tibet, they intended it to strengthen Tibetan identity. Gyantse school headmaster Frank Ludlow had been determined to ensure that pupils at his school 'adhere to their own customs, and wear their national dress'. While British-style schools in Tibet failed to survive conservative opposition, some Tibetans saw benefits in western education, and began sending their children to schools in India. But there they received ideas from schools 'founded on the underlying idea of [the] racial, religious or cultural superiority of the Vatican or Salt Lake City to the Potala'. Hopkinson considered these schools 'set out, with the kindliest of motives, ultimately to demoralise them... [and to teach them] to despise their own country'.[96]

Although the Tibet cadre generally tried to restrict foreigners travelling to Tibet to those of their own 'type', there were always imperial elements which believed that contact with Western civilisation was beneficial to Tibet. White had argued that 'the more Tibetans come into contact with Europeans the better', and in the late 1940s, Hopkinson noted how 'One important diplomatic lady in Delhi said to me "Of course I'm going [to Tibet]; it is good for them."' But, as Hopkinson concluded, 'The Tibetans take a different view.'[97]

Hopkinson's comments, on the eve of the British departure from Tibet, reflect his own values, as well as the characteristic identification of imperial officials with the peoples among whom they lived and worked. But his conclusion was a significant development, representing a view diametrically opposed to that of the prevailing ethos at the time of the foundation of the Trade Agencies. The British encounter with Tibet, begun in hostility, had ended in respect and even esteem for the 'Other' culture.

The cadre had been influenced by the concept of British imperial power as a 'civilising mission'. They had a genuine desire to see Tibet advance. In the 1920s, Ludlow (whose wages from the Tibetan Government did not cover his expenses there) personally paid the fees of Tibetan boys studying telegraphy in Kalimpong. After his departure, Williamson, and later Bailey, continued to meet these costs from their own pocket. [98]

Later cadre officers did not oppose change in Tibet per se, but, seeing the Tibetans as conservative and resistant to change, they deliberately 'adopted a conservative policy of making haste slowly'.[99] Through policies such as the exclusion of missionaries and other agents of change, the cadre sought to preserve the stability of Tibet, and through their opposition to the introduction of European dress and modes of thinking, they attempted to preserve the existing Tibetan identity. But the rapid changes resulting from Tibet’s exposure to the modern world increasingly threatened this policy.

The cadre's concern partly reflects a similar attitude within Tibetan society. The alliance of interests between the cadre and their Tibetan supporters naturally meant that threats to one group were regarded with concern by the other.[100] But the British, unlike the Tibetans, were qualified by their familiarity with both societies to compare them, and judge the benefits of the encounter. Consequently they supported the status quo not only because of their political need to maintain a close association with Tibet's ruling class, but in order to preserve a society they admired. This factor should be considered in applying Mommsen's conclusion that alliances with local allies prevented the modernisation of premodern societies.[101]

Tibet was subject to the production of knowledge for purposes of political control, albeit in India, as much as in Tibet. But the cadre's growing understanding of, and sympathy for, Tibet, lead to a discourse of self-reflection, in which Tibet could be seen as representing all that was best in society in general.[102] The official British encounter with Tibet led individuals personally involved in the encounter to question whether the 'Other' was not superior to the 'familiar'. Their enthusiasm was not for the mystical elements which attracted so many private travellers, but rather for the society which produced the personal characteristics of Tibetans which they admired.

In the wider sense, the cadre's development of admiration for Tibetan values is evidence for the influence of the indigenous society on the imperial power, which appears characteristic of encounters on the frontier, as will be seen in Chapter Eight. But it may also suggest that as the power of policy-making was removed from the 'men on the spot' by the increased control exercised by central government, the frontiersmen identified less closely with the goals of their government, and were increasingly drawn to question its policies and their results.

The concerns which the cadre felt over Tibet's moral status were not expressed publicly until after the British had left Tibet, because it did not support the image of Tibet which the British were trying to project, nor did it reflect well on British influence there. When a concern for morality did emerge into the public sphere, it was for a political purpose: a concern to gain the moral high ground vis-a-vis Communist China.

This was a deliberate strategy. After the Communists took power in China, Richardson was aware that 'It is merely a question of when the Communists choose to come....The only possible line I can recommend for the government to pursue is to arouse moral feelings for Tibet.' China's subsequent military invasion enabled the Tibetan Government-in-exile to appeal to morality and justice, a claim which it has never relinquished, and which has become the primary weapon of the Tibetan independence movement. [103] Their sympathy for Tibetan aspirations left the cadre 'unspeakably sad' when it became obvious that Tibet was unlikely to be accepted as an independent nation-state in the postwar community of nations.[104] That this concern was genuine can be seen by the continuing efforts on behalf of the Tibetan cause today, by surviving officers such as Hugh Richardson and Radio Officer Robert Ford, both of whom remain active in the Tibetan cause.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 16, 2019 12:46 am

Part 3 of 3


The image of Tibet produced by the British left a number of aspects undefined, and the greatest divergence between the 'produced' image, and the Tibetan's self-image, is in the significant area of Tibet's political status. This divergence also provides the clearest example of the way in which the 'produced' image of Tibet failed, due to the political requirements of wider British policy, to reflect the views of the 'men on the spot'.

Today, the exiled Tibetan Government regard the image which the British created as being 'incomplete', particularly in the crucial area of Tibet's political status. The present Dalai Lama maintains that the British failure to represent Tibet as an independent nation was a historical distortion of Tibet's status, arising from the British preference for Chinese, rather than Russian influence in Tibet.[105]

The evidence suggests this is correct. Whitehall was prepared to accept Chinese control over of Tibet as a solution to the perceived threat from Russia. But while Tibet had been under Chinese rule in the past, this had been due to force of Chinese arms. Elements of Tibetan society had accommodated themselves to the Chinese, and the Tibetan leadership had accepted a nominal Chinese overlordship, but, historically, they had resisted any efforts by China to enforce administrative control.

The Tibetan Government had seen Tibet's relations with China in terms of a 'patron-priest' relationship, a concept based on a cosmological understanding of the Emperor of China as protector of the Buddhist faith, and of the Dalai Lama as the primary religious advisor to the Emperor. Thus the Tibetans maintained that this relationship ended with the overthrow of the last Emperor in 1911. The concept reflected the Tibetan view of themselves as a religious state, and had no legal status in the European sense.[106]

A full consideration of the issue of Tibetan independence is outside the scope of this work, but the view that Tibet was entitled to independence was held by most of the British officers who served there. It was Whitehall's refusal to recognise an independent Tibet which led to the image's being 'incomplete'. As Richardson recently stated, 'In all practical matters the Tibetans were independent.... The British Government... sold the Tibetans down the river.... I was profoundly ashamed of the government.'[107]

The question naturally arises: “Will Tibet then cease to be an independent country?” It is of course impossible to come to any positive conclusion about it, but from what I have observed and studied I cannot give a reassuring answer. The spirit of dependence on the strong is too deeply implanted in the hearts of the Tibetan people to be superseded now by the spirit of self-assertion and independence. During the long period of more than a thousand years, the Tibetan people has always maintained the idea of relying upon one or another great power, placing itself under the protection of one suzerain State or another, first India and then China. How far the Tibetans lack the manly spirit of independence may easily be judged from the following story about the Dalai Lama, who is unquestionably a man of character, gifted with energy and power of decision, who would be well qualified to lead his country to progress and prosperity did he possess modern knowledge and were he well informed of the general trend of affairs abroad. He is thoroughly familiar with the condition of his own people, and has done much towards satisfying popular wishes, redressing grievances and discouraging corrupt practices. If ever there were a man in Tibet whose heart was set on maintaining the independence of the country, it must be the Dalai Lama. So I had thought, but my fond hope was rudely shaken, and I was left in despair about the future of Tibet.

This supreme chief of the Lama Hierarchy has recently undergone a complete change in his attitude towards England. Formerly whenever England opened some negotiation with Tibet, the Dalai Lama was overcome by great perturbation, while any display of force on the part of England invariably plunged him into the deepest anxiety. He was often seen on such occasions to shut himself up in a room and, refusing food or rest, to be absorbed in painful reflexions. Now all is changed, and the same Dalai Lama regards all threats or even encroachments with indifference or even defiance. For instance, when England, chiefly to feel the attitude of Tibet and not from any object of encroachment, included, when fixing the boundary, a small piece of land that had formerly belonged to Tibet, the Dalai Lama was not at all perturbed. Instead of that he is said to have talked big and breathed defiance, saying that he would make England rue this sooner or later. His subjects, it is reported, were highly impressed on this occasion and they began to regard him as a great hero.

For my part this sudden change in the behavior of the supreme Lama only caused me to heave a heavy sigh for the future of Tibet. It cruelly disillusioned me of the great hopes I had reposed in his character for the welfare of his country. The reason why the Grand Lama, who was at first as timid as a hare towards England, should become suddenly as bold as a lion, is not far to seek. The conclusion of a secret treaty with Russia was at the bottom of the strange phenomenon. Strong in the idea that Russia, as she had promised the Dalai Lama, would extend help whenever his country was threatened by England, he who had formerly trembled at the mere thought of the possibility of England’s encroachment began now to hurl defiance at her. He may even have thought that the arrival of a large number of arms from Russia would enable Tibet to resist England single-handed. In short, the Dalai Lama believed that Russia being the only country in the world strong enough to thwart England, therefore he need no longer be harassed by any fear of the latter country.

With the Dalai Lama—perhaps one of the greatest Lama pontiffs that has ever sat on the throne—given up shamelessly, and even with exultation, to that servile thought of subserviency, and with no great men prepared to uphold the independence of the country, Tibet must be looked upon as doomed. All things considered therefore, unless some miracle should happen, she is sure to be absorbed by some strong power sooner or later, and there is no hope that she will continue to exist as an independent country.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

As precise definition of Tibet's political status was not essential to Anglo-Tibetan relations, it was generally left undefined, and related issues involving Tibet's status were also avoided when possible. Thus when India became aware of the 1913 Treaty between Tibet and Mongolia, which represented a statement by both countries that they considered each other independent, the Government of India concluded that 'it might be of advantage to HM.'s[sic] Government to be without authoritative information on this point'.[108]

Certain aspects of Tibet's undefined status suited India. Concern for frontier security meant that the Government of India did not want a Tibetan state which was 'a power of any significance in its own right'. They even considered the possibility that an independent Tibet, following its own foreign policy, might pose a threat to India. Delhi was thus 'by no means satisfied that it is in India’s interests to have a well trained, well armed and highly organised army in Tibet'.[109]

However, by any practical definition, Tibet functioned as an independent state in the period 1913-1950. It bought (and sold) arms and ammunition directly from other neighbouring governments, and remained neutral in World War Two, a war in which China was deeply involved.

It controlled its own territory, and adopted many of the symbols of modern statehood; it had its own currency, stamps, capital city and flag. Cadre officers dealt with its government on a day-to-day basis. They believed that 'Tibet is just as much entitled to her freedom as India'.[110] But wider political considerations required that this fact be concealed, and lip-service paid to Chinese suzerainty. The cadre therefore generally had to represent Tibetan aspirations for an independent identity and control of their own destiny, in terms of the euphemism 'internal autonomy under the lightest possible Chinese suzerainty'.[111]

The failure to establish an image of Tibet fully consistent with the Tibetan's self-image was, therefore, largely the result of Whitehall policy (which the Government of India followed), not of the failure of the 'man on the spot' to understand Tibet's status. As serving government officials, cadre officers ultimately had to follow orders, and clear statements of support for Tibetan independence were usually given only after an officer had retired, and was able to speak as an individual, rather than an official.

The deliberate distortion of an image was not the monopoly of European imperial powers. In the 19th century, the Chinese Ambans often filed false reports from Lhasa knowing that their central government was unlikely to question the accuracy of reports by their 'men on the spot'.[112] Official Tibetan correspondence was similarly liable to present a false picture. It was common practice to send a written communication, but to entrust the messenger with a verbal message amending the 'official' order. [113]



[1] IOLR L/P&S/12/4247, Gould to E.P. Donaldson (India Office), undated cFebruary 1946.

[2] Anderson (1992, esp. pp. 113-19); Dreyfus (1995, p.205); Robb (1994, pp.2-5); Smith (1986, esp. pp.134-36).

[3] IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entries, 6 December 1923, & 1 February 1924.

[4] NAl FD, 1910 Internal BMay 1-22, Bell to India, 4 March 1912.

[5] Byron (1933, p. 188); Shakya (1992, p.15).

[6] The leading works on these aspects of Tibetan culture are Stein (1972), and Snellgrove & Richardson (1968).

[7] Bell (1992, p.12).

[8] For example, see Cassinelli & Ekvall (1969); Ekvall (1960); Samuel (1994).

[9] Regarding the Sikkimese and Bhutanese enclaves, see Bray (1995); Dutta-Ray (1984, p.42); Pranavananda (1949, pp.81-82).

[10] For convenience, I treat the Bon faith as a sect of Buddhism, although the issue is a complex one; see for example, Tucci (1980, pp.213-48).

[11] Samuel (1994, pp.20-22); Richardson (1984, p.19).

[12] Davis & Prescott (1992, esp., pp. 1-16).

[13] These treaties are most accessible in Richardson (1984, pp.259-64).

[14] Dreyfus (1994, p.210) Ekvall (1960)

[15] Bray (1993, p.181); Tucci (1980, p. 111).

[16] Bernard (1939, p .120), quoting a telegram from the Kashag to himself; Goldstein (1989, p.542), quoting the Kashag to Chang-kai-chek in 1946. Battye papers, (unpublished) 'Note on the present condition of Trade between Tibet and other countries' by Captain Battye, 28 April 1936.

[17] Dreyfus (1994); as Dreyfus notes, there are doubts over the extent to which these kings were Buddhist. Hobsbawm & Ranger (1983)

[18] For example, Anderson (1992).

[19] Dreyfus (1994, p.205).

[20] This Tibetan sense of identity fits models of the ethnic identity of a typical pre-modern community, as defined by A.D.Smith in a recent study; Smith (1986, pp.22-30, 42).

[21] NAl FD, 1905 Secret E March 341-368, Gyantse diary of 18 December 1904; IOLR L/P&S/12/4201-1863, Lhasa Mission report, weekending 19 March 1944.

[22] Cocker (1994, pp.28-31). Cocker discusses Bailey's naturalist collections in the context of the imperial quest for knowledge.

[23] Anderson (1992, fn.30, p. 179) quoting a speech by Lord Curzon.

[24] O’Connor (1988, p.60).

[25] Works which I have found of particular value to the on-going debate over the European appropriation of knowledge are, Ahmad (1991); Cocker (1994); Cohn (1985, esp. p.283); and in particular, Ludden (1993).

[26] Landon (1988, p.107); NAl FD, 1910 External BApril 12-13, Military Report on Tibet, by Captain V.E Gwyer; an attached file note states that this was compiled with Bell's assistance. The report is also in IOLR L/Mil/17/14/92.

[27] See for example, Chandler (1905); Landon (1988); Younghusband (1985),

[28] Bailey (1911); Younghusband (1910); White (1909).

[29] O'Connor (1988, pp.352).

[30] Bell (1987, pp.56, 65-66).

[31] Re the Dalai Lamas, see Bell (1931); Richardson (1984); Rockhill (1910); Stein (1972); Tucci (1980).

[32] Robb (1994)

[33] Ibid, pp.2-4.

[34] Anderson (1992, p.19).

[35] For a valuable discussion of the process by which South Asia’s traditional frontiers were transformed into boundaries, see Embree (1977, pp.255-80).

[36] Embree ibid)', Robb (1994, esp. p.2).

[37] For example, the Chumbi was returned directly to the Tibetan Government in 1908, rather than to the Chinese authorities; IOLR L/P&S/7/210-602, Frontier Confidential Report, 14 February 1908.

[38] Lamb (1989, fn.21, p.24); also see Christie (1977, pp.52-53).

[39] Goldstein (1989, pp.75-76); Lamb (1966, pp.575-77); Lamb 1989 (pp.13-17).

[40] IOLR L/P&S/10/344-3609, Bell to India, 6 August 1914; also see MSS Eur F80 5d8, notes by Bell, 25 November 1913, & 1 December 1913.

[41] Bell (1987, p.232).

[42] IOLR L/P&S/11/81, India to Secretary of State, 25 March 1915; Lamb (1989, fn.29, p.25).

[43] Lamb ibid (p.138).

[44] The Tawang issue, and the wider issue of the validity of the MacMahon Line, has been subject to a considerable amount of analysis. A valuable summary may be found in Woodman (1969, pp.196-209). For a thorough examination of the question, see Lamb (1989, pp.12-21, 279-80, 401-476), who demonstrates how Sir Olaf Caroe, Indian Foreign Secretary in 1939-45, attempted to validate the Simla Convention by backdating its insertion into Aitchison's Treaties, an action first uncovered by Sir John Addis. The issue remains a sensitive one: the present Indian Government refuses access to all files classified as relating to Tibet and this frontier, dated after 31 December 1913.

[45] Richardson (1984, pp.149-50); Lamb (1989, pp.14-15, 278-80).

[46] IOLR L/P&S/12/4179, Report by B.J. Gould 'on the discovery, recognition and installation of the fourteenth Dalai Lama’ dated May 1941, pp.1.

[47] Bell (1992, pp.142).

[48] Ibid p.259.

[49] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-3864, Lhasa Mission report by B.Gould, 30 April 1937.

[50] McKay (1994, pp.376-77, 383); IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary entry, 1 February 1924; L/P&S/12/4605-3894, British Embassy, Chungking, to Ministry of Information, Far Eastern Section, 27 May 1942.

[51] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-3864, Lhasa Mission report by B. Gould, 30 April 1937.

[52] Baker & Steele (1994, p.59).

[53] Richardson (1951, p.122).

[54] Norbu (1987, pp. 138-39); An anthropologist specialising in Tibet, Robert Ekvall (1960, p.375), writing shortly after the 1959 Chinese take-over, noted that 'Recent conversations with...the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama, have suggested that the Tibetans, for the first time (or with a new insistence), are asking themselves, "What does it mean to be a Tibetan?".'

[55] Becker (1968, p.345).

[56] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5e(c) 21, Bell to India, 21 February 1921. Re the process of modernisation in Tibet and its effects, see Cooper (1986b); Dhondup (1986); Goldstein (1989); Lamb (1989).

[57] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5d8, 'Notes on our future policy in Tibet and on the North Eastern Frontier generally, (apparently by Bell for MacMahon), undated [c 1914].

[58] See Bell (1987, pp.308, 312, 329, 349, 354-55). Bell is, however, reticent as to the causes of this situation.

[59] Mommsen (1980, p.111).

[60] Major Battye expressed the British perception when he described Tibetans as 'the world's most conservative people who regard any change or innovation with suspicion and distrust'; Battye papers, ’Note on the present condition of Trade between Tibet and other countries' by Captain Battye, 28 April 1936.

[61] The monk-intellectual, Gedun Ch'omp'el(1895-1951), was one such indigenous critics of the existing system in Tibet. In the 1940s the British and Tibetan Governments co-operated in suppressing the activities of the ’Young Tibet Party' with which he was associated. While this group espoused a mixture of ideologies, and received Chinese funding, the British also noted that Ch'omp'el was in correspondence with the Russian Tibetologist, Nicholas Roerich, whose political affiliations were uncertain; see Goldstein (1989, pp.449-463); Bray (1994, p.77). Re Roerich, see Rupen (1979); IOLR MSS Eur F157-245, S. Gasalee (Foreign Office) to Bailey, 8 October 1929 and related correspondence.

[62] Bishop (1989, fn. 120, p.269).

[63] Bell (1992, pp.5, 126, 139, 140, 213-14, 269).

[64] Hopkinson (1950, p.230); Richardson (1984, p.1); Spencer-Chapman (1992, pp.178-79).

[65] Hopkinson ibid, Richardson (1951, p. 113), & (1984, p. 156).

[66] Spencer-Chapman (1992, p.194).

[67] MacDonald (1991, p.57); Richardson (1984, p.10); Spencer-Chapman ibid (pp.52, 150).

[68] For example, 'The Tibetans believe that certain spiritual reward is gained even by merely gazing upon the persons of either of the two Grand Lamas.'; MacDonald (1991, p. 182)

[69] Richardson (1984, p.243).

[70] Even Goldstein, for example, who is generally regarded by Tibetans as a critic of their society, concludes that the central government exercised authority 'over the whole country'; Goldstein (1989, p.6 ). For recent studies concerning Tibetan identity, see for example, Cech (1991); Dreyfus (1994); Samuel (1994).

[71] For example, Marco Polo’s description of Tibet reports on both political authority and 'necromancy'; Marco Polo (1970, pp.236-240).

[72] Bishop (1989).

[73] While Rg Veda 1.32.1-15 may be interpreted as indicating a knowledge of the upper regions of the Indus, the first definite reference to the Himalayas (as Himavant) is in the final book of the Rg Veda (RV. X.121.4), often regarded as a later addition to the text. However by the 'classical' period, references to what is now Himalayan Tibet had acquired a clear spiritual association.

[74] Skanda Purana, [c200-c600AD.], quoted in Hedin (1909, p. 199).

[75] Cocker (1994, p.230); Younghusband (1985, pp.317, 326-27.

[76] This was in sharp contrast to their attitude towards Christian missionaries, whose presence was strongly opposed due to the unrest (and hence political instability) which their presence was considered liable to arouse.

[77] IOLR MSS Eur D979, Ludlow diary, various entries, 13 June 1926 to 1 August 1926, describes one such eccentric. Sven Hedin was one famous traveller who, after World War One, was considered undesirable on political grounds; see IOLR MSS Eur F157-221, Arthur Hirtzel to Bailey, 15 November 1922.

[78] Sikkim State Archives, General 1916 (7) 10/3/(XX 11 )/1916; David-Neel to Bell, 31 August 1916; here David-Neel describes herself as 'a loyal friend of England’.

[79] Younghusband (1985, p.2).

[80] Spencer-Chapman (1992, p.214).

[81] MacDonald (1991, p.201); IOLR MSS Eur F80 5h 2, unpublished manuscript by Bell entitled 'A Year in Lhasa', [apparently a draft autobiography, and unrelated to his (1924) article of that title], chapter three.

[82] See Bell (1992, pp.7, 36); MacDonald (1991, pp.58-59); Spencer-Chapman (1992, pp.48- 49).

[83] Bishop (1989, pp.145, 148).

[84] For example, see Bell (1987, pp.135, 460).

[85] MacDonald (1991, p.54); Spencer-Chapman (1992, pp.63, 171, 210).

[86] For example, the absence of a foreign threat in western Tibet meant that knowledge of this area was not brought out by the cadre, until Tucci's work there brought out Tibet's historical ties with India.

[87] Caplan (1991, pp.571, quoting Inden {1986, p.402}, 593).

[88] Ibid (pp.573, 590-94).

[89] Ibid (p.594).

[90] Bishop (1989, p. 108), [original emphasis].

[91] Hopkinson (1950, p.233).

[92] IOLR MSS Eur D998/39, Report on Tibet August 1945 -August 1948, by A.J. Hopkinson. Hopkinson's phrase derives from St. Matthew 16:26 and St Mark 8:36, King James Version. [93] Tada (1965, pp.33-34). Whether this is true is not at issue, the point is the articulation of a religious ideal as the basis for the aspirations of the society, and the British acceptance that this was the basis of that society.

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

[95] Hopkinson ibid: MSS D979, Ludlow diary entry, 1 February 1924.

[96] Hopkinson ibid.

[97] Hopkinson ibid; NAI FD, 1906 Secret E February 98-109, White to India, 31 October 1905.

[98] IOLR MSS Eur F157-241, Ludlow to Bailey, 3 November 1926.

[99] IOLR L/P&S/12/4223-6535, Hopkinson to India, 31 October 1945.

[100] This was a two-way process, the Tibetan ruling classes identified with British aspirations. For example, they feared Gandhi's influence and possible resulting instability in India; see IOLR L/P&S/10/218-2134, Yatung Annual Report, 1921-22.

[101] Mommsen (1980, p.111).

[102] Cocker (1994, pp. 136-37), examines how travellers to Tibet also came to regard Tibet's unchanging conservatism as a virtue in a changing world, with Tibet seen as preserving elements needed by the rest of the world, an attitude which parallels that of the cadre, but which was usually expressed more clearly in travellers’ discourse than government reports.

[103] IOLR MSS Eur F157-259, Richardson to Bailey, 5 December 1949.

[104] ibid.

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

[106] For details of the Tibetan concept of the 'patron-priest relationship, see Richardson (1984, pp.40-41, 50, 103); Bell (1987, pp.400-01).

[107] Richardson (1994).

[108] IOLR L/P&S/11/46-723, anonymous file note, 22 May 1913.

[109] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-8092, India to Secretary of State, 12 December 1936; Lamb (1989, p .113).

[110] Bell (1987, p.56).

[111] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5e(c) 21, Bell to India, 21 February 1921.

[112] Bell (1992, p.139).

[113] Ibid p.87.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:01 am



The cadre's greatest influence on the image of Tibet came from their published writings; these reached the widest audience, and had the deepest influence on European thinking. Although the image they projected strongly reflected the Tibetan Government's understanding, it was primarily designed to reflect British interests. Thus it ignored the Tibetan perspective when necessary, just as British policies ignored the perspective of their Tibetan allies when necessary (for example, in regard to Tawang).

To ensure that its agent's writings reflected British interests, government censored them. Thus, the knowledge which the cadre gained from first-hand experience of Tibet passed through levels of selection and of censorship before being released, levels where the presentation of information was shaped by both the personal perspectives of the authors, and government's actual political needs.

In this chapter we will examine how knowledge was selected by the cadre, and how it was censored by government and its supporting structures, in order to present it in the form best serving British interests. In addition, we will examine how this process dealt with alternative images which existed, or might have been constructed.


The information which the cadre presented to their government was not only affected by the perspectives involved in gathering and selecting information, but also presented in a form which advanced the interests that the cadre sought to promote. This took the form of praise for fellow cadre officers -- 'Mr MacDonald has as usual managed his work tactfully and efficiently' -- and even self-praise: 'by tact and influence I kept them in bounds'.[1]. More significantly it involved the presentation of information in a form designed to promote particular policies and actions by Delhi and Whitehall.

Cadre officers could, by stating opinion as 'truth', and using these 'truths' selectively, use their status as the government's experts 'on the spot' to advance particular policies. This was something central government was aware of, however, and they could often read the hidden codes of meaning in this discourse. Thus when Bell, arguing in favour of British annexation of the Chumbi Valley, claimed the support of the Chumbi people for this policy, a Secretariat official commented 'was there ever a pioneer of the forward policy who did not find the trans-border people dying to be annexed?'[2]

Before Bell established his alliance with the Dalai Lama, he used a similar approach in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade his government to take formal control of Tibet's foreign relations. He claimed that the Tibetans' character, 'though in many ways admirable is permeated by a vein of impracticability, which prevents them from coming to a final decision', and that this meant Tibet would not be capable of conducting its own foreign relations.
That the Tibetan Government were 'naive' became an article of faith among the cadre, and, while this description was appropriate in some instances, after the British departed they admitted that, while the Tibetans 'played at being a very simple people..., they were shrewd diplomatic operators'.[3]

Bell's statements were an example of how knowledge could be both 'true', and 'useful'. Information could be true but of interest only to positivist science; other information could be true and politically useful. Bell's transparent attempt to promote the idea that the British should take over control of Tibet's foreign relations, as they had done with Bhutan, offered a justification of British rule or guidance by presenting the newly encountered culture as inferior; which has been shown to be a common imperial tactic.[4]

The knowledge accumulated by cadre officers took time to emerge into the public domain, and when it did, their character and training meant that government could to a large extent trust their judgment as to what to present to the public. An example of the way in which the cadre censored themselves can be seen in Mainprice's private papers. These reveal that he had grave doubts as to the wisdom of British Tibetan policies (as will be seen). But in the writing that he intended for publication, Mainprice did not mention these doubts. While the possibility exists that Mainprice had simply changed his opinion, this reticence was typical of a wider British Indian ethos, which ensured that other British officers accompanying the cadre were similarly discreet. General Neame's damning criticisms of the Tibetan army, previously noted, were not repeated in his published account of his journey, where his only explicit criticism was of 'poor marksmanship' by one section of the troops. [5]

The promotion of a particular image for political purposes meant, as will be seen, that alternative 'voices' were censored or marginalised. Evidence which supported other political images of Tibet was refuted, explained away, or ignored. This was particularly the case with the opposing image promoted by the Chinese, which was of Tibet as an integral part of China.


While government expected to be able to trust the judgement of its officers as to what information to present to the public, officials were required, by both civil and military regulations additional to the Official Secrets Act, to submit their writings for censorship. Some officers actively supported this system. For example the India Office noted that Macdonald was 'anxious that we should strike out anything that is considered objectionable’.[6] Other officers (and their publishers) were sometimes unaware of this requirement, and were censured if their writings contained information the government wished to restrict.

The Government of India even claimed the power to restrict its officers' private conversations. For example they did not wish to publicise the existence of goldfields in western Tibet, to avoid encouraging prospectors. Captain Rawling, who travelled through western Tibet at the conclusion of the Younghusband Mission, was instructed 'to avoid all reference in conversation to information...regarding the goldfields'.[7]

Arms supplies to Tibet from India were an issue of particular sensitivity, in that they could have been seen as implying recognition of Tibet as an independent state. Hence both Bell and Macdonald's references to these supplies were censored. Where Bell commented on Tibetan troops being 'armed with the new rifles', mention of the source of these rifles (the Government of India) was removed. Macdonald's claim in his manuscript that demands for payment for weapons were a factor in the Panchen Lama's flight was also censored, along with a large section of suggestions on future policy, including support for Tibetan independence. Macdonald was told that it was 'most important that nothing should be said which could tend to damage relations with Tibet or any other foreign power'.[8]

Whitehall was primarily concerned with avoiding any references to British actions or policies liable to arouse international opposition. This meant that they opposed any reference to British influence in Tibet; the image they wanted to portray was of British India having normal neighbourly relations with Tibet, the two countries respecting each other's territorial integrity, and refraining from interference in each other's internal affairs.

The Government of India followed Whitehall's wishes in this matter, but their concern to use Tibet as a 'buffer-state', and to protect the security of their frontiers by separating India from China, meant that they were prepared to allow the cadre great latitude in their references to Tibet's status. They would even to allow them to support its independence, as long as they appeased Whitehall by not mentioning that they were trying to help the Tibetans achieve it.

The production of an image of Tibet was thus greatly affected by the need to appease other world powers. This concern for foreign reaction meant that the image of Tibet which the Government of India allowed to be promoted did not fully reflect the knowledge of the cadre. Most significantly it did not state unequivocally that Tibet was an independent state, which was to be of crucial importance to Tibet's future.

Government's attitude to works which had not been submitted for censorship was inconsistent. When White published Sikkim and Bhutan, he forwarded a copy to government to solicit sales. They considered White 'guilty of a grave act of insubordination and even impertinence' for remarks in his book which they saw as 'vindictive to the Government he served'. (For example, he wrote that 'It is neither a pleasant nor an easy task to have to deliberately deceive people who trusted you, as I had to do'.) Despite this, no action was taken against White. Somewhat surprisingly (given that White criticised the government's policy of withdrawing from involvement in Tibet in the post-Younghusband period, and admitted that the British had, in the case of Sikkim, 'deprived the weaker State of valuable territory'), Viceroy Minto concluded that 'The publication of a few home truths is not altogether disagreeable reading'.[9]

In practice, government could do little to prevent retired officers from writing what they wished. Bell reluctantly agreed to submit his first book for censorship, apparently after being threatened with action under the Official Secrets Act. When government heard he was writing another book they asked to see the proofs, but Bell found he was no longer bound by the Act. having been out of service for more than six years, and refused to submit the proofs. Government considered threatening his pension, but this was legally impossible, and they were forced to 'acquiesce gracefully' to Bell’s uncensored publications. All that could be done was for the India Office to press the Government of India to emphasise to the Political Officers in Sikkim and Nepal that, as these posts were 'closely connected with the affairs of foreign countries, the...Regulations governing publication apply with particular force'.[10]

Although official censorship was both inconsistent and ultimately unenforceable, it did affect the information flow from Tibet. On the other hand, those aspects of White and Bell's writings which escaped censorship were ultimately absorbed into the acceptable body of opinion. This process occurred in Bell's case both because of his personal prestige within the Tibet cadre, which meant his ideas were supported by his successors, and because the passages government objected to were principally indications of British support for Tibet, which they eventually found useful to show to the Tibetan Government.
White's 'self-laudatory' work appears to have been subject to a positive reinterpretation as the passage of time removed memory of his failures, and mythologised the early Tibetan frontiersmen.


The Government of India had considerable power to control the flow of information from Tibet into the public sphere. We have seen how they exercised control over access to Tibet, favouring travellers of similar background and outlook to their officials, on the assumption that their discretion could then be relied upon. Following McGovern's journey to Lhasa, government tightened this informal process by adding a further rule to the frontier pass visitors had to sign. Travellers had to agree

not to publish, without the previous consent of the Government of India, any statement, whether in the press or otherwise, regarding his visit to Tibet or based on material obtained during the visit. [11]

When 'knowledge' was released by government, organisations such as the Royal Geographical Society (hereafter referred to as the RGS), and the London Times, functioned unofficially as imperial support structures, by adding a further level of censorship. These bodies acted in close association with the Government of India, in return for which their leaders could expect to be given privileged access to information, events and places. Government even gave direct 'subsidies' to the Reuters news agency in India.[12]

Arthur Hinks, the long-serving Secretary of the RGS, had close links with many of the Tibet cadre, and played an important role in this process; we have noted how he assisted Bailey's attack on McGovern's reputation. Hinks censored information both before, and after, it was officially censored. When F. Spencer Chapman submitted a paper to the RGS, Hinks forwarded it to the India Office for censorship after 'cutting out a number of things which I am sure you would not like'. There was, he hoped, 'nothing left to which objection could be taken'. When the India Office made further changes, Hinks agreed these were 'very properly removed'.[13]

Government maintained a close relationship with these knowledge-disseminating bodies because articles they published carried great authority, and formed part of the body of 'dominant knowledge'. Although the intended audience for the reception of knowledge produced by the cadre was never clearly specified, it certainly included the sort of audience which would read the Times, and join the RGS. The information they published was understood by its readers to be 'true', because it was based on empirical evidence, and written by persons of similar outlook and class. It represented the 'official' knowledge of their readers' society.

Some officers actively solicited orders for their books from the Government of India, whose orders for works they approved of acted as a means of subsidising publication costs. Charles Sherring, for example, who had inspected the Gartok Trade Agency in 1905, hoped government would take at least 600 copies of his book, although in the event, after a lengthy process of soliciting orders from every department and Provincial Government, they took only 58 copies.[14] This suggests that the intended readership at which they aimed their works were their fellow colonial officials.

Mark Cocker notes that Bailey 'expected his readers to understand and share' his attitudes, which 'to a larger extent...they probably would have done. His most likely audience would have been from the officer classes with experience of colonial administration.' Cadre officers naturally recommended particular books to those interested, and these were invariably those written by other officially approved visitors. Mainprice, for example, recommended Spencer-Chapman's book 'for a good picture of Tibet'.[15]

Control of information from Tibet was also extended over the Tibetans. The British controlled the telegraph line which was Tibet's most rapid contact with the outside world. When (probably following Bell's advice) the Tibetans asked the British to extend the line from Gyantse to Lhasa, there was strong support for this within government. The Secretary of State was told that 'there are great advantages in any improvement of communications in countries contiguous to our borders, provided these communications are under our control'. The Military Department agreed it 'might...become of great military value to us', while Bell saw it as an opportunity to 'put the Tibetan Government under an obligation by helping them'. [16]

Information control was a two-way process. In addition to controlling information to and from Tibet, the British sought to control the image of the outside world which the Tibetans received. Bell began supplying the exiled Dalai Lama with translated extracts from Indian newspapers and Bailey continued this policy, and also forwarded suitable cuttings from the Times -- for example, reports of religious persecution in Russia. [17]

The British were able, to a great extent, to restrict Tibet's knowledge of the outside world. The Tibetans were given selected images of the West, images designed to reinforce the 'advice' given by the Politicals. By preventing the entry of other external influences, which might have acted as agents for change, the cadre may have reduced pressure for change within Tibet. But even the selected changes which the British introduced were strongly opposed by the powerful conservative forces within Tibet; the policy, therefore, contained elements of benefit to both British and Tibetan ruling structures.


There are alternative sources for an image of Tibet, voices largely silenced by the dominant image. In a study of Japanese travellers to Tibet, Scott Berry concluded that the four Japanese who visited Lhasa during the period 1912-24, failed to establish a significant image of Tibet due, not only to language difficulties, but to their undistinguished class background, and their lack of political connections and patronage from the Japanese Government.[18] This conclusion can also be applied to a neglected British voice.

The longest-serving Europeans in Tibet left almost no historical trace. They were the two Telegraph Sergeants, H. Martin and W.H. Luff, and Radio Officer Reginald Fox, who spent the longest period in Lhasa. None of these three Londoners published any work, or left personal papers. Just as the British imperial process marginalised indigenous 'subaltern' voices, British ’subaltern' voices were similarly neglected. The careers of these individuals demonstrate how the 'class voices' which expressed the British view of Tibet dominated frontier history at the expense of other 'voices'.

Sergeant Henry Martin was a former labourer, who served with Younghusband and remained in Gyantse as a Telegraphist, and later Head Clerk, from 1904 until he retired in 1931. He died soon after retiring, having found that despite 'his record of long faithful service...hard to beat in the annals of a Government office', his government were unwilling to correct an anomaly which reduced his pension by a third. Luff, who personally escorted the Dalai Lama into exile in India in 1910, also remained in Tibet from the Younghusband Mission until he retired in the late 1920s. After a brief, unsuccessful career as a gardener in Weir's Gangtok Residency, he died at Darjeeling in 1942. Reginald Fox served as Lhasa Mission Radio Officer from March 1937 until 1950, and similarly died soon after retiring. While he and his Tibetan wife are frequently mentioned in travellers' accounts, there is almost no trace of him in surviving British records.[19]

The absence of these 'subaltern voices' is significant in emphasising that the image the cadre produced was created by a particular class of officials, those who had passed through public schools, universities or military colleges, Indian civil or military service, and the filtering process of the Tibet cadre. With its essential class base, the Tibet cadre did not admit British 'lower ranks', no matter how experienced or knowledgeable, to the ranks of opinion makers. Support personnel had no influence on policy, and were thus excluded from the image creation process, just as they were in India.

As Fox, Luff, and Martin all sought to remain in Tibet after retirement, their involvement in the country must have been as committed as any cadre officer, but the understanding they gained from this involvement was not utilised, or at least not acknowledged, by the cadre. They were not normally included in meetings with the Tibetan ruling class, and neither were the perspectives which they gained from their social contacts with lower levels of Tibetan society, reflected in the dominant image created. The result was an image of Tibet based on a very narrow class perception.


We have seen that issues which might reflect badly on the cadre, such as cash payments to influential Tibetans, did not emerge into the public knowledge. There was also a gap between what the cadre themselves knew or believed, and what they divulged, as we have seen with Neame's article, which avoided mentioning both the purpose and the results of his mission. This can also be seen clearly in two cases where Politicals posted to Gyantse formed views which differed significantly from the usual cadre perception. It is significant that neither officer remained in Tibet for more than a few months. They were not therefore, by my definition, accepted members of the Tibet cadre.

The recorded memories of 1933 Gyantse Agent Meredith Worth, suggest an image of Tibet closer to that presented by Communist Chinese sources than to that offered in British sources. Interviewed in 1980. Worth recalled that

My memories are of many cheerful parties in the Fort and in the homes of wealthy families, the dominance and brutality of the Lamas and officials towards the serf population and the prevalence of venereal diseases....It was, therefore, for me a relief to read recently in Han Suyin's book "Lhasa, the Open City" [which promotes a polemically positive view of Communist rule in Tibet] that those conditions no longer exist.[20]


While speaking of Genpala I recollect an amusing story which I will here relate. There is in the house of a rich man in Nepāl a Tibetan servant of the name of Penba-pun-tso, who accompanied his master on one occasion on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. There were several other Tibetans in the company. Now, whereas in Nepāl food is cheap and plentiful and every one gets enough, that is not the case in Lhasa. There, the Lama gets a good meal with meats of various kinds, vermicelli, and eggs; but the ordinary layman has to be contented with parched barley flour—not unmixed with sand and grit—put in a bowl with tea and eaten. And often there is not enough even of that. The pilgrims cannot always get all they require, and many lose strength, while all lose flesh.

At last the pilgrimage was over, all the noteworthy Lamas had been visited, and the party of Nepālese, on their way home, reached the summit of Mount Genpala. With one accord they all turned round to take a last farewell of the Holy City. “We are indeed fortunate,” they murmured, “to have been allowed to accomplish this pilgrimage, and we pray (here they shed tears of pious fervor) that we may deserve to be re-born in the Holy Land of Buddha.”

But Penba-pun-tso refused to join them in their prayers. He deliberately turned his back on the Holy City, and took no pains to conceal his disgust at the behavior of his companions.

“How joyful it is, brethren,” he replied to their remonstrances, “to have left behind Lhasa, the hateful abode of hungry demons and evil spirits. My prayer is that I may never have occasion to see the place again.”

“You are very hard on Lhasa,” they said.

“Not a bit of it,” was the reply. “I am only honest; that’s all. In my master’s house in Nepāl I get plenty of food—good rice, with no sand in it. Why should I call Lhasa the Holy City—a place where the greedy Lamas are the only men who get enough to eat?”

Penba’s pious companions were much shocked at his outspoken heresies. But Penba did not mind their threats.

“I may be punished for what I have said,” he calmly remarked; “but all the same I am glad not to have been born in Lhasa. The devils of the Holy City may punish me if they like.”

There is a great deal of truth in what the man said. Lhasa swarms with beggars and paupers, and may truly be called the City of hungry devils.

There are even to be found in Lhasa professional mendicants who are also usurious money-lenders. These men as a rule starve themselves in order to save a little money, which they conceal in some secret place underground and then lend out at exorbitant rates of interest. When they die, their secret hoard is lost, until some one some day digs it up by chance, when it is presented as treasure-trove to the priests of Sera or to those of the Ganden or Rebon Temples. Can these men, who starve themselves in order to make a little additional gain, be called anything but hungry devils? Truly, I can witness that Lhasa is the abode of these hungry spirits, and that the Lamas are flesh-eating ogres.

Penba-pun-tso, whose story thus amused me as I climbed over the steeps of Genpala, is still living at Nyallam on the borders of Nepāl and Tibet. I cannot say that I fully share his feelings against Lhasa, which I know as well probably as he does; but it is indeed a city in which wheat and tares grow together, a very few noble Bodhisattvas dwelling in the midst of many extortionate demons. It is my earnest desire to return some day to the Holy City and there work for the important object of bringing together into living unity the Buddhism of Japan and Tibet.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

Paul Mainprice confided to his 1944 diary that

I have serious doubts whether Tibet is at all fit for independence and whether the present system of Government should be bolstered up. Would China in control of Tibet really be a very serious menace to India? As we don't seem to do much developing of Tibet, I question whether the Chinese would not be able to do it to our own mutual advantage. Of course the Tibetan aristocracy and officials would not like it, but the peasants preferred the Chinese regime in Eastern Tibet in the early years of this century. [21]

Neither Worth nor Mainprice appear to have expressed these views publicly during their imperial service. They were doubtless aware that views diametrically opposed to those of their superiors would be censored, and were unlikely to advance their careers. This must have acted as an incentive to self-censorship. As a result, the dominant image of Tibet was not affected by alternative views, even those of members of the Political Department.

The doubts which Mainprice expressed over British policy in Tibet do reflect a different perspective from that of other cadre officers. Mainprice 'was always concerned for the underdog'. He was one of the few imperial officers to gain good relations with the Mishmis during service in Assam, and his diaries record his later sympathy and support for the Muslim populace of Kashmir, which led to his being detained and expelled by the new Indian government.[22]

Mainprice's perspective indicates how the emphasis on relations with Tibet's ruling class resulted in a marginalisation of the voice of the majority of Tibetans, those outside ruling circles. Bell was aware that the peasants were often treated 'abominably' and even admitted in his first book that 'There is no doubt some foundation for the Amban's claim that the poorer classes in Tibet were in favour of China.' But Bell's policy of support for the existing Tibetan leadership meant that this perspective was not represented by the British. The condition of the lower classes was heavily criticised on occasion, Macdonald being particularly critical. But a positive image was maintained by attributing misrule to the era of Chinese domination, and describing how conditions were improving under the Dalai Lama's rule. This positive note was enhanced by the constant stress on the overall happiness and contentment of the peasant class, which is a recurrent theme in British accounts of Tibet, where even 'the slavery was of a very mild type'. [23]


According to American sinologist A. Tom Grunfeld there were a few slaves in Tibet. Grunfeld quotes Sir Charles Bell, a British colonial official in the Chumbi Valley in the early 19th century and a Tibet scholar who wrote of slaves in the form of small children being stolen or bought from their parents, too poor to support them, to be brought up and kept or sold as slaves.[19] These children came mostly from south-eastern Tibet and the territories of the tribes that dwelt between Tibet and Assam.[20] Grunfeld omits Bell's elaboration that in 1905, there were "a dozen or two" of these, and that it was "a very mild form of slavery".[21]

According to exile Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu, later accounts from Westerners who visited Tibet and even long-term foreign residents such as Heinrich Harrer, Peter Aufschnaiter, Hugh Richardson and David Macdonald make no mention of any such practice, which suggests that the 13th Dalai Lama must have eliminated this practice altogether in his reforms.[21]

-- Social class in Tibet [Caste system in Tibet], by Wikipedia


Government control over the supply of information to the press became increasingly more sophisticated in Tibet, as it did elsewhere. Michael Edwardes has noted how the expansion of the Western powers was matched by an increasing 'need to explain and justify the motives behind...expansion...to attract and inspire those sections of public opinion whose support was necessary to the activities of government'. As early as 1910, Younghusband, speaking in London, argued that 'our line of action in Tibet is entirely dependent on the state of opinion in this country'. [24]

The cadre's early press releases deliberately avoided commenting on policy, and contained little of popular interest. When the Dalai Lama came to India, Bell was instructed 'to assist the Press Correspondent with news while of course saying nothing as to the policy', and he detailed Laden La to supply 'such items of news, as are likely to soon afterwards in any case become known to the public'. Although Bell's first book recommended that 'We should do more than is done at present towards putting before the public the Tibetan side of incidents that arise', press communiques continued to be given in the officially approved 'vague and general terms'.[25]

Gould was again responsible for fully implementing Bell's policy suggestions. He recognised the public 'demand for "copy" which always appears to exist in regard to Tibet'. Where previous missions to Lhasa had sought anonymity, Gould arranged for generous publicity prior to his visit to Lhasa in 1936. Sections of the Mission Diaries were released to the press and these 'somewhat bald and colourless' excerpts were supplemented by descriptive articles written by Gould or Spencer-Chapman.[26]

Comparison of the original reports with those released to the press illustrates aspects of the image of Tibet which Gould sought to project. Reference to the 'bizarre' appearance of the Tibetan army was tactfully deleted, as was the description of the 'in some cases imbecile faces' of the villagers. The original phrase 'The old world courtesy, politeness, bowing and compliments of the Tibetans, officials as well as servants, is charming’, was reduced to avoid reference to politeness, bowing and compliments, perhaps due to their implicit association with Chinese forms of diplomacy.[27]

In the 1940s. Gould increased the means by which Tibet received publicity. He arranged subsidies for a Tibetan language newspaper, published in Kalimpong by the Reverend Tharchin, a Ladakhi convert to Christianity who maintained close links with the British. Foreign newspaper correspondents with influence in America were invited to Tibet 'in the hope that the U.S. public will be led to appreciate the Tibetan position vis-a-vis China'. Archie Steele was the first journalist invited, and his visit was followed by others in the late 1940s, but their writings had little apparent effect.[28]

Gould emphasised the need for Tibet to publicise its cause, and, in line with cadre traditions, ensured that this process was controlled by his own government. The India Office were informed that

the thing should be kept in the Government of India's hands and...the Ministry of Information should be largely frozen out....I think it would be unfortunate if the Ministry's Far Eastern Bureau in Delhi were enabled to get a foot in the Tibetan door. [29]

Part of Gould's publicity campaign involved ensuring that British publications reflected the desired view of Tibet. In the 1920s Bailey had unsuccessfully tried to get the British film censor to remove parts of the official film of an Everest expedition which the Tibetans found offensive (in particular a sequence in which a Tibetan was shown removing lice from his clothing). Gould was more successful in obtaining the co-operation of the editor of Whitaker's Almanack, who agreed to send the proofs of an article on Tibet to the India Office for 'correction'. Richardson revised the article, although the India Office cautiously noted that 'we must be careful not to appear to be telling Whitakers what to publish'.[30]

In response to the Chinese establishment of a library in Lhasa in the 1940s, the Lhasa Mission built up a collection of books on Tibet, which were used to impress the Tibetans. Their leaders were also given books written by Bell, Tucci and others, which demonstrated European interest in, and concern for, Tibet. Bell clearly expressed his intent when he told the Dalai Lama that he hoped his first book would 'do good for Tibet by causing British and Americans to understand Tibet better’. Gould and Richardson's dictionary was another work seen in this context. It was observed that 'Perhaps its greatest propaganda value will be the fact that the Political Officer is sufficiently interested in Tibetan to write a book about it. The supply of information to Tibet was, therefore, part of a process of image production which reinforced the projection of British prestige outlined in Chapter Two. [31]

An important addition to this process came in the early 1930s when the cadre found that film shows were extremely popular with the Tibetans. They concluded that 'the cinema ...can be made into the most powerful of all our propaganda weapons'. The Lhasa Mission put on regular shows which were attended by both lay officials and monks. The films were carefully chosen with advice from intermediaries such as Norbhu Dhondup, to project British power and to appeal to Tibetan sensibilities. Thus one film was adjudged suitable as it gave 'the right impression of British power and purpose'. Another, on St Paul's cathedral, was considered particularly suitable for Tibet due to its 'religious flavour'.[32]

The Tibetans gradually became aware of the importance of outside opinion. One indication of this came in 1937, when, after allegations by an American journalist that the Panchen Lama had been involved in commercial schemes in China, the exiled Lama wrote to the Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society denying the allegations. [33] In the late '40s, the Tibetans hesitantly began actively to seek publicity. J.E. Reid, an electrical engineer who was the last British Indian official to be invited to Lhasa, reported in January 1950 that 'The Tibetan Government had suddenly awoken to the reality of the dangers which threatened it and is now regretting its past policy of keeping aloof from outside contact.' The Tibetans, he reported, 'were now anxious that full world publicity should be given to their plight and to the country itself. This 'awakening' came too late to assist the Tibetan cause against the Chinese, but the Tibetan Government-in-exile have endeavoured to obtain as much publicity as possible for their cause. [34]


Competing power structures produce images, the ascendancy of which depends upon subsequent political and social events. We cannot assume that the records of the subordinate powers involved in producing competing images represent images which are 'true', and in opposition to dominant 'false' images. Rather we must examine each image for the truths which it contains, or represents. There was no one, true, image to be understood or 'discovered'. Each encounter produced different results, and different constructions by the powers involved.

Creating an image of Tibet was part of British policy there. Whitehall was advised that there was 'in the case of Tibet...[little or no]...difference between propaganda and policy'.[35] Although Whitehall prevented Tibet's being recognised as independent, the cadre were at least partly successful in promoting its separate identity. The fusion of policy and image-construction meant that there were few areas of the British-constructed image that did not reflect both the political process in which they were engaged, and the perspective of their Lhasa allies.

But while cadre officers did generally tailor their knowledge to fit within the limits of Government of India policy, their writings were censored by government and by its supporting structures. The final image produced therefore differed from the 'truth' as discovered by the cadre. Nevertheless, the status which the cadre derived from their presence 'on the spot' gave their books a great authority in political and academic circles -- that is, among readers of the cadre officers' social class and background -- and they have therefore been influential at that level. As the image reflected the perspective of the cadre's Lhasa allies, the image promoted in these works was largely accepted by the Tibetans, and has thus remained unchallenged in the West until recent years.

While the Government of India could control the flow of information from Tibet, there was one factor in the promotion of this image into democratic European society which could not be controlled. That was the public's interest in particular aspects of Tibet. Human nature meant that sensational and colourful aspects were favoured over the 'bland and colourless'. During the 1920s, the travels of both General Pereira and Alexandra David- Neel were described in books. Younghusband's edition of Pereira's diaries was a positivist account of Tibet, the journey legitimised by its catalogue of dates, places, and scientific observations. David-Neel's account, in contrast, provided few such details, but gave a colourful description of Tibet's people and culture. Pereira's book was of specialist interest only, and was never reprinted. In contrast, David-Neel's book has remained in print for nearly seventy years.[36]

The mystical image of Tibet was the one with the widest popular appeal. While the general public may be aware of the main aspects of the hegemonic texts -- Tibet's separate status and the position of the Dalai Lama -- it is the mystical image which 'sells'.

This commercial factor has been largely ignored in the debate over 'Orientalism'. It is a great weakness of the 'Orientalist' argument that it ascribes political motives to the human attraction to, and desire for, 'exotic' images. In the popular imagination, Tibet, as Peter Bishop observes, retains its attraction because it is ’located at the periphery of the social world...entangled in...[the]...frontier imagination...outside the demands and stresses of the modern world, outside space and time.' The general public have been more attracted by this image than by the positivist one. The cadre understood this, and used it to enhance the image they had constructed.[37]

As the cadre officer's books were published by commercial publishers, and it became increasingly difficult to publish a purely positivist work, the officers needed to take account of public taste. Thus, when Bailey submitted draft chapters of his autobiography, his reader returned it with suggestions on how to make it more interesting for the general public. Bailey was advised that while his treatment was

all right for the Journal of the R.G.S....the general reader wants something more human -- a hint occasionally of the authors[sic] physical and spiritual reaction to his disappointments and to his successes ....A little description too of the peoples...the scenery also -- which must be colourful. That mountain ...for instance...must have been a thrilling sight, but there is no thrill in the telling.[38]

The result of this commercial demand was to ensure that cadre officers' books contained the necessary emphasis on the 'colourful' and the 'thrilling'. While Bell and Richardson's books, aimed at an academic audience, contain the minimum of such matter, the memoirs of other cadre officers and official visitors to Tibet contain descriptions of sky burials, religious dances, aristocratic pageantry, oracles' trances, hermits' retreats, and the lengthy and (in European eyes) peculiar menus at banquets - themes which recur in virtually every book.

The need for authors to express their personal reactions to their encounter with Tibet makes this discourse the repository for perpetuating images of 'Otherness' which are challenged by the array of other material which they present which is designed to render Tibet 'familiar'. Thus MacDonald -- despite an intimate knowledge of monastic life -- described his reaction to the Potala as, 'One wondered what was going on behind the walls, and imagined the lamas invoking all... their magic.' Similarly Spencer-Chapman described Lhasa's holiest shrine as 'repellent and sinister ...as if one might come upon priests performing barbaric rites and offering sacrifices of human blood before their sardonic idols.' The need for 'colour' meant that these writers adopted a European outsiders perspective, even when, as in the case of MacDonald, their background gave them a much deeper understanding of their subject. [39]



[1] IOLR L /P & S /11/123-2400, Yatung Annual Report, 1916-17, cover note by Bell; L/P&S/11/79-2495, Gartok Annual Report, 1912-13.

[2] IOLR L/P&S/7/183-1940, Bell report, 17 November 1905, file note by 'DFG', 18 January 1906.

[3] IOLR L/P&S/7/249-1151, Gyantse Annual Report, 1910-11, cover note by Bell; Normanton (1988, p.122) quoting Richardson [no source given]; McKay (1992b, fn,14, p.122).

[4] Marshall and Williams (1982, pp.2-3).

[5] For Mainprice's doubts, see Mainprice papers, diary entry of 22 July 1944, and 'In Asia's Heart', unpublished manuscript by F.P. Mainprice; Neame (1939, pp.234-246).

[6] IOLR L/P&S/12/3977-206, undated memo to Mr Walton. The 'Government Servants Conduct Rules of 1904’ and the 'Army Regulations India, Volume 2, paragraph 423 of the King’s Regulations' both governed publications by government officials; NAI FD, 1906 External BJuly 15.

[7] NAI FD, 1906 External BJuly 15, anonymous file note, May 1906.

[8] IOLR L/P&S/12/3982, various correspondence; L/P&S/12/3977, various correspondence; Bell (1992, p. 162).

[9] NAI FD, 1910 General BApril 156, file notes by E.H.S.Clarke, 2 March 1910, & Viceroy Minto, 25 March 1910; White (1984, pp.110, 283; also see 166, 200, 284).

[10] IOLR L/P&S/12/3982, various correspondence. Bell's papers include a copy of the Official Secrets Act. NAI FD, 1928 Establishment B253-E, Secretary of State to India, 28 June 1928.

[11] IOLR L/P&S/10/1011-3605, India to India Office, 5 September 1923.

[12] For example, the India Office supplied the RGS with a copy of Williamson's confidential report on his journey to western Tibet; IOLR L/P&S/12/4163-1165, E.P.Donaldson (India Office) to Arthur Hinks, 21 March 1933; also see Bishop (1989, pp.13-14); Kaminsky (1986, pp.176-77).

[13] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193-3143, Hinks to J.C.Walton, 3 May 1938, 12 May 1938.

[14] NAI FD, External BJuly 16-60, various correspondence.

[15] Cocker (1994, p.28); Mainprice papers, diary entry of 28 July 1943.

[16] IOLR L/P&S/11/152-2647, various correspondence 1919-20.

[17] Bell (1987, p. 136); IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Bailey to Norbhu Dhondup, 20 August 1927.

[18] Berry (1995, pp.156-57).

[19] NAI FD, 1930 Estimate 45E 1-9, personal file of H. Martin; re Luff, see Bell (1987, pp.97-99); IOLR MSS Eur F157-240, Norbhu Dhondup to Bailey, 17 September 1929 & 30 September 1929; The most detailed account of Fox's career, perhaps significantly, is by an American, see Thomas (1950, pp,284-288).

[20] IOLR MSS Eur F226/34, M. Worth, IPS Collection. Due to illness and age, Mr Worth was unfortunately unable to respond to my request to discuss his recollections in more detail; personal correspondence with Mrs Olga Worth, 22 August 1993; Suyin (1977).

[21 ] Mainprice papers, diary entry of 22 July 1944.

[22] Mainprice stayed on in Pakistan after 1947, but died of polio in Swat three years later; personal correspondence with Mrs Joan Mainprice, 28 April 1993; Mainprice papers, passim.

[23] For example see Macdonald (1991, p.191); Bell (1992, pp.79, 93); British Museum Bell Collection, Bell notebook 2, p .18; Potter (1986, p.59), notes how ICS officers 'identified themselves far more closely with the values and interests of those who employed them than with the workers and peasants and other classes below them.'

[24] Edwardes (1967, p. 165); Younghusband (1910, p.4).

[25] NAI FD, 1912 External BAug 71, Bell to India, 6 June 1912; FD, 1912 External BMay 207, Bell to India, 26 March 1912; FD, Index 1934 File No458-X Secret; Bell (1992, pp.198, 268).

[26] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-3864, Gould Report on Lhasa Mission, 30 April 1937.

[27] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193, Gould Mission Diary, various entries, Viceroy to Secretary of State, 18 July 1936, Report entitled 'On the Road to Lhasa', issued to the Press on 17 September 1936.

[28] NAI EAD, Index 1944 File No 10 (60) F.P; EAD, Index 1946, Files No 10 (2), & (3) N.E.F.; IOLR L/P&S/12/4165-3578, Richardson to Gould, 9 July 1944; L/P&S/12/4201, Lhasa Mission Reports 1942-45, various entries, esp. (4418) cover note by J.P. Ferriss, 3 September 1944; Interview with Mr Tharchin, February 1994; Lamb (1989, p.332). Re Steele, see Baker & Steele (1993); Re the Reverend Tharchin, see Norbu (1975).

[29] IOLR L/P&S/12/4605, India to India Office, 27 July 1942, and related correspondence.

[30] IOLR MSS Eur F157-290, Bailey to Mr Parsons, undated [c1924/25]; L/P&S/12/1176, various correspondence, {original emphasis}; RGS Everest Collection, EE 24/2/1, Bailey to Hinks, 18 November 1924.

[31] IOLR L/P&S/12/4201-7096, Lhasa Mission Report, week ending 20 September 1942; MSS Eur F80 5a 88, Bell to the Dalai Lama, 31 January 1928; NAI EAD, Index 1945 File No.148 C.A.

[32] IOLR L/P&S/12/4605-5261, C. Rolfe (India Office) to Film Section, British Council, 3 May 1943, (3894) British Embassy, Chungking, to Far Eastern Section, Ministry of Information, 27 May 1942; NAI EAD Index 1945 File No.148 C.A. The films were apparently chosen to appeal to all types of audience. Many were silent comedies, particularly Chaplin's, as very few in the audience would have understood English.

[33] Correspondence between the Panchen Lama and Mr B. Crump, Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society (23, 1936, p.720).

[34] FO 371/84449 (170649), 'Notes on a conversation with Mr J.E. Reid', 19 January 1950.

[35] IOLR L/P&S/12/4605, India to India Office, 27 July 1942.

[36] Younghusband (1925); David-Neel (1927).

[37] Bishop (1989, pp.10, 148, 163).

[38] IOLR MSS Eur F157-319, anonymous comments on typescript autobiography by F.M. Bailey, (unpublished), [original emphasis].

[39] MacDonald (1991, p.29); Spencer-Chapman (1992, p.155).
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:36 am



En route to Lhasa in 1936, the Gould Mission visited a monastery where the Abbot predicted rain, as

"the holy pig was just due to rise out of Manasarovar Lake and...three days rain usually fell on it, as this rain water was necessary to consecrate the Pig".

Two published accounts of the journey by members of the mission refer to this prediction, but neither comments on it.[1] For minds trained in the tradition of scientific enquiry, this forecast was noteworthy because it was beyond logical comprehension and explanation; it was inexorably 'Other'.

India’s northern frontier in the 1904-47 period was a realm of interaction between two very different cultures, which raises the question of whether this encounter was a dialogue. Did either culture understand the other? To answer this question, we must examine what measures of understanding may be used, and consider the extent to which individual cadre officers can be said to have understood Tibet. We have seen how and why the cadre constructed an image of Tibet, and that this obscured certain aspects of the situation there. We can, therefore, separate the understanding gained by individual cadre officers from the image which the cadre sought to construct, and ask whether individual members of the Tibet cadre were able to understand, and engage in a dialogue with, the Tibetans.

We shall, in this chapter, also consider the effect of the cadre's frontier location on the officers' understanding. It will be seen that an absence of precise definition is characteristic of frontiers in general, and the Tibetan frontier in particular. This was not only due to political factors, but because the Tibetan frontier was what may be called a 'liminal' zone, where precise definitions could be inappropriate.


In 1926, the officer inspecting the Gartok Trade Agency reported that, as the local people were still 'medieval', British and Tibetan officials there had 'almost no basis on which to approach each other'. This lack of understanding is apparent in many aspects of Anglo-Tibetan relations, as we have seen with the cadre's presentation of British prestige to the Tibetans, which used forms and symbols which were not received by the Tibetans in the manner intended. The cadre, however, were aware of the difficulty of understanding another culture; they knew that 'Asia does not think along European lines.'[2] We can, therefore, ask whether the British ever understood the Tibetans, a question which is located within the wider academic debate concerning whether the encounter between imperial and indigenous societies resulted in mutual understanding. Although Tibet was never a British colony, it is appropriate to raise these issues within this wider context, both because the encounter was imposed in the interests of the colonial power, and because an image of Tibet was produced by the dominant imperial power for a political purpose.

Recent scholarship has tended to conclude that the British did not understand, and could not have understood, the cultures they encountered in South Asia. Margaret Ewing, for example, concluded that 'Whatever the civilians may have believed...the Indian context in which they worked was beyond their understanding', and, specifically in the Tibetan context, Heather Spence concluded that 'It seems almost impossible that Westerners...and Tibetans should have understood each other.'[3]

These conclusions are based on the premise that because knowledge of indigenous societies was appropriated and reconstructed by the imperial nations in a form determined by their power structures, there could not be an objective understanding of one society by the other. Nor could there be a shared perception and understanding even between individuals, as each worked from the basis of different, and incompatible, sets of knowledge.

The Government of India's implicit assumption was that its officers gained understanding from empirical observation, and thus that the cadre's location enabled them to discover the 'truth' about their host culture, a truth which could not otherwise be obtained. Hence, although the Tibetans had protested before the Younghusband Mission that they sought isolation in order to protect their religion, this was only accepted as 'true' by the British after Bell had been to Lhasa, and 'discovered' it. As Younghusband stated, 'This is the discovery made by Sir Charles Bell during his year of almost daily intercourse with the Dalai Lama at Lhasa. It is a discovery of greatest importance.'[4]

The cadre promoted the value of their presence 'on the spot', claiming that Tibet's 'atmosphere must be almost impenetrable to one who has not been there'. Younghusband expressed this when he claimed that personal experience had given him understanding of the Tibetans. After visiting the Jokhang (Lhasa's main temple), he wrote 'Here it was that I found the true inner spirit of the people.'[5]

Understanding was thus seen as gained principally through empirical observation, which was considered to increase with time 'on the spot'. This meant that those officers with the longest terms of service, Bell, MacDonald, Richardson, and Norbhu, were thought to have gained the deepest insight into Tibet; Bell described MacDonald's 'long residence in Tibet' as a factor in his good performance. [6]

The Tibetans shared the belief that insight increased with time. The Dalai Lama told Bailey that 'it took the Tibetans a long time to get to know a new man and it took a British officer a long time to get to know Tibetans and their language'. Thus the Tibetans preferred that cadre officers serve long terms in Tibet, a principle they expressed with their proverb that 'Old devils are better than new Gods'.[7]

Our definition of understanding today, however, implies a perception of meaning in an object beyond that obtained by empirical observation. Understanding also involves sympathy for, and agreement or harmony with, that object. In the case of a complex object such as an individual or a culture, there is no single point in time, or degree of knowledge, at which understanding of the object is reached: rather there are degrees of understanding, and a failure to comprehend some aspects of a culture does not preclude an overall understanding of it. Aspects of Tibetan culture always remained 'Other', even to Bell, MacDonald and Richardson. But culture and society are in a constant state of flux, and different cultures may exist within one society. Even within societies, individuals may fail to understand aspects of their 'own' culture.

Understanding develops, and, as 'Outsiders' increase their understanding of a culture, they progress through stages of 'Outsiderness', to 'Insiderness', culminating at a level in which the individual is accepted as 'belonging' to the 'Other' culture. These levels of understanding may be categorised, as for example Peter Bishop has done in the case of European travellers to Tibet. [8]

The criteria required to reach the highest level of understanding, that of 'belonging' to the 'Other' culture, necessarily vary with the subject culture. But certain requisite attributes common to cultural understanding appear obvious. Fluency in the host language, the basis of understanding, is essential. So too is a significant time-span spent among the 'Other' society. The individual must also be sympathetic to, and identify with, that (subject) culture. Norbhu, Bell, MacDonald and Richardson all fulfilled these criteria. The trust which the Tibetans placed in individuals such as Bell (for example, allowing him to represent them at the Simla Convention on one occasion), indicates that they did recognise certain cadre officers as 'understanding', and even 'belonging' to, their society. Both societies thus acknowledged these officers' insight, a very significant, if not conclusive, measure of understanding.

There is one further indication of understanding which is important in this imperial context: the individual's ability to produce an account of the 'Other' culture which makes sense to both communities. As we have seen in the case of Laden La, it was then considered of great importance that in coming to 'belong' to the 'Other' culture, individuals did not cease to be accepted as 'belonging' to their own. In British India, an individual who was considered to have 'gone native', to a large extent placed him self outside his own society. His insights ceased to be trusted, or accepted as ’true', by knowledge-making bodies such as the Royal Geographical Society, which only processed know ledge expressed in forms and using conventions it deemed appropriate. An individual's ability to produce an account of the 'Other' culture which was accepted by both communities, indicates that, while 'belonging' to the 'Other' culture', he had not ceased to be accepted as 'belonging' to his own.

It appears that becoming an 'Insider' meant a 'crossing over' from one culture to another, but the production of a mutually acceptable account of the host society indicated the ability both to 'cross over’, and to return to, the original culture. Bell, as will be seen, 'crossed over', but he did not cease to 'belong' to his own culture. He returned to express his understanding of Tibetan culture in European forms, in works accepted as adequately representing their culture by the Tibetan Government-in-exile, who continue to recommend Bell's work.[9]

British officers naturally began their Tibetan career as 'Outsiders'. They had an 'awareness of meaning withheld and of the inability to participate in those meanings'. [10] Depending on their degree of interest in Tibet, and their perspective of it as a career posting, they could then develop the necessary interest in Tibet, command of its language, and friendly ties with its people, that were required for continued service there, and acceptance as what I have term ed a 'Tibet cadre' officer. Officers such as Worth and Mainprice failed to progress from this 'Outsider' status.

Long service, and close ties with the Tibetans, gave officers such as Weir and William son a deeper level of understanding of Tibetan society, and some sense of 'belonging' there. Thus William son 'never felt so happy as when he was among them [Tibetans]'.[11] But these officers did not become 'Insiders' in Tibetan culture. This was partly due to their lack of fluency in language, without which it was believed that 'no one can get INSIDE the Tibetans’[12] and, at least in the case of Weir, whose ultimate ambition was a first-class Indian Residency, an unwillingness to dedicate his career entirely to Tibet. But something more was required to become an 'Insider': individual perception. Becoming accepted as 'belonging' to Tibetan culture required an intuitive, as well as empirical, understanding of Tibetan society. Ideal frontier officers, such as Sandeman, were considered to possess 'an intuitive perception...from an Oriental as well as an English point of view'.[13] This was seen as giving insight unavailable to others, however learned. Thus his fellow-officers noted how Norbhu Dondup 'has such an intuitive knowledge of Tibetan affairs and people that his conclusions, however fantastic they may appear, are practically always right'. Despite fulfilling most of the criteria required of 'Insiders', officers such as Bailey did not reach the ultimate state of'complete belonging' or 'complete identity with a place' because they lacked that intuitive understanding which made the 'Other' appear 'familiar'.[14]

Whereas military officers were closely associated with frontiers such as the North-W est Frontier Province, on the Tibetan frontier those officers with a strong military background appear to have had greatest difficulty in gaining this intuitive understanding. It would appear that the practical focus of their training precluded sympathetic insight into a contemplative society. George Sherriff, for example, failed to understand Tibetan concepts of good behaviour. Sherriff held gun classes in Lhasa, which commenced at 10 a.m. - '10 a.m. sharp in the military mind'. When the Tibetan trainees arrived at least an hour late, Sherriff was not impressed; but in Tibetan custom it was considered good behaviour to arrive late, so as not to appear 'too keen'. To Sherriff, this perspective remained 'Other'.[15]

Of the British (or Anglo-Indian) cadre officers, three civilians. Bell, MacDonald and Richardson, proved best able intuitively to understand Tibet. Bell devoted his life to Tibet. He immersed him self so deeply into Tibetan culture, and placed such emphasis on adherence to Tibetan ceremonial and ritual traditions, that he considered that 'I became in a large measure Tibetanised'.[16]

Bell was considered by his own society as having understood the Tibetans, and considered him self to have a place in Tibetan society. He was equipped with the language skill, experience, and personal empathy and interest to attain an intuitive understanding of Tibetan culture. But did he gain acceptance by Tibetan society as 'belonging' to their culture?

There are few sources from which to answer this. The only Tibetan source in English which refers to Bell's understanding is, as far as I am aware, a work by a former Tibetan Government Minister, W.D. Shakabpa, the nearest we have to an official Tibetan history in the English language. It refers to Bell as 'a very close friend of the Dalai Lama'. [17]

Our other source is Bell himself, but familiarity with Bell's despatches suggests that in personal matters he may be relied upon. Bell was not overly given to self-praise for purely personal, as opposed to policy, reasons and the Tibetan tributes which Bell records are not the flattering platitudes routinely given by local rulers to retiring imperial officers, some of whom took them seriously enough to repeat them in their memoirs. The Tibetans whom Bell quotes refer not to his abilities and achievements, but to his affinity with the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama him self is quoted as telling Bell 'I have complete confidence in you, for we two are men of like mind', while a leading monastic official is quoted as having written to the Dalai Lama that

’When a European is with us Tibetans I feel that he is a European and we are Tibetans; but when Lonchen Bell is with us, I feel that we are all Tibetans together.'[18]

The Tibetans indicated their acceptance of Bell as an 'Insider' by what Bishop calls 'an honorary kinship designation in a religious framework'.[19] The Tibetans (again Bell is the source for this), explained Bell's involvement in Tibet as deriving from his having been a Tibetan in a previous incarnation, who had prayed to be reborn in a powerful country in order to help Tibet. If we accept this account, which is consistent with Tibetan beliefs, and other Europeans have claimed this status was also endowed on them,[20] it would appear to place Bell firmly as an 'Insider' who was accepted by the Tibetans as having intuitively understood them. Therefore we can, in this case, state that Bell understood the Tibetans, that they accepted him as understanding them, and that his writings indicated his ability to produce an account of Tibet satisfying both parties. [21]

Bell was not unique in 'crossing over' and becoming accepted as an 'insider' by the Tibetans themselves. MacDonald and Richardson also gained this highest possible level of understanding, while several other officers, such as O'Connor, approached this level, but w ere prevented by circumstance from gaining a complete understanding. Norbhu Dhondup, as we have seen in Chapter Three, was widely seen as having made the journey in the opposite direction. MacDonald, with his local background, perhaps found it easiest, and of Richardson it was noted in the Secretariat as early as 1939 that 'he has identified himself more closely with Tibetans and Tibetan affairs, and...gained more insight and respect, than any Englishmen since the time of Charles Bell'. Richardson, like Bell, has devoted his life to the study of Tibet. The present Dalai Lama maintains regular contact with him, considering his life 'very precious to us'. [22]

The principal objection to claiming that these three officers were considered by Tibetans as 'belonging' to their culture must be that none of them became Buddhists. While a deep study of an indigenous religion such as Buddhism was considered a perfectly proper imperial pursuit, to have adopted that religion would have removed an officer from the acceptable parameters of behaviour for a British official. Yet, as we have seen, the Tibetans' own identification of them selves was based on a shared sense of religious identity; Tibetans considered them selves devout followers of a particular type of Buddhism. Could therefore, a non-Buddhist British official be considered by Tibetans as an 'Insider'?

The answer to this may lie in the Tibetan's conception of the world. Few Tibetans had any understanding of Christianity, and a leading Tibetan academic notes that as a child 'I had never heard of the world outside Tibet and I was convinced that no other race apart from the Tibetans existed'.[23] The boundaries of Tibetan Buddhism were not firmly fixed. Outside the core ruling sect, the Gelugpa, were the other major Tibetan Buddhist sects, and the Bon sect, whose historical foundations predated Buddhism, but which had become a systemised religion under Buddhist influence. There were also Tibetan Muslims, whose status was peripheral, culturally Tibetan, but in religion 'outsiders'. In Tibet there was, therefore, both an ignorance of (or lack of interest in) other religions, even races, and an absence of defined religious boundaries. [24]

The British were aware that the Tibetans had seen them as a threat to their religion. Knowing the great importance of religion to the Tibetans, the cadre went to great lengths to avoid the appearance of offering any threat to Buddhism. When officers such as O'Connor hired Tibetan religious practitioners to carry out ceremonies, and displayed interest and respect for Tibetan religious traditions, this must have been contrasted favourably with the actions of the Chinese, who in the 1907-11 period had caused great damage to Tibetan religious institutions. Officers such as Bell gathered an extensive knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, and displayed a respect for its outer forms; they did not emphasise their Christian beliefs in Tibet.[25]

By allying with the Buddhist leadership of the Dalai Lama the British effectively marginalised any religious opposition to their presence. Through such devices as allocating these cadre officers a Tibetan heritage from a previous incarnation, they could be given 'honorary Buddhist' status within the broad parameters of the Tibetan religious system. It would appear therefore, that the British came to be seen by the Tibetans as protectors of Tibetan Buddhism (a role previously filled by the Chinese). Officers such as Bell were seen as having incarnated as Christians (or in MacDonald's case, adopted Christianity), in order to protect Buddhism; their Christianity was considered a necessary device used by Buddhists (in a previous existence) to protect Buddhism. Thus while not becoming Buddhists, these officers were given a place within the Tibetan Buddhist system, and this was essential to their being accepted as 'Insiders'.

Therefore, while previous scholarship has doubted the ability of one culture to understand another, it was possible for individuals to gain an understanding of the 'Other' society which was accepted by both parties, and this relationship was a dialogue. However, it is important to note that most Tibet cadre officers, did not 'cross over' and come to 'belong' to Tibetan society; they did not expect to. While they established good personal relations with Tibetans, and developed a love of the country, to them it remained 'Other'. This was an important part of its attraction; they wanted to serve on the frontier, with all that symbolised. They did not seek the familiar.

This is not to suggest that these officers were either ineffective, or unpopular with Tibetans or their fellow cadre officers. Within the Tibet cadre there was always both a tendency to command, and another tendency to understand, the Tibetans; a dichotomy which can be equated to tendencies in British India described by Dewey in terms of a "Cult of Friendship" and a "Gospel of Uplift".[26] Neither tendency predominated overall, or even in a single officer. But the Government of India did not need its frontiersmen to become 'Insiders' in Tibet; its interests were well-enough served by a lower level of understanding.

The expertise in Tibetan affairs which came from becoming an 'Insider' in Tibetan society did enhance the status of a cadre officer with his government, and implied that he was better equipped to serve their interests. As an interest in Tibet was essential to continued employment in Tibet, deepening understanding was a logical consequence of the Tibet cadre's presence in the region. But only a few individuals with a particular personal interest and commitment to service in Tibet sought the highest level of understanding, and it was not an essential requirement for the functioning of imperial government.

To conclude that colonial encounter in itself cannot allow understanding, ignores the insight gained by the 'men on the spot'. The understanding which officers such as Bell gained was not dependent on the imperial context of their encounter. Imperial and career factors provided the opportunity for, and affected the transmission of, understanding, but Bell, MacDonald and Richardson showed that individuals 'crossed over' from personal desire to do so, rather than as an exercise in power. A distinction should, therefore, be drawn between the understanding gained by these individuals, and that reflected in the image they constructed. This question of individual understanding in imperial encounter has been largely overlooked in previous debate, which has centred on power relationships, rather than personal relationships.


It is now recognised that imperial encounter had an important effect on both the European and the indigenous powers engaged in the process. That influence affected individuals, as well as societies, and was particularly clear in the realm of understanding. For example, Charles Bell's understanding of Tibet was greatly influenced by his personal contacts with the 13th Dalai Lama, which gave him a Lhasa-centric perspective.

Bell's earliest understanding of Tibet came from Palhese, a central Tibetan aristocrat, albeit a disaffected one, and he continued to emphasise contacts with Lhasa and central Tibetan ruling figures. As a result, the policies which Bell initiated generally reflected an understanding of Tibet strongly influenced by the perspective of the Dalai Lama and his government - for example, as seen in Chapter Five, Bell's adoption of the Dalai Lama's policy in regard to a British representative in Lhasa.

Bell could not impose policies which the Tibetans strongly opposed without alienating his allies, or creating civil disturbances which would potentially threaten the security of the Indian border, the protection of which, it must be remembered, was the cadre’s primary purpose. Bell therefore adopted a policy of support for the traditional Lhasa leadership (at the expense of power structures elsewhere in Tibet), and took the aspirations and cultural traditions of the Tibetan ruling structure into account in framing his policies.

The British understanding of Tibet may also have been affected by a Sikkimese perspective. This aspect of their understanding is difficult to gauge, for it is not brought out in the sources, but many of the intermediaries who assisted the British in learning about Tibet, such as Sonam Tobden, Yatung Trade Agent in the 1940s, were Sikkimese.

The Sikkimese did not consider themselves Tibetans. While Sikkimese religion and culture were closely related to those of Tibet, there were significant differences; for example the leading Buddhist sect there were the Kargyu, rather than the Gelugpa sect which ruled at Lhasa, a separate code of law was used, and supreme authority was vested in a monarch, in contrast to the Tibetan form of theocracy. This separate identity was recognised by both the British and the Tibetan Governments, who dealt with Sikkim as a separate state. This meant that the Sikkimese employed by the British also had to interpret Tibet; among the private papers of Sikkimese intermediaries are notes on Tibetan language and culture which indicate that they, like the British, set out to acquire know ledge of Tibet. [27]

Sikkimese interests did not necessarily coalesce with those of Britain or Tibet. Their archives record that in the 18th and 19th centuries they had lost territory to

Powerful hordes of elephants from the south,[i.e. India]
Active hordes of monkeys from the west,[i.e. Nepal]
Cunning hordes of foxes from the north.[i.e. Tibet][28]

Service with the British offered the Sikkimese a 'voice', and while there are no obvious cases where intermediaries were able to influence the British in Sikkim's favour, it is necessary to consider that the intermediaries' identity and interests may have affected British understanding of Tibet in ways which reflected Sikkimese perspectives and aspirations. It may, for example, have given them a greater understanding of the Kargyu sect than other (geographically) peripheral sects.


In the sphere of encounter there is no abrupt change from 'familiar' to 'Other'; rather there is a zone of transition between the two - the frontier. The transitional nature of this zone tends to defy precise definition.[29] This lack of definition is so apparent in many areas of the British encounter with Tibet as to be a defining characteristic. As Bishop comments, 'Tibet seemed always to have the ability slightly to elude the total embrace of Western Orientalism'.[30]

Even the term used by Whitehall to describe China's status in Tibet, 'suzerainty', was vague and imprecise, with no definition of what level of Chinese control it implied was acceptable. 'Suzerainty' has acquired a specific usage in the Tibetan context, and yet it has no agreed meaning in practice. It certainly implied that Tibet had internal autonomy, but the cadre were prepared to accept suzerainty only in its narrowest possible definition, as a purely ceremonial form, which excluded any Chinese control of Tibet. [31]

This linguistic imprecision extended into other areas, which, while not obviously significant in themselves, were symbolic of the wider lack of definition. Even the terms 'Trade Agent' and 'Head of British Mission Lhasa' were specific term s lacking a defined identity and administrative place outside the Tibetan context. Defining a language too can be seen part of the European process of defining a state. Choices are made as to the 'correct' language, and variations marginalised as dialects. But despite the expertise the cadre acquired in the Tibetan language, they failed to establish one accepted method of transcribing Tibetan into English. The transcription forms they used varied, and several different systems are still used today. The cadre's reports contain different spellings for people, places and positions in Tibetan society, which often confused the Secretariat officials. This lack of definition was a characteristic of the location.

The cadre's location on the Indian frontier placed them in constant confrontation with the paradoxes of social structures and systems alternative to their own, and this was a factor in generating a 'heroic mythology', which located the frontiersmen in imperial legends.[32] The Tibet cadre became an integral part of British frontier mythology, a status of which they were not unaware. In seeking to describe the many-faceted implications of this transitional location, in both historical tim e and imperial legend, it is appropriate to adopt Victor Turner's term 'liminal' from the field of religious studies.[33]

This term is appropriate to apply to the Tibetan frontier as it implies both the geographical and mythological aspects of this zone; the latter aspect being difficult otherwise to quantify in historical terms. Turner developed Arnold van Gennep's work on rites of passage, emphasising the central phase of 'liminality' (from the Latin limen, a threshold) as an ambiguous state 'betwixt and between' customary social categories. Turner's studies of pilgrimage stressed those aspects of freedom and ambiguity at the interface of cultural change, and he used the term 'liminal' to emphasise a zone outside normal social structures and location, but entered by choice. [34]

Victor Turner's emphasis on freedom and ambiguity in the liminal zone is shared by the seminal frontier thesis of the 19th century historian of America's West, Frederick Jackson Turner.[35] He argued that the freedom and potential of the frontier had a decisive effect on the character of frontiersmen, bringing out an independence and resourcefulness reflecting the frontier experience. This experience subsequently passed into national folklore, transforming experience into legend, with its attendant symbols and language, and became a formative influence on national identity. F.J. Turner's findings may be applied to the experience of the Tibetan frontier, in identifying this zone as a place where a conditions of freedom and ambiguity affected character and action, and were transformed into legend. [36]

The geographical studies of J.R.V. Prescott provide more evidence that we may locate the history of the Tibet cadre within the wider area of frontier studies. Prescott, following C.B. Fawcett, identifies the predominant characteristic of a frontier as its distinct transitional nature. In addition, the absence of fully-developed legal and administrative systems is characteristic, with a consequent effect on the frontiersmens' behaviour. This results in those conditions F.J. Turner identified on the American frontier, which encouraged 'those who were self-reliant, and capable of improvisation'.

Prescott draws two conclusions relevant to the Tibetan frontier. He found that, for the state, the frontier principally involves considerations of security. Whereas in traditional societies, defined by their centre, frontiers merged imperceptibly, modern states, being defined by their borders, sought to establish boundaries, rather than frontiers between states. On the individual level, Prescott concluded that 'no one can doubt that "frontiersman" denotes a particular kind of philosophy and character'; one whose behaviour has been 'influenced by both government regulations and their perception of the possibilities offered by the frontier'.[37]

The studies of Prescott, and Victor and F.J. Turner, indicate that we may regard a frontier as a liminal zone of transition, where the absence of defined place and identity produced new responses by individuals, whose character was affected by the freedom and ambiguity of their location. Being outside the limits of a society's place, identity and codes of meaning, this liminal zone becomes the setting for experience to be expressed as myth and legend.

The liminal status of the frontier implied a place which transform ed the character of individuals encountering the zone. This was an essential part of the wider belief in frontiers as zones of transformation. The effect of the frontier on the individual was generally portrayed in wholly positive terms; this was certainly the case in British India.[38] Lord Curzon considered that character was 'moulded' on the frontier by 'responsibility and...self-reliance'. Those with 'courage...patience and...initiative' found the frontier 'ennobling and invigorating'.[39]

Similarly Melody Webb, in a recent study of the Alaskan frontier based on F.J. Turner's methodology, quotes an Alaskan pioneer as claiming 'nothing will test out men as to their real character, resourcefulness, courage, endurance... and readiness to do their...duties as...that hard frontier country'. Curzon claimed to admire the frontier officer who took 'the bit between his teeth', and implicitly he supported the right of frontier officials to act on their own initiative without reliance on regulations. This parallels the view of a contemporary pioneer officer in Alaska, Lieutenant (later Brigadier-General) 'Billy' Mitchell, who claimed that 'An officer who always follows the letter of the Books of Regulations instead of the spirit seldom gets anywhere', a very similar message to that presented in Sandeman's biography (as seen in Chapter One), and promoted by the cadre. [40]

Thus, while the British sought to bring India's north-east frontier under increasing administrative control, the individuals chosen to serve on the frontier were those who valued initiative above regulations; a situation with parallels elsewhere in British India, the Punjab and the North-West Frontier for example. The frontiersmen themselves regarded their own paternal methods of government as more suited to local conditions than government based on codes of law and regulation, although, in practice, the two methods constantly overlapped.

The paradox that frontiersmen with little regard for rules and regulations were seen as best suited to bringing settled administration to the frontier may have reflected a wider sense of understanding amongst the British in India that they served in a zone which both required, and produced, special traits of character among the successful. The Tibet cadre therefore, reflect a particular manifestation of a wider issue, which demonstrates the differing trends in British India in dealing with policies of control.


Officers such as Bell, MacDonald and Richardson did gain a deep understanding of Tibet, beyond that regarded as necessary for the performance of their duties. The understanding they gained reflected the perspective of the Lhasa ruling class, and it was with this section of Tibetan society that cadre officers came to identify with, and ’belong' to.

Cadre officers did seek to 'discover' the truth about Tibet. Their own sense of identity and personal prestige was closely associated with the level of knowledge they gained. They believed that through personal contact with the Tibetans they gained an understanding which enabled them to 'discover', and subsequently represent, the 'truth' about Tibet. There was more to obtaining understanding, including an intuitive perception, but several officers did 'cross over' and gain a deeper understanding of Tibet than any other Europeans, and their understanding was recognised by the Tibetans.

The cadre's location on the frontier was an important factor in their identity. The frontier was a liminal zone of transition, in which aspects of myth and legend are of a part of the regions' identity, and the positive value of this aspect of Tibetan identity, and the traditions of British frontier service, both contributed to a lack of precise definition of Tibet.

It appears that parallels with the essential features of the Tibetan frontier experience, and the British understanding of this encounter, may be found wherever European expansion led to an encounter in zones of transition outside of major civilisations. It would also appear that while individuals were chosen for service on the frontier because they possessed particular character traits, service on the frontier was believed to bring out those desired characteristics. The lack of definition characteristic of the frontier gave it a freedom from fixed identity and place which made it a potential location for the transformation of experience into legend, a process which parallels the frontier experience elsewhere.



[1] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193-6590, Gould Mission diary, 3 August 1936; also see Spencer-Chapman (1992, p.26); Neame (1939, p.237).

[2] IOLR L/P&S/12/4163-490, H. Ruttledge's Report, enclosed in letter from the Chief Secretary, Punjab Hill States, to Government of the United Provinces, 10 November 1926; Bell (1949, p.35).

[3] Ewing (1980, p.3); Spence (1991, p.49).

[4] IOLR L/P&S/4173, copy of an article by Younghusband entitled 'Lhasa: a retrospect', {published in 'Nineteenth Century and after' (116), 1934, pp.295-96}, [my emphasis].

[5] IOLR L/P&S/10/1113-1402, Secretary, Foreign and Political Department to Under-Secretary of State, 6 March 1924, quoting Bell's view; Younghusband (1985, p.317).

[6] IOLR L/P&S/11/123-2400, Yatung Annual Report, 1916-17, cover note by Bell.

[7] IOLR MSS Eur F157-290, Report on a Mission to Lhasa, by Bailey, 28 October 1924, quoting the Dalai Lama; MSS Eur F157-236, Laden La to Bailey, 18 September 1930.

[8] Bishop (1989, p p .188-89). Bishop uses the methodology of Relph E., Place and Placelessness, London 1976, pp.48-49.

[9] See the (undated) 'information Sheet', entitled Tibet. A Reading List’, available from the Tibet Society of the U.K.

[10] Bishop (1989, p.188).

[11] Williamson (1987, p.226).

[12] IOLR L/P&S/12/3977-1386, E.M. James to G. MacLeod-Ross, 13 June 1945, {original emphasis}.

[13] Thornton (1895, p.313).

[14] Spencer-Chapman (1992, p.232); also see, Bishop (1989, p.188).

[15] Interview with Dr T.Y. Pemba, March 1994; also see IOLR L/P&S/12/4201-1863, Lhasa Mission Reports 1942-45, week ending 19 March 1944.

[16] Bell (1987, p.29).

[17] Shakabpa (1984, p.271).

[18] Bell (1987, p.29.); Bell (1992, p.206).

[19] Bishop (1989, p.229), concludes that this Tibetan identification of Bell as a Tibetan in a previous existence was simply a typical 'honorary kinship designation' in a religious framework, but it serves to illustrate that Bell was considered 'kin' by the Tibetans.

[20] For example, Theos Bernard, the American traveller; see Bernard (1939, p.1).

[21] Bell, (1992, p.205).

[22] IOLR L/P&S/12/4165, Lhasa Mission Report, October 1938-39, undated, anonymous cover note; Interview with H.H. the Dalai Lama, March 1994.

[23] Dawa Norbu (1987, p.27).

[24] Tibetan Muslims were mainly of Kashmiri origin, with others from China, Nepal and Ladakh. Many of the latter held British Indian citizenship. See Siddiqui (1991).

[25] See for example, Bell (1931); Interview with Mrs R. Collett, March 1993.

[26] Dewey (1993).

[27] The issue of Sikkimese identity is a complicated one, and very much a contemporary issue in the Himalayas today; see Datta-Ray (1984); also see Lamb (1960); Sinha (1975); White (1984); Williamson (1987); Woodman (1969). The Sikkimese code of law is given in White (1984, pp.311- 21).

[28] 'Sikkim State Chronicle' quoted in Bell (1992, p.8).

[29] The fluid nature of the frontier, its continued transitions...militate against a definitive statement that captures all the nuances and meanings of the frontier'; Butler (1986, pp.142-43).

[30] Bishop (1989, p.145).

[31] IOLR MSS Eur F80 5a 124, Bell to the Kashag, 26 November 1934; MSS Eur F80 5e(c) 21, Bell to India, 21 February 1921.

[32] Wurgaft (1983, p.XV11).

[33] In the final stages of my research, I discovered a precedent for this usage; A J. Toynbee uses limen to describe a geographically located 'conductive cultural threshold' between a civilisation and the 'barbarians' beyond; Toynbee, A.J. A Study of History, abridgement by D.C. Somervill, Oxford 1960 (p.678); this is referred to in Murty (1978, p.78).

[34] Turner's seminal theories have not gone uncriticised, and Turner himself came to favour the term 'liminoid' over 'liminal' in his description of pilgrimage. He remains however, an essential reference point in pilgrimage studies, and his later terminology is not more specific for our wider purpose. See Turner V., (1969, pp.94-95), & (1973, esp. pp.199-200, 213-14); Turner V. & E., (1978, esp. pp.2, 35, 231, 249); also see, Daly (1992, pp.XV111, 70-73).

[35] For example, see Daly (1992, pp.71, 73).

[36] Turner F.J,, (1963); also see Billington (1966); a recent summary of approaches to Turner's work is found in Nichols (1986).

[37] I have followed Prescott's definition of 'frontiers’ and 'boundaries' as 'respectively the zones and lines which separate areas of different political authority'. Prescott (1965, pp.15, 30, 102); (1972, pp.54-56, 59-60).

[38] Paradoxically there is a parallel image of the frontier as a region of decay and degeneracy in which the worst aspects of both cultures are expressed. For an example of this in the Central Asian context see Rayfield, (1976, pp.39-40). The Tibet cadre did not perceive the frontier in those terms, which appear more common at the centre than at the periphery of empire.

[39] Curzon (1907, pp.56-57).

[40] Curzon, quoted from a speech in 1898, by Wurgaft (1983, p. 164). Webb also provides a parallel with the passing on of Tibet cadre traditions. She found that Alaskan frontiersmen saw themselves as inheritors of the traditions (as well as the 'trails, cabins and traplines'), of earlier American frontiersmen; Webb (1985, pp.96, 160, 306).
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 16, 2019 4:40 am



The Tibet cadre were the product of an imperial age. Their mentality reflected the era - which effectively ended in India with Curzon's departure - when the boundaries of empire could be extended by the application of ’forward’ policies by imperial frontiersmen. The original cadre officers were all associated with the Younghusband Mission, a classic example of ’forward’ policy in action, and supported the policy it represented. Despite changing personnel and circumstances, the cadre's primary aims and policies remained 'forward' throughout the 1904-47 period.

As noted, cadre officers had many characteristics known to be common to imperial officers, such as education at British public schools. Previous studies have questioned which factor was most influential in forming their character, and the evidence in this case suggests that public school influence was greater than initial service training. But it also appears that their outlook was greatly affected by the books which they read, particularly during their Political training. When we read Thornton's biography of Sandeman, we read a blueprint for the Tibet cadre's behaviour and ethos.

Despite their sharing of certain characteristics, cadre officers were recognised as distinct from other imperial officers. The primary element in this distinct collective identity was their empathy with Tibet and the Tibetans. A deep personal involvement was required to gain this empathy, and thus the most successful officers were those who chose to serve there, even at the expense of family, health and career. A willingness to make such sacrifices may be associated with another defining element of cadre officers; they had a 'touch of the recluse', which predisposed them to service on the frontier. The cadre's high degree of specialisation was in contrast to the 'generalist' traditions of the British Indian sendees in the 19th century, although indicative of their increasing specialisation in the 20th century.

The cadre were also characterised by scholarship. They embraced the qualities of both 'men of action' and intellectuals. The need for men who would build-up a body of knowledge of the region, combined with the requirement that they be fit enough to survive Tibet's harsh climatic conditions, meant that successful cadre officers blended intellect and action.

The cadre's distinct institutional identity was deliberately maintained by a twofold process. Firstly, serving cadre officers exercised a significant level of influence on cadre appointments by an unofficial system of patronage, selecting officers whose mentality and approach to policy matched that of their own. Thus Bell supported MacDonald, and in turn they both assisted Gould, who recommended Richardson.

Secondly, cadre traditions were passed down from serving officers to newcomers. These traditions were based on existing service traditions, such as those of the ICS and the Indian Army, and on the regional traditions of imperial frontiers. This process supports Shils's conclusion that 'Particular elements in one...tradition...may...be diffused into families or branches of traditions of another sphere', and is consistent with Potter's findings concerning the establishment and maintenance of Indian administrative traditions. [1]

The type of officer considered best-suited for frontier service was synonymous with the image of the ideal officer portrayed in imperial literature and Political Department training texts. Recruits were selected and trained to match that ideal, and were instilled with an intuitive understanding of the boundaries of behaviour necessary to that ideal. The definition of these boundaries may be seen as a process, whereby the ideal was continually negotiated within certain established parameters. Thus the cadre raised such issues as whether an Indian officer could uphold British prestige. This discussion was located within a wider debate between those who felt that the predominant tendency of the British should be to 'command', and those who felt that it should be to 'advise'. In Tibet, those, such as Bell and MacDonald, who favoured 'advice' (albeit advice which often im plied a command), were most successful in gaining the Tibetans' trust.

However, the difference between 'command' and 'advice' was not necessarily apparent to the Tibetans, and the cadre's actions were fundamentally concerned with the application of power. Ultimately, despite the cadre's empathy with Tibetan aspirations, they represented British Indian interests, and when these clashed with those of Tibet, as they did in the case of Tawang for example, the cadre clearly acted in accordance with their duty to their employer, although they did not necessarily feel bound by this loyalty after they retired.

We have seen in Chapter Two that prestige was an important aspect of the cadre's power; through creating an aura of unchallengeable authority, the British tried to avoid the need actually to enforce their influence by costly military means. The cadre were greatly concerned with the maintenance of British prestige, this was a part of their duties, a deliberate strategy of imperial rule designed to uphold the impression of power. [2] On the other hand, the evidence suggests that the Tibetans did not understand many aspects of prestige in the form in which the British projected it.

The cadre's prestige was strengthened by their role as the sole channel of communication between Lhasa and the British and Indian Governments. By maintaining a monopoly over the flow of information from Tibet, the cadre prevented the emergence of other ’voices' which might contradict their own. Thus they opposed the presence in Tibet of persons outside Government of India control, such as the China Custom s officers (whose expulsion was also part of the wider struggle for influence at Whitehall between the Government of India, and the British Foreign Office, which the cadre regarded as supporting Chinese interests). This process was also concerned with preventing the Tibetans from coming into contact with Europeans who did not represent the image of European civilisation which the cadre sought to project.

The intermediaries, who acted as go-betweens in British dealings with the Tibetan Government, were trained to represent the British to the Tibetans; the most successful of them were promoted to cadre posts. They were selected from the Buddhist hill-peoples in the frontier regions, and formed close ties with British officers. As there was no policy of introducing Hindus or Muslims from the mainstream of Indian society into cadre service, when the British departed, there were no officers in the new Indian External Affairs Department who had any personal knowledge of Tibet, or with the empathy towards the Tibetans which the British officers had developed. Whether, given the loss of policymaking power on the periphery, more experienced officers could have had any significant influence on events in Tibet in the 1950s is open to question. But certainly there was a lack of expertise available within the Indian Government during this crucial period as a consequence of cadre recruitment policies.

The intermediaries fell into two types, rather as British officials represented two tendencies, to command and to advise. One type was represented by Laden La. who adopted British forms of behaviour and ultimately lost the trust of the Tibetans. The other type, represented by Norbhu Dhondup, maintained their own cultural identity, while successfully learning British codes of behaviour, written and unwritten. The intermediaries who ultimately gained promotion to cadre posts were those who followed the Norbhu tendency, just as the British officers who were most successful in gaining the trust of the Tibetans were those who followed Bell’s tendency to advise rather than to command.

In the early years of the British presence in Tibet, the intermediaries were those such as Palhese, whose primary loyalty was to a particular British officer. This pattern of sendee was gradually replaced by that of groups with close family connections, such as the Tserings, who established a tradition (however tenuous) of family service under the British. These groups could be in competition for British patronage - there was competition between Laden La and Norbhu Dhondup - and this competition continues to affect the perspectives of oral sources in the Himalayas today.

We have seen that the cadre's primary influence on policy was 'forward'. Probably their most successful campaign was to establish a British Mission in Lhasa, clearly a 'forward' move, both geographically and symbolically. But in the 20th century, the promotion of 'forward' policies by the imperial frontiersmen did not lead to any major expansion of the British frontier. Although Tawang was annexed to British India, this was done without the specific approval, or at least full understanding, of Whitehall.

In the post-Younghusband era, Whitehall, by such actions as insisting on the return of the Chumbi Valley, demonstrated that it would not allow 'forward' policies which led to the expansion of the empire. There had been a change in the climate of opinion on imperial expansion, at least in Britain, and the establishment of rapid communications between Whitehall and the periphery of empire restricted the possibility of independent action on the frontier. The cadre were unable to gain government support for either military intervention in Tibet, or significant economic involvement. Thus we may conclude that the process by which British government increasingly extended its authority over the periphery of empire resulted in a critical shift in the power source. In this period and place, while the frontiersmen remained a force promoting imperial expansion, the power to advance or withdraw had passed from the periphery to the centre.

One consequence of the loss of power on the periphery, not previously emphasised, was the frontiersmen's increasing disenchantment with their government's policies. While they were at the centre of policy-making, frontiersmen such as Younghusband identified with the policies of their government. When the power moved from the periphery to the centre, as it did sharply after Curzon’s departure, the frontiersmen were isolated from policy formation, and increasingly opposed to government policies.

While the personal contact which every Political officer had with the Viceroy at the time of his selection may have strengthened his sense of identification with the 'system', this was diminished by his loss of any real power to create policy. Cadre officers could still exert an influence, including a 'behind the scenes' influence as we have seen in Chapter Five in the case of Weir seeking additional funds for Tibet while staying with the Indian Foreign Secretary. They were able to gain minor, locally significant points, such as assisting Tibet to recruit Radio Officer Robert Ford. But, overall, the cadre were increasingly isolated from the 'system'.

The cadre's 'forward' policies were transformed as a result of this power shift. After World War One, the extension of the Indian frontier over Tibet was clearly a political and financial impossibility. But the cadre continued to promote policies designed to increase British involvement in Tibet, and advance British interests, in opposition to the now prevailing policy of a 'retreat to the centre'. But post-Younghusband British Tibetan policy was essentially reactive; the centre would only respond, not initiate. Thus Whitehall was prepared to allow the establishment of a British Mission in Lhasa as a response to the establishment of a Chinese Mission there, but it would not allow Tibet any significant economic support.

Despite this lack of support at Whitehall, the cadre were largely free to create their own role, which they did within the wider traditions of British imperial frontiersmen, and the methods of the Political Department. Two elements were central to this; information gathering, and the cultivation of local supporters.

Post-1950 imperial historiography has argued against any suggestion that the British spied on Tibet.[3] But the argument can only be over semantics. The sources clearly demonstrate that throughout the 1904-47 period the British clandestinely monitored Chinese and Tibetan communications and employed 'Secret Service Agents' to obtain information concerning Tibet. This information flow was of critical importance to the British. As noted, we may read much of the history of the British encounter with Tibet as inspired by this need for intelligence. Ensuring the security of India, which was the cadre's primary purpose, required constantly updated information as to the efforts of other powers to influence events in Tibet. Reliable information was most easily obtained at Lhasa; hence the cadre made access to Lhasa their main priority. When events in Tibet threatened the flow of information - when major informants died, or the Chinese established a presence at Lhasa - this demanded a response to secure a continuing information-flow.

Spying was not always necessary. Tibet was a comparatively open society where information was freely given by Tibetans whom the cadre had befriended. Obtaining such contacts was a recognised part of a Political officer's duty, for by allying with local 'Ruling Chiefs', officers could influence them to follow policies favourable to British interests, in return for which they were given various forms of support. Although the British preferred to deal with existing leaders, they would support alternatives if existing leaders failed to follow British 'advice'. Thus in 1907 the British considered the Panchen Lama as a potential Tibetan leader, and in the early 1920s Tsarong Shape was seen in this role. Although the cadre lacked the power to alter the Tibetan leadership, Bell was able to transform Anglo-Tibetan relations through his friendship with the Dalai Lama, who enjoyed the greatest authority, and overwhelming popular support, in Tibet. Bell's policy of support for the Dalai Lama became the predominant feature of cadre policies, and Bell himself was, arguably, the most influential cadre officer, both with his own government and with the Tibetans. But Tibet was not a dictatorship. The Dalai Lama took aristocratic and monastic opinion into account in formulating policy, and their conservative opposition restricted his ability to follow Bell's 'advice'.

As suggested, the decline in British influence in Tibet in the 1920s may have been a consequence of an attempted coup initiated by Bailey in 1923-24. Such a 'forward' move was certainly within Bailey's capabilities, and consistent with his attitudes to both Tibet and Russia. But when the nascent military faction in Tibet lost power after this period, the British, under Weir and Williamson, broadened their range of contacts in an effort to befriend the powerful monastic faction.

In the absence of any alternative means of gaining influence, the cadre increasingly relied on cash payments to leading Tibetan individuals and institutions. This policy was never openly articulated (presumably due to doubts over its morality, although the cadre appear to have perceived it as a necessary evil), and has largely escaped historical notice, but it emerged clearly in interviews with former British officers in Tibet. They recalled that the cadre helped the Tibetan rulers to 'keep the Chinese at a safe distance through gifts of money and weapons'.[4]

British sources seek to locate their actions in Tibet within certain ethical parameters. Thus Richardson notes that in the early 1920s, 'There was no suggestion of [the cadre] persuading the Tibetans to undertake anything they did not want’.[5] Issues which threaten the ethical image, such as spying, Tawang, and O'Connor's and Bailey's apparent attempts to create an alternative to the Dalai Lama's leadership, were passed-over, or suppressed, as part of the British attempt to maintain the moral high-ground in the struggle against Chinese imperialism.

Post-1947 events in Tibet have meant that any evidence casting the British in a poor moral light, or demonstrating the full implications of their efforts to influence Tibet, assists the Chinese claim that they were freeing Tibet from British imperialism. But the truths which the cadre’s works represent must be placed in the context of the interests they represent. The moral case for Tibetan independence rests on clearly established factors such as the Tibetan's separate identity, desire for independence, and China's oppression and exploitation of Tibet since the 1950s, none of which is seriously in doubt. Their claim is not dependent on the perceived morality of British actions, and may indeed be strengthened by being removed from this context.

The imperial encounter with traditional Asian societies was, in the wider perspective, an issue of power. China. Russia, Britain, India and, to a lesser degree, Japan and other regional powers, all sought to promote their own interests in Tibet. The issue was not simply one of European imperialism; the aims of every state involved were imperial. What was at stake was power over Tibet. There is, in today's understanding, no real moral high-ground for any state which sought to control the Tibetans, whose desire was for self-determination and isolation from neighbouring powers in order to maintain conditions conducive to their religious priorities.

Where there is evidence to support British claims to the moral high-ground is in regard to the cadre officers themselves. The British were in Tibet to protect and advance their own interests. In private the cadre admitted that their aims were not altruistic, and that they placed British interests above those of the Tibetans; Gould's mission to Lhasa in 1936-37 for example, gave the Tibetans 'assurances of continued diplomatic support without committing ourselves to writing'.[6]

But, except in issues related to the security of India (the annexation of Tawang being the most obvious example of this), there was clearly a genuine desire by the cadre that the encounter should benefit the Tibetans. Thus Gould told Ford that 'Your job is to help the Tibetans'. [7] This altruistic aspect was part of a complex cadre motivation, which included more selfish elements along with those of duty and service. But the prevailing trend in the cadre was to empathise with Tibet and Tibetans, and this trend prevailed both during and after their Tibetan service.

This was in great contrast to the Chinese. The Ambans' office was, according to British and Tibetan sources, characterised by corruption, internal dispute, and opium addiction, and the Ambans neither learned Tibetan nor identified with Tibetan aspirations.[8] A British officer, however, was, with few exceptions, 'always aware that I was a guest in their country [Tibet], and if they didn’t like it, that was the end of the matter’.[9]

There were, therefore, genuine elements to the cadre's friendship with Tibetans, as when Richardson found that the 'Nechung Ta Lama' was 'Quite apart from the political value of his friendship...one of the best of men'.[10] These personal ties affected the cadre's perceptions of Tibet, and led to officers such as Richardson, for example, developing what the Dalai Lama described as 'a very, very strong sense of devotion to Tibetan independence'.[11 ]


As we have seen in Chapter Six, prior to their encounter with the British, Tibetans had a sense of distinct collective identity, or 'proto-nationalism ', based on a historical understanding of Tibet as a religious community. But their loyalties were to local, regional, ethnic and religious entities, rather than to a Tibetan nation. Although their primary authority was the Dalai Lama, his power, like that of India's Viceroy, was restrained by a series of 'checks and balances'. Tibet's then status appears to fit models of a 'galactic polity', a political structure of fluctuating authority centres, as proposed by Samuel. [12] British Indian strategic policy required that Tibet serve as a British-influenced 'buffer state' against foreign influence in the Himalayas. Creating this 'buffer state' meant transforming Tibet into a nation-state, a process replicating many features of the extension of British sovereignty in India. The British stimulated this process, and to an extent therefore, they 'constructed' a Tibetan state, but Whitehall refused to recognise this state as independent to avoid jeopardising Anglo-Chinese relations.

Despite Whitehall, however, the British did contribute to the creation of structures which encouraged the growth of Tibetan nationalism, and helped the Tibetans to learn the importance of symbols of nationalism. Thus the concern of Ludlow in the 1920s, and Hopkinson in the 1940s, that Tibetans should continue to wear Tibetan clothing in order to preserve their identity, emerges again in the 1990s as a Tibetan nationalist statement: one Dorje Wangdu was jailed by the Chinese in 1991 on charges which included 'advocating that Tibetans wear Tibetan national clothes during Chinese National Day celebrations'.[13]

British Indian interests did not necessarily require specific or final definition of Tibet's status, which remained ambiguous. But the cadre dealt with Tibet as an independent state. In conjunction with their efforts to transform Tibet into a modern nation-state, they sought to construct an image which portrayed the Tibet which their policies aimed at creating. This image-construction had a political purpose; it was part of a battle of ideas, aimed at establishing an independent Tibet in the minds at least of that class of educated Europeans, particularly imperial officers, who were the target for these images.

The cadre created an image of Tibet through various media, but most significantly their published works. The European appropriation of authority for the production of knowledge, and the weight given to empirical evidence, gave these works great authority in government and academic circles. But the cadre's use of local informants and their attempts to ally with the existing central Tibetan leadership, meant that while the image they constructed reflected both European perceptions inherent in the cadre's mentality, and the interests of British India, it also reflected their local informants and Tibetan allies. As this image represented the interests of both powers, they co-operated in maintaining and supporting it, a process which has continued to this day.

This image was not, however, constructed without a rational basis; cadre officers did generally seek to present empirical evidence designed to produce what they perceived as a 'true' picture of Tibet. While marginalising the aspirations of some peripheral social groups, the image did reflect the perspective of the 'core' culture of central Tibet. It was (after 1910) also generally expressed in positive terms, designed to render Tibet 'familiar' to the readers, in contrast to 'Orientalist' images which stress 'Otherness'.

There was, and is, a definitively Orientalist image of Tibet - the mystical image - which existed alongside the image created by the cadre. Historically, fantastic images were often constructed around unknown lands, such as pre-colonial Australia, but regular contact with these places saw more empirically-based images replace the fantastic. In Tibet, however, the two images co-existed, because the mystical image served both the British and Tibetan governments’ interests by emphasising Tibet's separate identity and uniquely valuable culture; both were ’core’ elements in the cadre's construction of an image of Tibet. There was also a personal factor in this. Their exotic location (as they perceived it) was a part of the cadre's identity; many cadre officers were genuinely interested in the mystical aspect of Tibet, albeit within scientific parameters.

The image constructed by the cadre did not, however, fully reflect their knowledge of Tibet. It was shaped by self-censorship, and government censorship, as well as by the individual and class perceptions previously referred to. This has meant that negative elements of the British presence have remained largely hidden; for example, the decline in the country's moral climate, which was partly due to the influx of wealth into the hands of a few individuals, as a result of the rivalry between British and Chinese representatives who attempted to buy influence in Tibet.

One additional factor affected the cadre's presentation of information on Tibet: the need to sell their books in a commercial market. This led to an emphasis on the colourful and the dramatic - repetitive recitations of images of 'Otherness' - at the expense of material designed to render Tibet familiar, as authors sought colourful images to appeal to the book-buying public.

Tibet did become fully familiar to a few cadre officers. Bell. MacDonald, and Richardson all appear to have been accepted by the Tibetans as 'belonging' to Tibetan culture. They were fluent in Tibetan, lived among Tibetans for a long period of time, empathised with them, and had an intuitive understanding of the culture which they demonstrated by the production of works accepted by both Tibetans and Europeans as accurately representing their subject. It appears that these officers did understand the Tibetans, and that, in the wider sense, individual understanding is therefore possible in colonial encounter.

Charles Bell was generally accepted by both nations as having gained the greatest understanding of Tibet. But his level of understanding was not essential to the satisfactory performance of an officer's duties; while it was a great advantage to an officer's work, it was an involvement beyond the requirements of duty. Officers, such as Sherriff and Weir were efficient and effective despite being content to view Tibet as 'Other'.

Officers who came to 'belong' to Tibetan society identified with the interests of the Lhasa ruling-class to which they 'belonged'. Their understanding of Tibet reflected the perspective of that class, just as it reflected the perspective they gained from their class in British society. Paradoxically, this alliance between the cadre and the Lhasa leadership, which as Goldstein has shown was an extremely conservative force opposed to any modernisation process,[14] tended to preserve this elite and the existing structures of Tibetan society from change, despite modernisation being part of British aims. Elements within Tibet which opposed these ruling forces were perceived by the British and their allies as pro-Chinese, and their voices were suppressed.

But Tibet's failure to establish an identity in the sense required by modern political models of independent states was not solely the responsibility of the British. The conservative elements dominating Tibet's government resisted those aspects of modernisation which might have established Tibet’s independent status on the world stage. [15] Once the possibility of the British establishing a formal protectorate over Tibet had vanished, there was a common awareness that an eventual accommodation with China was inevitable. But although it was obvious by the 1920s that the policy was unrealistic, Britain and Tibet continued to hope that the Chinese would eventually accept an agreement along the lines of the Simla Convention, and both the cadre and the Tibetans followed policies on the basis of the Simla Convention, which even the Government of India acknowledged, after it ended, was 'invalid' without Chinese acceptance of its conditions. [16]

The lack of definition characteristic of the British encounter with Tibet was typical of the liminal frontier zone in which the encounter was located. In this zone of freedom and ambiguity, the absence of fixed identity and place provided conditions affecting character and action, and producing responses the British considered desirable among their frontier officers. The character and actions of the cadre were therefore, affected by and characteristic of, their liminal location.

The liminal nature of this zone, outside customary understandings of time and place, made it a location for the transformation of action into legend, and both indigenous and imperial myths flourished there. The Indian frontier was the setting for a powerful mythology of empire, and cadre officers were aware of taking their place in such myths as the "Great Game". This imperial mythology provides a valuable source for understanding the self-image of the frontiersman, a factor otherwise difficult to quantify in historical terms.


The Anglo-Tibetan encounter had significant and lasting consequences in two related areas; (a) the political status of Tibet, and (b) our understanding of Tibetan history and culture, and the context in which these are studied. While both are complex issues, they are clearly shaped by the implications of British actions in the region.

On 15 August 1947, when responsibility for Indo-Tibetan relations passed into the hands of the newly independent Indian Government, the British ceased to be represented in Tibet. The U.K. High Commission in Delhi did propose establishing a British medical dispensary in Lhasa, to represent British interests, and Major Guthrie, the Lhasa Mission doctor and 'an enthusiast about Tibet' offered to remain there. But the Foreign Office decreed otherwise, and formal Anglo-Tibetan ties ended. [17]

Anglo-Tibetan relations were of such low priority within Whitehall that Tibet was not officially notified that India was being given independence until less than three weeks before the event. They were informed that the Indian Government would inherit the rights and obligations of existing treaties previously held by the Government of India in regard to Tibet. [18]

Although the new Indian flag flew in place of the Union Jack, there were no immediate changes in the cadre posts, not least because there were no trained Indians to replace them. But while Richardson remained in Lhasa until 1950, an Indian took control of the Tibet posts on 1 September 1948, when Arthur Hopkinson handed over to the new Political Officer Sikkim, Harish Dayal ICS, and Mrs Hopkinson wrote in her diary that, 'Today we are no longer masters of the Residency'. [19]

When Hopkinson departed, the cadre were optimistic that India would follow the Tibetan policies established by the British. Harish Dayal was considered sympathetic to the Tibetans, and in December 1949 Hopkinson wrote to Bailey that, 'At first the Congress were showing signs of completely selling out the Tibs[sic]. but we persistently combated this'. Indeed Hopkinson was more impressed with the new Indian officials than with their British predecessors in their last year, whom he described as 'moribund...intent on their next jobs'.[20]

But the cadre's hopes were soon disappointed. Tibet was to be an exception to the general continuity of foreign policy after the transfer of power. In January 1950, India recognised the new Communist Government in China, which in August of that year officially advised India of their intention to 'liberate' Tibet. On 7 October 1950, Chinese forces invaded Tibet from the east and the west. The last Europeans left Tibet around that time, although a missionary, Geoffrey Bull, and former Lhasa Radio Officer Robert Ford, then employed by the Tibetan Government in Quamdo, were captured by the invading forces in eastern Tibet. Marking the decline of British power and influence in the region, they were not released until 1953 and 1955 respectively.[21]

The Chinese take-over was in two phases. The first, which involved attempts to absorb Tibet peacefully, lasted until 1959, when the situation deteriorated, and the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India as Chinese forces shelled Lhasa. Three years later, the Sino-Indian conflict broke out, and the Lhasa Mission and the Trade Agencies were closed. The official Indian presence in Tibet was ended.[22]

In April 1954, the Indian Government concluded an Agreement with China in which it recognised Tibet as part of China. This agreement allowed the 'establishment' (i.e. continuance) of three Indian Trade Agencies in Tibet. By an exchange of notes following the Agreement, however, India agreed to withdraw the Agency military escort, and to give control of the telegraph and communication systems, and the dak bungalows along the trade route, to China. [23]

There were other significant events in 1954. On 17 July, floods, which killed several hundred people in the area, destroyed the Gyantse Trade Agency, killing Trade Agent Pemba Tsering and his wife, and washing away the graves of William son and other Europeans who had died in Tibet. Then, on 25 December, the first motor convoy reached Lhasa from Chengdu. [24]

Independent India's policy towards Tibet differed from that of British India for a number of reasons, not all of them the result of British actions. For example, the idealism of Jawaharlal Nehru clearly led him to a naive view of Communist Chinese intentions and policies.[25] But Whitehall's refusal to recognise Tibet as an independent state had left it with an ambiguous status in international law. Tibet claimed, and demonstrated that it was independent in status, but no other state now recognised it as such.

India also had to face the legacy of British India's annexation of Tawang. As the Simla Convention was the legal basis of this, and the legal status of that Convention was 'at best questionable, at worst null and void',[26] due to China's refusal to recognise it, British Tibetan policy had left India in an awkward position. It appears she hoped to extricate herself by recognising Chinese authority over Tibet in the hope that China would accept Indian rule over Tawang.

Newly independent India was not, for reasons of prestige, nation-building, and domestic politics, prepared to give up areas which it had inherited from the British as Indian territory. But Tawang was undoubtedly a 'skeleton' which India wished to keep in the cupboard; even today files relating to the area remain classified. The British annexation of Tawang has overshadowed India's Tibetan policy ever since.

The political status of Tibet today retains much of the ambivalence which characterised the British period. The governments of the world officially accept Tibet as part of China, but, through such actions as the American President's receiving the Dalai Lama, imply a recognition that Tibet has a legitimate claim to independence. Tibet has taken its place among a group of what we might call 'unrecognised' nations - such as Kurdistan - which are paradoxically seeking to become recognised independent nation-states while threatening the whole nation-state system as a model for world order. The British failure to recognise Tibetan independence was largely responsible for Tibet being an 'unrecognised' nation. [27]

Despite their battle against the Chinese, the Tibet cadre, in the tradition of their "Great Game" heritage, had always tended to regard Russia as the greatest threat to the security of Tibet and India. Even in 1948, Hopkinson reported that 'in spite of changes within India, the same dangers threaten without, only more intensified, with increased Russian expansion'. Major Saker also submitted a report to the new Government of Pakistan around that time, in which he concluded that western Tibet 'was liable to be taken over by the Russians, possibly for the sake of its mineral wealth'.[28]

Not until early 1949 was it obvious that the Communists would gain the victory which was formally signified by the inauguration of the Peoples Republic of China on 1 October 1949.[29] It is difficult to criticise the Tibet cadre for failing to foresee the Communist victory. They, and the Tibetans, were aware that China, whatever her government, would attempt to control Tibet, and that Tibet could not resist a full-scale military attack by China. But 'no one had seriously thought that the Chinese would take military action in Tibet. The milieu was shattered by the Chinese invasion.'[30]

The cadre existed to protect the security of British India's northern border; in August 1947 they could look back and claim to have succeeded in this aim. The cadre were not posted to Tibet to protect or advance the interests of the Tibetans, while Whitehall's primary concern there was to avoid damaging British relations with other major powers, and. in particular, the China trade. But because of their empathy with the Tibetans, cadre officers identified strongly with Tibetan interests, and they did not leave Tibet in its virtually helpless state without deep personal regrets. Therefore, just as we must separate the knowledge of Tibet which individual cadre officers gained, from the image of Tibet which was constructed as a result of this knowledge, so we must separate the British Government's willingness to abandon Tibet from the cadre's aims for Tibet's future.

The frontiersmen on the Tibetan periphery of the British empire had. by the 1940s. lost all power to influence Tibet's future in the direction which they thought best; the power was held by the central government, which was totally indifferent to Tibetan interests. In retrospect, we may see that had Curzon and Younghusband's 'forward' policies been carried though to their logical conclusion, Tibet would have been taken into close association with India, perhaps with a status similar to that of Bhutan. We may now judge that this could have prevented the cultural genocide that followed the Chinese take-over, and saved more than a million Tibetan lives, and that therefore the policies advanced by the cadre were correct, and the policies of the British Government were tragically wrong. But as was recognised by Bell, such a commitment was impractical,[31] and in 1947 there was no longer the means or the will to protect what was only ever a peripheral consideration in empire. Britain left many unresolved questions in abandoning her empire in India, both as a consequence of the construction of identities and political constituencies and of the failure to do so, as in the case of Tibet.

It may be that the encounter on the Tibetan frontier, beyond the stresses of direct imperial control and consequent indigenous resistance, did result in an experience of which it could be truthfully said by the cadre, as the encounter ended, that 'on balance we had done more good than harm....W e could look back without shame, and with some pride.'[32] But the cadre's duty to promote the interests of the Government of India, and Whitehall's refusal to permit the fulfillment of Tibetan aspirations to independence, meant that that judgment must be applied to the relationship of individual British officers (including the medical and technical staff) with the Tibetans, rather than to the encounter as a whole.


The Chinese take-over of Tibet polarised the emerging field of Tibetan studies, with issues being seen in a political context where information either supports the perspective of the Chinese Government or of the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Attempts to remove Tibetan studies from this context have failed; even Buddhist studies suggest support for the Tibetan position by implying that Tibetan culture is of value, and because the Tibetans use Buddhism as a political weapon against the Chinese.[33]

We have seen that the cadre constructed an image of Tibet in works which acquired a great authority among British officialdom. The Tibetans have found these works extremely valuable in support of their cause. The basic premise articulated by the Tibetan Government today is that Tibetans are a separate race and culture from the Chinese, and, until they were invaded, formed a state historically independent of China, with such religio-political ties as existed for mutual convenience between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Emperor having ended when China became a republic. The works of cadre officers such as Bell and Richardson support this position because they promoted virtually the same premise, both in British interests, and in the interests of their Tibetan allies.

In the 1950s and '60s, former cadre officers offered the Tibetan cause a 'voice'. Hugh Richardson, for example, was a leading figure in the founding of the U.K. Tibet Society, which began to campaign on behalf of the Tibetans. Thus the alliance of interests between the cadre officers and their allies in Tibet in the pre-1947 period continued into the modern period. It is clearly in Tibet's interest that the leading European work on Tibetan history has been written by Hugh Richardson, for it specifically counters Chinese claims in regard to Tibet. [34]

The need to avoid offering any support for Chinese activity in Tibet, the fact that the most authoritative texts in Tibetan studies were by cadre officers (or by those like Tucci who cooperated closely with the cadre), combined with the impossibility of further independent research in Tibet (until the late 1980s), have all had a great effect on Tibetan studies. The field continues to be dominated by works following the traditions and relying on the authority of the image of Tibet constructed by the Tibet cadre, with most of the principal works by cadre officers themselves having been reprinted in the last decade. [35]

The position is, however, changing. In the last decade western, and Tibetan, scholarship has begun to question accepted images of Tibet, with revisionist work on religious and regional minority traditions, and the traditional Tibetan power structure and sense of identity, although, as noted, this does not appear to lead to radically different interpretations of Tibetan history and culture.[36] Both modern and historical Tibet are now subject to investigation, and will be assisted by an understanding of the British perspective and activities which led to their construction of an image of Tibet.

Understanding the influence of the Tibet cadre enables us to see its continuing effects. Thus the Dalai Lama continues to be the focus of western support for the Tibetan cause, just as he was the focus of British efforts to cultivate Tibetan allies. We may see that that the cadre's efforts to create a modern Tibetan-nation state, and an image of Tibet as such a state, has resulted in the question of Tibetan independence being located in a legal framework of debate over Tibet's status in two periods, 1913-50, and pre-1904. The legal uncertainty surrounding aspects of this case in the British period, such as the Simla Convention, weakens the Tibetan position.

The Tibetan claim to independence may be better located in a moral framework, and in the still-evolving context of separate racial, cultural and religious identity as a basis for self-determination, rather than in quasi-historical claims based on cadre constructions and British imperial treaties. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama, and recent protests in Tibet which have specifically linked Tibetan religious identity and Buddhist ethics with the Tibetan’s aspirations for independence,[37] appear more appropriate to Tibet's fundamentally religious identity.

N either emphasis is liable to greatly effect the policies of the present Chinese Government. But establishing in the eyes of the international community the Tibetan's claim to the right to self-determination on both moral and identity grounds offers the possibility that if China wishes to be accepted in international arenas such as trade, sports and academic and scientific forum, she will be put under increasing pressure to satisfy Tibetan aspirations; as South Africa was put under similar pressure in regard to her apartheid policies.

With this political backdrop, modem Tibetan studies continue to have significant political implications; pro-Tibetan or pro-Chinese. But the Dalai Lama noted how the massive increase in western studies of Tibetan Buddhism helped to dispel negative images of their religion, and how the distortion of the political image of Tibet by the British desire to exclude Russian influence from Tibet was partly due to the fact that 'there was very little contact, only officials, no independent individuals who spent time in Tibet or were able to study [Tibet]'. [38] Increasingly, there are numbers of independent scholars able to visit and study Tibet, which can only benefit the field of study, and our understanding of Tibet and the Tibetans.



[1] Shils (1981, p.273) & Potter (1986).

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

[3] For example, see Caroe (1974) and Richardson (1974).

[4] Interview with Dr.M.V. Kurian, January 1994.

[5] Richardson (1984, p. 122).

[6] IOLR L/P&S/12/4197-8904, Viceroy to Secretary of State, 12 December 1936.

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

[8] For details of the Ambans, see Kolmas (1994, esp. pp.456, 458), and (1992); also see Chapman (1992, p.240).

[9] Interview with A. Robins, April 1993.

[10] IOLR L/P&S/12/4193-201, Lhasa Mission Diary entry, 4 November 1938 (by H. Richardson).

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

[12] Dreyfuss (1994); Samuel (1993).

[13] Schwartz (1994, p.215).

[14] Goldstein (1989).

[15] This is the theme of Dhondup (1986) and, in particular, Goldstein ibid.

[16] IOLR L/P&S/10/344-448, India to Bell, 3 September 1915.

[17] IOLR L/P & S /12/4197-7218, U.K. High Com mission to India Office, 2 July 1947; L/P&S/12/4197-7564, Foreign Office to India Office.

[18] Hopkinson (1950, p.234).

[19] Diary entry of Mrs E. Hopkinson, 1 September 1948, courtesy of Mrs Hopkinson.

[20] IOLR MSS Eur F157-258, Hopkinson to Bailey, 5 December 1949; Interview with J. Lall, October 1993; Hopkinson (1950, p.239).

[21] See Ford (1990).

[22] The Nepalese, however, have maintained a Mission in Lhasa until the present day.

[23] The text of the 1954 Agreement is given in Richardson (1984, pp.293-300).

[24] Interview with Dr T.Y. Pemba, March 1994.

[25] Goldstein (1989, pp.703-04); Richardson (1984, pp. 179, 197-99, 231-32).

[26] Addy (1994, p.28).

[27] Tibet's 'unrecognised' status might be compared with European models of 'renascent nations' - those 'that have undergone a cultural and political renascence since 1945' - as proposed by Richard Griggs in the map entitled 'Europe of Regions' in Research and Exploration. Summer 1994, N.Y.

[28] IOLR MSS Eur D998/39, 'Report on Tibet August 1945 -August 1948' by A.J. Hopkinson; Saker papers, copy of an undated (c1948-50) report for the Pakistan Government, marked 'Top Secret', entitled 'Tibet'.

[29] Goldstein (1989, pp.611-12, 623).

[30] Interview with J. Lall, October 1993. The possibility of a Chinese Communist government invading Burma and India had been considered as early as c1927. It was, however, then concluded that there was no real threat to Tibet from this source; IOLR L/Mil/7/19395, unsigned/undated report, c1927.

[31] Bell (1992, p.247).

[32] Ford (1990, p. 195).

[33] Schwartz (1994).

[34] Richardson (1984).

[35] For examples of recent works following this tradition, see Baker and Steele (1993); Beger (1994); Hopkirk (1990); Normanton (1988); and Williamson (1987).

[36] Among the most significant works in this direction we may include Cech (1991); Dreyfuss (1994); Goldstein (1989); Samuel (1993); and Templeman (1994).

[37] Schwartz (1994, pp.26-36, 209-31).

[38] Interview with H.H. the Dalai Lama, March 1994.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:13 am


THE TIBET CADRE:- Officers who served for more than nine months as Political Officer Sikkim, Head of British Mission Lhasa, or British Trade Agent Gyantse.

The information concerning each officer is given in the following format:- final rank, name, decorations, dates, Indian department prior to Political service; and then as per the following abbreviations.

b. - Place of birth.
f - Father's occupation (if in India this is indicated in subsequent brackets when not obvious).
educ. - Education, public school or otherwise.
u/mc. - University or military college attended.
jp. - Initial Indian service posting(s).

Lt-Colonel Frederick Marsham BAILEY CIE. (1882-1967) Indian Army. b. India. f. Indian Army. educ. Wellington, Edinburgh Academy, u/mc. Sandhurst. fp. Sikkim and Tibet. Active service in World War One. Later Resident in Kashmir and Nepal. Noted explorer and naturalist.

Major Richmond Keith Molesworth BATTYE (1905-1958) Indian Army. b. Persia. f. IMS. educ. Marlborough, u/mc. RMA. Woolich. fp. North-West Frontier Province. Later Colonial Administrative Service, Tangyanika.

Sir Charles Bell KCIE. CMG. CIE. (1870-1945) ICS. b. India. f. Indian Provincial Services, educ. Winchester, u/mc. Oxford. fp. Bengal. Retired to Canada.

Major William Lachlan CAMPBELL CIE. (1880-1937) Indian Army. b. Scotland. f. Gentleman (close relatives served in India), educ. Edinburgh Academy. u/mc. RMA. Woolich. fp. Peking.

Rai Bahadur Norbhu Dhondup OBE. CBE. (1889-1944). b. India (Darjeeling ). f.Trader (India), educ. Government High School Darjeeling. u/mc. None. fp. Sikkim & Tibet.

Lt-Colonel Edward Walter FLETCHER CBE. (1899-1958) Indian Army. b. Scotland. f. Military, educ. Malborough. u/mc. RMA. Woolich. fp. North West Frontier Province. Active service in World War Two.

Sir Basil GOULD CMG. CIE. (1883-1956) ICS. b. England. f. Law. educ. Winchester, u/mc. Oxford. fp. Punjab, Afghanistan.

Major Philip Coates HAILEY (1903-1980) Indian Army. b. India. f. ICS. educ. Clifton College, u/mc. Sandhurst. fp. Baluchistan. Nephew of Sir (later Lord) Malcolm Hailey (Governor of the Punjab 1924-28).

Arthur John HOPKINSON (1894-1953) ICS. b. England. f. Church, educ. Marlborough, u/mc. Oxford. fp. United Provinces. Active service in World War One. Later became the Reverend Hopkinson.

Frank LUDLOW (1885-1972) Indian Education Department. b. England. f. Cambridge University Lecturer in Botany, educ. Chelsea, u/mc. Cambridge. fp. Punjab. Reknowned naturalist. Employed by the Tibetan Government as Headmaster of Gyantse school, 1923-1926.

DAVID MACDONALD (1870-1962) Provincial service. b. India. f. Tea-planter (India), educ. Bhotia School. Darjeeling, u/mc. None. fp. Assam and Bengal. Later owner of the Himalaya Hotel, Kalimpong.

Lt-Colonel Sir William Frederick Travers O’CONNOR CSI. CIE., CVO. (1870-1943) Indian Army. b. Ireland. f. Irish land-owning family, educ. Charterhouse, u/mc. RMA. Woolich. fp. Darjeeling. Later Resident in Nepal.

Hugh RICHARDSON OBE. CIE. (1905-) ICS. b. Scotland. f. unknown (India; grandfather in ICS), educ. Glenalmond. u/mc. Oxford. fp. Bengal. Later Visiting Professor at Seattle.

Lt-Colonel Herbert Gordon RIVETT-CARNAC (1892-1962) Indian Army. b. India. f. Indian Police, educ. Bradfield College, u/mc. Sandhurst. fp. Mesopotamia.

Major Alexander Alfred RUSSELL MC. (1898-1967) Indian Army. b. England. f. ICS. educ. Gordon Watson's Public School, Edinburgh, u/mc. Quetta Cadet College. fp. Persia.

Major Richard Kenneth Maitland SAKER CBE. (1908-1979) Indian Army. b. England. f. Military, educ. Aldenham. u/mc. Sandhurst. fp. Baroda. Later Pakistan Government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office employee.

Major George SHERRIFF (1898-1967) Indian Army. b. Scotland. f. Distiller, educ. Sedbergh. u/mc. RMA. Woolich. fp. Unknown. Served at Kashgar Consulate, 1927-31. Active service in World War One. Reknowned naturalist.

Lt-Colonel Malcolm Cecil SINCLAIR OBE. (1899-1955) Indian Army. b. Ireland. f. Indian Army. educ. Marlborough, u/mc. Quetta Cadet College. fp. Unknown.

Rai Bahadur Pemba Tsering (1905-1954) Provincial Service. b. India (Ghoom). f. Trader (India) family, educ. Government High School Darjeeling. u/mc. None. fp. Sikkim & Tibet.

Lt-Colonel James Leslie Rose WEIR CIE. (1883-1950) Indian army. b. India. f. IMS. educ. Wellingborough, u/mc. RMA. Woolich. fp. Gwalior. Punjab. Later Resident in Baroda.

John Claude WHITE CIE. (1853-1918) Indian Public Works Department. b. India. f. Unknown (in India), educ. Bonn (Germany), u/mc. None - Coopers Hill College of Engineering. fp. Bengal.

Frederick WILLIAMSON (1891-1935) ICS. b. England. f. Technical, educ. Bedford Modern School, u/mc. Cambridge. fp. Orissa. Active service in World War One. Consulate-General in Kashgar 1927-30.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Sat Feb 01, 2020 1:09 am


Officers who served in the Government of India’s principal positions in Tibet.

The encounter between pre-1947 Tibet and the outside world was heavily documented. There are archives which record virtually every European visitor to Tibet; the annual reports of the Trade Agencies in the India Office Library, for example, which contain the names of every European visitor from India in the 1904-47 period. This appendix lists those officials who served in the principal Indian Political Department posts concerned with Tibet. The Political Officer Sikkim was stationed in Gangtok (Sikkim), while the other positions listed were inside Tibet.[1]

The purpose of this appendix is, in addition to providing a source for future research in this area, twofold. Firstly the sheer number of these officials - over one hundred - provides a counterweight to the generally projected image of Tibet as an isolated land. In this sense it adds to Percival Landon's list of officers on the Younghusband Mission and James Cooper's list of European visitors to Lhasa. [2] Secondly, it can be used to trace the careers of the principal officials in Tibet, as they followed a career path culminating in the positions in Gangtok or Lhasa.

The positions with which we are concerned are:-

(1) The Political Officer Sikkim
(2) The Head of the British Mission Lhasa
(3) The British Trade Agent Gyantse
(4) The British Trade Agent Yatung
(5) The British Trade Agent Gartok
(6) The Officer Commanding Trade Agent's Escort Gyantse
(7) The Medical Officer Gyantse
(8) The Civil Surgeon Bhutan and Tibet

In order to indicate the actual dates of service in a particular position, the dates given are. with one exception which will be noted, those of the actual hand-over, rather than the official posting date. Due to transport difficulties, leave requirements, and personal arrangements between officers, the official date of posting often varies widely from the actual hand-over date.

Due to the complexity of events involving the Gyantse Trade Agents in the earlier years, such as the flight and return of the 13th Dalai Lama, I have given the actual day of handover for this position as an aid to other scholars in this area, in all other cases the month is given.

In a number of cases, officers were relieved temporarily during their absence on leave, or on other duties elsewhere in Tibet or India. In these cases I have indicated that the officer officiating 'relieves'.

There is no single source for this data. The lists have been compiled by a comparative review of all available primary sources (as shown in the bibliography), particularly the records of the India Office Library. These sources often conflict; in such cases reliance has been placed on the record compiled nearest to the date of the event.


J.C. White takes up newly created post, May 1889
C. Bell relieves, May 1904
White resumes, Nov. 1904
Bell relieves, Sept, 1906
White resumes, Jan. 1907
Bell relieves, (White on leave prior to his retirement in October 1908, when Bell was appointed permanently), Mar. 1908
Capt. J.L.R. Weir relieves, Aug. 1911
Bell resumes, Oct. 1911
B. Gould relieves, Oct. 1913
Bell resumes, Sept. 1914
Major W.L. Campbell relieves, (Bell on leave prior to his retirement in March 1919 when Campbell was appointed permanently), Apr. 1918
Bell reappointed for one year after Campbell resigns, Jan. 1920
Lt-Colonel W.F. O’Connor takes up post, (Bell in Lhasa until October 1921) Jan. 1921, Jan. 1921
D. MacDonald relieves, Mar. 1921
Major F.M. Bailey takes up post, June 1921
F. Williamson relieves, May 1927
Bailey resumes, Dec. 1927
Major J.L.R. Weir takes up post. Oct. 1928
F. Williamson relieves, Apr. 1931
Weir resumes. Aug. 1931
F. Williamson takes up post, Jan. 1933
Capt. R.K.M. Battye relieves, (after death of Williamson in Lhasa.), Nov. 1935
B. Gould takes up post, Dec. 1935
H. Richardson relieves, May 1937
B. Gould resumes, Nov. 1937
A.J. Hopkinson takes up post, Jun. 1945


H. Richardson remained in Lhasa after the departure of the Gould Mission, Feb. 1937
Norbhu Dhondup assumes post, July 1937
H. Richardson resumes, Oct. 1938
Norbhu Dhondup resumes, Oct. 1939
F. Ludlow assumes post, Apr. 1942
G. Sherriff assumes post, Apr. 1943
H. Richardson relieves, Jun. 1944
G. Sherriff resumes, Sept. 1944
Pemba Tsering assumes post, Apr. 1945
H. Richardson resumes, Apr. 1946
Pemba Tsering relieves, Sept. 1947
H. Richardson resumes, Dec. 1947


Capt. W.F. O’Connor takes up newly created post, 01.10.1904
Lt. F.M . Bailey relieves, 23.12.1905
O'Connor resumes, (Hand-over at Gangtok), 15.12.1906
Bailey relieves, 18.07.1907
O'Connor resumes, 27.07.1907
Bailey takes up post, 01.08.1907
Capt. R.S. Kennedy {IMS} relieves, (at Yatung), 05.06.1909
Capt. J.L.R. Weir takes up post, 13.12.1909
D. Macdonald relieves, (at Yatung), 23.01.1911
Weir resumes, 01.04.1911
Macdonald relieves, 10.08.1911
Weir resumes, 30.12.1911
Macdonald relieves, 15.02.1912
B. Gould takes up post, 04.05.1912
Macdonald relieves, 31.03.1913
Major W.L. Campbell takes up post, (at Yatung), 24.02.1916
Macdonald takes up post, 31.03.1918
F. Williamson takes up post, 20.06.1924
Capt. R.L. Vance {IMS} relieves, 31.05.1926
A.J. Hopkinson takes up post, 03.01.1927
Major H.G. Rivett-Carnac takes up post, 30.04.1928
Lt. W.J.L. Neal {IA} relieves, 01.03.1929
Rivett-Carnac resumes, 18.05.1929
Capt. D.R. Smith takes up post, 18.09.1929
Capt. E.W. Fletcher takes up post, 19.11.1929
Capt. A.A. Russell takes up post, 19.11.1931
M. Worth takes up post, 18.04.1933
Capt. P.C. Hailey takes up post, 01.12.1933
Capt. R.K.M. Battye takes up post, 20.06.1935
H. Richardson takes up post, 20.07.1936
Capt. D.G. Thornburgh takes up post, 03.02.1940
Major M.C. Sinclair takes up post, (at Gangtok), 20.07.1940
Capt. R.K .M . Saker takes up post, 15.06.1941
Major R.W.D. Gloyne {1A} relieves, 12.05.1942
Saker resumes, 15.01.1943
Gould reappointed, stationed at Gangtok,
Capt. J.H. Davis {IA} relieves, (at Gyantse), 28.09.1943
F.H. Mainprice takes up post, 19.05.1944
Gould reappointed, stationed at Gangtok, the following act in Gyantse:-. 12.08.1944
Capt. C. Finch {IA}
Capt. A.G.H. Robins {IA}
Lt. R. Grist {IA}
Lt. T.R.W. Dark {IA}
Richardson reappointed, 12.02.1946


Capt. W.L. Campbell takes up post, Jan. 1908  
Lt. F.M. Bailey relieves, July 1908  
Lt. R.S. Kennedy {IMS} relieves, June 1909  
D. Macdonald takes up post, July 1909

(Macdonald then served at Yatung, without official leave, until his retirement in October 1924. The post, then combined with that of the British Trade Agent Gyantse until 1936, for details see separate listing for Gyantse.)

Rai Bahadur Norbhu Dhondup takes up post (position combined with Head of British Mission Lhasa when Norbhu Dhondup stationed in Lhasa), July 1936

Rai Bahadur Sonam Tobdcn Kazi took up post, Sept. 1942
Rai Sahib Pemba Tsering relieved, Aug. 1943
R.B.Sonam Tobden Kazi resumes, Mar. 1944


Thakur Jai Chand took up newly created post, Nov. 1904
Lala Devi Das took up post, Jan. 1912
Cha. Pala Ram took up post, Mar, 1925
Thakur Hayat Singh took up post, 1928
Dr Kanshi Ram took up post, 1929
Pemba Tsering took up post, 1941
Lakshman Singh took up post, 1946


Lt. W.L. Hogg, 3rd Brahmins relieved, Nov. 1905
Lt. C.J. Auchinleck, 62nd Punjabis relieved, Sept. 1906
Major W.R. Walker took command of the 62nd, July 1907
Lt. M.H.L. Morgan took command of the 62nd, Dec. 1907
Lt. R.B. Langrishe took command of the 62nd, Feb. 1908
Lt. W. Macready, 120th Rajputs relieved, Sept. 1908
Lt. A.O. Creagh took command of the 120th, Sept. 1909
Lt. J. Turner, 114th Maharattas, relieved, May, 1911
Lt. H.R. Wilson took command of the 114th, June 1913
Capt. L.S. Fenton, 113th Infantry, relieved Sept. 1913
Capt. L.F. Bodkin 2nd in command from, Sept. 1914
Capt Bodkin took command of the 113th, Sept. 1915
Lt. W. de la Passy 2-i-c from, Sept. 1915 (Departed May 1916, not replaced)
Lt. M.R. Roberts took command of the 113th, Aug. 1916
Capt. F. Perry, 2/10th Jats, relieved, Apr. 1918
Lt. G.N. Chatterjee took command of the 113th, July 1920
Lt. J.A. Andrews took command of the 113th, July 1921
Capt. E. Parker, 90th Punjabis, relieved, Oct. 1921
Capt. G.B. Williams, 4/8th Rajputs, relieved, Sept. 1922
Capt. J.E. Cobbett took command of the 4/7th, Sept. 1923
Capt. E.A. Evanson. 3/17th Dogras, relieved, Sept. 1924
Lt. R.P. Taylor 2-i-c from, Nov. 1925
Lt. H.M. de V. Moss, 3/12th Sikhs, relieved Sept. 1926
Lt. R.A.K. Sangster 2-i-c from Sept. 1926
Capt. W.E. Dean took command of the 3/12th, Sept. 1927
Capt. H.W. Mulligan took command of the 3/12th, Sept. 1928
Capt. J.A. Blood took command of the 3/12th, Dec. 1929
Lt. A.J.W. Macleod 2-i-c from, Dec. 1929
Capt. H.R. Officer took command of the 3/12th, Mar. 1930
Capt. F.C. Goddard, 1 /5th Maharatta Light Infantry relieved, Sept. 1930
Capt. A.J. Crozier 2-i-c from, Sept. 1930
Capt. N.M. Anderson took command of the 1/5th, June 1931
Capt. W.D. Marshall 2-i-c from June 1931
Capt Marshall took command of the the 1/5th Sept. 1931 (no 2-i-c)
Capt. E.S.E. Rennie took command of the 1/5th, Sept. 1932
Capt. H.W. Huelin, 2/7th Rajputs, relieved, Sept. 1933
Lt. G.E.P. Cable 2-i-c from, Sept. 1933
Major A.C. Bronham took command of the 2/7th, Sept. 1934
Lt. J.W. Pease 2-i-c from, Sept. 1934
Capt. J.A. Salomons took command of the 2/7th, Sept. 1935 (no 2-i-c)
Major P.W. Finch took command of the 2/7th, Nov. 1936
Cable (now Capt.) took command of the 2/7th, Mar. 1937
Major W.A. Colbourne, 1/15th Punjabis relieved, Sept. 1937
Lt. H.B. Hudson 2-i-c from, Sept. 1937
Lt. Hudson took command of the 1/15th (no 2-i-c), Jun. 1938
Major F. Mackenzie took command of the 1/15th, Sept. 1938
Capt. C.V. Clifford 2-i-c from, Sept. 1938
Major J.G. Innes-Keys took command of the 1/15th, Sept. 1939 (no 2-i-c)
Major J.L. Widdicombe, 20th Garrison Company. relieved, June 1940
Lt. D.A. Walters 2-i-c from, June 1940
Walters (now Capt.) took command of the 20th (no 2-i-c), Oct. 1940
Lt. E.F. Croyle 2-i-c from, Feb. 1941
Major R.W.D. Gloyne takes command of the 20th, May 1941
Lt. C. Finch 2-i-c from, Feb. 1943
Capt. J.H. Davies takes command of the 20th, Mar. 1943
Finch (now Capt.) took command of the 20th, July 1944
Capt A.G.H. Robins Rajput Regiment, relieved July. 1944
(originally acting Trade Agent, took command), Oct. 1944
Lt. R.F. Grist 2-i-c from, Oct. 1944
Grist (now Capt.) took command of the 20th, Oct. 1945
Lt. T.W.R. Dark 2-i-c from, Nov. 1945
Major D.H. Pailthorpe, 1/1st Punjabis, relieved, Oct. 1946
Lt N.J. Campbell 2-i-c from, Oct. 1946
(Campbell left Feb. 1947 and not replaced)
Major Pearson took command of the 1/1st, May, 1947


Lt. R. Steen takes up newly created post, Oct. 1904
Lt. F.H. Stewart takes up post, Oct. 1906
Lt. R.S. Kennedy takes up post, Oct. 1907
Capt. D.M.C. Church takes up post, Mar. 1910
Lt. R.F.D. MacGregor takes up post, Jun. 1911
Capt. G.B. Harland takes up post, Oct. 1912

Captain Harland departed in December 1915, the position was then vacant, with Sub-Assistant Surgeon Bo Tsering in charge of the Gyantse dispensary until September 1922.

Capt. R. Lee takes up post, Sept. 1922
M ajor J.H. Hislop takes up post, July 1923
Capt. R.L. Vance takes up post, Sept. 1924
Capt. D.N. Bhaduri relieves, Jan. 1926
Vance resumes, Apr. 1926
Capt. H.W. Mulligan takes up post, Sept. 1927
Lt. W.J.L. Neal takes up post, Apr. 1928
Lt. M.R. Sinclair takes up post, May. 1931

Lieutenant Sinclair accompanied the Political Officer to Lhasa in August 1932 towards the end of his term of service; Bo Tsering relieved until Captain Tennant arrived.

Capt. D. Tennant takes up post, Sept. 1932
Capt. J. Guthrie takes up post, Sept. 1934
Capt. W.S. Morgan takes up post, Nov. 1936

Captain Morgan took over the post, while in Lhasa with the Gould Mission. Sub-Assistant Surgeon Rai Sahib Tonyot Tsering relieved at Gyantse until Morgan arrived in February 1937.

Capt. A.H.O. O’Malley takes up post, July 1938
Capt. C.W.A. Searle takes up post, July 1940
Dr. G.F. Humphreys takes up post, Oct. 1940
Capt. M.V. Kurian takes up post, Mar. 1944

Captain Kurian was in Lhasa from November 1944 until September 1945 with Bo Tsering relieving at Gyantse.

Capt. S.B. Bhattacharjee takes up post, Nov. 1945
Capt. S. Sanyal relieves, Sept. 1946
Bhattacharjee resumes, Oct. 1946
Lt. B.B. Patnaik takes up post, Oct. 1947


Capt. W.H.D. Staunton takes up newly created post, Aug. 1940
Lt-Col. J.H. Hislop takes up post, Jan. 1942  
Dr G.S. Terry takes up post, Jun. 1944  
Major J. Guthrie takes up post, Mar. 1945



[1] British personnel also served in other subordinate positions in Tibet. The early Gyantse and Yatung Head Clerks were European, and the telegraph, and supply posts, were occupied by British non-commissioned officers. After 1936 a British Radio Officer served at Lhasa. These positions are however, outside the scope of this study.

[2] Landon (1988, pp.364-67.); Cooper, J., 'Western Visitors to Lhasa: A Chronological List', undated, unpublished document available from The Tibet Society U.K.

[3] With the exception of White, whose post, predated the creation of the positions in Tibet, all of these officers had previously served as British Trade Agent Gyantse. The three temporary officers were all serving at the Gyantse post, at the time of their appointment.

[4] A British Mission under the command of the Political Officer Sikkim, B.J. Gould, arrived in Lhasa in August 1936. Gould departed with most of the members of the Mission in February 1937, leaving H. Richardson in charge of what became the permanent British Mission in Lhasa. The position always remained subordinate to the Political Officer Sikkim, and Gould and Hopkinson effectively headed the Lhasa Mission during their visits there, in February to June 1940, and August to December 1944 (Gould), and September 1945 to January 1946 (Hopkinson). Other British officials were present during Pemba Tsering's period as Head of Mission. Of the five officers who occupied this post, only George Sherriff, a wartime appointee, had not previously served in Tibet, although Ludlow had been employed by the Tibetan Government, not the Government of India.

[5] At intervals in 1907-09, and from October 1924 to July 1936, this post, was combined with that of the British Trade Agent Yatung. After 1944 the post, was nominally held by an officer stationed in Gangtok (Gould), or Lhasa (Richardson). The Escort Commanding Officer in Gyantse then acted as Trade Agent in addition to his military post, except during visits by the appointed Trade Agent. Two Medical Officers and three Escort Commanding Officers relieved in the absence of the Trade Agent and four E.C.O.'s acted in Gyantse for appointees who were stationed elsewhere. F. Mainprice was appointed to the post, while in Gangtok, 15 October 1943 - 26 October 1943, but was then transferred and did not take up the position until May 1944.

[6] Although provision was made for this post, to open on 1 May 1894 in the Anglo-Chinese Convention signed on 5 December 1893, the post, was not occupied. In November 1903 E.C.H. Walsh was posted to the Chumbi Valley as Assistant Political Officer attached to the Tibetan Frontier Commission (which became the Younghusband Mission). C.Bell took up the post, in May 1904 until he was replaced by Captain W.L.Campbell in November 1905. Campbell was relieved by Lieutenant F.M. Bailey between December 1906 and January 1908, when the Chumbi Valley was returned to Tibetan control, and Campbell took up the post, which was now renamed that of British Trade Agent Yatung. For more details see McKay (1992a, p.420).

[7] The post, was originally full-time, but from 1928 onwards the Gartok Agent visited the Agency during the summer months only. The posting is thus shown on an annual basis from 1928. This post, was never occupied by a European.

[8] The original Escort posted in Gyantse in October 1904 consisted of fifty men of the 40th Pathan Regiment, under the command of an Indian officer. At intervals after 1916 a second, junior, officer was posted at Gyantse as Second-in-command. This officer often succeeded to the position of Escort Commander, but ten officers served only in the junior position. Major Pearson's dates are uncertain. The officer(s) being relieved returned to India within a few days of handing over, except in the case of Captain Marshall, who remained for a month in 1932 to assist in training Tibetan troops. The officers of the Escort were all members of the Indian Army, and, as far as can be ascertained, were all Europeans except for Lieutenant G.N. Chatterjee (who died at Gyantse in 1921).

[9] After the establishment, in August 1940, of the senior post, of Civil Surgeon Bhutan and Tibet, the position was, for administrative purposes, officially referred to as the Officer in Charge Indian Military Hospital Gyantse. Aside from war-time appointee Dr Humphreys, the 23 officers who served in Gyantse were all members of the Indian Medical Service. Following the appointment of the Anglo-Indian, Dr Humphreys, the position was occupied by Indian officers.

[10] This position was created in August 1940 to oversee medical arrangements in Bhutan and Tibet. Although the official headquarters of the post, was at Gyantse, the post, became, in effect, that of Medical Officer to the British Mission Lhasa, with the officers concerned increasingly spending much of their time in Lhasa. In this instance, due to the varied locations involved, the dates given are those of appointment to the post. Two of the four officers appointed to this post, Lt-Colonel Hislop and Major Guthrie, had previously served as Medical Officer Gyantse.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

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Section 1.1: - The India Office Library and Records.

L/P&S/7. - Political and Secret Despatches to, and Letters Received from, India.
L/P& S/10 - Political and Secret Subject Files.
L/P& S/11 - Political and Secret Annual Files.
L/P&S/12 - Political and Secret (External) Files and Collections.
L/P&S/18 - Selected Political and Secret Memoranda.
L/P&S/20 - Selected Political and Secret Library.

MSS Eur F 80 The Bell Collection.
MSS Eur F 157 The Bailey Collection.
MSS Eur D979 The Ludlow Collection.
MSS Eur D998 The Hopkinson Collection.
MSS Eur F 112/82 The Curzon Collection, Younghusband correspondence.

R /1/4, Selected Indian Foreign Department Personnel Files.
V/12/53, Selected Indian Public Works Department services 1905-06.
V/13/77, Civil Lists, Indian Foreign Department.
V/12/12, History of Services.
L/Mil/17/14/92, 'Military report on Tibet', Calcutta 1910. Biographical Indexes of the India Office Library. Indian Army Lists 1905-1947.

Section 1.2: - The National Archives of India (New Delhi),

Foreign and Political Department Proceedings, Secret External, A and B, 1905-13.
Foreign and Political Department Indexes, 1914-36.
External Affairs Department Indexes, 1937-46.
Selected Foreign and Political Department Establishment, 1905-30.
Selected Foreign and Political Department General, 1905-30.

Section 1.3: - Other Collections.

The British Museum.
Bell papers.

The Cambridge South Asia Library.
Mainprice Papers.

The Public Records Office.
Selected papers.

The Royal Society for Asian Affairs Library.
Bell collection.

The Royal Geographical Society Library.
Everest papers.
Bailey papers.

The Sikkim State Archives.
Judicial 1934-42 [Incomplete].
General 1916-48 [Incomplete].

Section 1.4: - PRIVATE PAPERS

Private papers:- I am indebted to the following families for access to private papers;

The Battye family (Battye papers), U.K.
The Jehu family (Weir papers), U.K.
Mr & Mrs FL Mouland (Walters papers), U.K.
Mrs E. Hopkinson (personal Gangtok diary), U.K.
Mrs A. Saker (Saker papers, and personal Tibet diary of Mrs Angela Saker), U.K.
The Macdonald family and Dr K.Sprigg (MacDonald papers), India.

Selected correspondence as per cited references.


Formal interviews were conducted with the following persons, whose status is shown briefly after their name.

Mr H.E. Richardson Head of Lhasa Mission, Trade Agent Gyantse, Acting Political Officer Sikkim.
Interviewed in London, 29 November 1990.

Dr K. Sprigg To Gyantse in 1950, married into the family of David Macdonald.
Interviewed in Kalimpong, various dates in January 1992.

Mrs R. ColIett Daughter of Sir Charles Bell.
Interviewed in South Warnborough, 1 March 1993.

Mr R. Ford Radio Officer, Lhasa and Quamdo, imprisoned by the Chinese.
Interviewed in London, 11 March 1993.

Mrs J.M .Jehu To Lhasa in 1932, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel J.L.R. Weir.
Interviewed in Bordon (Hants.), 26 March 1993.

Mrs E. Hopkinson To Gyantse 1946 & 47, wife of A.J. Hopkinson.
Interviewed at Welwyn Garden City, 20 April 1993.

Mr A.H. Robins ECOGyantse, BTA Gyantse, To Lhasa September 1945.
Interviewed at Carshalton, 23 April 1993.

Mrs A. Saker Resided in Gyantse, wife of Major K. Saker.
Interviewed at Chichester, 27 April 1993.

Mr J.Lall ICS. Maharajah of Sikkim's Prime Minister 1949-54.
Interviewed at Delhi, 12 October 1993.

Dr M.V. Kurian Gyantse Medical Officer, two visits to Lhasa.
Interviewed at Coimbatore [India], 12 January 1994.

Mr Tharchin Son of Reverend Tharchin.
Interviewed at Kalimpong, 22 February 1994.

Namgyal Tsering Son of Lha Tsering, grandson of A-chuk Tsering.
Interviewed at Kalimpong, 23 February 1994.

Dr T.Y.Pemba Son of Rai Bahadur Pemba Tsering. Author of Young Davs in Tibet etc.
Interviewed at Kalimpong, 6 March 1994.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Interviewed at McLeod Gunj [Dharamsala], 31 March 1994.


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