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

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

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:16 am

Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the Indian Political Department Officers
by Alexander McKay
PhD Thesis.
London University
© 1995




• MAPS:-
o (1) Tibet and its neighbours
o (2) The trade route, Gangtok to Lhasa.
• [I] ’THEY’VE ALL GOT SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT THEM’: The Making of a Tibet Cadre Officer
• [2] ’TOP OF THE HEAP’: Aspects of British Prestige in Tibet
• [3] ’THE RIGHT HAND OF EVERY POLITICAL OFFICER’: The Role of the Intermediaries
• [4] 'FREEDOM TO ACT AS THEY THOUGHT BEST’: Creating a Role: Aspects of Policy
• [5] ’WE COULD RUN THE WHOLE SHOW’: Promoting Policy: The Lhasa Mission
• [6] ’WE WANT A UNITED TIBET’: Constructing Tibet: Policy and Image
• [8] 'I BECAME... TIBETANISED’: Understanding and the Frontier
o (1) Tibet cadre biographical details.
o (2) Posting dates at Tibet posts.


As the cadre were the first modern Europeans to reside in Tibet, they had a unique opportunity to increase European knowledge of the region. This body of knowledge was, prior to the Younghusband Mission, greatly restricted, particularly in regard to details of Tibet's political structures.

The cadre became the primary interpreters of Tibet to the outside world, and the information they obtained and propagated became the basis for much of our modern knowledge of Tibet. But the image which they produced strongly reflects the character and policy aims of these individuals, and the interests and perspectives of the imperial power and its allies within the Lhasa ruling class as they attempted to transform Tibet into a modern nation-state. As the image was advantageous to both power groups, they cooperated in presenting and preserving it. By controlling access to both Tibet, and the body of knowledge built up, the cadre and their Tibetan allies tried to prevent the emergence of opposing images.....

[T]he image resulting from the British perception was, and still is, the dominant one held in political and academic circles. This image was an important legacy of the British presence in Tibet, and continues to shape the European response to Tibet's status today....

[T]he imperial power engaged in a complex process of defining what was 'Tibetan', and what was 'non-Tibetan' as they attempted to transform Tibet into what would have been, in effect, a modern nation-state according to the European understanding of the term....

In seeking ties with Lhasa's ruling elite, the British were implicitly identifying Lhasa as the administrative and political centre of a Tibetan state. But Tibet was not then a nation-state in the European definition. The model of the nation-state was a relatively recent European phenomenon, which may be defined as consisting of a territorial entity, within defined borders, in which a single government was sovereign....

The effect of this classification of identity was to impose conformity to European definitions as a pre-condition for acceptance of elements as 'Tibetan'. The power of definition was appropriated by European authority.....

What was imposed by European classification was a definition which failed to allow for variations such as those occurring in the regions of cultural interface on the periphery of the defined culture. What the British defined as Tibetan was the 'core culture', that of the centre, as represented by their contact with, and allies in, central Tibet. For example, the British expressed their understanding of Tibetan religion in terms which privileged the Gelugpa sect, which predominated in Lhasa and Shigatse, at the expense of sects such as the Bon, whose realms of authority lay in the Tibetan periphery. To the cadre, the area centred on Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse was 'Tibet proper, the seat of the Dalai Lama and his Government'.

Since 1947, it has become increasingly clear that, historically, Tibet included a variety of political and administrative formations, and that a single central administration did not consistently maintain authority there. Tibetan territory included enclaves under the jurisdiction of Bhutan and Sikkim, and, at various times in its history, power centres such as Shigatse conducted dealings with foreign powers without reference to Lhasa.

The principalities which made up Eastern Tibet were particularly reluctant to allow Lhasa to exercise secular authority in their domain, and Lhasa was often, in the Eastern Tibetan perspective, a remote and largely nominal authority. Even the religious authority of Lhasa vested in the leading Gelugpa sect was not necessarily accepted in these areas, where the prevailing sectarian orientation was towards the Nyingma or Bon sects....

Just as Tibet was not a modern nation-state in the sense of having a centralised administration controlled by a single government, it also failed to satisfy the demand that a modern nation-state should have fixed borders.....

Thus geographical boundaries were created, as the European definition of a state required fixed boundaries. Peoples within that boundary were defined as Tibetan, and assumed to share the characteristics of the core culture....

The key element of this sense of collective identity was the Tibetan Buddhist faith, which was an integral part of their social and political systems. The Tibetans described their own identity by the term nang pa, meaning a Buddhist, or an 'insider'. Non-Buddhists, even those of Tibetan race such as the minority Muslim community, were termed 'phyi pa' or 'outsiders'.....

The Tibetan conception of themselves as a political entity was of Tibet as a religious territory, the ideal home of Buddhism. As the primary focus of the Tibetan peoples' sense of identity was their religion, it was the claim to religious authority which legitimised Lhasa's rule, for the Tibetans at least. Thus the Tibetan Government described Tibet in such terms as 'a purely religious country' and 'dedicated to the well-being of humanity... the religious land of Tibet'.....

When officers such as Bailey collected and classified specimens of Tibetan flora and fauna, or climbed unknown peaks, they considered this as a personal (although often profitable) pastime. Yet there was a wider significance to their actions, in that the collection of scientific data in this era had significant implications for national prestige. The discoveries of individuals were seen by nations as 'an important source of national pride'. They also, while adding to the body of European knowledge, helped to define states such as Tibet, by establishing a distinct landscape, with distinct flora and fauna associated with the country.....

The effect of that categorisation of particular local knowledge was to confirm the European understanding of Tibetans as a race sharing particular perceptions, and to institutionalise European systems of knowledge as 'true'. Local knowledge was subordinated by this European appropriation of the power to classify and define elements of the local culture. The imperial systems of knowledge then acted as sources of power, for identifying local elites, defining ’insider’ and ’outsider’ elements of a society, or determining 'natural' frontiers....

Bell and MacDonald explained Tibet and its culture in sympathetic and comparative terms designed to portray it as 'familiar'...

British interests, from the perspective of the Tibet cadre, required that Tibet be a strong, unified state, capable of excluding foreign influence, and that it follow the 'advice' of a British representative in Lhasa. While the cadre's policies, such as establishing a representative in Lhasa, were aimed at creating this ideal Tibet, they also attempted at the same time to create an image of Tibet which matched the ideal. Thus the image of Tibet which the cadre constructed portrayed the ideal Tibet which their policies were designed to create.....

It became apparent to the cadre that, historically, the Dalai Lama was the only leader acceptable to all factions of Tibetan society....

British interests, from the perspective of the Tibet cadre, required that Tibet be a strong, unified state, capable of excluding foreign influence, and that it follow the 'advice' of a British representative in Lhasa. While the cadre's policies, such as establishing a representative in Lhasa, were aimed at creating this ideal Tibet, they also attempted at the same time to create an image of Tibet which matched the ideal. Thus the image of Tibet which the cadre constructed portrayed the ideal Tibet which their policies were designed to create. While Whitehall refused to recognise Tibet as an independent state, the cadre sought to make Tibetan independence a fait accompli....

As part of their effort to transform Tibet into a modern nation-state, the British therefore encouraged the Tibetan Government to undertake the processes of asserting sovereignty and state responsibility for its citizens.

Lhasa was encouraged to demonstrate its authority over Tibet's outlying areas. For example, Bell gave the Dalai Lama 'constant advice' that he should improve the quality of his administration in Eastern Tibet in order to prevent the local people from favouring Chinese administration. This, Bell stated in an implicit acknowledgement of Tibet's previous lack of unity, would mean that 'eastern Tibetans add their wide territories to the rule of Lhasa and work for a united Tibet'....

While encouraging the development of national structures, the cadre simultaneously sought to reinforce the processes which linked 'Tibet' and 'Tibetans', and to create a sense of nationalism there. They pursued a variety of schemes which, as Gould clearly stated, were aimed at 'developing the... national consciousness of Tibet'.

One example of this was the stimulus given by Ludlow's school, and the Gould Mission, to the creation of a Tibetan football team. Ludlow's school team adopted 'Tibetan colours' of yellow and maroon. Gould's Mission created a 'Tibetan' team, which played, under British auspices, against other defined races in Lhasa; the Nepalese, the British, the Ladakhis and so on. Similarly, Ludlow and his successors encouraged Tibetan pupils at British schools to wear their national dress, and Ludlow chose to give photos of the Dalai Lama as school prizes, rather than cash. Other policy initiatives, such as donations to monasteries, were designed to give 'the right background to the ideas we seek to propagate'.

There is insufficient evidence to judge the extent to which the British contributed to the Tibetans' adoption of many external symbols of nationality, such as stamps, currency and a flag, but certainly the Tibetans' choice of the tune 'God Save the King' as their national anthem suggests British influence! There were few areas where the cadre could not see (or claim to see) means of developing Tibetan nationalism....

Ultimately, the British were largely unsuccessful in their efforts to foster Tibetan nationalism. The American journalist, Archie Steele, who visited Lhasa in 1944, observed 'few stirrings of nationalism as yet in Buddhist Tibet'....

Foreign experts were brought to Tibet to assist the development of communications and modern mining techniques; Tibet's military forces were reorganised, and plans were made for the introduction of western-style education....

Aspects such as the introduction of western education were designed to ensure that 'the future administrators of Tibet... gain their ideas... from England rather than... any other country.'...

The required breakdown of existing social structures, and the streamlining of power sources, began to threaten Tibet's fragile national unity, and even the secular position of the Dalai Lama himself. The growth of military power, and social changes, were particularly threatening to the monastic power structure....

These threats to Tibetan social stability, not least the events surrounding Laden La in 1923-24, caused the Dalai Lama to abandon the modernisation process in the mid-1920s....

The traditional Tibetan power structure under the Dalai Lama was an extremely conservative force, strongly resistant to change. By allying themselves with this elite, the British did aid its survival. They helped prevent the emergence of any alternative ruling structures, and, by acquiescing in Tibet's rejection of modernisation, which might have broken down the traditional structures which were preventing change, they allowed the system to continue largely unaltered. The cadre, in the absence of any significant support from their government for policies which would have produced change, continued to support their local allies, and to regard any elements opposing these allies as being motivated by pro-Chinese (republican or communist) sympathies, with possible Russian connections always considered....

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'). 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....

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.'...

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.'

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.

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...' enhanced the image of Tibetans as a unified people....

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'. Tibet was promoted as possessing qualities which the West had lost...

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 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 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...

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 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. 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....

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....

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'....

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'.

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!....

[T]here was a concerted effort to portray Tibet as a country whose people shared British aspirations towards freedom and independence....

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....

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?...

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....

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....

[C]adre 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....

[T]he 13th Dalai Lama, on his accession to power in 1895. proclaimed that the Tibetans' Buddhist character gave them such virtues as 'compassionate hospitality'. These values were seen as threatened by the increasing Tibetan contact with Western culture....

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]'....

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'....

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....

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....

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....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.

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’. 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'.

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'.

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....

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'.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

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'.

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....

[T]he 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'.

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'.

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....

[T]he 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....

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.

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.

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.

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'.

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'.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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'.

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.

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'.

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. 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...

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.

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.

-- Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the Indian Political Department Officers, by Alexander McKay
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:17 am


Following Colonel Younghusband's Mission to Lhasa in 1903-04, officers selected by the Indian Political Department were stationed in Tibet under the command of the Political Officer Sikkim. This study examines aspects of the character, role and influence of these officers, whom I collectively term the 'Tibet cadre', and demonstrates that the cadre maintained a distinct collective identity and ethos, which was reflected in their approach to Anglo-Tibetan policies, and in the image of Tibet which resulted from the Anglo-Tibetan encounter.

British India's northern frontier was the location for powerful imperial mythologies, such as the "Great Game", which were a part of cadre identity. Conditions on the frontier were believed to suit a particular type of individual, and officers of that type, capable of upholding British prestige while gaining an empathy with Tibet and Tibetans, were favoured for cadre service. A similar type of character was sought among the local intermediaries, the most successful of whom were given cadre postings.

As frontiersmen following the traditions of Younghusband, their 'founding father', the cadre promoted 'forward' policies, designed to counter the perceived Russian threat to British India by extending British influence over the Himalayas. But Whitehall refused to support these policies to avoid damaging relations with China and other powers who regarded Tibet as part of China. The increased control exerted by central government over the imperial periphery in this period meant that, although the Tibet cadre did succeed in their primary aim of establishing British representation in Lhasa, they were unable to exert a dominant influence on policy-making either in Whitehall or in Lhasa.

The cadre largely controlled the flow of information from Tibet, and they contributed a great deal to the construction of an image of Tibet, particularly through the books they wrote. But although individual officers such as Sir Charles Bell developed a deep understanding of Tibet, this did not fully emerge in the final image, which had passed through layers of censorship designed to ensure that the image served British interests.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:18 am


The inspiration for this work came from visits I made to Tibet in 1984 and 1986, and the subsequent discovery that there was no comprehensive account of the British officials who had served there. Mr James Cooper of the Tibet Society U.K., and the former Head of British Mission Lhasa, Mr Hugh Richardson, both guided me on the paths necessary to undertake such a study. I carried out preliminary work on the topic as part of an undergraduate degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, under the supervision of Reader in South Asian History, Dr Peter Robb.

Dr Robb then agreed to supervise my doctoral thesis, a decision for which I have remained thankful. I have benefitted a great deal from his sage guidance and professional expertise; I could not have wished for a better supervisor. In addition to the great debt I owe Dr Robb, I have also benefited from the assistance of a number of other lecturers at SOAS, who have given me far more time and support than I had the right to expect. In particular I wish to acknowledge the help of Dr David Morgan, and of Drs Avril Powell, Michael Hutt, Humphrey Fisher, Julia Leslie and Professor Timothy Barrett. I am also grateful for the unfailing courtesy and support of History Department secretaries, Mary-Jane Hillman, and Joy Hemmings-Lew is, and of South Asian Centre secretary, Janet Marks.

My research in India was supervised by Dr P.S. Gupta of Delhi University, who opened a number of doors for me. In addition I was grateful for the assistance of Professor Kumar, Director of the Nehru Library, Chandrani Ghosh, Prabhu and Bidhu Patel and family, and to the Gangully family.

In Dharamsala, writer and intellectual Jamyang Norbhu was an informative and entertaining host. I was particularly grateful to Geshe Tenzing Tethong for arranging my interview with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and for permission for my wife to accompany me, and to His Holiness for his kind support and assistance. My thanks also to the management and staff of the Tibet Hotel for their assistance at that time.

In Kalimpong I was indebted to Tim and Nilarn MacDonald both for their hospitality at the Himalayan Hotel (where I was fortunate enough to find the informative and kindly Dr T.Y. Pemba a fellow-guest), and for their assistance in my research into the MacDonald family. Dr Keith Sprigg, formerly of SOAS Linguistics Department, and his wife Mrs R.E. Sprigg (also of the MacDonald family), proved both delightful hosts and a mine of information concerning people and events on the Tibetan frontier. My thanks are also due to Namgyal Tsering and George Tsarong [Tsarong Dundul Namgyal].

In Gangtok I was assisted by a large number of people, many of whom, as serving government officials, must remain anonymous. Admiral R.H. Tahiliani, His Excellency the Governor of Sikkim, and his ADC, Captain Sakhet Jha, were kind enough to show us around the Governor's residence, Raj Bhavan, the former British Residency.

I am pleased to acknowledge the specialised advice and assistance of Dr Alastair Lamb, the acknowledged authority in the field of Anglo-Tibetan relations, for his kindly support and stimulating suggestions. In addition, I have benefited from specialist advice from Professor Michael Fisher of Oberlin College, Ohio, Dr Clive Dewey of Leicester University, and Professor Nikolai Kuleshov of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Messers Scott Berry, James Cooper, John Bray, John Billington and Tsering Shayka in England, and Alex Andreyev in St Petersburg have all provided regular advice on their areas of Tibetan expertise, and enthusiastic support for my work.

I also owe a great debt to those veterans of the British period in Tibet and their relatives (as listed in the bibliography), who agreed to be interviewed for this project. The insight they provided has been invaluable, while the time I spent enjoying their company provided me with the most rewarding memories of my research. I am particularly grateful to Mr Robert Ford and Mr Allen Robins for their comments on my work. I am also grateful to the following descendants of Tibet cadre officers, Maybe Jehu, Mrs Dekyi Khedrub, Dr Ian Battye, Anne Battye, and Mrs Desiree Battye, Mrs B.G. Cartwright, Mrs L.J. Mainprice, Mrs Olga Worth and Roger Mouland for their assistance and access to private papers, and to Mr Henry Hall, Secretary of the Indian Political Department Association.

I am pleased to acknowledge the assistance of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst librarian Mr T.A. Heathcote, Marlborough School Honorary Archivist Mr D.R.C. West, and RGS Librarian Mrs A.M. Lucas. Sheleen Folkes (India Office Library and Records), and Lionel Carter (Cambridge South Asia Library) have been particularly helpful in assisting my more obscure enquiries.

I owe a special debt to my wife, Jeri, for her support and encouragement over the years, both in Britain and in India. My father, Colin McKay, proved the most meticulous of proof-readers; with later assistance from John Bray, Sanjoy Bhattacharya (SOAS), and Stephen Tucker; any remaining errors of language are my own.

The research for this project was funded by a British Academy Major Scholarship. Fieldwork in India was undertaken with the financial assistance of the British Academy, the Central Research Fund of the University of London, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. My thanks are due to each of these organisations, who are not, of course, responsible for the conclusions herein.

In acknowledging the great debt I owe to all those mentioned here, I naturally accept full responsibility for all opinions, and any errors.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:20 am



The following words are of Sanskrit or Persian origin, but were all used by the Tibet cadre in the form given below.

Babu: Clerk; particularly used to describe Bengalis, often a derogatory term.
Chaukidar: Watchman.
Dak bungalow: Government rest-house (lit: post house).
Izzat: Honour; charismatic authority.
Kazi (Qazi): Properly, a judge trained in Islamic law; used as a title by the Sikkimese ruling family.
Lakh: 100,000.
Maharajah: Important ruler (lit: 'great king').
Munshi: Clerk; term used particularly in south and eastern India.
Pandit: Usually 'Scholar' or learned person, applied to British-trained explorers of Tibet in the 19th century.
Puranas: Hindu texts; narratives of kings, gods, etc. Composed between 300-1200AD., but containing material reflecting an earlier period.
Purdah: Veil; as worn by Muslim women. The practice of seclusion of women.
Rai Bahadur: British Indian title; higher rank.
Rai Sahib: British Indian title; lower rank.
Saddhu: Hindu ascetic, or renunciate.
Sati: The practice of widow-burning.
Shikar: Hunting, shooting.
Toshakhana: Government store of gifts received and to be given, treasury. (lit: 'treasure-house').


The following Tibetan words are given in the spelling form commonly used in British official documents. In the absence of an accepted standardised form of Tibetan transcription I have avoided the use of academic forms of Tibetan in the text, but they are given here in brackets, following Goldstein (1989), except where indicated otherwise. There are numerous variant spellings, including in names; Norbhu (Dhondup) for example, was also spelt Norbu.

Amban: Diplomatic representative in Lhasa of the Manchu Emperor
Bon: Tibetan religious sect.
De pon: Senior military rank.
Dzasa: High rank or title; 'duke'.
Gelugpa: Leading Tibetan Buddhist sect (to which the Dalai and Panchen Lamas both belong).
Jongpon: District administrator.
Kargyu: Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Kashag: Council. The senior government body of four officials to whom all government business was referred.
Khenchung: Monastic official, inc. Gyantse Tibetan Trade Agent.
Lonchen: Chief government minister.
Monlam: New Year (Tibetan calendar)
Nang pa: Buddhist; 'insider'.
Nyingma: Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Ragyaba: Disposers of the dead.
Phyid pa: Non-Buddhist; 'outsider'.
Shape: Title of the members of the Kashag.
Tashi lama: The Panchen Lama, title used by early British officials.
Trangka: Unit of coinage.
Ula: Free transport provided by villages to those travelling on government business; part of village tax requirement.
* Tucci(1980)


Tibetan and Chinese place and personal names are given in the form most common in British documents; i.e. Peking, not Beijing. Terms or titles in common usage in the west, such as Dalai Lama, are not italicised.

The term 'Political Officer' is used specifically in regard to the Political Officer Sikkim. When referring to officers of the Political Department in general, the term 'Political officer' is used. An individual's military rank, or civilian title, is given on first mention; subsequently this is only given where necessary for clarity.

Where not otherwise specified, the term 'state' is used in the general sense. The term 'Tibet' refers to the polity ruled by the Dalai Lamas, not that now designated as the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. Eastern Tibet refers to the Kharn, Derge and Amdo regions bordering China.

The following abbreviations are used:

ECO: Escort Commanding Officer
fn: Footnote.
ICS: Indian Civil Service.
IMS: Indian Medical Service.
IOLR: India Office Library and Records.
MO: Medical Officer
NAI: National Archives of India, New Delhi.
RGS: Royal Geographical Society.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:21 am


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

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:27 am

Part 1 of 3


The popular image of Tibet in the Western imagination is of a remote land, seldom visited by Europeans. This ignores the fact that more than one hundred British Indian officials served in Tibet during the first half of this century. Although their historical role has been almost forgotten, these officials had a significant influence on the British encounter with Tibet, and on contemporary Western perceptions of Tibetan history and culture.

An official British presence in Tibet began in 1903-04, with a mission to Lhasa under the command of the Indian Political Officer, Colonel Francis Younghusband.[1] The mission forced the Tibetans to accept the establishment of three British Trade Agencies on their territory. The official British presence ended on 15 August 1947, when control of the Agencies passed to the newly independent Indian Government. The last British official left Tibet in October 1950.

The Trade Agencies were situated at Yatung, in the Chumbi Valley close to the Indian border, at Gyantse, in central Tibet on the main road from the Chumbi Valley to Lhasa, and at Gartok, a remote town in Western Tibet (see Maps). Being closest to the Tibetan capital, the Gyantse Agency was the most important of these posts until a British Mission was established at Lhasa in 1936-37.

With the exception of the isolated and insignificant Gartok Agency, controlled by the neighbouring Indian provincial government until 1942, these positions all came under the control of the Political Officer Sikkim, who was directly responsible for British relations with Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet. His status was equivalent to that of a second class Resident in an Indian Princely State. The Trade Agents were theoretically charged with overseeing Indo-Tibetan trade. In practice they were diplomatic representatives of the Government of India, appointed by the Indian Political Department, which was responsible for India's relations with neighbouring states.[2]

The Gyantse Trade Agent had a military escort commanded by a British officer, and a British, or occasionally Anglo-Indian, Medical Officer from the Indian Medical Service. In addition, various British clerical, communications, and supply and transport personnel also served at Gyantse.[3] After 1936, a British Medical Officer and a Radio Officer also served at the Lhasa Mission. Although British officials (and one Anglo-Sikkimese) monopolised the senior positions in Tibet until 1936, they naturally placed a great deal of reliance on local employees, who acted as intermediaries between the British and the Tibetans.

These intermediaries played a vital part in translating the cultures and aspirations of two very different societies: one a modern European imperial power, the other a traditional Asian theocracy.[4] In 1904 neither society understood the other; this lack of understanding had been an implicit cause of the Younghusband Mission. By 1947, regular contact had given the two cultures a great deal more understanding of each other, and several individuals had come to be accepted as fully understanding, and even 'belonging to', both cultures.

This encounter had a significant and enduring effect on the history and culture of the Indo-Tibetan frontier, including a legacy of problems which remain important issues today in Sino-Indian relations, and in China's relations with the world community. Previous research into these issues has principally concerned government policies in regard to the major problems and events of the period, the Younghusband Mission, the Chinese Revolution, the Simla Convention and so on. In this concern with events and policies, the role of the individual frontiersman has been largely overlooked. Yet the historical records of the British presence in Tibet allow us access to the modes of thought and means of action among the officers who served on the imperial frontier. There is a virtually complete record of every individual who served in Tibet, and the key individuals, who formed a distinct group, are clearly apparent.

Using these records we may discover how and why these officers thought as they did, determine how their thoughts were expressed as action, and ascertain the extent to which these thoughts and actions affected policies, events and images on the Tibetan frontier. We can, therefore, construct a historical study within defined boundaries of space and time, against which other historical models and findings may be compared. In the wider focus, analysis of this encounter sheds light on current concerns with the creation of national identities, and on the construction of European images of 'Other' cultures, and will contribute to the debate over whether understanding is possible in colonial encounter.

We may also reveal much of the nature of British imperial administration and policy on India's north-east frontier, and, in the context of centre-periphery relations, help decide whether imperial policies were generated at the centre of government, or by the men and events on the periphery; whether, as Malcolm Yapp concludes for the period 1798-1850. 'the true motor of imperial expansion was provided by the Political Agents'. [5]

This study will show that the officers who served in Tibet were a small, homogeneous group of individuals with a distinct institutional identity, recognised by other government officials. As a result of their background, character, education, training, and imperial service, these officers shared certain values and attitudes to Tibet and their duty there. This can be demonstrated by examining how these factors gave rise to an individual and collective identity, and mode of thought which shaped their actions. For example, we may demonstrate how, and by whom, officers were taught a particular perspective on a frontier problem, show how and why they absorbed and adopted that mode of thought, and how, and with what result, these officers promoted and applied the ideas they had been taught.

By examining how their collective character was formed and expressed, and to what effect, and by understanding the contemporary ethos in which it functioned, we may comprehend the perspective of the 'man on the spot' and bring out the extent to which they influenced both British Tibetan policy and the image of Tibet.[6] Thus I examine their role from an 'insider's' perspective to produce a picture of the thought process which gave unity, and consequently political force, to this group of elite imperial officials. [7]

What is the origin of “man on the spot”?

on the spot - at the place in question; there; "they were on the spot when it happened"; "it had to be decided by the man on the spot" (Emphasis added)

Some evidence suggests that the origin of the phrase refers to decisions made by officials of the past British empire and actions taken by them.

-- English Language and Usage, english.stackexchange.com

In order to gain insight into the 'insider's' perspective, my approach to this study is a cross-disciplinary one. I draw on aspects of historical methodology including collective biography, Tibetology, and administrative, imperial, and frontier history, in addition to borrowing, where necessary, from the social sciences. This is designed to provide a history which is what Collingwood called 'a picture which is partly a narrative of events, partly a description of situations, exhibitions of motives, [and an] analysis of characters'. [8]

My concern, therefore, is to examine the character, role, and influence on policy and the image of Tibet, of the most influential officers who served on the Tibetan frontier. In the absence of an established inclusive title, I refer to this group collectively as the 'Tibet cadre'. [9] I have classified as Tibet cadre those officers who served in one or more of the three positions which significantly influenced the encounter between Tibet and the imperial power: the British Trade Agent Gyantse, the Head of British Mission Lhasa ...

Mr James Cooper of the Tibet Society U.K., and the former Head of British Mission Lhasa, Mr Hugh Richardson, both guided me on the paths necessary to undertake such a study.

-- Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the Indian Political Department Officers, by Alexander McKay

... and the senior post of Political Officer Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. Those who served for less than nine months in these posts are excluded, as they had little impact. We are left with a group of 22 officers - 19 British, one Anglo-Sikkimese, and two Indian-born Tibetans - whose influence will be examined. Appendix One gives details of these officers.

This classification has the weakness of excluding several local employees who had a great deal of influence on Anglo-Tibetan affairs, but we may more usefully examine their role separately, for their influence was filtered through the officers included as members of the Tibet cadre. While the records relating to the military, medical and technical support personnel, many of whom served for long periods in Tibet, are a valuable source for this study, their role was a supporting one, and my treatment of their history reflects this.

This is, ultimately, a study of men, ideas and events on the periphery of empire, 'betwixt and between' cultures European and Asian. Tibet, British India, Sikkim, and indeed the Tibet cadre, may all have been 'imagined communities', constructed according to the demands of competing power structures, but the subjects of my study existed in a specific time and place. They thought and acted in a cultural context, which is important because of its effects today on real people, places, and events. My work does not concern a single underlying process; rather it analyses complex human actions, and the causes of these actions amidst changing ideas and circumstances. Form, structure, perspective and methodology in this work are therefore aimed at understanding how and why the Tibet cadre officers thought and acted as they did, and the effects of their thoughts and actions.


This study is based upon the English-language primary source material of the India Office Library and Records (London) and the National Archives of India (New Delhi), supplemented by material from other public and private archives. [10] This source material consists principally of private and official correspondence to and from the Tibet cadre. In addition, I carried out a series of interviews with British, Tibetan, and Indian officials who served in Tibet, or with the families of those who did so. These interviews were intended to provide more insight into the personalities of the individuals involved and the ethos of their time. In the interviews I relied primarily on the methodology suggested by Seldon and Pappworth,[11] although, due to the widely-differing perspectives of those interviewed, I did not use a standard questionnaire, but varied my questioning according to the subject's role in Tibet. A list of both the persons interviewed, and the archives consulted, is contained in the attached bibliography. [12]

Other than my own previous works, there are no secondary sources specifically examining the history of the Tibet cadre. There are, however, a number of accounts concerning, or by individual officers of the cadre, and there are numerous books and articles by other individuals who visited Tibet. There are also a number of secondary sources which concern Anglo-Tibetan relations and the history of Tibet during the period of the British presence. The most reliable of these accounts are the works by Alastair Lamb, whose focus has been on events relating to the making of India's borders. I have come to rely a great deal on the outstanding scholarship of Lamb in this area.[13]

The critical scholarship of Lamb excepted, it is characteristic of most of these secondary sources, particularly the accounts of travellers, that their approach reflects the 'imperial school' of British history, whose view of the British presence in South Asia is largely uncritical. The memoirs of cadre officers, and even primary sources, have therefore been taken at face-value by most writers on Tibet. They have not been analysed as texts of imperial history representing the views of a particular power structure, and promoting its 'voice' at the expense of other 'voices', which they marginalise in their prevailing discourse. Modern historical methodology has only recently influenced Tibetology, most notably in Peter Bishop's analysis of the role of travel literature in the formation of the 'mystical' image of Tibet. [14]

There are moments during the process of imaginative creation when seemingly diverse fantasies start to beat in time and then swell into a single resonance. A great chord is struck and held for a while. Both participants and listeners seem overcome with the primordial, archetypal purity of the sound. Everything then becomes a signifier for this great imaginative chord. At this moment the sacred place is truly born; its imaginative history begins. It then has its own coherence and logic ... We have come a long way from the vague Romantic generalizations so common earlier in the century.

-- The Myth of Shangri-La: Tibet, Travel Writing and the Western Creation of Sacred Landscape, by Peter Bishop

While taking into account these modern historical trends, my concern here is not to deconstruct the constitution of a particular cultural order, but rather to reconstruct the mentality of the Tibet cadre and to demonstrate the results of this mentality. As the works of Alastair Lamb illustrate, familiarity with the primary sources enables the reader to perceive the intentions behind stated meanings and to 'hear' marginalised 'voices’ in official discourse. British Tibetan policy and administration was never monolithic. Policy was determined through compromise. Discussion often ranged throughout the chain of command from Whitehall to the frontier, and along this chain can be found many dissenting views, British and Asian, and many representations of marginalised power structures. There were alternative perspectives on the frontier, and they are represented in the official archives. While most of the published work by imperial officials was subjected to censorship, there are records of what was censored, and which 'voices' were suppressed. We may, therefore, analyse the construction of an image of Tibet by this narrow, class-based cadre of officials, and contrast it with the available alternative images to ascertain where it is lacking.

As contemporary politics and language difficulties have restricted this study to English-language sources, my perspective naturally reflects this. The questions which I raise could be considered from Chinese, Tibetan, and Russian points of view through the use of their sources. But my intention is to examine the British encounter with Tibet through the perspective of the British officials who served there, and this is best represented through the British sources which I have used.


The Younghusband Mission was the culmination of a long process of British Indian expansion towards Tibet which began in the time of the East India Company. Following victory at the battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company had become the leading power in Bengal.

Fascinatingly, we also know that Pybus commissioned a portrait of Robert Clive, as in 1780 Francis Fowke, resident of Benares and a school friend of John Pybus Junior, was sent by his uncle, John Walsh, ‘a large picture of Lord Clive … It is a copy of that done by Dance for Mr Pybus’.25 It is quite probable that Pybus’s painting is the prototype half-length of Clive with the Battle of Plassey in the background at Powis Castle, Wales, of which there are eight copies, one of which is in the National Portrait Gallery,

-- A Nabob’s return: the Pybus conversation piece by Nathaniel Dance, by Emma Lauze

In 1772, when Bhutanese forces invaded Bengal's northern neighbour Cooch Bihar, and captured its ruler, the Regent of Cooch Bihar appealed to the East India Company for assistance. The following year, the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, dispatched a force which drove the Bhutanese back into their own territory. Seeking mediation to end the conflict, the Bhutanese then turned to their northern neighbour, Tibet, for assistance.[15]

In the seventh century AD, Tibet had emerged as a united tribal federation under a series of sacral kings who ruled at Lhasa. After a brief period as an expansionist power, when Tibetan troops ranged from Samarkand in the west to the Chinese capital of Chang'an (now Xian) in the east, the Tibetan kingdom collapsed after the assassination of the last of the sacral kings in c842. In the 13th century Tibet emerged again as a united, now predominantly Buddhist, state, which submitted to Mongol overlordship. In return it was allowed to retain a large measure of internal autonomy, and was able to convert the Mongols to Tibetan Buddhism. [16]

The Dalai Lama and his ministers had just lost their country, Central Tibet. In exile, they wanted to create a unified Tibetan community that included not just their former subjects in Central Tibet and their allies in the Gelugpa, but also Tibetans from areas never governed by Lhasa and from all the religious schools. Thus exile leaders hoped to create a pan-Tibetan community that would be stronger to oppose the Chinese and perhaps speed the arrival of the day when the exiles could return home to a free Tibet. In the early days in exile, liberating their homeland was the shared dream of all Tibetans.

To realize this dream, exile government officials saw Tibetan unity as more urgent than preserving Tibet's regional or religious diversity. Indeed, the presence of a common enemy created a new Tibetan nationalism, a sense that Central Tibet, Kham, and Amdo were essentially one country though historically, they had been governed separately. Such pan-Tibetan nationalism had never existed before in Tibetan history. "In order to maintain the unity of the emigre community after the Dalai Lama's flight across the Himalayas in 1959, his exiled administration developed the idea of a giant, theoretical Tibet ... Its focus was the idea of 'Po Cholkha Sum,' the unity of the three historic regions of ethnic Tibet: Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang. People who had previously identified themselves with a particular region now became consciously Tibetan," Patrick French wrote in his book Tibet, Tibet. [1] The same went for Tibetan religion. No longer would Tibetans be followers of the Kagyu or Gelugpa schools; instead, they would be followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

In 1964 the Tibetan Government-in-Exile introduced reforms that it said would help the Tibetan community retain its coherence, with refugees scattered around India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. The Dalai Lama's brother Gyalo Thondup led this initiative, and he formed an organization called the United Party to carry it out. [2] By pooling the resources of emigre Tibetans towards economic and social development, the United Party was intended to create a new political unity out of the diversity of the exile community, and strengthen the Dalai Lama's ability to face off the Communists. Tibetans abroad understood that the party had the full support of the exile government.

The United Party's platform was broad and ambitious. At the same time that the insane Cultural Revolution in Tibet was rooting out the "Four Olds" (old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits), the United Party proposed a much more rational-sounding platform of economic, social, and religious reforms for Tibetans in exile.

The unity initiative set up branch offices in Tibetan settlements throughout India and began to establish handicraft centers and even agricultural communes similar to the new collective farms in Communist China. But the most ambitious leg of the United Party's platform was religious reform that called for merging the administrations of the four Buddhist schools, along with the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, into one body under the new Department of Religion in Dharamsala, under direct control of exile government officials and the Dalai Lama.

It is unclear whether the initiative would have subordinated all the schools to the Dalai Lama's spiritual leadership, or, whether the plan would have respected each school's traditional autonomy while increasing opportunities for cooperation. Gyalo Thondup was known as a modern thinker who believed that church and state should be separate. But others in the young Dalai Lama's exile administration thought that secularism was heresy and seemed to believe that Tibetans' only hope lay in reining in the religious schools outside of the Gelugpa, to which most exile ministers belonged.

In any event, when word of the United Party's religious reform got out in 1964, the exiled government was unprepared for the angry opposition that leaders of the religious schools expressed. To them, this unification plan appeared not as a benefit to Tibetans, but rather as a power-grab by the exile administration. Some critics charged that the plan was only a thinly disguised scheme to confiscate the monasteries that dozens of lamas had begun to reestablish in exile with funds they had raised themselves.

Though headed by the Dalai Lama, the exile administration's work was mainly secular in nature. It opened offices to start schools, to receive refugees, and to deal with foreigners, but it did not generally finance or build monasteries in exile. Instead, the dozens of transplanted monasteries built by the mid-1960s in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan were the result of private initiative. "Lamas would go begging for donations to build monasteries," according to historian Dawa Norbu. "Rich Tibetans, out of piety and social prestige, made large donations towards the construction of monasteries. The same goes for the propagation of Tibetan Buddhism in the Western world. There is not a single meditation center abroad started by the Dalai Lama's exiled government." [3]

The United Party plan reminded some lamas outside the formerly ruling Gelugpa of harassment by the government back in Tibet before 1959. Even worse, the exile government's push for unity seemed uncomfortably similar to post-1959 Communist propaganda about uniting all Tibetans back home under the similarly named United Front in loyalty to the "socialist motherland" of China.

Accordingly, leaders of the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, along with lay families who followed each school living in thirteen refugee settlements around India and one in Nepal, banded together to protect their monasteries. To rally their supporters, they chose the most charismatic leader they could find -- the sixteenth Karmapa. They formed a counter-party called the Tibetan Welfare Association which came to be known as the Fourteen Settlements group. The Karmapa agreed to serve as spiritual leader of this group, and its members elected a layman, Gungthang Tsultrim, as political leader. Dozens of other lamas, including Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who later became one of the best known Tibetan Buddhist teachers worldwide, also joined the group. Dilgo Khyentse had been close to the Karmapa at Tsurphu, had fled Tibet with the Karmapa's party, and had spent much time at Rumtek after coming into exile.

The group went on to organize protests, write open letters, and publicize their arguments to preserve the historic rights of the five religious schools. They called on exiled Tibetans to reject Gyalo Thondup's plan. The Tibetan exile administration tried to meet this opposition with open debate, but also, reportedly, with behind-the-scenes maneuvering. In 1972 Gyalo Thondup asked the Indian Home Ministry to relocate twenty-eight prominent members of the Fourteen Settlements group to far-flung areas of India, based on unsupported charges that they posed threats to law and order.

Accordingly, the Indian government issued notices ordering the twenty-eight refugees to move. When two recipients of relocation orders, Sadhu Lobsang Nyandak and Gungthang Ngodrup, challenged their relocation orders in the Delhi High Court, these notices were withdrawn. This court victory marked the turning point in the campaign against the increasingly unpopular unity initiative. In 1973, the United Party closed down its branch offices, broke up its farming communes, and turned over its handicraft centers to the Home Department of the exiled Tibetan government.

All through this period, the imposing sixteenth Karmapa served as the highly visible rallying point for the Fourteen Settlements' opposition to the United Party. In the wake of the plan's defeat, the Tibetan exile community ended up deeply divided, just the opposite of what the Dalai Lama and Gyalo Thondup were trying to achieve. And against the Tibetan leader's pleas to forget old quarrels, apparently some officials in his exile administration in Dharamsala developed a resentment of the dissenting leaders.

On March 13, 1977, Fourteen Settlements political head Gungthang Tsultrim was shot several times at point-blank range while walking in his backyard in Clement Town, in the northwestern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Simultaneously, the electricity was cut to the local area, allowing the shooter to escape. When apprehended in Kathmandu, the murderer, Amdo Rekhang Tenzin, told the Royal Nepalese Police that the Tibetan exile government had paid him three hundred thousand rupees (about thirty-five thousand dollars) to assassinate Gungthang. [4]

Even more shocking, the hit man claimed that Dharamsala offered him a larger bounty to kill the sixteenth Karmapa. Nepali authorities handed the murderer over to India, and he repeated his story under interrogation there at a maximum-security prison in Lucknow.

When news of this assassination and the plot against the sixteenth Karmapa came out, large groups of angry demonstrators from the Fourteen Settlements group filled the streets of Dharamsala to protest against the exile administration's potential involvement. Meanwhile, back in the still quasi-independent kingdom of Sikkim, the location of the sixteenth Karmapa's seat at Rumtek monastery, the royal government provided the Karmapa with eleven armed bodyguards.

It is unclear what role the Dalai Lama himself played in the resurrection of the rivalry between his government and the Karma Kagyu school in India. Only twenty-four years old when the Tibetans fled to India in 1959, he relied heavily on the counsel of his advisors. The experienced ministers of his administration had their own views on how best to preserve Tibetan institutions in exile, and their counsel must have carried weight with the inexperienced lama-leader. Many of these ministers continued to see the religious schools outside their own Gelug as rivals, and sought ways to defend against them.

Perhaps as a peace offering to lamas of schools outside the Gelug, shortly after Gungthang's murder, the Dalai Lama invited Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a leading lama in the Fourteen Settlements group, to become one of his teachers. After this, Dilgo Khyentse became closely associated with the Tibetan leader, and later went on to teach in Southeast Asia and in the West.

Tibetans who follow the Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools and the pre-Buddhist Bon religion have claimed that some exile government leaders still harbor dreams of expanding their influence at the religious schools' expense. For his part, the Dalai Lama has sought to restrain the enthusiasm of his ministers for partisan politics. Every few years the Tibetan exile leader has had to use his good name to put down the most fractious schemes of his administrators by threatening that unless all Tibetans could work together, this would be his final reincarnation.

-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren

[Narrator] Shamar Rinpoche, the second highest lama of the Kagyupas, said that the Dalai Lama tried to centralize all of the Tibetan Buddhist schools under his authority in the early years of exile.


[The 14th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Lodro] The 16th Karmapa opposed to H.H. the Dalai Lama’s policy of unification of five schools, four schools or five schools: one is the Bon religion, and the other four are Buddhist.


So he tried to unify them.


And then at that time, the 16th Karmapa and all the Nyingmapa religious leaders joined together and opposed it. Since that the unification never happened. And at present, Nyingmapa, Sakyapa, they didn’t agree yet to unify. So why do we have to do it? So I opposed it.

-- Flight of a Karmapa, directed by Yoichi Shimatsu

In 1578, the Mongol ruler, Altan Khan, gave the title of Dalai Lama ('Ocean of Wisdom') to the hierarch of the Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa sect, who was recognised as the second incarnation of the sect's founder. [17]

In 1578, Sonam-gyatso, abbot of Drepung, had a meeting with Altan Khan of the Tumeds. His Mission was successful; above all, the Mongol court showed itself sympathetic to Lamaism. From that moment Buddhism began to expand among the Mongols. Sonam-gyatso had obtained an edict from Altan Khan abolishing animal sacrifices; on its side, Lamaism closed its eyes to a number of practices and beliefs not entirely consonant with its principles, but too rooted in popular custom to be suppressed. It accepted these -- as it had so often during its diffusion -- and gave them a Buddhist colouring; with the result that Genghis Khan and even some Shaman deities came to be included in the Lamaist pantheon. The abbot Sonam-gyatso received the title of Dalai and became the third Dalai Lama, thus a posteriori exalting to the same dignity Gedun-trup (1391-1475) and Gedun-gyatso (1475-1542).

-- Tibet, Land of Snows, by Professor Giuseppe Tucci, pp. 38-41

The title was later applied retrospectively to his predecessors, and was inherited by his successive incarnations. In 1642, Mongol forces intervened in Tibetan internal struggles on behalf of the Gelugpa sect, and made the 5th Dalai Lama the effective ruler of Tibet. It was the 5th Dalai Lama who appointed his senior teacher as Abbot of Tashilumpo, Shigatse's leading Gelugpa monastery, with the title Panchen ('Great Scholar'), an action which was to have far-reaching consequences. [18]

In 1720, the Mongols' overlordship of Tibet was replaced by that of China's Ch'ing dynasty, whose emperors sought to use the Panchen Lama's power to counter that of the Dalai Lama.
In 1773, when Bhutanese and British-commanded forces clashed over Cooch Bihar, the 8th Dalai Lama was still in his minority, and, although Tibet was ruled by a Regent, the long-serving 3rd Panchen Lama had acquired a considerable degree of power and autonomy. Thus it was the Panchen Lama who came to the aid of his Bhutanese coreligionists.

On 29 March 1774, the Panchen Lama wrote to Warren Hastings blaming the Bhutanese for the fighting, but asking Hastings to put an end to hostilities before they 'irritate both the [Dalai] Lama and his subjects against you'.[19] Hastings ignored the implied threat, and accepted mediation. A treaty was concluded with Bhutan, and Hastings took advantage of the establishment of communications with Tashilumpo by dispatching an envoy, George Bogle of the Bengal Civil Service, who reached Shigatse in 1775, where he established good relations with the Panchen Lama. After the Panchen Lama died in 1780 (and Bogle a year later), Hastings continued to seek ties with Tibet, sending Captain Samuel Turner to Shigatse in 1782 after the Panchen Lama's incarnation had been discovered.

Despite the goodwill they established at Tashilumpo, Bogle and Turner achieved little of lasting value. The Lhasa authorities refused to permit them to visit the Tibetan capital, and, with Hasting's departure from India, British contacts with Tibet ceased. While the British increased their power over India, culminating in 1858 when India was brought under the ultimate control of the British Government, Tibet became increasingly isolated from changes in the outside world. An eccentric English private scholar, Thomas Manning (1772-1840), visited Lhasa in 1811, and two Lazarist priests, Hue and Gabet, followed in 1846, but the Tibetans, encouraged by the Chinese to regard foreigners as a threat to their religion, and fearing the expansion of British power in India and Nepal, increasingly resisted any attempt to open Tibet to foreigners. [20] The result was that Tibetan society became more conservative and insular.

During the 19th century, China's control over Tibet diminished to the point of mere ceremonial overlordship, represented by an official resident in Lhasa, known as the Amban. Tibet's remoteness made it a hardship posting for the Chinese, whose representatives were of poor quality, and China's own internal weaknesses prevented her from imposing stronger rule. Real political power in Lhasa was held by a succession of Regents, as the 9th-12th Dalai Lamas all died before, or shortly after, taking power.

Throughout the 19th century the advance of British rule in India continued, until they became Tibet’s principal southern neighbour. By 1846, the British had gained control of most of the area bordering south-western Tibet, and in the second half of the 19th century they gradually drew most of the area to the east under their influence. Nepal, a traditional enemy of Tibet, had become a British ally, and in 1855 they invaded and defeated Tibet, a move the Tibetans assumed must have had British support.

Tibetan mistrust of British intentions was also fueled by incursions into Tibetan territory by parties of British officers on 'hunting expeditions'. While the Government of India officially sought to discourage such cross-border expeditions, unofficially they were used to gather intelligence concerning Tibet. The British also trained local surveyors, known as pandits, to travel in disguise through Tibet, and they produced the first accurate maps of the country.[21]

Tibet's desire for isolation presented problems to British India. Although there was a long history of Indo-Tibetan trade,[22] it was principally in the hands of frontier intermediaries, and there were no formal ties between India and Tibet, no diplomatic representatives or established mode of inter-governmental communication. When the British sought to raise issues with Lhasa, they had no means of communicating with the Tibetan Government.

In the late 19th century, Whitehall and the Government of India came under pressure from powerful trading lobbies seeking to open Tibet to trade. The Darjeeling tea industry was particularly concerned to force the Tibetans to end a ban on the import of Indian tea.[23] More importantly, there was an increasing concern with the security of India's northern frontier, as the British came to fear that Russia's rapid expansion into Central Asia would lead to their gaining influence in Tibet.

There was also a less quantifiable concern: a contemporary spirit of enquiry demanded that the 'unknown' should be 'known', and Tibet's policy of isolation was increasingly producing, in the European construct, an alluring image of a mystical 'sacred realm'. Tibet's determination to preserve its isolation only succeeded in making it more attractive to many European minds. [24]

As China was theoretically the supreme power in Tibet, the British sought to deal with the Tibetans through discussion with the Chinese. In 1885, China agreed to a mission from the Government of Bengal to Lhasa, but this was abandoned at the last minute when it became clear that Tibet would not accept it. The Tibetans apparently regarded the mission as an invasion force, and stationed troops to oppose it in what the British regarded as Sikkimese territory. [25] After unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a solution with China, the British dispatched an expeditionary force in 1888-89, which expelled the Tibetans. John Claude White, a Public Works Department engineer 'on loan to the Political Department' for the duration of the expedition, was then appointed to the newly-created post of Political Officer Sikkim.

China feared that she would lose any vestige of her influence in Tibet if the Tibetans negotiated directly with the British, and therefore agreed to talks with Britain, with no Tibetan representatives involved. These talks produced the 1890 Anglo-Chinese Convention and its attached 1893 Trade Regulations, which allowed for the opening of a British Trade Agency in Tibet. However the British were manouevered into accepting Yatung, located in an isolated valley off the main trade route, as the site for the Trade Agency, instead of Phari, where Tibet's trade taxation office was located. The Tibetans ignored the Anglo-Chinese agreement, and when White visited Yatung in May 1894 to open the mart, he found the Tibetans had built a wall around Yatung to isolate it. The Government of India were, by the 1893 Regulations, entitled to 'send officers to reside at Yatung to watch the conditions of British trade at that mart', but none were appointed. Thus in 1895, when the 13th Dalai Lama took power in Tibet, the Tibetans remained relatively secure in their isolation.[26]

In 1899 a new Viceroy arrived in India, George Nathaniel Curzon (in office 1899-1905). Curzon had travelled widely in Central Asia, and had seen at first-hand the expansion of the Tsarist Russian State into the tribal confederacies and khanates of Central Asia. Curzon did not deny that Russia had the right to imperial expansion, but he considered that British interests demanded that India, 'the Jewel in the Crown' of the British empire, be secured from Russian influence.[27]

Curzon received reports from a number of sources which indicated that Russia was gaining influence in Tibet. [28] He twice sent letters to the Dalai Lama through intermediaries in an attempt to open communications with the Tibetan leader; neither was accepted. While Warren Hastings had ignored the implicit challenge to British strength in his letter from the Panchen Lama, Curzon saw the Tibetan's refusal to accept a letter from the Viceroy of India as a deliberate blow to British prestige. [29]

The British were particularly suspicious of Agvan Dorzhiev, a Russian Buryat monk who had become an attendant of the Dalai Lama. When it became known that Dorzhiev had travelled to St Petersburg to contact the Russian Government at the Dalai Lama's behest, Curzon began planning a mission to Lhasa which would remove Russian influence from Tibet and establish British influence there.[30]

Figure 5.2. Agvan Dorzhiev in his Buddhist Kalachakra temple in St. Petersburg.

The chief spearhead of the dialogue between the Bolsheviks and Tibetan Buddhism was the Buryat monk Agvan Dorzhiev (1858-1938). At the very end of the nineteenth century, this prominent Buddhist served as the chief tutor of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, then a young adult. In the early 1900s, Dorzhiev became His Holiness's ambassador to the court of the Russian tsar. An ardent advocate of the unity of all Tibetan Buddhist people, Dorzhiev concluded that faraway Russia did not represent a threat to Tibet and could be easily manipulated against China and England to protect the sovereignty of the Forbidden Kingdom.

The Buryat lama began to spread word among his fellow believers and in the St. Petersburg court that the Russian Empire was destined to become the legendary northern Shambhala and that the Russia tsar was in fact the reincarnate Shambhala king who would come and save Tibetan Buddhists from advances by the Chinese and English. In his dreams, Dorzhiev began to picture a vast pan-Buddhist state under the protection of the tsar and stretching from Siberia to the Himalayas. Russian monarchs were certainly flattered by these divine references, but they were not too eager to extend their patronage so far southward in fear of antagonizing the English. When in the 1890s Emperor Alexander III read about the project of expanding Russian influence into Inner Asia by using the Shambhala prophecy, he remarked in the margins, ''All this is so new, so unusual and fantastic, that it is difficult to believe in its success." [9]

Unlike the tsars, the early Bolsheviks, who lived by the maxim "We are born to make a fairy tale into reality," never thought it was too fantastic to use popular lore to promote their agenda. So they eagerly plugged themselves into existing Buddhist prophecies, eventually benefiting from some of them. Red Russia inherited Dorzhiev from the old regime as the Tibetan ambassador and was glad to use him to reach out to the Tibetan Buddhist masses. Dorzhiev was at first equally enthusiastic about working with the Communists. Although later he became frustrated with them, for a short while in the early 1920s he tied his geopolitical dreams to the advancement of Red Russia's interests in Mongolia and Tibet.

This Buryat lama did not approve of the luxurious lifestyle and elitism of some of his fellow Buddhists and also hoped to use the advent of Communism to humble the rich and privileged in monastic communities. Driven by this noble goal, Dorzhiev launched a religious reform among the Buddhist clergy in Siberia, advertising it as a return to the original teaching of Buddha and as a way to maintain a dialogue with the Bolsheviks. In fact, he went quite far, trying to remodel Tibetan Buddhism in Russia according to Communist principles. The Buddhist congresses he organized to promote his reform split the faithful into progressives and conservatives. In progressive monasteries that accepted Dorzhiev's norms, all private possessions were confiscated and turned into collective assets. Clergy ranks were also eliminated, and all monks were obligated to perform productive labor. Instead of silk (a symbol of luxury), monks' robes were to be manufactured from simple fabric -- an effort designed to draw the clergy closer to the masses. Moreover, to eradicate elitism followers of Dorzhiev dropped the veneration of monks who were considered reincarnations.[10] The chief goal, as Dorzhiev spelled out, was "to cleanse monasteries of all lazy bums and freeloaders, who have nothing to do with Buddha's teaching." [11]

-- Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia, by Andrei Znamenski

Phuntsog Wangyal (far left) with the Dalai Lama, Chen Yi, and the Panchen Lama in Lhasa,1956

Phunwang showed that you could be a true Communist while at the same time proud of your Tibetan heritage. -- The 14th Dalai Lama

-- Phuntsog Wangyal - obituary, by The Telegraph

By late 1902, Curzon had chosen Francis Younghusband, a dynamic and widely travelled Political officer, to lead the mission. Younghusband was a loyal supporter of Curzon, and considered he had a personal responsibility to him to succeed in implementing the policies Curzon promoted.[31] Younghusband was given a military escort, and, as the mission advanced into Tibet, it met increasing resistance from Tibetan forces. The far more technically advanced British Indian troops inflicted a series of heavy defeats on the local forces and, on 30 July 1904, the 13th Dalai Lama fled into exile in Mongolia, four days before Younghusband’s forces entered Lhasa.

Younghusband negotiated an agreement with the Tibetan Government resulting in the Convention between Great Britain and Tibet, signed in the Potala Palace on 7 September 1904. This Convention gave the British the right to establish Trade Agencies at the Yatung, Gyantse and Gartok 'trade marts', and to station British officers there to 'watch over British trade at the marts'. It also allowed the British to occupy the Chumbi Valley until the Tibetans had paid an indemnity, in seventy-five annual installments.

Whitehall refused to allow the Government of India to establish a representative in the Tibetan capital, which had been one of Curzon's main policy aims. Younghusband, hoping to salvage Curzon's policy, negotiated a separate agreement with the Tibetans, not included in the Convention.[32] This gave the Gyantse Trade Agent the right to visit Lhasa. Whitehall, however, anxious to avoid continuing involvement in Tibet, rejected the separate agreement, and also reduced the period of the indemnity payments to three years. [33]

The Trade Agencies were established in late 1904, as the Younghusband Mission withdrew. Yatung, in the Chumbi Valley, was already under British administration. Younghusband's 'right-hand man', the Tibetan-speaking Captain O'Connor, was left in Gyantse as Trade Agent, and a small party of officers (including Lieutenant F.M. Bailey) returned to India via western Tibet, to prepare for the establishment of the Gartok Agency. The British now had a permanent foothold in Tibet.

The Tibet which Younghusband's forces encountered was not a modern nation state as Europeans understood it, as will be seen in Chapter Six. Tibet had no formal mechanism for the conduct of relations with its neighbours, nor did it have a bureaucratic class. It was not tied into any economic systems, and the economy functioned largely by barter. There was no industrial or mechanical development; even the wheel was used only in a religious context, and was unknown as a means of transport.

While Tibet was not a modern nation-state, Tibetans had a definite identity, which, as will be seen, was based on racial, cultural and linguistic separateness from their neighbours, and on the collective understanding of a shared history, mythology and traditions. Although there were non-Buddhist elements in Tibetan society, the outstanding feature of Tibetan culture was its Buddhist religion, and the Tibetans defined their identity primarily in religious terms. Tibet was thus a Buddhist traditional state, defining itself by its centre and sacred spaces rather than following European definitions according to borders and political and economic systems. As they entered the twentieth century, the Tibetans were forced to confront the differing perceptions of national and state identity held by traditional and modern societies.


Early History

What precise form of Buddhism first came to Royal Tibet from China, before the imported Tantra of Indian yogis took it over, is not precisely known. Most historians agree that a stream of Chinese Buddhism influenced a certain Tsongsten Gampo, a seventh century Tibetan chieftain, who wanted to expand and then centralize his power with the help of Chinese protection, after conquering other fighting Tibetan tribes. To accomplish this, he married a Chinese princess, Wen Cheng, of the ruling T'ang dynasty, thus initiating formal relations with China. Princess Wen Cheng not only introduced Buddhism, but a higher cultural influence into the tribal royal reaches of Tibet. She brought butter, tea, cheese, barley beer, ancient medical knowledge, and astrology.75 Her form of Buddhism was probably closer to the Chan Buddhism that had spread into Korea, and later into Japan, developing into Zen Buddhism.

This conversion to Chinese Buddhism was not accomplished easily in Tibet. It was a period of constant struggle between the Bon shamanism of the indigenous people, and this new religion, brought to her royal chieftain by this Chinese princess. For it to take hold, as the established religion, beyond the interests of the royal families and their aristocracy, generations of bloody struggles ensued, while more Vajrayana occultism and Tantric Indian guru-worship permeated what eventually became an amalgam of Buddhism, Bon, and Tantra.

When an Indian sorcerer and sadhu, Guru Padmasambhava76 was invited to Tibet in the eighth century by King Trisong Detsen, Tsongsten Gampo's successor, and was asked to help this royal chieftain curb the rebellious Bon resistance, a wrathful repression of the indigenous Bon took place, even though much of its iconography and influence remained.

King Detsen was a more ardent practitioner than his predecessor, Tsongsten Gampo but, like him, took a practical approach to the Tibetan Lamaist priesthood that was growing inside Tibet, and who saw the uses of these lamas, in unifying the warring Tibetan chieftain tribes. He now declared Tibetan Lamaism the state religion and, following an Indian custom, awarded landed estates and serfs to the Lamaist monasteries that were already starting to proliferate, as its monastic movement spread,77 King Detsen was such a zealous Lamaist that he protected the lama clergy by creating a barbaric code that facilitated their guru-worship and future religious dictatorship when he declared:

He who shows a finger to a monk shall have his finger cut off; he who speaks ill of the monks and king's Buddhist policy shall have his lips cut off; he who looks askance at them shall have his eyes put out; he who them shall pay according to the rule of the restitution of eighty times (the value of the article stolen).78

King Detsen also financially empowered the Lamaist monasteries further, by making them exempt from any taxes and free from performing the hated corvee79 demanded of the peasants by the nobility of Tibet.

Soon, the lamas were also demanding corvee from the Tibetan peasants and, as the Lamaseries' powers grew, the lamas were collecting their own taxes and issuing their own debt notes, that amounted to a debilitating usury on the ordinary Tibetan people whose children and grandchildren inherited the debt. This ensured impoverishment for the vast majority, for centuries, with very little means of social and economic fluidity.

As the monasteries flourished, the lamas kept gaining power, by incorporating the Buddhist concept of "karma," into their predetermined and absolutist Lamaist rule and the Tibetan peoples' fate was sealed. In 797, King Trisong Detsen was succeeded by his second son, Muni Tsenpo who, in a moment of real compassion, tried to devise some way to redistribute some of the wealth in Tibet among its suffering and increasingly impoverished people. However, in the end, the Lamaist system prevailed, and Muni Tsenpo was rewarded by being poisoned by his own mother.80

Padmasambhava, King Trisong Detsen's Tantric Indian sorcerer, always considered more important than the historical Buddha in Tibet, further sealed the fate of the Tibetan people when he publically declared that:

Our condition in this life is entirely dependent upon the actions of our previous life and nothing can be done to alter the scheme of things.81

Poverty and misery; perpetuated by the lamas and their wealthy circle of relatives, who increasingly took over the royal families and their rule, was now to be accepted as one's "karma" from past deeds. This ended any possibility of real compassion for the people of Tibet for the next twelve hundred years.



75 Grunfeld, Tom A., The Making of Modern Tibet, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1996) 35.
76 Padmasambhava is considered the saint of the "Ancient Ones", the oldest Tibetan Buddhist lineage of the Nyingmapas. He was an Indian sorcerer and sadhu who was invited to Tibet by King Detsen to "tame" the resistant Bon. His methodology is cloaked in typical Tibetan Lamaist "twilight language," and after being subdued, elements of Bon were incorporated into Tibetan Lamaism. Nomadic populations in Tibet still practice Bon possession and channeling of spirits as does the Dalai Lama with his Nechung oracle. See: http://nechungfoundation.org/oracle.html
77 This is the same thing happening in the west, i.e. globalists are using the Tibetan lamas and their Tantra to unify a "world citizenship" agenda, across the western world.
78 Grunfeld, Tom A., The Making of Modern Tibet, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1996) 36.
79 Forced labor demanded as a tax.
80 Grunfeld, Tom A. The Making of Modern Tibet, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1006), 38.
81 Ibid., 36.

-- Enthralled, The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism, by Chris Chandler
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:28 am

Part 2 of 3


The withdrawal of Younghusband's forces left a power vacuum in Lhasa. The Dalai Lama was exiled to Mongolia, and the Regent appointed in his absence was an elderly religious figure with no experience of secular power. China, whose prestige in Tibet had suffered greatly from their inability either to control the Tibetans or to prevent the Younghusband Mission, began to assert their power.

China's position was greatly strengthened by Whitehall's willingness to concede their right to rule Tibet. Britain negotiated agreements with China in 1906 and 1908, and with Russia in 1907, which effectively recognised Chinese 'suzerainty' over Tibet, and committed the British not to negotiate with the Tibetans without Chinese participation. In addition, Britain and Russia agreed not to send any representatives to Lhasa, and it was agreed that the Trade Agent's escort would be withdrawn once China had established 'effective police measures at the marts and along the routes to the marts’.[34]

By late 1906, when they blockaded the Gyantse Trade Agency in a show of strength, the Chinese had become the dominant power in central Tibet. A Chinese army in Eastern Tibet, commanded by General Chao Erh-feng, brought the eastern borderlands under Chinese control and China paid the indemnity imposed on the Tibetans for which the Chumbi Valley had been held as security. While the cadre believed that 'we have many excuses for keeping it [Chumbi]', Whitehall insisted on withdrawal.[35]

The exiled Dalai Lama, having unsuccessfully sought Russian assistance, was forced to turn to China. He travelled slowly to Peking, where he was received by the Chinese Emperor in September 1908. The Emperor died soon after, and the Dalai Lama was allowed to return to Lhasa. Although the Chinese had attempted to depose him, they recognised, as the British had yet to do, that the Dalai Lama was the only leader able to command the support of the majority of Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama reached Lhasa in December 1909, but fled south to India in February 1910, as two thousand troops from Chao Erh-feng's army entered Lhasa. The Chinese troops were, according to the Chinese, sent to police the trade marts under the terms of the 1908 Anglo-Chinese Agreement.
As such the British could not object to them, but both the Tibet cadre and the Tibetans regarded the troops as an invading army, sent to enforce Chinese control in Tibet. [36]

The Government of India gave the Dalai Lama refuge, and supported the cost of his establishment. In his absence, the Chinese attempted to make the Panchen Lama the ruler of Tibet. Although the Panchen eventually refused, the perception that he had hesitated sowed the seeds for a dispute between the supporters of the two leading Tibetan incarnations, which eventually led to the Panchen Lama fleeing into exile in China.[37]

In October 1911, the Chinese revolution overthrew the ruling dynasty. Supporters of the revolution among the Chinese troops in Tibet mutinied. The Tibetans revolted against the Chinese, whose position in Tibet collapsed. The Dalai Lama returned from exile in June 1912, and on reaching Lhasa in January 1913, issued what the Tibetans regard as a declaration of independence.
[38] In the same month, a Mongol-Tibetan treaty was signed. While its legal status was uncertain, the treaty was indicative of Tibet's desire to fully separate from China.[39]

Tibet then entered tri-partite negotiations with China and Britain, resulting in the Simla Convention of 1914. China refused to sign this Convention, which was eventually agreed between Britain and Tibet. Tibet gained recognition of her autonomy from Britain, but the Chinese refusal to sign the Convention made its legal implications difficult to assess.

It is incorrect to say that Tibet was "an independent state under the rule of the Dalai Lama before it became a vassal of China."3 The temporal power of the Dalai Lamas is normally considered to have begun as a donation from Kublai Khan, a Mongol Emperor of China, in the thirteenth century.4 There does not seem to exist any document or recorded statement that can properly be called a "declaration of independence in 1912" issued by any Tibetan authority.5 The first official assertion that one existed, so far as I have been able to discover, was in 1950.6 There is ample evidence that whatever statements were issued in 1912 (or at any other time until the 1940's) fell far short of claiming "independence" of China.7

Tibet for at least 100 years prior to 1914 did not have "freedom to make agreements with other peoples" or "freedom to conduct foreign relations."8 Although Tibet had some authority to speak internationally, there is no evidence that this authority in the field of foreign relations could properly be exercised independently of a Chinese delegation....

The assertion that in 1914 Tibet was a state "recognized as such by China itself"12 is not supported in Professor Sharma's article by any citation of authority. It is generally accepted that China did not recognize any degree of rightful independence in Tibet at or near that time.13

Tibet did not have "clear competence" to confirm the validity of the boundary between Tibet and India in 1914.14 The fact that the Notes appended to the Simla Convention referred to Tibet as part of Chinese territory15 made the competence of Tibet far from clear...

Chinese official ratification of the Simla draft of April 27, 1914, was regarded by all participants at the Conference as essential to the conclusion of the attempted settlement, even though the Chinese negotiator had initialed it. After the refusal of Peking to authorize the conclusion of the Agreement on the basis of the draft of April 27, the British and Tibetans proceeded to alter that draft. The final draft of July 3, 1914, was never initialed by any Chinese, officially or unofficially. Yet even this draft contained the clauses indicating British reluctance to recognize Tibetan territorial independence of China, and thus Tibetan failure to insist upon such recognition.17

-- A Matter of Fact, by Alfred P. Rubin

While using it as the basis for their relations, Britain and Tibet continued to seek Chinese recognition of the Convention. By 1920, it had become apparent that this would not be forthcoming. Sir Charles Bell, the Political Officer in Sikkim, who had become a close associate of the Dalai Lama during his exile in India, was then permitted by his government to visit Lhasa.[40]

Bell was the principal advisor to the Dalai Lama in the period 1910-21, when Tibet gained its practical independence and began a policy of modernising its institutions. This policy was opposed by the conservative monastic and aristocratic leadership of Tibet, and taxes imposed in an attempt to finance the modernisation programme were a factor in the Panchen Lama's decision to flee into exile in 1923.[41] Conservative opposition was too powerful for the Dalai Lama to ignore, and with the Tibet cadre unable to provide the financial, or military, support necessary for Tibet to modernise, the policy was abandoned. After Bell's departure, the Dalai Lama was less committed to policies promoted by the British, at least until clashes with China on the eastern frontier in the early 1930s led him to turn again to British India for support. [42]

The death of the Dalai Lama in 1933 saw the installation of a young and inexperienced Regent, from Reting Monastery. Tibet became preoccupied with the search for the Dalai Lama's new incarnation, while China made two significant moves to reestablish influence in Tibet. Although their officials had been expelled from Tibet in 1913, the Chinese sent a 'condolence mission' to Lhasa following the Dalai Lama's death. Once established in the Tibetan capital, the mission became a de facto Chinese embassy. In addition, the Panchen Lama, who had been supported by the Chinese during his exile, threatened to return to Tibet with a significant force of Chinese troops as a 'bodyguard'.

In response to China's moves, the British established a Lhasa Mission, although the Panchen Lama's death in 1937 ended the threat of his return. China was increasingly preoccupied by her war with Japan, and Tibet remained neutral throughout World War Two. Its preparations for the post-Indian independence period were distracted by an attempted coup d'etat in 1947, when the Reting Regent, who had resigned in 1941, attempted to regain his power. The affair drew one of the three main Lhasa monasteries into fighting with the government before the convenient death of the Reting Lama brought the affair to an end.[43]

In 1947 Lhasa had a minor civil war. The former Regent, Reting Rimpoche, who had voluntarily resigned his office, seemed once more ambitious for power. Reting had many adherents among the people and the officials, who stirred up ill-feeling against his successor. They wanted to see Reting back at the helm. They decided on action. The coup d'etat was to be effected by the modern expedient of a bomb. This was delivered as a present from an unknown admirer in the house of a high monastic official, but before the parcel reached the Regent the infernal machine exploded. Luckily no one was killed. It was through this unsuccessful outrage that the conspiracy was disclosed. The energetic Tagtra Rimpoche acted with speed and decision. A small army led by one of the Ministers marched to Reting’s monastery and arrested the former Regent. The monks of the Monastery of Sera revolted against this action and panic broke out in the town. The dealers barricaded their shops and took away their goods for safety. The Nepalese took refuge in their Legation, carrying with them all their valuables. The nobles shut the gates of their homes and armed their servants. The whole town was in a state of alert.

Aufschnaiter had seen the columns marching towards Reting and came at top speed from his country home into the town, where he and I organised the defence of Tsarong’s mansion. People were less preoccupied with the political crisis than with the fear that the monks of Sera, who numbered many thousands, would break into Lhasa and pillage the town. And there were others who had no confidence in the army, which was to some extent equipped with modern weapons. Military revolutions were not unknown in the history of Lhasa.

The arrival of Reting as a prisoner was awaited with excitement, but in the meantime he had been conveyed secretly to the Potala. The monks, who had planned to set him free, were deceived by this action but, in fact, from the moment that their leader was arrested their cause was lost. Strong in their fanaticism, they refused to surrender and wild shooting soon began. It was not until the Government bombarded the town and Monastery of Sera with howitzers and knocked down a few houses that the resistance ceased. The troops succeeded in overpowering the monks and peace returned to the capital. For weeks the authorities were occupied in bringing the culprits to justice and many severe floggings were inflicted.

While the bullets were still pinging through the town the news of the death of the rebellious ex-Regent spread like wildfire among the people.
Whispered rumours went round about the manner of his death. Many thought he was the victim of a political murder, but more believed that by dint of concentration and his inflexible will he had projected himself into the next world without the formality of dying. The town was suddenly full of the most unbelievable stories of the miracles attributed to him and of the superhuman powers he possessed. On one occasion, when a pilgrim’s earthenware cooking-pot was boiling over, he is said to have closed it in with his hands by drawing the sides over the top just as if the clay had been still soft and plastic.

The Government refused to confirm or deny the rumours. Probably few people knew what had really happened. The late Regent had made many enemies during his term of office. On one occasion he caused a Minister who was plotting a rebellion to have his eyes put out. Now he had paid for this crime. As usually happens during political upheavals, innocent people often had to pay the penalty for the guilt of others. The former proteges of Reting were dismissed from their posts. One of the prominent men in his party actually killed himself. This was the only case of suicide that I heard of during all my stay in Tibet.

The prison had not room enough for all the condemned persons, so the nobles had to take the responsibility for lodging them and keeping them in custody. As a result one found in almost every house a convict in chains with a wooden ring round his neck. It was not until the Dalai Lama officially assumed the powers of a ruler that an amnesty was granted to political and common law offenders. Most of the monks of Sera had fled to China. It usually happened that when there was a rising in Tibet the Chinese had a finger in the pie. All the property of the rebels was confiscated by the Government and sold at public auction. The houses and pavilions of Reting Rimpoche were demolished and his beautiful fruit trees transplanted into other gardens. The monastery was thoroughly ransacked by the soldiers, and for many weeks afterwards gold cups, brocades and other valuable objects kept turning up in the bazaars. The sale of Reting’s property realised several million rupees for the Treasury. Among his effects were hundreds of bales of English woollen goods and eight hundred costumes of silk and brocade. This shows how rich one could become in Tibet. Reting was a man of the people with no background. His career had started when as a boy he was recognised as an Incarnation.

-- Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

The Tibetan perspective on the 1904-47 period was very different from the British perspective. Tibet was an isolated and insular society, largely oblivious to the outside world. The country was absorbed with religious matters, the central feature of its social system. Tibet's determination to preserve that system meant that its foreign policy was largely aimed at ensuring its isolation. Historically, Tibet was prepared to surrender aspects of sovereignty which in the European understanding were the proper province of government, in particular foreign relations, to a stronger power if that power would leave it with internal autonomy, particularly in regard to religion. Historically it had made that compromise with the Mongols, and with the Manchu Dynasty, but, once the Chinese came to be seen as a threat to Tibet's autonomous position, Tibet distanced itself from China, and looked for another patron who would guarantee its internal autonomy.

With the Russians unwilling to provide any practical assistance, the Tibetans were forced to turn to the British. They received indications of support, for example the protection extended to the Dalai Lama in Indian exile, which briefly led them to rely on the British. When it became apparent the British could not provide sufficient support, and that the imposition of British policies of modernisation threatened their socio-religious system, they sought to balance their powerful neighbours, playing one off against the other, a common strategy for states located between two empires.[44] A delicate balance was established during the period 1936-1947, but the advent of a Communist government in China after the withdrawal of the British meant the end of any self-government by the Tibetans.


The security of India's northern frontier was the primary concern of the Government of India in their dealings with Tibet. In the 19th century the Himalayan mountain chain appeared to provide a 'natural frontier' between India and China. [45] China was not then seen as a threat to India, and the predominant British Indian opinion was that there was no need for a 'Tibetan policy'.[46] The implicit assumption was that if Tibet was part of China, the Government of India could solve the Tibetan question by agreement with China.

When it became apparent that Chinese rule over Tibet was purely nominal, and that for practical purposes the Tibetans were independent, this still did not demand a Tibetan policy. Tibet did not pose a threat to India, and there was no apparent reason why the Government of India could not establish what they considered normal relations between neighbouring states.

When it became apparent that the Tibetans were not prepared to establish 'normal relations', the need for a Tibetan policy grew, but there remained a strong body of opinion within policy-making circles which held that India could still safely leave the Tibetans in their desired isolation. Only when it became known that Russia had developed links with Tibet was it agreed that a Tibetan policy was needed, for Russian involvement in Tibet was seen as liable to threaten the security of India by paving the way for the infiltration of Russian influence into Nepal and the British Indian Himalayas.

The Government of India therefore created a Tibetan policy which was aimed at preventing Russia from gaining influence in Tibet, while incidentally satisfying the trade lobby and those forces arising out of the contemporary spirit of enquiry. Curzon resolved to force the Tibetans to negotiate with the British by dispatching Younghusband to Tibet with full authority to negotiate with the Tibetan Government. Curzon hoped that this would lead to a British representative at Lhasa, who, in the manner of a Political Officer in an Indian Princely State, would be able to influence the local government to act in accordance with British aims. This policy was largely Curzon's creation, although the influence of other Indian officials (such as the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Louis Dane), was also apparent.

The policy which Curzon initiated was recognised in British India as one of two possible frontier policies. Either the frontier could be defended by garrisons of troops, or it could be defended by 'buffer states' beyond the frontier. 'Buffer states' were those separating two empires. They were also potential zones of expansion for the imperial power, influence tending to lead to their being absorbed. Therefore while frontier garrisons were an essentially defensive policy, 'buffer states' implied a 'forward' policy.[47]

'Forward' policies were those which involved an expansion of imperial responsibilities beyond existing limits.
The classic exposition of the consequences of this policy was by General John Jacob, on the Sind frontier in the 1850s, who stated, 'to enable this red line to retain its present position...it is absolutely necessary to occupy posts in advance of it.'[48] 'Forward' policies were generally favoured by the imperial frontiersmen because an extension of British administration offered an obvious solution to problems raised by peoples outside British control. There were also benefits to the career of individual frontiersman who were responsible for bringing territory under British control.[49]

If 'forward' policies were the most popular on the periphery of empire, they were much less so at the centre. While the security of India was their primary concern, the Government of India operated on a tightly controlled budget which greatly restricted its frontier policies. An expansion of British control over the Himalayas would have been an extremely expensive undertaking, and Tibet, with a primitive economy and no infrastructure, was unlikely to provide any economic benefits if it was drawn into the Indian economy. The government was therefore extremely reluctant on financial grounds to extend its responsibilities to the north, and sought the most economical solutions.

’Forward' policies were even less attractive to Whitehall, whose global perspective gave it an aversion to expanding the frontiers of its empire. Both Russia and China always opposed any extension of British influence in Tibet, while after World War One this opposition widened to include Japan, America and later Nazi Germany, all of whom employed varying degrees of anti-colonialist rhetoric in regard to the British presence in Tibet. Whitehall was particularly concerned to avoid alienating the Chinese, with whom British trade ties were of great economic importance, and therefore sought to solve the Tibetan question through negotiations with China and Russia, leading to wider regional agreements.

There was an obvious tendency for the interests of Whitehall and the Government of India to clash in areas of foreign policy. Measures which India considered essential to safeguard its security interests could be strongly opposed by Whitehall because of their effect on British foreign relations. Whitehall therefore sought to increase its control over India's foreign policy and to limit India's expansionist tendencies. They were deeply distrustful of the frontiersmen and their plans for expanding British authority, and by the turn of this century, improved communications had enabled Whitehall to bring India more firmly under their control. The age of expansion of the British South Asian empire was practically over.

Curzon's period as Viceroy was of seminal importance to Anglo-Tibetan relations, but it marked the high tide of empire on India's north-east frontier. When Curzon ordered Younghusband to Tibet, this seemed likely to end in a British Tibetan protectorate. Whitehall's refusal to allow a British presence to be established at Lhasa was a fatal blow to Curzon's plans, but Younghusband appeared to salvage part of Curzon's aims by obtaining the right to occupy the Chumbi Valley (which was of great strategic importance in that it offered a possible invasion route to and from India) for 75 years; that should have brought the Chumbi Valley into the British Indian empire. But while Younghusband considered that 'I do not see the slightest prospect of our ever being able to give Chumbi up whatever His Majesty's Government may say about not occupying any part of Tibet', Whitehall again refused to approve such a 'forward' move.[50]

When Curzon left India the imperial tide had turned. There was a new Liberal Government in Britain and the Boer War had swung public opinion against overseas adventures. In a reversal of the situation in the Curzon period, there was a weak Viceroy and a strong Secretary of State, and the Government of India were now given clear instructions that they were to follow Whitehall's orders. Younghusband was given a copy of Secretary of State St. John Broderick's despatch to the Viceroy, dated 2 December 1904. by Broderick himself.

Questions [wrote Broderick] of Indian Frontier policy could no longer be regarded from an exclusively Indian point of view, and the course to be pursued in such cases must be laid down by His Majesty's Government alone. [51]


While the Tibet cadre were of the 'forward school', implementation of 'forward' policies was blocked by Whitehall. India had to accept that

The large commercial interests of His Majesty's Government in China make it necessary to subordinate policy in Tibet to the general policy of the British Government in China and to avoid incurring the hostility...of the [Chinese] Government. [52]

This was not the view of the Tibet cadre. They were naturally frustrated by the restrictions imposed on them by the Government of India, usually, though by no means exclusively, at Whitehall's behest. But while they often railed at the 'Old maids who weave our destiny in Simla',[53] it was the British Foreign Office which represented the antithesis of their position. The Tibet cadre considered that their view of the China-Tibet problem was pro-Chinese. When one Tibet cadre officer visited the Foreign Office in 1949 he found 'an icy Chinese expert, Paul Grey, in charge of the Far East...and he simply smiled bleakly when I tried to tell him of Tibet's position.' Another complained that 'I don't think the young pup who was dealing with Tibet...knew where it is on the map.'[54]

While British policy in Tibet was not monolithic, there were prevailing trends which we may summarise, and the policies favoured by the Tibet cadre represent a consistent line of policy. The ultimate aim of the British in Tibet was the protection of India from what was seen as the subversive influence of its neighbouring northern empires. There were three possible solutions to that threat. China could be allowed to control Tibet, Tibet could be made a British protectorate, or Tibet could be strengthened to the point where it was capable of acting as an effective 'buffer state'.

Although China’s inability to control Tibet and exclude Russian influence there had led to the Younghusband Mission, Whitehall, and elements of the Government of India, saw the establishment of Chinese power in Tibet as the solution to the Tibetan problem. But following the Chinese efforts to weaken the British position in Tibet, the Tibet cadre opposed any return to Chinese control. This was particularly the case during the isolation of the Gyantse Trade Agency between 21 November 1906 and 16 July 1907, when the Chinese prevented the Trade Agent from having any direct dealings with the Tibetans. The cadre argued that reassertion of Chinese control would lead to a revival of Chinese claims to areas of British India, including Sikkim, and also to Bhutan, and, most importantly, Nepal. They also thought that China might be too weak to prevent Russian, and later Japanese, influence from penetrating through Tibet, and argued that allowing China to rule Tibet would not provide a stable and secure northern border for India as China's control would be contested by the Tibetans.[55]

The cadre initially favoured establishing a British protectorate in Tibet, although this was never openly articulated. Younghusband's attempt to annex the Chumbi Valley, and the later annexation of Tawang under the 1914 Simla Convention, were both aimed towards that end.[56] But after Curzon's viceroyalty it became increasingly obvious that Tibet would not be taken into the British empire, even at its own request.[57] The Government of India's economic restrictions, and Whitehall's concern for the international complications, meant that they would veto any such move. The Tibet cadre continued to promote policies which might have led to the establishment of a British Tibetan protectorate, but this became an increasingly unrealistic aim, and was largely forgotten by the 1930s.[58]

Creating a Tibetan 'buffer state' was a compromise between abandonment and annexation. It required the creation of a strong, unified Tibet, capable of resisting external influence, which, if it was to be an effective 'buffer state' for British India, had to be brought under British influence; thus the cadre promoted policies aimed at establishing influence over Tibet. Most importantly, they sought to station a British representative in Lhasa. Only there could they create the close ties with the ruling class which were needed if the British were to influence Tibet.

Once it became apparent that the Dalai Lama was the only leader capable of uniting the Tibetans, a Tibetan 'buffer state' policy implied support for his leadership, which became the basis of the cadre's policies after 1910. This was consistent with Political Department methods in India, where the friendship of local rulers was deliberately cultivated in order to establish influence. By 1923, it was clear that the conservative elements in Tibet who opposed modernisation were succeeding in convincing the Dalai Lama to side with them against the weaker modernising faction. But, as we shall see in Chapter Four, after what was apparently a failed, and largely concealed attempt to create an alternative leadership which would institute modernisation policies, the British had no alternative but to continue to deal with Tibet's traditional leadership.

The extension of British influence in Tibet was naturally opposed by China, who consistently sought to bring Tibet into her empire. There was no dispute between the two powers over the model of modernisation which Tibet should follow, for China was herself modernising on the Western model. What they disputed was who would control the process. [59]

The history of Tibet during the 1904-47 period can be seen as a struggle between the British and the Chinese over this question of control. Both countries sent representatives who sought to influence the Tibetans and control the process of modernisation in their country's favour. They used similar methods, copied the other's initiatives, and constantly measured their opponent's successes and failures against their own.[60] The slightest indication of Tibetan preference for one country's ideas, actions and even sports and pastimes, was seen as evidence that the Tibetans favoured that country and hence its policies.[61] With both sides claiming their involvement was in the Tibetans' best interests, the Tibetans' desire for isolation and autonomy was ignored.


In order to place the Tibet cadre in its administrative context, it is necessary to outline the structure of the Government of India and the administrative chain of command in which the Tibet cadre were located. The Government of India inherited its basic structure from the East India Company. In 1833, government in India had been placed under the control of a Governor-General (also known, after 1858, as the Viceroy, the term I have used in this study). In 1843, government was reorganised into four departments, Home, Financial, Military and Foreign. All matters relating to India's foreign relations came under the Foreign Department.

The East India Company used the term 'Civil Service' to describe its non-military employees responsible for civil administration. They became the Indian Civil Service when the Government of India Act of 1858 brought British Indian administration under direct Crown authority. Under this Act, the ultimate control of British India was vested in the Crown, and, in practice, in the British Parliament, while the Viceroy, on behalf of the British monarch, was responsible for relations with the Indian 'Princely States'. A new British Government department, the India Office, was created to administer India. It was headed by the Secretary of State for India, who was a member of the British Cabinet. This separated responsibility for relations between Britain and India from relations with foreign states such as Russia and China, the responsibility of the Foreign Office, and relations with the British colonies, which came under the Colonial Office. This division obviously created the potential for conflicts of interest between the different departments, which was to be reflected in the Tibet cadre's struggle with the views of the Foreign Office.

the India Office was also responsible for particular neighbouring or connected areas at different times. Among the most significant of these are:

Bengal (1616–1857);
Sri Lanka then called Ceylon (c. 1750–1802);
St Helena (to 1834);
Cape of Good Hope (to 1836);
Zanzibar, Somalia and Ethiopia (mainly nineteenth century);
Red Sea, Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf states, Iraq and Iran (c. 1600–1947);
Afghanistan, Russian and Chinese Central Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim (late eighteenth century to 1947);
Malaya and South-East Asia (to c. 1867);
Indonesia (to c. 1825);
China (early seventeenth century to 1947); and
Japan (seventeenth century).

-- India Office, by Wikipedia

The Secretary of State for India (hereafter, the Secretary of State), was responsible for the principal appointments in the Indian administration, and controlled recruitment to the Indian Civil Service (hereafter, the ICS). As a member of Cabinet, he was subject to political appointment, but there was a Permanent Under-Secretary of State, a civil servant who had the right to correspond directly with members of the Government of India.

The Government of India was largely self-financing, and, although theoretically subject to the India Office, it maintained a great deal of autonomy, the extent of which depended largely on the personality and ability of the Viceroy. His relationship with the Secretary of State was thus a delicate one
, the nature of which has attracted some academic controversy.[62] For our purposes it is sufficient to note that the relationship varied with time and circumstance, but again it was a situation which may be seen as potentially creating conflicts of interest, or alternatively as part of a series of 'checks and balances' on the power of the Viceroy.

The branch of government with which we are concerned, the Indian Political Department, was originally part of the Foreign Department under the East India Company. It had been concerned with politics in the Indian sense of the word at that time, meaning relations with other territories.[63] After 1858 these fell into two categories. Firstly there were the self-governing Indian states within the borders of British India, and secondly, those external states whose affairs were of direct consequence to India, such as Nepal, Afghanistan, and Tibet.

The Political Department came under the personal control of the Viceroy, who was ultimately responsible for appointments to the Department. The cost of its positions was borne by India. The service underwent several name changes which reflected its twin fields of operation. At the beginning of our period (1904), it was known as the Political and Secret Department; the Political branch dealt with relations with Indian states, and the Secret Department with external territories. In 1914 it was renamed the Foreign and Political Department, and in 1937 it was divided into the External Affairs Department and the Political Department. (Control of the Political Department was then passed to the 'Crown Representative’; this position was always occupied by the Viceroy.).

Throughout this period, however, the Political Department's agents were chosen from a single body of men. The agents were commonly known as 'Politicals', the term they used to describe themselves, and, in the interests of continuity, I have used the terms 'Political' and 'Political Department' throughout this work, irrespective of date.

The Political cadre was made up of officers who had served either in the Indian Army, or in the ICS [Indian Civil Service]. They were theoretically 'on deputation' to the Political Department from their original service, but in practice they normally remained members of the Political Department until retirement. An approximate balance of two-thirds Indian Army and one-third ICS members was maintained by a complicated intake formula. After the 1920s, officers from the Indian Police, and occasionally the Provincial Civil Services, were also admitted.[64]

ICS recruits arriving in India were given a gazetted posting to a province. After provincial service they could apply for entry to the Political Department if they were unmarried, had less than five years' service, and had passed the necessary departmental examinations. If successful, they were allocated a posting by the Political Department Secretariat. A similar path was followed by Indian Army officers who, after service with an Indian regiment, could apply for a Political Department posting if they were unmarried, under 26, and had passed their promotion examination. Persons particularly suited could be advised to apply for a post, or appointed to one on a temporary basis (which could last many years), prior to permanent appointment. This was a common occurrence in the Tibet cadre.

The established strength of the Political Department consisted of a fixed number of positions, which remained largely in European hands.
The exact number varied in response to government interests. By 1947 there were 170 cadre posts, although as recruitment had ceased after the outbreak of war only 124 of these were filled. Whereas in the ICS there was then a slight majority of Indian personnel, there were only 17 Indians in the Political Department. [65]

Officers were posted to both ’foreign' and 'political' posts, no distinction was drawn between areas of service, and, while some officers specialised in a particular area, others remained 'generalists' throughout their careers. Officers also served in the administrative headquarters of the Department, at (after 1911) Delhi, or, in summer, at Simla. This Secretariat, which was under the direct control of the Viceroy, maintained a small staff who controlled the activities and postings within the service.[66]

The decision-making process within the Political Department depended on a hierarchal passage of paper. Trade Agents' reports were forwarded to the Department by the Political Officer in Sikkim, who added his own comments. These reports were considered and commented upon by the Secretariat, and might be shown, officially or unofficially, to other relevant departments. If important, they were passed to the Viceroy, and thence to the India Office in London, who in turn reported to the British Government. The process might also work in reverse. A request for information about a Tibetan matter directed to a British M.P. could be passed down the chain to an Agent in Tibet, whose report would pass up the chain again. Each officer in the chain could add comments and each Department would consider these comments in their report or recommendation.

Policy-making thus involved each link in the chain from Trade Agent to British Parliament and sovereign. The result of this hierarchal process was that, although the opinion of the 'man on the spot' was theoretically highly valued, in practice it was liable to be overruled at any or every higher level. Again, we might see this as a recipe for conflicts of opinion, or as a series of checks and balances on the power of individuals.


Two prevailing images of Tibet co-exist in the West. The first is the empirically-based historical image. The second is what I have called the 'mystical' image; Tibet as a spiritual realm beyond precise empirical understanding. This mystical image predates the Tibetan encounter with modern European culture and is not, therefore, an entirely Western construct, but it has been significantly affected by this encounter. While the creation of the mystical image of Tibet is beyond the scope of this study, the existence of this 'other worldly' image both affected, and was affected by, the historical image. The Tibet cadre did not place themselves in opposition to the mystical image, with significant results, as will be seen.

References in early Indian religious texts, such as the Mahabharata, suggest that the Indian view of the Himalayas (rather than Tibet specifically), as sacred space, dates to the pre-Christian era.[67] The earliest European references to Tibet repeat what was clearly an already established image of Tibet as a land of 'necromancers'. [68]

bKra shis mgon chen or mGon chen bkra shis che, called a "gzhi bdag of Sa lung chos sde".
He wears a black hat and a garment with long sleeves as worn by necromancers, together with the appropriate ornaments. His hands hold a magic dagger and a skull-cup. The bKra shis mgon chen is accompanied by a deity called Jo bo mgon chen - a figure dressed in black, riding a black horse, and carrying a divination-arrow adorned with streamers of five different colours -, further by the mGon chung who rides on a sheep, the "great btsan demon" 'Od Iha 'bar ba, and by the sakti Klu dkar rtse mo.23

-- Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities, by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz

Necromancy (/ˈnɛkrəmænsi/) is a practice of magic involving communication with the dead – either by summoning their spirits as apparitions or raising them bodily – for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events, discover hidden knowledge, to bring someone back from the dead, or to use the dead as a weapon. Sometimes referred to as "Death Magic", the term may also sometimes be used in a more general sense to refer to black magic or witchcraft.

-- Necromancy, by Wikipedia

In the 19th century this image was brought into the European spiritual imagination by the reports of early travellers; Tibet became a sacred place for the West. European esoterics, in particular the Theosophist movement, began to adopt their own versions of Tibetan beliefs. Writers such as Madame Blavatsky, who claimed to be receiving telepathic messages from spiritual 'masters’ residing in the Himalayas, had a great deal of influence in the creation of this image. Others with a more scholarly approach, such as Alexandra David-Neel, made serious efforts to investigate reports of psychic phenomena in Tibet, which again enhanced the mystical image.

Exasperating and extraordinary, she was acknowledged in her day as one of the foremost interpreters of the Eastern spiritual tradition to the Western public. She was the author of some 30 books and numerous articles. She served as inspiration to the seekers after soft-focus truth of the Beat Generation in the 1950s and supported the student rebellion in Paris in the 1960s. She finally died a few days before her 101st birthday, having endured the celebrations of her own centenary with characteristic ill-grace. Her adventures were so improbable that one French writer devoted years to the attempt to prove that Alexandra David-Neel made it all up. A biographer -- or in this case, a pair of biographers -- could hardly ask for more. But then, consider the problems. Everything Alexandra David-Neel wished to have known about her life and thoughts, she wrote herself. She destroyed personal papers, letters and other evidence if it did not accord with the image she wished to project. That which she wished to deny about her past, she either concealed or lied about. Getting at the truth about Alexandra David-Neel requires more than simple enthusiasm.

This is the authors' second attempt at their subject: they published the first biography (Forbidden Journey) in 1987. They are diligent researchers, but their point of departure - the moment at which the name of Alexandra David-Neel first exercised its magic upon them - was, we are told, at an ashram in southern India, in the course of a discussion of a shamanistic practice of raising the dead.

The problem for any reader who is disinclined to take the raising of the dead at face value is how to interpret the life of a woman who reported flying yogis and telepathy as rather mundane bits of magic commonly encountered in Tibet. It is a difficulty that can only be compounded by the fact that her biographers are inclined to indulge her on such subjects as the psychic generation of living forms, a party trick that Alexandra claimed to have performed on one of her many pilgrimages. If we are trying to make sense of a woman whose achievements were, indeed, extraordinary, but who lied shamelessly when it suited her purpose - and who certainly had a strong sense of how much a credulous market would bear when it came to the mysteries of the Orient - we need a little more help than we are offered.

-- Forbidden travels of an opera singer:The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel by Barbara Foster and Michael Foster Overlook Press pounds 20, by Isabel Hilton

Tibet, in the Western imagination, became firmly located as a spiritual place, outside of time and space, possessing a knowledge unavailable in the West. Probably the supreme expression of that image emerged in 1933, with the publication of James Hilton's novel. Lost Horizon, which gathered many strands of images into a single imagining: 'Shangri-La'.[69]

Peter Bishop, in a recent seminal study, has examined the process by which European travellers to Tibet constructed an image of it as a sacred place within the European imagination. He demonstrates how Europeans projected their own imaginings onto Tibet, until it became drawn into European spiritual identity. This imagery, ordered by succeeding layers of images produced by generations of travellers, led not towards an ultimate empirical truth, but to a core image which enabled the continuing projection of western fantasies onto Tibet. [70]

Tibet became a paradoxical place in the European mind. While drawn within European imagining, it 'always sustained an independent Otherness',[71] and this image of the unknown was a significant part of its attraction. Yet, as a result of the British encounter with Tibet, a body of knowledge was built up which was used to create the historical image of Tibet. While the projection of this knowledge was affected by the requirements of both British and Tibetan power structures, it did produce empirical evidence of a historically real, geographically located, Tibet. Two images of Tibet thus came to co-exist in the European imagination.

Tibet retained its image as an isolated place, beyond the reach of Europeans, despite more than 500 Britons visiting Lhasa with the Younghusband Mission, and the subsequent posting of British officials to Tibet during the period 1904-47. The mystical image survived despite the production of an empirically-based historical image. Previous mystical images of unknown lands, such as Australia, or the source of the Nile, had faded as they became known to European science, and other constructions replaced the mystical. We need therefore to ask why Tibet's mystical image persisted and co-existed with the historical image rather than being superseded by it.

Tsering Shakya may provide part of the answer when he states that Europeans lost interest in a place when it had been colonised. Thus 'Tibet was mythologised precisely because it was never colonised.'[72] But there was also a deliberate use of this mystical image by both the British and the Tibetans. As we shall see in Chapter Six, Tibet's mystical image survived because it served the interests of the British and their allies in the ruling class of Tibetan society. It reinforced a Tibetan identity separate from that of China, and it provided a positive image which helped to justify support for Tibet's continued existence. The Tibet cadre did not, therefore, apply themselves to refuting Tibet's mystical image; indeed much of their writing implicitly supports it. [73]

The continual popularity of the mystical image is not, however, solely attributable to the projections of the imperial power. It is, to a large extent, 'consumer generated', the strength was, and is, in the demand, not the supply. This meant that writers who had never visited Tibet, such as James Hilton, made contributions to the image through works of fiction.

The process by which the cadre created the historical image of Tibet can be clearly demonstrated through an examination of the gathering of information and its subsequent use, and by showing how the Government of India shaped this image by censorship. Whereas the construction of images by the imperial power-structure in India is usually seen as producing negative images, the political need for an independent Tibetan identity as a friendly neighbouring state to India meant that Tibetan society and aspirations were portrayed sympathetically and positively. We need to ask why the particular image of Tibet was created. What were the British perceptions of Tibet and the Tibetans, and to what extent did these coalesce with the Tibetans' own identity and self-image? The creation of an image of Tibet involved making definitions, of what was Tibet and Tibetan. Defining Tibet required judging what was their territory, language, custom, and so on, raising the questions of whom the message was aimed at, on whom do codes of meaning act to establish the idea of a nation and a state?

Tibet was not a modern nation-state in the European understanding. The 'creation' of Tibet, and the attempt to transform it into a modern nation-state both required a model. We are, therefore, addressing the relationship between power and knowledge in the Tibetan context, and seeking to respond to wider questions of identity, in demonstrating how the mentality and perceptions of the Tibet cadre shaped the historical image of Tibet today.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

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Part 3 of 3


This study begins with a collective biographical examination of the Tibet cadre, in order to demonstrate the type of individual favoured by the Government of India for service on the imperial frontier. I am concerned to examine the cadre officers' background and training in order to isolate their common characteristics, and show how their character was shaped for imperial service generally, and for Tibet specifically.

It will be seen that, while an initial period of service in Tibet was often the result of a chance posting, extended and recurrent service there was a matter of choice, by both the individual, and his superiors in the Tibet cadre, which to a large extent controlled its own intake. This meant that they were able to select officers whose character and mentality conformed to that of their predecessors. In identifying the means by which the cadre identity and traditions were passed on to newcomers, use is made of David Potter’s work on the administrative traditions of British India, and findings related to such earlier studies. The analysis of the transmission of in-service traditions is located within the framework established by Potter's study.[74]

The image of the ideal ’type' of officer favoured for frontier service was part of British prestige, the maintenance of which was considered of crucial importance to the continuance of British rule in India. The British sought to present themselves to the Tibetans in a particular way, and Europeans who would not uphold accepted ideals of behaviour and presentation were excluded from Tibet whenever possible. Considerations of British prestige were apparent in all spheres of imperial activity and there was an ongoing debate between two tendencies, those who thought prestige was best maintained by distancing themselves from the local people, and those who held that British prestige was enhanced by their mastery of local social forms. There was a similar debate in Tibet over whether Indian officers could be expected to maintain British prestige. In Chapter Two, we examine these considerations, and ask whether the Tibetans understood the projection of British forms of prestige.

The British encounter with Tibet required the services of intermediaries between the two cultures. In addition to clerical and domestic staff, there was a body of men, mostly Sikkimese or British Indians of Tibetan origin, whose selection and training were modeled on that of their British superiors. The intermediaries acted as translators in the widest sense, of language, customs and aspirations. They became a powerful class, although their 'voice' is often hidden behind that of the British officers they served. In Chapter Three we examine how these intermediaries were selected and trained, and how the most successful of them came to embody an understanding of both British and Tibetan cultures.

We then examine, in Chapter Four, how the character and identity of the Tibet cadre and the intermediaries affected their role in Tibet. Although it became obvious, the Tibet cadre's diplomatic function was not normally openly articulated, to avoid complications with China, Russia and other powers. Nor did the cadre officers receive specific or detailed instructions as to their duties. They were, therefore, left, to a large extent, to define their own role.

We examine how the character, training and institutional traditions of the Tibet cadre ensured that their role reflected the 'forward' policies of their founders, and demonstrate that the issues with which they were most concerned were those related to their primary purpose - ensuring the security of India's northern border. The gathering of intelligence concerning Tibetan affairs, and the cultivation of good relations with leading Tibetans, were two of the primary functions which they took on to achieve this.

Exactly where political power was located in the Tibetan system was not immediately apparent to the British, and the early officers investigated the possibility of building on the ties established by Bogle and Turner, to ally themselves with the Panchen Lama. But, as noted, after 1910, the predominant policy of the Tibet cadre was to support the Dalai Lama. After his death they resorted to making payments to key Tibetan individuals and institutions in the hope of obtaining their support, with a consequent affect on the moral climate of Tibet during the minority of the 14th Dalai Lama.

In Chapter Five we examine in more detail how the Tibet cadre developed and promoted a particular policy over a period of time. The cadre considered that they could achieve little without access to Lhasa, and kept this issue at the forefront of internal government debate. After 1920, they were able to obtain approval for occasional visits to Lhasa by the Political Officer in Sikkim, and no objection was raised to their use of regular visits to Lhasa by local employees. This paved the way for the eventual establishment of a British Lhasa Mission. However, the cadre were only able to achieve this after China had reestablished a representative in Lhasa. This was an example of how British policy in Tibet after Younghusband was essentially reactive, 'forward' moves only being allowed in response to Chinese or Russian moves.

Having considered the Tibet cadre's influence on British policy, we turn to an examination of their role in the creation of an image of Tibet. Their principal concern in this context was to project Tibet as a separate entity from China, in order to establish it as a 'buffer state' between British India and the Chinese, or Russian, empires. This required Tibet to be defined in the European understanding, in terms of aspects of identity such as language, race, culture, history and so on. In an attempt to construct a modern Tibetan identity, building on the pre-existing proto-nationalism of historical identity, the Tibet cadre translated traditional Tibetan concepts into modern forms of expression. Political requirements, and personal understanding, made the images they constructed positive or ’pastoral' ones. These definitions may therefore be located in the wider context of questions of European understanding, and we may compare the actuality of the cadre's projection of images of 'Tibet' and 'Tibetan' with what we know of the Tibetan's own perspective on their identity.

While the Tibet cadre sought to promote an image of Tibet as a separate state, this was restricted by Whitehall's refusal to recognise Tibet as fully-independent. In Chapter Seven, we examine the mechanisms by which the Tibet cadre’s projected image was censored by their governments, and to what effect. We then ask whether the Tibet cadre understood the Tibetans, whether the encounter was a dialogue or a lecture to the uncomprehending.

In Chapter Eight, I argue that several members of the Tibet cadre did come to understand the 'Other' culture, but demonstrate that a deep understanding was not required by their government for the satisfactory performance of their duties; it came only from an officer's personal search for understanding. Those officers who obtained such understanding of the 'Other' society that they became accepted as 'belonging' to it, naturally became members of a class within the 'Other' society, and identified with that class. The result was that the policies they favoured, and the image of Tibet which they promoted, represented the interests of their class within the 'Other' society, as it did the interests of their own native class.

It becomes apparent that a predominant feature of the British involvement in Tibet was a lack of definition. The Tibet cadre's role, the status of Tibet, the authenticity of the Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of 1913; these, and many other important questions remained deliberately undefined as the British discovered 'the advantage of falling in with the Central Asian tendency to avoid precise definition'.[75] This is both an example of how location influenced British policy, and characteristic of the frontier; the zone of interaction and transformation, encounter, and myth. I adopt the term 'liminal' from the field of religious studies to describe a zone beyond precise definition, and use this as a means of treating the legendary and mythological aspects of the British presence in Tibet. Previous studies of the frontier show these aspects to be characteristic of such zones, and enable us to locate the Tibet cadre within frontier history.

After a summary of the conclusions reached in this study, and an examination of the consequences of the Anglo-Tibetan encounter, Appendix One gives biographical details of the 22 officers I have classified as belonging to the Tibet cadre. Appendix Two lists the individuals who occupied the major British posts on the Tibetan frontier. This provides a clear exposition of the system whereby officers were promoted from the Gyantse and Yatung Trade Agencies to the Lhasa Mission, and to the senior post of Political Officer in Sikkim, as well providing a reference tool for future studies of this subject.

My two major fields of enquiry are therefore, the realms of empire and expansion, and the question of knowledge. I am concerned with the questions of how and why the Tibet cadre thought and acted as they did, and what effect this had on (a) British policy in Tibet, and, (b) the historical image of Tibet.



[1] Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) KCSI. KCIE., was born in Muree on the north-west frontier of India, the son of an Inspector-General of Police in the Punjab. He was educated at Clifton College and Sandhurst. For a recent biography, superseding previous attempts, see French (1994). There are a number of works on the 1903-04 Mission, including Younghusband's own account; see Younghusband (1985, with an introduction by Alastair Lamb). The primary imperial account is Fleming (1986). A more balanced account of the Mission is contained in French (1994).

[2] For details of the establishment of the Trade Agencies, see McKay (1992a).

[3] Eleven dak bungalows were built between Gangtok and Gyantse to accommodate British officials on this route.

[4] The use of the term 'theocratic' in regard to Tibet's ruling structure is problematical; it may be qualified by describing it as the Tibetan form of theocracy.

Before proceeding to give an account, necessarily imperfect, of Tibetan diplomacy, I must explain what is the public opinion of the country as to patriotism. I am sorry to say that the attitude of the people in this respect by no means does them credit. So far as my limited observation goes, the Tibetans, who are sufficiently shrewd in attending to their own interest, are not so sensitive to matters of national importance. It seems as if they were destitute of the sense of patriotism, as the term is understood by ordinary people. Not that they are totally ignorant of the meaning of “fatherland,” but they are rather inclined to turn that meaning to their own advantage in preference to the interest of their country. Such seems, in short, the general idea of the politicians of to-day.

The Tibetans are more jealous with regard to their religion. A few of them, a very limited few it is true, seem to be prepared to defend and promote it at the expense of their private interest, though even in this respect the majority are so far unscrupulous as to abuse their religion for their own ends. In the eyes of the common people, religion is the most important product of the country, and they think therefore that they must preserve it at any cost. Their ignorance necessarily makes them fanatics and they believe that any one who works any injury to their religion deserves death. The Hierarchical Government makes a great deal of capital out of this fanatical tendency of the masses. The holy religion is its justification when it persecutes persons obnoxious to it, and when it has committed any wrong it seeks refuge under the same holy name. The Government too often works mischief in the name of religion, but the masses do not of course suspect any such thing—or even if they do now and then harbor a suspicion, they are deterred from giving vent to their sentiments, for to speak ill of the religion is a heinous crime in Tibet.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

[5] Yapp (1980, p.588).

[6] As Georges Duby notes, it is the 'prevailing mood' within an organisation 'which influences behaviour'; Duby (1985, p.230).

[7] Here I follow Lawrence Stone, who defines the purpose of collective biography as 'to demonstrate the cohesive strength of the group in question, bound together by common blood, background, education, and economic interests...prejudices, ideals and ideology...it is this web of purely social and economic ties which gave the group its unity and therefore its political force; Stone (1981, p.46).

[8] Coilingwood (1989, p.245).

[9] The terms ’Trade Agent' or 'Agent' apply specifically to the officers in the three Trade Agencies, while the term 'Political Officer’ applies specifically to the Sikkim post. The latter is an unsuitable collective term as nearly half of the Tibet cadre officers were not actually members of the Political Department. Despite its communist implications, and lack of aesthetic appeal, the term Tibet cadre does serve to emphasise the group's collective identity.

[10] Since the completion of my research the India Office Library has been renamed the Oriental and India Collection. I have retained the form current during my research.

[11] Seldon & Pappworth (1983).

[12] I have retained either tape-recordings, or signed transcripts, of the interviews conducted.

[13] See Addy (1984); Goldstein (1989); Mehra (1974); Singh (1988a); Richardson (1984); and, in particular, Lamb (1960, 1966, and 1989).

[14] See Bishop (1989); also see Cocker (1992).

[15] Collister (1987, pp.7-11); Richardson (1984, pp.63-64); I have also relied primarily in this section on Richardson's account of Tibetan history in the pre-1900 period, in addition to the accounts of Lamb (1960), Shakabpa (1984) and Tucci (1980).

[16] Regarding the early history of Tibet, see Beckwith (1987); Tucci (1980); Yeshe De project (1986).

[17] The Dalai Lamas (along with a considerable number of other important lamas, including the Panchen Lama), are considered successive rebirths of an individual. The system of incarnate ('sprul skif) lamas, which began in the twelfth century, involves a search for a new incarnation a few years after the death of the previous incarnation. In the intervals between the death of one one incarnation and the majority of the next, a Regent serves in their stead. See Tucci (1980, pp.41, 134-35).

Suppose a Grand Lama dies, and a necessity arises to determine the place of his re-incarnation. The four temples dedicated to the four deities are ordered by the authorities to undertake the mysterious business of identification, this order being generally issued about a year after the death of the august Lama. All the priests of the four temples are summoned on that occasion, and they separately consult their own respective oracles. Their deities are, however, not infallible, and often prove just as divided in their judgment as ordinary mortals are, for very rarely do the four oracles coincide, and usually those oracles produce three different candidates. The choice has therefore to be made from among the three.

The three or four boy-candidates (as the case may be) are brought to Lhasa, when they have reached the age of five years. The ceremony of selection is next performed. This is of course conducted with great pomp and solemnity. The dignitaries who are privileged to take part in it are the Chinese Commissioner residing in Lhasa and the Regent Lama; also the Prime Ministers and all the Ministers, Vice-Ministers and a number of high Lamas are allowed to be present. First the names of the boy-candidates (three or four in number, as the case may be) are written on so many pieces of paper, and put in a golden urn which is then sealed. For the period of a week a kind of high mass is performed in the ceremony-hall, in order to entreat the divine intercession for the selection of the real re-incarnation. When this period expires all the dignitaries before-mentioned are once more assembled around the sealed urn. This is carefully inspected and the seal is then taken off. The Chinese Commissioner then takes a pair of tiny ivory sticks something like ordinary chop-sticks in shape and size and, with his eyes shut, puts them into the urn and solemnly picks out one of the papers. The name written on that paper is read, and the bearer of that name is acknowledged as Grand Lama-elect.

From what I have described, there is apparently little room, if any, for trickery, but I have heard from the Secretary of the Chinese Commissioner that dishonest practices are in reality not infrequent. Indeed the temptations are too strong for greedy and dishonest minds to resist, owing to the keen rivalry among the parents of the boy-candidates to have their own boys selected. Strong interest urges them on in this rivalry, for the parents of the Lama-elect are not only entitled to receive the title of Duke from the Chinese Government, but also enjoy many other advantages, above all the acquisition of a large fortune. Under these circumstances the parents and relatives of eligible boys are said to offer large bribes to the Chinese Amban, and to others who are connected with the ceremony of selection. I do not affirm the fact of bribes, but at least I have heard that cases of such under-hand influence have occurred not unfrequently.

The selection of the Grand Lama is thus made by an elaborate process, in which the influence of the oracle-invokers plays an important part. The priests who have charge of this business are in most cases men who make it their business to blackmail every applicant. Most of the oracle-priests are therefore extremely wealthy.

The Nechung who are under the direct patronage of the Hierarchy, are generally millionaires, as millionaires go in Tibet. This, taken in conjunction with another fact, that the re-incarnations of higher Lamas are generally sons of wealthy aristocrats, or merchants, and that it is only very rarely that they are discovered among the lowly, must be considered as suggesting the working of some such practices. I have even heard that some unscrupulous people corrupt the oracle-priests for the benefit of their unborn children, so as to have their boys accepted as Lamas incarnate when born. From a worldly point of view the expense incurred on this account not unfrequently proves a good ‘investment,’ if I may use the profane expression, for the boys who are the objects of the oracles have a good chance of being installed in the temples where their spiritual antecedents presided, which are sure to possess large property. This property goes, it need hardly be added, to the boys, after they have been duly installed. Whatever may have been the practical effect of incarnation in former times, it is, as matters stand at present, an incarnation of all vices and corruptions, instead of the souls of departed Lamas.

I once remarked to certain Tibetans that the present mode of incarnation was a glaring humbug, and that it was nothing less than an embodiment of bribery

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

[18] Tucci ibid (pp.41 -42), Regarding Tibet-Mongol relations see; Petech, L., China and Tibet in the Early Eighteenth Century. Leiden 1950.

[19] Collister (1987, p.12).

[20] ibid (pp. 11 -21); Richardson (1984, pp.64-67).

[21] Re the Pandits, see Waller (1987).

[22] For details of traditional Indo-Tibetan trade see, Chandola (1987); also see Lamb (1960, pp.342-355).

[23] China monopolised the Tibetan tea trade and Indian tea was excluded from Tibet. Both China, and Tibetan monasteries, which traded in tea, profited from this arrangement. To Indian tea merchant's frustration, the Tibetans also appear to have genuinely preferred Chinese tea, not least because it came in compressed bricks which suited Tibet's large semi-nomadic population. For the contemporary British prospective, see Cooper (1869); Louis (1894). As late as 1935 the Indian tea growers had still been unable to make brick tea, and the Tibetans continued to prefer Chinese tea; IOLR L/P & S /12/4175-1175, Report on a Mission to Lhasa, by Captain R.K.M. Battye, 29 December 1935.

Imports from China comprise first of all silk fabrics of sundry kinds, as brocades, tussore silk, crêpes and satins of various kinds. Silver bullion and drugs are also imported, but in respect of value tea stands first on the list of Chinese imports. From what I have roughly estimated, the quantity of tea arriving at Lhasa alone will cost not less than six hundred and fifty thousand yen a year approximately, while the import to Eastern Tibet, which is more thickly inhabited than the other half of the country, must of course reach a larger figure, for the Tibetans are great tea-drinkers and both high and low imbibe a large quantity of the beverage all through the year. The poorest people, who cannot afford to buy, are satisfied with a thin decoction obtained from the refuse of the tea-pots of wealthier people. Tea is rather costly, for one brick of inferior quality measuring about one foot long, 6½ inches wide and three inches thick costs two yen seventy-five sen at Lhasa; a brick consisting of only leaves without any mixture of twigs cannot be obtained at less than five yen. The prices rise as we go westward, owing to the cost of transportation, and for a brick costing two yen seventy-five sen at Lhasa as much as three yen twenty-five sen has to be paid in Western Tibet.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

[24] See French (1994, pp.202-03).

[25] Sikkim, which stood on the easiest route from Calcutta to Lhasa, had come under British influence following the Treaty of Tumlong in 1861. It became a British Protectorate under the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890.

[26] Lamb (1960, pp.174-229); McKay (1992a, pp.400-01).

[27] Lamb ibid (pp.239-241); Richardson (1984, pp.78-82).

[28] The Japanese monk, Kawaguchi Ekai, who visited Lhasa in 1901, was one apparently neutral source who reported that Russian arms supplies were reaching Lhasa; Berry (1991, pp. 304-05); Kawaguchi (1979, pp.505-06).

It was about December of 1901 or January of the following year that the party returned home. By that time I had already been residing in Lhasa for some time. About two months after the return of the party I went out on a short trip on horseback to a place about fifty miles north-east of Lhasa. While I was there I saw two hundred camels fully loaded arrive from the north-east. The load consisted of small boxes, two packed on each camel. Every load was covered with skin, and so I could not even guess what it contained. The smallness of the boxes however arrested my attention, and I came to the conclusion that some Mongolians must have been bringing ingots of silver as a present to the Dalai Lama. I asked some of the drivers about the contents of the boxes, but they could not tell me anything. They were hired at some intermediate station, and so knew nothing about the contents. However they believed that the boxes contained silver, but they knew for certain that these boxes did not come from China. They had been informed by somebody that they came from some unknown place.

When I returned to the house of my host, the Minister of Finance came in and informed him that on that day a[506] heavy load had arrived from Russia. On my host inquiring what were the contents of the load, the Minister replied that this was a secret. I took a hint from this talk of the Minister and left the room. I had however by good chance discovered that the load came from Russia, and though I could not as yet form any idea about the contents, I tried to get some reliable information.

Now I knew one Government officer who was one of the worst repositories imaginable for any secret; he was such a gossip that it was easy to worm out anything from him. One day I met him and gradually the trend of our conversation was turned to the last caravan. I found him quite communicative as usual, and so I asked him about the contents of the load. The gentleman was so far obliging, that he told me (confidentially, he said) that another caravan of three hundred camels had arrived some time before, and that the load brought by so many camels consisted of small fire-arms, bullets, and other interesting objects. He was quite elated with the weapons, saying that now for the first time Tibet was sufficiently armed to resist any attack which England might undertake against her, and could defiantly reject any improper request which that aggressive power, as the Tibetans believe her to be, might make to her.

I had the opportunity to inspect one of the guns sent by Russia. It was apparently one of modern pattern, but it did not impress me as possessing any long range nor seem to be quite fit for active service. The stock bore an inscription attesting that it was made in the United States of America. The Tibetans being ignorant of Roman letters and English firmly believed that all the weapons were made in Russia. It seems that about one-half of the load of the five hundred camels consisted of small arms and ammunition.

-- Three Years in Tibet, by Shramana Ekai Kawaguchi

[29] Lamb (1960, pp.240-252); Fleming (1986, pp.32-36).

[30] Dorzhiev's role in Tibet has attracted a great deal of comment, much of it inaccurate. A recent work, which uses a number of hitherto unavailable Russian sources, provides the first reliable account of his life; see Snelling (1993).

[31] See French (1994, pp.154-55, 192, 254).

[32] The full text of this separate agreement is found in Younghusband (1910, p.300). The text of the Anglo-Tibetan Convention of 1904 (which Younghusband signed in the Potala), is given in Richardson (1984, pp.268-271).

[33] The issue of British representation in Lhasa is discussed in Fleming (1986, pp.211-15); also see, Mckay (1992a, p.416), & (1992b).

[34] The text of these treaties is given in Richardson (1984, pp.271-74). The term 'suzerainty' has no precise, agreed definition in the Tibetan context, although its meaning has been subject to much discussion.

[35] IOLR MSS Eur F157-166, Bailey to his parents, 20 October 1907.

[36] The Dalai Lama described as a 'pretext' the Chinese explanation for these troops; Shakabpa (1984, p.246). The Tibet cadre’s view was that it was an 'invasion'; Richardson (1984, pp.97-100). Lamb, relying on Eric Teichman's account, describes the Tibetans as being prepared to accept a small Chinese force entering Lhasa, only to be tricked by the arrival of a much larger than expected force; Lamb (1966, pp.192-94), following Teichman (1921, p.28).

[37] Tibetan sources emphasise that the dispute involving the Dalai and Panchen Lamas was due to differences between their supporters, not between the two incarnate lamas themselves; see Shakabpa (1984, p.263); Taring (1983, pp.66-67); Dhondup (1986, pp.123-26); also see, Lamb (1989, esp., chapters V1 & V111).

[38] For the text of this declaration, see Shakabpa (1984, pp.246-248).

[39] Mehra discusses aspects of the Tibet-Mongol treaty in Mehra (1969).

[40] There is an extensive literature concerning the Simla Convention; in particular see the works of Lamb (1966), & (1989); Mehra (1974); and Richardson (1984).

[41] Tibet's modernisation programme required finance, which the Tibetan Government attempted to raise by means of new taxes. As these were based on the size of estates, the Panchen Lama’s taxes were greatly increased. There were a number of factors behind the Panchen Lama's flight, the precise causes of which remain unclear. For contrasting views on the matter see Dhondup (1985, pp.123-140); Richardson (1984, pp.125-28).

[42] For an examination of the role of conservative elements in Tibet, see Goldstein (1989). Goldstein's controversial thesis, that the failure of the conservative Tibetan monastic and aristocratic rulers to accept modernisation was ultimately responsible for Tibet losing its independence, has not been successfully disputed.

[43] Richardson (1979); personal correspondence with H. Richardson, May 1989.

[44] Ford (1990, p. 170); Williamson (1987, p.98).

[45] 'Natural frontiers' are those imposed by geography; rivers, lakes, coastline and so on. In British India, mountains were considered, as Royal Geographical Society President, and Superintendent of Frontier Surveys, Sir Thomas Holditch, stated, 'the most lasting, the most unmistakable and the most efficient as a barrier'; Holditch (1916, p. 147).

[46] As late as March 1905 Curzon was still proclaiming that there was no need for a north-east frontier policy; Mehra (1974, p. 11).

[47] Curzon (1907), Lyall (1973, pp.334-49); Prasad (1979, pp.577-78); Verrier (1992, p.36).

[48] General John Jacob, quoted in Edwardes (1975, p.93).

[49] Yapp (1980, p.588).

[50] NAI FD, 1905 Secret E February 1398-1445, Younghusband to L. Dane (Indian Foreign Secretary), 30 May 1904.

[51] Fleming (1984, p.285); also see Younghusband (1985, p.340); Lamb (1966, pp.13-14), quoting FO 535/5, No.83, encs. 2 and 3, Broderick to India, 2 February 1904.

[52] IOLR L/P&S/12/187-4682, Foreign Secretary, India, to the Under Secretary of State, India Office, 28 June 1935.

[53] RGS. Bailey correspondence, 1921-30; Mrs Irma Bailey to Arthur Hinks (RGS Secretary), 9 October 1924.

[54] IOLR MSS Eur F157-259, Richardson to Bailey, 25 February 1949; MSS Eur F157-258, Hopkinson to Bailey, 26 November 1949.

[55] IOLR L/P&S/12/4177, file note by J.C. Walton, 12 February 1934.

[56] Lamb (1989, fn.10, p.22, fn.21, p.24).

[57] The Tibetans asked the Government of India to take-over their foreign relations on at least two occasions, in 1910 and again in 1932; see IOLR L/P&S/10/147-995, Bell to India, 17 July 1910; L/P&S/12/4174, Viceroy to the Secretary of State, 10 August 1932, enclosing Weir to India, 9 September 1932. But as Lamb (1966, p.587), notes, in 1910 'the British Empire in India had passed its zenith. The British were no longer an expanding power; they were attempting to hold and consolidate what they had'.

[58] interviews with Mrs E.Hopkinson, 20 April 1993; Mrs J.M. Jehu, 26 March 1993; A.H. Robins, 23 April 1993; Mrs A. Saker, 27 April 1993.

[59] The only major difference between British and Chinese modernisation plans concerned the Tibetan army. The Tibet cadre sought to strengthen Tibet's military capacity to enable Tibet to defend themselves against the Chinese. The Chinese naturally sought to weaken Tibet's military forces. Chinese plans are noted in; NAI FD, 1908 Secret E September 113-134, various correspondence; FD, 1908 Secret E February 467-482, W. Cassels to Government of United Provinces, 23 September 1907 (re western Tibet); IOLR L/P&S/7/220-1625, Gyantse Annual Report 1907-08, enclosed in Bell to India, 28 May 1908.

[60] IOLR L/P&S/7/251-1466, Gyantse Diary of June 1911, notes that the Chinese had enquired if a British officer was to be posted to Gartok, in which case the Chinese would station an officer there.

[61] For example, see McKay (1994, p.381).

[62] See Kaminsky (1986, pp.151, 201); Yapp (1990).

[63] O’Malley (1965, p. 160).

[64] Coen (1971, pp.35, 54).

[65] ibid (p.4).

[66] ibid (pp. 5-6).

[67] Allen (1982, p.19).

[68] Marco Polo, whose report of 'Thibbet' may be a second-hand account, states 'These people are necromancers and by their infernal arts perform the most extraordinary and delusive enchantments'; Marco Polo (1970, pp.236-40).

[69] See Johnson (1994); David-Neel (1931); Hilton (1933).

[70] A core image is that 'which gathers and organizes imagery'; Bishop (1989, fn. 120, p.269).

[71] Bishop ibid (p. 145).

[72] Shakya (1992, p. 15).

[73] For examples; see MacDonald (1991, pp. 196-202). It is however, what is net said which is significant.

[74] Potter (1986).

[75] Richardson (1984, p. 148).
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

Postby admin » Mon Sep 09, 2019 5:36 am

Part 1 of 3



Selection for the Political Department was governed by the belief that there was an ideal type of officer best qualified to represent British India. It was commonly held that the necessary qualities were, as Curzon pronounced, 'an instinct rather than an acquisition'.[1] But Political officers in the 20th century were almost invariably products of British public schools, and universities or military colleges, who had served in the ICS or Indian Army, and these institutions therefore, acted as a training process, which was believed to bring out the innate qualities of the ideal character for service in the Politicals.

Although Tibet was a regular Departmental posting, to which officers could, through choice or chance, be sent, extended service there was a matter of choice, not chance. Although it was never stated as policy, individuals found unsuitable for service in Tibet, or who found it uncongenial, were not posted there again. Thus just as a particular type of individual was thought suitable for the Politicals in general, particular types of Political officer were considered suited to particular regional posts. One type might be best suited to the Persian Gulf, another might respond most positively to the Tibetan environment. Therefore, while the Tibet cadre had many characteristics which were common to other Political officers, there were distinguishing aspects of their character, which made them a distinct group.

As noted, only 22 officers were permanently appointed to, or remained long enough to exert any real influence in, the three most significant posts in Tibet during the 1904-47 period; those at Gangtok, Gyantse, and Lhasa. There are sufficient sources concerning these 22 officers, whom I term the Tibet cadre, to conduct a collective biographical examination of them, enabling the isolation of common factors which indicate the type of character favoured for service in the Politicals generally, and, more specifically, in the Tibet cadre.

The prevailing character and mentality of the cadre is important because it proves to be the basis of their perception and definition of both Tibet, and their own role there. Through understanding the type of characters they were, and the way they thought, we can gain a greater understanding of their consequent actions. In this conclusion, I follow scholars such as Clive Dewey and David Fieldhouse in arguing that 'vested ideas, rather than vested interests, are the great determinants of human behaviour'. [2]

In this chapter I will, in the course of reconstructing the prevailing character and mentality of these officers; [a] examine the background of the Tibet cadre; [ b] describe how their training and selection took place, and; [c] demonstrate how the cadre traditions were established and passed on to newcomers. This will show that a particular ethos and characteristic attitudes prevailed among those who served there, and that their distinct collective identity was produced by a planned process. As will be seen in later chapters, this had a significant effect on British policy in Tibet and upon the historical image of Tibet.


Of the 35 officers who served at Gangtok, Lhasa, and Gyantse, nine were Escort Commanders or Medical Officers appointed to act temporarily as Gyantse Trade Agent during the absence of a permanent appointee, and are therefore excluded from this study. Four Gyantse Agents may also be excluded on the grounds that they served there for less than nine months, and therefore had little impact. Their careers, can, however, be useful in illustrating certain aspects of Tibetan service, as will be seen. The careers of the 22 most significant officers - the Tibet cadre - will be the subject of this examination of their background and training.[3]

The first obvious common characteristic of these 22 men is their close family connection with India; nine were born there. A tenth was born in Persia, while his father was on a Government of India posting to the British Consulate at Mashad. Three of those born outside India had a father or grandfather who had served in the ICS or Indian Army, and at least one other had close relatives who had served in India.

Of those not born in India, six were born in England, four in Scotland and two in Ireland. All of these British-born officers came from a professional or land-owning background, with the exception of Frederick Williamson, whose father's employment was 'technical'. Four had fathers in the military, while the church, law and academia were among other professions represented.

With the exception of John Claude White, who was educated privately in Germany, all of the British officers (including those born in India), attended public schools in England or Scotland. Their education then continued either at university, or at military college for those who went on to join the Indian Army. Of the civilians, four studied at Oxford and two at Cambridge, while White attended Cooper's Hill College of Engineering. Among the military, six attended the Royal Military Academy Woolwich, four attended Sandhurst and two attended Quetta Cadet College.

Of the 22 cadre officers, 17 followed the usual routes into Political Department postings, either via the Indian Army (12 officers), or the ICS (five officers). These figures are consistent with the Political Department's usual intake ratio of two-thirds from the Indian Army and one-third from the ICS. Five officers came from other Indian services; White from the Public Works Department, Frank Ludlow from the Indian Education Department, and David Macdonald, Rai Bahadur Norbhu Dhondup and Rai Bahadur Pemba Tsering from local government services.

An additional military influence on the Tibet cadre was that two of those selected from the ICS, Williamson and Arthur Hopkinson, had seen active service in World War One.[4] Tihis military influence meant that proven physical courage was a common characteristic. At least seven of the officers saw active service -- in Tibet, Persia or the World Wars. Hopkinson, Lieutenant-Colonel F.M.'Eric' Bailey, and Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Frank O'Connor were all wounded in action during military service. Williamson, Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Fletcher and Major George Sherriff were mentioned in despatches, while Major Alex Russell won a Military Cross in anti-Bolshevik operations in Northern Persia in 1924. [5]

The Tibet cadre were thus characterised firstly by a similar middle, or upper-middle class background, and close family connections with India, and secondly by a public school education, followed by entry into Indian military or civil service. These findings are consistent with those of previous studies of the Indian services; the ICS, Indian Medical Service (hereafter, the IMS) and the Politicals, and are not therefore, indicative of the particular character of the Tibet cadre, which must be sought elsewhere. [6]

Three officers were from a very different background; David Macdonald was the son of a Scottish tea planter and a Sikkimese mother. Norbhu Dhondup was born into a Sherpa family at Darjeeling, and Pemba Tsering was from an Eastern Tibetan family who had settled at Ghoom, near Darjeeling. Although these officers encountered some prejudice, the Tibet cadre were essentially a meritocracy, and one which relied heavily on the knowledge of local employees. But these officers were promoted to Political Department posts only after a long period of service, and most importantly for our case, after they had thoroughly absorbed the ethos of the British officers and their way of life. This aspect will be examined in Chapter Three.


What then was the effect of this common background, and what type of person did it produce? Studies of the relationship between imperialism and the British public school and university systems have demonstrated how the system produced individuals whose particular qualities were considered desirable for service in the empire.[7] The result was a system of which it could be said, 'Every school building is a citadel of Empire and every teacher its sentinel.'[8]

This was a deliberate process. Physical, intellectual, and moral codes were designed to prepare pupils for imperial service. As one of the founders of the Colonial Service stated, 'the Public Schools...are vital. We could not run the show without them. In England universities train the mind; the Public Schools train character and teach leadership'.[9] That the schools were successful in inculcating imperial values is indicated by Lord Curzon, who credited a lecture at Eton with being the source of his views on imperialism. [10]

The cadre were, in common with officers from other Indian services, from a variety of public schools, with 'no significant networks' from any particular institution, although two Wykemists, Bell and Gould, occupied the senior Gangtok post for almost half the period under consideration. [11] But they shared a common standard of taught behaviour, for the various schools they attended all sought to shape the character of their pupils to produce 'gentlemen' with a sense of duty and service who would take on responsibility in the empire. The desired character included qualities of self-confidence, leadership, and respect for tradition, along with a certain 'amateur spirit', an ideal of generalised, rather than specialised or lucrative knowledge.[12] These were precisely the qualities of character sought by the Political Department. Thus a probationary report on Basil Gould states approvingly that, 'His manners are perfect, as might be expected from a Winchester and Oxford education.'[13]

An important part of this character training by the public schools centred on sporting endeavour, in the tradition of 'muscular Christianity'. Team sports were believed to foster both the physical virtues of strength and endurance, and the moral virtues of self-discipline and duty, thus producing 'the confidence to lead and the compulsion to follow'.[14] The public schools' emphasis on sports produced a particular code of ethics, which used symbols and metaphors derived from the Victorian amateur sporting ethos. This 'games ethic' became the ethical basis of the 'frontierman's code', which was 'an important part of the collective identity of frontier officers'. Thus, in the imperial setting, an officer was expected to have 'a sense of fair play', and expected his fellow officers to 'play the game'.[15]

The Tibet cadre held to this 'games ethic', and valued the institutions which had instilled it in them. One of the foremost exponents of imperial literature was the poet, Henry Newbolt, a friend and contemporary of Younghusband's at Clifton College. Newbolt's best known poem, Vitai Latnpada, equates school sport and empire battle, culminating in the repeated refrain 'Play up! and play the game.' When Younghusband reached Lhasa, Newbolt sent him an 'Epistle' containing the following lines:

The victories of our youth we count for gain
Only because they steeled our hearts to pain,
And hold no longer even Clifton great
Save as she schooled our wills to serve the State. [16]

The extent to which the public schools emphasised spoils and games can be exaggerated. Clive Dewey has recently shown the importance of the opposing trend towards Socratic virtues, which existed at public schools in parallel to the cult of 'Muscular Christianity'.[17] This preference for intellectual virtues was not, however, specifically oppositional to the ideals of empire. While the cadre contained a number of men of obvious intellect (as will be seen in Section 1:8), they were 'outdoor types', shaped by, and adhering to, the 'games ethic'. Although intellect was valuable, a high standard of fitness was essential; several Politicals failed to satisfy the fitness requirement for service in the harsh Tibetan environment. Intellect, as demonstrated by cadre officers such as Bell and Richardson, was in addition to 'outdoor' qualities, and the cadre valued both elements.

The public schools' system of training for imperial administrators continued at the universities, particularly at Oxford and Cambridge.[18] Curzon remarked that 'he could not understand how anyone educated at Oxford in his time could fail to be an imperialist'.[19]

The pro-imperial ethos was also promoted at the military colleges, which reproduced many of the processes used by the public schools to develop the desired qualities of character in its trainees. For example, at Sandhurst, Bailey's English Composition examination paper asked such questions as, ’Are Polar Exhibitions[sic] worth the hardship and sacrifice involved?' -- the desired answer is obvious.[20]

The military colleges deliberately developed loyalty to a military fellowship. Loyalty to a public school house was replaced by loyalty to a military company, loyalty to a school was replaced by loyalty to a regiment. Individuals were (ideally) bound together with a shared sense of purpose into a single unit, centred on the mess, where the nuances of appropriate behaviour were learned.[21]

The military colleges also emphasised equestrian skills, and "manly sports" as an aid to building both character and team spirit, and skill in these areas was considered to enhance work performance. That these ideals were implanted in the Tibet cadre is indicated by Bailey's comment in his later career that, 'I would not keep Rai Bahadur [Norbhu Dhondup],..if he was not good at polo, football etc, as I knew[sic] his work would not be so good.'[22]

The Tibet cadre officers were thus educated in an imperial milieu. This ensured that, as one Political wrote, 'I grew up with a profound belief in the British...Empire... We were completely satisfied about the superiority of everything British, and never doubted that the British Empire would endure for ever.'[23] The Tibet cadre applied the moral standards inculcated by their education to their own imperial role. Trained to believe in their right to rule, they were self-confident administrators, who viewed themselves as loyal servants of a righteous empire.

The educational system did not, of course, produce only imperial administrators. Products of the military colleges were not always 'gentlemen' who upheld the honour of their regiment, and the universities did not, despite Curzon's statement, only produce unquestioning imperialists. But the system did produce, at least in the pre-World War One period, sufficient men who believed in the imperial ideal; and those who did not subscribe were not favoured for government service in India.

Although not directly affecting the Tibet cadre, there was a decline in interest in Indian service after World War One. This was due to both the declining financial rewards of Indian service, and to changing perceptions of empire, as the prevailing attitudes of the Curzon era gradually became the minority view.[24] The Indian services did adapt to the changing conditions; for example, later officers did not expect the British empire to last forever. But the educational and selection process of the Political Department did not change in tune with the times. In the 1930s and '40s the ideal of the desired type of Political officer was largely unchanged from that of the Younghusband era. Thus Charles Bell and Hugh Richardson represented very similar 'types', despite the changes that had taken place between their periods of service.


The training process begun at their public schools and universities or military colleges, continued when recruits arrived in India. The Indian services expected that recruits with this educational background would have the capacity to become good imperial officers once they had been given the necessary training in both their specialised duties, and the values and traditions of their service. These duties and values could, it was believed, only be learned by experience 'on the job'. Thus one ICS officer stated that

If the recruitment is properly done, he [the recruit] should have the capacity to become a good bureaucrat. But what constitutes being a good bureaucrat is something he still has to learn, and it can only be learned by experience. [25]

In the Indian Army, the newcomer was attached to a regiment, which became the focus of his loyalties. There he learned the practice of his profession in the Indian context. In the ICS, a trainee was placed in a district under the supervision of an experienced ICS officer. There he was expected to learn the appropriate local language(s), and the practical methods by which British rule was administered. In addition to mastering legal, cultural and economic aspects of his duties, the ICS newcomer learned 'to locate and work with his political support'[26]; those local powers who could be persuaded that their best interests lay in co-operating with the British, and those elements within British government who favoured the policies the officers promoted. This skill would be particularly valuable to those who joined the Political Department.

Arguably the most important aspect of this initial training was that newcomers, both civil and military, had to learn their social place, and social behaviour appropriate to that status. While their family background (particularly if it was British-Indian), and public school education had taught them much of the required behaviour pattern, the singular culture of British-Indian society, with its codes and nuances of behaviour which were by no means always clearly articulated, imposed its own demands. For example, an ambitious Indian Army officer learned that 'you had to push to get there, but it would not be good form to push too hard’; the 'swot' was frowned upon. He had to drink, but not too much, he had to have pride in himself and his regiment, but not boast about either. The ideal officer mastered these subtle distinctions between good, and bad, 'form'.[27]

Just as the regiment became the focus for the loyalties of an Indian Army officer, so the institution of the ICS became the focus of the civilians' loyalty. While newcomers to the service may have found what Potter calls an 'instant freemasonary' among fellow-officers, the ICS trainee often had little in common with the officer under whom he served his apprenticeship. Potter has recorded the contrasting relationships newcomers to the ICS had with their initial supervisors, and friendship was by no means typical. This meant that the newcomers’ primary identification was with the service itself rather than with individuals, although a respected superior could be a great influence on his trainee.[28]

There is contrasting evidence as to the importance of particular factors as formative influences on the imperial officers in India. Dewey has emphasised the paramountcy of 'the values they absorbed in their youth'. Potter, balancing social and service training influences, argues that an emphasis on social factors has disguised the importance of ICS training. But as Potter himself states, while social background was generally constant, the extent to which recruits were shaped by their initial training varied.[29]

In the case of the Tibet cadre, there is little evidence that their initial ICS or Army service was as important a formative influence on their character and mentality as was their public school. It appears that once an officer entered the Politicals, he ceased to identify with his former service, although to a large extent the Politicals' traditions and even duties, built on, or replicated, those of the ICS and Indian Army.

These services naturally had no wish to lose their best officers. Individuals who entered the Politicals could be resented, for implicitly they were rejecting the ties of loyalty to their former service. Younghusband himself noted that 'the regiment always looks sideways at men going into the Politicals and make it difficult to get leave.[sic]'[30]

New ties of loyalty were developed, and these were to an institution which was considered by those belonging to it as having superior status to that of their former service. None of the Tibet cadre ever returned to their former service after they had served in the Politicals.
It appears therefore, that the officers themselves gave less credit to their initial in-country training as they had ceased to identify with their former institutions.

While successful cadre officers, ex-ICS or ex-Indian Army, may or may not have been strongly influenced by their initial Indian training, all were strongly influenced by their public school and it remained their commonest reference point. Arthur Hopkinson for example, had been very happy at Marlborough, for him 'there was no school but Marlborough', and although he was also at Oxford, he did not talk of it as he did his school. [31]

School inculcated the character and set of values desired for the empire. [32] These were given specific application by training in India, and, while as Potter has shown, new institutional loyalties were developed, and ideas were modified by local circumstances, the training process in India was considered to develop and shape character and mentality which had been, as noted, established by the formative influence of British public schools.[33] While initial training might influence later performance, an officer’s school was part of his identity. For example, Bell's obituaries refer to his school, but not to the obscure district in eastern India where he began his ICS career.[34]

This process of training officers for service in Tibet was, in the wider perspective, an established means of uniting individuals for a common purpose. As organisational studies have established, individuals, whose allocated role in an establishment in some way enhances their personal goals, may be trained to internalise the values of that organisation. When this training process has been successful, the individual may then be relied upon to react in a manner consistent with, or advantageous to, the aims of the organisation. The individual acquires a loyalty to that body, and individual and organisational goals coincide. As a result of this process, individuals expect their fellow group-members to behave in the same manner as themselves, and individuals acquire an 'organisation personality' in some ways distinct from their own.[35]

Such a process occurred with the Tibet cadre. The point of their training was to ensure that the government could rely on them to act independently and on their own initiative, within the limits of overall British aims and policies. Their training was therefore designed to produce officers with 'the maximum degree of uniformity of intellect, education and general outlook'.[36] Having shown they could internalise the values of the ICS or the Indian Army, the cadre officers could be relied upon to act in accord with the interests of that section of the Government of India of which they were now members: the Politicals.


While the public school system could produce the type of individual wanted for imperial service, the desire to serve in India and on its frontiers usually had roots elsewhere, as we have seen from the number of officers with family connections to service in India. The family tradition of an Indian career certainly influenced Bailey at an early age. Preserved among his papers are a school 'Essay on Choice of a Career in Life [sic]', and another on 'Outdoor Games', written when he was aged 11. Bailey then favoured a naval career 'Because I like travelling'. His chosen games topic was polo, a sport we may surmise that his father, also a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian Army, must have played.[37]

Another primary formative factor on the desire to serve in India was a literary influence, particularly from the works of Kipling. While he was by no means an unequivocal supporter of imperialism, Kipling (who was a close friend of O'Connor), certainly inspired many Politicals. As one wrote, 'With the literary backdrop of the Jungle Books and Kim...I longed to see India.'[38]

An early taste for Kipling was common, and lasting, among the cadre. Bell would relax by reciting Kipling's poetry, while Hopkinson gave his new bride a collection of Kipling's works, along with riding lessons; both were of equal importance if a Political officer's wife was to fit into her new role.[39] Travellers' tales were another inspiration to officers such as Richardson, who was inspired by reading of George Bogle's 18th century travels in Tibet. [40]

Naturally the image of India that would-be colonial officials received from these texts was incomplete. Imperial literature was primarily concerned with the British in India, or with those aspects of India and its society which were, in the European perspective, unusual, spectacular, and 'Other'. Thus it commonly dealt with events involving the British, such as the 'Indian Mutiny’, or imperial life in Simla and other hill-stations, or with the diverse extremes of Indian culture: Maharajahs, saddhus, sati and so on.

An implicit, and occasionally explicit, political agenda existed behind much of this literature in that it reinforced imperial concepts of a racially diverse and ahistorical India, united only by British rule. The administrative classification of various religio-social groups as 'martial' and 'non-martial' races, or as 'criminal tribes', arising from the view of Indians as members of communities, was reflected in literary stereotypes of 'the wily Brahmin', 'the warlike Sikh', and so on. Those peoples whose opposition to a transformation of their traditional societies led them into conflict with the imperial power were naturally portrayed in particularly negative terms. While writers such as Kipling were certainly not uncritical of the Raj, the general tendency of colonial literature was to portray British rule as a 'civilising mission', bringing the many benefits of 'progress' to ’uncivilised' India.

It is simplistic to view this British construction of an image of India purely in terms of the imperial process, and to ignore the fact that the reading public 'is not interested in the mechanics of government, only in melodrama’[41]. But the effect of this process was that the British understanding of India was distorted by Eurocentric perspectives, and policies were evolved and imposed, which were based on knowledge constructed by and for British, rather than local, interests.

The importance of imperial texts as an influence on new officers was recognised in the Political Department. What were considered suitable texts for trainee officers were selected and used as training manuals. After six months in the Politicals, new entrants were examined (at least into the 1920s) on four books; Lyall's The Rise and Expansion of the British Dominion in India, Thornton's biography, Sir Robert Sandeman, Edwardes's A Year on the Punjab Frontier, and another text pertaining to the Middle East. Given that most of the Tibet cadre read these works, it is instructive to analyse the policies and role models they present, because they clearly demonstrate aims and activities approved by the Political Department in terms which were not otherwise officially articulated.

Sir Alfred Lyall was a former Indian Foreign Secretary, whose 1891 work was a history of British Indian government. It reflects the confidence of the imperial age, taking a positive view of progress, with British rule in India portrayed as paternal. Lyall emphasised the importance of frontier protectorates as a convenient method of extending British power without responsibility for government. The importance of this view will become apparent later. [42]

Edwardes's work stressed the need for non-interference in local custom. It proclaimed that 'benevolent despotism is the best of all governments', and reinforced the public school ideal of Political officers as sent 'forth beyond our boundaries to be a pioneer of Christian civilisation'. Both were views the Tibet cadre were to have little argument with at least until the 1940s. [43]

While Lyall and Edwardes provide a theoretical framework to British rule, the ideal of a Political officer emerges most strongly in Thornton’s book. This is a hagiography of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman, Chief Commissioner of Baluchistan from 1877 to 1892. According to Thornton, Sandeman displayed just the qualities desired by school and empire, 'energy, perseverance...and a strong sense of duty'; free of debt, but hospitable and generous, he was keen on sports and 'no self-seeker'. Other qualities of Sandeman were described which trainee officers could recognise as a practical guide to success on the frontier. Sandeman was 'no favourite with officials....In important matters, he rarely accepted an official negative as final'. He apparently delayed a telegram postponing an assault, an action described in approving tones, and crossed the frontier without permission, but, as the trip was a success, the 'irregularity was condoned'.

Both Lyall and Lord Curzon contributed to Thornton's book. Lyall approvingly observes that Sandeman, 'continually discovered excellent reasons for advancing...and annexing fresh territory'. The ultimate seal of approval was Curzon's support for Sandeman's 'spirit of somewhat greater independence of central Government than a rigid officialism either encourages, or readily condones'. Trainee Political officers reading this book could be left in little doubt that bold action advancing British interests or frontiers was what the Politicals required, whatever their duty might be defined as for public consumption. Such action, even if irregular, would advance an individual officer's career far more than would devotion to rules and routine.[44]

There are numerous examples of the Tibet cadre following Sandeman's examples in the early years of the British presence in Tibet; O'Connor made his name by an unauthorised border crossing, Younghusband almost certainly delayed a telegram long enough to allow the Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, to cross into Tibet, and White and Bailey were notoriously tardy in their paperwork. The early Trade Agents, given the unsettled conditions on the frontier which made for potential expansion, all 'continually discovered excellent reasons for advancing' into the Tibetan hinterland.[45] We can, therefore, conclude that the books read in their youth, or during their training, exerted a direct, powerful influence on the cadre, an influence not emphasised in previous studies of the imperial services.

In addition to reading those texts required to pass departmental examinations, officers naturally read other specialist works on the empire in general and on their specific area of service. One particularly influential book was The Defence of India, a confidential report by Sir Charles Macgregor, Quartermaster-General of the Indian Army, which emphasised the Russian threat to India. This work was a great influence on the 'forward school'. Younghusband for example, studied it closely and it confirmed his own views on the need to combat Russian expansion. [46]

Ambitious cadre officers read as much as they could on Tibet. Williamson's wife recalled his study 'lined with books in which...travellers described their abortive attempts to enter the forbidden city'. Bell listed 76 books on Tibet and its neighbours among his collection. [47] Libraries were started in the Gangtok and Gyantse posts to encourage this reading. Here specialised works on Tibet were kept, along with Blackwoods magazine (in which most articles were by colonial officers), the Statesman, and The Times (which cooperated closely with the Government of India). Many of the books were written by former cadre officers (in particular Sir Charles Bell), and they were closely studied by serving officers.[48] Hopkinson, for example, had all of Bell's books with him when he visited Lhasa in 1945, and had thoroughly absorbed their contents.[49]

Officers thus studied Tibet both by personal choice and as a part of their duty. Many of the texts they read were by other members of the cadre, or their predecessors, the Government of India officers who had crossed into Tibet in the 1890s. It is significant that the succession of officers read many of the same books as their predecessors, for these books reinforced a particular, imperial, view of Tibet. But these books were all products of the Victorian age of imperial expansion. The ideals promoted by these writings were the products of an earlier age, and their message became an increasingly outdated one. Improved communication, increasing centralisation of government, and a changing climate of opinion all acted against the fulfillment of the ideals promoted by these works, yet through these texts the ideals remained with the frontiersmen into a later age.
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Re: Tibet and the British Raj, 1904-47: The Influence of the

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Part 2 of 3


The commonest reason for an ICS or Indian Army officer's seeking to join the Politicals was the desire for a more varied and interesting career. Finance was another factor, particularly for Indian Army officers, who were paid less than the ICS. It also appealed to the ambitious; Bailey 'realised that in these days nothing important happened in India itself. To get on one must learn about the neighbouring countries.'[50]

Entry into the Political Department was theoretically governed by certain rules. However, as Bailey noted, 'All the rules for entering [the] Political Department are made simply to keep out people they don't want.' In practice, the Politicals controlled their own intake of personnel, with selection governed by factors not covered in the written rules of admission. Thus while the specified age limit (under 26 for military entrants), was regularly used to exclude unwanted candidates, Fletcher was accepted when a year over age, and Macdonald was to have been admitted when he was over 50, (although in the event other factors prevented his admission).[51]

What then were the real criteria for admission into the Politicals? In correspondence with Arthur Hopkinson, an official in the Secretariat admitted that, 'we do attach considerable importance to a favourable report from an officer of the Political Department.'[52] Thus O'Connor and Bailey were chosen with backing from Younghusband, Hopkinson had the backing of O'Connor, and so on. Officers with other influential backing, such as Major P.C. Hailey, with a reference from his uncle, the Governor of the Punjab, Sir William Hailey, also stood a good chance of selection. [53]

Lieutenant-Colonel J.L.R. Weir's father, a Colonel in the IMS, solicited the backing of the Indian Foreign Secretary, Sir Louis Dane, for his son's candidature. Dane had once promised Weir that a pay cut 'would be counted unto me for righteousness'. Dane was asked by Colonel Weir IMS, if 'the counting might take the form of the admission of my boy into Political employ?’[54]

Russell (who was the fifth-generation of his family to serve in India), was perhaps idealistic when he wrote in a follow-up letter to his original unanswered application that 'I could perhaps get some influential backing but I would infinitely prefer to get in on my own merits and I believe the latter course would be appreciated.'[55] Entry into the Politicals was largely by patronage, and great weight was given to the claims of officers related to serving or former members of the Department. Those whose families had served in India, and who were born there, were considered better able to adjust to the local environment. The ideal officer sought was thus Indian born, and British educated.[56]

The selection of those raised in the Indian milieu and schooled in the empire's training-grounds in Britain acted as a means of ensuring that selected officers were of a similar mentality to their predecessors. The effects of this nepotism on the efficiency of the Politicals have been favourably judged by scholars.[57] But although the sample group is a small one, there was in the case of the Tibet cadre, little evidence that birth in India was an advantage. Six of the ten cadre officers who were born in India (or Persia), were appointed to the senior post in Sikkim, while six of the remaining 12 officers who were born outside India reached that position.

A distinctive feature of the senior officers in Tibet was the high proportion of them who were not actually members of the Political Department. Seven officers (White, MacDonald, Bell, Ludlow, Sherriff, Norbhu Dhondup, and Pemba Tsering) were not in the Politicals, (although Sherriff had been, but had resigned) while three others (Bailey, O'Connor and Major W.L. Campbell) were admitted retrospectively. This was because the Politicals recruited Tibetan specialists from outside the Department to serve in Tibet.

As a provincial government employee, Macdonald was not eligible for admission to the Department until a change of rules in 1921. Ironically, as the change was designed to encourage Indians into the Politicals, his application was opposed by one Secretariat official on the technicality that he was Anglo-Indian, not Indian. [58] Bell, despite the immense prestige he acquired, was not taken into the Political Department as his specialisation in Tibet would have made it difficult to promote him to positions elsewhere. However, officers with 'attached' status received all the benefits of Political employ, such as language allowance and pension, and identified fully with the aims and ethos of the Department. No difference is apparent between them and officers actually in the Politicals. [59]

In 1906, Secretary of State John Morley objected to the Politicals 'introducing officers from outside the department to fill particular posts', and the practice did decline thereafter, only to become common again in World War Two due to manpower shortages.[60] But the Viceroy always retained the power to choose any officer he wished, and every officer selected for the Politicals was personally approved by him. A vital part of the admission process was lunch at the Viceregal residence, where social abilities were closely monitored. These meetings were not necessarily always formal. Sherriff was posted to Lhasa after a interview with Lord Linlithgow which culminated in a catapult competition out of the Viceregal window.[61]

The 'attached status' officers were also usually interviewed by, or personally known to the Viceroy when they were appointed. This may suggest the Tibetan cadre felt an added sense of involvement and identity from this personal link with the head of the Government of India.

Although a Political officer's selection was ultimately sanctioned by the Viceroy, selection was not immune from interference by Whitehall. The proposed choice of O'Connor as Political Officer Sikkim in 1908 was vetoed by Morley, who was totally opposed to O'Connor's aggressively 'forward' views and his unrestrained expression of them in reports.
O'Connor had to wait another 12 years for a second chance at the post. There was a personal factor in this which may reflect Lord Morley's character as much as it illustrates the extent to which policy differences affected personal relations within the service. Vetoing O 'Connor had been, Morley wrote later, 'a moment of pure wicked joy'.[62]

The personal involvement of serving officers and the Viceroy in the selection of the Tibet cadre was a deliberate policy aimed at ensuring a continuity of attitude and hence of policy. The Government of India considered that the success of the Political Department 'depended to a great extent on the training and wise disposal of a cadre of officers'. [63]

The Tibet cadre themselves emphasised the need to select suitable officers for specialised training in Tibetan affairs. As early as 1905, O'Connor recommended that Bailey relieve him while he was on leave, pointing out the 'extreme importance of training one or more young officers as experts in Tibetan affairs'.[64] The point continued to be made by successive officers. As late as 1948 Hopkinson reported that

For the maintenance and cultivation of friendly relations the first necessity is the careful selection of the agents ... [and] ... Along with this the training of a succession of officer-Cadets[sic] to form a future supply.[65]

In 1912, government agreed that

If we keep Gyantse as a training ground, we should generally have an officer who has sufficient experience of the Border and knowledge of the language to be appointed Political Agent[sic] Sikkim and Bhutan.[66]

This policy was adopted, and all of the officers who were appointed to the Sikkim post after White had previously served as Trade Agent Gyantse.

Because the selection and training of officers for service in Tibet was influenced by those already serving there, the influence of the Tibet cadre's founders, Curzon and Younghusband, remained strong throughout the period of British presence in Tibet. Curzon personally chose Younghusband to lead the Tibet Mission in 1903-04, knowing that he would represent the interests of his patron. Younghusband in turn selected O'Connor and Bailey for service in Tibet. Thus even after Curzon's departure from India, officers who had supported, and benefited by, his policies, remained in Tibet. They in turn selected officers who would continue the policies they supported.[67]

Sir Charles Bell represented a slightly different, but none the less 'forward', line of succession. O'Connor was the choice of the 'forward school' to succeed White as Political Officer Sikkim in 1908, and Younghusband seems to have had doubts as to Bell's suitability for the post. However Bell soon gained the support of Curzon and Younghusband, for their initial differences were over means, not aims. (This can be most clearly seen in their combined efforts to attain a British representative at Lhasa, detailed in Chapter Five). Bell became the model officer for the Tibet cadre, inspiring future officers who followed his aims and methods, as will be seen.


Once an officer was accepted into the Political Department the Secretariat decided his postings. But the officers had a chance to express their preferences during their selection interview and, after their initial apprenticeship, their preferences were solicited by the Secretariat, who tried to fit them into posts they favoured. Officers tended to concentrate their careers either in the Indian Princely States, or in frontier and consulate work, although there was no formal barrier to movement between the two sections. 'Lean and keen for the frontier, fat and good natured men for the states' was the popular maxim. [68]

But suitability for the frontier was not enough to ensure that an officer would be suitable for the Tibet cadre. Although manpower shortages elsewhere meant that Frederick Mainprice’s career in Tibet was a brief one, he was the perfect example of the 'lean and keen' frontier officer, efficient and hard-working, who nonetheless failed to fit the specific requirements of the Tibet cadre. Mainprice was of a new generation, he had driven overland to India in 1939 to join the ICS, but his sense of duty and moral standards reflected the ideal of an earlier age. Taking over at Gyantse after an unsettled period, he reorganised the local staff, several of whom were dismissed for corruption and inefficiency, and had the Agency cleaned and painted. Finding the system whereby presents received in the Toshakhana were priced 'at less than half their actual market value and are usually sold to the officers of the Agency', 'very immoral', he raised the valuation to 75 per cent.[69]

Toshakhana is a word of Persian or Sanskrit origin that literally translates into "treasure-house". In India, a toshakhana is a place where princes store "gifts and emblems of honor that they received for their posterity ... an archive of objects whose origin and receipt embodied his status and honor"

Under British colonial rule, the officials of East India Company were not allowed to accept diplomatic gifts, often weapons or jewels known as khilat, from Indian or Middle Eastern rulers and their subjects. When procedure required that the officials received such a khilat, the official would deposit it in the Company's treasury (toshakhana). The objects were later used for exchange gifts with other rulers, when it was deemed appropriate to enter an exchange of khilat.[4]

-- Toshakhana, by Wikipedia

But while his performance was certainly up to the Political Department's ideal, Mainprice was less than impressed by the Tibetans and their government (as will be seen in Chapter Six). An empathy with the Tibetans was a required characteristic of successful officers of the Tibet cadre, and, as he apparently lacked this, Mainprice's services were used elsewhere.

Many Political officers served a term in the Secretariat during their training. There they could arrange their own postings, and two officers, Gould and Major Ken Saker, volunteered to serve in Tibet when a vacancy arose there during their term at headquarters.[70] In the Secretariat, the officers learnt how to write reports in the concise, detached style favoured by government. More importantly they learned 'how to fight official battles'.[71]

Early cadre officers lacked this political skill, a weakness which had significant effects on O'Connor's career, and hence the policies he favoured. O'Connor regularly upset the Secretariat with his intemperate writings. His more important reports were forwarded to Secretary of State Morley, as he was reminded after describing one decision as 'an abject lesson to all observers on the feebleness of our policy'. Although he was allowed to rewrite that particular report, O'Connor's outspokenness was, as noted, a major factor in Morley's vetoing his promotion to Political Officer Sikkim. [72]

Ian Copland has argued, in the Indian context, that Political officers were weak in administrative skills, and this was true, at least of the early cadre officers. White, for example, took four months to pass one report from Gyantse to his government. [73] But the Tibet cadre placed more emphasis on the importance of political skills, after early failures in this area. Younghusband considered that lack of such skills had prevented the 'forward school' plan to annex the Chumbi Valley from coming to fruition. 'Perhaps we might still have been in the Chumbi Valley if I had known better how to handle Government', he wrote, and he urged Bailey to learn to present a case to government 'in such a way as to ruffle as few as possible of their prejudices and enlist as many as possible of their sympathies'. [74]

Bell, as will be shown in Chapters Four and Five, was a master of political infighting, and his successors followed his lead. Time in the Secretariat taught Gould that 'there was usually somebody...whose opinion was liable to be decisive in a particular matter'. Successful officers learnt how to influence these decision makers, knowing that, if their recommendations were 'reasonable, and fought for until they were granted...each point gained made it easier to win the next one'.[75] This understanding of the importance of political skills was to be an important weapon in the Tibet cadre's struggles to influence policy.


Copland has also argued that the Government of India, fearing its officers would become too partial to their host states, posted its officers to new positions too frequently. This 'usually had a deleterious effect on the influence exerted by government in the states concerned'. Similarly Margaret Ewing has concluded that, in the ICS, postings were too frequent, and this resulted in too much power resting in the hands of local subordinates. [76]

As will be seen in Chapter Six, some British 'other ranks' spent most of their careers in Tibet, but the longest tenures in Political Department posts in Tibet were terms served by the local-born officers Macdonald and Norbhu Dhondup, and officers attached to the Political Department, such as White and Bell. This was because the career structure of the Political Department required that its officers were regularly relocated to new postings. The longest term served by a member of the Politicals was Gould's term at Sikkim from 1935-45, which was due to wartime shortages of manpower. [77]

There were advantages to long postings in one state. Expertise, particularly in language, naturally increased, and an officer's personal relations with local peoples generally improved with time. The Tibetans disliked frequent changes of British personnel as they attached a great deal of significance to their relations with individual British officers, continuing to seek their advice after they retired. An example of this came in 1910, when the Panchen Lama sought to contact O'Connor, then serving in Mashad. The Lama sent a small group of men to Persia, bearing bags of gold dust and a letter requesting O'Connor's assistance in obtaining British aid. Despite speaking only Tibetan, they managed to reach Southern Persia before being repatriated by the British consul, with assurances that their message would be forwarded to O'Connor.[78]

There were four main arguments against lengthy terms of service in Tibet. A general staleness could reduce an officer's effectiveness, while frequent postings 'removed the temptation of corruption'. [79] There was also a danger that the long-serving officer would form too close an attachment to the state to function with the necessary detachment. Most important, however, was the officer's own concern with career opportunities; they sought transfers to gain promotion.

Ultimately the policy adopted was one of compromise. Politicals were able to specialise, without fear of being pigeonholed into a single posting. There were always local experts to advise an officer and to provide continuity at a post, and the officers made their successors aware of the reliability, or otherwise, of these local experts, with their advice being perceived accordingly.[81] Copland is correct in perceiving a loss of influence due to frequent postings -- this was inevitable -- but he ignores the human factor, that individuals sought career advancement through a variety of postings, and only those individuals with a particular attachment to a place sought to remain there for long periods. Thus the lengthy periods served in Tibet by Bell, Macdonald, Gould and Richardson are themselves indicators of these officers' attachment to service there.


A 'generalist' tradition, developed from the 'amateur ideal' inculcated in the public schools, has been seen as an important part of the imperial ethos, but of the 22 Tibet cadre officers, 14 or 15 might be described as Tibetan specialists. (The exceptions are those post-1927 Gyantse Trade Agents who served single terms in Tibet, with the possible exception of Major Ken Saker). While O'Connor, Campbell, Saker and Weir all acquired expertise in other areas in addition to Tibet, and White is now more associated with Sikkim, this still means that at least half of the Tibetan cadre were specialists.

This supports previous findings that by the late 19th century an expert knowledge of local cultures and conditions was seen as essential for decision-making by government.[82] 'Generalists', such as Weir, were still valued in the 20th century, but the increasing realisation that policies had differing effects in different regions meant that the Government of India needed its 'men on the spot' to become experts in the particular culture in which they operated.

This need for expertise led to another distinguishing characteristic of the Tibet cadre. Those officers who studied the Tibetan language, culture and customs, progressed beyond the usual working knowledge acquired by Politicals in any state, to produce genuine scholarship. Most of those who reached the position of Political Officer Sikkim, or Head of Mission Lhasa, may be seen as distinguished by this quality. While later research has naturally reduced the value of some of their earlier works, their writings remain essential references today. In particular, Richardson and Bell established them selves as Tibetologists.
This scholarly character manifested in various other ways -- with Bell a taste for classical Greek writings (Gould and Hopkinson also read the New Testament in Greek.) Only Williamson and Hopkinson, who died before they could record their knowledge, and Weir, 'a scholar’ but perhaps too modest to publish, failed to leave a record for the future.[83]

This finding provides a contrast with that of Copland, who criticised the Politicals as 'a byword for intellectual mediocrity'. However, other studies of the ICS, whose officers made up one third of the Political's intake, have concluded that its officers were intellectuals.[84] The Indian Army Politicals may have had a less well-developed intellect, but, while intellectual ability is not recorded as being high on the list of the Political Department's requirements, Copland's judgment cannot be applied to the Tibet cadre.

Along with scholarship, another quality emerges. O'Connor was described as 'having a touch of the recluse', [85] and it appears that this quality can be ascribed to a number of the cadre, particularly in their early, bachelor years. Service in the Politicals naturally appealed to those attracted to the more remote locations. While by education and background well-trained in contemporary social skills, many officers were happiest with the simplicity of life in the wide-open spaces of Central Asia. This is most obvious in the case of Ludlow, who clearly favoured 'the stony bridle path in preference to the tarred road'. After his first posting as a schoolteacher in Gyantse in 1923-26, he dreaded 'the hurry and hustle of the west after the hinterlands of Tibet'. His second posting there was in 1942 as Head of Mission Lhasa, but that involved too much socialising for his taste, and he was not unhappy to leave. [86]

Williamson and Sherriff, who both served in the Kashgar Consulate, the most remote posting of the Government of India, were others who clearly had 'a touch of the recluse', and this quality emerges, clearly or implicitly, in most of the cadre officers. A fondness for separation from western society, and in some cases any society, was a significant element of their mentality, and one which predisposed them to the isolation of Tibet. [87]


We have noted that the Political Department solicited officer's posting preferences. While there can be no doubt that the officers chosen from outside the Politicals wanted to serve in Tibet,[88] a regular Political officer’s preferences might lie elsewhere. Macdonald recalled that

I have known men posted to the Agencies who did nothing but bemoan their luck in being stationed in such an out-of-the-way place, and who passed most of their time devising some scheme which would obtain them a transfer. Others did all they could to get an extension of their term of duty.[89]

As MacDonald's Political contemporaries had all sought service in Tibet, his comments must relate to escort and technical personnel, rather than Politicals. Even then the number of those who did not appreciate the posting was probably small. Several technical staff in MacDonald's time remained in Tibet for long periods, and later Escort Commanders such as Lieutenant-Colonel D.A.Walters and Captain Allen Robins greatly enjoyed Tibetan service. Captain Robert Grist was so keen to stay that he had Gyantse monks perform (unsuccessful) ceremonies aimed at ensuring that his term would be extended. While a sense of adventure may have initially attracted many of the technical staff to Tibet, it appears that the Tibet cadre, or the Tibetan environment, instilled an enthusiasm for Tibet in most of the men who served there. [90]

Several letters indicating Political officers' postings preferences are on file in the National Archives of India. Captain D.R. Smith, whose Tibetan career was to be ruined by his failure to adapt to the altitude, had specifically asked for Gyantse. Williamson, who was 'keenly interested in Central Asia and Tibet', Bailey, and Gould (in 1912), all sought a post in Tibet. Gould asked for 'any frontier' if no Tibet post was available, but by 1931 he showed more concern with career advancement (although at that time Weir and Williamson appeared to have a monopoly on the Gangtok post), wanting a post which would 'tend to qualify me for...a senior post either in Baluchistan or the Indian States'.[91]

Career prospects were an important factor in a Political officer's preferences. For example Weir accepted the post of Political Officer Sikkim, only 'on the understanding that by doing so I would not forfeit my chances of getting a Residency'.[92] Another example is the case of Hopkinson who, in 1928, was getting married, and sought a post such as Mysore or Kashmir, suitable for a couple. But he recalled how happy he had been in his postings in Chitral and Gyantse, and noted how he hoped with seniority to aspire to Gangtok or Kabul.[93]

Two officers whose careers in Tibet were less than successful, Lieutenant-Colonels H.G. Rivett-Carnac and M.C. Sinclair, favoured service in the Indian states, while two who were to find continued service in Tibet not to their liking. Russell and Major Keith Battye favoured the Persian Gulf and Baluchistan respectively. This suggests that officers in Tibet were more successful if they wanted to serve there, and that officers who favoured service in the Indian States were less likely to succeed on the frontier.

The Tibet cadre themselves certainly believed that officers suited to service in the Indian Princely States would not necessarily succeed in Tibet. Bailey's original opinion of Bell was that 'he would possibly be alright in an Indian district but is not a man for the frontier'. Bell himself wrote that 'A man, efficient in administrative work in India...is not always the best for Tibet', and Hopkinson repeated this 'truism uttered by Bell' in his final report on Tibet. [94]

The cadre therefore drew a distinction between service in India and service in Tibet, which was consistent with their understanding both of the frontier as a zone requiring particular personal qualities from those who served there, and of Tibet as a unit separate from its surrounding states. Administration in India was associated with bureaucracy, service on the frontier meant freedom of action, and could not, they believed, be bound by 'rules and regulations framed to meet...Indian conditions'. If the cadre were to influence the Tibetans they needed officers capable of 'getting on well' with them; officers with 'sympathy' for the Tibetans.[95]

There was, however, a significant element of expediency in postings to Tibet. While this was particularly the case with Agency supporting staff, the Politicals also faced problems with wartime shortages of men, officers going on leave, getting married, falling ill, or being deputed on special missions, such as Bailey's survey mission in Assam in 1913, which precluded his return to Gyantse. [96] Last-minute changes of posting were commonplace. Richardson was sent to Lhasa instead of Kashgar in 1945, while Mainprice was diverted from Gangtok to Lohit (Assam) ten days after his first appointment as Trade Agent Gyantse in 1943.[97]

Vacancies were often filled in the early years by doubling up control of the Gyantse and Yatung Agencies, and between 1918 and 1936 they were under joint command. Due to the distance between them, this inevitably led to one or other position being neglected, although it was popular with the Agents concerned as, in addition to increased prestige with the Tibetans and Chinese, they received 300 rupees a month extra pay.[98] A more successful alternative seems to have been appointing either the Medical Officer (as was done in 1909 and 1926), or the Escort Commander (in 1929 and on 6 occasions in the 1940s), as Acting Trade Agent Gyantse.

Vacancies were usually filled by officers recommended by the Political Officer Sikkim, whose final approval was sought for every officer posted to Tibet. [99] Thus just as a recommendation from a Political was virtually a requirement to enter the Department, so too did service in Tibet usually require a 'patron'. There are indications that several officers sought a posting in Tibet without success due to lack of support from within the Tibetan cadre. [100]

While the lower postings were, to an extent, dependent on availability and chance, careful consideration was given to the appointment of the Political Officer Sikkim, with officers earmarked for that position some time in advance. For career-minded officers with an interest in Tibet, but an eye on their pension, the Sikkim post offered a stepping stone to a higher position, and candidates such as Williamson actively sought the appointment.[101]

On occasion, cadre officers actively co-operated to ensure that a vacancy was filled by an officer of their choice. For example in 1921, O'Connor took over briefly as Political Officer Sikkim while awaiting a posting as British Envoy to the Court of Nepal. O'Connor advised Bailey of his plans, suggesting he apply for the Sikkim post. Bailey who was on leave, then advised the Government of India that he wanted to be posted to Sikkim on his return, failing which he wanted to extend his leave until the position was vacant. O'Connor was then forced to cut short his stay in Gangtok to return to England due to his mother's illness, and Macdonald relieved for three months as Political Officer Sikkim, (in addition to his holding the posts of Trade Agent at both Yatung and Gyantse). Although Foreign Secretary J.B. Wood considered he was 'somewhat junior for the post', Bailey was the candidate most experienced in Tibetan affairs, and he was appointed. When the Kathmandhu incumbent retired, O'Connor's complicated plan succeeded and he returned to take over there in October 1921.[102]


Among the 35 officers who served at Gangtok, Lhasa and Gyantse, there were a number who failed to suit the requirements of the Tibet cadre. It is instructive to examine the reasons why some officers failed to make a success of their careers there, in order to show qualities which were possessed by the successful. Firstly they had to be physically fit. After Smith was found medically unfit for service at altitude, medical examinations were introduced before an officer was posted to Tibet. Despite this a Major Laughton fell ill at Gangtok en route to Tibet in 1940, and his replacement, Sinclair, also suffered badly from altitude and returned early to India.[103]

Only one of the Sikkim Political Officers can be definitely adjudged a failure. Even in recent publications White's services in Sikkim are lauded, but this reputation was largely created by his own 'extremely self-laudatory' account of his time there.[104] White had been originally appointed to Sikkim when it was of only minor importance, and Curzon was initially attracted by White's 'forward' views on Tibet. But when the region gained prominence during the Curzon Viceroyalty, White's faults soon became apparent, and, although he was the obvious candidate to lead a mission to Lhasa, Curzon preferred Younghusband.

White was plainly out of his depth in Tibetan affairs, and unable to relate to the Tibetans. (He was also responsible for the policy of importing Nepalese labour into Sikkim and Bhutan, with serious consequences apparent today.) By the time of the Younghusband expedition, White's opinions were largely disregarded by his government, who corresponded directly with the highly-rated O'Connor in Gyantse. White managed to avoid being dismissed despite being censured five times between 1904 and 1908. The most serious of these matters concerned White's overpaying himself 500 rupees a month in 1904-06, but despite his government's doubts as to his 'bona fides' they were careful to word their refusal to extend his term 'so as not to hurt his feelings', apparently in consideration of his long service in an isolated post.[105]

There were several failures among the Gyantse Trade Agents. Captain D.G. Thornburgh was one officer found 'quite unsuited to the job', apparently due to his failure to relate to the Tibetans, while Rivett-Carnac was more concerned to be with his wife and young children in India than with service in Tibet. He was described privately by Weir as 'utterly useless' and 'more of an uxorious horticulturalist than a working political officer'. After Rivett-Carnac was transferred, the collapse of a private bank established in Gyantse with Government of India assistance revealed that he had borrowed 3,000 rupees from the bank and made no attempt to repay it. To make matters worse, he had previously filed a report clearing the bank of allegations of cheating the government. When it collapsed, the allegations were shown to be true. Rivett-Carnac's failures in Tibet were followed by very unfavourable reports from his subsequent postings, and, when further unpaid debts were revealed, he was forced to retire.[106]

Fletcher, though certainly the 'lean and keen' type favoured for the frontier, fell out with local Tibetan officials over hunting and fishing trips on which he demanded ula, the free transport to which Tibetan officials and guests on official duties were entitled. [107] Others, such as Russell, simply found life in Tibet was not to their taste, or regarded it as just another, albeit interesting, posting in a long career. They had no enthusiasm for studying Tibet, and hence for them it could be 'excessively tedious'.[108]

Mainprice reported that Gould was pleased to have an ICS trained officer at Gyantse after the three previous ex-Army Politicals had failed to make a success of the post. While a tension between ex-ICS Politicals and those taken from the Indian Army has been noted by many previous studies, this is the only reference I have seen to it in the Tibetan context. As Gould got on well with Escort Commander Robins, the subsequent Acting Trade Agent in 1945-46, it appears any such prejudice was based more on personal relations than wider bias. However it is apparent that the failures were all, with the exception of White, ex-Indian Army Politicals, and we may provisionally suggest that some types of character suited for military employ were unsuited to Tibet.[109]

Thus from those officers who failed to satisfy the requirements of the Tibet cadre, we can see several factors which were required of successful members. An officer such as Rivett-Carnac falling by the wayside is not, in itself, significant, other than in showing that the system quietly removed its failures. More important was his desire to be with his family; successful officers, and their wives, always put duty first. The extreme example of this being Williamson, who, as will be seen in Chapter Five, knew that his last journey to Lhasa posed a serious risk to his health, but chose to go, a decision his wife accepted. [110] Ability to live at high altitude was essential, and so too was the ability to get on well with Tibetans of all classes. Obviously an interest in the country assisted in gaining this empathy, and those without that interest, or who found Tibetan society restricting, did not succeed.


An indicator of the successful cadre officers' deep involvement in their role was their inability to detach themselves from Tibetan affairs after their departure. Most of the Sikkim Political Officers either sought to return to the frontier in some capacity, or devoted a significant part of their retirement to the Tibetan cause.

Bell and MacDonald both remained closely involved in Tibetan affairs. MacDonald made several attempts in the 1930s and '40s to return to Tibet in an official capacity, and attempted to persuade Bell to return and lead another mission to Lhasa. MacDonald was involved in a number of business enterprises on the frontier, and his Kalimpong hotel was a centre of Tibetan affairs there. [111]

O'Connor frequently gave advice on Tibetan matters to both the Tibetan and British Governments, and, after attempting a new career in business, worked as tour guide on the frontier. Bailey, posted to a Central Indian Princely State after leaving Sikkim, attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the Political Department to return him to the frontier. Gould extended his term of service on the frontier until he was forced to retire on medical grounds, and he and Richardson both supported the Tibetan cause in retirement. The lure of Tibet also affected a number of those who served there in lesser capacities, Escort Officers, Captain Perry and Captain Parker, and Telegraph Sergeants Lee and Martin were among those who applied to live in Tibet.[112]

These officers' continuing involvement in Tibetan affairs created problems for their successors. Most handovers in the Gangtok Residency were accompanied by personal difficulties between the officers concerned (or their wives), although with time the successors came to realise 'how it nearly broke your heart to leave Sikkim', and how there were 'foolish misunderstandings on both sides'.[113]

Bell posed a big problem for his successors. As will be seen in Chapter Seven, in retirement he pursued an independent line, refusing to submit his last three books for censorship or to allow the government to read his correspondence with the Dalai Lama. He continued to advise the Tibetans, and his successors naturally feared that with Bell's high status in Lhasa his advice was more valued than their own. Such was the prestige Bell acquired that the Tibetans continued to view him as having great influence at the highest levels of British policy making. This view was consistent with their own political system, in which retirement from government service did not necessarily mean the end of an individual's influence. [114]

Weir was especially worried when Bell planned a visit to Tibet in 1932, fearing that if Bell was in Lhasa he, or any any other Political Officer, would be 'considered [a] nonentity'. When Williamson was preparing to visit Lhasa in 1935, Foreign Secretary Olaf Caroe advised him to make it clear to the Tibetans that Bell no longer had any official status. Williamson requested a statement to this effect in writing from the Government of India, fearing that otherwise the Tibetans would not believe him.[115]


Robert Ford, who served as a Radio Officer in Lhasa and Eastern Tibet before being captured by the invading Chinese in 1950, agreed that by selecting and training suitable successors in their own likeness, the Tibet cadre was creating a 'mould', a distinctive type of officer who served in Tibet. The distinction was recognised at the time. Some thought 'they've all got something odd about them', while Ford's 'insider' view was that 'they've all got something special about them'.[116]

Ford saw a subdivision into 'military animals' and 'political animals', with the implication that the latter were more involved with Tibet, and hence more successful there. As he noted, however, the distinction cannot be applied strictly in military versus civil terms. Sherriff, Bailey, and to an extent O'Connor, although from military backgrounds, were, like Gould and Hopkinson, 'in the mould'.[117]

Certainly many of the military Politicals, Escort Commanders, and particularly the Medical Officers, were keenly interested in Tibet. Officers like Saker, Robins, Kennedy and Major J. Guthrie were sympathetic to the Tibetans' cause, and enjoyed their time in Tibet. They too felt, like Mrs Saker, who spent more time in Gyantse than any other European woman, that 'it was special, a great experience...a privilege to be there'. But they had careers which had to develop elsewhere, and so their involvement was more limited, whereas those 'in the mould' devoted much of their life to Tibet. [118]

This is not to suggest that the officers themselves necessarily got on personally. While O'Connor and Bailey, or Ludlow and Sherriff, were obviously close friends, there were actually few opportunities for officers to meet, and relations were often 'fairly superficial'. [119] They appear to have been judged by their fellow officers mainly on the basis of their reputation, and the views they expressed in their reports.

There was certainly ill-feeling between some individuals on occasions. Altitude contributed to shortness of temper, and those stationed together in isolated posts such as Lhasa and Gyantse could find 'pressures built up and nerves became frayed'.[120] Obvious problems could arise when an officer played host to his superior, the Political Officer Sikkim, for long periods. [121] But evidence of such ill-feeling does not appear in the published works of the Politicals, for it was an unwritten part of their code, deriving from the public school code of 'no snitching', that such disputes were not aired in public. This is consistent with the finding that these types of memoirs

are quintessentially about community solidarity. The authors ignore or pass over issues of dissension and conflict while emphasising individual attributes such as strength, hard work, self-reliance, humour and communal attributes. [122]

Thus the only specific published remarks over personal differences are those by a female observer, Williamson’s widow, although there are frequent references to ill-feeling in diaries or personal correspondence. [123]

For those 'in the mould', however, such differences were of little consequence in the long term, and service in Tibet had special attractions apart from the unique culture and environment. There were none of the communal troubles increasingly common in India, no caste barriers to contact with the local people, and great independence for the officers.[124] Those 'in the mould' whether posted to Tibet by choice or circumstance, found it congenial, immersed themselves in various aspects of its culture, and acquired an expertise which they communicated through their later publications.[125]


The encounter between Britain and Tibet tended to be expressed in mythological terms, due to its location outside of normal British imperial codes of meaning. Just as the frontiers of India were the setting for much of India's indigenous mythology, so they were the setting for a powerful mythology of empire expressed in novels such as Kipling's Kim and Political Department textbooks such as Thornton's Sir Robert Sandeman. Myth and legend generally require a placement outside normal constraints of time and space. Therefore, it was no coincidence that the frontier, the zone with the weakest area of definition and administration, was the strongest realm of Indian indigenous and imperial myth. Within British imperial society, the men who served on the frontiers became part of a mythology of empire which was brought out in newspapers and imperial memoirs, and in popular books and magazines ('Boys Own Paper', for example). These imperial frontier legends can be used as a historical source, because they provide a valuable perspective on the understanding of the frontiersman's experience by his society, and tell us much about the character of these officers, their sense of place, identity, and the ethos in which they functioned. [126]

The frontiersman of legend was portrayed as strong and self-reliant, courageous, upright and noble; a pioneer of European civilisation. He gained the trust and respect of the 'unruly' indigenous peoples, and, through individual initiative and friendship with individuals or elements of the local society, imposed (whether through military or diplomatic action) the British concept of good order and civilisation, to the greater benefit of all. His efforts almost invariably resulted in the expansion of British imperial authority. These qualities of the frontiersman of legend thus mirror the qualities sought in recruits to the Political Department. The ideal was the legend.

The heroes in this discourse, officers such as Lugard, Rhodes and Sandeman, took on legendary status, and there were also martyrs, such as General Gordon and Captain Cavignari. As Peter Bishop states, 'Tales of explorers’ hardships and deaths were utterly essential for the Victorian British...imaginative associations with the region.'[127] In India, this imperial mythology developed most strongly on the North-West Frontier in the 19th century, but it included other mythical and legendary elements of regional traditions, and service traditions such as those concerning the Indian Politicals. There was a broad similarity among the various Indian regional and service traditions, with each tradition based on the service's fundamental purpose, upon which variations were developed. The Tibet cadre sought to exclude Russian and Chinese influence from India, whereas the Punjab tradition, as L.D. Wurgaft has shown, was based on a desire 'to create and preserve a stable rural base'.[128]

Wurgaff's evocation of the 'Punjab style' is very similar to the ethos of the Tibet cadre, in that it was characterised by an idealised concept of

heroic action, the exercise of unlimited power... far from the red tape of settled areas...an ideology of action and independence as the primary instruments of imperial control'. [129]

Cadre officers had absorbed imperial frontier legends in their youth, through magazines such as Boys Own Paper, Magnet or Gem, in which 'it is always taken for granted that adventures only happen at the ends of the earth'.[130] As we have seen in the case of Bailey, those officers with family connections to India also absorbed the imperial ethos, with its inherent heroic mythology, at home. The cadre were thus predisposed to service in the frontier zone that was the setting for the heroes of empire.

In the 20th century, when the mythology of empire spread to embrace the new Tibetan frontier, the element of competition with Russia meant that the Tibet cadre were drawn into the mythology of the "Great Game", the struggle between Russian and British agents for control of Central Asia and the passes into India. The cadre legends were most clearly located in that context, and were given enhanced mystique by association with the Tibet of mystical renown.

The Tibet cadre's 'founding fathers', Curzon and Younghusband, were role models for would-be 'Great Gamers'. They were both legendary figures in the empire following their 19th century exploits in Russian and Chinese Central Asia, and Younghusband was already a famous 'Great Gamer' when he led the mission to Lhasa. His proteges, O'Connor and Bailey (as will be seen in Chapter Four), saw their role as continuing the traditions which Younghusband established.[131]

The cadre officer's placement in legend may also be seen to derive from their career's resemblance to a primary archetypal myth; 'the myth of the return'. In this myth, the hero's quest takes him out of his own society, and, with the assistance of an intermediary, into another culture. This hero then returns to his own society, having gained an object, which may be seen as a symbol of the knowledge gained through 'crossing over' and 'returning' (a concept examined in more detail in Chapter Eight).[132] Those officers who 'crossed over' to Tibetan society and who 'returned' to their own could be perceived in those mythological terms.

The Tibet cadre were imperial administrators, schooled in the ideals of positivist enquiry, and they took a pragmatic approach to their duty, as will be seen. Ultimately they placed their duty to protect the security of India's northern border, and serve the interests of the Government of India, above any consideration for the Tibetans. To describe them as mystics would be an obvious misconception. But Younghusband established an ethos in which a place in imperial mythology was a part of the cadre's tradition and prestige, and an interest in the metaphysical was regarded as being an acceptable indication of intellect and vision.

In the concluding pages of his book India and Tibet, Younghusband attributes the source of the British 'forward' policy in Tibet, not to individual, geo-political, or economic causes, but to a 'great world-force, energizing through Nature'. Younghusband explains this "ubiquitous spirituality" at some length, as being the force which guides the affairs of men, and which had guided the British to Tibet. Characteristically, he concluded that this force in the Tibetan sphere would be best served by a British Agent in Lhasa. But Younghusband provided a precedent for his successors to exist in collusion with, not opposition to, Tibet's mystical image.[133]

The extent to which the cadre were drawn into the Tibetan spiritual milieu in which they were located, provides another example of the extent to which the imperial nations' 'men on the spot' were influenced by the host society. Long periods living in a spiritually-orientated society had its effect. Just as imperial legends became a part of the cadre officer's self-image, so too did an inclination to spiritual speculation become acceptable.
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