Historical Map of Tibet III: The Western Extent of the Manchu Empire, [ca 1800]

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Copyright 1998-2005, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW) http://www.tew.org/geography/historical.map3.html


Historical Map of Tibet III:

The Western Extent of the Manchu Empire, [CA 1800]

When the Manchus invaded China and established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) they established a new frontier policy regarding Tibet and especially, the mountainous borderland of western Kham and Amdo. Being themselves a people with a nomadic past, the Manchu's recognized that the Tibetan and Mongolian people might pose a threat to their empire, based at the time on the great population centers of eastern agrarian China. Though the expansion of the Manchu territorial administration into Tibetan lands was still limited to the main avenues of economic exchange that the Ming had established on a limited scale, several capable emperors ruled under the period known as the High Qing. It was during this time that the Manchus manage to place officials further along the great caravan routes between Tibet and China than ever before. Despite this increase presence, after about 1800 , this trade-route system was kept operational mainly due to the continuing support of local Tibetan officials and chieftains.

Four levels of Chinese territorial administration existed below the imperial capital, a system which left its stamp in the eastern regions of Amdo and Kham. First, a province was under a governor, or governor-generalship. The next level consisted of a circuit or dao. Prefects, county magistrates and other officials at the next lower levels were directly accountable to the civil intendant for a wide range of civil and military affairs. Also the circuit intendant was primarily responsible for diplomatic relations with foreigners. A logical argument may be made that the eastern Tibet communities, not included within the range of the circuit intendantís inspection, were independent of Chinese control.

Within this administrative framework, agricultural colonies were founded in parts of the Min and Dadu river valleys during the eighteenth century. Just to the west of Lifan Ting, on the upper reaches of the Min watershed five colonies (tun) were founded in 1757. The tin-tian, or ³colony-field² system, had been utilized by the Chinese empire for over two millennia as a way to establish self-sufficient Han Chinese communities in remote border regions. Although surrounding local people and their daily lifeways were not controlled by the colonies, the system did act to lessen the chances of strong local chieftains establishing themselves as a threat to China’s border and economic activities.

This design would appear to have succeeded in the upper Dadu River valley, in the Tibetan region of Gyarong, where five more colonies were founded between 1776 and 1779. The colonist originally consisted of Chinese soldiers sent into the region to fight several local Tibetan kings, and who were subsequently stranded there by the Manchu court. As years passed by without contact, these soldiers married local women and settled down to a life of farming. The subprefect yamen of Mongong was located at one of the five colonies. Despite Mongong's inclusion in the inspection route of a circuit intendant, the subprefect existed in reality as a island, or rather five little islands, of Chinese control surrounded by native Tibetan regions, whose socio-political structures continued to be based in numerous small Tibetan Buddhist gompa up to the 1950's, including at Muge and Sertso. Manchu administrative hegemony in eastern Tibet linked these island of Chinese control to the courier route form Sichuan to Lhasa, itself established in the 18th Century. Known as the ³Gua Lam², or China Road, this route ran from the subprefect of Daijanlu (Tibetan Darsedo) west to Lhasa, via Lithang and Bathang. Though Chinese garrisons were located at nine points along the route (Edgar 1930), these small detachments of soldiers were unarmed, had no authority over local Tibetans, and were, by the late nineteenth century, paid exclusively in tea from the Tibet-China tea trade. (Rockhill 1894). In fact , the Tibetan town of Dartsedo where the sub-prefect yamen of Daijialu was located, also served simultaneously as the seat of the local Tibetan kings of Chagla, where they had a palace. An annual sum from the Daijialu customs were even paid to the Dalai Lama (Fletcher 1978).

The third region of isolated and limited Chinese administration stretched along the borderlands between southern Kham and the Chinese province of Yunan. Due to the great demand for tea in Tibet, a southern branch of the Gya Lam facilitated the importation of tea from Yunan into Tibet. In the prefecture of Lijiang the Manchus established two sub-prefectures during the 1700's along the main caravan route- Weixi located in the valley of Dza Chu (Mekong River) and in Zhongdian, located in the valley of the Dri Chu (Yangtze River).

Further evidence of the historically enduring character of eastern Tibetan regions, and how they are considered part of Tibet by the Tibetan people, may be seen in the formal boundary claims of the Tibetan state during the Simla Conference. Organized and conducted by the British Indian Government in 1913-1914, the Simla conference was primarily concerned with keeping Tibet as a de facto buffer state between China and India after the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1911. Considerable effort was expended by the British to get the Tibetan and Chinese sides to agree upon a mutual boundary. In the end, however, the Chinese delegate Chen Yifan, only initial a text of the tripartite convention, which was immediately repudiated by the Chinese Republic of President Yuan-Shih-Kai. Britain and Tibet were left with no other alternative but to proceed without Chinese participation. Sir H. MacMahon, president of the Simla Conference, along with Tibetanís representative, Lonchen Shatra, signed a joint Anglo-Tibetan Declaration which acknowledge the draft Convention to be binding on the two governments. Moreover the British Government had secured the freedom of direct communication with the Tibetan Government.

The territory claimed by the Tibetan side was listed in terms of 36 regions, including the eastern region of Tsongkha and Tewo in northeast Amdo and Gyarong, in eastern Kham, shown on the maps presented here. The first proposal which MacMahon proffered for the frontier of the Tibet bordered on the east side of Kham at Darsedo, included the eastern region of Gyarong and extended as far north as Tso Ngonpo (the Blue Lake), and the Jhilan mountains of northeast Amdo. As recently as the 20th Century, then the western nations considered Tibet as a country which covered virtually all the entire Tibet Plateau.

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