The Tibet Journal
Winter 2003 Vol. XXVIII no. 4

Tibet and the British Raj
PLAIN version
[Forward] [Articles] [Review Article] [Book Reviews] [Contributors]

Forward [Introduction by Alex McKay]

"Why is there no subaltern studies for Tibet?," Peter H. Hansen p. 7

"Satyagraha in Tibet: toward a Gandhian solution?," Jane Ardley, p. 23

"From Simla to Rongbatsa: The British and the "Modern" Boundaries of Tibet," Carole McGranahan, p. 39

"19th century British expansion on the Indo-Tibetan Frontier: A Forward Perspective," Alex McKay, p. 61

"Sonam Wangfel Laden La-Tibet 1924 and 1930," Deki & Nicholas Rhodes, p. 77

"Western and Japanese Visitors to Lhasa: 1900-1950," James Cooper, p. 91

Review Article
inKhas dbang dGe 'dun chos 'phel gyi gsar rnyed gsung rtsom by rDo rje rgyal, reviewed by
Toni Huber, p. 95

China's Tibet Policy by Dawa Norbu, reviewed by
Warren W. Smith, p. 101

Book Reviews

The Ornament of Liberation: The Wish-Fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings by Gampopa, translated po Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche, reviewed by
Francis V. Tiso, p. 115

The Currency of Tibet, A Sourcebook for the Study of Coins Tibetan, Paper Money and other Forms of Currency by Wolfgang Bertsch, reviewed by
Nicholas Rhodes, p. 117

The Five Wisdom Energies by Irini Rockwell, reviewed by
Todd Gibson, p. 119

Kailash, Map of the Holiest Mountain in the World by Katia Buffetrille & Robert Kostka, reviewed by
Dhondup Tsering, p.

Contributors, p. 121

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Alex McKay has a Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he is currently a Millenium Research Fellow in the History Department. The author of Tibet and the British Raj: The Frontier Cadre 1904-1947, (Curzon, 1997), editor of Pilgrimage in Tibet (Curzon, 1998) and the forthcoming three-volume History of Tibet (Curzon), he also holds a fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden.

Carole McGranahan is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado. Her research focuses on Khampa histories of 20th century Tibet, including issues of regional and national identity, resistance warfare, and exile politics. Deki Rhodes, nee Laden La, is the eldest daughter of the late Major W .D. Laden La, who was the eldest son of S. W. Laden La. Born and educated in Darjeeling, Deki is an economist and lives in London.

Dhondup Tsering is presently the assistant editor of the Tibet Journal. He was formerly a freelance translator.

Francis V. Tiso is the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Mill Valley, CA. He earned an A.B. in Medieval Studies at Cornell University and an M.Div. in Pastoral Psychology at Harvard University and holds a PhD from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in Buddhist Studies, with a dissertation on early versions of the biography of Mi larepa. At the moment, he is working on a book on the thangkas of the Tarap Valley, Dolpo, Nepal

James Cooper is a private scholar living in London. A long serving member of the Tibet Society, U.K., he has contributed articles on Tibet to a number of publications, including Tibetan Review and the Tibet Newsletter.

Jane Ardley is a Lecturer in Politics at Keele University. Her Ph.D. thesis on comparative study of the Tibetan and Indian independence movements will be published as The Tibetan Independence Movement: Political, Religions, and Gan-dhian Peispectives, Routledge Curzon later this year. She has written articles on Tibetan protest and the Tibetan government-in-exile, and her wider research interests include the influence of religion and culture upon democratisation in Southeast and Fast Asia.

Nicholas Rhodes, husband of Deki Rhodes, has had a scholarly interest in the Him-alayas for many years, and has written extensively on the coinage and currency of the Tibetan world.

Peter H. Hanson is Associate Professor of History at Worcestor Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts. He has written on the history of mountaineering, film, imperialism, and postcolonialisnn. He is currently working on a cultural history of mountains and mountaineering from the 18th century to the present.

Todd Gibson received his Ph.D. in 1991 in Tibetan Studies from Indiana University. His recent publications include, "Inner Asian Contributions to the Vajrayana," and "Notes on the History of the Samanaic in Tibet and Inner Asia."

Toni Huber is Professor for Tibetan Studies at the Humboldt University, Germany. He has published widely on aspects of Tibetan culture and society. His current research interests include hunting in Tibetan societies, Tibeto-Burman speaking populations of Arunachal Pradesh, and contemporary social and cultural developments in Amdo.

Warren W. Smith has a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is the author of Tibetan Nation: A History, of Tibetan Nationalises and Sino-Tibetan Relations (Westview Press, 1996). He is the co-author of the 1997 International Commission of


Jurists report Tibet: Human Rights and the Rule of Law. He is currently employed as a broadcaster with the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia.

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The arrival of the Younghusband mission in Tibet irrevocably changed Tibetan society, forcing the Tibetan state to confront Western modernity in all of its manifestations; social, economic, political, scientific, and technological. The implications and consequences of that encounter have yet to be fully analysed and located in Tibetan historiography. To an extent, Tibet remains a Prisoner of Shangri-La, as Donald Lopez put it. But specific deconstructions of that image of Mythos Tibet over the last decade or more(1), allied to the more nuanced understandings of Tibetan society provided, in the main, by historical anthropologists(2), have enabled us to reconstruct Tibet's past with new perspectives removed from both the colonial and the immediate political context of the Sino-Tibetan issue.

Tibetan studies has, however, tended to largely float free of academic models, both regional and theoretical, and to situate Tibetan studies more firmly within these models is clearly desirable if we are to break free of the prison of Mythos Tibet in our reconstruction of Tibet's past. This is not without some risk. Theoretical approaches deriving from post-modernism have, all too often in the field of Asian studies, resulted in works which are not historical, are primarily concerned with Western self-reflection rather than Asian subject, and are expressed in an elitist and largely incomprehensible jargon. But Tibetan studies has almost entirely escaped these excesses through its practitioners' close connection to Tibetan society, both in its textual and physical manifestations.

The collection of essays in this special edition of the Tibet Journal therefore endeavors to advance our consideration of the Tibetan encounter with modernity by examining aspects of this issue in the wider context, and to link Tibetan studies more closely to on-going research in the social sciences through the inclusion of more reflective and theoretical work as we ask ourselves; what follows Tibet as Shangri-La?

We open with Peter Hansen's paper questioning why the 'Subaltern studies' movement has not been embraced by Tibetan studies, despite its being so influential in South Asian studies since the first volume of essays with that title appeared in 1982. The Subaltern studies movement has attempted to develop new approaches to the history of non-elite groups in South Asian society, and the absence of such work in Tibetan studies is notable, with Tibetan histories overwhelmingly focused on elite political and religious perspectives. Yet, as Hansen notes, through its representations of 'subaltern' perspectives, including those of Tibetans in India today 'Subaltern studies... has the potential to destabilize the myths of Tibet promulgated by both Chinese and Tibetan national] sins'.

Given that the focus of such work is on Tibet and Tibetans, and avoids both Western self-reflection and simplistic domination-resistance models, such an approach potentially offers significant new understandings of Tibetan history, understandings that reflect the complexities and fragmentations that exist beneath the monolithic constructions of competing mythologies. Within South Asian Studies, the Subaltern studies movement has demonstrated that Indic history need not be approached primarily through the study of religious texts-texts accessible only to minority elite groups and representing only narrow historical perspectives. That more balanced approach is sorely needed in the field of Tibetan studies.


The essay by Jane Ardley then questions the extent to which Gandhian models of resistance are applicable to the Tibetan issue. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet has explicitly adopted Gandhian ideas, ideas for which there are not necessarily precedents in Tibetan history. Historically, invasions of Tibet--by Nepali, British, Chinese, Mongol and other armies, have been met by armed resistance from Tibetan forces. Indeed, as is now well-known, armed Tibetan resistance to Communist China continued until the early 1970s. But as part of the modern Tibetan occupation of the moral high ground vis-à-vis China, non-violent resistance has become increasingly synonymous with the Tibetan struggle.

Crucial to the Gandhian resistance model is an opponent who recognises and responds to the suffering of the resisting group. But there is precious little evidence of any such humanity existing among the ruling elite of China. Indeed power now appears to be their only ideology, and all other ideologies, of national, universal ('human rights'), or religious form, are only acceptable in as much as they can be used by the Chinese leadership to retain their power. Gandhi recognised that such an opponent could not be influenced by non-violence resistance. The present Dalai Lama, however, relies on the Gandhian model. We can only hope that his enlightened stance will bear fruit; at the time of writing, however, scarcely a blossom may be seen.

Carole McGranahan's article confronts the problem of locating Tibet within political models dominated by the Western Nation-State formation. Focusing on the Sino-Tibetan frontier zone in the 20th century, she examines the diplomatic attempts to resolve the question of where the boundary lay within that zone. She then presents three models of the Tibetan state; the colonial model associated with Western definitions of Nation-Statehood; a united model that embraces traditional Tibetan understandings of their realm, and a contested model that recognises the historically fluid nature of the Tibetan state.

Though an outstanding example of the problems arising from colonial constructions of territory, Tibet is far from alone in that difficulty. Large sections of the globe, not least in Africa, are wracked with conflicts arising to some extent because of the 'lines on a map' drawn by the imperial powers in their own interests. If these problems are to be resolved, new concepts of statehood and political administration must be developed, and indeed are being developed in both Europe and Central Asia.

My own contribution seeks to demonstrate that we may, from one perspective, situate the Younghusband mission within the process of British-Indian imperial frontier expansion. The opening of Tibet was not a unique event, but a well-rehearsed process with numerous precedents. Crucial to this understanding is the later 19th century movement from a process of direct territorial annexation to one in which the aim was the gaining of a controlling influence, a much cheaper and less diplomatically problematic policy. The search for a stable frontier began the imperial process of expansion, but the realisation that British interests could be served more economically by bringing its neighbours into the British sphere of interest-meaning, in practice, the gaining of a controlling influence over the neighbouring government, particularly in regard to its foreign relations, meant that the search ended with British India establishing a cordon of "Buffer states" around its borders. Relations were established with the elites of those Buffer states, which were forced to enter into treaty relations giving the British a controlling influence over them.


While Buffer states such as Nepal, Tibet, and Afghanistan exerted a considerable degree of autonomy, and, at times, independence, they did serve to protect the frontiers of British India from invasion by hostile empires. We can, therefore, compare the process by which the British gained control over Tibet with the process by which they gained control over the various other states in the Indian sub-continent and in the Himalayas. It was only in the linear sense that Tibet represented the culmination of the process of expansion.

This paper does represent a slight refinement in the position represented by my work Tibet and the British Raj [1997], in that it suggests that the idea of a "Russian threat" to India was deliberately promoted and used by the "Forward school" of British policy in order to gain influence over Tibet, and that constructing a Russian threat to Tibet required developing an existing, and extreme, argument of a n actual military threat to the North-western frontier of India, into a threat to the northeastern frontier by 'subversion' rather than invasion. In retrospect, the "Forward" school's belief in the actuality of a Russian threat may have been genuine, but it was McCarthy-esque.

I have previously argued that the extreme manifestation ofthe "Forward" policy in the post- Younghusband era occurred in 1923-24, when British efforts to maintain their controlling influence over Tibet resulted in the Sikkim Political Officer, Major F.M. Bailey, attempting to promote a coup d'etat in Lhasa with the aim of removing the Dalai Lama from secular (although not religious) power and replacing him with the formidable figure of Tsarong Shape.(3)

In making that argument I Concluded that Bailey's agent in Lhasa was S. W. Laden La, one ofthe two intermediaries upon whom lay enormous responsibility for communicating between the British and Tibetan elites during much of the period from 1905 to the early 1930s. Laden La, a Buddhist of Sikkimese origin, was, by the 1920s, a senior police officer in Darjeeling, and was used by the British Political Officers in Sikkim on a number of missions to the Tibetan leadership.

Nicholas Rhodes, known for his studies of Asian numismatics, and his wife Dekyi, a granddaughter of Laden La, have strongly objected to my conclusion that Laden La was involved in this alleged coup, and their response forms the next article here. The Rhodes argue that the allegations of Laden La's involvement originated with Lungshar, a Tibetan official who rose to prominence under the 13th Dalai Lama as a supporter of the anti-modernism faction within Tibet's ruling elites and they argue that these were repeated by others as a consequence of Himalayan family rivalries.

While regretting that the Darjeeling family of Laden La proved unavailable during my research there, I must emphasise that my contention has been that the then Major F.M. Bailey planned and promoted the affair under consideration and thatif I am correct--Laden La was only following Bailey's orders, as would have been his duty. It may well be that ultimately Bailey's plans failed because of Buddhist loyalties to the Dalai Lama by the main players. Certainly the documentary evidence in the Rhodes possession (to which they have kindly given me access) appears to confirm that Laden La did genuinely suffer a nervous breakdown after these events, contrary to my previous contention. That lie was re-employed by the British after that can only confirm his high standing in the upper echelons of the imperial government.


While it is for the reader to judge between the various interpretations of events in Lhasa in the 1920s, the Rhodes article serves an additional purpose. It provides a valuable portrait of one of the imperial intermediaries. Those indigenous officials whose duty was to interpret imperial understandings to local elites--and vice versa--came to form a zophisticated and cosmopolitan class with a considerable influence on the history of British India. That their importance has been forgotten is a regrettable consequence of historical agendas--imperial and nationalist--that have not been served by studies of such significant figures whose loyalty was to a British India.

The final paper, a list of European and Japanese travellers to Lhasa, is one that has existed for a number of years. It was originally prepared by James Cooper for the Tibet Society in the U.K. in the I980s, and has since been referred to by several authors. It is published here for the first time and provides an authoritative list of those travellers who reached Lhasa before the Chinese invasion in 1950.

--Alex McKay

1. In the works of scholars such as Bishop, Samuel, Lopez, Shakya, and Dodin & Rather. [Back]
2. We think of the works of A. W.Macdonald, Huber, Kapstein, Buffetrille, etc., but the list is a long one. [Back]
3. See McKay, A., 'Tibet 1924: A Very British Coup Attempt?', in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3,7,3, Nov. 1997; also see McKay, A., Tibet and the British Raj: The Frontier Cadre, 1904-1947, London, 1997, pp. 102-118 & passim. [Back]

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