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The First Military Assault on Tibet

"The meticulous planning to attack Tibet started when George Nathaniel Curzon was the Viceroy of British-India. A 28 year old Curzon who had embarked upon a tour of Asia in 1887, much to the dislike of his austere father, continued travelling till 1895, and had been mesmerised by the wealth of the East."

Mrs Shizuka Imamoto & Dr Nachiketa Das : January 29, 2009

Anytime the present Dalai Lama, the Fourteenth one, is discussed in western media, China is mentioned in an accusatory tone, and blamed for committing all the horrendous crimes in Tibet.  The news items give the impression that the bald and cuddly Dalai Lama is the sweetest darling second only to the teddy bear to the western hearts, which are bleeding incessantly ever since he fled Lhasa - on the 17th of March 1959 - and took refuge in India.  Politicians of the West, and western media reinforce the notion that they have been the great defenders and protectors of the people and culture of Tibet, where as China has been the sole destroyer.  With this background, we request you our readers to make a guess as to who led the first military assault on Tibet.

Western media of course would like you to believe that it is the communist China, but no no and no, the very first military assault on Tibet was carried out in 1903 way before China became a communist country.  We do not wish to keep you in suspense for long, and give you the answer, which is: the first military assault on Tibet was carried out by none other than the good old Britain.  In 1903 Britain conducted a meticulously planned military assault on Tibet, the fictional Shangrila, and killed and injured a very large number of the revered Buddhist monks as well as members of the peasantry.  British assault on Tibet may have eliminated half of all the young men of that country.  Now let us discuss how this military assault on Tibet in 1903 came about. 

The Opium Wars 

In the eighteenth century, Britain strengthened her colonial hold on India and embarked upon a systematic plunder of that fabulously wealthy country.  Encouraged by the ease with which they could fleece India, British cast their covetous glances upon the vast neighbouring Empire of China.  Around this time the rising prosperity in Britain raised the demand for Chinese tea, silk and porcelain significantly, which were purchased by payments in silver. Britain did not produce silver much, and had to buy large quantities of it from other European nations by making payments in gold.  A long term prospect for British trade with China that involved payments in gold and silver, thus, did not appear viable.  So in order to continue the plunder of China, Britain invented a devilishly cunning new currency for her trade, and that currency was opium.  The British Raj started cultivating opium poppies on a massive scale in plantations in India, comparable to the twenty-first century operations of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the activities of the despicable drug barons of Myanmar in the mountainous north of that country.

Opium was unlawful in China, pretty much like drugs are illegal in the West today.  Britain showed neither any respect for the laws of China nor any concern for the welfare of the Chinese, and kept selling opium in China.  Britain, moreover, actively encouraged setting up of glamorous opium parlours in China, and systematically drugged the entire Chinese population that included the aristocracy, the nobility as well as the commoners and the peasantry.  The Qing Dynasty of China lodged a protest with the British government, and in 1729 went a step further when the Yongzheng Emperor prohibited the smoking and sale of opium out of concern for a rapid increase in the number of opium addicts in China.  Britain could not care less and her export of 15 tons in 1730 increased to 75 tons in 1773.  By 1820s Britain was exporting 900 tons of opium annually to China.  900 tons may not mean much, so let us analyse this number to drive home the enormity of the systematic destruction of China carried out by Britain.

Opium is a narcotic that contains about 12% morphine which means that a gram of opium contains about 120 milligrams of morphine.  120 to 125 milligrams of morphine consumed as a single dose at a time could kill a human being, which is therefore in medical jargon termed a lethal dose.  A lethal dose of opium thus is a little more than 1 gram, say 2 grams.  So the British export to China in 1820s of 900 tons which is 900 million grams (900 X 1000 X 1000) constituted about 450 million lethal doses of opium at a time when the total population of China was about 380 million.  In other words the quantum of opium the British exported to China in 1820s had the potential of killing every man woman and child of China, if they were to consume 2 grams of this toxin each, on any given 24 hours.  We hope our readers now get an inkling of the enormity of the drug problem the British created in China.

When the nationalists and patriots of China opposed the massive drugging operations in their land, Britain fought a series of wars between the years 1839 and 1843, commonly known as the First Opium War, followed by the Second Opium War of the years between 1856 and 1860.  China lost the Opium Wars and was forced to give in to all the British demands of free trade in opium. Britain established an absolute freedom to export any quantity of opium to China through any port anywhere she wished.  A comparable scenario in the twenty-first century, with the role reversed for Britain, would be the despicable murderous Taliban gaining official permission to export any quantum of their deadly harvest of narcotics from Afghanistan to Britain!

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Total destruction of Yuanming Yuan

During the Second Opium War British and French soldiers in an unprecedented callous brutality completely destroyed the Yuanming Yuan or the ‘Gardens of Perfect Brightness’, which was a complex of imperial palaces and gardens, where resided the emperors of the Qing Dynasty and managed the affairs of the state.  The ‘Gardens of Perfect Brightness’, which was originally called the ‘Imperial Gardens’, Yu Yuan, was so utterly magnificent that the Chinese affectionately named this as the ‘Garden of Gardens’ or Wan Yuan Zhi Yuan.  The complex was located some 8 km northwest of the walled city in Beijing.

Yuanming Yuan in western lingo has generally been referred to as the Chinese Summer Palace of Beijing, in a deliberate attempt to belittle its vastness in order to downplay the savagery of the destruction carried out by the British and the French.   Let us assure you our readers that Yuanming Yuan was not one of those tiny microscopic constructions, complete with a dungeon and a cellar, perched atop a European molehill, those in the twenty-first century serve the sole purpose of extorting money from the hapless Japanese and American and now Indian and other Asian tourists through the horrendously exorbitant entrance fees.  Let us convince you of the vastness of the Yuanming Yuan with some details, and also shed some light on it systematic destruction.

The initial construction of Yuanming Yuan had started in 1707, and the complex of palaces and gardens continued to be built throughout the eighteenth as well as the early part of the nineteenth century.  Yuanming Yuan spread over an area of 865 acres that was 8 times the size of the Vatican City, and 5 times the size of the Forbidden City in Beijing.  This complex consisted of three distinct parts: the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper, the Garden of Eternal Spring (Changchun Yuan), and the Elegant Spring Garden (Qichun Yuan), and contained hundreds of halls, pavilions, galleries, temples, gardens and lakes.  Thousands of precious masterpieces of Chinese art and antiquities, as well as many unique copies of literary work and compilations were stored in the halls that made Yuanming Yuan one of the largest museums and art galleries of the world.

In the night of the 6th of October 1860, units of French troops invaded Yuanming Yuan and extensively looted the precious collections.  British troops joined in the looting too.  Having completed the looting to their hearts’ content, two weeks later on the 18th of October 1860, the British High Commissioner to China James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, ordered the destruction of Yuanming Yuan.  Consequently, 3,500 British troops set the entire complex of palaces and gardens ablaze that took full three days to burn.  A 27 year old captain of the British Royal Engineers, by the name Charles George Gordon described the looting and the destruction as follows:

‘We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions.  We got upward of £48 apiece prize money…I have done well.  The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did [to] the Palace.  You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt.  It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully.  Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass.  It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.’

My readers, now you also know what British army engineers did for a living! (ND).

The barbaric and criminal burning and the total destruction of Yuanming Yuan were disapproved by some sensible contemporary Frenchmen, such as Victor Hugo.  In his ‘Expédition de Chine’, Hugo described the looting as follows:

‘Two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain.’

Victor Hugo also hoped that one day France would feel guilty and return her plunders from China.  We think the time has come, and France and Britain must return all the stolen treasures from Yuanming Yuan to China, which may assuage, albeit to a tiny extent, the Chinese feelings of hurt and humiliation.  Yet only a few months ago in November 2008, to rub insult on Chinese injuries, an item of those very precious treasures plundered from Yuanming Yuan and held mostly in private collections in the West, was on sale at an auction house in Europe.

The destruction of Yuanming Yuan remains most sensitive to the Chinese heart.  The Government of China maintains the ruins as a reminder of western aggression and the humiliation inflicted on the great Chinese civilisation.  We do not think that the Chinese have ever forgiven the West for the destruction of their Yuanming Yuan, and as China grows into a super-power, Britain and France have a lot to worry about.

We would also like to record here that British High Commissioner James Bruce who ordered the total destruction of Yuanming Yuan was the son of Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, who had ransacked the magnificent edifice of the Parthenon at Acropolis of Athens to break and plunder the precious marble sculptures to sell them in Britain.  Although some sensible Britishers including English poet Lord Byron condemned Thomas Bruce as a ‘dishonest and rapacious vandal’, these priceless marble statues were bought by Great Britain in 1816 and were lodged at the British Museum.  Now they are known as Elgin Marbles!  Despite repeated requests from Greece for the repatriation of these treasures, they continue to adorn the British Museum as grand demonstrations of British plunders of the world.

James Bruce, having suitably impressed his British superiors by his excellent credentials in vandalism in China was chosen to become the Governor General of the Province of Canada and in 1862 rose even higher when he assumed the office of the Viceroy of India.  Our Indian readers would be horrified to learn that only a few years before the destruction of Yuanming Yuan, around the time of the first Indian national uprising against the British Raj in 1857, British soldiers and officers had vandalised the Taj Mahal.  They had plundered the precious stones from the walls of the Taj by systematically chiselling them out.  The British Raj in fact had the diabolical designs of totally destroying the Taj for mining all the precious stones.  Destruction of the Taj would have become a reality had James Bruce had a longer stint as the Viceroy but for fate that deigned otherwise, and the vandal James Bruce died of a heart attack only after less than two years, twenty months to be precise, at the office in 1863.  When the senior author of this article, ND, analyses the lives of the two barbaric father and son vandals, he wonders if the existence of a vandalism gene in the family genome of the Bruces is worth investigating!

No one, neither any individual nor any nation, has ever been punished for the burning and total destructions of Yuanming Yuan.  Now let us contrast this lack of justice with the sense of justice that prevailed after the destruction of World Trade Centre on the 11th of September 2001. Following the 9/11, the US led an attack to eliminate the murderous Taliban regime of Afghanistan, quite rightly so, and virtually the entire world, in a spirit of justice, supported Americans.  The attack on Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein was an altogether different matter though. We make this assertion on the basis of the fact that although Saddam was no angel, he had nothing to do with the 9/11; he was eliminated and his country was devastated on concocted charges essentially to grab the rich oil fields of Iraq.  Now given the American response to avenge the murderous attacks on World Trade Centre, do you our readers think that China has a right to redress, in the spirit of ‘…and justice for all’, the massive damages inflicted on her by France and Britain!

Unabated plunder of China

Following the Opium Wars, Britain maintained a strangle-hold on China and continued her unfettered plunder.  By the end of the nineteenth century Britain feared only two countries, Japan and Russia, who could disrupt this systematic plunder of China.  Britain approached Japan who had established herself as the pre-eminent power of the East after defeating China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, to enter into an alliance in a treaty of co-operation and friendship.  Japan completely isolated for a good few centuries and presently desirous of cultivating friendship with western nations saw the British overtures as a great opportunity and in January 1902 signed a treaty that came to be known as the First Anglo-Japanese Alliance.  The Japanese in their utter inexperience in international diplomacy however, did not realise that the alliance was in fact only a ploy to restrain Japan lest she joined hands with Russia and threatened British interests in China and the British Empire in India.  The Anglo-Japanese Alliance ran its course of twenty-one years before liquidation in August 1923, when the Japanese naval strength was substantially reduced in negotiations at Washington conference demonstrating the cold and cunning nature of British diplomacy.

Having secured the alliance with Japan in 1902, Britain set her eyes upon countering Russia, who could threaten the plunder of China that the British had accomplished through the opium trade.  So in 1903 Britain decided to colonise the last bit of the independent land, Tibet, strategically located between the British Empire in India, Russia and China.

British plans to capture Tibet

In the mid-nineteenth century Britain made repeated overtures to Tibet to open a land route for trade purposes, essentially a covert design to expand the plunder of China.  The Tibetans were fearful of Britain, so they always rebuffed British offers.  In the first two years of the twentieth century the British made up their mind to force open Tibet, instead of waiting for Tibetan consent.

The meticulous planning to attack Tibet started when George Nathaniel Curzon was the Viceroy of British-India.  A 28 year old Curzon who had embarked upon a tour of Asia in 1887, much to the dislike of his austere father who believed that landowners should stay on their land and not roam the world, continued travelling till 1895, and had been mesmerised by the wealth of the East.  Four years after his travels in Asia, Curzon at the age of forty was picked from a junior governmental office in Britain to the British Raj on the 6th of January 1899.  This ambitious man often described as an out-and-out imperialist, who would continue to hold the high office of Viceroy till the 18th of November 1905, desired to earn a name for himself, and chose to fulfil his ambition through the expansion of the British Raj by colonisation of the adjoining countries.  Independent Tibet lying to the immediate north, strategically located between China, India and Russia, drew his attention.  He strongly advocated the colonisation of Tibet on the pretext to create a buffer between powerful Russia and his British Indian Empire, but the real intention perhaps was to expand the lucrative opium trade in China, which had been subjugated by the British in the Opium Wars half a century earlier.

This very imperialist, Curzon, had applied the time-tested sinister British tactic of ‘divide and rule’ to partition the most politically aware province of India, Bengal that had so vociferously clamoured independence.  Partition of the state of Bengal on the 16th of October 1905 into two, East and West, along religious lines was designed to pit the Hindus against the Muslims, who spoke the same language of independence then.  Let it be very clear that Curzon is the man who had sown the seeds of partition of India with the division of Bengal.  The maestro Satyajit Ray in his movie Ghare Baire (Home and Outside) based on a dazzling piece of literature by the same name by Rabindra Nath Tagore, most artistically portrays the commencement of the communal hatred in the idyllic Bengali countryside of the first decade of the twentieth century.

Now let us return to the discussion on British planning for the invasion of Tibet.  The opportunity to systematically plan the invasion appeared when some Tibetans carrying antique muskets, perhaps even less effective than bamboo staves, strayed in to the tiny principality of Sikkim, which was a British protectorate that nestled in the High Himalayas between Tibet and British India. And Curzon seized the opportunity instantly, and wasted no time in informing the British government of the violation of the Sikkimese border.  Moreover, he most strenuously persuaded the British government to set out a British force to the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, and advised that its ultimate purpose of colonisation be kept an absolute secret.  Towards the end of 1903, the British crossed the Tibetan frontier, an action stated by Geoffrey Moorhouse as ‘the final expansive thrust of the Raj.’

Curzon found a perfect partner in crime in Francis Edward Younghusband, who was born in Murree in British India (presently in Pakistan) to a British military family in 1863.  He was thus a contemporary of his mentor, Curzon, who was born in 1859.  Younghusband was an ambitious army officer who in 1886-1887 had conducted an expedition through Manchuria, had crossed the Gobi Desert, and had pioneered a route from Kashgar and India through the uncharted Mustagh Pass.  This pass is at a formidable altitude of about 5,422 m across the Baltoro Muztag range in the Karakorams, which includes the world’s second highest mountain of K2 with the highest peak elevation of 8,611 m.  This military man who had demonstrated his prowess at adventure was a Major in the British army by the year 1902, when Viceroy Curzon appointed him as the British Commissioner to Tibet, an office he would hold from 1902 to 1904.  Younghusband was thus handpicked by Curzon to lead the British assault on Lhasa.

A substantial British force, well over 10,000 men, armed with the latest and the very best of military hardware was organised for the invasion of Tibet.  The British did not hesitate to include the most lethal piece of weaponry of the day, the Maxim gun, in their military campaign against Tibet.  The Maxim gun was the first self-powered machine gun invented by the American-born Briton Hiram Maxim in 1884.  The British had used the Maxim guns in the First Matabele War in 1893-1894 in South Africa with devastating effects, where in one encounter 50 British soldiers equipped with just four Maxim guns had massacred 5,000 African warriors.  In fact the extreme lethality of the Maxim guns had brought about a rapid European colonisation of Africa in the late nineteenth century.  The European military tactics in Africa then was to lure the native opponents into pitched battles in open terrains, and then to massacre them with the Maxim gun fire.  The British adopted the same tactic - lure them out to the open and massacre them -   to attack the Tibetans.  Hilaire Belloc, a French-born prolific English writer of the early twentieth century who was closely associated with two famous writers G K Chesterton and G B Shaw, had composed a couplet boasting the European military supremacy owing to the possession of the powerful Maxim guns, as follows:

“Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim gun, and they have not.’

Make no mistake our readers, the Maxim guns of the early twentieth century, on account of their extreme lethality could only be compared with nuclear weapons of the twenty-first century.  And the British would happily unleash this pure terror on the unsuspecting hapless Tibetans.

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Invasion of Tibet

Major Younghusband and his Brigadier-General James R L McDonald led the vast British force from the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok, on the 11th of December 1903 to invade Tibet.  At the outskirts of the village of Khamba Dzong located some 25 km inside the Tibetan border, the local Tibetan governmental officials begged the British to halt, while they sought permission from Lhasa for them to proceed further.  The British did accede to the requests of the Tibetan officials, and waited for nearly four months only to learn that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and his retinue of monks in Lhasa had no desire to meet with them.  Younghusband was irritated to say the least, but retreated none the less to confer with Curzon back in India.  Curzon contacted the British government led by the Prime Minister Arthur James Balfour, and received authorisation to invade Lhasa, by using whatever force necessary.

In March 1904, a ten thousand strong British force and an even bigger mix of pack animals, loaded with most up to date weaponry commenced the invasion of Lhasa.  The British force marched through Tibetan villages to the absolute horror of the stupefied monks and villagers, who did offer mild protests but could never summon the courage to stop the invading army.  On the 31st of March 1904 the British army was some one hundred km inside Tibet when they reached the Guru pass near Lake Bhan Tso.  Having marched unobstructed thus far, the British were take aback when they came across mounds of boulders laid on their path as some sort of a crude obstacle to stop their advance.  Several thousand Tibetans had amassed around the boulders to confront the British invaders.

The British ordered the Tibetans to remove the obstructing boulders ‘in fifteen minutes flat’, and to disarm too.  The leader of the rag-tag Tibetans was a monk, certainly not a general as the British literature would like to claim, in a singular display of chivalry left his position and came out to reason with the British commanders McDonald and Younghusband, despite the contemptuous British orders most arrogantly hurled at him.  The British determined to employ their tactic of - lure them out to the open and massacre them – played the trick on the Tibetan leader into asking his rag-tag defenders to extinguish the fuses of their of antique muskets in order to initiate a friendly conference.  The Tibetan leader was after all only an otherworldly monk who in his naivety succumbed to the British ploy.  Moreover, the Tibetans ever so unshakable in their faith in their superstitious beliefs in the powers of the Buddhist charms, had fastened their amulets tight, and were absolutely convinced that they were magically protected.  They did not hesitate in obeying the instructions of their monk into extinguishing the fuses, which once put out required considerable effort and time to ignite and brought to readiness for action.

Once McDonald and Younghusband successfully tricked the Tibetans into extinguishing the fuses, and lured them to the open, the British soldiers ‘knelt in well rehearsed drill formation’ and opened fire.  The Maxim Guns started pounding the hapless Tibetans causing vast casualties.  After the initial shock of betrayal and the resultant confusion, the Tibetans came to their senses.  Instead of turning their backs and scampering the Tibetans lit their fuses and fired their antique muskets.  The brave challenge, however, was very ineffective and drew further retaliatory attacks from the British.  In a short while around seven hundred Tibetans lay dead, and a couple of hundred of their brethren were wounded.  In this utterly one sided battle of Guru which should actually be termed the Guru Massacre, the British sustained only 12 casualties.  The Tibetans were commanded to clear the obstructing boulders which they did under duress.

The British invasion pressed ahead through the abandoned Tibetan defences at Kangma a week later.  On the 9th of April 1904, the British faced a barricade and some resistance as they approached the Red Idol Gorge.  In the ensuing massacre 200 Tibetans died, and the British losses were negligible.  The same pattern of uneven contests would continue on the 5th of May when around 800 foolhardy Tibetans attacked the fortified British garrison at Chang Lo only to earn a swift retribution that killed 160 of them.  There were no British casualties.  Only on the 9th of May the contest would become somewhat even when the British attacked the Tibetan position at the Garo Pass at an altitude of about 5,800 m above sea level.  Although the Tibetans suffered heavy casualties the British casualties were not negligible.

In the following two months the British consolidated their position near Chang Lo in preparation for their assault on the main Tibetan strong hold of the massively well protected fortress of the Gyantse Dzong that stood as a substantial obstacle on the invasion of Lhasa.  McDonald carefully designed a strategy to storm the fortress by luring the Tibetans away from the section of the walls planned to be breached.  The guileless Tibetans could never fathom the British strategy and the wall was breached on the 6th of July 1904.  Gyantse Dzong was successfully stormed despite spirited resistance by the Tibetans who sustained heavy casualties.  Perhaps a good few thousand Tibetans perished here.  After the British seizure of Gyantse Dzong, the access to Lhasa was thrown open.

Invasion of Lhasa and the uneven treaty

After the seizure of Gyantse Dzong, Younghusband assumed the command of the British invasion and led around 2,000 well armed British soldiers on their way to Lhasa.  They crossed the Garo Pass again without any incident and reached Lhasa on the 3rd of August 1904 only to discover that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, then a 28 year old young man, in mortal fear of the advancing British army, had found no other alternative but to flee along with his retinue of monks to the neighbouring China.  By the way his was no ordinary flight, for he kept fleeing for day in and day out for a full four months until he established the safe distance of an even one and a half thousand miles, which is 2,400 km, between Lhasa and him, presently lodged at Urga, the capital of Outer Mongolia.  Then only he felt secured; needless to say such was his fear of the British!  The Thirteenth Dalai Lama stayed in voluntary exile for four long years, and returned to Lhasa from Beijing, only after being convinced that the invading British had well and truly withdrawn.

Lhasa was the capital as well as the biggest centre of human habitation of Tibet, which holds true even today.  The population of Lhasa at the time of British invasion was no more than 25,000, and the entire population of Tibet was perhaps around 50,000.  The British massacres killed around 5,000 Tibetans, all of whom were essentially able-bodied men.  In the process the British may have annihilated half of all the young men of Tibet.  British casualties for the entire Tibetan campaign, by the way, were only 202 men killed in action (KIA).  In the eyes of Francis Younghusband, decimation of the Tibetan population was, however, not a sufficient enough retribution.  He methodically set upon extracting much more from the utterly impoverished land of Tibet, for his ultimate aim was colonisation.

In the absence of the Dalai Lama who was the supreme head of the country of Tibet, no Tibetan carried the authority to conduct negotiations with the British.  Younghusband, however, had neither any scruples nor any respect for the niceties of diplomacy and international relations.  He bulldozed his way through a mockery of a negotiation with some decrepit senior lamas of the National Assembly of Tibet who had stayed behind, perhaps too old to flee, and concluded a treaty.  The utterly one-sided and uneven agreement, very much like the uneven treaties the Chinese were forced to sign following the Opium Wars, extracted an indemnity of 50,000 pounds sterling from the Tibetans for all the trouble they had caused by resisting the invading British army.  Since Tibet was too impoverished and incapable of making the payment imposed on them, the treaty made a provision of very generously accepting the indemnity in 75 annual instalments (how very thoughtful!), which Tibet would be paying till 1980.  In return the British offered nothing, and victorious Younghusband marched back to India.

Now in 2009, the amount of indemnity of 50,000 pounds sterling demanded in 1904 of a population of 50,000 Tibetans, which translated only to an even 1 pound sterling for each man woman and child, does not sound much at all.  Let us analyse to see what this amount is worth now.  If we use retail price index, 1 pound sterling in 1904 is worth 80 pounds sterling now, and based on average earning index, 1 pound sterling in 1904 is worth 420 pounds sterling now.  In a comparable scenario with the role reversed for Britain, let us try to estimate the amount of money the British were to pay if an indemnity of this proportion were to be imposed in 2009 on Britain, which has a population of 60 million.  The size of the British indemnity would be anywhere between 5 billion pounds sterling (60 million X 1 pound X 80 = 4,800 million; based on retail price index), and 25 billion pounds sterling (60 million X 1 pound X 420 = 25,200 million; based on average earning index).  Just as surely this amount would bankrupt a recession ravaged Britain in 2009, we would like our readers to realise that the indemnity imposed on Tibet by Britain in 1904 was designed to financially ruin Tibet and keep her as a bonded colony of the British Empire for ever.

The British government had also received the reports that had said that the British army had reached Lhasa only to discover the ‘legendary place an unholy slum of open sewers, rotting rubbish and pools of mud, populated by monks in dirty and tattered robes.’  The report had made extreme poverty of Tibet abundantly clear.  Yet, the out-and-out imperialist George Curzon would not disapprove of the huge indemnity imposed on the utterly impoverished Tibetans by his friend Younghusband.  Only when Curzon’s deputy Oliver Villiers Russel (Lord Amthill) officiated as the pro tem Viceroy during Curzon’s absence for a period of time in 1904, he reduced the indemnity quite significantly, by as much as two-thirds, but did not waive it completely though.  Incidentally Oliver Russel’s pro tem Viceroy position never became permanent as he was perceived to be increasingly siding with the nationalists of India in South Africa, East Africa as well as in India, which put him at odds with the British government.  The ‘rapacious vandal’ Younghusband in due course was rewarded for his successful invasion of Tibet with a knighthood and went on to occupy the lofty position of the president of the Royal Geographical Society, an office he had coveted.

The British added insult to Tibetan injury in 1906, while the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was still away in exile, by signing a treaty with China without Tibetan participation.  The treaty recognised Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.  Encouraged by this Sino-British treaty, China sought direct control of Tibet, by force if necessary for the first time in ten centuries.  The ensuing Chinese invasion made the Thirteenth Dalai Lama flee again, this time to India in 1910.  In 1911, following the revolution in China that removed the Manchu emperor, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama declared independence of Tibet.

We conclude this article by calling upon both Hollywood and Bollywood, and by appealing to all the Buddhist actors and aficionados of the Dalai Lama, to produce a movie on the very first military assault on Tibet.

(Dr Nachiketa Das is the Director, NRI-Enviro-Geo-Tech - Australia, Sydney; and, Mrs Shizuka Imamoto is the Director, School of Kayayoga and, also, a Scholar working, mainly, on International relations, strategic politics and Diplomatic Initiatives. Both are presently based in Hiroshima, Japan)

 

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