China's claim to Tibet

China's invasion of Tibet, in spite of how Tan Pheck Swee feels about it, is more akin to a case of simple colonialism than of imperialism.

The history of China relationship to Tibet dates from ancient times. Tibet has been an integral of China since the 13th century.

The Tufans are one branch of the Xi Qiang (West Qiang) tribes who have founded a kingdom in Xizang (Tibet) the recorded history of which began only around Tang time in early seventh century. Up until this time, they consisted of some one hundred and fifty separate tribes who constantly quarrelled among themselves and sought mediation periodically from succeeding courts of the Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo) since the Han dynasty (B.C. 206-220 A.D.)

Tufan zanpu (Tibetan king) Qizonglong Zan sent to the Tang court in 641, an emissary named Ludong Zan to ask for the hand of a Tang princess in marriage, a ritual gesture of a tributary vassal state. Two years earlier still, in 639, thirteenth year of the reign of Virtuous Vision of Genesis Emperor (Taizong), Tufan zanpu Qizonglong Zan had already sent sixteen thousand taels of gold (1 tael = 1.33 ounces) to the Genesis Emperor as a sign of the zanpu's honorable intentions. Subsequently, Ludong Zan arrived in 641 with an additional marriage gift of five thousand more taels of gold.

Princess Wencheng, a hastily adopted daughter of the Genesis Emperor, from among the daughters of one of his twenty-one brothers, was given in marriage in the same year to seventy-three-year-old Tufan zanpu Qizonglong Zan, after her aging suitor paid an additional final marriage gift of five times the weight of his young bride in gold. Princess Wencheng was at the time sixteen years old.

The ceremony in which the hand of Princess Wencheng was formally requested in marriage would be memorialized by famous Tang painter, Yan Liben, (c. 600-673), in a painting entitled peculiarly as: Sedan Chair Portrait (Bulian Tu), on view in modern time in Beijing Palace Art Museum. Not only does the name of the princess not appear in the title, she was not even portrayed in person in the painting. It is a reflection of how unimportant the bride is in the whole negotiated affair.

The painting shows Li Shimin, Genesis Emperor (Taizong), being carried on a sedan sofa by six court-ladies, while two other ladies carrying large overhead fans with long stems, and one carrying a red, round parasol of silk, ten-foot-high, shading the Genesis Emperor's head. The ladies are shown identically dressed, each with loose, flowing silk robe, v-neck collar with high waistband, long-sleeved, cream-color top, and floor-length skirt of red and light green broad stripes below the high waistband. A long, light-green silk scarf drapes over the shoulders and is tugged neatly under the high waistband. Princess Wencheng is nowhere in sight.

Facing the emperor's entourage is a bearded Tang protocol officer, standing at attention, in a calf-length red robe, with black belt, black hat, black pants and black boots of up-turned toes, hands holding a folded fan with both fists in front of the chest, in a traditional salute. The Tufan (Tibetan) envoy, Ludong Zan, is shown as smaller in stature, wearing a short beard, and a brocade robe with designs of small circular motifs on broad red front and yellow sides, and a thin black belt, looking submissive and eager. A stoic court attendant, dressed in white, stands humbly behind him. A colophon added to the painting by the celebrated eleventh-century Bei Song (Northern Song 960-1127) calligrapher, Zhang Youzhi, in small seal-style script, known as Zhuan script, records that the Genesis Emperor was so pleased with the diplomatic skill of Ludong Zan that he offered him one of the granddaughters of Princess Langya as bride, despite protests from Ludong Zan of having had a wife in Xizang (Tibet) since childhood.

Princess Wencheng, the personification of an ideal political marriage, whose image is absent in the famous painting by Yan Liben, would be credited by historians as being instrumental in introducing Tang culture into Xizang (Tibet), as well as Mahayana Buddhism (Dasheng, meaning major vehicle), the growth of which she would help to foster throughout her life in the exotic land. Indigenous mystic concepts would modify Mahayana Buddhism soon after its introduction to Xizang.

Lamaism, which would be derived from Mahayana Buddhism, and modified by erotic mysticism of Tantrism and indigenous Tibetan rites, would not formally establish itself until much later. The first Lama monastery in Xizang would be established near Lhasa only after 750 by Indian scholar-monk Padmasambhava, a full century after Princess Wencheng's marriage to Tufan zanpu (Tibetan king) Qizonglong Zan.

Princess Wencheng was a remarkable woman and a devout Buddhist. She would win the love and admiration of her Barbarian husband, zanpu Qizonglong Zan, fifty-seven years her senior, who would die at age eighty-two, after nine years of marriage to her. As a political bride of sixteen, she brought to Xizang many books on Tang culture, as well as an entourage of scholars and artisans. Under her influence, her Barbarian husband orders his subjects to adopt Tang rituals, customs and learning. Sons from Tufan noble households are now sent to Changan as students, and many live in Tang imperial palaces as guests of the Genesis Emperor (Taizong) and as pampered political hostages.

This practice of keeping hostage Barbarian-princes in the Tang court in Changan is not unlike the way Roman Emperor Augustus kept Herod the Great, king of Judaea (37-4 B.C.), living in luxury in Rome among Roman imperial family members, after Herod abandoned Mark Antony following the battle of Atium (31 B.C.). Despite Antony's having earlier secured for Herod the royal title, King Herod opted in favor of Otavia who later would become the victorious Augustus (B.C. 63-14 A.D.), first emperor of the Roman Empire.

Notwithstanding his Roman upbringing, or possibly because of his Greek-inspired Roman education, Herod promoted Hellenization of Judaea while encouraging Jewish nationalism by publicly observing the Torah, the Laws of Moses, by building a temple and by re-establishing the Sanhedrin, the consequential legal-religious institution. Shortly before his death, while ruling at the time of Jesus's birth, King Herod ordered the massacre of all infants of Bethlehem, known in history as the Innocents, in an effort to curb religious fundamentalism and to intercept the prophesied coming of the Savior who was supposed to replace Herod.

Not unlike the attitude of King Herod toward Rome, descendants of Zanpu Qizonglong Zan of Xizang would harbor a love-hate relationship with the Tang court for centuries.

Zanpu Qizonglong Zan would build an elaborate palace for Princess Wencheng in Lhasa. It would still stand in modern time as part of the since-expanded Potala. After her husband's death, Princess Wencheng would continue to enjoy the affection and adoration of her adopted people until her death thirty years later at age fifty-five.

By 680, the disappointment felt by Tufans (Tibetians) from the refusal of the High Heritage Emperor (Gaozong), son of their great friend, the late Genesis Emperor (Taizong) of the Tang dynasty, to grant his daughter, 17-year-old Peace Princess (Taiping Gongzu), in marriage to 9-year-old Tufan zanpu (Tibetan king) Qinuxilong, on thinly-veiled ground that Peace Princess has been, since 8 years old, a nuguan (Daoist lay prioress), has developed into nationalistic dimensions with historic implications. It would contribute to cultural isolation of Xizang (Tibet) and her embrace of Lamaism.

Lamaism, culturally-defensive, in time would evolve xenophobic and anti-Daoist sentiments, as well as attitudes of anti-Han, the indigenous majority nationality in China. Lamaism would develop as a modification of Mahayana (Dasheng, meaning greater vehicle) Buddhism (Fo Jia) by Tantric rituals of erotic mysticism and by ancient shamanism and sorcery of the Bon, a primitive, indigenous animistic religion of Xizang, which believes in the existence of spirits separate from the body.

Tantrism, an arcane cult within Hinduism, centering around erotic, magical and mystical rites, has been influential in the development of orthodox Hinduism, of Mahayana Buddhism and later of Lamaism. The Tantric cult has elaborate devotional ceremonies, and it is held that only through ritualistic sexual union would the gods respond to the initiated. Female divinities are worshiped, and women are accorded high places in tantrist cults.

Lamaism would enjoy imperial sponsorship in China under Kublai khan's Mongolian Yuan dynasty in 13th century, partly because of its anti-Daoist and anti-Han ethnic colorations. Buddhist reformer Tsong-kha-pa, who would die in 1419, would establish the Yellow Hat order which would gradually gain ascendancy over the original Red Hat order of Lamaism.

A decrepit Ming court, ruled by a dynastic house of the majority Han ethnicity, in 1641, nearing the end of its 320-year reign, 3 years before its final overthrow by the conquering Manchurians who would establish the Qing dynasty (1661-1911), in a feeble attempt to preserve its titular sovereignty, would grant de facto temporal power over Xizang (Tibet) to the 5th Grand Lama of the Yellow Hat order, whose title would be the Dalai (ocean-wide) Lama, and would install him in Potala in Lhasa.

The Dalai Lama would be revered by his followers as a divine reincarnation of the Boddhisattva Avallokiteshvara, mythical ancestor of the people of Xizang.

A boddhisattva is worshiped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism. It is the name given to an enlightened being who compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others. The most well-known boddhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism is the female Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.

In 1652, the Dalai Lama would be invited to Peking (moder-day Beijing), where he would be received with great pomp by Emperor Shizu during the reign of Shunzhi (1644-1661) of the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1661-1911). Lamaism again enjoys imperial patronage under Emperor Shizong during the reign of Yongzheng (1723-1735) of Qing dynasty and would remain active and influential in the Qing court until 1911, the founding of the Republic of China. Nine years after his accession, Emperor Shizong would convert his palace in Peking, Yonghe Gong, into a Lama temple which would still function in modern time as a high holy place of Lamaism.

Yonghe Gong would be in modern time one of the main tourist attractions and a focus of pilgrimage for Lamaism in Beijing. By the personal intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai, it would receive protection from ideologically-inspired vandalism by radical Red Guards during the turbulent Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

While the Dalai Lama would become traditional leader of Xizang (Tibet), spiritual supremacy would reside with the chief abbot of the influential Dashi Lumpo monastery near Zhikatse, 200 kilometers southwest of Lhasa, who would be known as the Dashi or Panchen Lama, a reincarnation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Light.

The succession to Grand Lama, either Dalai or Panchen, depends upon direct reincarnation. Upon the death of either, his spirit is said to pass into the body of some infant born shortly after, the identity of whom is determined by a series of exacting tests and divinations. Upon identification, the selected child is then brought to Lhasa and meticulously trained to assume his awesome spiritual role.

The 13th Dalai Lama would flee to Peking from a British expedition force in August, 1904. On April 27, 1906, China, represented by the dying Qing court, as suzerain of Xizang, known in the West as Tibet, would agree to the terms imposed by Britain not to permit third countries to send representatives, receive transportation or mining concessions, or occupy, purchase or lease territories in Tibet without British permission.

It would be a policy designed by Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston, the expansionist viceroy of British India, after having retired a year before from a policy dispute with Lord Kitchener, commander of the British army in India who would be supported by the home government. The policy would aim generally to protect British interests in Tibet and specifically to contain Zsarist Russian expansion into the region.

All "unequal" treaties signed by the government of the Qing dynasty during the age of Western imperialism, including those concerning Xizang, would since be declared null and void by all subsequent governments of China, nationalist and communist alike. Four years after the British-Qing dynasty agreement, on February 25, 1910, during the chaos of the nationalist revolutionary uprisings that finally established the nationalist Republic of China, the 13th Dalai Lama would again flee, this time to British India.

The 14th Dalai Lama, a 5-year-old boy, would be installed on February 22, 1940 and the 9th Panchen Lama, a 7-year-old, in 1944. The 14th Dalai Lama would sign a 17-point agreement with the government of the newly established People's Republic in Beijing on May 24, 1951 that would reconfirm Chinese sovereignty over Tibet with local autonomy.

Government forces would clash with ethnic dissidents in 1959 during the celebration of the Tibetan New Year, after which the 14th Dalai Lama would go into political exile in India. The 9th Panchen Lama, after taking office under the new People's Republic on May 1, 1952 at age 15, would die in Beijing on January 28, 1989 and his followers would search for, but yet to find, the reincarnation of his soul to find the 10th Panchen Lama. On December 8, 1995, a six-year-old boy was annoited as Tibetan Buddhism's new Panchen Lama.

It would be simplistic to refer that history of involved relationship over 20 centuries as one of colonialism.

Henry C.K. Liu