Having learned any number of things about Tibet recently I thought I would learn some more, and thankfully the new Modern China (34.2) arrived with an interesting article by Daphon David Ho “The Men Who Would Not Be Amban and the One who Would: Four Frontline Officials and Qing Tibet Policy, 1905-1911” The article looks at the New Policies period attempts of the Qing court to establish control over Tibet, at the same time that the British were trying to do the same thing. In 1905 most Tibetans did not see themselves as citizens of a modern Chinese nation, or of a modern Tibetan nation, or as subjects of the British Empire and various people wanted to resolve this problem
Ho agrees with much of existing scholarship that one of the main events that split off Tibetan identity from Chinese identity was the brutality of the Chinese occupation of Lhasa in 1910, where Chinese behavior was, according to one Tibetan “worse than dogs and wild beasts.” Ho is mostly interested in showing how this mess was created by rivalries among Qing officials, but he also shows that there was at least the possibility that Tibet might have become China. The best hope for this came in the person of Zhang Yingtang, who served briefly as the Qing high commissioner for Tibet 1906-1907. Zhang promoted a peaceful version of Chinese-Tibetan reconciliation, and if you go to Lhasa today ((I’ve never been)) you will be shown Zhang Daren flowers, a symbol of the Tibetan people’s love for China.
As Ho points out, Zhang is a lot more interesting than modern Chinese propaganda makes him. He had been minister to the U.S., Mexico and Peru, and was very much a part of attempts to construct a new Chinese nation, and while in Tibet he tried to create a Tibet that was part of this new China.
In April 1907, [Zhang] published a treatise, “Improving Tibetan
Customs” (Banfa Zang su gailiang), in both Tibetan and Chinese. Zhang’s
plan can best be described as a peculiar blend of Confucian moral virtues,
modern hygiene, and military spirit. He began by admonishing Tibetans
about polyandry and sexual promiscuity, fretting about everything from
extramarital affairs to siblings, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and even in-
laws sleeping in the same bed (QDZY: 1355-56). Zhang continued with a list
of recommendations that included bathing regularly, trimming down the
length of clothes (so as not to impede work), and studying Chinese, and a list
of injunctions that criticized Tibetan customs such as sky burial.
All of this is fairly typical Confucian nagging that could have just as well been directed at the Miao in 1740. Zhang goes on to urge a new level of militarism in Tibetan society.
1. When a boy turns eighteen, he should learn martial arts and the use of the
Mauser gun (Maose qiang) so that he can defend his hometown.
2. The Mauser is an essential piece of equipment for protecting yourselves
and your homes. Without it, you will surely be bullied. A Mauser costs
37 rupees, and 1,000 bullets costs 7 rupees. They are sold everywhere in
India and Sichuan. Everyone, man or woman, should spend 44 rupees to
buy a gun and bullets. When you are free, go hunting. Proceeds from the
sale of several white foxes, lynxes, or tigers will repay the cost of the gun
and bullets. After that, gains from hunting will be extra income. When
foreign enemies or robbers come, you can fight them with your guns, for
the sake of the Buddha.
later he said that
Today, the world is one of guns and cannons. There is no right
or wrong, only weak and strong. If we cannot achieve self-strengthening, we
will become prey. If people have the courage and uprightness to fight to the
death for the country, then foreign enemies will not dare to insult us. …
Military preparedness is something we cannot go a single day without deliberating.
Train troops every day; everyone discuss military affairs (riri lianbing, renrenjiangwu).
This is a vital eight-word formula.
This emphasis on arming the people would have seemed a bit radical in China proper, although the militarism itself was pretty standard New Policies stuff. Unfortunately for Zhang, if he had managed to militarize Tibetan society to the extent he wanted my guess is this would have led to more conflict with the Han rather than a single Han-Tibetan culture.