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A vast plateau, about 463,320 square miles, about 1240 miles in its greatest length from east to west, and 740 miles in its greatest breadth from north to south, with an elevation from 13,000 to 16,500 feet, and with a population of some 6,500,000 inhabitants, according to Chinese estimates; other estimates place it as low as 2 or 3,000,000. It is bounded on the north by Kan-su and Sin-kiang; on the west by India ; on the south by India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan; on the east by Yun-nan, Szech'wan, and Kan-su; or rather the plateau on the north is bounded by the Kwenlun Mountains which limit on the south the Desert of Gobi; and on the south by the Himalaya Mountains with their high peak, Mount Everest, 29,000 feet.


From this plateau flow the following rivers: to the south, the Indus, with its tributary Sutlej, which runs into the Gulf of Oman; to the north of the Himalayas, the Ts'anpo or Brahmaputra River, which falls in the Gulf of Bengal after meeting in an estuary the Ganges, which follows a similar course on the southern side of the Himalayas; to the east, the great Chinese rivers, Hwang-ho or Ma-Chu and Yang-tze; to the south- east, the streams of Indo-China, the Lutze-kiang (Irrawadi), the Lu-kiang (Salwen), and the Lan ts'an kiang (Me-kong). The principal lakes are: on the north-east, the Kuku-nor or Ts'ing hai; on the south, Lake Palti or Yamdok; on the plateau, the Iki- Namur, the Pang-kong, the Tengri-nor, and the famed Mansarovar and Rakas.


Many roads lead to Lhasa:

  • by Si-ning in the Kan-Su Province and the Kuku-nor;
  • from Sze-ch'wan to Ta-Tsienlu, Ba-tang, Litang and Chamdo;
  • from Yun-nan by Li-kiang (these are three main routes from China );
  • from Sikkim, in the south, through the Chumbi Valley and Gyan-tze;
  • from the west, by Leh, in Ladakh;
  • from Khotan, through the Aksai Chin, to Rudok.
Tibet includes five provinces:
  • Amdo, part of the Chinese province of Kan-su and the Kuku-nor region (Ts'ing-hai), inhabited by Tibetans and administered by a Chinese official at Si-ning; the other four provinces form Tibet proper which is controlled by the viceroy of Sze-Ch'wan;
  • Ts'ien-tang, Eastern or Anterior Tibet (or K'ang, Kham, Khu, Khamdo, Chamdo), which extends between the Chinese Provinces of Sze-Ch'wan and Yun-nan, and the district of Lhorong djong, frontier of Lhasa;
  • Wei, Wu, or Chung-Tsang, Central Tibet, Kingdom of Lhasa;
  • Tsang or Hou Tsang, Ulterior Tibet, i.e., south-west Tibet, extending to Lake Mansarovar, with the town of Shigatze, near which stands the Tashilumbo Monastery at the junction of the Nyang-chu and the Ts'an-po;
  • Ngari (O-li), Western Tibet which includes the upper courses of the Indus and the Sutlej, and generally north-western Tibet with the towns of Gartok and Rudok, the Kailas Mountain, the Refuge of Siva; it is bounded by the British district of Kumaun.

Lamaist Hierarchy and Secular Administration

At the head of the lamaist hierarchy of Tibet are the dalai lama and the panch'en erdeni lama ; the word "lama" is derived from a Tibetan word, in Chinese wu shang , meaning "unsurpassed". The dalai lama is a re-embodiment of one of the disciples of the reformer Tsong K'apa, and at the same time an incarnation of the Bodhisattwa Avalokiteçvara; he lives at the monastery Po-ta-la at Lhasa; his title is Cheptsun Djamts'o Rinpoch'é (Venerable Ocean Treasure). The panch'en erdeni lama lives at Tashilumbo. The supporters of the faith may receive the title of Nomên 'Hân (regent), or Dharmâ Râja . Celibacy would render impossible the re-embodiment if the 'hut'ukht'u , or saints were not chosen to represent the principles of the transmission of authority; these saints are known as the "Living Buddhas". The third lama in the hierarchy is the Cheptsun Dampa 'Hut'ukht'u , Patriarch of the Khalkhas, living at Urga; the Ch'ahan Nomên 'Han is the descendant of a counsellor sent in the sixteenth century by the dalai lama to the chief of the Ordos; his residence is at Kuku-Khoto; the metropolitan lama, Ch'ang Kia 'Hut'ukht'u , has his see at Dolonnor; the head of lamaist monasteries is called K'anpu ( abbot ). The secular administration of Tibet includes a council ( ka hia ) of four ministers ( kalon or kablon ) of the third rank of Chinese officials, elected as a rule by the Peking government, on presentation by the Chinese amban ; the treasury ( shang shang ) presided over by a kalon with three first-class councillors ( tsai peng ), and two second-class councillors ( shang chodba ); two controllers of the revenue ( yerts' angba ); two controllers of streets and roads ( hierbang ); two superintendents of police ( shediba ); two controllers of the stud ( tâpeng ); there are six military commanders ( taipêng ), with the fourth degree of Chinese rank, with twelve commanders of 200 men ( jupêng ), twenty-four kaipêng , and 120 ting pêng . Civil and military officials are designed under the general term fan muh .


Little is known of the ancient history of Tibet, the first dynasty having been founded by the Indian prince Rupati; but the historical period begins at the end of the sixth century A.D., when the first king, Luntsang, made inroads to India. Luntsang's son is the celebrated Srong-tsang Gam-po, one of the great champions of Buddhism ; in 639 he married Bribtsun, daughter of Ançuvarman, sovereign of Nepal, and in 641 the princess of Wen ch'eng, daughter of the Chinese emperor T'ai- tsung. Under their influence, the Tibetan prince gave a great extension to Buddhism in his empire; he founded in 639 Lhasa, formerly Lha-Idam where for centuries his heirs governed the country with the title of gialbo in Tibetan, and of tsanp'o in Chinese. The Tibetans were the allies of the Khalif of Bagdad and they invaded the Chinese provinces of Yun-nan, Sze-ch'wan and Kan-su, as far as Ch'ang ngan, capital of the T'ang emperors. The two most ancient historical edicts have been found by Dr. L.A. Waddell upon a lofty pillar of victory which stands at the foot of Potala Hill, under the castles of the ancient kings, now incorporated in the palace of the dalai lama; they date between A.D. 730 and 763, are the earliest historical Tibetan documents hitherto discovered, and throw a sidelight on the ancient history and geography of China. The eighth century is the culminating point of Tibetan power, which was destroyed when the Uighurs became the masters of the whole country between Peit'ing and Aksu.

During the eleventh century the priests of the Sakya Monastery began to be predominant in Tibet; they were called Hung Kiao , Red Church, on account of the colour of their garments and of their headgear. The laxness of their morals, the marriage of monks, and sorcery were the chief causes of the reform undertaken by Tsong K'apa or Je Rinpoch'e (b. at Amdo near Kuku-nor in 1358), founder of the Gelupa Sect, who adopted a yellow dress ( hwang kiao ), and obliged his followers to return to the primitive religion of Buddha ; he founded the monasteries of Gadan and of Sera, and died in 1418, having established the lamaist hierarchy. His successor, Gedundub, built the Monastery of Tashilumbo, which became in the seventeenth century the residence of the second lama, the panch'en rinpoch'é , which the first lama or dalai lama settled in 1641 to the west of Lhasa. The panch'en lama , Paldan-yeshes, died at Peking on the 27 Nov., 1780, during a visit to the Emperor of China. During the eighteenth century the Chinese Emperor, K'ien-lung, began to establish his supremacy over Tibet; already in 1725 two high Chinese commissioners had been appointed to control the temporal affairs of the country, and in the first moon of 1793 an imperial edict ordered that future dalai lamas were to be chosen from the names of children drawn from a "golden urn".

Chinese Administration

The Chinese administration of Tibet includes an imperial resident ( chu tsang ta ch'ên ) or amban ( ngang pai ) with an assistant resident ( pang pan ta ch'ên ); among their duties, they act as intermediary between China and Nepal (Ghorkhas Country); a secretary ( yi ts'ing chang-king ) has to deal with native affairs. Three Chinese commissioners ( liang t'ai ), of the class of sub-prefect, are stationed at Lhasa, Tashilumbo, and Ngari. The imperial resident is Chao Ehr-fung (appointed March, 1908), formerly Director-General of the Sze-ch'wan Hu-Pe Railway and acting viceroy of Szech'wan.

Travellers in Tibet

Marco Polo and Rubruk mention Tibet but did not visit it; the first European traveller who appears to have visited Lhasa is the Franciscan Odoric of Pordenone in the first half of the fourteenth century. It was but in 1624 that we have real information on this country in a letter of the Portuguese Jesuit, Antonio de Andrade, dated Agra, 8 Nov., 1624, relating the journey of this father to Lake Mansarovar and to Rudok; Andrade erroneously called the country he visited, Cathay. Two years later, two other Jesuits, Grueber and d'Orville, (1661) left Peking, and by the route of Si-ning reached Lhasa, where they resided two months; they returned to India via Nepal. Two other Jesuits, Desideri and Freyre, went (1715-16) from Leh to Lhasa, where the former lived until 1729, when he was obliged to leave on account of the intrigues of the Capuchins, who had founded a mission which lasted to 1760, when they were expelled by the Tibetans. One of these monks, Francesco Orazio della Penna di Billi, has written an account of Tibet. A most remarkable journey was made by the Dutchman Samuel Van de Putte (d. at Batavia, 27 Sept., 1745), who went from India to Peking via Lhasa, and returned by the same road. In 1774 Warren Hastings, Governor of Bengal, sent George Bogle to the Court of the panch'an lama ; Captain Samuel Turner went on a visit in 1783 to the Court of the new panch'en lama ; finally the Englishman Thomas Manning visited Lhasa in 1811. Next we come to the celebrated journey to Lhasa of the Lazarists Huc and Gabet in 1844. For many years afterwards the exploration of Tibet was carried on by "pundits" in the Indian Government service, especially by Nain Sing and the lama, Ugyen Gyatso. We must mention also among the travellers to Tibet the Russian, Prjevalsky (1880-85); the American, W.W. Rockhill (1888-89, 1891- 92), who went to the north-east of Tengri-nor, 110 miles west of Lhasa; the Frenchmen, Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orléans with the Belgian missionary, De Deken (1889-90); Captain Hamilton Bower (1891-92); Miss A.R. Taylor (1892); the Frenchman, Dutreuil de Rhins (who was murdered, 5 June, 1894, at Tungbumdo by the red lamas), and his companion, Fernand Grenard (who escaped); Sir George K. Littledale (1895); Captain M.S. Wellby and Lieut. Malcolm (1896); Captain H.H.P. Deasy (1896); the celebrated Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin; and finally the Russian captain, P.K. Kozlov.

Relations with China, Russia, and England

By a separate article of the Che-fu Convention (13 Sept., 1876) it had been stipulated that the English Government might in the next year send a mission of exploration by way of Peking through Kan-su and Kuku-nor, or by way of Sze-ch'wan to Tibet, and thence to India. The Tsung-li-Yaman, having due regard to the circumstances, was, when the time arrived, to issue the necessary passports, and address letters to the high provincial authorities, and to the imperial resident in Tibet. The English did not take advantage of this article and countermanded the mission by Article 4 of the Convention signed at Peking, 24 July, 1886, regarding Burmah and Tibet. A convention with China was signed on 17 March, 1890, at Calcutta, settling the boundary frontiers between Sikkim and Tibet, and trade regulations were also signed in December, 1893. But the Tibetans occupied land inside the treaty boundary; on the other hand Russian activity in Tibet was causing great anxiety to the Indian government; Lord Curzon had attempted to open direct communication with the dalai lama; there were rumours of a Russo- Tibetan agreement. Notwithstanding Russia's protest, the Indian Government proposed sending a mission to Lhasa. Finally this mission was organized in July, 1903, with Major Francis E. Younghusband at its head; this first mission was turned into a second mission with Younghusband as a commissary and General James R.L. Macdonald as commander of the military escort. The English crossed the Jelep Pass (12 Dec., 1903), occupied Phari (19 Dec.), stormed Gyantse (12 April, 1904), and entered Lhasa on 3 August; the dalai lama was in flight. A treaty was signed on 7 September; the British troops left Lhasa and they were back in India on 25 October. The treaty was ratified by the Viceroy of India on 11 Nov., 1904); it included ten articles: The Government of Tibet engaged to respect the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 and to recognize the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet; undertook to open forthwith trade-marts, to which all British and Tibetan subjects should have free right of access at Gyantse and Gastok as well as at Yatung; the roads to Gyantse and Gastok from the frontier were to be kept clear of all obstructions; an indemnity of £500,000, reduced since to one- third of this amount, was to be paid to the British Government for the expense incurred in the despatch of armed troops to Lhasa; all forts and fortifications were to be razed and all armaments removed which might impede the course of free communication between the British frontiers and the towns of Gyantse and Lhasa. These terms were really very moderate. On 27 April, 1906, a convention was signed at Peking by Sir Ernest Mason Satow for Great Britain and by Tang Shao-yi for China, including six articles: the Lhasa Convention was confirmed; Great Britain engaged not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet; China also undertook not to permit any other foreign state to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet. Finally, in 1907, Russian and Great Britain also singed a convention: both parties engaged to respect the territorial integrity of Tibet and to abstain from all interference in its internal administration, not to send representatives to Lhasa, neither to seek nor to obtain, whether for themselves or for their subjects, any concessions for railways, roads, telegraphs, and mines, or other rights in Tibet. From this time the Tibetan frontier has been closed to all foreigners, though the prohibition has been eluded by the daring Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin. The dalai lama had fled to Urga, in Mongolia, which he left in the summer of 1907 to settle at the Kun Bum Monastery; afterwards, in 1908, he went to the celebrated pilgrimage of Shan-si, Wu tai Shan, whence he repaired to Peking. An audience was granted to him by the emperor and he was allowed to leave the Chinese capital on 21 Dec., 1908, and return to Lhasa, where he was not to stay long; a body of Chinese troops invaded Tibet, the dalai lama fled to Darjeeling, and the result of the policy of both Great Britain and Russia has been the virtual annexation of Tibet by China.


Since the Capuchins were expelled in 1760, except the Lazarists Huc and Gabet, who paid a visit to Lhasa in 1844, no missionary entered Tibet proper. The Vicar Apostolic of Hindu Tibet, Giuseppe Antonio Borghi, Bishop of Batsaïda, begged to be relieved of part of his work, and consequently on 21 March, 1846, Gregory XVI created the Vicariate Apostolic of Lhasa. The new vicariate was placed in charge of the Foreign Missions of Paris, and in 1847 Mgr Pérocheau, of Sze-ch'wan, sent Father Charles- René Renou (b. 22 Aug., 1812); d. 18 Oct., 1863) through Bat'ang to Cha-mu-to, some thirty days in the interior of Tibet, but being discovered, he was sent back to Ch'eng-tu. Renou being appointed Prefect Apostolic of Eastern Tibet was to enter his mission via Yun-nan, while Rabin, Prefect Apostolic of Southern Tibet, was to penetrate into the country by the way of Northern India with Fathers Krick and Bernard. Nicholas-Michel Krick (b. 2 March, 1819) and Auguste-Etienne Bourry (b. 26 Dec., 1826) were murdered by the Abors on 1 Sept., 1854. Finally the vicariate was established in the eastern portion of Tibet and the western portion of Sze-ch'wan with Jacques-Léon-Thomine Desmazures (b. 17 Feb., 1804; d. 25 Jan., 1869), Bishop of Sinopolis (1857), who resigned in 1864. His successors have been Joseph-Marie Chauveau (b. 24 Feb., 1816; d. 21 Dec., 1877), Bishop of Sebastopolis (1850) and Vicar Apostolic of Tibet (1864-77); Félix Biet (b. 21 Oct., 1838; d. 9 Sept., 1904), Bishop of Diana. The present Vicar Apostolic is Pierre-Philippe Giraudeau (b. 17 March, 1850), since 1901, Bishop of Tiniade (12 Dec., 1897), with his residence at Ta-Tsien-lu. The mission includes (1910) 21 European priests, 2407 Catholics, and 600 catechumens. It has endured cruel persecutions during recent years. Among the missionaries of Tibet must be mentioned the well-known traveller and scholar, Auguste Desgodins (b. 1826), now living at Darjeeling, author of a large "Dictionnaire thibétain-latin-français", and of a Tibetan grammar, printed at Hong-Kong in 1899.

Appendix: Missionaries, language, and literature of Tibet

The missionaries of Tibet were the first Tibetan scholars. The Jesuit Hippolito Desideri laid the foundation of Christian Tibetan literature by the composition (1716-21) of two apologetic works, one against the erroneous belief that everybody could be saved by his own religion, the other against transmigration of souls. The Capuchin Francesco Orazio della Penna (b. 1681; d. at Patan in Nepal, 1745) translated into Tibetan for the neophytes Cardinal Bellarmine 's "Christian Doctrine" and Thurlot's "Treasure of Christian Doctrine ". He compiled with the assistance of his confrères the first Tibetan dictionary, containing 35,000 words in Tibetan characters with corresponding Italian translation. He also translated from Tibetan into Italian "History of the life and works of Shakiatuba, the restorer of Lamaism", "Three roads leading to perfection", "On transmigration and prayer to God" ("Anal. Ord. Cap.", VI, Rome, 1890, 349). These were the first translations made from Tibetan or from any Indian language into a European language. All remained unpublished, unless the Tibetan-Italian Dictionary "executed by some Roman missionary and collected and arranged by F. C. G. Schroeter of the ( Protestant ) Church Missionary Society and edited by J. Marshman of the Baptist Missionary Society at Serampore (India) in 1826, consisting of nearly 500 quarto pages" (Bagster, "Bible of Every Land", London, 1851, p. 17 sq.) is the afore-mentioned work compiled by the Capuchin Fathers. The first printed dictionary and grammar of the Tibetan language is the "Alphabetum Tibetanum missionum apostolicarum commodo editum" (Rome, 1762) by the Italian Augustinian Antonio Agostino Giorgi (d. 1797; cf. Cath. Encycl., VII, 285; Heimbucher, "Orden u. [K]ongregationen", II, Paderborn, 1907, p. 202). "Much valuable information derived from notes and letters written by the Jesuit and Capuchin Fathers in Tibet is found in this work" (Rockhill, "Journey through Mongolia and Tibet", Washington, 1894, p. X, note). The origin of Tibetan studies among Europeans, generally accorded to the Hungarian savant Oosma de Koros (d. 1842), must be given to the Catholic missionaries and, above all, to the Augustinian Giorgi. For a century after his time this study was cultivated only by some European scholars and a few Protestant missionaries, but their works, especially the Tibetan translation of the Bible by Protestant missionaries, owe much to the researches of the older Catholic missionaries. The zealous priests of the Foreign Missions, especially Renou (d. 1863) and Desgodins, took up the work of their predecessors.

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