British Intelligence on China in Tibet, 1903-1950 India Office Political and Secret Files and Confidential Print
India Office Political and Secret Files and Confidential Print In addition, significant material is included that will provide insights into diplomatic, governmental and intelligence missions and contacts of the three major powers involved (Britain, Russia and China). This release was preceded by the release of “The India Political Intelligence (IPI) Files, 1912-1950”.
Different imperatives Much of the value of this collection lies in the way it shows how the three players on the British side – that is, the Government of India, the India Office, and the Foreign Office – grappled with different imperatives. The view from the British Embassy in Peking, and later from wartime Chungking, was frequently at odds with that from Delhi or the India Office. For decades, the British side juggled with the self-imposed conundrum that recognition of Chinese suzerainty should be conditional upon China’s recognition of Tibetan autonomy, while avoiding precise definitions of either concept. Meanwhile, Tibet went its own way in a semi-independent limbo, subject to varying degrees of British intervention and support channeled through Government of India officials at Gyantse and Gartok (in Sikkim), or latterly in its Lhasa Mission.
Historical status The collection begins with Lord Curzon’s “forward policy” of 1903-04, which was designed to create a Tibetan buffer state against Russian influence - significantly, all this material was printed by the Foreign Office. Then follow negotiations to keep Russia at a distance, and the return of the 13th Dalai Lama to Tibet from China. There is extensive coverage of Tibet’s break with China after the 1911 Revolution, the subsequent Simla Conference of 1912, and the delimitation of Tibet’s borders.
One fascinating group of files details an attempt to turn four young Tibetans into a vanguard of “modernizers” through the medium of an English public school education. Another large group of files records the way in which access to Tibet was closely controlled by the British.
Internal affairs Tibet’s internal affairs and British encouragement of
de facto semi-independence during the 1920s and 1930s, led to a renewed concern for Chinese Nationalist claims during World War II. Particularly interesting from this period are the files on the “discovery” of the 14th (i.e., the present) Dalai Lama in 1937-39. The collection ends with the complete reversal following the Independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the Communist victory in China.
Provenance & historical background All the files and related confidential print reproduced, form part of the papers of the Political & Secret Department in the India Office Records (with the exception of three items from the Military Department and its World War II offshoot, the War Staff – Fiche 29-35 and 299).
The files comprise a wide variety of papers received from the Government of India Foreign Department and other sources in India, and from the Foreign Office in London, together with India Office-generated minutes, comments, and replies. In 1982 the Foreign & Commonwealth Office transferred the administration of the India Office Library & Records to the British Library, where it now forms a part of the Library’s Oriental & India Office Collections.
A.J. Farrington, Former Deputy Director Oriental & India Office Collections, The British Library