Tibet during China's warlord era?

Dec 2014
1,082
Europe
The warlord period of China during 1910s-1930s is very interesting in my opinion, and lately I've been curious about how this period affected Tibet.

I only know some basics that after the fall of Qing Dynasty Tibet tried to become independent and was in conflict with Chinese Nationalist government and local warlords like the Ma and Sichuan cliques. I also know there was a war in the early 1930s which involved a dispute over monastic territories. Unfortunately my knowledge doesn't go much beyond this.

Could anyone who knows about this topic help me with an overview of events or any other information about Tibet during the warlord era and also what part the Sichuan and Ma cliques played in this conflict?
Thanks!
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,510
China
first, some background:

about the administration structure concerning tibetan related areas: qing had a dual-like administration structure, there were "provinces" like Zhili, Zhejiang, and there were also autonomy-like frontiers(self-governed but not modern autonomy like). almost all tibetan populated areas had not been "provinces". after Kokand's invasion into xinjiang, qing started to regroup frontiers into modern provinces. xinjiang was turned into a province in 1884. while tibetan areas were not easy to be turned because tibetan spread in some places. in sichuan, qinghai, part of tibetans were living under province governors, while some submit tax to temples and/or local tribe leaders who were hereditary, the 'white horse' was one important figure in Xigaze area. while in the "tibet", where the resident minister of tibet was the theoretical top governor, there actually had been many local tribes, and gashag government had strongest powers in lasha area, and this 'tibet' is notable smaller than we see on maps for current days. 1906, Zhao erfeng was assigned minister of sichuan and yunnan affairs, he was then also assigned acting governor of sichuan. following the "turning to province" policy, he abolished the temple-taxing system in sichuan, and replaced the hereditary system with normal official assignments. notice he also abolished the "white horse" family with military forces. zhao's effort was welcomed by lower classes of the tibetan people, but not welcomed by the top nobles, because you might knew old tibet temple system was kind of medieval serfs like, similar to the russians in the old days. this whole stuff is important that, it was the opening of later conflicts, it gives a pattern that local tibetan nobles refused to give up old rights while other provinces try to decrease the nobles' importance. notice zhao also proposed to establish a new 'kang' province, which failed during xinhai revolution against qing, but performed later in roc.
notice in 1904, British invaded from India into 'tibet'(the one under the 'resident minister of tibet'). in this war, 13th dalai ran away to qinghai, and eventually to outer mongolia, without the permission from resident minister of tibet. thus his title was temporarily removed for 'running away'. in 1908, when 13th dalai went back to tibet spared directly from the emperor, he became against to the reinforcement of soldiers from sichuan. the soldiers from sichuan indeed had some problems on discipline, and during some misunderstanding events, dalai went to india. for this his title was removed again. 9th panchen was asked to handle affairs in lasha. for this incident, 13th dalai became hostile to 9th panchen. during xinhai revolution, sichuan armies in tibet had severe internal conflicts about the revolution and became so weak and so disturbing to the locals that they had to move out of tibet. in 1912, after the rev, 13th dalai got back to lasha, and demanded panchen to submit taxes and supplies that obviously exceeded panchen's ability. lasha was more powerful than panchen's area, and gashag arrested some of panchen's officials. in the end panchen became powerless(he eventually ran to qinghai province due to the pressure of dalai).

okay, this background would give a picture that, after all the events, that local tribes had been solved by British, by Zhao, and figures like panchen were driven out of tibet, 13th dalai and gashag at lasha became 'real' rulers in tibet, and they relied on the old temple systems, which is against the "turning to province" trend in other places of old qing.
all the conflicts in my opinion were originated from this environment.

now, I have to leave...unlike other fast replies, I have to check some papers to give the background, not sure if I can continue to the real business of war lord wars....if I cannot, sorry...
 
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Dec 2014
1,082
Europe
Thank you for that interesting background info. I have heard about Tibet maintaining a feudal-like system during this era (like you mentioned) so it's interesting to read what you said about Zhao Erfeng and the conflict between the different organisation systems. If you find time to share any more information it'd be great to read. In any case thanks for your post.
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,510
China
I reread the "The Demise of the Lamaist State" by Goldstein, and found he all started from Dalai lama, very fit to the title, but surprisingly not informative on the contemporary environment....maybe the work is too heavy, and anyway his focus is the lamaist...

the first chuan-tibet war was in 1917. but in fact it is a continuant of things around 1908.
zhao erfeng should be re-mentioned, he abolished the "white-horse", who controlled large area to the south of lasha. in record, there were small tribe leaders who agreed with zhao about abolishing or decreasing the temple taxing systems as far as in chayu. and he made changdu a political center of his reform. you can check a map, indian maps might be easy to found, well chayu is the disputed area, the southern part of it is claimed by india.

you can imagine zhao's reform made lots of guys feared, tibetan tribes leaders and temple lamas feared the fall of the temple tax and serf system, while British India concerned more about their influence in tibet maybe completely cut off. note dalai returned to lasha in 1912, without local strong tribes such as the "white-horse", and potential competitors such as panchen, he had controlled all the temples and effectively controlled the gashag. also, yuan shikai, unlike qing emperors, retitled dalai, and informed the country that he and his gov considering dalai as an most important leader of tibet. during this time period, he no doubtfully favored the British powers and wanted to solidify the ruling of him.

among all towns, changdu is the most important one. it is the key position that sits near sichuan, qinghai, yunnan, and it is in the way to chayu. in 1917, some gashag border soldiers crossed the province level border to feed the horse, they were captured and sent to changdu, where the sichuan army was. the soldiers were sentenced to death, which certainly is inappropriate. the tibetan army responded with attacking of changdu. before this dalai trained a new army with the help of British. the gashag also called the temples to help. don't underestimate the powers of temples, they were actually religious, military and administration organization in trinity. in 1905, a qing general fengquan was attacked by one to two temples to death, this is mentioned by Goldstein in the book, but he didn't mention the temples had strong private armies, fengquan was not killed by common peasants. at the time of the attacking, china is already in war lords time. sichuan had the war lord called chen xialing, after yuan shikai's death, chen was busy fighting with yunnan war lords for expansion. he failed to reinforce the changdu, thus tibet succeeded in capture changdu, they reestablish the temple system in the western part of kang, and set up a gashag structure in changdu.

so this is the story of first chuan-tibet war, or generally called second chuan-tibet conflict(the first conflict was around xinhai rev in 1912, when several bandits and temples rebelled, tibet under dalai was not actually extensively involved, and he hadn't actually complete his control over tibet till then)

sichuan completely lost to tibet for this time, the kang area where had been controlled by sichuan armies had not been heavily influenced by lasha, the temple system had not been strong there, but rather, tusi officials had been strong there, who were replaced later during the "turning to province". after the war, the temple system completely controlled the area, and gashag also extended there. till now, you found changdu in tibet autonomy, but not in sichuan.
 
Dec 2014
1,082
Europe
Thanks for that information. I didn't know the temples had such strong personal power (like private soldiers). Would you say that this split in power of local and national forces in Tibet had any effect on their capabilities against China? From what I've read about the 1930-32 war it seems that for the most part the Tibetan army were not really able to hold their own against Chinese forces.

If, for example, the monasteries had held less physical power (which instead could be held by a more centralised government) would this have had any influence on their ability to fight against China?
 
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Mar 2019
46
Canada
Thanks for that information. I didn't know the temples had such strong personal power (like private soldiers). Would you say that this split in power of local and national forces in Tibet had any effect on their capabilities against China? From what I've read about the 1930-32 war it seems that for the most part the Tibetan army were not really able to hold their own against Chinese forces.

If, for example, the monasteries had held less physical power (which instead could be held by a more centralised government) would this have had any influence on their ability to fight against China?
no
They were outnumbered
Out gunned,
lack in tactics too.
From what I read, they had difficulty dealing with militias.
 
Jul 2014
1,616
world
no
They were outnumbered
Out gunned,
lack in tactics too.
From what I read, they had difficulty dealing with militias.
Outnumbered yes. Outgunned yes. Lack in tactics .... big NO.

Tibetan border tribes held their own for a long long time against the modern forces of the KMT in Qinghai and Sichuan. The golok rebels were never truly defeated by the KMT warlords. They were fighting till the 1949 against the muslim warlords. So KMT and its predecessors couldn't properly defeat a Tibetan nomadic horse army for almost 30 years.

Khampas of Sichuan were paid in money and guns for travel permission through TIbetan areas by the KMT even when the KMT theoretically ruled that portion of Xikang.

During the famous long march the PLA suffered attacks from the the Tibetan khampa tribes because they didn't pay tribute money or gift guns. And these tribes were a losing faction in the Khampa rebellion of 1934.

So I think they were quite decent tactic wise but strategically stupid.
 
Mar 2019
46
Canada
Outnumbered yes. Outgunned yes. Lack in tactics .... big NO.

Tibetan border tribes held their own for a long long time against the modern forces of the KMT in Qinghai and Sichuan. The golok rebels were never truly defeated by the KMT warlords. They were fighting till the 1949 against the muslim warlords. So KMT and its predecessors couldn't properly defeat a Tibetan nomadic horse army for almost 30 years.

Khampas of Sichuan were paid in money and guns for travel permission through TIbetan areas by the KMT even when the KMT theoretically ruled that portion of Xikang.

During the famous long march the PLA suffered attacks from the the Tibetan khampa tribes because they didn't pay tribute money or gift guns. And these tribes were a losing faction in the Khampa rebellion of 1934.

So I think they were quite decent tactic wise but strategically stupid.
Khampa tribes does not mean Tibet.
When we are talking about Tibet, we are talking about the centralized Tibet state under Dali Lama.
 
Jul 2014
1,616
world
Khampa tribes does not mean Tibet.
When we are talking about Tibet, we are talking about the centralized Tibet state under Dali Lama.
I dont understand your meaning. Are you saying Central Tibet did not have Kham lands under rule? If so you are wrong.

Cental Tibet had and has huge portion of Khampa lands. Birthplace place of Kham culture itself is in Qangdu, TAR.
 
Mar 2019
46
Canada
I dont understand your meaning. Are you saying Central Tibet did not have Kham lands under rule? If so you are wrong.

Cental Tibet had and has huge portion of Khampa lands. Birthplace place of Kham culture itself is in Qangdu, TAR.
Yes, but Khampa tribes didn't attack Chinese due to commands from Lhasa, they did so under their own accord.
Let's see things with your logic
Japan had huge portions of China in world war two, therefore China=Japan, the KMT is Japanese?
Makes no sense.