Beyond Shangri-La: America and Tibet's Move into the Twenty-First Century (American Encounters/Global Interactions)

Beyond Shangri-La: America and Tibet's Move into the Twenty-First Century (American Encounters/Global Interactions)

by John Kenneth Knaus

ISBN: 9780822352341

Publisher Duke University Press Books

Published in Calendars/History

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Book Description

Beyond Shangri-La chronicles relations between the Tibetans and the United States since 1908, when a Dalai Lama first met with U.S. representatives. What was initially a distant alliance became more intimate and entangled in the late 1950s, when the Tibetan people launched an armed resistance movement against the Chinese occupiers. The Tibetans fought to oust the Chinese and to maintain the presence of the current Dalai Lama and his direction of their country. In 1958, John Kenneth Knaus volunteered to serve in a major CIA program to support the Tibetans. For the next seven years, as an operations officer working from India, from Colorado, and from Washington, D.C., he cooperated with the Tibetan rebels as they utilized American assistance to contest Chinese domination and to attain international recognition as an independent entity.

Since the late 1950s, the rugged resolve of the Dalai Lama and his people and the growing respect for their efforts to free their homeland from Chinese occupation have made Tibet's political and cultural status a pressing issue in international affairs. So has the realization by nations, including the United States, that their geopolitical interests would best be served by the defeat of the Chinese and the achievement of Tibetan self-determination. Beyond Shangri-La provides unique insight into the efforts of the U.S. government and committed U.S. citizens to support a free Tibet.

The book is published by Duke University Press.


Sample Chapter

Chapter One

Washington Discovers the Hidden Land

The Meeting at Wutai Mountain

In the summer of 1908 William Woodville Rockhill, Theodore Roosevelt's envoy to China, made a five-day journey by foot and mule train to a remote mountainous region west of Peking for America's first official contact with Tibet. It was a journey rich in symbolism and political significance. His destination was Wutai Mountain, a Buddhist shrine revered by both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhists. Rockhill was there to meet with a dispossessed Dalai Lama who was en route to Peking, where he had been summoned by the incumbent Manchu rulers anxious to guarantee his continued conformity to their waning authority over his country. This was the beginning of America's now century-old relationship with Tibet and its ruler. It is a history of coincidences and ironies.

The immediate coincidence was that the Dalai Lama, who had fled invading British troops four years earlier, was meeting with the one man in the American government who had unique knowledge of the history and culture of Tibet and appreciated the critical role that the Dalai Lama played in it. The irony was that Rockhill had conflicting drives and commitments. As a young man he had so keen an interest in Tibet that he taught himself the Tibetan language at the Bibliothèque National de France in Paris while attending France's Saint-Cyr Military Academy. Fifteen years later he confirmed this dedication when he resigned from the United States foreign ser vice and made a trek to eastern Tibet in an unsuccessful attempt to reach Lhasa. This zeal was not untempered when he was welcomed back by the State Department five years later where he became the primary champion of the Open Door Policy to preclude the dismemberment of China. This stemmed from his work as a commissioner negotiating for indemnity for the victims of the Boxer Rebellion.

When Rockhill finally met with the Tibetan ruler in two sessions at the historic shrine of Wutaishan on June 19 and 21, 1908, he demonstrated his role as a diplomat apart from his zeal as an ethnographer. In a breathless dispatch to an equally adventurous President Roosevelt, Rockhill said that the appearance of the Tibetan ruler at their first meeting took him "absolutely by surprise." He had imagined "a rather ascetic looking youth, bent by constantly sitting bow-legged on cushions, with a sallow complexion and a faraway meditative look." On the contrary, he had found "a man of thirty-three, with a very bright face, rather dark brown, a moustache and a small tuft of hair under his lower lip, whose eyes were large, rather prominent and obliquely set: his eyebrows rising slightly toward the temples gave him a rather narquois [Fr., cunning] expression. His mouth was large, his teeth white and perfect. His head was bare, and, as it had not been shaved for some days, it added to the general worldliness of his appearance." 2 The Dalai Lama, pleased with what he saw in his Tibetan-speaking interlocutor, asked him to return for a more substantive conversation two days later. His primary concern was the options he might have if he acquiesced in his hosts' requests that he return to Lhasa. He said he was most anxious to return to Tibet, "but that he would not be driven back there by the Chinese: he would go when he was ready, not before."

Although delighted with his advisory role, Rockhill, the equally careful diplomat, made it clear that there were limitations imposed by his position, and he "could only do certain things to oblige" the displaced sovereign. He optimistically assured him that the Sino-British-Tibetan agreement which had been signed in Calcutta the month before would bring new benefits to Tibet and "spoke to him most earnestly of the desirability for him to establish close trade relations with India and cultivate friendly relations with neighboring states, but especially with India, his closest neighbor." In response to the Dalai Lama's reference to "the remoteness of his country and the fact that it had no friends abroad," Rockhill reassured him that he was mistaken and "he and Tibet had many well-wishers in America and in other countries, who hoped to see him and his people prosperous, well and happy."

Rockhill concluded, "The Tale [Dalai] Lama seems to me a man of undoubted intelligence, open-minded, perhaps as the result of his misfortunes of the last four years, a very agreeable, kindly thoughtful host, and a personage of great dignity, though simple withal, quick-tempered, perhaps, but of a cheerful temperament." The never falsely modest Rockhill closed by saying, "[I] felt a deeper and more complete satisfaction with these two interviews with the mysterious potentate and incarnation of the god Shenrezig than would anyone who had not, like myself, given so many years of their life to Tibet.... It was all too extraordinary. I could not believe my ears and eyes."

Rockhill received a reply from his equally fascinated correspondent, "a real Rooseveltian one." Although he belittled the letter, he could only have expected that Roosevelt, with his enthusiasm for undeveloped frontiers, would have been excited by his representative's meeting with this exotic person. "Really," the exuberant TR had declared, "it is difficult to believe that it occurred. I congratulate you, and I congratulate the United States upon having the one diplomatic representative in the world to whom such an incident could happen." His only question was how he might reciprocate the gifts that the Dalai Lama had sent him. He had sent the Pope a set of his books. Would this be appropriate for the Tibetan pope? He thought it "just possible" that the Pope might have glanced at them, but he doubted if Rockhill's new friend would do even that.

Roosevelt shared Rockhill's report with his close friend, the British ambassador to Washington James Bryce, who thanked him for sharing this "first real glimpse of that mysterious personage that has perhaps been ever obtained by any Westerner capable of appreciating and describing the head of the oldest and strangest church in the world." Bryce reported that Foreign Secretary Edward Grey had commented, "[If the Dalai Lama] will only believe that we have no designs upon Tibet and require nothing but a friendly attitude from Tibet in trade relations, he will not be disappointed and will find the result entirely satisfactory to himself and beneficial to Tibet." This would seem a measured description of the policy that the British government had adopted toward Tibet in the aftermath of the criticism that had resulted from Younghusband's successful march to Lhasa four years earlier.

The Dalai Lama Comes to Peking

Two months after his meeting with Rockhill at Wutai Mountain, the Dalai Lama, "after much hesitation, and only after repeated peremptory representations from Peking," made his way to Peking. The Manchu government sent a special train to bring him to the Imperial City, where he was received with highest honors. The Times continued its censorious coverage of his presence, noting that the Dalai Lama was described by those who saw him as "lacking in intelligence and character.... There is no love lost between the Peking city officials and the followers of the ruler of Tibet. The head priest of the Dalai Lama has had several encounters with the officials, who are prone to call him uncomplimentary names to his face. 'Barbarian' is one of the least offensive of these."

The Times may have been taking its cue from Whitehall's now restrained enthusiasm for Tibetan matters and the cold shoulder which the Empress Dowager's court was giving to its reluctant guest once it had him under its physical control in the capital. His imperial audience, scheduled to take place within a week after his arrival, was canceled when the Tibetan leader refused to comply with the court ceremonial, which included kneeling and kowtowing (touching the ground with his forehead). He had unsuccessfully argued that these signs of deference had not been required of his predecessor the Fifth Dalai Lama when he had visited the first Manchu emperor two and a half centuries before. The Chinese Foreign Office then kept him in seclusion by requiring that Chinese officials would accompany any foreign representatives with whom he might wish to meet. (The current Dalai Lama is equally wary of the prospect of similar "Golden Isolation" if he were to accept the offer of the present-day successors of the Manchus to live in Beijing but not in Lhasa.)

The refugee Tibetan ruler resorted to sending an emissary to those foreign ambassadors whose advice and assistance he hoped might help him break out of his isolation. His choice of an envoy was another historical irony. It was the notorious Buryat Mongol Buddhist lama Agvan Dorzhiev. His activities in trying to solicit the support of the tsar for the Dalai Lama eight years earlier had been one of the triggering factors in the mounting of the Younghusband expedition, which had led to the Tibetan leader's exile. The Mongol monk had first turned to the Russian ambassador Ivan Korostovetz, but he had found no help there. Moscow's involvement in central Asian politics had greatly diminished after the disastrous shellacking Russia suffered in its encounter with the Japanese three years before. Rockhill reported that Korostovetz's advice was bleak: "The Dalai Lama had no choice but to submit to what the Chinese Government might decide upon. The time when Russia was concerned in advising or supporting eastern rulers was at [an] end; as a spiritual ruler Russia was greatly interested in the welfare of the Dalai Lama, as a temporal ruler he must obey China."

When Dorzhiev said that since the Russians were refusing to advise him, he would have to turn to the British minister, Korostovetz discouraged any prospect of assistance from that quarter, saying that Sir John Jordan had told him that he could have no direct relations with the Tibetans. Questions concerning Tibet were to be settled with the Chinese government, the suzerain state as stipulated in the Russo-British Convention of 1907. The Russian minister could only suggest that Dorzhiev see Rockhill as "the representative of an absolutely disinterested power."

When they met in Peking on October 24 Rockhill found Dorzhiev "a quiet, well-mannered man, impressionable, like all Mongols, and apparently but very little less ignorant of politics and the world in general than the Tibetans." He did not think he "was ... more of an intriguer than any Asiatic would be when confronted for the first time" with someone like the Dalai Lama. This was a surprising underestimation of Dorzhiev as both a man and a political player coming from an anthropologist with a cosmopolitan background and by then a seasoned diplomat. Rockhill didn't survive to witness the overthrow of the Romanov tsars and the succession of the Soviets as participants in the twentieth-century version of new Great Game of Asia. Dorzhiev, however, not only survived but was to be an active participant in these events over the coming three de cades, something about which the United States government was to remain largely ignorant.

Although Dorzhiev must have been expecting encouraging counsel from the only American official who at that time had any knowledge of his adopted country, Rockhill was even more of a determined bystander than his Russian and British colleagues. This became apparent as they talked. The Mongol emissary opened with a bid for advice for the Dalai Lama, who he said was trying to decide whether he should return to Lhasa or remain in Peking until he learned of the reforms that the Chinese were planning for Tibet. He feared that the Chinese government intended to curtail the temporal power he and his predecessors had exercised long before the Manchus came to China.

Rockhill, whose mission as a diplomat was to preserve China's territorial integrity so that its faltering bureaucracy might patch together solutions that would prevent, or at least postpone, its collapse, gave him no encouragement. He bluntly told Dorzhiev, "What ever may have been the sovereign rights of the Dalai Lama before the present dynasty came to the throne, his present position, like that of his predecessors since the middle of the eighteenth century, was that of a vassal prince whose duties, rights and prerogatives had been fixed by the succeeding emperors." He followed this dose of realpolitik with his opinion that the reforms which the Manchu government was reportedly planning were purely administrative in nature, that is, dividing the country into districts, as in China; reorganizing Tibet's military forces, currency, and education; introducing agricultural and stock-raising programs; and building roads. If these were the reforms contemplated, the American diplomat, who was anxious to see his Manchu hosts develop a more efficient administration within their own country, professed to see no objection the Dalai Lama could have to them. Furthermore, as a defender of Chinese sovereignty Rockhill concluded, "Military questions, relations with foreign states, additional questions (in some countries) were all imperial matters which could not be left to the various states [i.e., the Tibetans] to deal with independently."

Although this was not the counsel he had hoped to take back to his principal, Dorzhiev said that the Dalai Lama "had absolutely no objection to raise against the extension of education in Tibet nor to military reforms." He solely feared Chinese encroachment on his temporal authority. He felt strongly on only two issues: that the Yellow Church which he headed should be maintained in all its honors and that he be given the right to send representations ("memorials") directly to the throne rather than through local or regional Manchu administrators. Rockhill responded with surprising optimism, saying he was "convinced" that the imperial government would do nothing to lessen the dignity of the Tibetan Church. He considered the Dalai Lama's wish to communicate directly with Peking "reasonable and in the interest of good government," but he advised that the Tibetan pontiff "ascertain informally how such a request would be received and act accordingly."

Rockhill then dismissed the Dalai Lama's emissary with a reaffirmation of his advice that it was in the Dalai Lama's best interest to get back to Lhasa as soon as possible and "show the Chinese Government that he was sincerely favorable to all measures for the good of his country, as on this must depend the continuance of the Imperial favor and the granting to him of the favors he so much desired." The American diplomat took a far different tone in this report to TR than in his breathless and admiring dispatch three months earlier describing his first meeting with the Tibetan pontiffat Wutai Mountain. Now he reported that he gathered from this conversation with Dorzhiev that the Dalai Lama "cared very little, if at all, for anything which did not affect his personal privileges and prerogatives, that he separated entirely his cause from that of the people of Tibet, which he was willing to abandon entirely to the mercy of China." The former Saint-Cyr officer did not countenance willful local monarchs, even exotic ones, who threatened the shaky authority of the government to which he was accredited and determined to support.

Following this bleak meeting of his representative with Rockhill, the humbled Tibetan was kept in splendid political isolation by his hosts, who then gave him an imperial banquet. The Empress Dowager celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday by conferring a new title on him, adding the ominously instructive words "Sincerely, Obedient, Reincarnation-helping" to his existing description as "Great, Virtuous, Self-existent Buddha of the West." The decree further delineated his status by ordering that he must "immediately return to Tibet ... be reverentially submissive to the regulations of the Sovereign State, [and] induce the Western Barbarians [i.e., his people] to obey the laws and practice virtue." The decree denied him the right to address his representations to the throne directly, but dictated that he must communicate through the Chinese resident in Lhasa, "who [would] memorialize for him," and "must respectfully await the decision." In response to the by then thoroughly demoralized Dalai Lama's request for advice on whether he should make one more attempt to obtain the right of direct communication in the letter of thanks he had been ordered to submit to the throne, Rockhill urged that he give up this battle. He counseled that he "saw absolutely no way out of the difficulty": "The Dalai Lama must submit to his sovereign's commands. He had received many honors, his relations with India had been satisfactorily arranged by China, the interests of the Yellow Church were safe. He must [now] take the bitter with the sweet." The only suggestion that the American diplomat could make was that "he should not delay too long complying with the wishes of the Chinese Government, as it might be misunderstood and lead to further complications." Rockhill was sympathetic, but he obviously thought it was time for this fascinating, but stubbornly independent, subject to yield to the interests of the established order, especially one that the American diplomat was committed to preserving.


Excerpted from "Beyond Shangri-La: America and Tibet's Move into the Twenty-First Century (American Encounters/Global Interactions)" by John Kenneth Knaus. Copyright © 0 by John Kenneth Knaus. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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