Friday, August 1, 2008

A Lengthy Analysis of China: Origins and Early History of the Tibet and Xinjiang Disputes

Post 2 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

Fundamentally, the problematic situation in Tibet is a result of long-standing territorial disputes within China, particularly with regards to Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and Xinjiang. In these remote, non-Chinese regions, cultural and nationalist pride have presented significant challenges to a Chinese rule that in these areas remains distinctly foreign. Indeed, contrary to Chinese claims that these areas are “inseparable” parts of China, Tibet and East Turkistan, as the native Uyghurs call it, have been independent of Chinese rule for most of history and at times have even built empires that have rivaled China itself.

China’s first enduring control over these regions, and perhaps the true basis of present-day China’s claim to them, came as a result of the conquests of the last imperial dynasty of China, the Qing (who, incidentally, were of Manchu, and not Chinese, lineage, though by this time the Manchus were fairly sinified). At its height, after nearly a century of expansionism, the Qing ruled an empire encompassing not only traditional China, but also Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Korea, and parts of present-day Russia as well as compelled tribute from neighboring Vietnam, Burma, and Nepal.[1]

Although the Chinese had made some past forays into parts of Central Asia and other non-Chinese areas, they never before had ruled over a multicultural empire of such huge size. Like the Russians, the Ottomans, and the rulers of other multinational empires, the Qing were faced with a critical decision in how to govern their foreign lands: whether to try to exercise direct control over them and risk breeding more determined resistance in such areas or to grant them a degree of autonomy and risk undermining central authority in general.

At the outset, the Qing rulers granted a great deal of autonomy to such areas, making Tibet[2] and Korea[3] protectorates but essentially letting them govern themselves and exercising only very loose control over Xinjiang[4] and Mongolia.[5] The Qing reasoned, wisely, that to risk antagonizing such areas by enforcing direct rule would be pointless and imprudent given how hard it already was for them to administer and police their vast empire and to establish their credibility in China itself (so that the Chinese would be content to be ruled by the foreign Manchus).

As the Qing Dynasty began to reel in its waning years under internal rebellions and European and Japanese imperialism, it started to exert greater control over Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia for the first time. Only a few years after finally suppressing the long, bloody Muslim Rebellion in the west, Qing troops occupied Xinjiang in 1884 and put it under direct Chinese rule: in fact, it was then that the Qing named the region Xinjiang, meaning “new territory,” which implies that the Qing never before had considered the region a true part of China.[6] After a small British force invaded Tibet from India in 1904, the angry Qing government officially proclaimed to the British that China had sole sovereignty over Tibet, and in 1910 Qing troops enforced this statement by marching into Tibet and establishing direct Chinese rule.[7] Increasingly fearful of Russian influence in the north, particularly after the Russians occupied Manchuria during the Boxer Rebellion, the Qing drastically tightened their rule over Inner and Outer Mongolia and increasingly tried to sinify these areas.[8] Indeed, it is even possible that Korea might have also been subject to greater rule had it not come under the influence of and later the rule of Japan in 1895 and 1910, respectively.

The unprecedented Chinese control in these regions would prove short-lived, though, when just a few years later, in 1912, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown. The disintegration of the Qing government left the former empire without a strong central authority, and so central Chinese control in far-flung domains like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia virtually ended. Indeed, there was no central Chinese control in China itself, as regional warlords and factions fought each other for power and plunged China into chaos.

For the next 40 years, with China embroiled in civil war and ravaged by recurrent Japanese invasions, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia came to fend for and govern for themselves. In Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his administration would rule undisturbed for much of the period.[9] In Xinjiang, the Uyghurs resisted invasions by frontier warlords and twice established an independent East Turkistan Republic.[10] In Outer Mongolia, the Mongols, with Tsarist support, declared their independence in 1911 and later, with Soviet support, would repel invasions from both the White Russians and the Chinese.[11]

For Tibet and East Turkistan, though, this period of self-rule would also prove short-lived. In 1949, the Communists finally eliminated the last of their rivals, the Guomindang (Nationalists), and gained control of China proper. With traditional China finally reunified under their direction, the Communists set about retaking the lands of the former Qing Empire, and by the early 1950s Communist troops had occupied Tibet and East Turkistan to bring back Chinese rule for good. Only the strong presence of the Soviet Union kept Mongolia from a similar fate (although, far from complete self-rule, it was more or less a Soviet satellite state until the 1990s).

Once again ruling over many nationalities, China once again had to decide whether to directly rule Tibet and Xinjiang or grant them a degree of autonomy. At this critical juncture, the Chinese government picked up right where the late Qing left off and asserted itself in full force over these territories, crushing the various uprisings and incorporating these regions as “autonomous” provinces in which Chinese officials, not Tibetan or Uyghur, had ultimate power. Still consolidating its rule throughout all of China, the Communists likely felt that granting any sort of true autonomy at this time would have undercut its authority in other places.

[5] Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
[8] Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
[11] Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.

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1 comment:

Hu said...

In these remote, non-Chinese regions, cultural and nationalist pride have presented significant challenges to a Chinese rule that in these areas remains distinctly foreign.
You are wrong. This is just the diversity of China.
If you want to review China, you need to know more about China, and then you will not make silly mistake.
I guess i do not need to read the next content of you articles.
I also want to remind you the most urgent human record is the killing in Iraq.
And also do not always want to be a judge. Thank you!