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In contemporary society, before major decisions are made, we are often urged to look back at the pertinent historical information and see if we can use this information to help us make clearer decisions and definitions especially in national and international policies. The real problem with this is that those making decisions often have a personal investment in the decision and are able to skew history and data towards the solution that they prefer. In these cases, it is necessary to look at both sides of the information before reaching a decision, and this is what I have tried to do concerning China’s policies and political viewpoint ofTibet. Through using objective and pro-Chinese documents, as well as outside knowledge of pro-Tibet viewpoints, I have attempted to prove whether or not I feel the Chinese are justified in claiming authority over Tibet, and conversely, whether Tibet is justified in claiming autonomy from China. My conclusion is that neither is justified. Through studying the political histories of the relationship of China and Tibet since the Tang Dynasty, constructed as alternating periods of each state’s dominance over each other in different ways, I believe that neither China nor Tibet is justified in their political opinions over the other and instead they historically have been partners unable to clearly be separate from each other.
In order to properly come to a conclusion on what the actual historical status of Tibet and China is, one must begin with the first real documented political relationship existing between the two states. This period begins with the Tang Dynasty ruling in China (approximately 618 to 908 AD) and a series of powerful tribal chiefs in Tibet, referred to as the “‘Tubo’ in Chinese historical documents” (Yin 201). During this period, the Tubo were a highly powerful group, and for almost three centuries, constant battles erupted between Tibet and China, not clearly defined with borders yet. The Tibetans were still a highly nomadic society and sparsely spread along the high Tibetan plains. As the tribal chiefs began to gain more power, larger groups of people would congregate, and battles broke out when the nomadic Tibetans would either travel into Chinese territory or when the Chinese would infringe upon the Tibetan nomads’ lands. Due to the unclearly defined borders between China and Tibet, many “minor frontier states” existed as a buffer zone between Tibet and China (Norbu 34). Unfortunately, as time went on, often the Tibetans found themselves battling the residents of the buffer states, thus creating a need for better trained warriors in order to obtain more lands. This is how the warfare between Tibet and China in the 7th century originated. From the early 600s AD through the late 700s/early 800s AD, Tibet and China had a continuous series of battles and ensuing treaties (33). Overall, “…there were fifteen conflicts…mostly initiated by Tibet, as well as seven or eight treaties…” (33).
In the 7th century, one tribal chief finally declared himself King of Tibet, King Songzan Gambo (Yin 200). It is with King Songzan Gambo that the historical accuracy first comes into question however. “In 641 AD, King Songzan Gambo married Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty”, thus creating at the very least the historical evidence of a relationship of some type trying to be developed by the two states (201). Official Chinese Government released documents explain this marriage as one “cementing political and kinship ties of unity and political friendship…laying a solid foundation for the ultimate founding of a unified nation” (Muzhi 10). What is implied here is that Tibet wanted to be a part of China, however one must question this considering they were a stronger country than China at this time, and who is to say that China perhaps did not want to try and become a part of Tibet? Yet other historians explain the marriage as serving a different means:
“Usually a Tang princess was given in marriage to a barbarian chieftain whose fighting power the Chinese could not match. This was called, as we might recall, ho-chin policy, which was designed to resolve problems of war and inequality in inter-state relations” (Norbu 37).