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Manchu protection: 1720-1911 AD

In the early 18th century warfare breaks out between two Mongol dynasties, competing to control Tibet through protection of the Dalai Lama. One side appeals to the Manchu emperor in Beijing for assistance. As a result Chinese imperial forces reach Lhasa in 1720.

For the rest of the Manchu dynasty, until 1911, the Chinese take on the role previously undertaken by the Mongols - that of providing force to protect the Dalai Lama or to restore order when needed, but otherwise leaving Tibet to its own devices.

The Chinese position is similar to that of a feudal overlord in medieval Europe - an ambiguous status which is used by Communist China in the late 20th century to provide historical justification for its occupation of Tibet.

The ambiguity exists much earlier. From 1861, when British India absorbs Sikkim, there are border and trade disputes with Tibet. By 1893 Britain believes it has resolved the issue in an agreement with Beijing. However the settlement is rejected by the Tibetans, who refuse to enter any form of negotiation with the British.

The result is an armed invasion from Sikkim in 1903 by a British force under Francis Younghusband. In August 1904, after frequently pausing en route in the hope of negotiation, the British enter the holy city of Lhasa. A treaty is agreed during the next month and is signed, amid great pomp, in the Potala. The terms, greatly advantageous to Britain, even allow for a measure of British control over Tibetan internal affairs.

The Manchu government, amending the treaty, prevents any British control over Tibet. But the Manchu link itself is now to prove short-lived. The revolution which topples the Manchus in 1911 in China also prompts the Tibetans to expel Chinese troops from Lhasa.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.