Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Excerpt 3: Struggles of the Dalai Lama

October 3, 2010

Eric Enno Tamm
The Ottawa Citizen
September 30, 2010

Excepted and adapted from chapter 17 of The Horse
That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage,
the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China

"The Chinese authorities seem to guard the Dalai
Lama closely," Baron Gustaf Mannerheim wrote in
his diary in July 1908. The Russian colonel, who
was on a secret intelligence-gathering mission in
China, had just arrived at Wutai Shan, the most
sacred of four Buddhist mountains in China. One
of its mountaintop temples was, he wrote, "the
present abode, not to say prison, of the Buddhists’ pope, the Dalai Lama."

A Chinese army captain named Wang told Mannerheim
that "a cordon of soldiers" guarded the
approaches to Wutai Shan in northeast Shanxi
province. In the event of an attempt to escape,
Wang explained, the Dalai Lama "would be stopped,
by armed force if necessary." But in his
wanderings around Wutai Shan, Mannerheim saw no
such cordon. "I could not help noticing, however,
that [Wang] watched my movements with the greatest interest."

Wang urged Mannerheim to take him as his
interpreter during his audience with the
Thirteenth Dalai Lama. But a Tibetan prince had
already secretly informed Mannerheim that Wang
was not welcome. The Tibetans despised Wang, whom
they considered a spy, and prohibited him and his
troops from the inner precincts of the temple.

Wutai Shan was more podium than prison for the
Dalai Lama. Upon arriving here in the spring of
1908, His Holiness sent messages to the Peking
Legations inviting envoys to visit. William
Woodville Rockhill, the American ambassador to
China, was the first. He pulled on his walking
boots and set out for Wutai Shan on foot, a
five-day trek from Peking. Rockhill was a scholar
and diplomat who had explored Inner Asia in the
1890s and spoke Tibetan. He had left Wutai Shan
only a day before Mannerheim’s arrival.

"The Talé Lama seems to me a man of undoubted
intelligence, open-minded... a very agreeable,
kindly, thoughtful host, and a personage of great
dignity," Rockhill reported back to President
Theodore Roosevelt. The Dalai Lama told Rockhill
about his struggles against the Chinese and how
his country’s remoteness meant Tibet had "no
friends abroad." Rockhill assured His Holiness
that he was mistaken: Tibet had many foreign
well-wishers who hoped to see Tibetans "prosper
and happy." Later, during the Dalai Lama’s visit
to Peking, Rockhill became a confidant to the
Tibetan leader, quietly pushing a rapprochement with the Chinese.

In the summer of 1908, the Dalai Lama received a
parade of envoys: a German doctor from the Peking
Legation; an English explorer named Christopher
Irving; R.F. Johnson, a British diplomat from the
Colonial Service; and Henri D’Ollone, a French
army major and viscount. The Dalai Lama hoped to
patch up his relations with Britain after its
invasion of Lhasa in 1904 and bolster his
international standing. These first audiences
with the mysterious Buddhist pontiff were much anticipated.

On his second day in Wutai Shan, a messenger ran
into Mannerheim’s room in the Tayuan Temple and
gestured that the Dalai Lama was ready to receive
him. Mannerheim duly prepared himself. While he
was shaving and changing his clothes, another
frantic messenger arrived to express the Dalai
Lama’s impatience. "I was just as impatient," he
wrote, "but could not possibly dress any faster."
A few minutes later, an anxious Tibetan prince
appeared to ask what Mannerheim meant by keeping
His Holiness waiting. At a swift pace, the Baron
and prince climbed the steep staircase to Pusading Temple.

Wang, in full dress uniform, was waiting at the
top with a Chinese honour guard. The Chinese had
reason to worry about Mannerheim’s visit. Chinese
authorities had just arrested two Russian
military officers who were inciting the Mongols
to break from China and become a Russian
protectorate. During his stay in Urga (now Ulan
Baatar), the Dalai Lama sent messages to the Tsar
through various envoys. His Holiness told one
Russian military intelligence officer that both
Tibet and Mongolia should "irrevocably secede
from China to form an independent allied state,
accomplishing this operation with Russia’s
patronage and support, avoiding bloodshed." If
Russia wouldn’t help, the Dalai Lama insisted, he
would even ask Britain -- his former foe -- for
help. After his visit with the Dalai Lama,
Mannerheim, in fact, trekked to Inner Mongolia to
gauge the rebellious mood of the Mongols.

Wang could barely hide his wrath when Mannerheim
told him that he could not attend his audience
with the Tibetan pontiff. The Chinese captain
argued with two of the Dalai Lama’s assistants.
As the Baron slipped into a small reception hall,
he caught sight of Wang "making vain efforts to force his way in behind me."

The Dalai Lama sat on a gilded armchair placed on
a dais along the back wall of the small room. Two
old Tibetans, unarmed, with beards and hair
speckled with grey stood behind him. The Dalai
Lama was frocked in "imperial yellow with
light-blue linings" and a "traditional red toga."
The thirty-three-year-old pontiff had a dark
brown face, shaved head, moustache and a tuft of
hair under his lower lip. His eyes were large and
his teeth gleamed. Mannerheim noticed "slight
hollows in the skin of his face, which are
supposed to be pockmarks." He appeared a bit
nervous, "which he seems anxious to hide."
Otherwise, Mannerheim thought he was "a lively
man in full possession of his mental and physical faculties."

Mannerheim made a "profound bow," which the Dalai
Lama acknowledged with a slight nod. They
exchanged silk scarves. His Holiness began with
small talk, asking Mannerheim about his
nationality, age and journey. The Dalai Lama then
paused and, twitching nervously, asked if the
Tsar had sent a secret message for him. "He
awaited the translation of my reply with obvious
interest," wrote Mannerheim, who informed him
that he hadn’t the opportunity to personally
speak with Tsar Nicholas II before his departure.
The Dalai Lama then gestured, and a beautiful
piece of white silk with Tibetan letters was
brought out. It was a gift that Mannerheim was to
deliver personally to Nicholas II.

The Dalai Lama told Mannerheim he had been
enjoying his journeys in Mongolia and China, but
"his heart was in Tibet." Many Tibetans were
urging him to return. His officials claimed up to
twenty thousand pilgrims visited the Dalai Lama
each month, but Mannerheim thought it was "an
undoubted exaggeration." The Tibetan pontiff was
in the midst of a showdown with Empress Dowager
Cixi, who wanted him to come to Peking to perform
the kowtow. The Dalai Lama, Mannerheim wrote,
"does not look like a man resigned to play the
part the Chinese Government wishes him to, but
rather like one who is only waiting for an
opportunity of confusing his adversary." The wily
Tibetan pontiff had postponed his journey so many
times that a joke was circulating in Peking
referring to him as the “Delay Lama.”

Mannerheim spoke encouragingly about Russia’s
sympathies for Tibet’s struggles against the
Chinese. Russia’s troubles were over, the Baron
assured him, and "the Russian Army was stronger
than ever." Now, all Russians watched His
Holiness’s footsteps with great interest, he
added. The Dalai Lama, Mannerheim recalled,
"listened to my polite speeches with unconcealed satisfaction."

Twice the Dalai Lama ordered his bodyguards to
check if Wang was eavesdropping on their
conversation. It was a dangerous time for the
Dalai Lama, who knew his life may be in danger if
he returned to Lhasa. The Chinese were tightening
their grip on Tibet. Lamas were being
assassinated, monasteries plundered and Tibetans
evicted from their nomadic pastures. Peking
needed the Dalai Lama to be a compliant vassal
who could calm his restless followers and ease
Tibet’s incorporation into the Chinese Empire.

But the Dalai Lama proved defiant. He visited
Peking that September and immediately fell out
with the Imperial Court, which issued a decree
demoting him to "a loyal and submissive
Vicegerent bound by the laws of the sovereign
state." A prominent Imperial censor also openly
denounced him as "a proud and ignorant man."
Rumours spread in Tibet that he had been
assassinated. Outraged at various reforms, lamas
threatened a "holy war" against the Chinese. By
the end of 1908, a rebellion broke out, leading
to the defeat of Chinese troops. The Dalai Lama
eventually returned to Lhasa in 1909 and sent
telegrams to Britain and all European countries
attacking Peking’s claim over Tibet.

In February 1910, Chinese troops invaded Lhasa.
The Dalai Lama fled to India. An Imperial decree
denounced His Holiness as "an ungrateful,
irreligious obstreperous profligate who is
tyrannical and so unacceptable to the Tibetans,
and accordingly an unsuitable leader of Lamas."
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, His Holiness
returned to Tibet in 1913, declaring the country
independent. He died in 1933, leaving a prophetic
last testament for the next Dalai Lama:

We must guard ourselves against the barbaric red
communists... the worst of the worst. It will not
be long before we find the red onslaught at our
own front door... and when it happens we must be
ready to defend ourselves. Otherwise our
spiritual and cultural traditions will be
completely eradicated... and the days and nights
will pass slowly and with great suffering and terror.

Recognizing the clear and present danger,
Mannerheim offered the Dalai Lama an unusual,
though practical, gift: a Browning revolver. The
Baron apologized that he didn’t have a better
offering, but explained that after two years’
journey he had no other items of value. The Dalai
Lama laughed, "showing all his teeth," as
Mannerheim showed His Holiness how to quickly
reload seven cartridges into the revolver. The
Dalai Lama relished the demonstration."The times
were such," Mannerheim wrote, "that a revolver
might at times be of greater use, even to a holy
man like himself, than a praying mill."

* From The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A
Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of
Modern China by Eric Enno Tamm. Copyright © 2010
by Eric Enno Tamm. Published by arrangement with Douglas & McIntyre.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank