In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Tibet is Number 70 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Tibet is defined as “the table-land of Central Asia,” but the study notes that “the application of the name and the definition of the boundaries are alike extremely vague.” Western knowledge of the geography of Tibet was at this time still quite limited. The book includes sections on physical and political geography, political history, and economic conditions. A note at the beginning of the political history part states: “This section is intended to be read in conjunction with China, No. 67 of this series.” The section on political history deals with the early history of Tibet, including the introduction of Buddhism from India in 622, relations with the Mongol Empire, relations with China under the Manchus, and the growth of Chinese suzerainty. Topics discussed under recent history include relations between Tibet and British India, the British expedition to Lhasa of 1903−4, and rivalry among Britain, Russia, and China for influence in Tibet. The work also discusses the tripartite negotiations at Simla (India) in 1913−14 among representatives of the governments of China, Tibet, and Britain. The section on economic conditions includes a detailed discussion of the roads radiating from Lhasa, noting that these “have for centuries formed the traditional lines of communication with the outer world, but they are in fact little more than routes or tracks marked by cairns.”

Last updated: July 21, 2014