THE IMPACT OF MANCHU INSTITUTIONS ON TIBETAN MILITARY REFORM

Tibet had since at least the eighth century been known for its heavily armoured cavalry. However, the era of the armoured cavalryman ended in Tibet in the mid-seventeenth century following the introduction of firearms from in particular Bhutan. The Tibetan military then underwent a transitional phase from the mid-/late seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century. There was still no standing army, and the key fighting component of the army – the noble cavalrymen – still used personal if no longer horse armour, although of the lighter chain-mail of the Indo-Persian style that they had encountered in Bhutan rather than the old lamellar style derived from Inner Asia.
A Tibetan standing army was only formed in the winter of 1792/1793, in a reform pushed through by the Manchu commander in Tibet. The context was that of the Gurkha invasion of Tibet in 1791 and the decisive defeat of the Gurkhas by a combined Qing and Tibetan army in 1792. The new, native Tibetan regular soldiers were trained in the Qing manner and had Chinese-style uniforms. The Tibetan army officers seem to have been included in the system of Qing mandarin grades. Their task was to guard the southern borders of Tibet.
By 1857, military reform was again urgently needed. However, the Tibetan leaders were reluctant to divert funds from religious activities to the military. Many clerical leaders also opposed, on principle, the establishment of a modern military force under secular command. A few modern rifles were acquired, but fundamentally the Tibetan army continued to rely on the weapons technology, organisation, and tactics of the eighteenth century. When the Tibetan army was called upon to confront the British invasion of Tibet in 1903-1904, it was woefully inadequate.
The negative Tibetan clerical view on the need for military expenditures continued well into the twentieth century, when renewed attempts to modernise the Tibetan military were similarly thwarted. The end result is known to all; when Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950, the Tibetans did not stand a chance and independent Tibet was doomed.

 
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