Allied Committee: Common Voice Vol. 1 1988 The Origins of Relations Between Tibet and Other Countries in Central Asia--I

Common Voice

the publication of

Common Voice: Volume 1 1988

The Origins of Relations Between Tibet and Other Countries in Central Asia--I

P. T. Takla

Before the beginning of the Christian era, some of the Tibetan tribes migrated to neighbouring states, or, may be, they had immigrated to Tibet from the outflanking regions. According to the Chinese annals, fHan Hrui(1), the state of Tokharai (the Indo-Scythians) stretched from north of the Tunhuang Caves to the Chi-ling Mountains north of Lake Koko Nor. Hiung-Nu, a tribal king, in a battle with the tribes of Tokharai, killed the Tokharain king and used his skull as a bowl for drinking chang. Led by the queen of the dead king, the remnants of the court and many followers fled to the west in the region of Amu Daria river and settled there. The same annals state that others of the tribe fled across the mountains in the south and settled in the area of the Jangrig people (a Tibetan people who once formed the kingdom of Nanchao, presently in Yunnan province). This happened around 200-300 B.C.

According to Wu Hriu(2), the facial features of the people of Khotan were dissimilar to those of the rest of the Horpa nomads of Drugu (Uighurs belonging to the Turkic people) and similar, to an extent, to the Chinese. Khotan in the north-west was called Li-yul by the ancient Tibetans. Since Khotan was territorially contiguous with Tibet, there are reasons to believe that the inhabitants of Khotan had originated from Tibet. In those days, the Tibetans used to graze their herds in the summer in Tibet and in the winter in the warmer climes of Khotan. In ancient times all the tribes of Central Asia were nomads, who roamed across the grasslands. This was also done by the Tibetans.

According to the Japanese scholar, Ao-ki Bunkuo(3) in his book, The Need for Research on Tibetan Culture, the Horpa nomads of northern Tibet were the descendants of the immigrants of other regions. According to him, before the Christian era, these tribes were able to bring the whole of Central Asia under their domination and made inroads into Europe, Mongolia in the east, India in the south and Tibet. He also states that the centre of the settlement of most Tibetans was in Eastern Turkestan.

According to the researches of Sir Aurel Stein on the origins of the people of Khotan, most were the descendants of the Aryans. They also had in them Turkic and Tibetan blood, though the Tibetan blood was more pronounced. He discovered ancient documents at a place called Nye-yar in Khotan and he has stated that the script of these documents contained no Pali, Arabic (Muslim) or Turkic terminology. All were Tibetan terms and phrases.

According to another Japanese scholar, Ukei Ryotai(4), most of the people of Khotan had Tibetan blood in them. They not only had Tibetan blood in them but their ancient documents and literature reflected strong Tibetan influence. Consequently the ancestors of the people of Khotan had either migrated from the east or from Tibet. The author has suggested that this needed further research.

According to the Chinese Han Hrui annals, on the basis of the research on the inhabitants of the western region, it is evident that the areas of settlement of the ancient Tibetans were the regions west of Eastern Turkestan. As such I feel that more research on this aspect of our common historical experience should be carried on. It is evident from the above facts that the Horpa nomads of northern Tibet are dissimilar in some respects to the majority of the Tibetans. When the Horpas set out on distant journeys or returned home from one, they greet their family members and friends by hugging and kissing on cheeks. This custom is not prevalent among the other Tibetans. Among the Asians, this custom is unique to the Central Asian peoples. Similarly, the word Horpa was used in the ancient Tibetan documents for peoples inhabiting the areas north of Tibet like Drugu (the region inhabited by the Uighurs) and A-sha (Chin: Tu-yu-hun). These areas were also known collectively as Hor-yul, 'the land of the Horpas'. In the 12th century at the time when Genghis Khan brought the whole of Central Asia, including Tibet, under his domination, the Tibetans referred to the Mongols as Horpas, or Mongol-Horpas. Whatever the case, the region north of Tibet was called Hor-yul and its inhabitants were known as Horpas. Based on the above facts, we come to the conclusion that one section of the Tibetans was probably descendants of the inhabitants of Tokharai and Khotan. Similarly, from the 7th to the 9th centuries, there was a lot of interaction between Tibet and Drugu. Gedun Chophel(5), the famous Tibetan scholar, researching on the Tun-huang documents, thought that Khotan previously contained a settlement of Newaris (Nepalese). The inhabitants of some of the countries occupied by Tibet were shifted to other regions. Many of the people of Drugu, north of Tibet, were forced to emigrate to Mon-yul in south Tibet (an area roughly covering Tawang in present-day Arunachal Pradesh in India), according to the Tang chronicles. Accordingly Gedun Chophel concluded that many Newaris might have been forced to settle in Khotan. During this time there was the Tibetan policy of shifting people rebelling against Tibetan rule to distant regions.

In 842(6) two tribes of Drugu fought each other and one of them escaped and sought refuge in Tibet. This is recorded in the Tang Hrui. At this time, the Uighurs of Tibet were able to bring the whole of the south-east region under their domination and at the time when the region of the Tun-huang Caves became the centre of culture and commerce, Uighur Chi-musa(7) (present day Pething, Chin: Huyuen district in Gansu province), one tribe of the Uighurs were forced to immigrate to North Amdo (Ga-yul, Chin:Kantru).

The Tibetans refer to this particular tribe as the Uighurs of the east. Gushri Khan, Tenzin Gyatso, was a descendant of the younger brother of Genghis Khan. He was the chieftain of the Qosot Mongols, one of the four tribes of the Oriat Mongols. In 1630 Gushri Khan(8) invaded Amdo and established the priest-patron relations with the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. Later he put himself at the service of the religious and secular rule of the Dalai Lama of Tibet. He and his descendants ruled as the kings of Tibet for three generations and the Mongols who followed him were assimilated in Tibet. The Mongol army which Gushri Khan led into Tibet used to camp at Damshung, near Lhasa, in the summer months. Gradually they settled in the area and since then till now they have been nomads, and as the years went by they shed their Mongolian customs and took to Tibetan social habits. It is possible that the higher aristocracy of the Tibetan government like the family of the new Horkhang were descendants of the Horpa nomads of Hor-yul. How they came and at what time needs further research but it is certain that they are not of Mongol stock.

During the 1959 political turmoil in Tibet, more than 200 families from northern Tibet crossed over to Eastern Turkestan and settled in the south of the region. In 1984 when we visited China, the Panchen Lama clearly stated that based on the above facts, it was clear that even before the start of the Christian calendar, there was a tradition of the Tibetan people and their neighbours crossing over to each others' countries. This tradition of seeking refuge in the neighbouring states was particularly strong during times of natural calamities like famine and political upheavals of civil wars and invasions. Particularly since the 7th century when Tibet brought the neighbouring states of Shang-shung, Minyak, A-sha and the southern tribes of Chiang under its domination heralding the dawn of a new age of Tibetan political strength, economic prosperity and cultural vitality and the cycle of invasion turned a circle to enable the Tibetans to launch their domination of Central Asia, the practice and the subsequent tradition of shifting whole populations to distant regions was started and maintained.

War and Peace between the Tibetans and the Uighurs

In the 7th century "the roof of the world" came under the domination of Songtsen Gampo. Gradually, the nations, principalities and dependencies of the whole of Central Asia--Shang-shung in the west, Drusha (Gilgit Sumpa) in the northeast, A-Sha and the various tribes of the Chiang people etc.--came under the domination of the Tibetans. In 658, after bringing A-sha under its domination, Tibet despatched "the point of the spear of its military strength" against the Uighurs in the north, and the Uighurs, unable to match Tibetan military strength, became fearful. According to Chinese Tang Hrui annals, in 658, the A-sha (Chin: T'u-yu-hun) tribes rose up against the Tibetan occupation. Gar Tongtsen was despatched to put down the rebellion. Su-hai Kob, one of the ministers of the A-sha tribes, fled to Tibet and having learnt defense secrets from him, Tibet was able to defeat the military forces of A-sha. The king of A-sha, Mo-tung Hri-po and his queen, Hungha Kongsho (one of the Tang princesses) with the remainder of their followers fled to the north of Lake Koko Nor. A-sha was brought under Tibetan domination during the reign of Songtsen Gampo. Again, according to the Chinese Tang Hrui annals, in 668 the A-sha tribes migrated from the region of present-day Lanzhou (the capital of the present Chinese province of Gansu) and settled in the region on the southern mountains. Because of this upheaval in A-sha, the emperor of China came to know of the threat of Tibetan military expansion. The destruction of the state of A-sha by Gar Tongtsen forced the tribes of A-sha to surrender to Tibet. But Tang China, apart from helping in the re-settlement of the A-sha tribes, did not assist them militarily. It was after this that Tibet came face to face with the Uighurs (Drugu). The continuous expansion of Tibetan military activities during the reigns of Songtsen Gampo's successors resulted in the advent of Tibetan military strength in the region of Drugu, and in collaboration, the Tibetan and Uighur armies were able to overthrow the imperial Chinese domination of the region. In 670 the Tibetan army, in collaboration with the kingdom of Khotan, conquered the Po-hen fortress of the city of Chig-tsi. According to the Blue Annals, on the twenty-first reign of Mangtsong Mangtsen in 670 the Tibetan army made an assault on Tang China and four tribes of the An-shi Uighurs came under Tibet. The relation between Tibet and Khotan were firmly established during the reign of Songtsen Gampo.

According to a school of Tibetan history, monks and nuns of Khotan started coming to Tibet to meet with Songtsen Gampo. Again, according to the old annals of Tang Hrui, the Tibetans in collaboration with the Uighurs of Khotan brought the area of An-shi (the Tun-huang Caves) under their control. Based on the evidence of the above facts, Gar Tongtsen died in 668 and his sons, Gar Tsen-nye and Gar Tri-dring brought greater administrative and economic improvement in the region of Khotan. According to the Tibetan documents of the Tun-huang Caves(9) in 676 the Tibetan king stayed at Dragki Shara in the summer and in the winter he suffered from fever and died at Trima Lung-gung, and a son, Tridu Tongdrik, was born. Minister Nyadru went to Khrom (Byzontium) and brought it under Tibetan control, which he subjugated. According to the same documents, in 687(10) the king was at Nyenkar and Minister Triaring brought Zen-yul, a principality of Khotan under Tibetan control. In 689 while the king was staying at Rana, Tri-bang, the king's daughter, was sent as a bride to the A-sha king, and Minister Tri-dring returned from Khotan.

While staying in Khotan for two years, Gar Tri-dring was able to establish cordial and friendly relations with the various tribes and principalities of Khotan. Ten years later, the king of Khotan, Tanya Gokha Khan, came to Tibet to offer tribute to the Tibetan King. According to the Tun-huang documents, the king moved in the summer to Nepal at a place called Dri-wu Thang in 696(11) and was met by the imperial Chinese envoy, Jiu Shang-sho, who offered tribute to the Tibetan king, just as the king of Khotan, Tanya Gokha Khan did. In the following year, Tanya Gokha Khan returned to his country and was given a lavish farewell. Since then the relations between Tibet and the Uighurs of Khotan characterised by intermittent war and peace became one of friendship, soon cemented, by marital ties. In 734, the princess Jewa Dronma Wojawa, the daughter of the Tibetan king, Tride Tsugten, was given in marriage to the king of Khotan, Gagen Dur. According to the Tun-huang documents,(12) in 734 while the king was at Drangyar Drogna, a Chinese imperial envoy again paid his respects and tribute to the Tibetan king, which was the same year in which Jewa Dronma Wojawa was sent as a bride. Since then the relations between Tibet and the Uighurs of Khotan were characterised as one between family members.

In 763 with Tibetan military assistance, the various tribes of the Uighurs of Khotan assaulted Tang China and the Chinese emperor fled his capital. However, soon the Chinese hit upon the policy of causing dissension and started a whispering campaign to disrupt the unity between the Tibetans and the Uighurs. However, the other Uighur tribes remained faithful allies of the Tibetans. For example, according to the Blue Annals(13), in the mid 9th century when the Tibetan king Langdharma started proscribing and then persecuting Buddhism and the monastic order, the Tibetan Buddhist scholars like Mar Sakyamuni, Yu Gejong and Tsang Rabsel fled to western Tibet. Unable to stay there, they took the northern route through Hor-yul(Li-yul or Khotan) and sought the protection of Trihor Gye-nyen Sakya Sherab. After some time, they fled to northeastern Tibet. Similarly in the 11th century, the descendant of the Tibetan emperors, the second son of Mang-yul, O-del Tride fled through Khotan to north-eastern Tibet and was able to bring most of the region under his rule. This event is recorded in Bo Cho-jung(14), Dome Cho-jung and in the chronicles of Sung Hrui. According to the above information the relations between the Uighurs oi Khotan and Tibet withstood the vicissitudes of time. After this all the tribes of the Drugu Uighurs embraced the Islamic faith, and in order to prevent the spread of Islam, it is recorded that Tibet assisted some of the Uighur tribes of Khotan with military aid. According to the Japanese author, Ukei Ryotai's book The Buddhism of Western (Central Asian) Countries,(15) in 1009, the ruler of Kashgar Abdul Hussain Nasrilik Gara Khan and his brother, Yusuf Qudr Khan, together assaulted the ruler of Khotan. The ruler of Khotan, Jaqala Khalkhalu, was given military assistance by both Tibet and other Uighur tribes of the region. The war went on for 24 years and finally, having lost, the war, Jaqala Khalkhalu had to embrace the Islamic faith, and Yusuf Qudr Khan became the new ruler of Khotan. Since then Buddhism was finally eliminated from the region and Islam became firmly established. From the above facts we can at the most guess that the Tibetan ruler was Nyima Gon who was ruling western Tibet and was a descendant of Songtsen Gampo. Because of the close physical and cultural proximity between western Tibet and Khotan and because of the Tibetan king's deep Buddhist faith, Nyima Gon was compelled to come to the support of the Buddhist faith in Khotan. However, I have not had the opportunity of seeing any mention of this in any other documents.


1) Han Hrui (Chinese Han annals) on Tayao hri state

2) Wui Hrui on the origins of Khotan

3) Page 30 of chapter 4 of Aoki Bunkuo's The Need for New Research on Tibet

4) Page 200 of the Japanese scholar, Ukei Ryotai's The Buddhism of Western Countries (Central Asia)

5) Page 40 of Gedun Chophel's White Annals

6) The old Tang annals on the history of the Uighur Turks

7) Bulletin of the Institute of China Border Area Studies (no. 8); The Yerification and explanatory note on Hsiu Tang Shu Uighur Chuan by Liu Yi-tang

8) Page 190 of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama's The Songs of the Queen of Spring (published and reprinted by Nationalities Press, Peking, 1981)

9) Tibetan Documents from the Tun-huang Caves edited by Wang Yao (Nationalities Printing Press, Peking)

10) ibid

11) ibid

12) ibid

13) Page 89 of the Blue Annals authored by Go Lotsawa Shonu Pel and reprinted at the Sichuan Nationalities Printing Press

14) Mentioned in Debther Gyatso by Drago Kunchok Tenpa Gyalrab and in the Sung annals

I5) Page 234 of Ukei Ryotai's book, The Buddhism of Western Countries (Central Asia)

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