Kings of Tibet and the Dalai Lamas

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Tibet enters history with the introduction of Buddhism and the organization of a kingdom in competition with T’ang China. Eventually, the Tibetans ended the Chinese presence in Central Asia and even briefly occupied the T’ang capital, Ch’ang-An. The Tibetan language is related to Chinese, but culturally Tibet is a sub-Indian rather than a sub-Chinese civilization.

Tibetan Buddhism would always display a bit of syncretism with the native animist religion, Bön, and the form of Buddhism itself is a little unusual, since it is the late, Tantric, Vajrayâna Buddhism of India (from missionaries Padmasambhava, Santarakshita, and Kamalashila). Tibetan art thus often shows the violent and erotic manifestation of Tantrism, including rape and bestiality.

The last King of the period is supposed to have turned against Buddhism, and the kingdom fragmented after him. Rulers of various successor kingdoms are apparently available, but not presently know to me.

First Kingdom of Tibet
Song-tsen Gam-poc.618-649
Man-song Mang-tsen649-704
Dü-song Mang-po-je676-704
Tri-de Tsug-ten704-754
Tri-song De-tsen754-797
Chinese driven from
Tarim Basin, Ch’ang-An
occupied, 763
Mu-ne Tsen-po797-800
Tri-de Song-tsen800-815
Tri-tsug De-tsen815-838
Lang Darma838-842
fragmentation of Kingdom

Although there was a Mongol raid into Tibet in 1240, there never was a real Mongol conquest of the country. Submission had already been offerred in 1227, after the Mongol conquest of the Tibetan/Tangut Hsi-Hsia state; and in 1249 a Tibetan Lama was appointed Mongol regent of Tibet. An actual Mongol army was never needed.

A special title was produced for the regents, Tisri, or Ti-shih in Chinese. The rule of the Tisris continued until Mongol authority itself decayed and native opposition arose. When the Mongol YuanDynasty was overthrown in China, Tibet as well passed into independence, although maintaining more cordial relations with Mongolia than the Chinese would.

Mongol Regents
Sakya Pandita1249-1253
title of Tisri, 1261
Rinchen Tisri1280-1282
Dharmapalrakshita Tisri1282-128?
Yeshe Richen Tisri128?-1295
Tragpa Öser Tisri1295-1303
Richen Gyantsen Tisri1303-1304
Dorje Pal Tisri1304-1313
Sangye Pal Tisri1313-1316
Kunga Lotro Tisri1316-1327
Kunga Lekpa Chungne Tisri1327-1330
Kunga Gyantsen Tisri1330-1358

The second unified Tibetan Kingdom followed the liberation from the Mongols. This was not an aggressive, conquering kingdom like the first one. Indeed, it fell prey eventually to the still aggressive Mongols, even after converting them to the Tibetan form of Buddhism. This Mongol conquest, however, resulted in little more than a local Mongol dynasty, with much actual authority aleady ceded to the (Fifth) Dalai Lama.

The pretext of the Manchu conquest was over the ovethrow of the local Mongol dynasty by other Mongols, who installed their own candidate for Dalai Lama. The Manchus thus arrived with the legitimate and popular (Seventh) Dalai Lama, thus posing as liberators rather than as conquerors. After experimenting with a couple of new native Kings, Manchurian rule settled down to the use of the Dalai Lamas for local control.

All these lists are based on Tibet & Its History by Hugh E. Richardson [1962, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1984, pp.304-309]. Linguistic information can be found in in The Atlas of Languages(Facts On File, 1996, pp.65-71), with the Tibetan alphabet [p.197].

Second Kingdom of Tibet
independent of Mongols, 1368
Sakya Gyantsen1364-1373
Trakpa Richen1373-1386
Trakpa Chang-chub1386-1381
Sonam Tralepa1381-1443
Trakpa Chungne1443-1465
Sangye Gyantesen Pal Zangpo1465-1481
Dön-yö Dorje1481-1522
Ngawang Namgye1522-1550
Töndup Tseten1550-1565
Karma Tseten1565-1582
Lhawang Dorje1582-1603
Phüntso Namgye1603-1621
Karma Ten-Kyong1621-1642
Mongols, Qoshots
Gusri Khan1642-1655
Dayan Khan1655-1668
Tenzin Dalai Khan1668-1696
Lhabzang Khan1696-1717
Manchu Conquest, 1720
Phola Sonam Topbgyeregent,
Gyurmé Namgyal1747-1750
rule ceded to Dalai Lama, 1750

The line of Lamas that came to rule Tibet began like many other monastic lineages in the country. The path to political power began with a mission to Mongolia that converted Altan Khan, who bestowed the titleDalai, “Ocean,” on the Third Lama, retroactively applied to the earlier figures in the lineage. When Mongol rule was imposed in 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama was held in such esteem that the effective rule of the country was often left to him. From this the tradition began that led to complete de jure rule later on. It was after the Manchus arrived (1720) that a local kingship was entirely abolished (1750) and there was no rival except the equally monastic Panchen Lama, who often has been used by the Chinese in an attempt to divide Tibetan loyalties. This continues to the present. After the death of the pro-Chinese Panchen Lama in 1989, Tibetan exiles and the Chinese designated different successors. The Tibetan nominee was arrested by the Chinese government and is presently unaccounted for, while the Chinese nominee, Gyancain Norbu, exercises the office.

Dalai Lamas
1Gedün Truppa1391-1474
2Gedun Gyatso1475-1542
3Sonam Gyatso1543-1588
converts Altan Khan of Mongolia,
granted title of Dalai Lama, 1578
4Yönten Gyatso1589-1617
Mongol conquest, 1642
7Kezang Gyatso1708-1757
Manchu conquest, 1720;
rule ceded to Dalai Lama, 1750
8Jampel Gyatso1758-1804
Gurkha invasion, 1792;
foreigners excluded, 1793
9Luntok Gyatso1806-1815
10Tshultrim Gyatso1816-1837
11Khedrup Gyatso1838-1856
12Trinle Gyatso1856-1875
13Thupten Gyatso1876-1933
Chinese expelled, 1913;
Treaty with Britain, 1914
14Tenzin Gyatso1935-present
Chinese occupy Tibet, 1950;
Dalai Lama flees to India, 1959

The world knew little of Tibet in the 19th century. The occasional outsider made his way there. Other possibilities did not occur until the fall of the Manchu Ch’ing Dynasty. A Chinese garrison had actually been introduced into Tibet in 1910 as a reponse, eventually, to a British mission to Tibet in 1904. The Dalai Lama had even gone into exile in India. But, with the fall of the Dynasty, the Chinese were attacked. They ended up evacuating Tibet, disarmed and through India, with British mediation. The Dalai Lama returned. China was then too distracted for a while to effectively assert its authority over Tibet and other districts, like Mongolia, that drifted out of Chinese influence. An invasion of Mongolia in 1919 to assert claims there only resulted in a Soviet sponsored counterattack that permanently detached the country from China. An expedition to Tibet was probably beyond the logistical capabilities of the struggling Chinese Republic.

Panchen Lamas
1Khedup Gelek
Pal Sangpo
2Sonam Choklang1439-1504
3Wensa Lobsang
4Lobsang Chokyi
5Lobzang Yeshe/
6Lobzang Palden
7Lobzang Tenpai/
Tempé Nyima
8Chokyi Trakpa,
Tenpai Wangchuk
Chökyi Nyima
10Lobsang Trinley
Chökyi Gyaltsen
11Gedhun Choekyi

Some years of real independence again, and diplomatic relations with the British, followed. The British did not recognize the complete independence of Tibet, but they denied that Tibet was an intrinsic part of China or that China had the right to subjugate Tibetan autonomy by force. China never gave up its claims, but there was altogether too much going on elsewhere for the Chinese to worry about the inoffensive Tibetans. But after the Communists came to power, China was again unified, with a large, seasoned army, and an aggressive, unapologetic leader, Mao Tse-tung.Unafraid to take on the United States and the United Nations in Korea, Mao would have little to fear by occupying Tibet. The British were gone from India, and nobody else had any particular reason or opportunity to protect Tibetan independence. In 1950, against token resistance, the Chinese rolled in, the first time that an actual Chinese government had done so, rather than one of the foreign rulers, Mongol or Manchu, of China.


Although the Tibetans were promised internal autonomy by the Chinese, they soon were subjected to the inevitable oppression, vandalism, and massacres of Communist government. Since there never were very many Tibetans in their poor, Alpine country, this kind of treatment plus Chinese colonization began to produce a genocidal effect. The International Community, once energized about “de-colonization,” and formerly alert to every police beating in South Africa, has shown little stomach for consistently confronting the Chinese over Tibet. On the other hand, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959, has proven to be an appealing, eloquent, and respected spokesman for his country, attracting attention by many, including the Nobel Peace Prize committee and Hollywood devotees who now have produced sympathetic movies about Tibet and its plight (e.g. Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun). We can only hope that international pressure will increase and rescue a unique nation preserving an ancient heritage.


Although Western, usually American, defenders of Tibet are sometimes belabored with charges of hypocrisy, because of the treatment of the Indian tribes in American history, so that Americans are in no moral position to belabor the Chinese over the treatment of Tibet, it remains true that nowhere in the world have traditional tribal peoples, who were at neolithic or even paleolithic levels of development at their time of contact with the advanced civilizations (Eastern or Western), not been incorporated into larger modern states. There are often complaints about the status and treatment of tribal peoples in many places, from the United States to Brazil to the Sudan, but there is no special level of criticism about such peoples, of which there are many, in China. tibet1Tibet, however, was, for all its poverty and isolation, an organized state far beyond the tribal level. Like Ethiopia or Afghanistan, Tibet was the sort of state that, in the era of “decolonization,” would be expected to become independent, regardless of its backward features. But the Chinese Empire and Chinese colonization survive, with no more justification than the precedents of the Mongol and Manchurian Empires.

International Campaign for Tibet

Government of Tibet in Exile

Copyright (c) 2000, 2001, 2005 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved