Recounting the Past? The Contest between British Historical and New Chinese Interpretations of the Younghusband Mission to Tibet of 1904

By Tim Myatt and Peter D’Sena.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The work of the orientalist historian has been hampered by the laudatory glare that has developed around the figure of Sir Francis Younghusband and the 1904 British ‘Mission’ to Tibet. In western writing, a revisionist approach to studying the Mission has only recently started to gather pace. Capturing a Chinese and Tibetan perspective of events is vital for a better understanding of its causes and consequences. Greater use of non-European sources is acknowledged as being one route to this goal.
In this article we focus on the ways in which contemporary British accounts bolstered notions of cultural imperialism and how later Chinese sources, in the Tibetan language, set about critiquing these ideas. This analysis utilises primary sources which have received little attention from western scholars: a translation and commentary in a cartoon book, The War of the Wood Dragon Year (1995); translations of the pillar inscriptions found on the Heroes’ Memorial Pillar in Gyantse; and a description of representations in the Memorial Hall of the Anti-British in Gyantse Dzong.

Keywords: History, Britain, Tibet, China, Perspectives, Imperialism, Translation

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 6, Issue 9, pp.107-116. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.108MB).

Tim Myatt

Doctoral Student, The Oriental Institute, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

After teaching English in a Tibetan monastery in the Himalayas for a year, Tim studied Human Sciences at Oxford University; he continued on to an M.Phil in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies and, still at Oxford, is now completing his doctorate. His research on the historical and centenary Tibetan and Chinese responses to the British Mission to Tibet in 1904 has taken him to Tibet to conduct interviews and carry out translations. Currently he is working on untranslated letters of the 13th Dalai Lama and on an analysis of how memorials, plays, museums and film have all been used at different times to highlight the importance of the Mission for the Tibetans, Chinese and the British.

Peter D’Sena

Head of the Centre for Secondary Initial Teacher Education, Carnegie Faculty of Sport & Education, University of Worcester, Leeds, UK

Head of the Centre for Secondary Initial Teacher Education, University of Worcester, UK. A historian, Peter has researched and published on various aspects of cultural studies and pedagogy in the past twenty years, including works on crime in eighteenth-century London and, more recently, on the global dimension in education.


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