The Museum to the Anti-British – by Duncan Harley


I had almost forgotten the 60th anniversary of the overthrow of Tibet by the Chinese Liberation Army. A Times newspaper report today recalls the shelling of Lhasa during the final stages of the take-over. Truckloads of Red Guards were quick on the heels of the professional soldiers and, alongside the desecration of the monasteries, a centralist agricultural policy ensured  widespread famine. Millions suffered and tens of thousands died of starvation. After all, you can’t easily grow wheat at 15,000 feet and at sub-zero temperatures.

The palaces have of course been done up and re-painted and the monasteries annually draw in a few thousand Western tourists eager to breath in the blessings. Below the Potala lies a vast concrete square. When Palin, Michael not Sarah, visited in the 1980’s it was occupied by symbols of military power. A fighter jet sat incongruously below the high walls alongside groups of excited Chinese tourists. The Chinese of course love big flat squares. Look at Tiananmen if you doubt this.

Of course, the Chinese are just one nation amongst many foreign conquerors of the Himalayan kingdom. Alongside the Chinese Liberation Army and those enthusiastic Red Guards, the upland region has been variously subjected to the whims of Mongols, Sikhs and Gurkhas plus of course us Brits.

Known as the British Expedition to Tibet, the invasion began in December 1903 and lasted until September 1904. Two trios of Maxim guns ensured an easy victory and a Tibetan defence force equipped with medieval body-armour and swords were easily overruled.

On the way to Lhasa the British Army, led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Edward Younghusband, marched through Gyantse. Nowadays a carpet-weaving town it was easily subdued and the army built a fort up on the hill overlooking the main highway. The much-later Red Guards tore it down and in an absurdity, the Chinese tourist board later rebuilt the edifice renaming it ‘The Museum to the Anti-British’.

Now how weird is that?


Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire- due out in March 2019
Tickets for the launch event for his next book are available @: Eventbrite

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