The 13th Dalai Lama, the Divine King, was a symbol of the highest authority of both the temporal and the religious powers in Tibet. For centuries, the people of this snow-clad land of Tibet had been prostrate at the feet of the Dalai Monks, the super rulers who were believed to control one's life, both the present one and the ones to come. The 13th Dalai Lama himself became a legendary figure. He was born in a chaotic period, and had to face many challenges. He went in exile twice, and his title was removed twice.
The first time he went into exile was in 1904, when the British invaders approached Lhasa, and he was forced to leave. He went to Mongolia first, hoping that he would be supported by Russia against Britain. But the Russians were busy fighting a losing war with the Japances. Then he had to turn to Beijing. Though the Qing Court confirmed his title, it did no more to help him. After more than four years in Mongolia, Qinghai, Mount Wutai and Beijing, he returned to Lhasa, humiliated and disappointed. To his dismay, he found that Tibet was tightly controlled by High Commissioner Lian Yu. With pain in his heart, he left Tibet again, this time for India, where he asked Britain for political asylum. But for fear of offending Russia and China and with wider ambitions than simply seizing Tibet, the British government replied expressly that it had no intention of interfering in China's internal affairs.
The fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 provided a good opportunity for the 13th Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. At the time when he regained his power over Tibet, China's hinterland was racked by warlord feuds, and a dozen provinces had declared their independence. The Dalai Lama, having experienced exile and bitter experiences, made up his mind to promote new policies.
But all his reform measures clashed with traditional concepts and the current administrative system. Within 10 years, his new policies had fizzled out due to internal opposition. For instance, he wanted to expand the Tibetan army, but there was no money for this purpose. In the meantime, sharp differences between the Dalai and Panchen Lamas led to the latter leaving Tibet for the hinterland of China in 1923. Meanwhile, Charong, the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army and his subordinate officers defied the Dalai Lama's order abolishing torture and savage punishments by chopping off the arm of one soldier and the leg of another for minor offences, and then paraded the victims in Barkor Street. For this, the Dalai Lama dismissed Charong from his post of commander-in-chief and then stripped him of the position of Kalon.
In the meantime, the traditional trade between the Tibetan and Han peoples had come almost to a halt, and the economy and trade of Tibet were controlled entirely by British India. Shoddy commodities from India flooded the markets of Lhasa, and Britain and India enjoyed all the privileges brought about by unequal treaties. They then began to interfere in the politics of Tibet.
We have no idea what was on the mind of the Dalai Lama during this period. But in the early 1920s he told Zhu Xiu, a representative of the Central Government, that he would not have turned to Britain had it not been for the high-handed treatment he had received from the high commissioners. In 1930, he told Liu Manqing, a woman employee of the Office of Civil Affairs, sent by the Central Government: "What I expect most of China is real unity and peace...The British, indeed, have a mind to draw me to their side. Nevertheless, I know the importance of guarding national sovereignty." Charles Bell, who had been a friend of the 13th Dalai Lama for years, wrote in his Biography of the 13th Dalai Lama: "By 1925, the Dalai Lama had become increasingly staunch in bypassing the British to contact the Chinese directly."