Field Force to Lhasa
April 4, 2009 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Field Force to Lhasa 1903-04 Captain Cecil Mainprise accompanied General Sir Francis Younghusband's expedition to Tibet in 1903. He wrote 50 letters home which trace the expedition’s progress into Tibet. Read this insider's account on the day they were written some 105 years later. Final post is 18 November 2009. [Via]
posted by Abiezer (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, cool, and a small world: my grandfather was a medical officer on the Younghusband expedition as well, possibly one of the two surgeons to which Mainprise refers. He went on from that to be director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta.
posted by Rumple at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2009

The Younghusband "expedition" was extremely unpopular in world opinion at the time, it was seen as Britain being a bully, killing peaceful monks - there were protests in London, newspaper OpEd flame wars etc.. all the same stuff we see today when countries act Imperially and unjustly (c.f. Iraq). One of the reasons it drew such negative reaction was Kipling's novel Kim had just been published in 1901, everyone had read it and it portrayed Buddhist monks sympathetically as peaceful and loving. Younghusband's machine guns mowed them down. Had it not been for the atrocities of China in the 1940s and 50s, we'd probably still be looking back at Younghusband negatively. Now it's been sort of romanticized as an "expedition" and the massacre's forgotten, a drop in the bucket of later events.

A whole bunch of reporters and military people who were with Younghusband left memoirs, most of them now in the public domain and probably freely available on Google Books/Internet Archive. One of the better known works:

The Unveiling of Lhasa (1905) by newspaper reporter Edmund Chandler who was there, and Peter Fleming (*) wrote Bayonets To Lhasa: The First Full Account Of The British Invasion Of Tibet In 1904 (1961)

* - Peter Flemming is the brother of Ian Flemming (who is best known as the author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ;)
posted by stbalbach at 4:07 PM on April 4, 2009

Still very much remembered in China too - there's an Anti-British Imperialism Museum in Gyantse, and the 1997 film Red River Valley gave an account of the incursion. Not read any Tibetan historiography on the subject.
Was going to link to Bayonets to Lhasa but it's no longer available on - seems someone's re-issued it.
posted by Abiezer at 4:21 PM on April 4, 2009

There's actually a good argument to be made that Britain bears some historical responsibility for the fix that Tibet is in now - China became much more sensitive about foreigners messing about in that area after the British invasion in 1904. Had Younghusband and Co. not gotten China's hackles up at the time, things might have turned out differently. Britain's motivation for the invasion was purely economic - they were demanding "trade rights" with Tibet. Not too unlike what had happened with the Opium Wars in China itself some years earlier.
Please don't read this post as an apologia for the Chinese government's actions in Tibet, which it most emphatically is not.
Younghusband was an interesting character, who actually was quite fascinated with Tibet, and went on in later life to write many books on various spiritual subjects. Check out a book called "Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer" by Patrick French.
posted by crazylegs at 5:21 PM on April 4, 2009

This is great. Thanks, Abiezer.
posted by homunculus at 5:30 PM on April 4, 2009

cecil mainprise,
francis younghusband
chity,chitty, bang,bang

real hysterical characters.?
posted by lemuel at 7:34 PM on April 4, 2009

Every bit as real as that other bold adventurer of the high Imperial era, Captain Walter Snetterton.
posted by Abiezer at 7:53 PM on April 4, 2009

Folk Tales From Tibet, free e-book "collection of twenty-two tales and a few verses, made during the British expedition to Tibet in 1903-4, by the Secretary and Interpreter of the Mission to Lhasa."
posted by Abiezer at 9:27 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

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