Tibetan “Barbarians” in China’s Borderlands: Changing Perspectives According to the Geographical Records in the Siku Quanshu
China has always considered herself to be the center of the world. Those regions and populations which were not included in the Chinese territory under direct supervision of the imperial court were, depending on their distance from the court, perceived as being in a tighter or looser tributary relation to China. Tibet and its territorial relation to China is one such example and the historical sovereignty or suzerainty of China over Tibet is an omnipresent issue even in the current Sino-Tibetan context.
China expresses territorial claims over Tibet originating from the Yuan or even the Tang dynasty, while the Tibetan side argues that Tibet was an independent state until the middle of the twentieth century. There is evidence to support both claims. However, it is difficult to judge historical territorial claims from our contemporary viewpoint and current understanding of the functions and integrity of the state and its borders.
Undoubtedly, China and Tibet, as neighboring entities, experienced intense cultural, political, and religious interaction, and depending on the given political situation they would seek alliances or, more frequently, clash as enemies. An inquiry into the geographical records of the Qing dynasty collection of valuable sources, the Complete Library of the Four Treasuries (Siku quanshu), and particularly into the Qing historiographical record, the Da Qing yitong zhi, and its revised version the Jiaqing chongxiu yitong zhi, indicates that relations between China and Tibet were much more complex than presented by the two political parties nowadays, as they dependednot only on the military strength of the two parties, but also on prevailing economic needs or dominant religious trends.