Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Mongol conquest of Tibet

  • STEPHEN G. HAW (a1)


The Mongol conquest of Tibet has been poorly understood. ‘Traditional’ Mongol and Tibetan accounts, in comparatively late sources, tell of a submission to Chinggis Khan by Tibetan chieftains. This version of history was rejected some time ago, and replaced with an account that begins with a Mongol invasion of Tibet in 1240. Problems with clarifying this issue include the often poor quality of Tibetan sources, the confusion of Tibet and Tangut (Xi Xia) in Persian sources, and misunderstanding by modern scholars of Chinese terms relating to Tibet. In fact, Chinese sources make clear that there was considerable contact between the Mongols and Tibet before 1240. Chinggis Khan may never have invaded Tibet, but undoubtedly had the intention of doing so. The picture that emerges is of a gradual conquest, with early incursions across the borders of Tibet followed by more penetrating invasions in the 1240s and 1250s.



Hide All

1 Khan, Aboul-Ghazi Behadour, Histoire des Mogols et des Tatares, trans. Desmaisons, ii (St. Pétersbourg, Imprimerie de l’Académie Impériale des sciences, 1874), p. 17.

2 Rdor nag chos skor byung tshul, quoted and translated in Everding, K.-H., “The Mongol States and their struggle for dominance over Tibet in the 13th century”, in Blezer, H. (ed.), Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies I (PIATS 2000: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000) (Leiden, Boston, Köln, Brill, 2002), pp. 119120 .

3 Allsen, T.T., Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 24 .

4 Wylie, T.V., “The First Mongol Conquest of Tibet Reinterpreted”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 37, 1 (1977), p. 106 n8.

5 Chaba, Banqin Suonan 班欽索南查巴 [bSod-nams-grags-pa], Xin Hong Shi 新紅史 [Deb t’er dmar po gsar ma], trans. Hao, Huang 黄顥 (Lhasa 拉薩: Xizang Renmin Chubanshe 西藏人民出版社, 1984), p. 48 .

6 Petech, L., Central Tibet and the Mongols: the Yuan-Sa-skya period of Tibetan history (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1990), pp. 23 .

7 Lian, Song 宋濂 et al. (eds.), Yuan Shi 元史 [hereafter YS], 15 vols (Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局, 1976); and Zhonghua Lishi Wenku 中華歷史文庫 electronic edition on CD-Rom (based on the Bai Na Ben 百納本 edition) (Beijing: Yinguan Dianzi Chuban Youxian Gongsi 銀冠電子出版有限公司, n.d).

8 de Rachewiltz, I., The Secret History of the Mongols, i (Leiden, Boston, Brill, 2006), pp. lixlxv .

9 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, pp. 104–105; Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, pp. 179–180.

10 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, pp. 106, 109; Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, pp. 180–181.

11 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, p. 105.

12 De Rachewiltz, Secret History, i, pp. 122, 163; Fazlullah, [Rashid al-Din] Rashiduddin, Jami’u’t-tawarikh: Compendium of Chronicles, A History of the Mongols, Part 1, trans. Thackston, W. M. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1998), pp. 228231 .

13 Juvaini, ‘Ala-ad-Din ‘Ata-Malik, The History of the World-Conqueror, trans. Boyle, J. A., ii (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1958), pp. 385386 .

14 Ibid ., ii, pp. 408–413.

15 De Rachewiltz, Secret History, i, pp.84–86.

16 YS, i, p. 12.

17 Rashid al-Din, Compendium, pp. 65–66.

18 Guowei, Wang 王國維, Sheng Wu Qin Zheng Lu Jiao Zhu 聖武親征錄校注, in Wang Guowei Yi Shu王國維遺書, viii (Shanghai 上海: Shanghai Shudian 上海書店, 1983), p. 369 .

19 Dawson, C. (ed.), The Mongol Mission (London and New York, Sheed and Ward, 1955), pp. 23, 41.

20 Rashid al-Din, Compendium, p. 192.

21 Pelliot, P., “A propos des Comans”, Journal Asiatique, 11e série, 15 (1920), p. 183 .

22 Petech, Central Tibet and the Mongols, pp. 8, 13.

23 YS, i, pp. 13–14; Wang Guowei, Qin Zheng Lu, p. 386; Rashid al-Din, Compendium, p. 206.

24 Franke, H. & Twitchett, D. (eds.), The Cambridge History of China, vi (Alien regimes and border states, 907–1368) (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 184185 [map]; Sperling, E., “‘Lama to the King of Xia’”, Journal of the Tibet Society 7 (1987), p. 31 .

25 YS, xii, p. 3521.

26 Petech, L., “Tibetan Relations with Sung China and with the Mongols”, in Rossabi, M. (ed.), China among Equals (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, University of California Press, 1983), p. 185 .

27 Petech, Central Tibet and the Mongols, p. 12.

28 E.g. Farquhar, D. M., The Government of China under Mongolian Rule: a reference guide (Stuttgart, Steiner, 1990), p. 413 .

29 YS, iii, p. 611.

30 YS, iii, p. 649.

31 YS, v, p. 1567.

32 YS, x, p. 3000.

33 YS, xii, p. 3635.

34 YS, v, p. 1434.

35 孛蘭肹, Bolanxi et al., Yuan Yi Tong Zhi 元一統志, collected and annotated by Zhao Wanli 趙萬里, ii (Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju中華書局, 1966), pp. 564566 .

36 “Xifan ji Tufan ye 西番即吐蕃也”; Xian, Li 李賢 et al., Da Ming Yi Tong Zhi 大明一統志, (facsimile edition in ten vols. of edition of 1461), x (Taibei 臺北: Wenhai Chubanshe 文海出版社, 1965), p. 5494 .

37 Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, p. 173.

38 Jiangqiujiancan, Dasitu 大司徒絳求堅贊 [Ta’i-si-tu Byang-chub-rgyal–mts’an], Langshi Jiazu Shi 朗氏家族史 [rLans kyi po ti hse ru rgyas pa], trans. Awang, Zanla 贊拉阿旺 & Wanzhi, She 佘萬治 (Lhasa 拉薩: Xizang Renmin Chubanshe 西藏人民出版社, 1989), p. 74 .

39 YS, xii, p. 3521.

40 The date given in YS here - 1214 - is almost certainly wrong: for the correct date, see De Rachewiltz, Secret History, ii, pp. 1049–1050.

41 Juvaini, History of the World-Conqueror, i, pp. 79–80; De Rachewiltz, Secret History, ii, pp. 1049.

42 Rashid al-Din, Compendium, p. 145.

43 Juvaini, History of the World-Conqueror, i, pp. 135, 137–138; [Juzjani, Minhaj-i-Siraj] Minhaj-ud-Din, Abu-‘Umar-i-‘Usman, Tabakat-i-Nasiri: a general history of the Muhammadan dynasties of Asia, including Hindustan . . ., trans. Raverty, H. G., ii (London, Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1881), p. 1046 .

44 YS, x, p. 2976.

45 Xue Yingqi 薛應旂, Song Yuan Tong Jian 宋元通鑑 [hereafter SYTJ], facsimile of edition of 1566, Si Ku Quan Shu Cun Mu Cong Shu 四庫全書存目叢書, Shi Bu 史部, x (Ji’nan 濟南: Qi Lu Shu She 齊鲁書社, 1996), p. 724.

46 YS, x, p. 2977.

47 Tuotuo, 脱脱 et al. (eds.), Jin Shi 金史, ii (Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局, 1975), pp. 654655 ; and Zhonghua Lishi Wenku 中華歷史文庫 electronic edition on CD-Rom (based on the Bai Na Ben 百納本 edition) (Beijing: Yinguan Dianzi Chuban Youxian Gongsi 銀冠電子出版有限公司, n.d.); Franke & Twitchett (eds.), Cambridge History, p. 236 [map].

48 Ibid ., p. 184 [map]; de Rachewiltz, I. et al. (eds.), In the Service of the Khan: Eminent Personalities of the Early Mongol-Yuan Period (1200 – 1300) (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 1993), p. 20 .

49 YS, i, p. 24.

50 YS, xii, p. 3521.

51 Juvaini, History of the World-Conqueror, i, p. 190; al-Din, Rashid, The Successors of Genghis Khan, trans. Boyle, J. A. (New York and London, Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 33 .

52 Cf. Henthorn, W.E., Korea: the Mongol invasions (Leiden, Brill, 1963), pp. 102, 116 n3.

53 SYTJ, x, p. 778.

54 YS, x, p. 2984.

55 Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, pp. 180–181.

56 SYTJ, x, p. 782.

57 SYTJ, x, pp. 783–784.

58 Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, p. 181; Qingying, Chen 陳慶英 & Shufen, Gao 高淑芬 (eds.), Xizang Tong Shi 西藏通史 (Zhengzhou 鄭州: Zhongzhou Guji Chubanshe 中州古籍出版社, 2003), pp. 172173 ; Dasitu Jiangqiujianzan, Langshi Jiazu Shi, pp. 74–75.

59 Dasitu Jiangqiujianzan, Langshi Jiazu Shi, pp. 74–75.

60 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, p. 106 n8.

61 YS, xiii, p. 3791.

62 Dasitu Jiangqiujianzan, Langshi Jiazu Shi, p. 75.

63 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, p. 116 n42.

64 YS, i, p. 45.

65 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, p. 111.

66 Yule, H., Cathay and the Way Thither, being a collection of mediaeval notices of China, new edn. rev. Cordier, H., i (London, Hakluyt Society, 1915), pp. 7879 .

67 Juzjani, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, i, p. 665 n8; Yule himself also rejected it later, see Yule, H., The Travels of Marco Polo, 3rd edn., ii (London, John Murray, 1929), p. 115n , and also Pelliot, P., Notes on Marco Polo, i (Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1959), p. 74 .

68 YS, xi, p. 3219; xii, pp, 3584, 3553, 3560; there are a few other brief references.

69 SYTJ, x, p. 719; see also Bi Yuan 畢沅, Xu Zizhi Tongjian 續資治通鑑, facsimile of 1801 edition, Xu Xiu Si Ku Quan Shu 續修四庫全書, Shi Bu 史部, cccxlv (Shanghai, Shanghai Guji Chubanshe 上海古籍出版社, n.d.), p. 663.

70 YS, x, p. 2934.

71 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, p. 110 n. 20.

72 Petech, Central Tibet and the Mongols, pp. 12–14; Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, p. 182.

73 YS, xi, p. 3282.

74 YS, xii, p. 3700; Franke & Twitchett (eds.), Cambridge History, p. 406 [map].

75 SYTJ, x, pp. 815, 818; Su Tianque 蘇天爵 (ed.), Guochao Wen Lei 國朝文類, facsimile of Xi Hu Shuyuan 西湖書院 edition of 1342, in Si Bu Cong Kan 四部叢刊 Chu Bian 初編 (Shanghai 上海, Shangwu Yinshuguan 商務印書館, 1922), juan 41, p. 26b.

76 YS, x, p. 2979–2980.

77 YS, x, p. 3010.

78 Li Xian et al., Da Ming Yi Tong Zhi, x, p. 5495.

79 Gu Yanwu 顧炎武, Tianxia Junguo Libing Shu 天下郡國利病書, [originally completed c. 1660], in Si Bu Cong Kan 四部叢刊, San Bian 三編 (Shanghai 上海: Shangwu Yinshuguan 商務印書館, 1936), xxx, p. 16b.

80 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, pp. 118, 125.

81 YS, xv, p. 4517.

82 YS, i, p. 97.

83 YS, v, p. 1429.

84 YS, i, p. 105.

85 YS, v, p. 1429; Farquhar, Mongolian Rule, pp. 153, 412–413.

86 YS, v, p. 1434.

87 Li Xian et al., Da Ming Yi Tong Zhi, x, p. 5495.

88 YS, i, p. 119.

89 Wylie, “First Mongol Conquest”, p. 125; Petech, “Tibetan Relations”, p. 185 apparently copies this error.

90 Yingli, Liu 劉應李, Da Yuan Hunyi Fangyu Shenglan 大元混一方輿勝覽, rev. Zhan Youliang 詹友諒 (Chengdu 成都: Sichuan Daxue Chubanshe 四川大學出版社, 2003), i, p. 459 .

91 Haw, S.G., Marco Polo's China: a Venetian in the realm of Khubilai Khan (London & New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 99100 .

92 YS, i, p. 164.

93 YS, v, pp. 1563–1564.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

The Mongol conquest of Tibet

  • STEPHEN G. HAW (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.