Journey to the East

Thomas Manning’s journey to Lhasa in 1811 – Christopher DeCou

The mountainous Tibetan landscape was once thought of as impregnable to Western explorers. Today, Lhasa has an airport and a train-station. Yet under Communist rule, access is heavily restricted for foreigners once more. At the beginning of the 19th century Thomas Manning – a Chinese-enthusiast from England – travelled to Tibet, thinking it to be his secret backdoor into China. In the process, he became the first Englishman to enter Lhasa, in 1811. This is his story.



Born November 8 1772, at Diss in Norfolk, the second son to a middle-class English family, Thomas Manning was a man of “independent character,” known at an early age for his quick intelligence, sardonic wit, and unbounded curiosity. Thomas entered Cambridge at eighteen and excelled in mathematics, eventually producing his own textbook in algebra and arithmetic. But he was unable to advance at the university. He admired Quaker modesty and with it the refusal to swear oaths. Accordingly, when asked to swear loyalty to the Church of England, he demurred and was barred from further studies.


Hidden History

Oasis State

Kashgaria and the British Great Game – Christopher DeCou

The Great Game sounds like the title of popular reality game show, but instead describes the chess-like match of the British, Russian, Ottoman and Qing governments in Central Asia during the mid to late 19th century. One of its more interesting episodes involved Kashgaria, a short-lived independent state, covering much of today's Xinjiang province in western China. It inspired British explorer and diplomat Robert Shaw to cross treacherous mountain passes to open communication with its leaders, efforts that resulted in an official mission. But by the mid 1870s, even though the British were concerned about their northern borders, the economy defeated expediency and support for “Oriental” leadership. Soon afterward, Kashgaria collapsed and was absorbed back into the Chinese Empire.