Talk:Ardagh–Johnson Line

Active discussions

Why this page now?Edit

The Discoverer, I am not sure what the point is for spinning this subject off into a separate page. Also, if this were to be a page, then its title should be Johnson–Ardagh Line, as it is state in the RS. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 16:22, 19 October 2019 (UTC)

Hello Kautilya3, I had intended to write a note on your talk page regarding this article. The articles Aksai Chin and Sino-Indian border dispute have the same sizeable section about the Johnson Line but I feel that they still didn't do justice to the topic. For instance, here are some aspects that are not explained properly:
  • The description of the Johnson Line proposed by Johnson.
  • The difference between the Johnson Line and the border as claimed by India.
There are articles for all the other boundary lines of India viz. Radcliffe Line, McMahon Line and Macartney-MacDonald Line. If we have a separate article for the Johnson Line, then we can reduce or remove the content related to this topic from other articles.
I have no problem with renaming the article as 'Johnson–Ardagh Line'
The Discoverer (talk) 18:51, 19 October 2019 (UTC)
No, I don't think this topic exists. Johnson's was an early survey (with significant limitations), which basically said this is where Kashmir's boundaries are. Even calling it a "Johnson Line" is a misnomer.
Moreover, you have copied here the same dubious content that I had tagged as being POV based unreliable sources (like Gurswamy, Calvin etc.) We don't want problematic content copied and duplicated all over Wikipedia. I suggest you draftify it and work on improving the content using better sources.
By the way Hoffmann calls it "Ardagh–Johnson line".[1]-- Kautilya3 (talk) 20:23, 19 October 2019 (UTC)
If you agree, what I propose is, that we can remove all the duplicated and dubious content related to the Johnson-Ardagh Line from articles (I think that it's mainly in Aksai Chin, Sino-Indian border dispute and Sino-Indian War), and work on it in this article. The Discoverer (talk) 08:08, 20 October 2019 (UTC)
I can agree only if the content is drastically improved. It is one thing for lousy content to be buried somewhere in a humongous article, and it is another thing to highlight it as an independent article on its own. That is why I recommend draftifying it and improving it before putting it up for display. We should not treat Wikipedia as a private notebook! -- Kautilya3 (talk) 12:27, 20 October 2019 (UTC)
Johnson's map

Please note also that the "Johnson Line" covers the entire border of Kashmir, not just Aksai Chin. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 13:28, 20 October 2019 (UTC)

This means in particular the northern boundary, which he places at some place called "Walabot pass 16,760", well to the north of Shahidulla. It might be the Sanju Pass, going by the location and the height. No Indian government or Kashmir government has put the border that far north. Shahidulla as about as far as the Kashmir government claimed, as marked in the "traditional boundary". -- Kautilya3 (talk) 14:39, 20 October 2019 (UTC)
The 1909 "Outer Line" mentioned on the Sino-Indian War page is at the Yarkand river. It does not even go up to Shahidulla. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 14:42, 20 October 2019 (UTC)
If we don't have an article here, then people looking for information about the Ardagh-Johnson line are redirected right into the midst of the dense wilderness of pages like Aksai Chin, Sino-Indian border dispute and Sino-Indian War and then have to read that lousy content. The understanding of what I think is the vast majority of people, is that Johnson proposed some 'absurd' boundary, and independent India claims that same boundary as it's border. That, of course, is far from the truth, but I don't think that one could understand that from any of the articles. These details can be explained in this article.
It seems to me that there are two strategies to proceed with: one is that we remove all the problematic content from all the articles and bring them here and trim and work on them. This would require more effort. The second is that we build from scratch and keep only good, well-sourced content on this page, even if it means that this page remains small. This would be the easier way.
The Discoverer (talk) 17:52, 20 October 2019 (UTC)
Look, Johnson is entirely irrelevant. India never claimed that it was using Johnson Line or any other line. India only said, "these are our borders" based on the local knowledge they had. Had Britain established an agreed border with China, India would have stuck to it. If they hadn't, whatever imperialist ruminations they might have had were entirely irrelevant to India. You are just madly chasing neo-imperialist commentators, who are annoyed that India didn't follow their imperialist policies. You need to junk them. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 18:27, 20 October 2019 (UTC)

I will tone down some of my criticism because it does seem to be correct that the Republic of India inherited the Ardagh-Johnson Line. Hoffmann says:

An Indian scholar who helped devise the official view of the Nehru government after independence has argued that, during the last two decades of British-India, a version of the Ardagh-Johnson line came to be accepted as a matter of policy. He says the final British acceptance of such a line came in 1936.[5: G. Narayana Rao, pp. 59-60.] These assertions must remain speculative so long as independent scholars do not have ready access to the records of that period in Government of India archives. But scholarly opinion is supportive in a general way. Alastair Lamb, for example, reports that after World War I British-India emerged with an Ardagh-Johnson boundary so far as the Aksai Chin was concerned. A 1927 decision to drop any claim to Shahidulla fort north of Karakorum Pass (and thus beyond the Aksai Chin) left intact the claim to the Aksai Chin itself, either because the British had no reason to set a new policy for it, or because they wanted to retain it as a buffer between India and a possibly Russian-dominated Sinkiang.[6: Lamb, China-India Border, pp. 110, 112-114; Ladakh, p. 14][1]

I don't think Hoffman is well-versed in history (e.g., the decision to give up Shahidulla was sealed by 1892, not 1927), but he is at least able to present Lamb's historical observations filtering out the "neo-imperialist" polemics that go with them.

However, India did not blindly follow the inherited border. It put it to its own rigorous analysis.

Presently Nehru declared India’s stance on the boundary in a statement in parliament [in 1951]. The frontier from Ladakh to Nepal was defined “chiefly by long usage and custom.” In the east it was “clearly defined by the McMahon Line which was fixed by the Simla Convention of 1914 ... that is our boundary—map or no map.”[2]

So the two parts of the border were treated differently. Where there was an agreed border (McMahon Line), India followed it. In other places, it didn't. Only after India convinced itself of the "long usage and custom" in Ladakh did it fix the border.

At this juncture [after the Kongka Pass incident] the director of the MEA’s historical division, Sarvepalli Gopal, returned from London where he had been studying the basis of India’s claims in British archives. Gopal thought that India had a sound historical case for Aksai Chin and conveyed it to Nehru; but it was only in February 1960 that Gopal took Nehru through all the evidence and finally convinced him that India’s claims to Aksai Chin were strong.[99: Hoffmann, India and the China Crisis, 82–3] The available evidence suggests that until this point Nehru was thinking of Aksai Chin as a bargaining counter. As R.K. Nehru recalled, “until 1960, we ourselves were not sure that the territory belonged to us and we were thinking in terms of giving up our claims as part of a satisfactory settlement.”[100: “India & China: Policy Alternatives,” R. K. Nehru Papers, NMML.][3]

-- Kautilya3 (talk) 12:34, 21 October 2019 (UTC)

Kautilya3, thank you for your commitment to accuracy and to resist any distortion of history. This excellent explanation that you have presented in your reply above is part of what I think we must try to explain in this article.
May I suggest the following way to move forward: Let's delete all the dubious and uncertain content in this article, and only keep what we know to be reliable facts. Let's keep all the hoopla about Johnson to the absolute minimum, and focus on the Ardagh-Johnson line and its relevance or irrelevance to independent India's border claim. I am not at all interested in propagating any neo-imperialist views, but these views do exist in readers' minds, and we have to deal with them. By saying 'deal with them', I mean that we have to state the correct facts which may be counter to popular perception.
So, if the perception is that 'Johnson proposed something stupid, and independent India blindly adopted that', or 'India used so-and-so line to fix its border', then this is the place to state the facts that India did not base its border upon this line, and that India's border is different from the Johnson line. Otherwise, a reader would read the section about the Johnson line in any other article and go away without being wisened to the fact that this is not really the basis of India's border.
On the other hand, even though India did not base its border in this area upon the Ardagh-Johnson line, understanding the basis behind and the development of this line is still important in order to understand how independent India fixed it's border in this region.
The Discoverer (talk) 06:24, 22 October 2019 (UTC)
No, it doesn't work like that. The above discussion only goes to show that India's border is not Ardagh-Johnson, at least it does not derive from Ardagh-Johnson. You cannot write an article based on what something is not. You can only write it based on what it is.
So an article on Ardagh-Johnson has to squarely deal with the imperialist politics of the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially why Shahidulla was given away etc. I really don't have an interest in doing that right now. The modern Indian history that I covered above can only be the postscript for the real story of Ardagh-Johnson. It is not the centre of the matter.
By the way, right now, I am working on the Demchok sector, which is in my view, much more important than Aksai Chin. People live there, and it is the route to Kailas-Manasarovar. It has a thousand years of history. And all our maps don't even mark the line of control there. Nobody knows its status. See the discussion at Talk:Jammu and Kashmir and the new page on Charding Nullah. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 10:15, 22 October 2019 (UTC)
And also, for anybody that knows the history of Ladakh, it is as plain as white snow that Ladakh's northern border has always been the Kuen Lun rang. See the new page on Maryul. Equivalently Xinjiang's southern border was Kuen Lun range, as it is still is beyond Aksai Chin. Ardagh and Johnson were merely discovering this traditional border. They didn't create it. Alastair Lamb is a disturbed soul. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 10:49, 22 October 2019 (UTC)
Kautilya3, I agree with your comments above. The only thing I would add is that even though the modern Indian border is not central to this article, I think that it's important to mention and clarify that to a reasonable extent.
You are doing an excellent job on the articles related to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Thank you for your work.
The Discoverer (talk) 13:24, 25 October 2019 (UTC)
Right, the modern Indian border is not the point of this article, but Johnson's line is. So, what is the nature of the Johnson's line?
  • It is bordered by the Changchenmo valley in the south (already surveyed by plenty of other teams including Johnson and Goodwin-Austen), and by the Kun Lun mountains in the north. Once these two are fixed, you have the Aksain Chin plains in the middle with a bunch of lakes, with streams flowing into them from the Kun Lun mountains and other little hills and mountains within Aksai Chin. Johnson put his boundary on the watershed of these streams. This is perfectly the normal thing any surveyor would do. So, all this criticism of Johnson, which even D. K. Palit parrots, is just politically motivated mumbo-jumbo.
  • The only question regarding Johnson's boundary is whether the choice of Kun Lun mountains is a reasonable one. Note that A. H. Francke, who only studied Ladakh's history and died long before there was any Sino-Indian dispute, has also put Ladakh's northern border along the Kun Lun mountains. It cannot be anywhere else, once we understand that Maryul was an offshoot of West Tibet. Just as Tibet's northern boundary is along the Kun Lun mountains elsewhere, so it is with Maryul/Ladakh.
  • Secondly, Shahidulla, which is at the foot of Kun Lun mountains was already under the control of Kashmir. According to Parshotam Mehra, the Dogras took control of Shahidulla as soon as they conquered Ladakh (even before the British were involved).[4] So, the Maharaja of Kashmir didn't need Johnson's help to acquire the northern border. It is possible that the eastern border was a surprise to him, because nobody would have ventured into that barren country before. But since it is barren country, the actual gain from it was very little. So, I can't understand how people can talk as if the Maharaja had bribed Johnson to create an "extended boundary" for him.
The Macartney-MacDonald Line is based on a different principle, which is to use the water-parting line of the Indus waters and the Tarim basin waters. On the face of it, there is nothing unreasonable about this line either. The choice between the two boils down to a political issue. Just as the British gave away Shahidulla on political grounds, they were also prepared to give away the northern Aksai Chin. If the Chinese negotiated in good faith, there is a good chance that Indians would have agreed to it. G. F. Hudson writes:

In view of Nehru's friendly attitude towards the Chinese People's Republic it seems very probable that Peking could have obtained an adjustment of the frontier by negotiation, but it preferred to present India with a fait accompli by surreptitious construction of the road and after the inevitable disclosure to behave with a peremptory arrogance incompatible with any peaceful settlement. Mr. [Narayana] Rao rightly points out that China turned down the mediation proposals made by six neutral Afro-Asian states as well as Indian offers to refer the dispute to the International Court or to arbitration.[5]

-- Kautilya3 (talk) 18:16, 25 October 2019 (UTC)


  1. ^ Hoffmann, Steven A. (1987), "Ambiguity and India's claims to the Aksai Chin", Central Asian Survey, 6 (3): 37–60, doi:10.1080/02634938708400591, ISSN 0263-4937
  2. ^ Raghavan, War and Peace in Modern India 2010, p. 235
  3. ^ Raghavan, War and Peace in Modern India 2010, pp. 260-261
  4. ^ Mehra, An "agreed" frontier 1992, p. 57: "Shahidulla was occupied by the Dogras almost from the time they conquered Ladakh.[5: Raja Gulab Singh formally annexed Ladakh in 1842; four years later the Brtish recognized him as the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir]"
  5. ^ Hudson, G. F. (1970), "The Indo-China Border: A Reappraisal by Gondker Narayana Rao (Book review)", The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1): 94–95, JSTOR 25203193



Map of British India, 1837

I found this interesting map today, from 1837. It was also reroduced in the Imperial Gazetteer in 1908.

1837 was just three years after Zorawar Singh's first campaign to Ladakh, when they were still part of the Sikh Empire. The British were no where in Kashmir by then. As far as I know this is the first time Kashmir had appeared in British maps. Two things worth noting:

  • Aksai Chin is included (and possibly Shahidulla)
  • Demchok is excluded.

So the British implicitly knew that the northern border was along the Kuen Lun range, and also knew that Aksai Chin was part of Ladakh. This puts paid to Alastair Lamb's contentions that the Johnson added thousands of square miles to the Maharaja's territory.

The Demchok issue is more troubling. Moorcroft travelled in Ladakh in 1820s when it was still independent, and he believed that Demchok "belongs to Gartok". So, this got reflected in the 1837 map, and despite the Boundary Commission including it in Ladakh, they removed it later. Far from being a precise and accurate reflection of the ground situation, the Kashmir Survey seems to have been just filled with confirmation biases of preconceived notions. -- Kautilya3 (talk) 22:43, 10 November 2019 (UTC)

Great. I have added the map to the article. The Discoverer (talk) 06:24, 19 November 2019 (UTC)
Return to "Ardagh–Johnson Line" page.