This exhibition of archival photographs focusses on the material culture (uniforms, insignia, flags) of the Tibetan army from 1895 to 1959, the last historical period of the Buddhist government of the Dalai Lamas known as the Ganden Phodrang. It shows how the Tibetan soldiers (both militia and regular troops) became progressively more visible in photographs during this period of time and how the various changes in the external appearance of the regular troops mirror the evolution of Tibet’s internal and international politics.
The exhibition will take place during the 16th IATS Seminar at the Faculty of Arts – Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) from 3.7.2022 until 9.7.2022.
Co-edited by Federica Venturi and Alice Travers, the collective volume Defence and Offence: Armour and Weapons in Tibetan Culture is now available in open access on the website of the editor, Annali di Ca’ Foscari.
The presentation is now available online (see below).
Conflict in a Buddhist Society presents a new way of looking at Tibet under the rule of the Dalai Lamas (1642–1959). Although this era can be clearly delineated as a distinct period in the history of Tibet, many questions remain concerning the specific form of rule established. Author Peter Schwieger attempts to make transparent the complexity and dynamics of the Dalai Lamas’ domination using the work of sociologist Niklas Luhman (1927–1998) as his theoretical starting point. Luhman’s systems theory allows Schwieger to approach Tibetan history and culture as a remarkable effort to create—under times of great conflict and stress and using uncommon means—a stable social and political order. Such a methodology provides the distance needed to move beyond event-based narrative history and understand the structures that made social action possible in Tibet and the operations by which its society as a whole distinguished itself from its environment.
Schwieger begins by asking the crucial question of how Tibet’s society dealt with conflict. The chapters that follow answer this question from various perspectives: history and memory; domination; hierarchy; center and periphery; semantics; morality and ethics; ritual; law; and war. Each reveals a different avenue for cross-cutting discourses in the historical and social sciences. Together, they provide a comprehensive picture of how conflicts were portrayed in Tibet society and how the manner in which they were handled stabilized the country for a considerable time but were ultimately unsuccessful in the face of radical upheavals in its environment.
Situated at the intersection of systems theory, conflict theory, and Tibetan/Inner Asian history and society, Conflict in a Buddhist Society will be of considerable interest to students and scholars in these areas. Its theoretical rather than narrative-descriptive approach to the history of the three centuries of Dalai Lama rule will be welcomed as wide-ranging and insightful.
“What event brought together such a disparate crowd in this mountainous landscape? Who are these Asian soldiers wearing European uniforms?”
Alice Travers analyses an image taken by Captain H.R.C. Meade, Officer of the British Survey, as part of the editorial project “The Darkroom of History” proposed by the EHNE (Encyclopedia of digital history of Europe).
(video in French)
To know more about this picture and others taken by Captain H.R.C Meade in 1922 during his mission to map some areas of Bhutan and southern Tibet, please see the dedicated article on the EHNE website (also in French).
Alice Travers (CNRS, France), Ryosuke Kobayashi (Kyushu University, Japan), Federica Venturi (CNRS, France/ USA) are invited by UCLA Asia Pacific Center to a panel presentation which tackles the question of Buddhism and Violence in Asia through “The Case of the Military in Tibet during the Ganden Phodrang Period (1642 – 1959)”. The panel aims to examine the rapport between the Buddhist government of the Dalai Lama and its army from multiple viewpoints:
Alice Travers, CNRS, CRCAO: “TibArmy’s Recent Research Developments on the Theme of Buddhism and the Military in Tibet”
Ryosuke Kobayashi, Kyushu University: “Militarization of Dargyé Monastery: Contested Borders on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier during the Early Twentieth Century”
Federica Venturi, CNRS, CRCAO / UCLA: “His Holiness’ Army: Some examples from the Documents of the Fifth and Thirteenth Dalai Lamas”
Organised in the framework of the TibArmy project with the core team and invited participants, this panel studies the numerous wars fought by the Tibetan armies both in internal and international contexts during the Ganden Phodrang period. It seeks to document less-known armed conflicts and shed light on other better-known events through new sources, depicting how battles were then fought; it also analyses the role of wars, be they won or lost, as generating change on four levels: in the development of the Tibetan military institutions themselves; in the development of the Tibetan government; in the links between army and society; in international politics.
Chair: Alice Travers; Discussant: Tashi Tsering Josayma
8:30 Ryosuke Kobayashi, Alice Travers – Panel Introduction
8:40 Federica Venturi – The Fifth Dalai Lama and the Conflict with Bhutan in 1668
9:05 Yuri Komatsubara – Tibetan Policies during the First Sino-Gurkha War (1788-1789)
9:30 Dai Yingcong – The Gurkha Wars and the Shift of the Qing Tibetan Policy during the Qianlong-JiaqingTransition, 1780-1820
9:55 Jeannine Bischoff – Rewarding a Paid Sword – A 1904 Letter of Honour by the bka’ shag for Soldiers Who Fought the British Invaders
View of the Fortress of Anley, one of the main residences of Sengge Namgyal (1616-1623 / 1624-1642), on the border between Ladakh and Guge (photo by Quentin Devers, 2018)
Ladakh extends over a territory previously divided between the Tibetan and Central-Asian spheres. Because of this particular situation, a wide diversity of groups have inhabited the region: Dards, “Mons”, Turks, Tibetans, Mongols, etc. have left a rich array of archaeological remains for us to study all over the country. Its important mineral resources (gold, iron, copper, chrome) as well as international trade routes have attracted since times immemorial hordes of bandits and armies of all kinds, leading to the development of the densest defensive infrastructure of the Tibetan plateau. This seminar aims at covering the evolution of military architecture in the region, the differences between the fortresses of the numerous cultures represented , and how this diversity enabled the emergence of the famous fortified palaces of Ladakh – the architectural precursors of a number of the great palaces of the Ganden Phodrang such as the Potala.
Les sources tibétaines, britanniques et chinoises donnent à voir les différentes étapes de la capitulation des troupes chinoises stationnées au Tibet. Elles permettent de suivre le déroulement des événements : la mutinerie à Lhasa, les négociations entre les gouvernements britannique et chinois et la narration des difficultés rencontrées tout au long du trajet de retour vers la Chine. De registres différents, elles invitent à réfléchir sur les interprétations et les priorités que chacune des parties privilégie et à discuter de la potentialité d’écrire une histoire à parts égales de la reddition des troupes chinoises du Tibet.
Under the Dalai Lamas’ government of Tibet (1642-1959) the avowed aim of politics was to serve religion. But sometimes it was religion that served politics. Based on a voluminous Tibetan-language literature (much of it ritual texts), this talk will look at the manner in which Guandi, the Chinese god of war, was incorporated into the pantheon of Tibetan Buddhist protectors during the 18th and 19th century. It will show how this development in the religious/literary sphere, which was led by (mostly Mongolian) Geluk lamas with links to the imperial court, closely mirrored the various stages in the establishment and consolidation of a Qing Protectorate in Tibet and the presence of Chinese military garrisons there. The talk will also try to show that as Qing military power weakened during the second half of the 19th century, the identity of Guandi and the temples devoted to him in Inner Asia, became increasingly overgrown and obscured by his superscription as a completely different figure, namely Gesar Gyalpo/ Geser Khan, the eponymous hero of Tibetan and Mongolian epic traditions. By the time of Tibet’s independence (1913-1951), the identity of Guandi and the temples originally devoted to him in Tibet, had been all but forgotten.
The Bodyguard regiment (Tib. Ka dang sku srung dmag sgar) was created by the 13th Dalai lama around 1913-1914 and dissolved, with the rest of the remaining Tibetan troops, in 1959 after the 14th Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. When started, it was the first regiment (regiments were named in alphabetical order, hence “Ka”) in the newly organised and numerically increased army. It complemented the former Ganden Phodrang force of 3000 Tibetan soldiers, called “rgya sbyong” (lit. “trained by the Chinese”) at least since the end of the 18th century.
This paper will present a first attempt at a historical study of the Bodyguard regiment, based on an ensemble of Tibetan oral and written autobiographical accounts (notably some thirty-five interviews with Tibetan soldiers who served before 1959 in the Bodyguard regiment, and five book-length and article-length accounts of the Tibetan Bodyguard regiment’s officers published in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in India), as well as on British archival sources. Beyond the study of its organisation, its social composition and development over its period of existence, the presentation will particularly underline how this regiment was conceived as a showcase of the project of military modernisation launched by the 13th Dalai lama, functioning as a “model regiment” for the other permanent Tibetan troops, while retaining certain specificities related to its primary – and highly prestigious – role as the personal bodyguard to the Ganden Phodrang government’s ruler.
The state library of Berlin (Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz zu Berlin) is in possession of a collection of 320 legal documents from south-western Tibet, primary sources for the study of the region‘s cultural, religious, social and military history that cover the time range between the beginning of the 18th century and the early aftermath of the Ganden Phobrang era, i.e., the early sixties of the 20th century.
Given the longstanding strategic importance of Tibet‘s border with Nepal, it comes without surprise that a considerable part of these documents directly relate to issues of military purport, with a clear focus on the three aspects of military administration, maintenance and defence.
Above all, these documents deal with and respond to the changing tides of Tibet‘s history during and after the two Gorkha wars (1788-1792; 1855-1856) in the first place. Both events triggered far reaching consequences that e.g. led to the reinforcement of troops, the upgrading of the military prefecture of south-western Tibet with its headquarters at Ding-ri, and the systematic development of new settlements and arable lands in order to strenghten the human and agricultural resources in times of war and peace.
This collection grants valuable first hand insights into the various aspects of Tibetan military history of the time and place: the role of the key players – the Tibetan government with its central and provincial branches, e.g., the Khashag or council of ministers, the military prefecture of Dingri (Ding-ri sPyi-mda‘ khang) and the monastery and rDzong of Shel-dkar; the role and involvement of Ch‘ing authority within these levels of Tibetan bureaucracy and within the borderland defence, the administration and maintenance of the troops and their garrisons, the role of the local people within the military administration as well as within the service and tax system; documents such as a certified copy of the 10 points Nepal-Tibet treaty of 1856, sources covering the border security at the strategically important border crossing at Rong-shar, and documents dealing with reconnaissance-cum-security issues across the high ranges of the highest mountains of our planet, down to an undertaking for the restoration of and a receipt for the timely delivery of fire wood to the military headquarter at Ding-ri in the height of winter…