SEMINAR CYCLE: The Rise and Fall of Guandi, the Chinese God of War, in Tibetan Buddhism

December 12th, 18.00-19.30, conference by George FitzHerbert, INALCO (Room 3.04).

“A late 18th century thangka of Tibetanised Guanyu (Kwan lo ye/ Sprin ring rgyal po)” Credit: Himalyan Art Resources item no. 88591

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.

Defense and Offense: A Workshop on Armour and Weapons in Tibetan Culture

November 29th, 09.30-17.00

Download the updated programme as of November 27th.

Download the abstracts

Venue (changed as of November 26th): 

Ecole normale supérieure, Bâtiment Jaurès – Room 236 – 2nd floor Access from 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris. Download the map of the premises.

Registration:

The conference is open but registration is mandatory. Registration deadline is extended to Wednesday 28 November 14.00: register via our online platform.

SEMINAR CYCLE: The Bodyguard regiment (Ka dang sku srung dmag sgar) of the Ganden Phodrang army

November 15th, 16.30-18.00, conference by Alice Travers, La Maison de l’Asie (4th floor).

Photo caption: The Bodyguard / Ka dang sku srung regiment (between 1948 and 1950). © Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich. Inv.no. VMZ 400.07.50.012 / Photo: Heinrich Harrer, “Soldaten bei der Truppenrekrutierung”

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.

Seminar cycle: Tibetan Sources for the Study of the Ganden Phodrang’s Military History – the State Library of Berlin’s Collection of Legal Documents from South-Western Tibet

detail of Hs.or.6697, a public proclamation concerning the renovation of the military headquarter-cum-court of Dingri (Ding-ri sPyi-mda’ ya-mon)

October 17th, 18.00-19.30, conference by Hanna Schneider, INALCO (room 3.04).

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…

Seminar cycle: three seminars to come!

Wednesday 17 October 2018 (18.00 – 19.30 PM), INALCO (room 3.04): 
Hanna Schneider (Erwin Schneider Archive Lech a/A), “Tibetan Primary Sources for the Study of the Ganden Phodrang’s Military History. The State Library of Berlin (Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz zu Berlin)’s Collection of Legal Documents from South-Western Tibet”

Thursday 15 November 2018 (16.30 – 18.00 PM), Maison de l’Asie (room on the 4th floor): 
Alice Travers (CNRS, CRCAO), “The Bodyguard Regiment (Ka dang sku srung dmag sgar) of the Ganden Phodrang Army”

Wednesday 12 December 2018 (18.00 – 19.30 PM), INALCO (room 3.04):
George FitzHerbert (CNRS, CRCAO), “The Rise and Fall of Guandi, the Chinese God of War, in Tibetan Buddhism”

Programme and abstract for TibArmy conference (June 18th, Oxford)

The conference “Military Culture in Tibet during the Ganden Phodrang Period (1642-1959): The Interaction between Tibetan and Other Asian Military Traditions” is the second conference organised in the context of the TibArmy project.

You can download the programme and the abstracts here.

The conference is open but registration is mandatory. You have until Wednesday 13th, June to register via our online platform. Seats are limited and will be attributed on a first come first serve basis.

The conference is hosted by the Wolfson College.

Seminar Cycle: The Lhasa Mentsikhang (1916-1950) and the Tibetan Tradition of Military Medicine

May 16th, 17.00-18.30, conference by Stacey Van Vleet, INALCO (room 3.15) – 65  rue des Grands Moulins, Paris.

Tibetan medical instruments, ca. 19th century, Tso-Ngon (Qinghai) Tibetan Medicine and Culture Museum

In the Earth-Tiger year of 1938, as Tibetans in Lhasa awaited the arrival of the young Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the Mentsikhang (Institute of Medicine and Astrology, founded in 1916) welcomed its third batch of students. At the request of the Kashak ministers, these young students were recruited mainly from ten regiments of the Tibetan army – unlike the first two batches who had come from monastic and medical family-lineage backgrounds. The formation of a Tibetan army medical corps represents the culmination of a long historical relationship between medical and military institutions in Tibetan Buddhist regions. This relationship predated British and other foreign models, and developed particularly within Gelukpa monastic medical colleges (sman pa grwa tshang) during the period of Qing Empire (1644-1911). This talk will situate the training and service of the Tibetan army’s medical corps within the politics of early twentieth-century Lhasa. It will consider the broad scope of physicians’ military duties, from treatments for wounds and broken bones to alchemical precious pills to divination aiding the course of a battle. It will argue that medical technologies supported Tibetan Buddhist governance not just through benevolent care for the populace, but also to aid in its empowerment and defense.

Seminar cycle “Les chapitres traitant de traumatologie dans le Quadruple Traité (rGyud bzhi), texte fondamental de la tradition médicale tibétaine savante”

April 5th,  15.00-16.30, conference by Fernand Meyer, Maison de l’Asie – Grand salon – (22 avenue du Président Wilson).

© Vignettes figurant le traitement des plaies dans la série des peintures sur toile qui, commanditées au début du 18ème siècle à Lhasa par le Régent Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho, illustre le contenu du rGyud bzhi.

Les sources textuelles tibétaines pré-modernes font rarement, si ce n’est jamais, mention de la présence de médecins accompagnant les corps d’armée tibétains. Les biographies de médecins tibétains célèbres parvenues jusqu’à nous semblent également ignorer cette activité. Toutefois le Quadruple Traité comprend plusieurs chapitres consacrés à l’examen et au traitement de traumatismes dont certains ne peuvent avoir été causés que par des armes et non par un banal accident.

Ces chapitres très mal connus et compris des médecins tibétains actuels et de la recherche en tibétologie, présentent toutefois un grand intérêt dans la mesure où ils exposent des connaissances anatomiques spécifiques, ainsi que des pratiques diagnostiques et thérapeutiques très sophistiquées qui ne sont pas évoquées dans l’exposé général de l’anatomie, de la séméiologie, ou du traitement qui constitue l’essentiel du Quadruple Traité.

Ces connaissances et pratiques relatives à la traumatologie n’ont que peu d’équivalents dans les traditions médicales indienne et chinoise dont on sait l’influence qu’elles ont eu, par ailleurs, sur le développement de la médecine tibétaine savante. Il est difficile de dire à quel moment de l’histoire de cette dernière elles ont été abandonnées. Cet abandon pourrait avoir un lien avec celui, également attesté, d’un certain nombre de pratiques chirurgicales évoquées dans le Quadruple Traité.

SEMINAR CYCLE: “A Survey of the Military and its Relationship to dGe lugs pa Religious Hierarchs (1682-1895)”

March 15th,  16.00-17.30, conference by Federica Venturi, Maison de l’Asie – Grand salon – (22 avenue du Président Wilson).

© “Horpa militia guarding northern border of Tibet”, Photography by Sven Hedin (Tibet. The Sacred Realm. Photographs 1880-1950, Aperture, 1983, 89).

In the period between the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1682) and the assumption of political power of the Thirteen Dalai Lama (1895) a number of military conflicts were fought in Tibetan territory. Some of these were internal, including a civil war and attempts to quell rebellious chieftains at the periphery of the plateau. Others, instead, were clashes with foreign powers that had attempted to encroach upon territories the dGa’ ldan pho brang considered in its political sphere.

This presentation aims to offer an overview of the military engagements that occurred in this period, and particularly to examine in which way religious hierarchs of the dGa’ ldan pho brang became involved with these military affairs. Several sources, including the lives (rnam mthar) and autobiographies (rang rnam) of religious hierarchs, as well as the life stories of laymen, such as the biography of Pho lha nas bSod nams stobs rgyal (1689-1747), and the autobiography of rDo ring bsTan ’dzin dpal ’byor (b. 1760), can be used to trace the role of some of the dGe lugs pa hierarchs with respect to the employment of armed forces. In addition, the multiple viewpoints shown in these sources also allow the investigation of more general questions concerning the army of the dGa’ ldan pho brang, such as when it originated, how it operated, and how it developed and was shaped by contemporary historical events.

Tantric Rituals as War Propaganda in 17th-18th Century Tibet, China and Mongolia

George FitzHerbert is participating in the conference in the Chinese Military Society on April 5th, 2018, which is taking place in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Tantric Rituals as War Propaganda in 17th-18th Century Tibet, China and Mongolia

The Water-Horse year of 1642 is a watershed year in Tibetan history, when the Tibetan plateau was united for the first time since the period of the old Tibetan empire (7th-9th centuries CE) under the charismatic authority of the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso and his military backer, the Qoshot Mongol chief Gushri Khan. Though this unification was achieved through force of arms, the new status quo was maintained by the charismatic authority of the new rulership as symbolised by the Potala Palace built a few years later. In this presentation, based partly on ritual texts authored by the 5th Dalai Lama himself, George FitzHerbert will show that a key part of this charisma was the Dalai lama’s perceived expertise in ‘war magic’ – tantric rituals to repel and annihilate enemies (Tib: dmag zlog). The paper will show the lengths to which the 5th Dalai Lama went to nurture this reputation, and harness the charisma of such war magic to his new Ganden Phodrang Tibetan government. The paper will also show how the politics of war magic remained central to the dynamics of Tibetan-Mongol-Qing relations for the rest of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Call for Papers for TibArmy Conference 2018

Tibetan Military Culture : Interactions with Other Traditions – Conference 2018

Tibetan military institutions during the Ganden Phodrang period (1642-1959) were heir to a strong Tibetan martial tradition which had its roots in the period of the Tibetan Empire (7th to 9th c.), when Tibet was a major military contender on the Inner Asian stage.

However, in the centuries following the demise of the Tibetan Empire, Tibet’s military culture was subject to many formative foreign influences. For example, after a century of imperial Mongol military domination from the mid-13th to the mid-14th century, Mongol troops of various factions continued to have a major influence on Tibetan affairs right up to the moment when the Fifth Dalai Lama was enthroned as head of state in 1642. In the wake of this pivotal moment, Mongol troops continued to be a major presence in Tibetan territory until the early 18th century, with a certain though little-known impact on Tibetan military culture.

Later, in the 18th century, the growing incorporation of the Ganden Phodrang territory within the Manchu imperial sphere—at a time when the Qing Dynasty was itself recasting itself in an increasingly martial mould (Waley-Cohen 2006)—likely had a significant impact on Tibetan military culture. A Sino-Manchu garrison was installed in Lhasa in 1721, placed on a permanent footing after 1728 and then moved to the suburbs. From 1751 to the 20th century, this garrison consisted, at least on paper, of 1500 men. It was made up, in varying proportions, of Manchu bannermen and Chinese (mostly Sichuanese) soldiers from the Green Standard troops, who served in three-year stints (Petech 1950, Elliot 2001, Dai 2009). The presence of this garrison certainly resulted in a degree of influence on the Tibetan troops until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. This is reflected by the fact that Tibetan troops of the Ganden Phodrang were often referred to in Tibetan sources until the beginning of the 20th century as rgya sbyong, lit “trained by Chinese”. As yet, very little else is known about how Sino-Manchu troops interacted in Lhasa and elsewhere with the Tibetan army from the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

Little is also known about the foreign bodyguards serving other diplomatic representatives in Tibet during this period.

Finally, in the early 20th century other foreign military models found their way to Tibet, most significantly British, Russian and Japanese. Successive attempts to modernise the Tibetan army with the involvement of these foreign actors in the early 20th century has already been the subject of a certain amount of scholarly attention (Goldstein, Travers, Hyer and Komoto et al.).

1. Call for Papers

This conference aims to fill some of these lacunae by examining the presence of various foreign military cultures in Tibet during this period and looking for the possible influences that these contacts had on Tibetan military culture and institutions.

In addition to proposals based on Tibetan sources, we are looking for contributions using Mongol, Manchu, Chinese, Nepalese, Indian, British, Japanese and other sources that can shed light on the complexity of military culture in Tibet during this period.

We invite papers containing original research based on primary sources, and relating to at least one of the four following themes:

  • The presence of foreign troops in areas under the jurisdiction of the Ganden Phodrang government; the way they may have interacted with Tibetan military institutions; and the political repercussions this may have This would include instances of foreign troops fighting alongside Tibetan troops; foreign troops stationed as temporary or permanent occupying garrisons; and the military bodyguards of foreign representatives stationed in Tibet.
  • The perceived contrasts and differences between Tibetan military culture and that of others, as reflected in primary sources;
  • The possible influence of foreign military cultures on the Ganden Phodrang army in areas of (for example) training, tactics, equipment, organisation, rituals and so
  • The possible tensions that foreign military models may have created within Tibetan military institutions.

If you would like to participate, please submit an abstract of around 300 words to erctibarmy@gmail.com by the 1st of March 2018 for review by the organising committee.

Please note that other specific topics relating to the Tibetan army during the Ganden Phodrang period (such as weaponry and wars fought) will be addressed in forthcoming workshops, panels, and conferences (see our upcoming events).

The TibArmy Project participates to “The Many Faces of War”

by Jean-Christophe Benoist
CC BY 3.0

On November 17th and 18th, 2017, the TibArmy project participated in the 8th New Researchers’ conference organised by the British Commission for Military History, entitled “The Many Faces of War – Changing Perspectives on Armed Conflict”. The conference took place at the University of Cambridge, in St. John’s College, and saw the participation of over eighty panelists and 140 attendees. The panels explored a wide variety of subjects both thematically and chronologically, and comprised topics as varied as classical warfare, medieval and early modern military organization, training and performance-monitoring during the world wars, and insurgency, counterinsurgency and intelligence in modern and contemporary scenarios. The conference especially illustrated the vibrancy of the field of military studies, which is not merely restricted to analyses of battle formations, probes of strategic plans, and reviews of tactical decisions. On the contrary, it expands towards wider horizons that consider elements as varied as the reverberations of war and the military toward societies at large; the personal and professional experiences of soldiers as gathered through letters, diaries, muster rolls and the records of military colleges; the reciprocal reverberations of war and the military on the economy; propaganda and the media; and the role of women.

While the great majority of the papers presented focused on western history, several of the topics discussed were relatable to the military situation of Tibet during the period of the Ganden Phodrang. In particular, a paper by Ryan Crimmins (University of Oxford) illustrated sources on religious activities performed among the troops during the Thirty Years War. These comprise accounts written by the clergy accompanying troops, including personal diaries and correspondance; as well as pocket-size devotional tracts relating passages about biblical warfare and refutations of pacifism. The clergy accompanying the armies also performed liturgical and ministerial functions, which included the care of the sick and wounded, the performance of rites for the dead, and the giving of sermons before  the battle. These duties are not only comparable to the tasks that seem to have been performed by Tibetan lamas following the troops (see Federica Venturi in “To Protect and to Serve: The Military in Tibet During the Reign of the V Dalai Lama”, presented at the TibArmy Symposium in July 2017), but also open new lines of enquiry for the study of the Tibetan army. Other possible research fields exemplified by the conference are those that investigate the administrative documents produced by armies, such as muster rolls, performance tables, technical manuals, and inventories of arms and supplies. We know, for example, that some documents of this kind were created in the first half of the 20th c., during the time of the XIII Dalai Lama (see Venturi, 2014, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama on Warfare, Weapons and the Right to Self-Defense”), but the existence of any such records for the preceding centuries is yet to be verified.

At the conference, Federica Venturi presented a paper entitled “The Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (1679-1683) as a Political Solution to the Question of Buddhist Spheres of Influence in the Himalayas”, which offered a general discussion of the main aspects of the war between Ladakh and the Ganden Phodrang, including its causes and evolvement, on the basis of the biography of the commanding general of the Ganden Phodrang, dGa’ ldan tshe dbang (found in the Mi dbang rtogs brjod), and of the notations mentioning this war in the V Dalai Lama’s  Du ku la’i gos bzang.

View the  full programme of the conference.

Seminar cycle: “Armed forces of the Ancient Kingdom of Dergé in the 18th Century: a preliminary study”

December 14th,  17.00-18.30, conference by Rémi Chaix, Maison de l’Asie – 4th floor – (22 avenue du Président Wilson)

© Jampa Phuntsok (?-1667), considered as the founder of the Kingdom of Dergé, in the Dergé Gyelrab

The making and the expansion of the territory of the Dergé (sDe dge) Kingdom, between the mid-17th and late 18th centuries, were partly achieved by military action. Yet, no archives related to the forces that were mobilised (their size, their organisation, their equipment, etc.) and their modalities of action are, to my knowledge, available to document this crucial aspect of the influence and the prestige of this kingdom across Kham and, more widely, the Tibetan world.

This paper will show how the biographies of the chaplains of the house of Dergé, particularly those of Situ Panchen and Palden Chokyong, allow us to glimpse some aspects of the engagement of the armed forces in the context of internal conflicts in the kingdom, against certain neighbours and also during large-scale conflicts, such as the Jinchuan wars, alongside the Manchu armies.

The Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (1679-1683) as a Political Solution to the Question of Buddhist Spheres of Influence in the Himalayas

Federica Venturi (CNRS, CRCAO), is participating to the New Research in Military History confenrece, in Cambridge (UK). The conference is organised by the BCMH1 on 18th-17th November, 2017 – full programme.

Her paper aims to investigate the war between Tibet and Ladakh which took place on the westernmost edge of the Himalayan plateau between 1679 and 1683. While Tibet and its spiritual and political head, the Dalai Lama, represent today utmost symbols of peace and  nonviolence, in the past the Dalai Lamas and their Buddhist governments did not refrain from using belligerent methods in order to achieve their political goals. A prime example is that of the V Dalai Lama (1617-1682), who first accepted the extension of his rule on territories which had been conquered and presented to him by western Mongol troops, and then continued, during his forty years of reign, to consolidate his regime by engaging in wars with various neighboring polities. One of these was the kingdom of Ladakh, ruled by a dynasty that patronized a Buddhist school rival to that of the Dalai Lama. The competition for the largesse of a limited number of donors to the different religious establishments led to tensions that eventually resulted in a four-year war, and in the intervention of the neighboring Mughal empire on the Ladakhi side.

This little studied war ultimately determined the border between Tibet and Ladakh, which remains unchanged to this day. By consulting Tibetan sources contemporary with this conflict, this paper will outline the causes and main events of this war as well as provide information on the tactics employed by the combined Tibetan and Mongol armies utilized by the Dalai Lama’s government. It will show that war was considered an appropriate response and legitimate method to solve political and economic disputes also in Tibet, a country theoretically governed according to nonviolent Buddhist principles.

  1. British Commission for Military History []

The Tibetan Army of the Dalai Lamas, 1642-1959