“The Tibetan army of the Dalai Lamas, 1642-1959” (TibArmy) is an ERC funded project (ERC Starting Grant 2015 n° 677952, 2016-2023), hosted by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the East Asian Civilizations Research Centre (CRCAO) and located at the EPHE in Paris.
It proposes to undertake a study of a previously unresearched subject: the history of the Tibetan army during the period of the Buddhist government of the Dalai Lamas, known as the Ganden Phodrang, from 1642 to 1959. This government was the heir to a robust military culture with long experience in the defence of Buddhism since the Tibetan Imperial Period (7th-9th centuries); however, from its inception it decided to rely on foreign armies for its protection. On the basis of two distinctive features of this period—the creation and maintenance of the first Tibetan standing army and the limited number of the troops compared to former times—the project will explore the enduring ambivalence of the Dalai Lamas’ government towards having its own army, as well as its reasons, consequences and expressions in discourses and practices.
The methodology follows a multifaceted approach towards the military in Tibet, by taking into considerations its social, economic, political, legal, religious and cultural aspects, and focussing on the multicultural and connected historical context of the Tibetan army’s evolution (foreign Mongol and Manchu armies stationed in Tibet, and the later adoption of British and Japanese military models). The research project, based on written and oral multilingual sources, is structured along 5 thematic axes:
- A history of the army institution (17th-20th c.): social, economic and political aspects;
- Ancient Tibetan military tradition, interactions with Mongol, Sino-Manchu troops and other foreign influences on the Tibetan army;
- Cultural and discursive aspects: integration of the army within the Buddhist frame;
- Material culture and photographs: a visual history of the Army (construction of a photo database and organisation of a photograph exhibition);
- An online lexicon of military terminology.
By focussing on the links between Buddhism and the military in Tibet, TibArmy will achieve a clearer understanding of the links between State construction, religion and army, and will also shed light on the past and current geo-political situation in Asia.