All posts by Florent Resche-Rigon

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 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).

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 []

Seminar cycle: Winning the Peace: The Aftermath of the Tibet-Ladakh War of 1679–1683 and the Reorganisation of Western Tibet

Conference by Charles Ramble, Inalco, room 3.03 (65 rue des Grands Moulins) – 17.30 – 19.00

1683 edict, photography by Charles Ramble

The Tibet Ladakh war, which resulted in victory for the Central Tibetan army under the leadership of the Mongol general Ganden Tshewang and the annexation of the Ngari region, has been well documented by several authors, notably Luciano Petech. Less well known are the measures that were taken to bring the newly-won territory in the administrative orbit of Lhasa’s Ganden Phodrang government. Based on published Tibetan studies and a hitherto unknown edict of the Fifth Dalai Lama issued in 1683, this presentation will examine the post-war policies that were implemented to reassure the local chiefs and the ordinary population of Western Tibet of the good intentions of their new ruler.

Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet

To quote this article:

Travers, Alice and Venturi, Federica, 2017. “Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet” in

Detail, tangkha on the life of Gesar (Zhang Changhong (ed.), Sichuan Museum 2012. From the Treasury of Tibetan Pictorial Art: Painted Scrolls of the Life of Gesar/ Gesaer tang ka yan jiu/ Ge sar rgyal po’i sgrung thang skor gyi zhib ’jug. Sichuan Museum, Sichuan University Museum and Musée Guimet, Paris: Ke yan gui hua yu yan fa chuang xin zhong xin bian zhu.  Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju.)

The history of Tibet is full of warfare, and the period of the Ganden Phodrang (dga’ ldan pho brang)  is no exception. The aim of the TibArmy project’s first conference in Paris, held on 11 July 2017, was to explore the multi-faceted relationship between Buddhism and military affairs during this period. As an explicitly Buddhist state,  the protection of Buddhism was the avowed and ultimate aim of all military action undertaken on behalf  of the Ganden Phodrang– whether by its own army, by ad hoc militias or imperial forces. Buddhist monks often played prominent roles in Tibetan military affairs during this period. Also Buddhist doctrine and especially ritual liturgies of protection and destruction were used to support military action, and in Tibetan sources such methods were often portrayed as determining factors in the outcomes of armed conflict.

This blog-post offers some background to the subject by presenting an overview of prior scholarship on the relationship between Buddhism and the military in Tibet, which is adapted from the introduction presented at the conference by Alice Travers and Federica Venturi, and will appear in due course, in an extended version, as part of the introduction of our forthcoming volume, along with the collected papers of the conference (see the list of papers).

Continue reading Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet

How to Reconcile Buddhism and Violence? Examples from the Tibetan Army of the dGa’ ldan pho brang

Castle of Leh in Ladakh
Illustration found in Ladák, Physical, Statistical and Historical; with Notices of the Surrounding Countries, by Alexander Cunningham Published in London, 1854.

Federica Venturi (CNRS, CRCAO) participated in the inaugural conference of the Italian Association for Tibetan, Himalyan and Mongolian Studies – Associazione Italiana di Studi Tibetani, Himalayani e Mongoli (AISTHiM)- which took place in Procida, Italy (September 12-15th, 2017).

She presented the paper : How to Reconcile Budhism and Violence? Examples from the Tibetan Army of the dGa’ Idan pho brang.

The paper examined the question of how the Buddhist government of the dGa’ ldan pho brang justified the use of war on the occasions in which it deemed necessary to employ the Tibetan army. In particular, presented the ways in which certain important religious figures among the dGe lugs pa, such as the V Dalai Lama, rationalized the necessity to employ violent means. This paper also considered the figure of dGa’ ldan tshe dbang dpal bzang po (second half of the 17th century), an ex-lama from Tashilhumpo to whom the V Dalai Lama entrusted the general command of the Tibetan army during the war between Tibet and Ladakh (1679-1683).

The Association was created with the aim of promoting the study and knowledge of Tibetan and Himalayan civilizations in Italy, supporting research, publishing scientific studies, translations and works for the general public on Tibetan, Himalayan and Mongolian civilizations, and organizing conferences and collaborating with academic institutions.

Groundwork for a visual history of the Tibetan army (1904-1959)

Alice Travers is invited by the Société Européenne pour l’Etude des Civilisations de l’Himalaya et de l’Asie Centrale (SEECHAC) to present her work on the visual history of the Tibetan army. Find out more on the website of the SEECHAC.

The talk will take place at the Musée Cernuschi, 7 rue Velasquez, 75008 Paris, at 18.00.

Lhasa, die Neujahrsparade des modernen Militärs vor dem Potala. Photo: Ernst Schäfer (1938/1939). 135-S-11-07-17

Two generals of the Ganden Phodrang army and the Ninth Panchen Lama

June 22nd, 17.00-18.30, INALCO, Tsewang Topla (Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Tibetan History at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah, India) will present his research.

This paper is about two Generals Mtsho sgo and Rnam sras gling. In 1923, when the Ninth Panchen Lama secretly escaped from his Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigatse, General Mtsho sgo was sent by the Tibetan government in order to pursue and arrest him. Then, in 1937 when the Ninth Panchen Lama came back to Tibet from China, the Tibetan government sent General Rnam sras gling in order to arrest his Chinese escort. It will examine how, in these former and latter occasions, the Ninth Panchen Lama was pursued and stopped and how he created a new bodyguard corps while he was staying abroad.

June 22nd, 17.00-18.30, INALCO, Tsewang Topla (Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Tibetan History at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah, India) will present his research.