A number of prosopographic works on the military world have shown how beneficial such an approach might be in advancing our historical knowledge of various cultural areas at different periods. This conference aims to present and discuss an ongoing research project on the social history of the Tibetan army under the Ganden Phodrang government, based on the use of the prosopographic method. After outlining the corpus of available sources (autobiographies, public and private archives, oral sources) for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we will present the construction of the metasource as well as the broad lines of enquiry w propose to follow. A preliminary inquiry into the evolution of the Tibetan army officer corps was extended to the troops as a whole, from the base to the top of the hierarchy, with a comparative treatment of the various regiments that comprised the Tibetan army. The presentation will then examine a few specific examples of aspects of military history that the prosopographic approach can document and analyse: the contours of a military career, its variations according to different criteria the training of soldiers and officers, their origin and social mobility, the diversity of practices in regiments and, more generally, the evolution of the Tibetan military institution in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Check out the programme of the seminar cycle 2016-2017 and save the date for June 2nd and June 22nd.
During the eighth century, the Tibetan Empire (618-842) conquered a region encompassing sections of modern-day Afghanistan, India, Xinjiang, and parts of China proper, and its army made Tibet one of the major powers in Eurasia. Though the Tibetan military declined drastically after the collapse of the empire, military culture continued to influence Tibetan civil and religious society. The modern Tibetan militia was first instituted by the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) in the seventeenth century, and reformed in the eighteenth century under Tibetan aristocrat Pho lha nas (1689-1747) and Manchu general Fuk’anggan (1753-1796). Marshaling a sizable state fighting force generally requires galvanizing domestic political and economic support. This talk aims to investigate the logistics of war-making under the dGa’ ldan pho brang since its outset. Studying Tibetan military logistics necessarily entails writing a socio-economic history of the early dGa’ ldan pho brang. Specifically, how did the dGa’ ldan pho brang regulate its conscription, supplies, transportation and training? This talk will discuss the basic military units: lding dpon and gzim chung pa, and their roles during both peace and war time under the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), Pho lha nas (1689-1747), and Fuk’anggan (1753-1796).
The existence of a military apparatus within the ecclesiastical government of the dGa’ ldan pho brang, controlled by religious hierarchs, reveals a dichotomy between an administration in theory committed to Buddhist values but in practice often pressed by concerns of realpolitik. In fact, on several occasions in its three-hundred year history, the government of the Dalai Lamas and the dGe lugs pa hierarchy have had to contend with adverse situations that spurred them to utilize, support or otherwise involve the Tibetan army. While the XIII Dalai Lama (1876-1933) may be the ecclesiastical figure whose support for the army is universally recognized, other hierarchs who preceded him also found ways to reconcile their religious beliefs with the necessity to solve impelling practical questions. This talk aims at illustrating some of the historical situations that required the involvement in military matters of dGe lugs pa hierarchs, and the conceptual discourses employed by them to justify and promote the use of the army.
It has been long acknowledged that state violence and military activity were a part of Tibetan history. Indeed, popular perceptions aside, the evidence for this has been easily available. In this talk some of it will be reviewed, to clarify both the idea that violence was justifiable and the fact that military organization was part of Tibetan politics and society – weaponry, soldiers, support units, etc. – all a part of functioning of authority in Tibet. The history of 17th and 18th century Tibet provides enough examples of the ways in which armed force war trained and deployed to allow us to make useful observations about the Tibetan military.
Pr. Elliot Sperling is a Numata Visiting Professor in South Asian, Buddhist, and Tibetan Studies at the University of Vienna. His writing and research has concentrated on Tibetan history, with a specific focus on Tibet’s historical and modern relations with China.
This talk will introduce what appears to be an early – and perhaps our earliest – Tibetan Gesar bsang (smoke purification) ritual text. The talk will explore some of the «layers» discernible in this text’s rich presentation of Gesar as an apotheosised folkloric figure. It will also explore the issues around dating and attributing the text. The attribution to Karma Pakshi (suggested by others) is ultimately rejected in favour of a tentative attribution to Yongs-dge mi-’gyur rdo-rje (1628/41-1704), a gter-ston from Nang-chen who is famous for his visionary Karma Pakshi sādhana. This attribution would make sense in light of what we already know about the evolution of the Buddhist cult of Gesar in eastern Tibet (particularly in the Sde-dge region) from the mid 17th century.