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Exhibition / Marching into View : The Tibetan Army in Historic Photographs (1895 – 1959)

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 took place during the 16th IATS Seminar at the Faculty of Arts – Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) from 3.7.2022 to 9.7.2022.


Emma Martin, Curatorial Advisor and Alice Travers, Curator of the exhibition

See also the book published in conjunction with the exhibition:

Alice Travers. 2022. Marching into View: The Tibetan Army in Historic Photographs 1895–1959. Potsdam: edition-tethys, coll. Wissenschaft/Science vol. 5, 209 p.

Book release / Marching into View : The Tibetan Army in Historic Photographs 1895 – 1959

The book Marching into View: The Tibetan Army in Historic Photographs 1895–1959 (Potsdam, edition-tethys: wissenschaft/science vol. 5, 209 p.) by Alice Travers will be released on July 1st 2022.

The launching will take place during the eponymous photo exhibition held in Prague during the 16th IATS.

Abstract

This volume seeks to shed light on one of Tibet’s little-studied secular features: its military institutions prior to 1959. It uses archival photographs, an underused historical source, to discover aspects of the Tibetan army history that scarcely appear in the written sources, such as its material culture (soldiers’ clothes and uniforms, insignia, military flags and banners, music band).

It focuses on the army of the Lhasa-based government known as the Ganden Phodrang, during the reigns of the 13th (1895-1933) and 14th Dalai lamas (1950-1959) and during the intervening period of regency (1933-1950). The Tibetan army, created to defend its Buddhist government, was mainly composed of two types of troops serving as a tax or corvée duty: a corps of permanent or regular troops (tenmag), whose first appearance dates to the 18th century; regional militia (yulmag), who guarded the borders and were summoned to serve alongside the Lhasa government’s regular troops when needed.

Assembled here for the first time are 168 photographs of Tibetan militia and regular soldiers, drawn from twenty-six museums, public and private archives in Europe, North America and Asia, and taken by thirty-five different photographers. This produces a variety of visual discourses on the Tibetan army that is rarely seen with other topics and helps to reposition the Tibetan army at the centre of the enquiry, as seen under a number of spotlights.

The volume 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 material culture and external appearance of the regular troops mirror the evolution of Tibet’s internal and international politics.

Table of contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Chapter 1. Camouflaged: looking for Tibetan soldiers and militia in early photographs (1890–1913)

Chapter 2. A new visual identity: the modernisation of the Tibetan army under British influence (1913–1938)

Chapter 3. The re-Tibetanisation of the Ganden Phodrang army (1939–1950)

Chapter 4. Towards Sinicisation: the aftermaths of the 17-Point Agreement (1951–1959)

Chapter 5. The lion and the vajra: the history of Tibetan military flags through film and photography

Chapter 6. “God Save the Queen” in Tibet: the military bands of the Ganden Phodrang army

Conclusion. Lessons about the history of the Tibetan army from archival photographs and films

Bibliography

Index

Defence and Offence: Armour and Weapons in Tibetan Culture

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.

Federica Venturi and Alice Travers  (eds), Defence and Offence: Armour and Weapons in Tibetan Culture, Annali di Ca’ Foscari. Serie orientale 2, December 2021,  325 p.

Abstract:

This special issue of Annali di Ca’ Foscari. Serie orientale gathers scholars from various disciplines (history, art history, philology, Mongol studies and arms and armour specialists), in order to spur dialogue on the development and history of Tibetan weapons, and add new avenues of research on this topic, in the footsteps of the pioneering 2006 exhibition Warriors of the Himalaya (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Initially based on a workshop entitled Defence and Offence: Armour and Weapons in Tibetan Culture, organised in 2019 in Paris in the framework of the ERC-funded project The Tibetan Army of the Dalai Lamas, 1642-1959, this monographic issue starts from the observation that the theory of the ‘military revolution’, which for more than half a century has stimulated a reassessment of pre-modern and early modern European history, is still completely untested in the field of Tibetan studies. In particular, the impact of firearms innovation on the evolution of society has not been made for Tibet. The issue endeavours to build the ‘first missing link’ that would allow further analysis on this topic, by proposing five studies documenting the great diversity of weapon technology (and their corresponding terminology) that were used in Tibet, from the bow and arrow in the 7th century to the machine gun in the 20th century, by way of the famous Tibetan matchlock. Based on a great diversity of sources (material, visual and textual, such as archival, historiographical, biographical and autobiographical), the five chapters, authored by Donald La Rocca, Petra Maurer, Tashi Tsering Josayma, Federica Venturi and Alice Travers (with an additional preface by Johan Elverskog) answer, from a variety of perspectives and chronological angles, the following questions: which weapons did the Tibetan use, where did they come from, when were they used, in which circumstances, and what influence did they have on Tibetan society and history?

Book presentation: “Conflict in a Buddhist Society: Tibet under the Dalai Lamas”

Thursday 9 December 2021 – 5:30 pm –7:00 pm

Peter Schwieger (University of Bonn) presented his book “Conflict in a Buddhist Society: Tibet under the Dalai Lamas”

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.

View the presentation in full screen mode

The training of the Tibetan army by the British in Gyantse in 1922 (photographs by H. R. C. Meade)

“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).

The images are kept at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Asian Influences on Tibetan Military History between the 17th and 20th Centuries

The second collective volume of the TibArmy project has come out:

S.G. FitzHerbert and Alice Travers (eds), Asian Influences on Tibetan Military History between the 17th and 20th Centuries, Special Issue of the Revue d’Etudes Tibetaines, n°53, mars 2020, 367 p.

Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines

Numéro cinquante-trois – Mars 2020

 

 Asian Influences on Tibetan Military History between the 17th and 20th Centuries

 

Edited by

S.G. FitzHerbert and Alice Travers

 

§  Full text    (9.6 MB) 

§  Cover, contents    (89 kb, pp. i-iv) 

§  Acknowledgements    (60 kb, p. 5)

§  Notes on Transcription and Transliteration of Terms in Asian Languages    (52 kb, p. 6)

§  Introduction: The Ganden Phodrang’s Military Institutions and Culture between the 17th and the 20th Centuries, at a Crossroads of Influences    (1.1 MB, pp. 7-28)
    author: Solomon George FitzHerbert and Alice Travers 

§  Mongol and Tibetan Armies on the Trans-Himalayan Fronts in the Second Half of the 17th Century, with a Focus on the Autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama    (484 kb, pp. 29-55)
    author: Federica Venturi 

§  The Zunghar Conquest of Central Tibet and its Influence on Tibetan Military Institutions in the 18th Century    (491 kb, pp. 56-113)
    author: Hosung Shim 

§  Tibetan and Qing Troops in the Gorkha Wars (1788–1792) as Presented in Chinese Sources: A Paradigm Shift in Military Culture    (695 kb, pp. 114-146)
    author: Ulrich Theobald 

§  Meritocracy in the Tibetan Army after the 1793 Manchu Reforms: The Career of General Zurkhang Sichö Tseten    (481 kb, pp. 147-177)
    author: Alice Travers 

§  The Geluk Gesar: Guandi, the Chinese God of War, in Tibetan Buddhism from the 18th to 20th Centuries    (1.5 MB, pp. 178-266)
    author: Solomon George FitzHerbert 

§  A Visual Representation of the Qing Political and Military Presence in Mid-19th Century Tibet    (1.7 MB, pp. 267-302)
    author: Diana Lange 

§  Zhang Yintang’s Military Reforms in 1906–1907 and their aftermath—The Introduction of Militarism in Tibet    (660 kb, pp. 303-340)
    author: Ryosuke Kobayashi 

§  Japanese Visitors to Tibet in the Early 20th Century and their Impact on Tibetan Military Affairs—with a Focus on Yasujirō Yajima    (582 kb, pp. 341-364)
    author: Yasuko Komoto 

§  List of Authors    (104 kb, pp. 365-367)

 

PANEL CONFERENCE AT UCLA: BUDDHISM AND VIOLENCE IN ASIA

November 1st 2019, 14.00-16.00, conference by Alice Travers, Ryosuke Kobayashi and Federica Venturi, Charles E. Young Research Library Presentation Room UCLA

Schigatse, tibetisches Militär mit Dzong, Truppenparade (Shigatse, Tibetan Army with castle, military parade).

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”

To read more about the panel conference:
https://www.international.ucla.edu/apc/centralasia/event/13955

Buddhism and the Military in Tibet during the Ganden Phodrang Period (1642-1959)

The first collective volume of the TibArmy project has been published as a special issue of the Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie (EFEO, Paris) in July 2019.  It is now available in open access on Persée.

Alice Travers and Federica Venturi (eds), Buddhism and the Military in Tibet during the Ganden Phodrang period (1642-1959), Special issue of the Cahiers d’Extrême Asie, EFEO, vol. 27, 2018.

Table of content:

Alice TRAVERS & Federica VENTURI
À nos lecteurs / To Our Readers
Note on Transliteration and Transcription of Tibetan Terms
Introduction
Alice TRAVERS & Federica VENTURI
Le bouddhisme comme fin et moyens de l’armée du Ganden Phodrang : une introduction aux relations des sphères bouddhique et militaire au Tibet (1642-1959)
Buddhism, Both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army: An Introduction to Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet (1642–1959)
Contributions
Federica VENTURI: To Protect and to Serve: The Military in Tibet as Described by the Fifth Dalai Lama
Solomon G. FITZHERBERT: Rituals as War Propaganda in the Establishment of the Tibetan Ganden Phodrang State in the Mid-17th Century
Marlene ERSCHBAMER: Tibetan Troops Fighting the “Enemy of Buddhist Doctrine” (bstan dgra): The Invasions of the Gorkhas as Witnessed by Two Tibetan Masters of the Barawa (’Ba’ ra ba) Tradition
KOBAYASHI Ryōsuke 小林亮介: Militarisation of Dargyé Monastery: Contested Borders on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier during the Early Twentieth Century
Stacey VAN VLEET: Strength, Defence, and Victory in Battle: Tibetan Medical Institutions and the Ganden Phodrang Army, 1897–1938
Alice TRAVERS: Monk Officials as Military Officers in the Tibetan Ganden Phodrang Army (1895–1959)

 

It is also possible to get the volume on the publisher’s website: https://publications.efeo.fr/fr/livres/926_cahiers-d-extreme-asie-27-2018

IATS 2019 – TibArmy Panel

Wed. 10 July 2019, 8.30-12.40

Venue

Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales – 65 rue des Grands Moulins – 75013 Paris

Room 3.15

Website of the IATS

Download the IATS programme

The Many Wars of the Ganden Phodrang (1642-1959)

Download the panel’s programme and abstracts

Panel organizers:

Dr Ryosuke Kobayashi, Kyushu University, Japan

Dr Alice Travers, CNRS, CRCAO, France

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

10:20 Coffee break

Chair: Ryosuke Kobayashi; Discussant: Tashi Tsering Josayma

10:50 Federica Venturi – Presentation of the TibArmy project: A Timeline of Wars during the Ganden Phodrang Period

11:00 Ryosuke Kobayashi – The Ganden Phodrang Army and the Sino-Tibetan Border Conflict in 1918

11:25 Alice Travers – Borders’ Defence at Wartime: the Role of Local Militia (yul dmag) and Border Guards (sa srung) in the Early 20th Century

11:50 Alex Raymond – The Battle of Chamdo (October 1950)

12:15 Discussion

12:40 Lunch

Around 60 people came to the TibArmy panel on 10 July 2019:

Seminar cycle: The fortresses of Ladakh: evolution of a defensive infrastructure at the interface between the Tibetan and Central-Asian spheres

Conference by Quentin Devers, Wednesday 19 June 2019, 5.30- 7.00 PM, INALCO (room 3.11)

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.

To see more about the archaeology of Ladakh: instagram.com/ladakharchaeology

SEMINAR CYCLE: Une étude historiographique de la reddition de l’armée chinoise du Tibet en 1912

Conference by Fabienne Jagou, Wednesday 20 March 2019, 5.30- 7.00 PM, INALCO (room 3.11)



“Chinese troops”, Photography by Henry Martin, copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (1998.293.129)

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.

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.