Tag Archives: Alice Travers

Vernissage de l’exposition “L’armée tibétaine en vues : Photographies historiques 1895 – 1959”

Le vernissage de l’exposition “L’armée tibétaine en vues : Photographies historiques 1895 – 1959” s’est déroulé le 15 décembre 2022 à l’Interface de l’Humathèque dans une ambiance musicale proposée par Tshering Wangdu et Karma Drolkar, artistes tibétains. 

L’exposition est présentée du 15 décembre 2022 au 10 février 2023 au Campus Condorcet (Aubervilliers – Grand Paris), du lundi au vendredi de 8h à 19h.

Photos : Alexandre Rouvrais et Hervé Chatel

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.


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: 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.

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).

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 https://tibarmy.hypotheses.org.

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

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

“Social history of the Tibetan army: sources for a prosopographic approach”

June 2nd, 17.30-19.00, INALCO, Alice Travers, CNRS/CRCAO, Principal Investigator of TibArmy, will present her research.

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.

TibArmy Symposium – Call for Papers open until March 30th

The Call for Papers for the first TibArmy international symposium – The Ganden Phrodang Army and Buddhist – is open. The conference will take place in Paris, on July 11th. The Call is open until March 30th, all information – themes and submission process – is available on the website created for the conference: www.tibarmysymp2017.sciencesconf.org.

Kusung (bodyguard) unit in Norbu Lingka courtyard with Kathags (Photo by Tse Ten Tashi 2000.36.3.50, Newark Museum Collection