Tag Archives: George FitzHerbert

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.

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.

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 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).

An early Gesar bsang text

Wednesday 16 November, 2016, 18.15-19.15, Inalco, salle 3.15 – by George FitzHerbert

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.