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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

BLACK ANNALS: Goldstein & The Negation Of Tibetan History (Part I)

July 23, 2008

Jamyang Norbu
Shadow of Tibet
July 19th, 2008

When Oscar Wilde declared that "the one duty we owe to history is to
rewrite it," he was probably attempting to provoke — épater les
bourgeois, as the French might say. Wilde lived in an age, the latter
half of the nineteenth century, of assurance and certitude.
Contemporary historians such as the German empiricist Leopold Von
Ranke felt that through their work they could show "what had really
happened", while the English Catholic historian, Lord Acton believed
that it would one day be possible to produce "ultimate history".

Historian have now generally come around to the substantially less
confident view -- expressed by E. H. Carr of Cambridge — that
"history is interpretation" necessitating periodic re-interpretation
and hence rewriting or revision. Historical revisionism is the
attempt to understand the past better through the reexamination of
historical facts, with an eye towards updating historical narratives
with newly discovered, more accurate, or less biased information.
There is also a less respectable, one might even say a perverted,
kind of revisionism called "negationism" (from the French le
négationnisme) a term first introduced by Henry Rousso, the
specialist on WWII France (Le Syndrome De Vichy, etc.) which
describes the process of rewriting history by minimizing, denying or
simply ignoring essential facts while exaggerating or overstating
those supportive of one's argument.

What made many in the Tibetan world stand up and pay attention to
Professor Melvyn Goldstein's A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951:
The Demise of the Lamaist State, when it appeared in 1989 was the
unmistakable impression the book gave — even in the preliminary
flip-through-the-pages — that here was a radical reinterpretation of
Tibetan history. This impression was heightened by the fact that
there had been a fairly long hiatus in the appearance of political
histories of Tibet. In fact, twenty-two years had passed since the
publication of Tibet: A Political History, Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa's
major work on Tibetan history, and twenty-seven since Hugh
Richardson's less ambitious but very useful Tibet and its History. We
did get Richardson and Snellgrove's (as yet unrivalled) The Cultural
History of Tibet in 1967 and a smattering of monographs and works on
the early history of Tibet, but not a major political history.

In contrast to Shakabpa's and Richardson's monumental but perhaps
"dated" works, Goldstein's history had been researched and written in
the period following Deng's "liberalization" when foreign tourists
and academics could easily visit Tibet, and in Goldstein's case even
gain entry to some hitherto inaccessible sources of information on
Tibetan history — though these were mostly interviews, not archival
sources. So Goldstein's work was greeted with genuine interest and
even excitement, not only for the new information it contained, but
also because unlike previous histories which had adopted the
orthodox, or rather conventional point of view, this one seemed to
promise a more warts-and-all approach to things.

Reviews were mixed. As expected, those from the left were ecstatic,
Tom Grunfeld in China Quarterly deeming it "Masterful…Careful,
thoughtful and authoritative." Others, especially those subscribing
to a more Buddhist outlook, were tentative. Gareth Sparham in the
Tibetan Review criticized Goldstein for not appreciating the depth
and sincerity of all Tibetans to their religion. An unexpected
commentary came in a letter to the editor in the Tibetan Review from
Hugh Richardson, who had been Goldstein's old professor at the
University of Washington in Seattle. Richardson praised the book for
its "research and lucid reportage" but described the book's
postscript as "shameful." He went on to explain that "… all Goldstein
has to say about events after 1951 is that 'a series of complicated
events' led to the flight into India of the Dalai Lama and 80,000
Tibetans. His eyes are closed to the Tibetan rising in 1959 and the
accompanying bloodshed and atrocities, to the imposition of a total
military and civil imperialistic dictatorship, and to the savage
destruction of the Cultural Revolution." Richardson, like everyone
else at the time, was not aware that Goldstein intended to write
another book on subsequent events, so, that censure, though
acceptable then, is perhaps not applicable now.

One of the first things that impressed me about Goldstein's history
of Tibet was its physical attractiveness — the high production value.
The cover design alone was elegant and striking, compared to other
books on Tibet. Most of the publications on Tibet that I could then
obtain in India, Tibetan Library or exile-government publications and
the reprints by Motilalal Banarasidas and others, were badly printed
on inferior grade paper with bindings that invariably came loose
after a few monsoons.

My admiration did not diminish on opening the book. The enormous
labor that had gone into the work, the extensive research, the many
interviews (some with people who had till then just disappeared into
the Chinese gulag) were patently evident. There were also the
unusually large number of photographs, some of which had not been
published before, that contributed to the fullness of the narration.
My first reading of the text, through "the lucid reportage", as
Richardson describes it, was an enjoyable experience. Many of the
stories one had earlier heard about the members of the Tibetan ruling
class, the lamas and the aristocrats,


On my second reading, after having satiated myself with the more
titillating and scandalous details of the doings of the Tibetan
ruling class, I began to feel a somewhat niggling sense of discomfort
at details I had at first overlooked. Why were there two photographs
(one full page) of the Reting regent's alleged mistresses? I'd never
seen full-page photographs of Marilyn Monroe or Judith Exner (the
mistress of both President Kennedy and Mafia boss Sam Giancana) in
any serious history of modern America. For the professional historian
there is always the question of relevance if not, at least to some
extent, of propriety, in including images or information that might
not contribute to the historical narrative but might merely be judged
as of salacious interest. There was also no evidence provided for one
of the alleged mistresses (Mrs. Chogtray) of actually having been
Reting's lover, merely hearsay. Such incautious retailing of Lhasa
tittle-tattle gave a tabloid feel to what was meant to be a
historical study. Of course Goldstein was correct in mentioning
Reting's sexual indiscretions as they were the major reason for his
abdicating the regency, but nonetheless, a lighter touch, something
more than allegations and hearsay and perhaps one less photograph,
might have been in order.

Goldstein further went into solemn recounting of such rumors as Demo
Rimpoche being drowned in a large copper vat of water and Reting
having his testicles squeezed. Shakespeare, in Richard III tells us
that the Duke of Clarence was executed by being "drowned in a butt of
Malmsey". It is now believed that this story may have started as a
joke since the Duke had the reputation of being a heavy drinker. The
Reting Regent's reputation for not living up to his vow of celibacy
may have similarly given rise to the gossip of the squeezed
testicles. Such accounts may have their place in legend and drama but
should not receive consideration in serious history. Till Goldstein
no other historian (Richardson, Shakabpa et al) had included such
Lhasa gossip in their works, though I am sure they were well aware of
the stories.

Goldstein also retails the historically irrelevant and spiteful
canard of Gedun Chophel having an inflatable rubber sex doll in his
possession. This slander was probably started in later years by
conservative detractors of this outstanding but unconventional
scholar, and gained currency since he had a reputation of being
sexually active, and also perhaps because of Tibetan curiosity with
foreign sexual customs. As proof of this charge Goldstein tells us
that when directly asked about the doll, "Gedun Chompel turned away
and did not reply; this indicates, in Tibetan style, that it was
true, since he did not deny it." It indicates nothing of the sort.
Tibetans like other people might chose not to dignify such an absurd
or insulting inquiry with an answer. This kind of spurious
ethnological interpretation of Tibetan behaviour is extraordinary
coming from someone who claims anthropology as his primary
discipline. I am also fairly certain that such sex dolls were not
commercially available in Europe and USA before the fifties, and
certainly not in India even in 2008. In Britain it was illegal to
import sex dolls prior to 1982. Not to play the amateur psychiatrist
but one cannot fully avoid the hint of morbidity in Goldstein's
narrations of sex and degeneration in the Holy City: in his providing
physical details of how Tibetan monks went about their homosexual
practices, or in his interest in the matter of the squeezing of
Reting's testicles. Goldstein appears to have taken the trouble to
consult medical expertise to see whether something like that could cause death.

Eventually, I ended up with the overriding impression that the book
was not so much a history of a nation and a people, but rather the
heavily documented though somewhat indiscriminate and arbitrary
account of a small ruling class in Lhasa, particularly those members
who spent their time largely plotting to overthrow each other,
indulging in sexual escapades, or otherwise hopelessly mired in
decadence and corruption.

There was little account of honourable service, sacrifice or courage,
even where it would be not only have been relevant, but perhaps
necessary to provide an accurate and balanced picture as it were, of
events and personalities. Goldstein's focus was fundamentally on
events that could only be described as degenerate, fratricidal, or
reprehensible – even shameful. He devotes nearly sixty pages to the
Reting conspiracy and the subsequent Sera rebellion. The sub-headings
in this chapter such as " the Sera Che War" and "the Massacre at
Reting Monastery" patently overstate what really happened. When it is
now politically incorrect, or at least controversial, in American
academic circles to use the term "massacre" to describe the killing
of some thousand students and civilians at Tiananmen in 1989, the
death of a dozen odd Tibetan soldiers at Reting monastery should
perhaps be explained in a less sensational manner than as a "massacre".

Richardson says of the "Sera Che War" that when government troops
mounted their assault most of the monks had already left and only a
few barricaded themselves inside the college (dratsang) building.
Shakabpa says that Tibetan troops "quelled the unrest among the
monks" and "this threat of a civil war was ended." Shakabpa does not
concede the occurrence of a real civil war, stating merely that there
had only been the threat of one. But Shakabpa's objectivity can be
questioned as he was personally involved in the conflict. Heinrich
Harrer who was in Lhasa at the time calls the affair "a minor civil
war" and I think that would be, on balance, as vigorous a designation
as we could reasonably allocate to the affair.

After all, these events in Tibet were taking place under the cloud of
a real and apocalyptically bloody civil war going on just across the
border in China, where millions were being killed and wounded, and
millions more, including women and children, the old and the infirm,
were enduring starvation, disease and mass displacement. Even
segments of the Tibetan population of Kham and Amdo had become caught
up in the peripheral conflicts of the Chinese Civil War, and suffered
as a result. We have to note that while the "minor civil war" in
Lhasa lasted for about all of two weeks, the "Nationalist-Communist
Civil War" (guógòng neìzhàn) went on for twenty-four bloody years,
from April 1927 to May 1950.[1] To this day no armistice has been
signed or the war actually declared over. In fact until Beijing
successfully invades Taiwan or accepts the fact of Taiwan's
independence, this long conflict cannot, with any degree of
certainty, be regarded as ended.

The French historian and scholar, Amaury de Riencourt, heard of the
Reting affair in 1947 when he was in Kalimpong and Sikkim. But on
traveling through Tibet and staying in Lhasa for five months he
concluded that the impact of the two-week conflict on Tibetan society
in general was not profound, nor extensive. He writes "On the whole,
the plot and the limited trouble in a few lamaseries hardly made a
ripple on the surface of the average Tibetan's life."[2] Of course,
de Riencourt's observation does not come from any in-depth study, but
it is nonetheless an informed, impartial and firsthand one.
Interestingly, he tells us how the Chinese government inflated the
affair in their news reports.

"The Chinese got hold of the trouble and blew it up into a major
political crisis in Tibet. According to reports emanating from
Shanghai and inspired by the Kuomintang, Mr. Chen (Shen Tsung-lien
the Chinese representative in Lhasa. JN) had played a major part in
solving the crisis, whereas in fact he remained safely inside the
walls of his embassy. But, once more, the Kuomintang Chinese had the
attention of world public opinion since Tibet is unable to defend her
cause in the international forum."

It should be mentioned that when Shen Tsung-lien published his own
work on Tibetan history and politics in the USA in 1953, he relegated
what he calls the "Ra-dreng episode" [3] to a brief paragraph that
assigned no undue significance to the affair.

I wish to emphasize that in no way do I think that the Reting affair
was inconsequential. It was clearly damaging to Tibetan polity, and
does require more serious study and discussion. But Goldstein's
excessive (and somewhat prurient) emphasis on the affair seems out of
proportion to its actual social and political significance,
especially when we have to balance it against other events that
affected the Tibetan world during its "modernization" period.


Sixty odd pages for "a minor civil war" seems especially
disproportionate when we come to realize that Goldstein inexplicably
passes over Tibet's principal military victory in Eastern Tibet in
just one paragraph. The war of 1917-18 was a major conflict in
Tibetan history and the striking success of the Thirteenth Dalai
Lama's modern army carried tremendous political significance. For the
first time in about a thousand years Tibetan troops had decisively
defeated an invading Chinese army. That the fighting was extensive,
even desperate at times, can be gauged by the fact that three Tibetan
generals, Dapon Phulungwa, Dapon Jingpa and Dapon Tailing, were
killed in action in this war. Such comparisons are perhaps crude, but
to an American academic writing on Tibetan history and choosing to
gloss over the war of 1917-18 one might reasonably ask how many
American generals have been killed in Iraq, or in Vietnam for that
matter, to make those two conflicts significant in American history.

Casualties on both sides appear to have been high although exact
figures are unavailable. An English account of the war mentions that
at the siege of Chamdo more than half the Chinese garrison of about
1000 soldiers died, and the siege of Chamdo was only one of a number
of engagements in this war. Shakabpa writes of the fighting before
Chamdo, "After many months of fierce battles, Tibetan troops
recaptured Rongpo Gyarapthang, Khyungpo Sertsa, Khyungpo Tengchen,
Riwoche, Chaksam Kha, Thok Drugugon, Tsawa Pakshod, Lagon Nyenda, and
Lamda." Shakabpa tells us that after the fall of Chamdo, the Kalon
Lama briefly rested his troops before marching on to fight at
Markham, Draya, Sangyen, Gojo, and Derge, all of which "were liberated."

We must also consider the local Khampas who were killed in this
conflict. The young Tibetan historian K. Dhondup (whose untimely
death in 1995 deprives us of one of the three volumes of his
distinctive history of Tibet) wrote that, "Tibetans in Markham,
Draya, Sangen, Gonjo and Derge etc. where the suppression was on the
increase could wait no longer and started rebelling against the
invaders. Poorly equipped and disorganized, they suffered terrible
losses. Before long, Kalon Lama Jamba Tendar (the governor general of
Eastern Tibet) was able to assist them and liberate and recapture all
these areas."[4] Overall, if one included the deaths of Khampas
(militiamen as well as civilians) we could at the very least be
talking of quite a few thousand dead and wounded.

The victorious Tibetan army was advancing on the ancient Tibetan
frontier town of Dhartsedo, then the capital of the new Chinese
province of Sikang (carved out of Eastern Tibet), when the Chinese
appealed to the British for mediation. Chinese officials and the
business community in Dhartsedo and Batang were "completely
panic-stricken" and "lost their heads", though Tibetan residents
there were understandably celebrating. Eric Teichman, of His
Britannic Majesty's Consular Service in Peking, was sent to Chamdo
where after a number of talks with the Tibetan governor-general a
treaty was finally signed at Rongbatsa. Tibetans gains in Chamdo,
Draya, Markham and Derge were maintained, while Litang, Batang and
Nyarong remained under Chinese control. Tibetans were confident that
they could have taken back Dhartsedo and other historically and
ethnically Tibetan areas under Chinese occupation, and felt that the
British had pressured them into signing the treaty by threatening to
cut off ammunition sales to Tibet.

However, even if not as complete as the Tibetans would have liked it
to be, the victory was undeniably a momentous one. It was clear proof
that a trained Tibetan army was capable of defending its own frontier
against Chinese aggression, and together with the victory of 1912,
provided the self-assurance and sense of historical validation that
Tibetans needed to establish in themselves the concept of an
independent Tibet as an enduring reality and not merely as a
declaration or a desired ideal. Although the Tibetan army in Kham
suffered a reverse in 1932, loosing the eastern half of Derge, the
fact of the 1918 victory allowed Tibetan to remain in possession of a
large portion of Kham till the Communist invasion in 1950.

It was not just the military victory, but the quality of the Tibetan
leadership that appears to have appealed to the Khampas, and gained
their loyalty. Jampa Tendar himself inspired respect bordering on
awe. Teichman tells us that his orders were obeyed without question
throughout Eastern Tibet (even in the Chinese administered areas).
Most of the other officers appear to have conducted themselves with
exceptional courage and dedication when leading their regular troops
as well as Khampa militia into battle. One officer, a major from
Lhasa, is celebrated to this day in a Khampa song:

   Rupon Anen Dawa, Ling kyi patul drawa
   Menda si si lendu, namkey thok thang drawa

   Major Anen Dawa is like a hero from the Ling epics
   His Mauser pistol roars like thunder in the sky.

Teichman also tells us that the Tibetan commanders he met were
cultured and relatively modern people who "… have in most cases
visited India, carry Kodaks and field-glasses, sleep on camp beds and
often wear foreign clothes, whereas the Szechuanese leaders know
nothing of the world beyond the confines of their own province."
Teichman also noticed another relatively civilized aspect of Tibetan
behavior absent in the Chinese.

"The Tibetans have undoubtedly behaved very well at Chamdo, treating
their Chinese military prisoners with humanity and kindness … the
civilian Chinese are at present moving freely about the town carrying
on their usual business, each with a ticket on his arm, showing that
he has been registered at the Tibetan headquarters."

In fact the overall legacy of this victory in Eastern Tibet, and the
progressive administration that the Tibetan government installed in
Chamdo and which was effective for at least two successive
governor-generals, ensured the loyalty of the Khampas to Lhasa. The
policy direction of Jampa Tendar's administration can perhaps be
gauged by the new official seal he had engraved after the victory. He
incorporated his name Jampa meaning "love" and Tendar meaning "spread
of religion" into the message of the new seal, which read in Tibetan:
"gyal-khab jam-pae kyang, diki ki tempa dhar-pae thamga." The
wordplay makes an exact translation difficult but could be roughly
rendered as: "Rule the nation with love. The religion of happiness
will prevail."

Although later administrators proved incompetent and corrupt, Khampa
loyalty and residual good will from earlier times even seemed to have
survived till the Communist Chinese invasion. For instance the Khampa
militia that fought side by side with the regular Tibetan units in
October 1950 performed their duties heroically under the
circumstances[5]. The main Khampa leader, Khenchen Dawala, had
striven to create a strong Khampa militia force in Eastern Tibet and
his vital role was recognized officially. The Tibetan government
radio operator in Chamdo, Robert Ford, says that, "After the Governor
General he took precedence over every Lhasa official." "The grand old
man of Chamdo" as Ford describes him was one of the surviving Khampa
leaders who had served with distinction under Jampa Tendar in 1918.
But Goldstein makes no mention of this important personage in his
account of the 1950 invasion at the end of his book.

Tibetans customarily refer to military events by the year in which
they occurred. The British invasion is called the Wood Dragon War
(shing-druk mak). The expulsion of the Manchu forces in 1912 is
called the Water Mouse Chinese War (chu-chi gya mak). But Khampas
probably felt that the 1918 victory was a turning point in their
history for they speak of it grandiloquently as kalpa sa-ta, or the
"The New Age of the Earth Horse." It was not just a war but a
national liberation.

In a conversation on Goldstein's coverage of this conflict, Alastair
Lamb, the leading historian on Anglo-Tibetan relations, is said to
have remarked that it was like writing a history of modern Europe and
leaving out the First World War.[6] A curious feature of Goldstein's
book is that in spite of the tremendous quantity of information that
it contains, it somehow only serves to reduce events to the antics of
a section of the small ruling class in Lhasa.


Even Goldstein's choice of a starting point in his history -- the
year 1912, adds, in a sense, to this not-so-subtle diminution of
Tibetan history. Moreover it misrepresents the period of Tibet's
entry into the modern world, downplays the role of Tibetans in
creating their own nation identity and in initiating the modern
period of their history. Bernard Lewis, the controversial but
accomplished Princeton scholar of Islamic and Middle Eastern history,
tells us of the manipulations by which "the misuser of history" can
to a considerable extent serve his purpose by even a simple matter
like the starting point.

"One has to start somewhere if one is going to write a book or an
article or give a lecture on an historical topic, and the choice may
in some measure predetermine the result. Any starting point is
necessarily in some degree artificial. History is a seamless garment;
periodization is a convenience of the historian, not a fact of the
historical process. By choosing carefully, one can slant history
without any resort to actual falsehood. For example, a writer on
relations between the United States and Japan can start with
Hiroshima, or he can start with Pearl Harbor. Even precisely
identical narratives of events would look very different, if they
start with one or the other."[7]

Goldstein's starting point for A History of Modern Tibet is the
return of the 13th Dalai Lama to Lhasa in 1912 from his exile in
British India. This does, at first, seem like a logical point to
start a history of modern Tibet. It is from this period, Goldstein
informs us that Tibet's efforts at reform and modernization begins.
We are also given to see that this modernization is near exclusively
British in influence, and that even the new military and nationalist
faction of the Tibetan leadership were pro-British and in fact
influenced by the British.

One of the dominant theories of modern Tibetan history maintained by
pro-Chinese or leftist historians is that the concept of an
independent Tibetan nation state came about at the beginning of the
twentieth century largely as a creation, a "construct", of British
imperialist design, formulated and put in place by such colonial
officers as Charles Bell, Basil Gould and Hugh Richardson, to create
a buffer state between British India and China (or even Russia).
Chinese historians subscribe to the first half of the theory but
reject the "buffer state" part, insisting that the British were
seeking an outright separation of Tibet from the Chinese motherland.
On the whole, this is the version of modern Tibetan history that can
be effectively presented "without any resort to actual falsehoods" —
if one starts one's narrative from 1912.

But if one goes further back in time to let us say the year 1876, we
are confronted with a scenario where Tibet is demonstrating an
assertive, even aggressive "nationalistic" spirit against what its
leaders then perceived (fairly correctly) as the collusive design of
Imperial Britain and Imperial China in undermining Tibet's freedom
and integrity.

In 1876 Great Britain and Imperial China signed the Chefoo
convention, one article of which permitted the British to send an
exploratory mission through Tibet. China regards this convention as
one of the "unequal treaties" imposed on it by the West, yet that
particular article on Tibet evolved into a mutually profitable
complicity between it and Britain. Since Tibet had not been
consulted, the "Tibetan parliament" refused to allow British entry to
Tibet. According to Alastair Lamb "… the Chinese chose to rebuke the
Tibetans for their opposition to a mission which the Emperor had
authorized; and as a gesture of defiance to the Chinese, the Tibetans
closed the passes from Chumbi to Sikkim and reinforced Lingtu."[8]

In this act of defiance to Britain and China, Tibetans erected a
fortification at Lingtu (or rather Lungthur) thirteen miles into what
the British regarded as Sikkim territory. To demonstrate their
resolve the Tibetans garrisoned the fort with nine hundred soldiers.
According to L. A. Waddell the Tibetans actually invaded Sikkim "and
advanced to within sixty miles of Darjeeling, causing a panic in that
European sanitarium."[9] The British sent two thousand soldiers and
artillery under Brigadier Graham to expel the Tibetans. Artillery
bombardment and infantry charges finally drove Tibetans back from
Lungthur. "But the Tibetans, despite their primitive equipment…" Lamb
tells us "…were not dismayed by this show of force.

In May they attempted a surprise attack on the British camp at
Gnatong and nearly succeeded in capturing the Lieutenant-Governor of
Bengal, who was visiting the frontier; they were repulsed with severe
losses."[10]. Waddell also mentions that the Tibetans fought fiercely
and showed "great courage and determination." Waddell acknowledges
that an additional cause for the Tibetan "invasion" might have been
the British annexation of Sikkim, which the Tibetans regarded as
legitimately in their sphere of influence. In spite of the major
setback at Lungthur the Tibetans stubbornly refused to acknowledge
Britain's right to send a mission to Tibet, nor China's right to
grant permission for such a venture.

Tibetan intransigence brought the British around to the conclusion
that it was perhaps wisest for it sacrifice the "problematical gains
in Tibet" (as a secret foreign office memo claimed) especially since
by not challenging China's pre-eminent position in Tibet, Britain
secured China's formal recognition of its rule in Burma. Earlier,
China had regarded Burma as a tributary state but Britain had, in
three successive wars, fully taken over the country by 1885. The
formal recognition of British rule in Burma, gained for the Manchu
court Britain's reciprocal recognition of China's claims to Tibet.

A government publication (Sikkim Gazetter) gives a clear picture of
the official British view of Tibet at the time. "Who will deny that
it would be a piece of surpassing folly to alienate a possible ally
in China by forcing our way into Tibet in the interests of scientific
curiosity, doubtfully backed by mercantile speculation."[11].
Alastair Lamb adds "It was in this frame of mind that the Indian
government hoped to settle the future relations between British India
and China without reference to the Tibetans."

Tibetans were deliberately kept out of all the conventions and
discussions that took place in those years between the British and
the Chinese concerning Tibet or Sikkim. In 1893 when the Trade
Regulation talks (to be appended to the Sikkim-Tibet convention) were
being held in Darjeeling, the Tibetan cabinet sent a cabinet
minister, a sha-pe, the young Paljor Dorjee Shatra to keep and eye on
the proceedings. Shatra's presence appears to have been resented by
the British and he was "permitted to suffer an insult" (Lamb). What
is known is that a number of British officers dragged him off his
horse and threw him into a public fountain in the Chowrasta square.
Another account says that Shatra's servant was the victim. The
incident has been represented in all English accounts as an
unfortunate prank by high-spirited subalterns, but old Tibetan
residents of Darjeeling believed that it was a deliberate act by the
British to humiliate the Tibetans for their "insolence".[12]

Tibetan defiance of Britain and China has in most studies to date
been downplayed as a consequence of superstition and ignorance; from
purported Tibetan fears that the British would destroy their
religion. That this resistance could perhaps have arisen from a
spirit of Tibetan nationalism has never seriously been considered.
Sometimes this attitude is covertly disdainful: Tibetans were not
"developed" or "sophisticated" enough to be nationalistic. Most
studies on this subject have generally gone along with the
conventional academic premise of nationalism and national identities
in Asia and Africa as merely following "models" already formulated in
Europe or America and imposed on, or adopted by, such colonized lands.

Of course, such theories are now regarded as exclusionary and
incomplete, and the view of Asian nationalism as being "imagined, or
invented" have pretty much been dismissed by experts on the subject
as Partha Chatterjee (The Nation and Its Fragments) and Prasenjit
Duara (Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of
Modern China) who offer us more complex and nuanced views of Asian
nationalism where indigenous historical, cultural and even religious
factors are no less relevant to its evolution than merely the
influence or machinations of European or American colonial and imperial powers.

Therefore it might be worthwhile to note the contents of the talks
that two British officials, Nolan and Claude White, had at Yatung in
November of 1895 with a Tibetan monk official (tsedrung) Tenzin
Wangbo, after it was discovered that the Tibetans had knocked down
and destroyed a number of British boundary pillars on the Sikkim
border and again established an armed outpost at Giaogong, which the
British regarded as being inside Sikkim territory. Alastair Lamb
writes that "Nolan concluded from his talks with Tenzing Wangpu
(Tenzin Wangbo) that the Tibetan outpost at Giaogong symbolised a
spirit of Tibetan nationalism, greatly reinforced by the recent
coming of age of the 13th Dalai Lama. The Tibetans, Tenzing Wangpu
said, did not feel bound by a treaty which had been negotiated on
their behalf by Britain and China and they would not discuss the
frontier as defined in that treaty. They were willing, however, to
discuss the frontier with reference to Tibetan maps; but Tenzing
Wangpu emphasized that 'Tibet would not give up land merely because
required to by the Convention.'"[13]

L.A. Waddell who was living in Darjeeling around this period had a
number of conversations with the Tibetan minister Shatra sha-pe. It
was probably from him he learned of a new spirit of nationalism that
had arisen in Tibet due to public resentment at the collusion of the
Demo regent with the Chinese Ambans in Lhasa. Patriotic officials
believed that the two parties were plotting against the young 13th
Dalai Lama, and they feared that he might suffer the fate of the last
four Dalai Lamas who died very young in "a mysterious manner" to the
advantage of the Chinese Ambans and the regents. Waddell concluded that:

"The present Dalai Lama has been permitted to become an exception to
this rule, through the influence of the national party which has
risen up in Tibet in veiled revolt against the excessive interference
by the Chinese in the government of the country. This national party
saved the young Dalai from the tragic fate of his predecessors, and
they rescued him and the Government out of Chinese leading-strings by
a dramatic coup d' etat. (in which the Demo regent was overthrown and
imprisoned and the Amban neutralized. JN.)

Waddell was impressed by Shatra and felt that by not recognizing him
"in a way befitting his high rank" and by excluding him from the
official discussions the British had "missed an excellent
opportunity" to gain Tibetan trust. Waddell found Shatra "a most
refined and well-informed gentleman, and well disposed towards the
British. Shatra told Waddell that he had wasted his time in
Darjeeling but that he would like to take back to Lhasa a summary of
British "criminal, police and civil codes", which had much impressed
him. He desired to reform the legal system in Tibet (many features of
it imposed by the Manchus) that followed such Chinese practices as
torturing suspects until they confessed to their crimes, which the
young minister found objectionable.

It should be noted that Tibetan defiance of British and Chinese
imperial ambitions was consistently maintained for three decades in
spite of the loss of Tibetan life and British and Chinese hostility.
In fact till 1904 and the Younghusband expedition, Tibet's aggressive
nationalistic policy did not change.

The British invasion force with its repeating rifles, maxim heavy
machine guns and (according to Tibetans) unalloyed treachery,
massacred seven hundred Tibetan country levees at Chumi Shengo, in
the space of a couple of hours. "Despite this withering attack, the
Tibetan forces fell back in good order, refusing to turn their backs
or run, and holding off cavalry pursuit at bayonet point"[14]. A
couple of thousand more Tibetans died for their "fatherland" (phayul)
in subsequent battles at Samada, Gangmar, Neyning, Zamdang, and most
significantly at Gyangtse, where the Tibetans actually besieged the
British force for a time before the conflict ended and the British
marched into Lhasa and forced a treaty on the government in August 1904.

Tibetans can legitimately view the events from 1876 to 1904 as the
first chapter in their modern history. Most accounts of this period,
largely written by British officials or scholars tend to downplay
native resistance and nationalism and ascribe them instead to Tibetan
obstinacy and superstition, or more generously to a misunderstanding
between the two sides. There has never been a study of the origins of
modern Tibetan nationalism or national identity stemming from this
period, nor a review of the factors that could have caused or
influenced it. Something like this is long overdue. I offer a few
speculations of mine on the origins of these developments in modern
Tibetan history.

It is possible that the 13th Dalai Lama and his officials were
influenced by the spirit of modernization, social reform and
nationalism that was beginning to spread throughout Asia towards the
end of the 19th century. For instance in India there was the Bengal
Renaissance and in Manchu China the Self Strengthening (Ziqiang)
Movement and the Tongzhi restoration. But almost certainly the Meiji
Restoration, which transformed Japan from a feudal into a modern
state, inspired the young Dalai Lama as it did other reformers and
nationalists in India, China, South-East Asia and the Middle East. We
know that the young 13th Dalai Lama was interested, even fascinated
by Meiji Japan. Considering his own problems with the Manchu court,
China's crushing defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894 must
have piqued his interest. He sent a notable scholar, the geshe, Tsawa
Tritul and two other Tibetans to study in Japan, long before he sent
the four Tibetan boys to study in England. When His Holiness was in
Peking in 1908, he arranged to visit Japan, but had to cut his plans
short because of the death of the Manchu Emperor.

When Sir Charles Bell wrote that he was "the first European who had
visited Lhasa at the invitation of the people themselves" he was
probably unaware that the Dalai Lama had earlier invited two
Japanese, Tada Togan and Aoki Bunkyo to visit and stay in Lhasa.
Tada, a religious scholar, studied in Lhasa for ten years, while Aoki
translated military manuals, and Japanese textbooks and books on
education in general that he obtained from Fujitani in Calcutta. He
was also "principal advisor on foreign affairs" providing His
Holiness with a "news bulletin summarized from Japanese press
despatches and English newspapers. Another Japanese, a veteran of the
Russo-Japanese War, and an instructor at a military college at Tokyo,
Yasujiro Yajima, was put in charge of training the largest unit of
the new Tibetan Army. This was before the British system was
introduced. On the death of the emperor Meiji on 30 July 1912 the
Dalai Lama sent a message of condolence to Japan. According to a
leading writer on Japan-Tibet relations, "He (the 13th Dalai Lama)
had admired what the emperor had stood for as the progressive leader
of an independent Asian Buddhist nation."[15]

Yet, it should be noted that the earliest influence that unleashed
the dormant nationalist and reforming energy of the 13th Dalai Lama
and other leading Tibetans (as Shatra) was not exactly foreign. It
appears to have come very early in the young Dalai Lama's life, and
from someone closer to home, the Buriat lama, Agvan Dorjiev.

Dorjiev's vital role in modern Tibetan history has thus far not been
sufficiently acknowledged, thanks in large part to British reports
and accounts, which invariably relegate him to the role of a sinister
Russian spy. He first came to Lhasa in 1873, to study at Drepung
monastery where he obtained his geshe degree. Dorjiev, whose Tibetan
name was Ngawang Lobsang, must have been an extraordinarily gifted
scholar since he became one of the seven tsenshabs or debating
partners of the young Dalai Lama. In 1888 he became a confidant and
tutor to the Dalai Lama and for the next ten years served as his
"inseparable attendant". In turn His Holiness looked upon him as his
"true guardian and protector".[16]

The young Dalai Lama may have had virtually no knowledge of the
outside world or of the workings of international politics, but his
tutor, according to Dorjiev biographer John Snelling, "… was very
much a man of the world: comparatively well-educated, well traveled
In Central Asia, and moreover a person of intelligence, acumen, charm
and character." One European witness who met him at the time
testifies that his 'science, energy and, and above all, the vivacity
of his mind … predestined him to become a great statesmen or a great
Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of 1912

Dorjiev's "modern, progressive turn of mind" gained from his
extensive travels. He visited St. Petersburg as the Dalai Lama's
envoy, and also Paris, London, and major cities in India and China.
He was in the thick of the politics of the period, facing not only
the opposition of the powerful ultra-conservative clique in Lhasa but
also the hostility of the British who saw him as a Russian spy. It is
now generally accepted that he was no foreign spy but a patriot who
strove tirelessly and openly to create a Mongolia and Tibet
independent of China. It might be mentioned here that Dorjiev was the
one of the main authors of the Tibet Mongolia Treaty signed on 29th
of December 1912, that clearly demonstrated the independent status of
the two nations. The original document in Mongolia has recently been
discovered and I received a photographic copy of it just a couple of
months ago.

This is not the place for a detailed discussion of this enigmatic
personality, but it should be said that his was a significant role in
shaping the young Dalai Lama's independent and progressive views —
and hence in shaping the history of modern Tibet. John Snelling
mentions that in a discussion with the "eminent historian of Central
Asia", Alastair Lamb, he was told that "… if Dorjiev had not appeared
when he did, the course of Tibetan history would indeed have been
very different."

Finally, we should perhaps not discount the possibility of Tibet's
"nationalist" spirit being awakened by examples from within its own
past. For instance, the Phagmodrupa king, after overthrowing Mongol
rule in Tibet (ten years before the Chinese overthrew the Mongol Yuan
dynasty) consciously attempted to create a new non-Mongol national
identity reflecting the early Imperial period of Tibetan history. The
harsh Mongol penal code was rejected and laws derived in part from
the imperial period, adopted. The Phagmodrupa revived ancient customs
and "during the New Year celebration high officials had to wear the
costumes of the early kings."[18] The second Phagmodrupa king
sponsored Tsongkhapa's Monlam festival in Lhasa, which became the
largest festival in the Tibetan calendar and attracted thousands of
pilgrims and worshippers from all over the country and beyond.
Although the Monlam is a great religious festival, it also has
important historical and military aspects, presented in grand and
colourful pageants and parades that serve to inculcate in the Tibetan
public a sense of its history and identity.

All these diverse influences, models and personalities that
contributed to the creation of the modern Tibetan nation state are
singularly absent or glossed over in Goldstein's account. And he can
do that without straying too far from the truth, since he begins his
history in 1912, after the British gained a diplomatic foothold in
Tibet, and then made sure Tibetans didn't interact with anyone else.

Goldstein does provide an introductory précis of events before 1912,
but does not establish their significance to the modernization of
Tibet. In fact the events from this period that Goldstein emphasizes
are those characterized by superstition, magic and degeneration.
Goldstein describes the Demo "affair" where the old regent (or rather
his brothers) attempted to assassinate the young 13th Dalai Lama
through black magic, but were exposed and imprisoned. Goldstein
recounts largely unsubstantiated "rumours" of Demo "being killed by
being immersed in a huge copper water vat until he drowned", but
inexplicably fails to mention that the Dalai Lama rejected the
decision by his cabinet to execute the perpetrators. This is
historically important as it is the first known instance of the Dalai
Lama's rejection of capital punishment. The consistency of His
Holiness's stand on this issue led to the establishment of the
landmark legal decision of his reign, which I wrote about in a previous essay:

"In 1913 the 13th Dalai Lama officially banned capital punishment and
other forms of "cruel and unusual" punishments; possibly making Tibet
one of the first countries in the world to do so. Switzerland
abolished capital punishment in 1937; Britain in 1965 and France
guillotined its last criminal in 1981. In the United States,
especially Texas, even being underage or mentally retarded is no
guarantee of not being sent to the "chair," or whatever is on offer.
In China they are, of course, going at it as if there were no
tomorrow. An Amnesty International press release of 2001, stated that
"More people were executed in China in the last three months than in
the rest of the world for the last three years."

Goldstein discusses the creation of the modern Tibetan army and
police force under British auspices and mentions the technical
assistance provided by the British for the new telegraph line, but
not that the Tibetans paid for everything. He also mentions, in
passing, the construction of the hydroelectric plant in Lhasa. When
Goldstein discusses the modernization that took place after 1912 he
is unfailing in drawing attention to the British influence, and also
in trivializing much of the developments as "… the adoption of
"Western (British) uniforms, dress and customs such as sweet tea,
shaking hands, and playing tennis and polo…"

Goldstein overlooks modernizations and reforms undertaken by the
Tibetans themselves. On the eighth day of the first month of the
Water-Ox year (a month after the signing of the Mongolia-Tibet
Treaty) the Great Thirteenth declared Tibet's independence. In this
historical proclamation he also stated that individual Tibetan
farmers would be allowed to take over and cultivate all vacant land
available, and that they would not be taxed for the first few years
of cultivation. This declaration also contained an environmental
protection clause where His Holiness stressed the need to preserve
various trees and bushes and also plant many more throughout Tibet.

Sir Charles Bells writes about a major debt relief scheme that the
13th Dalai Lama created to aid Tibetan farmers. Bell even mentions
the establishment of a new meat market in Lhasa where meat was sold
under sanitary conditions. Probably copied from British India, not
only was the premise of the market inspected daily for cleanliness
but also the meat, or rather individual carcasses, were examined by
the city magistrates and required a seal of approval before sale.[19]

A project was also created under the drokyi dhodam office to provide
interest free loan of grain to needy farmers.[20] If farmers repaid
with freshly harvested grain an extra one measure in ten (kamcha
chuzur) had to be included to make up for moisture weight. The Dalai
Lama also issued edicts to all district headquarters in 1920 for the
establishment of primary schools. A directive was also issued to all
districts to investigate oracles and fortune-tellers, to prevent
exploitation of the common people, and to stop oracles from
possession by a deity (lhab-dur) in such cases.

Then we have the establishment of the Lhasa Medical Centre
(Mentsikhang) in 1916. One hundred and fifty students, selected from
the army, monasteries, and various districts were trained for nine
years in traditional Tibetan medicine. On completion of their course,
they were to return and provide medical care in their respective areas.

The Medical Centre also undertook to combat the serious problem of
infant mortality. For this the "Child Care and Welfare" (chipa
nyerchoe) project was initiated. Every magistrate throughout Tibet
received instructions to register the birth of all children in the
district. The information was sent to the Medical Centre in Lhasa
where a horoscope and appropriate medicine was prepared for every
child. "These would be sent to all the ninety-six dzongs or districts
of Tibet" a Tibetan lady notes in her memoirs. She also mentions that
"Khyenrab Norbu the famous scholar of medicine and astrology compiled
a book called Chipa Nyarcho which dealt solely with the care of
infants and their well-being."[21]

Though the science of this childcare service was wholly traditional
and its scope perhaps confined by the limitations of government
resources, it might be mentioned that the service was provided free
to all Tibetan children under the jurisdiction of the Lhasa
government. The son of a district magistrate of Kyirong, told me that
even some years after the Communist takeover, he remembered that the
infants of Kyirong regularly received their individual horoscopes and
little bags of medicine from Lhasa.[22]

Goldstein discusses the Tibetan government's failure to start an
English school at Gyangtse and Lhasa, due to the opposition of the
"monastic segment". But he makes no mention of the fact that many
individuals in society, realizing a western education as vital to
their own and to their country's future, sent their children to
English schools in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I have managed to draw
up a (still incomplete) list of one hundred and sixty students who
studied in about eight English medium schools in the greater
Darjeeling district. The interesting thing is that although most of
them were of the aristocracy many were children of merchants and
commoners. A famous professional gambler (a commoner) of Lhasa sent
his adopted son to study at St Augustine's school in Kalimpong. About
thirty-six of the students on my list are girls. The cost of this
education was a considerable financial burden on the families, but
clearly they regarded it is important and worthwhile.

What this seems to indicate is that in spite of the obstacles that
conservative monastic forces had put in the way of government efforts
at modernization, a growing number of individual families were
moving, on their own initiative, in the direction of modernization
and reform. It is a mistake for a historian to see things
exclusively, or even largely, in terms of the achievements (or
failures) of governments or rulers, in making historical evaluations.
Movements in society at large and development of social trends — all
the ordinary but rich details of human history — should, as the
French annales school of historians taught us a hundred years ago,
matter as much (if not more) in the study of history.

One reason perhaps for Tibetans being able to afford expensive
English education for their children might be explained by the
dramatic spurt in economic growth that took place in Tibet in the
late thirties and forties. With Australia cut off by the Japanese
navy, demand for Tibetan wool in the US created considerable
prosperity, not only for the merchants involved, but also for the
nomad suppliers and for everyone else concerned on the trade routes.
I went over a document a week ago on the Tibetan wool trade that
provided quite unexpected and extraordinary figures for the size of
this trade. I am unable to locate the document right now but will
include it in future versions of this essay.

The Second World War also provided a major financial impetus to the
opening-up of Tibet to Western commercial products. Tibetan merchants
bought consumer goods and luxuries in India and sold them at
considerable profit in South Western China where the Nationalist
government was holding out against the Japanese. Everyone along the
trade route, aristocrats, peasants, muleteers, inn-keepers and the
big merchants profited from this trade. According to Peter Goullart
then living in Lijiang in northern Yunnan, a main terminus on the
trade route, this caravan traffic was a "unique and spectacular phenomenon."

The director of the Rolex Company actually visited Kalimpong in the
forties to investigate the unexpected demand for his watches in this
remote corner of the world (from where it was being reshipped to
Lhasa) "… and was astonished to discover that it was but a little
village town."[23] Nothing like this economic boom happened in
Mongolia, East Turkestan, Ladakh, Bhutan or even Nepal.

Could this sudden prosperity have contributed to a moral decline in
the aristocracy and the theocracy? At least one older Tibetan scholar
told me that the new wealth in the official class and the falling-off
in discipline and traditional virtues, might account for the poor
performance of the Tibetan army in 1950 in contrast to 1918. I was
also told that this economic growth and subsequent infusion of money
into the monasteries and labrangs created, if not degeneration, then
at least a laxity in monastic discipline and corruption. Could the
Reting scandal have an underlying, if peripheral, economic causality?
Goldstein's failure to investigate, or consider, even partially, such
economic and social explanations for the "demise of the Lamaist
State" is a great weakness in his work.

Ultimately, all that the eight hundred and ninety odd pages of
Goldstein's hefty book succeeds in doing is make Tibetan history
small, provincial and without real significance. The lasting
impression that this huge compilation of highly selective narratives
and information leaves us (although Goldstein is careful not to say
it outright) is that China's conquest of Tibet was inevitable, that
Tibet died of its own inherent contradictions (as a Marxist historian
might put it) and China's invasion of Tibet and the subsequent death
and destruction in that country was merely incidental and not any
fault of China's.


I do not insist on it, but it seemed to me that even the subtitle of
the book, Demise of the Lamaist State pushes forward this tacit
thesis of Goldstein's work. One meaning the Oxford English Dictionary
provides for the term "demise" is a case of a death which occasions
the transfer of power, sovereignty or an estate. Roget provides such
synonyms for the term as "decease" "passing away", sleep, eternal
rest, etc. The term appears to be generally used in the context of a
country when the transition is a gradual one and involves a variety
of causes generally involving decline in leadership, economic chaos,
social unrest and internal conflict. So one could correctly speak of
the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it would definitely be
wrong to speak of the demise of Czechoslovakia when it was invaded by
Nazi Germany, or for that matter, Tibet when it was invaded by
Communist China. A more suitable or precise term to describe what
happened to the "lamaist state" would be "murder" or "destruction",
or better yet "obliteration".

I don't think it would be quibbling to insist on such a distinction.
Following Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, Harold Macmillan
(then a back-bencher) wrote a letter to The Times, protesting the
craven behavior of the British and French foreign ministers
(Hoare/Laval) in appeasing Mussolini and in implying that the whole
thing was as much the fault of the Ethiopians as the Italians.
Macmillan's concluding sentence really hits home: "I have never
attended the funeral of a murdered man, but I take it that at such a
ceremony some distinction is made between the victim and the assassins".

When one discusses the Russian revolution one can legitimately point
to the mistaken policies and the failings of the Czar and the
Imperial government as creating the conditions for the revolution to
happen. But we have to be clear that Tibetans did not create the
conditions for the invasion to happen. Yes, they could certainly have
been better prepared militarily to face the invasion, but they did
not cause the invasion. There is a world of difference between the
two. Pre-war Poland and Czecholovakia were, no doubt, countries with
their own share of failings, but no legitimate historian has to date
attempted to use these to explain away or justify the Nazi invasion.

We might even note that the Poles had near parity in troops to the
Germans, and the Czechs not only had a strong military but one of
Europe's major arms industries. What did the Tibetans have? According
to Goldstein some 3,500 regular soldiers on the Chinese border. Red
China on the other hand, had, in the autumn of 1950, some five
million men under arms[24]. I am not saying that Tibetans could not
have held back the invasion. Many Tibetans believe that we could
have. How realistic that belief may be, is debatable, but it should
be clear that the immediate and outstanding cause of "the demise of
the Lamaist State" was the violent military invasion of Tibet by
Communist China's overwhelmingly superior military force, and not the
moral or political failings of the Tibetan ruling class or society.

Goldstein's effort to shape his history to demonstrate Tibet's fate
as historically inevitable in the manner of Tsarist Russia is, of
course, absurd. However much one may disagree with, or even condemn,
the old Tibetan political system it would be patentl
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