Photo by Lobsang Wangyal, permission pending.
For the full-sized photo, have a look here.
"In the middle of the Tibetan quarter [of Kalimpong] stands a corrugated-iron shed, from which a steep flight of steps runs up to a small stone building. The two buildings house the editorial offices and press of the oddest newspaper in the world. This is the Mirror of News from All Sides of the World, as its title means literally, some hundred and fifty copies of which appear monthly. Until the occupation of the Land of Snow by Red Chinese troops, this was Tibet's only newspaper. It was founded as long ago as 1925. The editor is Kusho Tharchin, an affable Tibetan who prefers European clothes and has mastered English as thoroughly as the tortuous formulas of honorific Tibetan. This paper is an exception among Tibetan printed works: it is not printed with wood blocks, but with lead type from the fonts of the big Baptist Mission press at Calcutta."
So says the book by René von Nebesky-Wojkowitz entitled Where the Gods are Mountains, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson of London in 1956 — an English translation by Michael Bullock from the original German, Wo Berge Götter sind (1955). By the way, doesn't the German title mean "Where the Mountains are Gods"?
Unfortunately, while much less interesting travel books from his time have been reprinted several times, I haven't heard that this one has been, not the English version. N-W was a keen observer. 'Keen' on account of his deep study of Tibetan language and literature that allowed him lucid insights into the things he saw. There were so many foreign eyewitnesses to Tibetan culture, but few who could begin to overcome cultural biases and approach the understanding that can only come from sympathy in close communion with learning. His narrative continues:
"The Mirror of News from All Sides of the World generally consists of only six or eight small pages of print, but it offers a wealth of absorbing news to him who can read it. There are columns headed 'News from Lhasa,' or 'Reports from Bhutan.' Next to the latest rumors from the caravan routes stands a report on the most recent sitting of the Tibetan Council of Ministers, followed by intelligence from the land of U-ru-su (Russians) and the Sog-po (Mongolians), from [r]Gya-nag (China), Ko-ri-ya (Korea) and Ri-pin (Japan). In between are to be found the 'Legend of the essence of Good Sense contained in the Wise Sayings of the Lama White Lotus,' and news of the opening of a new 'skyway' — the Tibetan term for an airline. Many of the headlines would do credit to a sensation-mongering Western paper, e.g. 'Thunder, Lightning and Hail over Lhasa,' 'Six Tibetan Robbers Commit a Double Murder in Sikkim,' 'Serious Damage by Earthquakes in Yunnan' or 'No World War to be Expected This Year.' A column under the heading 'News from India' contains the outline of a peace speech by Pandit Nehru and in the section 'News from the Western Continent' may be read a declaration by President Ai-sing-hu-war on the Formosa conflict. The name of the island is spelt Phormosa, for the Tibetan language possesses no 'f'...
"Most issues of the paper carry a few photographs. A picture of the young Dalai Lama often graces the front page, but a photograph of the Communist National Assembly at Lhasa is quite likely to appear as well. A few pages farther on a true marvel is shown: a new-laid egg, the natural markings on whose shell form the party symbol of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang. The back page of the Mirror of News from All Sides of the World also has interesting information to offer. Under the heading 'Commercial News' it gives the current prices of Tibetan wool, fox and snow-leopard skins, black and white yak's tails, hog's bristles, and musk. Next to this are announcements by the Association of Tibetan Merchants in Kalimpong and a few advertisements, such as the statement that Ballisandas Shyamrata pays the highest price for musk, or a price list of the goods just arrived at Haji Musa Khan's shop on the Tenth Mile."
Finally, we get to the unbelievably good news. Thanks to a tip from Jonathan Silk of Leiden I am thrilled to be able to announce that a large percentage of the issues of Tibet Mirror have now been placed on the internet for free viewing by anyone in the world who is hooked into the web. (That must mean you.) I understand that much of the work of it was done by Paul Hackett, although a number of other people have lent a hand to help make it happen, in Columbia University and other places in the world as well.
Tibet Mirror was not the first Tibetan-language newspaper. But as often happens in Tibetan studies we get into a political problem even asking which one exactly came first. I'm of the opinion that the first was the La-dwags Pho-nya ("Ladakhi Messenger"), published by August Hermann Francke (1870-1930 CE), founded in 1904, according to some. Issues seem to have appeared between 1908 and 1914, and it was revived, it appears, under the editorship of Walter Asboe at the Mission Press in Leh between the years 1935 and 1947 (Asboe also published a monthly sheet called Kye-lang Ag-bâr from 1927 to 1935). These newspapers, published by Moravian missionaries, didn't conceal their evangelical ambitions.
But there are also claims that the earliest newspaper was published under Chinese government sponsorship. Between 1913 and 1916 there was a mimeographed newspaper called Bod-yig Phal-skad-kyi Gsar-'gyur ("News in Colloquial Tibetan"). Actually, it was a semi-official gazette of the Chinese government printed in Peking, one with educational intentions. Some have said that its years of printing were 1908 through 1912, but if you will excuse my confusion I am not sure of the truth of this. One issue of it (here with the title visibly Bod-kyi Phal-skad Gsar-gyur) has been reproduced in a lavishly illustrated 5-volume set entitled Precious Deposits (vol. 5, pp. 23-26). According to the accompanying English text it was founded by the Amban Lian Yu in the last years of the Manchu Dynasty. It claims this, the depicted issue, is the 21st, published in the year 1910. One source says its first issue was in 1909. Assuming in the absence of any clear statement to that effect that it came out each month, this date could be correct, I suppose. I only tell what little I've been able to find out, in hope of learning more.
In any case, Tharchin's Tibet Mirror was the only long-lived such newspaper of its times, lasting as it did from October 1925 through the 1950's up until around 1962 or '63. Tharchin,* a Kinnauri by origin, was a Christian convert. Still, unlike the earlier Ladakhi and Lahuli newspapers, his never overtly pushed Christianity. It reported the news from all over the world in Tibetan language. It had a degree of independence that earlier newspapers lacked, which could be one reason why it was trusted and read in the Tibetan-reading world for so long.
*Tharchin's full Tibetan name was Dge-rgan Rdo-rje-mthar-phyin, 1890-1976 CE. He usually signed his name simply G. Tharchin, and he was known to local people in Kalimpong as Tharchin Babu.
If you are one of the billions of unfortunate people alive today that never got a chance to study Tibetan, you might be thinking there is no use looking at the following links. You might be surprised. It's still worth having a look at the drawings, photographs and advertisements, at the evolving design of the newspaper over the decades. In the '57 issues you can find fascinating rude sketches of monasteries in eastern Tibet, in Kham, getting bombed by planes and invaded by armies with bodies lying all over the place. You might notice an English translation quickly penciled in here and there, telling you how few monks remained when the fighting was over.
If you see an ad for red dye, think about the continuing vitality of the carpet-making industries in Tibetan communities across the Himalayas. Try to figure out if it's really organic, from madder (Tibetan btsod) or something like it, or perhaps one of those chemical dyes supposedly never used to make Tibetan carpets and an ecological disaster for some Himalayan rivers. If you find the photo of that Kuomintang egg, send us the direct link to it right away.
If you do read Tibetan, and if you are also interested in the events of the first half of the 20th century, this is a resource that you will turn to again and again, for all kinds of reasons.
Go to the two different Columbia University pages, here and here. But before you do, a word of thanks to the people known and unknown who made it possible, along with a further word of hope that persons and institutions that own missing copies will help in every way they can to make the online collection complete. Cooperation is key. Generosity is the first Pāramitā.
A quick Schmoogle reveals that even White Lama picked up a few issues preserved for us still today in California.
And go here to Lobsang Wangyal's site (or this "mirror" site) and read a nicely illustrated story about Tharchin and his paper.
If you are a Tibeto-logical fanatic like myself, you'll want to read the huge new book in two (now, I'm told, three) volumes devoted to Tharchin's life. Here is the author with the title, although I haven't had more than a passing glance at it, so I can't guarantee that its monumental size is matched by its quality.
Herbert Louis Fader, Called from Obscurity: The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet, God's Humble Servant from Poo, Gergan Dorje Tharchin, with Particular Attention Given to His Good Friend and Illustrious Co-Laborer in the Gospel Sadhu Sundar Singh of India, Tibetan Mirror Press (Kalimpong 2002?).
Other readings of interest:
Bhuchung Tsering, Want to Read the First Ever Tibetan Newspaper, posted on May 15, 2009. Press here.
John Bray, A.H. Francke's La Dvags Kyi Akhbar: The First Tibetan Newspaper, The Tibet Journal, vol. 13, no. 3 (Autumn 1988), pp. 58-63.
Dawa Norbu, Pioneer & Patriot: An Extract from an Interview with Rev. G. Tharchin, Lungta, issue no. 11 (Winter 1998), pp. 11-12. This is a special issue of Lungta devoted to "Christian Missionaries and Tibet."
Tashi Tsering Josayma, The Life of Reverend G. Tharchin, Missionary and Pioneer, Lungta, issue no. 11 (Winter 1998), pp. 9-10. On p. 8 of the same issue, you may see a front page of La-dwags-kyi Ag-bar, dated July 1, 1907.
Thubten Samphel, Virtual Tibet: The Media. Available here. A well done sketch of the history of Tibetan journalism is included.
Many apologies for my inexcusable negligence in overlooking the press release dated May 7th, 2009. It is quite rich in information on the Tibet Mirror, so I recommend you go there straight away. According to this, 97 issues have been digitized so far, which means about 30% of the full run. That means 2/3rds of the issues still need to be located and added. I'll just say one thing. Help if you can.
POSTSCRIPT — Oct. 4, 2012:
For your urgent notice! Isrun Engelhardt has just published a great paper about Tharchin Babu and his Tibet Mirror. Here are the details: “Tharchin’s One Man War with Mao,” contained in: Roberto Vitali, ed., Studies on the History and Literature of Tibet and the Himalaya, Vajra Publications (Kathmandu 2012), pp. 183-209, with some very interesting illustrations.