"THE recent expedition of the British to Lhassa has borne at least one kind of fruit, for it has extracted from forbidden Tibetan monasteries art objects of no common interest. Indeed, according to a well-known collector, more Tibetan objects have been secured during the single year past than during thirty years preceding. And this may well be the case when we consider that the returning members (using the term "members" in its widest sense) of the Younghusband expedition brought back with them the portable treasures of several of the oldest and most conservative Lhamissaries. It is such objects, accordingly, which are finding their way into the hands of the art dealers of Darjeeling, Calcutta and Delhi, and thence through their correspondents into foreign collections ...
— Dean’s 1906 article
It’s been said that in earlier centuries in Europe soldiers were rarely paid much if any salary. That’s why looting* was not only permitted, but encouraged. It was a way of punishing the enemy civilians who after all were likely to be supporting their own armies. It was also a way of holding the unpaid soldiers back from doing more than just contemplating mutiny. The truth is that the Younghusband Expedition felt entitled to take things that were not given to them.
(*Loot is said to be a word of Hindi origin, although plunder itself was not invented in India, just the word.)
Today things may seem different, but then look what happened to museums in Iraq and Afghanistan. The help-yourself attitude is not always confined to low-paid soldiers, but civilians may also want to get in on the game of good fortune.
Recently, the issue of looting took over a whole issue of Inner Asia journal. Particular attention is given to the books looted by soldiers of the Younghusband Expedition. Already a decade earlier, Michael Carrington published his article “Officers, Gentlemen and Thieves: The Looting of Monasteries during the 1903/4 Younghusband Mission to Tibet” in Modern Asian Studies, vol. 37, no. 1 (February 2003), pp. 81-109. I very much recommend having a look at all this literature. If you need a quick review of the background, first have a look at Georgios Halkias, The 1904 Younghusband Expedition to Tibet. Then go here for some more. Then go read everything in the bibliography down below in addition to the already-linked issue of Inner Asia. Well, if you could read just a little of it, it’s OK.
Finally, and this is the real point of today’s blog, have a look at the remarkable cataloging project underway* in the U.K. that finally, at long last, after a century of waiting, makes all those looted Tibetan books available to the Tibetan-reading and Tibetological world. Start at the home page of the TMRBM - Tibeto-Mongolian Rare Books and Manuscripts Project - here and investigate the sub-pages to find the online catalogues. Perhaps try this link. These are looted artifacts, of course, which is all the more reason why they ought to be read, studied and enjoyed by everyone.**
(*The cataloging happened in 2004-2007, but the catalog itself may not be finished yet) (**And yes, although we may shamefully hide it in a footnote, we will also contemplate today’s lingering legacies of colonialism’s power and wealth differentials. It doesn’t go without saying, so I said it even if I think it ought to go without saying. Repatriation, we should notice, is one of the stated aims of the cataloging project, although repatriation in the sense of digitalization only? One notes with some interest that the V&A Museum claims copyright to images from Waddell’s looted Old Tantra Collection; more on that below. Can this possibly be their right?)
Literature on Looting
BASHFORD DEAN — Casques of Tibetan High Priests, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 7 (June 1906), pp. 97-98.
PARSHOTAM MEHRA — In the Eyes of Its Beholders: The Younghusband Expedition (1903-1904) and Contemporary Media, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 39, no. 3 (July 2005), pp. 725-739.
TIM MYATT and Peter d’Sena — Recounting the Past? The Contest between British Historical and New Chinese Interpretations of the Younghusband Mission to Tibet of 1904. International Journal of the Humanities, vol. 6, no. 9 (2008), pp. 107-116. Try looking here.
TIM MYATT — British, Chinese and Tibetan Representations of the Mission to Tibet of 1904, D.Phil. in Tibetan Studies, Oxford University (Oxford 2011).
TIM MYATT — Trinkets, Temples, and Treasures: Tibetan Material Culture and the 1904 British Mission to Tibet. Go here.
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AfterwordsIt took me much longer than expected to get around to putting up today’s blog, but thanks are especially due to Dr. Karma Phuntsho, chief cataloger of the Tibetan texts, who answered some of my questions about the project a few years ago. It covers works from Oxford, Cambridge and Liverpool, primarily. The relatively few books in Liverpool are regardless of their number of special significance, since they include some of the Tibetan-language historical works that were once in the possession of Sir Charles Bell.* I’m not sure about the present status of the catalog[ue]s. If you know something, please inform us in the comment section (you may have to prove you are not a robot, but I believe you can do that... I do it all the time).
(*Not every work listed in these catalogs was looted in 1903-4, as you will notice if you are as observant as I hope you will be. One very interesting title on geomancy was acquired by D. Wright in 1875, for example). (Some of the works were actually catalogued long ago, mostly in handlists that could be very difficult to find in any nearby library. One is Denison Ross, A New Collection of Tibetan Books under the Auspices of Dr. E.D. Ross (Calcutta 1907). This includes a catalogue of Waddell’s manuscript Rnying-ma Rgyud 'Bum. Another is P. Denwood, Catalogue of Tibetan Mss. and Block-prints Outside the Stein Collection in the India Office Library, n.p. (n.pl. 1975), in 145 typed pages (I have a photocopy, although I doubt you do). Some of the Waddell books were in fact ultimately sold to institutions in Germany (perhaps as he suggested these were looted for his personal collection, and not on behalf of the Expedition?), where they were eventually catalogued. See Dieter Schuh, Tibetische Handschriften und Blockdrucke Teil 8 [Sammlung Waddell der Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin] (Wiesbaden 1981). Then there is F.W. Thomas, Inventory of the Lhasa Collection of Tibetan Works Amassed by Lieutenant-Colonel L.A. Waddell, 1903-4 and Deposited in the India Office Library, a privately circulated typescript that I’ve never seen, have you? Then there is L.A. Waddell’s own publication that isn’t all that difficult to get ahold of: Tibetan Manuscripts and Books, etc., Collected during the Younghusband Mission to Lhasa, Imperial & Quarterly Review and Oriental and Colonial Record, vol. 34, no. 67 (July 1912), pp. 80-113. Here Waddell lists 464 ‘texts’ (but he doesn't generally give the correct Tibetan-language titles) Some of Waddell’s books ended up at the Welcome Institute in London: See Marianne Winder, Catalogue of Tibetan Manuscripts and Xylographs, and Catalogue of Thankas, Banners and other Paintings and Drawings in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (London 1989)... )...
Lastly but most significantly, there is that amazing Waddell-looted set of the Old Tantra Collection that is associated with the name of Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu. The online catalogue was made by Cathy Cantwell, Rob Mayer and Michael Fischer. To explore their “Illustrated Inventory,” start here.
“The huge collection of rare, and in many instances, hitherto unknown Tibetan manuscripts and books, which I collected for the Government during Sir Francis Younghusband’s Mission to Lhasa, forms by far the largest and richest collection of Tibetan literature which has ever reached Europe. It was amassed under exceptionally favourable circumstances for acquiring rare manuscripts and volumes otherwise unobtainable ; and it was described at the time when it was displayed in Calcutta as ‘bespeaking infinite care and prodigious labour in collecting’.”. . .
“By the accessions, however, of my extensive collection, amounting to over 300 mule loads of volumes, comprising many rare, and several hitherto unknown works, this unenviable position has been reversed. The British collection now is, perhaps, outside Tibet, China and St. Petersburg, the richest in the world ; and this, indeed, forms one of not the least solid results of the Mission of Sir Francis Younghusband.”
— Waddell (1912), pp. 80, 83.
Note: Tibetan books kept in The British Library itself were not included in the cataloging project, and I am unsure how to access any title listing (apart from the listing by Denwood given above, and Waddell’s not especially usable one). This Help for Researchers is some help. Somewhat beside the point but nevertheless interesting is this list of papers related to Tibet that are kept there. I admit that the following reference has me intrigued, unlikely as it does sound (Which British victory would they be praying for then?). I looked but couldn’t find a digitized form of the document:
P 901/1917 Tibet: Tibetan prayers for British victory [no ref.] 21 Jan 1917-23 Feb 1917
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If I hadn’t been so slEEEpy I wouldn’t have overlooked this important catalog: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts Held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Prepared by John E. Stapleton Driver, c. 1970, and revised by David Barrett, 1993, University of Oxford (Oxford 1993), a typescript in 141 (not 152, unless I count wrong) unnumbered pages, especially since a PDF of it is freely available on the internet, here. I totally forgot I recently wrote a blog about this very same catalog, entitled Marginal Amusements at the Bodleian, just in case you’re interested in marginal amusements. They’re not for everybody.