Monday, June 29, 2015

Has Always Been a Part of China, Huh?

The Smallpox Edict and its willow tree,
Photo from the Pitts River collection

Michael Henss (b. 1941), the noted Swiss scholar of Tibetan art, has now at long last published the fruits of a lifetime of labor, a two-volume boxed set devoted to the architectural and artistic monuments of Central Tibet. Among the thousand and one matters in his book that might bear discussion, one thing certainly caught my eye. On page 41, M.H. notes that the Smallpox Edict — a Manchu period edict long ago studied by L.A. Waddell and more recently by H. Richardson — has something of interest to say about the historical relationship between China and Tibet. Of course it is important to bear in mind that the author of that edict was one of the official representatives of the Manchu Government, called the Ambans, stationed in Lhasa: one named Ho Lin.  In this stone inscription made in 1794 CE, Ho Lin says that during the Tang and Song dynasties Tibet was “not yet incorporated in its [the Chinese] territory,” and was “established as a vassal” only during the Qing dynasty. (n.b. The quote marks here mark words from Richardson's translation.)

Actually, in Ho Lin's estimation, Tibet would have been made a vassal of the Qing dynasty nearly one hundred years before he had his inscription made. Checking Richardson's edition of the Tibetan text, the words used there for “established as a vassal” and “incorporated into its territory” are in both cases the very same Tibetan phrase chab 'bangs-su bkod[-pa].  This phrase we could translate as was subjected politically. Nothing in the expression carries any notion of territory, let alone an incorporation of territory.*
(*Perhaps someone would care to comment on the Chinese version, and Stein's translation of it that Richardson made use of.)

The phrase dang 'gres che didn’t make sense to Richardson, so he suggested reading 'brel in place of 'gres. I suggest reading 'gros instead. The whole passage could then be translated, ‘In olden times, during the time of the Thangs and Bzungs (i.e., the Tang and Sung) kings [Tibet] had much communication with the great kingdom of China, yet it had not been made subject to her power. It was in the time of our great emperor Tha'i-tsung-'un* that [Tibet] was made subject to her power. As it has been up to the present time a little more than one hundred years...’

Richardson's reading:  སྔ་སོར་ཐངས་དང་བཟུངས་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་པོའི་དུས་རྒྱ་ཡུལ་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་ཆེན་པོ་དང་འགྲེས་ཆེ་ཡང་ཆབ་འབངས་སུ་འཁོད་མི་འདུག་ཅིང་། ངེད་ཚོའི་གོང་མ་ཆེན་པོ་ཐའི་ཙུང་འུན་གྱི་དུས་ནས་ཆབ་འབངས་སུ་འཁོད་པ་བཅས། ད་བར་ལོ་ངོ་བརྒྱ་ལྷག་ཙམ་སོང་འདུག་པར་རྟེན།...
(*Richardson identifies as “Emperor T'ai Tsung Wên Huang Ti,” posthumous name of Abahai, the first real member of of the Ch'ing [Qing] dynastic line (reigned 1626-1643). Of course the Amban is mistaken, since at this time the Manchus had never come anywhere near Tibet, although they did offer some patronage to Tibetan Buddhist teachers [Grupper]. He is just referring to the founding of the Manchu dynastic rule over China.)

Somebody ought to do a study of the following fascinating phenomenon: I’ve noted over the years, even if I didn’t think to note down exact dates, that post-Republican China has dated Tibet’s belonging to China to [1] the Tibeto-Sinitic marriage alliances of the Tang dynasty way back in the 7th and 8th centuries. Then they moved it up to [2] the period of Eurasian ‘world domination’ by the Mongols in the 13th century. And most recently some have been saying Tibet was made part of China [3] in the Ch'ing/Manchu period, a time when another ‘national minority’ (as Tibetans, Manchus, Mongolians and Hui would later come to be labeled) ruled over the Han (i.e., Chinese). But why the sudden leap backward I’ve noticed in recent months? It seems positively counter-evolutionary. We should have a look at that.

Since the middle of April of this year, the Beijing committee that decides these things determined the new thing they’ll tell the world about Tibet is that “it has been a part of China since antiquity.”* Nicely ambiguous and so subject to interpretation, still it puts the unity of the Han and Tibetan nations so far back into unknowable history as to be unfathomable. I guess that is their motive for making this new move in their very very slow chessboard game. Sure, they hate it when we outside people comment on the matter, with their huffy none-of-your-business attitude. If we persist in our ignorance of the “truths” they so considerately extend toward us they will (with considerable regularity) pull out their ultimate wildcard and call us anti-Chinese, or even worse, accuse us of containment (whatever that means these days, if anything).
(*Truth by committee I call it. Go ahead and Schmoogle that phrase [including the quote marks] “part of China since antiquity,” then try “has always been a part of China,” and you will see what I mean about the periodization of Beijing’s eternal truths. Just about everybody there repeats what they are told to repeat (I hope you will not need to ask yourself why this is so), whether they agree with it the least bit or not; well, besides one very exceptional professor of Fudan U. by the name of Ge Jianxiong. Back in 2007 there was a lot of press [look here] about his position that China wasn’t always as big as it is right now...  Duh... Imagine that!)

The Smallpox Edict, however carved in stone it may be, reflects the views of a benevolent yet arrogant (yes, you heard right, arrogant... after all, he calls Tibetans stupid and savage... the heights of arrogance in my book) functionary of the Manchu government from his station in Lhasa. Its date of 1794 is significant, since it comes soon after the end of the Gorkha war in 1792, and the subsequent Manchu attempt in 1793 to isolate Tibet from the countries on its southern borders, trying to gain control over Tibet’s foreign trade with South Asia (Engelhardt, p. 240). This was the time when Manchu power was at its height, when Golden Edicts were issued forbidding such normal Tibetan cultural practices as sky burial, or attempting to oversee the selection of recognized incarnations, edicts that by all accounts went unheeded in Tibet by everyone except the Amban and his coteries. So, to make clear what my main point is before this blog gets too long, the Amban Ho Lin directly contradicted presentday Beijing’s wistful notion that Tibet has been a part of China since antiquity. Ho Lin at the same time obviously had no vested interest in promoting Tibet’s independence, quite the contrary. This makes his statement that much more remarkable.

§  §  §

Afterthoughts and notes on sources:

Well worth observing, I believe, is the position on the issue of Tibet’s [in]dependent relationship with the Manchus that may be found in the geographical work by Tsenpo Nominhan (བཙན་པོ་ནོ་མོན་ཧན་), writing as he was in the same era as the Amban. He was one of the Tibetan Buddhist teachers with the closest of ties to the Manchu court, yet he was perfectly clear that Tibet was not a part of China. Find and read this lengthy essay:

Lobsang Yongdan, “Tibet Charts the World: The Btsan-po No-mon-han’s Detailed Description of the World, an Early Major Scientific Work in Tibet,” contained in: Gray Tuttle, ed., Mapping the Modern in Tibet, International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (Andiast 2011), pp. 73-134, particularly pp. 99-100:

“Although the Btsan-po was one of the Qing Emperor’s seal-holding lamas, he did not consider Tibet to be a part of China or part of the Qing Empire.”*

(*Go to the essay itself for more about the borders between Tibet and China. He awards Tibet, and not China, the central position in Jambu Island. Just like other Tibetan historical sources, he lists both China (རྒྱ་ནག་) and Tibet (བོད་ཡུལ་) as nations and territories within a larger list of nations and territories that also include India (རྒྱ་གར་), Nepal (བལ་ཡུལ་), Mongolia (སོག་ཡུལ་ or ཧོར་ཡུལ་) among others.) 
* * *

The main sources on the Smallpox Edict that I know of are these:
L. Austin Waddell, Lhasa and Its Mysteries, Dover Publications (New York 1988), reproducing the 1905 edition, with the Smallpox Edict illustrated opposite p. 340, and discussed on p. 362.

N.V.L. Rybot, “A Small-Pox Edict Pillar at Lhasa,” Man, vol. 26 (1936), pp. 180-181.

Hugh Edward Richardson, “The Smallpox Edict of 1794 at Lhasa,” Journal of Oriental Studies, vol. 6, nos. 1/2 (1961/4), pp. 114-124.

Hugh Edward Richardson, "The Smallpox Edict of 1794 by the Amban Ho-Lin," contained in: H.E. Richardson, Ch'ing Dynasty Inscriptions at Lhasa, Serie Orientale Roma series no. 47, Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (Rome 1974), pp. 55-61.

On political conditions at the time, and especially the Manchu containment policy regarding Tibet, see Isrun Engelhardt, “The Closing of the Gates: Tibetan-European Relations at the End of the Eighteenth Century,” contained in: Henk Blezer, ed., Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies I, Brill (Leiden 2002), pp. 229-245. Another relevant study is one by the late Anne Chayet, “À propos du règlement en 29 articles d'e l'année 1793,” Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie, vol. 15 (2005), pp. 165-186. On the Ambans and their degree of involvement in Tibetan politics, there is a remarkable new paper by Kalsang Norbu Gurung, “The Role of Ambans in the Dalai Lama Government according to the Ten-Point Edict of 1795,” contained in: C. Ramble, P. Schwieger, A. Travers, eds., Tibetans who Escaped the Historian's Net: Studies in the Social History of Tibetan Societies, Vajra Books (Kathmandu 2013), pp. 27-39.  The classic study on the Ambans is Josef Kolmas, The Ambans and Assistant Ambans of Tibet (A Chronological Study), Archiv Orientalni, Supplementa VII (Prague 1994), in 86 pages.  On early Manchu patronage of Tibetan Buddhism, see in particular Sam Grupper, “Manchu Patronage and Tibetan Buddhism during the First Half of the Ch'ing Dynasty,” Journal of the Tibet Society, vol. 4 (1984), pp. 47-75. Here you can find some information on Abahai’s support for several Buddhist teachers of the Sakyapa school. You may be interested to read the earlier Tibeto-logic blog on the issue of historical Independence dated April 15, 2008 entitled “Tibetan Independence: Testimonies from Two Professors and a Bird.” It is no doubt embarrassing to find oneself used in this way (and it is hardly the first time this has been done to European and American students of Tibet), but a press item was produced that makes as if M.H. were lending his support to Chinese rule of Tibet (just schmoogle the title “Swiss Scholar: Tibet Now No Doubt a Better Place” since for some reason I don’t relish the idea of directly linking CCTV pages). They did the same thing to Jimmy Carter and Helmut Kohl, so he would seem to be in good company.  Oh, and another matter, did you notice the "pock" marks in the stone of the inscription that half succeeded in effacing half of the inscription? There is no doubt that members of the Younghusband Expedition (Waddell being among them) shared among themselves the story that this was a result of Tibetan magical thinking, thinking that this smallpox monument, if chipped off and consumed, would protect them from smallpox. I set this story aside as one of many British stories about Tibet until such time as I find verification from a Tibetan source that there is any truth to it. Meanwhile, I will assume that all those chips were made in it because Tibetans didn’t appreciate it very much. Perhaps it wasn't so much damaged that they could not still make out the ethnic chauvinism and anti-Tibetan rhetoric of its author. But then it is only the side with the Chinese character version that is defaced (according to Rybot), and that fact could also bear some significance.

Wikipedia has a page on the “Tibetan Sovereignty Debate” (here). As is often the case in Wikis the many hands pulling it this way and that make for very choppy reading. I also have a fundamental opposition to their official opposition to what they call “research,”* thinking they could use a whole lot more of it. I’m sure the “talk” page is the more interesting one, beginning with “Opening 'Sentence' Sucks.”
(*They dismiss research under their terms “special research” and “original research,” while insisting that their writers always err on the side of generalities or what is believed to be generally accepted. This is a fundamentally conservative position that denies independent thought, retards new ideas and discourages freshly drawn conclusions based on larger bodies of data (you may want to see how Wikipedia defends its demands for “no original research” here). More particularly, in the page in question, it discourages writers from bringing forward evidence that is only available in Tibetan language [that would, after all, be “original research”], even though so few of the Tibetan histories and historical sources most germane to the issue have been translated.)

Nota bene:  

There are some who may think that since there are and have been conflicting and contradicting testimonies on the issue of Tibet’s [in]dependence that it is something indeterminate and therefore unknowable, that we should simply shrug our shoulders and give up (or pass over it in the manner of diplomats these days: Oh well, there are different sides to every issue and the truth must lie somewhere in between). 

I beg to differ. Yes, sure, we ought to hear the words of all parties in the historical “debate” but do so constantly bearing in mind who the people doing the talking were, and what their interests (and their jobs) were, in order to better comprehend who they were, what they were talking about, and what their motives were. In other words we need to approach the malleable and situational statements of the various parties historically. Doing so will surely give us a healthy skepticism when politicians of one country or another make their next pronouncements on the subject. That will help us preserve or achieve our own independence of thought. This sort of independence seems to be in short supply to judge from what I’ve been reading in the press lately. Even so, there is no good excuse for falling into agnosticism or nihilism, since when all is said and done Tibet’s own historical tradition is the one that has to carry the most weight in our thinking, and most assuredly not the self-serving historical constructions and calculated statements of a neighboring culture with its sometimes-frustrated aims to impose upon, isolate, engulf or thoroughly devour him.


Somebody just reminded me that some of the issues raised here have already been covered better in an essay by Elliot Sperling  published in China Perspectives back in 2009. He shows, among other things, that the views of Ge Jianxiong are not as exceptional as I had thought (and, in fact, E.S. has shown elsewhere that G.J.’s views were seriously misrepresented in the world press). The essay, entitled “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History since 1950,” is easily accessed here, and I very much recommend reading it.

[July 13, 2015]  

I also would like to point to E. Sperling’s contribution entitled “Tibet” in the following volume:  Naomi Standen, ed., Demystifying China: New Understandings of Chinese History, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham 2012), pp. 145-152, where he demonstrates what “ancient times” (or “antiquity”) is supposed to mean. I’m still mystified how imperial control is supposed to be established retrospectively. I guess the reason is it’s really mystifying.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Remarkable Re-Appearances of Vanished Books

In earlier days in Tibet there were and yes, in our day there still are, people called tertöns who bring to light texts that may have been hidden for many centuries. Long-hidden Tibetan texts are still popping up from time to time, with or without their help. Today I’d like to draw your attention to two of them. Both of their titles have long been known in the literature, with references to them here and there, although the literary content has not been revealed to the world at large (or was available only in the form of quotes, or incorporations into larger works of other authors). That is, until now. The revelation itself has already taken place, I’m just here to reveal the revelation.

I’m sure any real Tibetologists worth their salt would get impatient, shove my shoulder and say, “Get out of here!” But I’m telling you the complete gospel truth when I say that Manlung Guru’s itinerary text is now available to everyone with a data connection in the form of a complete manuscript in 14 folios containing five chapters.

Why is this particular work all that important? If you ask me, it is because it shows Tibetans could be (as they today most certainly are) prone to become world travelers, with a curiosity about the world at large that is often denied them by the pundits. (Yes, Tibet did indeed have his Marco Polos and his Mandevilles dating from the very same era as Manlung Guru.) It tells, too, about early Tibetan geographical conceptions that are still today too little studied and scarcely understood. How did Tibetans locate and comprehend their place in the world?

Tibetan Buddhism Research Center, without the least bit of fanfare, put the manuscript up on their website a few weeks ago. To know this truth for yourself, all you have to do is go to the TBRC website and use their native search facility to look for the following title: Man lung gu ru'i lam yig (or མན་ལུང་གུ་རུའི་ལམ་ཡིག). I’d gladly do this for you, but I think you could use the exercise.*  (*If you haven't signed up with TBRC yet, you may be limited to "sample" access only; but anyway, give it a try. You ought to be able to view at least some of the pages of it.)

Manlung Guru from upper corner of 
a Lhamo Thangka found at HAR

Manlung Guru was one of a very few Tibetans of pre-modern times who knew firsthand what life could be like in Padampa's (likely) native land of Andhra in South India. Even fewer Tibetans had verses of praise written in their honor by an Indian poet, verses that in this case even ended up in the Tanjur collection. Manlung Guru was a great master of the Kâlacakra teachings, and a few bits of these teachings can still be located with some effort.

The Blue Annals — translated by George Roerich, et al., pp. 790-791 — has about the only information you will find in English, even if it doesn’t amount to much. To make its short account even shorter, it says he was born in 1239 and in 1300 took a vow, at the site of Buddha's attainment of Buddhahood at Bodhgaya, not to take more than a grain of rice and a drop of water a day until he would receive a prophecy. On day twelve somebody dumped water on his head, but he scarcely even noticed. On the 18th day the Mahabodhi image spoke to him telling him to go to Mount Potala, the residence of Avalokiteshvara. So he headed south ending up at Dhanyakataka in South India. While there he got an acacia wood splinter in his foot that bled a lot. Not that he suffered, just the contrary, it provoked his experience of the Ultimate Bliss. Then, dressed like an Indian yogi, he crossed over the surface of the ocean as if it were solid ground and continued on his way to the Potala.

If you want to know more about the amazing Manlung Guru, and what his travel book was about, I will send you to a few places on the internet. The first thing you ought to look at is a page from an article by John Newman. I searched, but found there is no biography of Manlung Guru at the site known as Treasury of Lives — not yet at least, although you can find a whole lot of other lives there, so his absence is unexpected. There are some fascinating notes from some biography of him at this page at TBRC. It looks like you are going to have to deal with this not-so-clear biography, also supplied by TBRC, and available nowhere else. It was written by one Bsod-nams-bzang-po, a direct disciple of his, so its value as a historical source can hardly be doubted. But once you get a look at it, you just sigh and wish it could have been a little easier to read.  The Itinerary itself is mostly, to the contrary, in the beautifully clear cursive you see here:

The left end of the first folio.  You can see the title floating above the first line.  It reads:
Man-lung Gu-ru'i Lam-yig bzhugs-so.  If you find you have trouble making out the script,
perhaps you would like to Take the Cursive Test?  
Sometimes his name takes the form Sman-lung-pa Bsod-nams-dpal, 
or Sman-lung Shâkya-'od or the like.
Oh, I almost forgot my promise to mention the second text that just popped up unexpectedly. It appears that the known sources on its existence go back no further than the list of histories toward the beginning of the Amdo History (Mdo-smad Chos-'byung) dated 1865.  E. Gene Smith definitely had it on his priority list of texts that ought to be located. The text in question is a history of the Kadampa school — composed by a Gelugpa teacher by the name of Panchen Yeshé Tsemo (པཎ་ཆེན་ཡེ་ཤེས་རྩེ་མོ་), who was born in 1433 — a work composed in around 1495 or so. I’m not 100% sure about it, since I’ve only seen it in a book catalogue, and have never held the book in either one of my hands, but I think we are allowed to say this: A much-wanted Kadampa history that has been rumored to exist for many decades is now made available to the  modern world for the first time ever. 

So, with all that good news coming your way, I hope you’re happy. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings. And I won’t be, not today.

(*This work, under the title Bka'-gdams Chos-'byung, was listed in Dan Martin's Tibetan Histories [London 1997], no. 149, where it is described as unavailable.  The title as it actually occurs in the book catalog is:  Pan-chen Ye-shes-rtse-mo'i Bka'-gdams Chos-'byung dang Rnam-thar.  A few more details may be found out by checking this link that takes you [fair warning!] to a book selling site.)

Remains of the ancient Dhanyakataka Stupa that 
Manlung Guru visited, in Andhra Pradesh, India


Now that I think of it, I forgot to say more about those verses of praise a South Indian poet composed in Manlung Guru’s honour. Let me go check my notes. Here you go.

Vimalaśrī, Paramagurupuṇyaśrī-nāma-stotra (Bla ma dam pa bsod nams dpal zhes bya ba la bstod pa).  Tôhoku catalogue no. 3729.  Dergé Tanjur, volume TSHU, folios 113v.4‑114r.4.  Translated by Gotamabhadra and Grags-pa-byang-chub.  

Here is what the colophon of the Dergé woodblock printed version says:  

rgya gar lho phyogs kyi yul dpal ldan 'bras kyi spung po zhes bya ba'i mchod rten bzhugs pa'i gnas der bla ma man lungs pa'i sku gsung thugs kyi spyod pa rlabs po che / byang chub sems dpa'i rnam par thar pa dang cha mthun pa la mos pa'i paṇḍi ta bi ma la shrī zhes bya ba mkhas shing btsun pa des tshigs su bcad pa 'dis bstod pa'o //  dpal ldan man lungs kyi gtsug lag khang chen por paṇḍi ta go ta ma bha dra dang / lo tsā ba grags pa byang chub gnyis kyis bsgyur ba'o.  
རྒྱ་གར་ལྷོ་ཕྱོགས་ཀྱི་ཡུལ་དཔལ་ལྡན་འབྲས་ཀྱི་སྤུང་པོ་ཞེས་བྱ་བའི་མཆོད་རྟེན་བཞུགས་པའི་གནས་དེར་བླ་མ་མན་ལུངས་པའི་སྐུ་གསུང་ཐུགས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་པ་རླབས་པོ་ཆེ།  བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའི་རྣམ་པར་ཐར་པ་དང་ཆ་མཐུན་པ་ལ་མོས་པའི་པཎྜི་ཏ་བི་མ་ལ་ཤྲཱི་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་མཁས་ཤིང་བཙུན་པ་དེས་ཚིགས་སུ་བཅད་པ་འདིས་བསྟོད་པའོ།།  དཔལ་ལྡན་མན་ལུངས་ཀྱི་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་ཆེན་པོར་པཎྜི་ཏ་གོ་ཏ་མ་བྷ་དྲ་དང་།  ལོ་ཙཱ་བ་གྲགས་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་གཉིས་ཀྱིས་བསྒྱུར་བའོ།། 

Notice the mentionings here of Gautamabhadra,* Manlung Guru and Drepung (“'Bras-kyi spung-po” meaning Dhanyakataka) Chorten. I don’t believe this poetic work has ever been translated. Why don’t you give it a try?
(*I think he's the same as the person known elsewhere as Gautamaśrī or Gautamaśrībhadra.)

§  §  §


“Lamas also speak of other guidebooks to Shambhala, but they are difficult to find and may no longer exist. In a Preface to his version of the journey, the Panchen Lama mentions a guidebook written by a certain Menlung Lama. According to the Panchen Lama's summary of it, it describes a route that leads from western Tibet northward through the region of the upper Hor and the Sog—probably Mongol and Uighur peoples of the Tarim Basin...”
—Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala
Anchor Books (Garden City 1980), p. 182.

=  =  =

For the still-impressive classic study on Manlung Guru, see Ariane Macdonald, “Le Dhānyakaaka de Man-lus Guru,” Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême‑Orient, vol. 57 (1970), pp. 169-213.  For a PDF, tap here.

For studies on a few more recent Tibetan works on the geography of the world, see these writings in particular if you haven’t yet:

Matthew Kapstein, “Just Where on Jambudvîpa Are We? New Geographical Knowledge and Old Cosmological Schemes in Eighteenth-Century Tibet,” contained in: Sheldon Pollock, ed., Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia, Duke University Press (Durham 2011), pp. 336-364. 
Tenzin Dawoe, “Research on the Monk Who Wrote a World Geography,” The Tibet Post International.  Available online here.   

PPS.  It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Manlung Guru was headed for a place called Potala somewhere off the southern coast of India. The Potala Palace in Tibet is the one best known to people today, no doubt about it, but that palace was named after the Potala on an island, more likely the original one in south India, rather than the substitute one off the coast of China. Besides, in the time of Manlung Guru the Potala Palace had not yet been built on Marpori above the city of Lhasa. Perhaps there was a cave and a smallish temple there, but neither one had the name Potala.
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