Monday, May 11, 2009

Tibet Mirror Revivified

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.

POSTSCRIPT — May 15, 2009:

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.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Rubin's Situ Panchen Lectures

Some of us had the misfortune of dwelling on a totally different continent when the Rubin Museum had its Situ Panchen conference. I've heard from more than one Tibetanist that it was a huge success. And even if many may want to, most of us can't find let alone afford apartments in New York City, so we haven't been able to see the Rubin's amazing art exhibit. It's bound to please a much wider public than its associated conference. The show, entitled "Patron and Painter," ends on August 17, so there is still time if you have the interest and where-with-all.

Our frontispiece is a sample of a Situ-commissioned painting (copyright Rubin Foundation). In fact it depicts Situ Panchen as the donor and commissioner — notice the tangka painters hard at work in the lower left-hand-corner — for a set of paintings illustrating Avadâna stories.* I don't need to say much about this, since there is a very nice explanation of this set among the Himalayan Art webpages that may be seen here. (If you are really insistent you can of course go read the works of David Jackson listed later on.) Evidently Situ made the sketches for the originals of this set totaling more than 23 paintings, directed the painters, and several years later, in 1737, he himself performed the consecration rites.
*That means the Bodhisattva-avadāna-kalpa-latā (Byang-chub-sems-dpa'i rtogs-pa brjod-pa dpag-bsam-gyi 'khri-shing) composed by the Kashmiri poet Kṣemendra (Gewai Wangpo; Dge-ba'i-dbang-po) and his son Somendra (Rabjor Dawa; Rab-'byor-zla-ba), completed in the year 1052 CE. Each scene in the paintings has an inscription that keys it to the stories in Kṣemendra's work. The artist consciously chose to illustrate this Indian work in a Chinese-inspired painting style, but with "palaces and costumes in an Indian or Nepalese manner" (Jackson's book, p. 264).

ˆ ˆ ˆ ˆ ˆ

Now the conference:

The conference (see the press release in PDF here), co-organized by David Jackson and Karl Debreczeny, with the full title Situ Panchen: Creation and Cultural Engagement in 18th-Century Tibet, took place at the Rubin Museum on Saturday, February 7, and Sunday, February 8, 2009. Among the nine scholars presenting papers or acting as respondents were these:
Rémi Chaix — Centre national de la research scientifique, Paris: “Situ Panchen and the House of Derge: A Demanding but Beneficial Relationship.”

Nancy Lin — University of California, Berkeley: “Situ Panchen and the Re-enactment of Buddhist Origins.”

Frances Garrett — University of Toronto: “Medical Literature in the Situ Panchen Tradition.”

Kurtis Schaeffer — University of Virginia, Charlottesville: “Situ the Scholar.”

At the link to the audio (sorry, no video this time) versions of these lectures, you will also find the lectures by Jann Ronis and Karl Debreczeny. You will hear both David Jackson and Elliot Sperling acting as emcees before, and respondents after, the papers. I believe Tashi Tsering (Amnye Machen Institute) also gave a paper. In any case, you can hear him speaking in the question & answer session. But wait, now I see that he was in fact the keynote speaker, although I still can't seem to locate the audio file for his lecture.

I'd like to especially comment on Karl Debreczeny's, since it has to do with a set of paintings that I believe to be truly great in many senses of the word. Although Situ Panchen didn't originate this set, he did commission copies. K.D. located them as a set of wood-panel paintings that were preserved in a temple in Lijiang, in Yunnan (you'll learn more about this with patience and a reliable modem), as well as in scroll-painted copies and copies of copies. The Rubin possesses some of these tangkas, and the whole world can admire them at Himalayan Art website. Go here to see the New Encampment Style (Sgar-'bris) set of Eight Bodhisattvas (and if you have at hand's length the book Worlds of Transformation and its essay by David Jackson, look at pages 102-109). I think you can observe the same luminous visionary perfection in some other paintings in the New Encampment Style, especially in the single-Mahasiddha and single-Arhat portraits. Among the portraits of Situ Panchen himself, this one showing nine Indian masters seated behind him is truly remarkable.

Before I get too carried away and forget what I intended to say, the good news is that iTunes University (there is such a thing, silly as it sounds, if you will kindly accept my word for it) has put up the audio for six of the (7?) papers plus the question & answer session. First of all make sure your computer is equipped with iTunes.* Then try this link.
*If you have a newer Mac it's part of the package, but if you don't have it you can try this link and have patience, bearing in mind that I do this as a favor to you for this purpose only, and not as an encouragement to consumerism. iTunes U is educational and free as far as I know. It's the other parts of iTunes that aim to part fools from their money...
I imagine that might have worked for you without any hitch. If it didn't, open iTunes on your computer. Use the internal search function (not Google!) to search for "iTunes U," and while you are there look for the words "Situ Panchen Conference." Then you can get the downloading started. You can probably let the downloading go ahead in the background while you busy yourself with other things on your computer. Downloading takes a little time, so I recommend you not watch it while it works.

§ § § § §

Print publications well worth seeing:

Marilyn M. Rhie & Robert A.F. Thurman, Worlds of Transformation: Tibetan Art of Wisdom and Compassion, Tibet House, Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, & Harry N. Abrams (New York 1999).

David Jackson, A History of Tibetan Painting, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 1996). This being without risk of exaggeration or contradiction the best historical study of Tibetan art ever written in any language, see especially Chapter 10 on art associated with Situ Panchen on pages 259 through 287.
On p. 266 (plate 50 with detail in plate 51) you will see the photo Karl Debreczeny talks about, of White Tara surrounded by the eight fears from which she saves us, also mentioned in David Jackson's comments following K.D.'s paper (look here for several versions of this salvific icon).
Karl Debreczeny, The Buddha's Law among the 'Jang: The 10th Karma-pa's Development of His 'Chinese-style Thangka Painting' in the Kingdom of Lijiang, Orientations, vol. 34, no. 4 (2003), pp. 46-53.

Tashi Tsering, ed., Situ Panchen: His Contribution and Legacy. A special issue of Lungta, the occasional publication of the Amnye Machen Institute, issue no. 13 (Winter 2000), it includes contributions by E. Gene Smith, Elliot Sperling, Franz-Karl Ehrhard and Hubert Decleer.

Some significant linkages:

I understand the papers from the Situ Panchen conference may eventually be published as a group in the Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (JIATS). If this happens it will be very good news, since the JIATS is entirely free and freely available to anyone with a wire plugged into the web. This is the real and future way to circulate Tibetological research, and not those ungodly precious academic publishers (the guilty parties with their one, two and three hundred dollar volumes know who they are).

Go to Flickr to see some 85 photographs from the conference. Maybe while you're at it you could check and see if this is the same or a different set.

Four of the papers were revised and/or repeated at a panel of the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in Chicago in March. At this page you find abstracts!

Here is the Art Daily announcement for the conference. Another from Asian Art Newspaper can be found here.
A catalog of the Situ exhibit has been published, although my copy is still in on order, on its way I hope. Oh, wait, here it is! It's entitled Patron and Painter: Situ Panchen and the Revival of the Encampment Style, authored by David P. Jackson with a chapter (chapter 10) by Karl Debreczeny.

If you feel like spending whole days looking at Situ Panchen-related art (and really, Who wouldn't?), look here. Take note of the Sino-Persian sense of space, the emphasis on landscapes, the subtle shading methods. Use the "take a closer look" function, and do just that. Be dazzled by the details.

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