THE MYSTERY OF THE MARCH 10 PHOTOGRAPHER

 

Last year, when putting together the March 10th Memorial website, a major problem I encountered was obtaining photographs and film footages for this critical period in our modern history. Three black-&-white photographs were all there was of the public demonstration on the morning of March 10th.

Possibly the most reproduced of these three photos is that of the enormous crowd gathered before the eastern gate of the Norbulingka palace. A snow lion statue is in the right foreground with the scene extending back to somewhere near the Chango bridge on the Norbulingka–Lhasa road.

The second photo gives us an even further view of the crowd and shows people from Lhasa streaming to joining the gathering. You also get a glimpse of the Chakpori in the distance. The third photo is disturbing. We have a partial view of the mutilated body of Phakpala Khenchung Sonam Gyaltsen behind one of the two snowlion statues in front of the main gate, surrounded by people brandishing daggers, swords and even a hatchet.

A few of the people are looking up at the photographer who evidently took his picture from one of the two squarish turrets on either side of the main gate, most likely the one on the right as the head of the snow-lion is turned to the left. All three photographs have most likely been taken by the same photographer as the vantage point of all three images appear to be the same.

My guess is that the photographer was probably Jigme Taring. The people knew him as the Dalai Lama’s official photographer and perhaps that’s why don’t appear particularly hostile to him. We know the public was otherwise very angry, even violent that day. Of course we cannot be certain that Taring took these photographs, but so far I have not come across any mention of another official in the Norbulingka that day who might have  taken these photographs.

It is further possible that Jigme Taring also took the two photographs we have of the women’s demonstrations before the Potala Palace at the Dribu Yukhai Thang (where government barley was threshed).

Photo of Jigme Taring shooting a cine-camera, with his still-camera and flash by his side. Photo by Chen Zonglie , Xinhua News Agency.

Jigme Taring was in and out of Norbulingka in the subsequent days, but during the night of the artillery barrage and the next day of the PLA attack he was definitely inside the Summer Palace.  It is therefore more than possible that the color images below of armed Tibetan volunteer fighters  inside and outside the Norbulingka walls were taken by Jigme Taring. These scenes were shot on color film, most probably on the “official” cine-camera that Jigme Taring had earlier used to film the Dalai Lama’s geshe examinations.

The Dalai Lama debating at his geshe examination. From the official film shot by Jigme Taring.

He had probably used what was left of his color film stock to record the scenes at the Norbulingka. We now know that in the chaos Taring left the cine-camera behind in Norbulingka with a young official, and it is almost certain that the Chinese later obtained the camera and film. Some of the footages taken by Taring later appeared (in black& white) in the Chinese propaganda film Putting Down the Rebellion in Tibet. The Chinese  Propaganda Department was then using black and white film, and only a few years later used color film for their documentary, By The Lhasa River. The color footages of the Taring film have also appeared in other documentaries and are probably now available somewhere in Beijing.

The following images are screenshots taken off a video made from the color film. In the first image the person sitting in the foreground, right, looks very much like a young Juchen Thupten Namgyal of Derge, who in his 22 volume (!) autobiography mentions that he was a volunteer defender at the Norbulingka.

We cannot be sure but the next three images are possibly scenes inside and outside the Norbulingka. The neat walls in the second and third image could be the outer wall of the Norbulingka and the yellow wall in the fourth image could be that of the interior compound, which was traditionally painted yellow.

The Chinese also shot some black & white footage of Tibetan volunteers outside the Norbulingka though it was understandably taken from a distance. A Chinese journalist Shan Chao [1] accompanied some PLA officers in a convoy of three armored cars on Monday the 16th to survey the trenches and fortifications the “rebels” were building at the northern end of the Norbu Lingka. A cameraman from the propaganda department recorded the scene on film.

 

In conclusion I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Jigme Taring – photographer and man of courage. In March 1959 he went to  the Norbulingka to serve and protect the Dalai Lama and remained there through the period of the Dalai Lama’s escape, and during the subsequent fighting.

In his autobiography the monk official (tsedrung) Tenpa Soepa[2] mentions meeting Jigme Taring during an intense artillery bombardment. “I came across Taring Dzasak who asked me for help, and we went inside the Phodrang Sarpa (New Palace). All the windowpanes were broken and the floor was filled with shards of glass. Taring Dzasak took out a (cine?) camera  and a few rolls of film from a room below the Phodrang and said, pointing his gun to his head said, ‘Lets get going, If worse comes to worst, this is the way’. He clearly meant that if nothing worked, we would have to take our own lives. As we came out of the Phodrang, a shell landed near us and exploded; when the smoke cleared, Taring Dzasak was nowhere to be seen.”

According to Mrs. Taring [1] her husband  told her (in exile) that he had taken the official cine-camera from the Dalai Lama’s palace and shot scenes of the fighting and artillery bombardments. He then gave the camera to a junior official to look after, but never met him again. He then took a rifle from an official who did not know how to handle it and joined in the fighting. Finally he and a soldier, Pasang Thondup, attempted to escape. “To avoid being tortured by the Chinese they made a pact that if either of them was hit by a shell, then the injured one should be shot dead by the other.” But both of them managed to escape. “His only possessions when he fled was a camera, some film, a pair of binoculars and a revolver.”

On his way south he was stopped by Chushigangdruk fighters but convinced them that he was Taring Dzasak and that the photographs in his camera were invaluable and should reach the Dalai Lama. They let him go. This camera was most likely his still camera with which he took the three black-&-white photographs (and the women’s rally photos) discussed at the beginning of this article – which have immeasurably benefited our history and struggle.

Notes:

[1] Tenpa Soepa, 20 Years of My Life in China’s Death Camp, AuthorHouse, Bloomington IN, 2008, p.30

[2] Shan Chao, “Sunshine After Rain: From a Lhasa Diary”, Peking Review May 5, 1959 No:18, Special Tibet Number.

[3] Rinchen Dolma Taring, Daughter of Tibet, John Murray, London, 1970. p.297-298

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Lobsang | March 12th, 2017 | 1:27 am

    People are giving you different name but you are a great scholar in our Tibetan society who come up with different facts and figures to shape our history to lead us all better in our freedom struggle. I take pleasure reading your articles. Great story of a photographer who captured our history through his camera and gave our story a greater voice and meaning.

  2. pema | March 16th, 2017 | 8:51 am

    Our Lukar Jam is in trouble again. Now a case of once bitten twice shy. Ejected from Sikyong race then, now chastised for outspokenness. What the heck is going on? Lukar is not safe in effing Dharamsala, and smart tibetans aint doing a dot to help him. I reckon a lone wolf is gonna attack him ‘cos he said Prof. Sperling should live for 113 years, and DL wants to live that age. This is crazy. It is not like only one person can stretch it to 113 at any given time. loads of people can live that age, including Mexicans across the border.

    Lukar is not safe in Dhasa anymore, friends. let’s get him some bodyguards.

  3. Sarlang | March 16th, 2017 | 5:28 pm

    The iconic are 1959 b/w pictures conjures up the human spirit for freedom against any the alien invasion from the East… Hardly I had glanced through JN’s description of the rare pictures, when my attention was drawn by the posting about Lukhar’s free speech once again…..

    This forced me sample the current proceedings of the Tibetan exile parliament. Can you believe that the first 2-3 or more days are being solely devoted to purging Lukhar Jam?

    Is this any Democracy? Is this any Freedom of Speech? It is shocking that one after another, the deputies, including those from the civilized West joined the bandwagon of ageing religious and secular deputies in castigating Lukhar as if he is the sole enemy of the Dalai Lama.
    Have have forgotten the real enemy behind the Himalayas?

    Is that what they are elected for? Believe me they don’t represent the genuine unexpressed views of the general voters, but they cater to some green-head zealots making sure their angst is vomited at the floor of the parliament. I am sure these deputies will only survive one term…. If they think the really represent the majority of the voters, they are dead wrong. They should seriously consider resigning at the end of the session or face the wrath of the voters back home in free societies….

    And, unlike the past chairpersons , the free for all. Samdhong would not have allowed such rambling and grumbling..

    It is pathetic that Sikyong should join and lead the personal onslaught against one Tibetan who has dared to speak out his mind against all the odds, including angering the Dalai Lama.

    Likhar know Free Speech is Not Free. But the whole parliament to go after a single person is unthinkable. The brave speak their mind at the risk of live, but the week join hollow minds to defend their skin.

    It is time the Dalai Lama and Gaden Phodang pay close attention to what going on at Gangen Kyishong unless He wishes to take back the limited democracy he has unilaterally forced upon his blind followers……

  4. Tsering Choedon | March 17th, 2017 | 1:42 pm

    Did anyone see this? If anyone feel that Lukar is being ostracized for his literary expression, you should write your word of support for Lukar.

    https://www.tibetsun.com/letters-to-the-editor/2017/03/16/open-letter-to-sikyong-on-mr-lukar-jams-security

    TCL

  5. Tenpa Dhargyal | March 18th, 2017 | 3:52 pm

    In their misguided attempts to, partly, prove their relevance for short of any real and progressive parliamentary works, these semi literate parliamentarians and some exmonks in the West, are whipping up a mass hysteria over “113”. They are making our leader, a very wise, HHHDL, into A Dalai Tallahassee, Ayptolla lite.

  6. kelsang | March 20th, 2017 | 7:15 am

    Vicious campaign to eliminate Lukar Jam society in full glory here.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGzZQ7UcDAk

  7. Tsering Choedon | March 23rd, 2017 | 7:24 am

    What is happening in Dharamsala is frightening to say the least!!

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1501180906583430&set=pcb.1501180946583426&type=3&theater

    TCL

  8. kelsang | March 24th, 2017 | 10:45 am

    Lukar Jam car had it windows smashed by stones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ2zBBUi3NE

    Police arrives to investigate the crime scene

  9. Tsering Choedon | March 24th, 2017 | 12:16 pm

    Saw this great piece on Tibetan Journal. We need more youngsters like him.
    http://www.tibetanjournal.com/index.php/2017/03/24/lukar-jam-atsock-the-people-elected-opponent-of-the-dalai-lama/

    Lukar Jam Atsok, The ‘People-Elected’ Opponent of The Dalai Lama
    March 24, 2017 Jigme Wangchuk
    More than six decades of refuge in a foreign country should’ve precipitated for an intense and violent longing for freedom. However, comfort and the new age materialistic struggle has effaced prominent ideas and has left, in its place, a shallow outlook on the concept of freedom and the disturbing habit of expressing gratitude. Non-violence has always been the fulcrum of the idea of Tibetan independence; but except for peaceful marches in New Delhi, there is little proof regarding the accepted nature of the Tibetan freedom struggle and those who carry it.
    Lukar Jam Atsok, a fierce proponent of complete independence for Tibet and a critique of the Dalai Lama, has been the face of condemnation for many Tibetans. His poem for the late Elliot Sperling where he expressed that the historian should’ve lived for 113 years drew immediately censure from people online and which eventually resulted in the vandalization of his vehicle outside his residence in Dharamsala. The outrage is understandable, but the fanaticism is not.
    Even though the Dalai Lama has made it explicitly clear that he is not perturbed by his critiques, it is the Tibetan people who have decided to carry the mantle of righteousness and in turn decide what will be allowed to be said about the Dalai Lama and what will not be allowed. Many Tibetans view the inherent luxury of comfortable refuge as a gift from His Holiness and in a bid to express their gratitude and service, they have taken to fiercely defending the 14th Dalai Lama in his dotage.
    This shallow outlook on the perception of Tibetan freedom struggle, that Tibet means about the Dalai Lama and his people, that Dalai Lama’s survival holds true the existence of Tibet and that views and opinions about how Tibetans should proceed ahead is only a chess game restricted to the boundaries of the Tibetan parliament in Dharamsala, have undeniably corrupted the essence of being a Tibetan refugee. Direct criticisms from the Tibetan Prime Minister’s office have not made it easier for critiques and writers to voice their concerns about the movement. And in the farrago of uncertain times where bodies immolate next to each other, the vision has been blurred and narrowed.
    Violence is not disagreement, it is violence. The 14th Dalai Lama previously held both the position of being the political leader and the religious leader. His policies towards China which have largely been about mutual benefit and not detrimental to one party has undeniably impended for China practicing more laxity in occupied Tibet (the focus being). When a writer like Lukar Jam criticizes the Middle Way policy, he has all the rights and sensibilities to share his own opinion on the matter no matter how disagreeable his views are. Criticising the Tibet policy is not anti-Dalai Lama, as is wishing that Sperling had gone on to live 113 years.
    Attack on writers and critiques are akin to Chinese troops subjecting ‘separatists’ to imprisonment. If not for the law of the land which seemingly holds justice against people deprived of identity, how volatile will be the situation then; how unabashed will be the naysayers?

    Jigme Wangchuk
    Minimal journalist with a disciplined relationship with writing. Tibetan and many other things.

  10. Tenzin Tsering | March 24th, 2017 | 6:59 pm

    In the light of recent events and the change in the political arena in both the global platforms and in the Tibetan community itself, it appears perhaps a right time to revise the policy of the Central Tibetan Administration. From repudiating of the 17-point agreement by the Tibetan exile government in 1959 in Tezpu, India till the Five Point Proposal in l 1989 in Straousberg, the formal policy by the exile government was Independence from China. This policy carried on for 40 years. The success part of this policy was invitation by Deng Xioping to “ come and talk about Tibet issue” in exchange for giving up seeking of Independence from China.

    Middle-way policy was adapted in 1989 by a referendum with a majority of more than 60% in favour. This policy (1989-2017) is currently running on the 27th year in service. Considering the advancing age of His Holiness, perhaps it is time for a new referendum. If Beijing refuses to talk to our representatives by the end of Sikyong Lobsang Sangay’s term, exile Tibetans can go for a referendum in 2020. At least by doing that, we strengthen our negotiating position, put a broke on incremental dilution of our sovereinity until – if we continue to follow Umaylam- we would be, say in the year 2034, seeking only right to learn Tibetan language. The claims of current genuine autonomy would then feel so distant, so unrealistic, and so high and lofty a goal, that those who are apostles current Middle-Path policy ( I call this ½ of Independence claim) will appear in 2034 as controversial figures. By then, most Tibetans, led by HH Karmapa, would be followers of Karmapa’s brand of policy, which is Semi-Middle-way path. Or ¼ of Independence claim.

    In defense of Tibetan independence policy, the beauty of it is that- while situation might remain as it does now( China is admittedly very powerful now), we at least have something concrete to hold on to. Otherwise, Tibetan parliament will start singing Chinese national emthem in 2025.

    So, my fellow Tibetans, shall we have a REFERENDUM to change the CTA’s policy?

  11. Sarlang | March 25th, 2017 | 12:47 pm

    I am 100% with Tenzin Tsering.
    It is time people should petition Chitues to raise the referendum issue without delay which is the logical democratic way. If not only open protest and demonstration in Gangchen Kysihong will suffice.

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