Black Annals: Goldstein & the Negation of Tibetan History (Part I)

When Oscar Wilde declared that “the one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it”, he was probably attempting to provoke — épater les bourgeois, as the French might say. Wilde lived in an age, the latter half of the nineteenth century, of assurance and certitude. Contemporary historians such as the German empiricist Leopold Von Ranke felt that through their work they could show “what had really happened”, while the English Catholic historian, Lord Acton believed that it would one day be possible to produce “ultimate history”.

Historian have now generally come around to the substantially less confident view — expressed by E. H. Carr of Cambridge — that “history is interpretation” necessitating periodic re-interpretation and hence rewriting or revision. Historical revisionism is the attempt to understand the past better through the reexamination of historical facts, with an eye towards updating historical narratives with newly discovered, more accurate, or less biased information. There is also a less respectable, one might even say a perverted, kind of revisionism called “negationism” (from the French le négationnisme) a term first introduced by Henry Rousso, the specialist on WWII France (Le Syndrome De Vichy, etc.) which describes the process of rewriting history by minimizing, denying or simply ignoring essential facts while exaggerating or overstating those supportive of one’s argument.

What made many in the Tibetan world stand up and pay attention to Professor Melvyn Goldstein’s A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State, when it appeared in 1989 was the unmistakable impression the book gave — even in the preliminary flip-through-the-pages — that here was a radical reinterpretation of Tibetan history. This impression was heightened by the fact that there had been a fairly long hiatus in the appearance of political histories of Tibet. In fact, twenty-two years had passed since the publication of Tibet: A Political History, Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa’s major work on Tibetan history, and twenty-seven since Hugh Richardson’s less ambitious but very useful Tibet and its History. We did get Richardson and Snellgrove’s (as yet unrivalled) The Cultural History of Tibet in 1967 and a smattering of monographs and works on the early history of Tibet, but not a major political history.

In contrast to Shakabpa’s and Richardson’s monumental but perhaps “dated” works, Goldstein’s history had been researched and written in the period following Deng’s “liberalization” when foreign tourists and academics could easily visit Tibet, and in Goldstein’s case even gain entry to some hitherto inaccessible sources of information on Tibetan history — though these were mostly interviews, not archival sources. So Goldstein’s work was greeted with genuine interest and even excitement, not only for the new information it contained, but also because unlike previous histories which had adopted the orthodox, or rather conventional point of view, this one seemed to promise a more warts-and-all approach to things.

Reviews were mixed. As expected, those from the left were ecstatic, Tom Grunfeld in China Quarterly deeming it “Masterful…Careful, thoughtful and authoritative.” Others, especially those subscribing to a more Buddhist outlook, were tentative. Gareth Sparham in the Tibetan Review criticized Goldstein for not appreciating the depth and sincerity of all Tibetans to their religion. An unexpected commentary came in a letter to the editor in the Tibetan Review from Hugh Richardson, who had been Goldstein’s old professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. Richardson praised the book for its “research and lucid reportage” but described the book’s postscript as “shameful.” He went on to explain that “… all Goldstein has to say about events after 1951 is that ‘a series of complicated events’ led to the flight into India of the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans. His eyes are closed to the Tibetan rising in 1959 and the accompanying bloodshed and atrocities, to the imposition of a total military and civil imperialistic dictatorship, and to the savage destruction of the Cultural Revolution.” Richardson, like everyone else at the time, was not aware that Goldstein intended to write another book on subsequent events, so, that censure, though acceptable then, is perhaps not applicable now.

One of the first things that impressed me about Goldstein’s history of Tibet was its physical attractiveness — the high production value. The cover design alone was elegant and striking, compared to other books on Tibet. Most of the publications on Tibet that I could then obtain in India, Tibetan Library or exile-government publications and the reprints by Motilalal Banarasidas and others, were badly printed on inferior grade paper with bindings that invariably came loose after a few monsoons.

My admiration did not diminish on opening the book. The enormous labor that had gone into the work, the extensive research, the many interviews (some with people who had till then just disappeared into the Chinese gulag) were patently evident. There were also the unusually large number of photographs, some of which had not been published before, that contributed to the fullness of the narration. My first reading of the text, through “the lucid reportage”, as Richardson describes it, was an enjoyable experience. Many of the stories one had earlier heard about the members of the Tibetan ruling class, the lamas and the aristocrats, were fleshed out here and provided footnotes and citations.


On my second reading, after having satiated myself with the more titillating and scandalous details of the doings of the Tibetan ruling class, I began to feel a somewhat niggling sense of discomfort at details I had at first overlooked. Why were there two photographs (one full page) of the Reting regent’s alleged mistresses? I’d never seen full-page photographs of Marilyn Monroe or Judith Exner (the mistress of both President Kennedy and Mafia boss Sam Giancana) in any serious history of modern America. For the professional historian there is always the question of relevance if not, at least to some extent, of propriety, in including images or information that might not contribute to the historical narrative but might merely be judged as of salacious interest. There was also no evidence provided for one of the alleged mistresses (Mrs. Chogtray) of actually having been Reting’s lover, merely hearsay. Such incautious retailing of Lhasa tittle-tattle gave a tabloid feel to what was meant to be a historical study. Of course Goldstein was correct in mentioning Reting’s sexual indiscretions as they were the major reason for his abdicating the regency, but nonetheless, a lighter touch, something more than allegations and hearsay and perhaps one less photograph, might have been in order.

Goldstein further went into solemn recounting of such rumors as Demo Rimpoche being drowned in a large copper vat of water and Reting having his testicles squeezed. Shakespeare, in Richard III tells us that the Duke of Clarence was executed by being “drowned in a butt of Malmsey”. It is now believed that this story may have started as a joke since the Duke had the reputation of being a heavy drinker. The Reting Regent’s reputation for not living up to his vow of celibacy may have similarly given rise to the gossip of the squeezed testicles. Such accounts may have their place in legend and drama but should not receive consideration in serious history. Till Goldstein no other historian (Richardson, Shakabpa et al) had included such Lhasa gossip in their works, though I am sure they were well aware of the stories.

Goldstein also retails the historically irrelevant and spiteful canard of Gedun Chophel having an inflatable rubber sex doll in his possession. This slander was probably started in later years by conservative detractors of this outstanding but unconventional scholar, and gained currency since he had a reputation of being sexually active, and also perhaps because of Tibetan curiosity with foreign sexual customs. As proof of this charge Goldstein tells us that when directly asked about the doll, “Gedun Chompel turned away and did not reply; this indicates, in Tibetan style, that it was true, since he did not deny it.” It indicates nothing of the sort. Tibetans like other people might chose not to dignify such an absurd or insulting inquiry with an answer. This kind of spurious ethnological interpretation of Tibetan behaviour is extraordinary coming from someone who claims anthropology as his primary discipline. I am also fairly certain that such sex dolls were not commercially available in Europe and USA before the fifties, and certainly not in India even in 2008. In Britain it was illegal to import sex dolls prior to 1982. Not to play the amateur psychiatrist but one cannot fully avoid the hint of morbidity in Goldstein’s narrations of sex and degeneration in the Holy City: in his providing physical details of how Tibetan monks went about their homosexual practices, or in his interest in the matter of the squeezing of Reting’s testicles. Goldstein appears to have taken the trouble to consult medical expertise to see whether something like that could cause death.

Eventually, I ended up with the overriding impression that the book was not so much a history of a nation and a people, but rather the heavily documented though somewhat indiscriminate and arbitrary account of a small ruling class in Lhasa, particularly those members who spent their time largely plotting to overthrow each other, indulging in sexual escapades, or otherwise hopelessly mired in decadence and corruption.

There was little account of honourable service, sacrifice or courage, even where it would be not only have been relevant, but perhaps necessary to provide an accurate and balanced picture as it were, of events and personalities. Goldstein’s focus was fundamentally on events that could only be described as degenerate, fratricidal, or reprehensible – even shameful. He devotes nearly sixty pages to the Reting conspiracy and the subsequent Sera rebellion. The sub-headings in this chapter such as “ the Sera Che War” and “the Massacre at Reting Monastery” patently overstate what really happened. When it is now politically incorrect, or at least controversial, in American academic circles to use the term “massacre” to describe the killing of some thousand students and civilians at Tiananmen in 1989, the death of a dozen odd Tibetan soldiers at Reting monastery should perhaps be explained in a less sensational manner than as a “massacre”.

Richardson says of the “Sera Che War” that when government troops mounted their assault most of the monks had already left and only a few barricaded themselves inside the college (dratsang) building. Shakabpa says that Tibetan troops “quelled the unrest among the monks” and “this threat of a civil war was ended.” Shakabpa does not concede the occurrence of a real civil war, stating merely that there had only been the threat of one. But Shakabpa’s objectivity can be questioned as he was personally involved in the conflict. Heinrich Harrer who was in Lhasa at the time calls the affair “a minor civil war” and I think that would be, on balance, as vigorous a designation as we could reasonably allocate to the affair.

After all, these events in Tibet were taking place under the cloud of a real and apocalyptically bloody civil war going on just across the border in China, where millions were being killed and wounded, and millions more, including women and children, the old and the infirm, were enduring starvation, disease and mass displacement. Even segments of the Tibetan population of Kham and Amdo had become caught up in the peripheral conflicts of the Chinese Civil War, and suffered as a result. We have to note that while the “minor civil war” in Lhasa lasted for about all of two weeks, the “Nationalist-Communist Civil War” (guógòng neìzhàn) went on for twenty-four bloody years, from April 1927 to May 1950.[1] To this day no armistice has been signed or the war actually declared over. In fact until Beijing successfully invades Taiwan or accepts the fact of Taiwan’s independence, this long conflict cannot, with any degree of certainty, be regarded as ended.

The French historian and scholar, Amaury de Riencourt, heard of the Reting affair in 1947 when he was in Kalimpong and Sikkim. But on traveling through Tibet and staying in Lhasa for five months he concluded that the impact of the two-week conflict on Tibetan society in general was not profound, nor extensive. He writes “On the whole, the plot and the limited trouble in a few lamaseries hardly made a ripple on the surface of the average Tibetan’s life.”[2] Of course, de Riencourt’s observation does not come from any in-depth study, but it is nonetheless an informed, impartial and firsthand one. Interestingly, he tells us how the Chinese government inflated the affair in their news reports.

“The Chinese got hold of the trouble and blew it up into a major political crisis in Tibet. According to reports emanating from Shanghai and inspired by the Kuomintang, Mr. Chen (Shen Tsung-lien the Chinese representative in Lhasa. JN) had played a major part in solving the crisis, whereas in fact he remained safely inside the walls of his embassy. But, once more, the Kuomintang Chinese had the attention of world public opinion since Tibet is unable to defend her cause in the international forum.”

It should be mentioned that when Shen Tsung-lien published his own work on Tibetan history and politics in the USA in 1953, he relegated what he calls the “Ra-dreng episode” [3] to a brief paragraph that assigned no undue significance to the affair.

I wish to emphasize that in no way do I think that the Reting affair was inconsequential. It was clearly damaging to Tibetan polity, and does require more serious study and discussion. But Goldstein’s excessive (and somewhat prurient) emphasis on the affair seems out of proportion to its actual social and political significance, especially when we have to balance it against other events that affected the Tibetan world during its “modernization” period.


Sixty odd pages for “a minor civil war” seems especially disproportionate when we come to realize that Goldstein inexplicably passes over Tibet’s principal military victory in Eastern Tibet in just one paragraph. The war of 1917-18 was a major conflict in Tibetan history and the striking success of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s modern army carried tremendous political significance. For the first time in about a thousand years Tibetan troops had decisively defeated an invading Chinese army. That the fighting was extensive, even desperate at times, can be gauged by the fact that three Tibetan generals, Dapon Phulungwa, Dapon Jingpa and Dapon Tailing, were killed in action in this war. Such comparisons are perhaps crude, but to an American academic writing on Tibetan history and choosing to gloss over the war of 1917-18 one might reasonably ask how many American generals have been killed in Iraq, or in Vietnam for that matter, to make those two conflicts significant in American history.

Casualties on both sides appear to have been high although exact figures are unavailable. An English account of the war mentions that at the siege of Chamdo more than half the Chinese garrison of about 1000 soldiers died, and the siege of Chamdo was only one of a number of engagements in this war. Shakabpa writes of the fighting before Chamdo, “After many months of fierce battles, Tibetan troops recaptured Rongpo Gyarapthang, Khyungpo Sertsa, Khyungpo Tengchen, Riwoche, Chaksam Kha, Thok Drugugon, Tsawa Pakshod, Lagon Nyenda, and Lamda.” Shakabpa tells us that after the fall of Chamdo, the Kalon Lama briefly rested his troops before marching on to fight at Markham, Draya, Sangyen, Gojo, and Derge, all of which “were liberated.”

Tibetan troops in Riwoche with captured guns

We must also consider the local Khampas who were killed in this conflict. The young Tibetan historian K. Dhondup (whose untimely death in 1995 deprives us of one of the three volumes of his distinctive history of Tibet) wrote that, “Tibetans in Markham, Draya, Sangen, Gonjo and Derge etc. where the suppression was on the increase could wait no longer and started rebelling against the invaders. Poorly equipped and disorganized, they suffered terrible losses. Before long, Kalon Lama Jamba Tendar (the governor general of Eastern Tibet) was able to assist them and liberate and recapture all these areas.”[4] Overall, if one included the deaths of Khampas (militiamen as well as civilians) we could at the very least be talking of quite a few thousand dead and wounded.

The victorious Tibetan army was advancing on the ancient Tibetan frontier town of Dhartsedo, then the capital of the new Chinese province of Sikang (carved out of Eastern Tibet), when the Chinese appealed to the British for mediation. Chinese officials and the business community in Dhartsedo and Batang were “completely panic-stricken” and “lost their heads”, though Tibetan residents there were understandably celebrating. Eric Teichman, of His Britannic Majesty’s Consular Service in Peking, was sent to Chamdo where after a number of talks with the Tibetan governor-general a treaty was finally signed at Rongbatsa. Tibetans gains in Chamdo, Draya, Markham and Derge were maintained, while Litang, Batang and Nyarong remained under Chinese control. Tibetans were confident that they could have taken back Dhartsedo and other historically and ethnically Tibetan areas under Chinese occupation, and felt that the British had pressured them into signing the treaty by threatening to cut off ammunition sales to Tibet.

However, even if not as complete as the Tibetans would have liked it to be, the victory was undeniably a momentous one. It was clear proof that a trained Tibetan army was capable of defending its own frontier against Chinese aggression, and together with the victory of 1912, provided the self-assurance and sense of historical validation that Tibetans needed to establish in themselves the concept of an independent Tibet as an enduring reality and not merely as a declaration or a desired ideal. Although the Tibetan army in Kham suffered a reverse in 1932, loosing the eastern half of Derge, the fact of the 1918 victory allowed Tibetan to remain in possession of a large portion of Kham till the Communist invasion in 1950.

It was not just the military victory, but the quality of the Tibetan leadership that appears to have appealed to the Khampas, and gained their loyalty. Jampa Tendar himself inspired respect bordering on awe. Teichman tells us that his orders were obeyed without question throughout Eastern Tibet (even in the Chinese administered areas). Most of the other officers appear to have conducted themselves with exceptional courage and dedication when leading their regular troops as well as Khampa militia into battle. One officer, a major from Lhasa, is celebrated to this day in a Khampa song:

Rupon Anen Dawa, Ling kyi patul drawa
Menda si si lendu, namkey thok thang drawa

Major Anen Dawa is like a hero from the Ling epics
His Mauser pistol roars like thunder in the sky.

Teichman also tells us that the Tibetan commanders he met were cultured and relatively modern people who “… have in most cases visited India, carry Kodaks and field-glasses, sleep on camp beds and often wear foreign clothes, whereas the Szechuanese leaders know nothing of the world beyond the confines of their own province.” Teichman also noticed another relatively civilized aspect of Tibetan behavior absent in the Chinese.

“The Tibetans have undoubtedly behaved very well at Chamdo, treating their Chinese military prisoners with humanity and kindness … the civilian Chinese are at present moving freely about the town carrying on their usual business, each with a ticket on his arm, showing that he has been registered at the Tibetan headquarters.”

Klon Lama Jampa Tendar

In fact the overall legacy of this victory in Eastern Tibet, and the progressive administration that the Tibetan government installed in Chamdo and which was effective for at least two successive governor-generals, ensured the loyalty of the Khampas to Lhasa. The policy direction of Jampa Tendar’s administration can perhaps be gauged by the new official seal he had engraved after the victory. He incorporated his name Jampa meaning “love” and Tendar meaning “spread of religion” into the message of the new seal, which read in Tibetan: “gyal-khab jam-pae kyang, diki ki tempa dhar-pae thamga.” The wordplay makes an exact translation difficult but could be roughly rendered as: “Rule the nation with love. The religion of happiness will prevail.”

Although later administrators proved incompetent and corrupt, Khampa loyalty and residual good will from earlier times even seemed to have survived till the Communist Chinese invasion. For instance the Khampa militia that fought side by side with the regular Tibetan units in October 1950 performed their duties heroically under the circumstances[5]. The main Khampa leader, Khenchen Dawala, had striven to create a strong Khampa militia force in Eastern Tibet and his vital role was recognized officially. The Tibetan government radio operator in Chamdo, Robert Ford, says that, “After the Governor General he took precedence over every Lhasa official.” “The grand old man of Chamdo” as Ford describes him was one of the surviving Khampa leaders who had served with distinction under Jampa Tendar in 1918. But Goldstein makes no mention of this important personage in his account of the 1950 invasion at the end of his book.

Tibetans customarily refer to military events by the year in which they occurred. The British invasion is called the Wood Dragon War (shing-druk mak). The expulsion of the Manchu forces in 1912 is called the Water Mouse Chinese War (chu-chi gya mak). But Khampas probably felt that the 1918 victory was a turning point in their history for they speak of it grandiloquently as kalpa sa-ta, or the “The New Age of the Earth Horse.” It was not just a war but a national liberation.

In a conversation on Goldstein’s coverage of this conflict, Alastair Lamb, the leading historian on Anglo-Tibetan relations, is said to have remarked that it was like writing a history of modern Europe and leaving out the First World War.[6] A curious feature of Goldstein’s book is that in spite of the tremendous quantity of information that it contains, it somehow only serves to reduce events to the antics of a section of the small ruling class in Lhasa.


Even Goldstein’s choice of a starting point in his history — the year 1912, adds, in a sense, to this not-so-subtle diminution of Tibetan history. Moreover it misrepresents the period of Tibet’s entry into the modern world, downplays the role of Tibetans in creating their own nation identity and in initiating the modern period of their history. Bernard Lewis, the controversial but accomplished Princeton scholar of Islamic and Middle Eastern history, tells us of the manipulations by which “the misuser of history” can to a considerable extent serve his purpose by even a simple matter like the starting point.

“One has to start somewhere if one is going to write a book or an article or give a lecture on an historical topic, and the choice may in some measure predetermine the result. Any starting point is necessarily in some degree artificial. History is a seamless garment; periodization is a convenience of the historian, not a fact of the historical process. By choosing carefully, one can slant history without any resort to actual falsehood. For example, a writer on relations between the United States and Japan can start with Hiroshima, or he can start with Pearl Harbor. Even precisely identical narratives of events would look very different, if they start with one or the other.”[7]

Goldstein’s starting point for A History of Modern Tibet is the return of the 13th Dalai Lama to Lhasa in 1912 from his exile in British India. This does, at first, seem like a logical point to start a history of modern Tibet. It is from this period, Goldstein informs us that Tibet’s efforts at reform and modernization begins. We are also given to see that this modernization is near exclusively British in influence, and that even the new military and nationalist faction of the Tibetan leadership were pro-British and in fact influenced by the British.

One of the dominant theories of modern Tibetan history maintained by pro-Chinese or leftist historians is that the concept of an independent Tibetan nation state came about at the beginning of the twentieth century largely as a creation, a “construct”, of British imperialist design, formulated and put in place by such colonial officers as Charles Bell, Basil Gould and Hugh Richardson, to create a buffer state between British India and China (or even Russia). Chinese historians subscribe to the first half of the theory but reject the “buffer state” part, insisting that the British were seeking an outright separation of Tibet from the Chinese motherland. On the whole, this is the version of modern Tibetan history that can be effectively presented “without any resort to actual falsehoods” — if one starts one’s narrative from 1912.

But if one goes further back in time to let us say the year 1876, we are confronted with a scenario where Tibet is demonstrating an assertive, even aggressive “nationalistic” spirit against what its leaders then perceived (fairly correctly) as the collusive design of Imperial Britain and Imperial China in undermining Tibet’s freedom and integrity.

In 1876 Great Britain and Imperial China signed the Chefoo convention, one article of which permitted the British to send an exploratory mission through Tibet. China regards this convention as one of the “unequal treaties” imposed on it by the West, yet that particular article on Tibet evolved into a mutually profitable complicity between it and Britain. Since Tibet had not been consulted, the “Tibetan parliament” refused to allow British entry to Tibet. According to Alastair Lamb “… the Chinese chose to rebuke the Tibetans for their opposition to a mission which the Emperor had authorized; and as a gesture of defiance to the Chinese, the Tibetans closed the passes from Chumbi to Sikkim and reinforced Lingtu.”[8]

In this act of defiance to Britain and China, Tibetans erected a fortification at Lingtu (or rather Lungthur) thirteen miles into what the British regarded as Sikkim territory. To demonstrate their resolve the Tibetans garrisoned the fort with nine hundred soldiers. According to L. A. Waddell the Tibetans actually invaded Sikkim “and advanced to within sixty miles of Darjeeling, causing a panic in that European sanitarium.”[9] The British sent two thousand soldiers and artillery under Brigadier Graham to expel the Tibetans. Artillery bombardment and infantry charges finally drove Tibetans back from Lungthur. “But the Tibetans, despite their primitive equipment…” Lamb tells us “…were not dismayed by this show of force.

In May they attempted a surprise attack on the British camp at Gnatong and nearly succeeded in capturing the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, who was visiting the frontier; they were repulsed with severe losses.”[10]. Waddell also mentions that the Tibetans fought fiercely and showed “great courage and determination.” Waddell acknowledges that an additional cause for the Tibetan “invasion” might have been the British annexation of Sikkim, which the Tibetans regarded as legitimately in their sphere of influence. In spite of the major setback at Lungthur the Tibetans stubbornly refused to acknowledge Britain’s right to send a mission to Tibet, nor China’s right to grant permission for such a venture.

Tibetan intransigence brought the British around to the conclusion that it was perhaps wisest for it sacrifice the “problematical gains in Tibet” (as a secret foreign office memo claimed) especially since by not challenging China’s pre-eminent position in Tibet, Britain secured China’s formal recognition of its rule in Burma. Earlier, China had regarded Burma as a tributary state but Britain had, in three successive wars, fully taken over the country by 1885. The formal recognition of British rule in Burma, gained for the Manchu court Britain’s reciprocal recognition of China’s claims to Tibet.

A government publication (Sikkim Gazetter) gives a clear picture of the official British view of Tibet at the time. “Who will deny that it would be a piece of surpassing folly to alienate a possible ally in China by forcing our way into Tibet in the interests of scientific curiosity, doubtfully backed by mercantile speculation.”[11]. Alastair Lamb adds “It was in this frame of mind that the Indian government hoped to settle the future relations between British India and China without reference to the Tibetans.”

Shatra she-pe at Darjeeling

Tibetans were deliberately kept out of all the conventions and discussions that took place in those years between the British and the Chinese concerning Tibet or Sikkim. In 1893 when the Trade Regulation talks (to be appended to the Sikkim-Tibet convention) were being held in Darjeeling, the Tibetan cabinet sent a cabinet minister, a sha-pe, the young Paljor Dorjee Shatra to keep and eye on the proceedings. Shatra’s presence appears to have been resented by the British and he was “permitted to suffer an insult” (Lamb). What is known is that a number of British officers dragged him off his horse and threw him into a public fountain in the Chowrasta square. Another account says that Shatra’s servant was the victim. The incident has been represented in all English accounts as an unfortunate prank by high-spirited subalterns, but old Tibetan residents of Darjeeling believed that it was a deliberate act by the British to humiliate the Tibetans for their “insolence”.[12]

Tibetan defiance of Britain and China has in most studies to date been downplayed as a consequence of superstition and ignorance; from purported Tibetan fears that the British would destroy their religion. That this resistance could perhaps have arisen from a spirit of Tibetan nationalism has never seriously been considered. Sometimes this attitude is covertly disdainful: Tibetans were not “developed” or “sophisticated” enough to be nationalistic. Most studies on this subject have generally gone along with the conventional academic premise of nationalism and national identities in Asia and Africa as merely following “models” already formulated in Europe or America and imposed on, or adopted by, such colonized lands.

Of course, such theories are now regarded as exclusionary and incomplete, and the view of Asian nationalism as being “imagined, or invented” have pretty much been dismissed by experts on the subject as Partha Chatterjee (The Nation and Its Fragments) and Prasenjit Duara (Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China) who offer us more complex and nuanced views of Asian nationalism where indigenous historical, cultural and even religious factors are no less relevant to its evolution than merely the influence or machinations of European or American colonial and imperial powers.

Therefore it might be worthwhile to note the contents of the talks that two British officials, Nolan and Claude White, had at Yatung in November of 1895 with a Tibetan monk official (tsedrung) Tenzin Wangbo, after it was discovered that the Tibetans had knocked down and destroyed a number of British boundary pillars on the Sikkim border and again established an armed outpost at Giaogong, which the British regarded as being inside Sikkim territory. Alastair Lamb writes that “Nolan concluded from his talks with Tenzing Wangpu (Tenzin Wangbo) that the Tibetan outpost at Giaogong symbolised a spirit of Tibetan nationalism, greatly reinforced by the recent coming of age of the 13th Dalai Lama. The Tibetans, Tenzing Wangpu said, did not feel bound by a treaty which had been negotiated on their behalf by Britain and China and they would not discuss the frontier as defined in that treaty. They were willing, however, to discuss the frontier with reference to Tibetan maps; but Tenzing Wangpu emphasized that ‘Tibet would not give up land merely because required to by the Convention.’”[13]

L.A. Waddell who was living in Darjeeling around this period had a number of conversations with the Tibetan minister Shatra sha-pe. It was probably from him he learned of a new spirit of nationalism that had arisen in Tibet due to public resentment at the collusion of the Demo regent with the Chinese Ambans in Lhasa. Patriotic officials believed that the two parties were plotting against the young 13th Dalai Lama, and they feared that he might suffer the fate of the last four Dalai Lamas who died very young in “a mysterious manner” to the advantage of the Chinese Ambans and the regents. Waddell concluded that:

“The present Dalai Lama has been permitted to become an exception to this rule, through the influence of the national party which has risen up in Tibet in veiled revolt against the excessive interference by the Chinese in the government of the country. This national party saved the young Dalai from the tragic fate of his predecessors, and they rescued him and the Government out of Chinese leading-strings by a dramatic coup d’ etat. (in which the Demo regent was overthrown and imprisoned and the Amban neutralized. JN.)

Waddell was impressed by Shatra and felt that by not recognizing him “in a way befitting his high rank” and by excluding him from the official discussions the British had “missed an excellent opportunity” to gain Tibetan trust. Waddell found Shatra “a most refined and well-informed gentleman, and well disposed towards the British. Shatra told Waddell that he had wasted his time in Darjeeling but that he would like to take back to Lhasa a summary of British “criminal, police and civil codes”, which had much impressed him. He desired to reform the legal system in Tibet (many features of it imposed by the Manchus) that followed such Chinese practices as torturing suspects until they confessed to their crimes, which the young minister found objectionable.

It should be noted that Tibetan defiance of British and Chinese imperial ambitions was consistently maintained for three decades in spite of the loss of Tibetan life and British and Chinese hostility. In fact till 1904 and the Younghusband expedition, Tibet’s aggressive nationalistic policy did not change.

The British invasion force with its repeating rifles, maxim heavy machine guns and (according to Tibetans) unalloyed treachery, massacred seven hundred Tibetan country levees at Chumi Shengo, in the space of a couple of hours. “Despite this withering attack, the Tibetan forces fell back in good order, refusing to turn their backs or run, and holding off cavalry pursuit at bayonet point”[14]. A couple of thousand more Tibetans died for their “fatherland” (phayul) in subsequent battles at Samada, Gangmar, Neyning, Zamdang, and most significantly at Gyangtse, where the Tibetans actually besieged the British force for a time before the conflict ended and the British marched into Lhasa and forced a treaty on the government in August 1904.

Tibetans can legitimately view the events from 1876 to 1904 as the first chapter in their modern history. Most accounts of this period, largely written by British officials or scholars tend to downplay native resistance and nationalism and ascribe them instead to Tibetan obstinacy and superstition, or more generously to a misunderstanding between the two sides. There has never been a study of the origins of modern Tibetan nationalism or national identity stemming from this period, nor a review of the factors that could have caused or influenced it. Something like this is long overdue. I offer a few speculations of mine on the origins of these developments in modern Tibetan history.

It is possible that the 13th Dalai Lama and his officials were influenced by the spirit of modernization, social reform and nationalism that was beginning to spread throughout Asia towards the end of the 19th century. For instance in India there was the Bengal Renaissance and in Manchu China the Self Strengthening (Ziqiang) Movement and the Tongzhi restoration. But almost certainly the Meiji Restoration, which transformed Japan from a feudal into a modern state, inspired the young Dalai Lama as it did other reformers and nationalists in India, China, South-East Asia and the Middle East. We know that the young 13th Dalai Lama was interested, even fascinated by Meiji Japan. Considering his own problems with the Manchu court, China’s crushing defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894 must have piqued his interest. He sent a notable scholar, the geshe, Tsawa Tritul and two other Tibetans to study in Japan, long before he sent the four Tibetan boys to study in England. When His Holiness was in Peking in 1908, he arranged to visit Japan, but had to cut his plans short because of the death of the Manchu Emperor.

When Sir Charles Bell wrote that he was “the first European who had visited Lhasa at the invitation of the people themselves” he was probably unaware that the Dalai Lama had earlier invited two Japanese, Tada Togan and Aoki Bunkyo to visit and stay in Lhasa. Tada, a religious scholar, studied in Lhasa for ten years, while Aoki translated military manuals, and Japanese textbooks and books on education in general that he obtained from Fujitani in Calcutta. He was also “principal advisor on foreign affairs” providing His Holiness with a “news bulletin summarized from Japanese press despatches and English newspapers. Another Japanese, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, and an instructor at a military college at Tokyo, Yasujiro Yajima, was put in charge of training the largest unit of the new Tibetan Army. This was before the British system was introduced. On the death of the emperor Meiji on 30 July 1912 the Dalai Lama sent a message of condolence to Japan. According to a leading writer on Japan-Tibet relations, “He (the 13th Dalai Lama) had admired what the emperor had stood for as the progressive leader of an independent Asian Buddhist nation.”[15]

Yet, it should be noted that the earliest influence that unleashed the dormant nationalist and reforming energy of the 13th Dalai Lama and other leading Tibetans (as Shatra) was not exactly foreign. It appears to have come very early in the young Dalai Lama’s life, and from someone closer to home, the Buriat lama, Agvan Dorjiev.

Agvan Dorjiev

Dorjiev’s vital role in modern Tibetan history has thus far not been sufficiently acknowledged, thanks in large part to British reports and accounts, which invariably relegate him to the role of a sinister Russian spy. He first came to Lhasa in 1873, to study at Drepung monastery where he obtained his geshe degree. Dorjiev, whose Tibetan name was Ngawang Lobsang, must have been an extraordinarily gifted scholar since he became one of the seven tsenshabs or debating partners of the young Dalai Lama. In 1888 he became a confidant and tutor to the Dalai Lama and for the next ten years served as his “inseparable attendant”. In turn His Holiness looked upon him as his “true guardian and protector”.[16]

The young Dalai Lama may have had virtually no knowledge of the outside world or of the workings of international politics, but his tutor, according to Dorjiev biographer John Snelling, “… was very much a man of the world: comparatively well-educated, well traveled In Central Asia, and moreover a person of intelligence, acumen, charm and character.” One European witness who met him at the time testifies that his ‘science, energy and, and above all, the vivacity of his mind … predestined him to become a great statesmen or a great adventurer.”[17]

Dorjiev’s “modern, progressive turn of mind” gained from his extensive travels. He visited St. Petersburg as the Dalai Lama’s envoy, and also Paris, London, and major cities in India and China. He was in the thick of the politics of the period, facing not only the opposition of the powerful ultra-conservative clique in Lhasa but also the hostility of the British who saw him as a Russian spy. It is now generally accepted that he was no foreign spy but a patriot who strove tirelessly and openly to create a Mongolia and Tibet independent of China. It might be mentioned here that Dorjiev was the one of the main authors of the Tibet Mongolia Treaty signed on 29th of December 1912, that clearly demonstrated the independent status of the two nations. The original document in Mongolia has recently been discovered and I received a photographic copy of it just a couple of months ago.

This is not the place for a detailed discussion of this enigmatic personality, but it should be said that his was a significant role in shaping the young Dalai Lama’s independent and progressive views — and hence in shaping the history of modern Tibet. John Snelling mentions that in a discussion with the “eminent historian of Central Asia”, Alastair Lamb, he was told that “… if Dorjiev had not appeared when he did, the course of Tibetan history would indeed have been very different.”

Finally, we should perhaps not discount the possibility of Tibet’s “nationalist” spirit being awakened by examples from within its own past. For instance, the Phagmodrupa king, after overthrowing Mongol rule in Tibet (ten years before the Chinese overthrew the Mongol Yuan dynasty) consciously attempted to create a new non-Mongol national identity reflecting the early Imperial period of Tibetan history. The harsh Mongol penal code was rejected and laws derived in part from the imperial period, adopted. The Phagmodrupa revived ancient customs and “during the New Year celebration high officials had to wear the costumes of the early kings.”[18] The second Phagmodrupa king sponsored Tsongkhapa’s Monlam festival in Lhasa, which became the largest festival in the Tibetan calendar and attracted thousands of pilgrims and worshippers from all over the country and beyond. Although the Monlam is a great religious festival, it also has important historical and military aspects, presented in grand and colourful pageants and parades that serve to inculcate in the Tibetan public a sense of its history and identity.

All these diverse influences, models and personalities that contributed to the creation of the modern Tibetan nation state are singularly absent or glossed over in Goldstein’s account. And he can do that without straying too far from the truth, since he begins his history in 1912, after the British gained a diplomatic foothold in Tibet, and then made sure Tibetans didn’t interact with anyone else.

Goldstein does provide an introductory précis of events before 1912, but does not establish their significance to the modernization of Tibet. In fact the events from this period that Goldstein emphasizes are those characterized by superstition, magic and degeneration. Goldstein describes the Demo “affair” where the old regent (or rather his brothers) attempted to assassinate the young 13th Dalai Lama through black magic, but were exposed and imprisoned. Goldstein recounts largely unsubstantiated “rumours” of Demo “being killed by being immersed in a huge copper water vat until he drowned”, but inexplicably fails to mention that the Dalai Lama rejected the decision by his cabinet to execute the perpetrators. This is historically important as it is the first known instance of the Dalai Lama’s rejection of capital punishment. The consistency of His Holiness’s stand on this issue led to the establishment of the landmark legal decision of his reign, which I wrote about in a previous essay:

“In 1913 the 13th Dalai Lama officially banned capital punishment and other forms of “cruel and unusual” punishments; possibly making Tibet one of the first countries in the world to do so. Switzerland abolished capital punishment in 1937; Britain in 1965 and France guillotined its last criminal in 1981. In the United States, especially Texas, even being underage or mentally retarded is no guarantee of not being sent to the “chair,” or whatever is on offer. In China they are, of course, going at it as if there were no tomorrow. An Amnesty International press release of 2001, stated that “More people were executed in China in the last three months than in the rest of the world for the last three years.”

Goldstein discusses the creation of the modern Tibetan army and police force under British auspices and mentions the technical assistance provided by the British for the new telegraph line, but not that the Tibetans paid for everything. He also mentions, in passing, the construction of the hydroelectric plant in Lhasa. When Goldstein discusses the modernization that took place after 1912 he is unfailing in drawing attention to the British influence, and also in trivializing much of the developments as “… the adoption of “Western (British) uniforms, dress and customs such as sweet tea, shaking hands, and playing tennis and polo…”

Goldstein overlooks modernizations and reforms undertaken by the Tibetans themselves. On the eighth day of the first month of the Water-Ox year (a month after the signing of the Mongolia-Tibet Treaty) the Great Thirteenth declared Tibet’s independence. In this historical proclamation he also stated that individual Tibetan farmers would be allowed to take over and cultivate all vacant land available, and that they would not be taxed for the first few years of cultivation. This declaration also contained an environmental protection clause where His Holiness stressed the need to preserve various trees and bushes and also plant many more throughout Tibet.

Sir Charles Bells writes about a major debt relief scheme that the 13th Dalai Lama created to aid Tibetan farmers. Bell even mentions the establishment of a new meat market in Lhasa where meat was sold under sanitary conditions. Probably copied from British India, not only was the premise of the market inspected daily for cleanliness but also the meat, or rather individual carcasses, were examined by the city magistrates and required a seal of approval before sale.[19]

A project was also created under the drokyi dhodam office to provide interest free loan of grain to needy farmers.[20] If farmers repaid with freshly harvested grain an extra one measure in ten (kamcha chuzur) had to be included to make up for moisture weight. The Dalai Lama also issued edicts to all district headquarters in 1920 for the establishment of primary schools. A directive was also issued to all districts to investigate oracles and fortune-tellers, to prevent exploitation of the common people, and to stop oracles from possession by a deity (lhab-dur) in such cases.

Then we have the establishment of the Lhasa Medical Centre (Mentsikhang) in 1916. One hundred and fifty students, selected from the army, monasteries, and various districts were trained for nine years in traditional Tibetan medicine. On completion of their course, they were to return and provide medical care in their respective areas.

The Medical Centre also undertook to combat the serious problem of infant mortality. For this the “Child Care and Welfare” (chipa nyerchoe) project was initiated. Every magistrate throughout Tibet received instructions to register the birth of all children in the district. The information was sent to the Medical Centre in Lhasa where a horoscope and appropriate medicine was prepared for every child. “These would be sent to all the ninety-six dzongs or districts of Tibet” a Tibetan lady notes in her memoirs. She also mentions that “Khyenrab Norbu the famous scholar of medicine and astrology compiled a book called Chipa Nyarcho which dealt solely with the care of infants and their well-being.”[21]

Though the science of this childcare service was wholly traditional and its scope perhaps confined by the limitations of government resources, it might be mentioned that the service was provided free to all Tibetan children under the jurisdiction of the Lhasa government. The son of a district magistrate of Kyirong, told me that even some years after the Communist takeover, he remembered that the infants of Kyirong regularly received their individual horoscopes and little bags of medicine from Lhasa.[22]

Goldstein discusses the Tibetan government’s failure to start an English school at Gyangtse and Lhasa, due to the opposition of the “monastic segment”. But he makes no mention of the fact that many individuals in society, realizing a western education as vital to their own and to their country’s future, sent their children to English schools in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I have managed to draw up a (still incomplete) list of one hundred and sixty students who studied in about eight English medium schools in the greater Darjeeling district. The interesting thing is that although most of them were of the aristocracy many were children of merchants and commoners. A famous professional gambler (a commoner) of Lhasa sent his adopted son to study at St Augustine’s school in Kalimpong. About thirty-six of the students on my list are girls. The cost of this education was a considerable financial burden on the families, but clearly they regarded it is important and worthwhile.

What this seems to indicate is that in spite of the obstacles that conservative monastic forces had put in the way of government efforts at modernization, a growing number of individual families were moving, on their own initiative, in the direction of modernization and reform. It is a mistake for a historian to see things exclusively, or even largely, in terms of the achievements (or failures) of governments or rulers, in making historical evaluations. Movements in society at large and development of social trends — all the ordinary but rich details of human history — should, as the French annales school of historians taught us a hundred years ago, matter as much (if not more) in the study of history.

One reason perhaps for Tibetans being able to afford expensive English education for their children might be explained by the dramatic spurt in economic growth that took place in Tibet in the late thirties and forties. With Australia cut off by the Japanese navy, demand for Tibetan wool in the US created considerable prosperity, not only for the merchants involved, but also for the nomad suppliers and for everyone else concerned on the trade routes. I went over a document a week ago on the Tibetan wool trade that provided quite unexpected and extraordinary figures for the size of this trade. I am unable to locate the document right now but will include it in future versions of this essay.

The Second World War also provided a major financial impetus to the opening-up of Tibet to Western commercial products. Tibetan merchants bought consumer goods and luxuries in India and sold them at considerable profit in South Western China where the Nationalist government was holding out against the Japanese. Everyone along the trade route, aristocrats, peasants, muleteers, inn-keepers and the big merchants profited from this trade. According to Peter Goullart then living in Lijiang in northern Yunnan, a main terminus on the trade route, this caravan traffic was a “unique and spectacular phenomenon.”

The director of the Rolex Company actually visited Kalimpong in the forties to investigate the unexpected demand for his watches in this remote corner of the world (from where it was being reshipped to Lhasa) “… and was astonished to discover that it was but a little village town.”[23] Nothing like this economic boom happened in Mongolia, East Turkestan, Ladakh, Bhutan or even Nepal.

Could this sudden prosperity have contributed to a moral decline in the aristocracy and the theocracy? At least one older Tibetan scholar told me that the new wealth in the official class and the falling-off in discipline and traditional virtues, might account for the poor performance of the Tibetan army in 1950 in contrast to 1918. I was also told that this economic growth and subsequent infusion of money into the monasteries and labrangs created, if not degeneration, then at least a laxity in monastic discipline and corruption. Could the Reting scandal have an underlying, if peripheral, economic causality? Goldstein’s failure to investigate, or consider, even partially, such economic and social explanations for the “demise of the Lamaist State” is a great weakness in his work.

Ultimately, all that the eight hundred and ninety odd pages of Goldstein’s hefty book succeeds in doing is make Tibetan history small, provincial and without real significance. The lasting impression that this huge compilation of highly selective narratives and information leaves us (although Goldstein is careful not to say it outright) is that China’s conquest of Tibet was inevitable, that Tibet died of its own inherent contradictions (as a Marxist historian might put it) and China’s invasion of Tibet and the subsequent death and destruction in that country was merely incidental and not any fault of China’s.


I do not insist on it, but it seemed to me that even the subtitle of the book, Demise of the Lamaist State pushes forward this tacit thesis of Goldstein’s work. One meaning the Oxford English Dictionary provides for the term “demise” is a case of a death which occasions the transfer of power, sovereignty or an estate. Roget provides such synonyms for the term as “decease” “passing away”, sleep, eternal rest, etc. The term appears to be generally used in the context of a country when the transition is a gradual one and involves a variety of causes generally involving decline in leadership, economic chaos, social unrest and internal conflict. So one could correctly speak of the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it would definitely be wrong to speak of the demise of Czechoslovakia when it was invaded by Nazi Germany, or for that matter, Tibet when it was invaded by Communist China. A more suitable or precise term to describe what happened to the “lamaist state” would be “murder” or “destruction”, or better yet “obliteration”.

I don’t think it would be quibbling to insist on such a distinction. Following Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, Harold Macmillan (then a back-bencher) wrote a letter to The Times, protesting the craven behavior of the British and French foreign ministers (Hoare/Laval) in appeasing Mussolini and in implying that the whole thing was as much the fault of the Ethiopians as the Italians. Macmillan’s concluding sentence really hits home: “I have never attended the funeral of a murdered man, but I take it that at such a ceremony some distinction is made between the victim and the assassins”.

When one discusses the Russian revolution one can legitimately point to the mistaken policies and the failings of the Czar and the Imperial government as creating the conditions for the revolution to happen. But we have to be clear that Tibetans did not create the conditions for the invasion to happen. Yes, they could certainly have been better prepared militarily to face the invasion, but they did not cause the invasion. There is a world of difference between the two. Pre-war Poland and Czecholovakia were, no doubt, countries with their own share of failings, but no legitimate historian has to date attempted to use these to explain away or justify the Nazi invasion.

We might even note that the Poles had near parity in troops to the Germans, and the Czechs not only had a strong military but one of Europe’s major arms industries. What did the Tibetans have? According to Goldstein some 3,500 regular soldiers on the Chinese border. Red China on the other hand, had, in the autumn of 1950, some five million men under arms[24]. I am not saying that Tibetans could not have held back the invasion. Many Tibetans believe that we could have. How realistic that belief may be, is debatable, but it should be clear that the immediate and outstanding cause of “the demise of the Lamaist State” was the violent military invasion of Tibet by Communist China’s overwhelmingly superior military force, and not the moral or political failings of the Tibetan ruling class or society.

Goldstein’s effort to shape his history to demonstrate Tibet’s fate as historically inevitable in the manner of Tsarist Russia is, of course, absurd. However much one may disagree with, or even condemn, the old Tibetan political system it would be patently dishonest to pretend that there was any significant social unrest or major internal conflict within Tibetan society at the time. Yes, there is the question of stagnation in terms of the inherent conservatism of a system that had to wait for its ruler to attain his majority to begin formulating and acting on policy. But the critical factors that usually contribute to the collapse of a regime or empire, such as economic disruption, agricultural failure, or even runaway inflation (as in the case of the Weimar Republic and Guomindang China) were in Tibet only remarkable by their absence. In 1947, a European traveler to Tibet noted that currency brokers in Phari were insisting that the (British Indian) rupee was inflated and “worth less than the more stable Tibetan currency.”[25] In fact, on the eve of the 1950 invasion Tibet was functioning quite satisfactorily, probably better than many European nations in that immediate post-war period.

Economically Tibet was doing remarkably well as I noted earlier, and politically, with the creation of the Tibetan Foreign Office, Radio Lhasa, and attendance at the Afro-Asian conference, it was taking its first small steps to joining the global community. Even the monastic conservatives were beginning to realize the value of modernization and Western education. In 1947 when the Tibetan government decided to sponsor the education of ten students at St Josephs College in Darjeeling, monk officials insisted that five students be from their fraternity. Even monasteries and labrangs were beginning to change. Reting monastery sent a dozen boys to the Kumudini Homes School in Kalimpong to receive a modern high school education. I met a retired Indian intelligence officer at Shillong who told me that he had been one of those selected students.

Furthermore, with the Reting crisis receding from public memory and with the approaching majority of an attractive and intelligent young Dalai Lama — the choice of incarnation being completely uncontroversial, even happily unanimous — one can say with some confidence (without resorting to counterfactual history) that if not for the Chinese invasion, Tibet would have gradually changed and reformed (albeit with some inevitable hiccups on the way) and perhaps even democratized its government, as Bhutan is setting out to do so today.

Tibet had, in fact, moved on the path of change and reform earlier than other Himalayan nations. The historian Alex McKay has pointed out that the image of “forbidden Tibet” was a myth and that far more Westerners visited Tibet before the Chinese invasion of 1950 “than traveled to Himalayan kingdoms such as Bhutan, Zanskar, or even Nepal.”[26] Of course, the number of visitors was small, but the comparison is made only to underscore the above projection.

[1] E.R. Hooton, The Greatest Tumult: The Chinese Civil War 1936-49, Brassey’s (UK), 1991.
[2] Amaury de Riencourt, Lost World Tibet, Key to Asia, Victor Gollancz, London 1950.
[3] Tsung-lien Shen & Shen-chi Liu, Tibet and the Tibetans, Stanford University Press, California, 1953.
[4] K. Dhondup, The Water-Bird and Other Years, A History of the 13th Dalai Lama and after, Rangwang Publishers, New Delhi, 1986.
[5] Not a single unit deserted the field, mutinied or surrendered. A number of these units attached to Tibetan regular forces fought against incredible odds and some were completely wiped out. In Chamdo town one unit appears to have looted the residency, after the governor general had left, but that according to Robert Ford was caused by the Khampa’s anger for not having been provided with transport as had some of the regular Tibetan units, and had rightly felt they were being deserted by their leaders. But then Ford tells us that when General Muja’s retreating force subsequently passed through Chamdo, morale was raised in the town and order restored.
[6] Discussion with Tsering Shakya.
[7] Bernard Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans. Page 389.
[8] Alastair Lamb, Britain and Chinese Central Asia, The Road to Lhasa 1767 to 1905, Routledge and Keegan Paul, London, 1960. Pg 180.
[9] L.A. Waddell, Lhasa and its Mysteries, London, 1905.
[10] Lamb, Ibid. Pg 186.
[11] Ibid Page 203
[12] Conversation with my late great-grandmother, Tsinze Dolma, a lifelong resident of Darjeeling. My family owned the Bellevue Hotel, immediately behind the fountain. JN.
[13] ibid pg 215
[14] British Expedition to Tibet, Wikipedia,
[15] Berry Scott, Monks, Spies and a Soldier of Fortune: The Japanese in Tibet, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1995.
[16] Markov.S., ‘Tibetskye Chetki” (“Tibetan rosary”). P 101, Prostor (Alma-Ata), No 1, 1976.
[17] Ular Alexander, ‘The Policy of the Dalai Lama’, pg 42-43. Contemporary Review, No 87, January-June 1905
[18] Shakabpa, Tsepon W.D. Tibet: A Political History, Yale University Press, 1967.
[19] Conversation with my mother Lodey Lhawang, nee Tethong.
[20] Maja Tsewang Gyurme, interview 14 March 1992, Dharamshala.
[21] Yuthok Dorjee Yudon, House of the Turquoise Roof, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca NY., 1990.
[22] Drakton Jampa Gyaltsen, conversation in Dharamshala in 1997.
[23] D.S. Kansakar Hilker, Syamukapu; the Lhasa Newars of Kalimpong and Kathamandu, Vajra Publications, Kathamandu, 2005.
[24] O’Balance, Edgar., The Red Army of China, Faber & Faber , London, 1962.
[25] Ibid. Amaury de Riencourt
[26] Alex McKay, Tibet and the British Raj; The Frontier Cadre 1904-1947, Curzon Press, 1997 Surrey.


77 Replies to “Black Annals: Goldstein & the Negation of Tibetan History (Part I)”

  1. Masterful.

    Your analysis of the period before 1912 is sorely needed. I thank you for covering it. I had always suspected Tibet was developing and adapting to modernity, since that is only logical, considering other nations in Asia were doing likewise. I believe you have started the vindication process and exposed the idea that Tibet was a hidden and closed “kingdom” to be the false Western myth that it really is.

    Of particular interest to me is the Tibetan military successes against China. Some mention of these are made in John Powers’ book “Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism” in the sixth chapter – titled “The 20th Century.” This portion of the book was a delightful surprise since given the nature of the work and title, one would not expect an account of actual Tibetans in military, social and political terms as they sought to maintain national independence against the British and the Chinese.

    (I should add that I haven’t read through the whole book as of yet, because I zeroed in on the historical portions which I found very astute given the alleged subject of the work.)

  2. Jamyang’la,

    Thank you thousand times for exposing Goldstein’s unjustifiable and nauseating falsification of Tibetan history. Thank you also for sharing with us such enlightened views on Tibet’s modern national identity and resistance to foreign invasions.

    This essay should definitely be added to the list of compulsory readings for Tibetan students and foreign supporters. It should also be widely reprinted and translated for Chinese, many of whom outrageously regard Goldstein as a “serious authority” on Tibet.

    Melvyn Goldstein is unquestionably an enemy of the Tibetan nation. Everyone should be aware of it. Every bits of credibility should be snatched from his “expertise” in Tibetan affairs and I am convinced that your post will rightly damage the reputation of such a dangerous and perfidious propagandist.

  3. Towards the end of his History (I do not have it on hand for citation), Goldstein devotes several paragraphs to Tibetan irregulars’ effective resistance to the invasion of Eastern Tibet in 1949, until it was undermined by the capitulation of Chamdo and its armory. Based on oral sources, he describes the confidence and effectiveness with which irregular forces engaged the Chinese army. The idea that Tibetans could have caused a Chinese withdrawal by guerrilla activity is not without foundation, especially when the war in Korea intervened.

  4. Mark Tatz,

    Given what I have learned about the Tibetan resistance in the east of Tibet after 1949, I cannot be certain enough to say that even with the fall of Chamdo that they were undermined. It appears that many attacks against the PLA were effective for quite some time. The only issue against them was the fact that China had started to use airplanes to bomb and strafe the resistance and suspected villagers, etc.

  5. Mark,
    There was no resistance by Khampa irregulars in 49 as you claim G wrote about, which was undermined by the capitulation of Chamdo. I think you should check G’s book.the Khampa resistance only really started in 55-56.

  6. It’s interesting this idea of Tibet as “forbidden country.” I see it in article and book titles from around the time of Younghusband’s invasion (1904), but most of them are clustered in the decade of the 1930’s. In the late 19th century the term was “closed land” (or at least that phrase or some slight variant on it occurs several times, but continuing on occasionally into the first decades of the 20th).

    McKay wrote a piece completedly about the idea of Tibet’s isolation:

    but Isrun Engelhardt also wrote a remarkably documented article on the subject, the reference here:

    According to I.E., in 1793 the Manchus attempted to enforce an embargo on travelers from the south who might want to enter Tibet. (A sort of policy of ‘containment’ like the one that western countries are still often accused of applying to China?) Meanwhile, Lhasa herself generally saw the wisdom of preventing the English from pursuing trade and missionary concerns inside its territories. Until 1904 there were only few exceptions of westerners who crossed over the Himalayas by invitation or who, after coming uninvited, were tolerated. I see some problem in dismissing the ‘closed’ or ‘forbidden’ nature of Tibet as just part of a western imaginative projection. There was some definite truth to it for over a century.

    Then again, I think it was precisely the Brit imperial desire to penetrate the Tibetan market that caused the shift from ‘closed’ to ‘forbidden.’ The ‘forbidden’ is oh so much more alluring, don’t you agree?

    But sorry for commenting on what was only a small part of your great essay, which forced me to rethink a thing or two I thought I knew. On the main issue, of Goldstein’s selectivity and resulting distortion of Tibetan history, I never had any doubt. Still, you made the case more clearly than I ever could.

  7. Yes,

    I wouldn’t say that Tibet was “closed” or “forbidden.” Any time when foreigners had to get permission to enter Tibet could simply be seen in light of the modern practice of passport controls and visas, where most nations have some sort of registry and approval process for foreign visitors. Although in this day and age with airtravel and such, many more people can afford to visit other countries then perhaps at any other time previously.

  8. jamyang Norbu la,

    In my view, Goldstein’s title is in fact, spot on, as the ruling of Tibet by Ganden Phoutang, headed by, HH, the grand lama, indeed ceased to exist, in all its technical senses, let’s say, after the flight of HH to India. And what is better, the term “state” itself suggests, or atleast, indicates, the independence of Tibet as a nation state, which, ofcus, is a fact! And Tibet was indeed as often described, hidden, geographically, and pretty much closed off of its own will, with, only, by any standards of any other nations at the time, bare minimum contacts with its neighbours.

    however, the title of your otherwise brilliant and illuminating essay can be misleading, however comical or satirized the desired effects, i reckon. Historical annals as i understand, implies they being serious records of history, and Goldstein’s publication can not be regarded as such, you yourself must also agree. Extensive, seems, indeed was his research, it, nevertheless, lacks neccessary historical accuracy on facts and events and of personalities, in the remit of his subject matter of the book, namely the ruling elites and the politics played out among them and with outsiders since early 20th century. Further more, he was in no authoritative position to offer obejctive and satisfactory narratives and interpretations of their cuasal and effective relationships and the rather complicated social, economic,religious, miltary well as historical backdorps, also on that of mindsets, which all intrinsically intertwined with events unfolding during the time and must be mastered, if an annal was to be written. A collection of interviews of figures from certain camps of Tibetan politics and the class, the core, around which the book revolves, is indeed too far removed from being serious materials for objectivity let along thorough understanding of the subject matter .

    After reading his book i consulted my leanrt father and others who had certain kownledge of events and personalities of this terbulent period of our nation and it became obvious that i should reach my above valuation of his work.

    Having said all this i am not a historian by profession.Hopefully it will not be not be too far fetched in any case. Four of my ancestors served Kashag Shapes among whom the first Tsarong,maternal great-grand father, signed, on behalf of Tibetan government, the treaty with British in1904, the later Tsarong and Kashopa, parternal grandfather. All of them were considered as progressive and forward looking Shapes in Tibetan history. Shakapa accorded “sagacious “to my grand father, kashopa, in his important ” political history of Tibet”. And then there is the 11th HH the Dalai lama who was born into my mother’s family, Yapshi Phunhang! May sound like i am boasting, never displyed my family tree to anyone in my entire life. In the interest of my arugment, however, and here you are.

    [dont hav time to check any more……excus any mistakes]

  9. I tend to see the isolation of Tibet to be more a cause of both the British and Manchu empires then anything else, though one must admit there are certain geographical considerations, especially in the time before modern transport methods. However, researching lightly into history as I have done, it appears that even the rugged geographical considerations never stopped trading caravans and the cross-Tibet-Indian exchanges (such as the tradition of Indians visiting Mt Kailash, etc).

  10. and, in Chinese, this is the title of the book: “喇嘛王国的覆灭” [the demise of the lamaist Kingdom” which is a clear recognition of Tibet as a kingdom. In aword, a title, is, crucial, while prsenting any, in this ase, historical records. A starting point can indeed be manupulated, like any thing within the recorded history, more or less, but more so and often is, is the standing point[s], from which the record is written, that produces the results or the versions. Like in the case of narrating on Hiroshima and Pearl Harbour. A clear and abvious point any historians is aware, i believe, however.

  11. Jamyang,

    It is interesting you bring up Poland near the end, since Poland was very well one of the only nations conquered by the Nazis which gave significant resistance to the German occupiers throughout the course of the war. It also had 6 million of its civilians killed, 3 million of whom were Jewish. The Warsaw Uprisings being one example of this fierce resistance from even those who had at that point nothing much more to lose.

    Both Jewish Poles and non-Jewish Poles were slated for extermination under Nazi plans. Initially, the Russians colluded with the Nazis in this, dividing up Poland between the two powers, until Germany turned on Russia. The extent myth in the US was that Poland simply rolled over and submitted without much of a fight. Or that the Polish were so awed by the German blitzkrieg that they crumbled. But this is simply not true.

    I suspect that had Hitler stopped with Poland, no one in the world would have raised further outcries. History would have been much different. And I suspect a good portion of the West would be either Nazi controlled or influenced today.

    I wonder what the implications of this are for Tibet and the matter of China’s occupation.

  12. Molam Chemo as celebrated, in those days, with its grandeur, and with its organisations and arrangements of its processions, religious or secular, was surely to emphasis a sense of identity and history of the nation, it was also, an emphasis on manitaning, also of the marking of shift of the religion, the Tibetan Buddhism, into the paramount centre of Tibetan lives, particularlly in the sense of Gyal Kyong [upholding the kingdom].A point that leads to remark on the translation of Governor kalon Jampa Tendar’s seal. “Gyal Khab Jampae Kyong”
    should be upholding rather than rule. Here the wording is arranged to emphasis on all that takes to uphold the kingdom, which includs both the rulers and the ruled. Sounds so fedual, then ofcus there are about thoses days the humanity all went through…..long live democracy love, and of politics, focus!!! I vote for HH the Dalia lama of Tibet!

  13. Crazy Wolf,
    You are welcome to make any kind of comment on this post but we cannot accept a job application style resume of Goldstein as a comment. If you wish to discuss his extensive work in Tibetan Studies please do so in a more direct manner. JN

  14. I just read this bit from John Powers’ review in American Historical Review of this year on Mel Goldstein’s sequel to the “Demise,” which is entitled A History of Modern Tibet. Volume
    2, The Calm before the Storm: 1951–1955

    “”His [Goldstein’s] word choice throughout the book
    shows a sympathy with the Chinese position, and he
    consistently adopts the terminology of “peaceful liberation”
    even while admitting that military force was used
    to occupy and take control of the country. The Chinese
    are associated with “reform” and “progress,” and Tibetans
    who wanted to maintain their independence and
    traditions are foolish reactionaries. In addition, Goldstein
    often accuses Tibetans of lying and obfuscation in
    their recollections of the period, but no Chinese figure
    is ever portrayed as being less than truthful, nor are
    their motives questioned.””

    I’m just quoting what I found there. Goldstein gets a big thumbs down.

    Kashopa, sir. That makes two votes for HH. Any more?

  15. Dava,

    Yeah. I will read Mr Mel’s “sequel” but I don’t think I will be surprised nor impressed. Even the Romans thought the stubborn Gauls were displaying their character of “barbarism” for resisting Roman conquest and Roman rule. (Pax Romana? In Gaul, it was more like civil war and unrest for 400 years.) So it is only natural that pro-Chinese colonialist people would see Tibetan resistance as “reactionary.”

  16. Dava la,yours being in the company of my support of HH is a delight, given your standing in this space, in fact, any sensible Tibetan, must, be line with iwth his enlightened political direction.As for the question over independence of Tibet, is it not generally accepted in, informed, mainly, western, let’s say, public consciousness, that Tibet was an independent country illegally invaded and occupayed by The Chinese.A major victory, in relation to Chinese propaganda and to facts, which must be credited to HH’s and his government in exil, and, ofcus, many, again mainly, western experts, be them bare foot or booted, or high heeled. many thanks guys.

  17. who is in high heels in here? excuse, among the doctors, bare foot or otherwise, mostly booted, i reckon, no many high heelled in here, i wish to find out? How do women see Tibet, must be a bit diffrent? Madame Devid Neel might be an extreme, is she?

  18. slience, as served, in style, i believe, by Kyawang Gendun Chomphel la while being questioned over the possible possession of a plastic doll, in Tibetan tradition,was to be understood as yes, yes, however, to a possible fact with “no” being the answer of fact. Also,without actually saying “yes” he avioded telling a lie but, at the same time, achieve the effects of a “Yes”, had it indeed not being in his possession.

    Basically, slience, in such case, is to imply Yes, mostly to aviod telling a lie, more over, manupulation of this understandings is also used to counteracts….various possiblities of yes and no, but generally taken as yes since no deny expressed, then again intent vary

    i don’t reckon that he would have much problems to admit had he being in possession of such a doll bearing in mind he being the author of well known “Tibetan art of love” and his out spoken and carefree personality.More over, it is quite unlikely that the doll was there as Jamyang Norbu la’s extremely useful research on sex toys clearly and convincingly reasons. It would surely be rediculous to assume that he bought it in an Indian-run shop in kalimpong, women loved Gendun Chomphel!

    anyway, it is all speculations really, Gendun Chomphel la could have had a dozen of them, Lord Buddha knows!

  19. Dear Jamyang Phuntsok la,
    I think you may be headed in the same direction as Goldstein when you start making unsubstantiated suppositions and conjectures about Gedun Chophel la’s sexual habits.

    I think it is important that we do not indulge in speculations of this kind, especially when we have no evidence to support our speculations and when that person cannot defend himself. I think in the case of Gedun Chophel la, who contributed so much to Tibetan culture, and who was victimized by reactionary priests and corrupt politicians, it is important that we at least speak of him with some respect, since that is all we can do for him now.

    I think in your case you should be particularly careful not to be misunderstood since your grandfather, Kapshoba Chogyal Nyima, was a member of the kashag that ordered Gendun Chophel la’s arrest and prosecution.

    As welcome and interesting as your comments are, could I suggest that you limit them to one or two entries per blog. I do not wish anyone to conclude that the number of comments on this site is being artificially inflated. Considering the seriousness of the topics being discussed and the terror and tragedy that is unfolding back home, I would appreciate more serious comments and criticisms from your end. Let us save the flippancy for happier times.

    Jamyang Norbu

  20. ok, ok. appologies for the impertinence my comments seem to have conveyed. Did not mean that way.As for the misundrstandings, again, here and, i must,qoute my Pola: ” lou Kunchok som thang ma tyae na, ka gya pye kang kang larp larp kyee” [let them talk, but kee one’s heart true to the three jewls].

    regards, Jamyang Phntsok

  21. And I may I remind the Kashopa Jr that any messages posted less than ten words are considered spamming. Please behave.

  22. Yaa, who ever this Kashopa may be, or for that matter any other irritating intruders, please don’t make this blog another cheap and distasteful sphere. Write only when you have a point of agreement or disagreement. Don’t just write for the sake of writing and irritate others.
    Personally, I may not have any scholarly knowledge to share or rebut but I like to read knowledgeable people that makes sense. So, please let me and scores of others like me enjoy this blog.
    Thank you.


  23. Kashopa hardly makes any serious or reasonable points, yet he is shouting here as he is alone in Changthang, which ruins this precious platform. It is now getting onto my nerves…


  24. Jamyang,

    Upon my third reading of your article, I find it apt and spot on with your analysis of Melvyn’s seeming obsession with the doings and rumors of the Lhasa elites. I refer to your comment particularly about Reting and Melvyn’s fixation with his mistresses in a so-called serious historical account. You are right to point out that in a serious account of American history, no historian deems it worthy to focus any space on rumors about affairs between American elite personages.

    I am still fascinated by the Tibetan modernization before the 1950 Chinese invasion, and am very interested in the Tibetan nationalism of the period before 1912. It only makes sense, given what was happening in many other places nearby as nations began reasserting their identities in the face of the mass colonialism going on by European powers. I was wondering if you knew or could recommend some more sources I can research for information and details.

    Anyway, thank you and keep up the good work. It is much appreciated.

  25. Dear Jamyangla,
    Lately, I have developed this habit of sharing (by copying links and forwards) scholarly articles and interviews on Tibet with professors and scholars as a means to generate some sort of – even if minimal – interest in Tibet, i.e. TIbetan historiography and contemporary politics.

    It is especially heartening to share articles by people like Jamyang Norbu, Tsering Topden, Prof Tsering Shakya, Tseten Wangchuk Sharlho, Tashi Rabgay, Lobsang Sangay, Bhuchung Tsering, et al. Sad that today Prof Dawa Norbu is no longer amidst us.

    Tibetan studies is not a narrow study of the Shangri la. It is a huge, immensely vast and multi-dimensional area of study and merits extensive scholarly research. It deserves study on its own terms and not just as an appendage to India-China relations or Buddhism or Sino-Tibetan problem. It is gratifying to see Tibetans write and re-write Tibet’s history. The more the merrier. Let a hundred Tibetan flowers bloom!

    One of the professors with whom I shared Jamyang Norbu’s latest piece had this to say – (he was sort of also responding to my introduction to you and your piece) –

    “This is an interesting re-interpretation. Remember the sub-altern thesis: Until and unless the lion has its own historians, history will still be influenced by the hunter’s version! It is nice to see Tibetans themselves are writing.”

    I’d also like to know your opinion on Goldstein and others biography of Baba Phuntsog Wangyal. Golstein also works on Tibetan nomads and had earlier done another biography of (and with) Tsering Tashi. Your critical revision and exposition of Goldstein’s book on Demise of the Lamaist State would imply that his later works too are suspect (in whatever minimal or maximum portion).

    Since I do not surf the net regularly, kindly do take the trouble of emailing me your response.

    Thank you.

  26. as far as i know, Gendun phomphel’s arrest had nothing to do with my Pola. Firtly Pola was a Kasu then[ ex-kalon] had no power to authorise such arrests in 1951[?]. Secondly,Pola knew him well and in fact acted as his patron out of his appreciation of Gendun la’s scholarship on religion and on litreature.They got on well, also, in terms of their veiws, with diffrences surly, on societies in general and on politics.

    Just before his passing away, he was staying at pola’s house at pola’s invitation, despite elments of Tibetan government were,already, deeming Gendun la a threat,on the grounds of his social views, seen as anti Dod Shong Ganden Photang [Tibetan government], and his possible associations with the Communists, chinese or otherwise., which were thought to be extremely dangerious. Pola was not in favour of the arrest!

    sorry, Jamyang Noru la, i broke in again. You cold have stopped me. Will visit again, for that libaray of yours. many thnks to all and your intersts and interesting coments and , ofcus, to jamyang la for creating this oasis of toughts on Tibet, and to his excelent writtings which draw us together! tashi sho!

  27. According to Goldstein’s style of writing and reasoning for an alleged hidden agenda of forwarding Chinese propaganda, Lang Da Ma actually has HORN on his head! This is a Tibet myth to defame the last king for his violent action to buddhism, Goldstein could have gladly wrote a history on it if he wrote a history on Tibet Tsenpo’s period: Land Dharma has HORN!

    Again, JN is revealing some hardcore facts to shame and expose these hypocrites, although the hypocrite Goldstein still on some projects on Tibet in whatever manner, I am still suspicous of his all mentioned work on his website is damaging and misrepresenting our culture, history, and so forth.

    The question is, how can we discredit the person in a public forum or sue the person for his misinformation, outright lies, and dishonesty in his work!

    Keep up the good work!


  28. If you want to discredit Mel, I would suggest obtaining his speaking engagement schedule and organizing well-informed Tibetans and supporters who’ve read JN’s articles to be present in the audience, ask embarassing questions, and/or distribute copies of JN’s essays. Writing letters to the editors/publishers of newspapers, magazines, and journals who publish articles citing Mel’s work would also be a great approach.

    Just keep in mind that making change requires the willingness to do some actual work and often to step outside one’s comfort zone. We can preach to the choir in this “safe space” of JN’s blog all we want but it takes will and confidence in the legitimacy of one’s own knowledge and beliefs to step out and confront the enemy on his own turf.

  29. Instead of learning from our historical mistakes, we are committing the same mistakes over and over again. China took advantage of our past stupidity, and threw us all out of our country, and now it uses those stupidity as “evidence” to the world to claim that Tibet was a “part of China”!

    Melvyn Goldstein may have visited Tibet many times, written tens of books about Tibet, but one doesn’t need a rocket scientist’s brain to discern that he’s a supporter of China’s rule over Tibet. There are 100s of students across US who graduate every year learning from him that Tibet had always been part of China. As helpless victims whose history is being denied to them, one thing we Tibetans must do, atleast, is keep men like Goldstein at arms length and not give him any platform whatsoever in our establishments. And ICT is the last place I would like to see giving Goldstein such platform. But no.

    Anyone going into ICT website will find out that Melvyn Goldstein is listed as one of their ‘advisors’! How stupid and long-term blunder is that now! Here we are putting our lives on line fighting for our country and all it gave us, and there ICT includes in its team of ‘advisers’ someone so pro China who doesn’t believe Tibetans have country to fight for in the first place. Here we are trying to unmask Goldstein’s true ‘identity’ and his negation of our history, there ICT seeks his advice, thereby giving him incredible support and major platform to his ‘voice’. In other words, what JN la is trying to destroy here, ICT is building it up there.

    History will record this self-destructive blunder of ICT, and 100 years from now our children will have to pay dearly for this, like we are now paying for our forefather’s stupidity and mistakes. China apologists will claim to our children “if Tibet was an independent country, why did ICT, Tibetan’s most powerful lobbyist then, include ‘Tibetologist’ Melvyn Goldstein, opponent of Tibet’s independence, as a member of its board of advisers???”

  30. If you believe ICT is doing wrong, please call them up and be adamant in voicing your opposition. As a Tibetan, you have much better standing to do so than someone like me would. Just make sure you talk to someone serious like Mary Beth, John, Buchung, Gyari, etc. as opposed to the ignorant low-level staffers with no knowledge of Tibet. Maybe there’s a chance they’ll actually listen if they hear from the people they supposedly represent.

    As for me, whenever someone I know is looking to support the Tibetan cause, I tell them right away not to donate to ICT on the basis that ICT outright misrepresents Tibetans’ wishes and presents Chinese and China apologists as legitimate spokespeople for Tibet.

  31. Sangay, I couldn’t find Goldstein listed as an advisor on ICT’s website, even though they do cite him in various places as an authority on Tibet. While we’re on the topic of ICT’s board of advisors, here’s an interesting character to check out:

    Victor Chan – According to “Chan is currently writing another book about Tibet, this time trying to look at ‘the Tibetan mind and the Chinese mind and how they might understand each other, to promote an honourable and peaceful resolution’.” Sounds like your usual sick Chinese Dharma-hippie who thinks China’s ownership of Tibet is key to the spiritual revival of China.

    It’s a lot of work but it would be interesting to run searches on all their board members and advisors. Here’re the links to the lists:

  32. Rich

    Great points, such matters do indeed require an effective and public challenge, if possible any opposing initiative would require the active and concerted participation of Tibetans. Although sadly, due to a number of cultural and sociological elements, that may difficult to realize.

  33. Rich

    Having checked out your suggested links, I wonder why I am getting an image of free buffets, hand-wringing, empty smiles and plenty of back-slapping?

  34. We the common Tibetan know what motivated Goldstein to jump on the Chinese money-wagon, however, what were the intent and the motivation of all the Tibetans who supposedly supplied Mel the “eye witness” accounts of Tibetan history in the making? Whatever, the case may be all we see from the “first hand information” given to Mel, are a spiteful, vindictive last ditch effort to hurt and malign a great Tibetan Kingdom; “if I can’t have it, nor shall you” kind of scenario. It is time that our ex officials and aristocrats learn that, “speaking the truth” is one thing and spitefully twisting the facts and helping the enemy, is tantamount to treason.

  35. I strongly suggest a workshop to public on Mel’s and other propagandists’ biased and CCP serving works on Tibet.
    This first time I went through Mel’s Demise of Lamaist State, although in the begging he said his is neither pro-China nor pro-Tibet, but it was so abvious that he is too much on the side of CCP, for Chinese visa, red money or Chinese readers market? I know Chinese translation of the book was so popular among Chinese readers in mainland, even Tibetans in Tibet also think it was a great book and plan to translate it into Tibetan.

  36. Christophe,
    I just heard some fantastic news that Jamyang Norbu la is coming to Toronto on a speaking engagement. Apparently he will be speaking next Sat, Aug 2nd. I don’t have the details for location and time yet. I thought to help get the word out, it might be nice to have a section on this site, listing his speaking dates and locations, maybe above the archive section,just a thought.

    By the way, if I haven’t mentioned before great job on the site.

  37. Speaking of ‘good old Mel’, it appears he was recruited to be the ‘authoritative’ consultant for a film which describes itself as the most complete report ever on the issue of Tibet.

    Does ‘complete’ here refer to wholeness in terms of balance, factual content and historical accuracy? If so, one wonders how it can make such a claim, given Goldstein’s pro-Communist Chinese leanings and sly misrepresentations on Tibet?

    One shudders to imagine the message of this latest offering:

  38. Gyalpo

    Well said. Somebody provided Goldstein with the keys to the archives, what a monumental error in generosity, and character assessment, that proved to be.

  39. Rich, trust me, his name was there the last time i checked ICT’s website. I must admidt, however, it’s been a while, atleast 6 months…Maybe they removed his name now.

  40. Jamyang,

    I wonder how you would write a work covering Tibetan nationalism and resistance from the latter 1800’s (or even before then, since Tibet had to balance against other powers) up till now, possibly showing the current resistance in such a light of being the latest in a long heritage of defense and resistance when needed. Obviously, the current resistance needs no such work to justify or validate themselves, but perhaps such a work could demolish all of the detractors’ and distorters’ misinformation.

    Obviously writers with at the caliber of Melvyn will not be able to have their arguments demolished piecemeal or titfertat. I think, upon yet again, reading this latest work of yours, that you have the knowledge and writing skill to be able to pull it off.

    I would take a crack at it, but my style is in shorter polemical essays, and not long and measured, highly detailed works such as yours.

  41. Goldstein might have firsthand accounts, but it is very selective as Chinese propaganda. Also, we have to keep in mind, Goldstein had presented many Lhasa elite rummours as actual events as pointed out by JN. I am pretty sure Goldstein’s wife and her aristocrats families are also partly, gladly participated in the denigration of their own people. We need to know all the people who colluded with Goldstein, Chinese Government, and anyone who present lies as fact, we must hold them accountable and responsible.

    In the end, we must make public what wrongs are done and who are the perpetrators for whatever reasons.

    Tibetan publications such as Tibetan Review should NOT give any platforms for people such as Golstein’s work.

    We need to have a concerted effort to confront these culprits. As the number of Tibetan students in colleges and unviersities grew, definitely, whenever and whereever, these culprits should not just be confronted, but be exposed hypocrisy and dishonesty in their work.

    I actually, wrote an email to Goldstein for his hypocrisy, did not expect any reply as such, however, signaled him that he is been scrutinized and exposed, that he can not freely publicise lies as he did several decades back. Tibetans are taking matters into their own hands.


  42. Palden

    Perhaps you could forward your letter to the student body/union at Goldstein’s univeristy?

    His students would surely benefit from hearing the facts about their tutor.

  43. Hugh,
    Much of the information I got about Tibet in the late 1800s came from Alastair Lamb’s BRITAIN AND CHINESE CENTRAL ASIA: THE ROAD TO LHASA 1767 TO 1905. His other books are also very useful. The only problem being that many are out of print and not easily available. Unlike Goldstein Lamb is a real historian and, although he presents the official British point of view, he knows what is important and what isn’t.

    A friend of mine is thinking of doing a book as you suggested I do. A lot more research needs to be done and that really isn’t my forte. In the short term I am thinking of putting together a lecture and visual presentation, THE ORIGINS OF MODERN TIBETAN NATIONALISM, expanding on the stuff I put in the Goldstein essay, and later doing a short book or pamphlet.

    I would appreciate any bit of information that you or others might have on this period.


  44. Jamyang, what about Tibetan sources from that time period? Do you know what or how much is available dealing with nationalism and identity, or even with indirect implications for the subject?

  45. Jamyang,

    Thank you. I will search for Lamb’s works. I have a knack for finding out of print materials.

    If I find any information that can be useful, I will share gladly. Right now I wonder if any info I have in mind is simply my own assumptions or did I actually catch it from somewhere while searching. I tend to think of Tibet’s isolation of the time being an imposed one because of the Great Game.

    I will keep searching. And let you know


  46. Jamyang la,

    Never mind that you did not respond to my query. If it was supposed to be implicit through the threads, I guess I’ve not been able to discern it as yet.

    You said you’re working on ‘Origins of Modern TIbetan Nationalism’. I think that would be an interesting venture and I am quite sure that you’d be able to do full justice to it. Here are a few suggestions from my side.

    Firstly, it is very important that all aspects of the title are thoroughly researched – origins+modern+tibetan+nationalism. Thus, you have a combination of various themes that merit careful theoretical and case specific exposition: origins of tibetan nationalism, modern tibet, tibetan nationalism which is of a modern origin, and so on…

    In my view, late Prof Dawa Norbu’s ‘China’s Tibet Policy’ is a must reference for any Tibetan scholar. Warren Smith’s work on Tibetan nationalism might also be helpful, but perhaps, you might have a differing or additional viewpoint to offer us.

    For Smith, or for that matter, even Norbu, Tibetan nationalism came about as a result of Tibet’s encounter with Han Chinese in the mid 20th century. This argument has been a very convincing one for me personally, but I also believe that a correct rereading of Tibetan history might have some surprise in store.

    Given that you’ve chosen to work on ‘modern+tibetan+nationalism’, I am afraid if there is room for much reinterpretation. Unless, you argue that Tibet encountered modernity much before English excursions/incursions into Tibet in the early 20th century. A useful question to ask might be what are the characteristics that qualifies one as modern?

    I am curious as to why you have included the term’modern’ in your title. Why not jsut Tibetan nationalism as Warren Smith used it? Is there some pressing information/reinterprrrretation that you have to offer about Tibetan nationalism that is modern and which differs from pre-modern Tibetan nationalism (if any)??

    I am curious and waiting!
    I wish you all the best!


  47. Dear Tshering la,
    I used the word “modern” since there was a clear sense of Tibetan nationalism in people of the past, for instance in imperial Tibet. I also mentioned in this essay that during the time of the Phagmodrupa king when we drove out Mongol power from Tibet there was a sense of nationalism in the country. So modern nationalism would be from the late 18th century onwards.

  48. It seems that the Tibetan voices here represent those of the old aristocracy, which accounted for a tiny minority. 90% of Tibetans in pre-1959 Tibet were serfs and/slaves, and they have another version of history. Are they not Tibetans too? and more genuine ones? Just because they did not have the right to education and were illiterate does not mean they did not or do not deserve to have their voices or version of history. The beneficiaries of Mao’s liberation have been the much greater majority of Tibetans, and they have written plenty of Tibetan history too. They fear the return of the old aristocracy like some of the voices here. And yes, the early post-1959 generations were genuinely grateful to the Chinese liberation, which allowed them to have an education and be real human beings for the first time. Many of the younger generations do know or remember that history, giving opportunity for the old aristocracy to influence them, esp. those who receive their education at monastries.

    Tibetans exiles have no right to monopolize Tibetan history, no more than the CCP does. Tibetan exiles or the Dalai do not represent the greater majority of Tibetan people, but rather, as the respected and objective Prof Goldstein shows, a tiny minority of decadent and corrupt aristocracy.

  49. come on mr. Hui, you ought to give us Tibetans more credit. I would submit that more than 99% of us Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet, former ‘aristocrats’ and ‘serfs’ do not want to return to the old feudal aristocracy. Also if Tibetans were given a choice (without fear of consequences) more than 99% of us would choose complete independence. Take your f……g yuan and shove it you know where. We have a functioning democracy in exile, despite all its flaws ( the PRC does’nt). Our government-in-exile, for better or worse, is recognized by the great majority of Tibetans both inside Tibet and in exile, as their true representative. The history of the ‘people’of Tibet that you claim need to be heard is really a concoction or the Communist Propanganda machine.

  50. Dalai lama or tibetan exile never said they represent Tibet at all. Simply we are Tibetans!!!Tibetans.

    Tibetans in Tibet do not say they represent Tibet also. They don’t have to, simply they are Tibetans, Tibetans.

    We both inside and in exile Tibetans are unitedly Tibetans, Tibetans, people of Tibet, Tibet, not china.

    Tibetans in Tibet never said they represent China or Chinese, never. Hundreds of Tibetans sadly given thier lives under Chinese bullets, simply for saying they are Tibetans.

    Anyway, for your info, my family is neither aristocrat, nor slave, i assure you. Tibet also have free and independent sort of namadic lifestyle, so no doubt you have no basis for this 90% slave and 10% aristocrat.

    How did you get this statistic? Obviously Chinese govt., no doubt the the most shameful lier govt in teh world. Infact a good Chinese citizen should be urging their govt. to stop lieing and accepting criticism. Can you do this?

    live a life honestly, seeking truth, rather than in hatred, misinformation and subjugation of CCP.

    I do hope that with your love for China, you will passionately try to uncover real truth about CCP’s policy in Tibet, its so called Peacefull liberation, which resulted in deaths of more than 1million Tibetans, destruction of countless ancient monasteries and ruin of peaceful life in Tibet, environment destruction, resources exploitation etc.

    I know you will say all the good things done by CHINA in Tibet with railway, highways and developments, but at what cost??? Tibetans have preserved Tibet with thousands of years treasures at their home, in monasteries, and at govt. buildings, i.e. Potala palace, district Dzongs etc and also never un-earth minerals resources and exploited resources from environment at all, soon after China invaded, they plundered the whole of Tibet, of countless priceless items, which now can’t be bought back even at multibillion dollar value. They are lost forever!! the cost of all destructions(culture, natural resources), misery of Tibetans under brutal, oppressive CCP rule for the last 50yrs and the value of goods and resources China plundered from Tibet far outweighs the little development CHina brings to Tibet. This is the fact. If you don’t know, please check it yourself.

    The reality is all Chinese people have no freedom, even to talk or express their real views in these western countries proudly and confidently, unless they say something pro CCP. Thereby we feel sorry for ordinary Chinese too. Atleast we, Tibetans are challenging and facing up the the CCP, calling for our rightful freedom unlike you CHINESE, although millions of ordinary chinese people are currently suffering under CCP.

    Anyway i wish you success in getting more reliable and honest information about China, and Tibet atleast on the internet as you would be safe from the agents of CCP. Cheers

  51. I think Hui failed to read the article and just followed the standard response of a brainwashed tool: regurgitating canned statements about a topic he knows nothing about. No need to give him any attention. There’s a lot in the article itself and related matters much more worthy of our time.

  52. I agree with Rich, Hui is talking in general what he has been brainwashed and no room is left for reason and logic as any typical Chinese are programed to lie and resort to dishonesty.

    HUI forgot himself a Chinese, not Tibetan. Therefore, HUI, Chinese dog stop preaching to the choir, not interested in listening. If have serious discussion, then respond in an academic and professional manner, otherwise, propagandist should be banned for misusing precious platform.

    Now it seems, exposing lies, dishonesty, intellectual corruption of Goldstein together with CCP is felt in the chicken heart of Chinese HUI, who now felt insecure and try to say something, nothing useful or logical but pathetic and idiotic poisons.

    I love to see Goldstein in some legal court to defend himself!

    HUI, Golstein did not write the history of Tibetan masses as you said, Goldstein wrote histories, in collusion with his Asitocratic wife, other relatives, and other Chinese collaborators.

    Another homework to HUI, before talking again here, do some research Goldstein’s background and his Aristocratic wife and their immediate families who misrepresented Tibet and Tibetans, they need to pay back in some form sooner or later, or be condemmed for collusion and collaboration for the enslavement of their own Tibetan brethrens.


  53. there was a time when jn would advocate violence for independence but today he is talking only peaceful direct action! why this change?
    its important to be very vocal on such issues n means however uncomfortable we may feel becoz it makes things much easier for the young generations to go into action.
    i love his line “if people keep walking on a roadless forested mountain on the same track a path will be born! a direction will emerge out of no direction!”
    what happened to him?
    is this becoz now he has a wife n children!
    dont worry. u just speak up n keep writing! independence n violence.
    by the power of heaven i swear to gain my vengence on CHINA. never again would i be defeated nor my loyal warriors so dishonoured.

  54. The Commander,

    The comment space is for posting comments and discussing issues relevant to the blogs, but cannot be used for advertisements or publicity for one’s organization or products.

    Golok Ambum

  55. Hui,

    You probably won’t read this, because you said your bit and think it justified or self-evident as most Marxists and post-Marxist thinkers tend to do.

    I would like to know specifically where in Jamyang’s article or in what specific thing someone said here in comments that would lead you to conclude that people here seem to be of the aristocracy. Can you support your ideas, or are you just making a lot of verbal flatulence, or repeating your formulaic and boring propaganda to excuse the Chinazi regime?

    I haven’t met any older Tibetan who lived through the 1950’s who is grateful to Mao’s imperialist conquest of Tibet. “Liberation”? Indeed. Much as when a mugger hits someone on the head and takes their money is liberating that person’s money? Theft is theft. Invasion and conquest is simply that. No pretty words about liberation change the ground reality. All invaders justify their conquests in such manner, or are you, Mr Hui, unaware of the colonialist thinking you and many of your compatriots use?

    Perhaps when Japan invaded and took over China in the 1930s and 1940s, it was justified and the Chinese people were truly happy to be liberated from their feudal warlords and their aristocracy? hmmm? Ever think about how the words modern China now uses to justify its conquest over Tibet were used previously to describe colonialist invasions of China itself? No? I guess not, since critical thinking skills seem to not be taught in modern Chinese education in the PRC.

    If you have specific evidence to support your contention, bring it to light, otherwise you look like yet another mouthpiece simply mimicking and parroting what the CCP tells people to think.


  56. I have a similar thought about goldsteins book title as kashopa. tibetans instintively mobbed him for this and that when they didn’t even try to get to the core of what his perception might be.

    DEMISE of THE LAMAIST STATE: yes, demise. However much we desire it, the truth of the matter is that the present Dalai Lama is the only one that spend the record number of years outside Tibet and the predicament before him is that he might not return in his lifetime.

    Sometimes I wonder if JN is too narrow in his thought…thinking out from the cocoon of his comfortable position as a well connected member of the revisionist new tibetan aristocracy in Dharamsala. And playing on the dissappointment of many ordinary Tibetans’ with the democratic reforms in exile.

    I know JN and the lot always get preferential treatment over many other aspiring tibetan writers because of his position as a member of the Tibetan ruling class in the pre-invasion Tibet.

    So JN la you need to clarify once and for all to us: What is it that you want: a democratic society now or the Lamaist rule that will sustain your career???

  57. I have read Jamyang Norbu’s work for the last 15 years and have not always agreed with his views.

    Never did I question JN’s motives beside the obvious that here was a Tibetan deeply passionate about our cause and was willing to put his thought’s for all to see…….regardless of the consequences(unlike most of us) and many-a-times paid the price with blood.

    gyalo_hater : JAMYANG NORBU does not deserve your cowardly attack.
    You can disagree with his views but stop with the attack on his integrity.

  58. Gyalo Hater

    I am sure you have some interesting, and possibly valid points to present, however your ad hominem assault upon Jamyang’s motivation and integrity simply betrays an inability to address the issues under discussion.

  59. One can tell the absurdity of the ad hominem attacks has reached an entirely new level when JN is accused of being a “Lamaist”. I seem to remember it used to be “atheist” or “heretic” or similar. What will it be next time? Communist? Terrorist? *sigh* Let’s grow up and discuss the actual issues. A good place to start would be using an honest name rather than identifying yourself as a “hater”.

  60. Rich

    Those with agendas forged in the crucible of deception have no difficulty is peddling such untruths, However those of us fortunate enough to have known Jamyang for any length of time will be able to see through the propaganda and calumny.

  61. As for Dr. Goldstein, his historic account given in MY documentary is valid. If you get a chance to view it you will see how propaganda is the problem. To wrap one’s mind around the concepts of totalitarian Chinese policy takes a huge effort. It is so important to understand your enemy completely. The film has both sides of the story. It exposes history, and the brutality of the Chinese Government. If you want a solution look at humanity. Samdong Rinpoche points out in MY doc how all humanity is being lost as it relates to Tibetan Buddhism and culture and is a perfect example of how we have all failed. As for the name Wobblimind Media, The slogan is a calm mind is a creative mind. History may or may not be able to help, but open discussion going forward is the answer, in my humble opinion. If the bow is too tight it will break. if its too loose it won’t shoot.

  62. Carl Cimini

    I wonder if you can inform this forum if your film gives full and rightful prominence to the subject of independence for Tibet, which after all is the common political aspiration of Tibetans. If not, why?

  63. Carl Cimini,

    Nice of you to clear that up. Unfortunately, you can’t replace a very real specific desire expressed by a people, Tibetans, with some bland universal notion which obscures the line between perpetrators and victims. I am speaking specifically about your notion of the solution being to “look at humanity.”

    How about keeping your mind focused on the specifics of the topic? Namely, Tibetan aspirations to regain their freedom. If we want to look for a solution, we should talk specifically about how lies about Tibetans are now being peddled to everyone to justify China’s colonialism. Can you do this here?

    I sense you may be sliding toward that over-arching (yet very dim and unoriginal) vapid assessment of the issues, which many people in post-Modern societies have fallen prey to. The idea that all of this is simply “man’s inhumanity to man.” This sounds like a good notion, however it is insidious in that it essentializes any specifically soluble problems into some abstract entity that one can neither criticize nor deconstruct. In short, and to be my more usual blunt self, such an idea is absurd BS.

    Now, if my assessment of your comment is wrong, then do respond and correct me.


  64. G_hater,
    Is JN a son of Lama? Is JN propounding Lamaist philosophy? If not, you are a hypocrite. You pretends to be a Tibetan, in fact, you are trying to split Tibetans what JN is writing and talking. I think you are either someone who is related to Goldstein’s wife or another Chinese who is in Tibetan clothing, I am smelling it now.

    You deserved to be banned!


  65. The late George Tsarong, also known as D.N. Tsarong, eldest son of the former Commander-in-Chief of the Tibetan Army has passed away. Georgela, served as a senior government offical both in the past and present Tibetan Administration. He will also be remembered for his great contribution as a pioneer in the photography of former Tibet. His father the great D.D. Tsarong, played significant roles in the modern history of Tibet. The D.D. Tsarong was perhaps the wealthiest in Tibet, having been known as the ‘Rockerfeller of Tibet’, who also became a business tycoon in cross border trade. Tsarong, was the biggest Rolex watch dealer in Tibet, having also introduced the Rolex to the young 14th Dalai Lama.

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