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Tibetology in China


After the founding of New China, the Chinese Government paid great attention to the research work of Tibetology in order to promote economic development and social progress of Tibet and strengthen the protection of this outstanding national cultural legacy. In the 1950s and 1960s, specialized Tibetological research organizations were organized by scientific research units, institutions of higher learning, and governmental organs in Beijing, Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. After 1978, the state provided more strength to replenish original Tibetological research teams and set up a number of new research organizations. At present, there are more than 50 research institutions of this kind.

The Tibet Academy Of Social Sciences is the largest comprehensive Tibetological research organization in Tibet. Preparations were started in 1978 for construction of this academy; it was formally established on August 5, 1985. At present, the academy is composed of the Institute of Nationality Studies, Institute of Religion, Institute of Linguistics and Institute of Documentary Information, as well as the Publishing House for Tibetan Language Classics and Tibet Studies Press. With more than 100 scientific research personnel, the academy has undertaken the task of approximately 100 research jobs, many of which are key projects of the state or the autonomous region. Established originally as a Tibet Public School in 1965, the Tibet Institute for Nationalities is in Xianyang City, Shanxi Province, is now an institution of higher learning in Tibet Autonomous Region, which specializes mainly in liberal arts, with a staff of about 600. Over past decades, in addition to training tens of thousands of a variety of specialized personnel at all levels for the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Tibet Institute for Nationalities has also performed scientific research work centred on Tibetan studies, achieving a number of research results. Established formally in 1985 in Lhasa, Tibet University, with a staff of more than 300, is the largest comprehensive university in the autonomous region. Besides training all kinds of specialized personnel for economic and cultural construction of Tibet Autonomous Region, it has also done work in many specialized fields in Tibetlogical studies. The Tibet Autonomous Region has also established a number of other specialized research institutions in Tibetological studies. These include the Institute of National Education, under the Tibet Educational, Scientific and Technological Committee; Tibet Arts Research Institute, under the Tibet Culture Department; Tibet Institute of Astronomic Calendar and Mathmatics, under Tibet Hospital; Tibet Institute of Medical Science, under Tibet People's Hospital; and the Tibet Life of King Gesar Rescue Work Office, Lhasa City Chronicle Office, Cultural and Historical Accounts Committee, under Tibet and Lhasa political consultative conferences, Tibet Archives and Tibet Archaeological Team. In addition, some functionary departments under the people's government of the autonomous region, and Tibet Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry also have specialized research institutions.

To gear itself to the needs of Tibet' s economic construction, the autonomous region has also established the Tibet Economic and Social Development Research Centre. The centre has several departments, including the Research Department for Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Economy, Financial and Monetary Research Department, Economic Information Research Department, Economic Development Strategy Research Department and Social Development Consultancy Research Department. The scientific research personnel are proceeding realistically, providing counsel for quickening the pace of construction of Tibet's socialist modernization.

Known for intensive human resources, rich reference materials and available information, China's capital Beijing is the nation's

political and cultural centre. It also enjoys many advantageous conditions for developing Tibetology, At the beginning of the founding of New China, specialized institutions in Tibetological studies were established here. After forty years of development and adjustments, there now exist: Tibetan Language Research Section, Tibetan History Research Section, and Tibetan Serf System Research Section of Institute of Nationality Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Tibetan Literature Department and National "Gesar Epic'' Research Leading Group of Institute of Literature of Minority Nationalities under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Also: Research Institute of Tibetan Studies and First Department of minority Nationality Languages (Mongolian, Tibetan and Korean Department ) of Central Institute for Nationalities, and Tibetan Section of Minority Nationalities Department under the National Library Beijing and Tibetan Department of Beijing Nationalities Library. many experts on Tibetan studies work in these institutions, producing many influential scientific research results.

Worth particular mention is the founding of the China Tibetological Research Centre in 1986 with the state's vigorous support. With a staff of more than 130, the centre boasts a number of organizations, including History and Religion Institute, Economy and Culture Institute, Literature Institute ( including library) and China Tibetology Publishing House ( including China Tibetology Magazine Press). Since its founding, the centre has not only undertaken some major research jobs and achieved a number of research results, but also shouldered the work of organizing and coordinating the nation's Tibetological studies and foreign academic exchanges, The establishment of the China Tibetological Research Centre is regarded as an important sign that China's Tibetological studies have entered a new development stage. Since 1986, the state has invested more than thirty million yuan in the construction of the China Tibetological Research Centre. By the end of 1995, the China Tibetological Research Centre building (with a complete range of facilities, advanced functions, and a strong nationality flavour) will stand to the east of the Asian Games Village on the northern outskirts of Beijing.

Since the founding of New China, especially in recent years, Tibetological organizations have also been established in Sichuan, Qinglai, Gansu and Yunnan where a number of Tibetans live. Of these, the more famous include Sichuan Institute of Tibetan Studies, Sichuan Academy of Tibetan Studies, Foreign Institute of Tibetan Studies of Foreign Languages Institute, Section of Tibetan Studies of History Research Institute under Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences Section of Tibetan Studies and Section of Nationalities Studies of History Research Institute, Section of Tibetan Studies of Institute of Nationalities Languages under Southwest China Institute for Nationalities, History Research Institute of Sichuan University; Others include: Institute of Tibetan Studies and Institute of Nationality Studies under Qinghai Academy of Social Sciences, Northwest China Institute of Nationality Studies of Northwest China Institute for Nationalities, ''Gear Epic'' Research Institute under Qinghai Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Gansu Institute of Tibetan Studies, and Diqing Institute of Tibetan Studies under Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. Scientific research personnel of these organizations have achieved a number of important research results, and played an important role in advancing the development of Tibetological studies in their provinces or autonomous regions.

Besides the above-mentioned organizations, quite a few research sections, research job groups or individuals in scientific research institutes, institutions of higher learning and governments departments engage in Tibetan studies. This is in striking contrast to old China before 1949, when not even one organization in Tibetological studies existed either in Tibetan areas or the hinterland.


In old China, only a few scholars studied Tibetology under difficult conditions. In the beginning of the founding of New China, in order to revitalize Tibetological studies, the state started to choose and transfer Tibetological experts of all nationalities, wherever they lived, to organizations in Tibetan studies, providing them with excellent working and living conditions.

In June 1961 , the Chinese Government set up the Central Institute for Nationalities in Beijing, The first speciality designated for the Institute was Tibetan language and literature. At that time, a large group of promising youth chosen from universities across the country was sent to study there. This marked the start of new China's training of a team for Tibetan study. With outstanding direction and help from the scholars and experts of the old generation, many young people have become senior specialists in such fiends as the study and teaching of Tibetology, as well as compiling, translating and publishing.

In the early days of the 1960s, under the personal interest of late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, the Central Institute for Nationalities opened a class for the study of ancient Tibetan language. Famous Tibetan scholars were invited to teach on the topics of Tibetan language and literature, history, religion, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, as well as related studies. The graduates of this class constitute the backbone of today's Tibetan studies. In addition, Northwest China's Institute for Nationalities, Southwest China's Institute for Nationalities, Qinghai Institute for Nationalities and Tibet Institute for Nationalities all have made marked contributions in training qualified personnel specializing in Tibetan studies.

Since 1978 , almost one hundred post - graduates of Tibetan studies, among whom Tibetans make up more than one - half , have finished their studies. Meanwhile, a large number of students graduated from other colleges, too, and all of them are now engaged in Tibetan studies. These middle-aged and young scholars do not wish to limit themselves within traditional Tibetan studies, some have published works of high academic quality. Their rise in the academic circle is convincing evidence that china's Tibetan studies have qualified successors.


In old Tibet, archaeological study of cultural relics was not taken into consideration by local rulers. Only some foreign missionaries, merchants, explorers and scholars, all with different purposes, made some fragmented and unsystematic studies in this field.

lt was only after the founding of new China that domestic scientists began to make planned investigations a reality.

Tibet's first cultural relic's administrative department was Set up in 1959. And in 1965, the Tibet Cultural Relic's Administrative Commission was formally initiated.

In the early 1960s, archaeological workers went to different parts of Tibet. They collected tens of thousands of cultural relics scattered among the people. These cultural relics included the most rare Pattra Suttra , Thangka (tapestry), known as a treasure of Tibet's painting art, and other rich and colorful folk religious ware. The discovery of the Pattra Sutra was especially important, a sutra written in Sanskrit on the leaf of Mantra, it originating from ancient india. Very difficult to preserve, only few Pattra Sutra are able to be seen in the world at present. They are the rarest of cultural relics. The work of collecting and studying the Pattra Sutra is of important significance to the study of Buddhism, as well as the ancient South Asian area. The cultural relics found in this research also included the imperial mandates issued by the central government in and after the Yuan and Ming dynasties to appoint local officials. They also included edicts, seals, golden books, inscribed boards, the stone tablets built in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet by Emperor Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, the Jinbenba Bottle bestowed by the Emperor Qianlong for the use of deciding the incarnate boy of the Dalai Lama through drawing lots, and memorials to the stone, also documents and letters sent to the central government by local Tibetan government and tribal chiefs. These cultural relics provide indisputable evidence that Tibet is an inseparable part of China and that the Central Chinese Government has exercised sovereign administration over Tibet for a long time.

Since the early 1960s, Tibet's cultural relic's administrative department has also made investigations into the historical ruins, ancient buildings, grates and stone tablets, and cliff carvings which existed across all of Tibet. As a result, the department was able to get a comprehensive view and much clear knowledge about those historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection in the entire autonomous region. At present, the historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection in Tibet total 13; the Jokhang Monastery, the Potala Palace, Gandan Temple, Sa'gya Temple, Tashilhunpo Temple, Changzhug Temple, Tombs of Tibetan Kings, kingdom of Guge, Drepung monastery, Sera monastery, Norbulingka, Shalu Monastery, and the site of resistance to British aggression at Zongshan Gyangze. In addition, another 11 protected historical monument and cultural relics were decided on by the local government The state every year allocated a large amount of special funds, plus rare and valuable materials, for their maintenance. In 1988, the State Council approved an all-round renovation project of the world - famous Potala Palace. The working team was headed by State Councilor Li Tieying; the estimated investment was 35 million yuan ( about U.S. $ 4 million ). By 1992 , the investment rose to 53 million yuan (about U.S $ 6 million). The repair of the Potala Palace set a record in China for the maintenance cost of an ancient building. The renovation project has been successfully completed.

By the end of the 1980s, Tibet?/FONT>s archaeological workers had found five sites of the Paleolithic Period, more than 30 of the Microlith Period, over 20 sites of ruins of the Neolithic Period. Meover, they also found in Lhoka, Nagqu, and Lhasa more than 20 graves of the ancient Tubo Dynasty, totaling more than 2,000 tombs.

From 1978-79, the Tibet Cultural Relic's Administrative Commission organized a Study of ruins left from the Neolithic Period in Karub, Qamdo. These ruins were especially rich with distinctive characteristics of cultural relics. As a result, the research attracted great attention from both domestic and overseas academic circles. It was considered of epoch-making significance in the study of the ancient culture of Tibet. Experts felt it provided representative view of archaeological exploitation in the Tibetan Plateau. In 1984, archaeological workers found another ruin of the Neolithic Period in Qunkong in the northern suburb of Lhasa. This ruin of the Neolithic Period also proved of high academic value.


The long-standing folk literature and art of the Tibetan nationality has distinctive national and regional characteristics. From the 1950s, literary and art workers of Tibetan and Han nationalities began to concentrate their attention in this field. After a long period of research, Tibetan Folk Stories and other works were eventually published.

In the 1984 instruction on the works in Tibet by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, it is clearly written: ''The Tibetan nationality has old and unique cultural tradition as well as rich and colorful literature and artistic heritages. This nationality is good at singing and dancing. We should pay great respect to it, and do our utmost to inherit and develop Tibetan national culture and art, as well as protect its historical heritages in a scientific way,'' In line with the spirit expressed in this instruction, the Tibet Autonomous Region's government devoted a vast amount of manpower, as well as material and financial resources into a well-organized and large-scale work-study project of folk music, dances, operas, songs, rhymes, proverbs, fables, legends and stories. By the end of 1992, hundreds of millions of words had been compiled of the folk literatures of Tibet, Monba and Lhoba Nationalizes. The barge folk literature series including Collection of Tibet Folk Stories, Collection of Tibetan Ballads, Collection of Tibetan Proverbs, Collection of Tibetan Folk Dances, Collection of Tibetan Folk Music, Annals of Tibetan Opera , and Annals of Tibetan Folk Art. This literatures helped to Save and protect the national cultural heritages effectively.

After the founding of New China, efforts to Save the Life of King Gesar should, especially, be mentioned here. This is a great ballad - epic about an ancient Tibetan hero; it is the longest epic in the world. It tells about King Gesr and his followers' brave and resourceful struggles against evil forces. It also tells us much about ancient Tibetan society, including war, production, living styles, nationality, religion, morality, love and family, It is a virtual encyclopedia about the lives of ancient Tibetans, and of high aesthetic and academic value. This epic provides invaluable material for today ' s study of ancient philosophy, social science, history, culture, ethnology, religion and aesthetics.

In the past, Life of King Gesar was transmitted down orally. However, that was great danger that this cultural treasure would be lost. From the 1950s, the State began a series of measures to save this epic. After 1978, Life of King Gesar was listed as the State Important Scientific Research Project for the Sixth and Seventh Five -Year Plan periods. The Folk Literature Research Institute of the Social Science Academy of China and related regions and provinces, such as Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan where this epic had left its traces all set up special leading groups and working teams for this work. These departments coordinated all work and research. They also organized related academic discussions and performances of folk artists. In Tibet alone, from concerned working departments had collected more than 180 editions for oral telling and singing, and 83 copies recorded in woodblock and handwriting. They put together a catalogue, including seven parts, 18 chapters and 149 stories, totaling 174 sections. They also had recorded 70 related stories from folk artists using more than 3,000 types; in addition, they found a batch of legendary ruins of King Gear, 11 original objects said once used by him, as well as 30 folk legends. These materials totaled an estimated 80 books with about one million lines containing 15 million words. To date, more than 20 books have been produced. Moreover, Collection of King Gesar Study, which fully demonstrates the fruits of this project over the past half century, was recently published.


In China, the ancient books and documents on Tibetan study written in characters of different nationalities are numerous. In the 1920s and 1930s, some scholars had planned to sort out these materials systematically. However, owing to lack of necessary conditions, their hope died quietly.

After the founding of New China, particularly in the last decade, the related research bodies at both state and local levels have done much to save, categorize and publish ancient books and documents on Tibetan Studies. By the end of the 1980s, ancient Tibetan books published in China totaled over 200 kinds, with more than one million copies. These include not only famous historical works as Green History, Red History, The Wiseman Xerab, Records of Royal Rulers in Tibet, The Lang Family, and Sakw Genealogy, but also a large number of representative works on religion, literature, poetry, artistic theory, grammar and so on. Some scientific documents, such as Four Medical Codes and Classics of Calendar Calculation were also published and available to the world.

Besides the original Tibetan works, a large batch of Tibetan historical materials, such as Selected Official Documents From Tibetan Historical Archives, Selected Ancient Tibetan Laws and Regulations and Selected Tibetan Historical Materials Series were completed and published. Some important historical documents originally preserved only in original Tibetan historical books were also included in these publications.

Tibetan Tripitaka, including the Kanjur (the translated scriptures), and the Tanjur (the translated elucidating treaties), are an encyclopedias of traditional Tibetan study. In 1987, the Center for Tibetan Study of China set up the Bureau for Correcting Tibetan Tripitaka in Chengdu. The duty of this working body was to read different editions and then compare and correct them. These efforts would finally result in the publication of an authoritative Tibetan Tripitaka (Revised Edition) of 158 volumes in deluxe edition of 16 mo, which is expected to be a perfect combination of the published Chinese Great Scriptures in Chinese. This work is currently under way. The first volume of Tibetan Tripitaka is scheduled to be published by the China Tibetology Publishing House sometime later this year.

While successfully categorizing and publishing historical documents in Tibetan, a similar work on those materials written in Chinese has also achieved considerable success. To date, the published historical documents in Chinese total about two hundred and cover the period from the Tang Dynasty to the Republic of China. They include historical records, dossiers, memorials to the throne, surveys, local annals, travelogues, and notes and diaries. Some are exceptionally rare; Historical Materials About Tubo Quoted from ''The Complete Tang Prose'' and "The complete Tang Poetry'', Tubo History as a Mirror, Tibetan Historical Materials From ''Records of the Ming Dvnasty'' , Tibetan Historical Materials From ''Records of the Qing Dynasty'' , Memorials to the Throne From Local Tibetan Government, Dossiers About the Situations on the Borders of Sichuan and Yunnan in Late Qing Dynasty, Telegrams on Tibetan Affairs in 1912 , Selected Documents on the Death and Funeral Service of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Reincarnation of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Selected Dossiers About Ninth Panchen Lama's Activities in Inland China and the Obstructions He Met When Returning Tibet, and Reports From Huang Musong, Wu Zhongxin , Zhao Shouyu and Dai Chuanxian on Their Duties of Dealing With Tibetan Affairs, all are vitally important materials for Tibetan Study.

Thanks to the close cooperation and joint efforts of those involved units, the work of translating historical documents between Chinese and Tibetan has also been undertaken smoothly.

Equally important is the publishing of ancient books and documents in both Chinese and Tibetan so that this irreplaceable material is not lost. It has not only provided interested scholars with rich historical materials, but also given convincing evidence to expose the plot of ''Tibet's Independence'' and safeguard China's unification. At the same time, it also protects an important historical cultural heritage. According to a concerned personnel in Tibet, in the past, many valuable works had only one or two handwritten copies. They were printed on wood -blocks, and their distribution was strictly limited. Even in modern time, the local Tibetan government locked the historical documents in dark rooms. Ordinary people were not permitted to read them without charge. Only after the founding of new China were these works, for the first time, publicly published and widely distributed. They have returned to the hands of all Tibetans.


As I have mentioned earlier, China's Tibetan study, in a broad sense, has a very long history. Its beginning can be traced back about two thousand years. However, only after the founding of new China was a modern and scientific system of Tibetan study established. The essential differences between the new and the traditional Tibetology are: first, today's Tibetan study analyzes and studies the Tibetan nationality and all facets of Tibetan society with the help of scientific theories; as a result, the traditional Tibetan study has been raised to a higher level. Second, new Tibetan study breaks with the traditional which stressed only five major subjects (technology, medicine, phonology, Hetuvidya and philosophy) and five minor subjects (poetry, ornate terns, prosody, opera and calendar). The new study also involves politics, economics, nationality, history, religion, philosophy, language, character, literature, art, law, social system, education, archaeology, folk custom, medicine, calendar, technology, etc. The social science subjects constitute the backbone, while natural science is also included, making for a comprehensive academic system. Owing to the necessary limits of this article, the fruits accomplished by new China's Tibetan study cannot be elaborated upon, one by one. The following is just a brief introduction.

According to incomplete statistics, in the past 45 years, articles contributed by China's Tibetan study circle totaled about six thousand. Some of them are published in special journals for Tibetan study, such as Tibetan Study in China , Study of Tibet, China's Tibet, New Development of Foreign Tibetan Study, Study of Tibet's Social Progress, Culture of the land of Snow, Study of Tibet's art, Education in Tibet and Buddhism in Tibet. Some are included in related academic journals and papers, and some have become books.

The academic works written by China's Tibetan study experts and scholars are numbered in the hundreds, including A Comprehensive History of Tibet, A Concise history of the Tibetan Nationality, On the System of Merging Politics and Religion in Tibet, A Brief History of the Relationship Between the Mongolian and Tibetan Nationalities, Government of the Qing Dynasty and Lamaism, Biographies of Dalai Lamas, Tibet is an Inseparable Part of China. Also included History of China's Resistance Against Foreign Interference in Tibet, History of Revolution in Tibet, Formation of Feudal Serfdom in Tibet, History of Religion in Tibet, The Development of Buddhism in Tibet, History of Tibetan Literature, A Brief Introduction to Tibetan Language, A General Account of Chinese and Tibetan Languages, Tibet of Modern China, and Tibet: Development and Reform Under a Nontypical Dualistic Structure. All these works answer questions about Tibet in various fields; in addition, dozens of reference books, including dictionaries and catalogues also were published. Especially important and catalogues also were published. Especially important is the Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary, produced by a working team involving nearly 60 Tibetological experts headed by late Pr. Zhang Yixuan. This dictionary has 53,000 entries of more than three million words in both Tibetan and Chinese languages. Among dictionaries of its kind published both at home and abroad, Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary contains the most entries. It is an encyclopedia-like reference book of very high academic values. After publication, it won plaudits from both domestic and overseas academicians, who consider it "a milestone in the development of Tibetan study."


To promote the development of China's Tibetan study, China's related institutions and their scholars have continued to conduct academic exchanges of all forms. Academic conferences on Tibetan study are held annually, as are many lectures on special topics, symposiums and classes for advanced studies. Some institutions will also send visiting scholars to related schools in other cities for joint study on important research projects.

Since 1980 , exchanges between China and foreign Tibetan study circles have also become more active. In almost every international academic conference on Tibetan study held in a foreign country, Chinese scholars will be seen; also, Chinese Tibetan study scholars are often invited abroad to give lectures and conduct cooperative research. Meanwhile, more and more foreign scholars are visiting China to take part in academic activities of all kinds. After its establishment, the Center for Tibetan Study of China itself received scholars from foreign countries and regions of Hong Kong and Macao numbering several hundred people. There is also a large number of foreign students who come to China to study Tibetology. In recent years, China has frequently organized international academic conferences on Tibetan study in Beijing and Lhasa. Scholars from Britain, France, Japan, India, Mongolia, Czechoslovak the former Soviet Union, as well as regions of Taiwan and Hong Kong, have been invited to these conferences. Meantime, the works of some foreign scholars have also been translated into Chinese and published. Some of China's research institutions have also signed agreements of cooperation with foreign research organizations, All these activities have enhanced understanding and friendship between China and Foreign Tibetan study circles. They play a very positive role in promoting the development of international Tibet study. Also, because of China's opening up policy, the academic exchanges between China and foreign Tibetan study circles are expected to become even broader and smoother in the future.

As I end this article, l am happy to report that under the joint efforts of concerned units, China will soon publish the Catalogue of Chinese Publications on Tibetan Study. This large reference work will be published in Tibetan, Chinese and English. It will provide fruits of China's complete and systematic information reflecting the Tibetan study circle in the years after the founding of new China. As a result of this book, readers will be deeply impressed by new china' s efforts and successes in protecting the historical and cultural heritage of the Tibetan nationality, as well as in developing Tibet's brilliant traditional culture, and in promoting development of Tibetan study. For myself, 1 hope it will also remedy possible omissions and errors in this article.

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