Tibetan literature

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Tibetan literature generally refers to literature written in the Tibetan language or arising out of Tibetan culture. Historically, Tibetan has served as a trans-regional literary language that has been used, at different times, from Tibet to Mongolia, Russia, and present-day Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Pakistan. Today, the term Tibetan literature can also be applied to any work by an ethnic Tibetan person or arising out of Tibetan folk culture; contemporary Tibetan writers sometimes use Chinese, English, or other languages to compose their work.



Today, the term "Tibetan literature" can also be applied to any work by an ethnic Tibetan person. However, who is a "Tibetan" and who speaks "the Tibetan language" are contested. For instance, Chinese ethnologists have argued that the Baima language is independent from Tibetan, however, the state classifies them as Tibetans for fear of being seen as attacking the unity of Tibetan identity. Similarly, the Tibetan languages are in fact mutually unintelligible, which has created difficulty in education, where Chinese authorities impose for example Lhasa Tibetan on Amdo Tibetan speakers, because they are both considered part of the same language for political reasons. [1] Contemporary Tibetan writers sometimes use Chinese, English, or other languages to compose their work.


The Tibetan script was developed from an Indic script in the 7th century during the Tibetan Imperial period. Literature in the Tibetan language received its first impetus in the 8th century with the establishment of the monastic university Samye for the purpose of the translation of the voluminous Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into the vernacular. The Tibetan absorption of Buddhist thought allowed for the penetration of Chinese as well as Indian styles, through representations of the Arhat. [2] In their final form, established in the 14th and 17th centuries respectively, these texts comprise the 108-volume Kangyur, and its 224-volume commentary, the Tengyur. Because of the destruction of the monastic universities of India by the Mughals, the Tibetan versions of some works are the only extant ones. Around 950, a secret library was created in the Mogao Caves near the oasis of Dunhuang to protect Buddhist scriptures, and it is by this means that we possess many of the oldest versions of some Tibetan, Chinese and Uighur texts.

Throughout most of Tibetan history, its literary works have been strongly influenced by Buddhist thought: they are mostly religious, historical, and biographical texts, or a mixture of these genres. There are also collections of folktales (for example, those involving the trickster figure Akhu Tönpa), and works dealing with the ancient Bön religion, which preceded Tibetan Buddhism. Particularly well known in the West are the Tibetan Book of the Dead , translated into English in 1927, the 120-volume Epic of King Gesar , one of the few living epics, and The Tale of the Incomparable Prince by Tshe-rin-dban-rgyal (1697–1763), translated into English in 1996. The Gesar epic in particular is the key subject of study by the Chinese state, and was revived with the end of the clergy's monopoly on political power, since the Gelugpa monasteries forbade the epic literary genre. [3]

Modern era

After 1949, when China took power in Tibet, access to secular education was greatly expanded. As a result, Tibetan literature has now covered more diverse, non-monastic topics including social commentary. [3] In 1980, the Tibet Autonomous Region Writers Association (TARWA) started the first Tibetan-language literature journal, Tibetan Literature and Art (Bod kyi rtsom rig sgyu rtsal), which published short stories about historical serfdom in Tibet. [1] The most popular Tibetophone literary magazine in Qinghai, "Light Rain" (Drang Char), was founded in 1981, popularizing the short story genre in Tibet. [3] [4] After 1985, Tibetan journals also criticized the Gang of Four and the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and were less bound by the constraints of political correctness. The influence of Chinese poetry, and of Western poetry in Chinese translation, began to make itself felt after the Four Modernizations. Despite these influences, critics and editors gave priority to stories and poems with traditional settings. Most new work takes the form of poetry.

The most influential Tibetan writers come from Qinghai rather than Tibet; these "Amdowa" writers include Dhondrup Gyal and Gedun Chophel, whose works were characteristic of modernism. Their works are featured in Tibetan-language textbooks used in the "Five Provinces" as part of China's unified education policy for all Tibetan-speaking areas of China. According to the exile historian Tsering Shakya, despite state monitoring, "Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and artists have been able through fiction to conduct an autonomous debate on the nature of Tibetan identity". [1]

Modern Tibetan literature is influenced by the trends of Chinese literature as a whole because of intranational translation from Chinese into Tibetan; Tibetan-language literature is also translated into Chinese, but to a far lesser extent. The Catalogue of Chinese Publications in Tibetan Studies (1949-1991) lists 1,497 Tibetological publications, 813 in Chinese and 663 in Tibetan. Some well-known Tibetan writers who publish in both Chinese and Tibetan include Jangbu and Tsedor. Adding to the diversity of Tibetan literature are longtime Han Chinese residents of Tibet who were educated in Tibetan; these lao Xizang (Tibetan veterans) often publish literary criticism with nostalgic and sentimental overtones. [4]

The literary scene since the 1990s generally organises itself in terms of small self-named groups of young writers, many of whom studied at Qinghai University in Xining. Among the first were the Four Demons of the Old Fort, followed by such groups as the Four Scholars, the Four Owl-Siblings of Rongwo, the Third Generation, etc. Within China the most promoted author is Alai (1959-), who writes in Chinese. Tashi Dawa, the vice-chairman of the TARWA, is another prominent Sinophone Tibetan writer. [1]

Diaspora literature

Writers in the Tibetan diaspora also produce literature. The first literary journal of such writers was Jangzhon (1990–97), which was succeeded by several different independent periodicals; and the First National Conference of Tibetan Writers, organised by the Amnye Machen Institute, was held from 15–17 March 1995 at Dharamsala, India. Books in English have been written by exiles such as Bhuchung T. Sonam, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Jamyang Norbu and Tenzin Tsundue. Especially popular are autobiographies of Tibetans for an American and British audience. However, pressures from the popular expectations of Western readers for what Vincanne Adams calls the "authentic Tibetan" limit success to authors who identify themselves "as Buddhist, as nationalist, and as exiles". Tibetans who actually live in Tibet, or whose experience incorporates aspects of Chinese or Western culture, are seen to be "tainted". [5]

Some modern writers


See also

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Tibetic languages group of languages spoken by Tibetans in the Eastern Tibetan Plateau and in northern areas of the Indian subcontinent.

The Tibetic languages are a cluster of Tibeto-Burman languages descended from Old Tibetan, spoken across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas in Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Classical Tibetan is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.

Tibetan people ethnic group

The Tibetan people are an East Asian ethnic group native to Tibet. Their current population is estimated to be around 6.5 million. In addition to living in Tibet Autonomous Region, significant numbers of Tibetans live in the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan as well as in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and the western world.

Amdo one of the three traditional regions of Tibet

Amdo is one of the three traditional regions of Tibet, the other two being Ü-Tsang and Kham; it is also the birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama. Amdo encompasses a large area from the Machu to the Drichu (Yangtze). While historically, culturally, and ethnically a Tibetan area, Amdo was administered by a series of local rulers since the mid-18th century and the Dalai Lamas have not governed the area directly since that time. From 1917 to 1928, much of Amdo was occupied intermittently by the Hui Muslim warlords of the Ma clique. In 1928, the Ma Clique joined the Kuomintang, and during the period from 1928 to 1949, much of Amdo was gradually assimilated into the Qinghai province of the Kuomintang Republic of China. By 1952, Communist Party of China forces had defeated both the Kuomintang and the local Tibetans and had assumed control of the region, solidifying their hold on the area by 1958 and formally spelling the end of the political existence of Amdo as a distinct Tibetan province.

Epic of King Gesar Central Asian epic cycle

The Epic of King Gesar, also spelled Geser or Kesar, is an epic cycle, of Tibet and greater Central Asia, believed to date from the 12th century, that relates the heroic deeds of the culture hero Gesar, the fearless lord of the legendary kingdom of Ling. It is recorded variously in poetry and prose, shuochang being the style of traditional performance, and is sung widely throughout Central Asia and North East of South Asia. Its classic version is to be found in central Tibet. Some 100 bards of this epic are still active today in the Gesar belt of China. Tibetan, Mongolian, Buryat, Balti, Ladakhi and Monguor singers maintain the oral tradition and the epic has attracted intense scholarly curiosity as one of the few oral epic traditions to survive as a performing art. Besides stories conserved by such Chinese minorities as the Bai, Naxi, the Pumi, Lisu, Yugur and Salar, versions of the epic are also recorded among the Balti of Baltistan, the Burusho people of Hunza and Gilgit and the Kalmyk and Ladakhi peoples, in Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, and among various Tibeto-Burmese, Turkic, and Tungus tribes. The first printed version was a Mongolian text published in Beijing in 1716.

Music of Tibet

The music of Tibet reflects the cultural heritage of the trans-Himalayan region, centered in Tibet but also known wherever ethnic Tibetan groups are found in Nepal, Bhutan, India and further abroad. First and foremost Tibetan music is religious music, reflecting the profound influence of Tibetan Buddhism on the culture.

Tibetan culture Asian culture

Tibet developed a distinct culture due to its geographic and climatic conditions. While influenced by neighboring cultures from China, India, and Nepal, the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences, and stimulated the development of its distinct culture.

This is a list of topics related to Tibet.

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I am honoured and grateful that in the past I have been able to present the wisdom and dignity of human life within the context of the religious teachings of Buddhism. Now it gives me tremendous joy to present the principles of Shambhala warriorship and to show how we can conduct our lives as warriors with fearlessness and rejoicing, without destroying one another... I have been presenting a series of "Shambhala teachings" that use the image of the Shambhala kingdom to represent the ideal of secular enlightenment, that is, the possibility of uplifting our personal existence and that of others without the help of any religious outlook. For although the Shambhala tradition is founded on the sanity and gentleness of the Buddhist tradition, at the same time it has its own independent basis, which is directly cultivating who and what we are as human beings.

Tongren County County in Qinghai, Peoples Republic of China

Tongren County, known to Tibetans as Rebgong in the historic region of Amdo, is the capital and second smallest administrative subdivision by area within Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, China. The county has an area of 3465 square kilometers and a population of ~80,000 (2002), 75% Tibetan. The economy of the county includes agriculture and aluminium mining.

Jamyang Kyi is a noted Tibetan singer, feminist and writer, journalist, and a prominent television broadcaster. She was born in 1965 in Amdo, northeastern region of Tibet.

Dungkar Lozang Trinlé was one of the most important Tibetan historians of the 20th century.

Françoise Robin French Tibetologist

Françoise Robin received a DEA at INALCO in 1999. In 2003, she submitted a doctoral thesis on TIbetan literature also at l’INALCO, under the supervision of Heather Stoddard, titled « La littérature de fiction d’expression tibétaine au Tibet (RPC) depuis 1950 : sources textuelles anciennes, courants principaux et fonctions dans la société contemporaine tibétaine ». She has had many trips to China specifically to Tibet University as part of her research.

Golok rebellions (1917–1949)

The Ngolok rebellions (1917–1949) were a series of military campaigns against unconquered Ngolok (Golok) tribal Tibetan areas of Qinghai (Amdo), undertaken by two Hui commanders, Gen. Ma Qi and Gen. Ma Bufang, on behalf of the Beiyang and Kuomintang governments of the Republic of China. The campaigns lasted between 1917 and 1949.

P. Matthias Hermanns was a missionary of the SVD and a German Tibetologist.

The first portion of the Bible, the Gospel of John, in a Tibetic language was translated by Moravian Church missionaries William Heyde, Edward Pagel, and Heinrich August Jäschke, and later Dr. August Francke. It was printed in 1862 at Kyelang capital of Lahul in Kashmir. The whole New Testament was printed in 1885 in Ladakh. Another version was translated in 1903. So as not to have the problem of various dialectal differences it was translated into classical Tibetan, but this was not understood by most people. Yoseb Gergen, a Tibetan Christian translated the entire Bible, complete in 1935. This version was translated into a dialect of Tibetan Gergen had accidentally stumbled across, and which was understandable by all Tibetans. It was finally published in 1948. This is known in India as the Tibetan OV Bible. Eliya Tsetan Phuntshog published a New Testament in 1970. There is currently a project going on to translate the Bible into the East Tibetan dialect.

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Tashi Tsering also called Tashi Tsering Josayma, born in 1960, is a Tibetan tibetologist, historian and writer.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Kolas, Ashield; Thowsen, Monika P. (2005). On the Margins of Tibet: Cultural Survival on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier. pp. 40–41, 138–139.
  2. Richardson, Hugh (1983). Art of Tibet. Collection. University of California Press. p. 58.
  3. 1 2 3 Blondeau, Anne-Marie; Buffetrille, Katia (2008). "What is the Chinese Government's Attitude Toward Traditional Tibetan Literature and Art?". Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China's 100 Questions . University of California Press. pp.  214–217.
  4. 1 2 Hartley, Lauran; Schiaffini-Vedani, Patricia (2008). Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change. Duke University Press. pp. 181–183.
  5. McMillin, Laurie Hovell (2002), "New Age Namtar: Tibetan Autobiographies in English", in Klieger, P. Christiaan (ed.), Tibet, Self, and the Tibetan Diaspora, Brill, pp. 156–157