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"He had very definite opinions about everything connected with Tibet based on a thorough consideration. On the other hand, he was able to learn quite a bit from us about the modern world ... he has thought about many things for himself, often correctly. He had risen from the lowest social class and had never been to school. He had gained his high position through skill and courage at the time of the flight of the thirteenth Dalai Lama from the Chinese in 1911. He was then director of the so-called Drapchi office, which was responsible for technical work and for production of banknotes and coins. His salary was very small, because officials were expected to earn their own income through private trading." [4]

International diplomacy and ideologies of modernization (1914–1932)

Tsarong (front left) pictured with other Tibetan officials and the German expedition to Tibet in 1938 Bundesarchiv Bild 135-KA-10-084, Tibetexpedition, Gruppenbild mit Ministern.jpg
Tsarong (front left) pictured with other Tibetan officials and the German expedition to Tibet in 1938

In September 1915 Tsarong visited Sikkim on diplomatic purposes and visited India again on a pilgrimage in 1924. Following the declaration of Tibetan Independence and victory, Tsarong became a leading figure in Tibet in the 1910s and the decades that followed, and was entrusted with a significant amount of responsibility for the running of Tibet. His status was something unique in Tibet, growing to possess military, political and economic power. In conjunction he was not only the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, but became Senior Cabinet Minister and later Head of the Tibetan Mint and Armoury after 1933.

Tsarong gained practical and theoretical experiences by visiting neighboring countries and educating himself about their national policies and strategies. He learned that for a state to be successful, there must be not only a great value placed on internal domestic unity and prosperity, but the country must exert a strong military presence and engage in active diplomacy with foreign nations to affect the balance of international power in favor of Tibet. This strong military force in Tsarong's ideology must also exert power over those within the country, driving out the threats from internal disunity and taking away local and class privileges in favor of a centralized military-based elite, a modern Tibetan state. However, although Tsarong was very popular with many ordinary Tibetans throughout Tibet, Tsarong's revolutionary ideas of modernization and a dramatic restructure of local aristocrats and estates made him strongly disliked by many of the aristocracy or authoritative monks in Tibet who viewed him as a serious threat to their historical privileges and order. [3]

In the 1920s the aristocrats in Tibet plotted for his downfall and utilized the opportunity to do so while he was on leave in India in 1924. On his return from India in 1925, Tsarong was deprived of his Commander-in-Chief title and was subsequently demoted out of the Kashag. Despite this he remained a powerful figure and notably had strong support from the monks of one of Tibets important monasteries, Drepung who he had aided during a fracas in 1929. [2] Tsarong would continue to make visits back and forth to Sikkim throughout the rest of life, making a memorable trip to Gangtok in 1940 in which he met with the Maharaja of Sikkim, which has been captured in photographs. [3]

Involvement in economy in Tibet (1933–1950)

Tsarong (far right) in Lhasa in 1938 Bundesarchiv Bild 135-BB-099-04, Tibetexpedition, Tibeter in Tracht.jpg
Tsarong (far right) in Lhasa in 1938
Rai Bahadur Norbhu Dhondhup, Trimon and Tsarong Norbhu Dhondhup, Trimon and Tsarong.jpg
Rai Bahadur Norbhu Dhondhup, Trimon and Tsarong

Tsarong was prominent in the economic affairs of Tibet throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Following the death of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933, Tsarong was appointed the Head of the Arsenal-Mint, the Grwa bZhi dNgul Khang (གྲྭ་བཞི་དངུལ་ཁང). This department had a number of functions, including to improve the quality of paper currency, stock pile arms, and to introduce electricity into Lhasa. [3] In 1947, Dzasa along with ministers Trunyichemmo Cawtang and Tsipon Shakabpa spearheaded the Tibetan Trade Mission of the mint which sought to strengthen Tibet's currency and to increase hard gold reserves against paper. [5] Dzasa was notably concerned about the weakness of the financial situation and Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa recounted the economic situation in Tibet and Dzasa's aims at this time;

"In 1947 there was little of either grain reserves or gold. Tsarong was worried about this situation since we continued to print new paper currency. He always used to say that the paper money had to have some hard backing; that a currency note means that the government guarantees the value of the note in gold or some other commodity. He also used to talk about a foreign country where all the people suddenly came and asked to change paper money into silver and gold and the government had nothing, so the finance minister had to commit suicide." [5]

Tsarong Dasang Dadul
Bundesarchiv Bild 135-BB-099-02, Tibetexpedition, Tsarong Dzasa.jpg
Tsarong in 1938
Kalön of Tibet
In office
ServingwithKhemey Rinchen Wangyal (until 1921), Trimön Norbu Wangyal (until 1934), Ngabo (since 1921), and Lobsang Tenyong (since 1925)
Potala palace24.jpg Norbulinka. 1993.jpg
Potala Palace, Lhasa Norbulingka, Lhasa

During this period Tsarong was also an active figure in civil engineering works and buildings in Tibet. [2] In 1937 for instance he supervised the construction a steel bridge over the Trisum River, about eight miles from Lhasa, on the main trade route from Lhasa to India and western Tibet. Immediately after its completion, Tsarong began planning a more ambitious structure across the Kyichu, the Kyichu Bridge which was to be located east of Lhasa. The project was given the seal of approval from the Tibetan government and Tsarong had organised the purchase of steel girders from Calcutta to be used to construct it. However, growing concerns over the Chinese meant the project had to be abandoned. Later after the Chinese successfully annexed Tibet, they would finance a notable bridge at Perong, close to the original site. [3]

Relations with People's Republic of China in Tibet (1950–1959)

Tsarong and Tibetan monks captured by the People's Liberation Army in March 1959 in an image taken from a Chinese propaganda film. Tsarong would soon die in a prison before his scheduled "struggle session". Tsarong in captivity.jpg
Tsarong and Tibetan monks captured by the People's Liberation Army in March 1959 in an image taken from a Chinese propaganda film. Tsarong would soon die in a prison before his scheduled "struggle session".

In the late 1940s and 1950s the threat from the Chinese grew increasingly ominous. In 1959 a revolt broke out in Lhasa against the Chinese government. Tsarong had been appointed to use his diplomatic skills to head a delegation to negotiate with the Chinese authorities in Lhasa but before negotiations could be finalized, Lhasa came under fire with bombing of the Potala and Norbulingka palaces. Several hundred Tibetans died in the attack (with approximately 87,000 dying in genocidal reprisals after the uprising's failure) and Tsarong and a number of other important officials were captured during the battle, or others died. Shortly after his arrest, on 14 May 1959, Tsarong died in a Chinese military prison in Lhasa. [3]

Personal life

Tsarong Dzasa (right) Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-13-07-07, Tibetexpedition, Besuch von Regierungsvertretern.jpg
Tsarong Dzasa (right)

Tsarong was said to be able to speak Russian, Hindustani and Mongolian. He was described by the British as "the most powerful friend of His Majesty's Government in Tibet" and being "very friendly to British officials". He was described as "wealthy, with great energy, sound sense and was progressively minded". [2] Tsarong married the three daughters of the original Tsarong, and the children of the eldest sister Pema Dolkar Tsarong, son – Dundul Namgyal Tsarong (George Tsarong) married Yangchen Dolkar from the Ragasha family – issue 5 children. Daughter Kunsang Lhaki (Kate Tsarong) married Shata Ganden Paljor – issue 3 daughters. Married second sister Rinchen Dolma Tsarong, (she later married Sikkim Prince Jigme Taring) issue 1 daughter. Married third Tsarong sister (widow of Horkhang Dzasa) issue 2 children, Tsering Yangzom (aka Tessla) married Jigme Palden Dorji of Bhutan, and Deki Dolma Tsarong, married Yapshi Phuenkhang third son. Dechula Tsarong, no issue. Tsarong also married into the Kapshopa family – issue 3 sons, 1 daughter Daisy Tsarong. Nancy Tsarong married into Sholkhang family, issue 3 sons.


    • Tibetan: ཚ་རོང་ཟླ་བཟང་དགྲ་འདུལ་, Wylie: tsha-rong zla-bzang dgra-'dul
    • Chinese :擦絨·達桑佔堆; pinyin :Cāróng Dásāng Zhānduī

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