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Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 324
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Situated north of the Himalayas, Tibet is famous for its unique culture and its controversial assimilation into modern China. Yet Tibet in the twenty-first century can only be properly understood in the context of its extraordinary history.

    Sam van Schaik brings the history of Tibet to life by telling the stories of the people involved, from the glory days of the Tibetan empire in the seventh century through to the present day. He explores the emergence of Tibetan Buddhism and the rise of the Dalai Lamas, Tibet's entanglement in the "Great Game" in the early twentieth century, its submission to Chinese Communist rule in the 1950s, and the troubled times of recent decades.

    Tibetsheds light on the country's complex relationship with China and explains often-misunderstood aspects of its culture, such as reborn lamas, monasteries and hermits,The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the role of the Dalai Lama. Van Schaik works through the layers of history and myth to create a compelling narrative, one that offers readers a greater understanding of this important and controversial corner of the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17217-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Pronouncing Tibetan Words
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  8. 1 Tibet Appears, 600–700
    (pp. 1-20)

    One day in the winter of 763, the unthinkable happened to China’s great Tang empire. A victorious enemy army rode through the streets of the imperial capital, Chang’an. These were the Tibetans, a people of whom, barely a century earlier, most Chinese hadn’t even heard. The city of Chang’an was not only home to the emperor and his court – it was a capital of culture famous throughout Asia, its streets thronging with merchants, musicians, monks and officials going about their daily business. It was the prerogative of the Chinese emperor to look down upon everything outside his realm as...

  9. 2 The Holy Buddhist Empire, 700–797
    (pp. 21-40)

    In the early eighth century Lhasa was a busy city. Another Chinese princess and her entourage had arrived to marry the tsenpo and, it was hoped, usher in another period of peace between Tibet and China. Life for anyone sent away from home to serve as a glorified diplomatic bartering chip was destined to be tough, but it went especially hard for Princess Jincheng. The Chinese emperor loved his adopted daughter dearly, and did nothing to hide his sadness in letting her go. He wrote a wordy letter to the tsenpo, which ended thus: ‘Princess Jincheng is our little daughter,...

  10. 3 Keepers of the Flame, 797–1054
    (pp. 41-60)

    In a corner of a Lhasa street there is a curious monument that is usually ignored by locals and tourists flocking to the nearby Jokhang temple. It is a stone pillar about ten feet high, with an ornamental cap, and it is one of the very oldest things in the city. It was put there in the 820s to mark a treaty between the Tibetan tsenpo and the Chinese emperor. By that time the Buddhist empire known as Greater Tibet spanned much of Central Asia, and had its talons in China and Southeast Asia. It was a military machine run...

  11. 4 Patrons and Priests, 1054–1315
    (pp. 61-84)

    As Atisha toured Tibet, the old Indian scholar must have been both heartened and concerned by what he saw. True, monasteries dotted the landscape, and monks’ robes were now a common sight. But Tibetan society was in a state of turmoil: squabbles, skirmishes and outright wars were constantly breaking out between rival warlords. Merchants plied their trade, but always under threat of ambush by bandits. At the same time, lay Buddhist tantric teachers were springing up all over the place, some handing down traditions from the imperial period, others offering new translations only just brought back from India. It was...

  12. 5 Golden Age, 1315–1543
    (pp. 85-113)

    As the 1330s drew to a close, a troubleshooter rode through the gates of Sakya. The monastery had grown in recent years, spreading out from the tiny hermitage built by its founder in the eleventh century. Now it sprawled across the grey-brown hillside that had given it its name (Sakya= ‘grey earth’), resembling a small town more than a monastery. Its wealth was on display in its gold roofs, glittering in the sun. Inside, the temples themselves were filled with precious statues donated by the Mongols, and Sakya boasted the greatest library in Tibet, its towering shelves stretching up...

  13. 6 The Rise and Fall of the Dalai Lamas, 1543–1757
    (pp. 114-145)

    The young man who was to become the Dalai Lama sat in his saddle, waiting for the Mongols to arrive. Though only fifteen, he had been invited by a Mongol prince to Tibet’s northern borderlands. This was Amdo, a rolling grassland under vast skies, swept by wild and biting winds. It was quite different from the steep hills and valleys of his homeland in Central Tibet. The people were different too. While Central Tibet was studded with castles and monasteries, here he saw only great nomad felt-tent encampments, with hundreds of horses and sheep grazing on the plains. Once the...

  14. 7 The Balancing Act, 1757–1904
    (pp. 146-179)

    In the spring of 1774, two messengers arrived in Calcutta bearing a rather curious letter for the British governor-general of Bengal. The letter was signed by the head lama of Tashilhunpo monastery in Tibet or, as the British came to know him, the Teshoo Lama. He was, in fact, the sixth Panchen Lama, Losang Palden Yeshe. The British governor-general was impressed by the eloquence of the missive, which was a plea for the British to refrain from their recent hostilities against the ruler of Bhutan. He was even more impressed by the presents that had been carried over the Himalayas...

  15. 8 Independence, 1904–1950
    (pp. 180-206)

    While Francis Younghusband was anxiously awaiting the announcement of the Honours List in London a long camel train approached the capital of Mongolia. It was November 1904, and the thirteenth Dalai Lama had spent the last three months trekking across the frozen plains of Northern Tibet and the arid deserts of Central Asia. Though he had left Lhasa with just eight companions, his entourage had grown to several hundred people by the time it approached Urga. The highest reincarnate lama of Mongolia, the Jetsun Dampa, sent a palanquin for the Dalai Lama as he approached the capital city. With crowds...

  16. 9 Under the Red Flag, 1950–1959
    (pp. 207-237)

    As he rode into town in 1950, the new Tibetan government representative in Kham was greeted with the traditional ceremony, if little genuine enthusiasm. Ngapo Ngawang Jigme was tall, pale and, according to the ladies of Lhasa, very handsome. Some found him arrogant and aloof, though friends said he was just shy. He wore the silk robes and hat of his office, as well as the single pendulous earring and long braided hair that marked him as a member of the aristocratic government elite. Indeed, little had changed in the appearance of a Tibetan minister since the time of the...

  17. 10 Two Tibets, 1959 to the Present
    (pp. 238-269)

    As the Dalai Lama arrived in exile, news of the rebellion and the PLA’s response was spreading fast. The heads of the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, including Sakya Trizin, the Karmapa and Dudjom Rinpoche, swiftly fled into exile too. Many other lamas tried to follow. Some were caught by the PLA and imprisoned. Some died on the journey. Many of those who actually escaped went first to the Buddhist countries of Sikkim and Bhutan. Others, including a large group of the defeated Khampa rebels, crossed the border into Nepal, where they were received sympathetically by King Mahendra.

    Tens of...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 270-291)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 292-303)
  20. Index
    (pp. 304-324)