Centuries have passed since the demise of many precapitalist agricultural states. Despite the British invasion of 1903 and the Chinese invasion in 1950, the Tibetan state continued to fully function until 1959. For this reason, this biography of George Tsarong not only provides new and in-depth perspectives on the life of an official of the Tibetan state, but it will also contribute to the comparative study of precapitalist states. This book weaves together history and biography to narrate the life of an aristocratic state official, his education and social life, his registration and entrance into a civil service career. It also describes the various personal and state political intrigues he was involved in and the many grand ceremonies that dominated the life of a state official. George Tsarong’s story is also the story of the fall of this traditional state and the complex social and psychological aspects of occupation, resistance, and exile.
Paljor Tsarong received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
List of Illustrations
A Note on Romanization
1 The House of Tsarong
2 A Sojourn in India
3 The School Years in Lhasa
4 Gyantse, the Estates and the Interregnum Period
5 Darjeeling, Lhasa and Calcutta
6 A Young State Bureaucrat
7 The Great Song and the Ode to the Arrow
8 State Rituals and Ceremonies
9 The Tragic Regency Period
10 A Senior State Bureaucrat
11 Under China’s Occupation
12 In China and India
13 Early Years in Exile
14 Economic Investments of the Tibetan State in Exile
Appendix A: List of Correct Tibetan Spellings
Glossary of Key Terms
About the Author
One of the glaring gaps in our understanding of traditional Tibet in the twentieth century is what life was like for the ruling elite, especially the lay, aristocratic elite who formed roughly half of the government bureaucracy. Paljor Tsarong has written a fascinating and important book that helps to redress that gap by writing about his father, the well-known English-speaking aristocratic official known widely as George Tsarong. Paljor Tsarong is one of the most knowledgeable scholars, Tibetan or Western, of the traditional Tibetan political system and in this book he not only presents an insider’s view of the world of his father—who was one of the elite Tibetans most interested in creating a modernized Tibet—but also gives us an important exposition on the workings of the Tibetan government and about major events in modern history. Tibet was more than lamas, monks, monk-officials, and mass monasticism; there were also nationalistic and forward-thinking laymen like George Tsarong and his father, Tsarong Dzasa, who sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to modernize Tibet. Though they could not overcome the entrenched power of the religious/monastic segment, their efforts are an important part of any balanced history of modern Tibet, and this book opens a window to their Tibet.
The story of the Tsarong family is in many ways the story of twentieth century Tibet. In The Life and Times of George Tsarong, Paljor Tsarong masterfully weaves together the national and the personal to provide one of the most detailed and compelling accounts available in English of the last decades of the traditional Tibetan elite society, the Tibetan state’s struggles to engage the modernizing world and ward off Chinese subjugation, and efforts to remake both the Tibetan state and society in exile. Based on extensive interviews with the author’s father, this timely book opens a window into a unique time and place that is quickly fading from personal memory.
George (Dundul Namgyal) Tsarong’s life reflects the outstanding destiny of an aristocrat who grew up in a prestigious noble family in Lhasa. His father, Dasang Damdul, was renowned for his pivotal role in the modernization of Tibet, and he himself embraced the delicate adjustments and transition from serving the traditional Tibetan government as a lay official to working in Communist Tibet and, ultimately, for the Tibetan government in exile in India. In writing the biography of his father, Paljor Tsarong has succeeded in providing the most extraordinary insight into the Tibetan aristocracy and the Tibetan pre-1959 government. Being an anthropologist and historian himself and having interviewed not only his father but many aristocrats over the years, the author offers an account that achieves the rarest feat of being at the same time uniquely well-informed, highly accurate, extremely lively, and magnificently illustrated.