If you’re a Rangzen activist, a supporter of the Tibetan independence movement or simply an ardent follower of the Tibetan issue, then you must surely have a general understanding of Tibetan history. Still, if one needs a scrupulously well-researched and painstakingly honest argument to prove Tibet’s independence, the next time you’re part of a campaign or in a heated debate with a friend or stranger, the perfect solution would be to turn to Jamyang Norbu’s compilation of historical documents, maps, audio clips and photographs in a presentation titled “Independent Tibet – Some Facts.” (Please see www.rangzen.net)
The eminent Tibetan scholar, during a two-hour long session at the TCV auditorium in Bangalore organized by Think Tibet and the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, addressed a group of nearly 200 Tibetans, and spoke at length to prove the independence of Tibet before the Chinese Communist invasion in 1950, presenting facts, pictures and references, wherever the need arose.
Before 1950, Tibet was a fully functioning independent state, maintaining basic law and order and yet staying far ahead of time with the abolishment of capital punishment in 1913, and dictating laws that govern environmental protection, Norbu said. Tibet at the time fed its people unfailingly with no help from the outside world, and despite its seclusion, was a self-sufficient nation, owing no money to any nation or foreign institution, he added.
According to Norbu, the Tibetan people have two national anthems, the older of which is Gangri Rawae or Snow Mountain Rampart, while Sishe Pende or Universal Peace and Benefits is the more modern one composed after Tibet lost independence.
Norbu pointed out that until after the Communist invasion, Tibetan immigrants residing in North America or Europe was unheard of, and that despite the frontiers of India, Bhutan and Nepal being completely unguarded, very few Tibetans fled the country as economic or political refugees.
Thus, the Communist Chinese invasion in 1950 — that saw over 40,000 troops of the 52nd, 53rd and 54th divisions of the 18th Army of the Red Army attack the Tibetan frontier guarded by 3,500 regular soldiers and 2,000 Khampa militiamen — was never a peaceful liberation as China makes it out to be, Norbu argued. He lauded the courage of the Tibetan army, who despite being heavily outnumbered, bravely faced the Chinese army and fought as hard as they could.
Presenting a series of photographs, Norbu showed the first reference to the Tibetan flag, which was made in a 1934 Flags of the World issue of the National Geographic Magazine. The modern Tibetan flag, which was adopted in 1916, was probably too new at the time the magazine brought out its very first flag issue in 1917, Norbu said, but noted that Tibet still found mention in an article on medieval flags in that issue.
Thus, at a time when many countries in the world were yet to create their own flags, Tibet was among the few nations to have a flag, the scholar averred.
Similarly, the maps, globes and atlases that were drawn before 1950, showed Tibet as an independent nation, always distinct from China, Norbu said. Maps drawn as early as 1680-1700 show Tibet in two parts but still separate from China, he said, while showing photographs of rare maps, globes and atlases from different periods of time.
Before 1950, Tibet even had its own distinct currency, which was based on the Tam and Srang denomination system, Norbu said. While a joint Chinese-Tibetan currency or the Ganden Tanka was brought out when Manchu forces occupied Tibet, Tibetans issued its own coin using elaborate Tibetan and Buddhist designs once the Chinese army was expelled in 1912, he added.
Paper currencies, however, came into being in Tibet only in the early 20th century, but the beautiful designs on them were painstakingly printed, prompting one numismatist, Wolfgang Bertsch, to call these bank notes “small works of art,” Norbu said. Even in those early days, Tibetans coined an ingenious solution to preventing forgery of these bank notes — the serial numbers on these bank notes were handwritten by a guild of specialist calligraphists, the epa, Norbu said.
Chinese efforts to take over the Tibetan currency remained unsuccessful until after the departure of the Dalai Lama in 1959, when the official Chinese currency, the renminbi or yuan, came into use, Norbu said.
But, the greatest proofs — if there were really a need to compare these facts and evidences of Tibet’s independence before Chinese invasion – would have to be the Tibetan passports, and also the writings of so many scholars, explorers, and government delegations who after visiting Tibet, recorded all they witnessed and experienced in the land they strongly affirmed was an independent state.
Norbu, while addressing the rapt audience in the South Indian city of Bangalore, showed photographs of different Tibetan passports, right from the earliest on record that was issued by the Tibetan government to an Armenian merchant Hovannes in 1688, to the more recent passport used by Tsepon Shakabpa Wangchuk Dedhen, which Friends of Tibet presented to the Dalai Lama in March, 2004.
Important too were the treaties signed between Tibet and its neighboring countries such as Bushair, Ladakh, Nepal, China and others, but one of the most important among these date back to 821 to 822 AD during which the Tibetan empire and the Chinese empire entered into a treaty — the evidence for which can be found on a stone pillar near the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Norbu said.
He spoke at length of the other treaties and conventions Tibet entered into as an independent nation, the most recent being the Shimla Treaty of 1914 in which British India and Tibet agreed on their common frontier.
Norbu’s two-hour long session appeared to be aimed at arming the Tibetan people with facts, figures and proofs they’d need to argue the case of Tibet’s independence, and as such undoubtedly served its purpose. Despite the seriousness of the subject, Norbu spoke eloquently, sometimes moving the audience to tears, and at other times, leaving them roaring with laughter as he told stories with a touch of the unmistakable Tibetan humor.
There is more work to be done for Tibet, Norbu said, adding that he was constantly researching and looking for such documents, photographs and things that would further authenticate Tibet’s independence. These efforts would sometimes be met with much frustration when things fail to go through as one plans and wishes, Norbu said.
Still, it is for us, Tibetans, to continue trying, he said.