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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibet Talk with Jamyang Norbu in Bangalore

August 5, 2009

July 30, 2009

Bangalore -- 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Norbu's compilation of historical documents,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

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.
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