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Sources of Tibetan Tradition

Sources of Tibetan Tradition

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Sources of Tibetan Tradition

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Mar 26, 2013


The most comprehensive collection of classic Tibetan works in a Western language, this volume illuminates the complex historical, intellectual, and social movements of Tibetan civilization from its earliest beginnings to the modern period. It includes more than 180 representative writings of the Tibetan tradition, more than half never before translated into English. The perfect introduction to Tibetan culture for nonspecialists, this anthology also adds greater depth to the research and understanding of more advanced scholars.

Selected texts span Tibet’s vast geography and nearly thirteen hundred years of history, featuring a diverse range of authors including religious and lay leaders; scholastic philosophers and contemplative hermits; monks and nuns; poets and artists; aristocrats and commoners. Their works reflect Buddhist sources and their profound role in shaping Tibetan culture but also illustrate other major categories of traditional Tibetan knowledge: medicine, the practical arts, linguistics, logic, and epistemology. Thematically varied as well, selections treat topics such as history and historiography; political and social theory; law; rhetoric; aesthetic theory; narrative; travel and geography; folksong; and broad religious and philosophical themes, all in relation to the unique trajectories of Tibetan civil and scholarly discourse. The editors begin each chapter with an explanation of broader social and cultural contexts and introduce each translated text with a concise explanation of the material. Concluding with writings that extend into the early twentieth century, this volume provides a truly expansive encounter with Tibet’s exceptional intellectual heritage.
Mar 26, 2013

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Sources of Tibetan Tradition - Columbia University Press



Political Expansion and the Beginnings of Tibetan Buddhist Culture


Chapter 1


Tibet’s entry into world history begins with the unification of the Tibetan kingdom during the early seventh century and its subsequent expansion throughout large parts of Central Asia.¹ The earliest Tibetan writings, selections from which will be presented in the chapters that follow, and the histories of Tibet’s neighbors concur in placing Tibet’s rise in this period. The major powers established in East, West, and Central Asia at the time were set upon a collision course, for Tibet’s growth corresponded to that of China’s Tang dynasty (618–907), to the spread of Islam and the Arab conquests in the Iranian world that followed (633–751), and to the emergence of a powerful Uighur Turkish empire (742–848) embracing large parts of the Mongolian steppe north of the territories controlled by Tibet.

Key elements of this history form the focal points for the following three chapters, which treat the rise of the Tibetan empire from a variety of perspectives gleaned from non-Tibetan sources and from the surviving Tibetan annals, inscriptions, and edicts of imperial times. A brief review of some of the important names and events discussed here will aid the reader in comprehending this material.

The rulers of the Tibetan empire, who were known by the title Tsenpo, hailed from the royal line of the region of Yarlung, in southern Tibet. Under Namri Löntsen, toward the beginning of the seventh century, Yarlung consolidated its hold over much of Central Tibet after the defeat of a rival, the Zingpojé, or Warlord, who held sway in the area of what is today Lhasa (see chapter 2). Namri Löntsen’s son and successor, Songtsen Gampo (reigned ca. 617–649/650), began a far-ranging series of campaigns, conquering the kingdom of Zhangzhung in western Tibet, dominating Nepal, vanquishing the Azha (or, in Chinese, Tuyuhun) kingdom in the pastoral lands of Qinghai, and threatening Chinese domination in strategically important areas of the so-called Silk Road. One result was the formation of the first sustained diplomatic contacts between Tang China and Tibet, and the dispatch of a Chinese princess, Wencheng (d. 680), to marry the crown prince, though she became the bride of Songtsen Gampo instead. Songtsen is widely celebrated as the father of Tibetan civilization and is credited with the adoption of a writing system, the establishment of a legal code, and the introduction of Buddhism (though historical evidence suggests that Buddhism had at best only a minor role in Tibet during his reign).

Although Songtsen Gampo’s successors continued to be enthroned as Tsenpo, for some decades following his death the real power was in the hands of the family of his preeminent minister, Gar Tongtsen, under whom the empire continued to expand, particularly northward in Central Asia (modern Xinjiang). The Gar were at last overthrown by Songtsen’s great-grandson, Düsong (676–704), who extended Tibetan power in the southeast, pressing upon the Nanzhao kingdom of Yunnan. In the aftermath of Düsong’s reign, his mother, Tri Malö, ruled as empress dowager, until the deceased Tsenpo’s younger son was granted the regnal title Tri Detsuktsen in 712. He had been married to a second Chinese princess, Jincheng, in 710, and she, until her death in 739, appears to have played an influential role in promoting Chinese and Buddhist culture among the Tibetan aristocracy.

Tri Detsuktsen’s rule ended in 755 (coincidentally near the time of the An Lushan rebellion in China) with his assassination during a ministerial coup d’état. His thirteen-year-old son, Tri Songdetsen (742–c. 797), was placed on the throne, but only came to rule in his own right in about 761. Close to this time, he appears to have discovered and adopted the Buddhist religion, but he maintained as well the martial traditions of the Tibetan empire: the Chinese capital, Chang’an (modern Xi’an), fell to his troops in 763, and although the occupation of the city was short-lived, the Tibetans continued to exercise power in regions to the north and west for nearly a century. In particular, the economically and culturally vital Gansu corridor was contested, with the Tibetans controlling the important Dunhuang oasis from the 780s until the mid-ninth century. Tibet’s dominance of Dunhuang, a major Buddhist center, had significant repercussions for later cultural history; the documents and artwork discovered there are among our primary sources for knowledge of this period in both Tibetan and Chinese history.

Tri Songdetsen’s strongly pro-Buddhist policies were continued under his son Tri Desongtsen (r. 804–815) and grandson Tri Tsukdetsen (also known as Relpachen, r. 815–838). The latter succeeded, after decades of intermittent war and failed peace treaties with Tang China, in negotiating a more durable peace in 821, but the stabilization of the Tibetan empire seems also to have marked the beginning of its decline. Tri Tsukdetsen was assassinated and replaced by his younger brother Üdumtsen, who died, perhaps also assassinated, in 842. Although the dynasty of the Tsenpo continued to occupy the Tibetan throne, the empire was now collapsing and soon lost control of the territories it had won from China in Gansu and its possessions in northern Central Asia. Üdumtsen, known to later history by the sobriquet Lang Darma, was recalled, whether rightly or wrongly is unknown, as a persecutor of Buddhism, and his assassin thought to have been a prominent Buddhist monk named Lhalung Pelgi Dorjé. Whatever the facts, the legend contained an important kernel of truth, for with the decline of the Tibetan empire, imperial patronage of religion was lost, and Buddhism in Tibet subsequently declined as well.

While documents relating to this history, primarily in its political aspects, are presented in the first three chapters, the two final chapters of part 1 detail cultural and religious developments associated with the Tibetan empire and its immediate aftermath.

Works in the Tibetan language are privileged throughout this volume, but early views of Tibet as seen through the eyes of neighboring, sometimes rival civilizations, particularly China and the Islamic world, are nevertheless pertinent. Historical records from these lands not only provide us with some idea of how Tibet was preceived, whether accurately or fancifully, by other medieval peoples, but also later became in some cases sources for Tibetans themselves. Starting from the Yuan dynasty in China (1279–1358), for instance, we find Tibetan historians referring on occasion to the annals of the Tang dynasty for their discussions of that period, as in the fourteenth-century Red Book (Debter marpo) of Tshelpa Kunga Dorjé (1309–64). And in modern Tibetan historical writing from the mid-twentieth century on, as seen in the work of figures such as Gendün Chöpel (1903–51) and Tsepön W. D. Shakabpa (1908–89), there has been an awareness of and interest in the Islamic sources as well, though relying on Western-language translations of these works.

The chapter concludes with a brief presentation of medieval Western European sources on Tibet. These belong to a somewhat later period, and chronologically correspond with the contents of parts 2 and 3. Because the present chapter contains all the other non-Tibetan sources given in the volume, however, this small selection of twelfth- and thirteenth-century texts is included here as well. MTK


The important early notices about Tibet that follow are based on Chinese records compiled over the course of the Tang dynasty’s (618–907) relations with the Tibetan empire, which flourished for some two centuries beginning with the reign of Songtsen Gampo (ca. 617–650). Even though the final assembly of these records postdates the Tibetan imperial period, Chinese historical writing relied closely on the detailed official accounts of events at the imperial court, so these writings were based on the reports about Tibet prepared by the Tang-dynasty record keepers themselves. As can be seen in the brief references to religious beliefs they contain, changes over time within Tibetan society, such as the adoption of Buddhism, were duly recorded by the Chinese. However, one must take a critical view of these documents, which are limited by the information available to their authors and the biases of the authors themselves, who represented official Chinese views. Their effort to situate Tibetan affairs within the framework of China’s historical relations with its neighbors, for instance, is not widely accepted as valid historiography today, especially for the early periods discussed in the first selection, when Tibetan peoples seem not yet to have had direct relations with the Chinese cultural sphere.

Much attention will be given below to the Tibetan invasion of the Chinese heartland—the first, and shortest lived, such successful invasion by an Inner Asia people of the Chinese capital, Chang’an, where the Tibetans briefly placed a ruler of their own choice on the throne. This was made possible by the disorder that followed China’s An Lushan rebellion of 755. Peace was restored between the two empires by the treaty of 783, described below, which established their borders near the current frontiers of Qinghai and Gansu provinces (where Tibetans and Chinese have lived in close proximity since imperial times). Many of the places described in this account (including Anxi, Ganzhou, Suzhou, and Lanzhou) were located in the Gansu corridor, an extension of Chinese territory into Central Asia that protected the path of the Silk Road as it stretched west. Since trade along the Silk Road was so vital to the economy of the times, much of the fighting during this period was over control of this critical terrain. (The Chinese term for the region is Hexi, describing the area west of the [Yellow] River, that is, west of the city of Lanzhou, in Gansu province.) The peace established in 783 did not last very long, however, necessitating a more durable treaty that came into effect in 821/2 (see chapter 3).

The selections given here are taken from the pioneering translation of S. W. Bushell, first published in 1880. It has been edited and modernized here, with reference to the posthumous French translation of the explorer and sinologist Paul Pelliot (1878–1945). Notes and bracketed comments have been supplied by the editors (GT/MTK). The parts of the text in roman type are drawn from the Old Tang Annals (Jiu Tang Shu), compiled in 945, while the italic font indicates the commentary and additions of the New Tang Annals (Xin Tang Shu), compiled in 1061. Where Tibetan names and terms are recognizable, we have given them in brackets following the Chinese. GT


Tibet² is situated eight thousand li west of Chang’an [present-day Xi’an]. It was formerly, during the Han dynasty, the territory of the western Qiang.³ The original source from which the natives sprang is unknown.

Formerly the Western Qiang comprised a hundred and fifty tribes, scattered over the lands of the He, Yellow, Yangzi, and Min [rivers]. Included among them were the Fa Qiang and Tangmao, who, however, had then no intercourse with China. They were settled to the west of the Xizhi River. Their ancestor (founder of the dynasty), named Huti Puxiye, was a powerful warrior, and most politic, and by degrees united the different Qiang tribes, and ruled over their territory. Fan resembles fa in sound, hence his descendants acquired the name of Tufan [Tibetan], their surname being Pusuye.

Some say that they are descended from Tufa Liluku of the Southern Liang dynasty.⁴ Liluku had a son named Fanni. When Liluku died, Fanni was still a boy, and his younger brother Noutan succeeded to the throne. He appointed Fanni governor of Anxi. During the Later Wei dynasty, in the first year of the period Shenjui (414 C.E.), Noutan was overthrown by Qifochipan, of the Western Qin dynasty. Fanni collected the remnant of the people and submitted to Zuqu Mengsun, by whom he was appointed Governor of Linsong (Ganzhou). When Mengsun in turn was slain, Fanni at the head of his people fled westward across the Yellow River, and beyond Jishi founded a state in the midst of the Qiang, with territory extending over a thousand li. Fanni was celebrated for his power and wisdom, and all the Qiang tribes placed themselves under his rule, and, being governed mildly and justly, ran to his standard as they would have to market. Then he changed his surname to Supuye and adopted Tufa as the name of his state, which became afterward corrupted into Tufan [Tibet]. His descendants increased in number and power, and continued to acquire land and fame till their territory became of vast extent. During the Zhou (557–581) and Sui dynasties (581–618), the Qiang tribes still blocked the way, and they did not communicate with China.

The natives style their sovereign Zanpu [Tib. Tsenpo, which term will be used hereafter]; the ministers of state, called "great lun" [Tib. lön] and "small lun," are appointed to control state affairs.

They call a famous hero zan, and man pu, hence the title of the sovereign, Zanpu [Tsenpo]. The consort of the Tsenpo is styled momeng. The officials include one chief minister, called lunche (Tib. lönchen), with one assistant, called lunche humang, who are also styled "great lun" and "small lun"; and one commander-in-chief, called Xibian chebu [Tib. chipön chenpo?]. Also a chief minister of the interior, called Nanglun chebu [Tib. nanglön chenpo] or Lunmangruo, an adjunct minister called Nanglun milingpu, and a lesser minister, Nanglun chong [Tib. nanglön chung]. Also a chief consulting minister, called Yuhan bochebu, an adjunct consulting minister, called Yuhan milingpu, and a lesser consulting minister, called Yuhan bochong. These have the control of state affairs, and are styled collectively Shanglun chebu tuqu [from Tib. zhanglön chenpo, lit. Great Maternal Uncle Ministers].⁵ […]

They have no written characters. Notched pieces of wood and knotted strings are used in covenants. Although there are officers, they are not constantly employed, being only appointed when there is stress of business. For collecting warriors they use gold arrows.

They use a gold arrow seven inches long as a sign of office. There is a post station every hundred li. If the war be important, the courier carries also on his breast a silver hawk; if of urgent importance, several of these hawks.

When the country is invaded the smoke fires are lighted, there being a tower every hundred li. Their punishments are most severe, and even for small crimes the eyes are scooped out and the nose cut off, or stripes inflicted with a leather whip. They differ according to caprice, there being no fixed code. They imprison men in holes several tens of feet under the ground, and release them only after two or three years.

When they entertain envoys from foreign countries, they always bring out a yak for the guest himself to shoot, the flesh of which is afterward served at the banquet.

The officers are assembled once every year for the lesser oath of fealty. They sacrifice sheep, dogs, and monkeys, first breaking their legs and then killing them, afterward exposing the intestines and cutting them into pieces. The sorcerers having been summoned, they call on the gods of heaven and earth, of the mountains and rivers, of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, saying: Should your hearts become changed and your thoughts disloyal the gods will see clearly and make you like these sheep and dogs. Every three years there is a grand ceremony, during which all are assembled in the middle of the night on a raised altar, on which are spread savory meats. The victims sacrificed are dogs, horses, oxen, and asses, and prayers are offered in this form: Do you all with one heart and united strength cherish our native country. The god of heaven, and the spirit of the earth, will both know your thoughts, and if you break this oath they will cause your bodies to be cut into pieces like unto these victims.

The climate of the country is extremely cold. There is often thunder, lightning, wind, and hail. The snow remains, the height of summer being like the springtime of China, and there is always ice in the mountain valleys. There is a cold malaria in the soil which causes the natives to have bloated bellies and constipation, but is not dangerous to life.

They grow no rice, but have black oats, red pulse, barley, and buckwheat. The principal domestic animals are the yak, pig, dog, sheep, and horse. There are marmots,⁶ resembling in shape those of our own country, but as large as cats, the fur of which is used for clothes. They have abundant gold, silver, copper, and tin.

The natives generally follow their flocks to pasture, and have no fixed dwelling place.

Many live to a great age, a hundred years and upward. They are commonly clothed in felt and leather. They are fond of painting their faces red. The women gather their hair in a single plait and coil it round the head. […] The officers in full costume wear ornaments—those of the highest rank sese,the next gold, then gilded silver, then silver, and the lowest copper—which hang in large and small strings from the shoulder, and distinguish the rank of the wearer.

They have, however, some walled cities. The capital of the state is called the city of Luoxie [Lhasa]. The Tsenpo resides in the Babu [Belpo] valley or in the Louso [Lhasa] valley.⁸ The houses are all flat-roofed, and often reach to the height of several tens of feet. The men of rank live in large felt tents, which are called fulu. The rooms in which they live and sleep are filthily dirty, and they never comb their hair nor wash. They join their hands to hold wine, and make plates of felt, and knead dough into cups, which they fill with broth and cream and eat the whole together.

They worship the yuandi god,⁹ and believe in witches and seers. They are fond of the doctrine of Buddha, and no important states of affairs are settled without consulting the Buddhist monks.

They have no knowledge of the seasons, and the barley harvest is reckoned the beginning of the year. Their games are chess and bowls, trumpet-blowing and beating drums. The bow and sword are never separated from the body. They honor the strong and neglect the old, so that mothers bow down to their sons, and sons rule over their fathers, and whether going out or coming in the young men are always in front, the old men placed behind. The armies carry no provision of grain, and live on plunder. The armor and helmet are very strong and cover the whole body, with holes for the eyes only, so that the strongest bow and sharpest sword can hardly do them much harm. The general’s orders are sternly enforced, and in battle when the front rank is annihilated, the rear rank still presses on.

They consider death in war as more honorable than death from disease, and if several generations have been killed in battle the family is ennobled. If anyone turns his back on the foe, they hang a fox’s tail on his head, to show that he is as cowardly as a fox, and exhibit him in crowded places as a warning to others. They are extremely ashamed of this, and deem death preferable.

When they do homage, the two hands must touch the ground; they bark like dogs, and after rising again prostrate themselves.

When mourning for father or mother, they cut off their hair, paint their faces black, and put on black clothes; as soon as the body has been buried the mourning is put off. When the Tsenpo dies, they bury men with him. The sovereign has five or six chosen friends among his officers, who are styled comrades, and when the sovereign dies all these kill themselves to be buried with him. His clothes, jewels, and valuables, the horses he was in the habit of riding, his bow, sword, and other weapons, all are buried at the same time. Then upon the grave a large building is erected and a tumulus of earth thrown up, which is planted with trees as a place for ancestral worship.


The expansion of Tibet, from local kingdom to Inner Asian empire, began during the reign of the Tsenpo Songtsen Gampo (c. 617–649/50). Having conquered the realm of Zhangzhung in the western part of the Tibetan plateau, he turned his sights to the northeast, where the pastoral Azha (or Tuyuhun in Chinese) occupied much of what is today Qinghai. His campaigns there brought him into conflict with Tang China and, like many of China’s Inner Asian neighbors, he sought to secure an alliance sealed by marriage with a Tang princess. Although it is not clear in the Tang Annals, the princess Wencheng seems in fact to have been intended to marry the Tibetan crown prince, Gungsong Gungtsen, but because he predeceased his father in 646, she became Songtsen Gampo’s queen following her husband’s death. Later Tibetan tradition would assign an important role to Princess Wencheng as a founder of Buddhism in Tibet. She is credited with having brought with her from China the image of the Buddha Śākyamuni that occupies the central shrine of Lhasa’s main temple, the Jokhang, and remains the foremost pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists even today. MTK

In the 8th year of the period Zhengguan (634) the Tsenpo Qi Zunglongzan [i.e., Tri Songtsen Gampo] first sent envoys to the emperor with tribute. Longzan succeeded to the throne at the age when one attains one’s majority (thirteen). He was by nature fond of war, as well as a clever tactician, and the neighboring states, the Yangtong,¹⁰ and other Qiang tribes all went to him to pay homage. The emperor Taizong dispatched the envoy Feng Dexia on a peaceful mission to him, and he received Dexia most joyfully. Having heard that the Tujue and Tuyuhun had both been given princesses in marriage, he sent a mission which accompanied Dexia on his return, with rich presents of gold and precious things and a respectful letter petitioning for a matrimonial alliance. The emperor refused. When the envoy returned, he reported to Longzan: When we first arrived at court they received us most honorably and promised a princess in marriage, but just then the Tuyuhun prince happened to come to court and interfered to break off the negotiation. Thereupon we were treated with scant ceremony, and the alliance was declined.

Longzan thereupon, together with the Yangtong, led the united armies to attack the Tuyuhun.¹¹ The Tuyuhun were unable to withstand him and fled to the banks of the Qinghai [Kokonor] to escape the edge of the sword. The inhabitants and their herds were all carried off by the Tibetans. He next led on his troops, attacked and defeated the Dangxiang,¹² the Bolan,¹³ and other Qiang tribes, and at the head of an army of over 200,000 men, encamped on the western border of Songzhou [present-day Songpan, in Sichuan province], whence he sent envoys to the emperor, who brought as tribute a suit of gold armor and said: We are come to receive the princess. At the same time he announced to his soldiers: If the great empire refuses to give me a princess in marriage, we will invade and plunder the country. Thereupon they advanced and assaulted Songzhou. The Governor-General [of Songzhou] Han Wei proceeded with all speed to look after the enemy, but was himself defeated by them, and the inhabitants of the frontier were in great trouble. The emperor Taizong dispatched the President of the Board of Civil Office, Hou Zhunji, as commander-in-chief, with three other generals and an army of 50,000 on horse and foot to attack them. The general Niu Jinda led the army from Songzhou, assaulted their camp in the night, and killed more than 1,000 men. Longzan was greatly alarmed and led his army back.

From the date of his eastern invasion he remained several years without returning. His chief ministers begged him to come back to his own country, but he would not listen to them, whereupon eight killed themselves.

He sent a mission to apologize for his misdeeds, and again begged for an alliance. Taizong granted it. Longzan then sent his minister of state, Lu Dongzan [probably Gar Tongtsen], with the presents, offering 5,000 ounces of gold, and, besides, several hundred precious articles of value.

In the 15th year of Zhengguan (641), the emperor gave the princess Wencheng, of the imperial house, in marriage. He appointed the President of the Board of Rites, Daozong, Prince of Qiangxia, to preside over the ceremony, and he was given special credentials and escorted the princess to Tibet. Longzan led his warriors to await her arrival at Bohai, and went himself to receive her at Heyuan. He received Daozong most respectfully, with the rites due from a son-in-law. From this time he praised the custom of the great empire and the perfection of their manners, and was ashamed of the barbarism of his own people. After he had returned to his own country with the princess, he addressed his relatives thus: Among our ancestors not one has been allied to the sovereign empire, and now that I have been honored with the gift of a princess of the great Tang, I esteem myself highly fortunate, and will build a walled city for the princess to proclaim my glory to future generations. Thereupon he built a city, and erected inside the walls a palace for her residence. As the princess disliked their custom of painting their faces red, Longzan ordered his people to put a stop to the practice, and it was no longer done. He also discarded his felt and skin, put on brocade and silk, and gradually copied Chinese civilization. He also sent the children of his chiefs and rich men to request admittance into the national schools to be taught the classics, and invited learned scholars from China to compose his official reports to the emperor.


By the end of the seventh century, the Tibetans had penetrated much of the Silk Road region that is today China’s Xinjiang province, and to the east had subjugated the kingdom of Nanzhao, situated in present-day Yunnan. With the death of the Tsenpo Düsong in 704 while on campaign in the far southeast, his infant son was placed on the throne, but the real power was in the hands of the late ruler’s mother, the empress dowager Tri Malö (see chapter 2). Like her senior Chinese contemporary, the empress Wu Zetian (r. 684–705), she appears to have been an autocratic figure, who dominated Tibetan affairs throughout the short reign of her first grandson and, following his early death, installed his younger brother on the throne. The Chinese princess she sought as a bride for the Tsenpo arrived following the decease of the first grandson but became the queen of the second, who subsequently emerged as one of the greatest rulers of imperial Tibet, Tri Detsuktsen (r. 712–755). The princess herself, known as Jincheng (d. 739), was an avid promoter of Buddhism and succeeded in establishing a short-lived monastic community in Central Tibet, whose monks were from the Silk Road state of Khotan, which at the time was a Tibetan dependency. MTK

In the second year of the Jinglong era (708) of [Emperor] Zhongzong, the mission of alliance was sent back. Some proposed that, as they had come to receive a princess, and besides to learn the Chinese language, they should not be sent back, but the emperor replied that China must be just in its relations with barbarians, and refused.

Soon afterward the grandmother of the Tsenpo [i.e., the dowager Tri Malö] sent the Chief Minister, Xixunran, who offered to the emperor products of the country and asked for a matrimonial alliance for her grandson. Zhongzong gave his adopted child, the daughter of Zongli, Prince of Yong, with the title of Princess of Jincheng. From this date the Tibetans offered tribute every year. In the 3rd year of Jinglong (709), in the 11th month, they sent a mission headed by the Chief Minister Shang to receive the bride. The emperor entertained them in the ball grounds within the park, and ordered his own son-in-law Yang Shenjiao to play with the Tibetan envoy at the ball game, Zhongzong at the head of his court looking on.

In the 1st month of the 4th year (710), the emperor wrote, "The sages spread civilization with the welfare of the people in their hearts, the kings of old extended benevolence to the eight points of the compass without excluding foreigners, so that their fame was diffused far and near and all things flourished. Afterward the glorious Zhou ruled the empire and adopted measures for conciliating distant people. When the powerful Han flourished they originated a policy of peace and alliance with a special view toward permanence, and they are an excellent model for imperial rulers. We have received from the spirits above the rule of the empire, and are anxious to follow the good deeds of our predecessors and institute a lasting concord. As regards the Tibetans, their abode is in the west country, from which, soon after the rise of our imperial house, they came early with tribute. The learned, warlike, and holy Emperor Taizong, whose virtue was wide as heaven and earth, with anxious care for the myriads of his people, determined to put away weapons and armor and maintain relations of alliance and friendship, and for some tens of years the world was calm and peaceful. Since this time, when the princess Wencheng went and civilized this country, many of their customs have been changed. But our borders have been constantly full of troops, and their Fan [Tibetan] tribes have often experienced loss and disaster. Now, however, the Tsenpo, and the kedun [from Turkic qatun, meaning queen], his grandmother, and the chiefs have for several years shown true submission, and with a view to cement the ancient bonds of true kinship they now ask to renew friendship. The princess of Jincheng is our little daughter, and we are very fond of her, but, as the father and mother of our subjects, we have compassion for the black-haired people; and, as by granting their request and strengthening the bonds of peace, the border lands will be untroubled and the officers and soldiers at rest, we sever the bond of affection for the good of the state. We found for her a foreign home, and with due employment of all ceremony bestow her on the Tibetan Tsenpo. In this present month the cortege will start, and we propose ourselves to accompany it outside the city." […]

The emperor ordered Ji Chune to escort the princess, as the prince of Jiangxia formerly did on the occasion of the marriage of the princess of Wencheng, but he declined to go. A second appointment was made with the same result, until finally the general Yang Ju was dispatched. In the same month the emperor proceeded to Shiping county to escort the princess, and the imperial tent was pitched beside the Boqing Lake, where he entertained the princes and high ministers and the Tibetan envoys at a banquet, during which, when the wine had circulated, he called the Tibetan envoys to the front and told them what a young child the princess was, and how he had severed the bonds of love to send her to be married so far away. The sovereign wept and sobbed for a long time.

The presents [he conferred on her] were several tens of thousand pieces of brocaded and plain silks, and various actors and artisans, as well as Kuchean musical instruments. He then commanded the ministers of his court to compose farewell verses. He specially pardoned the Shiping county criminals, including those sentenced to capital punishment, and remitted the taxes of the inhabitants for one year. He changed the name of Shiping county to Jincheng county, the lake to Punin lake, and ordered the spot to be called thenceforward the place of sad parting. After the princess had reached Tibet, they built a new city for her residence.

When Zhang Xuanbiao was governor-general of Anxi, he frequently attacked and plundered the northern borders of Tibet. They were inwardly very angry in consequence, although outwardly all was peace. When Yang Ju was governor of Shanzhou [in the Gansu corridor, on the Silk Road], the Tibetans sent envoys to him with many valuable presents, and asked for the Jiuqu territory¹⁴ in Hexi, as dowry for the princess of Jincheng. [Yang] Ju then wrote a memorial to recommend that it should be given. Thus Tibet gained possession of Jiuqu, a fertile and rich territory, where they could encamp troops and pasture their herds, which was also close to the Tang border, and from this time they again revolted and began to lead warriors to invade and plunder.

In the second year of Kaiyuan (714), their minister Pendayan sent a letter to the ministers of state to ask them to conclude a sworn treaty fixing the boundary at Heyuan, and proposed the officer Xie Wan to be sent for the purpose. The emperor ordered Yao Zhong and his colleagues to answer the dispatch, and appointed Xie Wan to go (to the designated spot). The Tibetans afterward sent the imperial envoy of Shang Qinzang, Mingxila, to offer the emperor the text of the treaty before it could be concluded.

In the [same] 2nd year of Kaiyuan (714), in the autumn, the Tibetan generals Pendayan and Qilixu, at the head of an army of over 100,000 men, plundered Lintaojun, and also invaded and plundered Lanzhou and Weizhou [all three places in present-day Gansu], carrying off with them the government sheep and horses. Yang Ju, repentant and afraid, killed himself by drinking poison. Emperor Xuanzong appointed Xie Nuo […] with Wang Zun to lead troops to attack them head on and issued a decree to collect a large army for him to go in person to chastise them. The generals and warriors were enlisted, and the day fixed for the start. Meanwhile, however, [Wang] Zun and the rest fell in with the robbers at Wujieyi in Weiyuan. The general in command of the van, Wang Haipin, was killed fighting bravely, but Zun advanced at the head of his troops and inflicted a great defeat on the Tibetan army, killing some tens of thousands and recovering all the sheep and horses that they were carrying off. The remnant of the enemy fled to the north and died in heaps; one followed on the other, so that the current of the Tao River was stopped. The sovereign then gave up his project of proceeding himself, and appointed Ni Ruoshui to go to report on the condition of the army, and also to sacrifice at the funeral of Wang Haipin before his return. The Tibetans sent their Chief Minister, Zong’eyinzi, to the Tao River to sacrifice to their dead and lost warriors, and also to call at the barrier to ask for peace, which the emperor refused.

The ministers of state reported as follows: "The Tibetans originally had the (Yellow) river as the boundary, but on account of the princess the river was bridged, a walled city built, and two camps established at Dushan and Jiuqu, 200 li distant from Zishi. Now that they have broken the treaty, we propose to destroy the bridge, and again guard the river according to treaty." A decree was issued accordingly. The general Yuchi Guai was dispatched as envoy to Tibet to calm the fears of the princess.


The death of Princess Jincheng in 739, from the plague, was the occasion for an anti-Buddhist reaction spearheaded by nobles who were suspicious of the foreign religion. In 755, during the period when Tang China was in turmoil after the rebellion of An Lushan, certain of the Tibetan lords in their turn staged a coup d’état, toppling the Tsenpo Tri Detsuktsen. His thirteen-year-old son, Tri Songdetsen (r. 755–c. 797), was enthroned as his successor. He proved to be one of the most able Tibetan monarchs, compared by Tibet’s chroniclers solely with Songtsen Gampo for his sagacity and the remarkable success of his rule. It was Tri Songdetsen who definitely adopted Buddhism as his religion of state (see chapter 3), but he by no means neglected mundane affairs. In 763 his armies went so far as to occupy the Chinese capital of Chang’an, and though they held the city for only a fortnight, the Tibetan presence in regions north and west of the Chinese center would endure for almost a century. The account given here begins in the years leading up to the Tibetan invasion, including a particularly interesting description of the rites performed in connection with the Sino-Tibetan treaty of 756. MTK

When the Tong Guan [border gate] was lost, and He and Luo cut off by troops, all the soldiers stationed in Hexi, Longyou, and Shuofang were recalled to settle the difficulties of the state, to accompany the emperor in his flight. Thus, at this time, all the old camps and border cities were left ungarrisoned, and from the period Qianyuan (758–759), the Tibetans, taking advantage of our difficulties, daily encroached on the borders, and the citizens were either carried off and massacred or wandered about to die in ditches, till, after the lapse of some years, all the country to the west of Fengxiang and to the north of Binzhou belonged to the Fan [Tibetan] barbarians, and several tens of zhou [prefectures] were lost.

In the first year of the reign of Suzong (756), in the first month, on the cyclical day jiachen, a Tibetan mission arrived at the court to ask for peace. The emperor ordered the ministers of state, Guo Ziyi,¹⁵ Xiao Hua, Zhang Zuanqing, and others, to entertain them at a banquet, and to proceed to the Guangzhai Temple to conclude a sworn treaty, sacrificing the three victims and smearing the lips with the blood. It had never been customary to conduct [such] affairs in a Buddhist temple, and they proposed on the morrow to be allowed into the Honglusi [Court of State Ceremonial], to smear blood in accordance with the rites of the Tibetan barbarians. This was allowed.

In the 1st year of the Baoying (762), the 6th month, the Tibetans sent two envoys, including Zhufan Mang’er, with tribute of the products of their country, to the emperor. He received them in the Yanying palace, and rewarded each according to his rank with presents. The western mountains of Jiannan, which bordered on the Tibetan, Di, and Qiang [populations], had been from the period Wude (618–627) divided into prefectures and counties, and garrisoned. It was the route of cords (Zuolu) of the Han dynasty. From the epoch Jianyuan (758–760) this also was lost to the Tibetans.

In the 2nd year of Baoying (763), the 3rd month, the emperor dispatched two officers, Li Zhifang and Cui Lun, on a mission to Tibet, but as soon as they reached the frontier they were detained.

In the 1st year of Kuangde (763), the 9th month, the Tibetans attacked and took Jingzhou. In the 10th month they invaded Binzhou, and took Fengtian county. Guo Ziyi was sent to the west to oppose the Tibetans, but an army of over 200,000 Tuyuhun, Dangxiang, and Qiang had penetrated from Lunguang to the east, and Guo Ziyi led back his troops. The imperial chariot was driven to Shanzhou and the capital left unguarded. The general Gao Hui, who had surrendered to the Tibetans, led the Tibetans into the imperial capital [Chang’an], and in concert with the Tibetan generalissimo, Ma Chongying, set up the son of the late Prince of Bin, Chenghong, the Prince of Guangwu, as emperor, who chose a title for his reign, proclaimed a general amnesty, and appointed the various officers of state.

Guo Ziyi led his troops southward to defend Shangzhou. The Tibetans, after occupying the city [of Chang’an] for fifteen days, retired, and the imperial army recovered the capital, Guo Ziyi being appointed governor. When the emperor first went to the east, the officers with their families all fled southward to Jing and Xiang or went into the mountains to hide, and the soldiers of the imperial armies broke up into armed bands infesting and blocking all the country. Guo Ziyi, at the head of some hundreds of his immediate followers, with his wives, children, and slaves, went south into the valley of Niuxin, taking some hundreds of camels, horses, carts, and oxen. Ziyi remained there, not knowing which way to turn, till the officers, Wang Yanchang and Li En, came, and said to him: Your Excellency occupies the post of commander-in-chief. The sovereign is toiling outside in the dust, the affairs of the state have come to such a pass, and the power of the Tibetans is daily increasing, and you ought not to be seeking rest in the mountains. Why not go south to Shangzhou, and gradually make your way to the imperial camp? Ziyi immediately consented. Yanchang added: Should the Tibetans find out that your Excellency has gone south, they will detach soldiers to cut you off, so to go by the main road would court disaster, and you had better select the Yushan road to travel by, as they would never guess it. Ziyi again agreed. The two officers both accompanied him. His body of some thousand men, on account of the narrowness of the mountain road, stretched in a line of a hundred li, and made such slow progress that the other two, fearing pursuit in a narrow path where the van could not help the rear, on arriving at Daohui Pass took a different way. They crossed difficult torrents, climbed mountain passes, and finally reached Shangzhou.

Before their arrival the general of the six armies, Zhang Zhijie, with some hundreds of his own standard, had fled from the city [of Chang’an] to Shangzhou, and they had plundered the officers of the court and scholars, who were trying to escape, as well as robbed the inhabitants of money, property, saddles, and horses; and this had been going on for days. They remonstrated with the general, saying: You have the post of general of the imperial army, yet when your troops were defeated, you did not march to the imperial residence, but allowed your subordinates to plunder. Is this the part of a loyal subject? Now that his Excellency Guo, the commander-in-chief, is trying to reach Luonan, let the general reestablish order among his troops, making clear that they must accept punishment or reward, and beg his Excellency to take command, to plan the recovery of Chang’an. This would redound to the fame of the general. Zhijie gladly consented. […] The other generals hastened to place themselves under the orders of Guo Ziyi, as soon as he reached Shangzhou.

When the Tibetans were about to enter the capital, a former high official, Yin Zhongqing, escaped the danger, leaving his saddle, horse, and robes in the hands of the robbers. Zhongqing, when he reached Lantian, gathered together scattered troops and brave recruits, till he had over a hundred followers, and defended Lantian on the south against the Tibetans. His army gradually increased till it mounted to over a thousand. When Ziyi reached Shangzhou, he knew nothing of this affair of Zhongqing. He enlisted men to inquire into the strength of the rebels. The general, Zhangsun Chuanxu, volunteered, and was sent with a company of 200 horsemen; Diwu Qi was appointed governor of the capital to assist in the recovery of Chang’an. As soon as Chuanxu reached Hangongdui, in the daytime he beat drums, and spread abroad flags and banners, and in the night lit many fires, to deceive the Tibetans. When he heard of the existence of the imperial troops, his energies were redoubled, and they opened up mutual communication, and sent to inform Ziyi of their strength. Zhongqing, with over 200 horsemen, made a detour and crossed the Chan River. The Tibetans, alarmed, questioned the people, who, in order to deceive them, replied: His Excellency Guo is leading an army from Shangzhou, with the project of retaking Chang’an, a large army the number of which we know not. The rebels, believing in the truth of this, withdrew their army and retired, a remnant being left in the city. The general Wang Fu led his troops from the hunting park into the city with drums beating and loud shouts, and Zhongqing’s force also entered. The Tibetans all fled, and the imperial capital was recovered. Guo Ziyi took advantage of the opportunity and entered Chang’an with the beating of drums, so that men’s minds were at rest.

The Tibetans retreated to Fengxiang, where the Governor-General Sun Zhizhi shut the gates against them. They besieged it for some days, till the governor-general of Zhenxi, Ma Lin, led over 1,000 valiant horsemen from Hexi to relieve Yang Zhilie, and conducted his troops into the city [of Fengxiang]. On the morrow at dawn he rode fully armed straight into the midst of the rebel army, supported on either side by some hundred of his horsemen. Lin fought desperately, with loud shouts, and the enemy were dispersed, unable to withstand him; they were defeated, and retired. On the next day the rebel army, boasting of the valor of their braves, came up again to the walls to provoke a battle. Lin put on his armor and let down the hanging gate, whereupon they drew back and all retreated, saying: This general has no fear of death, there is no resisting him, let us withdraw. They returned to their quarters in the lands of Yuan, Hui, Cheng, and Wei.


During the early 780s, under Tri Songdetsen, the Tibetans were able to extend their hold throughout Hexi, the region west of the Yellow River, in the Gansu corridor. The famed oasis of Dunhuang fell to the Tibetans, whose presence came to be so strongly felt that the Tibetan language continued to serve as a lingua franca in the area for over a century after the Tibetans lost control of Dunhuang during the 850s. The ongoing hostilities between Tibet and Tang China that had begun in the time of Songtsen Gampo resulted in no fewer than seven attempts to negotiate peace treaties; none would be successful until the treaty of 821 (see below and chapter 3). The Tang record of the treaty of 783, however, is particularly notable for its account of the ceremonial arrangements that the ratification of the treaty entailed, complementing and amplifying the brief description of the rites accompanying the treaty of 756 seen in the preceding selection. MTK

[In 782,] the emperor ordered Fan Ze to go to [Shang] Jiezan to fix another day for the ceremony [to establish peace], and also sent the governor-general of Longyu, Zhang Yi, to take part with them in the occasion. Fan Ze went to the old Yuanzhou,¹⁶ where he had an interview with Shang Jiezan, and they chose the fifteenth day of the first month of the coming year for the performance of the ceremony to the west of Qingshui.¹⁷

In the first month of the fourth year (783), the imperial decree was issued that Zhang Yi and Shang Jiezan should make a sworn compact at Qingshui. When the time approached, Yi and Jiezan agreed that each party should proceed to the place where the altar was raised with 2,000 men, half of them to be armed and drawn up 200 paces outside the altar, half unarmed attendants to be distributed below the altar. Zhang Yi, with the masters of ceremony Qiying and Qikang, and the treaty officials Cui Hanheng, Fan Ze, Chang Lu, and Yu Di—seven persons all in court costume; and Shang Jiezan with the generals and ministers of his nation: Minister Xi Jiazang, Minister Zangruo, Minister Lituosiguanzhe, Minister Lixu, and others, also seven persons, ascended the altar together to perform the sworn ceremony. It had at first been agreed that the Han [Chinese] should sacrifice an ox, the Fan [Tibetans] a horse, but Yi, ashamed of his part in the ceremony, wished to depreciate the rites, and said to Jiezan: The Han cannot cultivate the ground without oxen, the Fan cannot travel without horses; I propose therefore to substitute a sheep, pig, and dog as the three victims. Jiezan consented. But there were no pigs outside the barrier, and Jiezan determined to take a wild ram, while Yi took a dog and a sheep. These victims were sacrificed on the north of the altar, the blood mingled in two vessels and smeared on the lips. The sworn covenant was: The Tang possess all under heaven, wherever are the footprints of Yu [based on an early Chinese geographic text], and as far as boats and chariots can go there is no one who does not obey them. Under successive sovereigns their fame has increased, and its years have been prolonged, and the great empire of its sovereigns extended, till all within the four seas listen to its commands. With the Tibetan Tsenpo it has made matrimonial alliances to strengthen the bonds of neighborly friendship and unite the two countries, and the sovereigns have been allied as father and son-in-law for nearly two hundred years. Meanwhile, however, in consequence of minor disagreements, their good relations have been broken off by war, so that the borderland has been troubled and without a quiet year. The emperor on his recent accession had compassion on his black-haired people, and sent back the enslaved captives to their own country, and the Tibetan nation has exhibited good feeling and agreed to a mutual peace. Envoys have gone and returned, carrying in succession the orders of their sovereign, who had determined to put a stop to secret plotting and put by the chariots of war. They have, with a view to making the covenant of the two countries lasting, proposed to use the ancient sworn treaty, and the government, resolved to give rest to the natives on the border, have alienated their ancient territory, preferring good deeds to profit, and have made a solemn treaty in accordance with the agreement. The boundaries that the government now keeps are: on the west of Jingzhou to the western mouth of Tanzen Pass; on the west of Longzhou as far as the Qingshui county seat; and on the west of Fengchou, as far as the Tonggu county seat; moreover, in the western mountains of Jiannan, the east bank of the Tadu River is the Chinese boundary. The Tibetan nation rules over the prefectures of Lan, Wei, Yuan, and Hui, reaching on the west to Lintao, and on the east far as Chengzhou; and on the western frontier of Jiannan, the land of Moxie [among the] Man, while on the southwest of the Tadu [River] is the Tibetan boundary. The places garrisoned by regular troops, the walled cities which are inhabited, and the Man tribes between the two borders subject to the Han, according to the present distribution of their lands, all are to remain as heretofore. On the north of the Yellow River from the ancient Xinchuanjun, to the north as far as the Great Desert, to the south as far as the Helan Mountains, Luotuoling shall be borderland. All that is between shall be neutral territory. With regard to the places not included in the covenant, wherever the Tibetans have garrisons the Tibetans shall keep, wherever the Han have garrisons the Han shall keep, each retaining its present possessions and not seeking to encroach on the other. The places that heretofore have not been garrisoned, shall not have troops stationed in them, nor shall walled cities be built, nor land cultivated. Now the generals and ministers of the two countries having been commissioned to meet, and having fasted and purified themselves in preparation for the ceremony, proclaim to the gods of heaven of earth, of the mountains and the rivers, and call the gods to witness that their oath shall not be broken. The text of the covenant shall be preserved in the ancestral temple, and the officers in charge according to the regulations of the two nations shall always keep it.

Jiezan also produced a sworn covenant, which he did not put into the pit where only the victims were buried.

After the conclusion of the sworn ceremony, Jiezan proposed to Yi to go to the southwest corner of the altar into a Buddhist tent to burn incense and make the oath. When this was finished, they again ascended the altar, when they drank wine and both gave and received ceremonial presents, each offering the products of his country, as a mark of liberal friendship. Finally they returned home.


During the second decade of the ninth century an intense three-way competition for control of the Gansu corridor developed among Tang China, Tibet, and the waxing Uighur Turkish empire. The latter entered into a marriage alliance with the Tang, whereupon the two powers began to apply pressure on the Tibetans from two fronts, resulting in a particularly violent period of combat as the Tibetans struggled to break the noose that was being drawn around their northeastern conquests. Negotiations to stabilize the frontiers led to a famous treaty, or perhaps series of treaties, beginning in 821, when Tibet was ruled by Tri Tsukdetsen, better known to posterity as Relpachen (r. 815–838). A notable feature of this treaty, in both its Chinese and Tibetan versions, is its reference to the Tang emperor as uncle and the Tsenpo as nephew. This phrase alludes, above all, to the relationship that had been formed between the two royal households through the marriages of the princesses Wencheng and Jincheng with Tibetan sovereigns. In the terms of these marital alliances, uncle and nephew effectively meant father-in-law and son-in-law. The Tang record of the treaty is given here; in chapter 3 we shall examine the surviving Tibetan edicts in relation to it. Below, following the description of the treaty’s ratification in China, we add the Chinese ambassador Liu Yuanding’s striking testimony of his mission to the court of the Tsenpo, to secure the approval of the Tibetan ruler himself. MTK

On the tenth day of the tenth month [of 821] the sworn ceremony was performed with the Tibetan envoys, the ministers of state, the presidents of the six boards, the directors of the sacrificial worship and revenue courts, the governor of the metropolis, and one of the generals, in all ten high officials, taking part. [ … ] The formula [of the Chinese] said: "We have recited the oaths, sacrificed the victims, and buried them together with the written text, reverently ascended and descended the altar, and performed all ceremonies without omission. Now, therefore, weapons shall be put by, and men be given rest, the bonds of kinship be honored, and friendship reestablished; the far-reaching policy has been carried out, and will produce abundant fruit. As the vault of heaven above overspreads the yellow earth below, so the swarming multitude of men look for rulers towards the ministers and high officers, for if left without leaders they would prey on and destroy each other. What the Chinese now rule shall have the Tang as the sovereign, and the country of their western race shall have the great Fan [Tibetans] as rulers. From this time henceforward both shall put by weapons and armor, forget their differences and old grievances, and respect the honored bond of uncle and nephew of their sovereigns and the ancient bonds of mutual aid. The frontier guard-houses shall be left ungarrisoned, and watch-fires no longer lighted; in danger and difficulty they shall think compassionately of each other, and oppression and plunder be stopped; the barrier stations and fortifications shall be disused and invasion and plunder shall cease. The important strong posts of defense shall be carefully kept as of old: they shall not plot against us, and we will make no preparations against them.

"Ah! Love men with benevolence, protect your country with loyalty, worship heaven with wisdom, and serve the gods with reverence; for if any one of those duties be neglected, it will bring down misfortune upon the body.

The frontier mountains are lofty,

The River flows unceasingly;

On a propitious day and favorable season

Have we sacrificed at the two boundaries.

The west to belong to great Tibet,

The east to be ruled by the grand Tang:

The great ministers, holding up the sworn treaty,

Proclaim it afar to the autumn country."

The Tsenpo of great Tibet, the state ministers, the Bochanbu [Tib. Pelchenpo],¹⁸ and Shang Qiexin’er, had sent the treaty beforehand, the important articles of which were: The two countries Tibet and China shall keep the borders which each one now rules, and neither shall fight with nor attack the other, they shall allow no plundering raids into each other’s border, nor secret plots to acquire territory. If any persons be suspected, they shall be taken alive, and their business inquired into, then they shall be given clothes and food, and sent back to their own country. All now fixed shall be followed, there shall be neither addition nor change.

The officers who take part in the sworn ceremony, seventeen persons, shall all sign their names.

The valley to the north of the Tsang River is the principal summer camp of the Tsenpo. It is surrounded by [a fence of] staves attached together. At an average distance of ten paces [one from the other] 100 long lances are arranged. There are three gates, with a great standard planted before each, at 100 paces from one another, with armored soldiers guarding the gates. Sorcerers with headdresses of bird[-feathers] and belts of tiger[-skin] beat drums. Whoever entered was searched before he was allowed to go in. In the middle [of the camp] there was a raised platform, surrounded by a rich balustrade. The Tsenpo was seated in his tent. [There, there were] dragons with and without horns, tigers, and panthers, all made of gold. [The Tsenpo] was clothed in white wool; a red muslin [turban] was tied so as to cover his head.¹⁹ He wore a gold-inlayed sword. Pelchenpo²⁰ was standing to his right. The ministers of state were stationed at the foot of the platform. Since the arrival of the Tang ambassador, the jishezhong,²¹ minister Xidaruo, came to deliberate with him regarding [the ceremony of] the oath. There was a great feast to the right of the tent. The serving of the dishes and the circulation of the wine there were roughly of the same order as in China. The band played the air The Prince of Qin defeated [the enemy] ranged in battle, and other diverse airs … all of the musicians being Chinese. The altar for the oath was ten paces wide and two feet high. The ambassador and more than ten great ministers of the Tibetans faced it. More than 100 chiefs were seated below the altar. On the altar, they had arranged a great banquet. Pelchenpo ascended upon it and announced the alliance [to the gods]. A man stationed beside him translated [his words] to communicate them to those below. When Pelchenpo had finished, [those assembled] smeared their lips with blood. Pelchenpo did not smear his lips with blood. The oath being completed, one swore once again before the Buddha, and they brought saffron-infused water that one drank. Congratulations were exchanged with the ambassador and one descended [from the altar].

[Edited by MTK and GT after the translations by S. W. Bushell, The Early History of Tibet. From Chinese Sources, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland XII (1880), extracts from 439–518, and corrected with reference to the French translation of Paul Pelliot, Histoire ancienne du Tibet (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1961). Bushell’s original footnotes have been edited or omitted. The final

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  • (5/5)
    An extensive and readable anthology of brief excerpts from literary, political, religious, philosophical, and historical documents covering the whole of Tibetan society. Among other delights, I enjoyed reading the Tibetan version of the Ramayana, a remarkably sophisticated "Imperial Decree on Translation" written c.800 CE and far in advance of anything in contemporary Europe, the female treasure hunter Sera Khandro's account of discoveries in Amnye Machen, Adrup Gönpo's travelogue of early 20th century France, the contrasting impressions of the early British Everest climbers and the lama of Rongbuk monastery (Ngawang Tendzin Norbu), and the opportunity to read excerpts from the documents from the earliest period of written Tibetan uncovered in Cave 17 at Dunhuang by Wang Yuanlu and disseminated by the pioneering explorers of the Taklamakan desert, Marc Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot. As is often the case, I can't help but feel the Bön are somewhat marginalized, nevertheless this is vital stuff for anyone interested in this fascinating culture.