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III. Cultural Archaeology


In old Tibet, archaeological study of cultural relics was not taken into consideration by local rulers. Only some foreign missionaries, merchants, explorers and scholars, all with different purposes, made some fragmented and unsystematic studies in this field.

lt was only after the founding of new China that domestic scientists began to make planned investigations a reality.

Tibet's first cultural relic's administrative department was set up in 1959. And in 1965, the Tibet Cultural Relic's Administrative Commission was formally initiated.

In the early 1960s, archaeological workers went to different parts of Tibet. They collected tens of thousands of cultural relics scattered among the people. These cultural relics included the most rare Pattra Suttra , Thangka (tapestry), known as a treasure of Tibet's painting art, and other rich and colorful folk religious ware. The discovery of the Pattra Sutra was especially important, a sutra written in Sanskrit on the leaf of Mantra, originating from ancient india. Very difficult to preserve, only few Pattra Sutra are able to be seen in the world at present. They are the rarest of cultural relics. The work of collecting and studying the Pattra Sutra is of important significance to the study of Buddhism, as well as the ancient South Asian area. The cultural relics found in this research also included the imperial mandates issued by the central government in and after the Yuan and Ming dynasties to appoint local officials. They also included edicts, seals, golden books, inscribed boards, the stone tablets built in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet by Emperor Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, the Jinbenba Bottle bestowed by the Emperor Qianlong for the use of deciding the incarnate boy of the Dalai Lama through drawing lots, and memorials to the stone, also documents and letters sent to the central government by local Tibetan government and tribal chiefs. These cultural relics provide indisputable evidence that Tibet is an inseparable part of China and that the Central Chinese Government has exercised sovereign administration over Tibet for a long time.

Since the early 1960s, Tibet's cultural relic's administrative department has also made investigations into the historical ruins, ancient buildings, grates and stone tablets, and cliff carvings which existed across all of Tibet. As a result, the department was able to get a comprehensive view and much clear knowledge about those historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection in the entire autonomous region. At present, the historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection in Tibet total 13; the Jokhang Monastery, the Potala Palace, Gandan Temple, Sa'gya Temple, Tashilhunpo Temple, Changzhug Temple, Tombs of Tibetan Kings, kingdom of Guge, Drepung monastery, Sera monastery, Norbulingka, Shalu Monastery, and the site of resistance to British aggression at Zongshan Gyangze. In addition, another 11 protected historical monument and cultural relics were decided on by the local government The state every year allocated a large amount of special funds, plus rare and valuable materials, for their maintenance. In 1988, the State Council approved an all-round renovation project of the world - famous Potala Palace. The working team was headed by State Councilor Li Tieying; the estimated investment was 35 million yuan ( about U.S. $ 4 million ). By 1992 , the investment rose to 53 million yuan (about U.S $ 6 million). The repair of the Potala Palace set a record in China for the maintenance cost of an ancient building. The renovation project has been successfully completed.

By the end of the 1980s, Tibet's archaeological workers had found five sites of the Paleolithic Period, more than 30 of the Microlith Period, over 20 sites of ruins of the Neolithic Period. Meover, they also found in Lhoka, Nagqu, and Lhasa more than 20 graves of the ancient Tubo Dynasty, totaling more than 2,000 tombs.

From 1978-79, the Tibet Cultural Relic's Administrative Commission organized a study of ruins left from the Neolithic Period in Karub, Qamdo. These ruins were especially rich with distinctive characteristics of cultural relics. As a result, the research attracted great attention from both domestic and overseas academic circles. It was considered of epoch-making significance in the study of the ancient culture of Tibet. Experts felt it provided representative view of archaeological exploitation in the Tibetan Plateau. In 1984, archaeological workers found another ruin of the Neolithic Period in Qunkong in the northern suburb of Lhasa. This ruin of the Neolithic Period also proved of high academic value.


The long-standing folk literature and art of the Tibetan nationality has distinctive national and regional characteristics. From the 1950s, literary and art workers of Tibetan and Han nationalities began to concentrate their attention in this field. After a long period of research, Tibetan Folk Stories and other works were eventually published.

In the 1984 instruction on the works in Tibet by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, it is clearly written: ''The Tibetan nationality has old and unique cultural tradition as well as rich and colorful literature and artistic heritages. This nationality is good at singing and dancing. We should pay great respect to it, and do our utmost to inherit and develop Tibetan national culture and art, as well as protect its historical heritages in a scientific way,'' In line with the spirit expressed in this instruction, the Tibet Autonomous Region's government devoted a vast amount of manpower, as well as material and financial resources into a well-organized and large-scale work-study project of folk music, dances, operas, songs, rhymes, proverbs, fables, legends and stories. By the end of 1992, hundreds of millions of words had been compiled of the folk literatures of Tibet, Monba and Lhoba Nationalizes. The barge folk literature series included Collection of Tibet Folk Stories, Collection of Tibetan Ballads, Collection of Tibetan Proverbs, Collection of Tibetan Folk Dances, Collection of Tibetan Folk Music, Annals of Tibetan Opera , and Annals of Tibetan Folk Art. This literatures helped to save and protect the national cultural heritages effectively.

After the founding of New China, efforts to Save the Life of King Gesar should, especially, be mentioned here. This is a great ballad - epic about an ancient Tibetan hero; it is the longest epic in the world. It tells about King Gesr and his followers' brave and resourceful struggles against evil forces. It also tells us much about ancient Tibetan society, including war, production, living styles, nationality, religion, morality, love and family, It is a virtual encyclopedia about the lives of ancient Tibetans, and of high aesthetic and academic value. This epic provides invaluable material for today's study of ancient philosophy, social science, history, culture, ethnology, religion and aesthetics.

In the past, Life of King Gesar was transmitted down orally. However, there was great danger that this cultural treasure would be lost. From the 1950s, the State began a series of measures to save this epic. After 1978, Life of King Gesar was listed as the State Important Scientific Research Project for the Sixth and Seventh Five -Year Plan periods. The Folk Literature Research Institute of the Social Science Academy of China and related regions and provinces, such as Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan where this epic had left its traces all set up special leading groups and working teams for this work. These departments coordinated all work and research. They also organized related academic discussions and performances of folk artists. In Tibet alone, from concerned working departments had collected more than 180 editions for oral telling and singing, and 83 copies recorded in woodblock and handwriting. They put together a catalogue, including seven parts, 18 chapters and 149 stories, totaling 174 sections. They also had recorded 70 related stories from folk artists using more than 3,000 types; in addition, they found a batch of legendary ruins of King Gear, 11 original objects said once used by him, as well as 30 folk legends. These materials totaled an estimated 80 books with about one million lines containing 15 million words. To date, more than 20 books have been produced. Moreover, Collection of King Gesar Study, which fully demonstrates the fruits of this project over the past half century, was recently published.


In China, the ancient books and documents on Tibetan study written in characters of different nationalities are numerous. In the 1920s and 1930s, some scholars had planned to sort out these materials systematically. However, owing to lack of necessary conditions, their hope died quietly.

After the founding of New China, particularly in the last decade, the related research bodies at both state and local levels have done much to save, categorize and publish ancient books and documents on Tibetan Studies. By the end of the 1980s, ancient Tibetan books published in China totaled over 200 kinds, with more than one million copies. These include not only famous historical works as Green History, Red History, The Wiseman Xerab, Records of Royal Rulers in Tibet, The Lang Family, and Sakw Genealogy, but also a large number of representative works on religion, literature, poetry, artistic theory, grammar and so on. Some scientific documents, such as Four Medical Codes and Classics of Calendar Calculation were also published and available to the world.

Besides the original Tibetan works, a large batch of Tibetan historical materials, such as Selected Official Documents From Tibetan Historical Archives, Selected Ancient Tibetan Laws and Regulations and Selected Tibetan Historical Materials Series were completed and published. Some important historical documents originally preserved only in original Tibetan historical books were also included in these publications.

Tibetan Tripitaka, including the Kanjur (the translated scriptures), and the Tanjur (the translated elucidating treaties), are an encyclopedias of traditional Tibetan study. In 1987, the Center for Tibetan Study of China set up the Bureau for Correcting Tibetan Tripitaka in Chengdu. The duty of this working body was to read different editions and then compare and correct them. These efforts would finally result in the publication of an authoritative Tibetan Tripitaka (Revised Edition) of 158 volumes in deluxe edition of 16 mo, which is expected to be a perfect combination of the published Chinese Great Scriptures in Chinese. This work is currently under way. The first volume of Tibetan Tripitaka is scheduled to be published by the China Tibetology Publishing House sometime later this year.

While successfully categorizing and publishing historical documents in Tibetan, a similar work on those materials written in Chinese has also achieved considerable success. To date, the published historical documents in Chinese total about two hundred and cover the period from the Tang Dynasty to the Republic of China. They include historical records, dossiers, memorials to the throne, surveys, local annals, travelogues, and notes and diaries. Some are exceptionally rare; Historical Materials About Tubo Quoted from ''The Complete Tang Prose'' and "The complete Tang Poetry'', Tubo History as a Mirror, Tibetan Historical Materials From ''Records of the Ming Dvnasty'' , Tibetan Historical Materials From ''Records of the Qing Dynasty'' , Memorials to the Throne From Local Tibetan Government, Dossiers About the Situations on the Borders of Sichuan and Yunnan in Late Qing Dynasty, Telegrams on Tibetan Affairs in 1912 , Selected Documents on the Death and Funeral Service of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Reincarnation of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Selected Dossiers About Ninth Panchen Lama's Activities in Inland China and the Obstructions He Met When Returning Tibet, and Reports From Huang Musong, Wu Zhongxin , Zhao Shouyu and Dai Chuanxian on Their Duties of Dealing With Tibetan Affairs, all are vitally important materials for Tibetan Study.

Thanks to the close cooperation and joint efforts of those involved units, the work of translating historical documents between Chinese and Tibetan has also been undertaken smoothly.

Equally important is the publishing of ancient books and documents in both Chinese and Tibetan so that this irreplaceable material is not lost. It has not only provided interested scholars with rich historical materials, but also given convincing evidence to expose the plot of ''Tibet's Independence'' and safeguard China's unification. At the same time, it also protects an important historical cultural heritage. According to a concerned personnel in Tibet, in the past, many valuable works had only one or two handwritten copies. They were printed on wood -blocks, and their distribution was strictly limited. Even in modern time, the local Tibetan government locked the historical documents in dark rooms. Ordinary people were not permitted to read them without charge. Only after the founding of new China were these works, for the first time, publicly published and widely distributed. They have returned to the hands of all Tibetans.

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