HISTORY


In late 1949 and 1950, troops of the People’s Liberation Army entered the eastern areas of Tibet and quickly solidified Communist control of the region. During the mid-1950s, Mao Zedong imposed radical reforms across the Tibetan plateau, famously declaring to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in 1953 that “religion is poison.” By 1959, much of Lhasa’s population assembled in resistance to the Chinese occupation of their capital. On March 10 of that year, just a few days before the PLA bombed the summer palace, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India, where he remains in exile to this day. In the decades that followed, especially during the years of the Cultural Revolution documented by Tsering Dorje, Chinese authorities carried out the widespread imprisonment and execution of religious leaders, the eradication of “old society,” and the destruction and desecration of religious sites on a mass scale. Lhasa, like the rest of Tibet, remains firmly under the control of Chinese authorities and its residents are subject to fluctuating degrees of social, cultural, economic, and religious repression. Tsering Woeser bears witness to these struggles in her work.

Prior to 1949, few Europeans or North Americans had set foot in Lhasa. Several, mainly British diplomats and civil servants such as Hugh Richardson and Frederick Spencer Chapman, produced photographic records of life prior to the Communist takeover of Tibet. They present life in the capital city largely free of Chinese political influence, albeit with a sharply colonial eye.






Religious service in Jokhan
Willoughby Patrick Roseneyer
1922
Pitt Rivers Museum
1998.286.41.1







Monks blowing radung, Potala in distance

The Potala Palace, Tibet’s largest and best-known landmark situated on Marpori (Red Hill), served as the winter residence for the Dalai Lamas and the seat of the Tibetan government known as the Ganden Podrang from the seventeenth century until the 1959, when the Fourteenth Dalai Lama fled into exile. During that time, the sprawling complex formed an epicenter of Tibetan religious and political power. The outer façade was shelled by Chinese troops in 1959, although the main structure was largely spared. The Shöl Village at the palace’s foot originally housed government offices, including a mint, printing house, and prison. The park surrounding the Dalai Lama’s teaching throne known as Shukti Lingka can be seen to the right Shöl village. The traditional western gate of Lhasa, known as Bargo Kaling and built through the middle of a Buddhist stūpa, was destroyed in 1967. The photograph was taken atop Chakpori (Iron Hill), site of Lhasa’s traditional Medical College.


Frederick Spencer Chapman 
October 2, 1936
Pitt Rivers Museum
1998.131.305.1

︎︎︎Refer to “Absent, or Not Absent” poem by Tsering Woeser



The Potala Palace with monks blowing radung long horns




Lugong ceremony outside the main entrance to the Jokhang

The Jokhang Temple is Tibet’s earliest and foremost Buddhist temple located in the center of the old city of Lhasa. The temple enshrines Tibet’s most sacred Buddhist image known as the Jowo Śākyamuni—a statue of the historical buddha said to have been crafted in India during his lifetime. The Jokhang has been a primary center for Tibetan Buddhist worship, ritual, and religious practice, drawing pilgrims from all parts of the Tibetan cultural world for well over a millennium. The temple lies at the heart of Lhasa’s principal ritual ambulatory, called the Barkhor (literally “middle circuit”), which skirts its outer walls and surrounding structures. The Jokhang and Barkhor form Lhasa’s primary public religious space, where devotees daily walk, prostrate, pray, and perform offerings. They also provide a lively marketplace and social scene. The temple was ransacked and desecrated during the Cultural Revolution. Since the late 1980s, the Barkhor and Jokhang also became a site for political protest and demonstration against Chinese rule. This photograph documents a traditional religious ceremony known as Lugong, to expel bad luck and misfortune from the Tibetan people.


Hugh E. Richardson
ca. 1937–1940
Pitt Rivers Museum
2001.59.9.8.1

︎︎︎Refer to photograph of the Jokhang entrance by Tsering Dorje, 1964






Religious service in Jokhang

The Jokhang Temple complex  includes a  large number of shrines and spaces for ritual assembly. One such assembly area is the outer courtyard, where monks regularly received religious teachings. Here, monks are seated in rows listening to a sermon of the senior religious official known as the Ganden Tripa.

Willoughby Patrick Roseneyer
1922
Pitt Rivers Museum
1998.286.41.1

︎︎︎Refer to photograph of the Jokhang courtyard by Tsering Dorje, 1966




13th Dalai Lama's elephant outside Potala

The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dalai Lamas received a variety of gifts from other nations. This photograph captured an elephant that belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso (1876–1933), perhaps a gift from Bhutan in 1899.

Evan Yorke Nepean
1936
Pitt Rivers Museum
2001.35.127.1

︎︎︎Refer to “The Entire Night I Dreamt of Langchen-la” poem by Tsering Woeser

︎︎︎Refer to Dearest Elephant (2021)
Work by Ian Boyden and Tsering Woeser






The Gyayum Chenmo, mother of the 14th Dalai Lama and family at Yabshi Taktser


The Fourteen Dalai Lama’s mother, known as the Gyayum Chenmo (seated) is seen here together with the Dalai Lama’s elder sister Tsering Dolma (rear right), Tsering Dolma’s daughter Khando Tsering (front right),  the Dalai Lama’s younger sister Jetsun Pema (front left), and the wife of the Nepalese representative to Tibet (rear left). The photograph was taken at the Lhasa estate newly provided to the family of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama known as Yabzhi Takster.

Hugh E. Richardson
ca. 1948–1949
Pitt Rivers Museum
2001.59.7.33.1

︎︎︎“The Spider of Yabzhi Taktser” poem by Tsering Woeser