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Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa

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Title: Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa  
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Subject: Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, Muné Tsenpo, Hugh Edward Richardson, Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen, Tsangpa, Tibet (1912–51)
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Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa

Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa (Tibetan: tsi dpon dbang phyug bde ldan zhwa sgab pa, January 11, 1907 – February 23, 1989) was a Tibetan nobleman, scholar and former Finance Minister of the government of Tibet.[1]


M. Shakabpa, was born in Tibet. His father, Tashi Phuntsok Shakabpa, was the steward of Lhasa. His uncle Trimon Norbu Wangyal, served as a Minister in the Cabinet of the 13th Dalai Lama. Shakabpa joined the Government at the age of 23, in 1930, as an official of the Treasury, and was appointed Minister of Finance in 1939, a position he held until 1950. His uncle, who had participated in the tripartite negotiations between Great Britain, China and Tibet in 1914, strongly encouraged him to take up an interest in Tibetan history, handing him in 1931 many documents he had personally collected from the Simla Accord negotiations,[2] in order to counter the Chinese narrative accounts concerning his country.[3]

Between late 1947 and early 1949, Shakabpa, in his capacity as Tibet's Finance Minister, was despatched abroad by the Tibetan Cabinet, or Kashag, as head of a Tibetan Trade Mission, a delegation that travelled around to world to investigate the possibilities of commercial treaties, particularly with the United States. He travelled to India, China, USA, England, France, Switzerland and Italy. The mission was intended also to strengthen claims for Tibet as an independent, sovereign nation.[4][5] The Tibetan Government in Exile argues that the official passport he was issued with at the time illustrates that Tibet was an independent country.

As Chinese forces spilled over into Amdo and Kham, Shakabpa and Tsechak Khenchung Tupten Gyelpo were appointed to serve as chief negotiators with the Chinese. The mission was aborted when the Tibetan cabinet minister in eastern Tibet, Ngapöpa Ngawang Jikmé, apparently arranged an agreement with the Chinese. When the PRC entered Tibet in 1951, Shakabpa decided to go into exile, moving to India where, from 1959 until 1966, he was the principal representative of the 14th Dalai Lama in New Delhi. It was from this time on that Shakabpa began to concentrate on a thorough study of Tibetan history.[6]

As events in Tibet deteriorated in the mid-fifties, he began to organise the Tibetan resistance together with the Dalai Lama's two older brothers, Gyalo Döndrup and the Taktser Rinpoche Thubten Jigme Norbu.[7] After China's violent suppression of Tibetan demonstrations, and the flight into exile of the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans into exile, Shakabpa played a key role in developing the infrastructure for assisting the new diaspora in India. His major work, Tibet: A Political history, published by Yale University Press in 1967, has been judged 'the most thorough explication in a western language of a Tibetan's view of their history' down to recent times,[8] His perspective views the historical relationship between China and Tibet as flowing from the model of preceptor and patron(mchod gnas dang yon bdag) established by Genghis Khan, whereby 'the lama serv(ed) as the spiritual guide and preceptor of the khan, while the khan played the role of the protector and patron of the khan,'[9] and that Tibet was 'forcibly incorporated into China under the threat of military destruction only in 1951'. This book, and in his more definitive account in Tibetan, published in 1976, have been subjected to thorough academic critique by Chinese Tibetologists.[10][11]

Shakabpa lived in New Delhi, Kalimpong and Manhattan. He died of stomach cancer, at the age of 82, in 1989 in the house of one of his sons in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Works and Articles

  • Buddha's Relics in Tibet, Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta 1951.
  • Tibet: A Political History, Yale University Press, 1967.
  • Bod-kyi srid don rgyalrabs, 2 vols. Shakabpa House, Kalimpong, 1976. See 2010)
  • Tibet, in Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th. ed. 1977.
  • Catalogue and Guide to the Central Temple of Lhasa, Shakabpa house, Kalimpong, India, 1981.
  • (with Yongten Gyatso)The Nectar of the Immortal Gods Inducing Recollectionj in the Brethren Living at Home in the Three Provinces of Tibet and Living in Exile,(booklet, Tibetan), 1988.
  • A Brief History of Ancient Monasteries and Temples in Tibet, (ed. T. Tsepal Taikhang), Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa Memorial Foundation, Varanasi, 2002.
  • One hundred thousand moons,(translation of Shakabpa, 1976) tr. Derek F. Maher, BRILL, 2010.[12][13]

Passport found in 2003

A photograph of Shakabpa's passport was first published in 1967 in his book Tibet: A Political History. In 2003, this Tibetan passport was rediscovered in Nepal by Friends of Tibet (India) was presented to His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in 2004. [14] Issued by the Kashag to Tibet's finance minister Shakabpa for foreign travel, the passport was a single piece of pink paper, complete with photograph. It has a message in hand-written Tibetan and typed English, similar to the message by the nominal issuing officers of today's passports, stating that ""the bearer of this letter – Tsepon Shakabpa, Chief of the Finance Department of the Government of Tibet, is hereby sent to China, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and other countries to explore and review trade possibilities between these countries and Tibet. We shall, therefore, be grateful if all the Governments concerned on his route would kindly give due recognition as such, grant necessary passport, visa, etc. without any hindrance and render assistance in all possible ways to him." The text and the photograph is sealed by a square stamp belonging to the Kashag, and is dated "26th day of the 8th month of Fire-Pig year (Tibetan)" (10 October 1947 in the gregorian calendar).[15]

The passport has received visa and entry stamps from several countries and territories, including India, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Switzerland, Pakistan, Iraq and Hong Kong, but not China. Some visa do reflect an official status, with mentions such as "Diplomatic courtesy, Service visa, Official gratis, Diplomatic visa, For government official".

The existence of this passport, which is believed to be genuine, is used by pro-Tibetan independence groups to demonstrate the recognised independence of Tibet in the mid 1900s.

See also

  • The 17-Point Agreement, The full story as revealed by the Tibetans and Chinese who were involved (1950-1951 : involvement of Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa in the 17 points agreement)


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