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Faculty Profile

Tsering Shakya

Canada Research Chair in Religion and Contemporary Society in Asia
Institute of Asian Research
University of British Columbia
1855 West Mall, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6T 1Z2
Office: Room 281, C.K. Choi Building
Tel: 604-822-2968
E-mail: tshakya@exchange.ubc.ca


Born in Lhasa, he fled to India with his family after the Chinese invasion. He then won a scholarship to study in Britain, and was later to graduate from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) with a B.A. Honours in Social Anthropology and South Asian History. He received his M.Phil. in Tibetan Studies in 2000 and Ph.D. June 2004.

Today, Tsering is a world renowned and widely published scholar, on both historic and contemporary Tibet. His most expansive work to date The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 (Pimlico, London 1999) was acclaimed as “the definitive history of modern Tibet” by The New York Times, and "a prodigious work of scholarship” by the UK’s Sunday Telegraph. The book is the first comprehensive account of Tibet's recent history. In researching the book Shakya interviewed many leading Tibetan politicians and drawn on numerous unpublished sources. Tsering was able to draw upon his unrivalled network of official and unofficial contacts in government, academia, religious circles and the media throughout Tibet and China, and across Asia, Europe and the U.S, including numerous, previously unpublished sources. The book received wide recognition and is now regarded as a standard text on the history of modern Tibet.

Tsering Shakya’s work relies upon relationships of trust and confidentiality built up over many years. In April 1990, Tsering was the Convenor of the first International Conference on Modern Tibet Studies, held at the University of London and attended by scholars from China, India, Europe and the U.S. He went on to teach at the Centre of Refugee Studies at Oxford University, England, and was later to become a research fellow in Tibetan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University (1999-2002).

As an independent consultant and widely respected analyst, Tsering has addressed the European parliament and is regularly invited to advise Western governments on Tibet/China policy. As well as fulfilling various public-speaking engagements Tsering has, since the early 1990’s, contributed to many television and radio programmes, both location documentaries and studio-based discussions. He currently works off-air for Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Tibet news service and on-air, every fortnight, presenting an international current affairs ‘slot’ on RFA, while also making regular appearances on the BBC and CNN.

Tsering Shakya’s published works include Fire Under the SnowThe Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner (Harvill Press, 1997), which has sold over 400,000 copies in more than 20 languages. He was also co-editor of the first anthology of modern Tibetan short stories and poems, Song of the Snow LionNew Writings from Tibet (University of Hawaii, 2000). Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947, edited by Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya, (Serindia Publications, London, 2003) is a study of the relationship between senior British colonial officers and Tibetan elite as depicted in rare, previously unpublished photographs taken by members of the British Mission in Lhasa. Tsering’s feature articles have been published in numerous international journals and magazines, includingTime and New Left Review. He is currently engaged in a major research project on the shift in use of the Tibetan language, and how contemporary literature is used as a voice of resistance in present-day Tibet.


Ph.D., Tibetan Studies, expected June 2004. 
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Thesis: The Emergence of Modern Tibetan Literature Since 1950

M.Phil., Tibetan Studies, 2000.
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Thesis: Dondrup Gyal and the Search for Tibetan Modernism: A Study of Dondrup Gyal’s Literary Works

B.A., with Honours, Social Anthropology and South Asian History, 1981. 
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Writer/Consultant (1990 to date) – Tibet Affairs 
Current commitments include critical assessment of immigration and asylum procedures and compliance with various international civil and human rights laws for the Swiss Government’s Federal Office for Refugees; political commentary and advice on context and news presentation to help ensure accuracy of reports and analysis for the Tibetan news service at Radio Free Asia (RFA), a fortnightly program on Voice of America (VoA); and specialist commentator for the BBC and CNN.

Fellow in Tibetan Studies (1998–2002) – University of London, UK
Awarded four-year research fellowship from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), following the acclaimed publication of The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947; conducted research on the emergence of modern Tibet literature used as the basis for my doctoral thesis and a larger research project; lectured and advised graduate and undergraduate students.

Researcher/Specialist Consultant (1996–1997) – Tibet Information Network (TIN), London UK
Compiled, wrote and edited major reports on current economic and political trends; collated and translated confidential documents/source material; briefed and advised TIN’s in-house news team; conducted on-camera/on-microphone interviews for TV and radio; served as specialist advisor for various TV documentaries.

Policy and Monitoring Officer (1987–1990) – London Borough of Ealing (local council), UK
Advised council officials and elected members on policy issues relating to and affecting ethnic minorities; assisted in the development and monitoring of the ruling party’s manifesto commitment.

Researcher (1984–1987) – Leisure Service Dep’t, London Borough of Brent (local council), UK
Advised on policy and practice regarding the provision of leisure services for local ethnic minorities; identified unmet needs of various minority groups and provided recommendations for improving services.

Specialist Researcher (1982–1984) – North East London Religious Education Centre, UK
Researched and developed multi-cultural and multi-faith teaching materials for schools; established contacts between schools and different religious groups to enable school administrations to draw from resources in the community.

Volunteer Teacher (1982–1983) – Tibetan Children's Village, Dharamsala, India. 
Served as a volunteer teacher for middle school students at a Tibetan refugee school.


Lecturer (1998-2002) – School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London 
Lectured in the Religious Studies department during tenure as a Research Fellow and served as advisor to both graduate and undergraduate students specialising in Tibetan and Himalyan area studies, guiding them in their coursework and research; served as examiner for doctoral students’ theses in the fields of history, social anthropology and literature.

Lecturer (1991-94) – Centre for Refugee Studies, Queen Elizabeth College, Oxford University 
Developed and taught course on the Politics of Refugees, which explored the phenomenon of forced migration and problems associated with the resettlement of refugees.

Convenor (1990) – First International Conference on Contemporary Tibet. SOAS, University of London
Convened the first international conference on modern Tibetan studies; commissioned papers and invited scholars from China, Tibet, India, Europe and the U.S..

Research (1982–83) – Greater London Council, Local Education Authority, London.
Prepared and developed teaching resources for religious education in NE London Secondary Schools.

Research (1981) – Expedition to Zanskar, Ladakh, led by Dr. J. Crook for Bristol/Oxford University
Conducted interviews with Ladkhis on the changing structure of the family in Leh and also carried out research on the economic structure of monasteries in Zanskar.

Research (1980) – Expedition to Zanskar, Ladakh, led by Dr. John Crook for Bristol/Oxford University 
Collected data in Zanskar, Ladakh on the social and ecological adaptation to high altitude.

IV. Publications

A. Book – Author / Co-Author / Editor

Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947, edited by Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya, Serindia Publications, London, 2003 – a study of the relationship between senior British colonial officers and Tibetan elite as depicted in rare, previously unpublished photographs taken by members of the British Mission in Lhasa.

Song of the Snow Lion: New Writings from Tibet, commissioning and guest editor of Mãnoa, A Pacific Journal of International Writings, University of Hawaii, 2000 – an anthology of modern Tibetan short stories and poems, first ever to be compiled and translated into English.

The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947, Tsering Shakaya, Pimlico, London, 1999 – an historical account of modern Sino-Tibet relations that has received critical world acclaim (see Reviews, p. 6).

Fire Under the Snow: The Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner – Palden Gyatso, Tsering Shakya, Harvill Press, London, 1998 – the first account of the prison system in Tibet by a Tibetan political prisoner, translated into 20 languages.

Book – Contributor

“Cities and Thrones and Powers: The British and the Tibetans in Lhasa, 1936-1947” in Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947, Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya (eds.), Serindia Publications, London, 2003.

“Language, Literature and Representation in Tibet” in Tales of Tibet: Sky Burials, Prayer Wheels, and Wind Horses, edited and translated by Herbert J. Batt, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., London, 2001.

"Historical Introduction" in Leaders in Tibet: A Directory, edited by Victoria Conner and Robert Barnett, Tibet Information Network, London, 1997.

“The Development of Modern Tibetan Studies” and “Politicisation and the Tibetan Language” in Resistance and Reform in Tibet, edited by Robert Barnett and Shirin Akiner, Hurst & Company, London, 1994.

“Monastic Economics in Zanskar,” co-author with J. Crook, in Buddhist Himalayan Village, edited by J. Crook & H. Osmaston, University of Bristol, 1994.

“Monastic Communities in Zanskar 1980: Location, Function and Organisation,” Buddhist Himalayan Village, edited by J. Crook & H. Osmaston, University of Bristol, 1994.

“Six Families of Leh,” co-author with J. Crook, in Recent Research on Ladakh, edited by D. Kantowsky & R. Sanders, Schriftenreihe International Asienforum, Universitat Konstanz, 1983.

B. Articles 
“Blood in the Snows – Reply to Wang Lixiong,” New Left Review, No. 15, May/June 2002 pp: 39-60 (translated into French and published in France’s major newspaper, Courrier International, Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2002).

“Who Are the Prisoners? Tibetan Buddhism and the West”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol 69. No 1. 2001. pp: 183-189.

“Solving the Tibetan Problem,” Time Magazine (Asian Edition), July 17, 2000.

“The Waterfall and Fragrant Flowers, Development of Modern Tibetan Literature,” Mãnoa, A Pacific Journal of International Writings, University of Hawaii, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2000. pp: 28-40.

“The Man Who Wasn't Allowed to Tell the Truth: The 7th Panchen Lama,” Lungta, Dharamsala, India, Winter 1996. pp: 24-30.

“The Panchen Lama Controversy,” Tibetan Review, Vol. XXX, No. 8, 1996. pp:7-12.

“The Genesis of the 17-Point Agreement: The Genesis of the Sino-Tibetan Agreement of 1951,” Proceedings of the 6th International Conference of Tibetan Studies – Fegernes, Norway, Institute of Comparative Research in Human Culture, Oslo, 1994. pp:739-754.

“Whither the Tsampa Eaters?,” Himal, Vol. 6, No. 5, 1993. pp: 8-12.

“Tibet and the Occident: The Myth of Shangri-la,” Lungta, 1991. pp: 20-25. (translated and reprinted into German, French and Norwegian).

“1948 Trade Mission to United Kingdom - An Essay in Honour of Tsipon Shakabpa,” Tibet Journal, Vol. XV, No. 4, 1990. pp;97-114.

“Street Voices: Songs of Lhasa,” Tibet News, No. 3, June 1990. p.3.

“The Making of the Great Game Players: Tibetan Students in England 1912-1916,” Tibetan Review, Vol. XXI, No 1. 1986. pp:12-17.

“Tibet and the League of Nations,“ Tibet Journal, Vol. X, No. 3, 1985. pp:48-56.

“China's New Religious Policy,” Tibetan Review, Vol. XXVII, No. 11, 1983. pp:15-20.

“Tibetanization of Ladakh,” Tibetan Review, Vol. XX, No. 1, 1982. pp: 16-19.


A Beggar’s Life Lived with Just a Pen!: Gedun Choephel’s Life and Works. Paper delivered at the Gedun Choephel Centennial Conference, Latse Library, New York, November 2003.

Is Tibetan Culture Congruent with Modernity? Tradition versus Modernity: The Debate in Tibet. Paper delivered at conference on Modernism, History, Thought, and Visions of Social Interchange, University College, London, May 2003.

Pressures from the Periphery: Tharchin Babu and the Me long. Paper presented at the Workshop on Tibet: Sources of Modernity, Columbia University, New York, April 2003.

A Survey of the Sino-Indian Relationship in the Post Cold War Phase. Paper delivered at conference on the Cold War and its Legacy in Tibet: Great Power Politics and Regional Security, Centre for Cold War Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 2002.

Who are the Prisoners? Paper presented at symposium on Donald S, Lopez, Jr.’s book, Prisoners of Shangri la: Tibetan Buddhism and the West at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Boston, MA, November, 1999.

Lhasa Aristocrats and their Political Autobiographies, Questions of Testimony and Bias. Paper delivered at conference on the History of Tibet: New Resources and Perspectives, St. Anthony College, Oxford, May 1994.

The Genesis of the Sino-Tibetan Agreement, 1951. Paper delivered at the 6th International Association of Tibetan Studies, Fragernes, August 1992.

Status of Tibetan Language on the Indian Sub-Continent. Paper presented at the Cosma de Koros Memorial Conference, SOAS, University of London, 1986.


gSar rtsom: The Emergence of Modern Tibetan Literature Since 1950 – New Literary Production in Tibet and the Construction of Identity

This is both the topic of my doctoral thesis and of a larger research project that explores the emergence of modern Tibetan literature. In particular, I examine the shift in Tibetan language and its usage from the 1950s to the present day, and how contemporary literature is used as a voice of resistance in modern Tibetan society.

Text and Printing Culture in Tibet

It is generally accepted that, in terms of production, a huge of body of books was produced in Tibet. However, no study has been conducted on the history of printing in Tibet or the effect of printing on the formation of Tibetan culture and the transmission of knowledge. During the course of my doctoral research, I realised that to understand the development of literary production in Tibet, it is necessary to evaluate the economy and consumption of text in Tibetan society. Almost all Tibetan rnam thar (biography) and gsung bu (collected works) have detailed information on how the text came to be produced and often the names of patrons are listed. While there has been much research on the content of various rnam thar and gsung, most scholars have ignored information about the production of text, such that very little is known about how texts and books are produced and distributed in Tibet. My research is concerned with producers of books, the artisans, metal workers, carvers, carpenters, ink makers and scribers whose labour has rarely been explored when analysing Tibetan texts.

Ani Thrinley Choden, A Study of the Cultural Revolution and Millenarianism Movement in Nyemo

The events of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet are generally not much understood nor has there been any serious scholarly study of these events. In most publications on the issue, discussion revolves mainly around the destruction of Tibetan culture and the extent of Tibetans’ complicity in that destruction. In my book, The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947, I have touched upon the subject. However, given that I was dealing with a larger national politic and the limitation of space in dealing with a general history, I was not able to cover in depth certain events of the Cultural Revolution. Since the publication of my book I have come across additional information on the subject. In light of the new material and sources I have obtained, I am pursuing further research into the events of the Cultural Revolution at a micro level, particularly in the Nyemo area of Central Tibet.

Jag pa: Banditry in Tibet

The Tibetan notion of jag pa, which has the exact meaning as the term ‘bandit’ in English, is a wide-spread social phenomenon in Tibet, yet it has been rarely researched. Anyone who has lived in Tibetan society would have heard stories of bandits. Sometimes these stories are based on true events; often they have no identifiable characters and have acquired mythical status. Cases of banditry in Tibetan society are well documented. One of the most famous true cases involves a bandit group lead by Jag pa ‘Gram nag (Black Jaw Bandit) who terrorised the Nagchu area (northeast of Lhasa), which lies on the Sino-Tibetan trade route. In the 1930s and 40s, Black Jaw and his men robbed and virtually held siege to this important trade route. The Lhasa government dispatched an expeditionary force, lead by a young monk official named Pala Thupen Wodern (ph’a lha thub bstan ‘od ldan) to suppress Black Jaw and his men. Pala Thupen Wodern later became the Lord Chamberlain (drung yig chen mo) to the Dalai Lama and organised his escape from Tibet in 1959. My research explores the history of the Nagchu area and the rise of Black Jaw and his gang in the region.


10th Conference of International Association of Tibetan Studies, Board Advisor
Journal of International Association of Tibetan Studies, Editorial Board
Tibet Times, Founder and Board Director
Amnye Machen Institute – Tibetan Centre for Advance Studies, Board Advisor
George Bell Institute, Queen’s College, Birmingham, UK, Fellow and Member
Tibet Information Network, London, Trustee



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