IN MEMORIAM: Erberto Lo Bue (1946-2022)

John Bray and Amy Heller

Erberto Lo Bue, who passed away in November 2022, was a distinguished scholar of Tibetan and Himalayan art history. His wide range of interests included contemporary sculptors from Nepal and Ladakh, the art of the Great Stupa in Gyantse and the love songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama.  In the course of his career, he prepared some 200 longer and shorter academic publications, including research papers, monographs, exhibition catalogues and edited volumes. His final post was as Associate Professor at the University of Bologna, and he remained active in research and writing long after his retirement in 2012.

Erberto in front of his birthplace, 2019. Photo: Guido Vogliotti.

Erberto was born in Torre Pellice in the alpine foothills of northern Italy on 30 July 1946. His father, Francesco Lo Bue, was a teacher of Latin and Greek who also served as a minister of the Waldensian Church. The Waldensians are a small denomination that dates back to the 12th century and later became aligned with the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity. Erberto was the eldest son, followed by two younger sisters.

According to Erberto himself, he had two distinguishing features as a child: the first was an insatiable sense of curiosity, and the second was a desire to impose order and tidiness, first on the things in his own room and then on the rest of the house. In these two qualities we can perhaps discern his future vocation for scholarly enquiry combined with a parallel vocation as an exhibition curator, selecting, documenting and explaining the best work of his chosen artists. 

Francesco Lo Bue, who passed away when Erberto was only nine, always insisted that his son should make up his own mind on religious matters. Ultimately, Erberto never sought baptism but he took pride in his father’s legacy, especially including his role in Italy’s anti-fascist resistance between 1943 and 1945. He also remarked that his own links with the Waldensians had increased his sympathy for other minority groups in both Europe and Asia, including Tibet.

Growing up in Torre Pellice, Erberto developed a love of nature and of hiking. He retained these loves throughout his life, while extending his horizons through increasingly adventurous travel. Shortly before his final year at high school, he travelled by train and hitchhiking to England and Scotland before embarking on a fishing vessel bound for Norway, and then travelling through Scandinavia to Germany.

After his high school education, Erberto studied for a Laurea (honours degree) in Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Venice. His choice of subject was motivated by the desire to be able to communicate as effectively as possible wherever he travelled. He graduated with a thesis related to Anglo-American literature and his degree course also included the study of French and German.

Alongside his Italian mother tongue, Erberto felt a particularly close relationship with the English language, perhaps partly because his paternal grandmother had been from England. In his editing work he was always punctilious on the finer points of English grammar and style, sometimes to the point of appearing old-fashioned. He must have been one of the few people still living in the early 21st century who habitually used expressions such as “on the third inst.”, meaning “on the third day of the current month”.

In 1968 Erberto moved from Venice to Switzerland where he initially worked for Vittorio Chiaudano, whom he later described as “an Italian eccentric then interested in parapsychology” (Lo Bue 2014).  Later in the same year, he was employed as a secretary and advisor to the widow of the Italo-Swiss painter Charles Rollier (1912-1968), who drew much of his inspiration from Hinduism and Buddhism. Rollier’s library served as Erberto’s first introduction to Indian and Tibetan art. Subsequently, his taste for travel took him further and further east. In the summer of 1969, he travelled overland to Turkey and the following year to Iran and Afghanistan.

An exhibition on Tantra at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1971 provided a further stimulus for Erberto’s growing Asian interests. In 1972, he submitted to Chiaudano a project aimed at putting together a collection of Tibetan and Himalayan traditional objects to be purchased in Britain as well as Nepal and India, and to “organize sale-exhibitions in Switzerland with the aim of reinvesting the earnings in the purchase of representative items of finer and finer quality” (Lo Bue 2014). This is what led to Erberto’s first visit to Nepal in 1972, and to his lifelong interest in the work of Newar sculptors in the Kathmandu valley. He made further visits to Nepal in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977. In 1977 he embarked on a research degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

At SOAS, Erberto’s senior supervisor was the eminent Tibetologist David Snellgrove (1920-1916). At one of their first meetings, Snellgrove made clear that there was little point in studying Tibetan art unless one had the linguistic competence to study the associated Tibetan-language religious texts. Erberto took this observation as a guiding insight that determined the course of his research as well as his relationship with his own students. Alongside Snellgrove, Philip Denwood served as Erberto’s main Tibetan teacher, and he later worked with Erberto on the translation of key Tibetan texts.

Erberto working on the Dharmamandala Sutra, 1986. Photo Stella Rigo Righi.

Erberto’s Ph.D thesis, which he submitted in 1981, was on “Himalayan Sculpture in the XXth Century. A Study of the Religious Statuary in Metal and Clay of the Nepal Valley and Ladakh.”  His overall argument was that the study of 20thcentury Himalayan art was not only a subject worthy of serious historical research in its own right but might also help to shed more light on the history of Tibetan and Himalayan art in general. He often returned to the theme of contemporary Buddhist artists in both Nepal and Ladakh in his later work.

Erberto continued his friendship with Snellgrove after completing his Ph.D: he was responsible for introducing him to Torre Pellice, where he bought a house following his retirement from SOAS.  Snellgrove had been a former student of the Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984) whom Erberto regarded as a foundational figure in modern Tibetan studies. He praised Tucci as “the first scholar who placed the history of Tibetan art within its political and cultural context on the basis of a systematic analysis of original sources, both historical and religious, local as well as encyclopaedic” (Lo Bue 2007). Erberto was proud to place himself in the same academic lineage.

After completing his doctorate, Erberto held a series of temporary research and teaching positions at the Universities of Turin and Milan as well as the Centro Piemontese di Studi sul Medio ed Estremo Oriente (CeSMEO) in Turin. From 1983 Stella Rigo Righi became his life-long companion, often accompanying him in his Asian travels.

Alongside his teaching, Erberto continued to curate exhibitions on Tibetan and Himalayan art, as well as conducting a series of research expeditions, notably to Central Tibet, Kham and Mustang, as well as return visits to Ladakh and the Kathmandu Valley. From 1997 to 1999 he taught in Istanbul on behalf of the Italian Foreign Office. In 1999 he moved to the University of Bologna, where his students remember him as a brilliant and inspiring teacher. Erberto was responsible for the Indology course at the Department of Linguistic and Oriental Studies, and taught Indian and Central Asian art history as well as classical Tibetan. He retired from Bologna as an Associate Professor in 2012.

Erberto (right) in Kham, together with a local guide, in 1997. Photo: Stella Rigo Righi.

Erberto always insisted on high standards for himself, his students and the researchers whose work he edited. When confronted with what he considered to be poor or sloppy scholarship, Erberto responded with a sense of pain, indignation and even outrage.  In print, his words sometimes seemed severe. However, the Erberto whom one met in person was always more engaging than the author of his emails. Expressions of scholarly dismay would be tempered by a shrug, a laugh and a wry smile.

Erberto will be celebrated because of his major contribution to the study of Tibetan art and civilisation.  He will be remembered for his devotion to his chosen field, his insistence on high standards, his compassion, and his joie-de-vivre. Among those who knew him best, he will be missed most of all for his immense personal warmth.

He is survived by his wife Stella Rigo Righi as well as his two younger sisters and his stepson Paolo Buissa (son of Stella Rigo Righi).



Unpublished Ph.D thesis

1981. Himalayan Sculpture in the XXth century: a Study of the Religious Statuary in Metal and Clay of the Nepal Valley and Ladakh. Ph.D thesis. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. DOI:

Books and exhibition catalogues

1983. sKu-thang. Tibetan Paintings from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century. Florence: Mario Luca Giusti.

1990. Gyantse Revisited. With Franco Ricca. Florence: Casa Editrice Le Lettere Turin: CESMEO.

1991. Tibet: dimora degli dei. Arte buddhista tibetana e himalayana dal XII al XX secolo. Milan: La Rinascente.

1993. The Great Stupa of Gyantse. A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century. With F. Ricca. London: Serindia, London.

1994. Le Montagne Sacre. Antica Arte del Tibet. Modena: Museo d’Arte Medievale e Moderna.

1994. Tesori del Tibet: oggetti d’arte dai monasteri di Lhasa. Milan: La Rinascente,

1998. La preziosa ghirlanda degli insegnamenti degli uccelli [Bya chos rin-chen ’phreng-ba]. Milan: Adelphi.

1998. A Tibetan Journey. Dipinti dal Tibet XIII-XIX secolo. Milan: Emil Mirzakhanian.

1998. Tibet. Templi scomparsi fotografati da Fosco Maraini. Turin: Ananke

2001. Art of Tibet. Milan: Renzo Freschi.

2011. Images of Devotion. Religious Sculpture from Nepal, Tibet and India. Como: Capriaquar & Studio Nodo, Pescara.

2012. Gods and Demons of the Himâlayas. London: Rossi & Rossi.

Edited collections

2001-2003. Contributions to the History of Tibetan Art, special double issue of Tibet Journal 26, Nos. 3-4; 27, Nos 1-2; 27, Nos. 3-4; 28, Nos 1-2.

2010. Wonders of Lo. The Artistic Heritage of Mustang. Mumbai: Marg.

2010. Tibetan Art and Architecture in Context. Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter 2006. With Christian Luczanits. Andiast: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies.

2011. Art in Tibet and the Himalayas. Issues in Traditional Tibetan Art from the Seventh to the Twentieth Century. Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 2003.Vol. 10/13. Leiden: Brill.

2014. Art and Architecture in Ladakh. Cross-Cultural Transmissions in the Himalayas and Karakoram. With John Bray. Leiden: Brill.

2014. Il Tibet fra Mito e Realtà. Tibet Between Myth and Reality. Atti del Convegno per i centenario della nascita di Fosco Maraini. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

Articles and book chapters

1983. “Traditional Tibetan Painting in Ladakh in the Twentieth Century.” International Folklore Review 3, pp. 52-72. London.

1987. “The Dharmamandala-sutra by Buddhaguhya”. In Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, pp. 787-818. Edited by G. Gnoli and L. Lanciotti Roma, IsMEO.

2000. “On Some Inscriptions in the Temples of the ‘bum-pa’ of the Great Stupa at Gyantse.” East and West 50, No. 1/4, pp. 387-437.

2002. “Newar Sculptors and Tibetan Patrons in the 20th Century”. Tibet Journal 27, No. 3/4, pp. 121-170.

2005. “Lives and Works of Traditional Buddhist Artists in 20th Century Ladakh. A Preliminary Account.” In Ladakhi Histories. Local and Regional Perspectives, pp. 353-378. Edited by John Bray. Leiden: Brill.

2005. “Yama’s Judgement in the Bar do thos grol chen mo: An Indic Mystery Play in Tibet”. Tibet Journal 30, No. 2, pp. 9-24

2007. “A 16th-Century Ladakhi School of Buddhist Painting.” In Buddhist Art: Form & Meaning, pp. 102-116. Edited by Pratapaditya Pal. Mumbai: Marg Publications.

2007. “The Gu ru lha khang at Phyi dbang. A Mid-15th Century Temple in Central Ladakh”. In Discoveries in Western Tibet and the Western Himalayas, pp. 175-196. Edited by Amy Heller & Giacomella Orofino. PIATS 10. Vol. 8. Leiden: Brill.

2007. “Giuseppe Tucci and Historical Studies on Tibetan Art”. Tibet Journal 32, No. 1 pp. 53-64.

2009. “Notes on Sky-burial in Indian, Chinese and Nepalese Tibet.” Mountains, Monasteries and Mosques. Recent Research on Ladakh and the Western Himalaya, pp. 221-237. Edited by John Bray & Elena De Rossi Filibeck. Supplement No. 2 to Rivista degli Studi Orientali 80 (New Series).

2011 “Newar Artistic Influence in Tibet and China between the 7th and the 15th century Rivista degli Studi Orientali 84, Supplement 1:25-62.

2014. “The Painting of Charles Rollier: the Influence of Indian culture on a European Artist”. Marg, a Magazine of the Arts 65, No. 3, pp.

2014. “In Memory of Vittorio Chiaudano (1935-1996): 20th-century Buddhist and Hindu Statues from the Nepal Valley Belonging to the Aniko Collection on Loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum”. Tibet Journal 39, No. 2 pp. 3-35.

2016. “A Tibetan ‘Mahābodhi’. The Main Image in the dPal khor chos sde of “rGyal rtse”. Rivista degli studi orientali. Nuova Serie, 89, pp. 133-146. Studies in Honour of Luciano Petech: a Commemoration Volume.

2017. “Tshe ring dngos grub, a Ladaki Painter and Astrologer”. Tibet Journal 42, No. 1, pp. 3-12

Mireille Helffer: a life devoted to music and ritual

Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy and Katia Buffetrille

Mireille Helffer passed away on Tuesday 17 January 2023. We would like to pay tribute to the friend who accompanied us over the years and to the pioneering researcher whose work sparked interest among young people. In 2017, we presented her with a collection of articles on the occasion of her 90th birthday.[1] In the introduction to the volume, we recounted her personal history, her encounters and her passions in life. Here we take up part of this text to evoke a woman whose enthusiasm for music led her to study Tibetan in order to penetrate the depths of this ‘musical offering.’

Helffer did not explicitly decide, let alone intend, to become an ethnomusicologist specialised in the Tibetan world. This is simply because, as she set out in life, like all the pioneers of her generation, the multidisciplinary fields such as ethnomusicology, and the ethnographic study of the Himalayas did not exist, at least institutionally. As she herself puts it, she ‘was swept along by events.’ Her research bears witness to a path which, through encounters and collaborations, but also by virtue of her perseverance in  pursuing a largely solitary field of study, developed over more than half a century and has inspired several generations of researchers. Three main stages in her career can be singled out. She initially devoted herself to the study of Nepalese bards (Gāine) and, more broadly, to the popular music of Nepal. She then turned to Tibetan culture, proposing an in-depth analysis of the musical aspect of bards singing the Gesar epic, based on recordings made in France. Finally, from the 1970s onwards, she strived to understand the ritual music of Tibetan Buddhism, based on materials collected from monks exiled in India and Nepal. Her numerous publications on musical notations and monastic musical instruments are indispensable references. Her work as a musicologist and anthropologist never eschewed a rigorous philological method. The foundations of her training lay in history and texts, supplemented by years’ practice of museography at Musée Guimet, which explains the privileged place that texts and iconography occupy in her work. It is perhaps precisely in the relationship between the written word and sound that the essence of Helffer’s reflections lies, whether it be the relationship between text and music (as in the epic) or the rapport between music and notation (as in musical notations), which occupied a large part of her research. 

Helffer was born in 1928 into a non-musical Catholic family. She took piano lessons at Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris and met the pianist Claude Helffer at the Jeunesses Musicales. They married when she was 18 and had four children within the space of eight years. However, encouraged by her husband and influenced by post-war feminism, she decided to pursue her studies, which led to a particularly rich, committed and productive intellectual career. Although she was not predestined to become a specialist of the Tibetan world, it was her early academic choices that led Helffer to Upper Asia.

Her career began in 1947 when she enrolled for a degree at the Sorbonne, which included certificates in music history, aesthetics, ethnology and Indian civilisation. During Olivier Lacombe’s course in Indian philosophy, it became clear to her that knowledge of Sanskrit was essential for understanding Indian culture. Thus, in the early 1950s, alongside her classes on the history of music, she enrolled in Louis Renou’s Sanskrit class, to which all students interested in South Asia converged. It was there that she met Alexander Macdonald, with whom she would later collaborate for her first articles. The two of them also attended Rolf Stein’s lessons at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, which were devoted to the Tibetan epic. Helffer’s first steps in Tibetology were thus part of a classical and textual training. It was thanks to her knowledge of Sanskrit that Philippe Stern, chief curator at Musée Guimet, asked her to join the museum’s music section, which he created in 1953: ‘He invited me to be in charge of the record collection he had deposited at Musée Guimet. I started listening to all these records and, little by little, I found myself captured by Asian music,’ she recalls. She was taken on as a project manager for national museums, then, from 1961 onwards, as a CNRS researcher assigned to Musée Guimet where she remained there for many years, keeping her office even after being assigned to the Musée de l’Homme’s ethnomusicology department (1968). During the first years of her assignment, she was still a student. It was a formative period that made her receptive to questions regarding the written word, archives and archiving in music, which prefigured her future research on musical notations, iconography and instruments. She classified the recordings deposited in the collections, puchased records and created the sound programme to accompany exhibitions of objects in the museum. For many years she was the only musicologist working at the Musée Guimet, which enabled her to work simultaneously on various Asian musical traditions. 

In the early sixties, she was mainly interested in the classical music of India but her scientific research took her to Nepal. It was there that she did her first fieldwork (1966-1970). It was during that period that French scholars first carried out ethnological research in Nepal, with a marked interest in oral and popular literature. Some colleagues from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) had brought back recordings – in particular of Gāine songs – and they didn’t know what to make of them. They invited her to join their projects. Helffer’s early work thus stemmed from collaborations with A. W. Macdonald on the subject of the Gāine, then with M. Gaborieau on the Hudkyā singers. This collaborative work culminated in the recording Castes de musiciens au Népal (1969), which features songs recorded by four researchers (M. Gaborieau, M. Helffer, C. Jest, A.W. Macdonald), and comes with two booklets, one in English, another in French, containing translations (prepared with the help of M. Gaborieau) of the songs as well as musical notations. This was an important scientific milestone that was highlighted in an exhibition at Musée de l’Homme entitled Népal, hommes et dieux. Helffer chose the musical illustrations for the objects and slides shown during this exhibition (December 1969-March 1970).

It was also at Musée Guimet that she made recordings with Lozang Tenzin, known as the Hor pa, a Tibetan who had taken refuge in France since the early 1960s and who could sing the epic text of Gesar, for which Rolf Stein had published a summarised translation of Ling’s version. It was on this recording that she based the musicological analyses developed in  her thesis (1972) published in 1977 under the title Les chants dans l’épopée tibétaine de Ge-sar d’après le Livre de la Course de Cheval. Version chantée par Blo bza bstan ’jin. It is a monument of meticulousness and rigour that sheds light for the first time not on the textual dimension of the epic, but on its living and performing dimension, on the musical work carried out by the bard. The quality and originality of this contribution was also recognised by her colleagues working in the People’s Republic of China, since her work was translated into Chinese in 2004. 

It was again at Musée Guimet that she discovered ‘a document containing Tibetan musical notations whose system intrigued me; it almost became an obsession.’ Indeed, this discovery was to be the driving force behind the next three decades of her research, this time devoted to monastic music. From then on, she would no longer work with professional or mendicant musicians, but would instead devote herself to meticulously deciphering the graphic vocabulary and writing conventions of these graphic representations with the help of learned monks. After having inventoried all the notations of this type in the manuscripts housed by the major Western libraries, she met a monk in 1972 at the Tibetan Institute in Rikon, near Zurich, who was able to read these notations and chant them. Noting the interest shown by her Tibetan colleagues in these studies, she carried out a first exploratory mission to a Tibetan monastery in India (1973), followed by numerous other surveys among several religious lineages. 

The year 1987 marked a turning point in her career, when she was at Payül Monastery in Bylakuppe, South India, to study the hitherto relatively neglected Nyingma musical traditions. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche performed an initiation ritual (lung) in the presence of many Nyingmapa dignitaries. Among them was Rabjam Rinpoche, abbot of Shechen Monastery in Bodnath, Nepal. He told her about the great difference in the musical traditions in his monastery and invited her to come and study them. “I accepted the invitation and since then never left Shechen where I was able to witness the whole tsechu ritual. I sat in a corner with the text and did not move. Little by little, year after year, as I attended these rituals, always the same ones, I was able to follow what was being done on the ritual text”.

Helffer’s second book, Mchod-rol. Les instruments de la musique tibétaine (1994) offers once again an impressive synthesis of many years of research, and its contribution lies just as much in the wealth of the materials exploited and described as in the methodology that the author had to apply in order to arrange it. The book presents and analyses instruments from several museum collections in Europe, America and Asia, relating them not only to a rich iconography, but also to the Tibetan texts themselves, from the various religious lineages – all original and unpublished sources, often difficult to access and interpret. In her conclusion, Helffer explains the ritual role, within Tantric Buddhism, of this ‘musical offering.’

In her article entitled ‘Quand le terrain est un monastère bouddhique tibétain’ (1995), Helffer explains at length the conditions of her successive investigations, her methodology, which was always fundamentally empirical, the way she recorded the music (how to record a long tantric ritual during an entire performance? ), the challenges of understanding the rituals (linguistically and culturally), the warm welcome she received or the painstaking work she carried out on these notations at a time (1975 to 1985) when the number of publications or collections on musical notations rose sharply, and thus increased the amount of written documentation to be taken into account.

Her third and final book, Music from the Roof of the World: The Sound World of the Tibetan Culture (2004), is an extended translation of a book that was previously published in Italian in 2000. It takes stock of a whole career of research. It presents for the first time, and with exemplary clarity, the whole range of Tibetan musical traditions, both religious and popular. It is a work of reference unequalled to this day. 

Helffer’s initial training in the extensive exploration of these large areas of Tibetan rituality was at the crossroads between musicology, ethnology and Tibetology, taking into account the rigour and the approach of each of these three disciplines. She was  associate member of the team Langues et cultures de l’aire tibétaine (CNRS, ESA 8047), which later became Tibet, Bhutan and the Tibetan cultural area (TBACT) of the research unit Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale. She always took part in the team’s ‘Rituals’ seminar chaired by Katia Buffetrille. Helffer was also one of the main initiators of a solid training course for young researchers in ethnomusicology. She created the first ethnomusicology courses at the University of Paris X-Nanterre (1976) and was one of the founding members of the French Society of Ethnomusicology (SFE) in 1983. From 1985 to 1989, she directed the Department of Ethnomusicology at the Musée de l’Homme. She retired in the mid-1990s but continued to participate actively in various seminars, to publish and to follow the work of students.She was a pioneering researcher and a passionate teacher, supervising many students and taking on administrative tasks. Mireille has left behind the vibrant memory of a person who listened to others and was always ready to help, whether in word or in deed.

[1] Katia Buffetrille et Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy) 2017 Musique et épopée en Haute-Asie. Mélanges offerts à Mireille Helffer à l’occasion de son 90eanniversaire. Paris, L’Asiathèque.

In Memoriam: Chen Qingying (October 1941-April 11, 2022)

Chen Qingying

Mr. Chen Qingying, former director and researcher of the History Institute of China Tibetology Research Center, Beijing, passed away on April 11, 2022 in Chengdu at the age of 81. He was born in October 1941, in Nanchong City, Sichuan Province. In 1958, he moved to Qinghai with his family. He successively studied in the High School Affiliated with Qinghai Normal University and the Department of Physics of Qinghai Nationalities University, where he earned a BSc. degree. He also started learning Tibetan at the Qinghai University for Nationalities. After graduating in 1964, he worked as a teacher at the Delingha Middle School and Haixi Normal School for Nationalities in Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.

In October 1978, Mr. Chen Qingying was admitted to the Department of Minorities and Languages ​​of the Central University for Nationalities, Beijing. Majoring in Old Tibetan and studying Tibetan Dunhuang literature, he obtained an MA degree in October 1981. From October 1981 to March 1984, he was engaged as an assistant researcher in Tibetan studies at the Institute of Tibetan Studies, Central University for Nationalities. In March 1984, he was transferred to the Institute of Tibetan Studies, Qinghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he was inter alia responsible for the compilation of a catalogue of Tibetan books of Sku ‘bum Monastery and doing research on its historical relics. In 1986, he served as an associate researcher and deputy director, and in 1987 he was appointed director of the Tibetan Studies Institute of the Qinghai Academy of Social Science.

Mr. Chen Qingying then transferred to the China Tibetology Research Center in August 1993 and served there as the director and researcher of the Institute of History and Religion. From 2000 to 2004, he was the director and researcher of the History Institute and concurrently served as the doctoral tutor of the Central University for Nationalities and the Southwest University for Nationalities. Within the years 1993 and 2004, he was Visiting Professor at the Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, Taiwan, from October 1995 to January 1996, and from February to December 1999, he conducted cooperative research at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Cambridge, MA, as a Visiting Scholar. From February to June 2004, he was a Visiting Professor at the Department of Religious Studies, Foguang College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Taiwan. He retired in 2009.

Mr. Chen Qingying’s scholarship is virtually unrivalled. He has no equal in his numerous translations of Tibetan biographical and historical literature in terms of their accuracy and sheer volume. His fluency in both spoken and written Tibetan and his knowledge of Chinese materials have allowed him to finish extraordinary translations of difficult works such as the Rgya bod yig tshang, many of which still serve as classics for historians of the Yuan period, and the three-volume autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama. In addition, he has published more than 100 academic papers. In the course of his academic career, he was the recipient of numerous awards for his academic excellence. Among other publications, one can mention, with Wang Xiangyun, “Tibetology in China: a Survey”, in Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Monica Esposito (ed.), École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2008, pp. 611-681.

Mr. Chen Qingying devoted his life to the development and progress of Tibetan Studies and made countless outstanding contributions to the field. 

His passing is a great loss for those who share his passion for the study of things Tibetan.


Leonard van der Kuijp

Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies
Harvard University



In Memoriam: Dr Isrun Engelhardt (1941–2022)

Isrun Engelhardt (photo: Emanuel Engelhardt)

With the passing of Isrun Engelhardt (née Schwartz) colleagues in Tibetan studies have lost a devoted historian and independent researcher of more than thirty years’ standing. She will be remembered for her articles on the Capuchin missions to Tibet, the 1938-1939 Schäfer expedition to Lhasa, the Tibetan Melong newspaper and “the Buddha from Space”. Equally, colleagues and friends will greatly miss Isrun’s kindness and constant readiness to share information, and to assist colleagues with her great investigative skills.

Isrun was born in Arnsdorf in the foothills of the Riesengebirge Mountains. In the 1950s she moved with her parents and siblings to Icking, south of Munich, and continued to be based there for the rest of her life. She passed away at her beloved home in Icking on 2 March 2022 after a long struggle with cancer.

Isrun came from a scholarly family and was a distant relative of the German sociologist Max Weber. From her youth onwards she struggled with severe health problems but never allowed these to restrict her in following her passions: historical research and mountaineering.

In 1974 Isrun earned her doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Her thesis carries the title Mission und Politik in Byzanz. Ein Beitrag zur Strukturanalyse byzantinischer Mission zur Zeit Justins und Justinians, and discusses the politics of the Byzantine missionary enterprise in the sixth century AD. In the course of her studies, she met her future husband Hans Dietrich Engelhardt who later became Professor of Sociology and Social Work at the Hochschule München. Their son Emanuel was born in 1979.

Since there were few employment opportunities for Byzantine scholars, Isrun at first worked as a career advisor for high school and university graduates. After Emanuel’s birth she worked at a children’s library as a volunteer. In 1986/1987 she undertook professional librarianship training in Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, her research interests began to shift towards the Himalayan region.  With her husband, also an enthusiastic mountaineer, she went on her first trekking tour to Nepal in 1973. They were impressed by the kindness and religious devotion of the Tibetan refugees whom they met and, as a result, became interested in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. They therefore seized the opportunity to visit Ladakh when it was opened to foreign tourism after 1974. Several more visits and trekking tours followed, and in 1994 Isrun went on her first trip to central Tibet. These personal encounters with the peoples of the Himalayan borderlands and the Tibetan diaspora led Isrun to resume her academic career with some four years studying Tibetan at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn in the early 1990s.

Isrun taking part in an interview, Dharamsala, 1997. Photo: Bianca Horlemann

Since Isrun had already established her academic credentials with her doctorate, she never felt the need to register for a further degree in Tibetan Studies. However, she received a research grant from the prestigious Gerda Henkel Foundation for a project on the 1938-1939 German expedition to Tibet led by Ernst Schäfer, showing how it was caught in the crossfire between politics and scientific research. The fruits of her work include the beautifully produced edited publication Tibet in 1938-1939 (2007), which highlights the photographs taken by expedition members in Sikkim and Lhasa.

Isrun was often called to distinguish between “fact and fiction” regarding the expedition’s links with the Nazi administration as well as the alleged esoteric aspects of its work. In this regard, one of her most notable contributions was her 2017 article on the provenance of the “Buddha from Space”, a statue which had apparently been fashioned out of metal deriving from a meteorite. Numerous press articles and blogposts suggested that the statue had been taken from Tibet by the Schäfer expedition in 1939. Isrun convincingly argued that the statue had most probably been designed and made for the eccentric Russian orientalist and artist Nikolai Roerich (1874-1947).

Alongside her work on the Schäfer expedition, Isrun took particular pleasure in the history of the Melong (Yul phyogs so so’i gsar ‘gyur me long), the monthly newspaper published from Kalimpong between 1925 and 1963 by Gegen Dorje Tharchin (1890-1976). In a series of articles, she drew out the distinctive characteristics of the paper and its editor, including its reporting of international news, its innovative use of cartoons and Tharchin’s “one-man war against Mao”. The Melong provides valuable insights on a range of topics linked to 20th century Tibet and Isrun readily shared these with other researchers.

Isrun was the most encouraging of colleagues, taking as much pleasure in other people’s discoveries as her own. Perhaps her most outstanding characteristic was her generosity in sharing source materials, often going far out of her way to make them available to individual researchers as well as the wider scholarly community. Among many other examples, she contributed to the Tharchin Collection at Columbia University’s Starr Library, using her own funds to purchase photograph albums from the Tharchin family and delivering them to New York in person. Similarly, she worked hard to collect copies of the Himalayan Times, which was published in Kalimpong, for the period 1947 and 1963: these are now available online through the University of Heidelberg.

Isrun kept in touch with her colleagues and friends through an extensive e-mail correspondence and – above all – through her participation in conferences and workshops. She took part in all the IATS conferences from the Seventh Seminar in Schloss Seggau (Austria) in 1995 until the 14th Seminar conference in Bergen (Norway) in 2016. In addition, she participated in many colloquia organised by the International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) as well as other more specialist workshops. Her final visit to India was in 2015 for a conference in Kalimpong on “Transcultural Encounters in the Himalayan Borderlands”. On the same occasion, she took the opportunity to make a side visit to Bhutan.

In Kalimpong with Trine Brox and Miriam Koktvedgaard Zeitzen. 2015. Photo Markus Viehbeck

Isrun was always excellent company, and her conference contributions were unfailingly insightful, often drawing out fresh angles from previously neglected or undiscovered materials. However, many of us will remember her most fondly from her presence at some evening gathering – glass of wine at hand – following a long day’s academic discussion in Gangtok, Ulaanbaatar, Kalimpong, Oxford or Pistoia.

Isrun’s academic legacy includes a long list of high-quality scholarly publications. More than that, her colleagues and friends will remember her personal qualities with warmth and gratitude.

Bianca Horlemann and John Bray


  • (1974). Mission und Politik in Byzanz. Ein Beitrag zur Strukcturanalyse byzantischer Mission zur Zeit Justins und Justinians (Miscellanea Byzantian Monacensia 19). Munich: Institut für Bynzantinistik und Neugriechische Philologie der Universität München.
  • (2007) (ed.), Tibet in 1938-1939. Photographs from the Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet. Chicago: Serindia.
  • (2017). Un mythe occultiste démasqué – les prétendus liens entre le Tibet et le National-socialisme. Saint-Genis-Laval: Akbrieia.

Articles and book chapters

  • (1999) “Zur Ent-fremdung des Europäers: Gastfreundschaft und Abbau von Fremdheit in den Beziehungen von Tibetern und Europäern im 18. Jahrhundert.” In Aneignung und Selbstbehauptung: Antworten auf die europäische Expansion, ed. byDietmar Rothermund. München: Oldenbourg, 183-202.
  • (2001) “Perlen, Pelze und Pistolen: Facetten des Geschenkaustausches zwischen Tibetern und Europäern vorwiegend im 18. Jahrhundert.” In Tractata Tibetica et Mongolica. Festschrift für Klaus Sagaster zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. by Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz and Christian Peter. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 85-102.
  • (2002) “The Closing of the Gates: Tibetan-European Relations at the End of the Eighteenth Century.” In Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan studies 1: PIATS 2000: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, ed. by Henk Blezer and Abel Zadoks. Leiden: Brill, 229-45.
  • (2003) “The Ernst-Schaefer-Tibet-Expedition (1938-1939): New Light on the Political History of Tibet in the First Half of the 20th Century.”In Tibet and Her Neighbours: A History, ed. by Alex McKay, London: Edition Hansjörg Mayer, 187-230.
  • (2004) “Tibetan Triangle: German, Tibetan and British Relations in the Context of Ernst Schäfer’s Expedition, 1938-1939.” Asiatische Studien 58/1, 57-114.
  • (2005) “Between Tolerance and Dogmatism: Tibetan Reactions to the Capuchin Missionaries in Lhasa, 1707-1745.” Zentralasiatische Studien (ZAS) 34, 55-97.
  • (2005) “Schäfer, Ernst.” In Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) Band 22, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2005, S. 503-504.  [Online-Version]; URL:
  • (2007) “Tibet in 1938–1939: The Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet.”In Tibet in 1938-1939: Photographs from the Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet, ed. by Isrun Engelhardt, Chicago: Serindia, 11-61.
  • (2008). “Mishandled Mail: The Strange Case of the Reting Regent’s Letters to Hitler.” Zentralasiatische Studien (ZAS) 37 (2008), 77-106.
  • (2009) “Nazis of Tibet: A Twentieth Century Myth.”In Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. by Monica Esposito. Paris: EFEO, 63-96.
  • (2009) “Die Ernst Schäfer Tibetexpedition 1938–1939.” In Brennpunkt Tibet März, ed. by Klemens Ludwig.
  • (2009) “Tibet und der Nationalsozialismus: Fakten und Fiktionen.” In Tibet und Buddhismus 3.
  • (2010) “Tharchin’s Melong.” In Hartmut Walravens (ed.), The First Tibetan Serial: August Hermann Francke’s La-dvags-kyi-ag-bâr (1904 – 1907): Facsimile of a Unique Set in the Archives of the Evangelische Brüderunität, Herrnhut. Neuerwerbungen der Ostasienabteilung. Sonderheft 22. Berlin: Staatsbibliothek, 1-22 (separate pagination).
  • (2011). “Praise for Sikkim from 1938: Sikkim in Original Quotes by the Ernst Schäfer Expedition.” In Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture. Volume II: The Sikkim Papers, ed by Anna Balicki-Denjongpa & Alex McKay. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, 191-206.
  • (2011) “Reflections in The Tibet Mirror:News of the World, 1937-1946.” In Mapping the Modern in Tibet, ed. by Gray Tuttle. Andiast: IITBS, 205-64.
  • (2012) “Tharchin’s One Man War with Mao.”In Studies on the History and Literature of Tibet and the Himalaya, ed. by Robert Vitali. Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 2012, 183-209.
  • (2013) “The Holy City of Lhasa: Dream and Destination for Sven Hedin and Ernst Schäfer.” In Nordic Ideology between Religion and Scholarship, ed. by Horst Junginger and Andreas Åkerlund. Frankfurt/M: Peter Lang, 207-24.
  • (2013) “Tharchin’s Tibet Mirror: A Christian Oriented Newspaper?” In Historical and Philological Studies of China’s Western Regions 6, edited by Shen Weirong. Beijing: Science Press, 129-55.
  • (2015). “Italian Capuchins as the First Western Healers in Lhasa, 1707-1945.” In In Tibetan and Himalayan Healing. An Anthology for Anthony Aris, ed. by Charles Ramble and Ulrike Roesler. Kathmandu: Vajra Books, 195-210.
  • (2017) “The Strange Case of the ‘Buddha from Space’.” In Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 42, October 2017, 39-67.
  • (2018). “The Quip as the Whip: Political Cartoons in the Melong.” In Cahiers du Mirror, ed. Françoise Wang-Toutain and Marie Preziosi. Paris: Collège de France, 41-57.
  • (2019) “L’évolution de l’image du Tibet dans la pensée et les écrits de Nicolas Roerich: d’une spiritualité exaltée à un chamanisme dépravé.” In Autour de Nicolas Roerich: art, ésotérisme, orientalisme et politique, ed. by Dany Savelli. Slavica Occitania 48, 201-37.
  • (2020) “An Indigenous Tibetan Name for Mount Everest?” In On a Day of a Month of the Fire Bird Year. Festschrift for Peter Schwieger on the occasion of his 65th birthday, ed. by Jeannine Bischoff et al. Bhairahawa: Lumbini International Research Institute, 245-64.

In Memoriam: Nima Dorjee Ragnubs ར་ནུབ་ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས། (1934–2021)


༡༩༣༤ – ༢༠༢༡

༄༅། ༢༠༢༡ ཟླ་ ༩ ཚེས་ ༢༡ དེ་ནི་སེམས་ཤིན་ཏུ་སྐྱོ་པོའི་ཉི་མ་ཞིག་ཡིན། དེའི་ཉིན་མོ་བྲག་གཡབ་མ་དགོན་ར་གནུབ་ཚང་གི་བུ་ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ཨ་མེ་རི་ཀར་འདས་གྲོངས་སོང་འདུག  ཁོང་གི་སྐྱེས་ལོ་ ༡༩༣༨ ཡིན་ནའང་། ལག་ཁྱེར་ནང་ ༡༩༣༤ འཁོད་པར་བརྩིས་ན། རང་ལོ་བརྒྱད་ཅུ་གྱ་གསུམ་རེད།

            ང་ཆུང་ཆུང་དུས་ནས་ར་གནུབ་ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ངོ་ཤེས་ཀྱིན་ཡོད། ང་གཉིས་མཉམ་དུ་རྩེད་མོ་རྩེས་པ་རང་དྲན་གིན་མི་འདུག  ཁོང་གི་མི་ཚང་དེ་ལ་“ར་གནུབ་ཚང་“དང་། “ར་གནུབ་དཔོན་ཚང་“ཡང་ཟེར་བ་རེད། བྲག་གཡབ་༧སྐྱབས་མགོན་སྐུ་ཕྲེང་བཞི་པ་དང་། ལྔ་པ་གཉིས་ཀ་ཁོང་ཚོའི་ནང་ལ་འཁྲུངས་པ་རེད། ང་ཆུང་ཆུང་སྐབས་ལ་ཁོང་ཚོའི་ནང་ལ་ཞག་པོ་ཁ་ཤས་བསྡད་མྱོང་། ར་གནུབ་ཚང་ནི་བྲག་གཡབ་ཀྱི་དཔོན་ཁག་གྲས་ཡིན་ཙ། ཁོང་ཚོ་མི་ཚང་ཆེན་པོ་རེད་ལ། ཁང་པའང་ཆེན་པོ་འདུག  ཁང་པའི་མིང་ལ་“ར་གནུབ་རྒྱས་ཁང་“ཟེར་བ་རེད། རྒྱས་ཁང་ཟེར་བ་ནི་ཕལ་ཆེར་ཕོ་བྲང་ཟེར་བ་དང་གཅིག་པ་རེད།

ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ཀྱི་ཕ་ནི། ར་གནུབ་དྲུང་ཡིག་བློ་བསྟན་རེད། ང་ཚོ་བྲག་གཡབ་བླ་བྲང་གི་དྲུང་ཡིག་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་ནང་ནས་ལེགས་གྲས་ཤིག་དང་། མི་གོ་ཆོད་པོ་འབྱོན་ཐང་ལྡན་པར་བརྩི་གིན་འདུག  ༡༩༥༢ ལོར་ང་རང་ལྷ་སར་འགྲོ་དུས་ཁོང་ཡང་བླ་བྲང་གི་ལས་བྱེད་ཁོངས་སུ་མཉམ་དུ་ཡོད། ལྷ་སའི་བྲག་གཡབ་བླ་བྲང་གི་ཕྱག་ཁང་ནང་ལོ་ཤས་ལས་ཀ་བྱས་ནས་བསྡད་པ་རེད།  

            ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ཀྱང་ང་རང་བྲག་གཡབ་ནས་ལྷ་སར་སློབ་གཉེར་བྱེད་སར་འགྲུལ་བཞུད་སྐབས་དེར་མཉམ་དུ་ཡོད། ལྷ་སར་འབྱོར་ནས་ཁོང་རྭ་སྟོད་དགོན་པར་སྒྲིག་ཞུགས་ཐོག  སློབ་གཉེར་ཡག་པོ་བྱས་སོང་།

རྗེས་མ་རྒྱ་གར་ལ་འབྱོར་ནས་ཝཱ་རཱ་ཎཱ་སིར་སློབ་གྲྭ་ཆེན་མོར་ལེགས་སྦྱར་སྐད་ཀྱང་སྦྱངས། དེ་རྗེས་སློབ་གྲྭ་དེའི་དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་ལ་ལས་ཀ་བྱས་ཤིང་། རིག་གཞུང་སྣ་ཚོགས་ལ་དོ་སྣང་དང་། མཐོང་རྒྱ་ཆེ་བས། ཤེས་ཡོན་སྣ་འཛོམས་ཡོད་པའི་མཁས་པ་དང་། ལོ་རྒྱུས་སྨྲ་བ་པོ་ཞིག་ཆགས་སོང་།

            ཁོང་ནས་ཕ་ཡུལ་བྲག་གཡབ་ལ་བལྟ་བསྐོར་ཕྱིན་པ་དང་། ར་གནུབ་ཚང་ཡོད་སའི་ཕྱོགས་ཀྱི་གྲོང་གསེབ་དེར་སློབ་གྲྭ་བཙུགས་པ་རེད།

ཁོང་ནས་ལོ་མང་པོའི་རིང་ལ་དཀའ་ལས་བརྒྱབས་ནས་བྲག་གཡབ་ཀྱི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་རྒྱས་པ་ཞིག་བྲིས་སོང་། དེའི་སྐོར་ཁོང་ནས་ང་ལ་ཡང་ཡང་འབྲེལ་བ་བྱས་བྱུང་ལ། དེའི་ཆེད་དུ་ང་ཚོའི་སར་རྗར་མེ་ནིར་ཡང་སླེབས་སོང་། ང་རང་ཁོང་སྡོད་ས་་་ནིའུ་ཡོརྐ་དང་། ཁྲ་ཁོ་མ་་་གཉིས་ཀ་ལ་ཁོང་དང་། སྐུ་ཟླ་ཐུག་སར་ཕྱིན་ནས། ཁོང་གཉིས་ཀྱི་ནང་ལ་ཉིན་ཤས་རེ་བསྡད་པ་ཡིན།  ད་ལྟ་ཁོང་གི་དེབ་དེ་མི་ཁ་ཤས་ཀྱིས་རྩིས་འཁོར་(གློག་ཀླད་ཀྱང་ཟེར་)ནང་བཅུག་ནས་ཞུ་དག་གཏོང་གིན་ཡོད་རེད། དེ་ནི་ཁོང་གི་བྱས་རྗེས་ཆེ་བའི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་ཀྱི་ཡིག་འཇོག་ཅིག་ཡོང་གི་རེད། 

ང་ཚོའི་མི་རབས་ཀྱི་གྲགས་ཅན་མི་སྣ་གཅིག་མེད་པར་གྱུར་པ་འདི་ལ་ཕངས་སེམས་ཆེན་པོ་འདུག་ཀྱང་། མི་རྟག་པའི་རང་བཞིན་ལ་འགྱུར་བ་གཏོང་ཐབས་ཡོད་མ་རེད། ཁོང་གི་སྐུ་ཟླ་གཙུག་ལག་སློབ་དཔོན་་་ལི་ཟ་སྦེ་ཐི། སྦར་ནེ་ཌི་་་ (Prof. Elisabeth Benard ) སྐུ་གཟུགས་བདེ་ཞིང་། ཐུགས་སེམས་ཧ་ཅང་སྐྱོ་པོ་མེད་པ་དང་། རིག་གཞུང་གི་ཕྱག་ལས་གནང་བཞིན་འདུག་པས་དགའ་པོ་ཡོད།

བྲག་གཡབ་༧སྐྱབས་མགོན་སྐྱེ་ཕྲེང་དགུ་པའི་མིང་འཛིན་བློ་ལྡན་ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱིས་བྲིས། ༢༠༢༡།༢།༨ ཕུལ།

Nima Dorjee Ragnubs 1938–2021

The 20th of September 2021 is a day marked by great sadness for me. It is the day when Nima Dorjee, son of the Ragnubstshang family associated with the Dagyab Magon Monastery in Yemdun, passed away in the United States. Nima Dorjee was born in 1938, even if his passport suggests 1934, and was eighty-three years old at the time of his passing. His family, known as Ragnubstshang or Ragnubs Pontshang, and the Fourth and Fifth Dagyab Khyabgons were born in this family. 

I knew Nima Dorjee from early childhood. Even though I do not recall playing with him, I vividly remember visiting his family estate situated within Dagyab principality. The extensive family lived in a four-storied house known as Ragnubs Palace. 

At the time, Nima Dorjee’s father, Loden, worked as the Ragnubs secretary and was known as one of the most gifted and capable staff members. As part of the Labrang, the monastic estate, he accompanied me on my trip to Lhasa in 1957. Loden remained for one year, working in the Dagyab Labrang treasurer’s office. In 1954 Nima Dorjee travelled to Lhasa to enrol at Rato Monastery, where he successfully took up a course of study in Buddhist philosophy and logic. 

Once he arrived in Indian exile in 1959, he received a scholarship from the Sampurnan Sanskrit University in Varanasi to study Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy. Upon completing his studies, he became a librarian at the university’s manuscript library. He indeed became an expert in historical disciplines based on his lively interest in different cultures, various fields of knowledge, and his ability to cultivate a broad perspective on the topics he studied. 

In 1969, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, a relative of Nima Dorjee, invited him to come to the United States. Throughout his life there, he worked in different occupations. He particularly enjoyed working at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art in New York. During his time there as a Tibetan art historian, he co-authored Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.

In 1995 he visited Dagyab and founded two schools in Ragnubs Village and in a nearby village. Schools, which then flourished for 20 years.

As the outcome of many years of arduous research, he began to write a history of Dagyab, and it was in this context we renewed our contact. He visited me in Germany, and I also visited him and his wife in New York and Tacoma. With the manuscript now typed up, proofread and copyedited, I am much looking forward to the publication of this significant historical contribution. 

The passing away of one of the most significant figures of our generation fills me with a deep sense of grief and the clear awareness that there is no way to exert influence on the nature of impermanence. To his wife, Prof. Elisabeth Benard, I would like to express my most heartfelt condolences, my hope that she may not be overwhelmed by sadness, and my very best wishes for her good health. In concluding, I would also like to use this opportunity also to express my appreciation for her academic contribution. 

Loden Sherab, the Ninth Dagyab Kyabgon

Translated by Chandra Chiara Ehm 

In Memoriam: Tsuguhito Takeuchi (1951–2021)

Tsuguhito Takeuchi, a linguist, philologist, and an eminent and leading scholar in the field of Old Tibetan Studies, passed away on Saturday, 3 April 2021, at home after a two-year-long struggle against an illness. For many years, he was one of the central figures of the IATS seminars and, from 2013 onward, served as the Japanese representative on its advisory board.

He was born in Amagasaki, Hyogo, in 1951 as the second son—the elder son had prematurely passed away—of the 19th head priest at a Buddhist temple, Josen-Ji. His father was Professor Shoko Takeuchi, a renowned scholar of Buddhist studies. Takeuchi was raised in an academic atmosphere wherein his father’s colleagues and students often gathered and discussed Buddhist studies in his home. However, having entered Kyoto University, he chose linguistics, which was a relatively new academic field at the time.

In 1978, after initial training in linguistics by Professor Tatsuo Nishida, a renowned linguist of Sino-Tibetan languages, particularly for the decipherment of Tangut script, Takeuchi completed his master’s thesis on the sentence structure of the modern Tibetan language. He analysed the spoken words of his teacher, Professor Tshul-khrims skal-bzang, by using the most advanced contemporary theory of case grammar. His thesis was first published in 1990 as an article in Asian Languages and General Linguistics, the Festschrift for Professor Nishida, and then translated into English in 2016: ‘The Function of Auxiliary Verbs in Tibetan Predicates and their Historical Development’. He was an outstanding and pioneering student in the field of linguistics, which was not yet popular at Kyoto University.

In August 1978, he conducted his first linguistic field research on the Dingri dialect in Jawalakhel, Nepal. Dingri is close to Zur tsho, where his teacher Professor Tshul khrims skal bzang was born. However, Professor Tshul khrims skal bzang was educated at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa from when he was 10 years old and thus spoke the so-called ‘Central Tibetan dialect’.

In Nepal, on the way to field research, 1978

In July 1979, after spending a month at the University of Texas as a graduate student of the Fulbright Orientation Program, he studied linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania for a year. He then decided to move to Indiana University, where Professor Helmut Hoffmann was teaching, to learn the Tibetan language. Unfortunately, Professor Hoffmann retired six months later for reasons of ill-health. Nevertheless, Takeuchi continued to study under Professor Cristopher Beckwith, who sparked his lifelong research interest in Old Tibetan Studies.

Takeuchi took Professor Beckwith’s Old Tibetan class and embarked on a philological study of Old Tibetan documents. They read parts of the Old Tibetan Annals, parts of the Chronicle, the Samye Inscription, and the Prophecy on the Decline of Buddhism in Khotan, among other texts. Professor Beckwith remembers that Takeuchi was a brilliant student, very cheerful and kind, and always very helpful towards his teacher.

In 1982, as a doctoral student at Indiana University, Takeuchi made an outstanding debut in the 3rd IATS seminar held at Columbia University with a paper entitled ‘A Passage from the Shih chi in the Old Tibetan Chronicle’. He had found a passage in the Old Tibetan Chronicle that was an adaptation from the Chinese historical record Shiji, with which he was familiar from his childhood days.

In this way, during his days at Indiana University, he met excellent teachers and lifelong friends: Professor Beckwith; Professor Thubten Jigme Norbu, who was the Dalai Lama’s older brother; Professor Dan Martin; and Professor Elliot Sperling, among others.

Takeuchi’s research method was simple and straightforward: collect all related documents and analyse the text as a whole. He disliked ad hoc reading and interpretation, and always tried to collect parallel and similar expressions as far as possible. This is probably the most basic way to read a text in the absence of good dictionaries. Nevertheless, in reality, it was a tremendously challenging job simply because many Old Tibetan manuscripts remained unpublished at the time. He was also never satisfied with the edited text and sometimes said, ‘I only believe the original manuscript that I see with my naked eyes’. He regarded manuscripts not only as textual media but also in material terms, such as in terms of the shape of paper and the size, and thickness of wood. He spared no pains to go everywhere to see the original manuscripts, including London, Paris, Helsinki, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Xinjiang. His hands-on approach led him to many unpublished and uncatalogued manuscripts.

He then collected 55 contracts from many Old Tibetan manuscripts worldwide and finished his Ph.D. dissertation. It was published in 1995 as a monograph titled Old Tibetan Contracts from Central Asia, one of the essential works in Old Tibetan Studies until the present day.

He continued to catalogue the Old Tibetan manuscripts: Choix de documents tibétains conservés à la Bibliothèque Nationale, Tome III in 1990 and Tome IV in 2001, Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan in the Stein Collection of the British Library, 3 vols. in 1997–98, Old Tibetan Inscriptions in 2009, Old Tibetan Texts in the Stein Collection Or. 8210 in 2012, and Tibetan Texts from Khara-khoto in the Stein Collection of the British Library in 2016. This was detail-oriented work, or ‘slave-work’ as he liked to put it. However, he achieved it through persistent efforts. Using his sincere efforts, his smile and his friendliness as leverage, he built the trust of librarians and scholars, who allowed him to enter the stacks where many unpublished manuscripts were kept. He checked these manuscripts one by one, read them, sometimes corrected the numbering, and even found lost manuscripts.

Field research on rock inscriptions in Ladakh, 1988

Regarding his academic career, immediately after returning from the United States to Japan he was first appointed as a full-time lecturer at Kinki University in 1984. He then moved to the Kyoto University of Education in 1988 and to the Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in 1997, where he stayed until his retirement in 2017 at the age of 65. He was also appointed as the director of the International Office in 2009 and the director of the Research Institute in 2011 and served as the dean of the graduate school during 2011–2013.

He was also eager to cultivate the next generation of Old Tibetan scholars, and launched a private class for reading Old Tibetan texts in 1998. It was held once a week, sometimes once a month, in his office at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies until his retirement in 2017. The first text we read together was Old Tibetan Chronicle, which he had read along with Professor Beckwith at Indiana University. Then, we read many and various texts with him: official documents of the Old Tibetan Empire such as Pelliot tibétain 1089, private letters, Khotanese prophecies, divination texts, etc. He shared many things with us, including the reading skill required for Old Tibetan texts and the gossip of Tibetologists.

His private class was not only the reading group but also an academic salon. We freely discussed numerous topics in a relaxed mood and an informal setting. We discussed numerous new projects, some of which became a reality, such as the Old Tibetan Documents Online project; the publication of some catalogues; and the organisation of several conferences, including the 57th Conference of the Japanese Association for Tibetan Studies, the 17th Himalayan Languages Symposium, the Third International Seminar of Young Tibetologists, theInternational Seminar on Tibetan Languages and Historical Documents, and several Old Tibetan panels in the IATS seminar. We also proposed new ideas, which were eventually published as individual papers. Through discussions with him, we learned how to develop a logical argument and to write an academic paper.

At Andiast in Switzerland, on the workshop “Secular law and order in the Tibetan Highland,” 2014

Unquestionably, Takeuchi opened a new path in Old Tibetan Studies and was a crucial person in Tibetan scholarship in Japan. With his outstanding contributions and a brilliant legacy, he remained cheerful, kind and helpful to young scholars just as he had been in his university days. Everybody who met Takeuchi knows that he loved joking, drinking with friends, and watching football. He always said that he could bring good weather with him wherever he was, and he proved it repeatedly. We respect him as a great scholar and generous teacher and also loved him as a person. We will remember his shining smile whenever we have a drink or look up at the blue sky.

At Munich in Germany with Prof. Helga Uebach, 2012

Kazushi Iwao

Ai Nishida

In Memoriam: Hubert Decleer (1940–2021)

With great sadness, we share news that our incomparable teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend Hubert Decleer passed away peacefully on Wednesday, August 25. He was at his home with his wife, the poet Nazneen Zafar, in Kathmandu, Nepal, near the Swayambhū Mahācaitya that had been his constant inspiration for nearly five decades. His health declined rapidly following a diagnosis of advanced-stage lung cancer in May, but he remained lucid and in high spirits and over the past weeks he was surrounded by family members and close friends. Through his final hours, he maintained his love of Himalayan scholarship and black coffee, and his deep and quiet commitment to Buddhist practice.

Hubert’s contributions to the study of Tibetan and Himalayan traditions are expansive, covering the religious, literary, and cultural histories of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. For nearly thirty-five years he directed and advised the School for International Training’s program for Tibetan Studies, an undergraduate study-abroad program that has served as a starting point for scholars currently working in fields as diverse as Anthropology, Art History, Education, Conservation, History, Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Public Policy. The countless scholars he inspired are connected by the undercurrent of Hubert’s indelible “light touch” and all the subtle and formative lessons he imparted as a mentor and friend.

Hubert embodied a seemingly inexhaustible curiosity that spanned kaleidoscopic interests ranging from Chinese landscapes to Netherlandish still lifes, medieval Tibetan pilgrimage literature to French cinema, 1940s bebop to classical Hindustani vocal performance. With legendary hospitality, his home, informally dubbed “The Institute,” was an oasis for scholars, former students, artists, and musicians, who came to share a simple dinner of daal bhaat or a coffee on the terrace overlooking Swayambhū. The conversations that took place on that terrace often unearthed a text or image or reference that turned out to be the missing link in the visitor’s current research project. When not discussing scholarship, Hubert inspired his friends to appreciate the intelligence and charm of animals—monkeys and crows especially—or to enjoy the marvels of a blossoming potted plum tree. His attentiveness to the world around him generated intense sensitivity and compassion. He was an accomplished painter and a captivating storyteller, ever ready with accounts of the artists’ scene in Europe or his numerous overland journeys to Asia. The stories from long ago flowed freely and very often revealed some important insight about the present moment, however discrete.  

Hubert François Kamiel Decleer was born on August 22, 1940, in Ostend, Belgium. In 1946, he spent three months in Switzerland with a group of sixty children whose parents served in the Résistance. He completed his Latin-Greek Humaniora at the Royal Atheneum in Ostend in 1958, when he was awarded the Jacques Kets National Prize for biology by the Royal Zoo Society of Antwerp. He developed a keen interest in the arts, and during this period he also held his first exhibition of oil paintings and gouaches. In 1959 he finished his B.A. in History and Dutch Literature at the Regent School in Ghent. Between 1960 and 1963 he taught Dutch and History at the Hotel and Technical School in Ostend, punctuated by a period of military service near Köln, Germany in 1961–62. The highlight of his military career was the founding of a musical group (for which he played drums) that entertained officers’ balls with covers of Ray Charles and other hits of the day. 

In 1963 Hubert made the first of his many trips to Asia, hitchhiking for thirteen months from Europe to India and through to Ceylon. Returning to Belgium in 1964, he then worked at the artists’ café La Chèvre Folle in Ostend, where he organized fortnightly exhibitions and occasional cultural events. For the following few years he worked fall and winter for a Belgian travel agency in Manchester and Liverpool, England, while spending summers as a tour guide in Italy, Central Europe, and Turkey. In 1967 he began working as a guide, lecturer, and interpreter for Penn Overland Tours, based in Hereford, England. In these roles he accompanied groups of British, American, Australian, and New Zealand tourists on luxury overland trips from London to Bombay, and later London to Calcutta—excursions that took two and a half months to complete. He made twenty-six overland journeys in the course of fourteen years, during which time he also organized and introduced local musical concerts in Turkey, Pakistan, India, and later Nepal. He likewise accompanied two month-long trips through Iran with specialized international groups as well as a number of overland trips through the USSR and Central Europe. In between his travels, Hubert wrote and presented radio scenarios for Belgian Radio and Television (including work on a prize-winning documentary on Nepal) and for the cultural program Woord. The experiences of hospitality and cultural translation that Hubert accumulated on his many journeys supported his work as a teacher and guide; he was always ready with a hint of how one might better navigate the awkward state of being a stranger in a new place.  

With the birth of his daughter Cascia in 1972, Hubert’s travels paused for several years as he took a position tutoring at the Royal Atheneum in Ostend. He also worked as an art critic with a coastal weekly and lectured with concert tours of Nepalese classical musicians, cārya dancers, and the musicologist and performer Michel Dumont.

In 1975, during extended layovers between India journeys, Hubert began a two-year period of training in Buddhist Chinese at the University of Louvain with pioneering Indologist and scholar of Buddhist Studies Étienne Lamotte. He recalled being particularly moved by the Buddhist teachings on impermanence he encountered in his initial studies. He also worked as a bronze-caster apprentice and assistant to sculptor—and student of Lamotte—Roland Monteyne. He then resumed his overland journeying full time, leading trips from London to Kathmandu. These included annual three-month layovers in Nepal, where he began studying Tibetan and Sanskrit with local tutors. He was a participant in the first conference of the Seminar of Young Tibetologists held in Zürich in 1977. In 1980 he settled permanently in Kathmandu, where he continued his private studies for seven years. During this period he also taught French at the Alliance Française and briefly served as secretary to the Consul at the French Embassy in Kathmandu. 

It was during the mid 1980s that Hubert began teaching American college students as a lecturer and fieldwork consultant for the Nepal Studies program of the School for International Training (then known as the Experiment in International Living) based in Kathmandu. In 1987 he was tasked with organizing SIT’s inaugural Tibetan Studies program, which ran in the fall of that year. Hubert served as the program’s academic director, a position he would hold for more than a decade. Under his direction, the Tibetan Studies program famously became SIT’s most nomadic college semester abroad, regularly traveling through India, Nepal, Bhutan, as well as western, central, and eastern Tibet. It was also during this period that Hubert produced some of his most memorable writings in the form of academic primers, assignments, and examinations. In 1999 Hubert stepped down as academic director to become the program’s senior faculty advisor, a position he held until his death.

Hubert taught and lectured across Europe and the United States in positions that included visiting lecturer at Middlebury College and Numata visiting faculty member at the University of Vienna. 

Hubert’s writing covers broad swaths of geographical and historical territory, although he paid particular attention to the Buddhist traditions of Tibet and Nepal. His research focused on the transmission history of the Vajrabhairava tantras, traditional narrative accounts of the Swayambhū Purāṇa, the sacred geography of the Kathmandu Valley (his 2017 lecture on this topic, “Ambrosia for the Ears of Snowlanders,” is recorded here), and the biographies of the eleventh-century Bengali monk Atiśa. His style of presenting lectures was rooted in his work as a musician and lover of music—he prepared meticulously to be sure his talks were rhythmic, precise, and yet had an element of the spontaneous. One of his preferred mediums was the long-form book review, which incorporated new scholarship and original translations with erudite critiques of subjects ranging from Buddhist philosophy to art history and Tibetan music. His final publication, a forthcoming essay on an episode contained in the correspondence of the seventeenth-century Jesuit António de Andrade (translated by Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling in 2017), uses close readings of Tibetan historical sources and paintings to complicate and contextualize Andrade’s account of his mission to Tibet. This exemplifies the spirit and method of his review essays, which demonstrate his deep admiration of published scholarship through a meticulous consideration of the work and its sources, often leading to new discoveries. 

In addition to Hubert’s published work, some of his most endearing and enduring writing has appeared informally, in the guise of photocopied packets intended for his students. Each new semester of the SIT Tibetan Studies program would traditionally begin with what is technically called “The Academic Director’s Introduction and Welcome Letter.” These documents would be mailed out to students several weeks prior to the program, and for most other programs they were intended to inform incoming participants of the basic travel itinerary, required readings, and how many pairs of socks to pack. The Tibetan Studies welcome letter began as a humble, one-page handwritten note, impeccably penned in Hubert’s unmistakable hand. 

Hubert’s welcome letters evolved over the years, and they eventually morphed into collections of three or four original essays covering all manner of subjects related to Tibetan Studies, initial hints at how to approach cultural field studies, new research, and experiential education, as well as anecdotes from the previous semester illustrating major triumphs and minor disasters. The welcome letters became increasingly elaborate and in later years regularly reached fifty pages or more in length. The welcome letter for fall 1991, for example, included chapters titled “Scholarly Fever” and “The Field and the Armchair, and not ‘Stage-Struck’ in either.” By spring 1997, the welcome letter included original pieces of scholarship and translation, with a chapter on “The Case of the Royal Testaments” that presented innovative readings of the Maṇi bka’ ’bum. Only one element was missing from the welcome letter, a lacuna corrected in that same text of spring 1997, as noted by its title: Tibetan Studies Tales: An Academic Directors’ Welcome Letter—With Many Footnotes.

Hubert was adamant that even college students on a study-abroad program could undertake original and creative research, either for assignments in Dharamsala, in Kathmandu or the hilly regions of Nepal, or during independent-study projects themselves, which became the capstone of the semester. Expectations were high, sometimes seemingly impossibly high, but with just the right amount of background information and encouragement, the results were often triumphs. 

Hubert regularly spent the months between semesters, or during the summer, producing another kind of SIT literature: the “assignment text.” These nearly always included extensive original translations of Tibetan materials and often extended background essays as well. They would usually end with a series of questions that would serve as the basis for a team research project. For fall 1994 there was “Cultural Neo-Colonialism in the Himalayas: The Politics of Enforced Religious Conversion”; later there was the assignment on the famous translator Rwa Lotsāwa called “The Melodious Drumsound All-Pervading: The Life and Complete Liberation of Majestic Lord Rwa Lotsāwa, the Yogin-Translator of Rwa, Mighty Lord in Magic Intervention.” There were extended translations of traditional pilgrimage guides for the Kathmandu Valley, including texts by the Fourth Khamtrul and the Sixth Zhamar hierarchs, for assignments where teams of students would race around the valley  rim looking for an elusive footprint in stone or a guesthouse long in ruins that marked the turnoff of an old pilgrim’s trail. For many students these assignments were the first foray into field work methods, and Hubert’s careful guidance helped them approach collaborations with local experts ethically and with deep respect for diverse forms of knowledge.  

One semester there was a project titled “The Mystery of the IV Brother Images, ’Phags pa mched bzhi” focused on the famous set of statues in Tibet and Nepal and based on new Tibetan materials that had only just come to light. Another examined the “The Tibetan World ‘Translated’ in Western Comics.” Finally, there was a classic of the genre that examined the creative nonconformity of the Bhutanese mad yogin Drugpa Kunleg in light of the American iconoclast composer and musician Frank Zappa: “A Dose of Drugpa Kunleg for the post–1984 Era: Prolegomena to a Review Article of the Real Frank Zappa Book.”

Frank Zappa was, indeed, another of Hubert’s inspirations and his aforementioned review included the following passage: “If there’s one thing I do admire in FZ, it is precisely these ‘highest standards’ and utmost professional thoroughness that does not allow for any sloppiness (in the name of artistic freedom or spontaneous freedom)…. At the same time, each concert is really different, [and]…appears as a completely spontaneous event.” Hubert’s life as a scholar, teacher, and mentor was a consummate illustration of this highest ideal. 

Hubert is survived by his wife Nazneen Zafar; his daughter Cascia Decleer, son-in-law Diarmuid Conaty, and grandsons Keanu and Kiran Conaty; his sister Annie Decleer and brother-in-law Patrick van Calenbergh; his brother Misjel Decleer and sister-in-law Martine Thomaere; his stepmother Agnès Decleer, and half-brother Luc Decleer. 

A traditional cremation ceremony at the Bijeśvarī Vajrayoginī temple near Swayambhū took place on Monday, August 30 at 8:30 AM.

Benjamin Bogin, Andrew Quintman, and Dominique Townsend
Portions of this biographical sketch draw on the introduction to Himalayan Passages: Newar and Tibetan Studies in Honor of Hubert Decleer (Wisdom Publications, 2014)


Helga Uebach (1940-2021)

Helga Uebach, who is well known in Tibetan Studies for having dedicated most of her academic career to the Wörterbuch der tibetischen Schriftsprache and for her contributions to Old Tibetan studies, passed away on 8 February 2021. The quiet voice of my esteemed colleague and predecessor in the dictionary project fell silent at the age of 80 years.

Helga Uebach was born on 19 July 1940, in Munich, went to school in a place nearby called Attenkirchen and took her final exams of the gymnasium (secondary school) in 1959. One year later, she started studying Indology and Tibetology under Helmut Hoffmann and Mongolian Studies under Herbert Franke who both influenced her scientific career.

As a student of Helmut Hoffmann, Professor for Indology and Iranian Studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, she was the first scientific employee who joined the dictionary project already in 1964. Three years before her dissertation she started to work in the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, in the Kommission für zentralasiatische Studien that Hoffmann founded together with Erich Haenisch, Professor of East Asian Culture and Language Studies in 1954. After she retired in 2005 from her full-time profession, she still assisted the dictionary project with specific questions, particularly those related to Old Tibetan.

Having been research assistant in 1963 at the Seminar for Indology and Iranian Studies (now the Institute for Indology and Tibetology), she joined the dictionary project in 1964, when the collection of terms has just begun. At the same time, she worked on her dissertation in Indology, completing it in 1967. The subject was an edition and translation of the Nepālamāhātmya, an appendix of the Skandapurāṇa. This text describes the holy places of the Kathmandu valley, including the associated cults from a Śaivite perspective. The work was published in 1970 in a series of the Philosophical Faculty of Munich University (Das Nepālamāhātmya des Skandapurāṇa. Legenden um die hinduistischen Heiligtümer Nepāls, München: Fink Verlag, 1970.) In the same year she obtained a full position as research assistant at the Bavarian Academy.

Some years previously, in 1960, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation Helmut Hoffmann had invited two Tibetan scholars to Munich to join the dictionary project. One of the two was Jampa Losang Panglung, who also studied Tibetology and Indology at the LMU. After completing his Magister degree in 1976, he joined Helga Uebach at the Wörterbuch der tibetischen Schriftsprache, where they both worked until their retirement. The early years of the dictionary project were laborious, and the project was affected by the tremendous changes caused by the arrival of Tibetan exiles in India. Beginning in the 1970s, Tibetans started publishing large quantities of Tibetan texts. In these pre-computer times, Helga Uebach and Jampa L. Panglung spent their time filling card index file-boxes with handwritten notes on Tibetan terms for the dictionary project.

Apart from these lexicographical studies, Helga Uebach worked predominantly on Tibetan cultural history, with a special focus on the 7th to 9th centuries, the period of the early Tibetan kingdom. Her scholarly interests also included the history of Ladakh and document studies. From the early 1980s these interests, that also provided material for the dictionary, led her and her colleague on several field trips to India and Tibet. In those years, Tibetan Studies were at an early stage, and Tibetan publications were still rare. To collect further material for dictionary project, Helga Uebach photographed inscriptions in Ladakh and Tibet, as well as documents held in the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. However, the increasing volume of Tibetan publications in India that was now possible thanks to technological progress partly overran these efforts to add all this additional material.

One of her major works at this time was a translation of the chronicle by Nelpa Pandita (Helga Uebach: Nel-pa Paṇḍitas Chronik Me-tog phreṅ-ba. Handschrift der Library of Tibetan Works and Archives; tibetischer Text in Faksimile, Transkription und Übersetzung, München: Kommission für Zentralasiatische Studien, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987 (Studia Tibetica. Quellen und Studien zur tibetischen Lexikographie, 1). She had discovered this historical source, that had long been considered to be lost, in the Library of the Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala while she was photographing all the Tibetan documents in 1982. With this publication, Helga Uebach established the series “Studia Tibetica. Quellen und Studien zur tibetischen Lexikographie” at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Moreover, she translated Rolf A. Stein’s work Tibetan Civilization into German (Die Kultur Tibets, Edition Weber Berlin 1993).

In November 1973, one year before her full employment in the Academy, Helga Uebach and Jampa L. Panglung organised the invitation of the Dalai Lama for his very first visit to Europe. Supported by senator Günter Klinge and Gertraut Klinge, who were both also sponsors of the dictionary project, it was possible to invite the Dalai Lama to Munich, where he met scholars of the Bavarian Academy, politicians as well as Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhists.

Helga Uebach with Jampa Panglung and the Dalai Lama (1973)

Helga Uebach and Herbert Franke, with the Dalai Lama (1973)

Just over ten years later, in the summer of 1985, she and Jampa L. Panglung were co-convenors of the fourth seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies in Schloss Hohenkammer, close to Munich. More than 100 participants from 22 countries took part in this event. The results were published in proceedings: Helga Uebach and Jampa L. Panglung (eds): Tibetan Studies. Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Schloss Hohenkammer ‒ Munich 1985, München: Kommission für Zentralasiatische Studien, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1988 (Studia Tibetica. Quellen und Studien zur tibetischen Lexikographie, 2). She was also the Secretary General of the IATS, a position that she retained for the Munich seminar, as well as for the fifth, that was held in Narita in 1989.

By the time Helga Uebach retired in 2005 she has been working on the Wörterbuch der tibetischen Schriftsprache for forty-one years. In the same year, she published the first fascicle of the dictionary. Until her unexpected death on 8 February 2021, she was still an active figure in Tibetan Studies, and continued regularly to publish articles of exemplary scholarship, mainly in the field of Old Tibetan.

Petra Maurer

Josef Kolmaš (1933-2021)

Josef Kolmaš, who was one amongst the rather small group of founders of modern Tibetan Studies, passed away on February 9th, 2021, at the age of 87 years. He is known by the international academic public for the work he published in English, which focuses on historiographical topics and China-Tibet relations. But this is only a part of his legacy. Among the Czech public he is better known as a prolific translator of numerous books concerning Tibet, China and India from various languages: Tibetan, Chinese, Latin, Russian, English and German.

I remember Josef Kolmaš as a very supportive mentor. Meticulous and strict, but also a kind man endowed with a very distinctive sense of humour. The circumstances of his life were indeed fascinating, and rich in unusual paradoxes.

Josef Kolmaš with his teacher Narkyid Ngawang Thondup and Hugh E. Richardson at the first IATS seminar in Oxford, 1979 (source: Kolmaš, Josef, Tibet: dějiny a duchovní kultura. Praha: Argo, 2004).

He was born in south Moravia (the southeastern part of the Czech Republic), which is known as an island of Catholic faith in the sea of otherwise lukewarm religious sentiments of Czech society. Born in Těmice as the eldest of five children in the family of a bricklayer in 1933, he enrolled at the Jesuit church gymnasium (secondary school) in Velehrad just at the end of the Second World War in 1945. Following the communist coup d’état in 1948 the persecution of the church and its institutions was in the air.

The communist regime targeted the Velehrad church gymnasium and seminary in the spring of 1950 as part of the so-called Action K.  Seventeen-year-old Kolmaš was interned with other students of the gymnasium and novices of the seminary in Bohosudov, North Bohemia, for almost six months.

‘Teachers and the young novices were taken away. Teachers were imprisoned, but the Communist Party and the government did not know how to deal with the novices. Eventually, the novices were kept interned until September,’ he recalled as he recounted his time in the so-called ‘centralised monastery,’ which was effectively a camp guarded by the communist police. Every day he had to line up in the yard as a prisoner, and to listen to the propaganda reading of the political commissioner. He and others were forced to liquidate the local library by throwing volumes out of the windows. The communist regime did not allow anyone to visit him, and he was allowed to go outside only accompanied by guards. He was not even allowed to inform his parents that he was alive until three months later.

Later, he was forced to work on the construction of the Klíčava dam near Kladno, where he levelled the slopes and built roads around the reservoir. ‘They brought some female members of the Communist Youth union who were eager to socialise and dance with us. They were apparently attempting to re-educate us,’ he recollected in the interview for the Memory of Nations project. He eventually ended up in the abolished Franciscan monastery in Hájek near Prague, and only then was he released.

He then continued his studies at the gymnasium in Kyjov. His teacher Ladislav Dlouhy supported his interest in Oriental languages. He showed Kolmaš New Orient (Nový Orient), a journal in which a manual of Chinese was being published in instalments. 

Josef Kolmaš with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, 1978 (photo: Doboom Tulku, source: Kolmaš, Josef, Tibet: dějiny a duchovní kultura. Praha: Argo, 2004).

Following his graduation in 1952 he was accepted for studies of Czech and Russian languages at the University of Olomouc. In the environment of the planned economy of the communist regime a formal authorisation was required for studies. The number of the students in each subject at the universities was planned and strictly prescribed. The authorisations were then distributed to the classes of graduates from the secondary schools. The gymnasium of Kyjov received just two authorisations for the graduates, one of them for the study of Czech and Russian languages at the University of Olomouc. 

But Josef Kolmaš was determined to study the Chinese language, which at that time was taught only at Charles University, in Prague. Following his graduation, he decided to visit the Minister of Education in person and to persuade him to provide him with official permission. The minister of Education at that time was Eduard Štoll, a representative of the Stalinist wing of the Communist Party. Amazingly, the minister agreed to meet the young graduate. During their discussion he phoned Jaroslav Průšek, an influential Czech sinologist and lecturer in Chinese at the University. And following Kolmaš’s visit to Průšek, his way to the study of Chinese was opened.    

Kolmaš studied Chinese in the years 1952-1957. There were ten students of Chinese in the class, which was quite a large number at that time. Since 1949 the People’s Republic of China had been a partner of the communist regime. Josef Kolmaš recollected the words of the minister of information Václav Kopecký after his visit of China at that time: ‘Thanks to the victory of communism in China the Earth’s axis has tilted in the direction of progress.’ Kolmaš was taught Tibetan as a second language by Pavel Poucha, a specialist in Mongolian Studies and the Tocharian language. What the study of Tibetan was like at that time was described to me some years ago by Kolmaš: “Poucha taught me the Tibetan letters and explained the way they work during the first class. For the next class he brought a Tibetan translation of the New Testament. He gave it to me saying: ‘You have the Czech version of it, so you can make the effort yourself!’”

Josef Kolmaš with the Dalai Lama and Czech indologist Dušan Zbavitel. Prague, 1990 (photo: J. Ptáček, source: Tändzin Gjamccho, Svoboda v Exilu: autobiografie 14. Dalajlamy. Praha: Práh, 1992).

Following his graduation, Kolmaš was offered a postgraduate stipend at the Central Institute for Nationalities in Beijing in 1957. He spent two years there between 1957 and 1959. His stay there proved to be crucial for his future research within the field of Tibetan Studies. He was the first foreign student to study there. At the same time, this was also Kolmaš’s first trip abroad. It was the time of the Great Leap Forward campaign (1958–1960) and also the start of the Great Chinese Famine (1958–1962) that left a toll of 35–45 million deaths. Kolmaš recollected some scenes that illustrated the situation in China at that time. He remembered the head of the Institute catching flies and collecting them in a small paper bag in the toilet as part of the Four Pests Campaign aimed at eliminating rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Kolmaš also recollected his enormous shame when the head of the Institute asked him for a piece of sugar for his children, who had never seen it. Kolmaš was given provisions at the Soviet Embassy, which significantly alleviated the concerns of his daily life in Beijing.

He spent some time with another foreign Tibetologist at the Central Institute for Nationalities: Yuri Parfionovich (1921–1990), who was a member of the Moscow Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences. Parfionovich had fought as a soldier in the Red Army before his studies, had taken part in the Soviet-Finnish War, and was a member of an espionage group. As a soldier he had participated in the capture of Berlin, and had celebrated the end of the Second World War in Prague. Kolmaš remembered him as a good companion who was nevertheless a heavy drinker. He was haunted by nightmares from his soldier’s past, especially the moments when he was forced to shoot his own close friends dead.              

Kolmaš always remembered his own teachers in Beijing with a feeling of gratitude. One of them was Narkyid Ngawang Thondup (1931­–2017). Kolmaš recollected that he had no information about him after leaving Beijing. But later in 1969, during an audience with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, in India, he mentioned his name in the conversation. The Dalai Lama gestured to his secretary and after a while Narkyid Ngawang Thondup appeared in front of a greatly surprised – and moved – Kolmaš.

But his principal teacher of Tibetan was the Chinese scholar Yu Daoquan (1901-1999), who also had studied in Paris from 1934 and had taught at SOAS, in London, from 1938. He is known as a founding figure of Tibetan Studies in China and the compiler of the Chinese-Tibetan Dictionary of Colloquial Lhasa Tibetan (Bod rgya shan sbyar gyi lha sa’i kha skad tshig mdzod, 1983). Kolmaš frequently spoke about his unselfishness and recalled him as a ‘real bodhisattva.’ Yu Daoquan had good contacts with Tibetans in Derge. Thanks to this connection Kolmaš has been able to order a full Derge print of the Kanjur to be sent to the Prague Oriental Institute. Also, Kolmaš’s later works on Derge Prints and the Genealogy of the Kings of Derge were made possible through his teacher Yu Daoquan.

During his studies in Beijing, Kolmaš also made a hand-written copy of the 14th century Tibetan chronicle The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies (Rgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long). Translating it into Czech and publishing it under the title Zrcadlo králů (Mirror of Kings) much later in 1998 was the fulfilment of one of the dreams he had conceived during his studies in Beijing.

Josef Kolmaš at his home in 2014 (photo: Andrea Jelínková, source: Memory of Nations).

A few years ago I met with András Róna-Tas, the Hungarian linguist and the first president of IATS, in Szeged. He recollected that in those days he had been working on the Monguor language. Knowing that Kolmaš was in Beijing at the Central Institute for Nationalities, he kept writing letters addressed to Kolmaš, asking him to transcribe the real pronunciation of various Monguor words. He had never had a chance to listen to the Monguor language he was researching at that time, and it was only through Kolmaš that he could learn the actual pronunciation of it. 

While staying in Beijing, Josef Kolmaš conceived a plan to visit Derge. He was able to set off there only in 1959. On arriving in Lanzhou he could see streams of railway trucks with tanks and cannons heading for Tibet. The uprising in Lhasa has started following the escape of the Dalai Lama to India. While in Lanzhou, he received an urgent telegram ordering him to return to Beijing immediately.

After his return from Beijing in 1959 he worked at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. It was a period of hard work transforming the initial inputs from his stay in China into the results that would be recognized within the international community of Tibetologists. The regime in Czechoslovakia relaxed in the 1960s, and he was able to work as a visiting lecturer at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1966. Following the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the political situation was again the determining factor in academic research. Despite that and the fact that during that period of time, until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, he was obliged to translate political documents from Chinese, he also managed to continue his academic work. In 1969 and 1978 he visited India, where he worked with Lokesh Chandra. In 1979, in Oxford, he was among the founding members of the International Association for Tibetan Studies.  

Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Oriental Institute underwent changes. He served as a director between the years 1994­–2002, and retired in 2003.

He was married to Marie, with whom they had a son, Vladimír, and a daughter, Ivana. Sadly, in 2006 his wife Marie passed away, and he himself spent the last five years of his life in a nursing home following a serious illness.

In his English-language works he took advantage of his knowledge of both Tibetan and Chinese. His most valuable publications include works on China-Tibet relations. These include Tibet and Imperial China (Canberra 1967), The Ambans and Assistant Ambans of TibetA Chronological Study (Prague 1994), Four Letters of Po Chü-i to the Tibetan Authorities (808-810 A. D.) (ArOr 34, 1966), and Ch’ing shih kao on Modern History of Tibet (1903-1912) (ArOr 32, 1964). These contained new information and pioneered the use of Chinese sources for Tibetan historiography. Another focus of his research was Derge and the printing house there. Among the publications dedicated to this topic are A Genealogy of the Kings of Derge (Prague 1968), the Prague Collection of Tibetan Prints from Derge I-II (Wiesbaden – Prague, 1971), and The Iconography of the Derge Kanjur and Tanjur (New Delhi 1978).

The numerous books he translated into Czech from various languages are not known to the international public. Among others, he translated the well-known story of Nangsa Öbum (Nang sa ’od ’bum gyi rnam thar) from Tibetan, the Mirror of the Genealogy of Kings (Rgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long, mentioned above) and Songs of Milarepa (Mi la ras pa’i mgur ’bum). From Chinese he translated the travelogues of the Chinese monks Xuanzang and Faxian, describing their journey to India; his translations from Latin include letters written from China by 18th-century Czech missionary Karel Slavíček, while from Russian he translated the travelogue to Lhasa by Gombojab Tsybikov. Through such translations of essential texts, he is well-known to the Czech public interested in Asia.

There used to be a saying ascribed to St. Benedict on the door of Kolmaš’s office: Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te, ‘Preserve order and order will preserve you.’ His personal passage through the turbulent times of history, and the legacy of his work, are a reflection of the seriousness with which he applied this advice in his personal life.   


Daniel Berounský

Prague, 25 February 2021