A List of Tibetan “Firsts”

2014 12 09 Tibetan Firsts

Screenshot from the mobile site of WeChat

Ending the year on a lighter note, High Peaks Pure Earth presents this English translation of an interesting Chinese language post that has been circulating on social media and apps such as WeChat recently.

The post lists 14 things that occurred first in Tibet! We’ve added some comments to provide some context to these claims, please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

A List of Tibetan “Firsts”

1) Invented Fast Food (Tsampa)

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Tsampa is roasted barley flour, the Tibetan staple. Read our 2011 article about tsampa (amongst other things) here.  And sorry Patagonia, Tibetans were first!

2) Invented Polo (In the 6th Century)

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Fun fact, “polo” is one of the few words originating from Tibetan that has made its way into English, it’s even in the Oxford English Dictionary!

3) First to Breed Horses

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4) Tibet held the first modelling competition (During the building of Samye Monastery in 779AD)

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This is documented in the oldest Tibetan historical records, the Bazha (Sba bzhed). King Trisong Detsen and Guru Rinpoche decided to base the image of the statues in Samye monastery on native Tibetan models instead of Indian or Chinese models. The best youthful Tibetan men and women were summoned and models were selected.

5) Had the longest running dynastic rule

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6) The earliest nation to cultivate cereals

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Ah yes, barley has been in the news a lot lately! Read all about how barley was the key to human survival at high altitude: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2014/11/20/it-took-barley-for-humans-to-climb-the-mountains-of-tibet/

7) Tibet was the first nation to send students abroad

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This refers to students sent to India by Tibetan Kings to study Buddhism. The Tibetan King Trisong Detsen sent Tibetan students to study in India in the 8th Century.

Also perhaps of interest to readers, just over a hundred years ago now, four Tibetan boys were sent to the UK for a modern education at Rugby school

8) The first nation to construct an iron bridge

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In the fourteenth century no less! Read more about the incredible Thangtong Gyalpo.

9) One of the earliest nations to decorate pottery

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10) The first to hold eye surgery

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11) The first to develop smelting technology

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12) Has the biggest bronze statue (at Tashilhunpo Monastery)

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13) Has the largest painting on cloth

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14) Has the longest epic (Gesar)


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This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

8 Comments

  • Dear HPPE, Well, I want to say you should add to the list that Tibetans invented the cell phone, but while the evidence is there, it is rather shaky. I’m not so sure about Tibetans being the first to develop barley cultivation (ancient Mesopotamia did that) or smelting (think of King Solomon’s copper mines), but I’m not up-to-date on what the latest agricultural & mining archaeologists have b een digging up. There are a lot of European and American claims for the “first iron suspension bridge,” but they all date from the 18th century, centuries after Tangtong Gyelpo’s (1361?-1485) many bridges. I guess there may be more little things to quibble about, but I don’t want to sound like a grouch or a spoilsport. Certainly Tibetans have a history of great accomplishments that ought to be talked about more, praised to the high peaks so to speak. Thank you so much for being out there, and Happy Foreign New Year!

    • Thanks Dan, Happy New Year to you too! Tibetans invented New Year haha!!

  • Polo is an interesting word. I thought it found it’s way into Tibetan after the English word ‘ball’. Then it found it’s way back into English as a new word referring only to the horseback sport first played in the valleys of Tibetan speaking areas in Northwest Himalayas taken up by the English Aristocracy during the British Raj.

  • Berthold Laufer tells how a Tibetan team defeated the Chinese in a polo match held in 709 CE at the Pear Garden Pavilion. In his work on Tibetan loanwords, he lists Polo among the Tibetan words that were borrowed into the English language. I have a reference to an article by Wang Yao on the subject of polo (he counters some Chinese scholars who believe the game was of Persian origins, and concludes that Tibetans surely invented it)., if I could only locate it. My room is such a mess, supposedly not a good omen for the New Year. Maybe I’ll clean up a little before the midnight bell.

  • Oh dear, have to agree with Dan here. Many of these so-called ‘firsts’ are on very shaky evidential ground. As for, being the first to ‘invent fast food’, hold ‘beauty contests’ or the ‘longest dynastic rule’ aren’t they ‘scraping the barrel’ a bit? Seriously, I don’t want to sound like a spoilsport either but lists like this don’t really do justice to what Tibetans can feel proud of which is the unique and amazing legacy of Tibetan Buddhism in terms of scholarship, literature and practice. Such lists as these come across as patronising and achieve the opposite impression of what is intended.

  • First to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Tenzin Norgay, a Sherpa of Tibetan origin. We know the nod went to Hillary, but Tenzin got there first. Then India gave Tenzin citizenship to take the prestige.

  • Sherpas are not Tibetan, Ayak Tsang. That’s like saying the Irish are English, sorry.

  • Sherpa and all northern himalayan people of Nepal; Dolpo’s, Yolmo, Walung, Lowo and Ladhak, Kinnuar, Spiti,Sikkimese, Bhutanese, Monpas are of Tibetan origin. Read more of Tibetan history, how Tibetans lost them one by one in war during middle centuries. Today these people are not considered as Tibetan. Even Tibetans are not tibetan as we are considered Chinese nationality even by free world.