High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for the Mandarin Service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on July 24, 2013. It was also broadcast on the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia.
This post is a follow up to “The Disappearance of Tromsikhang’s Different Lives” which was a dense, historical piece about Lhasa and this one is no less dense. The same focus is kept on “Tromsikhang” but there are more details about the present museum in Lhasa housed there, the “Former Site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister Stationed in Tibet” of the title.
A report by China’s Xinhua news agency of July 2, 2013 proudly stated:
Qing government Amban Yamen site museum on July 1 officially opened in Lhasa, Tibet, China introduced the close ties between the Mainland, to show Tibet has long been part of China’s historical fact.
After the text, Woeser has posted many historical photos and plans of Tromsikhang so be sure to scroll down fully. To learn more about the important work of Tibet Heritage Fund, please see their website: www.tibetheritagefund.org
In the post, Woeser refers to “nail houses”, a term in Chinese (dingzi hu) that has come to describe homes where the resident refuses to leave to make way for new construction, so builders have to construct around it. There is a good collection of photos of China “nail houses” on this architecture website i09: http://io9.com/unbelievable-nail-houses-around-the-world-892781747
“The Revised History of the ‘Former Site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister Stationed in Tibet'”
On May 29, 2013 the website China Tibet Online (Tibet.cn) reported: “The renovation project of the former site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet is currently in process. While preserving the original style of the ancient courtyards, this project also repairs the decrepit houses that represent an acute danger for the people who live inside them; after completion the site will become an exhibition hall about the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet.”
The so-called “former site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet” is referring to the Podrang (Palace) called Tromsikhang that is situated on the northern side of the Barkhor and that was approximately built in the late 17th and early 18th century during the time of the 6th Dalai Lama. Its former name was “Phuntsok Rabten Paljor”. It used to be the residence of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso; the Qoshot leader, Lhazang Khan, resided here as well when he was controlling Lhasa; it was also the place where the Tibetan government official, Khangchennas, as well as six or seven Amban died (Amban is Manchurian and means “big person” and refers to representatives of the Qing government that were stationed in Mongolia, Qinghai, Tibet and Xinjiang, they were also called grand ministers; in Chinese historical documents they are referred to as “ministers stationed in Tibet”).
The name Tromsikhang was given to the palace when the Amban, Pholhanas, was living inside it; his policies also opened Tibet to evil outside forces. Tromsikhang means “being able to see the houses of the city” or also “facing the street”. In fact, this is a place reeking of blood. Not only were Khangchennas’ two wives killed here, in 1750 two Amban insidiously murdered the son of Pholhanas, Gyumey Namgyal, upon which furious Tibetans caused a bloodbath by killing hundreds of Manchurians and Han Chinese. In my previous post, “The Disappearance of Tromsikhang’s Different Lives”, I gave a detailed description of the completely different interpretations regarding this event in Tibetan and Chinese history accounts.
Before the large-scale “restoration”, Tromsikhang was a courtyard compound with many families living together that was labelled “Protected Courtyard of Lhasa’s Ancient Architecture”. In fact, in history, Tromsikhang was “renovated” many times. It already lost its original style over 300 years ago. Apart from the damage inflicted upon it before and during the Cultural Revolution, the local authorities damaged it numerous times by carrying out “restoration work”; present records tell us the following:
In autumn 1994, according to an eyewitness, Liao Dongfan (formerly editor in chief of “Chinese Tibet”), “as part of the renovation projects in Lhasa, Tromsikhang was already more or less demolished”.
In 1997, according to the international organisation that works on the protection of old Lhasa – the Tibet Heritage Fund (THF) – in the summer of 1997, authorised by one of the vice chairmen of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Lhasa Municipal Planning Office “most of the Tromsikhang building was demolished, only the front facade facing the Barkor Street was retained. By mid-1998, a new four-storey housing block had been built on the site where the old Tromsikhang had stood…” Despite the efforts of the German architect and founder of THF, André Alexander, and his colleagues, only very few rooms, windows and courtyard doors were actually restored; overall, Tromsikhang suffered from irreparable damage; the newly built housing blocks looked like traditional Tibetan buildings with their decorated facades but they were actually built from concrete with supporting steel bars.
Inside Tromsikhang there exists an eastern courtyard – “Gyegu Shar”, a central courtyard – “Gyegu Kyi”, and western courtyard – “Gyegu Nub”, the almost 100 families who were living there were almost entirely local Lhasa people, some had even been living there for several decades. The demolition in 1997 forced out quite a few families, but most of them were allowed to stay. At the time, one of the three courtyard doors was blocked off and changed into a shop but the shape of the old door could still be seen. In 1998 a new door was opened, which happened to be in exactly the place of the former postal station.
In the second half of 2010, Tromsikhang was “renovated and stabilised” on a large scale and at considerable costs, the only remaining 300-years-old facades were demolished but the residents were still not resettled. Some families rented or transferred their homes to Chinese and Hui traders. The transferral fee had increased significantly over the years, so some Hui traders invested a million Yuan to purchase one floor of shops. The shops facing the street sold carpets and rugs, articles for daily use, and also arts and crafts; some shops were used as ateliers, painting and selling thangkas. Later some Chinese tourists also opened ateliers that are now commonly called distribution centre for “Tibet drifters”.
At the end of 2012, another expensive “restoration” project was initiated in Lhasa’s old town. This time, all original residents living inside Tromsikhang were requested to move out, forced to “settle” in the western or eastern suburbs or to rent an inexpensive apartment in the city. They received warnings from different departments, including the local resident committee, so they had to leave very fast, only getting very little compensation (25,000 Yuan/family for those without a shop front and 5000 Yuan/sqm for those with a shopfront). Some Chinese and Hui traders were not resettled because they claimed that they had paid an expensive transferral fee. Not a single Tibetan dared to stay as a so-called “nail house” and fight for better compensation.
On May 14, 2013, the Tibet Daily published a photo showing the construction site at Tromsikhang, the caption read: “the photo shows the restoration of the former site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet situated in the Barkhor community, Barkhor office, Chengguan district, Lhasa municipality.” It becomes clear that now the original, 300-years-old Tibetan name, “Tromsikhang”, had even completely disappeared, replaced by “former site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet”.
The clearing out of Tromsikhang, the transformation of these blood reeking ruins into an “exhibition hall about the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet” is the same idea as the transformation of the newly established “base for patriotic education” called “Snow City” right at the foot of Potala Palace. It is yet another massive project attempting to revise the history of Tibet, just that it is an even more fabricated story, a creation of something from nothingness, just as the official media reported: “The exhibition hall about the restored Yamen in Tibet shows and introduces the entire political structure and historical development of the Qing government ministers stationed in Tibet; it also describes how all ministers actively engaged in the safeguarding of national unity, in the strengthening of national borders and in the promotion of developing and improving Tibetan society.”
In reality, however, the Amban history from the 18th century to the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 was as Wang Lixiong wrote in his book “Sky Burial”: Within the entire 185-year-long history, the 135 Ministers stationed in Tibet (according to the exhibition hall it was 138)… could never have exercised any real power in Tibet.”
“Beijing always claimed that the Minister stationed in Tibet was a sign of China’s power over Tibet, that he was an official representing the central government who implemented and managed the policies in Tibet”, but according to Tibetans and Tibetan history, the Amban was “only an Ambassador of the Manchurian Qing Emperor (and of China) whose main function was the dissemination of news, and who at most served as a consultant to the Tibetan government but who never possessed actual power.” “On the surface, Tibetan officials were respectful and modest towards the Qing ministers, ‘honest on the surface’ so to speak, but their actions were really ‘disobedient’, their ruling over Tibet happened according to their own will and not according to that of the Chinese.”
In other words, the minister stationed in Tibet was simply a “connector” for Beijing to extend its influence in Tibet; but in reality, they were “undermined” by Tibet, “Tibetans did not follow, yes even broke off this ‘connector’”.
But this kind of political story of “using the past to serve the present”, has been repackaged along with the “renovation” of Lhasa’s old town, it has been meticulously arranged and gorgeously put on stage. That being the case, I recommend to those who use the power of storytelling to be sure to also include the dynasty that started in 1951 after Tibet was “liberated” and tell the outstanding achievements and glorious history of the CCP Amban stationed in Tibet. How can they neglect the great Ministers of the Party? Those must have definitely been more patriotic than the Amban of the feudal dynasty (which has always been spurned and despised as decadent by the CCP), they must have been even more “actively engaged in the safeguarding of national unity, in the strengthening of national borders and in the promotion of developing and improving Tibetan society.” Or perhaps, the feudal Amban are now considered as Communist Party members, this would be the only way to prove the consistent transferral of patriotism; otherwise digging out the Manchurian ministers from the rubbish pile of history to serve as a rational and confirmation for the CCP’s occupation and rule over Tibet would be a loss of face, even though the actual goal is exactly that!
If they really cherished the memory of the “Qing government Ministers”, then they should have turned the actual and most ancient Qing Yamen, “Duo Senge”, that is now the Tibetan military region’s second guest house occupied by military troops for the “maintenance of stability”, into the “exhibition hall about the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister stationed in Tibet”. It should not be the blood reeking and less historical Tromsikhang. But the decision was clearly not genuine, it was clearly a deliberate fabrication with obvious ulterior motives in mind.
If they really cherished the memory of the “Qing government Ministers”, they should be very clear as to who the “Qing government” really belonged to. Just as the Harvard professor and Qing expert Mark Elliot wrote: “are we justified in seeing the Qing unproblematically as China? Shouldn’t we see it rather as a Manchu empire, of which China was only one part?” “The Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China (not to mention the People’s Republic) were different entities with different political agendas and while the demographic and geographic overlap between the Qing and modern China is perfectly obvious, it is not seamless nor is it perfect. There exists in fact many disjunctions.”
Apart from that, it is important to point out that Tromsikhang that is now this “Yamen exhibition hall”, was actually saved by André Alexander and THF during the destructive “old town transformations” in 1997; they spared no efforts to rescue some of the historical relics from the hungry bulldozers; otherwise Tromsikhang would have long been transformed into the Surkhang palace of the “Surkhang Shopping Centre”, in which case it would be rather difficult to turn it into an exhibition hall today. The local authorities should really thank THF for that, but instead, they permanently expelled André and THF from Lhasa. If André, who passed away last year, was still with us today, seeing Tromsikhang – the place that he did so much for – being utilised for political ends, he would surely be shocked and sad.
Absurd projects revising the history of Tibet keep happening again and again. After the “renovation” of Lhasa’s old town is completed, how many “bases for patriotic education” will exist? The Chinese media reports that “red tourism” has become big in China, “all areas develop their economy and fly the flag of ‘red tourism’, former residences of great leaders have become important tourist spots that local governments spare no efforts in promoting.” Lhasa and other areas in Tibet have no such former residences of communist leaders, but they are also promoting “red tourism”; the Qing Ministers stationed in Tibet, the Tibetan scholar Gendun Chophel who died in 1950 of an illness, yes even Princess Wencheng of the early Tang Dynasty (7th century) have all been slowly moulded into “good patriots”; this is a tool to generate income through tourism, but even more so is this an ideological tool, another step towards profound and comprehensive colonisation.
June 6 – July 23, 2013
Tromsikhang as depicted in a 19th century traditional painting. In front of the building we see the stupa that was destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution as part of the “Destroy the Four Olds” campaign.
An old photo: Tromsikhang in 1954.
“Three dimensional drawing of Tromsikhang” by André Alexander and the Tibet Heritage Fund (THF), published in 1999 in “Introduction to Monuments on Lhasa’s Old Barkhor Street”.
The photos and texts below come from the records of André Alexander who devoted his efforts to the protection of Lhasa’s old town; from a book published in 2005: “The Lhasa Atlas: Traditional Tibetan Architecture and Townscape”; and from translated texts and supplementary information from here: Tromsikhang.
Tromsikhang situated on the northern Barkhor, photo taken before demolition in 1997.
The demolition work in 1997, this shows Tromsikhang’s northern corner.
The interior of Tromsikhang.
The symmetrical layout of the whole building complex covered an area of 60 metres times 40 metres and probably only had one large courtyard originally (now it has two). The building facing the Barkhor had shops on the ground floor with dwelling units on the two floors above, connected by interior stairs. The top floor was richly decorated with carvings on wooden balconies and interior structures. The main facade, beautifully proportioned, had a fine architectural rhythm. Supporting its overall balance were several symmetrical sections to be found in the facade; these worked as sub-themes in the larger architectural concept. (Taken from “The Lhasa Atlas: Traditional Tibetan Architecture and Townscape”).
Residents start to move out of their homes
Tromsikhang’s north-east corner at the time of the demolition of adjacent residential streets
Tromsikhang during the demolition of the western courtyard
The main entrance gate of Tromsikhang that had a history of over 300 years was knocked over by bulldozers. (Taken in August 1997).
The Surkhang Mansion situated on the south-eastern Barkhor, a place with several hundred years of history. It was demolished in 1997, which is believed to be the greatest loss in Lhasa’s old town. In the lower left corner of the photo we see André Alexander from behind.
The two photos above were taken by me in October 2010, they show Tromsikhang. At the time they were carrying out expensive “maintenance and stabilisation” work. But in reality, they were demolishing the only remaining former facade, this is when the 18th century building completely lost its original style.
The above photos were taken by me between June 30 and July 17, 2013. They all show the newly built “Former Site of the Yamen for the Qing Government Minister Stationed in Tibet”. The last photo shows a CCTV journalist interviewing an official scholar.
This post is also available in: English