UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A monastic scholar under China’s occupation of Tibet : Muge Samten’s (1913-1993) autobiography and his role as a vernacular intellectual Tashi, Dhondup


This thesis explores Muge Samten’s (dmu dge bsam gtan, 1913-1993) life and scholarly works in the context of China’s colonization of Tibet. He was a leading Tibetan intellectual, considered one of the three great scholars (mkhas pa mi gsum) of twentieth century Tibet. He was a vernacular monastic intellectual during this crucial period of transition and, while serving as an official within the civil bureaucracy of the People’s Republic of China in Eastern Tibet, Muge Samten was able to employ his monastic knowledge and official position. The fact that he had both monastic and official influence allowed him to play a major role dealing with the historical fate of Tibetan language and religion under colonial China. These two roles, traditional and official, were respectively “normative” and “situational” in the manner that Yogendra Malik (1981, 1-17) proposes for vernacular intellectuals in context of colonial India. Using Malik’s terminology, Muge Samten exercised his “normative” authority through traditional knowledge and “situational” authority as an official in response to the hostile political circumstances of the communist takeover of Tibet. His life thus was an illustration of a Tibetan response to China’s occupation. His unique position meant that he introduced communist ideas and ideology to Tibet. He engaged in the production of dictionaries, editing official periodicals, translation of government documents in the early 1950's, and later advocated protecting Tibetan grammar from the language reform proposed by the Nationalities Publishing House in Beijing in 1969. During the 1980's, he revived Buddhist teachings and sustained Geluk ordination practices at monastic institutions that had been decimated during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), serving as preceptor for many monks throughout monasteries in eastern Tibet. Muge Samten’s activities in Tibet could be characterized as situational, adapting to the political climate of an occupied Tibet. His role in reviving Geluk ordination lineages could be considered normative, relying on traditional monastic tradition and religious status. And finally, the sustainability of Tibetan language and resuscitation of Tibetan identity can also be examined in his autobiography through the lens of “vernacular intellectual,” highlighting the unequal power between him and the political authority within Communist China.

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