Dasang Damdul Tsarong

Commander in Chief of Tibet

Nangang Dasang Damdul [gnam gang zla bzang dgra 'dul] was born into a farm worker's household in a small village in the Phenpo valley area. At a young age he went to live with his aunt in Lhasa and sometime around 1900 he began his training with a government monk official, Khangnyi Jinpa La, who was in charge of the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace. It was here that on a surprise inspection visit that the Dalai Lama spotted Nangang and recruited him to join his personal staff. When the Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia following the continuing advances of the Younghusband expedition in 1903 -04 Nangang, having finished preparations at Norbulingka, followed the Dalai Lama's party and rapidly became the Dalai Lama's most trusted servant. He signed the Trade Regulations in Calcutta in April, 1908, on behalf of the Tibetan Government. At the Chaksam Ferry in March, 1910, he with a party of Tibetan soldiers, kept back a force of Chinese troops who were attempting to stop the Dalai Lama reaching India. Afterwards he followed the Dalai Lama to India and stayed in Darjeeling. In the autumn of 1911 he was sent by the Dalai Lama to Shigatse and it was largely owing to him that the Chinese Garrison was forced to surrender their arms and ammunition. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief early in 1912 and given the title of Dzasa in April of the same year. In July, 1913, he married first: the eldest daughter of the late Tsarong Shapè and second: the widow of the Tsarong Shapè's son, who had been put to death in 1912 for being pro-Chinese. With the permission of the Dalai Lama the widow of Tsarong Shapè recognized him as the heir of Tsarong and in 1914 he was appointed Shapè and became known as Tsarong Shapè. In September, 1915, he met with Charles Bell to discuss arms and ammunitions.
He visited India on pilgrimage in 1924 and on his return lost the post of Commander-in-Chief and in 1929 he was degraded from Shapè to the rank of Dzasa. This was a time of great political intrigue and a push by the conservative monastic ranks against the modernizing army and lay officials. He was however offered the post of Shapè again, but he refused to accept it.
In July, 1934, he became one of the Managers of the Trapchi Factory and although Tsarong was not as active in government life as he once had been he was still very influential and had the support of Drepung Monastery. He was a popular (almost legendary) host for many of the British Missions who came to Lhasa in the 1930s and 40s and as an anglophile he was often noted by the British as wearing a combination of English-style clothes. He was a avid stamp collector, an excellent gardener and a keen amateur photographer. The British in their 'Who's Who in Tibet' describe Tsarong as, 'Clever, wealthy, mechanically and progressively minded but fearful, nowadays, of expressing publicly his considered opinions... A man of great energy and sound sense. He has a large following among the lay officials, but on the whole he is not popular with the monks, who regard his advanced views as a danger to their influence... Mr. Williamson describes him as "the most powerful friend of His Majesty's Government in Tibet". He is very friendly to British officials.'

In November 1950, following the invasion of Chinese troops, the 14th Dalai Lama moves to Chumbi Valley, and Tsarong and his family followed. Tsarong returned to Lhasa as an advanced party following the 17 Point Agreement. The situation in Lhasa became increasingly tense and following the death of his wife, Pema Dolkar Tsarong went on a pilgrimmage travelling to Kalimpong and Nepal.

In late 1958 against many people's advice he returned to Lhasa to organise a resistance to the Chinese forces. He was arrested in March 1959 and died in prison, hours before he was due to be publicly humiliated. His fellow prison mates recalling that he continued to joke until his last day.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
  • Nationality
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Asia: Central Asia: Tibet [China]: Ü -Tsang: Lhundrup: Phenpo
  • Died
    14 May 1959
  • Place of death
    Asia: Central Asia: Tibet [China]: Ü -Tsang: Lhasa
  • Cause of death
    Died in Prison
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