Mini-review: Gao Ping’s “Tsangyang Gyatso, The Sixth Dalai Lama “

Leave me to myself. Go away.

I have had enough of your demands on me. I didn’t ask for it.

What right do you have to make me your Dalai Lama? What right do you have

to make me a eunuch, while still leaving my body and passions intact?

(From Paul Williams’ The Erotic Verse of the Sixth Dalai Lama)

This particular Dalai Lama (1683-1706) is more renowned for his love life and poetry—and his violent death at a young age—than for his role as a spiritual mentor. I came upon a fictionalized Chinese-language biography of him by Gao Ping (高平) not long ago, Tsangyang Gyatso, The Sixth Dalai Lama (六世达赖喇嘛仓央嘉措), but didn’t read it yet.

But it turns out that this (to me) unassuming book was, at one time at least, rather controversial. According to a report in the China Library Weekly on August 10, 2010 (出版过程可以写一部小说), Gao Ping originally found a publisher for the book in 1983, but “unfortunately there were Tibetan compatriots who held different views [about it] who, by means of several anonymous letters, hampered its publication.” So it wasn’t until 2007 that the novel was finally published by China Tibet Publishing (中国西藏出版社). It would be interesting to know what issues caused publication to be delayed for more than two decades. According to the report, Gao Ping is an accomplished Han poet who first entered Tibet as a PLA soldier in 1951 when he was just 19.

I am happy to report that a Chinese friend has read the book in its entirety, and has kindly written some brief thoughts on it, which I have translated and lightly edited below.


The Sixth Dalai Lama was an adept composer of love poetry, and his verse has been passed down from generation to generation among Tibetans who are deeply attached to his memory.

As the leader of the Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, intimate contact with women was forbidden to him, but he stubbornly disregarded orthodoxy and pursued romance. At just 15, he was dragged off to the Potala Palace where the Regent of the preceding (now dead) Dalai Lama craftily arranged for him to be enthroned as Tsangyang  Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama, an act that tragically separated the boy from his very first love.

When he learned that his first love had been married off, he transferred his anger into rebellion against the lamas in charge of him, and used every ruse to escape from the palace. In the meanwhile, he had affairs with the noble lady Bai Zhen, the widow Dawa and the beautiful young Qiong Zhuoga, and penned many now oft-cited poems in praise of romance and his lovers.

Born in 1683, the twenty-second year of the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi, the future Dalai Lama Ngawang Gyamtso  was a member of the Monpa ethnicity, and his actual place of birth is located in modern-day Arunachal Pradeshi  in northeastern India.  Ngawang  was a clever boy who was steeped in the songs and poetry of the common people from his early years.

After his enthronement in the Potala Palace, Tsangyang Gyatso served as a puppet leader of the Yellow Hat Sect while real power was held by the Regent Sangye Gyatso. He was unhappy with the way in which Qing Emperor Kangxi used the Olmert Tribe (Mongols) to control Tibetan politics, and the Regent struggled to wrest power from the Mongol king, Lhasang Khan. But the Sixth Dalai Lama was a mere pawn in this game, and when Lhasang Khan dispatched him to visit the Qing court, he was drowned in the waters of Qinghai Lake on the way to the capital.

From my point of view as a Han Chinese, I feel the thrust of the book is quite “politically correct.”  The young lama sought romance, cherished poetry and longed to live the life of a common person, but his wings were clipped by the struggle for political power going on around him. The emphasis of this book is on the political struggles between the Han, Tibetans and Mongols, and the devastating results they had on the Sixth Dalai Lama.

Like the overwhelming majority of Han Chinese, before I read this novel I could only gain an understanding of the conflicts between the Tibetans and the Han via strictly censored newspapers and web pages.  For me, the very concept of the Dalai Lama is a role that our government very much dislikes and is even unwilling to mention.  The news in China often reports about the current Dalai Lama in negative terms.  In short, it seems that whatever he says is against the State, an attempt to split the Motherland or the like. The words “Dalai Lama” are derogatory in the dictionary of the Han Chinese.

In recent years, there has been an endless stream of books on Tibet coming out in Chinese, such as “Tibetan Mastiff,” (藏獒) The Tibet Code (藏地密码) and Yak Butter Lamp, (酥油), which have been snapped up like hotcakes. But what’s odd is that these novels are all been penned by Han Chinese. Don’t’ Tibetans write novels? Or is it because their viewpoints are politically incorrect, so they can’t be published?

Anyway, after reading this novel, I’m sure of one thing: no need to “harmonize” (和谐掉) this one!

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