The Pangdatsang Family of Tibet

Rapga Pangdatsang

The history of the Pangdatsang family comprised half of my PhD thesis in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan (2001): "Arrested Histories: Between Empire and Exile in 20th Century Tibet." In the span of one generation, the Pangdatsang family went from being a regionally-powerful family of traders to the wealthiest family in all of Tibet, only to fall from grace both in the exile community as well as in Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China. The exhilarating but tragic story of this family is an important part of twentieth century Tibetan history as part of world history--including the rise of a Tibetan bourgeoisie, modern ideas of education and nation, governance in Tibet in between Dalai Lamas, and Tibet's relations with British India, Republican China, and the People's Republic of China. My telling of the story centers on the middle of the three Pangdatsang brothers, Pangda Rapga, dreamer, intellectual, and politician, and draws heavily on his personal diary and library as one of my sources alongside writings and reminiscences about him (and the family) by contemporaries and relatives, British imperial archives, and Tibetan language biographical and historical writings of and from this period. My research on this family is organized around the concept of "social death," or, the calculated fall from grace and prestige of the Pangdatsang family as an intimate history of twentieth century Tibet.

Status: research is mostly completed for this project, having first begun in 1995! I have two published articles on the Pangdatsang family, one about the murder of the Pangda patriarch at a picnic in Lhasa in the 1920s, and one about Rapga as a rebel Tibetan intellectual, as well as individual biographies of family members on the Treasury of Lives website ( ). Forthcoming is an article about Rapga and his first ever Tibetan political party, the Tibet Improvement Party; the article is titled "Imperial but not colonial: Archival truths, British India, and the case of the 'naughty Tibetans'." Book manuscript is scheduled for completion in winter 2017. The working title of the book is Political Life and Social Death: A Tibetan History of Exile and Loss.