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Scholars collect ancient Tibetan literature overseas
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Chinese scholars are working to collect, compile and publish ancient Tibetan literature that has been taken overseas due to various reasons, amid efforts to preserve and promote the distinctive Tibetan culture.

To date, researchers with the Northwest University of Nationalities in Gansu Province have compiled five volumes of photocopies of the ancient Tibetan literature housed in the National Library of France.

The photocopied documents have been published by the Shanghai Chinese Classics Publishing House, said Zhaxi Dongzhi, a researcher on the Tibetan ethnic group at the Lanzhou-based university.

The literature found in France is from the seventh to 10th century. It was originally discovered at the famed Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu, Zhaxi Dongzhi said.

"These documents cover history, religion, language and script, art, astrology, science and technology, literary works, social life and others. They offer very important, first-hand material for domestic researchers to study the history of the Tibetan Tubo Kingdom (about 629-840)," he said.

The Tubo Kingdom was founded by the Tibetan hero and statesman Songtsan Gambo. Songtsan Gambo introduced Buddhism to the kingdom and created Tibetan's own script according to Sanskrit. This enabled the history of the kingdom and the Tibetan ethnic group to be recorded.

Songtsan Gambo is also best remembered for sending twice envoys to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) emperor to propose to Princess Wen Cheng whom he later married. The Tibetans and Hans had, through the marriage of their royal families, formed close economic and cultural relations, laying the groundwork for the ultimate foundation of a unified nation.

But turmoil broke out on the plateau following the collapse of the Tubo Kingdom in the ninth century, leading to the destruction of many precious documents.

"Luckily, the ancient literature placed in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang avoided being ruined. It is very precious now," Zhaxi Dongzhi said.

The university's project of collecting the ancient literature lost overseas started in 2004. Researchers plan to publish 10 to 15 volumes of the photocopied edition of the ancient Dunhuang Tibetan literature housed by the French National Library by 2010, he said.

"After that, we will continue to collect, compile and publish other ancient Tibetan documents lost to Britain and other countries," he said.

Zhaxi Dongzhi graduated from the School of Tibetan Language and Literature with the Northwest University of Nationalities last year. He is China's first Doctor of Letters on Tibetan language and literature.

Currently, he is engaged in the teaching and studies of the ancient Dunhuang Tibetan literature and the history of the Tubo Kingdom.

"I hope to carry forward the Tibetan culture, as the previous Tibetan intellectuals have done, through my own efforts of collecting the ancient Tibetan literature from overseas," he said.

In history, he said, the Tibetan "intellectuals" mainly referred to the monks who focused on studying Buddhist scripture.

"But my work will be different because I will focus on not only Buddhist scripture but also the ancient literature," he said.

Currently, there are five doctoral candidates majoring in Tibetan language and literature at Zhaxi Dongzhi's school. Since the 1950s, it has trained about 4,000 undergraduates and 160 postgraduates.

"More and more students, especially doctoral candidates, will be recruited in future. I'm looking forward to their participation in promoting the Tibetan culture," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency March 27, 2008)

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