Phuntsok Tashi Takla (1922 - 1999)

Phuntsok Tashi Takla (1922 – 1999)

Phuntsok Tashi Takla was a rare Tibetan diplomat and scholar who was involved with major changes in Tibetan history since the 1950s. Mr Takla was born on 12 October 1922 at Chungtze village near the birth place of the present the Dalai Lama and the famous Kumbum monastery in eastern Tibet. He died on 9 June 1999 in Dharamsala, India.

He began studying Chinese at home when he was 5 years of age from an old Chinese man. However, it was not until 1936 he joined a formal school in Xinning, Amdo.

In 1937 he married Tsering Dolma, the elder sister of the present Dalai Lama. At that time, the Tibetan officials were still searching for the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. After the recognition and the
official enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama, the family moved to Lhasa in 1940.

Mr Takla was able to fulfil a long standing time desire to continue his studies in 1946. He and Mr Gyalo Thondup, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama enrolled at the Chinese University of Political Science in Nanking, then the capital of China.

However, after the sudden death of the Dalai Lama’s father, Mr Takla returned to Lhasa to help his mother-in-law. He later joined the Tibetan administration. He was then summoned by Tadrak Rinpoche, the Regent of Tibet to monitor and submit regular reports on the civil war in China between the Nationalists and the Communists.

In October 1950, Communist China invaded and occupied Chamdo, Tibet’s eastern capital. The Tibetan Government sent a delegation to Beijing to negotiate peace with Communist China. Mr Takla served as the Tibetan delegation’s Chinese interpreter. On 23 May 1951, the Tibetan delegation was forced to sign the “17 Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation” of Tibet.

His first major political appointment was in March 1957, when he was appointed as Kusung Depon, Commander of the Dalai Lama’s Security Guards. In this capacity, he accompanied the Dalai Lama China in 1954 and to India in 1956.

Mr Takla was one of the few who accompanied the Dalai Lama from the Norbulingka Palace on the night of 17 March 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa and sought political asylum in India. On 10 March, the Tibetan National Uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet was ruthlessly suppressed by the PLA resulting in the death of thousands of Tibetans.

In 1960, when the Dalai Lama established the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Mr Takla was given charge of the Security Department. His wife Mrs Tsering Dolma started the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala – looking after hundreds of Tibetan orphans. Unfortunately, she died of cancer in 1964.

The following year, he resigned from the Security Department and visited Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea for a year. While in Tokyo, he spent six months researching on Tibetan-Japanese and Sino-Tibetan relations at the Library of Asia. The following year, he visited the Tibet-Nepal border areas and researched on the history of the ethnic Tibetans living in the northern frontiers of Nepal. He then married Kesang Yangkyi in 1967.

In September 1974, the Dalai Lama appointed Mr Takla as the Minister for the Security Department of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The same year, he travelled to Nepal as the Dalai Lama’s representative to defuse the problem between the Tibetan guerrillas in the Mustang region in Nepal and the Nepalese Government.


First delegation with Panchen Lama, Ngabo and Punwang in 1979.

First delegation with Panchen Lama, Ngabo and Punwang in 1979.

Between 1959 and 1979 there had been no contact between Dharamsala and Beijing. Then in 1979 Mr Gyalo Thondup, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama met Mr Deng Xiao Ping in Beijing. The meeting resulted in the Dalai Lama sending a Tibetan delegation to visit Tibet in August 1979. Mr Takla was a member of that delegation.

Then again in 1982 and 1984, he visited Beijing as a three member Tibetan delegation to hold exploratory talks on the future of Tibet. Even after his official retirement in 1983, he visited Beijing in December 1986 to probe Beijing’s thinking in solving the Tibetan question.

In retirement, he completed his autobiography – An Account of My Life. The three-volume autobiography in Tibetan was published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala.

Mr Takla continued to attend various International conferences presenting papers on Tibetan history. He was one of the founding members of the Allied Committee of the People’s of Eastern Turkistan, Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet which was set-up in 1984.

In 1989, he moved to London to join his wife Mrs Kesang Y Takla, a long serving Tibetan official who was appointed as the Dalai Lama’s representative there. While in Europe, he visited different countries to speak on Tibet’s history as a Tibetan historian, especially as witness to the forced signing of the “17 Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation” of Tibet.

While in London, he frequently visited the British Library and the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University’s library for his research work. One of his major last research publications was The Mongols and Tibet – A Historical Assessment of Relations between the Mongol Empire and Tibet.

Mr Takla daily read Chinese newspapers and magazines to monitor their coverage on Tibet. Press cuttings were regularly sent to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. He kept contact with some of the Chinese student
dissidents in Europe and also addressed the Federation for Democratic China’s first conference in Paris.

The Dalai Lama during his May 1999 visit to London told Mr Takla’s youngest daughter, “Your father has been a hero of his time and has served Tibet selflessly.” The Dalai Lama visited Mr Takla at his house in Dharamsala on 2 June.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a daughter from his first wife.

Source: Obituary – Mr Phuntsok Tashi Takla 1922 – 1999 by Tseten Samdup, Tibetan Review July 1999

Related Reference:

1) Interview with Phuntsok Tashi Takhla by Claude Arpi, March 19, 1997


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