Three modes of traditional trade between China’s Tibet and Bhutan

ZHA Luo1 AO Jian2

(1.Institute of Modern History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
(2.China Ethnic Languages Translation Bureau 100006)

【Abstract】The traditional trade between China’s Tibet and Bhutan before 1959 are barely known. This paper uses historical achieves to represent the trade between China’s Tibet and Bhutan in three places, phag-ri (帕里), sa-sbug (萨布, later move to klung-brdol/隆东), lha-khang (拉康). Due to geographic feature, transportation condition, distance between bilateral communities, the trade in each place had a unique mode: phag-ri mode was bya-rnams tshang-’bab (means birds come to nest, 飞鸟归巢), each Bhutan client had a Tibetan resident to connect. Sa-sbug mode was periodical market. Lha-khang formed agent trade to some scale. Against today’s “the Belt and Road” Initiative background, improving the economic communication with South Asian countries need to borrow some experience from historical varied trade mode.

【Keywords】 China’s Tibet; Bhutan; border trade; phag-ri ; klung-brdol ; lha-khang;


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(Translated by LI Tingyu)


    [1]. ① Refer to Samuel Turner, An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama, in Tibet (出使扎什喇嘛宫廷记事). London: W. Bulmer and Co., 281–384 (1800). [^Back]

    [2]. ② According to Bogel and Turner’s diplomatic mission report, Schuyler Cammann wrote Trade through the Himalayas: the early British attempts to open Tibet, published by Princeton University Press in 1951, which only concentrated on phag-ri among the trade between China’s Tibet and Bhutan, with barely no reference to other trade points. [^Back]

    [3]. ① On June 10, 17th year of Jiaqing (July 18, 1812), in Hu Tuli, Fengshen’s Find Out why the Dalai Lama Levied a Foreign Tax, it recorded, “In the 49th year of Qianlong, brug-pa did not follow the old rule, at the time, Galdmaa Tenxi Dusama Tipagshahui MinDha Lama, who was in charge of trade affairs, informed brug-pa minister, later it should establish regulations for tax, tamped Dalai Lama and burg-pa minster official seal, and both sides always follow: every year the minster should give annual gift, and the chief of these subordinates Zhujie, Hailang, Gongxia, Zhongpa, and etc. also send accompanied annual gifts and stamped the seal of trade goods, issue lists, and all the above will be free of tax. Those merchants who do not have the seal, as usual every 20 packs draw one, and all tax is followed the rules, handing in to the storehouse of Dalai Lama.” The type of diplomatic memorials’ comments written in red with a brush in Chinese first Historical Archives of the Qing Dynasty: brug-pa, microfilm, No. 4–23–3. [^Back]

    [4]. ② Refer to January 27, 17th year of Jiaqing (March 10, 1812), Yang C. & Qing, H. The type of diplomatic memorials’ comments written in red with a brush in Chinese first Historical Archives of the Qing Dynasty: brug-pa (中国第一历史档案馆清代档案朱批奏折外: 布鲁克巴), microfilm, No. 4–23–1. [^Back]

    [5]. ① phag-’brug gta’-lo’I skor gan-rgy’I ma-zint (帕里人与布鲁克巴人有关“打勒”的甘结底稿), Archives of Tibet Autonomous region Archives: China-Bhutan Relationship (西藏自治区档案馆藏噶厦档案: 中不关系), file number omit. [^Back]

    [6]. ② One Tibetan litre is about one jin three liang. [^Back]

    [7]. ① It is not very clear in the original text that Tibet has traditionally used sheep to smuggle salt, and perhaps there is also a custom of collecting taxes by convention. [^Back]

    [8]. ② Some Bhutan people came from Chomo (gro-mo) valley to phag-ri. [^Back]

    [9]. ③ The groom took the opportunity to carry goods on official transportation. [^Back]

    [10]. ① Mon-pa is formerly the Tibetan term for the non-Buddhist tribal inhabitants of the Himalayas. In this text, it mainly refers to the inhabitants in now Menyu and the eastern part of Bhutan. [^Back]

    [11]. ② ’brug-pa, is now Bhutan. It is famous for people of this country believe in Tibetan Buddhism Chuba Kagyu school. This paper mainly refers to the government of Bhutan and the inhabitants in the Western Bhutan. [^Back]

    [12]. ① Copy of Notice of the Market that Monpa People of Lho-brag Do-bo Rdzong Sa-sbug Region, Brug-pa People and Tibetan Traded goods all together Opens Four Times a Year (在洛扎夺宗萨布地方门巴人、布鲁克巴人和藏人一起进行商品贸易的市场每年开放四次的布告抄件), Tibetan Kashag Government Record of Tibet Autonomous Region: China-Bhutan Relationship (西藏自治区档案馆藏噶厦政府档案: 中不 (丹) 关系), file number omit. [^Back]

    [13]. ② Do-bo rdzong, generally called do rdzong. Rdzong, administrative units in ancient Tibet, is equal to the local government at the county level in mainland. The rdzong city of do-bo rdzong is in now where Lhozhag County lies, on the top of the hill to the southeast of Gapo town. Today’s Lho-zhag County is consist of the old do-bo rdzong, shen-ge rdzong, and lha-khang rdzong. [^Back]

    [14]. ③ Sa-sbug is a place name, which locates in now an open grassland in the upstream sres-chu of sras village at Lhozhag County, and because of riprap, it gains this name. Since it is close to Bhutan border, historically it had bazaars for trade between border people from both sides, which now have been abandoned. [^Back]

    [15]. ④ ’tshams-pa, a pastoral village near Chinese border in Tshi Cholin County, Bhutan, since then it is the trade point in Bhutan side during mutual trade. [^Back]

    [16]. ⑤ Chus’khyer, is now chus-’khyer-smad of sras village in Lho-zhag County. [^Back]

    [17]. ⑥ Bum-thang, chusskor, gzhung, steng, and dbura, are all place names in Bhutan. [^Back]

    [18]. ① See Zha, L. Tibet in the Qing Dynasty and Brug-pa (清代西藏与布鲁克巴, 第一、第二章), Chapter 1, 2. Beijing: China Social Sciences Publishing House, (2012). [^Back]

    [19]. ② On September 29, 1961, Lhoka Division of Labor Committee Frontier Work Station of the Communist Party of China, An Investigation About the Frontier Situation in chus-’khyer-smad Village, Sras District, Lhozhag County, recorded in Lho-zhag County Archive. [^Back]

    [20]. ① In the earlier exported goods of Tibet, brick tea from southwestern parts of the mainland was a major commodity, but since Indian tea was sold through gro-mo to Tibet, so in the middle of the 20th century, there has been less trade about large quantities of tea in places such as klung-brdol. [^Back]

    [21]. ② Lho-zhag County Archive Collection: Tibetant Working Committee issued (61) No. 173, Investigation Report on Small Trade at the Border of Lha-khang Town in Lho-zhag County (洛扎县拉康乡边境小额贸易情况的调查报告), July 14 1961. [^Back]

    [22]. ③ Sngo-stong zam-pa (俄东桥). [^Back]

    [23]. ④ Shar-la (下拉山口). [^Back]

    [24]. ⑤ Lhun-rtse (龙子宗), is a county in the northern part of Bhutan near the Tibetan border, now translated into Lunzi rdzong. [^Back]

    [25]. ⑥ Gu-ru stod (古如堆), where the Lho-brag River flows into Bhutan territory and is known as Guru River, which means piling up in the top. Guru stod refers to the upstream area of Guru River. [^Back]

    [26]. ⑦ The author investigated the special way of building bridges and trade in 2014. the trade between lha-khang and Bhutan is through lho-brag valley. In summer the snow mountains melt, the rivers surge, and the valleys become impassable. In autumn and winter seasons, the water level of the river is low, both sides in their respective territories set up bridges. It is said that 22 wooden bridges will be built on the river. In the lha-khang side, rdzong ben is in charge, and gives order to a village. The village needs to organize experienced people to start setting up bridge. After all bridges are set up, they chopped down a big tree into the river, down the river, the downstream Bhutanese saw the signal from the tree would know that the bridge was ready, so they carried goods up the river. At the time, the wood briges were relatively short, the spring flood could wash them away, so they need to buil them again in autumn next year. [^Back]

    [27]. ① Kho-ma (开马宗) is a place in the upstream of Guru River. [^Back]

    [28]. ② Since the Bhutanese do not slaughter livestock, they have to wait till the animals death of old age or abnormal death, and they are deficient in fat. The large demand for dried fish is said to be intended to supplement certain types of microelement/nutrients. [^Back]

    [29]. ③ The author collates according to the relevant data. [^Back]

    [30]. ① Khal (克), traditional Tibetan measurement unit, is about 28 jin. [^Back]

    [31]. ② Lho-zhag County Archive Collection: Tibetant Working Committee issued (61) No. 173, Investigation Report on Small Trade at the Border of Lha-khang Town in Lho-zhag County, July 14, 1961. [^Back]

This Article


CN: 11-2795/K

Vol 27, No. 04, Pages 126-135+182

December 2017


Article Outline


  • 1 Mode of Phag-ri: “bya-rnams tshang-’bab” (birds come to nest)
  • 2 Sa-sbug (klung-brdol) mode: periodical market
  • 3 lha-khang: agent trade
  • 4 Conclusion
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