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A city fit for heroes
BY Hong Jingtian (China Daily) Updated:2004-09-08 09:45
  For most visitors to the Tibet Autonomous Region, the name Gyantse does not bring a familiar ring as compared with larger cities like Lhasa, Nyingchi, Yadong and Xigaze. 

The Palkh r M nastery is fam us f r its Hundred Th usand Buddhas Stupa.

     But the minor city is a firmly written chapter in Tibet's modern history.

  On September 23, local people will gather at a grand memorial ceremony in memory of those who fought and died in the war of resistance against the British colonial army 100 years ago.

  Since late July, a series of commemorative events have been held. These include screenings of films about the history of Gyantse, the launching of historical books and a newly compiled "Annals of Gyantse," public lectures about Gyantse's history, and song and dance performances.

  Local people and visitors have paid homage to the historic sites such as Mount Dzongri, where the heroic Tibetan soldiers shed their blood and lost their lives in their last line of defence.

  Time-honoured town

  Gyantse lies about 90 kilometres to the west of Yamzhog Yumco Lake.

The imp sing M unt Dz ngri Castle, standing at the centre f Gyantse, was a f rtified p siti n in 1904.

  The Nyangchu River rolls swiftly through the Gyantse Valley, on one side stands the famous ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the Palkhor with its Stupa, or "Chorten" in Tibetan, of A Hundred Thousand Buddhas.

  The "Palkhor Chorten," after years of construction and expansion, has collected 10,000 images of Buddha in the form of clay sculptures or paintings.

  The structure is one of the ancient Tibetan kings' chortens and has been the emblem of Gyantse for centuries.

  The formal establishment of the ancient town dates back about 600 to 700 years.

  In the quiet and fertile river valley, local people made their living by stock raising and agriculture.

  It is said that when Princess Wencheng was sent by Tang emperor Taizong in AD 641 to journey to Tibet and marry the Tubo king Songtsen Gampo, the two giant men named Lhaga and Luga who pulled the cart carrying the image of Sakyamuni later settled here.

  With the decline of the Tubo Kingdom in the 9th century, Tibet fell into a period of decentralization for 400 years during which regional chieftains set up independent principalities.

  According to a local document entitled the "Penetration of Buddhism Into the Nyangchu River Valley" (Nyangchu Jung), the earliest religious king of the principality, Palkhor Tsenpo, erected a fortress on Mount Dzongri and took up residence there.

  It is said that Palkhor Tsenpo believed that Mount Dzongri and the geographical features of Gyantse appeared unusual and considered this to be a good omen.

  In the east, it resembled a delicate drooping bough of a fruit tree, to the south there was a lion about to leap in the air, in the west floated a white silk scarf, obviously referring to the Nyangchu River roaring westward, and to the north the land took the shape of a herdsman presenting livestock products.

  War and strife

  Gyantse is often called a "Heroic City" as a stronghold in the fight against British aggression at the turn of the last century.

  In the late 19th century, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) succumbed to a state of permanent decline, and its control over some parts of southwest and northwestern territories suffered accordingly. As a result, Russian and British colonist armies frequently invaded the areas.

  Wars broke out inevitably between invaders and Tibetans.

  The first war against British encroachment took place at Mount Lungtog, a border stronghold neighbouring Sikkim, on March 20, 1888.

  On December 12, 1903, the 3,000-member British army led by Colonel Francis Younghusband invaded Yadong.

  In March 1904, the British army entered into the Garwu area.

  During a negotiation hoax, the British army assaulted the Tibetan forces and massacred 1,400 Tibetan soldiers and officers.

  In following battles in Zachang Valley, Phalha Village, Nenying and Zeqen monasteries, the British army also suffered heavy casualties in the face of the brave Tibetan army even though the local Tibetan soldiers were poorly equipped and lacked practical military skills.

  In early April of 1904, the British army entered into the hub city of Gyantse.

  Not only the Tibetan army but also civilians rose to resistance with old-styled arms such as powder guns, spears, shields, swords and stones.

  Fierce battles took place for the following four months in neighbouring mountain strongholds, valleys, towns and monasteries.

  The battle in the city proper began on July 5.

  The Gyantse Mount Dzongri Castle, standing at the centre of the city proper, then head office of local authorities, became a fortified point for defence.

  The armed British colonialists cut off the water supply, forcing the Tibetans to fetch dirty water and, in the end, drink their own urine.

  But the Tibetans persisted despite all difficulties.

  Unfortunately, the British army managed to blow up the ammunition depot of the Tibetan army.

  Having no way out, the Tibetans fought with swords, spears, cudgels, and whatever they could lay their hands on, but their position was captured after a three-month fight.

  All the remaining Tibetan forces and wounded soldiers threw themselves off the cliffs at Mount Dzongri, refusing to surrender.

  Heroes remembered

  Starting in 1958, efforts have been made to collect folk songs, ballads, oral narratives, historical documents and objects related to the resistance against British aggression.

  Headed by local official Gyipu Puncog Cedain, a work team comprised of historians, Chinese and Tibetan interpreters as well as scholars were formed.

  The team went out visiting old people living in Gyantse and neighbouring cities.

  Since 1959, at least 10 books have been published chronicling the Gyantse battles and the British aggression in the early 1900s.

  In 1994, a museum featuring that chapter of history opened at the Mount Dzongri Castle of Gyantse.

  The museum offers drawings, paintings, sculptures, video shows, old documents, and arms used by British and Tibetan soldiers.

  A memorial monument was erected at the top of Mount Dzongri where the remaining Tibetan soldiers, encircled by invading British army, threw themselves off the cliffs.

  In 1996, film director Feng Xiaoning came to Gyantse to shoot the film "Red River Valley" (Honghe Gu) based on the true stories of the local heroes.

  In mid-September, a TV documentary about Gyantse battles against foreign aggression will be screened on China Central Television.

  Meanwhile, a historical drama "Heroes of Gyantse," is now being staged across the Tibet Autonomous Region, and will make its Beijing debut later this year.

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