|Use||Civil and state flag, national ensign|
|Design||Two snow lions holding a flaming blue, white and orange jewel and a blue and orange yin-yang symbol on a white mountain with a gold sun rising over it, all over 12 red and blue alternating rays with a gold border around the upper, lower, and hoist side of the flag.|
The Tibetan flag, also known as the "snow lion flag" (gangs seng dar cha), was the national flag of Tibet from 1916 to 1951. It was adopted by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1916. Banned by the Chinese government since 1959, the flag has not been in official use by any region in the world since 1951; however it is used by the Tibetan Government in Exile, based in Dharamshala, India.
In February 1913, shortly after the fall of the Qing dynasty, the 13th Dalai Lama, Tibet's political and spiritual leader, declared independence from China and began modernizing the Tibetan army. In 1916, the new national flag was adopted by the Dalai Lama and all army regiments were ordered to carry the flag in its present form.
In addition to being carried by Tibet's army, the flag was displayed on public buildings of the Ganden Phodrang government. Historical footage shows the flag flying at the foot of the Potala Palace, the site of the Dalai Lama's government in Tibet. The snow lion motif was also used on a flag seen by English diplomat, Sir Eric Teichman, flying above a Tibetan government building during the 1917-1918 hostilities between Sichuan and Tibet: “Over the Kalon Lama’s residence...floats the banner of Tibet, a yellow flag bearing a device like a lion in green, with a white snow mountain and a sun and moon in the corner."
Outside of Tibet, the flag was featured in publications by foreign governments, academic journals, and in politically and culturally significant works up until 1959. Born in 1912, the year of the Water-Mouse, Gyalten Namgyal was the tailor to both the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas. He said, "When I was fourteen, the Dalai Lama decided he wanted a Tibetan national flag made, and designed it himself. When a prototype was approved and the first flag commissioned, I was the one to execute the work." Its first official international appearance was in a book published by the German Ministry of Defense's Naval Command, "Flaggenbuch," in 1926. Later it was featured in an official British Crown publication in 1930, "Drawing of The Flags of All Nations." It was also featured in National Geographic Magazine in their 1934 “Flags of the World” edition. The caption reads, "Tibet.- With its towering mountain of snow, before which stand two lions fighting for a flaming gem, the flag of Tibet is one of the most distinctive of the East." Beginning in 1928, images of the flag were also widely published by companies in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, and Oceania in national flag collections on various forms of trading cards.
The flags first appearance at an international gathering was in March/April 1947 at the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi. The Indian Council of World Affairs, an Indian think-tank established in 1943, had invited Tibetan delegates to the conference which hosted Asian states and anti-colonial movements The leaders of each of the thirty-two delegations sat on a dais behind a plate with the name and flag of their country. One tibetologist, A. Tom Grunfeld, asserts that flag was removed after representatives from the Republic of China protested to conference organizers. A Tibetan delegate who attended the conference claims that this did not occur and the only existing photos from the conference show the flag displayed along with other participating countries' flags.
The flag continued to be used in the 1950s under the newly established People's Republic of China, although the flag's status was unclear. Many in the Communist Party of China felt that the usage of the flag indicated separatism, but the Tibetan local government at the time stressed that the flag was an army flag (the Tibetan army continued to exist parallel to People's Liberation Army infantries) and not a national flag. Phuntso Wangye claims that Mao Zedong discussed the flag in 1955 conversation with the 14th Dalai Lama. According to the story, Mao told the Dalai Lama that Zhang Jingwu, Zhang Guohua, and Fan Ming told him that Tibet had a "national flag". The Dalai Lama replied that Tibet had an army flag. Supposedly Mao replied that "you may keep your national flag". There is no official recognition of this conversation in Chinese documents, though. The 1956 edition of The Flags of the World by Gresham Carr states, "There is little concerning the flag of Tibet, which almost defies description" on page 213 and opposite page 229, the flag image says, "Tibet : National Flag"
Even while it was used by the army, few Tibetans in Tibet knew about the 'snow lion' flag, and so when they wanted to protest against the government, they would use a flag that imitated the flag of Chushi Gangdruk instead.
After the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion, the 14th Dalai Lama left his position as governor of Tibet, denounced the 17-point agreement with the PRC, and established the exile Central Tibetan Administration in India. As part of his project to inculcate pan-Tibetan nationalism (of all Tibetan people and not just those in his previous domain of the Tibet Autonomous Region), he standardized and adopted symbols as nationalist symbols, such as the Lhasa dialect of Tibetan, a Tibetan national anthem, and the flag. According to the Central Tibetan Administration website, the symbolism of the flag includes the mountain representing Tibet, the snow lions of "a unified spiritual and secular life", three-coloured jewel of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The flag is popularly known as the Snow Lion Flag due to the presence of the two snow lions. The flag was adopted as a symbol of the Tibetan independence movement, and has become known as the "Free Tibet flag". Through the diaspora's and international protesters' use of the flag, it became known and used in protest by the Tibetan public. The flag is banned in mainland China.
Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay was photographed with the flag of Tibet in Ladakh, India and the Communist Chinese government made a statement. "Chinese media is criticizing a reported move by the Tibetan government in exile to unfurl a flag representing its idea of 'Tibetan national flag' on the shores of Bangong Lake, known as Pangong Lake in India, in Ladakh." The Global Times of China is quoted that "New Delhi publicly promises not to allow any anti-China political activities by Tibetan exiles on Indian territory. But it has long used the Tibet question as a diplomatic card in dealing with Beijing,".
When I was fourteen, the Dalai Lama decided he wanted a Tibetan national flag made, and designed it himself. When a prototype was approved and the first flag commissioned, I was the one to execute the work.
page 213 says, "There is little concerning the flag of Tibet, which almost defies description" and illustration opposite page 226 says, "Tibet : National Flag"
... the political administration of the Tibetan government and so forth. History attests to the fact that Tibet is one of the most ancient nations of the world. Therefore, in all the three regions of Tibet, irrespective of caste and creed, this national flag inherited from our ancestors is universally accepted as a common, peerless treasure and even today still continues to be highly respected and esteemed as in the past.CS1 maint: others (link)
Employing symbols that reinforce Tibetan national identity, he begins by invoking the banned Tibetan national flag.
Chinese media is criticizing a reported move by the Tibetan government in exile to unfurl a flag representing its idea of "Tibetan national flag" on the shores of Bangong Lake, known as Pangong Lake in India, in Ladakh.
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