Kham: Cultural Heritage

Kham is situated on the Tibetan Plateau between central Tibet and China. Kham’s history has been shaped by its relationship to the cultures and changing political and social contexts between and within Tibet and China. This changing context was often driven by internal conflicts as well as by open warfare between the Kingdoms of Kham, China and Tibet. While Buddhism and Bön contributed to a common religious culture within Kham, at no point has Kham been politically unified. Instead Kham’s history is one of multiple allied and unallied kingdoms. The history of the region also includes an invasion by the Mongols in the thirteenth century contributing to the influence of Tibetan Buddhism on Mongolian Buddhism.

Significant to the history of Kham is Dêge. Dêge, meaning “land of mercy,” along with Lhasa, is a prominent center of Tibetan culture. The origins of Dêge, as an independent kingdom, can be traced to the seventh century with its independence continuing to the twentieth century until the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China. Although the kings of Dêge, beginning in the thirteenth century, were of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, the kingdom was known for religious tolerance. This contributed to being a center of the Rimé, or non-sectarian orientation to Tibetan Buddhism and Bön. This nineteenth century movement is identified with the work of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899) who worked to collect Buddhist teachings from across Tibet. Significant to the legacy of the Dêge kingdom was the founding of the Dêge Parkhang, or printing house, by Tenpa Tsering, King of Dêge, in the early eighteenth century. Continuing to the present day, the Parkhang, handprints the Buddhist cannon from red and black inked woodblocks.