A Tribute to Jamyang Choegyal Kasho (1938-2020)

Jamchoe-la is the first British Tibetan (living in the UK) known to have been infected with the Coronavirus (COVID-19). According to his close friend, Jane O’Sullivan, Jamchoe-la was admitted to King’s College Hospital in south London on 15th March after initial flu-like symptoms. Two days later, doctors diagnosed COVID-19. Jamchoe-la was already known to have serious underlying medical conditions.

Jane, who has known Jamchoe-la since 1992, said that he was always very grateful for the compassionate medical care he received from staff at King’s College Hospital. The hospital is one of London’s largest and busiest teaching hospitals, with a strong profile of local services.

Jamyang Choegyal Kasho was born in Lhasa, Tibet, in 1938. Educated in Tibet, India and Beijing, he became completely fluent in the Chinese language and ways of thinking, whilst also attaining mastery of Tibetan and English. In 1991, after a career as a middle-level official in Tibet, he became the first (and probably only) Tibetan official and Party member of that rank to defect while on an official visit abroad. He then spent some 20 years in London as a translator, advisor and analyst of exceptional ability, working alongside those studying and publishing commentaries on contemporary Tibetan affairs.

Jamchoe-la was a philanthropic person and a generous supporter of voluntary community organisations and charities including Tibet Foundation. Only a few weeks ago, Jamchoe-la donated to our “Give Elders Dignity” appeal – in aid of elderly Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. He also often sent money to his friends, intended for poor people as well as for commissioning pujas in India.

His book, “In the Service of the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas: Choegyal Nyima Lhundrup Kashopa – Untold Stories of Tibet”, was published by Tibet House, Germany, in 2015. Jamchoe-la painstakingly dedicated many years to producing this book, to tell what he described as the “Untold Stories of Tibet” as seen through his own eyes and family experience.

In the Foreword, Professor Robert Barnett, former Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, New York, and co-founder of the Tibet Information Network (TIN), wrote, “Kashopa Choegyal’s book is unique in many ways. It provides a detailed glimpse into the inner world of Tibetan elite politics in the first half of the twentieth century. Focusing on the last decade of the period between the 1910 and 1950 invasions of Lhasa by armies from China, it details the life and thinking of his father, a leading government official at that time. Several works about that epoch have appeared in English in recent years, written by other leading aristocrat-officials or their offspring, including at least five by the Dalai Lama or his immediate family. But those writers and their subjects had fled with the Dalai Lama in 1959 and had little knowledge of events in Tibet following their departure, as well as limited familiarity with Chinese language or politics. This book is thus the first of its kind, and the first to be written in English without a ghost writer or intermediary by a Tibetan brought up and educated in the Chinese system.”

Prominent Tibetan historian and Canada Research Chair in Religion and Society in Asia at the University of British Columbia, Professor Tsering Shakya also wrote, “Jamyang Choegyal has written a compelling case for his yab dampa pa, noble father’s place in the recent history of Tibet. As he writes, he is not writing what might be called an objective history, but the truth as he and his family see it. Yet it is a frank and detailed account of an important Tibetan historical period and as such it provides a window into the political life of Tibet. The publication of the book adds to our understanding and knowledge of Tibet.

“By writing this book, Jamyang Choegyal has served faithfully his noble father’s memory, but also provided a source of information on the recent history of Tibet for future generations of Tibetans, for whom the recollection of a once free and independent Tibet will surely provide inspiration.”

Jamchoe-la is survived by his daughter and a grandson in Tibet.

(This tribute piece was written for Tibet Foundation website, first published on 24th March 2020.)

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