Publication of the Month: August 2023

Danzeng Jinba
Columbia University Press

The Beggar Lama is the story of the Gyalrong Kuzhap, a Tibetan Buddhist polymath and reincarnated lama who has led a remarkable life through the vicissitudes of the twentieth century. Born in 1930 in Tsanlha, Gyalrong, on the easternmost fringes of the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau, he would go on to become a monk, a Communist official, a professor of Tibetan studies, and a leader in the Tibetan cultural survival movement in China.

Drawing on hundreds of hours of in-depth and open-ended conversations over more than a decade, Tenzin Jinba presents the Gyalrong Kuzhap’s life story. The Beggar Lama chronicles his journeys—from Gyalrong to Lhasa, from steadfast Communist to critic of the Chinese regime, from scholar to activist—painting a compelling portrait of an influential and unconventional figure. In so doing, the book shows how the Gyalrong Kuzhap’s tale intertwines with larger social and political developments, providing a wide-ranging history of Tibet, the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, and China over the past century.

The Beggar Lama shares the Gyalrong Kuzhap’s insightful and often critical views on Tibetan cultural and religious institutions, the Chinese Communist Party’s social and political agendas, Tibetan studies in China, and the prospects for Tibetan cultural rebirth. Above all, it is a story of hope in dark times, as the Gyalrong Kuzhap seeks with his “last breath” to prevent Tibetan culture and memory from vanishing.

Jinba, D. The Beggar Lama. Columbia University Press. 2023.
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