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Tibetan medicine root texts included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

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(TibetanReview.net, May26’23) – Five versions of the Four Treatises, an ancient medical book on traditional Tibetan medicine, have been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World (MOW) Register at a recent meeting held in Paris, reported China’s official Xinhua news agency May 26, citing the Hospital of Tibetan Medicine of Tibet Autonomous Region May 25.

The Four Treatises (or The Four Tantras, Tibetan: Gyue-Zhi), compiled from the 8th to the 12th centuries, is the root text studied by students of Tibetan Medicine (Sowa Rigpa) in Chinese ruled Tibet, where it originated, as well as India, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Siberia, China and Mongolia, besides parts of Europe and North America in more recent times.

At its May 24 meeting, UNESCO inscribed five versions of the ancient book on the list, including four xylograph versions and one gold-ink manuscript version, the report said.

Tsering, president of the hospital, has said, “The inclusion signals that Tibetan medicine has stepped onto the international stage.”

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“The four treatises of Tibetan Medicine”, the UNESCO listing says, is “the most fundamental classic of sowa rigpa (traditional Tibetan medicine). The Four Treatises fully shows the development and evolution of sowa rigpa, and has also played an essential role in the dissemination and development of sowa rigpa in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan and Mongolian regions. It not only represents the highest level of medical care in Tibet in ancient times, but also reflects the study of humanities, history, tradition, literature, art, and craft in earlier period of Tibet. Four xylograph versions of the Four Treatises are the proofread and revised editions in different historical phases, while the one gold-ink manuscript version is the best-preserved rare book.”

 “The four treatises of Tibetan Medicine” was among 64 documentary collections inscribed by UNESCO on its MOW Register. The MOW programme was created by UNESCO in 1992 with the aim to “prevent the irrevocable loss of documentary heritage – documents or collections of documents of significant and enduring value, whether on paper, audiovisual, digital or any other support. The programme aims to safeguard this heritage and make it more accessible to the general public.”

UNESCO says its MOW Programme aims to (1) facilitate preservation of the world’s documentary heritage, particularly in areas affected by conflict and/or natural disaster; (2) enable universal access to documentary heritage worldwide; and (3) enhance public awareness about the significant of documentary heritage among the wider public.

It says that the concern of its MOW Programme is with the preservation and accessibility of primary sources, not with their interpretation or the resolution of historical disputes, which it maintains is appropriately the province of historians, researchers and other interested parties. This was in view of the fact that inscriptions on the MOW Register had to be suspended in 2017 due to disagreements between States over the nomination process.” An important collective effort has enabled the procedure to be redesigned and nominations were re-launched in 2021,” UNESCO has said.

The application for UNESCO’s MOW Registration of “The four treatises of Tibetan Medicine” was made by China.

With these new additions from 56 countries and organizations, the MOW Register now numbers 494 documentary heritage collections from all regions of the world. Saved on a variety of supports from stone to celluloid, parchment to metal discs, this iconic heritage of universal value is now preserved for future generations, UNESCO has said on its website.


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