By Tenzin Dharpo
DHARAMSHALA, FEB. 2: A leading figure in the field of history of Tibet and Tibet-China relations, Prof. Elliot Sperling has passed away few days ago in his apartment in Jackson Heights, New York. The prominent historian was 66 years old. There is no information about the exact time and cause of his death.
Sperling spent almost three decades on the faculty of Indiana University's Department of Central Eurasian Studies, also serving as the head of the department intermittently. He was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellow Program, also known as the “genius grant”.
The historian encountered Tibetans in exile during one of his many trips to India and subsequently switched his field to East Asian Studies. His doctoral dissertation, Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a "Divide and Rule" Policy toward Tibet
, in 1983 was received highly in the international circuit.
Friends and admirers poured in obituaries in social media remembering the historian and friend of Tibet. Writer and Political Commentator Jamyang Norbu wrote on Facebook, “My very dear friend Elliot Sperling, passed away. At the moment I am not capable of saying much more, but I lit a choe-me (butter lamp) to honor the memory of an outstanding Tibet scholar, courageous human-rights activist and a man who was unwavering in his dedication to truth and freedom.”
Beijing based writer Tsering Woeser, who had known Elliot, wrote, “It's like a whole library had burned down.”
His work which is what remains of him here on includes peerless research works and publications. His bibliography include, ‘The 1913 Tibeto-Mongol Treaty: Its International Reception and Circulation’, ‘Conversations and Debates: Chinese and Tibetan Engagement with the Broader Discussion of Self-Immolation in Tibet’, ‘Reincarnation and the Golden Urn in the 19th Century: The Recognition of the 8th Panchen Lama’ and ‘The 13th Dalai Lama at Wutai Shan: Exile and Diplomacy’ among others. Dharamshala based Amnye Machen Institute in the honor of the historian published ‘Trails of the Tibetan Tradition: Papers for Elliot Sperling’ in 2014.
He also supported Tibetan Independence struggle serving on the advisory board member and a lifetime member of Tibetan National Congress, an organization that strives for Tibet’s independence.
Also a Human rights advocate, Sperling in recent times was vocal in his call for the release of jailed Uygur Professor Ilham Tohti. He has also served on the Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad for the U.S. Department of State and has testified before the Groupe d’information du Sénat sur le Tibet (France), the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (United Kingdom), the Congressional-Executive Committee on China, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, among others.
An excerpt from an apologetic biography written by Indiana University on him read, “Sperling has been a judicious voice in increasingly less discerning times. He has censured (including during appearances in China) the Chinese government’s oppressive policies in Tibet. He has criticized the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s government-in-exile (also during appearances in India) for giving up on Tibetan independence’ and for their ignorance of China’s real positions. He has rejected the Tibetophiles’ view of Tibet as an unspoiled bastion of pure spirituality. And he never had much patience for scholars who easily become groupies of academic fashions.”