CIE OBE FBA
Hugh Richardson, 1936, Tibet
22 December 1905|
|Died||3 December 2000(aged 94)|
|Huldah Rennie, m. 1951|
|Parent(s)||Colonel Hugh Richardson|
Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE)|
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
Light of Truth Award
Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (FBA)
Hugh Edward Richardson CIE OBE FBA (22 December 1905 - 3 December 2000) was an Indian Civil Service officer, British diplomat and Tibetologist. His academic work focused on the history of the Tibetan empire, and in particular on epigraphy. He was among the last Europeans to have known Tibet and its society before the Chinese invasions which began in 1950.
Born in St. Andrews, Fife, the son of a British Army medical officer, Richardson studied classics at Keble College, Oxford. He entered the Indian Civil Service on 9 October 1930. Transferring to the Foreign and Political Service of the Government of India, Richardson was posted to Baluchistan as an Assistant Political Agent. In July 1936, he was appointed as the British Trade Agent at Gyantse. He represented Britain in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, from 1936 to 1940 and again from 1946 to 1950, in the final years having become the diplomatic representative of the recently independent India.
Of the Tibetan government during his time in Lhasa, Richardson said:
"My counterparts were...experienced negotiators. . .and masters of procrastination and evasion, and might assume the cloak of simple people with no experience of the outside world. . .There could be no doubt I was dealing with ministers of a government that was completely independent in both its internal and external affairs."
Like many ICS officers, Richardson was an accomplished linguist who spoke Bengali fluently, a skill he put to use when conversing with Rabindranath Tagore, and his fluent Tibetan was described by the Tibetan politician Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa as "impeccable Lhasa Tibetan with a slight Oxford accent." As Secretary to the Agent-General for India at Chungking, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1944 New Year Honours list, and was further appointed a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) on 14 August 1947, in the last imperial honours list. After Indian independence, Richardson remained in the renamed Indian Administrative Service, serving in Lhasa until his retirement in September 1950. After his retirement from public service he taught in Seattle and Bonn. He subsequently returned to St. Andrews and spent the remainder of his life as an independent scholar.
He was an advocate of the right of Tibetans to a separate political existence, a case he made in two books, Tibet and Its History (1962) and A Cultural History of Tibet (1968), and at the United Nations when the issue of Chinese oppression of Tibet was raised by the Irish Republic, represented by Frank Aiken, during the 1959 UN General Assembly debate on Tibet. There, in the words of one commentator, "he acted valiantly as a man of honour in a cause which has been largely lost because of the notions of political expediency, where sides are taken without regard to principle and in order not to risk aligning oneself with a potential loser, however deserving he may be" - a position which reportedly earned him the displeasure of both the British and Indian delegations to the UN Assembly. He remained a close personal friend of the 14th Dalai Lama and of the Tibetan government-in-exile until his death, with the latter describing Richardson as "very precious to us/"
He later wrote: "The British government, the only government among Western countries to have had treaty relations with Tibet, sold the Tibetans down the river and since then have constantly cold-shouldered the Tibetans so that in 1959 they could not even support a resolution in the UN condemning the violation of human rights in Tibet by the Chinese."
Richardson also said that he was "profoundly ashamed", not only at the British government's refusal to recognise that Tibet had a right to self-determination, but also at the government's treatment of the 14th Dalai Lama.
"His hobbies were ornithology, botany and gardening and he was also an enthusiastic photographer. Another of Richardson's passions was golf, which he introduced to Tibet, although he noted that the ball tended to travel 'rather too far in the thin air'."
In fact, Richardson's greatest threat to the Chinese was his objective observation of the labyrinthine world of Tibetan politics and his deep understanding of Tibetan culture. When he argued that Tibet had been an independent state before its occupation by the Chinese, he did so with immense authority.