Amchi outside a sick man's tent

Amchi outside a sick man's tent

BMR. (Album Print black & white)

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Other Version of this Photo in Frederick Spencer Chapman collection

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Key Information


Frederick Spencer Chapman


Hugh E. Richardson

Date of Photo

September 3rd 1936


Lhasa > Dekyi Lingka

Accession number


A lama doctor, or amchi, reading religious texts outside a sick man's tent. Lamas were often trained in medicine and would be called on to administer medicine and to chant an appropriate religious text. The texts are bound with a leather strap. This photograph was taken in the hospital camp set up by the British Mission doctor, Dr Morgan, in the grounds of the Dekyi Lingka. The tent style is distinctively non-Tibetan and the amchi is supporting his texts upon a package crate

Further Information

Photographic Process

Print gelatin silver


British Diplomatic Mission to Lhasa 1936-37

Photo also owned by

Donated to the British Museum in 1986 by Hugh E. Richardson

Previous Catologue Number

CS.8 In publication
'Lhasa Mission 1936, Diary of Events', P. Neame, H. Richardson, F. S. Chapman, Government of India Political Department [Note: photographs for October 18th - November 4th 1936 are not included as their relationship to text is not detailed; see Mission Diary text for details of images] [see photos in publication]

Related Collections

F. S. Chapman Collection in the Pitt Rivers Museum

This Image also appears in another collection


Other Information

Notes on print/mount - The back of the print has many crop marks and other instructions on how to reproduce the image. These are all written in pencil, although in a variety of different hands suggesting that a number of people were involved in the process. The caption "A Lama Doctor reading the scriptures outside a sick man's house tent" has been written across the top. The reference number 'C-S-8" has been written across the middle. This relates to the numbering system that Chapman adopted for the images taken whilst on the British Mission to Lhasa. The instruction "Cut as shown and reduce to 5 5/8 [inches] across" has been written in the bottom right hand corner [MS 21/2/2005]

Manual Catalogues -

Manual Catalogues - Caption in Chapman's hand-written list of negatives made whilst on the Mission to Lhasa, 1936-7 [See PRM Manuscripts Collection]: 'Ditto Ditto [Professional prayer outside tents] close up of his face and books'; PRM Manuscripts Collection: ‘List of Tibetan Prints and Negatives’ - Book 4: ‘12/1 - Professional reader of Buddhist Scriptures, often called in, in case of sickness’ [listed as C.5.8] [MS 18/03/2006]

Contemporary Publication -

Contemporary Publication - This photograph was used to illustrate the official Mission Diary for October 7th 1936. [MS 18/03/2006]

Research publication - Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya (eds.) 'Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947', Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2003, p.132

Exhibition - This image appeared in the 2003 Temporary Exhibition at the Pitt Rivers "Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947"

Other Information - Related Images

Other Information - Related Images: Images prefixed with 'CS' comprise a group of negatives containing images of patients at Dr Morgan’s Mission hospital, Mir Khan [Mission cook], curio sellers, bookshops, street scenes, the Jokhang, willow trees and Chapman. They all seem to have been taken on September 3rd 1936 [MS 18/03/2006]

Other Information - Setting

Other Information - Setting: On October 7th 1936 Richardson described the work of the mission in its quieter moments: "No engagements. We seem to have come into more quiet times and can each return to his respective occupation. Mr Gould, Norbhu and Richardson to their files; Chapman to sorting cinema films and flowers and to writing up bird notes; Dagg and Nepean to overhauling wireless and electrical equipment; and Morgan to his hospital where in a dingy Tibetan room (rather like a stable) lighted by an open well in the roof, he removes cataracts, amputates fingers, gives injections and performs the many other mysteries of his profession. // In front of the hospital is an encampment of tents which the patients with more serious illness, bring and inhabit while under treatment". ['Lhasa Mission, 1936: Diary of Events', part VIII p.3, written by Hugh Richardson][MS 2/4/2005]

Other Information - Cultural Background

Other Information - Cultural Background: An amchi (Tibetan doctor) reading religious texts outside a sick man’s tent. Tibetan doctors both administer herbal medicines and chant appropriate religious texts in an attempt to cure the sick. In this case, the patient may well have first been treated by Dr. Morgan the 1936 Mission doctor as he is recuperating in a British military style tent. Many Tibetans only resorted to Western medicine when all other options had been exhausted. However, surgery for conditions such as cataracts was increasingly requested by Tibetans including monks. [CH 2003]

Other Information - Cultural Background

Other Information - Cultural Background: The tents in this image are relatively modern being made of canvas whereas traditional Tibetan tents are made of yak hair. Leather strap for tying the pages of the book. [TS 31/1/2005]

Other Information - Historical Background: The lama doctors would be trained at the Medical College of Chakpori on the hill adjacent to the Potala Palace. Chapman was very dismissive of Tibetan medical practices in his book Lhasa the Holy City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1938; reprint, London: Readers Union Ltd., 1940, pp. 241-4). He felt that the activities of Dr Morgan, the Mission Doctor, had a significant impact on establishing the success of the Mission as a whole [MS 21/2/2005]

Other Information - Description: Chapman described the making of Tibetan paper and religious texts in his book
Lhasa the Holy City [London: Chatto & Windus, 1938; reprint, London: Readers Union Ltd., 1940]. He wrote: "Tibetan paper is made of the bark of daphne or other shrubs. We would often see it being prepared, usually by a man out of doors. He would pound up the bark with water by spreading it on one flat stone and beating it with another. The resulting mixture was then spread on a wooden frame four feet square , over which was stretched fine wire gauze. When dry it was removed from the frame and trimmed. This paper is very tough and coarse and resembles cream-coloured cardboard. Troughs are also used in which the pulp is pounded underfoot. Owing to the poisonous nature of one kind of bark used, no insects will attack Tibetan paper; on the other hand, people who have to spend much time with these books complain of severe headaches. Outside the Potala press we saw a line of men sitting in the sun laboriously cutting out wooded blocks in reverse corresponding to each page, for type is not used in Tibet. These blocks were two to three feet long and about six inches wide. Inside, an enormous hall was taken up with racks holding the sets of blocks" [1940, pp. 176-7] [MS 2/4/2005]

For Citation use:
The Tibet Album. "Amchi outside a sick man's tent" 05 Dec. 2006. The British Museum. <>.

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