Gombozhab Tsebekovich Tsybikov – Amazing Facts

Gombozhab Tsebekovich Tsybikov 1873, Urda-Aga, Transbaikal region – September 20, 1930, Aginskoe, Buryat-Mongolian ASSR, now Trans-Baikal Territory) – explorer traveler, ethnographer, orientalist (Tibetologist and Mongolist), Buddhist, statesman and activist education of the Russian Empire, FER, USSR and Mongolian People’s Republic, translator, professor at a number of universities.

He became famous as the first famous photographer of Lhasa and Central Tibet, and as the author of a description of a trip to Tibet (1899-1902), translated into several languages ​​of the world.

Gombozhab Tsebekovich Tsybikov - Amazing Facts



Tsybikov’s family tree
┌───AMuntuu (b.1817)
┌───Tsebek Montuev (b.1839)
Gombozhab Tsebekovich Tsybikov (1873-1930)
└───Dolgor Shagdarova

Gombozhab Tsybikov was born into a traditionally Buddhist family. According to the place of origin, his family belongs to the Agin Buryats, according to the tribal division, it belongs to the Khorin Buryats, namely, to the Kubdut tribe, the Nokhoi Kubdut clan (also Nokhoi Khbdүүd, Nokhoi Khүgdүүd).


Gombozhaba’s father, Tsebek Montuev, independently studied Russian and was elected by his fellow countrymen to public positions. Initially, he thought to give his son a Buddhist monastic education, but sent him to study at the Aginsk parish school, where the prominent educator Buda Rabdanov became the boy’s teacher. Then Gombozhab entered the Chita gymnasium, which he graduated with a silver medal. At the gymnasium, he was awarded the A. N. Korf scholarship. By the end of his studies, by the decision of the pedagogical council on the basis of the 5th clause of the scholarship dated July 2, 1893, he was recognized as worthy to continue his education at the Imperial Tomsk University, where, by his own choice, he entered the Faculty of Medicine, one of the five best centers of medical education in Russia. time.

In Tomsk, the famous doctor and politician Pyotr Badmaev turned out to be passing, who persuaded the student to quit medicine and take up oriental studies. Gombozhab agreed and left for Urga, where he studied Chinese, Mongolian and Manchu languages ​​in the school for Buryats created by Badmayev to prepare for admission to St. Petersburg University.

In 1895, Tsybikov entered the Oriental Faculty of St. Petersburg University on a scholarship from Peter Badmaev. Among his teachers was the famous orientalist A. M. Pozdneev. Later Badmaev received instructions to convert his fellows to Orthodoxy. Tsybikov remains committed to Buddhism and loses his scholarship, but continues his studies, thanks to the support of his fellow countrymen. In 1899 he graduated from the university with a gold medal and a first degree diploma.

In 1897, Tsybikov took part in the work of the Kulomzin Commission on the Study of Land Use and Land Tenure in the Trans-Baikal Region. This was his first study. Field observations and collected materials were included in the Commission’s Materials in 1898.

Travel to Tibet (1899-1902)

During the “Big Game” the Russian Empire reached the borders of Tibet. Research expeditions to this country were organized, primarily by N.M. Przhevalsky, but they did not reach Central Tibet and Lhasa. Drawing on the experience of Indian “pandits” – British agents and researchers, the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs drew attention to the custom of pilgrimage of Buryats and Kalmyks to Tibet. Tsybikov embarked on a journey that lasted from 1899 to 1902, in a group of pilgrims, with carefully hidden research equipment. In Tibet proper, the researcher spent 888 days. For most of this period (from 1900 to 1901) Tsybikov was in the capital of the country Lhasa and the surrounding monasteries, where he took a number of unique photographs (in total for the trip – about 200) and was awarded an audience with the XIII Dalai Lama, which, however, was of a formal nature.

Penetration into Tibet for foreigners (not from China and Mongolia) was prohibited. Violation of the ban could be punishable by death. Before Tsybikov, travelers like N.M. Przhevalsky failed in their attempt to get to the Tibetan capital.

Tsybikov took photos and kept a diary secretly, under threat of being discovered. It is interesting that he also concealed photographing (through the slit of a Buddhist prayer mill) from the second Russian explorer who arrived in Lhasa at the end of 1900 in the retinue of Aghvan Dorzhiev, Kalmyk Ovshe Norzunov, who also took photographs.

Scientific activity in 1902-1917

In 1905, Tsybikov and the XIII Dalai Lama met again, this time in the capital of Mongolia, where the head of Tibet met with Russian politicians and scientists during the occupation of Tibet by British troops. Here Tsybikov acted as an interpreter between representatives of Russia and the Tibetan side.

After his travels, Tsybikov devotes himself to teaching and the project of translating the fundamental work “Lamrim” by the Tibetan scholar Tsongkhapa (Tsongkhava).

Established in 1899, the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok was headed by Doctor of Mongolian and Kalmyk Literature A.M. Pozdneev, who created the first center for practical oriental studies in Russia from relatively young graduates of St. Petersburg University. “Having neither proven plans, nor proven teaching programs,” teachers had to independently develop teaching methods and write textbooks, since they simply did not exist. Tsybikov was invited to the Department of Mongolian Literature and headed it from 1906 to October 15, 1917. In addition to a number of textbook collections, the scientist released during this period “A manual for the study of the Tibetan language”, where he collected and summarized materials on colloquial Tibetan speech. This textbook withstood three reprints and for the Russian Empire and the USSR remained the only textbook of the spoken Tibetan language created by a domestic author.

Photos of Tsybikov

Buryat Autonomy and the Far Eastern Republic

Due to significant changes in the political structure of the region in the 1917-1930s, and in connection with the subsequent repressions that affected most of his colleagues and associates, Tsybikov’s activities in these state formations are mentioned as significant, but not disclosed in publications of the Soviet era.

It is known that Tsybikov played a significant role at the Chita Congress, and also supported the early initiatives of Ataman Semyonov (primarily on the prevention of decossackization).

Towards the end of his life, he retired from political activity and successfully engaged in his own cattle breeding.

Creation of an education system in Siberia

In the 1920s, Tsybikov was one of the most important figures in the development of the system of primary, secondary and higher pedagogical and oriental education in Siberia, as one of the founders of Buruchkoma in 1922 and a professor at Irkutsk State University.

In addition to training teachers and discussing a concept of universal education that is new for the country, taking into account national specifics (including the actual Buryat script), Tsybikov authored a number of textbooks of the Buryat language.

Tsybikov’s business trip from Buruchkom to the Mongolian People’s Republic was important, where the personnel responsible for education were also faced with the task of creating a system of universal education, without having similar experience, which is partly reflected in his travel diary.


  • Order of St. Anne III degree
  • Order of St. Stanislaus II and III degree
  • Prize named after N.M. Przhevalsky of the Russian Geographical Society

Biography additions


  • 1961 – in the village of Aginskoye, the District Museum of Local Lore named after Tsybikov. One of the halls is dedicated to exhibits and documents of the scientist.
  • 1971 – a documentary story dedicated to Tsybikov’s journey was published: Parnov E.I. “Bronze Smile”. (First edition: Bronze Smile: A Documentary Story. Young Guard, 1971. Also see: Collected Works in 10 volumes. Volume 10. Atlas of Guragon. Bronze Smile. Crown Himal. Terra – Book Club, 1999 Hardcover , 416 pp. ISBN 5-300-02424-4, 5-300-01818-X).
  • 1973 – on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the scientist, on the initiative of the director of the local history museum Zh. D. Dorzhiev in the village of Aginskoye, at 35 Komsomolskaya (in the square of secondary school No. 2), a monument to Tsybikov was erected.
  • start 1990s (?) – a series of republican conferences “Tsybikov Readings” begins at the Institute of Mongolian Studies, Buddhology and Tibetology SB RAS in Ulan-Ude.
  • On May 15, 1998, the VII Regional Scientific Conference “Tsybikov Readings” within the framework of the “Week of Orientalists” was opened at the Institute of Mongolian Studies, Buddhology and Tibetology of the SB RAS. This year marked the 125th anniversary of the birth of Tsybikov, 120 years of B. Baradin, 95 years of G. Rumyantsev, 85 years of M. Khomonov, 70 years of R. Pubaev. At the plenary session, reports were presented on their life and work.
  • On May 15-16, 2003, the VIII Regional Scientific Conference “Tsybikov Readings”, dedicated to the 130th anniversary of the birth of Tsybikov and the 100th anniversary of the birth of orientalist Georgy Rumyantsev, opened at the Institute of Mongolian Studies, Buddhology and Tibetology of the SB RAS.
  • On April 17, 2001, a photo expedition “From Baikal to Tibet” by Irkutsk speleologist and photographer Alexei Shevelyov set off from Irkutsk to Tibet with the task of “seeing Tibet as it became a hundred years after Tsybikov’s trip.”
  • Streets in Ulan-Ude, the village of Aginskoe, the villages of Alla of the Kurumkansky district of Buryatia, Urda-Aga of the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous Okrug, etc. were named in honor of Tsybikov, and the badge “Outstanding traveler G. Ts. Tsybikov” was issued.

Interesting facts

  • The history of National Geographic magazine as we know it, that is, a magazine where text is secondary to photographs, began with the publication in January 1905 of the world’s first photographs from Tibetan travels of Tsybikov and Ovshe Norzunov, donated to an then unknown magazine. It was the first geographical publication in the world to venture to devote a number of spreads to “pictures”. This was done due to the lack of text materials, since the magazine was at that moment at the stage of bankruptcy, but for the first time it brought the publication success and wide popularity. National Geographic as a world famous brand started with this publication.
  • The fact that Tsybikov was one of a number of educated Buryat-Khorinians during the construction of the education system in Buryatia may have influenced in the future the choice of the Khorin dialect as the oral basis for the creation of the Buryat literary language using the Cyrillic script. However, Tsybikov himself was initially conservative on this issue, not wanting to abandon the traditional Mongolian writing (with possible variants) in favor of Latin, which was later replaced by Cyrillic.
  • Soon after Tsybikov’s death in 1930, his head was stolen from the burial. The blame for the abduction was, according to the spirit of the times and the oral tradition of the lifetime oral tradition of a “head in the form of a gabala” (a ritual bowl, an indispensable attribute of many tantric practices), was assigned to the Buddhist clergy.

Versions and guesses

  • Tsybikov’s visit to Lhasa may have been supported by Aghvan Dorzhiev, who was then at the court of the XIII Dalai Lama. The description of the trip to Tibet does not give the names of any of the monks of Tibet – Tsybikov’s fellow countrymen, who supported him upon arrival.