Construction Work and Wages at the Dergé Printing House in the Eighteenth Century

Rémi Chaix, École Pratique des Hautes Études
Detail of floor plan of the Dergé printing house, c. 2000. Source: adapted from Feng (2003, 59).
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During the eighteenth century, the powerful Kingdom of Dergé in eastern Tibet became a major political, economic, and religious center that gave birth to one of the most important printing houses in the Tibetan world. Written documentation about the construction of the building and the work performed by numerous artisans allows for a better understanding of the traditional economy in Kham in general, and of wage labor in particular. This article investigates the nature and terms of remuneration for construction and decoration work on the extension to the printing house that was built in 17441745. It demonstrates that, in Kham, tea and barley were taken as a reference value to estimate wages and, in so doing, lays out the methodology for comparing these data with those of Central Tibet, where the terms of remuneration were far more complex, including as many as ten different types of goods. This analysis contributes to a better understanding of the role certain goods and trade items played in the economy and lays the groundwork for the history of remuneration in Kham and Tibetan societies at large.

Keywords: printing house, Dergé, Kham, Tibet, economy, wages, construction work, decoration workt