In terms of the number of lines and words, King Gesar has even more than the combined total of the five most famous epics after relevant collection and arrangement, namely, Jiljameshi of ancient Babylonia, the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, and India’s Ramayana and Mahabharata. Jiljameshi, which was produced prior to 3000 BC and contains 3000 lines, is considered the oldest epics in the world. Iliad has 24 volumes and more than 15000 lines, while the Odyssey has more than 12000 lines in 24 volumes as well. There are over 18000 two-line verses in the seven chapters of the Ramayana, and 100000 two-line verses in the 18 chapters of the Mahabharata.
The exploration and arrangement of King Gesar are of great importance in the history of Chinese culture, and have filled in the gap of multinational literature history in regard to China.
The rescue of King Gesar was a project that brought together experts in various fields of knowledge and many departments. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the government viewed it as a highly important task. As early as the 1950s, large-scale collection and arrangement had already been launched.The Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee dispatched a document on March 23, 1959, indicating that the rescue of King Gesar must be considered as significant work to greet the 10th anniversary of the National Day. Thanks to the great joint efforts of all folk art and literature workers of each nationality,the work achieved great success.
As China entered a new period of reform and opening up at the end of the 1970s, the work on King Gesar resumed. Since 1983, the collection, arrangement and research work has been named on the list of national priority scientific research projects on three occasions. In 1984, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Ministry of Culture, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Chinese Association of Folk Literature Artists and relevant departments of Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang jointly established corresponding organizations to complete this arduous but profound cultural project.
Our country has successively organized academic investigation team and scientific research team comprising hundreds of people, and the footprints of the investigators had covered half of the territory of China after decades of work, which was unprecedented in Tibet’s cultural history and rare in the history of China’s multinational art and literature development.A scientific research combination team of the old, the middle-aged and the young in leadership has been founded, comprising several nationalities and including the work of ballads performance, collection, arrangement, publication and academic research. The team has compiled and published lots of investigation reports of high academic level and has collected the most valuable materials, which has laid a solid foundation for the further study of King Gesar.
On this basic, academic activities have been increasing constantly. Concerts of various forms, academic study conferences and four international symposia have been held. Many foreign scholars believe that the rapid development of King Gesar project has become one of the most active subjects in Tibetan and Mongolian studies, and even in folk literature. At the 7th International Conference for Tibet Study in Austria in June1995, King Gesar was first discussed as a special subject. With its unique nationalistic features and abundant contents, King Gesar has demonstrated its florid splendor and strong artistic vitality, and gained honor for China in the international academic field as well.By now, nearly 300 handwritten copies and woodcut copies have been collected, and there are 100 copies in sum not counting those of incongruous contents. Over 70 Tibetan copies have been formally published with an impression of more than 3000000. Calculated on the basis of the total population in Tibet, it can be concluded that every adult can have one. At the same time, more than 20 copies of Chinese versions have been published as well, which is an unprecedented achievement in the publication history of Tibetan ethnic minority.