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MATHOU Thierry

Contact : leyrat19 [at]

Member of the French diplomatic corps and specialist of Asia where he served for more than twenty years, especially in China, Thierry Mathou was notably Consul General in Shanghai (2005–2010) and French Ambassador to Burma (2010–2015), then to the Philippines (2015–2017), from where he was also accredited to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. Director for Asia and Oceania at the Ministry of Europe and of Foreign Affairs from 2017 to 2020, during which time he led several important initiatives including the launch of France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific and France’s development partnership with ASEAN, he has been France’s Ambassador to Thailand since 2020.

His scholarly activities led him to specialise in the Himalayan borderlands and in Sino-Indian relations.

It was in this context that he focused his research on the geopolitics and political sociology of the Himalayas and went on to choose Bhutan as his main site for fieldwork. Author of a doctoral thesis in political science on the interaction between Bhutan’s foreign policy and its institutionalisation process, he identified this kingdom as a special case in the field of transitology—study of political transition processes—, putting forward the notion of "catalytic transition" (change in continuity) which differentiates political and institutional changes in Bhutan from the two main transitional (structuralist and voluntarist) models. His interest within this context lies in the development of the Bhutanese monarchy—a young democracy compared to other Asian monarchies—in its articulation with the Buddhist tradition, in the development of the nation state, and in the emergence of a national ideology forged around the concept of "Gross National Happiness".

His interest in the tradition-modernity dialectic, which is at the heart of Bhutan’s development strategy, led him in 2015 to launch and to pilot the "Tashi Gomang Project" a fieldwork programme aimed at conserving and promoting the Tashi Gomang tradition, specific to Bhutan, both in terms of the object itself—a miniature portable altar used first of all in the 17th century for the politico-religious unification of the country—and the ritual practices surrounding its use. Thanks to this project, 37 Tashi Gomangs have been found, listed and restored, 29 of which were presented at a cultural heritage exhibition organised in Thimphu (November 2016–February 2017), and six officiants (manips) were trained to maintain this waning tradition which is now ranked among Bhutan’s national treasures. The purpose of the project today is to make the research community aware of the use of pursuing the Tashi Gomang study from a religious iconographic angle and with regards the ritual and social practices associated with it. Thierry Mathou is currently preparing a history of the Dorjis, the most influential family in the kingdom after the ruling dynasty, which has played a key role in the emergence of contemporary Bhutan from the mid-19th century to the present.

Thierry Mathou’s work also focuses on the strategic dimension of the Himalayan arc. Within this context he has been working on a geopolitical history of the Himalayas.
Main publications

2022, Himalayan Art in 108 Objects (Ouvrage collectif), Rubin Museum of Art, New York (Forthcoming).

2018, Bhutan in 2017, Preparing a New Cycle, Asian Survey, University of California Press, Vol. 58 No. 1, January–February 2018, pp. 138–141.

2017, Bhutan in 2016 : A New Era Is Born, Asian Survey, University of California Press, Vol. 57 No. 1, January–February 2017, pp. 56–59.

2016, Tashi Gomang : A National Treasure of Bhutan, Exhibition Catalogue, Ashi Kesang Choden T. Wangchuck Editeur, Royal Textile Academy, Thimphu, November 2016, 139 p.

2015, The Bodhisattva King. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan, Bhutan Publishing House, Bangkok, November 2015, 360 p.

2013, Le Bhoutan, royaume du bonheur national brut : entre mythe et réalité, L’Harmattan, Paris, Novembre 2013, 344 p.

2008, How to Reform a Traditional Buddhist Monarchy : The Political Achievements of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan (1972–2006), Thimphu, 2008, 47 p.

2007, L’Himalaya, Nouvelle frontière de la Chine, Hérodote, Revue de géographie et de géopolitique, Paris, 2007, pp. 28–50.

2006, La nouvelle diplomatie frontalière de la Chine à la reconquête de ses marches continentales, Revue Internationale et Stratégique, IRIS, Paris, n°60, Hiver 2006, pp. 33–42.

2005, Tibet and its Neighbors : Moving toward a New Strategy in the Himalayan Region, Asian Survey, University of California Press, August 2005, Vol.45, No.4, pp. 497–502.

2004, Bhutan–China relations : Towards a New Step in Himalayan Politics, in The spider and the Piglet : Proceedings of the First International Seminar on Bhutan Studies, The Center for Bhutan Studies, Thimphu, 2004, pp. 388–413.

2002, Bhutan in 2001 : At the Crossroads, Asian Survey, University of California Press, Vol.42, No. 1, January–February, 2002, pp. 192–197.

2000, The Politics of Bhutan : Change in Continuity, Journal of Bhutan Studies, Thimphu, Vol.3, No. 1, summer 2000, pp. 250–262.

2001, Bhutan in 2000 : Challenges Ahead, Asian Survey, University of California Press, Vol.41, No. 1, January-February, 2001, pp. 131–137.

1999, Bhutan : political reform in a Buddhist Monarchy, The Journal of Bhutan Studies, CBS, Thimphu, Vol. 1, No.1, autumn 1999.

1998, Bhoutan, dernier royaume bouddhiste de l’Himalaya, Kailash Editions, Paris, France and Pondichery, India, 1998, 402 p.

1994, The Growth of Diplomacy in Bhutan 1961–1991. Opportunities and Challenges. in Bhutan. Aspects of Culture and Development, Kiscadale Asia Research Series, No.5, London, 1994, pp. 51–87

1994, Bhoutan : politique étrangère et identité culturelle. Une stratégie pour survivre, IEP, Paris, 1994, 536 p.


- Bhutan
- Monarchy
- Buddhism
- Transitology
- Geopolitics
- Himalayas
- Indo-China


- Himalayas
- China
- Burma
- Bhutan
- Nepal
- India