Historically, Derge, which means "land of mercy" was one of the three ancient centres of Tibetan culture, along with Lhasa and Xiahe. Derge was formerly the seat of the kings of the kingdom of Derge, whose 1300-year lineage was broken with the death of the last male heir in the 1990s. The kingdom was an important industrial, religious and political center in Eastern Tibet. In the early 20th century, the kingdom fell into political struggle between the final heirs to the throne, Djembel Rinch'en and Doje Senkel. The latter, who had enjoyed the backing of the Chinese, yielded the kingdom to China in 1908 in exchange for the ousting of his rival. The palace of the Derge kings was subsequently converted into a school.
The town of Derge is famous for its three-storey printing house, or parkhang, built in 1729, where Kangyur, a collection of Buddhist scriptures and Tengyur, a collection of commentaries, which are still printed from wooden blocks. It was established during the reign of Derge king Tenpa Tsering. Derge has produced artists such as the Situ Panchen and the 8th Tai Situpa who was a renowned Buddhist master who helped revive Tibetan culture and language, and aided King Tenpa Tsering in setting up the Derge Parkhang or Derge printing house. The printing house, run by monks, continues to use its ancient techniques, utilizing no electricity. For example, the roof is still used to dry the printed sheets.
It has been estimated that the 217,000 blocks stored at Derge comprise 70% of the Tibetan literary heritage. The Derge editions are considered especially high quality, with few typographical errors.
- McCue, Gary (1999). Trekking in Tibet: A Traveler's Guide (2 ed.). The Mountaineers Bookl. p. 239. ISBN 0-89886-662-6.
- Dorje, Gyurme (1999). Tibet Handbook: The Travel Guide (2, illustrated, revised ed.). Footprint Travel Guides. p. 469. ISBN 1-900949-33-4.
- McCue, 241.