Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule

Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule

TUBTEN KHÉTSUN
TRANSLATED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY MATTHEW AKESTER
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/khet14286
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    Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule
    Book Description:

    Born in 1941, Tubten Khétsun is a nephew of the Gyatso Tashi Khendrung, one of the senior government officials taken prisoner after the Tibetan peoples' uprising of March 10, 1959. Khétsun himself was arrested while defending the Dalai Lama's summer palace, and after four years in prisons and labor camps, he spent close to two decades in Lhasa as a requisitioned laborer and "class enemy."

    In this eloquent autobiography, Khétsun describes what life was like during those troubled years. His account is one of the most dispassionate, detailed, and readable firsthand descriptions yet published of Tibet under the Communist occupation. Khétsun talks of his prison experiences as well as the state of civil society following his release, and he offers keenly observed accounts of well-known events, such as the launch of the Cultural Revolution, as well as lesser-known aspects of everyday life in occupied Lhasa.

    Since Communist China continues to occupy Tibet, the facts of this era remain obscure, and few of those who lived through it have recorded their experiences at length. Khétsun's story will captivate any reader seeking a refreshingly human account of what occurred during the Maoists' shockingly brutal regime.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51240-4
    Subjects: History, Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Introduction
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    WHAT WENT ON in Tibet during the twenty years of Maoist rule between 1959 and 1979 is still only vaguely known to the outside world, and even to most Tibetans born in exile. The history of the period has yet to be written in depth, and the memories of those who lived through it are one of the few available sources. Tubten Khétsun’s autobiography is so vividly self-explanatory that further introduction seems superfluous, but it is hoped that a brief survey of the historical background and related literature may be of service to the reader.

    The modern history of Tibet...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Story of My Family
    (pp. 1-8)

    OUR HOUSEHOLD IS known as Gyatso Tashi, and was so named after the builder of our family house, in the Banak-shöl area of Lhasa. Our forebears were farmers from Nyémo district who settled in Lhasa after two successive family members served as officials in the palace bursary (rTse phyag las khung) of the Ganden Po-trang government. One of them, Sonam Rabten-la, married Tsewang Sangmo, daughter of the Lhasa resident Ba-pa Changdzö-la, and they had one son and one daughter. Their son, Tubten Changchup, the elder of the two, became a novice monk in the Tsangpa Khen-chen’s residence in Drépung monastery’s...

  6. CHAPTER 2 My Childhood
    (pp. 9-23)

    I WAS BORN in the iron snake year 1941. In the earth rat year 1948, when I was eight, my elder brother Yéshé Khédrup and I were sent to the Nyarong-shak school, and we joined the Loséling college of Drépung monastery not long after. At that time, our grandfather Sonam Rabten had retired from government service and taken monastic vows, and he took a special interest in the physical and mental development of his grandsons. Before we were sent to school, he had taught us to read and write the alphabet, and he took full responsibility for overseeing our schoolwork....

  7. CHAPTER 3 The March 10th Uprising
    (pp. 24-33)

    ON THE MORNING of March 10, 1959, as we were about to attend the morning tea service for officials at the Norbu Lingka summer palace, one of our relatives, the monk official Ngawang Chöpel-la, came to our room [in the family house in Lhasa] to discuss an important matter with my uncle (then chief secretary) and elder brother (a palace steward). He had an easygoing manner and liked to joke, but that day his behavior was quite different: he seemed anxious, and even told me not to go empty-handed but to carry some kind of weapon. I asked him what...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Chinese Fan the Flames of War
    (pp. 34-39)

    AROUND FOUR O’CLOCK Lhasa time on the morning of March 20, all the Chinese army bases and settlements in the surrounding area trained their cannon on the Norbu Lingka summer palace and began to fire. Even now, recalling that sound evokes a distinct sensation of despair. At that point, I was still guarding the entrance to the Khamsum Silnön palace. As soon as I heard the cannon, I knew that fighting had broken out and was terrified at the thought that I could not expect to survive the day ahead. But the two regular members of the bodyguard regiment on...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Imprisoned at the Tibet Military District Headquarters
    (pp. 40-53)

    AS SOON AS we got inside the gate of the army headquarters, a large group of soldiers gathered around the truck we were riding in and searched it, and many of the soldiers occupying the shelters around the entrance came out to take a look at us. Amazingly, their wives were also there, carrying their children on their backs and guns or grenades in front, glaring and shouting at us. It seemed that the guards who had brought us didn’t know where we were to be taken, and we had to wait there for half an hour before a soldier...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Imprisoned at the Norbu Lingka Barracks
    (pp. 54-56)

    IT IS WELL known to those who spent time in the Norbu Lingka prison and their relatives and acquaintances, but those unfamiliar with that period and those both in and outside Tibet who grew up later may be interested to know how control of the prison passed from Tibetan into Chinese hands. The Chinese fabricated false stories about the former [Tibetan government] prisons at the Potala, Norbu Lingka, Lhasa Nangtsé-shak, and Shöl, saying that this was where the laboring masses were put to death, and used them for internal and external propaganda. So maybe I should explain a little about...

  11. CHAPTER 7 At the Nga-chen Power Station Construction Site
    (pp. 57-71)

    IN NOVEMBER 1959, our group of prisoners was loaded on a transport truck and taken to the prison at the Nga-chen power station building site. There I met up with my elder sister Losang Chönyi, who was in one of the women prisoner teams. As soon as we got down from the truck, she came with a thermos of hot salted tea. The weather was foul that day, and we had had nothing but hot water. The delicious taste of my loving sister’s hot tea warming and reviving me is something I have not forgotten even now. To suddenly see...

  12. CHAPTER 8 In Téring Prison
    (pp. 72-89)

    IT WAS ONE of the first days of January 1960, at about six o’clock Beijing time, when our group of east Lhasa people from the Nga-chen work camp prison were loaded into two large trucks with canvas tops and driven away, through the hamlets of Garpa, Shangtap, and Rak, to the Téring (Phreng ring) prison. We got there at about ten o’clock that night. The prison was a simple one-story Tibetan-style building. By the electric light bulbs over the cell doors, we could clearly see that each cell had a number and a circular hole in the door, and from...

  13. CHAPTER 9 In Drapchi Prison
    (pp. 90-118)

    IT WAS IN June 1960 that the six [five] of us were sentenced, and the following morning at about ten o’clock, we put our bedding on our backs and, together with a number of others who had been sentenced in Tölung Déchen county and four Chinese soldiers as our guards, we were sent to the Reform Through Labor prison at Drapchi. It takes no more than half an hour to cover the distance from Téring prison to Drapchi prison, but even so we were taken on a short cut through the fields. Since it was during the summer rains, there...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Trong-nying Prison Farm
    (pp. 119-136)

    THE VILLAGE OF Trong-nying is about four days’ walk from Lhasa, in the Drikung area, which was now part of Medro Gongkar county. It was formerly the estate of a land-owning family called Doe-trong (rDo grong). Generally speaking, as Tibet used to be a vast country with a small population, the cultivation of fields in some areas was alternated year by year, and the areas cultivated were the easiest to irrigate, so a large amount of potentially fertile land was left idle due to the difficulty of irrigation. Since there was a lot of uncultivated land in the Drikung area,...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Back Home from Prison
    (pp. 137-148)

    ON MY RELEASE on March 21, 1963, I walked out of Drapchi prison with my bedroll on my back, and when I got to the east Ling-khor road I met an old childhood playmate who greeted me warmly and explained where my family was staying. He said that my youngest brother, Nga-namla, was in school and he would let him know that I had been released, and thus encouraged by such a spirit of cheerfulness among my contemporaries, I reached the Tara Khangsar house in Banak-shöl where my brothers and sisters were living. The house had two street entrances, back...

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Agitation by the Muslims of Woba-ling
    (pp. 149-151)

    I WILL JUST say a little bit about the agitation by the Chinese Hui Muslims, which began around 1961 and was coming to an end by the time I got out of prison. In the old days, there were two separate groups within Lhasa’s Muslim community. One was the Muslims of Indian Kashmiri origin, who were businesspeople with shops around the Parkor market street and were referred to by Lhasa people as “Parkor Kha-ché.” The other group lived in an area on the east side of town called Woba-ling, working as butchers, millers, and sometimes market gardeners; their ancestors had...

  17. CHAPTER 13 The Fall of the Panchen Lama
    (pp. 152-156)

    THE OPEN CRITICISM, denunciation, and struggle against the Panchen Lama took place during the fourth session of the PCART People’s Assembly in 1964, when he was accused of having “opposed the Party, opposed socialism, and opposed the people’s government.” After that, he was taken to China and made to suffer untold misery for the next 10 years. The reason was that after the Chinese imposed full control over Tibet in 1959 and subjected the Tibetans to unthinkable and inexpressible oppression unlike anything else they had suffered in their long history, Panchen Rinpoché had personally traveled throughout the areas inhabited by...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Misuse of Education
    (pp. 157-159)

    IN 1964, THERE were three primary schools and one middle school in Lhasa, and a school for training teachers and officials. Most of the students training to be teachers and officials were from all over the country, and since they were being educated only for that purpose, they were all from poor class backgrounds. As long as they committed no major mistakes during their time as students, they were automatically given jobs when they finished, and schoolchildren from poor class backgrounds who attended [primary and middle school] for the requisite period were also given employment afterward, regardless of their results....

  19. CHAPTER 15 The Establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region
    (pp. 160-166)

    WHEN THE TIBET Autonomous Region was formally established in September 1965, a group of central government representatives, led by one of the then vice premiers of the State Council and Public Security Minister Xie Fuchi, arrived in Tibet to attend a grand inaugural ceremony. Not long afterward, it was decided at an autonomous region conference that the Communist Party Tibet work committee and most of the main TAR departments would move to the Powo Yiwong region once the necessary construction had been completed. Thus, most of the construction units in the autonomous region departed for that place, and a large...

  20. CHAPTER 16 The Onset of the Cultural Revolution
    (pp. 167-190)

    THAT THE HORRIFIC campaign known as the Cultural Revolution was one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of not just Tibet but China as a whole is admitted by the current regime. The reasons that led Mao Zedong to start it are popularly explained as follows: in 1957, even before the [disastrous] results of Mao’s Great Leap Forward had become evident, a faction of the leadership, including the defense minister, Peng Dehuai, opposed him. The tradition of the personality cult had come to an end with the denunciation of Stalin in Russia after his death, and when all this...

  21. CHAPTER 17 The June 7th Massacre
    (pp. 191-200)

    JUNE 7, 1968 was one of the most brutal and chilling massacres of all, and one the Tibetan people will never be able to forget. As the conflict between the two Cultural Revolution factions became increasingly bitter with even the military taking sides, the TMD forces gave all kinds of support to the Nyamdrel and in their hatred for the Gyenlok faction, they were ready to confront them on any convenient pretext. On the morning of May 27, 1968, the corpse of a Chinese member of Gyenlok and employee of the Tibet long-distance telegraph office, who had been secretly detained...

  22. CHAPTER 18 A Disastrous New Year
    (pp. 201-207)

    THE FIRST DAY of the Tibetan earth monkey year, 1968, was a new year’s day to go down in history. Every society has its own way of celebrating the beginning of a new year, and in Tibet both the government and the common people used to stage very elaborate ceremonies with strong historical associations. Although the official celebrations had come to an end with the events of 1959, popular celebrations and some religious observances continued. With the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and the forceful prohibition of the Four Olds, however, not only was there no question of...

  23. CHAPTER 19 Old Tsampa in Old Méru
    (pp. 208-210)

    FOR SOME TIME the assembly hall of the Méru Nyingba monastery in Lhasa was full to the brim with stale tsampa, which [the authorities wanted] to use up by selling it as the citizens’ monthly grain ration. Although very old, that tsampa was basically of a good quality that was supplied to the officials’ grain shop or tsampa store for officials’ rations, but it was said that when the tsampa was delivered from the different mills they did not bother to distinguish between the old and the new, and once they had accumulated a stock that was too stale for...

  24. CHAPTER 20 The Sino-Soviet War Brings Increased Oppression
    (pp. 211-213)

    THERE HAD BEEN ideological differences between China and Russia for some time when, in 1969, confrontation flared up on the border and, at Chenpahao island in China’s northeast, heavy fighting broke out. Russia had one of the most powerful armies in the world and in terms of strategy, training, or any other aspect it outmatched China, so Tibetans had high expectations of the outcome. Of course no one likes war, and especially for us Buddhists the hope of gaining anything from armed conflict is totally unwarranted, but the Chinese were perpetrating unbearable cruelty on the Tibetans after successfully occupying our...

  25. CHAPTER 21 The “One Smash and Three Antis” Campaign
    (pp. 214-218)

    THE NEW ORDINANCE called for the urgent propagation of the “One Smash and Three Antis” campaign (gCig brdungs gsum rgol). During the period of factional fighting, there had been political revolts of various kinds against the central government and the state economic system had been disrupted; with the breakdown of the state-managed supply of essential commodities, some people had been indulging in practices such as speculative hoarding, violating stable commodity prices, which was one of the tenets of socialism, so the purpose of this campaign was to rectify these problems. “One Smash” meant smashing present-day counterrevolutionaries, and the “Three Antis”...

  26. CHAPTER 22 The “Great Massacre”
    (pp. 219-224)

    ABOUT A YEAR after those Nyémo people and the Lhasa youths were arrested, and after their crimes had been investigated, they were executed at a public rally attended by many people. Numerous countries in the world practice legal execution, but they differ widely in the degree of cruelty used to actually carry it out. As for the cruelty with which it is practiced in the so-called People’s Republic of China, and particularly in the case of political offenders, I will just say something about the execution of the people from Nyémo county, which I witnessed and will never be able...

  27. CHAPTER 23 PLA Soldiers Destroy the Fruits of the People’s Labor in the Marshes
    (pp. 225-234)

    WHEN LHASA PEOPLE could no longer make a living even as construction laborers because of the civil war during the Cultural Revolution and their hardship was greater than ever, the marshes west of the city gave them a way to survive. First, I should say a few words about that marshland: it lies on the north side of the Kyangtang Naka meadow, [which used to stretch] to the west of Lhasa, where many generations ago it is said there was a small lake from which, according to folklore, lake-dwelling cows (mTsho glang) and horses (mTsho rta) magically appeared. As the...

  28. CHAPTER 24 The Systematic Destruction of Ganden Monastery
    (pp. 235-239)

    UP UNTIL 1970, the Yangpa-chen chapel at Ganden monastery, which contained the precious golden reliquary stupa of Jé Rinpoché (Tsongka-pa Losang Drakpa), as well as the great assembly hall, the Shar-tsé and Jang-tsé colleges, and other assembly halls, was used as a granary by the food grains department in Lhasa, just as Séra and Drépung monasteries were. But that year, quite suddenly, I heard that the leaders and managers of the neighborhood committee refill stores and the Lhasa East Wind boot and hat factory, as well as the tailoring cooperatives around the city, were going to Ganden to buy up...

  29. CHAPTER 25 Sent to Kongpo for the Second Time
    (pp. 240-243)

    THERE WERE ABOUT four hundred of us on the list to be sent from Lhasa to join the construction of the Chinese army weapons depot in the summer of 1970, and over a few days we all went for a medical examination at a clinic in the TMD headquarters. Those who passed were then taken to a timber yard in an army camp at Lha-dong Shenka on the other side of the Kyi-chu river, where we had to stay for about two weeks at the height of the rainy season. Each of us was questioned on our personal history since...

  30. CHAPTER 26 The Xichao Dachang Timber Yard
    (pp. 244-246)

    THE CHINESE WORDS Xichao Dachang mean Western Station. It was the chief depot for military trucks plying the Qinghai–Tibet highway and was administered by the Qinghai provincial military headquarters. There was an enormous army base at that depot, which included a nearby timber yard, a vegetable garden, an orchard, and a food processing plant under its management, as well as a large dairy farm in the Chang Yangpachen area. Since the nonstaple food items produced were regularly available for sale to its staff, many people were eager to get themselves employed there in order to be able to buy...

  31. CHAPTER 27 The Tölung Power Station Construction Camp
    (pp. 247-250)

    AS SOON AS the coal mine road was finished in the early spring of 1971, the workers moved on to Ka-tak, farther up the Tölung valley, to start on the power station canal. It wasn’t the coldest time of year, but there were brisk spring winds, and the only tents and other equipment we had were those the neighborhood committees had provided, the cotton summer picnic tents and screens confiscated all those years ago. They had since been used by a great many work camps and worn to shreds by the sun and wind, so one of the hardships of...

  32. CHAPTER 28 The Lin Biao Affair
    (pp. 251-253)

    A FEW MONTHS after the construction of the power station canal began in 1971, news of the attempted coup d’état by a faction of the military led by the central committee Vice Chairman Lin Biao became public. When the attempt failed, the leaders were arrested; Lin Biao and his wife and son fled toward Russia in a military aircraft that was shot down by a missile, and their remains were recovered from the site of the crash, on the border between Inner and Outer Mongolia. For most people, this was something unimaginable: Lin Biao was the only leader in the...

  33. CHAPTER 29 The Defamation Campaign
    (pp. 254-256)

    AROUND THAT TIME, quite suddenly, two members of the Lhasa city branch of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Dulwa Khensur Tubten Tséring and Kung-ru Shindram Tulku, both from Drépung’s Go-mang college, were sent to make speeches at public meetings of each neighborhood committee defaming and insulting His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Generally speaking, successive political campaigns since the time of Democratic Reform had encouraged people to criticize and reject His Holiness from the political standpoint of “uprooting the evils of the old society,” and at the many meetings held to elicit the views of the common people a...

  34. CHAPTER 30 “Socialist Transformation”
    (pp. 257-261)

    IN 1974, WHILE a campaign called “Cleaning Up Class Categories” (Gral rim dpung khag gtsang bsher) was being carried out in official organizations like government departments, schools, and factories all over Tibet, ordinary people had to participate in a campaign called “Socialist Transformation” (sPyi tshogs ring lugs kyi bsgyur bkod). This involved ascertaining the class categorization of citizens on the basis of their former income, and further collectivizing and cooperativizing economic and productive activity. It appeared gentler than the other political campaigns, for there were no slogans calling for the assault and downfall of offenders, but in reality, although less...

  35. CHAPTER 31 The Banak-shöl Production Cooperative
    (pp. 262-266)

    ONCE THE BUSINESS of ascertaining class categories and assessing the targeted groups came to an end, the second stage of that campaign was the compulsory organization of nonaffiliated wage earners into institutions under the slogan of “Full cooperativization and collectivization of economic production.” Although most working citizens already belonged to organizations in many different fields of employment, there were some who for a variety of reasons earned their living independently, and they were now brought together in newly established cooperatives under each neighborhood committee called production cooperatives (Thon skyed mnyam las khang), and the municipal government allotted each of them...

  36. CHAPTER 32 The Farmer’s Life
    (pp. 267-272)

    DURING 1974, THE arrival in Lhasa of a large number of destitute villagers from places like Drikung in Medro Gongkar county of Lhasa prefecture and Uyuk valley in Shika-tsé prefecture led to some anxiety over the hardships being endured by the great majority of people in rural areas. At that time of heightened concern, we received a letter from my elder sister Yangdröl-la, who was living in Yakdé Khang-shung in Rinpung county, Shika-tsé prefecture, saying that since there had been no rain in Yakdé that season the harvest had failed, and asking us to procure whatever grain we could for...

  37. CHAPTER 33 The Death of Mao Zedong and Subsequent Developments
    (pp. 273-279)

    EVENTUALLY A NUMBER of the elderly Chinese leaders started to pass away, and during that year, 1976, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, army commander-in-chief Zhu De, Vice Premier Tong Piwu, Politburo standing member Kang Sheng, who had risen to prominence during the Cultural Revolution, and Deputy Prime Minister Liu Pu-chun, all of whom were important contemporaries and colleagues of Mao Zedong, died one after the other. For some time before he drew his last breath, Mao himself was seriously ill, and when even the usual newsreel films of him meeting foreign representatives had not been seen for a while and there...

  38. CHAPTER 34 The Rewards of My Hard Work
    (pp. 280-282)

    WITH THE DEATH of Mao Zedong, a new chapter of history began, and in order to secure popular goodwill and support, the heads of government and incumbent officials made radical changes in their conduct of public affairs. In Tibet, as issues related to “nationality policy” became a focus of concern, Tibetan officials dedicated to the welfare of their people seized the opportunity and began to move ahead energetically on working for the reestablishment of Tibetan culture. In the field of education, knowledge of written Tibetan had hitherto been restricted to reading Mao’s quotations, with no wider currency at all, and...

  39. CHAPTER 35 Working in the Potala Palace
    (pp. 283-291)

    THE MAIN REASON I got to work in the Potala was having a friend to introduce me, as just explained, but it was also because an ordinance had been issued by the Chinese government for the preservation of what remained of Tibet’s destroyed cultural heritage. Apart from those piled up in heaps and crammed into some scrap-metal storerooms near Ramo-ché in north Lhasa, most of Tibet’s looted precious metal statues had been transported to China, where they were melted down and used to manufacture bullets and many other things, and since the Cultural Relics Office now had orders to prevent...

  40. CHAPTER 36 At the Tibet Academy of Social Science
    (pp. 292-294)

    DURING MY TIME at the Academy of Social Science, it had not yet opened and was still in the preparatory stage. The few employees were engaged in copying rare texts on religious and dynastic history borrowed from the TAR archives for the academy’s forthcoming journal, Tibet Research (Bod ljongs zhib ‘jug), and copying the catalogues of the former printers of religious classics. A year went by in this way before the formal opening of the academy was announced, and social scientific research was allocated among six working groups. I was put in the archive group, which suited me best, because...

  41. EPILOGUE: Leaving Tibet
    (pp. 295-298)
    Gyatso Tashi Tubten Khétsun

    I HAD NO particular difficulties along the way, and arrived in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, on March 13, 1983. I sought lodging with some relatives of my father’s family and spent a few days applying for permission to visit my brother in the United States and touring the holy places. I was planning to visit Dharamsala to seek audience with His Holiness and hoping to find a traveling companion, when I heard that His Holiness was soon to travel to Mön Tawang to perform a public Kalachakra initiation. Hoping to meet Him before His departure, I decided to fly, but...

  42. Index
    (pp. 299-318)