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On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet

On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969

Melvyn C. Goldstein
Ben Jiao
Tanzen Lhundrup
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet
    Book Description:

    Among the conflicts to break out during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, the most famous took place in the summer of 1969 in Nyemo, a county to the south and west of Lhasa. In this incident, hundreds of villagers formed a mob led by a young nun who was said to be possessed by a deity associated with the famous warrior-king Gesar. In their rampage the mob attacked, mutilated, and killed county officials and local villagers as well as People's Liberation Army troops. This groundbreaking book, the first on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, revisits the Nyemo Incident, which has long been romanticized as the epitome of Tibetan nationalist resistance against China. Melvyn C. Goldstein, Ben Jiao, and Tanzen Lhundrup demonstrate that far from being a spontaneous battle for independence, this violent event was actually part of a struggle between rival revolutionary groups and was not ethnically based.On the Cultural Revolution in Tibetproffers a sober assessment of human malleability and challenges the tendency to view every sign of unrest in Tibet in ethno-nationalist terms.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94238-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Explanation of Romanization, Brackets, and Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    By late 1968, the violent fighting between revolutionary factions that had devastated inland China during the Cultural Revolution was winding down as revolutionary committees andmilitary control commissions were established and order was restored.¹ In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR, hereafter called Tibet), however, this conflict continued, and during the summer of 1969, bloody violence erupted in roughly a quarter of the rural counties (tib.dzong;ch.xian). The most famous of these incidents took place in Nyemo, a county in the southwestern portion of Lhasa Municipality (see maps 1–3), on 13–14 June 1969. Conventional wisdom holds that on...

  8. CHAPTER 1 The Cultural Revolution in Tibet
    (pp. 11-58)

    In 1966, Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to eliminate his enemies and reshape relations within the party. Unlike the standard Chinese Communist Party purges that took place entirely within the rarified air of the party itself, in the Cultural Revolution, the driving forces of the cleanup—Red Guards and revolutionary workers—were outside the party. Mao sought tomobilize the masses to discover and attack what he called bourgeois and capitalist elements who had insinuated themselves into the party and, in his view, were trying to subvert the revolution.¹

    The Cultural Revolution is generally considered to have begun in 1966 when...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Gyenlo and Nyamdre in Nyemo County
    (pp. 59-85)

    While Gyenlo and Nyamdre were competing for control of offices and other workplaces in Lhasa, branches of both factions proliferated in other counties and prefectures throughout Tibet. In Nyemo, most of the leading Tibetan and Chinese cadres belonged to Nyamdre, and the overwhelming majority of villagers followed their lead, clearly making it the dominant revolutionary group. As in Lhasa, each faction, although passionately disagreeing about the other’s approach, actively carried out the core Cultural Revolutionary campaigns, such as destroying the “four olds” and holding struggle sessions against class enemies. One young lama from Nyemo whose family had served as managers...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Gyenlo on the Attack
    (pp. 86-106)

    By the start of October 1968, the harvest was winding down and the county was starting to convene rural meetings to discuss the amount of patriotic donation and sales grain to be turned in that year. Zhang Yongfu and Rangjung took this as an opportunity to strike at Nyamdre by attacking the cadres in charge of collection.

    Gyenlo’s membership had increased substantially in the past year, and it now had hundreds of active members in the countryside. Their plan was to use their numerical superiority to attack the cadres in charge, marginalizing them in the eyes of themasses. These attacks...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Destroying the Demons and Ghosts
    (pp. 107-121)

    As the time for the main Nyemo attack approached, the nun, the warriorhero mediums, and some of the Gyenlo representatives began a wave of killings and maimings targeting those they called the internal enemies—or, more expressively, the “demons and ghosts.” Ani Gongmey Gyemo, for example, is reported to have said prophetically, “[First] [l]eave aside the external enemies and destroy the enemies within (tib.chidra shane nangdra dor).”¹ She also used the traditional saying, “Even though the rain outside stops, the leaking inside continues (tib.chi charbe charthag chegyang /nang thigbe thigthag ma che),” conveying that the remaining enemies in...

  12. CHAPTER 5 The Attacks on Bagor District and Nyemo County
    (pp. 122-136)

    By June 1969, Rangjung and Zhang Yongfu were ready to eliminate the external enemies—the remaining pro-Nyamdre cadres, the Department of Armed Forces, and the Military Squadron, the last two of which were then effectively in charge of the county. However, as the time to attack neared, a platoon of fourteen PLA soldiers arrived unexpectedly in Bagor to carry out a propaganda campaign called “cherish the masses and support the army” (tib.maggur mangje;ch.yongjun aimin), which was aimed at persuading the masses to forsake factional discord. Rangjung decided to attack those troops before moving on the county forces....

  13. CHAPTER 6 The Capture of the Nun
    (pp. 137-161)

    Gyenlo’s Army of the Gods dispersed after the defeat at Nyemo. Most of the common, less committed, villagers simply went home, but the main leaders and many of the more committed fighters went to Phusum, where they regrouped under Rangjung’s command, and consulted the nun/Ani Gongmey Gyemo about what to do. Her answer was clear. She gave them blessed barley and told them to not worry and to continue to fight because she would protect them. Many fighters stayed in the more defensible upper part of the valley around Phusum, where the nunnery and the adjacent Ru Monastery were located,...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Conclusions
    (pp. 162-171)

    The Nyemo disturbance was not a spontaneous Tibetan nationalistic uprising against the Chinese “oppressor,” nor was it a revolt aimed at creating an independent Tibet. To the contrary, it was the outgrowth of a careful strategy orchestrated by a Maoist revolutionary faction (Gyenlo) to seize control of its county from a rival revolutionary organization (Nyamdre). Led by a Chinese cadre named Zhang Yongfu, Gyenlo Headquarters in Nyemo set out to take power by winning over the Tibetan masses and then organizing them to attack the authorities in power, that is, its enemy, Nyamdre. To accomplish this, Gyenlo adopted a pragmatic...

  15. CHAPTER 8 Epilogue
    (pp. 172-182)

    The Nyemo incident was one of many violent disturbances that occurred in the name of Gyenlo within a period of a few months in the spring, summer, and early fall of 1969. The proximity of these incidents raises the obvious question of whether they were the independent product of parallel social, political, and economic forces or whether they were an artifact of an underlying grand strategy employed by Gyenlo General Headquarters in Lhasa. Unfortunately, very few data are available about these different disturbances, and, in fact, it is not even clear how many occurred. Most Chinese sources refer to incidents...

  16. APPENDIX 1. The Nun’s Manifesto
    (pp. 183-184)
  17. APPENDIX 2. Leaflet Publishing the Text of a Speech Criticizing the Regional Party Committee
    (pp. 185-190)
  18. APPENDIX 3. The Truth about the Struggle to Seize the Power of the Tibet Daily Newspaper Office
    (pp. 191-196)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 197-212)
  20. Selected Glossary of Correct Tibetan Spellings
    (pp. 213-222)
  21. References
    (pp. 223-228)
  22. Index
    (pp. 229-236)