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A Tibetan Revolutionary

A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye

Melvyn C. Goldstein
Dawei Sherap
William R. Siebenschuh
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 395
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  • Book Info
    A Tibetan Revolutionary
    Book Description:

    This is the as-told-to political autobiography of Phüntso Wangye (Phünwang), one of the most important Tibetan revolutionary figures of the twentieth century. Phünwang began his activism in school, where he founded a secret Tibetan Communist Party. He was expelled in 1940, and for the next nine years he worked to organize a guerrilla uprising against the Chinese who controlled his homeland. In 1949, he merged his Tibetan Communist Party with Mao's Chinese Communist Party. He played an important role in the party's administrative organization in Lhasa and was the translator for the young Dalai Lama during his famous 1954-55 meetings with Mao Zedong. In the 1950s, Phünwang was the highest-ranking Tibetan official within the Communist Party in Tibet. Though he was fluent in Chinese, comfortable with Chinese culture, and devoted to socialism and the Communist Party, Phünwang's deep commitment to the welfare of Tibetans made him suspect to powerful Han colleagues. In 1958 he was secretly detained; three years later, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Beijing's equivalent of the Bastille for the next eighteen years. Informed by vivid firsthand accounts of the relations between the Dalai Lama, the Nationalist Chinese government, and the People's Republic of China, this absorbing chronicle illuminates one of the world's most tragic and dangerous ethnic conflicts at the same time that it relates the fascinating details of a stormy life spent in the quest for a new Tibet.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94030-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Melvyn C. Goldstein
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Melvyn C. Goldstein, Dawei Sherap and William R. Siebenschuh
  6. Note on Romanization and Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. List of Key Persons
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  9. INTRODUCTION. A Brief Historical Context
    (pp. 1-4)
    Melvyn C. Goldstein

    The people of Batang, Phünwang’s home town, are part of the Eastern Tibet ethnic subgroup called the Khampa. They use the same written language as Tibetans in Central Tibet and are Tibetan Buddhists, but they speak a dialect that is very different from that used in Lhasa. Their customs are also somewhat different. They are a proud and aggressive people who are straightforward in talk and independent in character. They love horses and guns and are quick to seek vengeance for harms and insults. Traditionally, the area of eastern Tibet known as Kham was divided into twenty or so principalities,...

  10. PART I Growing Up in Kham and China

    • CHAPTER 1 Childhood in Batang
      (pp. 7-14)

      I was born in January 1922 in Batang, a remote and beautiful village in Kham (Eastern Tibet) roughly five hundred miles from Lhasa and twelve hundred miles from Beijing [see map 1]. Batang is located in a valley at about eighty-five hundred feet, sandwiched between the tiny Ba River on the west and a range of mountains to the east. It has a relatively mild climate for Tibet and is predominantly agricultural. Though rugged and beautiful, the area has always been politically troubled, and my later life as a Tibetan revolutionary is rooted in its turbulent history and the experiences...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Coup of Lobsang Thundrup
      (pp. 15-21)

      A few years later our people made another effort to achieve self-rule. This time, my family was even more directly involved.

      One day after school, my parents told me that my uncle Lobsang Thundrup was coming from Nanjing. Like Kesang Tsering, he had been educated in our local school, gone on to middle school, and then joined the GMD Party. Some years before, he had been recruited to work in the Chinese government’s Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission. I felt especially close to him because his daughter had been living with our family for the past eight years and had...

    • CHAPTER 3 School Years
      (pp. 22-38)

      We left Batang for China on horseback. We were a small party consisting of my uncle, his daughter and younger sister, a servant, and myself. Because my uncle worried that Liu Wenhui might try to arrest him, for the first leg of the journey—between Batang and Liu’s headquarters at Tartsedo—he pretended to be a trader, and we traveled with about thirty yaks loaded with goods. I spent most of the time daydreaming about what school in China would be like. I remember that I wasn’t apprehensive at all. I was excited. I was going to become educated and...

  11. PART II The Tibetan Communist Party Era

    • CHAPTER 4 Planning Revolution
      (pp. 41-49)

      I was sad when I left the school, but I didn’t regret what I had done. I felt we Tibetans were justified in organizing and protesting and that the school had no right to expel us. But I wasn’t looking forward to telling my uncle.

      “What did they expel you for?” he asked calmly.

      When I told him about the association and the protests, he was sympathetic because he also had strong feelings about the treatment of Tibetans. All he said was that it was too bad that I had come so far to study only to have this happen....

    • CHAPTER 5 Returning to Kham
      (pp. 50-60)

      It was early 1942 and I was twenty years old and full of optimism. The idea that our revolutionary work in Kham was about to begin was exhilarating, although I knew I had to be very careful. The first big decision I had to make was whether I should risk trying to take communist books and pamphlets with me to Derge. Chiang Kaishek’s soldiers were on the lookout for communist agents and had set up checkpoints everywhere. I had heard stories about how people had been captured and executed for communist activities. In one case, I heard that a man...

    • CHAPTER 6 To Lhasa
      (pp. 61-78)

      On the Tibetan side of the Drichu, we went to the checkpoint, where I showed my letter from the Dalai Lama’s office to the Tibetan army officer in charge. We would not have been allowed to go a step further if he had not given us permission, but the letter seemed to impress him, and he told us we could go ahead.

      Topden and I had been careful to bring gifts—bricks of tea and silk—for the various officials we would need to deal with. We gave two bricks of tea to the officer at the checkpoint, and he...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Indian Communist Party
      (pp. 79-89)

      We took the well-traveled route south from Lhasa to Chushul and then south to Phari and Yadong, the Tibetan town on the border with Sikkim [see map 3]. This time I didn’t need any letter or passport. We just crossed the Natöla Pass into Sikkim/India as if there were no border.

      Before we left Lhasa, I had gone to see Yuthok’s wife. She was very kind, as always, and gave me some dried meat and cheese for the trip. She also warned me to be careful when eating anything in Yadong and Sikkim, because there had been reports of people...

    • CHAPTER 8 On the Verge of Revolt
      (pp. 90-102)

      Everywhere we traveled on the road to Chamdo, we saw evidence of peasants’ suffering. I still recall, for example, the day we arrived in Damshung, a nomad area north of Lhasa. As we passed the county headquarters, we saw freshly severed human ears hanging from its gate. This kind of barbaric punishment made us both sad and angry, so that evening we cut the ears down from the gate and hurled them against the county commissioner’s window in angry protest. We also encountered many instances of bribery and extortion. It would have been easy enough to ignore behavior like this...

    • CHAPTER 9 Escape to Tibet
      (pp. 103-112)

      We decided we had to make a run for it. We quietly slipped out of the house into the courtyard to see where the villagers were. They were angry that they hadn’t found us yet, and they were now trying to be more methodical. They carried torches, and the moving lights cast huge shadows—but this also let us know exactly where they were. We watched them carefully, and when they had gone to another part of the village, we sneaked out of the courtyard and into a stand of thorn bushes a ways behind the house. It was better...

    • CHAPTER 10 From Lhasa to Yunnan
      (pp. 113-126)

      Our trip to Chamdo was uneventful. My meeting with Yuthok, however, was not. We had done little more than greet each other when he smiled and said, “Well, Phünwang-la, so you are communist. You never said a thing to me about it.”

      “How did you know?” I asked, startled and a bit embarrassed.

      “Word about the incident in Deqen and your escape has spread all the way to Chamdo.”

      For a minute I didn’t know what to say. Finally I simply spoke the truth.

      “I’m sorry,” I said. “I never actually lied to you. You never asked me if I...

  12. PART III The People’s Republic of China

    • CHAPTER 11 The Return to Batang
      (pp. 129-139)

      Returning to Batang this time was a very different experience from my last visit. Then I had been a hunted man. There had been a warrant for my arrest and a price on my head. I had had to stay outside the town and secretly contact my parents and friends. Now everything had changed. Liu Wenhui had seen which way the wind was blowing and moved most of his troops to greater safety in Sichuan, and the troops of his that remained knew how badly the war against the communists was going and were demoralized. Moreover, Liu had appointed an...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Seventeen-Point Agreement
      (pp. 140-153)

      I arrived in Chamdo thirteen days after it had officially been liberated by the 18th Army. It felt strange to enter the city as part of a victorious army. It felt even stranger, almost uncomfortable, when I learned that Wang Qimei, the fourth-ranking commander in the 18th Army, had arranged for me to stay in the spacious living quarters of Ngabö, the former Tibetan governor-general and council minister (where Wang himself had been staying). I told him immediately that I didn’t need that much space and that I certainly didn’t want to displace him. But he passed it off, saying...

    • CHAPTER 13 To Lhasa Again
      (pp. 154-163)

      The agreement was now signed and Tibet ready to be peacefully liberated. But a significant problem remained. The Dalai Lama and the top leaders of his government were still living in Yadong, on the Indian border, ready to flee into exile at a moment’s notice. Since they did not know the details of the discussions in Beijing or the exact terms of the agreement, there was a real possibility that they would flee when they learned, for example, that Chinese troops would be entering Tibet as part of the agreement. The Tibetan delegation, in fact, was so worried that the...

    • CHAPTER 14 With the PLA in Lhasa
      (pp. 164-172)

      The main force of the 18th Army arrived in Lhasa on October 26, 1951, under the command of Zhang Guohua. As Zhang was the senior commander of the PLA forces in Tibet, one of his first tasks was to pay a courtesy call on the Dalai Lama in Norbulingka Palace (Zhang Jingwu had already done so at Yadong). Tibetans placed great significance on such ceremonial events, so I wanted it to be done correctly. We needed to make sure that the Dalai Lama and his entourage felt we were showing him and the Tibetan government proper respect. I also knew...

    • CHAPTER 15 A Year of Problems
      (pp. 173-184)

      In 1952, we experienced serious conflict on two fronts—with Tibetans in Lhasa and within the Communist Party in Tibet. But we also made significant progress in beginning to create new, modern institutions in Tibet.

      At the beginning of 1952, we were suddenly confronted by organized opposition in the form of the so-called Tibetan People’s Party, a group that began hanging posters in the market saying the presence of so many Chinese troops was causing inflation and hardship for the people and that they should go back to China. The Tibet Work Committee thought that the brains behind this organization...

    • CHAPTER 16 An Interlude in Beijing
      (pp. 185-203)

      In 1953, my life took a sudden turn when I was sent to Beijing with a delegation of Tibetan religious leaders attending the inaugural meeting of the Buddhist Association of China. Fan Ming, as director of the Tibet United Front Work Department, was in charge of organizing the delegation, and suggested I accompany them because this was an important delegation and I was the leading Tibetan cadre. (Zhang Jingwu and Zhang Guohua thought that made sense, and so did I.) The delegation included important religious figures like Kundeling Dzasa, Dünjom Rimpoche, and abbots and lamas from all sects. This visit...

    • CHAPTER 17 Beginning Reforms
      (pp. 204-212)

      My year in the Central Party School in Beijing flew by. It was exciting for me, and I learned a great deal. Then, just before my graduation, Wang Feng called and told me that Vice Premier Chen Yi needed a Tibetan cadre to accompany him to Lhasa, where he was going to represent the central government at the inauguration of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. “We decided you should go as his special consultant,” he said. I was happy to go and, together with Zhang Jingwu and Wang Feng, became vice head of the delegation (which consisted...

  13. PART IV Incarceration

    • CHAPTER 18 Tension in Lhasa
      (pp. 215-225)

      In 1956, the Indian government invited the Dalai and Panchen Lamas to India to participate in the Buddhajayanti, the celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of the Buddha. The Tibet Work Committee did not think giving the Dalai Lama permission to leave the country was a good idea, but they were overridden by the central government, which instructed them to allow the lamas to decide for themselves whether they wanted to go. When they both chose to attend, the Tibet Work Committee discussed the possibility of my accompanying the Dalai Lama, but in the end it was decided...

    • CHAPTER 19 Labeled a Local Nationalist
      (pp. 226-235)

      I returned to Beijing in April 1958. When I asked Zhang Jingwu what they wanted me to do, he said the Central Committee was going to make a change in my work assignment, but Deng Xiaoping and Politburo member Peng Zhen were away from Beijing, so I would have to wait to hear. I had no sense that there was anything wrong. I actually thought they might want me to take on additional responsibilities in Tibet. I didn’t get suspicious until days went by with Zhang refusing to say anything at all about the change in my assignment. I started...

    • CHAPTER 20 To Prison
      (pp. 236-244)

      At the beginning of 1960, I was told to write a detailed history of my life from the time I was eight years old. I had written many shorter histories, but this one, they said, had to be detailed because it was going to be used in a formal political investigation. In our system, those were ominous words, and from the time I was told to begin writing, they sent people to watch me whenever I went out.

      I produced a document of more than twenty pages. It did not to go into great detail about the years before 1949...

    • CHAPTER 21 Solitary Confinement
      (pp. 245-256)

      The interrogations continued for the next two years. The questioners focused specifically on the activities of our Tibetan Communist Party, and during this time they tried to break my spirit in a number of ways. For example, because they knew I was worried about my children, they sometimes let a baby cry outside my cell window late at night. The sound was like a knife piercing my heart. Sometimes they sent a woman to my cell around seven or eight o’clock at night, her face nicely made up and heavily perfumed. I never knew when she was coming. When she...

    • CHAPTER 22 A Vow of Silence
      (pp. 257-268)

      One day in 1969, nine years after my arrest, I was taken to the interrogation room, where an official said, “For many years, you have been asking the reason for being kept in this prison. Today you will get your answer.”

      I had been in prison too long to trust them. All I could think was that it must be some kind of trick, another attempt to break me down. I wondered frantically what lies they were going to tell me now. What game were they playing? I was thinking so many things at once that I had to force...

  14. PART V After Prison

    • CHAPTER 23 Release from Prison
      (pp. 271-284)

      Nobody told me where we were going. After about an hour’s drive into the heart of the city, we pulled into the Beijing Rail Station, and I saw that my children were waiting for me.

      It was a difficult and confusing moment. I was numb. I don’t know how to explain it, but I seemed to have lost the ability to respond emotionally. I recognized my children, but I felt no joy. They cried when they met me, but I could not return their emotion. Because of the years of self-imposed silence, when I wanted to say something, the words...

    • CHAPTER 24 A New Struggle
      (pp. 285-293)

      Deng Xiaoping broke radically with the past by acknowledging that Mao was human and that some of his policies and decisions had been mistakes. However, the changes and new perspectives that Deng was implementing in the rest of China were slow to reach Tibet. No meetings were convened to state publicly that the Cultural Revolution in Tibet had been a mistake, and Ren Rong, the first party secretary, stubbornly followed the old policy commonly know as the “Two Whatevers.” (After Mao’s death, the new chairman of the CCP, Hua Guofeng, had stated, “We will uphold firmlywhateverpolicies Chairman Mao...

    • CHAPTER 25 Nationalities Policy
      (pp. 294-310)

      In late 1980, I decided to participate actively in the major discussions that were in progress regarding revising the national constitution. I had experienced firsthand how individual leaders could ignore or reverse policies with relative ease, so I wanted the government to add clauses to the constitution that clearly spelled out the rights of nationalities. If this was done properly, these rights would not just be policies, they would be thelaw, and they would stand regardless of subsequent changes in leadership or future political campaigns.

      This debate over the constitution was a natural venue for me because I was...

  15. EPILOGUE. A Comment by Phünwang
    (pp. 311-318)

    You asked many questions about my life, and I have tried to answer them. Now, at your request, I will make a few points to sum up.

    First, in the decade between 1939 and 1949, we struggled to achieve progress and development for the Tibetan nationality, social reforms in Tibet, the happiness of the Tibetan people, and the reunification and liberation of the entire Tibetan nationality. Although we did our best, under the prevailing historical conditions, we failed to make much progress.

    After the new China was founded in 1949, I continued to work unwaveringly for the progress and development...

  16. APPENDIX A. Original Charter of the Eastern Tibet People’s Autonomous Alliance
    (pp. 319-324)
  17. APPENDIX B. Summary of Talks with Tibetan Exile Delegations
    (pp. 325-338)
  18. APPENDIX C. Some Opinions on Amending the Constitution with Regard to Nationalities
    (pp. 339-350)
  19. Glossary of Correct Tibetan Spellings
    (pp. 351-358)
  20. Index
    (pp. 359-371)