Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Book Review: A Tibetan Revolutionary
Book Review : A TIBETAN REVOLUTIONARY, (The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phuntso Wangye) by Melvyn C. Goldstein, Dawei Sherap, and William R. Siebenschuh
University of California Press, 2004
Reviewed by Tsewang Gyalpo Arya
A very inspiring and revealing accounts of a Tibetan, who in early 1940s foresaw an urgent need of reforms in Tibet and safeguarding it from the enemies within and without the border. Goldstein and his team greatly needs to be applauded for bringing alive this missing, untold and revealing historic account of life and the time of an unsung Tibetan revolutionary. The book clearly shows how Tibet have been betrayed and misruled by China since its occupation in 1950’s. It is a must read book for all the Tibetans, particularly the youngsters.
Bapa Phuntso Wangye was a true Tibetan communist revolutionary, who had wanted to bring reforms in Tibet and establish a true socialist state in Tibet. When he found that he could not bring the desired changes in Tibet, he joined Chinese Communist Party with a hope that CCP would usher a new era of socialism and prosperity in Tibet. His hope was based on his understanding of communist theory of equality of nationalities and languages. But his hope was betrayed when he found himself in incarceration for eighteen years, during which Tibet experienced unprecedented suffering and destruction under Chinese rule. Released in 1978, he was baffled to find that his dream of socialist Tibet governed by Tibetan has resulted in Chinese domination of Tibet. Despite many odds, he still continues to seek justice and genuine autonomy for Tibet.
Brought up in Batang, which was ruled by Chinese at that time, he was inspired deeply by the heroic exploits of Kesang Tsering, and his uncle Lobsang Dhondup, who rose against the Chinese overlords to establish a Tibetan rule in Kham. He tried to end Chinese influence in Kham and persuade Lhasa government to initiate reforms to get along with the modern world. When his effort failed, he joined Chinese Communist party to build a new socialist Tibet.
He studied Communist theory and Maxism-Leninism. He understood that the Soviet and Chinese Communist Parties advocated the equality of nationalities and repudiated the subordination of smaller nationalities to a larger, dominant one. And they advocated the right of all nationalities to real regional autonomy. So he and his comrades thought that being a part of the Chinese Communist Party would lead to the restructuring of Kham, and possibly the whole Tibetan area on both sides of the Drichu River, as an autonomous republic. Though this republic would be under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and under Chinese sovereignty, Tibetans would control it. (Page 125)
To this effect, he worked hard and cooperated with the CCP to initiate reforms in Tibet. He accompanied PLA to Lhasa. He served as main go-between between Tibetan and Chinese authorities. He extolled the glory of communism and objectives of CCP to the Tibetan elite. He sincerely believed that the under the leadership of Chinese Communist party, Tibetan could build a modern socialist state. Marxism and Leninism that he has read all speak of equality of all nationalities under communist state.
Chinese leadership has also exhibited similar attitude. It was initially a liberation and not invasion of Tibet. From the book it looks like Mao and the central government were very keen on engaging Tibetans and introducing reforms in Tibet peacefully. Mao’s instructions to the Chinese general visiting Tibet and Chen Yi’s understanding of Tibetan situation were very positive. Mao’s reference to Dalai Lama to keep Tibetan National flag and the nationalities policy shows that Tibet would enjoy great degree of autonomy and that Tibetans would rule Tibet. Dalai Lama had also believed this and cooperated fully with the Chinese government. But the things did not go as planned initially.
Reforms in Kham were done in a rushed manner without people’s cooperation. Massacre and atrocities in Kham cautioned the Tibetan in other part of Drichu River. Despite the central government’s order, army general like Fan Fing showed great Han chauvinism and looked down upon the local people and rushed reforms in Tibet. On top of this Mao’s anti-rightist campaign in 1958 and Cultural revolution in 1960 exacerbated the Chinese misdemeanors in Tibet and Tibetan realized that the Chinese has come not to help Tibet build a modern socialist state but to rule and oppress.
Despite his wholehearted cooperation with the CCP and its agenda, he was accused of counter revolutionary activities for harboring local nationalism and seeking independence for Tibet. He was imprisoned for 18 long years. It was only after the death of Mao, that Deng Xiaoping released him in 1979. He was appointed as vice-director of the Nationalities Commission of the National People’s Congress. He spoke openly for equality of all nationalities. He has suggested some crucial amendments in Chinese constitution to give Tibet its rightful place under the law of the land.
From Phunwang’s life, the authors have very well summarized Tibet issue as predominantly a clash between the political dominance of a majority nationality, the Han, and the political subordination of a minority nationality, the Tibetans. The PRC considers itself a multiethnic State in which all groups have equal rights and power. But Phunwang suggest that situation in Tibet really operates too much like a Han Chinese State. He was of the opinion that fundamental issue was developing a proper relationship between two nationalities and two cultures. Marxism-Leninism is totally opposed to one nationality oppressing others and believes there should be real equality between the nationalities. When such equality is absent, Marxism considers that the minority nationalities are justified in seeking separation. Therefore, the splitist activities of Tibetans are justified.
He urged the Chinese leadership to study the Marxist theory on this issue of equality of nationalities. He made his point that the ruling (oppressing) nationality typically emphasizes in its rhetoric the unity of all nationalities (minzu tuanjie), and vigorously opposes the struggles of minority nationalities against the state, labeling these pejoratively as “splittist” activities that seek to destroy the nation. However, from the Marxist standpoint, the struggle of minority nationalities against oppression by the majority nationality is correct and justified because there is no equality. In the absence of true equality, splittism is a valid response for minority nationalities in class-based societies. All should be equal, and there should be complete unity and cooperation among nationalities. Nationality unity, therefore, requires not suppression but new policies that provide real equality.
Lenin has said, “We require that there be sovereign equality between nationalities in a country” (The collected work of Lenin vol. 19). True national equality, therefore, means that the party/state should admit and respect the rights of the minorities to make decisions in the fields of politics, economy, culture, and so on. “Only this will solve the issue of separatist feelings and activities.” (p295)
“Those who do not agree with and support the equality of nationalities and languages and those who do not fight against nationality oppression and inequality are not Marxists or even socialists” (The collected work of Lenin, vol.20). And Stalin had said that the people of a certain nationality use their own language because using their own language is the only way for them to develop their own culture, politics, and economy” (The Collected Works of Stalin, vol II) (p296)
The quotes taken from the works of Lenin and Stalin by Phunwang clearly reveals that CCP has denied Tibet of its right of equality of nationalities and language. So Tibetans have every right to fight against nationality oppression and inequality in Tibet.
If PRC sincerely consider Tibet as a part of great Motherland and is genuine about the interest of Tibetan people, it should stop its oppressive rule in Tibet and let Tibetan build its own socialist state. As stated by Hu Yaobang, (General Secretary of CCP in 1980s) that under the unified leadership of the central government, Tibet should have freedom to exercise true democracy, including the right to make its own decisions. Principal of “few and outstanding Hans” advocated at that time needs to be followed. Chinese leadership needs to look back and see if the liberal six-point reform program suggested by Hu Yaobang has been implemented in Tibet or not. As long as the Chinese Hans and PLA continue to rule Tibet, Tibetan will continue to seek separation. If PRC want Tibet to join the great motherland, it should give Tibet to Tibetans. It should stop Han domination and Chinese population transfer to Tibet, because this is against the interest of minority and against the principle of Marx and Lenin.
Thus His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s calls for genuine autonomy for Tibet is within the framework of Chinese constitution. And Tibetans are justified to seek separation if this genuine autonomy is denied to them. Chinese leadership should therefore, admit the wrongs it had done and be bold enough to address the Tibetan issue sincerely and seriously.
Young Tibetans must read this book to gain a different perspective of our struggle. The book also clearly tells us that it is not the communism that razed Tibet but the Chinese leaders who misinterpreted the ideology to invade Tibet. For what the Chinese leadership had done and is doing in Tibet is against the principle of Marx and Lenin, and against the Chinese constitution.