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
Summary of the book
Bapa Phuntsok Wangye, born in Jan 1922 at Batang, he was deeply inspired by the situation at Kham and the heroic exploits of Kesang Tsering and his uncle, Lobsang Dhondup around that time. He went to Nanjing at the age of 14 to study. Formed first secret Tibetan Communist Party in 1939. Expelled from the school for communist activity in 1940. He contacted Soviet Embassy in Chongqing for possible help and training to start a socialist revolution in Kham (Xikang). He made effort to contact Chinese communist party also. Eventually in 1942 he returned to Kham to spread the communist activities to overthrow the Chinese warlord Liu Wenhui in Kham. Soon the Chiang Kaishek people suspected him and he fled to Tibet. Inspired by Yuthok, Governor-General of Chamdo, he went to Lhasa to initiate reform in Tibetan Kashag. In Lhasa he formed Tibetan Snowland Communist Revolutionary Association (ÇKP-¿YôP-zôh-¼ÛGÅ-GÝP-Fm-¼ÛP-¾ÞGÅ-GÅ¼-zXï-±ôGÅ-VßP.ü).
But from the cabinet ministers, except for Surkhang’s (32 at that time) initial interest he did not receive any positive response. Later he asked for Tibetan Government’s support for weapons and ammunitions to start guerrilla warfare in Kham. The plan was to establish a Tibetan rule in Batang, and then expand it to all Kham. Last part of the program was to merge the new Kham with Tibet proper, creating a single unified Tibet. But the Lhasa government contended that Japan would rule over China, so there is no fear from Chinese attack. No help was rendered then. In 1944, Phunwang with Ngawang Kesang left for Kalimpong to see if Indian Communist party could help them.
In 1945, he left for Chamdo to start armed revolution. He met Gombo Tsering of Dechen who had a similar idea of self-rule in Kham. They formed “Eastern Tibet People’s Autonomous Alliance”. However, before they could do any concrete revolutionary activities, Wang Wenjun and his men (GT’s rival though a close relative) assassinated Gombo Tsering. Pursued by Wang Wenjun’s men and Gomindang, Phunwang fled to Tibet in 1947. Working as a teacher he resumed his revolutionary work in Tibet with the progressive local aristocrats Shokhang, Janglojen, and Kapshopa Sey. Tredong sey was out of Lhasa at that time.
In 1949, it was becoming clear that Chinese Communist would triumph over the Nationalist, and the Lhasa government was very nervous about the prospect of atheist socialist ruling China. While Phunwang was planning to leave for Kham to join the socialist revolution, the Tibetan government expelled him for being a communist. He joined the Communist movement with a view that the best way to bring change to Kham and Tibet was by working with the Chinese Communist Party. In Batang, Liu Wenhui surrendered and Batang was liberated.
In 1950, he met Deng Xiaoping, Liu Bochen, and He Long, the highest-ranking officials in the Southwest Bureau and the leaders in charge of the coming liberation of Tibet. He was assigned with Zhang Guohua, the commander of the 18th Army to enter Tibet to discuss peaceful liberation of Tibet. Despite many efforts, when the Tibetan government instead of sending delegation was sending officials to India, the 18th Army crossed the Drichu River and invaded Chamdo. Ngabo, the then governor-general along with ten thousand troops were captured. Through Ngabo, they urged the Tibetan government to send delegation to Beijing to discuss peaceful liberation of Tibet. Thubden Lengmon, Sampo Sey, Commander in Chief Kheme and Lhautara joined Ngabo to Beijing. On 1951, May, 23, Seventeen-Point Agreement was signed.
The main force of the 18th Army arrived in Lhasa on October 26, 1951, under the command of Zhang Guohua. Later in December, another troops from Northwest Bureau under the command of Fan Ming arrived. So Lhasa had troops and officials from both the Northwest and Southwest Bureaus. The two Bureaus had lot of differences as to how liberation of Tibet was to be conducted. Fang Ming supported Panchen faction and showed Great Han Chauvinism attitude. Against the central government’s policy he tried to rush reforms in Tibet.
In 1953, Phunwang was sent to Beijing with a delegation of Tibetan religious leaders attending the inaugural meeting of the Buddhist Association of China. He was, however, kept in Beijing after the tour on Fan Ming’s insistence. In 1954, both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama were invited to participate in the National People’s Congress. Phunwang acted as an interpreter for Dalai Lama and Mao. In one incident, regarding Tibetan national flag, Mao said, “That is no problem. You may keep your national flag. In the future, we can also let Xinjiang have their own flag, and Inner Mongolia, too. Would it be okay to carry the national flag of the PRC in addition to that flag?” To which the Dalai Lama is said to have nodded his head, indicating "yes". This comment by Mao implied that in the future some nationalities, like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia, could get the same system as that of Soviet Union, while the other smaller ones would get autonomy. Liu Geping, a senior official in the State Nationalities Affairs Commission also had the same opinion.
In March 1956, Phunwang accompanied Vice Premier Chen Yi to Lhasa to represent the central government at the inauguration of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region. Phunwang observed that despite Chen Yi’s moderate comments and reassurances about reforms, and his expressions of respect and admiration for Tibetan culture, the atmosphere within the Tibet Work Committee was not good. During the summer of 1955, Chariman Mao moved to the left and was saying that China was lagging behind the reforms. Fang Ming took this to mean rush reforms in Tibet also.
Just when he was about to leave with Chen Yi for Beijing, he received a report that reforms in Kham had encountered some problems and that the Beijing want him to go to Kham to investigate the problem and report to Beijing. He found that reforms in Kham were done poorly and in a rush without any discussion with the upper-strata Tibetan. Zhang Xiaomong, the Han Chinese who headed the investigation group sent from Lhasa also confirmed this finding. Liu Geping was sent to Kham to correct the mistakes. Zhou Enlai sent Phunwang to Tibet to report the matter to Dalai Lama. Che Jigme was sent to do the same to Panchen Lama. Central government accepted the mistake in Kham but instructed that the reforms be improved and corrected. Harrowing experiences of reforms in Kham alerted Tibetan on the other side of Drichu, and Lhasa.
On December 5, 1956, Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama visited India to participate in the celebration of 2500th anniversary of the birth of the Buddha. They stayed for four months in India, during which Gyalo Dhondup and Taktser Rinpoche urged Dalai Lama to take refuge in India and that America will support Tibetan struggle. Zhou Enlai met Dalai Lama and Nehru in India. Nehru advised Dalai Lama to return. Ngobo, who was also with Dalai Lama’s entourage left before him and requested the central government to allow him to join Communist party. He further requested that in the event of PLA leaving Tibet, he and his family should also be taken with them. This seems to have alerted the central government.
Around 1958, anti rightist campaign started and local nationalism was opposed. Phunwang was called to Beijing and was accused of being harboring local nationalism. In 1960 he was formally arrested for counter revolutionary activities and was sent to Qingchen number one prison. He had hoped that one day Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai would find out that he was innocent and would be released. However, he languished in prison for eighteen years. In January 1976, Zhou Enlai died and Mao in September in the same year.
Deng Xiaoping assumed power in 1978. He changed the course of Chinese history, ushering in a new era o politics, society and economy. In April 1978, Phunwang was released. He sent an appeal to Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, and Chen Yi. In March 1979, Gyalo Thondup, elder brother of Dalai Lama visited him. Later Panchen Lama also visited him. In the fall of 1979, he was invited to meet the first Tibetan Delegation from India. He was later rehabilitated politically.
In May 1980, Deng Xiaoping recognized the problem in Tibetan and sent Hu Yaobang to end the repressive “two whatevers” (adopted by Hua Guofeng and followed by Ren Rong in Tibet) approach and begin a new, culturally sensitive policy in Tibet. Hu’s visit was historic and he admitted the mistakes done in Tibet and publicly announced a liberal six-point reform program on Tibet. Central Committee approved a new directive, known as “Document no. 31”. It stated the under the unified leadership of the central government, Tibet could exercise true democracy, including the right to make its own decisions. Principal of “few and outstanding” Hans in Tibet would be followed.
In June 1980, Phunwang was asked to replace Tian Bao as governor of Tibet. But he refused on the ground that he needed time to get prepared. In fact he was not sure if he could really work as he thought in Tibet. But as Vice Director of Nationalities Commission of NPC, he actively participated in debate and in revising national constitution on Nationalities policy. Although many appreciated his view many criticized him for local nationalism. He was asked to confront Li Weihan, the aging Marxist theoretician who, among other positions, had headed the Seventeen-Point Agreement negotiation in 1951. In Tibet, Yin Fatang, first party secretary of TAR and his men accused Phunwang as one of the three enemies of the party, other two being Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. In 1984, when Premier Zhao Ziyang came to know about the situation in Tibet, he said, “What is going on in Tibet is wrong, Economic development is the work priority for the nation-including Tibet. Phunwang and the Panchen Lama are both our people, and we are trying to win over the Dalai Lama. Therefore, it is wrong to make them objects of political attack.” Yin Fatang and Ragdi were asked to apologize to Phunwang.
In 1990, his work “New Exploration of Dialectics” was published. In 1994, his second book, “Water Exist in Liquid Form on the Moon” was published. In 1996, his third book, “Further Exploration of Natural Dialectics” came out.
Phunwang’s first wife was Tsilila. She died in prison in 1967. They had three sons and two daughters. His second wife is Tseden Yangdron, a Tibetan born in Lhasa.
I summarize this book hoping that it would inspire many young Tibetans to read this great book.