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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

BLACK ANNALS: Goldstein & The Negation Of Tibetan History (Part II)

July 29, 2008

Jmayang Norbu
Shadow of Tibet
July  28, 2008


In Marxist inspired narratives of feudal (or capitalist) states
collapsing of their inherent contradictions, there should fittingly
be a role for a revolutionary movement and perhaps even a
revolutionary hero. Goldstein provides us a detailed thirteen-page
account of the "Tibet Improvement Party," which wanted to bring about
a "revolutionary restructuring of the Tibetan government and
society." Goldstein lays out a great deal of information and material
about this tiny organization, including a photograph of its three
members, a full page reproduction of the Party emblem, a full page
reproduction of the party's membership card, and a partial
reproduction of the party's application form. The last was probably
presented in reduced size to obscure the fact that half the text is in Chinese.

The "Tibet Improvement Party," was a Chinese government financed
organization. The Tibetan name, nub bhod lekchoe kyidug or West Tibet
Improvement Association, provides a clue as to the original language
in which the name was composed, since the prefix "west" ( nub in
Tibetan or xi in Chinese) to describe Tibet is only used in the
Chinese word for Tibet, Xizang. The founder and leader of the
organization Rabga Pangdatsang was a Guomindang officer. Rabga's
house in Kalimpong, Reli View, has a photograph of him in Nationalist
army uniform, alongside other Guomindang officers.[1] A recently
published study by a Taiwan scholar, using declassified Nationalist
government files, clearly indicates the role of Rabga's organization
in Guomindang efforts to spy on Tibet and to subvert the Tibetan
government. Hsiao-Ting Lin writes: "In an instruction to his military
staff, Chiang Kai-shek finally ordered a monthly stipend of 100,000
yuan to be paid to Rabga … Chiang also instructed his secret service
agents in Tibet, Xikang (Kham) and India to work closely with
Rabga,who carried an official Chinese passport."[2]

But the West Tibet Improvement Society was pathetically ineffective
in carrying out its revolutionary and conspiratorial agenda.
Goldstein tells us that it printed thousand of membership forms and
membership cards with insignium "that bore striking similarities to
the Soviet Russian emblem." But its membership apparently did not
expand beyond its initial three members. At the conclusion of his
lengthy account of the Party, Goldstein himself admits that "such a
small group might seem unimportant -- but speculates, somewhat
wistfully, that if it had allied itself with the "Reting forces" it
might have posed " … a real threat to the Lhasa government." This
organization is remembered by a few Tibetans today, only because the
great scholar, Gedun Chophel, suffered incarceration in Lhasa due to
his unfortunate association with it. When returning to Tibet from
Kalimpong, he accepted some letters from Rabga, to be delivered to
certain people in Lhasa suspected by Tibetan authorities of
Guomindang connections. The British CID discovered this and Lhasa was
informed, leading to Gedun Chophel's arrest.


Goldstein is on more solid ground with the revolutionary hero of his
history, the official, Lungshar Dorje Tsegyal, who undoubtedly played
a major, though many older Tibetans would deem pernicious, role, in
modern Tibetan politics. Goldstein claims Lungshar as "one of Tibet's
most progressive lay officials" who realized that "all political
systems must adapt to a changing world." At the conclusion of his
history Goldstein notes that a critical turning point in Tibetan
history "occurred four months after Reting's appointment as regent
when a lay official, Lungshar, attempted to reform the structure of
the government."

The myth of Lungshar as a progressive revolutionary hero has been
around long before Goldstein's book. Dawa Norbu, in his Red Star Over
Tibet, states that "Tsepon Lungshar, the finance minister, led the
'Young Tibet Group' -- a liberal democratic party. Lungshar, who had
visited India and some European countries, including England,
outlined some reform programmes with four of five of his colleagues
in Lhasa. But this was leaked, and he was charged with treason; so
his efforts to democraticize Tibet fizzled out."[3] Dawa Norbu
probably received this glowing but implausible account of Lungshar
from Lungshar's own son, Jangju la, who was teaching Tibetan language
at Dr. Graham's Homes in Kalimpong where Dawa Norbu studied.

The present Dalai Lama, who likes to describe himself as "half
Buddhist, half Marxist," also appears to have bought into the myth of
Lungshar as reformer and revolutionary. In a recently released (and
somewhat namby-pamby) history of Tibet by Thomas Laird, the Dalai
Lama is quoted as saying "Actually the Thirteenth Dalai Lama fully
trusted Lungshar" and -- (his) main aim was that the Tibetan
government should be led by officials and not by lamas. Lungshar said
that lamas have no experience in administration and so forth."[4]

In the exile Tibetan world of the sixties and seventies there was a
yearning, especially among students studying in elite Indian
universities with fashionably left leanings, for some kind of leftist
revolutionary role model in Tibetan history. Since nothing like that
had existed in old Tibet, Lungshar was inducted, probably since he
appeared to possess some anti-colonial and anti-imperialist bona
fides. These were established, as it were, by the fact that official
British reports about him were unfavorable, even hostile, and also by
the fact that the Tibetan cabinet had charged him with "plotting to
overthrow the government and replace it with a Bolshevik system."

Actually, if one reviews just the raw data that Goldstein lays out
about Lungshar, and disregards his interpretation, it becomes
immediately clear that far from being a progressive or a reformist,
Lungshar was the most effective player on the ultra-conservative and
reactionary side of Tibetan politics. He was, as Goldstein's own
information clearly points out, the chief factor in undermining the
modern Tibetan military, the reforms of the 13th Dalai Lama, and by
logical extension the defense of the nation against the Chinese invasion.

Goldstein tells us that at the outset of the modernization period,
Tibetan politics was divided into two camps: the new military under
the commander-in-chief, Tsarong which was "committed to
modernization" and the "ultra-conservative" monastic segment allied
with reactionary officials, led by the monk official Tempa Dhargay,
who was also the Dalai Lama's chamberlain (dronyerchemo).

Goldstein clearly states that Lungshar had "tactically allied"
himself with the ultra-conservative group. The leader of the
conservative group, Tempa Dhargay, was known to his monk colleagues
by the complementary nickname, Ara Karpo or "white beard." The
military officers and lay officials who despised him called him
dronyerchemo Apso -- after the shaggy Tibetan terrier. Surprisingly
Goldstein makes no mention of the pejorative "Apso" and writes as if
he were only known as "white beard." While this may not be evidence
of Goldstein's sympathy for the ultra-conservatives, it does point to
where most of his information might have come from.

Lungshar's first opportunity to weaken the powerful new military
power bloc and set back the modernization drive came in 1920 when he
cunningly instigated a political crisis that weakened the new army.
The standard account of this incident has been that arrogant military
officers forced their way into a meeting of the National Assembly.
This has unfortunately created a lasting impression that something
like an attempted military coup took place -- on the lines of the
seizure of the Cortes, the Spanish Parliament, in 1981 by members of
the Guardia Civil. Shakabpa mentions, quite mistakenly, that Tsarong
personally led this group of officers to the National Assembly. More
recent studies, including Goldstein's, reveal that that nothing of
the sort happened, and that the officer's conduct, though perhaps ill
advised, was in fact harmless -- perhaps even legitimate. It was
blown out of all proportions by the conservatives, instigated by Lungshar.

In early March of 1920, the National Assembly was discussing the
funding of the army. According to Goldstein "the anti-military clique
arranged to exclude all military officers as delegates". Unlike an
elected modern parliament, the old Tibetan National Assembly required
the attendance not only of government officials, abbots and
representatives of the "Three Seats", representatives of various
classes and craft guilds, "but also representatives of the
military"[5]. Excluding military delegates was an unusual action.

According to a biography of Tsarong by his son, some officers went to
the Assembly building and asked to meet the Assembly secretary to
enquire why they had been excluded. They requested a meeting outside
the chambers since according to -- government protocol, it would have
been highly inappropriate to approach the Assembly directly;
therefore they requested to talk to a representative."[6] Lungshar,
standing in for the Assembly secretary that day, met them outside.
Goldstein also makes it clear that the officers told Lungshar "that
they had not come to demand to be admitted but only to inquire why
military officers had been excluded."

What Lungshar reported to the National Assembly is not clear. But it
definitely appears that his report alarmed the Assembly delegates and
put the body in a state of panic. Shakabpa and some others who have
written about this are clear that Lungshar instigated this uproar.
Goldstein tells us that "Rumors spread that this might be the prelude
to a coup or that the army might take action against specific
opponents" Escalation of the incident occurred a few days later, when
the leaders of the National Assembly informed Lonchen Sholkang (the
prime minister) that they had suspended their meetings because they
feared the military would try to kill them. This very serious charge
by the anti-military forces cleverly forced the government to act."
This was the first in a number of incidents that weakened the
military and its commander-in-chief, Tsarong, and elevated Lungshar's
political power. Behind all these Lungshar's hand is clearly visible,
but the military officers and Tsarong must share some blame for not
treading the sensitive grounds of Tibetan politics more carefully.


Nonetheless, whatever their limitations, it must be acknowledged that
the officers of Tibet's new army were the principal agents of
modernization in Tibet at the time. Modernization is not necessarily
an outcome of socialist or democratic change. In the case of
Ataturk's Turkey and Meiji Japan, there was a clear military impetus
in the progressive reforms enacted in those nations. Tibet's
modernization should be discussed in the context of its time, and not
from a present day liberal left viewpoint, which might consider the
friendly relationship of the Tibetan officer class with the British
(imperialists) to be ideologically incorrect. There appears to be a
standing rule in much of "progressive" writing -- propagandistic or
otherwise -- that nothing can be declared good, or modern, or
democratic until it has the imprimatur of the left.

Old photographs of these Tibetan officers in European military
uniforms striking martial poses (which might appear slightly
ridiculous to contemporary viewers) have in some instances led to
their accomplishments being belittled and overlooked. But one only
has to look through photographs of Meiji officers, early Republican
Chinese military officers and even the plump but dashing Enver Pasha,
leader of the Young Turks, to realize that such uniforms and
posturing were the fashion of the day in such circles.

The Tibetan military men of that period seemed to have possessed a
capacity not just for fighting, but for intelligence gathering,
communications, civil administration and even diplomatic subtlety,
which comes through nicely in this account of a minor incident in
1913. The British spy and explorer F.M. Bailey secretly entered
southern Tibet to map the vast tracts of unexplored mountainous
jungles where the Tsangpo finally turns south towards India. The area
is not only impossibly rugged and hostile but inhabited by savages
and headhunters. So Bailey and his companion were surprised to
receive a missive from Tibetan military headquarters in Eastern Tibet:

"The next morning, just as we were starting, a letter came for us
from the Kalon Lama, Commander-in-Chief of the Tibetan Army. It was
written from Pembar Gompa in Kham and had been sent to Showa. There
it had been put in a fresh envelope, sealed and sent to Tsela, where
it was sealed up in another cover and dispatched to us. The total
effect was very impressive. It was to ask us who we were and what we
were doing; and to make sure that we couldn't say that we were unable
to read it, an English translation was attached."[7]

At a time when even with spy satellites, GPS systems, predator drones
and what not, intelligence failure is not uncommon, such low tech,
unassuming but real capability might be regarded as fairly remarkable.


Lungshar finally managed to get Tsarong removed as commander-in-chief
by playing on the ambitions of Drumba, the Dalai Lama's young nephew,
who was second-in-command. Lungshar encouraged him to complain to the
Dalai Lama about Tsarong and to accuse him of plotting to "overthrow
the Government." When Drumba became commander-in-chief, Lungshar,
according to Shakabpa, was "appointed Defense Secretary". Rinchen
Dolma Taring mentions "It was rumoured that Lungshar had schemed to
have such a weak person made Commander-in-Chief." Of course Mrs.
Taring is not unbiased in the matter, but this conjecture about
Drumpa's rise was fairly widespread in Lhasa society then. Drumpa was
a lazy inefficient official and the Dalai Lama later dismissed him
from government service and Lungshar took full control of the
military. According to K. Dhondup "As commander-in-chief and Finance
Minister, Lungshar had reached the zenith of his power."

Lungshar's arrogance and recklessness almost brought Tibet to the
brink of war with Nepal in 1929, over the minor case of "Sherpa"
Gyalpo, who, in contravention of Tibetan law had been selling tobacco
in Lhasa. Gyalpo, claiming Nepalese nationality sought asylum at the
Nepalese Legation in Lhasa, but Lungshar, rashly disregarding
diplomatic nicety and Nepal's legitimate treaty rights (of 1856),
decided to use force to settle the matter. A Nepalese historian
claims that "90 Tibetan military officials stormed in the legation
while 1300 troops surrounded its compound."[8] An outraged Nepal
prepared for war and only after significant British intervention was
a real conflict narrowly averted. This diplomatic debacle and
Lungshar's own haughty and abrasive behavior with other officials
gradually eroded his power base and contributed to his dismissal as

Kunphel la, the chief attendant of the Dalai Lama now began to emerge
as a major political force. Kunphel la had created the Drongdak Magar
(or regiment of better families) recruited from the lesser nobility
and well-to-do peasants.

Jigme Taring, the junior commander, was very proud of his regiment
and told me that the that the inspiration for it had come from the
British tradition of "gentleman's regiments," and it was hoped that
it might possibly become a future selection ground for a professional
officer corps. Initially there was much resistance from the recruits,
who were not amenable to military discipline and wanted to go home.
But Goldstein makes overmuch of the stories of recruits bewailing the
cutting of their long hair. Conscript soldiers the world over
probably respond in the same way to such regimentation. Stanley
Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket amply demonstrates the similar reaction
of young American marine draftees to having their hippie locks shorn,
before being shipped off to Vietnam.

Kunphel la lavished special treatment on the soldiers and with new
weapons and equipment, smart uniforms and rigorous training and
drill, the regiment slowly developed into an effective force -- with
perhaps even a kind of espirit de corps of its own. F. W. Williamson,
the British political officer, inspected the regiment in 1933 and was
impressed. "Outside the regular units of the British and Indian
armies, I have never seen such smartness and precision," he wrote in
a report to the government of India. Goldstein also refers to it as
the "crack Trongdra Regiment."

But then the death of the Great Thirteenth provided the opportunity
for Lungshar to remove Kunphel la from power. Goldstein tells us that
Lungshar managed to infiltrate an agent into the Drongdrak regiment,
who gradually convinced the soldiers to mutiny and desert. When that
happened Kunphel la was left dangerously exposed. Goldstein tell us
that Lungshar's "plan to eliminate Kunphel la was ingeniously simple."

Kunphel la was summoned before the National Assembly where Lungshar's
conservative allies accused him of murdering the Dalai Lama and
called for drastic punishment. But wiser council, from such upright
officials as Lukhangwa, finally won through. Kunphel la was charged
with not informing the government promptly about His Holiness's
illness and exiled to Dhakpo.

Lungshar's next step was to eliminate the power of the Kashag, and
make himself supreme. He began to recruit discontented officials,
largely monk officials, into a secret organisation called the Kyechog
Kuntun (Happy Union). Goldstein inexplicably and repeatedly refers to
this as Lungshar's "Reform Party" or "Reform Movement — perhaps
because the original Tibetan name does not have a progressive or
revolutionary ring to it. It is clear that Lungshar and this group
were aiming to displace the Kashag and take power through some kind
of coup. The accepted account has been that the senior Kashag
minister, Trimon, was to have been murdered, but according to
Goldstein the takeover would have been achieved not by assassination
but by the submission of a petition to the Kashag calling for reform
— which sounds highly improbable. To provide some kind of historical
validation for Lungshar's takeover bid, Goldstein cites a couple of
historical precedents. In what might be construed as a Freudian slip,
one of the precedents that Goldstein mentions is a violent coup
d'état that took place in the early eighteenth century where the
senior kashag minister (Khangchennas) was murdered in cold blood.

But Lungshar was betrayed by a member of his own organization. He
attempted to escape and get hold of a pistol, but was disarmed and
arrested. Goldstein mentions that a piece of paper was discovered in
Lungshar's boot containing a black magic spell to harm the minister
Trimon. At the end of his chapter on this incident, Goldstein writes
that "Lungshar's movement was the last attempt to reform and
revitalize the traditional political system…(and) his downfall must
be seen as a main factor underlying the demise of the Lamaist State."


Goldstein bases the above assessment on his belief that Lungshar's
plan was to bring about radical political reforms in the government.
Goldstein writes that Lungshar intended to have cabinet members
limited to four-year terms, and also be selected by and responsible
to the National Assembly. He derives this, and Lungshar's reputation
as a modernist and reformist largely from interviews with Lungshar's
two surviving sons, Lhalu Tsewang Dorjee, and Lungshar Jangju la. As
I mentioned earlier the description of Lungshar as a "liberal
democrat" in Dawa Norbu's book, could have been inspired by Jangju
la's idealized stories of his father. Goldstein also quotes from
Lhalu's written account[9] published in "Research Materials for
Tibetan History and Culture"[10]. These were compilations of
interviews and memoirs of Tibetan aristocrats, lamas and others made
in the 1980s for official use and intended for neibu or "restricted"
circulation. Although serving an ancillary academic purpose, they are
not entirely unrelated to "confession" (zhaogong) and "denunciation"
(qianze) writing, from an earlier period.

None of the people interviewed for the "Research Materials" appear to
have had any choice in the matter, and it is possible that parts of
these statements could be used against the interviewee in a different
political climate -- if the authorities so required. We should
perhaps also remember that "confession writing" is still a standard
requirement in the present day Chinese legal system. Goldstein is
convinced by the "impressive frankness" of the interviews and appears
to have no reservations about accepting the materials in their entirety.

It would be mean-spirited to challenge the memories of Lungshar's two
sons, whose filial efforts to rehabilitate their father's memory is
understandable. But it is important for a historian to treat such
sources with wariness. K. Dhondup considers Lhalu's and other
accounts from Tibet as valuable but he is careful to add that "…the
readers must be cautious. These writings are by people who have their
own axes to grind and have been published under the supervision of
the foreign power now ruling Tibet." It might be mentioned here that
K. Dhondup, though a founder of the Tibetan Communist Party (in
exile) and initially a subscriber to the myth of Lungshar as a
revolutionary reformer, began to revise his views when he started
researching his history of this period. In The Water-Bird and other
Years, Dhondup describes Lungshar as "sinister … wildly ambitious …
self-seeking", and also as "a diabolical genius" and "a
pseudo-revolutionary. Dhondup concludes that Lungshar was a brilliant
and intelligent individual "whose lust for power was disguised in
numerous cloaks often more reactionary than progressive."

If we study another account (in the "Research Materials") on the
Lungshar coup written by a member of the "Happy Union" organisation,
the official Lhautara, there is no mention of any political reforms
such as term limits for the kashag, that were ever discussed in the
meetings and discussions in which he participated. In fact Lhautara
clearly states that Lungshar "formed a secret party to capture
political power."[11]

Even if we were to accept Goldstein's analysis, Lungshar's plan to
limit the power of the Kashag by increasing that of the National
Assembly, should not be construed as a sort of "democratic"
restructuring. The National Assembly was not in the modern sense a
legislature. Both the kashag and the Assembly were centres of
political power, the former being more dominated by the lay
aristocracy, the latter by monastic representatives. And clearly the
empowering of the largely monk National Assembly was not Lungshar's
end goal which was, as Goldstein admits, to put himself in the
position of supreme power.

Earlier, Goldstein describes how Lungshar's "brilliant scheme" was to
first side with the monastic conservatives to destroy the military
bloc and the modernists, and then (presumably after destroying his
erstwhile conservative allies) bring about reforms. This sort of
double and triple crossing is, of course, the accepted way for a
Hitler, a Stalin or a Mao to seize power, but is definitely not a way
to establish democratic institutions. It must be stressed that
Lungshar's constant ally throughout his career was the
ultra-conservative monastic power bloc. In fact, as Goldstein himself
writes, the membership of Lungshar's "Reform Movement overwhelmingly
consisted of monk officials." Clearly these people were in the
movement not to bring about reforms but to challenge the power of lay
officials, weaken the military and halt modernization. Goldstein is
unable to satisfactorily explain this strange inconsistency in his
somewhat hagiographic account of Lungshar.

It might be mentioned that something like the Lungshar conspiracy
took place in Dharamshala in the early sixties when the Dalai Lama's
older brother Gyalo Thondup created a political organization, The
Three Provinces United Association (cholsum chigdril tsokpa), largely
from the ranks of junior monk officials (tsedrung). One of its
primary goals was to undermine the kashag whose senior minister was
an old aristocrat, Surkhang Wangchen Gelek, Goldstein's uncle-in-law.
It is interesting to note that the same rhetoric of nationalism and
reform was used by Gyalo Thondup to get rid of political opponents
and to seize power. But I am sure Goldstein will agree with me that
Gyalo Thondup cannot be described as a democratic reformer.

It might also prove worthwhile to investigate Lungshar's allegedly
progressive résumé. Lungshar was sent to Britain in 1920 as the
guardian of the four Tibetan boys the Dalai Lama sent to Rugby as an
experiment in Western education. Lungshar visited some European
countries but his attempts to establish contacts with other
foreigners "met with little success". Goldstein also tells us that
Lungshar suddenly returned to Tibet as his wife had become pregnant
and he believed that if the child were born in England it would have
blue eyes and blond hair. Tibetans have a rich fund of amusing
stories of the misconceptions and faux pas of their "innocents
abroad", but this is the only instance I know of any Tibetan behaving
in such a ridiculously superstitious and bizarre manner.

We know that Lungshar was given to supernatural beliefs and occult
practises. Goldstein tells us that he was "widely considered to be an
expert in mirror divination (thrabab) and black magic (dey)." Rinchen
Dolma Taring tell us (repeated by Luciano Petech[12]) that the death
of Shatra Paljor Sowang in 1928, just before his appointment as a
kashag minister, was popularly attributed to magic by Lungshar. Then,
of course we have Lungshar's own attempt to murder the minister
Trimon by black magic, which Goldstein mentions. Even in a society as
religious (and perhaps credulous) as the Tibetan, Lungshar's
obsession with magic was exceptional. In sharp contrast, many of the
young military officers and modernists at the time regarded
themselves as rationalists (even if they were so only in a
superficial sense). Tsarong was considered by many to be an atheist,
and Rinchen Dolma Taring attempts to defend him on this charge in her
autobiography, Daughter of Tibet.

Lungshar did not take up any novel pastime such as photography, or
listening to the radio or the gramophone that other Tibetans did at
the time. He also did not follow the example of progressive
aristocrats who enrolled their children at the English school in
Gyangtse, which was strongly opposed by the monastic conservatives.
Lungshar also did not send his children to India for a modern
education as other aristocrats and even merchants did, after the
Gyangtse school was shut down.

We know that officials and individuals undertook various projects
that contributed to the modernizing of Tibet. For instance Tsarong
undertook to build the first steel bridge at Trisam, Ringang
undertook to electrify Lhasa city, and Kunphela started a factory at
Drapchi and set up a modern plumbing system to pipe clean water to
the Jokhang kitchen to make tea for monks during the Monlam festival.
Lungshar does not appear to have done anything of the kind.

Goldstein makes much of Lungshar's knowledge of democracy and
"western history", but other than his son's claims we have no
evidence for this. There is no book, pamphlet or even a casual
reference in a letter by Lungshar, to any such thing. At that time
some forward thinking Tibetans as Gedun Chophel and Gergan Tharchin
were writing on such matters. Even a hundred years earlier curious
Tibetan scholars had attempted to write about the outside world in
such books as the "Mirror of the World Geography" (zamling gyalshay melong).

When we factor in Lungshar's characteristic arrogance (noted by
Goldstein) and his obsessive jealousy of others in power which, even
his own mistress, Lady Lhalu had remarked on,[13] it is difficult not
to conclude that Lungshar's ambition to attain supreme political
power was for egotistical reasons, and had little or nothing to do
with reforming or modernizing Tibet. Goldstein's efforts to represent
Lungshar as a democrat, a revolutionary, and the one hope that Tibet
had of reforming itself and halting the Communist invasion is
entirely without foundation. On the contrary, Lungshar's effective
undermining of the modern army, the disbanding of the "crack"
Drongdak regiment, and ensuring of the success of the
ultra-conservative forces, contributed overwhelmingly to the success
of Communist China's military invasion in 1950.

Lastly, perhaps more than any one single factor, it was Lungshar's
central role in forcing the Panchen Lama to flee to China that
ensured the "demise of the Lamaist state". In 1920, Lungshar was
entrusted with raising taxes on aristocratic estates and also the
great monasteries including Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen
Lamas. Tashilhunpo had an obligation to pay about one fourth of the
Tibetan government's military expenses but it protested the
assessment. Some kind of compromise might eventually have been
arrived at, but Goldstein tells us that Lungshar "convinced the Dalai
Lama that the real motive behind the Panchen Lama's refusal was his
ambivalence about the supreme authority of the Dalai Lama". Not
surprisingly, the situation quickly deteriorated to a point where
finally, in 1923, a fearful Panchen Lama fled to China. To make
matters worse Lungshar dispatched a military force that was unable to
capture the Lama. As an official reaction this was excessive and
threatening enough to convince the Panchen never to return to Tibet,
at least without a Chinese military escort.

The 6th Panchen Lama, a saintly though naif figure, was effectively
used by the Nationalist government to weaken Tibetan efforts to
demonstrate their independence. According to an American scholar,
Warren Smith, the Chinese used the Panchen as "…evidence that Tibet
was not a unitary state but merely an assortment of feudal
dependencies of China." Smith adds that "the Panchen's flight
hampered the Dalai Lama's attempt to create Tibetan political unity
and to centralize Tibetan administration."[14] Not only was the
Panchen's flight regarded as a grave ill omen but animosity arose
against the government, the army and modernization, and "strengthened
the hand of the conservatives."

When the Communists invaded Tibet, their custody of the new
incarnation of the Panchen Lama immensely eased their passage through
Amdo and Kham into central Tibet, and in fact provided an appearance
of legitimacy to their invasion. If one had to calculate the
long-term damage to Tibetan nationalist interests, Chinese control of
the Panchen Lama was probably more harmful than even the Reting
affair whose negative effects diminished over time. Goldstein tell us
"the enmity between the government and the supporters of Reting
Rimpoche remained until the 14th Dalai Lama took over the reins of
government in the late 1950 and began a new chapter in Tibetan
history." But there is no new chapter on the Panchen impasse, which
not only seriously weakens the Tibetan issue at present, but bodes
ominously for the future when the Chinese will no doubt use the
Panchen in their bid to select the next Dalai Lama. For all this we
can thank Lungshar and his reactionary ally the dronyechenmo "Apso",
who as Tashilhunpo officials believe to this day, poisoned the Dalai
Lama's mind against the Panchen Lama.

Why then does Goldstein, in clear conflict with the significant body
of evidence that he himself has put together, attempt to establish
Lungshar as the revolutionary martyr of his history? We can perhaps
gain an understanding of his motives if we look at two biographies of
Tibetan Communists he has co-authored and promoted recently.

The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering is
about a minor official of the Tibetan government who escaped to India
in 1959, and who in 1960 managed to travel to the United States to
study. In the States, Tashi is convinced that Tibet can only become
modernized under the Communist Party of China, and "returns" (via
Cuba) to China. This Marxist style parable of "the return of the
prodigal son" is not the only thing, ideologically speaking, going
for Tashi in this book. As a dancing boy in Lhasa he is abused by an
aristocratic lama, which aptly serves to highlight the class argument
about the need for socialist reform in Tibet. Tashi Tsering's naïve
idealism, a joint product of his own experience with Communism in
Tibet and 1960s western admiration for Mao and Communist China (he
was friends with Goldstein in Seattle in the early 60s) is rewarded
by a long and brutal prison term in China and then exile from Tibet
till the 1980s. The overwhelming impression one receives after
reading Tashi Tsering biography is of extreme naïveté. One also
cannot help but conclude that Goldstein's choice of Tashi as a
subject for a book reveals Goldstein's own naïve unrealism and
ideological leanings.

The other book, A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times
of Bapa Phüntso Wangye, is the story of a Tibetan Communist who
provided invaluable help to the Chinese invasion force in 1950, by
organizing transport and supplies through Eastern Tibet, and who
later became the Dalai Lama's teacher on Marxism Leninism. I have
reviewed this book at length in another essay so I will not go into
it in depth again. For his services to China and the Communist Party,
Phüntso Wangye was rewarded with two decades of solitary confinement
at the end of which he had literally forgotten how to speak. His wife
committed suicide after being "struggled" by her comrades and their
children were left to fend for themselves like strays. In the
biography it is made clear that in spite of his trials Phüntso Wangye
has not, to this day, given up his faith in Mao Tsetung and Chou
Enlai. He has also not lost belief in the Marxist policy on
nationality autonomy, even when Stalin himself said that the policy
was only intended to induce minority nationalities to join socialist
states, and even when Tibet is now more directly controlled and
oppressed by Beijing than any other place in China. It is difficult
to conclude whether Phüntso Wangye's brand of naïveté is merely
pathological or, as it appears in some instances in the book more a
product of willful and blind arrogance. Some years ago he authored a
weighty tome (published officially in Beijing and distributed in the
USA by ICT) in which he claims to have discovered indisputable proof,
entirely through the methodology of Marxist dialectics, that there is
liquid water on the moon. Goldstein though, regards Phüntso Wangye as
a kindred spirit. Throughout the book he refers to him by his pet
name, Phunwang.

Goldstein clearly views these two men as admirable and the tone of
both the books are adulatory if not hagiographic. The outstanding
feature of these two Tibetans, and probably the reason why Goldstein
worked to get their stories published in the West in the first place,
is that they served the cause of Communist China's occupation of
Tibet. In Phüntso's case the service was willful and of incalculable
benefit to Communist China. Tashi Tsering provided little more than a
small propaganda service, but it was, in his pathetic self-deluding
way, patently sincere.

Lungshar did not set out to help China conquer Tibet, but by working
with the ultra-conservative power bloc to destroy Tibet's modern
military, he, more than anyone else did exactly that. I think it is
that contribution to Communist China's triumph that is Goldstein's
unstated but causal reason why Lungshar is the leading character in
his history. Goldstein does not, perhaps, expressly approve of
China's takeover of Tibet, in the sense of a powerful nation invading
a smaller one, but does so on more ideological grounds, in the way of
it being a victory for the cause of international socialism.

Lungshar was not a Communist, but he was the only Tibetan ever
charged by the Tibetan government with being a Bolshevik, and
punished for it. This and the terrible punishment he suffered for his
crimes is perhaps what has made him a martyr in the eyes of many in
the Tibetan left. Even in more international circles Lungshar's role
as a Communist martyr surfaces now and again. For instance on the
website, a Maoist chat site that bills itself
as the world's largest radical left forum, I was surprised to find
this exchange on Lungshar which I reproduce unedited:

"Uppity serfs could be punished by their masters - the nobles and
monasteries. One government official by the name of Lungshar, a mild
reformer, was accused of trying to lead a Communist revolution in the
1930s IIRC…his eyes were crushed by tightening a knotted rope around
his head. He later died in prison.

Spartafc: Thank heavens for Mao, thank heavens for the continued
Tibetan occupation."


Pieter Geyl, the Dutch historian, in his famous work, Napoleon For
and Against, provides an intriguing demonstration of how historians
are influenced by the present even when they are writing about the
past. Geyl shows how the successive judgments of French
nineteenth-century historians on Napoleon reflected the changing and
conflicting patterns of French political life and thought throughout
that century. "The thought of historians, as of other human beings,
is moulded by the environment of the time and place."

I think the "present" that influenced Goldstein in his formulation of
Tibetan history might be viewed in two phases. One is definitely the
period of Mao and the Cultural Revolution when Goldstein was
beginning his work in Tibetan Studies. At a time when Tibetan
language and culture was, to all purposes being eradicated in Tibet,
Goldstein, in an introduction to a language book he published in
1973, declared, "Recent political events in Tibet have triggered a
veritable revolution in the Tibetan language." By "recent political
events" Professor Goldstein probably meant the Cultural Revolution —
which started in 1966 and officially ended in 1976.

The next phase is the post-liberalization period initiated by Deng
Xiaoping, when Goldstein was allowed to enter Tibet to conduct his
various researches, and even conclude mutually beneficial agreements
with the Communist authorities. In fact Goldstein was so impressed by
the brave new Capitalist/Communist China that in a major policy
report on the Tibetan question he advocated his final solution to the
Tibetan question, whereby the Chinese would retain political,
military and economic control over Tibet, but would allow Tibetansto
exist within "cultural reservations". [15]

Goldstein claims absolute objectivity for his History of Modern
Tibet. This is what he writes in the preface "The book is neither
pro-Chinese nor pro-Tibetan in the current sense of these terms. It
does not set out to support the Dalai Lama's government in exile or
to support the People's Republic of China." The Chinese art scholar,
Simon Leys in his examination of Ross Terill and other China experts,
had this to say of their oft declared objectivity. "The Expert is not
emotional; he always remembers that there are two sides to a coin. I
think that even if you were to confront him with Auschwitz, for
example, he would still be able to say that one should not have the
arrogance to measure by one's own subjective standards Nazi values,
which were, after all, quite different."[16]

I mentioned earlier an instance of this kind of deadly evenhandedness
in the mind-set of the British and French foreign ministers when
Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia. It helps to subscribe to such
"objective" thinking when we bring ourselves to believe that the
invasion or war in question is being conducted for higher purposes.
When Japan attacked China in 1937, many in the West, though not
entirely unsympathetic to China, took a pro-Japanese view. This is
from an editorial in The Times (of London) about casualties in Shanghai:

"Such loss of life as has occurred among the Chinese civilian
population (many of whom were soldiers in disguise) has been
unavoidable or accidental, and, we are convinced, is regretted by no
one more than the Japanese."

Many at the time regarded Japan as striking a blow for progress and
civilization against a backward, decadent China; what the French,
drawing on their own experience in Algeria and Indo-China, might have
called conducting a mission civilisatrice.

Perhaps in declaring his objectivity so explicitly Goldstein might
have felt he could be setting himself up for criticism, for he tacks
on this qualifying statement a few lines later in the preface.
Despite it's understatement and studied neutrality it should perhaps
be read as a message of empathy. "It is difficult not to feel great
sympathy for the hardships that both the Tibetans and the Chinese
people have experienced in modern times."

Millions of Germans suffered under the Nazis and many perished in the
concentration camps, yet when we discuss the Holocaust and the
tragedy of European Jewry it is not required of us to make a make an
equivalent reference to the suffering of the Germans in order to
establish our objectivity as it were. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's
controversial but well received book, Hitler's Willing Executioners,
exposes as false the notion that German people were blameless victims
who had the misfortune to have been governed by evil ruthless rulers
who committed horrendous crimes against the Jews. Goldhagen presents
a case where society and individuals in that society had for
generations nurtured such negative malevolent stereotypical attitudes
towards Jews that the holocaust was the culmination of this rather
than a unique event orchestrated by one dictator and a political
party. Chinese stereotypes of Tibetans as uncivilized barbarians or
slave-owning feudal lords are of course, qualitatively different, but
are probably as widespread in Chinese society as Jewish stereotypes
were in Germany. These racist descriptions are still, the leading and
convenient rationalizations the Chinese government, intellectuals,
students (even in the West) and run-of-the-mill Chinese unfailingly
use to justify their occupation of Tibet and the subjugation of the
Tibetan people.

The British historian Michael Stanford in The Nature of Historical
Knowledge, warns us that if historians shun all the moral aspects and
write "objective" or non-moral history, "the best intention of
historians may result in what they would not desire; namely, a slide
from non-moral attitude in historians to attitudes in their readers
that are, first amoral, and then, perhaps, immoral."[17]

But perhaps, more than a lapse of judgment, or an unconscious "slide"
into immoral positions that Stanford writes of, there might be
something more deliberate and self-serving in much of present day
"objective" writing on China (and Tibet). I have mentioned on a
number of occasions the articles by a leading American scholar on
Chinese literature, Perry Link[18], and Carsten A. Holz [19] of Hong
Kong University, regarding this issue. Recently we have had Paul
Mooney's report [20] on how Beijing effectively manages to make
Western academics censor themselves.

China appears to regard Goldstein as the premier Tibet scholar on
their side. If one goes into the Chinese government white papers on
Tibet and checks out "The Historical Inevitability of Tibet's
Modernization." The first and key reference cited is Goldstein's
history.[20] Goldstein is not the run of the mill propagandist for
China that Han Suyin, Israel Epstein or Tom Grunfeld are. His mission
appears not so much to regurgitate raw Chinese propaganda as to
skillfully isolate and magnify those grey areas in Tibetan history
and current affairs, so that distinctions become blurred. White turns
into black, right into wrong, and, to paraphrase Harold McMillan,
victims into assassins.

That is perhaps why Goldstein was much in demand in Washington. DC,
for congressional hearings and so on, around the time President
Clinton wanted to de-link human rights and trade with China, and
induct China into the World Trade Organization. At a forum on Tibet
at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival, I heard Clinton's envoy to
the UN, Richard Holbrooke, offer high praise to Goldstein. Holbrooke
(now a lobbyist for China) had traveled with Goldstein to Tibet and
clearly regarded his as the definitive word on the Tibetan issue.

In that sense Goldstein and his academic work might be seen (whether
he intends it to or not) as a part of a larger global effort being
made for the last couple of decades to undermine moral, political and
intellectual opposition to unfettered trade with China. Revision of
Asian history has been an important feature of this strategy, the
emphasis being on representing China and Asia as ancient
civilizations that place value on hierarchy, order and tradition,
which the West should not disrespect by insisting that it observe
Western values of human rights, freedom and democracy.

The Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, has strongly
condemned this attempt to depict Asian history "in terms of a narrow
category of authoritarian values which does little justice to the
rich varieties of thought in Asian intellectual tradition." In his
Freedom as Development, he brushes aside such negationism with a
brusque dismissal that appears equally suited to summing up the
premise of Goldstein's Demise of the Lamaist State:

"Dubious history does nothing to vindicate dubious politics."


[1] I am related to Rabga's wife and have visited their home in
Kalimpong on a number of occasions.

[2] Lin, Hsiao-Ting, Tibet and Nationalist China's Frontier,
Intrigues and Ethnopolitics 1928-49, UBC Press. Vancouver, 2006.

[3] Dawa Norbu, Red Star Over Tibet, Collins, London. 1974

[4] Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet, Conversations with the Dalai
Lama, Grove Press, New York, 2006.

[5] Ram Rahul, The Government and Politics of Tibet, Vikas
Publications, New Delhi, 1969.

[6] D.N.Tsarong, In the Service of His Country, Snow Lion
Publications, Ithaca NY, 2000

[7] F.M. Bailey, No Passport to Tibet, The Travel Book Club, London, 1957

[8] Mishra, Tirtha Prasad, The Taming of Tibet: A Historical Account
of Compromise and Confrontation in Nepal-Tibet Relations (1900-1830),
Nirala Publications, New Delhi,1991

[9] Lhalu, Tsewang Dorje "Recollections of My Father Dorje Tsegye
Lungshar," by Cultural and Historical Materials Office, Bod rang
skyongs ljongs chab gros rig gnas lo sgyus rgyu cha zhib jug u yon lhan khang.

[10] This is the series Bod-kyi lo-rgyus rig-gnas dpyad-gzhi'i
rgyu-cha bdams-bsgrigs, better rendered as Research materials for
Tibetan History and Culture, or in some volumes as Cultural History.
The series is not really comprised of interviews, but of memoirs
written by members of the former upper classes. In addition, the
series also has original historical documents that are useful for
research in recent history. There was a small pamphlet published in
Dharamsala in the 1980s in which one of the authors recounts the
process by which his own memoir was put together. It clearly had a
lot of government input.

[11] K. Dhondup, The Water-Bird and Other Years, A History of the
13th Dalai Lama and after, Rangwang Publishers, New Delhi, 1986.

[12] Luciano Petech, Government and Aristocracy of Tibet, Is.M.E.O, Roma, 1973.

[13] Rinchen Dolma Taring, Daughter of Tibet, John Murray, London, 1970.

[14] Warren Smith, Tibetan Nation, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1996,

[15] Goldstein, Melvin, "The Dragon and the Snowlion: The Tibetan
Question in the 20th Century" (In CHINA BRIEFING, 1990, New York, the
Asia Society, 1990. Reprinted in TIBETAN REVIEW, March 1991.

[16] Simon Leys, The Burning Forest, Paladin, U.K., 1988.

[17] Stanford Michael. The Nature of Historical Knowledge. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1986.

[18] Perry Link, "The Anaconda in the Chandelier," The New York
Review of Books, April 11, 2002.

[19] Carsten A. Holz, "Have China Scholars All Been Bought?" April
2007 Far Eastern Economic Review.

[20] Paul Mooney "Want access? Go easy on China" June 21, 2008, The National.

[21] Government White
Papers. The Historical Inevitability of Tibet's Modernization.

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