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Book Review: A Tibetan Revolutionary

August 27, 2010

Reviewed by Tsewang Gyalpo Arya
August 25, 2010

The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phuntso Wangye
by Melvyn C. Goldstein, Dawei Sherap, and William R. Siebenschuh
University of California Press, 2004

Tokyo [Aug. 25, 2010] --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.
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