Sunday, 30 March 2014

Baba Phunwang and his Letters to Hu Jintao

Baba Phuntsok Wangal, popularly called Phunwang, was a life-long Tibetan communist, who had unfailing faith in the goodness of socialism. He was also a controversial figure, who guided the Eighteenth Army of the Chinese People's Liberation Army into Tibet, which ultimately helped complete China's occupation of Tibet and the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile.

However, at the age of thirty-eight, the Communist Party of China put him behind bars and when released, he was an old man of fifty-six. Baba's enduring legacy may be his writings, which have profound historical values and provide great insights into China's Tibet policy and its failures. 

Following is the second of the five letters that Baba Phuntsok Wangyal wrote to Hu Jintao, the then Chinese president. These letters were translated by Tenzin Losel, Bhuchung D. Sonam, Jane Perkins and Tenzin Tsundue, and published in a book titled Witness to Tibet's History


Respected General-Secretary Hu Jintao
My greetings!

Published by Paljor Publications, 2007
 On October 29 last year I presented a long letter to you and the leaders of the NPC Standing   below:

Committee. On February 26 this year __ according to comrade Sheng Huaren from the NPA Party Group who presided over the forum attended by Wang Yunlong, Secretary of the Party Group of the NPC Department of Administration, Zhuwei Qun, Deputy-Director of the United Front Department and Sithar, Director of the Tibet Bureau __ entrusted by the Central Government and on behalf of the Party Group my letter was discussed, emphasising the need for consistency with the Central Government on the “Tibetan issue inherited from the past”. And I was told to think the matters over carefully to voice my opinions. Since this happened to be the time of “two meetings” (the National People’s Conference and the National People’s Consultative Meeting), this was delayed until April 4. With regard to that letter, I made some statements and requested the NPC Standing Committee to report my opinions to the Central Government. I am now presenting a summary of those statements

1           The letter I presented to General-Secretary Hu Jintao and to the NPC Standing Committee is in line with the spirit of the Central Government’s initiatives to build a harmonious and stable socialist society, which can be proven by the entire contents of that letter, and so it is needless to restate this.
2       The key concern in the overall question is: Whether or not it is good for the religious leaders of  Tibetan Buddhism __ with the Dalai Lama as the core __ and the exile Tibetan Government, including around 10,000 Tibetan compatriots, to return to the nation or remain abroad. Strategically this is a question which needs to be carefully considered and deliberately decided. It is necessary to understand that those Western anti-China elements are trying to ensure that they [the Dalai Lama and his exile Tibetan Government] remain abroad, so as to keep on playing the “Tibet card” for the sake of their own interests. Therefore, keeping them abroad is politically short-sighted and irresponsible in terms of  history __ creating endless troubles in the future. On the contrary, striving for the Dalai Lama’s return to the nation will transform passivity to activity, antagonism to harmony. The continuation and furtherance of foreign and domestic policy __ namely the policy towards overseas Tibetan compatriots __ should lay stress on the Central Government’s advocacy of “harmony and stability”.  For over a thousand years intangibility has exceeded tangibility in the spiritual sphere of the day-to-day life of devoted Tibetan Buddhists; whether or not the hearts of the people are peaceful and stable cannot be ignored and underestimated, especially the general wishes of the people __ the most important factor which can play a decisive role at a very critical moment. Therefore, [we] must channel our actions according to the situation and avoid being at a disadvantage.
3       Forgive my being straightforward. The comments made by the leaders of the United Front Department __ let’s not talk about other things __ merely concerning the basic spirit of the Central Government’s initiatives to build a “harmonious and stable” socialist society, they are not in conformity with this. The Central Government emphasises the importance of “friendship” as the national policy. We can take an example from the policy towards Taiwan __ under the premise of One China _  which never censures past mistakes. Nevertheless, the United Front Department, in line with the “leftist struggle”, has stressed too much on the “Tibet issue”, with “peace” on one side and “struggle” on the other. It even adopts “delaying tactics” to play for time with the Dalai Lama, waiting until his death. This is apparently a continuation of the wrong-thinking “leftist” line over nationality and religious work __ especially on the “Tibet issue”. Everybody is aware that this wrong line of “leftism” has brought disastrous consequences to the Party, the nation and the people. That is why it has been negated by Party decision-making. 
4           Unquestionably, I myself and many others who understand the facts are extremely dissatisfied with this wrong-thinking line of “leftism” and the mistakes made by it. Let’s just forget other things, merely as far as the above-mentioned matters are concerned, people make various comments, such as: Ignoring good advice, they landed themselves in the trouble of “two Panchens” today; the two great Buddhist leaders whom the Central Government used to care about, and who attract world attention __ the Seventeenth Karmapa and Agya Rinpoche, the abbot of Kumbum Monastery __ were also forced to flee overseas; playing for time, and intending to produce “two Dalais”,  will create greater trouble in the future at home and abroad. However, the question of the Dalai Lama’s health, and how long he will live, will not be decided according to the timetable of others. And regarding such questions, people have further comments, such as: The Karmapa is likely to be the successor to the Dalai Lama after his passing, in case of a period of vacuum of leadership. Although all the heads of Tibetan Buddhism, from the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyud and Bonpo, have fled abroad one after another, they are still the inheritors of the Buddhist doctrines and are playing an important role, directly and indirectly. Of course, those mistakes are not related to the leaders from the United Front Department. The question is related to the [Party] Line, not to the individuals. Therefore, in order to improve and intensify the friendly relations between brotherly nationalities such as the Han and Tibetans __ and for the prosperity and stability of the nation and the people __ this residual “leftist” line should not be continued; it is time to bring it to an end.
Baba Phunwang (standing right) when Tibetan delegates
signed the '17-point Agreement' under duress.
Baba was the Chinese official translator.

5           The letter I presented to the Central Government is concerned with the entire Tibetan nationality and peace and stability across the Tibetan regions in the Land of Snow, which occupies a quarter of the total area of the nation,  and is related to a far-sighted, longterm strategic policy that needs to be sensibly considered and carefully decided, rather than being a question of seeking advice on current policy and concrete matters. Some people who are responsible for the relevant departments, who ignore the actual situation and don’t care about the wishes of the masses, will not think deeply about their attitudes and words; they will not even undergo self-censure. Therefore, I sincerely request the NPC Party Group to report this to the Central Government __ headed by General-Secretary Hu Jintao __ to be handed over to the Central Institute of Political Research with a written instruction. And with an attitude of Seeking Truth From Facts, objectively and without prejudice, make practical suggestions. All the decisions are up the Central Government.
        With regard to the comments made by the United Front Department, besides the general tone that they adopted, [they] strayed from the point when mentioning my “talk” with Li Weihan in 1982, and criticised me for adhering to the so-called “consistently incorrect point of view”, my view on “the greater Tibetan regions”. But that was actually a plot attributed to Old Li by some specific leaders who had me sent to prison for 18 years and have never admitted their mistakes. Old Li, aged 86, is now in hospital; those people have not even seen his articles, so what is the value of their comments? I wrote a letter of 20,000 characters to the leaders of the Central Government, and particularly wrote a letter to comrade Deng Xiaoping and General-Secretary Hu Yaobang appealing to the Central Government to form a study team to clarify the arguments on the theoretical principles of nationality. Fortunately, after the Central Government looked into this their summing up was that “according to the regulations of the Party it is permitted to hold different points of view”, and the case was held over indefinitely, with some statements made by comrade Zhong Xun. Therefore, after 23 years, referring to the talk with Old Li is unnecessary and of no significance.

Published by Khawa Karpo Tibetan
Culture Centre, Dharamsala, 2013
6           As early as the 1940s I was the main person responsible for all kinds of revolutionary activities of the nationality democratic movements, and in 1951 I was the only Tibetan among the members of the Party Committee for the PLA’s Lhasa advance troop and of the CCP Tibet Work Committee during the ‘50s. For the sake of the Party, the people and history, and following the principle of being a communist who must be open and above-board, and must not hide any opinions, I present this letter to the leaders of the Central Party, and send it to some Tibetan comrades for reference. [I] believe that this letter has fully reflected the expectations and wishes of ordinary Tibetans on the restoration of relations between the Central Government and the Dalai Lama. Many Tibetan comrades have directly or indirectly expressed their agreement to my views. “Bitter medicine is good for ailments, good advice is unpleasant to the ears”. My letter cannot be supposed to be good medicine, but having a clear conscience __ and from the bottom of my heart __ I sincerely stated the views that people feel uncomfortable to talk about, dare not talk about to protect themselves, and the questions that are sensitive to some people. Whether or not the views will be adopted is entirely up to the Central Government’s decision-making.  As an individual I am powerless. But time will prove all and history will make a fair evaluation.
Comrade Hu Jintao, I completely understand that the leaders of the CCP Standing Committee, headed by you, are deeply occupied with affairs of state. Nevertheless, the question of the Tibet issue of today is the most important of all our nation’s nationality works. Though I am in sound health, clear-minded, and able to write and give lectures, time does not spare people. I am now 83-years-old and have no ambition for fame and repute. I have spoken the truth from facts, and this is all purely in the interests of the state and nationalities. Looking forward to understanding if there is anything inappropriate herein.

With regards
Phuntsok Wangyal (Phunwang)
April 12, 2005

Sunday, 9 March 2014

My Native Land

My Native Land
By Marjang Nyuk*
Translated from Tibetan by Bhuchung D. Sonam

­My native land is written in a drop of tears
Printed with a drop of blood.
My native land is made of a single drip of sweat.

Many centuries ago
From atop the high plateau
Amongst people of many nations
In the splendour of its glories
My country stood tall with pride and confidence
‘I am a man!’ it is said to have declared.
In those times -
There were none who did not know
Its warriors and their reputation.
There were none who did not see the snow lion flag
Flying in the wind by the Potala Palace.

Today …
My native land is
A pool of tears flowing from every crying eye
A drop of blood untouched by happiness.
At a far corner of this world
Its freedom is being beheaded
At a low rank of this world
Its rights are peeled off one by one.

My native land is stripped bare
Turned limbless.

དུར་ས་འཚོལ་བ།   སྨར་ལྗང་སྨྱུག་གིས་བརྩམས།
In Search of a Grave
by Marjang Nyuk

* Marjang Nyuk is a pseudonym of a young Tibetan intellectual living in the occupied Tibet. 
'We must fight for our freedom. It cannot be attained by begging or through petitions,' he writes.

In Search of a Grave was published by Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights & Democracy and is available for free at the TCHRD.

Monday, 24 February 2014

BOOKS ....

Yak Horns: Notes on Contemporary Tibetan Writing, Music, Film & Politics

Tibet has been written about, commented on and described by travellers, ‘experts’ and scholars for centuries – each presenting their own version of reality. This title brings together a collection of essays on contemporary Tibetan arts and social issues, expressed through the eyes of a Tibetan writer
in exile who experienced and lived through
many of the events narrated here.
'Bhuchung D. Sonam articulates the voice of a new generation of Tibetans in exile – voiceless and stateless – longing for a space to call home. He eloquently describes the hopes and aspirations of young Tibetans. He is perhaps one of the very best spokespeople for the youth of his generation.'
Tsering Shakya, author of Dragon in the Land of Snows
'The canvas of Yak Horns is vast, peopled with personalities drawn from history and from our own times, who through their writings and meditations have enriched Tibet and expanded the scope of its culture and literary traditions. In making his canvas large by bringing in Tibetans from history, from the other side of the Himalayas and from all fields of endeavour that excite and spark their creative fire, Bhuchung Sonam has rendered inestimable service to the Tibetan people and their struggle.'
Thubten Samphel, author of Falling Through the Roof

'Sonam is an intrepid chronicler, and little seems to have escaped his prolific pen in the years represented in the book. What one also gets is a sense of the secular literary and cultural traditions of Tibet, through his cataloguing of the works of individuals such as the inveterate traveller and controversial writer of the early twentieth century, Gendun Choephel, who could be seen as a precursor to the secular Tibetan intellectual movement of which Bhuchung D. Sonam is a contemporary representative and to which he owes allegiance.'
Swati Chopra, author of Dharamsala Diaries

'... provides an alternative, and Tibetan, view of the varied cultural, artistic, journalistic and literary output of the Tibetan community in exile.'
Dhaka Tribune 


... an all-encompassing spirit. for a poet it is his words, for a farmer it is his land, for a shepherd it is his hut, for a factory worker it is his tools, and for an exile it is his rivers, the mountains and a house he left long ago; for a nomad it is his tent on the grassland, where he can churn his butter and sing his songs without a giant shadow hovering. 


'And this is perhaps what pushes writers like Sonam and Tsundue to their desk every morning to sing the songs of freedom on behalf of their silenced brethren behind the pale hills of the Himalayas. Their songs are sad and touching of course, but they are never depressing.
We might want to listen.'
Tsering Namgyal, author of The Tibetan Suitcase


Most of us write primarily to exercise creative expression and to assert our identity in a world where we have neither political status nor definite direction; to declare our colour in a spectrum where our wavelength has become subservient to patterns not our own; to make clear in the minds of the listeners the fantastic illusions of life lived in our land churned, chanted and chained through the ages.

'His words are the window to his room without a door. And what we find inside echoes the feelings of an entire generation of exiled Tibetan youth. In the title poem, he shows us the paradoxes of life, alluding to his own personal conflicts as he longs for the peace that can only be found in his own land, in the land full of icy white peaks.'
Tenzin Dechen in

'I am particularly struck by Bhuchung’s profound knowledge about Tibetan culture, traditions, religion and history considering his young age and the fact that he was brought up and educated in exile. The images and words he use in all his poems give the whole book a very “Tibetan” feel, irrespective of the fact that the book opens with a Tibetan poem. No Tibetans will be unmoved after reading this book because it speaks directly to their hopes, pain, values and roots.' 
Tsering Tsomo Chatsug in

Muses in Exile: An Anthology of Tibetan Poetry
Edited by Bhuchung D. Sonam

For the first time, the voices of Tibet’s diaspora find expression in an anthology of poetry composed in English: Muses In Exile. History teaches us that artistic and intellectual creativity reach their zenith under the most adverse con- ditions. And so it has been with Tibetan verse.
Of the thirty writers published here, some have already died young. One at home in Tibet; others in Alaska, Toronto, New Delhi and in the mecca of their exile Dharamshala. However, far flung their lives, the longing for a homeland, the emigre’s estrangement, is expressed here in unison to a variety of literary tunes. This collec- tion is testimony to the anguish, rootlessness and unwavering destiny of a displaced people still mentally marching homeward across the Himalayas.

'...major achievement is that it was able to offer readers - through these poems, which are otherwise not readily available - an opportunity to unlock the minds of their earlier predecessors in the wilderness of the foreign lands. They have written these poems in places like India, Sri Lanka, Hawaii and California.'
Tsering Namgyal, author of The Tibetan Suitcase


'What I have written down here is an expression of surviving as a refugee for the last twenty years. Of being wrenched from where I belong, of facing the conflict of duality .. being Tibetan living Indian, thinking Tibetan speaking in Hindi, wishing Tibet landing in US, desiring to be among the yaks and sheep but having to live among thoughtless fuming vehicles.'

Life I define not
Death I know not
Days I see not
Nights I feel not
Only confusion reigns
Chaos to a lunatic point
Eternally fused.
Mind engulfed in emptiness
Darkness shells me through
A deep tunnel of sublime clamour
I came out noise by absolute silence
Raised to a lunatic point ...
- 14 October 1996 -

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Living at Gunpoint

Review of Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage by Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong

For over nine thousand years Tibetan nomads have skilfully managed their lives in the fragile environment of the high plateau. They raised limited numbers of livestock, which provided them enough to sustain their mobile civilization. This symbiotic relationship between nature and man never tipped to either party’s disadvantage.
That’s until the red flag began to flutter against the blue sky of the Tibetan Plateau.
The year 2009 marked half-a-century of China’s occupation of Tibet. In the same year, according to cables leaked by Wikileaks, the Dalai Lama told the then US ambassador to India that the international community should focus on the critical state of Tibet’s environment for five to ten years; the Tibetan leader reportedly said this was far more crucial than the political situation. ‘Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining are problems that cannot wait,’ the Dalai Lama said.

Despite the Tibetan Nobel Laureate’s emphatic appeal little is being done. In fact the scale of mining on the plateau has increased manifold and since 2008 China has effectively banned the international media’s entry into Tibet. Today North Korea is more accessible to foreign journalists than Tibet said professor Carole McGranahan of the University of Colorado and the author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War.
At such a worrying time, the voices of Beijing-based Tibetan author and blogger Woeser – and her Chinese husband Wang Lixiong – are crucial in creating a vital communication link between Tibet-under-China and the free world.
Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage by Woeser and Wang Lixiong, jointly published by Hong Kong University Press and the University of Hawai’i Press, is an urgent and timely book. The authors’ courage in expressing their dissenting views on Tibet is matched by the authenticity of their reportage on wide-ranging concerns such as demolition of historical buildings in Lhasa, forceful resettlement of nomads, mining, self-immolation and flooding of Chinese migrants into Tibet – many of whom engage in crass and barefaced appropriation of Tibetan culture and religion to make quick and easy money.
Forty essays are thematically arranged in five sections – Old Lhasa Politicized, Economic Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics, Religion Under Siege, Wrecking Nature, and Culture Twisted, Trampled – to provide a clear picture of daily Tibetan experiences under the machinery of authoritarian rule that Woeser and Wang describes as ‘grounded on rigid structure and ruthless logic’.
The defining appeal of the book is the legitimacy of the couple’s writing. The authors are no armchair commentators. They have put their lives in danger by travelling to many places on the Tibetan Plateau to gather accounts of people and places most affected by dictates from Beijing.
Soon after Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death in December 2002 with a two-year reprieve for his alleged possession of explosives, Woeser made a trip to Rinpoche’s homeland deep inside Kardze in Kham to find out about the Chinese authorities’ claim to have found ‘bombs’ hidden a ‘secret compartment’ in his house. Woeser found out that to build his new residence, Rinpoche – like many others who constructed houses in that region – used explosives to level a piece of land located at a ravine. Some unused sticks of dynamite were stored in a ‘space between the rugged slope and the wall panels of the house’. These were what the police found which led to Rinpoche being handed down the death sentence, later commuted to life in prison.
This year, from his prison in China’s Sichuan province, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche said, ‘There are some people who say that taking up my case will make things worse for me. At this point, I have fallen to the lowest point. Nothing worse can come. So, you can make appeals and initiate campaigns for me.'
Woeser and Wang also write about ‘charlatan lamas’ and tulkus stationed in monasteries charging exorbitant prices from unsuspecting tourists for phony future predictions and fake puja ceremonies. When visitors ran short of cash, they would say, ‘No problem, we take credit cards here.’ These operatives are Tibetan-speaking Chinese from tour companies that have colluded with local religious bureaus which issue them permits to set up bases and business in major monasteries.
For exile Tibetans and the international community, Woeser and Wang’s essays are perhaps the most reliable source of information on Tibet that still continues to flow through many channels such as books, blogs, press interviews and social media. Many other Tibetan writers such as Theurang, Dolma Kyab and Kunchok Tsephel who have articulated national aspirations are serving various sentences – some as long as fifteen years – in Chinese prisons for their writing.
Though Woeser and Wang are facing threats, harassment, house arrest and being tailed daily, they have managed to avoid being put behind bars thus far. There is however real danger that, like their friend and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo who is serving eleven years in jail for his role in drafting Charter 08, their days may be numbered.
But for the moment they bear witness and chronicle issues facing both Tibet and China today under the Communist Party. Woeser writes that ‘for the powerless, the pen can be wielded as a weapon – a weapon honed by the Tibetan faith, tradition and culture,’ and that ‘[i]n the face of the devastation Tibet has endured and the aspirations of Tibetans who have gone up in flames, I shall redouble my strength to resist oppression; I simply will not concede, or compromise.’
It is long overdue that the CCP listens to the voices of this brave couple and realize that their articulation carries the weight of every person on the plateau whose voice is stifled and whose aspiration for freedom rebutted with bullets and armoured vehicles.
Voices from Tibet is an incisive and an urgent book that must be read by anyone who has an interest not only in Tibet and China but also in the struggles for freedom elsewhere in the world. If any record of oppression can fend off state-sanctioned collective amnesia, it is this.

the book is available from: