Phunwang’s Letter to Hu Jintao, 2004

A Letter to General Secretary Hu Jintao from Phuntsog Wanggyal

In 2004, Baba Phuntsog Wanggyal (known for short as Phunwang), the most famous of Tibetan communists and a former high-ranking CCP cadre, wrote the first of five open letters to Chinese leaders about the situation in Tibet.  This version is translated from the Tibetan text, which was later published by Phunwang: the original Chinese version is here.

The other four letters sent by Phunwang to China’s leaders have been translated into English by Tenzin Losel, Bhuchung D. Sonam, Jane Perkins and Tenzin Tsundue and published as Witness to Tibet’s History (Paljor Publications, 2007). Their translation of the second letter is available online at Baba Phunwang and his Letters to Hu Jintao.

Phunwang’s own account of his history is recorded in the (auto)biography written by Melvyn Goldstein, Dawei Sherab (probably a penname for Phunwang), and William Siebenschuh, A Tibetan RevolutionaryThe Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye (University of California, 2006), one of the most important books to have appeared on modern Tibetan political history.

Respected General Secretary:

Greetings. At the time of your investiture as General Secretary at the 16th Party Congress I was on a lecture tour in the US and sent a congratulatory message through the New York consulate. Now I wish to offer my heartfelt congratulations on your recent appointment as Chairman of the Military Commission by the 4th Plenary Session of the Central Committee. I am confident that under your leadership the Central Committee will achieve even greater success in fulfilling the nation’s goals.

In this letter I seek unabashedly to address some outline views to the central government concerning the outstanding crux of the Tibet issue, the satisfactory resolution of [the status of] the Dalai Lama, his exile government and the several hundreds of thousands of Tibetan compatriots in exile. Therein, I wish first to present you with a summary of my own background.

As the official celebration of the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples’ Republic came around, I was involuntarily struck by a variety of sentiments and caught up in the waves of reminiscence. My recollection of that time was of boundless joy at the unfurling of the five-starred red flag, the premiere symbol of the Peoples’ Republic, throughout the Snowland Plateau of Tibet.[1] Soon after, as directed in a telegram from General Zhu De, and after many troublesome delays in the liberation of Xikang province, I proceeded to Chongqing and met with Comrades Deng Xiaoping, Liu Bozheng, Ho Lung, Wang Weizhou, etc., from the leadership of the South-west Bureau. I reported to them on democratic revolutionary activity in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas over the past ten years, contacts with the Chinese and Soviet Central Committees and the Indian CP in that period, and the revolutionary agenda. Then Deng Xiaoping briefed me on relevant matters related to the Central Committee,[2] and with its permission, I was appointed to the South-west Military Committee in 1950, and to the Tibet Work Committee, and after the liberation of Chamdo I became vice-chair of its Branch Committee in Chamdo. I participated fully in negotiations between Tibet and the Central Government and the signing of the 17-point agreement, so I am a witness to the making of history. As a reward for my efforts in the negotiations, Chairman Mao himself presented me with a personally signed copy of his book “On Practice”.[3]

Of the five Party leaders in the vanguard force of the PLA advance on Lhasa, I was the sole Tibetan. Until 1958, I was the only Tibetan member of the 11-strong Tibet Work Committee led by the Resident Executive Representative of the Central Committee Zhang Jingwu….

However, in 1960, as a result of Leftist deviationism, history played a big joke on me: earlier, because of my involvement in a students’ movement, the principal of the Mongolian and Tibetan College in the [KMT] Central Political Institute, Jiang Jiezhi [Chiang Kaishek], had me expelled. Later on in Lhasa, I was part of a group calling itself the United Tibet Liberation Alliance which submitted a petition to the Kashag government calling for the implementation of democratic reform in society, lessening of the [tax] burden on common people, and implementation of a policy of nationality democracy for nationality defence. Following the defeat of the violent uprising led by the Eastern Tibet Peoples’ Alliance for Self-rule, the KMT government put out a warrant for my arrest and pursued me. After that I was expelled from Lhasa under the Kashag government’s forced deportation of “suspected Communists”. Someone like me, who had been through all this, was falsely accused by some people in our own Communist Party in the 1960s of “campaigning for Tibetan Independence” and put into solitary confinement in the Qinzheng political prison, where I was subjected to mental and physical torture for 18 years.[4] Ignoring the various hardships I suffered in prison, I engaged in study and strenuous research into Marxist theory, and especially philosophy, and produced my treatise on “New Exploration of Dialectics” and its subsidiaries.

After the 3rd plenum of the 11th Party congress, through the concern of Comrade Deng Xiaoping, Cheng Yuan, Hu Yaobang, Feng Wenbin and so on, I myself and the revolutionary organizations I had led were exonerated. Comrade Xiaoping told me “You have suffered greatly. Your wrongful accusation was a complete mistake.”[5]

After rehabilitation, I worked at the NPC, as a delegate at the First, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Congresses, and as a member of the Standing Committee and vice-chair of the Nationalities Committee at the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Congresses. Meanwhile I composed three books on philosophy amounting to 1.6 million Chinese characters, acclaimed by the academic establishment. Since my retirement in 1998, I have served as professor at the CASS research institute and a teacher of post-graduate philosophy students, and promoted educational activities at home and abroad.

As can be seen from this summary of my career, I worked for about 20 years, before and after Liberation, for the revolutionary cause in Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited areas, during the ‘40s I distributed the classics of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought in Tibetan areas, translated revolutionary songs such as “The Internationale”, “Forward March of the Volunteer Army” [the present national anthem] and “Forward March of the Surprise Attack Squad” into Tibetan, and set up the first Party organizations in Lhasa and other places [in Tibet]. I have been concerned with Tibet issues at all times through a career which others could scarcely have followed.

This year Professor M. Goldstein published my ‘Conversational Biography’ in the USA, and in the discussion at the end of the book on the outstanding Tibet issue, quoting the general thesis of a paper by a Chinese author entitled ‘The Dalai Lama is the key to the resolution of the outstanding Tibet issue’,[6] I openly addressed the need for Tibet’s Kashag government, after more than 300 years of combined religious and secular rule, to proceed on the path of separating religious and secular authority in conformity with the basic drive for social development.

In addresses to the leaders of the Peoples’ Congress on matters related to the ‘Conversational biography’, I expressed my wish to present my thinking on the resolution of the outstanding Tibet issue to the central leadership. As the earliest figure in the Tibet Communist Party organization, I conceived the determination to make a submission on this issue to the leader(s) of the central government in direct, altruistic and sincere terms, out of concern for the Party, the people and history.

I make my remarks on this, indeed on any time and place, as a Marxist with the viewpoint and orientation of a Communist Party member. With reference to the essential intent of the Party’s theory and basic principles, the national constitution and autonomy law, my basic view is this: under the historical conditions of today’s new China, our nation’s nationalities should get along and should not diverge, and the ‘equality of all nationalities’ united under the leadership of the CCP must be emphatically recognised as a founding principle of the nation. On this precedent, the powerful elder brother Han nationality, taking a long-term view and broad-minded attitude would, on the advice of the sages of the past, not make others do what one is unwilling to do oneself, and in accord with the Marxist principle of equality of nationalities, the big should protect the small, the strong should protect the weak, and the majority look after the minority. They would dispense with the reactionary policy of Han chauvinism whose objectives were pursued by the agencies of past Chinese dynasties, ‘Turning minority nationalities into Chinese’ through the practise of ‘Divide and rule’, ‘Replacing local leaders with Chinese leaders’ and ‘Guests taking over the owner’s land’. Under the united leadership of the central government and with the sincere and well-meaning assistance of the Chinese people, the 55 fraternal nationalities should be encouraged to make their own communities their home, to be masters of their own homes, to take on the reform and management of affairs within their own nationalities, and to ‘learn how to walk on their own feet’. In the words of Comrade Xiaoping “In the real minority areas autonomy must be definitely implemented” so as to safeguard the interests of each nationality and the overall interest of the nation in an alliance suitable to both. In this way, and in this way alone, can the nationality issue, and especially the Tibet issue, be satisfactorily resolved. This is my position, as is known to all, within the Party and outside it, at home and abroad, and has been from the beginning through to the end.

To complete resolution of the outstanding local issues such as Tibet, ensure long term stablity and continuous development in Tibetan areas and promote genuine friendship and deep unity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities, there is some discrepancy between my view and the view and orienation expressed by the previously mentioned author of ‘The Dalai Lama is the key to the resolution of the outstanding Tibet issue’, with which I am not in complete agreement. However, as is known to all, for thousands [sic] of years, the Buddhist religion has been interfused with the Tibetan way of life and way of thinking. This is a fundamental reality which no one can change at will. Therefore to ignore a deeply rooted and widely pervasive feature of nationality culture, or even to seek and advocate its removal, is an obstinate and rash form of Left opportunism, divorced from reality, a position which abdicates responsibility and is oblivious to consequences. Not only is this in violation of basic principles, but with regard to such unrealistic and mistaken discourse, one should recall the relevant Party decisions and the words of Comrade Xiaoping on the disastrous decade of the Cultural Revolution, which was a grave diversion from China’s revolution and reconstruction, inflicted serious damage on the Party’s reputation, and brought the nation close to the verge of collapse. Any view must be tested against reality, truth must be sought from facts, and this is a basic lesson of experience. In appraising an issue one must look at its essence, and in speaking one must keep to the point. The main assertion of the Chinese author consistent with all perspectives is that for generations the institution of the Dalai Lama and his pervasive influence have been supreme, unassailable and inviolable in the minds and outlook of the Tibetan people, and on examination of the actual factors of the unmitigated faith of young and old, men and women alike, their joyous devotion, and the automatic identification of the broad masses of Tibetans, it is necessary to seek a resolution of the Tibet issue within his lifetime, for to delay could result in serious consequences, and the importance of this idea should certainly be recognised.

In the face of this present-day deviation of left-over “Leftist” opportunism, people especially in some Tibetan areas are still highly sensitive, wary of the merest suspicion, given to time-passing, aware of the situation but leery of danger and afraid to take on problems, doing whatever they can to avoid them and not daring to probe. However, to those who can think and those familiar with the actual situation, this is the crux of the issue latent in the social life of Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas, and I would make it known far and wide that not only can this question not be postponed, it should not be left unanswered. It is of utmost importance to be able to assess oneself, and in any consideration of stabilising, comprehensive and long-term strategies for the domestic and international situation, the idea of holding back on the issue until the death of the 14th Dalai Lama is not only childish but confused and misconceived, not only failing to serve the fundamental interests of the nation or any particular nationality, but allowing for the emergence of consequences quite opposed to those desired. The present situation in Taiwan is an example of the lesson to be learned: had the issue been resolved during Chiang’s presidency of the KMT, the present agitation for Taiwan independence by Chen Shuibian’s democratic party could not have happened. On this, we need to carefully reflect on our errors and learn our lesson.

On the Tibet issue, Comrade Xiaoping made it clear to the Dalai Lama’s elder brother Gyalo Dondrup early on that “Except independence, anything can be discussed”, and based on the relevant Party resolutions on General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s complete rejection of ‘Right’ [sic for ‘Left’] deviationism and the guidance of Comrade Xiaoping, which had spoken of clearly and decisively settling even the crucial historical question, he declared “Let us forget about the 1959 disturbances in Lhasa. Everyone needs to look forward. There is no need to discuss it any more”. Following Comrade Xiaoping’s enunciation of these important principles, successive central leaders instructed the relevant bodies accordingly and engaged in discussion with representatives from the Dalai Lama’s side. However, up to now this has yielded no results. The reason for this seems to be the issue of how the actual situation is characterised and the issue of the thinking behind practical implementation.

This shows the importance of learning from historical experience. During the implementation of Democratic Reform in the 1950s, two different policies were applied to the single Tibetan population, the temporary suspension of Democratic Reform in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and its implementation, even by force, in the ten Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and the two Autonomous Counties of east Tibet. In the end, the reforms led to uprisings at various times in east Tibet, the flames of conflict spread to Tibet itself, and several thousand fighters of the ‘Defenders of Religion’ army called ‘Four Rivers and Six Ranges’ confronted the PLA.[7] Then in March 1959 there was an uprising in Lhasa, and the Kashag government led by the Dalai Lama went into exile abroad followed one after another by several hundreds of thousands of Tibetans from the provinces. These were the factors which produced the outstanding Tibet issue and this is the so-called Tibet question which has attained international proportions. Along with this, the policy of ‘Divide and rule’ as a ‘means to hold Tibet’ was a disastrous mistake, which is a sad lesson of history.[8] Although there are slight differences between the areas of east Tibet included in the Autonomous Region and those in neighbouring provinces, their social foundation and situation are basically the same and thus they are one.

One cannot implement two different policies of major import [at the same time], and to do so will certainly result in error. That is how it was, and that is how it has been since. The Tibetan nationality living in the three areas of the Snowland Plateau have the same spoken and written language, live in closely related territories, and have the same customs and habits and economic situation. Especially as they believe in the same religion, they are a single nationality with a common culture and psychology, which has developed as such over thousands of years. Thus whether or not one grasps Tibet as an entirety, and similarly whether the ‘means to hold Tibet’ are fair or not, is the basic preliminary factor and fundamental issue. To express this clearly, the crucial point is whether or not, in the course of seeking truth from facts, one accepts and sees the issue of the Tibetan land and people as an entirety.

At the beginning of the 1980s when the central leaders Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Li Xiannian, Xi Zhongxun, Ulanfu and so on were having discussions with the fraternal Tibetan representatives sent from abroad by the Dalai Lama, they admitted that there had been grave mistakes in the handling of Tibet affairs. During the Tibet inspection tour by general secretary Hu Yaobang and vice-pm Wang Li it was famously admitted that “There have been grave errors in the handling of Tibet affairs and these must be rectified”. Subsequently, the central government published the well-known ‘Document 31’ on Tibet affairs and ‘Document 46’ on Xinjiang, which represented a historically important enactment of a Marxist view and policy towards nationality affairs. The nub of ‘Document 31’ was the implementation of nationality autonomy in substance as well as name, local power over local affairs, the necessity to hand autonomous powers to Tibet and the other autonomous regions, to reduce the excessive number of Chinese in positions of authority and make Tibetans the masters of their own home. Following the proclamation by the central government, there was to be no cutting up of nationality regions, and nationality areas could petition for exemption from inappropriate [national policies] or for suitable revisions to them. ‘Document 46’ stated even more explicitly that apart from the three powers of national defence, foreign policy and some veto powers to be held by central government, all others were to be handed over to the autonomous regions of Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and Chinese officials in these regions were to have a solely consultative role. As Chairman Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and others had repeatedly told the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, Han officials serving in Tibet were to do so as advisors and must be trained in Tibetan language. Han officials had to hand over responsibility to nationality officials, and officials from outside had to hand over to locals. Good relations between Han and nationality officials, and between outside and local officials, was a criterion of highest importance, and a fundamental issue in the conduct of nationality affairs. But, disappointingly, these documents of such brilliant promise for the benefit of the Party, the nation and the nationalities were, for a variety of causes, never put into practice. They had a great influence however on nationality cadres and left a benign imprint. The Dalai Lama even sent Hu a greetings telegram, probably the first he had ever sent to a Chinese leader in all his years in exile.

After the Dalai Lama addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg in the late 1980s with a new initiative for Tibet and Tibetan areas, including some proposals introduced for the first time, a broad section of professionals at home and abroad were far from sympathetic. A group of independence activists led by his elder brother Thubten Norbu Rinpoche, and a section of young Tibetan extremists opposed him, presented a signature petition, and rejected the Dalai Lama’s autonomy initiative, calling it an abdication of the basic interests of the Tibetan people. The concerned offices of our government also questioned and criticised his ‘Middle Way’ proposal. At the same time, some ill-disposed elements among the anti-China forces in western countries were displeased by the Dalai Lama’s efforts to improve relations with the central leadership, and not only failed to support him but actually went against him, and for a time he faced opposition both from within and without and had to endure a very difficult situation. But the Dalai Lama was not dissuaded from following through the workable and correct ‘Middle Way’ approach. Due to his great reputation and influence at home and abroad, those lacking familiarity with the actual situation have taken different positions, but the majority of Tibetans in exile listen to and have full respect for what he says. After finalising a new bill in 1997, the exile parliament recognised the authority of the Dalai Lama to make decisions on the future of Tibet without having to obtain a popular electoral mandate.

There is no hidden truth, and truth is always contingent. Contingent truth changes in dependence upon time, place and other contingent factors. In social life, conclusions are reached through the comparative evaluation of the constant mutual interaction between subjective perception and its external objects, and cannot be reached on the basis of claims for the good motivation of an individual, or exclusive justifications of any particular position or of who is right or wrong. Any action has to be assessed in terms of the concrete situation rather than our thoughts or ideas about it, and this is an important precondition. Experienced analysts have accepted the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ of ‘Not seeking independence but seeking meaningful autonomy’ under present historical conditions, as in tune with the interests of the Tibetan people as a whole, their future and destiny, cognisant of both sides of the argument, a responsible approach proceeding from thorough examination of the circumstances and a long-term view born from the pursuit of truth.

In recent years the Dalai Lama has said many times that the history of relations between the Mongols, Manchus, Chinese and Tibetans, and their [relative] status is a matter for those engaged in historical research. Their chief concern should be to capture the political aspect [of these relations] in the mirror of history, and disregarding imperialist claims and in the spirit of seeking truth from facts, pursue a proper approach to the present situation and reach an appropriate conclusion.

In recent years the Dalai Lama’s side has repeatedly stated acceptance of the three points stipulated by the central government, that ‘One, Tibet independence is not acceptable, Two, Tibet is an inseperable part of China, and Three, Taiwan is a part of China’, and he has clarified many times that his ‘Middle Way’ approach involves ‘not agitating for independence, and working for the realization of meaningful autonomy through the protection of our culture, distinctive traditions, religion, language and way of life, as well as pursuing constructive development. My greatest concern is the preservation of the unique Buddhist heritage of the Tibetan people’. Further, he has stated that once Tibetan regions are united under a democratic, autonomous government within the great family of nationalities of New China, the hundreds of thousands of Tibetan compatriots in exile and the government formed by representatives of the three provinces and supported by Western countries will no longer be needed, and that he himself as a Buddhist monk would cease political activity and concentrate on religious matters. In this way the 300-year-old system of religious and political authority combined under the rule of the Dalai Lamas would naturally meet its end.

In view of this, there is absolutely no contradiction in essential terms between the basic positions of the central government and the Dalai Lama’s side. There is no obstacle preventing a solution. The central government insists on the unity of the nation while the Dalai Lama speaks of the need for meaningful autonomy, both of which are compatible with the essence of the constitution and the national autonomy law. As for the proposed unification of Tibetan regions, this was already proposed to the central government in the 1950s by the vice-secretary of the Chamdo Liberation Committee and leader of the Chamdo inspection team Derge Kelsang Wangdu among others, and was also suggested by Tibetan delegates at the Sino-Tibet peace talks [1951], to which the concerned central leaders agreed in principle. At the time of the inauguration of the Preparatory Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1956, the leader of the central government delegation, Politburo member and vice-premier of the State Council General Ching Yi told a conference of senior cadres of the Lhasa Party that a central government proposal for the unification of Tibetan areas under the neighbouring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan with the TAR, with Lhasa municipality at its centre, was open for discussion, and that this would promote the progress and development of all Tibetans, friendship between China and Tibet, and the integrity and stability of the nation. This important and far-sighted initiative from General Ching Yi made a deep impression on people. To facilitate discussion on this, one of the old guard of the Xikang Red Army Sanggye Yeshe [Tian Bao] was appointed, and a committee established to coordinate the five provinces and other related factors. However, following the rise of ‘Leftist’ policy in the entire country, this too was put to an end. In 1980, a group of Tibetan officials in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous prefecture in Gansu jointly signed a petition to the relevant offices of the central government calling for at best the unification of all Tibetan areas in a single Tibet Autonomous Region, or if not that, the creation of a second, parallel TAR in east Tibet comprising the ten Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures [TAPs] and the two Tibetan Autonomous Counties.

This idea of a united TAR or ‘Greater Tibet’ is seen by concerned persons [in PRC] as something invented by the current generation of Tibetans in exile abroad. This is a total misunderstanding, for it has been there since long ago. Representatives of various factions have had differing views in this regard, and the 10th Panchen Lama, while inaugurating an aid organization to work in the TAR and other Tibetan areas said “The demand for a united TAR is legitimate, within the law and consistent with the aspirations of the broad Tibetan masses. The issue is about whether the conditions for it to happen are in place or not, but there is no issue of it being ‘resignatory and reactionary’.” This point was welcomed by many Tibetan delegates, myself included.

The crux of the united nationality autonomous [region], the extent of its powers of autonomy and the powers of the nationality to run its own affairs is not a matter of nomenclature, appearances or organizational structure, but depends upon whether or not there is unity between the nominal and actual situations, whether or not there is correspondence between them and the standard of that correspondence. In brief, it is the issue of whether or not nationalities are able to effectively exercise powers first over their living conditions and then over their development, and this is the core of the nationality issue today, the fundamental question. In terms of nationality powers of autonomy, it is best if substance and outer appearances are in correspondence, but it is more important to have a fixed measure of functionality with no outward expression, than to have an outer appearance lacking substance.

With reference to the Marxist principle of equality of nationalities and the basic sense that nationalities must be able to run their own affairs and exercise powers of autonomy, nations have established the individual particularities of their nationality policies in conjunction with the prevailing situation. Under Communist Party leadership, these can basically be divided into political autonomy and executive autonomy. Political autonomy means that under special circumstances, autonomous nationalities within a unified state have the power of secession, as in the case of federal republics like the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Executive autonomy means that autonomous nationalities within a unified state have no power of secession. Executive autonomy can be subdivided into higher and lower orders. Higher order executive autonomy means a republic of autonomous nationalities of unequal bearing, like the former Soviet Union and the present Russian Federation. It also allows for the creation of special nationality areas, like Hong Kong and Macao in our own country, and the yet to be reunified Taiwan. Some form of higher order executive autonomy could thus be implemented within the framework of One China.

After the founding of New China, in accord with the Marxist principles of equality and unity of nationalities and internal autonomy, the autonomy policy was implemented in the minor nationality regions in the same system of administrative divisions used in Old China, and this system of autonomous nationality areas was basically suited to the situation of the Chinese nation. Many wise individuals did various investigations to get this policy fully implemented. At the time of the reform of the PRC constitution in 1980 I myself submitted some ideas on the reform of nationality [policy] to the leadership of the NPC. Soon after the founding of the nation, the central peoples’ government and the Kashag government of Tibet signed the ’17-point agreement on peaceful liberation’ which was the only one of its kind among the 55 constituent nationalities. Some say that by any standard this is like the ‘One country two systems’ in Hong Kong and Macao. For more than 300 years of the combined religious and secular rule of the Kashag government, [Tibet] had its own political, economic and cultural institutions [including the monasteries of the various schools], military affairs and foreign relations, as well as distinctive weights and measures and post offices established in historical times, as well as the long-circulated gold, silver and copper coins of the Tibetan state, and the more recent notes. [Up to 1959] the government’s Kashag office in Chamdo, the ‘Do-me Chikyap Lekung’ [Eastern commissioner’s office] actually meant ‘Office of the commissioner for Amdo and Kham’. Both of the ministers Lhalu and Ngapo served in this office. It was formerly established in the Nyarong region of present-day Kandze [Kardze, Ch.: Ganzi] TAP, and later on, when circumstances dictated, it was withdrawn to Chamdo. At the time of the peace talks, there was a demand for Tibet to hand over all the eastern Tibetan areas.

As a result of many factors, historical, cultural and geographical, today’s Tibetan autonomous areas are not only closely contiguous, but also in terms of the population composition, unlike in other minority nationality areas, over 90% of the population in Tibetan autonomous areas, the great majority, is Tibetan. Compared with other nationality autonomous areas, this is highly unusual. For the central leadership, nationality areas are different from Han areas, having a special character, while Tibet and other Tibetan areas are a specialty within a specialty, as has been stated many times. “By any definition they are special. How could a single principle be applied irrespective?”, and therefore, speaking of the autonomy system in nationality areas, apart from things of an ordinary nature currently being implemented, from examining the actual situation, there should be something out of the ordinary. As already proposed, the crucial point in nationality affairs of all kinds is the issue of whether the reality matches up to the name. In brief, the ability of nationalities to take effective power first over their living situation and then over their development is a major issue.

Today within the framework of a unified nation, although the compatriots of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan all belong to the same Han nationality, there are different forms of autonomy, ‘One country two systems, Hong Kong run by Hong Kongers, with a high degree of autonomy”. By contrast, our distinct fraternal nationalities with their own long history and cultural identity, especially the Tibetans, should have even more varied forms of autonomy, in substance as well as in name, for they do not fit into the strictures of the old system and the inflexible model. This is because “All things in their multiplicity are produced on the basis of essential sameness”.

Changes in the specifics of a country’s delineation of administrative regions is a normal occurrence and no cause for surprise. In China’s case, before Liberation and especially afterward, the administrative delineation of different levels has been changed many times. For example, the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region was formed by the combination of the three provinces of Suiyuan, Reho and Chahar. The former Xikang province made up of Kandze [the present TAP], the Ya’an region and Liangshen [the present Yi Autonomous Prefecture] was incorporated into Sichuan province. And then there are the newly created municipalities under direct [central] administration. Like the saying “Theory is pure white but life is always blue”, we have to renew old ideas, carry forward old traditions, liberate our thinking and move forward when there is an opportunity. A great philosopher said “Everything goes rotten in this world for a good reason.” Thus if the mentality of dominance by a majority nationality, and especially the tradition of political ‘Divide and rule’ of other nationalities is put aside, there is no reason why the delineation of administrative regions cannot be changed and improved.

As for how the outstanding Tibet issue can be resolved: as the issue is essentially unrelated to outside factors it is purely internal, and the implementation of meaningful autonomy and the corresponding administrative reorganization within the framework of a unified nation is the only hope. In identifying the thinking behind this point and the precondition [of national integrity], they can be recognised as one by all, and must be so recognised. On this foundation, once the central government and the Dalai Lama’s side reach basic recognition that both the unification of the motherland [on one hand] and reform of internal administrative divisions and full implementation of the powers of autonomy [on the other] are the issues of concern, and issue a joint political statement of further improved relations, they can initiate discussion on the details of what form the unification of Tibetan areas will take, the grounds of implementation, the order in which it should be done, and finally the establishment of a transitional consultative office. Through various timely means, they should discuss in the best way possible all that is involved in ensuring the substance of a unified autonomous region, taking a long-term strategic view and broad-minded attitude, in a spirit of mutual trust and fraternal affection, a positive exchange of ideas, rejecting what is wrong and striving for what is right. As Chairman Mao said at the time of the peace talks, expressing profound meaning in a few words: “Today we are members of a single household. If we do the housework through consultation, we can do it well”, which is a most important point. Not just at that time, but even now, this is the sticking point of the whole issue, and whoever fails to fully understand this will certainly fail in strategic conduct.

From the national point of view stability is most important, and from the nationalities’ point of view coexistence is most important. Comrade Hu Jintao, you yourself and Comrade Jiang Zemin have both stated that the stability, security and development of Tibet are related to the stability, security and development of the whole country. The inhabitants of the Snowland Plateau, the masses of Tibetans of the three provinces, who have had faith in Buddhism for thousands [sic] of years, and especially those with education, opinions, influence and a responsible attitude towards society, are greatly hopeful that relations between the central government and the Dalai Lama’s side can be rid of enmity and soon reach the stage of friendly cooperation in overall terms. This is the attitude of the majority and something that everyone hopes for. This is highly beneficial to the security of the vast land of Tibet, which makes up one quarter of the entire country, and ultimately to the aspirations of the thousands and tens of thousands of Buddhist faithful such as  the Han and other people in the mainland. It is also very important in international affairs to gradually reduce the numbers of those who create meaningless disturbance and continual opposition, and improve the domestic and international image of New China, restore and heighten the respect it commands.

These days, we have to look not just ahead in terms of the Tibet issue, but far ahead, we have to look after the branches, but even more so the roots, and while identifying the outwardly evident developments, we must also expressly concern ourselves with the underlying and non-visible contradictions. For example, the strong trend of Sinicization in all aspects of social life, the replacement of Tibetan by Chinese spoken and written language, in violation of the constitution and law and abrogation of the core principle of linguistic equality, and coercive handling of nationality and religious affairs. This goes against the popular outlook and thus exerts a decisive influence. From now on, instead of addressing the successes and not the failures, the achievements and not the mistakes and fooling ourselves with self-praise for the so-called ‘Great achievement of having the sky be above and the earth below’, we need to see clear-mindedly that for more than half a century to the present, assistance first from the central government and later from other provinces and municipalities has accounted for over 95% of Tibet’s economy. For political necessity, and at odds with economic reality, this huge long-term cost for Tibet is among the most staggering deficits in overall national spending, and since it is not sustainable under normal circumstances, when there comes a sudden reversal because of the internal and external situations, the end result will be even more unthinkable. Therefore, nationality policy and economic policy in Tibet has fundamentally to attend to the roots by promoting self-reliance, and through genuine unity and trust, get beyond the state of spoon-feeding and superficial stability. Some of the ‘Old Tibet hands’ who once held important office hit the nail on the head by saying “If the central government does not change its policy in Tibet, no amount of senior leaders sent there will do any good. From now on, Tibet depends solely on banknotes and the power of the gun, and there is no [other] way of maintaining it.’

Real life teaches us that when a partial view is expressed with excessive force, opposing extremes become hidden. In a political climate where ‘stability’ is the number one concern, and the term ‘Tibet Independence’ sets hearts trembling, there will always be people on one side saying “The Tibetan demand to learn written Tibetan and for it to be used [in public life] is another way of promoting Tibet Independence” in an exaggerated way to raise fears, making it a disease “with which we frighten ourselves”, and on another side there will be others who see it as a wish-fulfilling tree to continually get money from the relevant government agencies. Even in some autonomous areas close to Chinese areas such means of increasing wealth are known, despite the disproportion [of the supposed threat].

There is a saying that “When Inner Mongolia asks for money it is not given. When Xinjiang asks it is given. In Tibet it is given without being asked for”. It is also said that “Those people are fed by opposing seperatism, were made leaders for opposing seperatism, are amassing wealth from opposing seperatism”. It is widely commented that “However long the Dalai Lama remains in foreign countries, his influence increases proportionately, and in the same proportion the anti-seperatist faction’s affluence can be passed on from generation to generation, On the other hand, when the Dalai Lama’s relations with the central government become cordial, in terror they become agitated, uptight at the prospect of losing their jobs”. These statements are not unfounded nonsense. The issue of whether the central government can become friendly with the Dalai Lama is bound up with disrupting or even making redundant various political extremes at home and abroad, as well as the loss of economic sustenance for some individuals and groups.

In brief, we need to think clearly from every angle and gain a clear cognisance of the visible and invisible contradictions facing us by giving up our own entrenched positions, thinking broadly and carefully, understanding the positions of our opponents and ourselves, distinguishing what important from commonplace, inner from outer, good from bad. One critical point facing us is the immediate need for oversight in the resolution of the outstanding issue. This is a question of whether it is better for the Dalai Lama and his ‘exile government’ and the Tibetan compatriots who wish to return to remain abroad or to return home and bring the situation to an end. On this, all those of broad view and deep perspective familiar with the situation agree that return is better. After the return, the next concern is that domestic political issues and internal squabbles would arise, but these are only minor problems for which solutions can be found. Moreover, once the compassionate Dalai Lama has returned to the country, no trouble could arise among the masses of faithful Buddhist Tibetans: on the contrary, there would be security. Concern about trouble and a lack of security is without foundation, for in olden times and in the present, whether inside or outside the country, when there is freedom of religious belief and a famous religious leader, social stability, continuity and virtue will be there. Whereas if the Dalai Lama and exile government remain outside, it is an international issue, an external contradiction of an oppositional nature. It is a troublesome factor in external relations, and potential crises subject to changes in the international situation are unpredictable and difficult to manage, which is a serious matter. For example, the UNGA’s third resolution on the issue included Tibet among territories with the right to self-determination. Also, in recent years, in the context of the Dalai Lama’s invitations to the USA, this was endorsed by the upper and lower houses of the legislature by unanimous vote. When the Dalai Lama visits foreign countries he is statutorily received by the head of state. Further, in 1997 the California State Assembly resolved by unanimous vote a proposal to ban trade with Chinese-occupied Tibet. The US State Department established an office of rapporteur on the Tibet issue. Now it has been promoted from bureau to ministry level and a request made to establish a working office in Lhasa. In the European parliament’s resolutions on Tibet and in Western media and public opinion, Tibet has become a one-sided phenomenon. Last year the fourth world conference of Tibet Support Groups was held in the Czech capital Prague and so on. With respect to these impediments, our country’s foreign ministry has basically given advice in many quarters for them to be terminated, expressed displeasure, and even made refutations, while the opposition consistently behaves with self-righteousness, taking the easiest way out and making a token effort.

Some overseas Tibetan compatriots who have returned to visit relatives have earnestly told our concerned officials “In your propaganda you say that the Dalai Lama is a tool in the hands of Western anti-China forces and that is at the root of the disturbances in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas. On one hand you say that the policy of winning back the Dalai Lama continues unchanged, and on the other you denounce him as shameless and mean, denying or even disregarding his political status, his fame and influence. This position is not only unfounded, unsubstantiated and completely mistaken, but in case the Dalai Lama were to pass on, it will become hard to maintain through opportunistic deception and tidal force.” With respect to social stability, they say “Everyone knows that the Dalai Lama has unsurpassed faith and a superlative cast of mind, a Buddhist monk who puts the good of others and all ahead of personal interest, a compassionate, gentle and altruistic Buddhist and Nobel prize winner. He has always not only opposed violence and upheaval of any kind, but dismissed it as foolish, and as such the restraining power of his influence has maintained stability up to now. But once he passes on, it is not easy to say what will happen, it will be difficult to exercise restraint, the youth inclined to violent opposition and especially the warlike Khampa and Amdowa, famous for their love of fighting, could turn to outright violence.” “To control Tibet one first needs stablility in Kham” was the received wisdom of successive reactionary regimes in past history, who feared the fierce resistance of the Amdowa and especially the Khampa.[9] In his attitude, and his political fame and influence, the Dalai Lama can be said to have surpassed any previous Dalai Lama. People describe him as the Buddha of our age, one of the global religious leaders revered all over the world. Just to take the example of his two visits to Taiwan, he was welcomed by the entire range of political, religious and professional personalities, and wherever he went there were tens of thousands, young and old, men and women, requesting audience, blessings and so on, something never seen before. After an interaction like that, people said that the central government’s repeated demand that the Dalai Lama recognise Taiwan as a part of China would pose him no obstacle.


As for the conclusion to be drawn from all this, if the Dalai Lama were to return the internationalised ‘Tibet Issue’ would naturally cease to be a matter of external confrontation and become an internal nationality issue, problems of whatever magnitude or frequency would be no more than domestic disputes. As the Dalai Lama has said that he would not interfere with politics after his return but only concern himself with religious matters, there is no need for the central government to concern itself with arranging a political position for him.

Seeing things in this way, the solution to the outstanding Tibet issue, in essential terms, has reached the point where it has to be treated as the internal nationality issue it originally was. Initially, the primary and secondary, heavyweight and lightweight, and especially domestic and foreign aspects have to be clearly distinguished. In brief, we have to make a decision based on careful reflection in formulating a strategy, rather than allow some biased people with short-term perspectives to ignore the words of someone with altruistic concern for the interests of the nation and the people, for by no means can we fear the minor problems which may crop up today while putting aside the major problems of tomorrow.

In brief, if the Dalai Lama, figurehead of the devout masses of Tibetans and essential core of Tibetan Buddhism, were to return home, one could look ahead to peace and security at home and abroad, beneficial influence in all spheres of domestic life, and the natural resolution of the internationalised ‘Tibet issue’ after the long-lived Dalai Lama peacefully returned to his native land. In today’s world where peoples’ thinking is dominated by the secular views of science and evolutionism, Tibetan Buddhism has spread in many countries and become a growing influence in all aspects of social life. If the Dalai Lama whose fame and influence have become renowned in the four quarters of the world were to return, it would reassure Tibetans who have long looked to the outside and those who have travelled into exile to be with him, like the 17th Karmapa and Agya Tulku of Kumbum monastery, that it is safe to do so, as well as removing the need for thousands who annually make the journey to meet him in exile in spite of the danger, and changing the minds of foreigners at the same time.

The Tibet issue being the important one among the major nationality issues in our country, if a good solution were to be found, it would not only influence the Tibetan nationality’s own future and destiny, but following the relevant stipulations of the constitution and nationality law, it is profoundly connected with improving and fully implementing the autonomous powers of fraternal nationalities. All of this is an important advance in the formulation of domestic and international policy. The results coming one after the other from determination that “Where there is harmony there is excellence” are certainly beneficial.

Truth is of course universal. And as this universal truth is constantly violated by people, so are they bound to be punished by history sooner or later. After the Peaceful Liberation, Chairman Mao advised some Chinese leaders going to work in Tibet “Whatever work you undertake in Tibet, it is imperative in all respects to fix in your mind two important points, Nationality and Religion, and fix them there firmly.” Mao also personally instructed General Zhang Guohua, commander of the 18th field army in the advance on Tibet “When you reach Lhasa and meet the Dalai Lama you must prostrate to him and show humility”, and when Zhang Guohua showed some slight reluctance, Mao demanded “Zhang Guohua! If you can give your sweat and blood for the revolution, how can you not make a bow for the revolution?” Later, in the political environment where people with swollen heads declared “The further to the Left you are, the more revolutionary you are”, seniors and juniors alike totally discarded these two indispensable points, with results known to all – the twenty year detour, and its terrible mistakes. Therefore, in nationality areas and especially TAR and other Tibetan areas, successful handling of the nationality and religion issues is still the key to overall progress and ultimate success, just as it was back then. For generations Tibetans have been saying things like “In the sky sun and moon; On earth the Dalai and Panchen Lamas.” As for the faithful Buddhist Tibetan masses, and in particular the issue of the seemly and amicable return to Tibet of their spiritual leader, the universal truth of the two important points of which Mao once spoke are every bit as relevant today under new historical conditions. The building of confidence between the central government and the Dalai Lama is a matter of concern for all nationalities in our country, especially the professionals among the Tibetan nationality, as well as the masses of ordinary people, and it is an issue of concern to leaders and professionals in various friendly foreign countries. Even US President Clinton remarked to General Secretary Jiang Zemin at a press conference in Beijing “I think if you were to meet the Dalai Lama you would get on very well.” When that discussion was announced in Tibet people felt delighted and moved.

They say “If you capture popular sentiment, you capture all beneath the sky.” Comrade Jintao, having served as [Party] leader in Tibet, you can well understand the situation there, the thoughts and feelings of the people, but also the actual reality of the Tibet issue. If there is a satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issue, and yourself and the central leadership meet the Dalai Lama on friendly terms in the PRC capital, your fame will spread throughout the world, China and especially every nook and cranny in the land of snows will tremble with joy.

As I said at the beginning, this is a summary of my basic view of the necessity for a suitable resolution of the outstanding Tibet issue in TAR and other Tibetan areas. It is a view shared by eminent Tibetans both inside and outside the Party, and I firmly believe that it is also the sincere aspiration of the broad Tibetan masses.

Out of concern for history, the nationalities and the nation that I have written on a subject which others are unable, or do not dare express, whether those who prefer to pass the time at work, or those who understand the situation but prefer to stay out of trouble. Nonetheless, on this issue of importance to the [internal] security and development of Tibet, the equality and unity of nationalities, and their mutual prosperity, as a Tibetan Communist Party veteran, and a retired NPC Committee member, I have unreservedly set down my innermost thoughts and present them for the inspection by yourself and the members of the Central Committee. Kindly advise if it contains anything incorrect.

With Respect

Phuntsog Wanggyal

29th October 2004


[1] In October 1949 the CCP Kham-Tibet Frontier Region Working Committee and its front organization, the East Tibet Democratic Youth Alliance, gathered at Bathang to celebrate the founding of the PRC and in my capacity as underground Party Chairman in Bathang and president of the Youth Alliance, I delivered a speech, and I here attach a photograph in memory of that occasion.

[2] Relations between the underground Party in Bathang and the Beijing Party Central Committee began in early 1950 and a telegram from the PLA Commander-in-Chief Zhu De stated that ‘I was delighted to receive the January 7th telegram from Phuntsog Wanggyal of the East Tibet Democratic Youth Alliance in Bathang county, Xikang province. With respect to the tasks at hand and the task of liberating Tibet, you should proceed to Chongqing and contact Liu Bozheng of the South-west Military Committee. Zhu De.’ The 11/5/1950 telegram from the South-west Bureau to the Central Committee drafted by Deng Xiaoping himself, which is in the Central Committee archives, stated “We met with Phuntsog Wanggyal after his arrival in Chongqing. He is only 30, good in coordination of the movement, with high-level contacts on the Tibet side, united with a progressive youth faction and a famous Communist in Kham and Tibet. He is perfect in Chinese, literate in English, with a foundation in Marxism and a great capacity for grasping the essentials, a cadre of a calibre hard to find among the Tibetans. He is currently our Party chairman in Ba-en county, and has not only been selected to accompany the PLA into Tibet but also proposed for membership of the Tibet Work Committee, for which we request Central Committee approval”. (Note: I was 28 at the time, and knew just a little English. ‘Ba-en’ meant Bathang).

[3] I enclose a photocopy of Mao’s signed dedication in that book.

[4] This is part of a verse I wrote at the end of my time in Qinzheng No.1 Prison:

‘A speck of sunlight glimmers through the side of the window

The light of the setting sun shines on the iron door

The prison of fear is secured by locks on outer and inner doors

Alone, I have stared at this wall for eighteen years

The four seasons have passed and come around again

The flower of spring and the moon of autumn are just there

Beyond the high perimeter wall

There are many ways to dispense justice in this world

Noble men have always come to harm

Sadness over the workings of fate is a kind instructor

Through effort in attention and reflection one comes to understanding

And thus familiarity with both oneself and others

One grasps the fluid nature of this world

From the quest for serenity in the midst of suffering

The serene mind overcomes suffering

One reaps the fruit of happiness even in adversity

I lost my freedom for the sake of freedom

But even without freedom, I am free.’

[5] On the chairman’s podium at the National Peoples’ Congress in 1980, Comrade Deng Xiaoping grasped my hand saying “You have suffered greatly. Your wrongful accusation was a complete mistake”. General Secretary Hu Yaobang added “Today your reputation has been restored and completely exonerated”. On his first meeting with the released 10th Panchen Lama in 1980, Comrade Deng Xiaoping summed things up like this: “You [the Panchen Lama] are a great patriot, and your 70,000 character petition was in general quite correct, but partly mistaken. The manner in which your case was decided was too forceful. But Phun-wang’s treatment was completely mistaken. He was subjected to beatings even before the Cultural Revolution. This was completely wrong. We knew each other back in the ‘50s. Now the Central Committee has appointed him to the Standing Committee of the NPC combined with oversight of nationality work.” (The original transcript of this conversation was given to Panchen Rinpoche and myself and even reviewed by members of the Politburo).

[6] The author Wang Lixiong has visited Tibet about 20 times and been to virtually all parts of the country. He is familiar with the situation and the thinking of the ordinary masses. After it was translated into English and Tibetan, this essay received wide coverage and interest at home and abroad. Later he wrote a ‘Summary of an imaginary tale of the Dalai Lama’ in which he reasoned that after the death of the 14th Dalai Lama, his activity would be continued by the 17th Karmapa, that ‘foreign’ and ‘Tibetan’ candidates for the 15th Dalai Lama would emerge, and that once the Tibetan candidate was enthroned by the 11th Panchen recognised by the central government, this would not only be opposed by the Lamas of the various regional monasteries, but there would be disturbances throughout Tibet leading to the eventual declaration of Tibet independence with foreign interference, followed by ‘Xinjiang independence’, ‘Mongolian independence’ and so on. Although it was basically speculative, most readers found in it a powerful reminder. For an understanding of the present and emerging situation in Tibet, these two essays are a worthwhile read for the central leadership.

[7] Concerning the ‘Four Rivers and Six Ranges’ and the ‘Defenders of Religion’ army: the ‘four rivers’ are the four rivers of Kham, the Salween, Mekong, Yangtse and Yellow rivers, and the six ranges are the six ranges of Kham and Amdo, Salmo-gang, Tsawa-gang, Markham-gang, Pombor-gang, Mardza-gang and Minyak Rab-gang. Its leading members were all deputies of high-ranking figures in Kham and Amdo. In the summer of 1957 they collected money for a golden throne to be offered to the Dalai Lama, and expressed hopes for a conference to acheive the postponement of Democratic Reform in east Tibet on the same terms as in the Autonomous Region, and for the Dalai Lama to assume leadership over the entire eastern region of Tibet. This organization later established a ‘Defence of religion’ army of several thousand fighters from Kham and Amdo. The general in command Adruk Gonpo Tashi was from Lithang in Kandze prefecture, his deputy Namgyal Dorje was from Derge (the nephew of Jago Topden), and another deputy, Sandutsang Lo Nyandrak, was from Kandze (a relative of Ngapo).

[8] The banning of a ‘History of the Tibetan people’ by Tsering Dondrup of Kandze is an instance of this ‘Divide and rule’ issue. The offices in charge decreed that a ‘History of the Tibet Autonomous Region’ could be written, but not a ‘History of the Tibetans’, which is a manifestation of the reactionary policy of ‘Divide and rule, Guests taking over the host’s property and Turning national minorities into Chinese’. In fact, Tibetan historians could not even write such a history, let alone justify it. For example, Je Tsongka-pa, the founder of the triumphant Gelukpa school which spread its influence throughout Tibet, was born in the Xining area more than 500 years ago. The 7th Dalai Lama was born in Lithang. The 9th was born in Denkok. The tenth was born in Lithang. The 11th in Gartar. The 14th Dalai Lama and 10th Panchen Lama were born in Amdo. The most famous modern Tibetan scholar Gendun Chopel was also from Amdo. Most of the Ganden throneholders who presided over tens of thousands of monks at the Monlam prayer festival were from Kham. Most of the tens of thousands of monks at the Drepung, Sera and Ganden monasteries were from Kham or Amdo. The famous traders Pomdatsang, Sandutsang and Adruktsang were all from Kham. Alo Chondze, the leading organiser of the 1952 ‘Peoples’ Assembly’ group opposed to the 17-point agreement, was from Lithang. Baba Yeshe, the head of the security office in the exile government, who took on the PLA on the Sino-Indian border around 1960, was from Ba-tang. The former speaker of ther exile parliament and present chief minister Samdong Rinpoche is from the Dechen Tibetan Autonomous prefecture in Yunnan. The history of Tibet cannot be written without reference to these figures from east Tibet.

[9] The Kham and Amdo regions of east Tibet have long been the scene of the worst conflict between nationalities. For example, at the end of the Qing dynasty when the Lhasa Amban Feng quan passed through Bathang thousands of people rose up to prevent him reaching Tibet and killed him, and the local representatives of the Manchu government were beheaded. The butcher Amban Zhao Erfeng spread his notoriety in the region, and the historic campaign for Tibetan self-rule was led by famous figures from Bathang like Kesang Tsering, Yangseng and Losang Dondrup, and other parts [of Kham] like Pomda Topgye.