Undated picture of 'Phunwang'
DHARAMSHALA, MARCH 30: Veteran Tibetan Communist Bapa Phuntsog Wangyal had passed away at a hospital in Beijing on Sunday. Wangyal was 92.
Phuntsog Wangyal or known popularly as Phunwang was born in Bathang in the traditional Tibetan province of Kham in January 1922. He founded the Tibetan Communist Party which later merged with Mao’s Communist Party.
He wrote open letters
to Chinese leaders, including Hu Jintao, calling for a review of their attitude towards the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.
Phunwang spent several years in the Chinese Communist Party, and has authored several books. In his latest book, ‘A Long Way to Equality and Unity’
he called for the return of Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, saying if the Dalai Lama returns to Tibet, “the homecoming would be peaceful and not chaotic.”
“If he returned to China the antagonistic Tibetan issue that has been internationalized would change into a non-antagonistic domestic issue,” Phunwang wrote.
He condemned the political environment in China and warned the Chinese leaders against stumbling into a “Chinese Empire” mentality, and against becoming “intoxicated with self-publicity.”
“We cannot be afraid of the small trouble that may come up today and leave the big trouble for tomorrow,” he wrote. He wrote that stability in regions such as Tibet cannot be maintained with “the gun and the renminbi [Chinese currency]”.
Phunwang seen with Mao Zedong and the young Dalai Lama in Beijing in 1955
Phunwang asked Chinese leadership to treat the Tibetan leader as it has leaders of Taiwan, through reconciliation and abandonment of grudges, adding that simply marking time until the Dalai Lama dies will “only worsen the threat of social unrest.”
The Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama who often refers to Phunwang as his friend has also expressed his sadness over the veteran communist’s death. “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing away of Baba Phuntsog Wangyal in Beijing. He was a true Communist, genuinely motivated to fulfill the interests of the Tibetan people. In his death we have lost a trusted friend.”
The Tibetan leader met Phunwang for the first time in 1951 in Lhasa, and later in Beijing where the Tibetan leader had travelled in 1954 - 55, during which Phunwang had interpreted for the Tibetan leader.
“. . . he assisted and interpreted for me in the course of which we became good friends. During the series of meetings I had with Chairman Mao in particular, he was of crucial help as my interpreter. He was well-versed in Marxist thought and much of what I know of that I learned from him. He was one of those Tibetans aware of the drawbacks of the prevailing social and political system in Tibet, who was inspired by Communism to bring about change,” wrote His Holiness on his website.
“Through his own example Phunwang showed that you could be a true Communist while at the same time proud of your Tibetan heritage. He caught me by surprise, when, at our first meeting, in the company of the Chinese delegation, he chose to make prostrations before me. At the same time, while the Chinese officials were all dressed uniformly in their regulation Mao suits, he wore a traditional Tibetan chuba. When I asked him about this he told me it would be a mistake to think that the Communist Revolution was primarily concerned with how to dress. He said it was more about a revolution of ideas, indicating to me that he did not think that being a Communist meant a Tibetan needed to dismiss Tibetan traditions.
“Despite his firm upholding of Communist ideals, the Chinese authorities regarded Phuntsog Wangyal’s dedication to his Tibetan identity in a negative light, as a result of which he spent 18 years in prison. He remained undaunted and even after his retirement continued to be concerned about the rights and welfare of the Tibetan people, something he raised with the Chinese leadership whenever he had the opportunity.
“A sincere, honest man, I enjoyed his company whenever we met. I had hoped we might yet meet again, but that was not to be.
“I pray that Phuntsog Wangyal may have a good rebirth and offer my condolences to his wife and children.”