By Jamyang NorbuREVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS
In Marxist inspired narratives of feudal (or capitalist) states collapsing of their inherent contradictions, there should fittingly be a role for a revolutionary movement and perhaps even a revolutionary hero. Goldstein provides us a detailed thirteen-page account of the “Tibet Improvement Party”, which wanted to bring about a “revolutionary restructuring of the Tibetan government and society.” Goldstein lays out a great deal of information and material about this tiny organization, including a photograph of its three members, a full page reproduction of the Party emblem, a full page reproduction of the party’s membership card, and a partial reproduction of the party’s application form. The last was probably presented in reduced size to obscure the fact that half the text is in Chinese.
The “Tibet Improvement Party”, was a Chinese government financed organization. The Tibetan name, nub bhod lekchoe kyidug
or West Tibet Improvement Association, provides a clue as to the original language in which the name was composed, since the prefix “west” ( nub
in Tibetan or xi
in Chinese) to describe Tibet is only used in the Chinese word for Tibet, Xizang. The founder and leader of the organization Rabga Pangdatsang was a Guomindang officer. Rabga’s house in Kalimpong, Reli View, has a photograph of him in Nationalist army uniform, alongside other Guomindang officers.
A recently published study by a Taiwan scholar, using declassified Nationalist government files, clearly indicates the role of Rabga’s organization in Guomindang efforts to spy on Tibet and to subvert the Tibetan government. Hsiao-Ting Lin writes: “In an instruction to his military staff, Chiang Kai-shek finally ordered a monthly stipend of 100,000 yuan to be paid to Rabga … Chiang also instructed his secret service agents in Tibet, Xikang (Kham) and India to work closely with Rabga,who carried an official Chinese passport.”
But the West Tibet Improvement Society was pathetically ineffective in carrying out its revolutionary and conspiratorial agenda. Goldstein tells us that it printed thousand of membership forms and membership cards with insignium “that bore striking similarities to the Soviet Russian emblem.” But its membership apparently did not expand beyond its initial three members. At the conclusion of his lengthy account of the Party, Goldstein himself admits that “such a small group might seem unimportant …” but speculates, somewhat wistfully, that if it had allied itself with the “Reting forces” it might have posed “ … a real threat to the Lhasa government.” This organization is remembered by a few Tibetans today, only because the great scholar, Gedun Chophel, suffered incarceration in Lhasa due to his unfortunate association with it. When returning to Tibet from Kalimpong, he accepted some letters from Rabga, to be delivered to certain people in Lhasa suspected by Tibetan authorities of Guomindang connections. The British CID discovered this and Lhasa was informed, leading to Gedun Chophel’s arrest.REVOLUTIONARY MARTYR
Goldstein is on more solid ground with the revolutionary hero of his history, the official, Lungshar Dorje Tsegyal, who undoubtedly played a major, though many older Tibetans would deem pernicious, role, in modern Tibetan politics. Goldstein claims Lungshar as “one of Tibet’s most progressive lay officials” who realized that “all political systems must adapt to a changing world.” At the conclusion of his history Goldstein notes that a critical turning point in Tibetan history “occurred four months after Reting’s appointment as regent when a lay official, Lungshar, attempted to reform the structure of the government.”
Lungshar Dorje Tsegyal
The myth of Lungshar as a progressive revolutionary hero has been around long before Goldstein’s book. Dawa Norbu, in his Red Star Over Tibet
, states that “Tsepon Lungshar, the finance minister, led the ‘Young Tibet Group’ — a liberal democratic party. Lungshar, who had visited India and some European countries, including England, outlined some reform programmes with four of five of his colleagues in Lhasa. But this was leaked, and he was charged with treason; so his efforts to democraticize Tibet fizzled out.”
Dawa Norbu probably received this glowing but implausible account of Lungshar from Lungshar’s own son, Jangju la, who was teaching Tibetan language at Dr. Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong where Dawa Norbu studied.
The present Dalai Lama, who likes to describe himself as “half Buddhist, half Marxist”, also appears to have bought into the myth of Lungshar as reformer and revolutionary. In a recently released (and somewhat namby-pamby) history of Tibet by Thomas Laird, the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying “Actually the Thirteenth Dalai Lama fully trusted Lungshar” and “… (his) main aim was that the Tibetan government should be led by officials and not by lamas. Lungshar said that lamas have no experience in administration and so forth.”
In the exile Tibetan world of the sixties and seventies there was a yearning, especially among students studying in elite Indian universities with fashionably left leanings, for some kind of leftist revolutionary role model in Tibetan history. Since nothing like that had existed in old Tibet, Lungshar was inducted, probably since he appeared to possess some anti-colonial and anti-imperialist bona fides. These were established, as it were, by the fact that official British reports about him were unfavorable, even hostile, and also by the fact that the Tibetan cabinet had charged him with “plotting to overthrow the government and replace it with a Bolshevik system.”
Actually, if one reviews just the raw data that Goldstein lays out about Lungshar, and disregards his interpretation, it becomes immediately clear that far from being a progressive or a reformist, Lungshar was the most effective player on the ultra-conservative and reactionary side of Tibetan politics. He was, as Goldstein’s own information clearly points out, the chief factor in undermining the modern Tibetan military, the reforms of the 13th Dalai Lama, and by logical extension the defense of the nation against the Chinese invasion.
Goldstein tells us that at the outset of the modernization period, Tibetan politics was divided into two camps: the new military under the commander-in-chief, Tsarong which was “committed to modernization” and the “ultra-conservative” monastic segment allied with reactionary officials, led by the monk official Tempa Dhargay, who was also the Dalai Lama’s chamberlain (dronyerchemo
Dronyerchemo "apso" Tempa Dhargay
Goldstein clearly states that Lungshar had “tactically allied” himself with the ultra-conservative group. The leader of the conservative group, Tempa Dhargay, was known to his monk colleagues by the complementary nickname, Ara Karpo or “white beard”. The military officers and lay officials who despised him called him dronyerchemo
Apso – after the shaggy Tibetan terrier. Surprisingly Goldstein makes no mention of the pejorative “Apso” and writes as if he were only known as “white beard”. While this may not be evidence of Goldstein’s sympathy for the ultra-conservatives, it does point to where most of his information might have come from.
Lungshar’s first opportunity to weaken the powerful new military power bloc and set back the modernization drive came in 1920 when he cunningly instigated a political crisis that weakened the new army. The standard account of this incident has been that arrogant military officers forced their way into a meeting of the National Assembly. This has unfortunately created a lasting impression that something like an attempted military coup took place — on the lines of the seizure of the Cortes, the Spanish Parliament, in 1981 by members of the Guardia Civil. Shakabpa mentions, quite mistakenly, that Tsarong personally led this group of officers to the National Assembly. More recent studies, including Goldstein’s, reveal that that nothing of the sort happened, and that the officer’s conduct, though perhaps ill advised, was in fact harmless — perhaps even legitimate. It was blown out of all proportions by the conservatives, instigated by Lungshar.
In early March of 1920, the National Assembly was discussing the funding of the army. According to Goldstein “the anti-military clique arranged to exclude all military officers as delegates”. Unlike an elected modern parliament, the old Tibetan National Assembly required the attendance not only of government officials, abbots and representatives of the “Three Seats”, representatives of various classes and craft guilds, “but also representatives of the military”
. Excluding military delegates was an unusual action.
Tsarong Dasang Damdul, Commander-in-Chief.
According to a biography of Tsarong by his son, some officers went to the Assembly building and asked to meet the Assembly secretary to enquire why they had been excluded. They requested a meeting outside the chambers since according to “… government protocol, it would have been highly inappropriate to approach the Assembly directly; therefore they requested to talk to a representative.”
Lungshar, standing in for the Assembly secretary that day, met them outside. Goldstein also makes it clear that the officers told Lungshar “that they had not come to demand to be admitted but only to inquire why military officers had been excluded.”
What Lungshar reported to the National Assembly is not clear. But it definitely appears that his report alarmed the Assembly delegates and put the body in a state of panic. Shakabpa and some others who have written about this are clear that Lungshar instigated this uproar. Goldstein tells us that “Rumors spread that this might be the prelude to a coup or that the army might take action against specific opponents… Escalation of the incident occurred a few days later, when the leaders of the National Assembly informed Lonchen Sholkang (the prime minister) that they had suspended their meetings because they feared the military would try to kill them. This very serious charge by the anti-military forces cleverly forced the government to act.” This was the first in a number of incidents that weakened the military and its commander-in-chief, Tsarong, and elevated Lungshar’s political power. Behind all these Lungshar’s hand is clearly visible, but the military officers and Tsarong must share some blame for not treading the sensitive grounds of Tibetan politics more carefully.TIBET’S MILITARY MODERNIZERS
Nonetheless, whatever their limitations, it must be acknowledged that the officers of Tibet’s new army were the principal agents of modernization in Tibet at the time. Modernization is not necessarily an outcome of socialist or democratic change. In the case of Ataturk’s Turkey and Meiji Japan, there was a clear military impetus in the progressive reforms enacted in those nations. Tibet’s modernization should be discussed in the context of its time, and not from a present day liberal left viewpoint, which might consider the friendly relationship of the Tibetan officer class with the British (imperialists) to be ideologically incorrect. There appears to be a standing rule in much of “progressive” writing — propagandistic or otherwise — that nothing can be declared good, or modern, or democratic until it has the imprimatur of the left.
Tibetan military officers. Dalai Lama's nephew Drumba is second from left, middle row.
Old photographs of these Tibetan officers in European military uniforms striking martial poses (which might appear slightly ridiculous to contemporary viewers) have in some instances led to their accomplishments being belittled and overlooked. But one only has to look through photographs of Meiji officers, early Republican Chinese military officers and even the plump but dashing Enver Pasha, leader of the Young Turks, to realize that such uniforms and posturing were the fashion of the day in such circles.
The Tibetan military men of that period seemed to have possessed a capacity not just for fighting, but for intelligence gathering, communications, civil administration and even diplomatic subtlety, which comes through nicely in this account of a minor incident in 1913. The British spy and explorer F.M. Bailey secretly entered southern Tibet to map the vast tracts of unexplored mountainous jungles where the Tsangpo finally turns south towards India. The area is not only impossibly rugged and hostile but inhabited by savages and headhunters. So Bailey and his companion were surprised to receive a missive from Tibetan military headquarters in Eastern Tibet:
“The next morning, just as we were starting, a letter came for us from the Kalon Lama, Commander-in-Chief of the Tibetan Army. It was written from Pembar Gompa in Kham and had been sent to Showa. There it had been put in a fresh envelope, sealed and sent to Tsela, where it was sealed up in another cover and dispatched to us. The total effect was very impressive. It was to ask us who we were and what we were doing; and to make sure that we couldn’t say that we were unable to read it, an English translation was attached.”
At a time when even with spy satellites, GPS systems, predator drones and what not, intelligence failure is not uncommon, such low tech, unassuming but real capability might be regarded as fairly remarkable.THE RISE AND FALL OF LUNGSHAR
Lungshar finally managed to get Tsarong removed as commander-in-chief by playing on the ambitions of Drumba, the Dalai Lama’s young nephew, who was second-in-command. Lungshar encouraged him to complain to the Dalai Lama about Tsarong and to accuse him of plotting to “overthrow the Government”. When Drumba became commander-in-chief, Lungshar, according to Shakabpa, was “appointed Defense Secretary”. Rinchen Dolma Taring mentions “It was rumoured that Lungshar had schemed to have such a weak person made Commander-in-Chief.” Of course Mrs. Taring is not unbiased in the matter, but this conjecture about Drumpa’s rise was fairly widespread in Lhasa society then. Drumpa was a lazy inefficient official and the Dalai Lama later dismissed him from government service and Lungshar took full control of the military. According to K. Dhondup “As commander-in-chief and Finance Minister, Lungshar had reached the zenith of his power.”
Lungshar’s arrogance and recklessness almost brought Tibet to the brink of war with Nepal in 1929, over the minor case of “Sherpa” Gyalpo, who, in contravention of Tibetan law had been selling tobacco in Lhasa. Gyalpo, claiming Nepalese nationality sought asylum at the Nepalese Legation in Lhasa, but Lungshar, rashly disregarding diplomatic nicety and Nepal’s legitimate treaty rights (of 1856), decided to use force to settle the matter. A Nepalese historian claims that “90 Tibetan military officials stormed in the legation while 1300 troops surrounded its compound.”
An outraged Nepal prepared for war and only after significant British intervention was a real conflict narrowly averted. This diplomatic debacle and Lungshar’s own haughty and abrasive behavior with other officials gradually eroded his power base and contributed to his dismissal as commander-in-chief.
Kunphel la, the chief attendant of the Dalai Lama now began to emerge as a major political force. Kunphel la had created the Drongdak Magar (or regiment of better families) recruited from the lesser nobility and well-to-do peasants.
Drongdak commanders Tashi Dhondup Yuthok & Jigme Taring
Jigme Taring, the junior commander, was very proud of his regiment and told me that the that the inspiration for it had come from the British tradition of “gentleman’s regiments,” and it was hoped that it might possibly become a future selection ground for a professional officer corps. Initially there was much resistance from the recruits, who were not amenable to military discipline and wanted to go home. But Goldstein makes overmuch of the stories of recruits bewailing the cutting of their long hair. Conscript soldiers the world over probably respond in the same way to such regimentation. Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket
amply demonstrates the similar reaction of young American marine draftees to having their hippie locks shorn, before being shipped off to Vietnam.
Kunphel la lavished special treatment on the soldiers and with new weapons and equipment, smart uniforms and rigorous training and drill, the regiment slowly developed into an effective force — with perhaps even a kind of espirit de corps
of its own. F. W. Williamson, the British political officer, inspected the regiment in 1933 and was impressed. “Outside the regular units of the British and Indian armies, I have never seen such smartness and precision,” he wrote in a report to the government of India. Goldstein also refers to it as the “crack Trongdra Regiment”.
Drongdak regiment at Drapchi
But then the death of the Great Thirteenth provided the opportunity for Lungshar to remove Kunphel la from power. Goldstein tells us that Lungshar managed to infiltrate an agent into the Drongdrak regiment, who gradually convinced the soldiers to mutiny and desert. When that happened Kunphel la was left dangerously exposed. Goldstein tell us that Lungshar’s “plan to eliminate Kunphel la was ingeniously simple.”
Kuchar Kunphel la
Kunphel la was summoned before the National Assembly where Lungshar’s conservative allies accused him of murdering the Dalai Lama and called for drastic punishment. But wiser council, from such upright officials as Lukhangwa, finally won through. Kunphel la was charged with not informing the government promptly about His Holiness’s illness and exiled to Dhakpo.
Lungshar’s next step was to eliminate the power of the Kashag, and make himself supreme. He began to recruit discontented officials, largely monk officials, into a secret organisation called the Kyechog Kuntun (Happy Union). Goldstein inexplicably and repeatedly refers to this as Lungshar’s “Reform Party” or “Reform Movement — perhaps because the original Tibetan name does not have a progressive or revolutionary ring to it. It is clear that Lungshar and this group were aiming to displace the Kashag and take power through some kind of coup. The accepted account has been that the senior Kashag minister, Trimon, was to have been murdered, but according to Goldstein the takeover would have been achieved not by assassination but by the submission of a petition to the Kashag calling for reform — which sounds highly improbable. To provide some kind of historical validation for Lungshar’s takeover bid, Goldstein cites a couple of historical precedents. In what might be construed as a Freudian slip, one of the precedents that Goldstein mentions is a violent coup d’état
that took place in the early eighteenth century where the senior kashag minister (Khangchennas) was murdered in cold blood.
But Lungshar was betrayed by a member of his own organization. He attempted to escape and get hold of a pistol, but was disarmed and arrested. Goldstein mentions that a piece of paper was discovered in Lungshar’s boot containing a black magic spell to harm the minister Trimon. At the end of his chapter on this incident, Goldstein writes that “Lungshar’s movement was the last attempt to reform and revitalize the traditional political system…(and) his downfall must be seen as a main factor underlying the demise of the Lamaist State.”THE ANATOMY OF AMBITION
Goldstein bases the above assessment on his belief that Lungshar’s plan was to bring about radical political reforms in the government. Goldstein writes that Lungshar intended to have cabinet members limited to four-year terms, and also be selected by and responsible to the National Assembly. He derives this, and Lungshar’s reputation as a modernist and reformist largely from interviews with Lungshar’s two surviving sons, Lhalu Tsewang Dorjee, and Lungshar Jangju la. As I mentioned earlier the description of Lungshar as a “liberal democrat” in Dawa Norbu’s book, could have been inspired by Jangju la’s idealized stories of his father. Goldstein also quotes from Lhalu’s written account
published in “Research Materials for Tibetan History and Culture
. These were compilations of interviews and memoirs of Tibetan aristocrats, lamas and others made in the 1980s for official use and intended for neibu
or “restricted” circulation. Although serving an ancillary academic purpose, they are not entirely unrelated to “confession” (zhaogong
) and “denunciation” (qianze
) writing, from an earlier period.
None of the people interviewed for the “Research Materials” appear to have had any choice in the matter, and it is possible that parts of these statements could be used against the interviewee in a different political climate — if the authorities so required. We should perhaps also remember that “confession writing” is still a standard requirement in the present day Chinese legal system. Goldstein is convinced by the “impressive frankness” of the interviews and appears to have no reservations about accepting the materials in their entirety.
It would be mean-spirited to challenge the memories of Lungshar’s two sons, whose filial efforts to rehabilitate their father’s memory is understandable. But it is important for a historian to treat such sources with wariness. K. Dhondup considers Lhalu’s and other accounts from Tibet as valuable but he is careful to add that “…the readers must be cautious. These writings are by people who have their own axes to grind and have been published under the supervision of the foreign power now ruling Tibet.” It might be mentioned here that K. Dhondup, though a founder of the Tibetan Communist Party (in exile) and initially a subscriber to the myth of Lungshar as a revolutionary reformer, began to revise his views when he started researching his history of this period. In The Water-Bird and other Years
, Dhondup describes Lungshar as “sinister … wildly ambitious … self-seeking”, and also as “a diabolical genius” and “a pseudo-revolutionary. Dhondup concludes that Lungshar was a brilliant and intelligent individual “whose lust for power was disguised in numerous cloaks often more reactionary than progressive.”
If we study another account (in the “Research Materials
”) on the Lungshar coup written by a member of the “Happy Union” organisation, the official Lhautara, there is no mention of any political reforms such as term limits for the kashag, that were ever discussed in the meetings and discussions in which he participated. In fact Lhautara clearly states that Lungshar “formed a secret party to capture political power.”
Even if we were to accept Goldstein’s analysis, Lungshar’s plan to limit the power of the Kashag by increasing that of the National Assembly, should not be construed as a sort of “democratic” restructuring. The National Assembly was not in the modern sense a legislature. Both the kashag and the Assembly were centres of political power, the former being more dominated by the lay aristocracy, the latter by monastic representatives. And clearly the empowering of the largely monk National Assembly was not Lungshar’s end goal which was, as Goldstein admits, to put himself in the position of supreme power.
Earlier, Goldstein describes how Lungshar’s “brilliant scheme” was to first side with the monastic conservatives to destroy the military bloc and the modernists, and then (presumably after destroying his erstwhile conservative allies) bring about reforms. This sort of double and triple crossing is, of course, the accepted way for a Hitler, a Stalin or a Mao to seize power, but is definitely not a way to establish democratic institutions. It must be stressed that Lungshar’s constant ally throughout his career was the ultra-conservative monastic power bloc. In fact, as Goldstein himself writes, the membership of Lungshar’s “Reform Movement overwhelmingly consisted of monk officials.” Clearly these people were in the movement not to bring about reforms but to challenge the power of lay officials, weaken the military and halt modernization. Goldstein is unable to satisfactorily explain this strange inconsistency in his somewhat hagiographic account of Lungshar.
It might be mentioned that something like the Lungshar conspiracy took place in Dharamshala in the early sixties when the Dalai Lama’s older brother Gyalo Thondup created a political organization, The Three Provinces United Association (cholsum chigdril tsokpa
), largely from the ranks of junior monk officials (tsedrung
). One of its primary goals was to undermine the kashag whose senior minister was an old aristocrat, Surkhang Wangchen Gelek, Goldstein’s uncle-in-law. It is interesting to note that the same rhetoric of nationalism and reform was used by Gyalo Thondup to get rid of political opponents and to seize power. But I am sure Goldstein will agree with me that Gyalo Thondup cannot be described as a democratic reformer.
It might also prove worthwhile to investigate Lungshar’s allegedly progressive résumé. Lungshar was sent to Britain in 1920 as the guardian of the four Tibetan boys the Dalai Lama sent to Rugby as an experiment in Western education. Lungshar visited some European countries but his attempts to establish contacts with other foreigners “met with little success”. Goldstein also tells us that Lungshar suddenly returned to Tibet as his wife had become pregnant and he believed that if the child were born in England it would have blue eyes and blond hair. Tibetans have a rich fund of amusing stories of the misconceptions and faux pas
of their “innocents abroad”, but this is the only instance I know of any Tibetan behaving in such a ridiculously superstitious and bizarre manner.
We know that Lungshar was given to supernatural beliefs and occult practises. Goldstein tells us that he was “widely considered to be an expert in mirror divination (thrabab
) and black magic (dey
).” Rinchen Dolma Taring tell us (repeated by Luciano Petech
) that the death of Shatra Paljor Sowang in 1928, just before his appointment as a kashag minister, was popularly attributed to magic by Lungshar. Then, of course we have Lungshar’s own attempt to murder the minister Trimon by black magic, which Goldstein mentions. Even in a society as religious (and perhaps credulous) as the Tibetan, Lungshar’s obsession with magic was exceptional. In sharp contrast, many of the young military officers and modernists at the time regarded themselves as rationalists (even if they were so only in a superficial sense). Tsarong was considered by many to be an atheist, and Rinchen Dolma Taring attempts to defend him on this charge in her autobiography, Daughter of Tibet
Lungshar did not take up any novel pastime such as photography, or listening to the radio or the gramophone that other Tibetans did at the time. He also did not follow the example of progressive aristocrats who enrolled their children at the English school in Gyangtse, which was strongly opposed by the monastic conservatives. Lungshar also did not send his children to India for a modern education as other aristocrats and even merchants did, after the Gyangtse school was shut down.
We know that officials and individuals undertook various projects that contributed to the modernizing of Tibet. For instance Tsarong undertook to build the first steel bridge at Trisam, Ringang undertook to electrify Lhasa city, and Kunphela started a factory at Drapchi and set up a modern plumbing system to pipe clean water to the Jokhang kitchen to make tea for monks during the Monlam festival. Lungshar does not appear to have done anything of the kind.
Goldstein makes much of Lungshar’s knowledge of democracy and “western history”, but other than his son’s claims we have no evidence for this. There is no book, pamphlet or even a casual reference in a letter by Lungshar, to any such thing. At that time some forward thinking Tibetans as Gedun Chophel and Gergan Tharchin were writing on such matters. Even a hundred years earlier curious Tibetan scholars had attempted to write about the outside world in such books as the “Mirror of the World Geography” (zamling gyalshay melong
When we factor in Lungshar’s characteristic arrogance (noted by Goldstein) and his obsessive jealousy of others in power which, even his own mistress, Lady Lhalu had remarked on,
it is difficult not to conclude that Lungshar’s ambition to attain supreme political power was for egotistical reasons, and had little or nothing to do with reforming or modernizing Tibet. Goldstein’s efforts to represent Lungshar as a democrat, a revolutionary, and the one hope that Tibet had of reforming itself and halting the Communist invasion is entirely without foundation. On the contrary, Lungshar’s effective undermining of the modern army, the disbanding of the “crack” Drongdak regiment, and ensuring of the success of the ultra-conservative forces, contributed overwhelmingly to the success of Communist China’s military invasion in 1950.
Lastly, perhaps more than any one single factor, it was Lungshar’s central role in forcing the Panchen Lama to flee to China that ensured the “demise of the Lamaist state”. In 1920, Lungshar was entrusted with raising taxes on aristocratic estates and also the great monasteries including Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lamas. Tashilhunpo had an obligation to pay about one fourth of the Tibetan government’s military expenses but it protested the assessment. Some kind of compromise might eventually have been arrived at, but Goldstein tells us that Lungshar “convinced the Dalai Lama that the real motive behind the Panchen Lama’s refusal was his ambivalence about the supreme authority of the Dalai Lama”. Not surprisingly, the situation quickly deteriorated to a point where finally, in 1923, a fearful Panchen Lama fled to China. To make matters worse Lungshar dispatched a military force that was unable to capture the Lama. As an official reaction this was excessive and threatening enough to convince the Panchen never to return to Tibet, at least without a Chinese military escort.
6th Panchen Lama on Guomindang airplane
The 6thPanchen Lama, a saintly though naif figure, was effectively used by the Nationalist government to weaken Tibetan efforts to demonstrate their independence. According to an American scholar, Warren Smith, the Chinese used the Panchen as “…evidence that Tibet was not a unitary state but merely an assortment of feudal dependencies of China.” Smith adds that “the Panchen’s flight hampered the Dalai Lama’s attempt to create Tibetan political unity and to centralize Tibetan administration.”
Not only was the Panchen’s flight regarded as a grave ill omen but animosity arose against the government, the army and modernization, and “strengthened the hand of the conservatives.”
When the Communists invaded Tibet, their custody of the new incarnation of the Panchen Lama immensely eased their passage through Amdo and Kham into central Tibet, and in fact provided an appearance of legitimacy to their invasion. If one had to calculate the long-term damage to Tibetan nationalist interests, Chinese control of the Panchen Lama was probably more harmful than even the Reting affair whose negative effects diminished over time. Goldstein tell us “the enmity between the government and the supporters of Reting Rimpoche remained until the 14th Dalai Lama took over the reins of government in the late 1950 and began a new chapter in Tibetan history.” But there is no new chapter on the Panchen impasse
, which not only seriously weakens the Tibetan issue at present, but bodes ominously for the future when the Chinese will no doubt use the Panchen in their bid to select the next Dalai Lama. For all this we can thank Lungshar and his reactionary ally the dronyechenmo
“Apso”, who as Tashilhunpo officials believe to this day, poisoned the Dalai Lama’s mind against the Panchen Lama.
Why then does Goldstein, in clear conflict with the significant body of evidence that he himself has put together, attempt to establish Lungshar as the revolutionary martyr of his history? We can perhaps gain an understanding of his motives if we look at two biographies of Tibetan Communists he has co-authored and promoted recently.The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering
is about a minor official of the Tibetan government who escaped to India in 1959, and who in 1960 managed to travel to the United States to study. In the States, Tashi is convinced that Tibet can only become modernized under the Communist Party of China, and “returns” (via Cuba) to China. This Marxist style parable of “the return of the prodigal son” is not the only thing, ideologically speaking, going for Tashi in this book. As a dancing boy in Lhasa he is abused by an aristocratic lama, which aptly serves to highlight the class argument about the need for socialist reform in Tibet. Tashi Tsering’s naïve idealism, a joint product of his own experience with Communism in Tibet and 1960s western admiration for Mao and Communist China (he was friends with Goldstein in Seattle in the early 60s) is rewarded by a long and brutal prison term in China and then exile from Tibet till the 1980s. The overwhelming impression one receives after reading Tashi Tsering biography is of extreme naïveté. One also cannot help but conclude that Goldstein’s choice of Tashi as a subject for a book reveals Goldstein’s own naïve unrealism and ideological leanings.
The other book, A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye
, is the story of a Tibetan Communist who provided invaluable help to the Chinese invasion force in 1950, by organizing transport and supplies through Eastern Tibet, and who later became the Dalai Lama’s teacher on Marxism Leninism. I have reviewed this book at length in another essay so I will not go into it in depth again. For his services to China and the Communist Party, Phüntso Wangye was rewarded with two decades of solitary confinement at the end of which he had literally forgotten how to speak. His wife committed suicide after being “struggled” by her comrades and their children were left to fend for themselves like strays. In the biography it is made clear that in spite of his trials Phüntso Wangye has not, to this day, given up his faith in Mao Tsetung and Chou Enlai. He has also not lost belief in the Marxist policy on nationality autonomy, even when Stalin himself said that the policy was only intended to induce minority nationalities to join socialist states, and even when Tibet is now more directly controlled and oppressed by Beijing than any other place in China. It is difficult to conclude whether Phüntso Wangye’s brand of naïveté is merely pathological or, as it appears in some instances in the book more a product of willful and blind arrogance. Some years ago he authored a weighty tome (published officially in Beijing and distributed in the USA by ICT) in which he claims to have discovered indisputable proof, entirely through the methodology of Marxist dialectics, that there is liquid water on the moon. Goldstein though, regards Phüntso Wangye as a kindred spirit. Throughout the book he refers to him by his pet name, Phunwang.
Goldstein clearly views these two men as admirable and the tone of both the books are adulatory if not hagiographic. The outstanding feature of these two Tibetans, and probably the reason why Goldstein worked to get their stories published in the West in the first place, is that they served the cause of Communist China’s occupation of Tibet. In Phüntso’s case the service was willful and of incalculable benefit to Communist China. Tashi Tsering provided little more than a small propaganda service, but it was, in his pathetic self-deluding way, patently sincere.
Lungshar did not set out to help China conquer Tibet, but by working with the ultra-conservative power bloc to destroy Tibet’s modern military, he, more than anyone else did exactly that. I think it is that contribution to Communist China’s triumph that is Goldstein’s unstated but causal reason why Lungshar is the leading character in his history. Goldstein does not, perhaps, expressly approve of China’s takeover of Tibet, in the sense of a powerful nation invading a smaller one, but does so on more ideological grounds, in the way of it being a victory for the cause of international socialism.
Lungshar was not a Communist, but he was the only Tibetan ever charged by the Tibetan government with being a Bolshevik, and punished for it. This and the terrible punishment he suffered for his crimes is perhaps what has made him a martyr in the eyes of many in the Tibetan left. Even in more international circles Lungshar’s role as a Communist martyr surfaces now and again. For instance on the website RevolutionaryLeft.com, a Maoist chat site that bills itself as the world’s largest radical left forum, I was surprised to find this exchange on Lungshar which I reproduce unedited:
“Uppity serfs could be punished by their masters - the nobles and monasteries. One government official by the name of Lungshar, a mild reformer, was accused of trying to lead a Communist revolution in the 1930s IIRC…his eyes were crushed by tightening a knotted rope around his head. He later died in prison.
Spartafc: Thank heavens for Mao, thank heavens for the continued Tibetan occupation.”THE HISTORIAN’S MOTIVE
Pieter Geyl, the Dutch historian, in his famous work, Napoleon For and Against
, provides an intriguing demonstration of how historians are influenced by the present even when they are writing about the past. Geyl shows how the successive judgments of French nineteenth-century historians on Napoleon reflected the changing and conflicting patterns of French political life and thought throughout that century. “The thought of historians, as of other human beings, is moulded by the environment of the time and place.”
I think the “present” that influenced Goldstein in his formulation of Tibetan history might be viewed in two phases. One is definitely the period of Mao and the Cultural Revolution when Goldstein was beginning his work in Tibetan Studies. At a time when Tibetan language and culture was, to all purposes being eradicated in Tibet, Goldstein, in an introduction to a language book he published in 1973, declared, “Recent political events in Tibet have triggered a veritable revolution in the Tibetan language.” By “recent political events” Professor Goldstein probably meant the Cultural Revolution — which started in 1966 and officially ended in 1976.
The next phase is the post-liberalization period initiated by Deng Xiaoping, when Goldstein was allowed to enter Tibet to conduct his various researches, and even conclude mutually beneficial agreements with the Communist authorities. In fact Goldstein was so impressed by the brave new Capitalist/Communist China that in a major policy report on the Tibetan question he advocated his final solution to the Tibetan question, whereby the Chinese would retain political, military and economic control over Tibet, but would allow Tibetansto exist within “cultural reservations”. 
Goldstein claims absolute objectivity for his History of Modern Tibet
. This is what he writes in the preface “The book is neither pro-Chinese nor pro-Tibetan in the current sense of these terms. It does not set out to support the Dalai Lama’s government in exile or to support the People’s Republic of China.” The Chinese art scholar, Simon Leys in his examination of Ross Terill and other China experts, had this to say of their oft declared objectivity. “The Expert is not emotional; he always remembers that there are two sides to a coin. I think that even if you were to confront him with Auschwitz, for example, he would still be able to say that one should not have the arrogance to measure by one’s own subjective standards Nazi values, which were, after all, quite different.”
I mentioned earlier an instance of this kind of deadly evenhandedness in the mind-set of the British and French foreign ministers when Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia. It helps to subscribe to such “objective” thinking when we bring ourselves to believe that the invasion or war in question is being conducted for higher purposes. When Japan attacked China in 1937, many in the West, though not entirely unsympathetic to China, took a pro-Japanese view. This is from an editorial in The Times
(of London) about casualties in Shanghai:
“Such loss of life as has occurred among the Chinese civilian population (many of whom were soldiers in disguise) has been unavoidable or accidental, and, we are convinced, is regretted by no one more than the Japanese.”
Many at the time regarded Japan as striking a blow for progress and civilization against a backward, decadent China; what the French, drawing on their own experience in Algeria and Indo-China, might have called conducting a mission civilisatrice
Perhaps in declaring his objectivity so explicitly Goldstein might have felt he could be setting himself up for criticism, for he tacks on this qualifying statement a few lines later in the preface. Despite it’s understatement and studied neutrality it should perhaps be read as a message of empathy. “It is difficult not to feel great sympathy for the hardships that both the Tibetans and the Chinese people have experienced in modern times.”
Millions of Germans suffered under the Nazis and many perished in the concentration camps, yet when we discuss the Holocaust and the tragedy of European Jewry it is not required of us to make a make an equivalent reference to the suffering of the Germans in order to establish our objectivity as it were. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial but well received book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners
, exposes as false the notion that German people were blameless victims who had the misfortune to have been governed by evil ruthless rulers who committed horrendous crimes against the Jews. Goldhagen presents a case where society and individuals in that society had for generations nurtured such negative malevolent stereotypical attitudes towards Jews that the holocaust was the culmination of this rather than a unique event orchestrated by one dictator and a political party. Chinese stereotypes of Tibetans as uncivilized barbarians or slave-owning feudal lords are of course, qualitatively different, but are probably as widespread in Chinese society as Jewish stereotypes were in Germany. These racist descriptions are still, the leading and convenient rationalizations the Chinese government, intellectuals, students (even in the West) and run-of-the-mill Chinese unfailingly use to justify their occupation of Tibet and the subjugation of the Tibetan people.
The British historian Michael Stanford in The Nature of Historical Knowledge
, warns us that if historians shun all the moral aspects and write “objective” or non-moral history, “the best intention of historians may result in what they would not desire; namely, a slide from non-moral attitude in historians to attitudes in their readers that are, first amoral, and then, perhaps, immoral.”
But perhaps, more than a lapse of judgment, or an unconscious “slide” into immoral positions that Stanford writes of, there might be something more deliberate and self-serving in much of present day “objective” writing on China (and Tibet). I have mentioned on a number of occasions the articles by a leading American scholar on Chinese literature, Perry Link
, and Carsten A. Holz 
of Hong Kong University, regarding this issue. Recently we have had Paul Mooney’s report 
on how Beijing effectively manages to make Western academics censor themselves.
China appears to regard Goldstein as the premier Tibet scholar on their side. If one goes into the Chinese government white papers on Tibet and checks out “The Historical Inevitability of Tibet’s Modernization.
” The first and key reference cited is Goldstein’s history.
Goldstein is not the run of the mill propagandist for China that Han Suyin, Israel Epstein or Tom Grunfeld are. His mission appears not so much to regurgitate raw Chinese propaganda as to skillfully isolate and magnify those grey areas in Tibetan history and current affairs, so that distinctions become blurred. White turns into black, right into wrong, and, to paraphrase Harold McMillan, victims into assassins.
That is perhaps why Goldstein was much in demand in Washington. DC, for congressional hearings and so on, around the time President Clinton wanted to de-link human rights and trade with China, and induct China into the World Trade Organization. At a forum on Tibet at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival, I heard Clinton’s envoy to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, offer high praise to Goldstein. Holbrooke (now a lobbyist for China) had traveled with Goldstein to Tibet and clearly regarded his as the definitive word on the Tibetan issue.
In that sense Goldstein and his academic work might be seen (whether he intends it to or not) as a part of a larger global effort being made for the last couple of decades to undermine moral, political and intellectual opposition to unfettered trade with China. Revision of Asian history has been an important feature of this strategy, the emphasis being on representing China and Asia as ancient civilizations that place value on hierarchy, order and tradition, which the West should not disrespect by insisting that it observe Western values of human rights, freedom and democracy.
The Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, has strongly condemned this attempt to depict Asian history “in terms of a narrow category of authoritarian values which does little justice to the rich varieties of thought in Asian intellectual tradition.” In his Freedom as Development
, he brushes aside such negationism with a brusque dismissal that appears equally suited to summing up the premise of Goldstein’s Demise of the Lamaist State
“Dubious history does nothing to vindicate dubious politics.”NOTES & REFERENCES
I am related to Rabga’s wife and have visited their home in Kalimpong on a number of occasions.
Lin, Hsiao-Ting, Tibet and Nationalist China’s Frontier, Intrigues and Ethnopolitics 1928-49, UBC Press. Vancouver, 2006.
Dawa Norbu, Red Star Over Tibet, Collins, London. 1974
Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet, Conversations with the Dalai Lama, Grove Press, New York, 2006.
Ram Rahul, The Government and Politics of Tibet, Vikas Publications, New Delhi, 1969.
D.N.Tsarong, In the Service of His Country, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca NY, 2000
F.M. Bailey, No Passport to Tibet, The Travel Book Club, London, 1957
Mishra, Tirtha Prasad, The Taming of Tibet: A Historical Account of Compromise and Confrontation in Nepal-Tibet Relations (1900-1830), Nirala Publications, New Delhi,1991
Lhalu, Tsewang Dorje “Recollections of My Father Dorje Tsegye Lungshar,” by Cultural and Historical Materials Office, Bod rang skyongs ljongs chab gros rig gnas lo sgyus rgyu cha zhib jug u yon lhan khang.
This is the series Bod-kyi lo-rgyus rig-gnas dpyad-gzhi’i rgyu-cha bdams-bsgrigs, better rendered as Research materials for Tibetan History and Culture, or in some volumes as Cultural History. The series is not really comprised of interviews, but of memoirs written by members of the former upper classes. In addition, the series also has original historical documents that are useful for research in recent history. There was a small pamphlet published in Dharamsala in the 1980s in which one of the authors recounts the process by which his own memoir was put together. It clearly had a lot of government input.
K. Dhondup, The Water-Bird and Other Years, A History of the 13th Dalai Lama and after, Rangwang Publishers, New Delhi, 1986.
Luciano Petech, Government and Aristocracy of Tibet, Is.M.E.O, Roma, 1973.
Rinchen Dolma Taring, Daughter of Tibet, John Murray, London, 1970.
Warren Smith, Tibetan Nation, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1996,
Goldstein, Melvin, “The Dragon and the Snowlion: The Tibetan Question in the 20th Century” (In CHINA BRIEFING, 1990, New York, the Asia Society, 1990. Reprinted in TIBETAN REVIEW, March 1991.
Simon Leys, The Burning Forest, Paladin, U.K., 1988.
Stanford Michael. The Nature of Historical Knowledge. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
Perry Link, “The Anaconda in the Chandelier”, The New York Review of Books, April 11, 2002.
Carsten A. Holz, “Have China Scholars All Been Bought?” April 2007 Far Eastern Economic Review.
Paul Mooney “Want access? Go easy on China” June 21, 2008, The National.
http://www.china.org.cn/e-white/20011108/4.htm. Government White Papers. The Historical Inevitability of Tibet’s Modernization.The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.