Late Panchen Lama`s petition

Tashi Tsering` life in former and present Tibet

Life in old Tibet


Historical chronology


1949 June India agrees to supply arms to Tibet for defence purposes.
1949 8 July: The Kashag (Cabinet) expels the Chinese mission in Lhasa, which had been established in 1940 by the Nationalist (Guomindang) government, fearing that it would provide a stepping stone for the establishment of Communist control in Tibet. Communist sympathisers are also expelled from Tibet, including Phuntsog Wangyal, a Tibetan intellectual from Bathang in Kham, eastern Tibet (now incorporated into the Chinese province of Sichuan).
1949 29 September: The National People's Congress unanimously approves the Common Program of Zhu De, the People's Liberation Army Commander in Chief, which called for the "waging of the revolutionary war to the very end and the liberation of all the territory of China, including Formosa [Taiwan], the Pescadores [a group of 64 small islands in the Taiwan strait], Hainan Island [south of China] and Tibet".
1949 1 October: Mao Zedong declares the foundation of the People's Republic of China from the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) in Beijing. The Regent of Tibet, Taktra, endorses recommendations of the Tibetan National Assembly (Tsongdu) that the Kashag (cabinet) be reorganised. The Kashag is also given the power to act without consulting the National Assembly.
1949 2 November: The Tibetan government sends a letter to Mao Zedong stating Tibet's independent status and seeking assurances that their territory will not be encroached upon. The Tibetan Foreign Bureau requests assistance from Britain in a note to the then British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. A similar request is made to the United States.
1949 3 December: The Kashag sends a telegram to the British government requesting support for the admission of Tibet to the United Nations.
1950 12 January: US Secretary of State Dean Acheson instructs the US Ambassador to India, Loy Henderson, to dissuade the Tibetan government from sending a mission to the United States.
1959 31 January: Lhasa radio, set up as a result of the threat from the PRC, rejects Beijing's claim that Tibet is a part of China. The broadcast declares that Tibet had been "independent since 1912 when the Manchu dynasty had been driven out".
1950 April Hainan Island, south of China, taken by the Chinese Communist government.
1950 6 May, Geshe Sherab Gyatso, a respected Tibetan Buddhist scholar from Qinghai Province (Amdo) addresses the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama in a radio broadcast, implicitly warning that the Chinese would use force if necessary to "liberate" Tibet. At the end of May the first military conflict between the PLA and Tibetans results in the fall of the strategically important town of Dengo (in Kham) to the Chinese.
1950 October The PRC launches a full-scale military invasion of Tibet, with the aim of taking over Chamdo, a strategically important town in Kham that is now part of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
10 October: The Chinese government makes its first major policy statement on Tibet, which is later to become the basis for the 17-Point Agreement, signed on 23 May 1951. The agreement has since been used by Beijing to legitimise China's control over Tibet.
19 October: The fall of Chamdo. Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, then governor of Chamdo, surrenders to People's Liberation Army troops. November
1950 13 November: An urgent appeal for assistance from the Tibetan government reaches the United Nations headquarters in New York.
1959 17 November: The Dalai Lama assumes full religious and political power at the age of 16 during this period of crisis in Lhasa. -end- For a detailed account of events in 1949-50 in China and Tibet see

"The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947" by Tsering Shakya (Pimlico).


Late Panchen Lama`s 70,000-character petition revealed

China imposed collective punishment on all Tibet

It takes a great deal of courage for one who is supposed to be in the good book of one of the most ruthless dictatorial regimes in the world,to accuse it of having perpetrated on his people persecution, unpa ralleled in human history.

A secret report obtained by TIN documents mass arrests,political executions and man made starvation in Tibet in the early 1960`s and show that the top Tibetans who collaborated with the Chinese had deep miss givings about Chinese policies in Tibet The report attributes mass starvation among Tibetans,at the time to government directives,and four years before the Cultural Revolution,expresses fears that Chinese poli cies were aimed at the eradication of religion and could lead to the eli mination of Tibetans as a distinct people.

Mao Zedong colled this petition a poisoned arrow shot at the Party by reactionary feudal overlords.It was later judged to have exceeded the criticism levelled at the party by the famous 10,000 character letter of General Peng Dehuai which led to his downfall in 1959.

Panchen Lama the most important religious leader remaining in Tibet as well as the head of the then Tibetan government,presented the petition to China`s Premier,Zhou Enlai,on 18 May 1962.For some three months Li Weihan,head of China`s United Front Department,took initial steps to implement the report`s suggestions,but in August that year Mao called for the resumption of class struggle and in October Li was criticised for his link with the Panchen Lama. In the same month the Panchen Lama was or dered to undertake a self criticism,and a year later was subjected to a 50-day-long struggle session in Lhasa before being sent to Beijing,where he spent 14 of the following 15 years in detention or under virtual house arrest.In 1966 he was seized by Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution and tortured for two months,and then in 1968 he was formally arrested by the PLA, imprisoned and tortured,for a further nine years.

The Panchen Lama was fully rehabilitated only in 1988,the year before he died.His report,known as the 70,000 Character Peti tion has never before been seen out side inner party circles in China.The Party is crrently involved in controversial atte pts to force Tibetans to accept an 8-year-old child whom it has unilaterally declared to be the Panchen Lama`s successor and to reform the thinking of monks and nuns.

Mass Arrests and Starvation

The 120page document,divided into eight sections,gives details of the situation in all tibetan-inhabited areas after inspection tours there by the Panchen Lama in 1961 and early 1962.

One of its major critisisms was the excessive punishment imposed by the authorities to average the 1959 Uprising in Tibet.We have no way of knowing how many have been arrested.In each area 10.000 or more have been arrested.Good and bad,innocent or guilty,they have all been arrested,contrary to any legal system that exists,anywhere in the world...In some areas the majority of men have been arres ted and jailed so that most of the work is done by women,old people and children, says the report.

In alleges that there was a policy of collective punishment,by which Tibetans had been executed because their relatives were involved in the uprising,and it accuses officials of deliberately subjecting political prisoners to harsh conditions so that they would die..Even family members of the rebels were ordered to be killed...

Officials deliberately put people in jail under conditions which they are not used to so that there were a large number of abnormal deaths,it says.

The primary concern of the report,however,was to persuade the Beijing leadership to stop Tibetans dying from starvation,especially in Eastern Tibet, where communes had already been estab lished.Above all you have to guarantee that the people will not die from starva tion,says the petition`s final paragraph,addressing Premier Zhou.

In many parts of Tibet people have starved to death... In some places,whole families have perished and the death rate is very high.This is very abnormal,horrible and grave.In the past Tibet lived in a dark barbaric feudalism but there was never such a shortage of food,especially after Buddhism had spread, the Panchen Lama wrote.The masses in the Tibetan areas were living in conditions of such extreme poverty that the old and young mostly starved to death or were so weak that they had no resistance to disease and died ,he adds.

He noted that,as a result of the decision to force people to eat in commune kitchens people were allowed as ration of around 180gms of grain per day,supplemented by grass,leaves and tree bark.This terrible ration is not enough to substaine life and people are forced to suffer terrible pangs of hunger,he wrote,adding that people, especially released prisoners,were still being forced to do hard labour.There was never such an event in the history of Tibet.People could not even imagine such horrible starvation in their dreams.In some areas if one person catched a cold, then it spreads to hundreds,and large numbers simply die.

In a crucial passage the Panchen Lama makes it clear that these deaths were a result of official policies,not of any natural disasters,as Mao was claiming to his foreign visitors,a claim still accep ted by some western sinologists.In Tibet from 1959-1961 for two years almost all animal husbandry and farming stopped.The nomads have no grain to eat and the far mers have no meat,butter or salt.It is prohibited to transport any food or material,people are even stopped from going around and their personal tsampa bags are confiscated and many people are struggled against in public,he says.He goes on to describe a meeting he convened in Quinghai where villagers told him, deaths could have been aboided and good harvest achieved `if the state allowed us to eat our fill.

1951-61: Famine in China

The famine which the Panchen Lama documentated in his report had spread throughout China as a result of the Great Leap Forward in 1958,when Mao Zedong ordered the peasants to set up communes as part of a radical acceleration of the advance towards utopian communism.In a party meeting in august 1959 pragmatic leaders led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping had already begun to curb the excesses of Mao`s pgrogramme,but starvations was widespread in China for two more years.Thje 70,000 Character Petition showed that starvation still existed in Quinghai in 1962 and other evidence shows that in Kham,the adjoining Tibetan area within Sichuan,in continued until 1965.

Official Chinese texts which are publicly available still avoid the subject and refer obliquely to `the three difficult years" without giving further details.

A report by the Economic System Research Institute in Beijing in the early 1980`s found that 900,000 people died during the faime in the Panchen Lama`s home province of Quinghai-45% of the population - and 9 million in Sichuan,according to research by the journalist Jasper Becker,author of major study of the famine issued earlier this year.`No other group in China suffered more bitterly from the famine than the Tibetans,.says Becker, adding that famine remained endemic in central Tibet for the next 20 years.

Becker and others argue that the famine,during some of which China was exporting grain,was only possible because of extreme secrecy within China and because of the readiness of some western scholars,journalists and politicians - notable Francois Mitterand - to accept Chinese claims that the problems were a result of natural disasters and of withdrawal of Soviet aid.

The petition also substantiates some of the allegations made by Tibetan refugees at the time,openly ridiculed in the West until recently,and appears to support some of the findings of the 1960 report by the International Commission of Jurists which concluded that there was prima facie evidence of genocide in Tibet.

Threat to Religion and Nationality

The Panchen Lama also expressed in his petition concerns that Chinese policies were threatening the survival of the Tibetans as a nationality.The population of Tibet has been seriously reduced.Not only is this damaging to the prosperity of the Tibetan race but it poses a grave danger to the very existence of the Tibetan race and could even push the Tibetans to the last breath,he wrote in a passage said to have been expressly rejected by Zhou Enlai.

The Panchen Lama had been encouraged to write his report by Li Weihan,of the United Front,who reported directly to Deng Xiaoping and who may have hoped to use it to mobilise support against ultra-leftists through out China.But other Tibetan leaders, including Ngapo Ngawang Jigme,had plea ded with the Panchen Lama not to submit it in writing,according to a biography published in Beijing by the Tibetologist Jamphel Gyatso in 1989.The Panchen Lama,who was only 24 years old at the time,was not a Party member and faced considerable risks, especially since the relatively liberal climate of the previous year had already receded,and since steps had already been taken to address his complaints after he had raised many of them directly with Mao.But he still decided to write a criticism of Chinese policy which went beyond the immediate repsorting of the famine and of the arrests.Thus the petition includes strong attacks on China`s nationality and religious policies,and even suggests that they too could lead to the extinction of the Tibetans as a people.If the language,clothes and customs of a nationality are taken away then that nationality will vanish and be transformed into another nationality.How can we guarantee that Tibetans will not be turned into another race?he asked.

It was this which was regarded as the most dangerous point made in the document,together with his critique of religous policy.Although he fully supported efforts to reform monasteries,and blamed all abuses on local leftists who had ignored instructions by the Beijing leadership,the Panchen Lama suggested that the Party was trying to eliminate religion.He insisted that religion was an absolute right and implied that any attempt to remove it altogether would lead to serious unrest,if not rebellion.

`Of the 2,500 monasteries which had once existed in what is now the TAR,only 70 were left and 93 percent of the monks and nuns had been forced out,he wrote,four years before the Cultural Revolution,which is usually blamed for the closure of monasteries in Tibet.

`The cadres are using a few people to denounce religion and mistakenly taking this as the views of the whole Tibetan masses,with the result that they mistakenly think the conditions for the elimination of religion intself are ripe...Therefore the enlightenment-endowing Buddhist religion that flourishes throughout Tibet seems to be on the verge of being erased in front of our eyes from the land of Tibet.There is no way that I and 90% of the Tibetans will tolerate this.

The petition has considerable contemporary relevance.In 1980 the Panchen Lama met with the Chinese reformer Hu Yaobang,then Part Secretary,and congratulated him for the reforms Hu had introduced in Tibet that year.The Panchen Lama told Hu how moved he had been by his reforms,and noted that if the suggestions in the 70,000 Character Petition had been implemented when they were proposed the problems in Tibet would not have continued,recalls Tseten Wangchuk,a Tibetan journalist now working in the US who was present at a debriefing session on the 1980 meeting between Hu and the Panchen.Party criticism of Hu`s reforms led to his demotion in 1987,and to major unrest in China in that year and 1989.

The Panchen Lama`s 1962 petition was based on the premise that the special characteristics of Tibet should be taken into account by policymakers.This premise was central to Deng Xiaoping`s policies in China during the 1980s and allowed the Panchen Lama to introduce many liberalisations in Tibet.In early 1992 the Party withrew the special characterists concession and,in the current efforts to limit religious worship,to appoint political loyalists to monastery committees and to restrict language teaching,has since been reversing some of the religious and coltural liberalisations initiated by Hu and requested by the Panchen Lama.

Tibetan Review November 1996


Tashi Tsering

By Calum MacLeod
The Independent, 10 October 2000

The people of Lhasa were out in force last week in the bright, sunlit streets of the Tibetan capital. Which meant that China's security forces were out, too, though the holiday crowds were peaceful as they thronged Potala Square to watch ceremonies marking China's National Day. In the shadow of the Dalai Lama's empty winter palace, Chinese soldiers saluted the red PRC flag on the 51st anniversary of Communist Party rule.
This week, however, marks another, more poignant anniversary in Tibet's modern history. But only the foolhardy would risk public commemoration. On 7 October 1950, some 40,000 troops of Chairman Mao's People's Liberation Army (PLA) crossed the upper Yangtse river from south-west China and entered eastern Tibet. The commander of 400 poorly armed Tibetans near the border was quickly overpowered by the speed of the Chinese advance.
It was the start of a one-sided military campaign that brought Tibet to heel, forced the god-king Dalai Lama to flee his homeland, and began a brutal occupation that has seen no let-up since. Yet the outside world missed it. All eyes at the time were indeed turned to Asia, but their focus was the Korean peninsula, where UN soldiers had been sent to repel a North Korean invasion.
For the most isolated nation on earth, the fate of its centuries-old theocracy was sealed. "I was in a tea-shop in Lhasa when someone translated the news from a Chinese radio broadcast," remembers Tashi Tsering, then a 20-year-old junior clerk at the Potala Palace. "China had decided to send troops to 'liberate' Tibet. The announcement was not a complete shock; we had heard reports that the poor people of China had risen in revolution, and all the rumours that these Communists would come to Tibet. But still there was panic."

Buddhist monks in Lhasa and the eastern town of Chamdo prayed hard and performed rituals to ward off the coming evil. In view of the military disparity between the Tibetans and the Chinese, divine intervention was as solid a hope as any. But Chamdo fell on 19 October, and by the end of the month, the PLA had captured more than 5,000 troops, almost half the Tibetan army, better described as a border patrol that was charged with preserving the country's self-imposed retreat from the world.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th reincarnation of Tibet's secular and spiritual ruler, was just 16, yet responded to the crisis by agreeing to take the reins of office two years before the official age. "I had to put my boyhood behind me," the Dalai Lama later recalled, "and immediately prepare myself to lead my country, as well as I could, against the vast power of communist China."
While the PLA could have marched on Lhasa with impunity, the Chinese paused for negotiations, conscious of the political capital of a "peaceful liberation". The Tibetans used the borrowed time to appeal to Britain, India, the United States and the United Nations to recognise their de facto independence since the last Chinese dynasty had collapsed in 1912.
But de facto was no longer enough. The Tibetans had shown no previous interest in joining the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN. "It never occurred to us that our independence... needed any legal proof to the outside world," the Dalai Lama wrote in his autobiography, My Land and My People (1962). The UN, preoccupied with Korea, postponed any debate on the occupation of Tibet. "Now we had to learn the bitter lesson that the world has grown too small for any people to live in harmless isolation."
A May 1951 settlement between Lhasa and Peking promised to maintain the status quo. In October, Tashi Tsering watched the PLA march into the holy city, through the same gates used by Britain's Younghusband expedition, the first Westerners to visit the holy city, in 1904. But this was no "Great Game" manoeuvre by a distant imperial power. The new arrivals boasted a revolutionary ideology of social, political and economic reform, backed by powerful land forces.
Their methods fascinated young Tibetans like Tashi. He was appalled when he saw the atheist Chinese soldiers skewering worms on to fishing hooks, and spreading "night soil" on their vegetable plots ("I felt it was so dirty I would never eat Chinese vegetables!"), but he admired their efficiency and honesty. "I never heard they took as much as a needle from the ordinary people."
By contrast, Tashi's office at the Potala treasury was "a real robbery shop... I knew I had clean hands but many old clerks resented my pointing out the corruption. It was like an eggshell, intact on the outside but rotten within." Yet Tashi was lucky to have the job.
"A loudspeaker was set up in the heart of Lhasa,broadcasting propaganda in Tibetan," recalls Tashi. "I kept asking myself what all these new ideas were, these -isms; socialism, communism, capitalism and imperialism. We had never heard of them before."
Tashi was amazed by the Chinese efforts to integrate Tibet into the "motherland". "The PLA worked unbelievably hard, building the Tibet-Qinghai and Tibet-Sichuan high- ways, completed in 1954. There were only paths before where man and animal walked. They built schools and hospitals, too, where once there were hardly any."
Yet there were tensions under the surface of apparent tolerance. Chairman Mao remarked during a meeting with the Dalai Lama that "religion is poison". China was determined to break the stranglehold of Tibet's aristocratic and monastic estates, which terrorised their serf tenants with violence in this world, and the torments of the damned in the next. Mao agreed to postpone "democratic reforms" until at least 1962, but the 1959 Lhasa Uprising marked an end to the honeymoon period of Chinese rule and the start of a life in exile for the Dalai Lama and 80,000 followers. World interest picked up after their harrowing escape over the Himalayas.
Eager to learn more about those all those -isms, but not from the Chinese perspective, Tashi left Tibet for India in 1957 and subsequently moved to the US. In 1964, disregarding his friends' warnings, and an offer to join the government-in-exile that had been established in Dharamsala in northern India, he returned "to build socialism, democracy and happiness in Tibet". At the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Tashi could not resist tagging along with a group of ecstatic Red Guards to get a glimpse of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Square. Soon afterwards, he was picked up by police and charged with being a counter-revolutionary and an American agent.
After six years in a Chinese prison in Shaanxi province, Tashi was rehabilitated and assigned as English professor to Lhasa's Tibet University in 1981. In his long absence, his brother had starved to death in jail, while their parents barely managed to survive in a half-destroyed monastery. In 1959, at least 1,600 monasteries were functioning in Tibet. By 1979, only 10 remained open.
Over the past 20 years, the Chinese Communist Party has begun to condone Tibetan efforts to rebuild their devastated land. Nomads were allowed to abandon the communes that made no concessions to Tibetan reality. Some monasteries, too, have reopened, although the psychological damage will be harder to repair. This encroachment is the spur for Tashi's life work. He has dedicated himself to teaching the Tibetan language. "The pillar of Tibetan culture is the written language. When that is finished, the basis of our culture is finished. That will not happen. But there is a weakening... and particularly among our young people. I say to them, 'This is your forefathers' language, to be learned and respected. If you can't read or write Tibetan, you areonly semi-literate.'"
After completing the first Tibetan-English-Chinese dictionary, Tashi has financed 50 schools in his home country through his own efforts and by raising foreign donations. He maintains this is ultimately more useful than campaigning for Tibetan independence. "Modernisation is my generation's duty. I am not interested in other, unreachable goals," he says. "When I met the Dalai Lama in America in 1994, I said the Tibetans must know how to oppose the Chinese when their policies seem unreasonable, but also how to live with them. Policies must be guaranteed by the rule of law, not the rule of man as so often in the past."
Half a century after the invasion, there is no negotiation between the Tibetan government in exile, and the puppet administration in place in Lhasa. As increasing numbers of Chinese are moved into the region, Tibetans are still divided as to whether they should, like Tashi the realist, be focused on ensuring that something of Tibetan culture survives. Others still believe that they should take up arms against the occupying force - a course that could threaten this ancient civilisation with annihilation.

From WTN October 2000


Life in Old Tibet

A clear-eyed reminiscence By Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche

Born in 1939, Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche is a blood relation of the 13th Dalai Lama and the son of one of the top incarnate lamas in Tibet. Due to its sacred lineage, Rinpoche's family held a revered position in Tibetan society and lived comfortably in downtown Lhasa and on nearby estates. While still a young child, Rinpoche was recognized by the regent of Tibet as the reincarnation of a famous abbot. He was educated at a monastery in Tibet through 1959, when he was forced to flee to the sanctuary of India. He relocated to the United States in 1987 and now lives in Michigan. Below, Rinpoche offers some memories of his early years in independent Tibet.
When I was five or six, my tutors discovered I could memorize texts very easily -- 30 or 40 pages in a few hours. The tutors would meet me in the evening to hear me recite what I had memorized. Some-times I would fall asleep while still reciting. They would figure out that I was sleeping and make me stand up. But I would lean against the wall and sleep standing up, still reciting. Then they made me stand near a window three stories up --even there, I leaned my back to the side of the window, fell asleep, and kept on reciting until they carried me off to bed. Maybe that's why they called me an incarnate lama. When I went to the monastery, I received strict training and lived in rather sparse accommodations. It was quite cold and the routine was rigorous -- getting up early in the morning, praying and studying in poor light, having very little time to play.
I was 11 years old when the Chinese arrived. They called themselves liberators, but we did not know from whom they were liberating us. What they told us, since we were the elite, was: "We are here to liberate you from the Western clutch, the control of the imperialistic power." Actually, there was only one Western person in all Tibet at that time -- a Mr. Ford, who worked in Chamdo as a radio operator for the governor of Kham. So the whole Chinese army had to come to Tibet to liberate us from one single Western radio
operator. They quietly told the simple Tibetans that they were liberating them from us -- Tibet's privileged classes and institutions.

There was a great Tibetan acting prime minister at the time named Lukangwa, who was famous for dealing firmly with the Chinese. He used to say, "We will not attack anybody -- this is the religious side of our government commitment. On the other hand, whoever attacks us, we will not let them go easily, no matter what it takes -- this is the rule of the secular law. We will fight you, no matter if we finish all our arms, if you cut them off at the shoulder. And if you finish all the human beings in Tibet, then the environment will fight you."
So the Chinese tried to make conversation with him. They asked, "How many cups of tea do Tibetans drink per day?" He answered, "It depends how good it is. If it's good, we'll drink a hundred of them. If it's bad, we won't even take a drop. Do you understand what I mean?"
The first way the Chinese "liberated" Tibet was with silver coins. When I was 12 years old, I was a member of the editorial board of a daily newspaper and received 300 silver coins every month as a salary. But I never spent a single day in the office and I never saw the newspaper. My teacher used to tell me, "This is poison. Leave it over there. One day they will make you pay it back." So we put the coins in the corner of the house somewhere in a box. That's how the Chinese first came to Tibet, trying to win the goodwill of the people.

Some Westerners imagine Tibet as Shangri-la, but we always believed Shangri-la lay somewhere to the north. The Tibetan climate is harsh and unforgiving: very cold, dry, and dusty, without much snow. At times, we had great difficulty finding food. But as the Dalai Lama has said, Tibet was unique in the quality of the culture, the rigor of the education -- even the simple, good human beings it
produced. We were fortunate to have available to us the living tradition of the Buddha's wisdom and compassion.

from WTN December 1999