Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mao and the Tibetan Flag

My Himachal reported that the Dalai Lama mentioned his encounter with Mao Zedong in 1954 in Beijing and the story of the Tibetan flag.
A few years back, I wrote an article, Flag and nationalities on the issue.

The recent unrest in Tibet has generated a healthy debate in India. Some sections of the Indian society like the Kashmiri Pandits now view their plight through the Tibetan prism (the bad luck of the Pandits is that they never had a charismatic leader like the Dalai Lama, though India’s ruling family belong to their community and they have remained a divided lot).
Some others say that we should give time to China to change and progressively evolve into a decent democratic system. They are probably not aware that the ‘time’ is also clocking against India’s interests. Last year alone 3.8 millions of Chinese ‘visited’ Tibet using the railway line to Lhasa; a few lakhs of them settled on the Roof of the World. Like in the Nepal case, when we will realize that the situation is irreversible, it will be too late. And it is India which will have to suffer.
More than twenty years ago, I had asked the Dalai Lama how will Tibet regain its independence (or autonomy). He had answer: “It does not depend on us Tibetans, changes will come from within China”.
It seems also clear that he was not expecting the United States or India to offer him on a platter the most cherished dream of his people. This statement may be disappointing to those who believe that he is only banking on the Great White Chief in Washington.
He repeatedly said that the people of China will bring about changes in their own country which will give a chance to the people of Tibet to fulfill their aspirations. 

 This is a far more plausible alternative than any other, including a dead-locked dialogue between Dharamsala and Beijing. In this context, three letters addressed to President Hu Jintao by the veteran Tibetan Communist leader Phuntsok Wangyal, who had led the Chinese troops into Lhasa in September 1951, could trigger a larger debate in China once the Olympics are behind us.
Wangyal (known as Phunwang by the Tibetans) told Hu several interesting things: the Dalai Lama’s demise would only radicalize young Tibetan hardliners frustrated with his ‘middle way’ approach; he reminded the Chinese President about his own objective to establish a harmonious society; and if Hu would strive for the return of hundreds of thousands of exiled Tibetans, he could turn ‘confrontation into harmony’.
The present debate veers around the place and status of the nationalities within the People’s Republic of China.
A historical incident about the Tibetan flag gives an indication of the direction in which the question could go.
In the 80’s, I had interviewed Phuntso Tashi Takla, the Dalai Lama’s brother-in-law who was in charge of the Tibetan leader’s security when the latter visited China in 1954-55. Takla recalled: “At that time [in 1954] because the Chinese occupation of Tibet was not complete, the Chinese extended full courtesy and cooperation to the Dalai Lama. On some occasions Mao Zedong came himself to the Dalai Lama’s residence [in Beijing]. During one of the several discussions that the Dalai Lama and Mao Zedong had, they were talking on some subject, when Mao [suddenly] said: “Don’t you have a flag of your own, if you have one, you can hoist it here [on the Guest House]”.
Takla was surprised to hear Mao Zedong speaking thus.
Personally I did not immediately realize the importance of Mao’s point, but when I later read Phunwang’s biography, I understood better the incalculable implications of the Chairman’s statement.
It is worth quoting Phunwang: “One day, Mao unexpectedly came to visit the Dalai Lama at his residence… During their conversation, Mao suddenly said, "I heard that you have a national flag, do you? They do not want you to carry it, isn't that right?"
Phunwang further recalled: “Since Mao asked this with no warning that the topic was to be discussed, the Dalai Lama just replied, "We have an army flag." I thought that was a shrewd answer because it didn't say whether Tibet had a national flag. Mao perceived that the Dalai Lama was concerned by his question and immediately told him, "That is no problem. You may keep your national flag." Mao definitely said ‘national’ flag [tib. rgyal dar].
The Chairman added that in the future the Communist Party could also let Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia have their own flag. He then asked the Dalai Lama if it would it be fine for him to host the national flag of the People's Republic of China in addition to the Tibetan flag. Phunwang says that the young Lama nodded his head and said ‘yes’: “This was the most important thing that Mao told the Dalai Lama, and I was amazed to hear it” later wrote Phunwang.
His mind immediately started racing. He was not sure if Mao had discussed this with other leaders in the Politburo or if it was his own idea: “As I had always paid great attention to the Soviet Union's nationality model, I was excited because I took Mao's comment that Tibet could use its own flag to mean that China was contemplating adopting the Soviet Union's ‘Republic’ model, at least for these three large minority nationalities.”
Phunwang realized that the innocuous remark of the Great Helmsman had far reaching consequences for the future of China and particularly for the Tibetans.
Unfortunately Phuwang was arrested in April 1958; he ‘needed to cleanse his thinking'. He spent the following 18 years in solitary confinement. This gave him time to ponder about Mao’s remarks on the flag and the ‘nationalities’ issue and their place in the People’s Republic of China. His studies of Marxism led him to believe that the relationship between nationalities in a multiethnic state should be one of complete equality.
He wrote: “In socialist states, the majority nationality does not (or should not) oppress the minority nationalities. All should be equal, and there should be complete unity and cooperation among nationalities.”
Most of the problems facing China today are due to the Great Han Chauvinism. The State (or Central Government) had to guarantee the equality amongst nationalities (by not imposing Chinese language over a ‘nationality language’ such as Tibetan for example).
Phunwang was finally rehabilitated at the end of the seventies.
In the early 80’s, Phunwang managed to send a 25,000 character memo to senior Party leaders such as Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. He stressed that the outcome of a debate on the question of nationality would have a huge impact on future work in ‘minority nationality areas’ such Tibet.
After Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping instructed the officials not to remove him as a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, his stand seems vindicated.
In May 1980, a delegation headed by Hu Yaobang, then General Secretary of the Communist Party of China visited Lhasa. Hu Yaobang was shocked to see the level of poverty in Tibet. During a meeting with the Party cadres, he asked “whether all the money Beijing had poured into Tibet over the previous years had been thrown into the Yarlung Tsangpo [Brahmaputra] river”. He said the situation reminded him of colonialism. Soon hundreds of Chinese Han cadres were transferred back to China and Tibetan language rehabilitated. Tibet witnessed a few years of glasnost.
The debate started by Mao’s remark more than fifty years ago and reignited by Phunwang twenty years later, is still on. Will Hu Jintao and his colleagues listen to Phunwang’s point on the issue of nationalities or will the Great Han Chauvinism prevail once again?
The fate of Tibet depends on which side the wind will blow in Beijing not on CIA operations?
In the meantime, it is not advisable to go around Lhasa with a national Tibetan flag: Mao’s Thought has not percolated that much in China.


Even Chairman Mao had no objection to displaying the Tibetan flag : Dalai Lama
My Himachal
Baldev S Chauhan
September 12 2011
Dharamsala : The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama spoke to a crowd of 30,000 Sunday in Mexico’s Mexico city on ‘Finding happiness in troubled times’.
He began his talk saying, “We’re all equal,we all want to have a happy life, and we all have a right to be happy”.
The nobel peace prize winner spoke for more than an hour standing, as the enthusiastic crowd of 30,000 people listened attentively despite the strong Mexican sun.
Later he also took questions from the audience.
Noted hollywood actor Richard Gere, a long time friend of Tibet and follower of the Dalai Lama introduced the Tibetan leader to the crowd.
When asked to comment about Mexicans carrying the Tibetan flag, he said in 1954 when he visited China and met chairman Mao Tsetung, he was told by Mao that Tibet had its own flag and Tibetans should use it.
So if people complained about displaying the Tibetan flag, the Dalai Lama said they should not since even Mao had no objection to displaying the flag.As he spoke these lines all the people carrying small Tibetan flags raised them in the air.
As he ended his talk, the crowd recited in unison in Spanish a popular longlife prayer for the Dalai Lama.
This was followed by musicians of traditional Mexican songs, ‘Mariacha’ coming up on the stage and playing an emotional farewell song along with the crowd for the Tibetan spiritual leader.
After completeing his three day visit to Mexico, the Dalai Lama leaves Monday to Buenos Aires capital of Argentina on a two day visit.

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