|Panchen Lama, Dalai Lama, Chen Yi, Zhou Enlai, Nehru, Indira Gandhi in 1956|
This is an important to understand the ‘short’ Sino-Indian border war.
Tibet's instabilty appears clearly in the 70,000-character petition sent by the Panchen Lama to Zhou Enlai in May 1962.The Tibetan Lama who had been made Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region when the Dalai Lama left for India in 1959, dared (‘with anger’) to criticize the policies of the Party in Tibet.
The Chinese Premier requested Xi Zhongxun, Vice-Premier and father of Xi Jinping, Li Weihan, the minister of the United Front Work Department dealing with ‘Minorities’, General Zhang Jingwu, the Representative of the Central Committee in Tibet and General Zhang Guohua, the Secretary of the CPC Tibet Committee and main commander during the 1962 war, to read and study the Panchen Lama's petition.
Interestingly, when the Panchen Lama died in 1989, Xi Zhongxun wrote in The People’s Daily that the Tibet experts found “most of the comments and suggestions [of the Panchen Lama were] good; they could be implemented, but some had gone too far.”
Indeed, he had gone 'too far' for the Communist leadership; Mao called it a 'Poisonous Arrow".
The Panchen Lama listed several problems such the ‘suppression of the Rebellion’ in 1959.
Each time, after agreeing with the official line, he criticized it:
The rebellion in Tibet was counter-revolutionary in nature, being against the Party, the motherland, the people, democracy and socialism. Its crimes were very grave. Thus, it was entirely correct, essential, necessary and appropriate for the Party to adopt the policy of suppressing the rebellion. However, when these points were implemented…And then he mentioned the grievances of the Tibetan population.
Then he took on the ‘Democratic Reform’, the ‘Production in Agriculture and Animal Herding’, ‘Livelihood of the People’, the United Front policy for the ‘nationalities’, ‘Democratic Centralism’, the Dictatorship of the Party and finally the most important for him, the freedom of religion. Each time, he used the same pattern.
The Panchen Lama paid a heavy price for having dared to write what everyone knew. He eventually spent the years from 1964 to 1978 in solitary confinement and rehabilitation camps.
Very few analysts have pointed out that a longer war would have been very difficult to sustain in the atmosphere of 'rebellion' prevalent on the Roof of the World at that time. Though openly siding with the 'reformists' camp led by Lui Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, the Panchen Lama was also warning the Communist leadership of the resentment of the so-called nationalities.
During his speech at Beidaihe in August 1962, Mao, who for months had been in the wilderness, staged a comeback using the case of the Panchen Lama.
Dr Li Zhisui, Mao’s physician, recounts:
Then [Mao] turned his opprobrium against the Panchen Lama of Tibet, denouncing him as ‘an enemy of our class’. [After the 1959] crackdown, the Panchen Lama, ordinarily subservient to Beijing, was now arguing that Beijing's so-called ‘democratic reforms’ had moved too far to the left. He hoped that the ultra-leftist trend in Tibet could be corrected.Some new historical documents regarding the 70,000 characters letter have now been translated in English, by two independent researchers, Jianglin Li and Matthew Akester.
The transcripts make fascinating reading.
In the Summary of a Meeting between Comrade Xi Zhongxun, Comrade Li Weihan and Panchen held on June 21, 1962 in The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nehru and India are several times cited.
I am posting here some extracts of the longish discussions.
The entire transcript is available on the bog of Jianglin Li and Matthew Akester.
Xi [Zhongxun, Xi Jinping’s father] intervenes: “I had a meeting with the Master [the Panchen Lama] once, and the Master expressed his support for the [Tibet] Work Committee’s leadership [the so-called Communist reforms]. This is very good. This can be seen in the report too. It is possible that you have a few opinions about each other, this is quite natural. We held several meetings here just for you to vent your anger and figure out ways to solve problems. This is a beginning. You should do the same after returning [to Tibet]. If you are angry, let it out. If you have disagreement, speak out. Problems should be solved through consultation and discussion.”
In 1964, the Panchen Lama’s ‘anger’ will take him for 14 years to jail.
Later, the issue of the Dalai Lama’s flight and India came again in the discussion. Xi explains:
Comrades in Tibet should be clear of the fact that through a big struggle, the reactionary Dalai clique had split off. Through suppressing rebellion and implementing reform, we have laid an initial foundation for our work in Tibet, which is the foundation for development and prosperity within the big family of motherland.It has to be noted that according to Chinese figures 87,000 died in the first week of the ‘suppression’. For Communist China, it was the ‘base’ of the ‘Liberation’.
There might be tens and thousands of shortcomings and mistakes, however, as long as we have this foundation, all shortcomings and mistakes can be corrected. Our work during the past few years should be cherished. Achievements cannot be denied, our power should be truly strengthened. Dalai is watching us in India right now. He is dreaming that all we have implemented in Tibet will fall apart, and Banchan [Panchen] will meet his downfall. If we don't want his dreams to come true, we must do our work diligently and prudently. First of all, we must strengthen our unity, and unite every person that can be united. If this work is not done well, Dalai will laugh at us, and Nehru will laugh at us too. Don’t give them a chance to amuse themselves by our failure.This shows that Xi Jinping’s father was not really a ‘moderate’ and those who believe the Xi Jinping will follow his footsteps and ‘open up’ China were wrong.
Xi again cites Nehru:
This requires that we do our work better under the leadership of the [Tibet] Work Committee [implementing the ‘reforms’], and construct our motherland better. Nehru is laughing now, but don’t let him have the last laugh. Nehru launched an anti-communist satellite, we will launch a revolutionary satellite. We will compete with him on this point.It is interesting to see that even so-called moderate leaders like Xi, put squarely the blame on Nehru and his government for the Dalai Lama’s flight to India. It will result in the ‘punishment’ three years later, on the slopes of the Thagla ridge and in Ladakh.
At another point came up during the three-day discussions, Xi Zhongxun mentions other implications of the Panchen Lama’s letter:
…Specific problems still need to be solved through consultation and discussion. In Tibet, the workload is very heavy, internal matters are quite difficult, foreign affairs are arduous too. Tibet is the front line of national defence, and there is struggle against enemies as well. Rebels are meddling in Nepal, they took over a county government there and sent spies and rebels to make trouble in Nepal,” and Xi adds: “This is the joint work of Nehru and Dalai. If they messed up Nepal, how can they not want to mess up Tibet? What’s their purpose? They just want to overthrow the current leadership in Tibet and restore the old order. This is not only a current struggle, it is also a long term and arduous one. We must unite ourselves closely; otherwise we won’t be able to handle this situation. Things are difficult in Tibet, but solutions and hope do exist, and our future is bright.After the three days meeting in June, the same officials had an ‘audience’ with the Premier, Zhou Enlai, who gave a long, tortuous ideological speech. Zhou mentions the historical background:
First was Director Banchan’s [Panchen] report, which was submitted on May 18 . After that, the Tibetan and Chinese texts were double checked, and submitted again in June. Now by July 19, four documents had been formulated, two months in between. This is a big job, and is well done. All of you at present have been kept in the mainland for ten months, the past two months being most important. Your task has been well accomplished. Based on the written report, four documents, Director Banchan’s two speeches and opinions from other comrades, [the four documents have been prepared].Let us not forget that the Party was on the boil, with Mao preparing his come-back a few weeks later.
The Premier says:
We now have these four documents, primarily because Director Banchan submitted his report, and raised questions. The attitude of raising questions is in line with the frank, sincere and outspoken attitude shared by our nation’s senior cadres. Regardless of the content, [the report] recorded all or most of what he saw and what was in his mind. It is a good thing, and applaudable as [General Zhang] Jingwu said just now. In the past we didn’t have such a relationship with Dalai. He didn’t speak out when he had objections, playing a double game, saying one thing to us and another to Nehru; one thing in front of us and another thing to the conspirators behind our back, so we couldn’t be sure what he was up to. We communists were frank with him, but he thought the way.Zhou Enlai refers to the visit of the Dalai Lama to India in 1956-57 and the long talks with the Indian Prime Minister (Incidentally, Nehru strongly advocated that the Dalai Lama should go back to Tibet and ‘work’ with the Chinese).
Zhou says that in March 1959, China had no clue that the Tibetans would revolt:
we had no clue when he [the Dalai Lama] started the rebellion. Even Apei [Ngabo Ngawang Jigme] was in the dark. We dispatched troops there only after the rebellion broke out. Why did Dalai play a double game? He took us as enemies instead of comrades and friends, and took Nehru as his own circle, the conspirators who plotted rebellion as his own circle, thus it was inevitable for him to play a double game. We were sincere and honest when we told him the Party’s attitude; for example, I talked with him twice in New Delhi and told him the Party’s attitude, but he wouldn’t listen, he listened to Nehru instead. So this made it hard for us to get along. This means that rebellion in Tibet was bound to happen, since he took Nehru as friend and took us as enemy. Now, the attitude adopted by Master Banchan is basically different from that of Dalai.Zhow Enlai then explains:
When problems arise, the Party will make sure to solve them; you must know this particular characteristic of the Party by now. Do not evade problems and solve problems when they arise, this is the Party’s tradition over the past forty years. When problems are raised, they must be solved; however, this does not mean that all the problems raised are correct. Some are correct, some are not. As both situations exist, careful investigation is required. Correct ones should be accepted, as for the incorrect ones, either raise one’s opinions in a positive way, or criticize from an opposing angle.The Panchen Lama assessment must have been very incorrect as he will have to spend from 1964 to 1978 in jail.
The next few weeks saw the ‘return’ of Mao on the stage, the purge of Xi Zhongxun and a war against India to make ‘Nehru’ pay for giving asylum to the Dalai Lama.
I have dealt with this in a separate paper.