A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye
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About the Author
The Coup of Lobsang Thundrup 3. Returning to Kham 6. The Indian Communist Party 8. On the Verge of Revolt 9.
A Tibetan revolutionary : the political life and times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye
Escape to Tibet The Return to Batang The Seventeen-Point Agreement To Lhasa Again With the PLA in Lhasa A Year of Problems An Interlude in Beijing Tension in Lhasa Labeled a Local Nationalist Release from Prison A New Struggle Books Digital Products Journals. Disciplines History Asian History. Batang is located in a valley at about eighty-five hundred feet, sandwiched between the tiny Ba River on the west and a range of mountains to the east.
It has a relatively mild climate for Tibet and is predominantly agricultural. Though rugged and beautiful, the area has always been politically troubled, and my later life as a Tibetan revolutionary is rooted in its turbulent history and the experiences of my childhood there. Had things gone the way my parents planned, I would have been a monk, not a revolutionary.
When I was four years old I went to live in the local monastery with my uncle, a learned monk who had studied at Ganden, one of Lhasa's great monasteries. In our area it was common for older monks to recruit a young nephew to live with them, and I loved being with him. I didn't take any formal monastic vows, but I remember that they cut my hair like a monk's and I began to memorize prayer books. In fact, I was well on my way to a life of religious study and practice when my uncle suddenly died. I don't recall the circumstances clearly, but hisdeath resulted in my leaving the monastery, since I was very young and we had no other relative there to look after me.
Not long afterward, my parents enrolled me in the Batang government school, a decision that dramatically changed the course my life would take. Batang was unusual for Tibetan areas because it had a formal school system. The Chinese government had built a modern school there in and made attendance compulsory for Tibetans.
Surprisingly, Batang also had an American missionary school and orphanage that a number of Bapas [people from the Batang area] attended as well. Because of these schools, many Bapas learned Chinese and even English, and some became important officials in the Chinese government. I began attending the Chinese school when I was about seven years old and continued until I was twelve. My teachers were Tibetans who were fluent in Chinese, and the curriculum we studied included Chinese, Tibetan, and mathematics.
The routine was relatively simple. We had class for about two hours in the morning and then for two hours in the afternoon after a break for lunch. We didn't have homework like children do now, and we had no clocks; we judged the time by the position of the sun. I liked school and learning, and I worked hard. My parents wanted me to be proficient in the Tibetan language and therefore arranged for me to take extra language instruction from a former monk who had set up the first library in Batang.
Because one of my best friends lived in the Christian orphanage, I also learned many Christian songs and Western stories that the missionaries had translated into Tibetan. I remember delighting in songs like "Silent Night" and in the tales of Ali Baba. For a while it looked like I was going to have a more or less normal, happy childhood. But the current of events in the region was simply too strong. Our people—the Khampas—have always deeply resented being ruled by outsiders, and there were repeated uprisings against the Chinese officials and troops in our area.
My father was active in the anti-Chinese resistance, and I grew up hearing stories of past battles and brave Khampa heroes. I can pinpoint fairly exactly the time when I began to develop my earliest feelings about issues like independence, autonomy, and resistance. It was when Kesang Tsering came to Batang in I was ten years old at the time. He rode into our village on a large Chinese horse, looking glorious in his shiny government uniform.
His official mission was to set up a GMD Party headquarters in Batang, but he had his own agenda, which included overthrowing the region's warlord, Liu Wenhui, and returning the governance of Kham and Batang to Tibetans. He lost no time in securing the support of the key Tibetan political forces in Batang: But even with their support, gaining control of Batang required defeating a Chinese garrison of three hundred to four hundred troops.
Kesang therefore decided to use guile, not force, and he chose a classic ploy: Kesang was an important central government GMD official, and the garrison had to take his invitation seriously.
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The commander was away, but the next in command, Captain Zhou, came with some top aides. As soon as they arrived, Kesang ordered them to hand over their weapons, telling Zhou that if he complied, he and his men could leave peacefully, but if they did not, they would all be killed. Zhou had no choice and complied, but the Chinese soldiers stationed at the garrison refused to turn over their weapons or let the Tibetans enter the garrison. It was a standoff, and the fighting began early next morning. Our house was not far from the garrison, and I was terrified when the shooting began.
It was the first time I had heard the gunfire of battle, and the noise was so deafening that my younger brother and I covered our heads with our quilt. My mother was also frightened because my father was with the local militia, and she immediately made offerings to the protective gods in our family's chapel. The fighting continued long into the morning hours before the Chinese troops finally surrendered. When he was ready to speak to the crowd, he fired his pistol into the air several times to get everyone's attention.
He then proceeded to tell us that he was the governor now and that Tibetans again ruled Batang. Not long after the victory celebration, Kesang summoned everyone to the school and taught us a new song he had composed called "The Song of the New Kham. Spirits were high, and there was much to celebrate. None of the Tibetan or Chinese soldiers had been killed, and literally overnight Kesang had obtained six hundred to seven hundred rifles, with ammunition.
Tall and strong, with a dark mustache, Kesang was a heroic figure to me and the other youths. The people used to say of him, "Commander Kesang's mouth is like the central government's order" [ch. But of course it wasn't that simple, and that was part of my learning process, too. The fighting wasn't over. The Chinese weren't going to take such a defeat lightly, and other forces began to gather against Kesang almost immediately.
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In our politically volatile region, alliances were shifting and unstable and promises unreliable. On the way, he had discussed his plans with the Gonggar Lama, an important lama whose support would have been valuable to him. At the time, the lama had appeared to approve Kesang's actions, but when he heard that Kesang had disarmed the Chinese soldiers and driven them out of Batang, he had a sudden change of heart.
Events moved swiftly after that.