By Chewang Ngokhang (a.k.a. Ajo Che)
For eons I have been debating in my mind between Rangwang and Rangzen.* I know I have touched raw nerves in the past, particularly amongst our youth who huff and puff at the slightest leaning to the Middle-Way Approach. Your passion is good because I believe your clamor for rangzen is fueled by your intense sense of patriotism for our native land. I myself was born in Tibet in the late '40s, and had seen and experienced a lot during the course of my life; during the height of the Great Leap Forward movement starting in 1958, and barely managed to cross over to Bhutan before the unleashing of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
When the Communist Chinese first came to Tibet (TAR) in the early '50s, they were known for their strict discipline, and corruption was unheard of. They had just toppled the corrupt Nationalist government in China which was forced into exile to Formosa now the Chinese Republic of China in Taiwan. Our government-in-exile withdrew into the hills of Dharamshala, when our Kundun arrived there on April 17, 1960 from Mussoorie. The early days of our rag-tag government in exile under His Holiness the Dalai Lama, often reminds me of Mao's Long March Headquarter at Yenan caves along with Chow En Lai, Chu De, and Mao's third wife Guiyuan and a few thousands of loyal soldiers. Pardon me for this side track from the issue as I am so much tempted to touch on one hilarious incident in Dharamshala around 1968.
During those difficult periods our skeleton government staff faced a lot of hardship and was barely able to make ends meet. Some offices had just one old wooden chair and a table and that was that. There were tales of many sleeping in cowsheds with barely enough to eat. And, the whole of TGIE had just one antiquated telephone for all to use provided the line itself was working. It was during such a moment our only phone rang. The gentleman in charge answered the phone. The caller wished to speak to so and so who wasn't there in the office at the time. Anyway he asked the caller's name. In came the caller's reply, "Nga Tenzin yin, Gyatso." He retorted he hadn't heard such a name and slammed the phone down. It soon dawned on him who the caller was: His Holiness. Quickly he prostrated three times at the phone.
Now getting back on track, the loss of Tibet is the tragedy of the last century. When many nations were born or gained independence after the Second World War, we lost our own independence. We were and are victim of geopolitics simple as that. It was the Second World War that completely changed the course of world history altogether, and we suffered the most tragic casualty of WWII by default. It's not that we had not endeavored to further solidify our sovereign state status. It's not that we had not taken up steps to strengthen our military. It's not that we had not tried to open English language schools, etc. In the end all our concerted efforts wouldn't have mattered much when after the WWII India received its independence, and the Communists defeated the Nationalists in China.
How on earth could we expect to face the tide of the battle-hardened Reds, who could not be defeated by the US army under the command of General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War? As a matter of fact, the Reds had pushed the US soldiers all the way to the coastal city of Pusan in the Korean Peninsula. Unlike us the Mongols lucked out because Joseph Stalin was obsessed with having a buffer state between his vast empire and China. Stalin had succinctly articulated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime minister of Britain Winston Churchill during the Yalta Conference in 1945, effectively to solidify Mongolia's status as a sovereign state. Consequently, Outer Mongolia was catapulted into a position of exercising its sovereignty. On October 6, 1949 both the USSR and People's Republic of China recognized Outer Mongolia's sovereignty, and subsequently Mongolia getting admitted to the United Nations in 1961.
But our fate was sealed; we were forgotten and left in the snow cold. After the WWII, Britain was devastated economically, militarily and morally. In the late '40s and '50s our patriots had maneuvered, pleaded and cajoled those in power to come to our aid. Those nations on whom our hopes were pinned turned their faces the other way; namely the United States, Britain, India and Nepal. United States was in a tough spot to openly support us against the Chinese who were US's ally during the WWII. After the war the adage: "the sun never sets on the British empire" quickly faded over the horizon. Our signing of the infamous 17-Point Agreement and India's Panchsheel Treaty or Five principles of Peaceful Coexistence eroded our international standing. To compound it all both India and Nepal were experiencing excruciating difficulties standing on their feet, let alone come to our aid against a new formidable force.
As a trader my father used to import goods from India during the '40s. When the British suddenly left India which got its independence on August 15, 1947, there was a severe shortage of sugar in India since the Indians experienced intense difficulty in running the various factories and mills. The sugar prices skyrocketed, and my father was once again transporting the sugar all the way back from Tibet to India on mule backs across the Zelep pass. It's no secret the so called Great Britain has immorally sold us over and over again; making us slide from sovereignty to suzerainty, from suzerainty to stateless, and then the tune got even more despicably sordid: Tibet has always been part of China, in order to gain some monetary concession from the new Emperors of China. How shameless coming from a country called Great Britain. Where's the greatness?
That was then and this is now. Today we are mired in debates whether to opt for RANGWANG OR RANGZEN. I am inclined to lean on the former or the Middle-Way Approach which Kundun and our CTA are pushing. I know several well educated friends and responsible members of society adamantly lean toward rangzen. They are almost sounding: give us rangzen or death. In a way this belief is akin to our brethren inside Tibet who are currently self-immolating themselves out of desperation for the pain is unbearable. It could also be likened to the Kamikaze or Hara-kiri route. But, for the most part the rangzen band wagon is largely filled with our young ones relatively well educated and energetic, clamoring rangzen, rangzen. Even the great Indian battle-hardened chiefs and warriors such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Chief Joseph and many realized the futility of challenging the might of new forces, and instead chose a more sensible way to work with the adversary so that their people could live in peace.
As you all know China is undergoing tremendous transformation. CCTV (China Central Television), which runs 24 hours, is very informative, particularly about many global issues with a degree of slight propaganda here and there just like some of the channels in the West. On its news I saw another side of Xi Jinping who will formally hold the rein of power in early March. I have seen Xi Jinping walking in the snow visiting remote areas in China, and listening and asking questions, etc. with ordinary peasants. While in Los Angeles last year he wanted to see Kobe Bryant and the Lakers play, a stark departure from the norms of his predecessors. His daughter attends Harvard under a pseudonym. I find him quite different from the others, notwithstanding the fact the repression in Tibet has intensified to a much higher level. Regardless of these inscrutable signs one is inclined to ask, "Will he be China's Gorbachev with Glasnost and Perestroika? We shall see.
With changing times on our ever evolving planet, Kundun's Middle-Way Approach makes a whole lot of sense, on the one hand. On the other hand, tell me, who is so seasoned in dealing with China on Tibet issue? Just name one person on this earth. During his1954/55 visit to China Kundun had met with Mao close to thirty times, and explored and discussed many issues in good faith to bring reforms to Tibet in order to modernize our country. Unfortunately things started to deteriorate, intensifying after the Lushan Conference in 1959 during which there was fiery bickering between Mao and his two nemeses Peng Dehuai and Liu Shaochi, and the dark Cultural Revolution of 1966 which was craftily engineered by Mao to purge and punish all his enemies.
In his relentless pursuit of justice for his people, Kundun has jetted to many countries, conferred with many world leaders, and above all received much varied advice from many true politicians and top notch world leaders so that our interest could be better materialized. Having said all this, how in the world do our die-hard rangzen agitators expect to gain rangzen when there's not a single country recognizing Tibet as a nation? Compared to today our chances seemed much better in the '50s and '60s when China was a rogue state and we got fairly good support from the UN General Assembly.
In 1965 Lal Bahadur Shastri had assured Shakabpa that he would recognize Tibet, and announce it in the Parliament after his trip to Tashkent, USSR. He never made it back to India from Tashkent where he suddenly died under mysterious circumstances just like the 10th Panchen Lama’s death. Many Muslim nations had assured that once Indi had recognized Tibet they would follow suite and recognize Tibet. That wasn’t our karma. Today the scenario is utterly different. China is not only a member of the UN but occupies one of the five efficacious seats with veto power in the Security Council. Now you tell me what are our chances in gaining rangzen? We don't have the population, army, money or tangible support from the global states to face China's 1.2 billion Hans.
There are others who hail "ronzen, ronzen". Do they realize when they talk about ronzen, they insidiously exclude Dhotoe and Dhome as succinctly stipulated in the 1914 Simla Convention and the infamous Seventeen-Point Agreement of 1951? Whereas Kundun's Middle-Way approach is inclusive of Bhod Cholkhasum. Add to this, the three most prominent proponents of rangzen drum beaters have one striking thing in common. One has a Poncho Villa beard; one has the Ho Chin Min beard and the other Geronimo head band. Their intense love for Bhod Qawajong coupled with China's blatant sinicization of our country, and relentless repression inside Tibet might be affecting their equilibrium. Anyway I love them all. Let's have tea together when I next visit Dhasha, provided the two of you don't rough me up. I consider the three of you big enough to absorb a little jab induced by humor.
It was said after signing the Simla Convention Agreement in 1914, the 13th Dalai Lama was very distraught that both Dhotoe and Dhome were classified as inner Tibet and Utsang as outer Tibet. He showed his displeasure to Shatra Lonchen by not meeting with him at the appointed time at 8.00 a.m. Instead Shatra had to wait till 6 p.m. to meet and report to His Holiness at the Norbulingka. Perhaps, to a lesser degree Monyul (Arunachal Pradesh) was ceded to British India in a classic quid pro quo, which is China's bone of contention today; and India's lingering migraine on top of losing Aksai Chin.
Today China is 51% urban from the 90% just over three decades ago. There is also a new breed of young people in China, born in the late '70s and '80s who lament that China did not navigate the sea like the Europeans, which conquered and formed colonies in the world's five continents. However, China's nautical policy allowed navigation of the sea over a hundred years before Christopher Columbus in 1492. It was later forbidden by the Ching dynasty. Instead of the seas Imperial China has slowly started spreading its influence in the north and west namely Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria; tightening its grip once the communists took hold of power in October 1949.
China is changing rapidly with its economic machine churning at breakneck speed. What the Industrial Revolution produced in the course of two hundred years, China has achieved that in the last three decades. China has become the United State's main creditor. Did Richard Nixon ever foresee such a thing when he engineered the thawing of the cold war relationship in the early '70s to what it is today? Despite it monumental progress China is confronted with many colossal problems; the latest being pollution. More haste meant more waste. Today its people are no longer going to bed hungry but there is a new hunger: the spiritual hunger. Its coffer is bulging with surplus while it is morally bankrupt. A business man in Hong Kong once quipped that he did not really care under which flag he must live as long as he had the freedom to make money. Similarly, if our people are free to practice Dharma in line with our great gurus, and if we just have enough say over domestic issues, and the running of the Tibet, that will make a simple-minded person like me happy.
As such, I find Kundun's approach makes a whole lot of sense with support from many prominent Indians, Chinese and Westerners. Some coo coo that the Middle-way Approach has failed; that’s a boo boo because there’s no time frame in achieving it. Our dialogue with China has failed to bring anything other than getting scolded. Let us learn a lesson from Mongolia. While many Mongols vigorously debated about true democracy with Uncle Sam's blessing, another group opted for economic development with support from Uncle Chin. Now that the democratic debate has cooled off of late but with the economic boom the people are feeling China's strong influence which is making them feel pretty jittery. For the first time Pakistanis are feeling the Chinese influence and little worried. Could this lead to Hindi-Pakistan bhai bhai and bye bye Pakistan-Chini bhai bhai? Who knows? Indeed, the two nations were bhai bhai in the Indian Subcontinent prior to 1947; another legacy of Britain.
And, in the same way we have wasted a lot of time and energy debating about the benefits of our quest for freedom: Independence, self-determination and Satiagraha, etc. Let's not waste any more time debating about Rangwa or Rangzen. As such, time is now and tomorrow won't wait for us. It's much more conducive for our cause to have one voice as opposed to two. Today both Inner Mongolia and Manchuria are completely absorbed by Hans. The more we bicker about rangwang or rangzen the more we fall in the final strangle-hold of the predator that will go for the jugular. Therefore, let us all march to the beat of Ulam drum on the double, and amplify our voice. We’re the voice for the voiceless inside occupied Tibet. And, you ain’t gonna silence us in the free world. We’ll chip away bit by bit with true grit; then chunk by chunk. We don’t have a choice. The clock is ticking. It's Tibet's survival!
* TPR editors' note for non-Tibetan speakers:
Rangwang = freedom
Rangzen = independence
Rangkyong = autonomy