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The truth about Surkhang Wangchen Gelek - Part 2

posted Aug 6, 2015, 5:33 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Aug 6, 2015, 5:35 PM ]

By Jampa Yangchen Surkhang

In their recent rebuttal on The Tibetan Political Review ( on July 20, 2015, my brother J. T. Surkhang and cousin, Chunden Dolkar aptly refute Mr. Gyalo Thondup’s allegation that Surkhang was a Chinese informer. However, I would like to elaborate further on this and also clarify many other innuendos Mr. Thondup makes about Surkhang in his autobiography, The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong.

Surkhang Wangchen Gelek served in the Tibetan Government from an early age. Because of his exceptional intelligence, he was accepted as a Tsituka (a junior apprenticeship position) in the Tibetan Government when he was only about 15 or 16 years old. He went on to become the Assistant to the Governor of Kham (Domey Chikyap) in his early 20‘s, between the years 1929 to 1934. At 33 years old, Surkhang became a Kalon (Cabinet Minister) and by the late 1950's until he left office in 1961, he served as the Kalon Tripa in the Tibetan Government. He served through some of the most critical periods in Tibetan history with utmost dedication and, above all, did what he thought was best for Tibet and in the service of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Besides being an astute politician, he was a scholar of Tibetan history and literature. Some of his writings can be found at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. A couple of them, translated into English by his brother, Surkhang Rimshi are available in the links below:


Page 213, paragraph 2: Mr. Thondup alleges that in 1959, when the newly formed Tibetan Government in Exile was still in Mussoorie struggling to support thousands of new refugees, Surkhang and Yuthok suggested to ask the Indian Government for a loan of 200 million rupees. Mr. Thondup further alleges that acting upon their (Surkhang and Yuthok) suggestion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama personally approached Nehru for the loan, and it was refused.

To put the record straight, at the time of the discussion of the said loan, Yuthok Tashi Dondup was not in Mussoorie, but in Calcutta. At that time, Jigmie Yuthok, his son, was one of the interpreters of the Tibetan Government in Mussoorie and it was, in fact, Jigme Yuthok who accompanied Surkhang and Kalon Liushar to New Delhi to interpret for a meeting with the then Indian Foreign Secretary, Subimal Dutt. Mr. Jigmie Yuthok, who is currently living in Everett, Washington, confirms that during this meeting, they requested for a loan of 6.4 million rupees, however, this request was denied. Mr. Thondup had come along with them, but was only a silent observer on this occasion.

Page 213-214, paragraph 3: Mr. Thondup further goes on to say, “Surkhang and Yuthok were so embarrassed when the Dalai Lama reported his conversation to the Kashag that they fled Mussoorie and never returned. Perhaps they had suffered an irreparable loss of face when the loan they had so adamantly sought was so curtly refused. Perhaps they believed that the government in exile would collapse without it. They soon fled India and later fell in with Guomindang intelligence and moved to Taiwan, where they set up what they called an office of the Kashag. But their office was fake. The Kashag in India never approved it. Surkhang and Yuthok had no contact with the Dalai Lama or the Kashag after fleeing from Mussoorie and had no right to portray themselves as representatives of the Tibetan government. Their new office did not last long.”

Contrary to what Mr. Thondup alleges, Surkhang did not "flee" from Mussoorie never to be seen again. As a matter of fact, Surkhang served the Tibetan Government not only during its operation from Mussoorie but after it relocated to Dharamsala. Mr. Thondup's allegation that Surkhang and Yuthok left India because of an “irreparable loss of face" due to Nehru denying the Tibetan Government a loan is quite preposterous. In a hand-written note addressed to the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Surkhang would later categorically cite “malicious rumors” about him being a Chinese informer and a traitor that were spread in the Tibetan community as the reason for him leaving. These rumors were similar to what Mr. Thondup alleges in his book.

Unfortunately, around 1961, as a result of these rumors, certain groups and individuals took to criticizing Surkhang and several other old Government officials publicly and through malicious newspaper articles etc. Under such an ominous atmosphere, the Kashag was reshuffled in 1961 in Dharamsala and Surkhang was not given a portfolio, but rather asked to serve in the capacity of a Lopon (advisor). At that time, Surkhang was only 51 years old and felt he could contribute more actively to the cause of Tibet elsewhere, so he resigned that same year. Surkhang left India in 1963 with his wife and younger brother for England where his son and daughter were studying. While there, he lectured and presented the case for Tibet at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London.

After spending several months in England, Surkhang and his family went to the United States. In June 1964, he joined the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington under a Rockefeller Foundation grant to work on the Inner Asia Project of The Far Eastern Department with Professor Turrell Wylie. Unfortunately, around 1971 Surkhang's position was terminated due to lack of funding.

Surkhang went to Taiwan in 1972 after he left the University of Washington and not directly from India as Mr. Thondup alleges. By this time, his wife’s uncle and his former brother-in-law, Yuthok Tashi Dondup, and family were already living there. However, once in Taiwan, the Nationalist Government of Republic of China (Kuomintang) wanted the two former Kalons (Surkhang and Yuthok) to operate a “Kashag Office” to represent the Tibetan people. Both Surkhang and Yuthok vehemently refused to open such an office using the name "Kashag", arguing that the real Kashag was in India under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is both the Temporal and Spiritual leader of the Tibet. Instead, they opened the “Kalon Office”, which was more like a cultural center where the few Tibetans living in Taiwan at the time would gather to celebrate Tibetan festivals and other important occasions like His Holiness the Dalai Lama's birthdays and the Tibetan New Year. As far as Surkhang and Yuthok were concerned, this office was never set up to challenge the Tibetan government in exile or feign to represent the Tibetan people in general. The only politics that Surkhang and Yuthok engaged in during their stay in Taiwan were to request Nationalist Government support for the Tibetan cause and the restoration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his rightful throne when they drive the Communist party out of Mainland China. Tenzin Tethong clearly writes in his Special Essay, Tibet and Taiwan Past History and Future Prospect, page 59, “Their (Surkhang and Yuthok) arrival in Taiwan stirred strong reactions within the Tibetan community and many saw their actions as compromising with parties worse than the Chinese Communists. However, during their stay in Taiwan, both Yuthok and Surkhang tried to convey to Chang Kai-shek and the ROC government the need for a change in their policies regarding Tibet; to no longer look at Tibet as part of China, and to suggest the course of Tibet on its own merit.”

However, not long following the inception of the Kalon Office, the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission (MTAC) began to meddle and use it for their own propaganda, which created misunderstandings between the two former Kalons and the Tibetan Government in Exile. By 1974 when the MTAC was still aggressive with its propaganda using the two former Kalons names, Surkhang and Yuthok took steps to close the Kalon Office. However, during the final stages of the closure of the Kalon Office, Yuthok had to leave for Canada because his family’s immigration papers were processed. Unfortunately, before Yuthok could return to Taiwan, Surkhang died quite suddenly due to a heart failure on January 3, 1977. Yuthok later returned to Taiwan for Surkhang’s funeral and stayed on to complete the closure of the Kalon Office.

Throughout most of this period, Surkhang and Yuthok were in contact with His Holiness the Dalai Lama through correspondence. Therefore, Mr. Thondup's allegation that, "Surkhang and Yuthok had no contact with the Dalai Lama or the Kashag after fleeing from Mussoorie" is absolutely false. Below are two letters from the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, acknowledging receipt of letters from Surkhang and Yuthok.

English Translation of the letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressed to Surkhang and Yuthok:

To Surkhang Wangchen Gelek and Yuthok Tashi Dhondup,

I recently received your letter sent on October 15. The letter shows you are both seasoned and experienced officials from the way you write with clarity and proficiency giving detailed explanation and opinions. Here, it is now clear. Please note that we can discuss in detail when we meet.

Seal of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (in red) and Seal of Private Office (black)

From Himachal Pradesh, India, Dharamsala, Thekchin Choeling

November 11, 1972

English translation of the letter from Tenzin Choenyi (Ku-ngo Tarala) addressed to Surkhang and Yuthok. Respected Suryu (Surkhang and Yuthok abbreviated)

I received your letter sent on October 14. I also received the copy of the article submitted by the official of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission that was published in Calcutta. I reported this matter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. You have given a detailed and clear explanation of the Calcutta article, which was very good. Regarding this matter, you should be diligent and pay special attention to the welfare of the Tibetan people. You should keep us informed regarding future matters. From Tenzin Choenyi

On Behalf of the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

November 15, 1974.

Surkhang not only kept in touch with His Holiness the Dalai Lama through correspondence but also met him personally on several occasions. In 1973, Surkhang has a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in England and in Switzerland, where he attended His Holiness’ teachings. Again in 1974, Surkhang went to Dharamsala and stayed for about 2 weeks. During that time, he had private audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on numerous occasions and had long discourses with him. Below are photos of those occasions.

Surkhang with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, London November 1973. Photo courtesy - Mr. Tsewang Pemba 
(click to enlarge)

Surkhang seated at the table with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kungno Phala and Kungno Tarala. This was taken during an impromptu dinner hosted by Surkhang at the Heathrow Airport because of flight delay to Switzerland. Photo courtesy - Mr. Tsewang Pemba (1973)
(click to enlarge)

Group photo with the members of His Holiness’ entourage and local Tibetans living in England at Heathrow Airport. Photo courtesy Mr. Tsewang Pemba (1973) (click to enlarge)

Surkhang with Kungo Phala, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Geneva and Kungno Tarala, Secretary Of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Switzerland (1973) (click to enlarge)

Surkhang visiting the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala (1974)
(click to enlarge)

Page 214, 2nd paragraph: “Their (Surkhang and Yuthok) defection was a blow to the Government in exile, straining relations to some of its members,” One could make several arguments against this wanton use of the word “defection”, but here are a few of the reasons why Surkhang did not defect to Taiwan. To defect is to forsake one’s ideals or one’s nation for another, often due to a change in one’s ideology. As far as Surkhang and Yuthok were concerned, they never faltered in their belief that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was the only true representative of the Tibetan people and that Tibet was never a part of China. Surkhang never became a citizen of Republic of China (Taiwan). During his time there and until he passed away, he was a U. S. Green Card holder. He traveled to Taiwan on his U. S. Travel Document and maintained his U. S. Permanent Resident status throughout his stay in Taiwan. Surkhang never held any allegiance to the Kuomintang party or became a member of it while he was in Taiwan. During Surkhang's stay in Taiwan, he continued to make his Social Security and tax payments to the U. S. Government through its Consulate in Taipei.

In conclusion, Mark Twain wrote that the very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice. It would be most unfortunate if the proud legacy of Surkhang, who was a brilliant Tibetan scholar and a dedicated Tibetan nationalist, were to be tarnished by a few malicious sentences.

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