High Peaks Pure Earth presents an English translation of a blogpost by Woeser, originally written for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia on April 7, 2020 and published on her blog on April 8, 2020.
Woeser’s blogpost is a touching tribute to Kashö Jamyang Choegyal who passed away in London having contracted Covid-19. Although they never met in person, Woeser outlines her personal connections to him and his family members.
Kashö Jamyang Choegyal’s biography of his father was published in 2015 by Tibet House Frankfurt.
Thank you to Riga Shakya for this English translation.
“In Memory of Kashö Jamyang Choegyal”
On March 25, I received an email from the scholar Robert Barnett informing me that Kashö Jamyang Choegyal, who lives in London, had died of Covid-19. He died at the local hospital at 1:25am on March 24 at the age of 81. Admitted to the hospital before the peak of pandemic, he was properly cared for. He was also prepared. A firm Buddhist faith allowed him to pass away peacefully and without fear.
A few hours later, the Tibetan historian Tsering Shakya also told me this news, and sent me a picture of the cover of “In the Service of the 13th and the 14th Dalai Lamas: Choegyal Nyima Lhundrup Kashöpa – Untold Stories of Tibet”, a biography of his father written by Kashö Jamyang Choegyal. The cover is an old group photograph taken in the Nepalese Consulate of Lhasa in the early 1950s by Tibetan officials. Tsering Shakya had written the introduction for this English language publication.
I have a karmic association with this biography. While he was writing, Kashö Jamyang Choegyal, through his nephew the late calligrapher Puntsok Tsering Duechung (who lived in Germany), asked me for some photographs of his father being subjected to struggle sessions by the “revolutionary masses” and Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. The two black-and-white photos that bear witness to history were taken by my father, then a Communist Party officer. During the Cultural Revolution he took more photos that revealed the impact of the period on the snow-covered plateau. My book Killing and Looting (a commentary on his photographs) was published in Taiwan in 2006 and has since been translated into Tibetan, Japanese and English. The English version is published this month (Published as Forbidden Memory: Tibet during the Cultural Revolution by Potomac Books, an imprint of the the University of Nebraska Press).
Those two photos are worth introducing here. Kashö Choegyal Nyima, an important official of the Kashag in Tibet, collaborated with the Communists after the People’s Liberation Army army entered Lhasa. He was one of the many noblemen known as the “Patriotic Upper Class” at the time, but during the Cultural Revolution he was humiliated and tortured as a “Cow Demon and Snake Spirit”. As depicted in the photo, he is flanked by two Red Guards, wearing a paper-tipped hat, with “Cow Demon and Snake Spirit, an evil, power hungry man, Kashö Choegyal Nyima, completely destroyed” written on it in Tibetan. Wearing an old brocade robe, with gold and silver women’s jewellery and a large stack of Tibetan paper money hanging around his neck, he is holding a holding a two-sided drum in his right hand. The damaru, a two-headed drum used in Tibetan Buddhist practice was meant to symbolize that he was a ‘two-faced counterrevolutionary’. Kashö Choegyal Nyima was subject to many struggle sessions. Once he even suffered a fourteen-day long struggle session at the hands of the Hebalin Neighbourhood Committee. Going to work in the day, and subject to struggle sessions until late at night, his days were spent bowing from head to toe, and bowing to the ears without any complaints. Fortunately, he was an exceptionally strong-willed person. Despite his dramatic turn of fortune, he survived ten years of the Cultural Revolution and became a member of the Communist Party’s United Front again. He became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Vice Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region Political Consultative Conference. In 1986, he died at the age of 83 in Lhasa.
Kashö Jamyang Choegyal also asked me to write an essay on his father, which was translated into English and printed in the 2016 biography. The piece was entitled “Kashö Choegyal Nyima, an important historical figure who participated in many important events in the history of Tibet, such as the Lungshar incident, Reting Incident and the 1911 Xinhai Uprising in Lhasa among others”. Studying and discussing the modern history of Tibet, his life and work cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to get my hands on the published book yet.
Kashö Choegyal Nyima had four sons. The eldest son, Kashö Dondrup, committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution. He was only 44 years old. He had been the deputy editor-in-chief of the Tibet Daily. He once accompanied the Chinese Communist Youth League delegation to Budapest to participate in the World Youth Festival in 1956, as the deputy chairman of the Tibet Patriotic Youth Association. In an earlier time, he was a fourth-ranking official of the Tibetan government. He served as English secretary to the Dalai Lama after attending a famous school in India. I have seen a picture of him before a young Tibetan nobleman, elegant and handsome, but unfortunately, he became a collaborator of the new regime and was eventually destroyed by them.
The second son of Kashö Choegyal Nyima is Kashö Jamyang Choegyal. He suddenly left Lhasa for Britain in 1991. This was shocking news at the time, as he was then Party Secretary and General Manager of the Tibet Hotel operated by the Tibet Autonomous Region. He settled in London and never returned to Lhasa.
From the commemorative remarks written by Robert Barnett (circulated on the AAS Tibet email list on March 25, 2020), we can get a rough sense of his career in exile: “He gave unstintingly of his knowledge and experience during his 15 years of work for the Tibet Information Network (TIN) after he arrived in London in 1991 and will be remembered by all who worked with him for his always vivid and precise insights and sharp analysis, as well as his endless ebullience, jocularity, and wealth of proverbial sayings in Tibetan and Chinese”.
Robert Barnett, founder of TIN, considers Kashö Jamyang Choegyal to have been a “respected translator, analyst and writer”. His work not only provides “an account of his father’s turbulent career as a bka’ blon in the 1940s and subsequent decades but also gives us a nuanced presentation of political life and factional dynamics within the Tibetan elite at that time. In it he presented an important and understudied perspective on that history that contested the Taktra-oriented framing found more widely in English-language writings about that period. His approach was typical of his resistance to simplified or polarised positions on any issue, as well as a reminder of his unshakeable commitment to Tibetan religious beliefs, cultural pride and la rgya that seemed only to have been increased by his thirty years of work as a mid-ranking cadre in the Chinese administration in Tibet.”.
According to Robert Barnett, because I contributed the photographs and an essay to his book, Kashö Jamyang Choegyal would always mention that he was very grateful to me, although we never had the chance to meet. However, this is actually insignificant and of no matter at all. In fact, when I was writing “Forbidden Memory”, I received a lot of assistance from his brother, Kashö Lhundup Namgyal, the youngest son of Kashö Choegyal Nyima. The third son, I remember being the General Manager of Tibetan International Travel Agency, who passed away of an illness a few years ago. Kashö Lhundup Namgyal, was editor-in-chief of Tibetan Literature and Art and a poet himself too. I used to work as a Chinese editor at the journal, and both editorial departments belonged to the Tibet Autonomous Region Writers Association. After I was removed from my position after publishing a collection of essays with “serious political mistakes”, we continued to keep in touch. Each time we met, he expressed his sincere care for me, and his affection moved me deeply. He passed away in Lhasa three years ago. Upon hearing the news, I wrote a poem in commemoration of his life. I think of the following lines at this particular moment, and can’t help but shed tears:
I once mentioned the white crane I saw as a child on the northern beach,
He spread his wings and gestured with grace,
“Flying here in the summer and flying away in the winter,
Everyone I see is full of happiness… but I’ll never seem them again”.
Let me dedicate the last few lines of this poem to Kashö Jamyang Choegyal who died in a foreign country:
The night sky is deep and mutable, the moonlight fades away as if in accordance with karma,
Unhurriedly he appeared, always with a gesture of humility, pointing behind himself,
As if asking me to follow him back to the past instead of suffering reincarnation.
“Goodbye Gen la”, I murmured.
(Gen la is a form of honorific address to a gentleman in Tibetan.)
Lastly, I would like to add that Kashö Jamyang Choegyal is the second exile Tibetan to die of the pandemic that started in Wuhan, China and has since spread to the rest of the world. The first was a 69-year-old male living in a Tibetan community in exile in India. According to a report on the Tibetan Review website on March 30, there are six Tibetans in exile infected by Covid-19, living in Switzerland, Italy and the United States. As for the number of Tibetans infected in China, according to official announcements in Tawu County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, there are as many as 73 confirmed cases, all of whom should be local Tibetans.
Tsering Woeser, April 7, 2020 in Beijing.
Translated by Riga Shakya, April 13, 2020 in Vancouver.