High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser, originally published by the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and then posted on her blog on October 30, 2016.
Last year, 2016, marked the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution and 10 years since Woeser’s two books on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet were published in Taiwan.
This transcript below of a full-length interview expands on a previous article, “Dawa, a Red Guard from Lhasa: ‘That Day, The Jokhang Temple was Only Destroyed on the Surface, The Real Destruction Happened Later’”.
“My Conversation with Dawa, a Lhasa Red Guard Who Took Part in the Smashing of the Jokhang Temple”
Note by Woeser: in 2006, the Taiwanese publisher “Locus” published my two books “Forbidden Memory” and “Tibet Remembered”. “Forbidden Memory” is a commentary on the photos that my father took during the Cultural Revolution as well as my own research. “Tibet Remembered” is an oral history of people affected by the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. I have introduced them many times. When I was writing “Forbidden Memory,” I encountered a total of over 70 interviewees; 23 of them and their stories make up the book. 20 of them are Tibetan, two are Chinese and one is Hui. They include Red Guards from Lhasa and the founder of the Rebel Faction, many Red Guards and enthusiasts, but also members of the aristocracy who were criticised at the time, lamas, medical doctors, Cultural Revolution journalists, PLA officers etc. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, so from August last year, I started to publish the important interviews in “Tibet Remembered” on my Radio Free Asia blog.
Woeser (Hereafter W): You belong to the 1966 cohort of the Lhasa Middle School and you are one of Lhasa’s first Red Guards. Do you still remember how Lhasa’s Red Guard group was established?
Dawa (Hereafter D): Oh, well, it just happened. They grouped together all over China, so we also established the Red Guards. But I don’t remember the exact time. It would have been around the time when Chairman Mao received the Red Guards at Tiananmen. As long as you were a student you could put on the Red Guard armband.
W: Everyone? Regardless of one’s social status?
D: Yes, everyone. At the very beginning, social status didn’t actually matter, there were no divisions or limitations; I am also not sure how that could be, but everyone could be a Red Guard and pick up a red tassel, regardless of whether you were a descendent of a feudal ruler or of a poor family. But very quickly that wasn’t possible anymore, then we had to pay attention to social status. Those who had a good social status could become a Red Guard, others could not. That’s what changed. So those with no adequate social status had to take off their red armbands. And they were discriminated against.
W: Did you make the red armbands yourself?
D: Yes, we did. I made a lot of them. First I would engrave the characters into a thin galvanised iron sheet, put on oil paint and then apply it to a red cloth; finally, I would steam it in a high pressure steaming pot normally used for medicinal purposes so that the colour wouldn’t come off. There were also mimeographed ones.
W: I saw in the “Tibet Daily” that on August 19, Red Guards from Lhasa Middle and Normal Schools took part in the city’s first big meeting in celebration of the Cultural Revolution and that some Red Guards from Normal School even went up on stage to present Zhang Guohua with a red armband and put it on him.
D: I don’t seem to remember too much.
W: So do you remember how many Red Guards were at Lhasa Middle School?
D: The entire school was full of Red Guards.
W: Roughly how many people?
D: Adding up everyone, including new students, around 700. All of them were Red Guards. Of course, that was right when it first started. But I do remember clearly that as soon as they started paying attention to one’s social status, many people were excluded.
W: Who was organising you? Teachers?
D: Mainly teachers. Like Tao Changsong or Xie Fangyi. Mainly those two. Among the students, those who had a good class background would take up leadership roles. I guess I could also be counted as one of them.
W: How many Han Chinese students were at your school?
D: Lhasa Middle School had at least three classes only with Han Chinese. In the year of 1967 (those who graduated in 1967), two classes were exclusively Han Chinese, altogether probably around 70 to 80.
W: Which school formed Red Guards first, Lhasa Middle or Lhasa Normal School?
D: I think it was Lhasa Middle School. Because at the time, in all kinds of regards, Lhasa Middle School was more famous than Lhasa Normal School.Lhasa Normal School didn’t have such a reputation also because the age gap was too big. There, they had some who were 40 something and some who very still young. Many were from the countryside and also quite a few monks.
W: Were those monks from monasteries or living outside?
D: All monks had to leave the monastic order, because in 1959, the PLA had “pacified” the rebellion and so monks couldn’t stay in the monasteries. The younger monks all left.
W: So did they wear robes at school?
D: No, they didn’t. They wore whatever they wanted. They dressed just like we did. Initially, Lhasa Middle and Normal Schools were in the same place, so we all know each other well. Then they moved to a monastery called Purchog Temple, to the east of Sera monastery and later they moved to where the Tibet Cadre School was, around Drungchi Lingka. Today, it is where Tibet University is located. Graduates from the Normal School were spread across Tibet; I heard that most teachers at village schools had graduated from the Normal School. That was very different from the Tibet in the old days. Where would you find a school in the Tibetan countryside back then? Rulers at the time didn’t think about that. I also remember that before 1959, there was a school called “Tse Lobdra”, located at the foot of Potala Palace, which was separated into one school for monk officials and one for secular officials. It was odd, the monk cadre school would give monasteries a quota, allowing them to pick a few people who then go to school and become an official; as long as they studied hard, they could even become a 7-grade official. The school for secular officials, on the other hand, only recruited from aristocratic families.
W: So does that mean then that the first Red Guards group formed at Lhasa Middle School?
D: Yes. In Tibet at least. Then everyone was following suit, rushing in to also take action.
W: Last time, you talked about the smashing of the Jokhang Temple, I would like to ask again if this was planned in advance?
D: Definitely, yes.
W: The “Tibet Daily” records that on the 24th, Red Guards went to the Barkhor to spread propaganda, but there was nothing about smashing the Jokhang Temple. The report mentioned one student from Lhasa Middle School named Migmar Tsering (and one from Normal School named Pasang. But on site, they changed their names, it also mentioned one worker, a painter, named Gangdruk).
D: There were quite a few named Migmar Tsering at Lhasa Middle School, I don’t know who this person is. As for the student of Normal School, yes, he was with us when we convened the meeting at headquarters. About that worker, he is now the secretary of the neighbourhood committee. He was actually a painter, painting Tibetan furniture.
W: When you think back to that day, which people do you think were mainly behind the smashing of the Jokhang Temple?
D: Students, residents, anybody really. In fact, as I told you last time, that day, the Jokhang Temple was only destroyed on the surface, about half a month later, the government sent people to put things back in order. The “Chochey Lekhung”, the station that traded with scrap, was by the sounds of it simply collecting rubbish, but actually, the so-called rubbish and scrap was all good stuff. But that rubbish collection point simply collected it for a and would only give very little money in return. At the time, many people would take their valuables from their homes and bring them there, some because they were scared, others because they were helpless and had needed money to live; of course, some were brave and simply hid their valuables. Those were off the hook later on. But those who were not brave enough had to count the cost later.
Also, I heard that there was a secretary of Chengguan District named Liu Fang who snatched a golden lamp that had been offered to “Jowo Rinpoche” in front of a shrine, it was a “Lungton Serdung” and looked quite ordinary, but it was actually very precious. It was taken away by that young fellow. But he received his punishment when he was sent back to Han Chinese areas and his car flipped over, including his trunk, which revealed a lot of things, among them the golden lamp.
W: During the Cultural Revolution, what happened to the monks, for instance, at the Jokhang Temple? Did they stay in the monasteries?
D: Many monks did not dare to remain in their monasteries and left. Like my elder brother, he had left home to become a monk at the Jokhang Temple, but at the time of the Cultural Revolution he did not dare to stay either. I found a way to get him back into the Neighbourhood Committee, he never returned to life as a monk. He now lives with me, six years ago he lost his eyesight due to glaucoma. He just stays in bed, reciting prayers or sleeping. He does not want to get up, saying that he has walked enough, seen enough.
W: Around the time when Lhasa Middle School Red Guards went to smash Jokhang Temple, did they also smash other monasteries?
D: On the day of the smashing of the Jokhang, the Red Guards also went to the mosque. But when they went in, they realised that there was nothing there at all, nothing there to destroy. So all they could do was leave a slogan on the wall and leave. I heard that after they had just left, the Hui people came back with clubs, spades and axes to beat up the Red Guards. There weren’t many Hui people in Tibet, but they were very united, they cared for each other; if a family was in difficulties, as long as they didn’t steal, someone would be there to help them out financially. The Hui in Tibet are different from the Hui in Qinghai or in Gansu, they say they are Hui, but actually they are similar to Tibetans; regardless of whether it’s language or daily habits, they are all the same. Only their belief is different. So some of my Hui classmates back then would say that they are Tibetan Hui or Tibetan Muslims. But Tibetans are not very united, they don’t only separate into different regions, they also separate into different religious schools. It was like that back then, and it is like that today; it is also like that within the exile community abroad.
W: That really is a problem, otherwise it would have not been so easy for the PLA to come in.
D: Exactly, why could the PLA enter Tibet so easily in 1950? It is to do with this problem. There used to be a saying among Khampa people: The Chinese Communists were like parents and the money just dropped down like rain. People thought: well, ok, let’s deal with it when it gets here. When we were in school, they would give us 30 silver yuan each month, regardless of whether we were aristocrats or common people, everyone would receive it. Not like today’s kids who have to pay to go to school. Of course, doing it like that at the time was a way to buy the people’s support, the CCP hadn’t established themselves yet. But as soon as they had, it changed, then they went to harvest what they had planted.
W: What other kinds of activities did you later engage in with the Lhasa Middle School Red Guards?
D: We went to Beijing twice to do some “revolutionary networking”. It must have been from September when Lhasa Red Guards had to “network” as well. It was the first batch of Red Guards and I was part of it, we were to attend Chairman Mao’s reception on October 18. There 50 or 60 of us, including teacher Tao, students from Lhasa Middle and Normal Schools and also students from Lhokha and Shigatse. The district Party Committee had also sent an official, it was Tashi Phuntsok who would later become the head of the provincial Civil Affairs Bureau. He was there to monitor us and supposed to frequently report back to the Tibet Autonomous Region on our tendencies.
W: Why did they have to monitor Red Guards?
D: Probably because they didn’t trust us. But that person wasn’t good at writing, so he asked one student to copy his reports. As soon as our classmate saw the manuscript, he was furious “he f…. wrote a complaint, I won’t copy this”. When he told us we were also very angry and went to argue with the official. He couldn’t measure up to us, so he was very unhappy and we were in constant conflict with him.
We took a bus to Liuyuan and then the train to Beijing. In Beijing we met Chairman Mao. We were very moved and excited. I even spent 50 yuan to buy a Red Guard uniform, it was one of those military uniforms. On our way back we wanted to take the Kham-Tibet Highway. The official did not agree, because that highway was quite dangerous and he was probably concerned about our safety. But we were young, had no clue, we insisted on taking that route, even said that people had repaired it and that we weren’t scared, that we weren’t scared of anything, that kind of stuff. When he couldn’t argue against us, he tricked us.
Normally, there is a direct train from Beijing to Chengdu. But he bought us tickets to Xi’an. We could get straight onto the train, didn’t have to buy tickets. We didn’t know that we had got on the wrong train and suddenly ended up in Xi’an. Teacher Tao had taken an earlier train directly to Chengdu and we had agreed to meet again there. But then he ended up there on his own. We had been fooled, so we stayed at the Tibet College for Nationalities for a few nights. During those days, we cursed our official and argued with him. We drove him mad. When students from Lhasa Normal School went out to speak in favour of him, we started to quarrel with them, too. This is where our ways parted. We took the train to Chengdu to meet with teacher Tao and then travelled back to Lhasa. It took as an entire two weeks. The Kham-Tibet Highway was indeed dangerous. There were two buses, one for us and one for the cadres who had been on holiday. They were extremely scared, thought that the bus might flip over, they didn’t even dare to breathe. Totally unlike us who were talking and singing and being very happy. When we got back to Lhasa it was already the end of November.
W: So when did Red Guards from China come into Tibet?
D: They only arrived after the “revolutionary networking” had started. There were many people coming from a Number 83 or 80 something Middle School in Beijing. They were quite strong, quite an impressive force. Then there were some from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, from Qinghai 818, from Inner Mongolia Communication School etc. After the emergence of the “rebel faction” they would all live at headquarters, which was located in our two schools. And then there were many Tibetans who had been studying at the Colleges for Nationalities, like the Central College, the Tibet College etc. Those were the majority, even more than from our two middle schools. There several thousands of them swarming around Lhasa’s streets and alleys. Many of them were “serfs with halberds in their hands” and belonged to the “Joint Command Faction”. Red Guards from our two schools and those from the Colleges mostly belonged to the “rebel faction”. Of course there were some who didn’t belong anywhere, but most of the students coming from Chinese areas belonged to the “rebels”.
W: How was your relationship with the students from Chinese areas? Were they leading you or were you equal?
D: I guess we were equal. But because many of them came from the capital, they had a better understanding of things, so we let them draw up plans and so on. Also, Dawa Tsering and Ngawang Tsering who came back from Qinghua University, had both been Lhasa Middle School students, so they were like family members. They mobilised many of us. Because we really didn’t know much, only knew things from listening to the radio and stuff. As soon as they arrived, many things started to be clear.
W: Did the two factions split apart from the Red Guards?
D: Yes. Both the “Rebel Faction” and the “Joint Command Faction” consisted of some Red Guards. One was about protecting officials, the other was about fighting against them. That’s what these factions were about. So the military were leaning more towards the “Joint Command Faction,” which is why they had lots of weapons, all given by the military, not openly of course, but in secret. The “Joint Command Faction” also had uniforms, plenty to eat and to drink. Our “Rebel Faction” was not in such a good state, we were poor, had almost no weapons; and even though people said that our headquarters were scary, they really only had one pistol, which belonged to a Han Chinese working at a repair factory. So when we got attacked, we could not defend ourselves and were beaten. So we picked up some metal containers from the streets that looked like big cannons. We also had some metal hand grenades with detonators and explosives. Once I had been lucky to get hold of one, but a fellow student from the radio station saw it and forced it away from me. Later, as he was showing it off to his colleagues, he accidentally pulled it and it exploded. Luckily, they all ran away quickly. He was injured, but not heavily. It was this incident that the military and “Joint Command Faction” members living at the radio station labelled as the “blasting of the radio station incident”. Shortly after, the armed struggle began. First, it was just heated debates, then it turned into fist fights, then into throwing stones and finally, into opening fire.
W: So the “Rebel Faction” did have weapons later on?
D: The third motor squadron was the “Sansi,” the third command post of the “Rebel” headquarters. They had a small military squad that had weapons. Some were self-made others perhaps taken from somewhere. The fourth post of the headquarters was our Neighbourhood Committee.
W: So below the two main factions, there were many smaller groupings right?
D: Yes. Many. The more famous group below the “Joint Command Faction” were the “serfs with halberds in their hands”. For us the third and fourth command posts were quite strong and then Lhasa Middle School. We were good at writing big-lettered posters and good at debating, but not good at fighting. During the armed struggle, one student died during an attack against the newspaper office. A self-made hand grenade fell on his head and exploded. He died. These handmade grenades were not safe at all. There were also some handmade pistols. But we couldn’t get hold of any.
There were mainly three groups under the “Rebel Faction”: the “rebel commune”, the “rebel headquarters” and the “Red Guards command centre”. It was similar to the “Joint Command Faction”: they had a headquarter, the “serfs with halberds in their hands” and the “Serf Herdsmen Command Centre”. The headquarters of the latter was based at “Gyurme” which was in the Gyurme Dratsang complex.
We students all belonged to the “Red Guards command centre”. Officials, staff, city residents and workers belonged to the “rebel headquarters”. The farmers living in the outskirts belonged to the “rebel communes”. When the communes had just been set up, me and some classmates from Lhasa Middle School went there to take charge, we went to the Tsel Gungtang office, the Lhalu office, the Dongfeng office (which was around today’s Nachen Road), all three rural offices were made up of rural officials and our people. The Tsel Gungtang office’s officials mostly belonged to the “Rebel Faction.” But what was interesting was that most ordinary people belonged to the “Joint Command Faction”. Our office was on the eastern corner of Yabzhi Taktser. We had two rooms and we also lived there. The entire courtyard belonged to us rebel headquarters. Teacher Tao lived there. Tao was the big boss, together with that Chinese repair factory worker. Xie Fangyi was mainly at Lhasa Middle School, but he was also a boss.
At the “rebel commune”, our main work was to give local farmers leaflets, organise meetings and to do all sorts of propaganda work. We also provided farmers with food rations from the headquarters.
After the two factions united as the “grand alliance”, the commune was abolished. So we returned to school and not long after, the “Rebel Faction” was finished. The power was now in the hands of the “grand alliance” and none of us could get into headquarters anymore. So we were all sent to the countryside. They gave us food coupons, cloth coupons and some money, I guess to shut us up. So we went there; we had to, we couldn’t refuse, that was the situation at the time. I was sent to Tsel Gungtang. With the help of the officials that I had known during my work at the commune, I managed to join a relatively good production team; it was in the September of 1969. I remained a farmer for one entire year before being called back to the city.
W: Don’t you feel that all of you students who became Red Guards were actually victims?
D: Yes, precisely. We were all scapegoats. We 18 or 19 year old kids, what did we understand? So, from this perspective we were victims. At the time, our class was the highest grade in our school, we would have graduated in 1966 and been assigned a job. But we had to work full-time for the revolution. So we ended up spending three additional years and only graduated in 1969. We were educated by being sent down to the countryside and only really started working from 1969. So we really sacrificed our youth. Apart from the year that entered right at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, all of us were sent down to the countryside. The new class was eventually also sent there two years later. So some of the older years at Lhasa Middle School were totally drained. Everyone came back to the city eventually, but while some returned after a year or two, others spent seven years in the countryside. We all had more or less the same family background. I spent exactly one year, I was quite lucky. Perhaps because my background was particularly good. Later, youths from Chinese areas were also joining us, probably in the early 1970’s.
W: What kind of school was Lhasa Middle School?
D: It was a kind of boarding school. Closed education. The only time we did not have classes was at the weekend, when we could go out and watch outdoor cinema or something like that. Half of our teachers were Tibetan, half were Chinese. They were all extremely good. You probably don’t find such good teachers anymore today. And most Chinese teachers also knew Tibetan. At junior level, all science classes, like maths, physics and chemistry would be taught in Tibetan. Later, it would be in Mandarin. Among the Chinese teachers, Xie Yifang, Zheng Guoliang, You Guotai were all pretty good. Teacher Tao wasn’t our teacher in charge and never actually taught us, but he had an extraordinary reputation and he was very knowledgeable. But he had a hard time, the Cultural Revolution could make you big, but it could also destroy you. Most were destroyed.
The honorary principle of our school was the Dalai Lama. The actual principle was the Dalai Lama’s great teacher Trijiang Rinpoche. He was quite a young principal. That was before 1959 of course.
W: Today, what is your view on the Cultural Revolution?
D: It was bad. Everyone knows that Chairman Mao was muddled and confused in his later years, paranoid that someone would seize his power. Chiang Kai-shek once said, it was not the CCP that defeated the KMT, the KMT defeated itself. The Cultural Revolution was also like that, the CCP broke itself.
W: But the damage that the Cultural Revolution did to Tibet was massive, wasn’t it?
D: The damage that the Cultural Revolution inflicted upon Tibet cannot be put into words. By 1959, in the entire Tibetan region, including Kham and Amdo, 7000 monasteries had been destroyed. But those that remained after 1959 were more or less entirely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. During the “Destroy the Four Olds” campaign, the local neighbourhood committee planned to also smash the Potala Palace but they were stopped by the PLA. It is said that it was an order from premier Zhou Enlai. But later, when air-raid shelters were set up, they blasted Marpo Ri (the mountain on which the Potala Palace is built), which caused massive damage. It is also why the Potala Palace is in such a bad state today and has to be repaired. There is no alternative.
The first time the Potala Palace was repaired, the Central Government provided 40 million. It is said that at a meeting some vice minister of the Ministry of Finance would repeatedly say how the Ministry’s situation was so difficult but they still allocated 40 million to repair the Palace. Ngapo was present at the time: He said that if the Ministry is in such a difficult situation, well then we don’t want to take the Central Government’s money. We could simply open the Palace’s treasury and use that money to pay for the repair work. This treasury was called “Namse Bangzo”, it was used by the former Tibetan government. They would turn the collected tax money into gold and jewellery and keep them there. Nothing would ever be taken out. Some people say for 300 years, other say for 500 years, so think about how much wealth would have accumulated inside it! But during the Cultural Revolution this treasury was emptied, nothing was left inside, completely empty. It is said that Ngapo knew about this, but deliberately brought it up to force someone to say that the treasury was empty, that there was no gold left, that it has all been taken away by the government. As soon as the Minister heard this, he shut up.
There are still air-raid shelters at the bottom of the Potala Palace. One to the west is used for selling barley, the one to the east I have never been inside. And there is one at the foot of Chakpori. No idea why they had to dig out an air-raid shelter over there, perhaps it was close to the office of the head of the TAR. Before the Cultural Revolution, the district Party Committee built a Party school at Yiong Tso (located in Nyingtri Prefecture, not too high above sea-level). We heard that the Party Committee wanted to move there as well, namely because people like Zhang Guohua were afraid of getting killed by exploding planes.
Panchen Rinpoche has said it! Tibet did not have a single monastery that was not destroyed, the least damaged one is perhaps the Potala Palace. Today, there was a ceremony for the second restoration of the Palace, they also want to repair Norbulingka and Sakya Monastery, all these places that were damaged during the Cultural Revolution.
W: But about the destruction of monasteries in Tibet, there is a common narrative now that says that Tibetans themselves smashed the places. What do you think?
D: Well, there certainly are people who say that Tibetans themselves smashed the monasteries. But many people were forced to. Generally speaking, the responsibility still lies with the government. If the government had wanted to stop it, they could easily have done it. For example, Ngapo, the people wanted to fight him, humiliate him, the central government wanted to keep and protect him; in the end, he was spared. This shows that as long as they wanted to protect something, they absolutely could. They had so many soldiers, they could have just stationed some there to guard the respective places and no one would have dared to smash anything. But when they finally acted, it was too late. The damage had been done. On the other hand, local government officials had very little power to protect places, to even protect themselves. I heard that Zhou Enlai had a lot of trouble himself. But at the end of the day, if they had sent in enough soldiers, they could have saved many places from getting damaged.
W: I have another question. After so many different political movements, like the “democratic reform” and later the “three doctrines”, the “four clean-ups” etc, and after spending so much time getting the people ready to start the revolution, isn’t it true that quite a few people had already been completely brainwashed? And so when taking part in the Cultural Revolution, isn’t it true that even though there were some who did so out of fear, many did so voluntarily and genuinely believed in it? And isn’t it also true that in the whole of Tibet, religion had already diminished and that the CCP had become the new deity and Communism the new belief?
D: During the Cultural Revolution, religion was indeed suppressed. But especially the older generation would just pretend to be following the line; in actual fact, they were still devout. They could not publicly express it, but they never gave up their religious beliefs. For a lot of young people, on the other hand, like our group, for instance, religion didn’t mean much at all, no one had ever taught us, we had only some vague impression. So we were easily brainwashed. But you cannot underestimate the influence of religion. For instance, after the Cultural Revolution, the visitors from the other side (referring to Tibetans living in Indian exile) received a most heartfelt welcome (in 1979, the Chinese government allowed exiled Tibetans and relatives of the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet). This shows the important position that religion assumed in people’s hearts. The prayer square at the Jokhang was full of people. Prior to their arrival, local units and neighbourhood committees had lectured everyone not to swear at or beat the visitors. But it turned out to be the exact opposite. When the elder brother of the Dalai Lama spoke, his every word was met with cheering and as soon as he raised his one hand, the whole square went completely silent. And this just because he was the Dalai Lama’s elder brother. No other reason. Religion is really very special! The CCP had, after all, only been around for a short period of time, religion had already existed for thousands of years. Its imperceptible influence and power is extraordinary! Today, many young people also believe; during “Saga Dawa”, many of those circumambulating around the prayer circuits are young people. The power of religion is all too obvious. Religion does not easily become extinct.
W: Speaking of the enormous reaction to groups sent by the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet, isn’t there a reason behind this? For instance, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, the CCP allowed people to practice their beliefs again and re-erected all the “monsters and demons”. And didn’t this provoke those who had enthusiastically taken part in the Cultural Revolution? After all that turmoil, did they realise that Mao Zedong, that deity, was nowhere near as strong as Tibet’s own deities. He died, but our deities died and still reincarnated, so did they somehow regret their behaviour, especially the damage they did?
D: That is very possible. Well, how to put it? After the Cultural Revolution, those who were most enthusiastic about rebuilding the monasteries, were actually the ones that had been most enthusiastic about smashing them. How could that be? Perhaps they regretted what they did. But there were also some among them who were opportunists, whatever situation they found themselves in, they would follow. But most people genuinely regretted. OK, there are many worshippers today, many go and pray every day, but what exactly is Tibetan religion? Only very few people know this. Most of us think, Tibetan religion is about people’s spirit, believing means mind therapy and when it is OK again, religion has served its purpose.
W: So what is your view of these Cultural Revolution enthusiasts?
D: Some of them were simply ignorant, going with the flow; others were uneducated hooligans; and again others were opportunists who wanted to rise up and become officials; of course, some were genuinely convinced of their actions. There were all kinds of people.
W: What was the impact of these enthusiasts in the Cultural Revolution?
D: Their impact was quite bad, but quite large. For instance, the monastery smashing was basically led by them. But what kind of people were they? Let me give you an example. One of our neighbours’ kids was quite naughty, when playing football, he once kicked the ball against the head of a security chief, who then immediately caught the boy. They happened to hold a mass meeting at the time and the security chief ordered the kid to get on stage and be punished. His dad was out with his handcart and didn’t know about this. When he got home and heard about his son being punished by protracted kneeling, he immediately went over. He was a brave man, he went onto the stage and kneeled next to his son, saying: master, my brute son is extremely careless and stupid to kick the ball against your head, he should be damned. He spoke in the way in which people would speak to aristocrats in the past. This put the security chief on the spot. He said apologetically: OK, OK, forget about it, go home. This example shows what kinds of people they were. Brave. And they still exist today.
W: Were the neighbourhood committee officials also this strong?
D: Yes. They had a lot of power. More power than the aristocracy before. I give you another example. No one usually cared about the widows in the committee. But when they died, the committee would take care of them. They would close the doors, search their belongings and share the good things between them. The rest they would publicly confiscate or sell at an auction. There were many such examples.
Those enthusiasts changed their minds quickly and more sincerely than anyone. One of my classmate’s father was the head of the Kangdong Drokhang neighbourhood committee. I heard that he was a huge enthusiast. He was extremely hostile towards anybody who had a bad class background. Many of those who had come under attack said that they would never forget him, even much later when they had grown old. Of course, on the surface, they would still nod and bow their heads. But what became of this man? Shigatse is home to Shalu Monastery. He donated a whole truck full of sheep to the monastery and even arranged for a Buddhist stupa that had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution to be rebuilt. It was later washed away by a flood, so he spent 400,000 yuan to put it up again. Another person was the commune secretary of a power plant in Nachen. He was going to retire in the 1980’s and started to practice Buddhism. Someone filed a complaint, which made him extremely unhappy and he wrote a report to leave the Party, saying that he had firmly believed in the Party’s work when he was young, but now he got old and could not abandon his religion and that was unable to believe in the Party members, which is why he wanted to leave. Even though his request was not granted, no one cared about his religious activities. There were many of these kinds of lower-level officials.
W: Was the transformation of these enthusiasts related to the transformation of the “monsters and demons” movement? One day, they were smashed to the ground and the next day lifted high up into the air, to the point that those people thought that regardless of what one did, it was all the same anyway?
D. Yes, This has already been publicly discussed. After a “riot” that happened in Lhasa, they held a big meeting at which someone said: you are saying that “riot” means the restoration of the old society. But what has the restoration of the old society to do with us? You should ask Long Wangtan and his people, it’s their business, not ours. Long Wangtan and his people refers to the TAR government. It hosts many of the people who used to be high up before, which is why he said it like that. Actually, regardless of what dynasty, the benefits of the powerful always stood above the benefits of the people. It doesn’t matter whether we look at the old or the new society. Apart from the Mao years, our stomachs were always empty, we didn’t get anything. Who dares to address corruption? No matter whether it’s honest or fake, they should really think about the common people.
About the “monsters and demons”, they were mainly the upper classes. And they really suffered during the Cultural Revolution, they were really poor, no doubt; but then looking at history, they were really too corrupt before. They owned everything, land, livestock, villas, parks etc. The monasteries also had money. Some aristocratic families or monasteries were richer than the Ganden Phodrang (Tibet’s original government). I heard that Gong Delin’s wealth alone exceeded that of the government. But what did common people have? Not even land. So the fact that some people were condemned really served them right. Who thought that they would then become such enthusiastic “patriots”? Of course, the political power was massive, their only choice was to cooperate with the CCP. So today, they are having good lives again.
W: After the Cultural Revolution, among Tibetan officials, weren’t there more “Joint Command Faction” members than “Rebel” members?
D: All of them were basically “Joint Command” people. Like Secretary Ragdi. He changed sides. He used to be a head of the “Rebel Faction” in Nagchu. It is said that when Beijing ordered both factions to organise study groups, he actively and enthusiastically participated. He knew how to win over Central Government officials and so they picked him. He was continuously promoted to the current level.
W: But Tao Changsong was regarded as belonging to the “three types of people” — “people who followed the rebel faction,” “people with a strong factionalist bent” and “people who engaged in looting and robbery.” He was imprisoned for over a year. There were almost no “three types of people” in the “Joint Command Faction”.
D: Yes, he was not only not arrested, he even rose high up. If teacher Tao had been part of the “Joint Command Faction”, he would have risen as well. Like Liu Zhaomin who later became a commissioner of the Kanlho Prefectural Party Committee. Later he was transferred to the Tibet Agricultural and Animal Husbandry College where he made some serious mistakes, he lent money to someone and cashed a nice interest for himself. He was investigated for this, but the matter was settled by leaving it unsettled.
W: When you look back at the two factions today, what are your views?
D. We used to say, the “Joint Command Faction” protects the Emperor, the “Rebel Faction” fights against it. I still believe that many of the high officials of the “Joint Command Faction” were quite tricky. They may have said that we were sly and scheming, but they got promoted through trickery. The “Rebels” were much more simple, what was wrong was wrong, regardless of who you were. But once they had picked on someone, they would not forget. Regardless of how good you were or how hard you worked, you would no longer be able to move up within the “Rebels”.
W: What was your first impression when you saw these photos?
D: They are very rare! It is hard to find things from the Cultural Revolution, so these photos are very precious. They show the real face of history. They tell the truth, so even if you wanted to fake things, you can no longer. And they have been very well kept.
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