"Ngapo Ngawang Jigme: The Death of an Historical Figure" by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on November 19, 2009 and posted on her blog on January 1, 2010.

“Ngapo Ngawang Jigme: The Death of an Historical Figure”
by Woeser

At the beginning of 2009, Tibetans from Amdo, U-tsang and Kham commemorated their fellow Tibetans who had died the year before by displaying chains of lights and lit candles as well as by refraining from taking part in any festive activities. At the end of the year, the news of the death of Mr. Ngapo Ngawang Jigme was announced. According to Communist Party terminology, half of the life of this 100 year old man belonged to the “old Tibet” and the other half to the “new Tibet” with the old and the new obviously being distinctively different.
I have previously written that under the control, obstruction and distortion of external powers, Tibet’s traditional societal system was defined as a “feudal serf system”. If Tibetans were not “three kinds of feudal lords”, then they were just “millions of serfs”. 1959 was the turning point, at which Tibet was parted into “old Tibet” and “new Tibet”: Tibetans who lived during the transition period were confronted with notions of old and new. The old Tibet had to be rejected, and the new one was worth pursuing; but in order to turn into “new” people, how much painstaking effort did one have to make to transform one’s habits, change one’s costumes or even be a turncoat? And didn’t this also mean a great deal of emotional grievances and physical degeneration??
Going back to the thirties and forties of the last century, there have been many opportunities for Tibet to change its fate, but they were all missed, just like His Holiness Dalai Lama once explained to the media: “Tibet had totally forgotten that it needed to construct ‘itself'” hence, when the big transformations occurred, on the upper levels of Tibetan society some people advocated the adoption of politically expedient measures, others also believed in the numerous promises made by the Communist Party with regards to its minority policies, and still others advocated to reform Tibet’s inherent system, but no one ever considered that the Communist Party would ever really exterminate Tibet. ?
The historian Tsering Shakya wrote in a famous work on modern Tibetan history: “In the early fifties of the 20th century, the lay and monastic ruling elite in Tibet promulgated the following opinion − Buddhist Tibet and the Chinese Communist Party are able to co-exist, therefore they can without a doubt move forward hand in hand with the Chinese. Besides, at the time, many Tibetans positively thought of the Chinese as elements of modernisation penetrating Tibet.”
The most famous collaborator was of course Ngapo Ngawang Jigme. Yet, from today’s perspective, neutrally speaking, his collaboration was rather moderate. We are able to understand his true character by looking at a small anecdote: at the negotiation talks with Beijing, he had initially brought along the official seal of the Chamdo governor. But when the 17 Point Agreement was signed, he falsely claimed that he hadn’t brought the seal, so the official Tibetan seal affixed on the agreement was engraved by the Chinese. When he returned he told the Dalai Lama that by doing this, the Dalai Lama did not have to recognise the agreement and it would leave open a route of retreat; when the Dalai Lama announced this, he said that now the matter would not have any effect upon Ngapo.
The day when Ngapo died, there were some Han Chinese discussing on Twitter that Ngapo had really believed that negotiation talks could solve all problems. After Chamdo had fallen, he negotiated with the Chinese general Wang Qimei and when he was back, he said to someone: “people don’t easily shed tears, maybe general Wang is actually sincere”, this shows that Tibetans, after all, are really very naive, and it serves them right that they were mistreated by our Party.
In fact, in times of crises, people are all faced with a dilemma: how to choose one’s own stance in a dilemma? How to maintain one’s stance in a dilemma? Yet, these uncertainties can nothing but flash by because when faced with a dilemma, one mostly just goes with the flow so as to protect oneself, the character we all act is also just a “connived” one as no one is actually able, in his ordinary life, to purge the terror of power. There are also quite a few cooperators who completely sold out their consicence in order to maximise their own personal gains, this is especially ubiquitous on today’s political stage and hence, people, especially people of their own nationalities, are despising them. However, history will make its own impartial judgement.
What must be said is that after the “Tibet Incident” in March last year, the authorities’ most shameless behaviour was to use the name of the bedridden and ailing Mr. Ngapo, who couldn’t even speak anymore and claiming that “he met with a journalist from Xinhua News Agency to talk about the most serious act of violence, beating, smashing, looting and burning, which happened recently in Lhasa”, they carried out propaganda fishing for undeserved fame. This is, in fact, the truth understood by those who know the real situation.
When this old historical man set foot on the path to Samsara carrying with him his countless secrets, he still hadn’t been let off by the power, in which the second half of his life had got entangled with: the grand and solemn memorial ceremony with Chinese characteristics, the government media and those government agents disguised as ordinary netizens, all gave him fulsome praise, honouring him as a “Chinese with great accomplishments” and as a “great patriot”. These trite and commonplace expressions in fact humiliated him one last time. Yet, he could not hear them anymore. At the end of 2009 in Beijing, far away from his birthplace, the Party had already allowed him to fall asleep and never awake again.
First draft: December 23, 2009?. Final draft: Beijing, December 29, 2009


  1. It is really sad that, a person with many historical fact had been passed away without any remarks in modern Tibet history.

  2. www.joehamiltonsongs.com

    Thank you Woeser la for this commentary ! The Chinese Communist Party, twisted and wicked as it is, produces only negativity. This mans life story is proof of that.

  3. Tenpa Dhargyal Gapshi

    Thank you for your opinion. I don't agree with you on Ngabo but I still respect your point of view. Sure, he is a pawn but a willing pawn and when he signed that document in front of the camera, with or without an official seal, the deal is done. He signed it even though he was specifically told not to sign anything without consulting with Tibetan govt. A true patriot would have NO and took a bullet for Tibet. He is a self-serving coward and an opportunist and there are too many stories of this man to simply shove it under the rug. Hope you are fine and please do keep writing. Tashi Delek.

  4. Thank you Woeser la for the comments. Please do keep writing like this to help shed light on our people.

    I really don't know what to think of Ngabo. It seems he has done some terrible things that is highly regretable, but it also appears he tried to contribute to the betterment of Tibetan people.
    I used to think in the past why he wouldn't try to escape from Beijing. But now after knowing he had a huge family mostly living in China, I could understand why no such attempts.
    People need to know more about the things Ngabo did for the country. And I hope there will be a book about him in near future.

  5. hello tenpa dhargyal gapshi la,
    i truly respect and appreciate your suggestions yet i think its not so appropriate to say ngapo is a willing pawn because he has contributed tremendously on the cause of tibet with lots of tactics. he had been bearing whole a lot of pressure from chinese govt. as well as general tibetans. he shouldn't be put down easily for he is a well known great man with great deeds and with some mistake he can't undo too. We need to go through all of them to before criticize him. -jampa

  6. Thank you Woeser la for sharing your thoughts in the blog and i highly appreciate it.I respect him of being part of the history, but i also despise him for being a traitor, in plain words.I agree with tenpa dhargyal la that he is a willing pawn!!!History speaks out and how many historical facts we have to look into to claim he is a True patriot?that's absurd!!!He's not a Patriot but a coward who change the fate of 6 million Tibetans and all the generations to come.
    He shall remain as the dark figure of our modern Tibetan history.

  7. Why are you guys discuss on this Ngapo? He made a history for selling Tibet to china.I think thats more than enough for us to discuss.Now we have R on our forehead, can he and and any other historical figure remove it from us? I don't think we are here to thank each others opinion. He is a traitor,he was a traitor and he will be regard as a traitor by all those who had sacrificed their life and by the remaining 6 million Tibetans.Now its high time for us to discuss how we are going to get our country back? Not just discuss on this coward person.It is time waste and again 50years will pass for discussion,meetings,seminars etc.

  8. tenpa dhargyal gapshi

    Jampa la,
    That is what I want to know about Ngabo – his great deeds. What are the great deeds?

  9. I'd like to hear more about him before I decide.

  10. Still waiting to hear about the great deeds of Ngabo. waiting.

  11. I am also waiting to hear more about Ngapoe's great deeds before I judge him.

  12. Pingback: “Why Was Ngapo Jigme, Director of Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service, Suddenly Dismissed?” By Woeser

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