High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on November 1, 2012.
The book that Woeser writes about is a Chinese-language publication “When the Iron Bird Flies: 1956-1962, A Secret War in Tibet” by US-based Li Jianglin, published in Taiwan in 2012. For those interested in Li Jianglin’s work, follow this link to her blog: http://bloodundersnow.blogspot.com Elliot Sperling’s article “The Body Count” can be found on the pages of Rangzen Alliance: http://www.rangzen.net/2012/09/14/the-body-count-2/
The interview with Li Jianglin of October 22, 2012, on NTD TV raised the issue of Tibetan “Problems Between the CCP and Tibetans”
Tibetologist Elliot Sperling’s article “The Body Count” published
photos of the remains of monks and laypeople who died in 1958
There is a Problem with “Problems Between
the CCP and Tibetans”
I still haven’t read the book “When the Iron Bird Flies: 1956-1962, A Secret War in Tibet” written by the US-based Chinese writer Li Jianglin; I have only read related reports and the preface by the author on the internet. In the preface, this is a key sentence:
“Between the mid 1950s and the early 1960s, in the south- and northwestern areas of China, a bitter war took place; it covered the three regions that are populated by Tibetan people, namely what is today known as the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ as well as the ‘Tibetan areas in the surrounding four provinces’. The two parties fighting were the field troops of the People’s Liberation Army with their modern weapons as well as the people’s militia that had undergone army drills on the one side and the Tibetan nomads, monks, a few government employees and a small Tibetan army with their local rifles and swords on the other.”
As a Tibetan, I am grateful for Li Jianglin’s research and disclosure of that part of history. Essentially, however, what happened back then was not a “war”, it was a massacre. Furthermore, it did not happen in the “south- and northwestern regions of China” but in the three Tibetan provinces of Amdo, U-Tsang and Kham.
Just as the Tibetologist, Professor Elliot Sperling from the University of Indiana, pointed out in his latest article about that part of history, titled “The Body Count”: “It is beyond dispute that there have been massive deaths in Tibet in the period between approximately 1950 and 1975 (…) One simply cannot know the exact number without free access to Chinese records. But the fact that a large-scale slaughter took place ought to be unquestioned.”
The three eerie photos showing skull bones serve as a proof of a massacre, they were taken at a recently dug out mass grave in Nangchen County, Kham (today’s Qinghai Province); locals say that those are the remains of monks that had been massacred in 1958. Additionally, the article includes a “diagram of gender ratio” based on an official Chinese census from 1982, it reveals the following: “the Tibetan Plateau had a widespread imbalance between males and females, an imbalance that can really only be explained by violent struggle. Across the entire PRC, the Tibetan Plateau stands out in red as the largest expanse of territory in which the number of women so consistently outstripped that of men.”
When I talk to and have dealings with people from Amdo today, regardless of whether they are young or old, they will always mention “Ngabchu Ngabgay” (which means 1958) or simply “Ngabgay” (which is the short form of ’58). Around 1958, the Chinese military and political regime created a disaster in the entire Tibetan region and in particular in the Amdo area that affected every single Tibetan family and that has been deeply engraved in Tibetan people’s memories. Even the Cultural Revolution was referred to as “Ngabgay”. “Ngabgay” became a point of reference for all the disasters that happened after “liberation”.
Li Jianglin also said in an interview with New Tang Dynasty TV: “As for Tibet, the war that happened in this area was, in fact, part of the efforts of the CCP to establish power and a political regime; everything that happened here was essentially not different from what happened in the Chinese areas.” New Tang Dynasty TV summarised: “Li Jianglin told our journalist that the violence, oppression and destruction of beliefs with which the CCP approached the Tibetan people was essentially not different from how it approached the Chinese areas. The so-called ‘conflict between Han and Tibetans’ is in actually fact a ‘conflict between the CCP and Tibetans’” (Li originally used the words “problems between the CCP and Tibetans”).
With regards to this I cannot agree; of course both cases are essentially different – what happened in the so-called “Chinese areas” was internal disorder whereas all that happened in the Tibetan areas was an invasion and occupation by the Chinese. If there was no difference between the two cases, then Mao Zedong’s words that “in the final analysis, national struggle is a matter of class struggle” would become a universally applicable truth and invasion, occupation and colonialism would all have a high-sounding justification. Furthermore, referring to the massacre and resistance as “problems” or “conflict” between the “CCP” and “Tibetans”, isn’t that too light, wouldn’t that be trying to evade the truth? Should we say that the Nazis massacre and extinction of the Jews was just a “problem” or “conflict” between the Nazis and the Jews?
People from the Chinese pro-democracy groups have always insisted on this point: there is no ethnic oppression against Tibetans, what happens is political oppression by the CCP and this kind of oppression is the same for Han Chinese and Tibetans. This stubborn and obstinate insistence clearly reveals that this is a repetition of official government rhetoric stating that “Tibet has been part of China since ancient times”, only that it is put forward through the veil of democracy. With regards to this point, there exists a clear difference in the understanding and acknowledgement of history. What makes Tibetan people feel really bitter is that these kind of explanations by Chinese democrats never take into account Tibetan people’s opinions; it seems that as long as one argues from the high point of democracy, one can once more impose the imperial attitude of Great China upon the the Tibetan people.
Written in Lhasa, November 1, 2012
This post is also available in: English
“People from the Chinese pro-democracy groups have always insisted on this point: there is no ethnic oppression against Tibetans, what happens is political oppression by the CCP and this kind of oppression is the same for Han Chinese and Tibetans. This stubborn and obstinate insistence clearly reveals that this is a repetition of official government rhetoric stating that “Tibet has been part of China since ancient times”, only that it is put forward through the veil of democracy. With regards to this point, there exists a clear difference in the understanding and acknowledgement of history. What makes Tibetan people feel really bitter is that these kind of explanations by Chinese democrats never take into account Tibetan people’s opinions; it seems that as long as one argues from the high point of democracy, one can once more impose the imperial attitude of Great China upon the the Tibetan people.”
That is one of the major point of contention between me and the Chinese pro-democratic parties or their leaders, the ones we invite to our rallies at least; we are not simply fighting over democratic rights but our right to our own country governed by the said universal laws. I will not accept their request to tone down our slogan from ‘China out of Tibet” to ‘CCCP out of Tibet’. We share a common goal. That doesn’t mean I abdicate my right to my country and accept this blatant lie and Han chauvinism. I share Woeser’s concern and applaud her brilliant analysis.
You’ve touched on such a key point. You have given me the sense that maybe there *is* some hope of making Chinese people understand something about the background to the present conditions if they could only face up to the violent (not “peaceful”) nature of the PLA’s so-called “liberation” (invasion) of Tibet. The hundreds of thousands of Tibetans now living in exile are one of the biggest testimonies to the fact that they were *not* welcomed as liberators.
thanks to mrs li for this important book. I hope i can get it soon. In my mind the mentionend war began already in 1954 when the roads where finished.
Of course the Chinese Govt bears the ultimately responsibility for the invasion & occupation of Tibet & the human rights abuses in Tibet. But for Tibetans, this is not just a conflict b/c Tibetans and the CCP but a conflict between Tibet & China. It doesn’t mean Tibetans hate all Chinese or that China & Tibet can’t be friends in the future. But it does mean the struggle for Tibet is a nationalist anti-colonial movement for Tibetans, not an anti-communist one. If the CCP were to fall from power tomorrow & replaced by a democratic Chinese Govt, Tibetans would still want independence from China.