The key point of departure for today’s discussion is the text On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969, co-authored by Melvyn Goldstein (Case Western Reserve University), Ben Jiao (Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, Lhasa) and Tanzen Lhundrup (Beijing Tibetology Center).
The book was published by University of California Press in 2009; a free copy of Chapter 1 is provided here (opens as pdf.) by the press. All of the following questions refer to Chapter 1.
The following questions are intended primarily for discussion of the text by readers who are semi-familiar with the issues arising out of the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1951 and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India eight years later, in other words, intelligent undergraduates or reasonably-well informed readers.
1. On pages 3-4, Goldstein describes the orthodox Tibetan position on the Nyemo incident. Why would the Tibetan government in exile, the Dalai Lama, or supporters of Tibetan indepenedence wish to see the Nyemo incident as a black-and-white case of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule?
2. To what extent was the Nyemo incident a cry for religious freedom in Tibet?
3. What is a female medium? And what does the acceptance by Tibetan villagers of the nun Trinley Chodron’s posession by a holy Tibetan deity as medium say about the effectiveness of Chinese secular education in Tibet between 1959-1966?
4. More of a note than a question: Goldstein uses Tibetan terms for the rebel factions, but in English, Gyenlo, the most left-wing radical faction means red (in Chinese, it is known as the “rebel faction/造反派”); the Nyamdre faction simply means blue.
5. As far as historical sources go, what kind of problems do Goldstein’s oral histories — by far the largest repository of sources he has at his disposal — present? (pp. 7-8)
6. In 1966, when the Cultural Revolution begins, what is the response of the Party Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region? For how long had the TAR been in existence? If you were a radical Red Guard at the time, what might you have thought about the fact that Wang Qimei, who had been in leadership positions in Tibet since he arrived with the PLA 1951, was placed at the top of the Cultural Revolution committee in Tibet?
7. What is Zhang Guohua still doing in Tibet in 1966? Given the tensions that he had had with conservative and reformist Tibetans in 1952, don’t you think he should have been back in Beijing?
8. Why, on page 12, do Zhang Guohua and his group go after journalists (of Tibet Daily/西藏日报) as their first target? What are they worried about?
9. How do the developments in Beijing in summer 1966 work against Zhang Guohua’s desire, in Goldstein’s words, “for the Cultural Revolution to be played out under the close scrutiny of the Regional Party Committee according to a carefully scripted score”? (p. 13) What historical conflict is Mao evoking when he compares Zhang and other’s actions to contain the Red Guards as an act of “white terror (baise kongbu / 白色恐怖”)?
10. How does Lin Biao’s terse call on 14 August 1966 to “smash the four olds” (破四旧), augmented by Jiang Qing at the Beijing Middle School the next day, portend negatively for, say, monasteries in Tibet? (p. 14)
11. Why does Zhang Guohua, in spite of the fact that he had just led a meeting of 1400 people the prior week with the ostensible goal of furthering the Cultural Revolution, not want to allow the spread of Red Guards throughout Tibet? (p. 15)
12. Would it be fair to say that by promoting the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, Mao effectively abandons his policy of “gradualism” on the plateau? (p. 16)
13. Why might the return of ethnic Tibetan Red Guards from the Tibetan Nationality Institute in Xianyang (咸阳西藏民院) as well as Beijing have served as a galvanizing moment in the Cultural Revolution in Tibet? It may seem like a simple question, but where these students carriers of radicalism, or guardians of traditional Tibetan culture?
14. Why did the student leaders assume that CCP leaders in Tibet had ended the 1966 school year early? (p. 17)
15. Goldstein singles out the appearance of the 19 September 1966 big wall poster as a pivotal moment in the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. Do you find it at all significant that this revolutionary act, easily the most significant anti-Party action in Tibet since the 1959 revolt, was done not by a Tibetan, but by a Han cadre?
16. Why is Ngabo such an easy and logical target for the Red Guards? What is his response to his accusers? Do you find it strange that Goldstein, who has spent so many years of his own career chronicling Ngabo’s unique place in contemporary history, spends only about a page dealing with this particular saga before shuttling Ngabo off to Beijing?
17. In early November 1966, a group of radical Han students called the Blazing Prairie Red Guard teams (燎原战斗团) arrive in Lhasa from Beijing. What does it tell you about the domestic situation in China that even the order of Premier Zhou Enlai to keep non-Tibetan Red Guards out of Tibet is not honored? Or is Zhou Enlai’s decree just for show, and actually part of the massive CCP conspiracy to eliminate Tibetan culture in total?
18. In response to the arrival of the “Blazing Prairie” group, the Regional Party Committee links up with some Tibetan Red Guards (known as the “Thousand Serf Fighters [农牧战; perhaps actually 农牧战士]. They form the group known as Nyamdre, and almost immediately a group splits off, attacks the Regional Party headquarters and calls themselves Gyenlo. Do any of these alliances seem to be explicitly ethnic? What does the dizzying speed and variablility of organizations, allegiances, and tactics, tell you about the growth of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet?
19. In December 1966, the Central Government’s drive to expel Han Red Guard groups from Lhasa and Tibet nearly succeeds, but is thwarted. Who is behind the failure of the government to extract or otherwise “deport” the Han Red Guards? (p. 21-22)
20. Page 23 contains an important meditation on the role of regional and local experience in Tibet. On the one hand, Red Guards criticized Zhang Guohua for being a “local Emperor [土皇帝]” (e.g., a local despot, corrupt, abuser of power), but on the other hand, Zhang and his lieutenants stand up for the value of local experience in administering Tibet. Who has the upper logical hand in this argument? Who seems destined to win, and why?
21. Reading the mission statement of the Gyenlo Red Guards from late December 1966 (p. 24), it appears that the group is not only radical in its tactics, but radically utopian in its aims. Do you think that Red Guards groups were bent not only on violence against existing power structures, but also seized by a utopian vision of a true communist society? Why did they think they could accomplish this in Tibet of all places?
22. On page 25, the background of Nyamdre is described as having at its core a group committed to the “defense of Mao Zedong thought.” What does it tell you about the contour and scope of the political debates in Lhasa in early 1967 that the two main factions are the “rebel” and the “Mao Zedong Thought” factions? Why is there no third faction calling for a renewed Buddhism under communist control, or a Red Guard faction centered around that old magnet for Chinese power struggles, the Panchen Lama?
23. Woeser’s collection of Cultural Revolution testimonies indicate that the speed of communications across China was a major factor in the connecting of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet with actions in China proper. On page 27, Goldstein describes how the “January Storm / 一月风暴”) violent takeover of the Party Committee by students in far-away Shanghai has almost immediate repercussions in Lhasa. Why again is the newspaper the target of left-wing action?
24. Pages 29-30 contain as clear a statement as you are ever likely to see from Red Guard groups in Lhasa about why their loyalties are with Mao in Beijing, and not with the CCP machinery in Lhasa. What is the problem with putting Mao in charge, at least nominally, in Tibet? Does the 74-year-old Mao appear to be highly detail-oriented at this point of the struggle insofar as Tibet is concerned?
25. What kind of violence breaks out between the two main factions in Tibet during the “big debates” of February 1967? Does this situation sound essentially like a civil war on the plateau?
26. Finally, on page 33, Goldstein explicitly raises the question of what the PLA was doing in Tibet, and their attitude toward the violence. What do you think about the fact that the PLA occupies the Potala Palace in Lhasa, thus preventing its destruction, and is then acting as a “third force” in Tibet, mediating disputes when possible? Why doesn’t the army simply re-invade Tibet in full and impose martial law in every city and village?
27. Gyenlo’s near-success in peeling away factions within the PLA into their struggle indicates the sway of that organization in Tibet in 1967. However, by mid-1967, the PLA had moved to suppress Gyenlo. Does this therefore mean that the PLA was acting during the Cultural Revolution to protect Tibetans from Han violence, or is that an incorrect statement?