Reminding China about Mao and Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Growing up in the Tibetan community in Diaspora, among those things I learnt was the belief in a supernatural action that will finally lead to the triumph of the good over the evil.
Given the politically charged environment of our community, of course this thinking spilled over into the arena of Chinese attitude towards Tibetans. Mao Zedong (or as we came to know him as Mao Zhuxi, the latter being his rank in Chinese) symbolized to us the face of evil. Mao has a distinct mole above his chin. We children were told at that time that the mole will gradually move upward and when it enters his mouth, Mao will die, or something like that. Similarly, we were told of the mystical power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; it went like this: he will not do it, but he has the capability of destroying all the Chinese by merely pressing his right palm over his left palm. That way, all Chinese will be on his right palm and they will be vanquished when he presses his palms, we were told. I did not have any reason not to believe such assertions.
Those were the days!
Today, Mao Zedong continues to have influence over China, as we saw in the developments relating to one of China’s next generation of leaders, Bo Xilai. Recently I was going through documents that had a reference to Mao’s thoughts on Tibet. I think given the current Chinese policies on Tibet, it will be worthwhile for the leaders in Beijing to consider what Mao told Chinese officials in the 1950s.These are related to the emotionally-charged issue of the Chinese authorities not allowing Tibetans to possess portraits of the Dalai Lama as well as about respect to Tibetan language and identity.
Mao refers to them in his conversation (relevant excerpts reproduced below) with Kunzig Panchen Rinpoche, the previous Panchen Lama, way back in 1955 and is quoted in A History of Modern Tibet, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Volume 2 The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955
Chairman Mao’s Conversation with Panchen Erdini
23 February 1955 (Tibetan calendar: First month, First day)
Panchen: When I went back to Tibet, the Dalai cared about me very much. Although we have had some trouble between each other, the problems have all been solved during this visit to Beijing.
Chairman: You have important work to do. You support them [Tibetan government]; they will support you. In this way, unity will be strengthened.
Panchen: Right. We will act according to your instructions.
Chairman: In the past, you were not sure. You were afraid that we would only take care of Front Tibet and leave you alone.
Chairman [continues commenting to Zhang Jingwu and Fan Ming, who were present at the meeting]: You should not only say Long Live Chairman Mao in Tibet. This is not good. Do not only hang portraits of Chairman Mao, but also hang the portraits of the Dalai and Panchen lamas, because this is a custom of Tibetans. Every nationality has its own leader . It is very good that Tibetans have leaders like the Dalai and Panchen. For example, Kim Richeng is the leader in Korea. When you try to do things in Korea, you have to respect him.
Chairman: In the past, I told Zhang Jingwu and Fan Ming to tell our cadres that we entered Tibet to help Tibetans, not to rule them. And when we help people, we would like to make sure that people feel comfortable with our help. I also told them to use these two standards to test our cadres. You need to help them [the cadres] too. Tell them your opinions. If they are wrong, they should correct their mistakes, if they don’t, you can tell us so that we will transfer them.
Chairman: You are eighteen this year. Where is your home town?
Panchen: Xunhua County.
Chairman: Is it in Labrang?
Panchen: No. But it is close to it.
Chairman: Are you going to Labrang? Are you going back to Xunhua this time?
Chairman: It is very good to go back to see your hometown. What is the language of the textbooks in elementary schools in Tibet?
Panchen: It is completely in Tibetan language. Chinese and English are electives.
Chairman: This is very good.(to Zhang Jingwu) In the past, I told you that after you got to Tibet you need to study Tibetan language, so how is it going?
Zhang Jingwu: We are studying right now, but we did not study hard. Only those people who attended training class learned well.
Chairman (to Fan Ming): Fan Ming, how is your study going? I will test you today. You should not only study the Tibetan written language but also learn to speak Tibetan.