Bhuchung K. Tsering
On March 30, 2014 we saw the passing away of Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal, a formidable figure in Tibetan history. This blog is about the reaction by the Tibetan community about him.
In December 2009, following the passing away of Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, I wrote,
“If we were to choose the three most prominent Tibetan personalities in Tibet in the post-1959 period, Kasur Ngapo would be one of them. The other two would be the previous Panchen Lama and Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal. All three of them came in the same time in history but under different circumstances. Within the Tibetan society, at different times in history there have been different opinions about the three personalities.
“The Panchen Lama has, however, made it abundantly clear at all times that he has been striving for the benefit of the Tibetan people. In particular, his position, as spelled out in writing, includes his 70,000 character petition to the Chinese government on the plight of the Tibetan people and his public talks given in the 1980s. Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal has also made his position clear through the book, “A Tibetan Revolutionary” as well as through his petitions to the Chinese government in recent times.”
For the past several days, I have been reading the reaction of the Tibetan people outside of Tibet, written in Tibetan as well as English. While the majority of them were positive about Phunwang’s legacy, there were some who were vociferously negative, including calling him a traitor.
How do we judge an individual whose background itself was part of the complex history of Tibet? Even the simple fact that Phunwang, although being a Tibetan, could only enter the territory governed by the then Tibetan Government in the 1950s after seeking its prior permission is part of this complexity.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has talked about his personal interaction with Phunwang, both while in Tibet and even after coming to India (via telephone conversations, which might be news to some) and has drawn a conclusion of his legacy; offering admiration at Phunwang’s dedication to the Tibetan people.
Irrespective of how one might interpret Phunwang’s initial involvement in the Tibetan-Chinese relationship, it is certainly true that from among the Tibetans in Tibet, after the former Panchen Lama, it was Phunwang who raised the strongest voice (until his death) for the Tibetan people with the Chinese leaders.
What do Tibetans in Tibet think about Phunwang?
It seems there have been lots of posting on Weibo by young Tibetans about Phunwang, many calling him a “witness to history.” There were also reports of mourning for him in Tibet.
I looked at some of the web portals from Tibet that is accessible to those of us outside. A posting in Tibetan on one website said,
“In short, Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal’s entire life was endowed with a thousand rays, making sincere and courageous efforts at all levels for the development and enrichment of his fatherland, the Land of Snow Mountains, transforming it into a modern Land of Snows while overcoming different challenges. It is a lesson that the latter generation needs to learn and understand.”
Another website, posted a poem that Phunwang had written, which said the following, among others:
“I lost freedom for the sake of freedom
Although devoid of freedom, (I) have freedom”
There was a posting on the website, www.tibetcul.com that had Phunwang’s biography and also had comments from readers, both positive as well as criticism, which were more general than specific.
A posting in the New Youth website said:
“There is no way history will forget you. Each of the footprints that you have left on the snow is a stone pillar left in the minds of the Tibetans.“
Tibetan writer Woeser’s shared her views on Phunwang to Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service in which she called him a “Lapchen ki Mina” (a personality with great stature) and said all his life he had worked for the interest of his people, sacrificing his personal interest.
She said the youth in Tibet had great respect for Phunwang, calling herself as being among those who were greatly inspired by his life.
Therefore, it may be that those of us living in freedom need to pause before passing judgment on Phunwang la based on our cursory understanding and try to see why our brethren in Tibet admire him.