Book review: Cadres of Tibet
by R Hariharan on 03 Mar 2018 1 Comment

Recently, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR)’s highest decision making body – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee – is reported to have held a high level meeting with religious personnel (Tulku, or living Buddha) to educate them on the 19th Party Congress ‘guided’ by President Xi Jinping’s new guiding philosophy for China in the new era.  At the meeting, all the eight Tulkus unanimously agreed to study and implement the four “must uphold” golden rules for religious personnel to act in accordance with the spirit of the 19th Party Congress.


The four golden rules are: politically reliable, religiously high standing, morally righteous and last, but not the least, politically effective. Or in short, as Tibetan researcher Tenzin Tseten says, briefly the golden rules are, “religious personnel must be patriotic, party loving, law-abiding and influential. In that sense, the Communist Party is the ‘living Buddha’ and Xi’s philosophy on religion is the modern Buddhist script.” According to him, long before it captured power in China, the CCP had understood that Tibetan Buddhism was integral to Tibetan identity and nationalism.


In this context, well known China watcher and commentator, Jayadeva Ranade’s book, Cadres of Tibet [KW Publishers, 2018], will be welcomed by all those who are interested in understanding not only China and Tibet, but how the CCP systematically carries out the process of acculturation in Tibet. The book is a compendium of personalities who influence and execute Beijing’s policies at all levels – at the top, at the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and down to administrative division. It includes brief biographical sketches of important officials and cadres of the CCP at national and autonomous region level. 


The CCP in TAR is led by Wu Yung-Jie, a 61-year old Han Chinese, who is described as more Tibetan than Chinese for his intimate knowledge of Tibet, with fluency in Tibetan and long work experience in TAR. It is personalities like Wu Yung-Jie with specialist knowledge of Tibet and its culture who are spearheading the acculturation process in Tibet for nearly six decades. However, Tibetan Buddhism and culture still continues to be the beacon of Tibetan identity for Tibetans, not only in TAR and Tibetan prefectures and counties existing outside TAR, but also Tibetans scattered around the world pining for their homeland.


The book includes useful background information on the CCP TAR’s two important projects – the Aid Tibet Programme (ATP) and the United Front Work Department (UFWD). It provides a list of 36 leaders who influence Tibet policy as well as salient points of talks held between the official envoys of China and the Dalai Lama from April 24, 1982 to January 26, 2010.


The chapter on the two-decade long Aid Tibet Programme provides insights on how the CCP has gone about to systematically integrate Tibet with the rest of China by involving other provinces as stakeholders. According to the author, under the ATP more than thousand cadres from inland provinces, central ministries and state enterprises are sent to work in TAR on a three-year contract. They are assigned to work in political positions from the municipal level upwards. Each TAR municipality is provided sponsorship and assistance from two inland provinces to enhance governance and carry out major infrastructure projects. But ATP’s work is much more than integration of Tibetans with the rest of China or assisting the development of Tibet; it is also an instrument of acculturation of Tibet.


The self-immolation of Tibetan monks is an expression of enduring protest against CCP’s acculturation of Tibetan identity with Tibetan Buddhism at its core. Self-immolation of monks started when Tapey, a young monk of Kirti monastery, set himself ablaze in Ngawa city in Sichuan; it was reported in Tibet on February 27, 2009. In particular, the self-immolation of Phuntsong on March 16, 2011, also in Ngawa county, triggered a huge wave of immolations that really shook Chinese authorities, who blamed the Dalai Lama in exile for inciting them, though he totally dissociated himself with this form of protest. According to Free Tibet website, as on June 5, 2017 there have been 148 confirmed and two disputed instances of self-immolation of Tibetans. The wave of self-immolation of Tibetans also spread outside Tibet.


According to Tsering Tsomo, Tibetan human rights activist, “in September 2013, China announced that it had sent 60,000 Party cadres into Tibetan villages and towns to educate, manage and provide ‘public services.’ In reality, these are the foot soldiers of China’s war on separatism in Tibet. This is part of the drive for acculturation of Tibet to cut it off from its cultural moorings and the unique Tibetan identity.


Tibetans are forced to express their ‘gratitude, love and loyalty’ for the Party in political education sessions. Thought reform is used even to this day when China has built high-speed trains. In the many visible and invisible detention centres, Tibetans who had committed ‘political crimes’ are forced to write self-criticism letters repeatedly until they break down and comply.


The book would have been more useful for general readers if the author had added chapters analyzing the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s growth under the CCP and influence in policy-making in Beijing, and how China’s Tibet policy is being shaped and executed on the ground.


Courtesy Col R Hariharan; the views expressed are personal

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