Plateau Rouge: On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet (2)

A few weeks ago, I finally received my copy of the new French translation of Tibetan writer Woeser’s text of oral histories on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.

This past Saturday night in Seattle, in between a Schumann Violin Concerto unearthed in unearthly manner and a celestially brutal Bruckner Symphony, I had a chance to read a single testimony and wanted to share a few impressions of the text.

Woeser’s interloctor in one long episode (pp. 72-115) is “Joenyi,” a Tibetan functionary in the TAR (and an old friend of Woeser’s father) who gave Woeser his testimony in February 2003.  Joenyi worked in an unspecified area of military logistics and , somewhat surprisingly, is rather pro-People’s Liberation Army for the duration of this long interview.

(This is of course one of the beautiful things about oral histories – rarely do they conform strictly to what one might consider logical.  Why would a dissident Tibetan writer allow praise of the PLA in her book which is ostensibly about Chinese destruction of Tibet?  Because she has fidelity to what she was told, and because this man has recollections of her father as well.  The testimony is simply an individual narrative, a single set of data points, a single voice.  And if it occasionally moves in tandem with a master narrative espoused by the State, then so be it.)

Joenyi proceeds at the outset of his interview to dispel any notion that things proceeded more slowly with the Cultural Revolution in Tibet due to its extreme remoteness (reculeé / 遥远).  No, indeed, news spread quite quickly across the plateau (p. 72-3).

Joenyi describes the struggle against PLA General (the man in whom Japanese colonial parlance would have been called Tibet’s “Governor-General”) Zhang Guohua.

The Red Guards arrived in localities looking to upend “local emperors,” and Zhang was at the apex of their target list.  Posters in Lhasa called him Zhang Guihua 张鬼猾 ["Zhang the Cunning Devil"], and it took little time at all for Tibetans to follow in the chorus of denunciation and complaint against the Han administrator (p. 74).

While the 18th Army remained loyal to their commander, an inner-military opposition arose around the person of Yu Xin, a “director of logistics” who had worked closely with Zhang Guohua during the 1962 border war with India (p. 76).

Yu, the interviewee describes, probably would not have beaten Zhang to death, but had Zhang Guohua not fled to Beijing, he certainly would have been object of a public trial (p. 80).

Joenyi takes a moment to raise the demonic parallels made by the traditional Tibetan government in regarding communist troops as monsters, effectively reprising the 13th Dalai Lama’s famous 1931 last testament.  Instead, Joenyi asserts, that the PLA members in Tibet were not Han monsters but rather regarded as “Buddha’s Soldiers.”  The interviewee mentions time and again that the PLA left a positive impression on the Tibetans, and that for most inhabitants of the plateau (in fact “as one mind”), the Army was the key institution through which they understood the Chinese Communist Party (p. 82).

One possible complication to this pattern, however, are troops on the very frontiers of the PRC, where factional struggles could become bloody rather quickly (p. 83).

At this point Woeser, who has primarily been asking shorter questions in a linear fashion, interjects with a point about her own father, an acquaintance of the interviewee, and his experience in Beijing (where, perhaps, he was forced to stay?).  The Lhasa-Beijing polarity is thus examined from another angle (p. 84).

I’ve got another three or four pages of Bruckner-inflected scribbles to transcribe, but this text is already nicely suprising: thus, readers can expect more to come with reference to the “Nyemo Incident” (which involves, among other things, a possessed shamanness who claims to be an adjutant both of the Tibetan mythic-king Gesar and Chairman Mao)…

Related Posts: No Silence for the Unsubjugated: Woeser in the Parisian Press,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 17 January 2011.

Christopher Hughes, “From Centre to Periphery: Rewriting the Cultural Revolution: From Centre to Periphery,” China Quarterly (2006) [scholarly review of Woeser's Chinese version of the same text of testimonies -- loads as pdf.]

The True Story of Maoist Revolution in Tibet,” Revolutionary Worker, #752, 17 April 1994 [orthodox Maoist treatment of the matter which calls monks "class enemies," etc., but is useful for understanding justifications of various kinds...]

Update: Just an interesting film from University of Michigan I was sent recently by Gavin Strassel, an Asianist bibliographer there, about art during the Cultural Revolution, added mainly for some red color in this entry, not for its connection to Tibet.