FACTIONAL DIVISIONS IN TIBET DURING THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION

CREATION OF THE GYENLO


Tibetan Red Guards

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: After the Cultural Revolution had firmly taken hold in Lhasa, “A number of the more radical revolutionary groups felt they could more effectively pressure the power holders if they joined forces, so on 22 December they inaugurated a new large revolutionary group under the leadership of the Beijing Red Guard’s Blazing Prairie Combat Regiment. This new organization united thirty-five revolutionary organizations and was called the “general headquarters of the revolutionary rebels (Gyenlo) of Lhasa”, commonly abbreviated as “Gyenlo Headquarters” or just “Gyenlo”. At this time it had almost a thousand members, including workers, cadres, and students, organized into fifty-one combat regiments.[Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

A Gyenlo leaflet published at the time of its creation spells out vividly its commitment to rebel against the party leadership: “In the new situation of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, surrounded by war drums repudiating the bourgeois reactionary line, the Lhasa Revolutionary Gyenlo Headquarters is born! What is this Gyenlo Headquarters of ours doing? It is to hold high the great red banner of Mao Zedong’s thought and to rebel by applying Mao Zedong’s thought. We will rebel against the handful of persons in authority in the party who are taking the capitalist road! We will rebel against all the monsters and freaks! We will rebel against the bourgeois royalists! We, a group of lawless revolutionary rebels, will wield the iron sweepers and swing the mighty cudgels to sweep the old world into a mess and bash people into complete confusion. We will rebel against persons stubbornly persisting in the bourgeois reactionary line! We don’t fear gales or storms or flying sand or moving rocks. We don’t care if that handful of people in authority taking the capitalist road and the very few persons stubbornly persisting in the bourgeois reactionary line oppose us or fear us. We also don’t care if the bourgeois royalists denounce us or curse us. We will resolutely make revolution and rebel. To rebel, to rebel, and to rebel through to the end in order to create a bright red proletarian new world.”

A scathing publication dated 26 December 1966 further illustrates the intensity of those who opposed the more moderate views of the Regional Party Committee. It read: “1. During the Great Cultural Revolution in our region, the Regional Party Committee did not have just a few minor shortcomings or errors; it mistakenly carried out the reactionary bourgeois line and lost its direction. 2. We do not agree with the opinion of some comrades that “the Regional Party Committee carried out the reactionary bourgeois line unconsciously.” We think that the Regional Committee of the CCP completely and consciously carried out the reactionary bourgeois line in the Great Cultural Revolution. It attempted to suppress the revolutionary masses and to protect a handful of leaders who held the capitalist line. The Regional Party Committee also tried to suppress the Great Cultural Revolution in our region....

Less than a week later, on 28 December, in response to the establishment of Gyenlo, a number of the mass organizations supportive of the Regional Party Committee, such as the Serf Fighters from the Nationalities Institute, joined together and established the headquarters of Defending Mao Zedong’s Thoughts (abbreviated as “Headquarters of Defending”). In February 1967, this became the core of Nyamdre.

Factional Divisions in Tibet During the Cultural Revolution


Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “Mao’s instructions to destroy the four olds and attack the bad classes were easy to fathom and operationalize, but his call to root out the revisionists and counter revolutionaries in high places was more enigmatic and open to widely differing interpretations. Consequently, although all the revolutionary factions believed they were following Mao’s instructions, they disagreed about which specific officials were bourgeois capitalist-roaders. Interfactional tension and conflict, therefore, now divided the revolutionary organizations and their followers into two discrete coalitions of factions, Nyamdre and Gyenlo, the former more conservative and latter more radical with regard to how far they should go in “bombarding” the headquarters of the Regional Party Committee— in other words, to what extent they should support Zhang Guohua’s contention that, because the situation in Tibet was special, the Cultural Revolution had to be carried out carefully so as to not exacerbate existing tensions.” “As this interfactional conflict intensified, intrafaction solidarity also intensified, creating powerful loyalties and allegiances among members of factions.” [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

A recollection of a Nyamdre activist about members in his group illustrates this well: “People had deep loyalty to one another. Everyone treated one another as if they were one’s relative.” And when he was asked what he felt when he met a stranger who claimed he was Nyamdre, he said, “I felt very happy. When I exchanged views on ideology with someone from our faction and talked about the greatness of our faction and the mistakes made by the Gyenlo faction, I was moved. The strength of the faction was really powerful.” ~

Ren Rong, a strong supporter of Zhang Guohua and his emphasis on stability in the party and army in Tibet, spoke of a parallel split within the Regional Party Committee between Zhang Guohua and Deputy Party Secretary Zhou Renshan over how to conduct the Cultural Revolution: “The general leaders in the Military Region [Headquarters], including Zhang Guohua, Chen Mingyi, and me, had almost the same idea about this. We thought some actions during the Cultural Revolution were right, for example, eliminating superstition and the four olds. We all agreed with these points. I also thought it was right that people should correct their own mistakes, but I did not approve of criticizing and seizing cadres without any genuine evidence. And we all disapproved of seizing power from those people. Things happened like this at the beginning. ~

“In all the offices/organizations in the military region, a few people who were ultra-leftists took actions frequently and intensely. They seized power, not only the power of offices, but also the power of the military region. During that time, these people did such things frequently. Some local people also did so. The people from both of the two factions supported the Cultural Revolution, but they did it in different ways after the Cultural Revolution began. One group arrested capitalist-roaders and criticized and denounced them, while the other group thought they should do everything after investigation and analysis and could not treat problems in general. At that time, the general orientation for carrying out the Cultural Revolution was to arrest those major leaders. . . . This was Zhou Renshan’s point. He thought that no matter whether those people were capitalist-roaders or not, they should be arrested first.”

Consequently, as 1966 ended, conflict in Lhasa was taking a major turn for the worse with the escalation and intensification of interfactional conflict and animosity. It would quickly transform Tibet into the chaos and anomie that Zhang Guohua and the party establishment had initially feared would happen if the evolution of the Cultural Revolution was not managed carefully.~

Revolutionary Rebels of Red News: Gyenlo’s Strongest Faction


Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “ On 6 January 1967, the Cultural Revolution’s factional activism in inland China moved to a new level when Shanghai rebel factions launched the so-called January Storm, during which they seized the authority of the Shanghai Party Committee and the committee of the Shanghai People’s Congress. This quickly spurred action in Lhasa, where on the evening of 10 January a group in the Tibet Daily Newspaper office called the Revolutionary Rebels of Red News launched their own version of the January Storm, together with Gyenlo activists from other units in Lhasa, and struck at the heart of the Tibetan establishment by taking control of the Tibet Daily Newspaper. This was a direct attack on the Regional Party Committee, which had taken control of that office and seized its editor, Jin Sha, in July 1966. Gyenlo, however, felt the newspaper was not publicizing Mao’s revolutionary calls to action correctly and was not covering Red Guard activities adequately, so felt it should rectify this by taking over the paper’s operation. This meant that Gyenlo now controlled what would be published. This was followed by the seizure, one after another, of the Xinhua News Agency Office, the broadcast station, the Temporary Lhasa City Committee, and many other departments, bureaus, and offices. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

One of the top leaders of Gyenlo recalled the event: “If you ask me—and I was there from the very beginning until the end— I would say we were closely following the instructions from the Central Committee.Whenever we got an order from the Central Committee, we acted immediately. That was the way we did it. There might have been mistakes in our understanding of the orders—for example, we didn’t quite understand the January Storm—but the newspapers said that it was correct to take the power. . . . The Central Committee affirmed it. That movement had great impact on the entire country. It made us think about what we should do, and not long after that we took over the Tibet Daily [laughs]. . . .At that time we thought that the publishing house should be controlled by the proletariat, as ordered by Chairman Mao, and that we, as the representatives of the proletariat, should keep the publishing house in our control. ~

This takeover, however, was attacked by those at the Headquarters of Defending, who were more conservative and supported Zhang Guohua; they charged that the takeover and the first edition of the new Tibet Daily were reactionary, not revolutionary. In the ensuing weeks, chaos reigned as each side struggled to seize or keep control of the paper. The revolutionary rivals of Gyenlo saw this as Gyenlo trying to take control of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. And, of course, they were correct. In response to such attacks by the anti-Gyenlo factions, the following lengthy document was written by two of the main Beijing Red Guard factions in Gyenlo to justify Gyenlo’s takeover. The different views about how to carry out the Cultural Revolution were now making interfaction conflict a top issue.

Called “The Truth about the Struggle to Seize the Power of the Tibet Daily Newspaper Office,” this statement gives an excellent feel for the intellectual and emotional intensity of the escalating conflict: “The primary concern of the revolution is political power. All power should belong to the revolutionary left. The revolutionary left rebel groups of the Tibet Daily Newspaper started their fight to rebel and seized power on the night of January 10. The “Revolutionary Rebels of Red News” were the main force among the leftist groups. However, after the incident, some people said that we had already seized control from Jin Sha, so after that the power was already in the hands of proletarian groups. Consequently, when the struggle to seize power was again carried out, weren’t they [Gyenlo] attempting to seize power from the proletariat? Others, however, said that this rebellion was great, because after the struggle, the leading power was returned to the real revolutionary rebel groups. What is the truth? Why did a struggle of seizing power happen at the office of a newspaper? What was its process? What were its characteristics? These questions are the concerns of most of the people of Tibet right now. This incident has direct impact on the Great Cultural Revolution in Lhasa and [elsewhere] in Tibet. Therefore, according to the highest instructions, we, the soldiers of the Blazing Prairie Combat Regiment and the Red Flag group from the Beijing Academy of Aviation, carried out investigations and found the truth. We believe this incident was a revolutionary one. The revolutionary leftists did a good job.

Gyenlo’s Struggle to Seize Power


Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “On 10 January, the members of “Revolutionary Rebels of Red News” started the struggle to seize power. On 11 January, they solemnly declared that they firmly support the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which is headed by Chairman Mao, and firmly resist the wrong leadership of some leaders of the Tibet Regional Party Committee.Three weeks later, on 5 February, Gyenlo activists marched to the government offices of the TAR to further “seize power” in various offices, in essence paralyzing the party and government organizations. Two days after that, they took control of the Public Security Bureau. At the same time they were also seizing, interrogating, and arresting members of the opposing revolutionaries, such as the Defenders of the Thoughts of Mao Zedong. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

A draft report favorable to the Regional Party Committee explained these events: “Once the Gyenlo Headquarters was established, especially after seizing power on 3 [sic, 5] February, its members pointed their struggle spearhead at the revolutionary organizations such as the Headquarters of Defending and the Headquarters of Nyamdre. . . . They regarded themselves as the natural-born “revolutionary and rebel faction.” They slandered whoever did not agree with their opinions and manners as people who are “protecting the emperor.” They threatened the members of the Headquarters of Defending, telling them to surrender to the Gyenlo Headquarters within two days or a “dictatorship” would be implemented over them.”

“The members of Gyenlo Headquarters carried out activities that involved beating, smashing, arresting, and looting. At the same time they implemented the white terror. According to the incomplete statistics compiled by four headquarters, including the Headquarters of Defending, Gyenlo Headquarters arrested 56 members of the masses, put 9 people under house arrest, interrogated 10 people illegally, surrounded and accused 46 people, and beat 116 people. (Among these 116 people, 16 were seriously injured, and 4 who were sent to the hospital were fatally injured.) Gyenlo Headquarters also smashed [other] headquarters, including the Headquarters of Defending three times. They destroyed broadcast trucks and printing houses and so forth. After the members of Gyenlo Headquarters seized power, they established the so-called Dictatorship Committee to further carry out their counterrevolutionary dictatorship against the revolutionary masses and cadres.” ~

Creation of Nyamdre: Rival of the Gyenlo

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “This offensive by Gyenlo led directly to the merging of several opposing mass organizations, including the Headquarters of Defending, into a second, larger, and competing revolutionary coalition organization— Nyamdre. While still leftist and revolutionary in ideology, Nyamdre, like the Headquarters of Defending, was more conservative in supporting the more moderate views of most of the Regional Party Committee and Zhang Guohua regarding Tibet and the Cultural Revolution. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

Liu Shaoming, one of the top leaders of Nyamdre, told Goldstein how this emerged out of the Gyenlo attacks on the Regional Party Committee compound on 5 February: “At that time, [the Gyenlo] people wanted to destroy the printing house and the archives of the Regional Party Committee. The combat team of the Regional Party Committee itself did not have enough manpower. So since the surrounding areas in Lhasa were also concerned about the Regional Party Committee, they [these areas] were organized to increase their [the committee’s] strength. Ten separate organizations [joined together].”



Liu Shaoming wife said: “At that time, the people of the Regional Party Committee were protecting the archives office. A whole row of rooms were used to store archives [records]. In addition, people of the Regional Party Committee protected the printing house. They were very under- staffed, so many people from other work units volunteered to come inside and help us out. . . . I was in the courtyard at that time. They [Gyenlo] drove in with many vehicles, trying to take away the archives and destroy the printing press. The people opposing them were not clearly organized yet . . . [but] defended. In addition, they [Gyenlo] wanted to drive out all the secretaries [leaders] and parade them around. . . . We needed to protect those small buildings, and obviously we didn’t have enough hands. Therefore, many people from various organizations, such as workers’ and peasants’ organizations, volunteered to go to the Regional Party Committee to lend a hand. Later, they came together gradually and thought that they should be united.

“The Red Guards from the interior areas wanted to destroy the printing house of the Regional Party Committee—the printing house of the General Office. It printed the publications of the Regional Party Committee at that time. The Red Guards thought the printing house was the black den of Zhang Guohua and wanted to destroy it, so the people of the General Office went in more than a dozen vehicles to protect the printing house. . . . At that time, the staff of the Regional Party Committee established combat teams in order to defend against Gyenlo. They were not organized in the beginning.”

Fighting Between the Gyenlo and Nyamdre in Lhasa

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: In December 1966, Gyenlo and Nyamdre “argued and debated under the rubric of the “free airing of views”, which meant that people should express their views without reservation. This was also referred to as “big debates”. By February 1967, however, putting up posters and debating turned physical, with violent struggles occurring in conjunction, at first with slingshots and stones, then progressively with swords, iron rods, spears, bombs, and eventually guns. Initially, both factions were present in virtually all of the work units and neighborhoods; however, this changed after the physical fighting began between Gyenlo and Nyamdre and the two groups started raiding each other’s sites, seizing locations, and beating up (struggling against) members from the other group. Gyenlo units seized places where only a small number of people from Nyamdre lived, and Nyamdre similarly seized places where not many people from Gyenlo lived. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

Therefore, some localities quickly became all one faction or the other. For example, the Potala-Shöl area was Nyamdre, but the nearby People’s Hospital was Gyenlo. And at the “1 July” State Farm (opposite Drepung Monastery), everyone was Nyamdre, since the Gyenlo members who had been there had fled for safety to the Cement Factory, which was now completely Gyenlo. All of Lhasa became fragmented like that. The army, ostensibly taking a stance of neutrality between the factions, was supposed to try to stop the violent fighting by placing its troops between the fighters to separate them peacefully. ~

One Tibetan PLA soldier told Goldstein this, explaining in an interview how his unit intervened to try to prevent serious outbreaks of interfactional violence: “They said that as soldiers we could not hold any ideology during the Cultural Revolution, the ideology of neither Nyamdre nor Gyenlo. Wherever fighting arose between the two factions, we were sent to mediate and stop them from fighting. . . . We stayed in the Potala Palace, where we used a telescope to observe where the fighting was occurring. When we saw a fight, we had to call the Military Region Headquarters and inform them of this, and then they would send us to stop the fighting. The main fighting in Lhasa was on the western and northern sides of city, and the worst was at the Second Guest House of the Tibet Autonomous Region (what used to be the Yabshi house). When the fighting was bad, we were sent to stop it. If it wasn’t too bad, we stayed in the Potala Palace and watched what was happening through telescopes. This went on for four to five months in 1967–68. ~

Q: Did you see fighting every day? A: Not every day. Sometimes there was and sometimes there wasn’t. “Q: How many people were with you observing from the Potala? A: One platoon that consisted of three squads. There were ten or eleven people in a squad. We had to watch from the Potala day and night. Q: Could you see at night? A: Not too clearly, but they usually threw bombs, and we could see them explode, so would call in and report that they were bombing at such and such. Q: How many times did you go from the Potala to stop fighting? A: Many times. More than I can count. We would go down via the road at the back of the Potala. If we went via the front, they would shoot at us from the Second Guest House.

Q: How did you stop the fighting? A: We stood in the middle of the two factions and mediated, telling them not to fight. There was nothing else we could do. Q: Did you advise both sides not to fight? A: Yes. But they would not listen to us. Q: Did you get hit? A: Yes. I was hit many times. When we went to stop the fighting, they hit us with sticks saying, “You people are fake soldiers.” . . . They beat us severely. Q: Did you hit them back? A: WE were not allowed to hit back. Q: Did you people have any ideology? A: WE had none at this time. Later our officers were Gyenlo, but we common soldiers had none. They told us we were not allowed to adhere to a faction. ~



Q: When you went to stop the factional fighting, did you carry guns? A: No, we weren’t allowed to. They [the PLA leaders] had collected our weapons.Q: What were you allowed to do when you went to stop the fighting? A: Mostly we could only carry Mao’s little red book in our hands. If Nyamdre came running to attack Gyenlo, we went into the middle and tried to stop them. And vice versa. So we soldiers got hit the most. Q:Were the soldiers in the middle mainly Tibetans? A: No. There were both Tibetans and Chinese. Q: Where you able to break them up? A: Yes, but we got hit a lot in the head by stones and sticks. On 9 February, Gyenlo took another bold step to further secure its position by trying to neutralize the Tibet Military Region Headquarters. ~

Gyenlo-PLA Alliance Take Tibet Military Headquarters

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “Led by the Beijing Metropolitan Red Guards, Gyenlo activists pushed their way into the Tibet Military Region Headquarters in collaboration with pro-Gyenlo PLA troops there who called themselves the Allied Combat Team of the military region. Ostensibly they were demanding that the leaders of Military Region Headquarters support the Gyenlo seizure of power on 5 February, but actually they were hoping to garner large-scale support from the troops and officers. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

The following official description of Gyenlo’s incursion into the military headquarters compound reveals the very negative view the government and army had of Gyenlo: After the incident of 5 February, [when] Gyenlo Headquarters seized political and financial power from the Regional Party Committee of the TAR, they thought their position was still not secure without seizing military power. Therefore . . . they wanted to instigate rebellion within the army to stage a “military coup d’état.” They openly instigated the army to “change their aim” and “turn their weapons around to strike.” [On 9 February] [t]hey gathered the masses who were unaware of the truth to continuously attack the leading organs of the military region. They also colluded with a few reactionary members inside the military region to attempt to seize the military’s power. They spread rumors to foment bad relations between the army and the masses. They abused the leading comrades of the military region for a long period of time and kidnapped and beat our army officials and soldiers many times. They grabbed the soldiers’ collar badges, insignia, and their weapons. They openly shouted things such as “Commence a life or- death fight to the end with the military region” and “Wash the highland city [Lhasa] with blood.”

Goldstein wrote: “The specter of pro-Gyenlo combat teams within the army acting in concert with Gyenlo combat teams from Lhasa raised the frightening possibility of the army becoming split into two overtly competing revolutionary factions or, worse, becoming entirely loyal to Gyenlo. This prompted a quick and powerful response.

Response to the Gyenlo Takeover of Tibet Military Headquarters


barricades formed by Red Guard factions

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “The very next day, under instructions from the Central Military Committee in Beijing, the Tibet Military Headquarters moved to restore order by suspending the practice of the Cultural Revolution in the army, that is, by resuming normal operations within the military in Tibet and by declaring martial law in the military headquarters compound. At the same time, the army immediately suppressed the pro-Gyenlo Allied Combat Team, arresting its leaders. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

The following 13 February document, written by Gyenlo activists, defiantly describes the army’s tough response: “To all the revolutionary comrades in Lhasa and Tibet: The Great Cultural Revolution has come to a decisive battle to achieve complete success for the entire movement. As in the whole country, the masses in Lhasa and the entire Tibet region have already been fully mobilized. They have also seized power from a few party leaders who hold on to the reactionary capitalist line. The situation now is wonderful and ready for the decisive battle. However, let us take a look at how a few leaders of the Tibet Military Region Headquarters behaved and insisted on the reactionary capitalist line: 1) Troops representing the Military Region Headquarters had different opinions from those of the Allied Combat Team of the military region [the pro-Gyenlo army group]...

“3) On the night of 9 February, they used fascist savage ways to treat the Allied Combat Team of the military region. Thirteen revolutionary cadres were illegally detained. (More were detained secretly.) They surrounded about five hundred people of the Allied Combat Team for more than ten hours and did not allow them to study the works of Chairman Mao or use the bathroom. They even attempted to destroy completely the revolutionary rebel corps by taking away their freedom of speech...

6) They recently transferred troops from other military regions to Tibet. Why did they do that? 7) They ordered troops to collect weapons and ammunition from every big work unit on the afternoon of 9 February. What was the purpose of doing that? 8) They suddenly blocked the roads to Lhasa and started to check all the vehicles going in and out of Lhasa. Vehicles were allowed to get into Lhasa but were not allowed to leave. 9) They cut communication between our region and the Central Committee. Why? 10. The place where the troops are stationed was full of heavily armed soldiers. Why? Revolutionary comrades, we should rise up to smash all the schemes of the Party Committee of the Military Region Headquarters.”

Siege of the Gyenlo Headquarters


Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “Despite purging the pro-Gyenlo troops and taking these precautionary moves, the army did not immediately move to take control of the entire city at this moment. Instead, troops first tried peacefully to regain control of the Tibet Daily, that is, without having to storm the compound. With approval from the State Council and the Central Military Committee in Beijing, the army began discussions with Gyenlo’s leaders about the evacuation of the compound. When Gyenlo resisted this, the army made plans to move on the compound on the morning of 26 February if Gyenlo still hadn’t agreed by then. However, Gyenlo complicated matters by calling for its supporters to join them in the compound to help defend it. Many hundreds and perhaps as many as several thousand came. Gyenlo also sought support from Beijing, and, just as the army was preparing to attack, the Gyenlo leaders in the compound were informed that a telegram had arrived from the Central Committee in Beijing, clearly accepting them as a true revolutionary organization. This was a major victory for them, since they felt it meant that the army could not suppress them as counter revolutionaries. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

The following comments of the head of Gyenlo in the newspaper compound, though obviously biased, give a glimpse into a revolutionary leader’s thinking: Well, actually, things were still complicated after we took the power [on 5 February]. The attempt to reseize power, the fighting among the people, and even fighting with weapons, all these problems eventually led to the Central Committee’s order to institute military control. We were simply following the orders of the Central Committee to take power and were not prepared for all the problems. We definitely had no idea [of their military plans] when the Tibet Military Region Headquarters came to take control from us. ~

Q. How many people did you have in the publishing house then? A: About two thousand to three thousand. Q: In the publishing house? A: Yes. Well, how should I put it? . . . People came to the publishing house of their own will. They were there to protect the publishing house, to protect the fruit of the Great Cultural Revolution. [Laughs.] Q: How long had you been there before the negotiations with the army? A: Not that long. About twenty days or maybe just ten days. ~

It was on 11 January that we took the power, and the army came on the 26th. After the negotiations, the army did not let us go, and we were kept there till late that night when a telegraph was sent to us from the Central Committee. We had our people in the post office, and they read the telegraph first and then sent it to me. . . . We had a party to celebrate, because the telegraph was addressed clearly to “the revolutionary masses in Lhasa.” The telegraph ordered us to establish the “revolutionary three connections” with Zhang Guohua, so we were being addressed as a revolutionary organization. We were very happy at that time, and we even had a parade inside the publishing house. Using the parade as an opportunity, we organized our people and were ready to leave. However, we were stopped. The army literally surrounded us.

Goldstein wrote: “It appears that once the telegram arrived, Gyenlo wanted a guarantee from the army that they would treat the faction as revolutionaries and not suppress them. The army, however, apparently did not agree but still wanted to avoid a massacre so surrounded the compound and did not let the Gyenlo people leave...The Gyenlo leader continued the narrative: They didn’t let us leave on 26, 27, 28 [February], 1 March, or on the 2nd. . . . [Finally] [o]n 2 March I said that we shouldn’t let it go any further. First of all, [the army] didn’t allow us to get food from the outside, and the food stored in the publishing house was limited. I could have only one steamed bun for a whole day. Second, our communications with the outside were cut.”

Gyenlo Taken Prisoners


When the Gyenlo leaders finally agreed to leave unconditionally, they quickly learned that the army would not treat them as revolutionaries. To the contrary, it immediately detained almost one hundred of the Gyenlo activists. The Gyenlo leader said: “No, none of us could go out. However, they did allow people to come in, so more and more people gathered at the publishing house. We had trouble providing food for all the people and couldn’t reach any agreement with the army. So I decided on 2 March to surrender myself along with a few other leaders. Then when we went out, we were immediately seized by the army.” The order “must have been the Military Region Headquarters. She Banqiao was the army’s chief of staff. . . . [W]e knew each other. I thought I could find a way out by communicating with him. However, that guy was swollen with arrogance because he had the order from the Central Military Committee. We went outside and were immediately seized by the army. . . . They had actually assured us that if we left, we would be freed after being searched. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

That didn’t happen. The leader said: “They used their loudspeakers. . . . [Instead] [t]hey tied us up, . . . but they couldn’t get anything [from me] after half a day’s interrogations. They wanted me to say that we were being used by someone “backstage” and to tell them who exactly was using us. It was an easy question, and the answer was “those leaders [in the Regional Party Committee] who follow the capitalist road.” [Laughs.] Actually I would have been happy if I could have named some backstage people and then have been set free. I just couldn’t do that. Those people I worked with were not my backstage controllers. Most of the time they needed to consult me before making any decisions. [Laughs.] . . . We were first taken to the East Suburb Prison, where we spent about eleven days. Later we were transferred to a detention center. They talked pretty nice, saying, “We’ll transfer you to a better place, since the conditions at the East Suburb Prison are terrible.” [Laughs.]We were then put in the North Suburb. What they really wanted was more information from us. ~

Q: How long did you stay in the prison? A:...Seventy-one days... Q: Besides you, how many people were put into prison? A: I can’t recall the exact number now. Probably more than a hundred. The detention center was full. People like me were considered important criminals and should have been kept in private rooms [solitary confinement]. However, it was simply impossible. I shared a room with two other people. Q: Did they beat you? A: Not really... There was no solid evidence of our “crimes.”...They repeated to me that I would be freed if I could name one or two backstage supporters. [Laughs.]We thought at that time that the Central Committee would rectify this for us. However, we can see now that that was a naive idea. ~

“Before the incident at our publishing house, an incident occurred at the publishing house of the Qinghai Daily, where the army under Zhao Yongfu opened fire and killed more than one hundred people there. We didn’t know exactly what happened in Qinghai, but we heard that the army had surrounded the Qinghai Daily. Zeng Yongya [a top leader in the Tibet military region] later teased me, “You were so brave! If the Central Committee had allowed the army to open fire, you would have lost your lives!” [Laughs.] It was Premier Zhou [Enlai] who said that bloody struggles like the one in Qinghai should not be allowed to happen in Tibet. That was why the army didn’t fire at us. However, the army did scare people by shouting through their loudspeakers, accusing us of keeping weapons inside the publishing house. After we surrendered, they started to say that we were hiding the weapons in a well. Actually they later found out that we didn’t have anything hidden there. The Tibet military region also received approval from the State Council and the Central Military Committee to implement military control over key offices, such as the Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorial Bureau, and the Tibet People’s Broadcasting Station. At the same time the military also arrested many Gyenlo activists. Thus, from the beginning of March 1967, the army gradually established military control offices in Lhasa and in the other main cities and counties in Tibet.

Weakened Gyenlo


Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “For Gyenlo’s leaders, the events of February and March were a stunning and unexpected defeat that led to the desertion of many of its own fighting units. From one thousand members at the start in December 1966, Gyenlo had grown to an organization of more than three hundred combat teams and more than fifteen thousand persons. (They themselves claimed they had thirty-five thousand members.) However, after their loss in February, one after another of the combat units left, and by 1 April they had declined to three thousand people. By contrast, Nyamdre had increased to about thirty-eight thousand members and became the more powerful faction in the continuing conflict between the two. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

The extent of the army’s repression of Gyenlo at this time can be seen in the written self-confession (dated 5 September 1967) titled “Preliminary Examination of the Mistakes I Made in Supporting the Left” (i.e., Nyamdre), by Yin Fatang, a top army leader and Nyamdre supporter: After 5 February, . . . I regarded the contradiction among the people as one between the enemy and us. I regarded “Specially Attack,” a [Gyenlo] revolutionary mass organization that included Red Guards and ordinary cadres, as a “reactionary organization” and regarded certain revolutionary actions of Gyenlo General Headquarters as “counter-revolutionary actions of a small handful of persons,” thus confounding right and wrong and black and white. ~

After 9 February . . . I suppressed and attacked the revolutionary masses and revolutionary cadres within the Army and placed some good comrades under arrest. After 26 February, I proceeded with suppression and attacks outside the Army, banned “Specially Attack,” and placed some revolutionary people, revolutionary cadres and revolutionary young fighters under arrest. They were beaten and thrown into prison. Mentally and physically they suffered great pains. The “oath-taking” rally held on 5 March put forward some wrong slogans and made some wrong approaches. In particular, it did not permit Gyenlo Headquarters to attend meetings. These methods had very bad consequences. Around that time, some wrong notications, open letters, and propaganda materials were put up and distributed. As the spearhead was directed against the wrong target, Gyenlo General Headquarters almost disintegrated. . . . The revolutionary masses of Gyenlo General Headquarters and the revolutionary cadres supporting Gyenlo General Headquarters were repressed. ~

Image Sources: Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org, New York Times, Woeser, Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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