In his book “On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet,”Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “In 1966, Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to eliminate his enemies and reshape relations within the party. Unlike the standard Chinese Communist Party purges that took place entirely within the rarified air of the party itself, in the Cultural Revolution, the driving forces of the cleanup— Red Guards and revolutionary workers—were outside the party. Mao sought to mobilize the masses to discover and attack what he called bourgeois and capitalist elements who had insinuated themselves into the party and, in his view, were trying to subvert the revolution...The first activists were young students called Red Guards, who began attacking their teachers and administrators, searching to uncover those who were following the capitalist road and had sneaked into the party. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009. Goldstein is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Case Western Reserve University]

Ronald Schwartz wrote in China Perspectives, “As the Cultural Revolution began to unfold throughout China in 1966, the Party leadership in Tibet was uneasy about the prospect of unleashing Red Guards in Tibet. With the arrival of new Red Guards from inland China the campaign against established leaders within the Regional Party Committee intensified, with the radical revolutionary groups eventually combining to form the Gyenlo faction (the Revolutionary Rebels), while organisations supportive of the Regional Party Committee became Nyamdre (the Alliance). The first part of the book documents in considerable detail the escalation of inter-factional conflict in Lhasa, with violent battles being fought between the two factions by early 1967, and government offices and neighbourhoods in Lhasa controlled by one or the other faction. [Source: Ronald Schwartz, China Perspectives, January 2011]

"When the order went out, Smash the feudalistic nests of monks!," the writer Paul Theroux wrote, "the soldiers, Red Guards and assorted vandals made chalk marks all over the monasteries save these timbers, stack these beams, pike the bricks, and so forth. Brick by brick, timber by timber, the monasteries were taken down. The frugal, strong-saving, clothes-patching, shoe-mending Chinese saved each reusable brick. In this way the monasteries were made into barns and barracks.”

One former Tibetan member of the Red Guards told the Washington Post, "At the time, I didn't really think about it because we were young. Now as I get older I have regrets."

Forming of the Red Guards in Tibet

Red Guards moving across China

The Han teacher who later became a top revolutionary leader in Gyenlo told Melvyn Goldstein: In “August 1966 the Red Guards were everywhere in the whole country, and Lhasa didn’t want to be left behind. Therefore we formed our own Red Guard organizations. . . . Most of the students in my school were Tibetans. It was a concern that the Tibetan students might get into trouble, for they didn’t know the right [ideological] direction. Therefore, the Party Branch at the Lhasa Middle School decided to select a few young teachers to join the Red Guards, working as leaders. I remember I used to lead students to “destroy the four olds.” [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

“At the very beginning of the Great Cultural Revolution, students struggled against one another for more than two months because the Regional Party Committee followed the policy of “discharging lots of arrows at the same time”. Many young students under eighteen years of age who were educated in the thought of Chairman Mao were considered to be counter revolutionaries and were severely criticized. On 8 August, the Central Committee of the CCP issued the decision of starting the Great Cultural Revolution. Students at our school pointed their spearhead at the school authorities. Our struggle frightened the leaders at the Regional Party Committee and the Party Committee of the Post and Communications Bureau.” ~

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “One of the important aspects of the Cultural Revolution in inland China was for Red Guards to travel to other parts of the country and “link up” with activists there to propagate Mao’s thinking and exchange experiences. Tibet was not immune from this, so beginning in early September some Red Guards from the Tibetan Nationality Institute in Xianyang and Beijing began to arrive in Lhasa. Together with local Red Guards, they intensified the campaign against the “four olds” and class enemies, the latter including progressive former Tibetan officials who had been incorporated into the new administration after 1959. ~

Controlling the Red Guards in Tibet

Red Guards on the move across China

In his book “On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet,”Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “Zhang Guohua and the Regional Party Committee, despite their activist revolutionary rhetoric, were not enthusiastic about allowing the Red Guards and revolutionary masses to run rampant in Tibet. In Zhang’s view, the TAR was just recovering from the uprising of 1959 and the implementation of Democratic Reforms, and a new wave of chaos could destabilize the region. The new campaign in China, the Cultural Revolution, therefore, should also be implemented in keeping with the special situation in Tibet. There should be, in essence, a special, less volatile, “Cultural Revolution” in Tibet. Consequently, he supported preventing the more radical students and workers from bombarding the headquarters in an unsupervised manner, although he had no problem with their carrying out the campaign against the “four olds” and struggling violently against the class enemies of the old society. And within work units, the masses could accuse one another of having capitalist-roader views but not the top leadership. Consequently, more work teams were sent to offices and work units to maintain this control. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

“Some of the young revolutionaries in Lhasa wanted to follow Mao’s instructions and attack the holders of power in their work units. However, such attempts were initially blocked by the leadership. For example, in August, when students at the Tibet Post and Telecommunications School vociferously targeted their school authorities, the leaders quickly diffused the situation by graduating the class early (to scatter the students).” ~

One man who was a student at the time said: “The May 16th Notice clearly revealed that some work units were controlled by a handful of leaders who held the capitalist line. Those leaders were so afraid of their mistakes being exposed that they used many excuses to suppress the movement of the masses. They attempted to lead the mass movement in the wrong way by changing its aims and confounding right and wrong. When they felt that they were too isolated to carry out their evil plans, they relied on playing tricks and spreading rumors to confuse the concepts of revolution and counterrevolution and to suppress the revolutionary factions.

“We graduated in mid-August last year. Why did they let us graduate at that particular time? It was the plot of the Regional Party Committee. Let us tell you the truth about it. By kicking us out of school on 15 August, they temporarily realized their plot. When we started to work at new work units, the Great Cultural Revolution began. We didn’t know anything about it. While other people were engaged in the Great Cultural Revolution, we could only watch them and were not able to provide any help.” ~

“From this we can see that the Regional Party Committee has always insisted on the reactionary capitalist line. They openly opposed the instructions from the Central Committee and tried to obstruct the Great Cultural Revolution. They tried to split the forces of the masses to reach their sinister goal. Let all the revolutionary proletarian factions be united and let us work together to completely smash the reactionary capitalist line of the Regional Party Committee. “ ~

Red Guards Harangue Former Tibetan Aristocrat

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “The following week, on 28 October, the Red Rebels, a faction that later became part of Gyenlo, decided to attack Ngabö, the most important of the former progressive Tibetan aristocrats and a top official in the Tibet Autonomous Region government. They marched to the compound of the Tibet Autonomous Region and demanded that he come out and answer their questions, that is, defend himself before the revolutionary masses. [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 young activist who was involved in that event recalled: “One night, we were told to go the courtyard of the Tibet Autonomous Region. People said that Ngabö should come out to meet the masses. He came, and we were going to take away his position. As you know, he was one of the most powerful men in Tibet at that time. After some people took Ngabö to the mass meeting, those people who were standing at the front of the masses did lots of struggling against him. Of course we, the other people, shouted in support of our leaders. Then somebody took Ngabö back into the building. We stood there continuing to shout that Ngabö should be brought to the meeting of the masses. ~

“While we were conducting this struggle session against Ngabö, somebody informed the central government. I think they told the central government that the masses were doing a struggle session against Ngabö and asked whether they should allow the masses to continue. . . . The next morning Ngabö was in inland China. He must have been sent from Lhasa [to Beijing] by the central government.

Q: When the masses were struggling against him, did he say anything? A: “He did. He said he had exploited the masses in the old society and was very sorry about that.When people were struggling against him, he had guards stay beside him so that people could not get close to him. I think those guards were told to take care of him. He had guards, so it was impossible for us to get to him, but we shouted lots at him. It was a stupid action. Ngabö recited the experiences of his life at the meeting, and then he left the meeting of the masses. . . . The next day, when we were going to continue the struggle session against him, we were told that he had gone to inland China. The person who intervened on behalf of Ngaböwas Zhang Guohua, who, ironically, had returned to Lhasa that same day from a stay of three weeks in Beijing. As soon as Ngabö was attacked, Zhang contacted Zhou Enlai, who arranged for a plane to take Ngabö immediately to safety in Beijing. This action further inflamed the more radical revolutionary masses, solidifying their belief that the Regional Party Committee was trying to thwart Mao’s call to cleanse the party and government leadership.” ~

Tensions Escalate as Beijing Red Guards Arrive in Tibet

Melvyn Goldstein wrote: “At this point, Zhang Guohua felt it was important to try to prevent more Red Guards, particularly Han Red Guards from Beijing, from coming to Tibet and further radicalizing the Cultural Revolution there, so he explicitly asked Zhou Enlai to order the various Cultural Revolution organizations not to allow Han Chinese Red Guards to come to Tibet. Zhou approved this, but the Red Guard groups from Beijing ignored the order, and in early November, Metropolitan Red Guards arrived from Beijing in three groups and set up the Blazing Prairie Combat Regiment. These Beijing Metropolitan Red Guards, who would become one of the core founding units of Gyenlo, were not as easy for the Regional Party Committee to manipulate as the Lhasa students and workers had been.[Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

“As a result of this, the focus of the spearhead now started shifting in a serious way toward the party leadership, particularly the Regional Party Committee itself. The Cultural Revolution as experienced in Beijing was now about to start in Lhasa. Between 7 and 11 November, the Blazing Prairie Combat Regiment, in conjunction with Tibetan Red Guards and other young revolutionaries in Lhasa, put up four hundred to five hundred posters criticizing the Regional Party Committee and its head, Zhang Guohua. These posters said things such as “Completely criticize the reactionary capitalist line of the Regional Party Committee [in Tibet].” They also accused the Regional Party Committee of “waving a red flag to oppose the red flag,” that is, of pretending to adhere to Mao’s call to scrutinize the holders of power while actually trying to prevent that. ~

“A week later, a group of ten revolutionary organizations launched a citywide debate on whether the Regional Party Committee had been implementing a bourgeois reactionary line. This was the first open clash between what would become Tibet’s two competing revolutionary organizations—Gyenlo and Nyamdre. More than ninety people spoke, the majority supporting the view that the Regional Party Committee was a true proletarian organization. Soon after this, they merged to form the Headquarters of Defending Mao Zedong’s Thoughts and then, a few months later, linked up with others such as the One Thousand Serf Fighters from the Xianyang Nationalities Institute, who had arrived in Lhasa in early December, forming the even larger revolutionary group called Nyamdre. A minority of the speakers that day attacked the Regional Party Committee and soon afterward formed Gyenlo Headquarters.

Red Guard Go After Party Leaders in Tibet

A Han revolutionary leader from the Lhasa Middle School recalled what his anti–Zhang Guohua organization was thinking at this time: “Our group had clear aims. We were trying to “turn the world upside down” [laughs] and “find all the ‘capitalist-roaders’ and knock them down and step on them” [laughs]. That was the language people used at that time.” Those people who were close to the leaders at the Regional Party Committee were later called “royalists.” They [the revolutionaries close to the leaders] argued that the leaders were nice people and had been working hard for the local residents. However, we didn’t care about that. What we really cared about were the orders from the Central Committee [the Eleventh Plenum] that we knew we were supposed to follow. It was fine with us if none of the leaders were capitalist-roaders, but if there were any, we wanted to go ahead and struggle against them. . . . Actually, we were not sure who those capitalist-roaders were . . . but we thought we should see whether we could find followers of the capitalist road in Tibet. [Source: Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup,“ On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969,” University of California Press, 2009 ~]

Goldstein wrote: “Meanwhile, back in Beijing on 16 November, the State Council reiterated its instructions banning the exchange of revolutionary experiences in Tibet, but this too was ignored. Then on 4 December, the State Council announced specific new regulations requiring the Red Guards from inland China who were still in Lhasa to leave Tibet and return to their own localities by 20 December. The Regional Party Committee was so eager to see them leave that they actually organized a “farewell meeting” for the departing Red Guards. However, they were thwarted in this, because the Beijing Red Guards in Lhasa had contacted the Central Cultural Revolution Group, headed by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, pleading to be allowed to remain because, in their view, their presence was critical to eliminating the bourgeois reactionary line that was present there. And their pleas succeeded. To the chagrin of Zhang Guohua, the powerful Central Great Cultural Revolution Group intervened and gave the Beijing Red Guards permission to remain. The Cultural Revolution in Lhasa was now entering a new and much more radical phase. ~

A Lhasa Red Guard group at the broadcast station in Lhasa commented on this in December 1966: “Some major leaders of the Regional Party Committee were so afraid of the Red Guards from fighting units such as Blazing Prairie that they tried to obstruct the Red Guards before they came [from Beijing] and then sent people to surveil them after they arrived. After the notice was issued from the Central Committee to temporarily stop the great linking-up, they tried their best to drive the [inland Chinese] Red Guards out. They hurriedly held a “send-off meeting” [to send the Red Guards back] long before the time limit of the 21st, which was the date stipulated by the Central Committee. So why were you so afraid of the Red Guards? Does that mean that you were ashamed of what you have done? You were afraid because the Red Guards have complete revolutionary spirit and will never give up to the reactionary line. Comrades of our three fighting units in the broadcast station have discussed this problem with Comrade Zhang Zaiwang [vice-director of the Leading Team of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet]. ~

“However, Comrade Zhang Zaiwang did not accept our opinions and insisted on driving the Red Guards out. What is the result now? The team from the Central Great Cultural Revolution Group [in Beijing] has supported their staying in Tibet and carrying on the revolution with the local revolutionary masses. This was the clearest and loudest reply to those who insisted on driving the Red Guards out. We most strongly support this decision and enthusiastically welcome the Red Guards from fighting units like the Blazing Prairie to carry on the revolution together with us. Those who have abused the Blazing Prairie and tried to drive them out should shut up now. By mid-December 1966, therefore, the conflict among different revolutionary factions was escalating over the status of the Regional Party Committee as well as other issues, such as whether the labeling of some workers and Red Guards as reactionaries and counter revolutionaries should be abolished. Red Guards from inland China together with local groups pushed to investigate and struggle against the top members of the Regional Party Committee, in particular Zhang Guohua, whom they derisively called the “indigenous emperor”.

“The situation in Lhasa was on the brink of spinning out of control. Liu Shaoming, later the head of the more conservative revolutionary faction called Nyamdre, commented on how he and Zhang Guohua felt about these Red Guards: We resented Red Guards from the inland areas at that time. Why do we need you to come to Tibet to fan the fires and tell us what to do with the Cultural Revolution? Why do we need you to be our savior and tell us what to do? Although I don’t know much about Tibet, you are from the inland area, so what do you know about Tibet? Tibet is an ethnic region and has its own characteristics. Tibet is an ethnic as well as a border area, so how can it be treated the same way as the inland areas? Doing that will throw it into chaos. There is an ethnic issue in Tibet. What do you students from the inland areas know about it? We were secretaries [heads] in the government departments and not young students, and we worked with the Party Committee. We had different modes of thinking and needed to take these issues into consideration. We couldn’t do whatever they wanted us to do. ~

“That’s how the contradiction came into being. The more radical revolutionary organizations convened a mass meeting in Lhasa on 19 December, at which Zhang Guohua was induced to make a self-criticizing speech on behalf of the Regional Party Committee in the hope that this would satisfy them and calm the situation. At this meeting, he vaguely admitted mistakes in the Regional Party Committee’s political line, but things did not calm down. A few days later, on 23 December, some revolutionary masses entered the compound of the Regional Party Committee, where they remained and carried out debates trying to uncover capitalist-roaders.

Cultural Revolution Rallies and Public Humiliations in Lhasa

On the photograph “Public humiliation of a village oracle” Woeser said: An unknown village woman is paraded in a struggle session in a rural area outside Lhasa. She is holding a two-sided drum or damaru in one hand and in the other a portable shrine in which tsatsa or clay figures of the protectress Palden Lhamo and the gonpo, or protector deity. She was probably an oracle who would go into trances when requested to perform divinations and so had been branded as a “swindler” or “vampire” by Cultural Revolution activists. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966/67.)

“Struggle parade with Ribur Rinpoche”: Targets of struggle sessions are paraded along an alley leading from the Tsemonling temple to the Ramoche temple in Lhasa, on their way to or from a struggle session. The man with the crudely painted face was a famous lama from Sera Monastery, Ribur Rinpoche, who was the struggle target in some thirty-five struggle sessions. On this occasion his face has been daubed with paint to make him look like a villain and he has been made to carry a small Buddhist shrine in his hands, with a set of ritual cymbals draped around his neck. His given name, “Ngawang Gyatso,” and the words “ox-demon-snake-spirit” are legible on the tall hat he has been made to wear as a sign of criminality. He was released from prison in 1976 and was able to get to India eleven years later, after which he spent the rest of his life teaching Buddhism outside Tibet. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966.)

“Phunkhang as struggle target”: A former aristocrat-official, Phunkhang Tsering Dondrub, is paraded through the streets of Lhasa. A moustache has been painted on his face and he has been made to wear the single long earring in the left ear that was a mark of noble rank in the traditional Tibetan system. His father had been a kalon or minister in the four-person cabinet of the government of the Dalai Lama in the 1940s, and his older brother was a son-in-law of the king of Sikkim. He had held only a mid-level position in the Tibetan government when it was disbanded in 1959, seven years before this photograph was taken. He has been made to carry a case of knives and forks, probably with ivory handles, either to show that he was a member of the exploiting class or that he was attracted to foreign or Western lifestyles. After the Cultural Revolution was over, he was rehabilitated and given token positions in the Chinese system until his death in 1990. His house is now a Chinese-owned hotel. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966/67.)

Phunkhang as struggle target

“Crowd accusing Samding Dorje Phagmo in the courtyard of her house”: The woman whose head is lowered with her torso bent over is Samding Dorje Phagmo, the best known of all female reincarnate lamas in Tibet. A crowd of accusers has been taken to the courtyard of her house in Lhasa to conduct a struggle session against her. From what can be seen, the banner behind her says “must carry out the great Cultural Revolution in Tibet.” She was twenty-four years old then and had given birth to her third child less than two months earlier. Before ending up in the situation recorded here, she had been hailed across China as a “patriot.” This is because in late 1959, just six months after following the Dalai Lama into exile in India, she had chosen to return to Tibet and had been a guest of honor at the celebrations in Beijing that October for the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic — where she had been received by Mao himself. After the death of Mao in 1976, she was again given honorary positions in the government, and appeared in public praising the Party’s policies, a role known in Tibetan as “performing as a political flower-vase.” (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, August 1966.)

“Samding Dorje Phagmo with fists”: Samding Dorje Phagmo, the same female reincarnated lama from the previous photo, is struggled against in the courtyard of her home in Lhasa, together with her mother and father. Her father, Rigdzin Gyalpo, a former steward to a noble family, had not joined the Lhasa uprising against China in 1959 and had been recognized by the Chinese as an “outstanding patriot.” However, he was still a target in the Cultural Revolution. For years he was regularly beaten because of a rumour he had once said something while drunk about Chairman Mao needing to eat shit. He was punched so severely that his shoulders were fractured. He came to regret his “patriotic” deeds in the past and died in 1977 or 1978. As for Dorje Phagmo’s mother, she was very timid. Other than quietly attending the daily reform-through-labor session, she did not dare to say anything. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966/67.)

“Kashö presented to the crowd”: Two young activists hold down Kashö Chögyal Nyima, who had been a cabinet minister in the former Tibetan government, during a struggle session in Lhasa. He was popularly seen as a collaborator with the Chinese regime, but he was still made a target in the Cultural Revolution. The words on the tall hat read “Kashöpa, an ox-demon-snake-spirit, a power-seizing bad person, to be completely destroyed.” He is dressed in official silks with jewelry usually worn by Tibetan noblewomen draped round his neck, and he has been made to carry a big wad of Tibetan paper currency, together with a damaru, a two-sided drum used in religious rituals. He was subjected to continuous struggle sessions over fourteen successive evenings, between each of which he had to do hard labor in the fields during the day. Throughout these he was forced to keep his head down and his torso bent. After the Cultural Revolution, he was used again by the CCP as a token Tibetan dignitary until he died in 1986 at the age of eighty-three. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966.)

Book “Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Chinese Revolution” by Tsering Woeser (Potomac Books, April 2020).

Struggle Sessions in Tibet

On the photograph ““Struggle session in the courtyard of Samding Dorje Phagmo” Woeser said: A young man with a cap and wearing a watch reaches for the ga’u or amulet box that has been placed on the bumpa or ornamental vase that Samding Dorje Phagmo has been made to hold during a struggle session outside her home in Lhasa. The young man later became the commander of the Peasants and Nomads Headquarters, one of the radical factions that engaged in street fighting during the Cultural Revolution in Lhasa. Thirty years later, he was running a mahjong business. The woman next to him was a shoemaker in the cooperative and also an activist, but the older woman behind, holding a small flag in her hand, was known to be very mild in character and so had probably been ordered by the Neighborhood Committee to be there. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, August 1966.)

Crowd accusing Samding Dorje Phagmo

“Struggle session against Tsadi Tsedan Dorje”: A well-known Tibetan activist named Tsamchö or “Lugu Aja” (Elder Sister from Lugu) denounces Tsadi Tseten Dorje, the former mayor of Lhasa, during a struggle session in Lhasa. Tsamchö had been a beggar before 1959. After the Cultural Revolution she ran a small business, and is said to have become a religious devotee. The big-character poster hung from Tsadi’s neck lists his crimes: “Counter-revolutionary Tseten Dorje, deceptive ringleader and promoter of turmoil, butcher, murderer and slaughterer of the working masses.” Behind Lugu Aja’s head is a vertical signboard in Chinese and Tibetan, on which one can just make out the words “the great Chinese Communist Party.” This struggle session is taking place in the Sungchöra, the former teaching courtyard of the Jokhang Temple, the foremost shrine in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Written in Chinese on the board just below the eaves of the temple wall is the new Chinese name for the courtyard: Lixin guangchang, the “Establish-the-New Square.” (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa,1966.)

“Struggle session against Sampo”: Sampo Tsewang Rigdzin, the former commander in chief of the Tibetan army before the PLA invaded in 1950, is paraded in public during a struggle session in Lhasa. After 1950, he had been given a token position in the PLA as a major general, and in 1959 he was nearly killed when a crowd of Tibetans tried to stone him, accusing him of collaboration. He was then promoted to an even higher, but nominal, position in the new Chinese system, that of deputy director of the Tibet Military Control Commission. But in August 1966 Sampo was singled out as an “ox-demon-snake-spirit,” and accused of “organizing rebellion, aiding foreign powers, and opposing the Party and the dictatorship of the proletariat.” He and his wife were repeatedly struggled against and all their property was confiscated. In 1973, deeply depressed, he died. His wife passed away not long after. The photograph shows him wearing khalkhasug, the richly embroidered brocade robes in Mongolian style worn by lay officials of the fourth rank or above in the traditional Tibetan governmental system. The hat he has been forced to wear, known as a chagda, with its gold braid and precious stones, is summer wear: it is not part of the traditional khalkhasug set. The single long earring or sogchil is also a symbol of his status, and the long-necked tassel or domdom hanging down from his chest was used for horses ridden by officials of the fourth rank or above. The activist on the left, known as “One Eyed” Thubten, became an official in the Barkor Neighborhood Committee after 1987. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966.)

“Struggle session against Nyarongshag family”: A struggle session in an alleyway near Tengyeling monastery in Lhasa against three traditional Tibetan doctors. The oldest of the three, Tsojé Rigdzin Lhundrub Paljor, known as Dr. Nyarongshag, had also founded the largest lay school in Tibet before the Chinese take-over. The young woman who is lending her arm to the old man is Dr. Nyarongshag’s third daughter, Tsephel; also a doctor. She had given birth to her daughter just three or four days earlier. The man on the left of Dr. Nyarongshag was his second son, Kungyur. Decades later he was able to flee to India where he served as the personal doctor to the Dalai Lama in exile. The struggle targets here have had small but heavy medicine pouches called menku hung around their necks. The stacks of Indian banknotes hung from the neck of the old man were fees that he had been paid when he had practiced medicine in India. On this occasion the three doctors were paraded through the streets and forced to smash a prayer-wheel shrine. The old man was severely beaten in the struggle sessions and remained more or less bedridden (but still treating patients) until he passed away in 1979 at the age of eighty-two. Among those shouting slogans in the crowd, the man in the lower right-hand corner, wearing glasses and a cap, is Lobsang, the deputy head of the Barkor Neighborhood Committee, a former tailor who became a local official after the Cultural Revolution. Just behind the crowd taking part in the struggle session two PLA soldiers are walking past. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966.)

“Woman being struggled against”: A Tibetan woman named Shatraba Dechö is presented to the crowd during a struggle session in Lhasa. She is wearing a traditional patrug headdress, heavy jewelry has been draped around her neck, and a big-character poster has been attached to her, listing the counts against her: she is accused of “spreading rumors” and “of claiming to be an activist while concealing items belonging to counterrevolutionaries.” Her fourth crime is that “she has sold silver, gold, and other valuables to foreigners.” The Tibetan writing on the tall hat she has been made to wear says “ox-demon snake-spirit Dechö.” Of the two women with their hands on her neck, the one on the right is Penchung, an activist from the Barkor Neighborhood Committee who was reputed to be particularly vicious. The one on the left was a student at Lhasa Middle School who later became a tailor. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966/67.)

Struggle session against Nyarongshag family

“Smiling “Chinese boss” in a struggle session”: A smiling man, who from his appearance seems to be Han Chinese, and probably a cadre, directs a struggle session against a Tibetan lama in Lhasa. The Tibetan Red Guard whose hand is on the left shoulder of the lama appears to be sticking out his tongue, the traditional gesture of extreme respect, and in another photograph is slightly bent over, suggesting that he might be feeling uncomfortable about abusing the lama. A number of people who appear to be cadres or soldiers are standing on the steps looking down at the spectacle. As for the lama, we can tell from the writing on the hat only that one part of his name was Gyatso. A stack of pages from sacred texts has been tied to his shoulders and the cart is full of Buddhist scroll paintings and other ritual objects, now known as “Four Olds” that have to be destroyed, which the lama would have had to push through the streets. (Tsering Dorje, Lhasa, 1966/67.)

Image Sources: Everyday Life in Maoist, 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, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | 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.

Last updated September 2022

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