Editor's Note Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei, as a full-power delegate of the local government of Tibet led by the 14th Dalai Lama, played a vital role in the signing of the 17-article Agreement on Methods for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet in 1951. Fourteen years later, he was elected chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region founded in September 1965. With the approach of the 40th anniversary, we invited Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei, now Vice-Chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, to talk about TAR's founding.
In late April 1951, I headed the delegation of the local government of Tibet, known as the Gaxag, to Beijing for negotiations with the Central Government on the peaceful liberation of Tibet. On May 23, after more than 20 days of negotiations, we signed the Agreement on Methods for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, Article 3 of which reads "In accordance with the policy towards ethnic groups laid down in the Common Program of the CPPCC, the Tibetan people have the right to exercise national regional autonomy under the unified leadership of the Central People's Government."
Eight years later, the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region emerged, and, finally, in 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was inaugurated. Fourteen years isn't long, but they witnessed enormous changes in the region. The following is a timetable related to the period
May 23, 1951 The 17-Article Agreement signed; in March and April of 1952, Lhasa had been hit by riots related to the so-called "people's assembly."
April 1956 The Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region was established; in July and August, some 30 headmen in Gyangda County of Qamdo went into mountains to launch armed revolution.
July 1957 The rebel troops known as the "religion protection army" composed of "four rivers and six mountain ridges" were formerly organized.
Early December 1958 The Gaxag government summoned "official representatives" to a secret enlarged meeting, during which they decided to rebel.
March 10, 1959 Armed rebellion broke out in Lhasa; under the cloak of darkness on March 17, the 14th Dalai Lama fled. On March 28, Premier Zhou Enlai issued a decree of the State Council ordering the PLA Tibet Military Area to suppress the rebellion. It also dissolved the local government of Tibet headed by the 14th Dalai Lama, and that the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region henceforth exercised local power.
The above list shows the acute struggle waged around the implementation of the 17-Article Agreement.
Riots in Tibet
Soon after the PLA entered Tibet, the so-called "people's assembly" whose members included Lukangwa Cewang Raodain and Benzhucang Lobsang Zhaxi, both pro-imperialist elements and supreme officials under the 14th Dalai Lama, produced a petition denounced the peaceful agreement and demanded that the PLA troops should leave Tibet. Three representatives of the pseudo "people's assembly" demanded entry into the area where the PLA troops were stationed for the delivery of the "petition" on March 31, 1952. In the meantime, more than 1,000 Tibetan troops and armed people surrounded the site. In Lhasa, armed people demonstrated and shouted slogans against the Central Government. Stores were forced to close.
On April 1, Lukangwa Cewang Raodain and Benzhucang Lobsang Zhaxi brought back to Lhasa two commanders in charge of artillery. Lamas with the three major monasteries in Lhasa, who were not clear about what was happening, also hit out. Large groups of armed men surrounded the Central Government Office in Tibet, the Tibet Work Committee, banks and foreign affairs office. My residence was also besieged. Gunfire was heard at night.
Under the correct leadership of the Central Committee and Chairman Mao, representatives of the Central Government and the PLA troops united with patriotic personages in the upper echelon of the ruling class in Tibet, and waged a staunch struggle against the rebels.
Zhang Jingwu, representative of the Central Government, went in person to the Potala Palace. He warned the Dalai Lama of the seriousness of the situation, and told him the Central Government was sincere in wanting to deal with the event in a political way. On April 27, the Dalai Lama ordered the Gaxag government to issue a decree declaring an end to the official status of the two rebel leaders and also declaring that the "people's assembly" was illegal, which helped restore calm.
The two leaders were not punished, and neither were Gaxag officials involved in the riots. Such a policy worked well and the situation was brought under control.
Establishment of the Preparatory Committee
In September 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Erdeni went to Beijing to attend the First Session of the First NPC. After the session, Chairman Mao met them separately, and told them that, under the 17-Article Agreement, a Military and Administrative Committee would be set up in Tibet. As similar ones had been disbanded throughout China, and many within the upper echelon of the ruling class in Tibet worried about the committee, I proposed the establishment of an autonomous region and Chairman Mao also discussed this with them.
With Li Weihan, head of the Central United Front Work Department, in charge, the local government of Tibet led by the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Kampus Assembly, the Qamdo People's Liberation Committee, and people sent by the Central Government to Tibet set up four groups. They discussed questions concerning the establishment of the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region. I was head of the group composed of people with the local government of Tibet. Opinions thus gathered were brought to the comprehensive group set up to take in charge of the founding of the Preparatory Committee under the direct leadership of the Central United Front Work Department. I was one of its members.
Through discussion, all agreed with Chairman Mao's proposal. On November 4, the four groups held the first meeting and they agreed on the establishment of an interim Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
On March 9, Premier Zhou Enlai held the seventh session of the State Council that adopted the Decision on the Establishment of the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region. This would be an organ exercising the political power under the leadership of the State Council.
After this, Chairman Mao met on separate occasions with the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni. I was present on one of these occasions. Chairman Mao spoke highly of the progress made by the groups and hoped they would work harder for national unity. "If the Preparatory Committee cannot be set up this year, then it can be next year."
Vice-Premier Chen Yi Visits Lhasa
On September 20, 1955, the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region opened an office in Lhasa comprising people of the aforementioned four groups. I was made the head largely because I was a Galoon official with the local government of Tibet, the first deputy commander of the PLA Tibet Military Area, and a full-powered delegate of the local government of Tibet sent to negotiate with the Central Government for the signing of the peace agreement.
On January 13, 1956, the CPC Tibet Work Committee submitted its proposal for the founding of the Preparatory Committee to the Central Government. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council approved the proposal and sent Vice-Premier Chen Yi to Tibet to offer congratulations.
On April 22, 1956, the ceremony for the founding of the Preparatory Committee for the Founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region was held in the Lhasa Auditorium. The 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Erdeni spoke, and, on behalf of the Preparatory Committee, I talked about the work the committee had done, and its organizational structure. Vice-Premier Chen Yi read out the decree of the State Council and, on its behalf, granted the seal of authority to the Dalai Lama.
The committee was composed of 51 members, including 15 representing the local government of Tibet, 10 from the Panchen Kampus Assembly, 10 the Qamdo People's Liberation Committee, and five from the Central Government, as well as 11 from other sectors such as monasteries, major religious sects and social organizations. The Dalai Lama was its chairman, the Panchen Erdeni its first vice-chairman, Zhang Guohua second vice-chairman, and I was its secretary general.
The Central Government persisted in the peaceful reform in Tibet in accordance with the 17-Article Agreement which says in Article 11 "In matters related to various reforms in Tibet, there will be no compulsion on the part of the central authorities. The local government of Tibet should carry out reforms of its own accord, and when the people raise demands for reform, they shall be settled by means of consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet."
According to policy, peaceful means would be used to reform the old system. All the officials with the Preparatory Committee, who were officials with the local government of Tibet, enjoyed high salaries. The purpose was to gradually turn them into civil workers.
Policy of No Change for Six Years
In 1956, Chairman Mao, in light of the domestic and international situation, decided to the effect that the Central Government policy with regard to Tibet would be unchanged for the next six years. In his two works entitled On Ten Major Relations and On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Within the People, he reaffirmed this policy.
In late November 1956, the Dalai Lama visited India. Tibetan separatists in exile there, including his two elder brothers, demanded he stay in India to campaign for "Tibetan independence." The Dalai Lama hesitated. Premier Zhou Enlai talked to him for three days in New Delhi and forwarded him a letter from Chairman Mao, informing him of the decision to the effect that the Central Government policy would see no change for six years. Premier Zhou told the Dalai Lama "You are holy in a way. But a Buddha could be a Buddha only when he is in a Buddha hall. Otherwise, he would not be a Buddha in the true sense. Your Buddha hall lies in Lhasa, and you should not move it to India." At this, the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet.
March 10 Rebellion
From 1951, the year Tibet won peaceful liberation, to 1959, the Central Government waited for the upper ruling class to "conduct reform among themselves". A small number of reactionary elements in the upper ruling class, however, misunderstood the situation and left no stone unturned to oppose the reform.
In July 1957, the Dalai Lama and the local government of Tibet conducted a large-scale summons ceremony in the Potala Palace, during which he accepted the golden throne and "petition" from the counter-revolutionary "four rivers and six mountain ridges" representatives. He gave them a blessing touch on their foreheads, and issued them with a talisman. Soon after this, a "religion protection army" was formed to foment rebellion.
In early December 1958, the Gaxag held a secret "enlarged meeting of representatives". They sought to reinforce the power of the Gaxag on the excuse of suppressing the Khamba rebellion and seeking the understanding of the Central Government. They also worked out a plan for armed rebellion in Lhasa.
On March 10, 1959, the 14th Dalai went to watch the performance given by the artists of the PLA Tibet Military Area in the latter's compound. Rumors spread that he and senior Gaxag officials had been kidnapped and would be flown to the hinterland by air. At eight in the morning, Lhasa was in turmoil, and large numbers of people moved toward the Norbu Lingka to "protect" the Dalai Lama. The area was surrounded by armed troops.
On March 9, the secretary general of the Dalai Lama had notified me and other Galoon officials of the performance in Norbu Lingka the following day. Before this, however, the Dalai Lama had decided that the invitees might go by themselves and there was no need for them to gather first in the Norbu Lingka. I felt something was wrong when I got the notice on the 9th. It happened that I had business to do that day, so I didn't go to the Norbu Lingka. It was that day, Kamqoin Parbla Soinam Gyamco, a member of the Preparatory Committee and a patriot, was beaten to death in front of the Norbu Lingka; and Sangpo Cewang Renzin, who used to be a Galoon and was deputy commander of the PLA Tibet Military Area, also suffered a beating.
Around midnight on March 17, the 14th Dalai Lama and some major officials of the local government of Tibet, their relatives and a garrison of some 600 fled from Lhasa heading for India. On the 20th, the armed rebels attacked the PLA troops and the Preparatory Committee, but were suppressed in three days. On the 28th, Premier Zhou issued the decree of the State Council announcing the dissolution of the Gaxag, and ordered the Preparatory Committee to exercise power as the local government.
The broad masses of the serfs and slaves in Tibet supported the suppression of the armed rebellion. And they helped bring an end to feudal serfdom.
People's Political Power
In the past, many have said "With the founding of the autonomous region, the Tibetans began to have their own political power." This is incorrect. As a matter of fact, Premier Zhou's decree that announced the end of the old political regime and authorized the Preparatory Committee to take over. The 10th Panchen Erdeni was made the first vice-chairman of the Preparatory Committee, with the position of chairman still left for the 14th Dalai Lama.
In April 1959, the NPC held its second session in Beijing. The 10th Panchen Erdeni and I, as well as other Tibetan deputies went to attend. On the 15th, Chairman Mao talked about the issue of Tibet at the 16th enlarged State Council meeting. He gave important instructions on the suppression of the armed rebellion and the forthcoming Democratic Reform.
Chairman Mao met with the 10th Panchen Erdeni and myself at Zhongnanhai. He said "It is good for you to stand for the suppression of the armed rebellion and conduct reform. The Democratic Reform is where the fundamental interests of the Tibetan people lie. I hope you do more work in favor of the Democratic Reform, so as to turn Tibet into a prosperous new land."
The Preparatory Committee did a lot of work thereafter
—At its second plenary session from June 28-July 17, 1959, adopting the Resolution on Democratic Reform.
—From December 20-27, the CPPCC set up its Tibet Committee. Tan Guansan served as its chairman and eight Tibetans including Gardain Triba Tubdain Gonggar became vice-chairmen.
—The Tibet Women's Federation was set up on June 15, 1960, with Ngapoi Cedain Zholgar serving as its chairperson, and Yang Gang, Huang Jingbo and Nazin as vice-chairpersons.
—By January 3, 1961, the Democratic Reform was completed in the farming area with a population of 810,000.
—In March 1963, the PLA Tibet Military Area announced full suppression of the armed rebellion.
Premier Zhou's Instruction
After the convocation of the NPC session in 1964, Premier Zhou Enlai talked to me and Parblha, saying "The 14th Dalai Lama could not help form the Tibet Autonomous Region. Now, both of you are in power. You two should shoulder the task. I hope you work hard to form the autonomous region, otherwise, the Tibetans won't have a favorable opinion of you."
At that time, various local offices had been set up in Tibet and efforts were being made to found people's governments at the county level. Conditions were ripe to found the Tibet Autonomous Region.
On September 1, 1965, the First Tibet Autonomous Regional People's Congress held its first session in the Working People's Cultural Palace of Lhasa. A total of 301 people attended; most of them being Tibetan farmers and herders who performed meritorious deeds in the suppression of the armed rebellion and promoting Democratic Reform. The session lasted for nine days. Zhang Guohua delivered a speech on political reform and I made a work report on behalf of the Preparatory Committee.
On the 8th, the session held elections. I was elected chairman of the people's committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the elected vice-chairmen included Zhou Renshan, Parblha Geleg Namgyi, Guo Xilan, Xierao Toinzhub, Namdain Gonggar Wangqug, Cuike Toinzhub Cering and Sengqen Lobsang Gyaincain. Lobsang Cichen was elected president of the Supreme People's Court of the Tibet Autonomous Region.