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On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet

The Nyemo Incident of 1969

Melvyn C. Goldstein

Publication Year: 2009

Among the conflicts to break out during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, the most famous took place in the summer of 1969 in Nyemo, a county to the south and west of Lhasa. In this incident, hundreds of villagers formed a mob led by a young nun who was said to be possessed by a deity associated with the famous warrior-king Gesar. In their rampage the mob attacked, mutilated, and killed county officials and local villagers as well as People's Liberation Army troops. This groundbreaking book, the first on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, revisits the Nyemo Incident, which has long been romanticized as the epitome of Tibetan nationalist resistance against China. Melvyn C. Goldstein, Ben Jiao, and Tanzen Lhundrup demonstrate that far from being a spontaneous battle for independence, this violent event was actually part of a struggle between rival revolutionary groups and was not ethnically based. On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet proffers a sober assessment of human malleability and challenges the tendency to view every sign of unrest in Tibet in ethno-nationalist terms.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

...graciously agreed to share their life experiences with us, as well as the excellent Tibetan researchers such as Sonam Gyatso, who helped collect the interviews used in this book. Goldstein alsowishes to thank theTibetAcademy of Social Sciences (Lhasa),whose researchers have offered him outstanding advice, assistance, and collaboration since 1985. We also thank Professor Toni...

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Explanation of Romanization,Brackets, and Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xxii

...the system of T.V.Wylie (1959). The phonetic rendering of Tibetan names, however, has no universally accepted standard, so sometimes Tibetan names and terms cited in quotations will vary considerably from those we use in the narrative; for example, Dzongpön is spelled in some quotations as Jongpoen, and Lobsang Samden is sometimes written as Lopsang Samten. Chinese names are cited in the pinyin used in the People’s Republic...

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pp. 1-10

...wisdom holds that on those two fateful days, hundreds of Tibetan villagers led by Trinley Chödrön, a young nun who believed gods were possessing and speaking through her, launched a series of bloody attacks against local officials and the troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stationed there. According to Chinese records, this force killed fifteen PLA soldiers, seven cadres, and thirty-two grassroots...

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1. The Cultural Revolution in Tibet

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pp. 11-58

...In 1966,Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to eliminate his enemies and reshape relationswithin 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 tomobilize themasses to discover...

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2. Gyenlo and Nyamdre in Nyemo County

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pp. 59-85

...While Gyenlo and Nyamdre were competing for control of offices and otherworkplaces in Lhasa, branches of both factions proliferated in other counties and prefectures throughout Tibet. In Nyemo, most of the leading Tibetan and Chinese cadres belonged to Nyamdre, and the overwhelming majority of villagers followed their lead, clearly making it the dominant revolutionary group. As in...

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3. Gyenlo on the Attack

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pp. 86-106

...By the start of October 1968, the harvest was winding down and the county was starting to convene rural meetings to discuss the amount of patriotic donation and sales grain to be turned in that year. ZhangYongfu and Rangjung took this as an opportunity to strike at Nyamdre by attacking the cadres in charge of collection...

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4. Destroying the Demons and Ghosts

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pp. 107-121

...As the time for themainNyemo attack approached, the nun, the warriorhero mediums, and some of the Gyenlo representatives began a wave of killings and maimings targeting those they called the internal enemies— or, more expressively, the “demons and ghosts.” Ani Gongmey Gyemo, for example, is reported to have said prophetically, “[First] [l]eave aside the external enemies and destroy the...

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5. The Attacks on Bagor District and Nyemo County

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pp. 122-136

...By June 1969, Rangjung and Zhang Yongfu were ready to eliminate the external enemies—the remaining pro-Nyamdre cadres, the Department of Armed Forces, and the Military Squadron, the last two of which were then effectively in charge of the county. However, as the time to attack neared, a platoon of fourteen PLA soldiers arrived unexpectedly in Bagor to carry out a propaganda campaign called...

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6. The Capture of the Nun

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pp. 137-161

...Gyenlo’s Army of the Gods dispersed after the defeat at Nyemo. Most of the common, less committed, villagers simply went home, but the main leaders and many of the more committed fighters went to Phusum, where they regrouped under Rangjung’s command, and consulted the nun/Ani Gongmey Gyemo about what to do. Her answer was clear. She gave them blessed barley and told them to...

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7. Conclusions

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pp. 162-171

...The Nyemo disturbance was not a spontaneous Tibetan nationalistic uprising against the Chinese “oppressor,” nor was it a revolt aimed at creating an independent Tibet. To the contrary, it was the outgrowth of a careful strategy orchestrated by a Maoist revolutionary faction (Gyenlo) to seize control of its county from a rival revolutionary organization (Nyamdre). Led by a Chinese cadre named ZhangYongfu...

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8. Epilogue

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pp. 172-182

...The Nyemo incident was one of many violent disturbances that occurred in the name of Gyenlo within a period of a few months in the spring, summer, and early fall of 1969. The proximity of these incidents raises the obvious question of whether they were the independent product of parallel social, political, and economic forces or whether they were an artifact of an underlying...

Appendix 1: The Nun’s Manifesto

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pp. 183-184

Appendix 2: Leaflet Publishing the Text of a Speech Criticizing the Regional Party Committee

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pp. 185-190

Appendix 3: The Truth about the Struggle to Seize the Power of the Tibet Daily Newspaper Office

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pp. 191-196


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pp. 197-212

Selected Glossary of Correct Tibetan Spellings

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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-228


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pp. 229-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780520942387
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520256828

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2009