Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. That and all the recent news from North Korea, especially the rumour that “dear leader” (Kim Jong-Il) was seriously ill, brought back memories of the time I was editor of the Tibetan language newspaper MANGTSO in Dharamshala in 1995 when “dear leader’s” father “Great Leader” (Kim Il-Sung) died and I had to scribble a quick report. Inevitably I came out with something way too extravagant and long for our small paper. The other editors, Lhasang Tsering la and Tashi Tsering la in their editorial wisdom  replaced it with a brief report in the news round-up column. My original piece is now, fifteen years later, admittedly not du jour, but the reader can have it for whatever entertainment value it might have retained.


Few pleasures can beat the funeral of someone you loathe. It is, I admit, not a very Buddhist sentiment, but I think karma (the hardcore, not the new age version) will, this once, overlook my rancor, when I add that the someone in question is the late Kim Il-sung.

Time has softened the image of this genuine monster, who modeled himself on Mao Zedong. Starting off as a Stalin protégé, Kim along with Pol Pot, became one of the most enthusiastic and successful practitioners of Mao’s theories of social engineering. In essence, this was to destroy or mutate everyone who presumed to individual aspirations, and bring society to the condition of a “blank sheet of paper” on which the leader could then brush-stroke in his new concept of a classless society. Kim’s deeds are not as well known as those of Pol Pot, primarily as Kim, his cronies and progeny have managed to hold on to power in the same way as the Chinese Communist Party has done.

Like Mao’s monumental mass murders, Kim’s crimes will probably be played down and gradually forgotten in the interests of international trade and diplomacy. What does it matter that Mao probably slaughtered more people in peace time than Stalin and Hitler put together? The victims were Chinese (and Tibetans), who don’t really feel pain the way a white man does, or understand or appreciate abstract concepts like freedom and democracy. Look at Hong Kong. An average person there would rather have a Mercedes than be free of Communist Chinese rule. But that’s all by the by.

Kim’s enthusiasm for Chairman Mao and his teachings seemed boundless. In the late sixties and seventies “The Great Leader” even attempted to physically look like “The Great Helmsman” and managed as well as anyone possibly could, short of undergoing plastic surgery. Bearing in mind that Kim had the considerable disadvantage of nowhere resembling Mao in the first place, it was quite the coup de théâtre.

I saw Kim’s funeral on TV. What I found particularly hilarious was the sight of North Korean marshals and generals — hundreds of them — beating their breasts in frenzied mourning, and flinging themselves before the colossal statue of the “Great Leader” in the main square in Pyongyang. Till then I had assumed that “beating one’s breast” was merely a figure of speech. All those North Korean military leader had their chest completely covered, à la Marshall Zhukov or Timoshenko, with rows upon rows, én echelon, of medals and other decorations. I suppose there must have been a lot of bruised knuckles after that funeral.

How genuine was all that display of grief? When someone, no matter how evil, has been your absolute leader, role-model, father-figure, teacher, bogeyman and God, continuously for over forty years, it is more than probable that you would succumb to some degree of trauma on his death. Genuine sadness? I think not.

Tibetans who were in Tibet at the time of Mao’s death (1976) told me that even before fully absorbing the implications of the news, their overriding concern was not to reveal their feelings to those immediately around them. Decades of practice had, of course, made them skilled at this. But now and then someone would slip up. A friend of mine from Lhasa (who is still there in an official position of some consequence, so no names will be revealed) told me that his work unit had to stand at attention, out in the sun for a full day, as a mark of respect for the departed Chairman. They stood lined up in formation. Just in front of my friend was someone with a large bald patch on the crown of his head. No hats or caps were permitted, of course. As the fierce Tibetan sun got higher and stronger, the back of the bald man’s head began to redden, and beads of sweat started to trickle down. My informant was standing alongside a friend of his who on noticing the discomfort of the person before them, started to go into a fit of giggles. This affected my informant too, who desperately tried to control himself. His friend unfortunately lacked similar resolve, for after a desperate struggle he burst out in a fit of laughter. He got eight years of “Reform through Labour”.

Another friend of mine, a former incarnate lama now living in New York, told me this story. As an ex-prisoner he was part of a probationary labour unit (laeme rukha) in a village outside Lhasa. Their team leader was an older woman, who was a real stakhanovite (Ch. jijifenzi), or hurtsunba as they are known in Tibet. Although no better off than the other wretched ex-prisoners in the unit, she was an absolute enthusiast for the party-line. This was in the period following the Cultural Revolution when everyone in the PRC had been reduced, mentally and physically, to near yidak (preta) state and Tibet was in the grip of a second famine.  The work team heard the news of Mao’s death over the loudspeakers when they were out in the fields. Everyone responded predictably, doffing their caps, lowering their heads, and keeping their thoughts to themselves. Except for the hurtsunba.

She started off predictably, weeping and wailing loudly. Gradually she worked herself up into a hysterical frenzy, screaming and shrieking at the top of her voice, and climaxing in a total collapse. She then lay spreadeagled on the ground, foaming at the mouth, only an occasional convulsion or moan indicating that she had not completely left this world. Her co-workers, including the Lama, carried her to her bare hut in the village and laid her on her bed. One of them pointed out that her “wind” condition (Tibetans believe that an imbalance in the “wind humour” or loong is the cause of hysteria) had to be lowered. Someone else volunteered the traditional cure for “wind imbalance” — massaging the temples (Tib. yama) of the head with butter. The supine hurtsunpa paused a moment in her moaning. Raising her head she wailed “There is no butter in this house”.


* The title refers to the ancient Etruscan and later Roman practice of holding lavish gladiatorial and wild beast games (where many prisoners were slaughtered) as a funeral rite to honor a dead leader or dignitary.


  1. Tenpa Dhargyal Gashi | June 26th, 2010 | 11:32 pm

    I heard of a similar story told first hand by my friend’s mother. They were also standing in the sun with their head bowed and the sun was shining rather diligently on this gentleman’s bald head and giving it a new found radiance and sparkle. She tried desperately to control herself. My friend’s mother whispered and beg her to control herself because she herself was in danger of getting infected with this laughter bug. Finally, desperately seeking to find a way out of this dangerous predicament, she wailed instead as loud as she could and fell on the ground crying for the great leader. Somehow she managed to redirect the energy into tears and god awful acting any professional wailers would have been proud of and managed to avert the dangerous situation. Otherwise, I am sure she would have joined the other gentleman for 8 years for the crime of laughter. True story.

  2. bhikshuni lozang | June 30th, 2010 | 9:38 pm

    Glad you had the wisdom to keep your original piece, and that we have the privilege of you sharing it with us here and now!

  3. bhikshuni lozang | June 30th, 2010 | 9:51 pm

    p.s. for benefit of the other non-literary types like me:


    Main Entry: du jour
    Pronunciation: \dü-ˈzhər, də-, -ˈzhu̇r, -ˈzhür\
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: French, literally, of the day
    Date: 1786

    1 : made for a particular day —used of an item not specified on the regular menu
    2 : popular, fashionable, or prominent at a particular time

    (c/o Webster’s Online)

  4. Pema Kadag | July 1st, 2010 | 7:32 pm

    Jamyang Norbu La
    Going through my son’s bookcase, after his moving out on his own, I found a First Edition of Seven Years in Tibet and skimmed through it this evening while watching Keith Olberman. On page 293 in the Chapter entitled “Tibet is Invaded”, the bottom paragraph, mentions the Amdo district being in the “Chinese Province of Chingnai” in reference to the search for the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in the form of the 14th. On page 295 it mentions how the search for the Dalai Lama was “being conducted in Chinese territory”. I do not know the dates when HH was found in Amdo. Please give me some explanation on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the statements made by Harrer regarding the area in question and the territory’s ownership

  5. Maria | July 4th, 2010 | 11:21 pm

    Pema not sure if JN will reply, sometimes he doesn’t unless important. so I just say something might clarify. His Holiness was found in ChingHai or Qinghai Prov. in Takster village, a muslim, Tibetan, Han village. It seems it was part of the “China” region at the time of discovery, under “Governer Ma” I think? This is not a worry though because this area had various historic border changes as did much of the borders. It doesn’t seem to matter what is “politicall correct” for His Holiness to be termed as Tibetan or founded as Dalai Lama in Tibet or Chinese territory. Fact was that it seems Tibet and China had o.k relations at times under the emperors of China when there were various waring states prior to the founding of the PRC in 1949. The Chinese people are not a trouble for Tibet as such; as much as just the “Communist” regime is. So even if His Holiness was founded as a ChingHai dialect speaker or Tibetan or even half Chinese or whatever people might say. It is the “Communist regime” that some Tibetans are against, not the Chinese per se. I understand it seems a big importance for Tibetans that His Holiness was found in Tibetan area, but I think you are not to matter so much about a very petty matter of the time. Historic borders were not secured as they are now, unfortunate for Tibet at the time.

  6. Mila Rangzen | July 4th, 2010 | 11:36 pm

    july 4th for america
    asylum for mankind!
    with people from 200 odd nations
    including us!
    sucking the juice of freedom
    for which american forefathers laid their lives
    independence from great britain
    a blessing for humanity!

    independence for tibet
    self-determination and dignity to tibetans!
    what more can we ask!

  7. tsering | July 6th, 2010 | 5:46 am

    Guys, Watch the HH/Katri/speaker video in New York. Very important.

  8. Jamyang Norbu | July 6th, 2010 | 10:14 am

    Pema Kadrag,
    HH was discovered in Amdo. Harrer has made a little mistake calling it a district, while in fact Tibetans regard it as one of the three provinces (cholkhas) of Tibet. At the time of the Dalai Lama’s discovery the whole province was under the rule of the Chinese Muslim (Hui) warlord, Ma Pufang, and we had to pay him ransom to get the child to Lhasa.

    Amdo or Qinghai was not”part of the “China” region at the time of discovery,” as Maria claims. It was in fact semi-independent war-lord domain, as I stated earlier, that only nominally acknowledged Guomindang central authority.

    Maria is wrong in claiming that “It is the “Communist regime” that some Tibetans are against, not the Chinese per se.” We are against all Chinese, Communists, Guomindang, Imperialists and capitalists, being in Tibet and exploiting and oppressing the people. All Tibetans should remember that in Eastern Tibet and Amdo, nearly all the Tibetan monasteries were (at one time or the other) destroyed and monks murdered, not just by the Communists but also by the Nationalist and Manchu imperial invaders as well.

  9. Kalsang Phuntsok | July 6th, 2010 | 2:42 pm

    Thanks Jamyang La for clearly defining the nature of our struggle with the so called CPC and the so called China. People don’t realise that the main wind that is fluttering the Communist flags over Potala and all the major monuments of Tibet is the Han people’s notion that they somehow own the land and people of Tibet. There are obvious benefits for the Hans to adopt that notion and support their corrupt government in this crime because they know how vast and resource rich Tibet is and how over-populated and polluted their lands are. This is simply a case of a larger population conquering smaller population (colonization), exploiting its resources and destroying its culture and language. Communist Party’s function is simply to cook up ways to somehow legitimize this crime in front of the world on behalf of the Han people. If this is not the case then the right thing for the Han people to do is show some principle and rise up against their corrupt government and pull out all the PLA troops and Han Colonizers from Tibet.

  10. Mila Rangzen | July 7th, 2010 | 12:00 am

    rangzen folks,
    where can i find the dvds for the godrukpa/tseten norbu independence symposium in ny, lhasang tsering/lobsang sangay/that lady debate in toronto, godrukpa march 10th speech in ny, question and answer session with chithue tsoktso/kalontripa in ny, jamyang norbu sft action camp training in ny, tetong/phurdo/losang kalon tripa debate in oregon?
    went to every store, website and youtube in vain. frustrating. all i got is the speeches by penpa tsering/ samdong lama, ny. that’s it. heard there were atleast five video cameras active. what happened? i want to see the other side of every page. it helps to build my argument and strengthen rangzen idea and spread it out with jet speed. like many others working full time and going school full time so often cant make it to these enriching discussion. by next year i will go full blown..exploiting web technolgy to its fullest to provoke the conscience of every common tibetan even if it means to be beaten up by the thugs and misguided innocents in the process and if necessary will go to dhasa for a showdown..hammering down the thick headedness of every so called leaders in dhasa.

    rangzen revolution!
    out ccp and its supporters!
    complete democratic revolution!
    in exile and in free tibet
    political injustice so rampant in dhasa!
    sheep lured by the salt on the plank
    gets pushed off the cliff
    one after the other
    by their own

    it is the duty of few like us
    to awaken the masses
    in bold terms
    to strike deep
    in the inmost recesses
    of the tibetan brain!

    read party system in 1988
    1997 found us helpless
    with tgie hell bent on
    nose dive
    powerless yet the idea of party system
    never rose then
    cant imagine it takes so long
    for an idea to take practical shape
    13 years gone
    never mind
    never too late
    let’s keep trying
    no matter what
    never allow leaders in dhasa
    to shut down our voices for complete democracy!
    thugs are thugs
    chinese or tibetans
    outcome is injustice

    help arm me with every intellectual/political/historical bullets! the greatest weapon i have is the fire within my chest but that alone is not reaching far enough. come join me. i have gathered some other debating slings but they are elementary and i am afraid may not be effective enough. but will keep trying. in the mean time let me eat the fruit of every one here..your knowledge, age, experience and leadership skills!
    it is unfortunate …rangzen leader like lhasang tsering is not connected to the internet! 21st century! blink! blink!
    help! thanx.

  11. Pema Kadag | July 8th, 2010 | 8:53 am

    What is the meaning of “Kadrag”?

  12. jigdel | July 9th, 2010 | 8:16 am

    Usually all Tibetan names have positive meanings. In your case, I don’t know how “Kadag” is spelled in Tibetan but if it is the one I am thinking about, then “ka” refers to “order” and “dag” refers to own, from the Tibetan word “dagpo” meaning “owner”, so the one who owns order, who do you think that is? King, emperor, of course. In other words, Holder of Throne; Pema refers to Lotus, and it signifies Purity. Kadag may refer to the descendents of Aristocratic family, tweaking from the word kudag, just a wild guess.

    Waiting for verification from Tibetan scholars…

  13. Rangwang | July 11th, 2010 | 8:19 am

    @JN – la “… The victims were Chinese (and Tibetans), who don’t really feel pain the way a white man does, or understand or appreciate abstract concepts like freedom and democracy.” I am somewhat sceptical with this comment. Or may be I misunderstood. Would you please expalin it in detail? Thanks

  14. Tenpa Dhargyal Gashi | July 11th, 2010 | 11:22 am

    ranwang, if you read the previous sentence, it will become clear:

    “Like Mao’s monumental mass murders, Kim’s crimes will probably be played down and gradually forgotten in the interests of international trade and diplomacy. What does it matter that Mao probably slaughtered more people in peace time than Stalin and Hitler put together? The victims were Chinese (and Tibetans), who don’t really feel pain the way a white man does, or understand or appreciate abstract concepts like freedom and democracy. Look at Hong Kong.”

  15. Mila Rangzen | July 12th, 2010 | 2:46 am


    I prefer bi-party which would include Tibetans from different province and sect in both the parties. This will reduce regionalism and sectarianism to a great extent and people will pay more attention to ideological wisdom and differences. EACH PARTY WILL SEE TO IT THAT THEIR CANDIDATE FOR KALONTRIPA IS ON A SORT OF CHOKA ROTATION BASIS TO MINIMIZE CHOKA FRICTIONS WITHIN THE PARTY. SOME SORT OF FAIRNESS. EG, OBAMA…A BLACK MAN ON WHITE MAJORITY DEMOCRATIC PARTY. If we introduce multi-party most probably there will be three major parties which will unfortunately be defined by the provincial lines despite some ideology in the party bible. Same disease will continue. For instance many Tibetans ill informed as they are believe that chushigangdruk is for dhotoes and TYC is for utsangs when the fact is they are BOTH open to all Tibetans for membership.

    6. Lower house(at least 30 mps DEPENDING ON HOW MANY VOTING REGIONS)
    7. upper house(10 mps per province and 2 mp per sect. they must be men of learning)
    8. Population/residency based MP representation
    10. NO TO provincial AND SECTARIAN REPRESENTATION politics!

    if we do not introduce bi-party system SOON all hell can break lose with kalontripa fever raging high IN OUR COMMUNITY and politicians are likely to pounce by hook or crook to get the seat.

    let me share with you what can happen and how. no biases here. no emotions here please.

    scenario #1 some dhotoe individuals lets say in mundgod may scream in the heat of passion that all DHOTOES must vote for a dhotoe LEADER like lobsang sangay for the kalon tripa position. and no one else! this will definitely provoke the utsangs AND FORCE THEM to campaign for a utsang leader like tetong or godrukpa to win the election. however, dotoe politicians won’t do this because they know they will lose if game is played by choka cards because utsangs form the majority. 75% of tibetans in exile are utsangs.

    the other scenario is that an utsang katri candidate or a supporter of him might exploit this votebank by throwing regional colors all over in india, butan, nepal and elsewhere. when this happens there can be clashes even physical ones. unfortunate indeed. GOOD MEN FAIL US WHEN SYSTEM SUCKS. WE NEED TO CHANGE THE STRUCTURE OF OUR DEMOCRACY for once and all.

    with BI-PARTY SYSTEM such fears and divisions have no place and ofcourse no meaning. making sense? or is tgie going to wait and learn the hard way?


  16. bhikshuni lozang | July 13th, 2010 | 10:38 am

    Re: @Tsering (#7) and @Mila (#10):

    If someone knows where to find links to these videos then please post them here c/o JN and/or on the UTsang facebook page!

  17. Sheila | July 13th, 2010 | 6:42 pm

    The Wikipedia entry for Taktser states,

    “…Huis have been the main ethnic group in the area since the Qing Dynasty (1644). In 1935, the village…consisted of 17 households, 15 of which were Tibetan.”

    Even I can labor through this math to determine that 15 out of 17 means Takster was actually a Tibetan-majority area; therefore “area” presumably expands many hundreds of miles east until enough Hui can be found to mumble the words “majority-Hui” with less embarrassment. Probably just shy of Lanzhou.

    Actually many Chinese east of there were not Hui at all (my dad & uncle remember eating at “the Mohammedan shops” versus the regular shops in 1940s LZ), but I think the CPC likes to sprinkle Huis liberally into conversation as a sort of “imperialism diffuser,” anything to get the topic away from “Tibetan versus Chinese.” Hui are “Chinese” or “other than Chinese” at the Party’s convenience.

    I wish I had 10 lives and 10 bodies just to deal with the Barefoot Wikidoctors; they’re also going ape about this “first language thing.”

    Didn’t HH’s older brother speak perfectly good Tibetan upon entering the monastery? And HH’s dad’s people spoke a dialect influenced by Uke (descendants from the old Lhasa regiment), and his mom spoke a variety of Amdoke? It seems to me one of the defining questions is whether HHDL spoke *only* Chinese or *also* Chinese. If his parents only spoke Chinese at home, how could HHDL’s older brother speak fine Tibetan? In his book Taktser Rinpoche says something like, “Even more mysterious was that when these men would visit, they and my father would speak in a Sining dialect of Chinese.” If Sining Chinese was the language of the house, it could hardly seem mysterious.

    And HHDL says in his first book “In our family dialect we still used many words from the Phempo district, rather than the east: words like cheney for bowl and khenbu for spoon.”

    Anyway, I wonder sometimes if both Sining dialect and Tibetan were used in the family, and obviously across the generations in Takster increasingly more Chinese was used, but as a gesture of reconciliation today HHDL emphasizes what use of Chinese there was in 1935. Certainly the 50 Cent Gang has seized upon this as “proof the Dalai Lama is Chinese” and they’ve even drummed up a “historical Chinese family surname” for him.

    I guess if it doesn’t bother him it shouldn’t bother me. Yet I’d still like those 10 bodies.

  18. Tenpa Dhargyal Gashi | July 13th, 2010 | 9:44 pm

    Shiela, didn’t you know Mongols were Chinese before they invaded China? The same with Manchus too. I am sure Nepal will be Chinese soon before long when the 50-cent party get around to re-inventing history.

  19. Mila Rangzen | July 13th, 2010 | 10:05 pm

    Watch the full video of the first North America Kalon Tripa Debate among Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Kasur Tenzin N. Tethong and Phurbu Dorjee on July 5, 2010 in Portland, Oregon.

    The debate was organized by the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association to celebrate the 75th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

  20. Dan | August 4th, 2010 | 1:45 pm

    Nice guess Jikdral, but Pema-laa, isn’t that part of your name spelled ka-dag, and doesn’t that mean pure from the letter ka, with ka being the first letter of the alphabet, in which case we might translate it pure from the letter A (or pure from the word ‘Go,’ or primordially pure)?? Part of my reason for thinking this is the correct meaning is just that Nyingmas are more likely to name their children Pema, aren’t they? And ka-dag is a Nyingma concept, right?

  21. Kalsang | August 17th, 2010 | 11:42 am

    Dear Tenpa Dhargyal Gashi La:

    But did YOU also know that USA, Pakistan, Kashmir (Muslim part), some African countries are potential participants in your jolly list of Chineseness 😉

  22. Mark | May 31st, 2016 | 1:03 pm

    Mao was one of the worst things to happen to history.

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