Deconstructing Ngabo (In 1980)

When the Kashag issued its effusive eulogy of the late Ngabo Ngawang Jigme – within twenty four hours of his death (a record time for any official response to anything to date) – some people expressed surprise, even dismay at Dharamshala’s action. What such people failed to take into account in their reasoning was the irresistible momentum of “historical inevitability”, as a Marxist would put it. When the Prime Minister of Tibet now informs reporters that the issue of Tibet is the internal affair of the PRC, and that China’s population-transfer railway will benefit the economic welfare of the ordinary Tibetan; and when even the Dalai Lama himself confides to the Sunday Times (May 18, 2008) that “I am very much looking forward to becoming a citizen of the People’s Republic of China” , then, of course, the Kashag statement about Ngabo must be seen as only following in the natural order of things.

Under such circumstances Ngabo and his counterpart Phuntsok Wangyal, far from being branded traitors must be regarded  as genuine patriots, perhaps even as saint-like figures in the pantheon of the Middle Way belief system. Serious consideration should even be given to the possibility that Ngabo and Phunwang (as professor Goldstein affectionately refers to him in the latter’s  biography)  were in fact the true pioneers of the Middle Way doctrine.

All that there is left to be done now to honour the memory of the departed is for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) to award Ngabo its prestigious Light of Truth Medal (posthumous, 1st class).

Thirty years ago, I suspected that something like this was beginning to happen in Dharamshala when the first delegation went to Tibet. I wrote a series of articles in the Tibetan Review on this issue, in one of which I attempted a lengthy evaluation of Ngabo. I was wrong then about Ngabo “disobeying specific orders and retreating from Chamdo without firing a shot”. We now know that he had radioed Lhasa for permission to retreat from Chamdo. The permission came  very late, and Ngabo’s hurried withdrawal ended in his capture and surrender. He was not a competent general but our military defeat in 1950 cannot in all fairness be blamed entirely on him. Otherwise I stand by what I wrote about Ngabo and Phuntsok Wangyal in my Review article, which was reprinted in a collection of my essays entitled, Illusion and Reality, and published by TYC in 1989.


ROGUE’S GALLERY (Tibetan Review, May 1980)

China-watchers have always considered official photographs, such as the May Day line-up of party bosses, as invaluable instruments to measure not only fluctuations in party hierarchy but even possible changes in policy.  Since the politics of Dharamshala now seem to be a equally shrouded in mystery and silence as those of the most uncommunicative totalitarian nation, I have, of late, been increasingly forced to adopt the oblique methods of China-watchers to learn what new policies, what fresh surprises, our masters in Gangchen Kyishong might have in store for us.

Before I present the fruits my latest research, I must beg the reader’s consideration and ask him to hunt up last month’s Tibetan Review and take good look at the photograph on page seven.  The same picture is on the front cover of the last issue of the Tibetan Bulletin,  the official newsletter of the government-in-exile.

Well now, what do we have here?  It is a group shot of the five man delegation from Dharamshala posing with “three prominent Tibetans in Beijing”.  Three members of our delegation are kneeling unctuously in the foreground, while the two other members (ministers of the Tibetan Cabinet) are dutifully standing on the two opposite sides. The pre-eminent and central position is occupied by the figures of the three “prominent Tibetans in Beijing”, and they are: His Serenity the Panchen Lama, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, and Baba Phuntsog Wangyal.  Certainly, the Panchen Lama’s religious standing and his admirably courageous and patriotic conduct in the face of repeated tortures and imprisonment entitles him to whatever prominence we can accord him, even if it be only the central position in a group photograph. But what about the other two?

Ngabo Ngawang Jigme was the commander of the Tibetan forces in Chamdo when the Chinese attacked on October 7th, 1950.  Disobeying specific orders, he retreated from Chamdo without firing a shot, and later surrendered to Chinese troops.  His conduct then, even by the laws of an enlightened nation, was sufficiently disgraceful to warrant a court martial and at least a dishonorable discharge. Instead he was appointed to head the delegation to Beijing to negotiate the 17-Point Agreement which he and his colleagues, without the authorization of the Tibetan government, blithely proceeded to sign.

An excuse was later made for this scandalous behavior on the grounds that the delegates had signed under “duress”. Yet it is certain that the Chinese had not tortured these people or even threatened them with death.  After all, those were the days when the Communists were keen as mustard to make a good impression. Most probably a little judicious bluster was sufficient to make Ngabo and his fellow delegates sign. Have I exaggerated the lowness of their behavior? I really don’t think so.  Even now this sort of miserable cowardice is more the rule than the exception among Tibetan officials.  Let me digress a little and provide an example.

In 1978, after the mysterious murder of Gunthang Tsultrim,  some leaders of the “13 Group” settlements and their followers roared into Dharamshala where they proceeded to literally bully the Kashag and the People’s Assembly.  These people certainly had genuine grievances but many of their charges were not only ridiculous but patently untrue; and their way of presenting it, by bluster and physical intimidation, was not only an insult to the dignity of the Tibetan government but a direct challenge to it’s authority.  Yet the frightened ministers and officials, instead of handling this problem in a firm and understanding manner, fell over themselves trying to please these people; and also made a disgraceful concession, which for decency’s sake, is better left unmentioned.

Getting back to our friend Ngabo, after the occupation he made himself notorious by his constant association with the Chinese authorities. In 1959, when the people of Lhasa rose up and surrounded the Jewel Park to protect the Dalai Lama, and when all the cabinet ministers hurried there to consult with His Holiness, Ngabo (who was also a cabinet minister) instead rushed to the Chinese army camp to seek protection. The Chinese also set up barricades to protect Ngabo’s residence.  From the Chinese camp Ngabo wrote to His Holiness telling him to “destroy the hostile designs of the reactionaries”, and warned him that any escape attempt would be futile.  After the revolt Ngabo was rewarded by the Chinese with prominent administrative posts, and through the years he has continued to make a number of speeches and broadcasts condemning the Tibetans who had revolted and repeating that Tibet was an inalienable part of China.

Now, Baba Phuntsog Wangyal is another kind of specimen altogether, and a rather unique one at that.  He was a Communist much before the invasion, and I have heard, whether true or not, that he was in the Red Army even during the time of the Long March.  He came to Lhasa before ’59, spying for the Communists, and although the Tibetan government seemed to have known his background, nothing effective was done to stop him.  He flew his true colours after the invasion, and diligently continued to serve his Chinese masters for many years, until some internal party wrangle consigned him to a temporary oblivion.

There are some mitigating circumstances in his case.  He was born in an area of Kham long under Chinese administration and his Communist beliefs seem to be genuine and sincere.  But even then I don’t think we can afford to forgive or overlook his crimes.  After all, when he betrayed his people he was a grown man, sound in mind and knowing well what he was doing.  And treason is treason, whatever the motives: money, revenge, ambition, or ideology.  It is also very likely that a betrayal undertaken for some faith or ideology is the most dangerous of its kind.  Since the traitor is then not being driven by vulgar considerations such as money or ambition, he will feel his motives to be pure, and subsequently pursue his objective with much more fanatical zeal than a mercenary sort of traitor would. I think Orwell made such an observation in one of his essays.

Personally, I have nothing against Ngabo or Phuntsog Wangyal, and it could well be true that Ngabo is “intelligent and congenial” and Phuntsog Wangyal “progressive”, as their apologists maintain. In fact someone who knew Ngabo intimately told me he was a most charming and unassuming person, and I have no reason to doubt this.  But what of it?  The matter hinges on whether we think of ourselves as a nation or not. If we do, there must be certain rules of conduct binding on everyone, and we must certainly draw the line at treason.

But let us drop this talk of traitors and treason. I don’t want to give the impression that I am witch-hunting or needlessly venting my patriotic spleen on two rather old and shabby creatures, who will, anyway, eventually come to a bad end if the wheel of karma  is still doing its stuff.  My main reason for dredging up these unsavoury cases was to enlighten the reader on the contemporary turn of events in which these two characters play a part.

Let us ask ourselves, as the Americans would say, the 64,000 dollar question:  What does it mean when Dharamshala proudly releases a photograph of our cabinet ministers and officials, not only posing happily with these two turncoats, but actually acknowledging their superiority by according to them the central position in the group? And let’s not also forget to ask why the Dalai Lama’s own brother, Lobsang Samten, is cheerfully kneeling before these wretches.

I think one can reasonably assume tha Dharamshala now tacitly acknowledges that Ngabo and Phuntsog Wangyal were not only right in their behaviour, but that they are now to be recognized and respected as some kind of national leaders (superior to cabinet ministers).  It is a long shot, but a fairly safe one to further assume that Dharamshala is now prepared to travel on the same road that these traitors took many years ago.

The policies of Dharamshala have for the past many years puzzled even its most ardent supporters. But now a distinct and sinister pattern is beginning to emerge which can no longer be ignored.  Why did Dharamshala insist on the surrender of the Tibetan resistance forces in Mustang, even when a number of the officers committed suicide in protest?  Why did the minister, Phuntsog Tashi Takla, in charge of the surrender proceedings, suddenly leave Nepal before any written treaty had been concluded, giving the Nepalese the perfect excuse to murder a number of the leaders including the commander, Wangdu, and imprison some of the others?  Why, in more recent years, has Dharamshala not only discouraged but actively opposed any kind of meaningful patriotic activity?

In March, 1977, thousands of Tibetans converged on Delhi, and after a violent demonstration before the Chinese Embassy, commenced a hunger strike before the office of the U.N. representative.  The hunger strike was unexpectedly and dramatically successful.  Not only did the Janata Party (then the new ruling party) pledge, in writing, to help in the struggle for Tibetan independence, but many ministers of the Indian government and national leaders like Jaya Prakash Narayan and Acharya Kripalani personally reiterated this pledge.

The American Embassy also took a very sympathetic attitude and promised to do all it could to convey to President Carter the legitimacy of the Tibetan issue and the need for American support on the question of human rights for Tibetans.  No other Tibetan activity in India had received so much publicity since 1959. The strike was given extensive coverage, not only in Indian and international papers, but also by various Indian and foreign television networks.  Nearly every Tibetan refugee was galvanized by this movement and sympathy strikes took place, not only in India, but also abroad.

However, Dharamshala condemned this movement, branded its leaders as “spies and traitors”, denigrated the pledges of the Janata Party as “useless”, and in the name of the Dalai Lama forbade any kind of patriotic movement of this sort.  But what hurt everyone the most was the totally unfounded and scurrilous accusation that the eight hunger-strikers had secretly taken vitamin pills and other nutrition during their vigil.  They were all poor, mostly old soldiers and a middle-aged lady, and to stoop so low, to cast such a vile slur on the selfless courage and sacrifice of these humble people, was an act of unspeakable meanness and petty-mindedness.  Even now I cannot think of it and not feel deep despair at the depths of moral degeneracy to which our ruling class has sunk.

So here are the facts. Even if we were to give Dharamshala every possible benefit of the doubt and not interpret the data in the light of a conspiracy, the facts would still force themselves very uncomfortably into our suspicions.  No doubt our cabinet ministers will wail their protests and repeat for the umpteenth time that they have no intention of surrendering to the Chinese; but a man who steadily drinks a bottle of whiskey a day does not also, necessarily, have intentions of getting cirrhosis of the liver.

Let the reader decide for himself. All I want, before concluding, is to advise him or her to once again study the photograph closely. It may make him or her feel like throwing up, but even then, this disgusting portrait of our leaders smirking ingratiatingly and sucking-up to traitors and base scoundrels will at least convey an immediate physical impact, which my inadequate description and analysis may not.  Didn’t a Chinese sage once say that “a picture was worth a thousand words” ?

May 1980


52 Replies to “Deconstructing Ngabo (In 1980)”

  1. Yes, this photo does make you want to throw up. and why is it so amusing to groucho to be kneeling in infront of the ultimate chinese running dogs.

    I must confess I don’t have in depth knowledge of what went on during the 17 point agreement other than what is the common knowledge which is that these people betrayed our nation. Obviously they are cowards and traitors. But I have also heard conflicting things about Ngabo’s regard for Tibetans. Is it possible he had change of heart after he did what he did and wasn’t able to undo his actions because he was not brave enough to death or harsh life in prison? Nothing is good enough excuse for what he did to Tibet. But is it possible there are things he did for Tibetans similar to what the Panchen Rinpoche did?

  2. Now its time for JN’s followers to upbeat his ideology and criticize Exile govt and Dalai Lama.

    As far as my knowledge, Ngabo was and has been patriotic for Tibet’s cause and culture. Although we (including JN) had never met him personally and knew his patriotic soul, but by assuming the words those person like Gyalo Dhondup and first Delegation group, it seems that he should not be consider in the same par as Jampa Phuntsok and Ragdi who are the best example to display as the result of Chinese influential person. No other Tibetan has been ever duped successfully by Chinese Yuan power.

  3. Thanks for the article and it is enlightening to see that you observed the slow death of rangzen even way back then. Quite remarkable actually and we are finally being smacked out of our stupor by this apparently ‘sudden’ change of heart in Gankyi on the status of Ngabo. That is what middlepath does to a cause, it compromises your soul and at the end you gain nothing but cobwebs of your own making.

    If Ngabo has done something for Tibetans like Panchen Lama did, then he would have seen some time in the labour camp and since he didn’t and is probably one of the few elites that escaped, then we can safely conclude his own skin was of paramount concern to him. Ngabo is a traitor. It is as clear as day and if one cannot make a judgment call on that, then I must question your ability to reason altogether.

    Not that it matters, but I wasn’t aware he had permission to retreat from the central govt. Robert Ford is pretty damn clear about the conduct of Ngabo at Chambo and it is also likely, after he spend most of his time there dismantling the defences and disbanding the local militia, he did not have the stomach for war and could have exaggerated his predicament to warrant a retreat. But a full transcript would be needed to make that assumption. And also, he is well known for having the most unassuming personality with a charm that rivals even Choi Enlai himself. He reminds me of one of the characters in lord of rings, Saruman the white, the head of the druids, who had music for his voice and mastery of human emotion and the ability to make any situation appear reasonable and acceptable.

    “His voice was “low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment […] it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire woke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves … for those whom it conquered the spell endured while they were far away and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them.”
    —The Two Towers Book III Chapter X p.222

  4. Jamyang la ! Thank you for being someone that will never give up on the truth !

    It´s a shame that people like you have no interest/ place in the dirty game of politics in which truth, pride and honour play no role !

    Love and respect…FREE TIBET !

  5. Enough is enough, we should stop pretending ourselves and start calling chicken a chicken. The eventual blame lies with you-know-who; and that’s where it should be cos nothing moves without him beating the drum, not even Samdhong. Let’s stop trying to cure the wound without taking out the bullet.

  6. “. . . until some internal party wrangle consigned him to a temporary oblivion.”

    This is not an adequate summary.

    On suspicion of local nationalism (it was considered damning that he owned a well-thumbed copy of Lenin’s _On the Right of Nationalities to Self-Determination_), Phuntsog Wangyal was kept in solitary confinement for eighteen years, and when released (two years before this photograph was taken), he couldn’t do much more than drool. That he recovered his mind and, after the turn of the century, wrote a series of letters to the leaders of the P.R.C. criticizing their Tibet policy, suggests he may deserve a more complicated assessment.

    None of which weakens your case against the TGiE, though.

  7. Tempa dargay gyapshi, I am merely asking a question. now matter how insulting you want to be by questioning a person’s ability to reason for asking a question (instead of blindly condemning a person as traitor for not suffering in jail which is your reasoning)i will not be drawn into defending ngabo’s other actions. i merely want to get more insight into this person about whom I have personally heard conflicting things from few people.
    One of the things I like about the Buddha is he was open to questions. Even of his belief system.

  8. Dawa, that statement wasn’t meant for you personally and was only meant as a general observation of the current status of Ngabo. How can it implicate you when you yourself admitted you didn’t know much about the topic? Now, if you want to lable yourself thus, then it is a free country, and I wouldn’t want to intrude upon your rights. I have done ample research on Ngabo and used my god given acumen to come to a reasonable conclusion and I am willing to stand by my stance. Now, if you have some unique information that can cast new light on this issue, I would certainly welcome your insight along with Ngabo’s secret plan to kill the entire red army with tsampa and salt tea once they have assembled in Tibet.

  9. TDG,
    I thought you were talking about my last sentence of post #1 in your second paragraph. But fair enough I don’t have any information about Ngabo’s secret plots for or against Tibetans. All I have is what I heard from few people in conversations and wanted to hear more. But I had made it clear that I am not going to be an apologist for Ngabo. I was just trying to know more about this whole deal.

  10. What about the assertion (fact?) that young, pliable Ngabo was ordered (or did he really volunteer for the coveted spoils of governorship of Kham?) to Chamdo because no one else in Lhasa had the gondo to go and take a stand? Had the Kashag not written off Kham already — or even written off rangzen already at this point, leaving the fate of the nation in a (willing) scapegoat’s hands? In any case, it seems appeasement has always been option #1…well before that picture was taken.

  11. Jamyang la,
    Thanks for the well researched article. Well that was written then? that just shows how critically and accurately You foresaw these pathetic and psychotic policy of our exile govt.
    Thank you for still sticking on to our cause. Ngabo and Phunwang are traitors period. You hear me, people.You know who i am referring to. Its you, who seemed to enjoy what Jamyang la writes and then without any facts criticizes him like as if they were paid by Chinese/Tibetan Govt.Its high time we send these two people in our history’s “hall of shame.”
    Country men, Don’t be Hypocrites. You are too kind and understanding to give them (our traitors) the benefit of doubt. But, you are so ready to attack and discredit the only Tibetan brain, Jamyang Norbu.


  12. As I wrote before, Ngabo has done the right thing in withdrawing Tibetan armies during 59s. He understood that our brother would be killed simply without getting any favour in return. He saw the numberless of Chinese armies flocking from otherside. Facing such a sophisticated armies is only like fighting your head against the wall, he knew it. Of course it seems like cowardice acts, but if you were honest army leader and if you think properly, you would support his actions. He hasnot done the withdrawal acts voluntarily but only by asking for permission from Kashag.

  13. I posted the following comment on Phayul as well.. When I browsed through the replies on here, the first thing that stricked me is this: “Now its time for JN’s followers to upbeat his ideology and criticize Exile govt and Dalai Lama.” from SERAJAMPA.

    Jamyang la, what is your ideology that ‘SERAJAMPA’ speak of? SERAJAMPA makes it seem like your ideology is to ‘criticize Exile govt. and Dalai Lama’. I know it is not and I have no doubt that you are patriotic and rational, but I am afraid of few empty headed individuals (and even Chinese govt. sympathizers) may take your rational arguments to their advantage. (I am sure you know that Chinese govt. has quoted your article on Mangtso in their piece condemning exile Tibetan institution and the Dalai Lama – Again, it is Chinese govt. who are misusing this, but so many Tibetans are angry at you for that.. I am not sure if they are right in getting angry at you as it is out of their loyalty to Tibet and HHDL that they got angry… ).
    Anyways, these are complicated, and I am just a toddler compared to you when it comes to Tibet/China/and life in general… may be I’ll appreciate your work when I am bit more mature…

    Well, below is my note from Phayul…..

    Thank you…

    Before I began, we must understand that, thus far no one has done an in-depth and unbiased/scholarly analysis on Ngabo’s life. We need one! Without that many would rely on sources who claim to know-it-all while in-fact their information could very well be based only on bits and pieces of information and written with strong ideological leaning towards this or that side of the current political argument.

    That said, here are few things that I would like to raise based on this assessment:

    1. Chamdo surrender was the beginning of the Ngabo controversy and in this essay, it was authoritatively stated that ‘[Ngabo] Disobe[d] specific orders, [and] he retreated from Chamdo without firing a shot.. ‘. If I take these sentences for its face value, I would right away assume that Ngabo’s action were wrong and acceptable given the gravity of the political situation at the time. But one should not ASSUME. One must not. We have to understand and assess social/political/economical circumstance of the time to fully grasp why Ngabo made this decision. So I re-pose this question: Why did Ngabo made this decision?

    2. In the next paragraph about signing the 17th point agreement, it reads, ‘An excuse was later made for this scandalous behavior on the grounds that the delegates had signed under “duress”.’ This sentence and the paragraph it contains, I think, is a dangerous assumption, because if it were true that the Tibetan delegates were not under “duress” in Beijing at the time, than we (the Tibetan side) have been lying about this for the last fifty years!!! If it were, signed blithely (word used in the essay – I had to look it up in Dictionary), why did HHDL and Tibetan Govt. accepted Ngabo’s and the delegations’ explanation in the ‘Mimang Tsundue’? Following that, the Tibetan govt. and HHDL accepted the terms and lived in Tibet for the next eight years. (We don’t like what had transpired at the time, but we must assess the situation based on information we have. And for this, I think it is important to read accounts from Tibetan delegates who were there with Ngabo and later came into exile.)

    3. Reflecting on choices Ngabo made throughout his life, we have to put ourself on his shoes and think for a moment before claiming anything: What would I have done in that situation? If you are able to do that, please write a book on his life and present us his side of the story. Otherwise, we owe it to the people inside Tibet – including late Ngabo, who doesn’t have freedom to say what they want – to research throughly as possible before pointing finger (of historical scapegoat) at them. We must keep in mind that there are thousands of Tibetans in power in Tibet today who have made the choices, based on many complex rational, to serve the Chinese government and its apparatus that holds Tibet with an iron fist. Should we lump them in the ‘traitor’ side of the equation, as well?

    All I am saying is, we must not be haste in making the judgement, particularly on complex political situations…

    So to answer the question I posed as title of this response, ‘Who really knows Ngabo?”, I think there are very few people who knows him and I don’t think they are not saying anything out loud at the moment!!!

  14. Lang Dharma:

    I guess you didn’t read the article properly. If you had, you would have noticed Jamyang Norbu specifically stating in the beginning of the article that he “…was wrong then about Ngabo “disobeying specific orders and retreating from Chamdo without firing a shot”. We now know that he had radioed Lhasa for permission to retreat from Chamdo.” It is interesting that Tsering Shakya didn’t mention this last bit of communication as he stated clearly in his book (The Dragon in the land of snows)that Kyakpai Lingka (shit party) uttered by Tsogo, one of Ngabo’s official, was the last communication between Lhasa and Chamdo. And that he and his officials ran away in the middle of the night. Robert Ford, one of the witness at Chamdo, didn’t paint too pretty a picture of Ngabo. What was he thinking when he dismantled the defensive measures set up by Lhalu? Why didn’t he sent the spare radio to the front which would have helped him ascertain the chinese troop movement? Why did he disband the local militia that were ready, willing, and able to fight? Does these actions sound like a man preparing to fight?

    2)Now with the 17 point agreement, the question mainly rest on the fact whether Ngabo had the authority to sign the document without consulting Tibetan govt. It is pretty clear that he did not. Tsering Shakya went on further to state Ngabo for some unknown reason deliberately lied to the Chinese that he had the full authority to sign the document when he didn’t. Was he under duress? Was he threatened? How reliable are the other members of the parties who are also indelibly linked to this national shame? The only reality is that he signed it without any authority where others would have given their lives. Why Tibetan govt. later agreed to go along has a lot to do with other geo-political things happening at that time but it was still a bad move regardless. We have to go with whatever the truth is and if it states that Ngabo signed it of his own free accord, then we must accept it like it. Lets stop lying.

    3) Your third point is confusing. You ask us to put ourselves in his shoes and then ascertain what we would have done in his place and then you tell us to write his story if we could answer that. I know what I would have done but I also know that is not the answer you are looking for and also I don’t think that still qualifies me to write his story. What we have are what he actually did and what others in similiar position have done, like Panchen Lama and even Baba Phunstok Wangyal and from that we can draw a reasonable conclusion. You don’t need to know the whole evolution process to come to a reasonable hypothesis(the scientific one) just as every side doesn’t have a 50/50 shot of being right (a pink unicorn cannot be proven to exist but that doesn’t mean we think it has a reasonable chance of existence). If there are few people who know him and has a new information to shed on this, why are they not coming forward? Who is stopping them from speaking up in exile? What threats are looming over their head now? They are probably old enough to kiss the world goodbye anyway, what need is there for any more secrets especially when TGIE considers Tibet an integral part of China?

  15. To Lang Dharma: You wrote,

    “I think there are very few people who knows him and I don’t think they are not saying anything out loud at the moment!!!”

    What possible reason could be there for these people to hide when the highest office of exile Tibetans has already declared him a patriot. If there is any danger to life of these people, why is Kashag not working hard to protect them by clearing the doubts of those outraged by its obituary.

  16. Jamyang la, why don’t you put up your other works on sale as well? People are interested in reading your work and they are not accessible. I’ve read your Shadow Tibet and want to read others as well. It is better to spend money on something insightful than squandering away on watching cheap bollywood films and other trivial things in life.

  17. KALSANG PHUNTSOK la… Thank you for reading the reply and prompting a question.

    My assertion is that those who knows Ngabo and his actions well are in Tibet, and thus not free to express freely like us.

    So all I am saying is, for those who have freedom to express our mind to not to be haste in our judgement, especially on those who are in Tibet;

    It is important that we try to understand their predicament of living under Chinese Military regime … We must not forget we are not being tested and monitored constantly on whether we are saying the right thing or NOT, and behaving the right way or NOT – Tibetans in Tibet are;


  18. TENPA DHARGYAL GAPSHI la… Thank you for your in-depth reply…

    1. I must admit that I hadn’t read the beginning of the article well enough to see that Jamyang la had admitted his mistake of writing authoritatively about something that he didn’t fully knew. My bad! But that doesn’t change my argument.

    On the same topic, you raised few very important questions, ( What was he thinking when he dismantled the defensive measures set up by Lhalu? Why didn’t he sent the spare radio to the front which would have helped him ascertain the chinese troop movement? Why did he disband the local militia that were ready, willing, and able to fight? Does these actions sound like a man preparing to fight?) that we don’t have a good answer even now because there is no freedom to do proper research in Tibet. These are historical matters that needs to be studied carefully.

    2. On the 17th point and the argument of it being signed under ‘duress’ or not, I am raising a point that if Ngabo and the company were not under ‘duress’ than, we have been lying about it… If you read any circular from TGIE, and others, all states that the 17th point agreement is signed under duress!!! So did they sign the agreement under ‘duress’ or not?

    3. May be I was not clear on my 3rd point. What I am trying to say is that I don’t think that we (particularly in exile) know enough about Ngabo to authoritatively judge him and especially historical events surrounding him.

    More importantly, please read my reply to ‘KALSANG PHUNTSOK la’ on this specific point…

    Thank you…

  19. To Lang Dharma:

    I am sorry to say that your reasoning seems to go against the logic. If Ngabo had done patirotic deeds of nature that the Tibetans currently working for the party or the Chinese government can’t freely talk about then certainly Ngabo should have been imprisoned when he did those deeds. But we have never heard of Ngabo being imprisoned.

    I think you are twisting logics here. When the TGIE declared Ngabo a Patriot, we all knew that it meant Patriot from the point of view of China, which it is so eager to be a part of. In other words, it was just another kow-towing to the thugs in Beijing.

    If one is to go by your logic, Beijing should be very angry at TGIE for declaring Ngabo a patriot.


    You are right, Ngabo was never imprisoned; nor was so many other people in Tibet. But I hope you are not judging Tibetan people in Tibet’s love for TIbet on whether they served prison term or not!

    I am not claiming to know Ngabo, therefore I wouldn’t put Ngabo in this category or that. Ngabo might be a coward, a traitor, or a patriot who loves Tibet! Or he might be all those, plus more, but we need to know much more…

    On the point about TGiE and Patriot, I do think TGiE was haste in making a statement about Ngabo being a patriot. They should have just left at him being an important historical figure of Tibet at a critical time of Tibet.

    But I would have to disagree with you on the point that TGiE meant “patriot from point of view of China”. First of all I am not sure exactly what you mean. Secondly, I think TGiE was saying that Ngabo was someone who loved Tibet and acted based on what he thought was best for Tibet.

  21. Lhang Dharma,

    I don’t think you can treat Ngabo as “many other people in Tibet”. He was a high-ranking official and the Commander of the Tibetan forces in Chamdo. As such, he had a duty towards his people and the Tibetan Government — unlike, say, a farmer who needs to keep his family alive.

    A commander who surrenders to the enemy without a shot and without being kept as a war prisoner, and who, in addition, defects to the enemy as a general, can only be called a traitor.

    I’m certain that one can find plenty of excuses for such a behavior, but in wartime this kind of argument has no values. Desertion, defection and treason are usually sentenced with death, even in countries where capital punishment has been abolished. For your information, it is only in 2003 that most of European countries, including “neutral” Switzerland, got rid of death penalty in wartime.

  22. Lang Dharma:

    Again by your logic we can say even Deng Xiaoping and Mao did what they thought was best for Tibet. It is not often that a government, specially one that claims to represent 6 million people declares a person “Patriot” just because he happened to love his country.

    I don’t know how you can disagree with me if you do not understand what I mean. Unless you are deliberately avoiding the obvious truth, it should make sense when I wrote that the TGIE is just kissing CPC’s ass. Only difference in this instance is that it is now using its tongue.

  23. Dear Jamyang Norbu

    I too hope Tibetans have a wonderful Losar this year. They all need a party I think!

    I have found all your writing to be provocative and thought-provoking, and it has certainly made me even more mindful of my own ignorance.

    I am wondering what you think of the methods currently used by the junta (see below)including speaking to world leaders as if they are imbecilic children: they seem to have learnt well from the patronising schoolyard bullies (China) and the ‘two faces’ of India, which currently has done an about face on its own history, and cynically signed billions of dollars of oil and gas deals in return for helicopters, arms and military training, all used against the ever suffering and far too gentle (but divided) Burmese people.

    Excerpt: From the Irrawaddy article January 29

    Suu Kyi is serving an 18-month term of house arrest, reduced from an original sentence of three years’ hard labor pronounced by a court in Insein Prison last August. At the end of the farcical trial, Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Maung Oo appeared in court with a special order from junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe stating that as Suu Kyi is the daughter of national hero Gen Aung San, her sentence should be halved and the rest suspended.

    Maung Oo also read out a puzzling clause stating that if she behaved “well” at her Inya Lake home under the restrictions imposed on her, Suu Kyi would be granted amnesty before her suspended sentence expired.

    Suu Kyi has been detained for nearly 14 of the last 20 years, mostly under house arrest.

    Suu Kyi has already served almost half of her 18-month house arrest period which began in May, 2009. In view of Maung Oo’s hint of her release in November, the regime’s message to Suu Kyi appears to be that she is not behaving well and needs to serve the full sentence.


    For this last post on this topic I would like to point out again that to understand the decisions that were made in 1949, we must understand the conditions that existed at the time. The circumstances that led to many decisions in 1949 are complex on many different levels: social, political and economical. And for the matter at hand on the issue of Ngabo’s surrender in Chamdo in 1949, we must first understand the detail account of why/how everything transpired and take into account social/political/economical conditions on the ground. Upon analyzing these materials, we should than render our judgement on whether this particular action is ‘treason’ like or not. I do not think many who write on this subject have carefully studied the issue but they write so authoritatively and worse yet, people buy it so blindly because it is the easy thing to do politically. I do not like it if people tries to distort recent Tibetan history to fit into ones political ideology, rather I want Tibetans in particular to understand what Tibet was really like before Tibet and by understanding Tibet/Tibetan we can carve a path that is realistic and suitable for all Tibetans.

    If you guys think you understand the issue enough to make a judgement, than obviously I am wrong in my assumption. As for me, I only know very little.

    So, I wish to go back to my studies; thank you for your time.

  25. Lang Dharma,
    Lets cut to the chase. I must say for one who claims he doesn’t know much about the topic you sure have a funny way of assuming those who write about this topic are ignorant about the topic too. Are you saying Jamyang Norbu didn’t do his research properly? Are you saying Tsering Shakya didn’t do his research properly? What about the host of other intellectuals who wrote on this topic? It is funny that a person who claims he doesn’t know much about the topic has no problem labelling others as blind followers. The proper thing to do is to do your own research, find evidence to the contrary and then you can safely say it is blind nuthuggery and here are the reasons why. Your questions actually should be directed to TGIE who have obviously came upon a plethora of new evidence, understood all the social, politcal, economic, religious, cultural, temperature, star alignment, what Nehru had for breakfast, and so forth since they announced Ngabo was a patriot. Don’t you think that position as of right now is flimsy comparatively? I mean, if I was going to call somebody ignorant, I definately do that.

    Really? It is the easy thing to do politically? It must be so easy that nobody in Gangyki raised even one objection to this horrendous annoucement. By your reasoning they should be able to take advantage of this bonanza and reap politcal rewards in the next kalon election or usurp Samdhong Rinpoche right now. At this stage it is pretty clear it is much much easier to appear academic and impartial and not take a position at all. Isn’t that the politician’s way?

  26. I felt that Ngabo was enveloped into the string of powerless and hapless situation during his tenure of Ndo-spyi in Chamdo. He has never taken his position from LHALU forcefully. At that time Lhalu’s tenure is ending and power transfer was near.
    It is correct that there are misunderstanding among Tibetan about his traiting acts because of different explanation comes from different ministers. It is inevitable to come because Tibet itself was in crunch situation. So nobody want to take its lost responsibility.
    Ngabo had actually radioed that information to Takdak govt and minister. but the ministers were in preoccupied with playing Majong game. And Zurkhang has not allowed that messenger and radio incharge to enter the ministers game. So the message which Ngabo has sent was useless. So he had to surrender his army to the real situation of dire consequence of huge lifeloss even if he did wage war with Chinese army.

  27. If you want to know more Ngabo, read the Tibetan book on 17th point of Agreement, written by Sonam Dosje and Chung Tsering. It is the book on the collection of different documents about it. So it will be more informative for us, rather than just going after merely JN writing, although he might have investigated thoroughly. Since he didnot accept Exile govt and dalai Lama’s autobiography book contents, and since he wrote only what his mind was staying, it sometime naturally becomes not so truthful, acceptable among up.

  28. SeraJampa,
    you are correct in stating the state of limpness in the Kashag at that time where everybody was trying to avoid responsibility, particularly since Lhungshar had his eyes popped out for the offense of trying to modernize Tibet. But we are not talking about the behaviour of Kashag, the aristocrats and the monk hegemony, which were deplorable but pretty much expected as it were whereever there were aristocracy and church. Nobody said Ngabo forced Lhalu out because he was ending his three years term as you mentioned. But why did he have to surrender at all?

    We are questioning why he dismantled the defense mechanism that Lhalu set up? Why did he not sent out the radio to Riwuche to ascertain the troop movement? Why did he disband the local volunteer army? Why did he blow up the ammunition depot? Why did he run away in the middle of the night leaving Chamdo in chaos? Why didn’t he fight his way out to Lhasa with the added reinforcement that Lhasa has sent out? Why did he ordered these soldiers to throw their rifles down the ravine? Why did he ordered Muja Dapon, a real patriot by the way, and his soldiers to throw down their weapons and surrender instead to a chinese contingent that was twenty times smaller than Ngabo’s army? And these are accounts from a neutral person who WAS THERE WITH HIM AT THAT TIME!!!!

    Does these actions sound a man who is at least brave enough to put a token fight? Do you know if Ngabo had died defending Chamdo, a governor from Lhasa, Tibetans would have shown the world that we were resisting Chinese invasion and China was just lying about the ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet? That would have definately spoiled China blatant lies in the international arena and they will have to explain how come the Tibetan people are fighting the liberators? I know Lhalu would have done that if he was the governor instead.

    Ok, tell me one thing about the 17th point agreement. Did it state that Ngabo had authority to sign that document? Why did he lie again and again to the Chinese that he had the authority to sign? It is concievable chinese would have given up on Ngabo and his delegation if they had discovered he actually didn’t have authority to sign anything and sought other options and there would be no need to intimidate or threaten the Tibetan delegation. And most importantly, why did he sign away Tibet when he clearly didn’t have the authority to do so? You can say he thought about the betterment of Tibet but that is coward talk. I can say I didn’t help a girl who is getting raped by a group of goons because that might anger them further and they might actually kill her afterwards. Now imagine that was your sister or daughter.

    There is a difference between a coward and a traitor though. A coward might fear for his life but he is still capable of extraordinary feats if his family, his country or his religion is at stake and could possibly even give up his life in such circumstances. But a traitor is not only a coward but a sinister villian who would sacrifice anybody and anything to save his own skin. I could forgive a coward but I can never forgive a traitor. I don’t have the right to forgive somebody who must answer to those who actually fought and died for our country. Nobody does.

  29. Hi Tenpa,

    Jamyang la has a different view about Lungshar. Please read his “BLACK ANNALS: Goldstein & The Negation Of Tibetan History (Part II)”.

  30. Jamyang La,

    I would like to learn about the “Gungthang Tsultrim” and the “Choka 13” fiascos. I have sort of vague memory, but don’t have any idea what all the fuss was about. Can you please point me towards some articles or newsclips? Thank you and Losar Tashi Delek.

  31. I have this horrible feeling that, Ngabo until his death may still have been acting as “patriot” and urging TGIE secretly to accept the China’s terms. Why else would Dharamsala praise a known traitor? Whether, one knows Ngabo or is able to read his mind as to his intent for Tibet, his actions clearly was that of a traitor

  32. Thanks Kalsang, I had forgotten about that. He still got his eyes popped out though. Apparently, it was well deserved.

  33. I’d like to learn JN’s version on the murder of Gungthang Tsultrim and 13 groups (Tsokha choksum) affair since he’s mentioned it. I think that would be much livelier debate.Maybe JN is angry about the recent argument in the Assembly between Dotoe and Utsang members mainly with many Dotoe and some Utsang and Domey walking out

  34. From what little I could remember and what little research I could do on the internet, it would seem that Gungthang Tsultrim was a charismatic character. He may have been singlehandedly responsible for securing a group of refugees from Amdo and Kham a settlement in Clementown (The best Tibetan Settlement in India I would say). He also helped the Bonpos get their settlement at Solan legalized.

    As you can always expect, there is a religious angle to this controversy too. And Gyalo Thondrup is implicated to have played a major role.

  35. Ngabo is not the only one made terrible mistake in Tibetan history, we should also know there were so many times that even Tibetan government made so many different choices and made people so confuse about how we are going to follow through.

    One of the example is that before Chinese military marched from Kham to Lhasa. Lhasa government had decided to kick out all the Amdowa and Khampa from Lhasa. They think that Amdowa and Khampa brought Chinese into Lhasa. The decision basically made huge separation Amdo, Kham and Lhasa.
    They are still so many monks and old people alive and they did gone through this separation.

    I think this is even worse mistake what was Ngabo signed 17 agreement because he was forced to sign it but nobody force ministers in Lhasa separate all the Amdowa and Khampa from all three great monasteries and Lhasa city declared that they need to go back to home and not allowing them stay and study at the monasteries.

    I totally agree that Ngabo signed 17th agreement without Lhasa government authorization that only is unacceptable to all of us.

    But what about other mistakes that we made even after came to exile. How many times we changed our way of struggle our freedom. Now we are even abandoned our independence and hold only so called Autonomous region. We all need to know this is not Nagbo’s mistake. We are in free country and nobody force us but how come this still happening?

    There are so many people that we need to pointed out but at end of the day who blame who and who is right who is wrong?

    Another thing about the Photo above JN pointed out. These people went to Tibet with name of Tibetan delegation had no idea what is political and why they were in China. We can’t blame on three Tibetans in middle in the photo but it so clear that this was another mistake they made and gave China another opportunity to use this photo for their political propaganda.

    I am so confused right now who to blame all these.

  36. We label Ngabo Ngawang Jigme as a turncoat having handed over Tibet to China by signing the 17-point agreement and that’s where our frustration with the TGIE kicks in. How can you eulogize a traitor, a collaborator? I read a historian say that Ngabo blowing up the artillery arsenal was a standard military procedure at times of desperation so that the enemies can’t get hold of additional weapons which to me seems the right thing to do and that Ngabo later becoming the governor of Tibet had the power to moderate some of the Chinese policies regarding Tibet and its people. That was an interesting take on things. I think blatantly criticizing the government is not way go about doing things even though I respect JN for telling the emperor that he is wearing no clothes; when one is at the helm, it is not as easy as it might seem from a distant; sometimes I wish we stop making mockery of ourselves. By mentioning the inclusion of a traitor in the pantheon of the Middle way belief system, JNla is mocking the belief system that has brought so far and some of us might argue where are we right now? Are we better off than ever before? The Chinese atrocities on Tibetans persists. And so we rationalize that other measures should be carried out and that’s what infusing Rangzen is all about, seek no less than independence. Yes we all feel that a change is the need of the hour, be that at an individual level as a Tibetan or at an organizational level leading us which would be TGIE. But I say change and not revolution. And that’s where a measured scholarly piece would be more apt than a polemical one. For me personally they just fuel my resentment and I can’t help it because of our predicament, the woes we are in. So lets stop the veiled blaming games. I am really disturbed when I see that we have yet to settle our own differences . I think Warren W. Smith rightly says that the threat to the survival of Tibetan culture and national is thus greater than ever before” referring to the post March protest period. And that we “Tibetans in exiles should redirect our efforts from the campaign for Tibetan independence or even autonomy to the preservation of Tibetan national identity.”

    Warren W. Smith Jr. Tibet’s Last Stand

  37. The crux of our problem seems to lie in the fact that we fail to call a spade a spade. Tibetan governments then, before the Chinese occupation, and now still delve in ambiguity and bashfulness when it comes to governing and dealing with our arch enemy, the Chinese and their in lies the common Tibetan’s frustration. TGIE’s governance has always had this strange veil of secrecy and hush hushness that permeates even down to Chi-thub’s menu; leading to all sorts of conspiracy theories and assumptions which they can easily dispel by being more direct and open with the Tibetan public.

    Therefore, in all fairness, JN’s observations on the functioning and ambiguities of the TGIE policies, comes out in his writings because of this frustration and not because he has a bone to pick with them. As a former employee I can safely say that JN has always been proud to have worked for our Exile government while it lasted. Therefore, it is unfair to claim that JN only criticizes but does nothing to remedy the situation.

    When JN was a member of the Mustang forces he had tried to suggested different tactics and methods but the senior guerilla members ignored him believing that only they knew how to fight the Chinese. Later working for the Tibetan department of RAW and as director of Tibetan institute of performing Arts, JN tried his best to institute changes and programs which were ignored by the then ruling clique. And to add insult to injury, they even circulated rumours claiming that JN blasphemed against HH and instigated the Tibetan Woman’s Organization and other groups to physically beat him. Despite all this JN is still actively working to improve our situation both internally and externally through his writings and talks. And as proud Tibetan, I would like to thank him and wish him to continue as always.

  38. it was a logical conclusion that Tibetan govt said Ngapo signed the 17-point agreement under “duress”, because he was sent to peking to talk about ceasefire and nothing else…or Ngapo maybe have lied to Tibetan Govt to that effect. My overwhelming suspicion now says he signed the ‘agreement’ willingly and knowingly…but lied doing so when he returned to Lhasa. I recently watched a footage of Ngapo in Kunleng where he was in peking with chinese counterparts sitting across a table signing, perhaps the “17 point” agreement, with an expression thats jovial and of full complicity. I aint a behavorial psychologist but in this case it’s so conspicious even a novice could not miss it. His ‘preferential’ treatment at the hands of CCP in post 1959 era then flashed before me, and it kind of connected the dots, that it was a payback for offering PRC the legitimacy of Tibet in a platter. I had never been so sure of Ngapo being traitor when the video was cut and discussion replaced the tv screen.

  39. Sometimes, a visual moment tells a situation so clearly, that a thousand pages would not. I remember a particular scene described in ‘Buddha’s Warriors’ by Mikel Dunham and went through my bookshelf and found the passage which I thought was very telling. It was right before the dramatic showdown on March 17th and tens of thousands of tibetans have formed a human chain around Norbulinka to protect H.H, interestingly described by the author as the day when the common people took the power in their own hands. One tibetan collaborator got stoned, torn to bits and mutilated beyond recognition (even the ragyaba wouldn’t touch them because he was a chinese collaborator). Plala and Kashag went over to the chinese encampment (where Kundun was requested to attend a theatrical performance and the whole misunderstanding between Tibetans and Chinese) to placate General Tan from taking drastic actions.

    “According to Noel Barber, ‘Ten Chinese officers – but not General Tan – were sitting on one side of the long table, talking and drinking tea. And there was an eleventh man sitting on the Chinese side of the table – none other than the saturnine Ngabo. This was astonishing, for invariably at these conferences the opponents were arranged on opposite sides of the green table, but now Ngabo made no attempt to join the Tibetans…Though it had been Ngabo’s task to act as a go-between at the Chinese headquarters,this was the final insult. Presumably Ngabo thought the time for keeping up pretence had passed.’ For nearly ten minutes the Tibetan cabinet ministers were left standing. Not once did the Chinese look up to acknowledge the minister’s presence. Finally, just as the conference seemed to be breaking up, General Tan strode into the room. If the Tibetans has any hopes their discussion might be amicable, those hopes were dashed by the look on General Tan’s face. He glared at the Tibetans, as if daring them to provide an adequate explanation for the insulting absence of the Dalai Lama'”

  40. Jamyang la,
    You are inspiration to all of us.
    I don’t thing Ngabo, baba phuntsok or any other collebrator, who later speaks for tibet or tibetan are pratoit, they spoked because they didn’t got enough dues after betraying his nation. such doesn’t belong to any comunity.

  41. Who cares what Baba Phuntso and Ngabo little action for Tibet after they were expired in China’s hands.

    It’s too late to do anything after expired.

  42. Even though Ngabo, Phuntsok and others of their ilk are dead it is important to remember their monstrous crimes against Tibet and Tibetans Just as we also must remember our Heroes. The fact of the matter is that we take issues like this too lightly and therefore get ourselves in a fix. It has always been a habit of the ruling class in Tibet to ask for assistance from our enemies whenever there was internal strife. Classically, China was one of the most favored enemies to ask from support. And evidently this has emboldened and added to China’s claims on sovereign Tibet soil. It is un-Buddhist, but forgetting the past and being too casual and hopeful China will relent in the future does not bode well for a free and independent Tibet. If all was to be left to fate and Karma then what is our purpose anyway in fighting this uneven war?

  43. Dear Jamyang Norbu,

    I really admire your writings, but I don’t fully agree with your example regarding “Gunthang Tsultrim” I agree with you that it was very disrespectful of them(Tsultrim followers & 13 settlement) to charge Kashag like that but what led to this? and why did the 13 group settlement form ?
    What is the story behind, the whole picture ? I really appreciate if you will do more research on this, or else for decency’s sake, is better left unmentioned.


  44. We cannot disagree about the cleverness of Late Ngabo. At the same time, he was not a brave man at all. Though I strongly support the Middle way approach envisaged by H.H the Dalai Lama, I don’t really understand why did Kashag issued such statement about late Ngabo. I am still wondering whether that statement was politically beneficial to our long term struggle of freedom. It might be a kind of signal/appeasement made to the current high ranking Tibetan officials in the PRC who are usually believed to be one of the main obstacles in the dialogue. Hold a sec! It is my own opinion.

    Most of my friends are still not ready to believe every sentence written in the Baba’s biography. I would prefer to add one line to our famous saying:
    Tibet is ruined by hope,
    China is ruined by suspicion,
    and Baba is ruined by ideology.
    And who will be the next?

  45. tibetan leaders’ hope ruins tibetan people

    china ruined by suspicion? i don’t know.
    sun, moon and stars are the witness to the rise of china on earth since 1947.
    some casualities are part of life.

    baba ruined by faith in ccp thugs

    ngobo ruined by fear and rationalization

    TGIE will be next if secular bi-party democracy fails to materialize soon

  46. Think there were big deferences between ngapo and phuwang cause ngapo was traitor as well as betrays to the country because while he was the charge of the Lhasa govert. Surrender to chinese as if he did save so many lives of fellow Tibetans thats what I saw is just freaking excuses. In other way, what saw is that the main Course of defeat we faced. However, phuwang was just ordinary people like us and having nothing special responsibility except he was Tibetan, he fought for the basic human rights for his fellow tibetans and he was revolutionary, he understood the world while our kudaks were slept and he wants change the Tibet and liberty from some dictators ( kudark & sadhag) that’s what learned from maxist so he is deserve to be patriot and courageous revolutionary …

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