The 70,000 Character Petition, the most important text in modern Tibetan history, was written in 1962 by the 10th Panchen Lama, the second-highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. It is the most heartfelt and trenchant attack ever known to have been made by an insider of Chairman Mao's disastrous policies.
The 10th Panchen Lama wrote the 123-page petition after investigating China's brutal suppression of the 1959 Tibet rebellion and the impact of the agricultural upheaval of the so-called Great Leap Forward on parts of Tibet. It details:
How the number of monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region, as Tibet was renamed in Communist China, had dropped from 2,500 to 70 by 1961, and the number of monks and nuns was reduced by 93 per cent. Outsiders sometimes mistakenly think that this scale of devastation did not occur until the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution;
How terrible famine and random persecution resulted in "an evident and severe reduction" in the population of Tibetans in surrounding provinces of China, such as Qinghai and Gansu;
That during the so-called "Democratic Reform" which was imposed on Tibet after the 1959 uprising, Tibetans were persecuted indiscriminately and very violently, "falling down unconscious ... their limbs being broken ... [and] some who lost their lives during the struggle". Suicide was a common resort with people "throwing themselves into rivers or using weapons to kill themselves";
That "the number of prisoners in the whole of Tibet reached a percentage of the total population which has never been surpassed throughout history", with many prisoners dying of "abnormal" causes;
How in Tibet, the authorities "lined up monks on one side and nuns and secular women on the other side, and forced them to select someone from the other side" as a marriage partner;
The Panchen, who was only 24 at the time, submitted his petition to the Chinese prime minister, Zhou Enlai, in the summer of 1962. When he was gathering his material, voicing even the slightest disquiet about Mao's policies was political suicide. But in the petition, the Panchen Lama states bluntly: "In the past, although Tibet was a society ruled by dark and savage feudalism, there had never been such a shortage of grain."
Two years later he was jailed. He was not released from prison and house arrest until 1978. He died in 1989 in suspicious circumstances. Few copies of the petition ever existed, but one found its way to the London-based Tibet Information Network, which has now published it.
Over the years, the 10th Panchen Lama was accused of being a Chinese puppet, nurtured by Peking as an opponent of the exiled Dalai Lama. Publication of the Petition should lay that argument to rest. Professor Dawa Norbu, a Tibet specialist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said: "It is clear from this document that the Panchen Lama should be considered the first Tibetan human rights activist in modern Tibetan history."
Well-schooled by the Chinese, the Panchen Lama knew how best to present such a risky document. Page after page hails the "radiant illumination" of Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, but this political correctness also gives way to a savage description of the reality of life and death in Tibet, and the attempted extermination of Tibet's religion, culture and language.
Under the auspices of Chinese officials, "they burned countless statues of the Buddha, Buddhist scriptures and stupas, threw them into water ... broke them and melted them". They insulted religion by "using pictures of the Buddha and Buddhist sutras to make shoes" and did things "which even lunatics would hardly do". Some villages and monasteries "looked as if they had been accidentally destroyed by bombardment and a war had just ended, and they were unbearable to look at".
The final death toll in 1959-61, through famine, execution, ill-treatment of prisoners, and "struggle" sessions, is not known to this day. "Many people, principally the young and old, died of starvation." In Qinghai, after the system of communal agriculture was imposed, each person had only 5kg of grain a month, "so dregs of fat, grain husks and so on which formerly in Tibet were fodder for horses and donkeys, bulls and oxen, became hard to get and were considered nourishing and fragrant foods". In some places there were "whole families dying out".
The Panchen Lama feared that as the "wind of destruction blew up", Tibetan culture and religion would be wiped out. The Chinese cadres, he complained, "thought everything old was backward, filthy and useless". "We must ensure that Tibetans do not change into another nationality".Reuse content