The Panchen Lama’s 70,000 Character Petition of 1962

The Panchen Lama’s 70,000 Character Petition of 1962

“… a poisoned arrow shot at the Party by reactionary feudal overloads.” – Mao Zedong’s reported comment on the Petition

The 10th Panchen Lama’s most memorable achievement is the 70,000 Character Petition [B4], a document addressing the brutal suppression of the Tibetan people during and after the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet. It remains the “most detailed and informed attack on China’s policies in Tibet that would ever be written.”[B1] For many years its contents and its significance were only rumored since the actual document was not revealed to the outside world. [M12]

The Panchen Lama was only 24 when he decided to oppose the Chinese Communist Party. His entourage tried to persuade him to soften the tone of his petition, but he refused, stating that he spoke in the name of the Tibetan people and that the Chinese leaders deserved a vigorous critique.

In 1962 he wrote to the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai a letter in which he denounced the draconian policies and actions of the Chinese People’s Republic in Tibet. He criticized the Great Leap Forward and a multitude of “inept orders” on the part of the Chinese Communist Party, which had caused chronic food shortages.

The petition became known as the Panchen Lama’s 70,000-character petition because, although originally written in Tibetan, it was of that length in its Chinese translation.[M12]

The Panchen Lama met with Zhou and discussed his report with him on May 18. The initial reaction was positive, and Zhou summoned Tibetan authorities to Beijing. They promised him to rectify what they called “a leftist detour.” Zhou admitted that errors had been committed in Tibet but did not authorize open opposition to the powers in place. Later, he abandoned the Panchen Lama to his fate once then-Chairman Mao Zedong’s criticisms were heard.

Mao called the petition “… a poisoned arrow shot at the Party by reactionary feudal overloads.” Choekyi Gyaltsen was publicly humiliated at Politburo meetings, dismissed from all posts of authority, declared “an enemy of the Tibetan people,” and then imprisoned. After 13 years in prison, he was released in 1977 but held under house arrest in Beijing until 1982. Later, he was politically rehabilitated and rose to important positions. [W44]

A Poisoned Arrow - The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen LamaFor decades, the content of this report remained hidden from all but the very highest levels of the Chinese leadership, until the Tibet Information Network (TIN) obtained a copy in 1996. According to the book A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama [B4], “…the 70,000 Character Petition finally emerged, in [an] envelope delivered in October 1996 to our [the TIN’s] office in London. It was a Chinese text, printed in large, even characters over 123 numbered pages. The last line noted that the original and authentic text had been in Tibetan: we have found no trace of that original, although we know that the Tibetan manuscript, perhaps the only copy, confiscated some 25 years later, was returned by the Party to the Lama two weeks before his death. … We know that an internal [Chinese] edition was printed for the top leadership in July 1962, and it is possible, even likely, that our text is taken from one of these. In any event, it can be assumed that no-one outside the highest level of the elite in China had ever seen it before.”

In January 1998, upon the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Tenth Panchen Lama, a translation by Tibet expert Robert Barnett entitled A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama was published by the Tibet Information Network.

The document was initially known as the Report on the sufferings of the masses in Tibet and other Tibetan regions and suggestions for future work to the central authorities through the respected Premier Zhou Enlai but took on the shorter sobriquet because of its length in Chinese characters. When published, its authenticity could not be independently confirmed, and Chinese authorities refrained from commenting. Several months later, however, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, a retired ex-director who exercised political functions in Tibet from 1964 to 1993, officially criticized the petition without calling into question its authenticity or criticizing its publication.

The essay covers three main themes – religion, cruelty, and famine – in eight parts:

  • The struggle to crush rebellions;
  • Democratic reforms;
  • Livestock, agricultural production, and the life of the masses;
  • The work of the United Front;
  • Democratic centralism;
  • The dictatorship of the Proletariat;
  • Religious questions;
  • Work for ethnic nationalities.

In his conclusion, the Panchen Lama denounced the majority leftist tendencies in Tibet.

The Panchen Lama on nationality

“Although Tibet has been under the jurisdiction of the motherland for several hundred years, because methods of rule and ways of managing its internal affairs are different from those of other minorities within the motherland, most of the people in every strata strongly perceive themselves as Tibetan, and only have a weak perception of the motherland…” [B4 – page 63]

…on religion

“Before democratic reform, there were more than 2,500 large, medium and small monasteries in Tibet. After democratic reform, only 70-odd monasteries were kep[t in existence by the government. … In the whole of Tibet there was a total of about 110,000 monks and nuns. Of those, possibly 10,000 fled abroad, leaving about 100,000. After democratic reform was concluded, the number of monks living in the monasteries was about 7,000 people…” [B4 – page 52]

…on famine

“… there has been an evident and severe reduction in the present-day Tibetan population. Needless to say this was not only harmful to the flourishing of the Tibetan nationality, but it was also a great threat to the continued existence of the Tibetan nationality, which was sinking into a state close to death.” [B4 – page 103]

…on the petition itself

“… the aristocrats were accused of being the leaders of the rebellions and persecuted. This, I think, was an absolutely wrong thing to do. I had clearly recorded these facts in my petition. Of course, I was criticised and punished for this. But truth is timeless. It always remains the same. Undoubtedly, there were mistakes in my petition. But I have never been wrong in speaking up. The mistakes in the content of my petition are mistakes, both today and in the past. But there should be a clear dividing line spelling out where I went wrong and where I was right…” – From the Panchen Lama’s speech to the TAR Standing Committee Meeting of the National People’s Congress held in Beijing on March 28, 1987.

Notes:

  • Some information in this chapter is based on an entry in Wikipedia.org. However, the exact wording appears on multiple websites.
  • Through mere luck, I was able to obtain a copy of the book A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama as published by the Tibet Information Network (TIN), but nowadays it appears to be out of print.

Related Literature:

A Poisoned Arrow
The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama
Tibet Information Network
ISBN: 0-953201 1-1-2

Panchen Lama’s 70,000 Character Petition
A Series of Programs for Radio Free Asia by Warren Smith
Based upon A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama
Tibet Information Network 1997


The image, showing the Panchen Lama with monks in Tibet – date unknown, is in the public domain in the United States because it solely consists of material created and provided by Voice of America, the official external broadcasting service of the federal government of the United States.

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