(4) The Signing of the 17-Article Agreement and the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
The liberation of the Qamdo area sent shockwaves across the rest of Tibet and hastened the separation of the upper ruling class of Tibet. The faction supporting war found itself in a quagmire, with the pro-British Prince Regent Dagzha forced to step down, making way at an earlier date for the 16-year-old 14th Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama and major Gaxag government officials, frightened by the prospect of the possible westward advance of the PLA troops, went to the border town of Yadong. Lukangwa and Lobsang Zhaxi, the two Sicab officials of the Tibetan government, were left to handle the day-to-day government affairs in Lhasa.
The Qamdo Work Committee headed by Wang Qimei and the Advance Office of the 18th Army in Qamdo continued to work politically. Wang Qimei managed to have a sincere talk with Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei, explaining painstakingly the sincerity of the Central People's Government in seeking the peaceful liberation of Tibet and related CPC principles and policies. Tibetan captives were given special care, with the wounded and the sick given due treatment. When released, they were given money to cover their travel home. Many of their articles lost during the battles were recovered and returned.
Winter arrived soon after the liberation of Qamdo. The commanders of the 18th Army lived together with Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei, Cuike, and other Tibet officials in a compound formerly owned by the Qamdo chief manager. Ngapoi and Cuike lived in the best rooms in the compound, while Wang Qimei and others stayed in tents. These arrangements made by Wang Qimei touched the hearts of the Tibetan army officers and men, sending many of them to tears.
Heinrich Harrer, a German who was in Lhasa at the time, described the situation in this way: "This Communist troops are disciplined and showed leniency and kindness. The Tibetan soldiers they have released have all said they received good treatment." (Heinrich Harrer [Germany]: Seven Years in Tibet, p.351, translated by Yuan Shipo) On November 9, Ngapoi and some 40 Tibetan officials sent a joint letter to the 14th Dalai Lama, telling him their personal experience in Qamdo and explaining the Communist Party's policies. They pleaded with the 14th Dalai Lama to send representatives to Beijing to take part in peace negotiations. They sent a second letter a few days later, suggesting the Gaxag government send representatives to negotiate with the representatives of the Central People's Government.
The US, British and Indian expansionists were not sitting on folded hands. The United States issued a statement, protesting the "most unfortunate and serious events." India sent one protest note after another to the Chinese government. The United States and Britain encouraged El Salvador to submit a motion to the United Nations. After the Chinese government sternly refuted all claims of wrongdoing, these detractors fell silent.
The People's Daily issued an editorial on November 17, 1950. The editorial, entitled The Chinese People's Liberation of Tibet Brooks No Intervention, pointed out: "It is utterly wrong for the Indian government to attempt to set the PLA's advance on Tibet against the Central People's government's desire for the peaceful liberation of Tibet. The peaceful settlement of the Tibetan issue will not stop the PLA's advance on Tibet, and must have the acceptance of the PLA's peaceful advance on Tibet as a prerequisite."
With the approval of the Central People's Government, the Qamdo People's Liberation Committee was set up toward the end of 1950. At the inauguration ceremony, the participants decided on the formation of the Committee for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. The committee, to be composed of monks and lay people in Qamdo, had Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei as its director.
Seeing the PLA troops, which featured formidable military might and political leniency, were gaining increasing popularity in the Kam area, the local government of Tibet, which felt impotent in seeking foreign aid, was compelled to consider contact with the Central People's Government. The 14th Dalai Lama wrote a letter on January 18, 1951, reporting on his coming to power and expressing his wish for a peaceful settlement of issues. The Gaxag government sent messengers to deliver the letter to Chinese Ambassador Yuan Zhongxian in New Delhi on January 27, asking Yuan to forward it to the Central People's Government. The Central People's Government replied on January 29, congratulating the 14th Dalai Lama on his coming to power and welcoming him to send representatives to Beijing to negotiate a peace settlement. Urged by the faction supporting peace talks, the 14th Dalai Lama decided on February 12th to send a Tibetan government delegation to Beijing.
The delegation, headed by Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei, was composed of five fully empowered delegates: Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei, Kemo Soinam Wangdui, Tudain Dainda, Tubdain Laimoin and Sangpo Toinzin Toinzhol. When they arrived in Beijing in late April, Premier Zhou Enlai met them at the Beijing Railway Station.
The fully empowered Central Government delegates, including Li Weihan, Zhang Jinwu, Zhang Guohua and Sun Zhiyuan, met for more than 20 days with the Tibetans. The painstaking, sincere and extensive talks finally led to the signing of the Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, also known as the 17-Article Agreement.
The 17-Article Agreement was identical with the 10-point policy adopted by the CPC Central Committee in May 1950. Highlights of the agreement include: expelling the imperialist forces from Tibet, and returning the Tibetan people to the big family of the motherland ?the People's Republic of China; the Central Government takes charge of national defense and foreign affairs in Tibet, assists Tibet in its development of agriculture, animal husbandry, industry, commerce, education and other undertakings, and Tibet practices national and regional autonomy; there will be no changes with Tibet's internal political system and the inherent position and power of the Dalai Lama, and various government officials will remain in their office; reform in Tibet will be conducted by the Tibetans themselves in accordance with methods taken through consultations between the Tibetan people and the Tibetan government leaders, while the Central Government shall not force Tibet to conduct reform; the inherent position and power the 9th Panchen Erdeni enjoyed during the days when he maintained good terms with the 13th Dalai Lama shall be maintained; funds needed for the PLA troops in Tibet shall be covered by the Central People's Government.
Such a lenient agreement signed between a militarily powerful Central Government and a local government that has been far from patriotic during negotiations is truly rare.
The whole nation rejoiced at the signing of the 17-Article Agreement. In the Tibetan areas, the patriotic Tibetans supported the agreement. Sanggyai Yuxei (Tian Bao), Ngawang Gyamco and Lobsang Toinba cabled the Central People's Government and Chairman Mao Zedong, expressing warm support for the agreement and rejoicing at the peaceful liberation of Tibet. The Panchen Kampus Assembly issued a statement, stating that "the agreement fully conforms to the interests of the peoples of various nationalities in China, especially the interests of the peoples of various nationalities in Tibet," and vowing to "exert efforts for the correct implementation of the agreement, for the unity between the Tibetan race and other nationalities in China, and for the unity of the Tibetan race itself." The 10th Panchen Erdeni also sent a cable to the 14th Dalai Lama expressing his willingness for sincere unity between the two leaders and for thorough implementation of the 17-Article Agreement.
Tibetan government officials in Yadong were locked in a heated debate upon learning of the signing of the agreement. Chigyain Lobsang Yexei, Soikang Wangqen Geleg, Palha Tubdain Weidain, Namseling Benjor Jigmei and others opposed the agreement and urged the 14th Dalai Lama to flee to India. Chung'yigqenbo Bentang Qunbe Tubdain, Zeqag Soikang Toinzhol Doje and others upheld the terms of the agreement as basically good for Tibet and said they should be observed. When they met at a conference, a resolution was adopted in support of the 17-Article Agreement and to ask the 14th Dalai Lama to return to Lhasa. It was under this situation that the 14th Dalai Lama made up his mind to leave Yadong for Lhasa. Zhang Jinwu, the Central Government representative in Tibet, went to Yadong, via India, to meet with the 14th Dalai Lama, bringing him the text of the 17-Article Agreement and a personal letter from Chairman Mao Zedong. Soon after, the 14th Dalai Lama set out for Lhasa.
Soon after the 14th Dalai Lama arrived in Lhasa, Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei and others also reached the city. At the conference of Tibetan monks and lay officials, they reported on the signing of the agreement and repeated lies and rumors then being spread in Lhasa. The conference discussed and adopted a report to the 14th Dalai Lama that read in part: "The 17-Article Agreement is of great benefit for the grand cause of the Dalai and the Buddhist doctrine, politics and economics of Tibet. The unprecedented agreement naturally should be implemented." When the 14th Dalai Lama read the document, he cabled Chairman Mao on October 24, 1951 saying the 17-Article Agreement: "has the uniform support of the local government of Tibet and the Tibetan monks and lay people. They will, under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Central People's Government, actively assist the PLA troops in entering Tibet to consolidate the national defense." (Tubdain Dainda: The Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet: Before and After It Was Signed, Vol.1, Chinese edition p.44, Tibetan edition pp.116-117, Selected Materials on the History of Tibet)
The signing of the 17-Article Agreement marked the successful implementation of the principle of the Central People's Government for the peaceful liberation of Tibet. From that point on, Tibet would be free from the yoke of imperialism forever. The historic event pushed the unity between the Han and the Tibetan and the unification of the motherland to a new historical stage. It opened a grand vista for the Tibetan race to achieve self-development. As was pointed out by Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei: "In this multi-national and unified country founded jointly by various nationalities, various nationalities have formed a relationship in the protracted long history, characteristic of inseparably mutual dependence. They take the road to common development and common prosperity, which has become an irreversible historical trend. The 17-Article Agreement was signed to follow this historical trend for development." (Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei: Great Turn for the Development of Tibetan History---In Memory of the 40th Anniversary of the Signing of the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, issue No.1, 1991, Chinese edition p.20, Tibetan edition p.12, China Tibetology)
In accordance with instructions from the Central Military Commission, Wang Qimei led the detachment of the 18th Army out of Qamdo on July 24 and reached Lhasa on September 9. Closely following on their heals, Zhang Guohua and Tan Guanshan led the headquarters of the 18th Army and the 1st and 2nd squads formed by the crack forces of the 52nd Division out of Qamdo. The 1st squad entered Lhasa on October 26 and the 2nd squad reached Taizhao (Gongbo'gyamda) in November.
Chen Minyi led the service section of the 18th Army troops in constructing the Xikang-Tibet Highway and organized the transportation of food and materials to the areas west of Garze and east of Qamdo.
The Independent Detachment of the 18th Army, led by Fan Ming and Mu Shengzhong and composed of some 1,100 men, departed from Xiangride, Qinghai, on August 27, and reached Nagqu on November 14 and Lhasa on December 1.
Part of the Xinjiang Independent Cavalry Division set out from Yutian in May and reached Burang in Ngari on June 29 and Gartog on August 3.
The 126th Regiment of the 14th Yunnan Army left Menjiang on September 10 and was on stationed in Zayu by October 1.
Thus, the grand move to peacefully liberate Tibet and unify China's mainland came to a successful end.
In the long march on Tibet, the PLA troops encountered great difficulty in the supply of military materials. To avoid possible price hikes (on grain in particular) in Tibet with the influx of the PLA troops, which would mean more difficulties for the Tibetans in daily life, Mao Zedong instructed the PLA troops not to live on local supplies.
The PLA troops contacted members of the upper echelon of the local ruling class. On the premise that the lives of the Tibetan locals were not affected, the PLA troops purchased only a small amount of highland barley, mutton, beef and butter locally. The bulk of grain, non-staple foods and other military materials were shipped from the hinterland. At that time, no highway had been built to link Tibet with the hinterland. Beasts of burden were the chief means of transport. Tibetans from various Tibetan areas came to the rescue driving their own yaks and mules. They crossed snowy mountains and icy rivers to transport food and materials station by station both night and daytime. When a handful of Tibetans from the ruling class learned of the food shortages plaguing the PLA troops, they sold their surplus grain to the troops without hesitation. For example, when Wang Qimei's advance detachment reached Taizhao (Gongbo'gyamda), they were suffering from near starvation. Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmei gathered more than 5,000 kg of zanba (roasted highland barley) from his manor near Taizhao to help ease the shortage. When Zhang Guohua and Tan Guanshan and their 18th Army headquarters took up station around Lhasa, they were also confronted with food shortages. Lhalu Cewang Doje came to their rescue by selling them close to 10,000 ke (one ke equals to 14 kg) of highland barley and bushels of grass roots to be used as fuel.
Energetic support from the Tibetans helped make up the material deficiencies confronting the PLA troops stationed in Tibet. Without the support and aid of the Tibetans, it would have been very hard for the PLA troops to complete their advance on Tibet.
On October 26, 1951, Army Commander Zhang Guohua and Political Commissar Tan Guanshan led their troops into the city of Lhasa. Galoons, Chung'yigqenbo and Zeboin officials of the Tibetan government, the Living Buddhas and the leading Kampus with the three major monasteries in Lhasa and more than 20,000 temporal and secular people from various walks of life lined the streets to greet them in a grand way. A welcoming ceremony was held in honor of the troops.
In his welcome speech, Lhalu Cewang Doje said: "In the past, when the Qing imperial troops, the British troops and the Kuomintang troops came to Tibet, we didn't hold ceremonies in their honor. Only the PLA troops in Lhasa have earned our warm welcome. This is because the PLA troops are an army of the people. (Lhalu Cewang Doje: When the PLA Troops Entered Lhasa, Vol.1, Chinese edition p.212, Tibetan edition p.344, Selected Materials on the History of Tibet) That day featured fluttering red flags and hada scarves, beating drums and blowing horns, songs and dances in celebration. These were followed by a feast held to mark the peaceful liberation of Tibet and to celebrate the unity between the Han and the Tibetan. It was attended by leaders of the 18th Army and major officials of the local government of Tibet, such as Galoons Ranba, Ngapoi, Raogexag, Xaisur and Lhalu. On November 5, the 14th Dalai Lama sent Jikyabkainbo Ngawang Namgyai to the encampment of the PLA troops in Lhasa. On November 19, the 14th Dalai Lama held a feast to entertain senior PLA officers in Lhasa. On December 1, when the 18th Army's Independent Detachment led by Commander Fan Ming and Political Commissar Mu Shengzhong entered Lhasa, some 10,000 Tibetan soldiers and civilians lined their route to welcome them.
We have no idea as to how Xagabba and Van Praag would describe these events. But we are convinced the careful reader will wonder why, if the PLA troops were sent to invade an independent Tibet, the Tibetans offered them such grand welcome? Why would the officials of the local government wine and dine the troops of an aggressor army? For what reason did the 14th Dalai Lama send high-ranking officials to salute the army which came to invade Tibet? Xagabba and Van Praag omit these events because their version of history simply cannot explain the facts as they happened.
History cannot be altered. The entry of the PLA troops into Tibet in the early 1950s is a history of peaceful liberation in an utterly legal, reasonable and just manner.
The British attempted to invade and control China's Tibet for more than half a century. In his book, however, van Praag never uses the terms "aggression" or "invasion" to describe the British military campaigns in Tibet. Even in the winter of 1950, Britain was still following its aggressor policy. As part of this policy, Robert Ford, a British agent, was smuggled into Qamdo in the winter of 1950, where he was captured by the PLA troops during the battle at Qamdo. The PLA cameramen recorded his ugly performance. This episode clearly demonstrates the fact that the PLA troops marching to Tibet were actually fighting the foreign aggressors. Obviously, Van Praag has tried to tamper with the truth and the meaning of the words "aggression" and "counter-aggression."