Phuntsog Wangyal Goranangpa: A formidable figure in modern Tibetan history

Phuntsog Wangyal Goranangpa

File photo of Phunwang at his residence in Beijing.

Phuntsog Wangyal Goranangpa, who passed away in Beijing on March 30, 2014, was a formidable figure in modern Tibetan history.

He was the most prominent Tibetan Communist who, even while aligning himself with the Chinese Government, was vocal in urging it to change its Tibet policy. He submitted open letters to Chinese leaders, including Hu Jintao, calling for a review of their attitude towards the Dalai Lama saying that if the Dalai Lama continued to remain in exile, it would lead to a worsening of tensions in Tibet. In a new book, the Tibetan version of which was published in India in 2013 while the Chinese version is coming out from Hong Kong, Phunwang has said the Dalai Lama should be allowed to return to Tibet, as he would be a stabilizing force.

He was very devoted to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who regarded him as a personal friend. In a condolence message, the Dalai Lama said, “He was a true Communist, genuinely motivated to fulfill the interests of the Tibetan people. In his death we have lost a trusted friend.” “Through his own example Phunwang showed that you could be a true Communist while at the same time proud of your Tibetan heritage,” the Dalai Lama added.

International Campaign for Tibet Board’s Executive Chairman, Kasur Lodi Gyari, whose father was a personal friend of Phunwang and who himself has known him, said, “Phunwang is no more with us, but his thought and words will continue to inspire and guide us. Even at this late stage there is still time for the Chinese leadership to pay serious attention to what he has sought to convey over many decades. Phunwang was a genuine Marxist but at the same time he has always been proud of being a Tibetan. In my view he is one of the greatest thinkers of our time, not only on the Tibet-China issue, but on other serious matters too. He has a deep integrity and has never been afraid to suffer for his beliefs.”

Known popularly as Bapa Phunwang (Ba being the shortened form of the name of his birthplace Bathang) his name is spelt variously in English, including as Bapa Phuntso Wangye, Bapa Phuntsok Wanggyal, etc.

Butter-lamps

Butter-lamps are lit at Ba Choede monastery in Bathang county town, Sichuan, for Phuntsog Wangyal, a Khampa from Bathang, who died on March 30. The images show Phuntsog Wangyal, one of the most important figures in Tibetan contemporary history, as a young man with the 10th Panchen Lama and later at his shrine at home in Beijing. A day before his death a Tibetan nun self-immolated outside the same monastery in the first self-immolation in Bathang.

In a statement, Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay said, “The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala extends its profound condolences to his family. We hope the Chinese leadership will take heed of the veteran Communist leader’s wisdom and far-sighted vision to resolve the issue of Tibet.”

Phunwang’s life symbolized the evolution of Sino-Tibetan relations. “Phüntso Wangye is a man who has never stopped fighting for his people, and the story of his life is both heartbreaking and inspiring, and essential for understanding what has happened in Tibet since the 1930s,” wrote John Ackerly, then President (and now a board member) of the International Campaign for Tibet in a blurb for Phunwang’s biography, A Tibetan Revolutionary.

Melvin Goldstein, a co-writer of A Tibetan Revolutionary, says, “Phunwang dedicated his life to the struggle to create a socialist Tibet that would encompass all Tibetans in Kham, Amdo, and Tibet proper and would be ruled by Tibetans. He worked tirelessly, at great personal risk, to achieve this, first through his own Tibetan Communist Party and then through the Chinese Communist Party, in which he was the leading Tibetan cadre in Tibet from 1951 to 1958.”

Phunwang was also a distinguished philosopher who devoted his 18 years of incarceration to its study and subsequently published the outcome of his research. Among them was a conclusion through theoretical analysis that liquid exists on the moon using dialectic logic. Interestingly, American scientists subsequently and separately reported the presence of water on the moon.

In the course of his life he held different academic positions in China; he was a consultant to the Society of Chinese Scientific Socialism, a standing member of the Executive Council of the Institute of the History of Chinese Marxist Philosophy, director of the Research Institute of Natural Dialectics, a consultant to the Society of Chinese National Minorities Philosophy and History of Social Thinking, director of the Preparatory Committee of the Research Institute of Chinese Buddhist Philosophy and Modern Sciences, and honorary chairman of the Society of Sichuan Tibetan Studies.

Voice of America, quoting sources close to the family, said, “Phunwang had requested that he be cremated and that his ashes be taken to holy sites in Tibet such as Mount Kailash. Soon after he died, his family in Beijing had requested a Tibetan lama to conduct Phowa, the Tibetan Buddhist ritual believed to liberate the soul from the body, and invited monks to chant prayers near his body. VOA has learnt that Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal’s family will be holding all the religious rites over the next few months according to Tibetan Buddhist traditions.”

Phunwang is survived by his wife Tseten Yangdron and four children (all from his first wife, Tsilila, who died in 1969): sons Phunkhang, Phunyang and Pengjing Goranangpa and daughter Phuntso Dekyi Goranangpa, as well as an adoptive daughter, and grandchildren.


Phuntsog Wangyal Goranangpa was born in 1922 in Bathang (Chinese: Batang) in eastern Tibet, presently in Karze Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province.

Phunwang was one of the first Tibetans to attend an academy run by the Kuomintang in Nanjing, where he secretly established the Tibetan Communist Party. After the Chinese Communist Party took over China, he joined it and rose up in its ranks. In the 1950s, he was the highest-ranking Tibetan Communist and was assigned to accompany Zhang Guohua, the commander of the 18th Army who was sent to Lhasa.

He played an important role in Lhasa as also during the visit of the Dalai Lama to China in 1954-55, when he was assigned to assist him, including serving as the translator in the meetings with Mao Zedong.

Phunwang’s involvement with the Chinese Communist resulted in Tibetans regarding him negatively. At the same time, he did not gain the trust of the Chinese authorities eventually resulting in his imprisonment for 18 years. His commitment to the welfare of Tibetans made him suspect to the Chinese Communists. As a Vice Director of Nationalities Commission of the National People’s Congress, he actively participated in debates on revising China’s Constitution, specifically its provision on nationalities. He was even accused of local nationalism. In recent decades, following his release from prison and partial rehabilitation, he has gained the admiration of Tibetans for his consistent and courageous stand for the rights of the Tibetans.

In 1989, he began devoting himself wholly to academic research and writing. In 1990, his work “New Exploration of Dialectics” was published. This book summarizes the logical formula of dialectical structural law and periodicity with illustrative charts of the laws of movement. It makes a dialectic analysis of the main disciplines in social and natural sciences, and explores their essential relationship and the laws of motion.

In 1994, his second book, “Liquid Water Does Exist on the Moon” was published by the Sichuan Science and Technology Publishing House. The book focuses on the law of the identity of opposites and opposition within identity, which reflects universal theory of the objective world. It combines the tight theoretical system of dialectic logic with actual data gained through years of astronomic observation, analysis and demonstration.

Around the same time, NASA announced they had discovered a stratum of several billion tons of ice at the South Pole of the Moon. Subsequently, on December 3, 1996, the American Department of Defense announced that glacial lakes might exist at the South Pole of the Moon. These two important astronomical discoveries proved the theory that he had demonstrated with the science of philosophical dialectics many years before.

NASA officials expressed interest in his findings and invited him to a conference on Lunar and Planetary Science in 1998. However, he was unable to attend then.

In 1996, his third book, “New Investigations Into Natural Dialectics” was published by the Chinese Social Science Publishing House. In this book he made further use of the latest data to analyze dialectically and demonstrate the mystery of each major subject in natural science, and the laws of structure and movement of celestial bodies. He raised many new concepts, for example, making the first dialectic analysis of optical wave-particle duality, and he is the first among scientists to make a dialectic exploration and demonstration in trying to prove the theory that the Earth’s rotation slows one second every year.

He also wrote “A Guide to Investment in the National Autonomous States of China” published by the Tibetan Studies Publishing House, as well as an academic thesis “Treatise on the Chinese National Legal System”.

His books on Tibetan politics include the memoir “A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye” published by the University of California Press (The Tibetan version was published by Tibet Times in Dharamsala) and “A Long Way to Equality and Unity” the Chinese version of which is being published by New Century Press in Hong Kong (the Tibetan version was published by Khawa Karpo Tibet Culture Centre in Dharamsala). This book is his analysis of China’s nationality policy.

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