Dáša Mortensen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), " Wangchuk Tempa and the Control of Gyalthang in the Early-Twentieth Century "
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This paper examines the fascinating life of Wangchuk Tempa 汪学鼎 (1886-1961), the de facto early-twentieth-century political and military leader of Gyalthang (rGyal Thang) in southern Kham, in order to illustrate the complex power dynamics at play in this frontier region. Wangchuk Tempa received monastic training at Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery in Gyalthang and at Sera Monastery in Lhasa, before leaving the monastic life in 1916. By the late 1920s he had recruited a well-armed militia to protect Gyalthang from roaming bandits and Chinese military incursions, and his militia fought against the Red Army when it came through Gyalthang in May, 1936. While many young Gyalthangpa were inspired by the Communist activists they met in Lijiang, Kunming, and Bathang in the late 1940s, and some ultimately joined the underground Communist Party, Wangchuk Tempa remained wary of the Communists’ intentions in Gyalthang. Even after the People’s Liberation Army officially “liberated” Gyalthang on May 10, 1950, Wangchuk Tempa continued to fight against the PLA and resist Communist rule in the area until 1952. A fierce defender of local autonomy, Wangchuk Tempa engaged in lengthy negotiations with Communist Party officials while traveling around China on political tours, before he eventually agreed to serve as Vice Governor of the newly established Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in 1957. Chinese Communist Party accounts (wenshi ziliao) of the 1980s demonize Wangchuk Tempa as a “bandit leader” and “anti-revolutionary rebel,” while Gyalthangpa today often refer to his legendary exploits in laudatory and mythic terms. Wangchuk Tempa’s leadership in Gyalthang highlights the complex relationship between local, regional, and national politics. It also demonstrates the limited authority exercised by the government of the Dalai Lama, the Qing court, the Nationalist government, and the early Chinese Communist government in Gyalthang in the early- to mid-twentieth century.
International conference “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands,” Februray 18-20, 2016. This conference is an outcome of a collaborative ERC-funded research project (Starting grant no. 283870).
For more information, please visit the project's Website: http://kham.cnrs.fr
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