Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Still Powerful Chamdo Clique

Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal with Mao (c. 1954)

Very few have heard of the Chamdo Clique, a group of Tibetans who have (and have had) important positions in the Communist Party of China.
In March 2013, in an article on the Internal Campaign for Tibet website, Bhuchung Tsering explained: “It is now the Chamdowas [who are] dominating the Tibetan leadership in Lhasa”.
He wrote: “The appointment of Jampa Phuntsok as a Vice Chair of the National People’s Congress on March 14, 2013, completes an interesting development in the regional representation in the top Tibetan leadership in Lhasa. This new development could be said to have begun when Pema Thinley (or Padma Choling) assumed the Governorship of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in 2010; it is now the Chamdowas, the people from Chamdo in Eastern Tibet, who hold all the highest Tibetan leadership positions in Lhasa and Beijing.”

It became known as the Chamdo Clique.

Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal 'Rinpoche'
Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal
The ‘founding’ member of the Clique is Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal, a reincarnate Lama, popularly known as Chamdo Phakpalha, who, though born in Lithang (Kham province), was recognized as the Head Lama of Galden Jampaling Monastery in Chamdo.
The Rinpoche has been supporting the Communist regime for more than 65 years.
It is probably, thanks of the patronage of Phakpalha, Jampa Phuntsok and Padma Choeling that Lobsang Gyaltsen, today a member of the Central Committee of the CPC, appeared on the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) political scene.
According to Bhuchung Tsering: “Earlier this year [in 2013], we had Pema Thinley becoming the Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress; Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal was reappointed as head of the TAR PPCC; and Lobsang Gyaltsen has become the new Governor of the TAR. Except for the top position of the Party Secretary, which continues to be in the hands of a non-Tibetan, these three positions are the highest in the region. All three individuals holding the positions are from present-day Chamdo Prefecture (today called City).”
In 2013, Bhuchung added: “At the national level, Jampa Phuntsok has become the highest rank Tibetan official now and he is also from Chamdo.”

Today, another member of the Clique, Pema Choeling is the 'highest' Tibetan in the Communist hierarchy, though Phakphala remains very influential.

Jampa Phuntsok

Jampa Phuntsok
Next to Phakpala is Jampa Phuntsok, a native of Chamdo.
Born in May 1947, he started to work in October 1970 and joined the Communist Party of China in May 1974.
He majored from the Mechanical Engineering Department of Chongqing University.
From October 1970 to April 1972, he was employed in agricultural machinery factory in Chamdo.
During the next three years, he studied at the Mechanical Engineering Department of Chongqing University.
From 1975 to 1979, he was a technician and then director of the farming machinery plant under the Agricultural Machinery Administration of Chamdo.
He then became Deputy Director of the same organization.
From 1980 to 1983, he served as Secretary of the Communist Party of Bomi County Committee, while training at the Central Party School.
From 1983 to 1992, for nine years he was Vice Commissioner (ministers) of the local Chamdo government and he November 1992, he became Deputy Secretary of the Shannan (Lhoka) Communist Party. 

In June 1995, he was promoted Party Secretary of Shannan (Lhoka) Prefecture. 

In November 1997, he was transferred to the Tibetan capital is Lhasa Party Secretary and in 1998, he became a member of the Standing Committee of the TAR Regional Committee; he continued to serve as Lhasa Party Secretary.
In April 2003, he was promoted as Chairman of the TAR government and served in this capacity till 2010.
From January 2010 to 2013, he became Director of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the TAR and in March 2013, he made it to the national scene by becoming Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People's Congress.
From March 2013 to 2018, he served to the prestigious post of Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).
Jampa Phuntsok was then replaced by Padma Choling as one of the Vice-Chairman of the NPC’s Standing Committee, Jampa Phuntsok today remains influential in the Tibet politics.

Pema Choeling

 Pema Choeling
Padma Choling (alias Pema Thinley, Pelma Chiley, Baima Chilin, 白玛赤林) is born in Dengchen County in Chamdo Prefecture in September 1952.

In December 1969, he left the preparatory class of the Tibet Nationalities Institute to join the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and train in the Qinghai Provincial New Corps. 

From March 1970 to August 1974, he served as deputy squad leader, squad leader, deputy platoon leader, and platoon leader of the Artillery Regiment of the 53rd Division.
From August 1974 to January 1980, he was posted in the Political Division of the Artillery Regiment of the 53rd Division of the PLA.
In January 1980, he was transferred to the Tibet Military Region (TMD) and served successively as a company officer and deputy battalion officer in the Group Work Division of the TMD Political Department.
In October 1984, he got a deputy regimental position in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the TMD General Hospital
He then left the PLA and in June 1986, the 35-year-old Padma Choeling moved to work as the deputy secretary of the Second Division of the Secretary of the General Office of the People's Government of the TAR.
Like Jampa Phuntsok, he served in Lhoka Prefecture and in January 2003, Pema Choeling became Vice Chairman of the TAR.
In October 2006, he was elected as a member of the Standing Committee and promoted to the Executive Vice Chairman of the People’s Government of the TAR.
In January 2010, he became Chairman of the TAR government and was promoted to the ministerial level.
In 2018, he was elected as the Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People's Congress and became a national leader.
In one way, a career very similar to Jampa Phuntsok’s (except the PLA part).

Lobsang Gyaltsen

Lobsang Gyaltsen
Lobsang Gyaltsen was born in July 1957 in Drakyab county of Chamdo prefecture; he joined the Communist Party of China in December 1978 and followed the footsteps of Jampa Phuntsok and Pema Choeling.
He is currently a member of the 19th Central Committee, deputy chairman of the Nationality Committee of the 13th National People's Congress, deputy secretary of the TAR Party Committee and secretary and director of the Standing Committee of the District People's Congress.
On January 30, 2018, he became the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress, like Jampa Phuntsok and Pema Choeling before him. 

In March 2018, he was nominated Deputy Chairman of the Ethnic Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress and member of the 19th Central Committee.
In the recent months, Lobsang Gyaltsen has been seen on and off in Lhasa and in Beijing (he made a short appearance during the Twin Meetings).
With Phakphala and Padma Choeling, they are powerful players to count on in the Tibetan political life. The Chamdo clique is still kicking.
In the recent months, Lobsang Gyaltsen has been seen on and off in Lhasa and in Beijing (he made a short appearance during the Twin Meetings).

Dzonglung Jampa Khedup Rinpoche
Dzonglung Jampa Khedup
Apart from the above individuals, Dzonglung Jampa Khedup Rinpoche, a reincarnated lama plays also a prominent role in the political affairs in Tibet.
Born in August 1940 in Chamdo,  in 1943 he was recognized as the reincarnation of Dzonglung Monastery in Riwoche County, Kham.
He started his studies in this Monastery. 

Under Phakphala’s patronage he went up in the Communist hierarchy.
From 1992 to 2003, he served as Director of the Buddhist Association of Chamdo Prefecture, Vice Chairman of the CPPCC of Chamdo County, Director of the Civil Management Committee of Galden Jampaling Monastery.
He continued to go up the ladder and from January 2008 to November 2011, he was Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of TAR and Vice-Chairman of the CPPCC of Chamdo Region, as well as Standing Director of the Buddhist Association of Chamdo Region and Director of Civil Management Committee of Galden Jampaling Monastery.
From 2011 to 2014, he was President of the Buddhist Association of Chamdo Region and First Director of the Management Committee of Galden Jampaling Monastery.
Despite his age, he remains in the Standing Committee of the TAR CPPCC.
In 2015, he received Gangchen Rinpoche, the main propagator of the Shukden cult, opposing the Dalai Lama.
This clearly shows the deep link between the monastery, the Chamdo Clique and the anti-Dalai Lama campaign. 

Gyari Lobsang Tenzin
 Gyari Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche
Another political figure of Chamdo is Gyari Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, who was born in December 1953 in Lhasa.

In 1956, he was recognized as the eleventh incarnation of a monk of Jampaling Monastery in Chamdo; he soon was nominated by the Communists as a  member of the Standing Committee of the Religious Affairs Committee of the Chamdo Office of the TAR Preparatory Committee. 

During the Cultural Revolution, he worked as  carpenter in Lhasa and an ordinary worker in the highway engineering team of the Communications Department.
In 2000, he became Executive Deputy Mayor of Lhasa and three years later Vice Chairman of the TAR Government. 

He has been a member of the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, in other words, a good Communist.
Today he is still a member of the TAR Government.

Jampaling Monastery
Chamdo’s largest monastery is seen at the centre of the local politics and the Shukden cult.
In 1373, Chamdo was visited by Je Tsongkhapa, the monk reformer and founder of the Gelukpa school; he suggested that a monastery should be built on the spot overlooking the town of Chamdo, on a hill above the confluence of the rivers Dza Chu (Mekong) and Ngom Chu (before the rivers merge into the Mekong proper in Chamdo Town).
Galden Jampaling Monastery was constructed between 1436 and 1444 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa, Gyaltsen Sherab Zangpo.
The monastery is affiliated to the Ganden Monastery in Central Tibet; it has a Main Assembly Hall, the Guardian Hall, the Tara Hall, the Debating Hall and 12 colleges.
The Main Assembly Hall was said to be extremely impressive, especially when hundreds of monks attended the religious function.
A tourist website writes: “The glorious inner sanctum is dominated by Sakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Atisha. Then there is a statue of Pakhpala Rinpoche.”
It thus describes the site: “Hundreds of Buddhist figures and sculptures of hierarchs, wonderful murals and Thangkas in this monastery are also worth visiting. All of them show the exquisite craftmanship of the artists in Chamdo.”
It was destroyed in 1912, but the main hall and two other buildings survived, and it was rebuilt in 1917 after the Tibetan army retook Chamdo. It now houses about 800 monks.

Dzonglung with late Gangchen Rinpoche,
one of the main Shukden leaders
The Dorje Shukden Angle
In 2015, I wrote of this blog: “Last year [2014], according to Cultural Relics Bureau of Chamdo Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the ‘maintenance’ project of Chamdo Jampaling Monastery received some 90 million yuan (14 million U.S. dollars) for the completion of the renovations which was scheduled for June 2014.”
Xinhua then said: “It is one of the key projects in Tibet during the 12th Five-Year Plan and is also the first large-scale relic conservation project in Chamdo Prefecture.”
As mentioned before, the monastery has been one of the main centers for the Shudgen cult in the TAR and it has the patronage of the Chamdo Clique.
In 2015, a Tibetan official then explained: “During the first period started on March 8, 2013, the project focused on ancient architecture maintenance with a total investment of 31.78 million yuan (5 million U.S. dollars), mainly strengthening and retrofitting the Du Kang [Dukhang] Hall (the assembly hall), the Holy Shrine and the Scripture Printing Lamasery. By far the first period has been basically completed. Now the second period of the project with pre-investment of 62 million yuan (10 million U.S. dollars) has been started its four sections one by one, including gate of bounding wall, fire pile, censer, square, inside and outside circumambulation, water supply and drainage.”
The official also asserted that “the construction won't change the architecture's original state and its primary design will be kept by traditional handicrafts and materials.”
The news agency added: “The Chamdo Prefecture has started the special investigations since 2008 to record the important historical relics, ancient buildings, ancient sites, ancient books and movable cultural relics.”
Around the same time, several Shugden centers got some sort of priority for funds allocations under the Five-Year Plan.
But in Chamdo, there is still a powerful clique still calling the shots.

 Communist banners in Jampaling monastery

Ding Yexian, former TAR Executive Secretary with Dzonglung in October 2020

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