Wall Street Journal on May 10, 2015, published a review by Michael Fathers of‘ The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong” by Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston, PublicAffairs, 353 pages, $27.99, a new fascinating and important book. Thondup is the Dalai Lama’s older brother and former chief of staff. His life and work have been largely carried out in the shadows, but his book provides extraordinary insight into Tibet’s struggle against China to regain its independence. Excerpts below:
In 1945, when he was 17, Mr. Thondup was sent from Tibet to China to be educated for his role as his brother’s chief adviser on temporal matters. The Dalai Lama’s guardian believed that the Chinese would have a growing influence on Tibet, then independent, and that it was essential to know how to deal with them.
Chiang Kai-shek had appointed himself the young Tibetan’s guardian and patron, paid him a substantial allowance, and urged him to study Chinese history at Nanjing University. According to the author, Chiang Kai-shek said that if Tibet preferred to remain an independent nation “without foreign exploitation,” he was prepared to accept it. Tibet was China’s back door, he said, and the two countries would always have close ties.
The Communist victory in 1949 ended Mr. Thondup’s life in China. A year later the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet. Married to the daughter of a general in the defeated Nationalist army, Mr. Thondup made his way from Hong Kong to India, where his life as a diplomatic go-between began. To support themselves, he and his wife bought land on the outskirts of Kalimpong, close to a major border crossing into Tibet, and a noodle factory, hence the title of the book.
The book reveals a catalog of lost opportunities to open a dialogue between the Tibetan government in exile in India and Beijing in search of a settlement that would allow the Dalai Lama to return home and provide Tibet with a degree of self-government.
In 1954, the [American intelligence] made its first contact with Mr. Thondup in Kalimpong. Two years later, six Tibetan youths slipped across the Indian border into what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. They were met by Pakistani and American officials and flown in an unmarked aircraft to U.S.-occupied Saipan island for military training. After basic training they were parachuted back into Tibet. This first group achieved little. Subsequent U.S. military support was meager, and its impact on the rebellion against the Chinese military occupation was marginal.
In 1968, in New Delhi, Mr. Thondup was ushered into Russian company by T.N. Kaul, the head of India’s foreign ministry and an ex-ambassador to Moscow. He was told that the Americans were preparing to ditch the Tibetan resistance. Two Soviet agents who had flown from Moscow to India revealed that secret talks between Beijing and Washington were taking place in Poland. The Chinese were demanding two preconditions for detente: The U.S. must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan; and it must terminate all contact with and assistance to Tibetan groups under the leadership of the Dalai Lama.
The Russians offered to take over the U.S. role and said that they would deliver “real results,” setting up a headquarters in Tashkent where Tibetan insurgents would be trained and armed. Their offer was rejected when they refused to drop their support for China at United Nations voting on Tibet. The decision also took into account the growing tension between Moscow and Beijing and the violent impetus that Soviet military support might give to Chinese repression in Tibet.
Henry Kissinger in particular is seen as no friend of Tibet as he sought to open relations with China in the early 1970s. He accepted the Chinese Communist Party view that Tibet was an integral part of China and that the Dalai Lama was merely the head of a Buddhist sect rather than the leader of a nation.
The book’s co-author, Anne F. Thurston, has turned what were probably notes and memories into a crisp and magnetic story. The strength of this memoir is the pictures it paints of an old, traditional, medieval Tibet,…and of the barbarism of the Chinese military. In today’s reformist China, Beijing’s grip on Tibet has tightened. But Mr. Thondup is convinced that Tibetans and, in some form, their culture will survive and that, eventually, China’s rulers will have to treat Tibetans as equals.
Mr. Fathers is co-author, with Andrew Higgins, of “Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking.”