Amdo Champa on Gendun Chophel

Amdo Champa on Gendun Chophel

For the documentary “Angry Monk” about famed Amdo scholar Gendun Chophel, Luc Schaedler interviewed 14 Tibetan scholars who had done research on Gendun Chophel or were close friend of him. Amdo Champa, a very well-known Tibetan artist, was one of these interviewees. He talked about Gendun Chophel’s personal life. We are translating an excerpt from Amdo Champa’s interview, which was published on the Gendun Chophel website, where Tibetan writers publish their articles about Gendun Chophel as well. This website is managed by the Gendun Chophel Middle School in Tibet.

Question: Did [Gendun Chophel] tell stories about how he suffered inthe prison?

Answer: Gendun Chophel said that the Tibetan Government Prison was more comfortable than a Western hotel. In the Tibetan Government Prison, after criminals had finished their terms, they wouldn’t want to go home. After they circumambulated the monasteries in Lhasa for a while, they were too poor to meet their daily needs and pass their days, so some of them came back to the prison and said, “My lord, let me sleep in the prison for sometime.”

[Gendun Chophel] said, “I had a comfortable life in the prison. Since I had Tsotso Mey, Rakra Rinpoche and some other noblemen to provide foods, I ate them and shared the rest to other prisoners;I drew Thangkas, and sold them with the help of a girl called Chodron. Anyway, life was very great. Except that it was called “prison,” life inside the prison was very nice.” Every afternoon when the sun was setting, all the prisoners would be on the roof of the prison facing the Potala palace, saying Tara prayers, Mani prayers and prostrating. After that, all the prisoners would go back to the prison.

He also said, “We played Mahjong [Chinese chess] in prison. When prisoners played Mahjong, monks from Namgyal Monastery would come to play as well. How would they [monks] know this? If there was to be Mahjong game that night, a red shawl would be displayed on the roof of the prison. That would send a signal to the monks from Namgyal Monastery, so they would come to the prison to play Mahjong. That was very nice. I was kept inside the office all the time at the beginning, but I was never told what kind of crime I had committed. I could assume what crime I had committed. I thought it was certain that the British people had sent asecret message to the cabinet of the Tibet Government and told them that I had committed a serious crime because I conducted research on Tibet history for twelve or thirteen years during my stay in India.”

“The British Knew everything about this. They had sent secret agents after me. They also knew everything about what I did and what I didn’t do. When I came back from India, I came through Mon Tawang. Theremust be secret agents following me from Mon Tawang to Lhasa. I guess theBritish told about my works to the Tibet government and then I was imprisoned.I had these doubts; I was accused of being a secret agent, but I didn’t work as a secret agent. They were accusing someone who hadn’t worked as a secret agent for being a secret agent and they also didn’t have any evidence to show them[Tibetan Government]. I really never worked as a secret agent. But, I was scared, because I thought now my hands were going to be cut off, or my eyes were going to be plucked out. So, at that time, I chanted Tara prayers.”

“The place where I was imprisoned was not the real prison, but it was a house above the prison. It was a house of an ordinary nobleman. I didn’t have a rosary, so I put a mark on the wooden surface after chanting one Tara prayer. So, the marks almost covered the entire room.” One day, the head of prisoner sent a message, ‘From today, you can’t stay in Lhasa any longer. You have to go to the Shol prison [right next to Lhasa]. When you go the Shol prison, you are to receive 50 whips.’ This was announced to the public.”

At that time, Minister Surkhang treats Gedun Chophel well. Surkhang also knew a former officer who was an archer. Both of them were Gendun Chophel’s student. So, on the day of the whipping, the punisher was Go-jag pa. A man wearing a soft hat with a broad brim trimmed with long hairy fur was the person who would punish the criminal on his knees. This person would make the criminal lay face down and whip him on the buttocks. The officer and archer gave some money to Go-jag pa so that he pretended to whip but actually missed the spot. The end of the whip hit the ground instead of hitting Gendun Chophel. He was so thankful to Surkhang and the other officer. He stayed in the Shol prison for three years.

After three years, Lubum Khamtsen/House [Drepung Monastery] tried to help him, because he used be a monk at Lubum Khamtsen. The monks asked for help to lighten his crime and release him. He promised Lubum Khamtsen that he wouldn’t do anything against the government after he was free, so he was released. On the day of release, the prisoner would have to recite the law papers of the Tibetan Government and the rest of the prisoners would listen to recitation.

After the recitation, they announced, “GendunChophel committed a serious crime. He was a secret agent for red Russians. He was the first secret agent sent by the red Russians against the TibetanGovernment. However, this year His Holiness Dalai Lama is 13 years old. His Holiness might experience evil challenges, so Gendun Chophel is released.” He was released on that day. Whether he committed a crime or not depends on what “secret agent” means. He was called a “secret agent” by the British. For 12 years, he conducted research on Tibetan History. For example: He discovered that Dheli and Ganga rivers were [from] Tibetan territory. The British were aware of that he spoke and wrote different languages and his research activities, but in the end the British sent him to the prison.


(Translated by Reb Sa)