China's Communist Party leadership has carried out a thoroughgoing shake-up in remote Tibet, apparently aimed at enhancing the position of the Tibetans and giving more content to the concept of regional autonomy.
One important purpose may be to win back the Dalai Lama, former spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet, who has been conducting lengthy, delicate negotiations with the Chinese from his exile in India. At present one of the Dalai Lama's sisters is visiting the bleak windswept land, which they both fled after a short-lived rebellion against the Chinese failed in 1959.
The shake-up also has implications for other minority areas within China where Hans (ethnic Chinese) have been accused by "big-nation chauvinism."
In addition, across the Formosa Strait, native Taiwanese may also be watching Tibetan developments as a pointer to the degree of autonomy Peking might be prepared to accord them in a reunited China.
For the major mistake admitted in Tibet is the failure to recognize the region's special character: the attempt to run it as if it were just another part of China. Ultraleftism, the remaining influence of the "gang of four," is blamed for this. (The "gang of four," headed by Madam Mao Tse-tung, pretty much ran China from 1966 to 1976.)
Two senior party and government officials, Hu Yaobang and Wan Li, were sent to Tibet to superintend the shake-up, which included the dismissal of the regional first secretary, Ren Rong. Mr. Ren was one of the few remaining holdovers from the period of the "gang of four," having been named first secretary in Tibet in 1964. Yin Fatang, described as having been in Tibet 20 years and as speaking Tibetan, has been appointed acting first secretary.
Messrs. Hu and Wan, shirt-sleeve party bureaucrats who owe their recent promotions largely to the influence of Vice-Premier and Vice- Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping, said some breathtaking things during their nine-day stay in Tibet (May 22 to 31).
(Mr. Hu is general secretary of the party, Mr. Wan a member of the powerful party secretariat. Both are Politburo members. Mr. Wan also holds the government post of deputy premier.)
"Full play must be given to the right of regional autonomy," Messrs. Hu and Wan were quoted as saying in a front-page report in the People's Daily May 31. "Anything that is not suited to Tibet's conditions should be rejected or modified, along with anything that is not beneficial to national unity or the development of production. "It is conspicuous that in Tibet the people's living standards lag far behind. The people in Tibet should be exempt from paying taxes and meeting state purchase quotas for the next few years."
They added: "As a result of inexperience, funds have not been properly used in the past, resulting in great wastage. So long as the socialist orientation is uphelp, vigorous efforts must be made to revive and develop Tibetan culture, education, and science.
"Cadres of Han nationality working in Tibet should learn the spoken and written Tibetan language. Cherishing the people of minority nationalities is not empty talk.
"A large number of Tibetan cadres have matured," they continued, "and one of the new questions is that they should be allowed to shoulder more of the burden. . . . Full-time cadres of Tibetan nationally should account for more than two-thirds of all government functionaries in Tibet within the next two of three years.
"It is an honor for cadres of Han nationality to leave Tibet after accomplishing their historic tasks there. Communist Party members must carry out orders. When they return home, the party organization will definitely arrange jobs for them."
The last comment seems aimed at Han cadres who have lived long in Tibet and have become accustomed to their perquisites. Journalists of 1,740,000 in this vast and lonely territory, 120,000 were Han -- almost all civil servants and their families. Many are concentrated in Lhasa, the capital, where 70,000 of the 120,000 inhabitants are Han Chinese.