Windhorse Warrior gives an inside view of the struggles and ambitions of the Tibetan people during the 1950s. It is a story that weaves together the politics of occupation and resistance along with a spiritual romance between a Chinese communist and an educated Tibetan woman.
Chuang Wei Ming, a young activist from Shanghai, arrives in Lithang on the eastern Tibetan plateau to ready people for Maoism, but soon gets over his restrictive worldview. He falls in love with the beautiful Dechen, who is the twin sister of his former love interest Jiachen. Dechen presents in front of him the richness of Tibetan Buddhism.
Palden Rinpoche, Dechen’s spiritual teacher, includes Chuang in their plan for a spiritual awakening based on the Legend of King Gesar of Ling. Together, they pursue communism, mixed with Buddhist teachings, to make way for an ‘enlightened society’.
Chuang tries to accomplish an authentic Tibetan version of the revolution, what idealist communist Baba Phuntso Wangle (a real-life character that Chuang is based on) couldn’t do as he got caught up in the politics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which led to a shifting of his revolutionary views. We find Chuang questioning whether the CCP would ever understand the simplicity of people loving one another.
At the end of the book, Commander Deng—People’s Liberation Army officer-in-charge for implementing Communist Party directives in Kham, newly annexed as part of Sichuan Province—manages to reestablish control of Lithang by instilling fear in peoples’ minds and terrorising them.
The story is based on events leading up to the general uprising against Chinese occupation in Lithang in 1954, which spread across Tibet and came to a crescendo with the Dalai Lama going into exile in 1959.
To truly appreciate the book, one needs to get back to history. The Chinese emperors have acted as suzerains over Tibet for centuries. However, Tibet contended its independence in the early 20th century. But the Chinese government, under Chairman Mao, declined to recognise Tibet’s independence and invaded it in 1950, attempting to come to a cooperative arrangement with Tibet’s political and spiritual head, the Dalai Lama. But Chinese policies and fear of assassination pressurised the Dalai Lama to escape to India in 1959.
Throughout the book, the conflict between China and Tibet is evident. However, through the love story of Chuang and Dechen, one gets a view of Tibetan Buddhism, which talks about letting go of the past.