Phuntsok Wangyal Goranangpa, also known as Bawa Phuntsog Wangyal or Phunwang, died in Beijing at 7:10AM local time.
He was born in 1922 in Bathang (Chinese: Batang), in the then Tibetan province of Kham, located today in Sichuan province. Phünwang was one of the first Tibetans to attend an academy run by Chiang Kaishek’s Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission in Nanjing, where he secretly founded the Tibetan Communist Party.
In the 1950s, Phünwang was the highest-ranking Tibetan in the Chinese Communist Party, and although he spoke fluent Chinese and was devoted to the cause of socialism and to the Communist Party, his early aspirations for a unified and modernized independent Tibet made him suspicious to many in the communist party. When China invaded Tibet and forced Tibet's leader, the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, most Tibetans viewed Phunwang as a traitor who had entered the holy city of Lhasa with the enemy army.
But soon after Tibet was fully under Chinese control, the communist party locked up Phunwang in solitary confinement at a prison near Beijing. He spent the next 18 years without any contact or information from or about his family. It was only in 1975 that his surviving family members learned that he was still alive and was political prisoner.
Phuntsok Wangyal Goranangpa was officially rehabilitated a few years after his release in 1978 but remained in Beijing isolated from the outside contact. Later, he was offered the position of Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region government, which he declined.
In recent years, he had become more vocal in advocating for changes in China's Tibet policy. In open letters he wrote to Hu Jintao when he was China's President, as well as in a new biography that released recently in Hong Kong, Phunwang called for the Dalai Lama to be allowed to return to Tibet, stating that it would act as a stabilizing force in Tibet. He predicted in his letter to Hu that prolonging the Dalai Lama's exile would lead to a worsening of tensions in Tibet. He is one of the few people inside China who has blamed local leaders and party cadres in Tibet for fanning the unrest in Tibet in order to draw greater funds and resources from the central government.
Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal's public assessment of China's falure to win over Tibetans after 50 years, and his letters and writings calling for improved relations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama have slowly won over many Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet in recent years.
According to sources close to the family, Phunwang had requested that he be cremated and that his ashes be taken to holy sites in Tibet such as Mount Kailash. Soon after he died, his family in Beijing had requested a Tibetan lama to conduct Phowa, the Tibetan Buddhist ritual believed to liberate the soul from the body, and invited monks to chant prayers near his body. VOA has learnt that Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal's family will be holding all the religious rites over the next few months according to Tibetan Buddhist traditions.