the new Governor of Kham differed in their military and political strategies. After Lhalu left Chamdo, Ngabo stressed initiating peace negotiations with the Chinese, and ignored military preparations.
The Fall of Chamdo --- A Tibetan Account
English translation of
Political and Military History of Tibet
Dharamsala Tibetan Ex-servicemens’ Association 2003
Volume 2 p.159-186
Translated by Matthew Akester
A. Defence of the northeastern borders against Chinese Communist invasion
On October 1, 1949 in Peking, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese started using the reincarnation of the ninth Panchen Rinpoche [Chöki Gyaltsen], a boy born in Amdo, as a political instrument. They coerced him to send telegrams to Mao and Commander-in-Chief Zhu De, requesting them to “liberate” Tibet. Although he was only ten years old, his influence extended widely in Dotö (Kham) and Domé (Amdo) regions. The regime announced over the radio that it was soon going to “liberate” Tibet and Formosa. Although the term “liberation” sounds impressive, inside Mao was hatching a plot to control the people and natural resources of Tibet, a nation that had existed independently since ancient times and where people lived happily and peacefully in accordance with the principles of the Dharma.
After that, the PLA troops intensified their attacks on the northeastern borders of Dotö and Domé. In response, the Tibetan government promoted Tsipön [Ngabo] Ngawang Jigme as a Kalön (cabinet minister) and sent him to Chamdo to replace Lhalu Tsewang Dorje as the governor of Kham. Lhalu was instructed to remain for a while in Chamdo to assist Ngabo, but he sent a petition to Lhasa, saying that he had already handed over to the new incumbent and hurriedly left for Lhasa, giving the impression that he was keen to avoid the drastic situation that was developing. Just after leaving Chamdo, he received an instruction from Lhasa to remain in Lho Dzong, and accordingly stayed there for a while. At that time, Kalön Donkharwa, the senior Commander-in-Chief, and Commander-in-Chief Dzasak Lama Kalsang Tsultrim were sent to Nagchu and the 39 Hor states respectively to collect new recruits and organize military survey and preparations. A detachment of the Chadang (6th) artillery regiment, under the command of Rupön (colonel) Rigzin Paljor, was dispatched to deliver machineguns, loaded on mules, from Lhasa to the Tibetan forces in Chamdo.
On November 23, 1949, Mao Zedong telegraphed General Peng Dehuai, Chairman of the Northwest Bureau, with the following instruction:
The Northwest Bureau, taking sole responsibility, with the help of the Southwest Bureau, has to first carefully deal with the Panchen Rinpoche’s communities in Qinghai and should employ them skillfully in political campaigning. You should first march quickly to Xikang (Tibet east of the Drichu) and take control. Only then should you take control of the areas west of the Drichu.
The PLA had been divided into three Army Corps, each consisting of 20,000 to 30,000 troops. Fearing that the invasion of Tibet militarily would attract international attention, Mao hesitated. He flew to Russia to seek support. After gaining Russia’s support, he sent a telegram through the chief of the Northwest Bureau, General Peng Dehuai, to Deng Xiaoping, Liu Bocheng and He Long [of the Southwest Bureau] on January 2, 1950, telling them to arrange the military expedition into Tibet without further delay. Mao’s wireless message read:
Though Tibet does not have a large population and strong army, it is large in area and important in international status. We must invade it. You must first take Dartsedo and Tibetan areas east of the Drichu. After that, you should dispatch troops to Tibet in divisions and plan to reach northeastern Tibet within three and a half months.
According to Chen Yizi’s memoir (TAR CPPCC Selected Materials on the History and Culture of Tibet vol.1) :
On 15 September, the army’s advance command convened a meeting on the mobilization. The leader told us that a few British imperialist spies and separatists in the local government of Tibet had poisoned Getak Tulku, and so closed the gateway of peaceful negotiation on the issue of Tibet.
This is a distortion…
Chen goes on to say:
Moreover, [the Tibetan government] expanded its army as much as possible, increasing the number of dapon from 14 to 17 (a Dapon is similar to a regiment (Thon), with 500 to 1,000 troops). Ammunitions and shells were bought or procured. Local recruits were enlisted and given training. Further, two thirds of the entire army (7 full brigades and some units of 3 other brigades) and local militias, totaling more than 8,000 troops, were deployed on the Chamdo borders and the west bank of the Jinsha (Drichu) river. Those troops made Chamdo their stronghold and tried to block the passage of our army along the main road into Tibet.
The entire Nyadang (8th) regiment and majority of the troops of the Jadang (7th) regiment plus some troops from the Khadang (2nd), Ngadang (4th), Chadang (6th) and Bodyguard regiments were stationed in Chamdo. One platoon of the Jadang regiment was posted in Riwoche. The Gadang (3rd) regiment and Brigadier Drakto Bulak’s troops were positioned at Yayu Sumdo, Gotö, Khasum Druka ferry and Yichöka, with Sibda as their main base. The Thadang (10th) regiment was dispatched to Kamtok, Dungpu and Jomda. The Dadang (11th) regiment (author: should be Tadang (9th) regiment) was posted in Markham. The local recruits were divided amongst the different Tibetan army regiments stationed at various locations. This entire Tibetan force was under the command of the Governor of Kham, appointed by the Tibetan government. Accordingly, the Central Government ordered us to cross the Jinsha river and destroy the Chamdo defences as quickly as possible so as to open the way for our march to Lhasa.
At the meeting, the leader of the army command mobilized six regiments for a force to invade Chamdo. It was decided to attack from two sides, north and south, like a pair of pincers, gradually advancing inward, applying more force on the northern side. The third regiment of our division, and the artillery battalion of Army Corpse temporarily under the our divisional command, reconnaissance battalion, engineering battalion and the artillery company of the 54th division and the cavalry unit at Jyekundo were assigned the task of attacking from the northern side. Our northern force was divided into three groups: the right flank was composed of the 154th regiment, Qinghai cavalry, reconnaissance company and artillery company. This force was to work under the direction of Deputy Political Commissar Yin Fatang, Commander Zhang Limin and the commanders of the 154th regiment and Qinghai cavalry. The 154th regiment and artillery company of the northern group were ordered to cross the river at Denkok, to join the Qinghai cavalry as fast as possible. Then, after taking the Nangchen road, it was to march straight to Ngenda to block the road to Lhasa, in order to cut off the escape route for enemy troops, as well to block reinforcements.
The central group was composed of the 155th and 156th regiments and central command artillery battalion. Its task was to march with the advance force to attack Chamdo. It was to cross the river at Denkok, then to march through Yayu Sumdo, the Changshi bridge and Gotö up to Sibda, crushing the enemy forces at each point. Then it was to advance to Chamdo following the shortcut route, where all the groups were to make a combined attack on the enemy’s main base.
The left flank was made up of the central command, engineers battalion and artillery company of the 54th division. It was under the command of the reconnaissance battalion leader Dong Qing, and Wang Daxuang, the Political Commissar directly appointed by central command. Its mission was to confuse the enemy forces and support the central group. It was to advance under the cover of artillery, crossing the river at Kamtok (a diversionary advance) and destroy the enemy’s positions at Dungpu and Jomda as quickly as possible, and then to march towards Chamdo. When they were about to reach Chamdo after a three-day march, one group of troops should follow the upper route to surround Chamdo from the south and wipe out all the enemy’s troops there, and whoever tried to escape from that side.
The left division of our brigade was comprised of the 157th Regiment of the 53rd brigade, the artillery company and engineering company. According to the plan, under the command of Mao Poyi, the Deputy Political Commissar of the 53rd brigade, it was to cross the Jinsha river at Drupa Lung, west of Batang, and destroy the enemy force at Markham first. Then, the main force was to make for Pomda and Pashö, to block the road for enemy troops who tried to escape from Chamdo towards the south.
One battalion each from the 125th and 126th regiments of the Yunnan Military Region’s 42nd brigade had already arrived at Kungshen and Dechen, and they were to crush the enemy forces at Yinching, Menkung and Duliang, and then make a diversionary advance to the northwest. At that time, the Northwest army was also about to advance to Tibet. In this way, with our forces combined, we planned to destroy the defence of Chamdo in one go and liberate the whole of Tibet.
After the meeting, we utilized the short time we had for the mobilization of our troops before we embarked upon our mission. On one side, our Front army, the 154th regiment, studied the implementation of minority nationality policy, how to deal with the people, military advance across the high plateau and adapting to the new lifestyle. On the other, we made military preparations, helped the local people in their work at our best level and learned to live on barley flour (tsampa), butter and cheese, to adapt to the plateau lifestyle. We arranged transport teams of Yak and Dri, which are called “Ships of the Highland”, and learned from the Tibetan masses how to drive them. We managed to transport some heavy loads and necessary supplies, and made all preparations so that our forces would be able to fight the Chamdo battle with ease.
On January 10th, 1950, Mao Zedong wired a message to Liu Bocheng, Deng Xiaoping and He Long, as quoted in Mao’s Notes on the founding of the New China:
Your plan for leading the military campaign into Tibet is excellent. I agree with you and permit you to go ahead. Britain, India and Pakistan’s recognition of the Peoples Republic of China has greatly enabled our advance into Tibet.
By that time, large numbers of PLA troops were already penetrating into the regions of Amdo and Kham northeast of the Dri-chu, and warned that they were ready to cross over, proclaiming a ten-point document to deceive the public and constantly making radio announcements with no bearing on reality, stating that they were going to expel the foreign imperialist influence and liberate Tibet.
In response, the Tibetan government announced that Tibet was not part of China, that the relations between Tibet and China were only of “priest and patron” nature, and that there were no foreign powers in Tibet. It also announced on Lhasa radio in three languages—Tibetan, Chinese and English—that if China invaded Tibet, just as a big insect eats up a small insect, Tibetans would fight to the last, even if the entire male population were annihilated, leaving only women behind. The radio announcements were made twice daily, in the morning and evening; Ford read it in English, Takla Puntsok Tashi in Chinese and Rimshi Rasa Gyagen in Tibetan.
Before the talks between the Chinese and Tibetans in Delhi had reached an outcome, as mentioned above, the PLA began invading Tibet in complete violation of the international law on October 7th 1950, from six different approaches: through Kyegudo and Nangchen into Riwoche, crossing the Dri-chu at the Denkok and Kamtok ferry crossings in Derge; into Markham from Batang; into Tsawarong from Yunnan; and into Ngari from Xinjiang. The Tibetan defense forces in each location put up a sharp-witted fight, but due to inferiority in numbers and prevailing conditions, they suffered defeats one after another, and lost their ground, as will be briefly described below.
1. The engineers battalion of the 6th regiment of the 18th army, the artillery company of the 54th division and the 154th regiment under the Southwest military command joined the Qinghai cavalry led by the Deputy Political Commissar Yin Fatang and Zhang Limin. Their plan was to cross the Dri-chu River north of Denkok, advance on Riwoche through Jyekundo and Nangchen encircling Chamdo from the north, to cut off the Tibetan troops there. When they reached the Chaksamka (Qinghai-Tibet border north of Riwoche), they encountered the Jadang regiment under the command of Dapön Pulungwa and Rupön Drugyal’s forces. After several days of stiff fighting, they ran out of shells and bullets, Dingpön (lieutenant) Kalsang Wangdu of the Jadang regiment, along with some brave soldiers, resorted to swords. Kalsang was taken alive by the Chinese. He was not only severely tortured but was killed in a horrible manner by tying his four limbs to four dzos (a cross breed of yak and cow) and dragging him to his death. With many killed and wounded on both sides, the Tibetan force was then obliged to withdraw towards Riwoche.
2. Around the same time, the 155th and 156th regiments and artillery battalion under the command of Suo Yang and others crossed the Dri-chu at Denkok, and attacked Yayu Sumdo, Gotö and Sibda. On the evening of the 2nd day of the 7th Tibetan month, the sound of the gods fighting (the forces of evil in vain) was heard all over Tibet, followed by earthquakes and other bad omens. The junior Gyapön of the Gadang regiment under the command of the Shikatsé Dapön Mujawa fought back this advance, and Gyapön Rongpa Migmar, coming through Dzimo Gön, managed to hold the Chinese at Tsoné Sumdo for several consecutive days, during which both sides suffered high casualties. The Tibetan forces then regrouped at Yutso, where they remained for a while.
The Tibetans captured two Chinese spies who told them that the Chinese were planning to launch a bigger attack on the Tibetan positions soon. Both were killed in the uproar. Soon the Chinese mounted a strong attack on Yutso, and the Tibetan forces pulled back to Sumdo, bordering Lhatok, where local militias of Shotarlhosum, Powo, Drayab and Gonjo arrived to reinforce them. The Tibetan forces then took positions on the hills either side of the road, dug themselves in, and waited. One day, about one hundred Chinese cavalry came unguardedly along that road, and the Tibetans ambushed them, killing all except for a few who managed to escape.
The following day, there was a continuous flow of Chinese infantry troops through the bank of Yuchu Kha. The Tibetan troops encountered them for several days and nights, until the Chinese lost the courage to go on, and retreated to a distance of one day’s march. No fighting took place for a few days after that. In this battle, many Chinese soldiers were killed. The Tibetan soldiers and the local people gathered them into a heap and threw them into the Puchu river. They say there were so many that they stacked up in the water, and blocked the river.
The Tibetan side also lost about 50 officers and soldiers and many more were injured. The weapons seized from the Chinese were sent with Sonam Tashi, Geding (lieutenant) of the Kadang (1st) regiment, to the Governor of Kham in Chamdo. Regarding this battle, we find the following passage in Selected Materials on the History and Culture of Tibet vol.1:
One evening, when we were marching through a narrow mountain pass, our comrades of the front army suddenly stopped on the way. Our reconnaissance platoon had met with a group of enemy troops on the mountainside at a height of 5,000 meters. Despite the enemy force being stronger, our comrades fearlessly and courageously fought back the enemy force, with great effort. Unfortunately, Zhang Jilin (of reconnaissance platoon) and Tsondru Namgyal, an official of the political department, lost their lives, and platoon leader Wei Xun and others were wounded one after another. Only three soldiers in the platoon were left there. As soon as our front army (advance troops) arrived, they started taking part in the battle, and the enemy troops were firing at us from their barricades. We immediately ordered our artillery company to take up position on a small hill nearby and help the infantry troops to destroy the enemy.
Just after this battle, a group of military instructors was sent to Kham from Lhasa. Soon after their arrival in Chamdo, the same Sonam Tashi of the Kadang Bodyguard Regiment (he still lives in Dharamsala and is known as Kusung Rupön Sotre-la) was sent to Denkok to repair damaged guns and give training to the soldiers. He fought the above battles and recalls the following, in a transcribed version of his interview, which has been archived at the Department of Security of the CTA, Dharamsala:
After we finished repairing the machineguns and Bren guns and giving training to the Gadang troops, we returned to Chamdo. Soon Dapön Muja of the Gadang regiment sent a messenger with a request to send Naljor and me over [to his camp] to repair their damaged Lewis guns. We both rode off to Yutsokha to meet him. He received us warmly and gave us food and drink, and arranged a tent for us. The next day, he sent the damaged machineguns to us. We checked them and found their rewind springs had been damaged, so we put in new ones and made them workable. After that, we requested him to permit us to return to Chamdo immediately, but he told us that since we had come, we could take rest there for two or three days. One day, not long after that, news came that the Chinese forces had arrived at Sibda and Yutsokha. He immediately began to make defense preparations. At that time, we three lieutenants—Lhawang-la, Monlam-la and I—voluntarily took one hundred cavalry troops and proceeded to Sibda. We arrived there just before dawn. We immediately attacked the Chinese position and fought the whole day, pushing them back. The Chinese were badly defeated and they finally fled. The next day, with the help of the local people, we dumped their dead bodies into the river. People said that there were about 200 dead bodies. We got around 37 guns from them. In those times, only some Chinese troops had guns. The local people were happy with us and thanked us for saving their lives. Then, we made our way back to Yutsokha.
At the same time of the Denkok battle, the Tibetan force defending Gotö lost ground and retreated to Yutso, where they joined the Tibetan force deployed in that area. They positioned themselves to block the Chinese advance on the mountain pass and main road at Sumdo, and lay in wait to attack the Chinese. At first, a detachment of 100 Chinese cavalry came following that road. Our forces fired on them fiercely, killing all of them on the spot. Many infantry troops continually came through that road. The Gadang regiment troops and local militias attacked them. Having suffered a bad defeat, the Chinese retreated to a distance of one day’s march. Ten Tibetan officers and soldiers were either killed or wounded in that fight. No fighting took place for a few days after that, as if the two sides had agreed on a ceasefire. The Chinese dead were dumped into the river, and weapons seized from the Chinese during the previous battle were dispatched to the Governor under the escort of the lieutenant and the section leader of the Gadang regiment with their soldiers. At that time, we requested the Gadang Dapön (brigadier) to allow us to return to Chamdo.
When we got to Chamdo, the handover to the new Governor had just taken place, and parties went on for several days. At that time, messengers came in one after another from all over, all of them in haste, which was not a good sign. And at that point, Lhalu and his retinue hurriedly left Chamdo.
In his report on the above events, archived at the Department of Security of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Rinchen, a former member of the Gadang regiment, recalls:
During the Tibetan resistance against the Chinese advance on the mountain northeast of Sibda monastery, under the command of Gyapön (captain) Ogma-la of the Gadang regiment, Namgyal Puntsok and Khabong Migmar Dhondup lost their lives. They were said to have killed many Chinese soldiers. However, overwhelmed by the large Chinese force, the Tibetan force retreated to Yutsokha, where they joined the Shigatse force and the local militias, and again put up a combined fight against the Chinese for several days. I do not remember how many Chinese and Tibetan soldiers were killed or wounded in that battle. However, due to a shortage of shells and ammunition, and uncertainty of supplies from Chamdo in time, we were put in a tremendously difficult position and were compelled to pull back to a distance of two days’ march. When we reached a valley between two passes at Dola-do, 30 yaks loads of shells and bullets arrived from Chamdo. We again made barricades at Sumdo on the pass, and made preparations to hold our position there. Next morning, more than 100 Chinese cavalry with packhorses appeared from the east As soon as they arrived just below our position, we fired on them from both sides, killing all except for a few who managed to escape. The next day, just after midday, through, a large detachment of Chinese infantry approached our position along the same road and started pounding us with cannonfire. We retaliated with all our force, and the fighting lasted for almost two days. Some of our troops and officers, including Badungwa Lobsang, Sherab Yeshe and Sa-ngenpa Alo were killed or wounded, but because we had good defense positions and barricades, we did not suffer many casualties. Many of our horses were killed or wounded however. It became well known in that area that many Chinese soldiers were killed or wounded, and everyone saw the special treatment given to the body of a Chinese commander, carried away on a stretcher. All the weapons seized from the Chinese were loaded on horses and dispatched to the Governor, escorted by Nyugshi Anan Dawa of the Gadang regiment and Rupa Tsingdor. Most of the bodies of the Chinese soldiers were thrown into the river and the rest were buried in pine needles.
While we remained there in the hope of holding the area, a messenger from Chamdo came one afternoon to tell us that the Chinese had followed another route and they were preparing to destroy the Dzasam (Mekong bridge) close to Chamdo. The Governor had ordered that the arms depot at Siltok Tang in Chamdo be set on fire so that the weapons would not fall into the Chinese hands, and was retreating to Drugu monastery. Hearing this terrible news, all our troops, both commanders and soldiers, lost their determination and courage to fight. We abandoned our position and headed for Chamdo, fearing being surrounded by the enemy if we did not move. We arrived to find Dzasam bridge still intact, but approaching Chamdo we saw clouds of smoke coming from the armoury which was still on fire, and noises of bursting shells could be heard, as if an intense battle was raging. Since it was no use for us to proceed to Chamdo, we went back through Namtso-la pass.
3. From Horkok, a large Chinese force along with the artillery company of the 54th regiment, under the command of the battalion commander Dong Qing and Wa Daxuan, the Political Commissar directly under the central command, attacked the Tibetan positions at the Kamtok Druka ferry crossing in Derge and the Önpo Tö and Önpo Mé area (on the west bank of the river). The Thadang (10th) regiment under the command of Brigadier Shagjang Ngawang Gyaltsen tried to block them, and the 1st captain of the Gadang regiment and Tsashonyer Karma lost their lives. Many Chinese troops and officers were also killed or wounded; some of them drowned when their coracles were punctured by gunfire during the river crossing.
The following is a short excerpt from Selected Materials on Tibetan History and Culture vol.1:
Our left wing crossed the Jinsha at the Kamtok Druka ferry on the 7th October. Enemy forces defending Dungpu and Kamtok kept up a barrage of gunfire to stop us from crossing the river, but we fought our way over undeterred under covering fire. Unfortunately, one of our coracles was hit, and four of our soldiers were drowned, and died gloriously.
This does not tell the full story. Actually, several Chinese boats were sunk, and the battle was intense and lasted for several days and nights. Many Chinese troops were killed or wounded, and they were forced to retreat.
After a few days, a large force of Chinese troops came and launched a fresh attack. The Tibetan force put up strong defence, but were outnumbered, and had to pull back to Jomda. Hoping to hold Jomda and Kyorshung, they prepared to counter the Chinese attack, but guided by some Tibetan collaborators, the Chinese launched a night attack on the camp of Dapön Karchung of the Gadang no.2 brigade at Kyorshung, killing or wounding many Tibetan officers and soldiers. In the chaos, the Tibetan troops retreated some way, and again attempted to hold their ground, but in the process, Gadang captain Chakjang Ngodrup and other Tibetan troops were taken by the enemy. Outnumbered, the troops of the Gadang and Thadang regiments and local militia fled towards Chamdo, meeting the 1st brigade of the Gadang regiment on the way, and went together through Nantso-la pass to Drugu monastery.
4. At the same time, the 157th regiment of the 53rd brigade and various companies of engineers, under the command of Deputy Political Commissar Mao Poyi, crossed the Drichu from Batang, and launched heavy attacks on the Tibetan positions at Chidzong Gang and Drupa Rong in Markham. The Tibetan defence force comprised the troops of the Tadang (9th) regiment under the command of Gyapön Kunga Tsenje, monk volunteers from Gungkar Labrang and local militia. In this battle, Tadang Gyapön Bagdro and some of his troops were taken by the ebenmy, and in the face of crushing defeat, the rest of the Tibetan troops were forced to retreat. At that time, disagreement arose between the Tadang Dapön Derge Sé Kalsang Wangdu and Markham Taiji Majawa, leading Majawa to flee to Chamdo. Though he did not lack patriotic spirit, but due to the heavy losses, and prompted by a private letter he had received from Derge minister Jagö Topden, Derge Sé called Tadang Rupön Gonpo to a meeting at Gartok and proposed that surrender to the Chinese was the best option. They went with some of their soldiers to Political Commissar Ren Xinshing at the 157th regiment’s camp to offer surrender, and then returned to Gartok and ordered all his troops to hand over all their weapons and ammunition to the Chinese. One group of solders returned to their homes, but the majority moved to Chamdo with Derge Sé in 1951, where they were based at Tangkar Teng and integrated with PLA troops.
After that, some of the top Chinese commanders came to Chamdo, the 18th army commander Zhang Guohua, political commissar Tan Guansen, director of the political department Liu Zhenguo, chief of staff Chen Minyi and deputy chief of staff Li Jowei. Che Jigme of the Nangmagang (Panchen Lama’s government), Jagö Topden, Bapa Puntsok Wangyal, Kalsang Yeshe and others who were in favor of the Chinese complemented Derge Sé, both verbally and in writing, saying that he had made a wise decision in surrendering to the Chinese. But the Tibetan people called him “shameful Tadang Makpön” and he became an object of derision, as in this satirical song which became popular in Lhasa:
Ngabo went out there full of zeal But returned after delivering Chamdo [to China]; Out of a hundred good men, Dapön Muja was the most capable. Led on by two-faced Derge Sé, That guileless Dapön Karchung, Carried the stink of shit From the military camps in Kham.
Amongst the nobles of days gone by, There were men like tigers, leopards and bears, Now there are pha ras and wolves, Who cast the affairs of state to the four winds.
5. Units of the 125th and 126th regiments of the 42nd army under the Yunnan Military Region marched into Kungshen and Dechen respectively and attacked lower Tsawarong. Local militia made their best efforts to defend their position, but they were overwhelmed by the Chinese force, both in terms of numbers and equipment, and driven back to southern Chamdo.
6. In the autumn of 1950, the first regiment of the cavalry brigade commanded by Li Disan crossed the Kunlun Shan from Xinjiang and entered the Gertse region of Ngari. Drungyik Tseten Pungyal, the acting Governor of Ngari, and the local notables protested against their invasion and warned that if the Chinese did not turn away, they would deploy soldiers and expel them by force. But, as more Chinese reinforcements kept arriving from Xinjiang, their presence became established.
B. The Fall of Chamdo
As mentioned above, the former and the new Governor of Kham differed in their military and political strategies. After Lhalu left Chamdo, Ngabo stressed initiating peace negotiations with the Chinese, and ignored military preparations. He withdrew all the mountaintop watchposts in and around Chamdo, as if they were not needed. With the view to opening communication with the Chinese and to discourage their offensive on the Tibetan border, he sent Yeshe Dargye and Pomda Rabga from Markham and Yuga from Denkok to [Kangding]. But as the Chinese had already started attacking the border and Tibetan forces had suffered heavy defeats and lost large areas to the Chinese, dialogue was left at that. Before the arrival of the Liberation Army in Chamdo, Ngabo decided to shift his headquarters temporarily to Lho Dzong, and on the 9th day of the 8th (Tibetan) month of the Iron-Tiger year , he and his entourage hurriedly left Chamdo.
At Lamda, he heard that the Chinese troops from Pasho and Riwoche had arrived in Lagong Ngenda and cut off the escape route. His group then spent the night at Drugu monastery. After general discussion, it was decided to send Khenchung Samkhar Tubten Donyo and Tsedron Tsatrultsang Lobsang Gyaltsen to Chamdo.
“When we arrived at Dramdo, we met some PLA scouts based in Lamda. They took us there and introduced us to an officer named Xinggung, a tall, lean young man with a calm temperament. He was the commander of the PLA unit that came from Xining through Kyegudo. He asked why we had come. We replied, as if we had the authority,
“The governor of Kham sent two of us to the base at Chamdo to talk with the PLA, but on the way, we met these men who brought us here. We have deployed only a very small number of defence troops along the borders in the hope of reconciliation with China through peaceful negotiation. However, the Chinese suddenly launched massive attacks on Tibetan border areas, scaring the Governor and his aides-de-camp, who had to shift their headquarters to Lagong Ngenda. Though he wished to talk with the commanders of the nearest PLA camp, it was night time, he could not do so, and he is now staying at Drugu monastery. If you wish to hold a peaceful negotiation on the terms of basic Sino-Tibetan cooperation, promise that PLA troops will not move further into Tibet from Chamdo, and we will inform our government.”
The commander replied,
“Your governor is staying at Drugu monastery and proposing peace negotiations. That is more useful than 100,000 Tibetan troops to defend the border, and it means that the Liberation Army cannot go further than Chamdo for the moment. I can fully guarantee that neither the governor’s person nor any of his property will be harmed. This evening you two will come with the Liberation Army to Drugu monastery, and you should let it be known to any Tibetan troops we meet along the way that they are not to fire on us. If there is any unfriendly fire we will respond. We had planned a night attack on Drugu monastery, and all Liberation Army units have been given orders, but since you two came and explained the situation, they will have to be pulled back, and then we can discuss at our ease.”
“The governor sent us to Chamdo that night, and has no knowledge of what has been said since, so we would like to immediately send two servants with a message for him, and request a letter of passage for them to show any Liberation Army soldiers along the way. Could we come with you early tomorrow morning?”, to which the commander agreed, and the Tsedron made a list of the points mentioned by the commander to despatch to governor Ngabo. Then, we were taken to an inner room of the headquarters at Lamda where there were three Chinese officers and a translator, no-one else, and they questioned us about what we had said to commander Xinggung, and ended by saying that both sides must adhere to what had been agreed. There was a general, a civilian official and a paymaster, but I couldn’t tell you all of their names.”
On the morning of the 11th of the Tibetan month, when the two representatives were on the way to Drugu with the soldiers, they met Ngabo and his retinue being escorted down by a group of soldiers that had come from Chamdo. Then an argument broke out among the Chinese over who would get credit for capturing them, after which the whole party was sent back to Drugu, where they took many photographs of weapons being handed over to the Liberation Army, of the whole group putting their signatures on a Chinese document, and then of the group standing below the monastery with bowed heads.
Then they were all taken to Chamdo, (riding) hemmed in the middle of a Chinese cavalry troop. The 18th army commander Wang Qimei had just arrived, and there were soldiers all over the town. Ngabo, Samkar Khenchung, Tsogo Se and a few others were put up in a kitchen, and the rest in an army camp, under a sort of house arrest, and for many days they held meetings and asked many questions. One day they started the accusation of Robert Ford, the British radio operator employed by the Tibetan government, for poisoning and murdering Getak Tulku. They put chains around his neck and paraded him up and down in public, maligning him and embellishing their accusations no end.
At public meeting in Chamdo which people were forced to attend, Wang Chimei spoke alot trying to trick people into collaborating and deceive them, saying “We have come to liberate the Tibetan people! The Liberation Army serves the people, and would never take even a needle and thread from them. The people have the right to express their ideas. This meeting is for you to say whatever you want about the murder of Getak Tulku.”
But not a single person spoke. Then, an old official of Chamdo monastery called Benlok Rinchen Dondrup spoke out honestly and without reserve, saying “It is very kind of the Liberation Army not to oppress the people. We have not heard of (such things happening so far), and please ensure that it stays that way. In the negotiations between China and Tibet, please ensure that the Buddhist religion and the noble rule of the Dalai Lama remain in place. Getak Tulku died in Chamdo of natural causes, and since no-one saw, heard or suspected any involvement by that British radio operator, how can this be justified?”
That night, the Chinese commander summoned Rinchen Dondrup, gave him a talking to and threatened him, and this was the first occasion on which the falsity of these speeches was inevitably revealed.
The Chinese gave that British man a really hard time, for political purposes, and then took him away to China. Dingpön Tashi Norbu of the Drapchi regiment, one of governor Ngabo’s bodyguard, was privately questioned about why the armoury was destroyed, and he fearlessly replied that he had done it on the governor’s orders to prevent Tibetan government arms from falling into Chinese hands.
By that time, Tibetan troops in Chamdo, Drugu and so forth had been ordered to surrender and hand over their weapons, and the Chinese gave each one that surrendered a ‘certificate of lenient treatment’ and five silver coins (Dayuan) and sent them back home. Those that did not surrender took to the mountains, in Khyungpo and in Sho-Tar-Lhosum, and there they joined with local militia, swearing to defend the country against the Communist bandits, but anyway, by October 19th 1950, Chamdo was in enemy hands.
When Lhalu was serving as governor, the Gadang or Shikatse troops had met the Chinese advance across the Drichu from Denkok, but under Ngabo, when they lainched a five-pronged invasion from the northeast with a large body of troops, although we put up a determined fight, we could not contain them and were driven steadily back. The main reasons for this were the different attitudes of the two governors towards armed resistance, poor coordination between the Tibetan troops, and failure to forge unity with the local population. Earlier, the government had not approved plans for an attack under Lhalu’s command, supplies of ammunition and food and troop reinforcements were not in place, and there was no timely planning of strategy and provision, no battle plan laid down by those in charge, while the Chinese were making loud promises about bringing heaven on earth under the fine name of ‘liberation’, and giving out gifts and money liberally to turn the heads of the local leaders and population. They were also skilled at exploiting the internal feuds between the Tibetan government and the Panchen Lama, and between different regions. Most of all, successive governors sent by the government, the Dzong governors and officials and the army stationed (in the east) did not care for the local people and their needs as a religious government should, producing resentment, and as a result some people who came later and did not remember the past sided with the Chinese Communists, causing dissension and spoiling Tibetan unity…
…In October 1950, after the PLA captured Chamdo, former governor Lhalu was in Lho Dzong with some of the Drapchi regiment as his bodyguard. Hearing that the Chinese were starting to move towards Lhasa, Lhalu immediately went to Shopando and then to Tar Dzong where he stayed for a few days. The Gyantsé (4th) regiment was in Khyungpo Karnak Sersum along with the local recruits and some Tibetan troops scattered from various parts of Chamdo. Lhalu entrusted the defense of Khyungpo to the Phadang regiment, along with local militia and the Tibetan troops who had fled from Chamdo. Then he ordered all the troops of the Gyantsé Regiment to rush to Shotarlhosum to defend areas along main roads, and accordingly, the troops of the Gyantsé regiment met at Tengchen, from where they headed down the Gyamo Ngulchu to Shopando, via Ngosho Dargyé monastery. There they were joined by some Tibetan troops of different regiments who had fled Chamdo. From Shopando, they sent scouts towards Chamdo to reconnoitre the situation. Through contact with the monasteries, they gathered local leaders and elders to discuss resistance, and they suggested that the area between Lhatsé and Bari would be defensible, whereas there were no strong positions in Shopando, and if fighting broke out there the monasteries of the area could be destroyed. So the Tibetan troops shifted their base to Lhatsé and occupied the Bari ridgeline, constructing barricades, and preparing to fight.
When Lhalu arrived at Lhari-go on his way to Kongpo Gyamda from Tar Dzong, he sent a fake arrow letter to Chamdo. The letter said, “The government has dispatched five regiments and 5,000 monk volunteers along with arms and ammunitions, and they must be nearly there. The villages and monasteries along their way must extend help to them.” The letter was sent straight to Lho Dzong and seems to have come into the hands of the Chinese.
Around that time, the Tibetan troops heard from their spies that many Chinese troops were advancing towards Shopando along the main road, and immediately took up fortified positions in the forests of Dzimo Gung-la pass in Bari. One morning, the Chinese advance cavalry followed by infantry came straight down the main road towards Gung-la, and on their way, fired on a unit of 10 Tibetan scouts in Bari village, killing their leader Kharkha Wangdu and Dungpa Tangpe Bagdro’s son, and capturing the remaining eight along with their weapons. Then, the Gyantsé commanders at Gung-la - Rupön Puntsok Yugyal, Rupön Kala Migmar Puntsok, Gyapön Lochi Kharsam Gyalpo and Gyapön Taktse Penpa Wangdu— pledged along with their troops that they would never allow the Chinese to pass. Just as the Chinese arrived at the foot of the pass, Rupön Puntsok Yugyal opened fire, and immediately his troops unleashed a barrage of heavy and light arms fire from both sides with whatever weapons they had, and the fighting went on for the whole day. The Chinese suffered heavy casualties, and returned fire as they fled into the nearby forest. By around 5 pm that evening, there was no further exchange of fire and all had gone quiet. On examination, it turned out that they had hurried back to Lho Dzong, either because of the intensity of the attack or because they were panicked by the fake arrow letter sent by Ngabo, stating that the Tibetan government had sent reinforcements to Chamdo. This is from an account given by Dingpön Khétsun of the Gyantsé regiment:
At the time Chamdo fell, our regiment was in Khyungpo. Then, at the instruction of the ex-Governor, we went to defend Shopando. Our soldiers were deployed on the mountaintops in four directions, and waited there to ambush the Chinese troops. The people and monks of Shopando requested us to shift our position because fighting a battle in Shopando would destroy all their monasteries. Accordingly, we shifted our position to Bari. On the morning of the 15th day of the 10th Tibetan month, more than 300 Chinese troops advancing from Lho Dzong and Shopando arrived near us, and we immediately fired at them. The fighting lasted until midday. In the battle, ten of our soldiers were captured, and amongst them two were killed and the other eight escaped and returned to our camp in the night. On the Chinese side, fifty or sixty soldiers were killed or wounded. They hurriedly retreated from Bari.
Our side was unharmed, and with the same weapons, we remained at Sating Dzong and then in Nagsho Driru. After that, on the instruction of the ex-governor of Kham, we went to Kongpo Gyamda where we stayed a few months as his bodyguards. On 27th day of the 4th Tibetan month of the Iron-Rabbit year, on the order of the Government, our regiment returned to Lhasa and remained there until the new regime was established.
It was widely known that many Chinese soldiers were killed or wounded during the battle of Bari. The dead remained unclaimed and were eaten by dogs and birds, or left to rot. On the Tibetan side, two soldiers died and some soldiers were wounded.
According to the “One-Thousand Kilometer March by the PLA Advance Troops” published in the first volume of Selected Materials on the History and Culture of Tibet, the author Chen Zeyi recounts the following:
. . .We continued our march. Pursuing the troops of the Ngadang regiment to Bari village, we struck them. Then we headed for Palbar where we crushed the remaining troops of the enemy. . .
This is utterly false. The Chinese advance force (called the ‘branch division’) did not reach Palbar until August 8, 1951 after the 17-Point Agreement was signed. Later, many Chinese veterans were encouraged to write accounts falsifying and covering up what really happened. It is therefore important to examine these and let the truth come out.
When the battle of Bari took place, Lhalu was in Kongpo Gyamda. From Lhatsé, a capable lieutenant and section leader were sent to Lhalu to inform him about the battle, the situation of the enemy and to receive further instruction. They did not advance their camp. Thereafter, they moved to Gyéton Sating Dzong. The regiment’s troops at Khyungpo Sertsa were called back through Tsapung Gang and Chamda, and regrouped at Palbar and Shargung-la pass, where they remained on watch for several months. During that time, there was no advance move from either the Chinese or Tibetan troops in the area. At that time, the Padang Drongdak (élite) regiment was on defence duty at Lhari Go and Nagsho Driru…