Tibet’s armed resistance to Chinese invasion

This is the sixth post in the series about the Tibetan Uprising. This post is about Tibetan resistance to the Dalai Lama’s 1959 exile government.

Post 1 was Tibet’s history before 1949 Chinese invaders. It also covered the refusal of the Tibetan government to listen to the Dalai Lama’s 1932 warning to increase national defense against “Red” ideology. After the Chinese conquest of Tibet, there was an uprising by the people. This was precipitated by the registration of guns. Post 3 covered the 1956-57 revolutions which freed most of Eastern Tibet. Post 4 discussed the 1958 creation of a national unified resistance, the Chushi Gangdruk. Post 5 described the 1959 armed rebellion in Lhasa that saved the Dalai Lama’s life from being kidnapped by communists and allowed him to flee to India.

These posts were taken from my co-authored law school textbook. Firearms Law and Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights and Policy (3d ed. Aspen Publishers, 2021. You can access eight chapters of the book online for free. This includes Chapter 19, Comparative Law (pages 1885-1916). This post contains citations of direct quotations. You can also find other citations in the online book chapter.

Nepalese Resistance

Tibetan freedom fighters, known as the Chushi Gangdruk (Chief Tibetan Freedom Fighters), were allowed to settle in Mustang. Mustang is an isolated district in Nepal that’s bordered on three sides with Tibet. Tibetans are the majority population and Mustang was ruled by a Tibetan king, who was friendly and mostly independent. Other fighters, mainly from Tibet, joined the group of fighters that had fled India to 1959 to join them. They caused such a disruption on the Tibetan highway between Kham and Lhasa over the following years that traffic was diverted to another highway, 180 miles to the north by the Chinese.

One PLA commander captured more than 1,600 classified documents belonging to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1961. This was the largest anti-communist intelligence heist since the Korean War. They provided valuable information on the PLA government and communist regime, as well as secret codes and SinoSoviet relations. According to the documents, PLA soldiers were demoralized by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” famine. Some of these militia members were involved in uprisings within China, while the communist militia was recognised as having little military value. The Tibetan government in exile later used certain of the captured material as evidence during its international law protests against Chinese atrocities. They were made public in 1963, and then published in 1966. The Politics of the Chinese Red Army: Translation of the Bulletin of the Activities of the People’s Liberation Army (J. Chester Cheng ed. 1966).

Five thousand Tibetans were able to escape India, Nepal and Bhutan through the Mustang fighters. The last CIA aerial drop into Tibet came in 1965. Camp Hale (Colorado) was closed down as a Tibet resistance training centre. Other CIA support was provided for Mustang fighters.

This cave, located in the Narshing Khola canyon between Chhusang, Tetang, and Tetang, was briefly revived during the Tibetan resistance movements of the 1960s and 70s. In that time, an enterprising Chhusang woman occupied one of these caves as a tavern and served guerrilla customers. In 1973 the Tibetan resistance movement ended and the caves were reopened to normal.

India, Nepal and East Pakistan, which is a region of Pakistan that lies near Southeast Nepal, were pretending to not know of CIA support for Mustang. Therefore, it was imperative to keep the secret. Therefore, the CIA was unable to send a case officers to Mustang as a foreigner would easily observe. Only one Westerner was known to have ever entered Mustang since 1960. The CIA could not monitor the spending of its donations. Baba Gen Yeshi (the first Mustang general), who was responsible for the rebels stole large amounts of these resources.

The U.S. stopped providing financial assistance after 1969. It was clear that the Mustang guerillas weren’t able meet the CIA criteria of establishing operational bases inside Tibet. Despite the Mustang resistance persisting even without CIA support, the Nepali central government started tilting towards China a few years later to help India and demanded that the Tibet project be stopped. In 1974, the Mustang fighters were finally defeated.

East Pakistan’s genocide is stopped by Tibetans living in exile

One more genocide was the last major mission for Tibetan exiles. The government of India created the Special Frontier Force in 1962. It was made up of three thousand Tibetan exiles who were living in India. In Nepal, the Chushi Gangdruk, a Tibetan resistance arm, considered them an Indian branch. India employed the Tibetans to scout near the India–Tibet border. This border became the India–China border following the Chinese conquest of Tibet.

British colony of India was dissolved in 1947. The Muslim-majority areas of India were then divided up into the new Pakistani nation, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. West Pakistan attacked East Pakistan in 1970-71 to stop an emerging independence movement and massacre the Bengali people.

After East Pakistan invaded East Pakistan, Tibetans were sent into East Pakistan’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their British and American rifles were destroyed by the British, so they received AK-47s from Bulgaria. They were unstoppable by the Tibetan guerillas. They stopped the advance of the West Pakistani army and saved the Chakmas (a Tibetano-Burman tribe who lives in this area). By tying up West Pakistani forces the Tibetans set the stage to allow the Indian army to invade three weeks later. It ended the massacre. The Tibetans stopped West Pakistan’s attempts to withdraw via Burma.

East Pakistan, which had defeated West Pakistan, became an independent country, Bangladesh. “Paraded through Chittagong by the Tibetans to excite Bangladeshi masses,” Kenneth Conboy & James Morrison, Secret War in Tibet by the CIA 242-45 (2002).

Tibet Genocide

Mao Zedong, Chinese dictator, stated that Tibet uprisings are a good thing. These were pretexts for more rapid impositions of total communism. But not all of the CCP élite shared Mao’s bravado.

Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, had attempted to resolve the diplomatic issues that China’s colonization of Tibet caused with Indian public opinion and (in private), with Nehru. The international attention paid to Tibet’s situation after the 1959 Lhasa revolt and the escape of the Dalai Lama. South and Southeast Asia were more critical of recent communist events than any other.

This was brutal and vicious imperialism. It hampered Mao’s claim to be an anti-imperialist leader for the Third World, who is the presumptive global hero of national freedom movements. Once the truth about Tibet was exposed to the world, many people realized that Maoism as applied was little different from Hitlerism—including in terms of genocide.

The International Commission of Jurists launched an investigation into the genocide committed in Tibet because of the increased awareness generated by the March 10th uprising, and the subsequent escape of the Dalai Lama. It was concluded by the Commission that the evidence provided prima facie support for Chinese government actions in violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide Crimes. International Commission of Jurists The Question of Tibet, and the Rule of Law in Genocide in TibetAt 34, 98. The Tibetan government exile claims that the Mao regime killed 1.2 million Tibetans. This includes those who died in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

Resistance: Achievements

What were the results of the Tibetan resistance? The Tibetan resistance helped the Dalai Lama flee to India. He also traveled all over the world to inform people around the world about Tibet’s freedom to govern themselves. The Tibetan government exile claims that Tibet is not part of China. However, it has made an offer of compromise. Tibet would remain in the People’s Republic of China if Tibetans were to have real autonomy and not the current “autonomous” areas with no self-government.

The Chinese would have captured the Dalai Lama, making the Tibetans’ cause less visible than it was.

Freedom fighters did not save only the Dalai Lama. Many tens of thousand Tibetans managed to escape Chinese executioners because of the heroic efforts of resistance forces. Roger E. McCarthy, Tears at the Lotus: Tibetan resistance to ChiInvasion by the Nesse, 1950-1962, at vi (1997).

Today most Tibetan refugees are still in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Others in the Tibetan diaspora live in North America, Europe or Oceania sharing their beliefs and teaching the public about Tibetan rights. While the world was not aware of Tibet’s history before 1959, there are now many Tibetan Studies scholars and lay people who know a lot about Tibetan culture.

As with all religions, Tibet’s Tibetan Buddhist faith is being perverted by the CCP into an empty shell in which compassion for sentient beings and submission to the wishes of the communist atheist party. Check outTibet Policy Institute Cultural Genocide in Tibet: Report (2017); U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor, “China (Includes Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Macau),”In 2018 International Freedom Report (2019); Eleanor Albert, China’s ReligionCouncil on For. Rel. Backgrounder, October 11, 2018. (“Tibetan Buddhists are subject to the most severe religious persecution in China along with Uighur Muslims, Falun Gong members, and Tibetan Buddhists.”); 中國靈魂爭奪戰:習近平治下的宗教復興、壓制和抵抗 [The battle for Chinese souls: religious revival, suppression and resistance under Xi Jinping]Freedom House 2017 (in Chinese).

Tibetan Buddhism flourishes because of the freedom and diaspora created by resistance. New Lhasa monastery sites have been set up in south India.  Following the Chinese invasion Tibet, 1959, and mass migrations of Tibetan masters from India to India in subsequent years, Tibetan Buddhism has moved on to the international stage. In: “United States Buddhism in,” Encyclopedia of Buddhism 530 (Edward A. Irons ed. 2008).

The Tibetan resistance was a significant step in ensuring that future generations will know that China took Tibet through violence, not consent. According to the Dalai Lama:

While intergenerational awareness of the events in the Land of Snows has grown over time, what is less well-known or appreciated is that there was an armed opposition. Particularly in Kham, Eastern Tibet where many people still retained their warrior-like traits, groups of men gathered together to fight the Chinese forcefully. The guerillas, often riding horses and equipped with obsolete weapons, fought hard. With indomitable courage, they expressed their love and loyalty to Tibet. Although they could not stop the Chinese from overthrowing Tibet, the People’s Liberation Army was informed by them what most Tibetans thought about their presence.

While I agree that the Tibetan struggle cannot be won through a peaceful approach over a long term, I admire these freedom fighters because of their courage and determination.

Dunham at page xi. In a preface for Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang’s autobiography the Dalai Lama also praised the sacrifices of his wealth and life to the Dharma as well as the freedom and national independence of Tibet. Gompo Tashi was unfeigned despite the daunting and overwhelming odds China presented. . . . I pray that the forces of his meritorious deeds—his noble act of sincerely and perseveringly struggling for the Dharma, the nation and the people of Tibet allow him to reach the highest level of attainment.” Dalai Lama, Preface, in Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang, Reminiscences of Tibet’s Resistance Movement: Six Rivers and Four Ranges 6 (1973). All Tibetan freedom fighters have been encouraged by the Dalai Lama to document their experiences so future generations can learn.

Today, Tibetan independence appears impossible. For many of the Soviet Union’s “evil Empire” captive countries, the same happened in 1983. Within a decade, 14 sovereign states had broken free from Soviet imperialism.

To change the balance of the population, however, the Chinese government supports Han immigration to Tibet, Xinjiang and Tibet. In Manchuria (where Mongols and Manchus dominate), a similar strategy worked. One day, Tibet’s residents might be able to vote freely and support Tibet staying in China. That day has yet to come.