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Battle of Chamdo

Coordinates: 31°08′14″N 97°10′39″E / 31.1372°N 97.1775°E / 31.1372; 97.1775
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Battle of Chamdo
Part of the Annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China and the Cold War

PLA troops crossing the Mekong River prior to the battle.
Date6–24 October 1950
Location31°08′14″N 97°10′39″E / 31.1372°N 97.1775°E / 31.1372; 97.1775
Result Chinese victory
Annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China
Tibet  China
Commanders and leaders
Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme (POW)[1]
Lhalu Tsewang Dorje[2]
Liu Bocheng
Deng Xiaoping
Zhang Guohua
Fan Ming
Tibetan Army: 8,500[3] People's Liberation Army: 40,000[4][5]
Casualties and losses

180 killed or wounded[6][7][8]
~3,000 captured

3,341 killed, wounded, surrendered, captured, or defected (Chinese estimate)[2]
114 killed or wounded[6]

The Battle of Chamdo (or Qamdo; Chinese: 昌都战役) occurred from 6 to 24 October 1950.[9][10] It was a military campaign by the People's Republic of China (PRC) to take the Chamdo Region from a de facto independent Tibetan state.[11][12][13][14] The campaign resulted in the capture of Chamdo and the annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China.


Kham was a border region of Tibet. The eastern part of Kham had been under the direct control of China during the Qing dynasty. Its western half is known as Chamdo.

The Khampa Tibetans and Lhasa Tibetans held each other in mutual contempt and dislike, with the Khampas in some cases hating Lhasa rule even more than Chinese rule, which was why the Khampas did little to resist Chinese forces as they entered eastern Kham and subsequently took over the whole of Tibet.[15] Likewise, the Qinghai (Amdo) Tibetans view the Tibetans of Central Tibet (Tibet proper, ruled by the Dalai Lamas from Lhasa) as different from themselves and even take pride in the fact that they were not ruled by Lhasa ever since the collapse of the Tibetan Empire.[16]

Khampas like the Pandatsang clan had led rebellions for autonomy from Lhasa. Because of this, the Chinese communists viewed them as potential revolutionary allies. In January 1950, the communists officially proposed to aid the Pandatsang brothers' cause in exchange for them to stay on the sidelines during the "liberation of Tibet", but the Pandatsang brothers decided instead to send George Patterson to India to seek alternate aid.[17] Pandatsang Rapga, leader of the pro-Kuomintang Tibet Improvement Party also offered the Lhasa-appointed governor of Chamdo, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, some Khampa fighters in exchange for the Tibetan government recognizing the local independence of Kham. Ngabo refused the offer.

Negotiations with Lhasa[edit]

On 7 March 1950, a Tibetan government delegation arrived in Kalimpong to open a dialogue with the newly declared People's Republic of China and aimed to secure assurances that it would respect Tibet's territorial integrity, among other things. The dialogue was delayed by a debate between the Tibetan, Indian, British and the PRC delegation over the location of the talks.

The Tibetan delegation eventually met with the PRC's ambassador General Yuan Zhongxian in Delhi on 16 September 1950. Yuan communicated a three-point claimed proposal that Tibet be regarded as part of China, that China be responsible for Tibet's defense, and that China was responsible for Tibet's trade and foreign relations. Refusal would result in conquest by China. The Tibetans undertook to maintain the relationship between China and Tibet as one of preceptor and patron, and their head delegate, Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa, on 19 September, recommended cooperation (but with some stipulations about implementation). Chinese troops need not be stationed in Tibet, it was argued, since it was under no threat, and if attacked by India or Nepal could appeal to China for military assistance.

Invasion of Eastern Kham[edit]

Western Kham and eastern Kham separated by a blue line in the Simla Convention map

After the defeat of major Kuomintang forces in the Chinese Civil War, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) turned its attention to the Republic of China territories in the hinterland. Eastern Kham was the Chinese-held part of Sikang and the gateway to Tibetan areas. The 18th Army of the PLA formed the leading detachment advancing toward Tibet with the 52nd Division as its main force, and arrived at Ya'an on 12 February 1950. In March, the People's Liberation Army arrived in Kangding (Tachienlu). By mid-April, the 18th Army had at least 30,000 passing through Kangding, and 10,000 Tibetans helped to build the road from Kangding to Garzê (Kandze), which was completed in August. The 18th Army of the PLA assembled at Garzê on 30 July, headquartered at Xinlong, and entered Litang from the east. The Qinghai Cavalry Detachment entered Gyêgu on 22 July, forming a north–south pincer on Chamdo.[18]

In June 1950, the PLA and the Tibetan army fought for the first time in Dengke (also known as Dengo[14]). Dengke is located beside the main road from Garzê to Yushu, about 100 miles northeast of Chamdo. Former Chamdo governor Lhalu Tsewang Dorje had set up a radio station there. 50 PLA soldiers captured Dengke and destroyed the radio station.[14] Two weeks later (July), 800 Khampa militia (including 300 monks) raided Dengke, claiming to have killed 600 PLA soldiers.[19] In the end, the PLA succeeded in occupying eastern Kham.[20]

Battle of Chamdo[edit]

After months of failed negotiations,[14] attempts by Lhasa to secure foreign support and assistance,[21] and the troop buildups by the PRC[22] and Tibet,[23] the PLA crossed the Jinsha River on 6 or 7 October 1950 into Lhasa-controlled Chamdo, crossing the de facto border[24] at five places.[25]

Two PLA units quickly captured the border town of Chamdo by 19 October, by which time 114 PLA[6] soldiers and 180 Tibetan[6][7][8] soldiers had been killed or wounded. The Chamdo governor and commander of Tibetan forces, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, surrendered with his 2,700 men. Writing in 1962, Zhang Guohua claimed that 5,738 enemy troops were "liquidated", over 5,700 were "destroyed", and "more than 3,000" peacefully surrendered.[26] Active hostilities were limited to a border area controlled by Lhasa northeast of the river Gyalmo Ngulchu River (upper reaches of Salween River in Tibet) and east of the 96th meridian.[27]

After confiscating their weapons, the PLA soldiers gave the prisoners lectures on socialism and a small amount of money, before allowing them to return to their homes. [28] According to the Dalai Lama, the PLA did not attack civilians.[29]

With the capture of Chamdo, the PLA believed the objective to have been reached, unilaterally ceased hostilities,[7][30] and sent Ngabo to Lhasa to reiterate terms of negotiation, and waited for Tibetan representatives to respond through delegates to Beijing.[31]

On 21 October, Lhasa instructed its delegation to leave immediately for Beijing for consultations with the PRC government, and to accept the first provision if the status of the Dalai Lama could be guaranteed, while rejecting the other two conditions. It later rescinded even acceptance of the first demand, after a divination before the Six-Armed Mahākāla deities indicated that the three points could not be accepted, since Tibet would fall under foreign domination.[32][33][34]

On 24 October, all military operations ended.


After news of the defeat at the Battle of Chamdo reached Lhasa, Regent Ngawang Sungrab Thutob stepped down, and the 14th Dalai Lama was enthroned ahead of plans. In February 1951, five plenipotentiaries from Tibet were sent to Beijing to negotiate with the PRC government, led by chief representative Ngabo. In late April 1951, the Tibetan Kashag delegation went to Beijing to conclude peace talks, again led by Ngabo, who would go on to serve in the high ranks of the PLA and PRC government. The Seventeen Point Agreement was eventually signed between the Chinese and the Tibetans.

After releasing the captured, Chinese broadcasts promised that if Tibet was "peacefully liberated", the Tibetan elites would not be denied their positions and power.[35]

Some Khampa fighters continued their opposition. Local warlords later became united under a common objective and hence resulted in the formation of Chushi Gangdruk with assistance from the CIA.[36]

According to contemporary author Melvyn Goldstein, the campaign aimed to capture the Lhasa army occupying Chamdo, demoralize the Lhasa government, and to exert pressure to get Tibetan representatives to agree to negotiations in Beijing and sign terms recognizing China's sovereignty over Tibet.[37]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Mackerras, Colin. Yorke, Amanda. The Cambridge Handbook of Contemporary China. [1991]. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38755-8. p.100.
  2. ^ a b Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1991). A history of modern Tibet, 1913-1951, the demise of the lamaist state. University of California Press. p. 639.
  3. ^ Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama, 14th Dalai Lama, London: Little, Brown and Co, 1990 ISBN 0-349-10462-X
  4. ^ Laird 2006 p.301.
  5. ^ Shakya 1999, p.43
  6. ^ a b c d Jiawei Wang et Nima Gyaincain, The historical Status of China's Tibet, China Intercontinental Press, 1997, p.209 (see also The Local Government of Tibet Refused Peace Talks and the PLA Was Forced to Fight the Qamdo Battle, china.com.cn): "The Qamdo battle thus came to a victorious end on 24 October, with 114 PLA soldiers and 180 Tibetan troops killed or wounded."
  7. ^ a b c Shakya 1999, p.45. Shakya also quotes PRC sources reporting 5738 enemy troops "liquidated" and over 5700 "destroyed". Shakya does not provide an estimate of PRC casualties.
  8. ^ a b Feigon 1996, p.144.
  9. ^ "Chinese Reds Promise the 'Liberation' of Tibet". The New York Times. 3 September 1949.
  10. ^ NOTE: The exiled Tibetan government in India calls The battle the "...invasion of Tibet by the People's Liberation Army of China," see Tibet: Proving Truth From Facts. The Status of Tibet: "At the time of its invasion by troops of the People's Liberation Army of China in 1949, Tibet was an independent state in fact and by law."
  11. ^ Tsering Shakya, Dragon in The Land of Snows: The History of Modern Tibet since 1947, Random House, 2012, Google e-book: "Tibet had never received de jure recognition from any state; in any case such recognition would be disputed not only by Beijing but also by the nationalist regime in Taiwan.
  12. ^ Stephanie Roemer, The Tibetan government-in-exile: politics at large, p. 32: "the Tibetans signed the so-called 'Seventeen Point Agreement', where they officially acknowledged the Chinese intentions to liberate Tibet, which meant the end of Tibet's de-facto independence."
  13. ^ John Kenneth Knaus, Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan struggle for survival[permanent dead link], p. 84 : The seventeen points of the agreement ended the de facto independence of Tibet.
  14. ^ a b c d Shakya 1999 pp.28–32.
  15. ^ Arpi, Claude. "The Karma of Tibet" (PDF). pp. 97–98. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  16. ^ Goodman, David S. G. (2004). "Qinghai and the Emergence of the West: Nationalities, Communal Interaction and National Integration" (PDF). The China Quarterly. Cambridge University Press for the School of Oriental and African Studies. University of London, UK.: 385. ISSN 0305-7410. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  17. ^ Lezlee Brown Halper; Stefan A. Halper (2014). Tibet: An Unfinished Story. Oxford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-19-936836-5.
  18. ^ Dunham, Mikel (2005). Buddha's warriors : the story of the CIA-backed Tibetan freedom fighters, the Chinese invasion, and the ultimate fall of Tibet. New Delhi: Penguin Books. pp. 54–60, 62. ISBN 0144001047. OCLC 224529359.
  19. ^ Dunham, Mikel (2005). Buddha's warriors: the story of the CIA-backed Tibetan freedom fighters, the Chinese invasion, and the ultimate fall of Tibet. New Delhi: Penguin Books. p. 60. ISBN 0144001047. OCLC 224529359.
  20. ^ Knaus, John Kenneth (1999). Orphans of the Cold War : America and the Tibetan struggle for survival (1st ed.). New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 1891620185. OCLC 40714203.
  21. ^ Shakya 1999 p.12,20,21
  22. ^ Feigon 1996 p.142. Shakya 1999 p.37.
  23. ^ Sam van Schaik, Tibet. A History, Yale University Press, 2013, p. 2009: "So when Ngapo arrived in Chamdo in 1950, he was in a pessimistic mood. Still, he had his orders and reinforcements were arriving from Lhasa. Tibet would fight."
  24. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951–1955, University of California Press, 2009, Vol.2,p.48.
  25. ^ Shakya 1999 p.32 (6 Oct). Goldstein 1997 p.45 (7 Oct).
  26. ^ Survey of China Mainland Press, no. 2854 p.5,6
  27. ^ Shakya 1999 map p.xiv
  28. ^ Laird 2006 p.305.
  29. ^ Laird 2006 p.305.
  30. ^ Goldstein 1997 p.45
  31. ^ Shakya 1999 p.49
  32. ^ Shakya 1999 pp.27–32 (entire paragraph).
  33. ^ W. D. Shakabpa,One hundred thousand moons, BRILL, 2010 trans. Derek F. Maher, Vol.1, pp.916–917, and ch.20 pp.928–942, esp.pp.928–33.
  34. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet: The Calm Before the Storm: 1951–1955, Vol.2, ibid.pp.41–57.
  35. ^ Laird, 2006 p.306.
  36. ^ Knaus, John Kenneth (2008). Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival. PublicAffairs. p. 71. ISBN 978-0786724031. Retrieved 24 April 2014.[permanent dead link]
  37. ^ Melvin C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, vol.2, pp.48–9.


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