Tibet’s armed resistance to Chinese invasion
This is the fourth post in series on the Tibetan Uprising. This one is about 1958, when the Chinese communists attempted to reconquer the vast areas that the Tibetans had liberated in 1956-57. In June, the unified national Tibetan resistance was proclaimed: the Chushi Gangdruk.
Post 1 covered Tibet before the 1949 Chinese invasion, including the Tibetan government’s refusal to heed the 1932 warning of the Dalai Lama to strengthen national defense against the “‘Red’ ideology”. Post 2 was the Chinese conquest, followed by armed uprising of the people, precipitated by gun registration. Post 3 described how the Tibet Uprising drove the Chinese communist invaders out of most of Eastern Tibet in 1956-57.
These posts are excerpted from my coauthored law school textbook and treatise Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (3d ed. 2021, Aspen Publishers). Eight of the book’s 23 chapters are available for free on the worldwide web, including Chapter 19, Comparative Law, where Tibet is pages 1885-1916. In this post, I provide citations for direct quotes. Other citations are available in the online book chapter.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had ordered Tibetan gun registration in 1955, and gun confiscation in 1956. The confiscation demand was repeated in April 1958.
In the summer of 1958, all agriculture and pasturage in Tibet’s two eastern provinces, Kham and Amdo, were fully communized. All land and livestock was confiscated by the communists; the people were forced to work in slave labor gangs.
Most of the food produced by the peasants in Tibet and China was taken by Mao’s regime for export. He used the food for Chinese urban workers (his political base), to buy arms from the Soviet Union, and to export food to Eastern European communist nations to build up his image there. He sent so much food to communist Albania that food rationing was not needed there–quite a rarity in the communist world.
Meanwhile in China and Tibet, government commandeering of so much food caused famines. Carefully rationing food, the communists gave survival level rations to people who could toil the fields relentlessly, and starved the others.
Death by hunger was part of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” It was imposed throughout the “People’s Republic of China” from 1958 onward. But not in the places of Eastern Tibet where the invaders had been expelled. Nor in Central Tibet; the uprisings in Eastern Tibet were preventing the CCP from supplying a large enough army in Central Tibet to impose what Mao considered to be full communism.
Why did members of the Communist Youth League fight the communists?
In both provinces of Eastern Tibet, Amdo and Kham, armed resistance had begun as soon as the Chinese “People’s Liberation Army” (PLA) started appearing in 1949. The Khampa people, who live in Kham and eastern U-Tsang, had revolted en masse in 1955-56, incited by the communists’ orders for gun registration and confiscation. To the north, in Amdo, the 1958 orders for gun and property confiscation convinced many more to revolt.
For many centuries Tibet has had a large Muslim population, which was fully tolerated by the Buddhist theocracy. The PLA invaders were not so tolerant. Some Muslims in Amdo had been fighting alongside the Buddhists against the communists since 1954. (Post 2.) In April 1958 the Muslim Salars of Xunhua county (Amdo) joined the battle. Their interfaith revolt spread to eight townships and lasted one week. The rebellion was joined by 68 percent of local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members and 69 percent of the Communist Youth League.
A subsequent CCP investigation of Xunhua found that 78 percent of the communists who had joined the rebellion did so because of what the report called “extremely confused ideas about religion . . . preferring to forsake the Party rather than forsake their religion, or even preferring death to forsaking their religion.” Quoted in Jianglin Li, Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959 at 57 (2016).
In both China and Tibet, Mao worked to replace traditional religions with one based on himself. Worship of Mao reached its apex as the government-established religion in the late 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution.
Mao always understood that other religions impeded devotion to him. In 1954-55 the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (second-ranking) spent several months in Peking, as Mao’s guests. Mao was an affable host, and doted on his young visitors.
Mao told the Dalai Lama, “I understand you well. But of course, religion is poison. It has two great defects: It undermines the race, and secondly it retards the progress of the country. Tibet and Mongolia have both been poisoned by it.” Dalai Lama, My Land and My People 117-18 (2006).
More fighting in Amdo
An Amdo rebellion in Tsikorthang county was estimated to involve 10,840 Tibetan fighters, including 1,020 monks and nuns. The Chinese PLA deployed an infantry regiment in July 1958. Five months later, the PLA regiment claimed victory and withdrew, while the surviving Tibetans escaped to the hills. The Chinese soldiers had been told that the Tibetan people viewed them as liberators. But as a PLA commander indignantly reported to his superiors, the Tibetan masses supported the rebels, feeding them, sheltering them, and concealing them.
A June 1958 report by the provincial Communist Party Committee to the party center estimated there were a hundred thousand rebels in Amdo. They came from 240 tribes, and constituted one-fifth of the province’s Tibetan population. The uprisings involved 6 prefectures, 24 counties, and 307 monasteries.
In Lhasa, a unified national uprising is organized
The capital city Lhasa (Central Tibet) and environs
Article from Reason.com