Sunday, July 27, 2014

War on Tibet A blog about documents on contemporary Tibetan history

Jianglin Li’s study of the suppression of the Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation 1956-62 and imposition of Maoist “Democratic Reform” has recently been published in Chinese language. It makes a significant contribution to the still little-known history of the conflict, particularly through analysis of statistics gleaned from official publications. The following is an English language summary of the key findings, in advance of a full translation.

Satisfactory confirmation of detail for this period of Tibet’s history (and indeed China’s history) is notoriously difficult, due to official secrecy and the virtual non-existence of reliable non-official documentation. The figures assessed here, though incomplete, thus provide crucial indicators of the scale of the PLA’s engagement in Tibet at that time, quite sufficient to justify the author’s characterization of it as a war on a largely unarmed population.

Although global estimates remain elusive, the study shows from official figures that something in the order of 10% of the total Tibetan population was involved  - killed, wounded, captured - in military operations during these years. In Qinghai province, where some of the more detailed statistics were discovered, 30% of the total population was involved in conflict over an 18 month period in 1958-59. The sources speak of “indiscriminate killings and executions”, and confirm that, in addition, an extraordinarily high proportion of the civilian population, up to 20%, was arrested to prevent the spread of popular resistance, and that many tens of thousands died as a result, in areas for which clear data is available.

Most of the sources, and some of the background to their interpretation, are also touched on in the following summary:

1.    Time period covered:  
From February 1956 (Sethar, Ganzi) to October 1962 when Qinghai Military Command announced the end of their Third Stage battles.

Success of “suppressing the rebellion” was marked by realization of “Three Completes”, namely, “rebels were completely annihilated, weapon confiscation completed and confiscation of counter-revolutionary certificates [i.e., letters of appointment issued by the GMD] completed”. In addition to these, no small groups of resistance forces consisting of ten or more persons were left in battle areas.  By this standard, the length of the war differed. Based on today’s administrative regions:

·         Sichuan Province: February 1956 – December 1961.
·         Qinghai Province: April 1958 (Xunhua Massacre) – October 1962 (completion of the Third Stage).
·         Central Tibet: July 1956 (Jiangda, Mangkhang etc.) – March 1962 (Tibet Military Command announced the realization of “three completes”).
·         Yunnan Province (Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture): April 1964 – March 1960.
·         Gansu Province  (Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture): Two waves of battles:
A.   June 1956
B.   March – November 1958.

2.    Actual number of battles (military actions):
Number of battles was calculated in different ways.  Sichuan Military Gazetteer counts each military engagement and gives the total number as “over 10,000 big and small battles”.
 In Central Tibet, PLA launched 12 military campaigns from March 1959 to November 1961, each consisting of many battles. For instance, the campaign referred to as The Second Stage Campaign in Chamdo in August to November 1959 consisted of 840 battles.  No total number of battles can be found in Central Tibet, but it would be no less than a couple of thousand.

3639 battles were fought in Qinghai Province.
 The 11th Infantry were responsible for military actions against nomads in Gannan and participated in a number of military campaigns in Central Tibet. They reported a total number of 996 battles fought in Gannan and Central TibetThe incomplete statistics shows that during the 6.5-year war, no less than 15,000 battles were fought.

3.    Tibetan population directly involved in battles
People “involved in battles” refers to the number of Tibetans killed, wounded, captured and surrendered in battles. It also includes women, children, elderly etc. caught up in the battles.  Chinese sources refer to women/children rounded up in battles as “rescued masses carried off by rebels”.

The following set of statistics was compiled from various Chinese sources.[2]  The numbers are incomplete and can only be used as reference.

A.   Qinghai:  “Over 127,000 rebels were annihilated”.
B.   Sichuan:  Over 90,800 persons.[3]
C.   Central Tibet: Over 93,000 persons.[4]
D.   Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture: over 22,400 persons.[5]
E.   Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Yunnan): over 13,700 persons.[6]

Based on the above, the total number of Tibetans directly involved on the battleground was around 347,000 persons. Two points should be noticed: (1) This number does not include those who were caught up in the battles but successfully escaped to neighboring countries before 1962; (2) this number does not include the male population put into jail for the purpose of “preventing rebellion”.

According to official government statistics, Tibetan population in 1953 was  2,775,622, and in 1964 it was 2,504,628. [7] Central Tibet did not participate in the 1953 census.  The population of Central Tibet in 1953 was estimated as c.1 million.  Using  2,770,000 as the population base, the number of people directly engaged in the battles was about 12% of the total population in 1953. Again, this is only a rough indicator.

Local statistics may be more accurate. For example, a 1959 Qinghai report gave the following statistics:

“Based on information compiled by Qinghai Military Command, by the end of December last year (1958), 623 battles were fought, 60,864 rebels were annihilated (among them 10,415 were killed, 2,648 wounded, 21,958 captured, 25,843 surrendered)…by the end of June this year (1959), 850 battles had been fought, 18,189 rebels were annihilated (among them 2,209 were killed, 939 wounded, 7,806 captured, 7,235 surrendered)...26,810 women and children liberated.”[8] This means from April 1959 to the end of June 1959, 105,862 people (including women and children) were directly engaged in battles.


In another report sent by CCP Qinghai Provincial Committee to CCP Central Committee and Central Military Committee dated October 15, 1959, gave the following numbers:
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