|Commanders and leaders
8th Dalai Lama
Rana Bahadur Shah
Abhiman Singh Basnyat
Kirtiman Singh Basnyat
|Casualties and losses
The Sino-Nepalese War (Nepali: नेपाल-चीन युद्ध), also known as the Sino-Gorkha War and in Chinese as the campaign of Gorkha (Chinese: 廓爾喀之役), was a war fought between the Qing dynasty of China and the Kingdom of Nepal in the late 18th century following an invasion of Tibet by the Nepalese Gorkhas. It was initially fought between Gorkhas and Tibetan armies in 1788 over a trade dispute related to a long-standing problem of low-quality coins manufactured by Nepal for Tibet. The Nepalese Army under Bahadur Shah plundered Tibet which was a Qing protectorate and Tibetans signed the Treaty of Kerung paying annual tribute to Nepal. However, Tibetans requested Chinese intervention and the Chinese imperial military forces under Fuk'anggan were sent to Tibet and repulsed the Gurkhas from the Tibetan plateau in 1792. Sino-Tibetan forces marched into Nepal up to Nuwakot (near Nepal's capital Kathmandu) but faced a strong Nepalese counterattack. Thus, both countries signed the Treaty of Betrawati as a stalemate. The war ended with Nepal accepting terms dictated by China. Nepal became a tribute state under Qing (Nepal maintains diplomacy and pays tribute). Nepal paid tribute to China in 1792, 1794, 1795, 1823, 1842 and 1865. Both Nepal and Tibet had also agreed to accept the suzerainty of the Qing emperor.
Tibet had been using Nepalese silver coins since the time of the Malla kings. When Prithvi Narayan Shah of the Gorkha Kingdom launched an economic blockade on the Kathmandu Valley during his unification campaign, Jaya Prakash Malla of Kathmandu faced an economic crisis which he tried to alleviate by minting low quality coins mixed with copper. After Prithvi Narayan Shah successfully conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 and firmly established the rule of the Shah dynasty in Nepal, he reverted to minting pure silver coins. But by then the damage to the confidence of the Nepalese minted coins had already been done. The Tibetans demanded that all the impure coins in circulation be replaced by pure silver ones, a demand that would place a huge financial burden on the newly founded Shah dynasty. Prithvi Narayan Shah was not willing to bear such a huge loss in a matter for which he was not responsible, but was willing to vouch for the purity of the newly minted coins. Thus two kinds of coins were in circulation in the market. The case remained unresolved due to his untimely demise in 1775, and the problem was inherited by successive rulers of Nepal.
By 1788 Bahadur Shah, the youngest son of Prithivi Narayan Shah, and the uncle and regent of the minor king Rana Bahadur Shah, had inherited an aggravated coinage problem. On the plea of debased coins, Tibet had started to spread rumors that it was in a position to attack Nepal; and the Nepalese merchants in Tibet were likewise harassed. Another sore point in the Nepal-Tibet relationship was Nepal's decision to provide refuge to the 10th Shamarpa Lama, Mipam Chödrup Gyamtso, and his fourteen Tibetan followers. He had fled from Tibet to Nepal on religious and political grounds. Yet another cause for conflict was the low quality of salt being provided by Tibetans to Nepal, since in those days, all the salt in Nepal came from Tibet. A Nepalese delegation was sent to Tibet to resolve these issues, but the demands made by the Nepalese were rejected by the Tibetans. The Nepalese found the quarrel over coinage a good pretext to expand their kingdom and to raid the rich monasteries in Tibet. Thus, Nepal launched multi-directional attacks on Tibet.
In the year 1788, Bahadur Shah sent Gorkha troops under the joint command of Damodar Pande and Bam Shah to attack Tibet. The Gorkha troops entered Tibet through Kuti (Nyalam Town) and reached as far as Tashilhunpo (about 410 km. from Kuti). A fierce battle was fought at Shikarjong in which the Tibetans were badly defeated. The Panchen Lama and Sakya Lama then requested the Gorkha troops to have peace talks. So the Gorkha troops left Shikarjong and went towards Kuti and Kerung (Gyirong).
When the Qianlong Emperor of China heard the news of the invasion of Tibet by Nepal, he sent a large troop of the Chinese army under the command of General Chanchu. Chanchu came to know the situation from the Tibetan Lamas. He decided to stay in Tibet till the dispute was settled.
The representatives of Tibet and Nepal met at Khiru in 1789 to have peace talks. In the talks Tibet was held responsible for the quarrel and were required to give compensation to Nepal for the losses incurred in the war. Tibet had also to pay tribute to Nepal a sum of Rs. 50,001 every year in return for giving back to Tibet all the territories acquired during the war. It was called the Treaty of Kerung. The Nepalese representatives were given Rs. 50,001 as the first installment. So giving back the territories - Kerung, Kuti, Longa, Jhunga and Falak, they went back to Nepal. But Tibet refused to pay the tributes after the first year of the conclusion of the treaty. As a result, the war between Nepal and Tibet continued.
As Tibet had refused to pay the tribute to Nepal, Bahadur Shah sent a troop under Abhiman Singh Basnet to Kerung and another troop under the command of Damodar Pande to Kuti in 1791. Damodar Pande attacked Digarcha and captured the property of the monastery there. He also arrested the minister of Lhasa, Dhoren Kazi (Tib. Rdo ring Bstan 'dzin dpal 'byor, b.1760) and came back to Nepal. As soon as this news was heard by the Qianlong Emperor, he sent a strong troop of 10,000 soldiers (with a large proportion of Solon Ewenki soldiers) under the leadership of Fuk'anggan to defend Tibet. Fukanggan's forces reached Lhasa within sixty days, traversing nearly two thousand kilometres.
The Qing Empire asked Nepal to return the property to Tibet which was looted at Digarcha. They also demanded them to give back Shamarpa Lama who had taken asylum in Nepal. But Nepal turned a deaf ear to these demands. The Qing imperial army responded to Nepal with military intervention. The Qing forces marched along the banks of the Trishuli River until they reached Nuwakot. The Nepalese troops attempted to defend against the Qing attack, but were already faced with overwhelming odds. Heavy damage was inflicted on both sides and the Chinese army pushed the Gurkhas back to the inner hills close to the Nepali capital. However, a comprehensive defeat of the Gorkhali army could not be achieved.
At the same time, Nepal was dealing with military confrontations along two other fronts. The nation of Sikkim had begun incursions along Nepal's eastern border. Along the far-western side, the war with Garhwal continued. Within Nepal's own borders, the kingdoms of Achham, Doti and Jumla openly revolted. Thus the problems that Bahadur Shah faced made it much harder to defend against the Qing army. The anxious Bahadur Shah asked for ten artillery guns from the East India Company. Captain William Kirkpatrick arrived in Kathmandu, but he informed the Nepalese the conditions of business treaty which he required the signing of before delivery of the weapons. Wary of what signing the treaty would entail, the deal fell through and the military situation became critical for Bahadur Shah.
After a series of successful battles by Qing where the Ghorkalis lost more than four thousand men, the Qing army had finally suffered a major setback when they tried to cross a monsoon-flooded Betrawati, close to a Gorkhali palace in Nuwakot. As the Qing troops had reached south of the Betravati river, near Nuwakot, it was difficult for the Nepalese troops to wait for them at Kathmandu. At Kathmandu, a Nepalese force of less than 200 soldiers attempted to resist the Qing troops at Betravati. On September 19, 1792, Nepalese troops launched a counterattack against the Qing forces encamped at Jitpurfedi. The Nepalese used a tactic where their soldiers carried lit torches in their hands, tying them to the branches of trees, and tying flaming torches on the horns of domestic animals and driving them towards the enemy. The Qing army suffered a defeat, but the loss failed to dislodge them from Nepal.
A stalemate ensued, and with their resources low and a looming uncertainty regarding how long they would be able to hold on in addition to the need to continue their expansion drive on the western frontier, the Gorkhalis signed a treaty on terms dictated by the Qing that required, among other obligations, Nepal to send tributes to the Qing emperor every five years.
On the 8th day of Bhadra, 10,000 Chinese troops advanced forward from Betrawati river. There were three forts past the Betrawati river namely; Chokde, Dudethumko, and Gerkhu. At Gerkhu, the commanding officer was Kaji Kirtiman Singh Basnyat and at Chokde, the commanding officer was Kaji Damodar Pande. There were serious fightings around all the three forts and heavy repulse from Nepalese forces compelled Chinese troops to retreat to Betrawati river. At Betrawati bridge, the Chinese General Tung Thyang began to punish retreating Chinese soldiers with severe injuries resulting in their death. Two of the Chinese officers who retreated beyond the Betrawati river were punished with injury to their nose. The action of the Chinese General demotivated the troops and increase rapid desertion and retreat through other routes. Many Chinese troops died falling from hills into river and others from the bullets and arrows from Nepalese side. Around 1000 or 1200 Chinese troops were killed in the manner. The Chinese General Tung Thyang lost all hopes of attacking the Nepalese forces and decided to conclude a treaty with Nepal through his letter. The letter from Tung Thyang reached the government of Nepal. In reply, the government of Nepal issued a royal order deputing Kaji Damodar Pande to conclude a treaty with the Chinese Emperor to prevent further hostility and maintain peace with the Emperor. The royal order issued by King Rana Bahadur Shah to Kaji Damodar Pande on Thursday, Bhadra Sudi 13, 1849 (September 1792) is detailed below:
From King Rana Bahadur Shah,
To Damodar Pande.
Greetings. All is well here. We desire the same there. The news here is good. The Chinese Emperor is not insignificant. He is a great Emperor. We could have repulsed them with the blessing of (Goddess Shri Durga) when they came here this time. But it will not be good for the future to maintain hostility with the Emperor. He too desires to conclude a treaty, and that is what we too desire. Tung Thwang has sent a letter asking that one of the four Kajis be sent with letters and present to offer his respects to the Chinese Emperor. Kajis used to be sent formally to conclude treaties with Tanahu and Lamjung. We realize at present that it will not be proper for us not to depute a Kaji to the Emperor. When the matter was discussed with the other Kajis here, they said that Damdhar(Damodar) Pande, the recipient of Birta (land) grants and senior-most Kaji, should go. So you have to fo. If there is any delay, (the interests) of the State will be harmed. You should therefore depart from there. So far as instructions are concerned, you are a Pande of our court. You are not ignorant of (matters) which will benefit the State and bring you credit. You know (such matters). In this respect, act according to your discretion. Submit a reply to this soon, within 1 ghadi (24 minutes) after you receive this royal order. Delay will be harmful.
Dated Thursday, Bhadra Sudi 13, 1849 (September 1792) at Kantipur.
The Qing general Fuk'anggan then sent a proposal to the Government of Nepal for ratifying a peace treaty. Bahadur Shah also wanted to have cordial relations with the Qing. He readily accepted the proposal and they concluded a friendly treaty at Betravati on 2 October 1792. The terms of the treaty were as follows:
While Tibet came under greater control of the Qing after the war, Nepal still retained its autonomy, but had to subordinate to Qing dynasty terms and present tribute to China every 5 year. However the weakening of the Qing dynasty during the 19th century led to the disregard of this treaty. For instance, during the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814–16, when the East India Company launched an invasion of Nepal, not only did China fail to help her feudatory in that conflict, but it also failed to prevent the cession of Nepalese territory to the Company. Similarly, during another Nepalese-Tibetan War of 1855–56, China was conspicuously absent. The Qing were not particularly interested in ruling Nepal; their war was primarily aimed at consolidating their control of Tibet which, in turn, was related to military strategy throughout Central Asia.
After the 3rd Nepalese-Tibetan war, the Treaty of Thapathali had been made. The first attempt of the treaty failed with China. The second term of treaty succeeded with all side agreeing. The Nepalese paid their last tribute in 1865 and ended any form of submission to China. Although both Tibet and Nepal agreed to still regard the Chinese Emperor as their sovereign.
Owing to their ethnic ties to Tibet, the Bhutia and Tamang communities of Nepal suffered discrimination as a consequence of Nepal's wars against Tibet.
Later Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa expressed his attitude on the Sino-Nepalese War in a letter to King Girvan Yuddha Bikram Shah. He wrote,
Through the influence of your good fortune, and that of your ancestors, no one has yet been able to cope with the state of Nepal. The Chinese once made war upon us, but were reduced to seek peace.
Paintings and engravings from a series commissioned by the Qianlong emperor and depicting the "Gurkha Campaign":