Sino-Tibetan War
The Trapchi Regiment.jpg

Photo of the Drapchi Regiment of the Tibetan Army taken in the 1930s. This location is the Lhasa Drapchi army barracks and the Tibetan Government's Mint that made gold, silver and copper coins as well as paper notes.
Result Chinese victory
 China Tibet
Commanders and leaders
Chiang Kai-shek
Ma Fuxiang
Ma Lin
Ma Bufang
Ma Biao
Liu Wenhui
Ma Xiao
Ma Zhanhai 
13th Dalai Lama
Units involved

 Republic of China Army

 Tibet Army
Several thousand Hui Muslim and Han Chinese soldiers unknown
Casualties and losses
unknown unknown

The Sino-Tibetan War[citation needed] (Chinese: 康藏糾紛; pinyin: Kāngcáng jiūfēn, lit. Kham–Tibet dispute) was a war that began in 1930 when the Tibetan Army under the 13th Dalai Lama responded to the attempted seizure of a monastery.[citation needed] Chinese-administered eastern Kham region (later called Xikang), and the Yushu region in Qinghai, over disputes regarding monasteries.

Ma clique warlord Ma Bufang secretly sent a telegram to Sichuan warlord Liu Wenhui and the leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, suggesting a joint attack on the Tibetan forces. Their armies rapidly overwhelmed and defeated the Tibetan Army.[neutrality is disputed]


The border between Lhasa-controlled ("Outer Tibet") and Chinese-controlled ("Inner Tibet") regions in Kham, 1912–1945. The dark blue line represents the boundary proposed in the 1914 Simla Convention and the red line the overall boundary of Tibet. The remaining lines represent actual control: the dotted blue line up to 1910; the light blue line during 1912–1917; and the dark brown line during 1918–1932.
The border between Lhasa-controlled ("Outer Tibet") and Chinese-controlled ("Inner Tibet") regions in Kham, 1912–1945. The dark blue line represents the boundary proposed in the 1914 Simla Convention and the red line the overall boundary of Tibet. The remaining lines represent actual control: the dotted blue line up to 1910; the light blue line during 1912–1917; and the dark brown line during 1918–1932.

The roots of the conflict lay in three areas: first, the disputed border between Tibetan government territory and the territory of the Republic of China, with the Tibetan government in principle claiming areas inhabited by Tibetans in neighboring Chinese provinces (Qinghai, Sichuan) which were in fact ruled by Chinese warlords loosely aligned with the Republic; second, the tense relationship between the 13th Dalai Lama and the 9th Panchen Lama, which led to the latter's exile in Chinese-controlled territory; and third, the complexities of power politics among local Tibetan dignitaries, both religious and secular.[2][page needed]

The proximate cause was that the chieftain of Beri, a Tibetan area under Sichuan control, seized the properties of the incarnate lama of Nyarong Monastery, who sought support from nearby Targye Monastery (Chinese: 大金寺). The chieftain of Beri was reportedly incited by supporters of the 9th Panchen Lama. When the Nyarong Lama and monks from Targye Monastery regained control of Nyarong Monastery in June 1930, the chieftain of Beri responded by requesting help from local Chinese warlord Liu Wenhui, the governor of Sichuan. Liu's forces quickly took control of the area. The Targye monks in turn requested the aid of the Tibetan government, whose forces entered Beri and drove Liu Wenhui's army out.[2][page needed]


Kuomintang Muslim official Tang Kesan was sent to negotiate for an end to the fighting. Ma Xiao was a Muslim brigade commander in Liu Wenhui's army.[3] Muslim General Ma Fuxiang, as head of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, sent a telegraph to Tang Kesan ordering him to breach the agreement with Tibet, because he was concerned that political rivals in Nanjing were using the incident.[4]

Over the next few years the Tibetans repeatedly attacked Liu Wenhui's forces, but were defeated several times. In 1932 Tibet made the decision to expand the war into Qinghai against Ma Bufang, the reasons for which have speculated upon by many historians.[5]

Qinghai–Tibet War

Main article: Qinghai–Tibet War

When the ceasefire negotiated by Tang failed, Tibet expanded the war in 1932, attempting to capture parts of southern Qinghai province following a dispute in Yushu, Qinghai, over a monastery. Ma Bufang saw this as an opportunity to retake Xikang for China.[6] Under Gen. Ma the 9th Division (Kokonor)--composed entirely of Muslim troops—prepared for an offensive against the Tibetans (Kokonor is another name for Qinghai).[7][8] The war against the Tibetan army was led by the Muslim General Ma Biao.[9]

In 1931 Ma Biao became leader of the Yushu Defense Brigade.[10] He was the second brigade commander while the first brigade was led by Ma Xun. Wang Jiamei was his secretary during the war against Tibet.[11] Ma Biao fought to defend Lesser Surmang against the attacking Tibetans on March 24–26, 1932. The invading Tibetan forces massively outnumbered Ma Biao's defending Qinghai forces. Cai Zuozhen, the local Qinghai Tibetan Buddhist Buqing tribal chief,[12] was fighting on the Qinghai side against the invading Tibetans.[13]

Their forces retreated to the capital of Yushu county, Jiegue, under Ma Biao to defend it against the Tibetans while the Republic of China government under Chiang Kai-shek was petitioned for military aid like wireless telegraphs, money, ammunition and rifles.[14]

A wireless telegraph was sent and solved the communication problem. Ma Xun was sent to reinforce the Qinghai forces and accompanied by propagandists, while mobile films and medical treatment provided by doctors awed the primitive Tibetan locals.[15]

Ma Xun reinforced Jiegu after Ma Biao fought for more than 2 months against the Tibetans. The Tibetan army numbered 3,000. Repeated Tibetan attacks were repulsed by Ma Biao—even though his troops were outnumbered—since the Tibetans were poorly prepared for war, and so they suffered heavier casualties than the Qinghai army.[16] Dud cannon rounds were fired by the Tibetans and their artillery was useless. Ma Lu was sent with more reinforcements to assist Ma Biao and Ma Xun along with La Pingfu.[17] Jiegu's siege was relieved by La Pingfu on August 20, 1932, which freed Ma Biao and Ma Xun's soldiers to assault the Tibetans. Hand-to-hand combat with swords ensued as the Tibetan army was slaughtered by the "Great Sword" group of the Qinghai army in a midnight attack led by Ma Biao and Ma Xun. The Tibetans suffered massive casualties and fled the battlefield as they were routed. The land occupied in Yushu by the Tibetans was retaken.[18]

Both the Tibetan army and Ma Biao's soldiers committed war crimes according to Cai. Tibetan soldiers had raped nuns and women (local Qinghai Tibetans) after looting monasteries and destroying villages in Yushu while Tibetan soldiers who were surrendering and fleeing were summarily executed by Ma Biao's soldiers and supplies were seized from the local nomad civilians by Ma Biao's army.[19]

Ma Biao ordered the religious books, items, and statues of the Tibetan Gadan monastery which had started the war, to be destroyed since he was furious at their role in the war. He ordered the burning of the monastery by the Yushu Tibetan Buddhist chief Cai. But Cai could not bring himself to burn the temple and lied to Biao that the temple had been burned it.[20] Ma Biao seized thousands of silver dollars worth of items from local nomads as retribution for them assisting the invading Tibetan army.[21] On August 24 and 27, massive artillery duels occurred in Surmang between the Tibetans and Qinghai army. 200 Tibetans soldiers were killed in battle by the Qinghai army after the Tibetans came to reinforce their positions. Greater Surmang was abandoned by the Tibetans as they came under attack by La Pingfu on September 2. In Batang, La Pingfu, Ma Biao, and Ma Xun met Ma Lu's reinforcements on September 20.[22]

Liu Wenhui, the Xikang warlord, had reached an agreement with Ma Bufang and Ma Lin's Qinghai army to strike the Tibetans in Xikang. A coordinated joint Xikang-Qinghai attack against the Tibetan army at Qingke monastery led to a Tibetan retreat from the monastery and the Jinsha river.[23]

The army of Ma Bufang vanquished the Tibetan armies and recaptured several counties in Xikang province, including Shiqu, Dengke and other counties.[3][24][25] The Tibetans were pushed back to the other side of the Jinsha River.[26][27] The Qinghai army recaptured counties that had fallen into the hands of the Tibetan army since 1919. Ma and Liu warned Tibetan officials not to cross the Jinsha River again.[28] Ma Bufang defeated the Tibetans at Dan Chokorgon. Several Tibetan generals surrendered, and were subsequently demoted by the Dalai Lama.[29] By August, the Tibetans had lost so much territory to Liu Wenhui and Ma Bufang's forces that the Dalai Lama telegraphed the British government of India for assistance. British pressure led Nanjing to declare a ceasefire.[30] Separate truces were signed by Ma and Liu with the Tibetans in 1933, ending the fighting.[31][32][33][34] All Tibetan (Kham) territories east of the Yangtse fell into Chinese hands, with the Upper Yangtse River becoming the border between Chinese and Tibetan controlled areas.[35]

The Chinese government and Ma Bufang accused the British of supplying weapons and arms to the Tibetans throughout the war. There was, in fact, a sound basis for that accusation: despite persistent diplomatic efforts encouraging both parties to refrain from hostilities and make a comprehensive settlement, the British government—and, later, India—provided some military training and small quantities of arms and ammunition to Tibet throughout the 1912–1950 period of de facto Tibetan independence.[36]

The reputation of the Muslim forces of Ma Bufang was boosted by the war and victory against the Tibetan army.[37]

The stature of Ma Biao rose over his role in the war and later in 1937 his battles against the Japanese propelled him to fame nationwide in China. Chinese control of the border areas of Kham and Yushu was guarded by the Qinghai army. Chinese Muslim-run schools used their victory in the war against Tibet to show how they defended China's territorial integrity, which Japan had begun violating in 1937.[38]

A play was written and presented in 1936 to Qinghai's "Islam Progressive Council schools" by Shao Hongsi on the war against Tibet with the part of Ma Biao appearing in the play where he defeated the Tibetans. The play presented Ma Biao and Ma Bufang as heroes who defended Yushu from being lost to the Tibetans and comparing it to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, saying the Muslims stopped the same scenario from happening in Yushu.[39] Ma Biao and his fight against the Japanese were hailed at the schools of the Islam Progressive Council of Qinghai. The emphasis on military training in schools and their efforts to defend China were emphasized in Kunlun magazine by Muslims.[40] In 1939 his battles against the Japanese led to recognition across China.[41]

See also



  1. ^ Andreas Gruschke (2004). The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces: The Qinghai part of Kham. White Lotus Press. p. 124. ISBN 974-480-061-5. Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Goldstein 1989.
  3. ^ a b Hanzhang Ya; Ya Hanzhang (1991). The Biographies of the Dalai Lamas. Foreign Languages Press. pp. 352, 355. ISBN 0-8351-2266-2. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  4. ^ Oriental Society of Australia (2000). The Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, Volumes 31-34. Oriental Society of Australia. p. 34. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  5. ^ Alastair Lamb (1989). Tibet, China & India, 1914–1950: A History of Imperial Diplomacy. Roxford Books. p. 221. ISBN 9780907129035. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  6. ^ Frederick Roelker Wulsin, Joseph Fletcher, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, National Geographic Society (U.S.), Peabody Museum of Salem (1979). Mary Ellen Alonso (ed.). China's inner Asian frontier: photographs of the Wulsin expedition to northwest China in 1923: from the archives of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, and the National Geographic Society (illustrated ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 49. ISBN 0-674-11968-1. Retrieved June 28, 2010.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ The China weekly review, Volume 61. Millard Publishing House. 1932. p. 185. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
  8. ^ The China Monthly Review, Volume 61. FJ.W. Powell. 1932. p. 185. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
  9. ^ Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies (1998). Historical themes and current change in Central and Inner Asia: papers presented at the Central and Inner Asian Seminar, University of Toronto, April 25-26, 1997. Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-895296-34-1.
  10. ^ Haas 2016, p. 41.
  11. ^ Haas 2016, p. 75.
  12. ^ Haas 2016, pp. 48, 63.
  13. ^ Haas 2016, p. 76.
  14. ^ Haas 2016, p. 78.
  15. ^ Haas 2016, p. 79.
  16. ^ Haas 2016, p. 80.
  17. ^ Haas 2016, p. 81.
  18. ^ Haas 2016, p. 82.
  19. ^ Haas 2016, pp. 84–85.
  20. ^ Haas 2016, p. 86.
  21. ^ Haas 2016, pp. 86–87.
  22. ^ Haas 2016, p. 88.
  23. ^ Haas 2016, p. 89.
  24. ^ Jiawei Wang, Nimajianzan (1997). The Historical Status of China's Tibet. 五洲传播出版社. p. 150. ISBN 7-80113-304-8. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  25. ^ B. R. Deepak (2005). India & China, 1904-2004: a Century of Peace and Conflict. Manak Publications. p. 82. ISBN 81-7827-112-5. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  26. ^ International Association for Tibetan Studies. Seminar, Lawrence Epstein (2002). Khams pa Jistories: Visions of People, Place and Authority: PIATS 2000, Tibetan Studies, Proceedings of the 9th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000. BRILL. p. 66. ISBN 90-04-12423-3. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  27. ^ Gray Tuttle (2005). Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of modern China. Columbia University Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-231-13446-0. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  28. ^ Xiaoyuan Liu (2004). Frontier Passages: Ethnopolitics and the Rise of Chinese Communism, 1921–1945. Stanford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-8047-4960-4. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  29. ^ K. Dhondup (1986). The Water-Bird and Other Years: A History of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and After. Rangwang Publishers. p. 60. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  30. ^ Richardson, Hugh E. (1984). Tibet and Its History. 2nd Edition, pp. 134-136. Shambhala Publications, Boston. ISBN 0-87773-376-7 (pbk).
  31. ^ Oriental Society of Australia (2000). The Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, Volumes 31-34. Oriental Society of Australia. pp. 35, 37. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  32. ^ Michael Gervers, Wayne Schlepp, Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies (1998). Historical Themes and Current Change in Central and Inner Asia: Papers Presented at the Central and Inner Asian Seminar, University of Toronto, April 25–26, 1997, Volume 1997. Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies. pp. 73, 74, 76. ISBN 1-895296-34-X. Retrieved June 28, 2010.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Wars and Conflicts Between Tibet and China
  34. ^ Andreas Gruschke (2004). The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces: The Qinghai Part of Kham. White Lotus Press. p. 32. ISBN 974-480-061-5. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  35. ^ Goldstein, M.C. (1994). "Change, Conflict and Continuity among a community of nomadic pastoralists—A Case Study from western Tibet, 1950–1990". In Barnett, Robert; Akiner, Shirin (eds.). Resistance and Reform in Tibet. London: Hurst & Co. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  36. ^ Richardson, Hugh E. (1984) [1962]. Tibet & Its History (Second, Revised and Updated ed.). Shambhala. p. 116 to 124, 134 to 138, 146 and 147, 178 and 179. ISBN 0-87773-292-2.
  37. ^ Haas 2016, p. 91.
  38. ^ Haas 2016, p. 92.
  39. ^ Haas 2016, pp. 259–261.
  40. ^ Haas 2016, p. 298.
  41. ^ Haas 2016, p. 304.