71st Anniversary of the Chinese Invasion of Tibet

On this day 71 years ago, 20,000 Chinese troops crossed the Yangtze River and invaded Tibet. The invasion was cataclysmic for the lives of Tibetans, their culture and religion, including the central characters in our book.

The invasion began Oct. 7, 1950. A few Tibetan units fled, but most fought. They were no match for the battle-hardened, better-armed Chinese. Chinese troops destroyed one Tibetan unit, but the rest made a fighting withdrawal.

The Chinese success was due in part to the apparent cowardice, or incompetence or perhaps even collusion by the Tibetan governor of Kham, the province on the Chinese border targeted for invasion. Gov. Ngabo Jigme Norbu had dismantled border defenses built by his predecessor, arguing that they would provoke the Chinese. He had refused to station one of his three two-way radios close to the border to keep track of Chinese movements. During his retreat, Ngabo ordered Tibetan reinforcements sent from Lhasa to toss heavy weapons, including artillery, and ammunition into a chasm.

Three columns of Chinese troops were attempting to encircle the Tibetan army, retreating under Ngabo’s leadership. During the retreat, a Tibetan military unit arrived and informed Ngabo that a force of only 50 Chinese cavalry had arrived at a crossroads to complete the encirclement. Ngabo’s generals urged him to fight their way through the tiny Chinese force and break out of the encirclement. Ngabo refused. Instead, he fled with the army to a monastery, where they waited until they were surrounded by the Chinese army. Ngabo quickly surrendered, ending Tibetan military resistance.

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