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Talking Tibet: tashi delek

Flag of Tibet
Flag of Tibet

This was originally written as a response to the post Evaluating China’s Role in Tibet written by my friend Aniket.


The utter failure of the rebel Tibetan army in the 1960s due to lack of popular support. The CIA had trained over 2,000 Tibetan exiles in its facility in Colorado, and parachuted them into Tibet but over 90 per cent of them were captured or killed. It was similar to CIA’s Bay of Pigs misadventure in Cuba but less well known.

I had no idea that it was so little well known that one could compare it with Bay of Pigs.

CIA working closely with Gyalo Thondup, Dalai Lama’s elder brother, trained around three hundred Tibetan rebels on a remote Pacific Island of Saipan, and later at Camp Hale in Rocky Mountains in Colorado. These men, dressed in chubas and equipped with rifles, mortars, hand-cranked Morse radios and cyanide capsules, were parachuted into Tibet by night from US planes. These men were not going in to start as popular rebellion instead they were going in to fight the Chinese. According to the few survivors it was “like throwing meat into the mouth of a tiger.” More so, they found it difficult to link up with Chushi Gangdrug, the indigenous rebel movement that started in 1950s as a religious army whose men riding on their ponies used to carry raids on Chinese posts. Chushi Gangdrug (Four Rivers, Six Mountain Ranges) as its military badge bore the lines “ Guardians of Religion in the Land of Snows.” It is worthwhile to note that Chushi Gangdrug didn’t just have members from a particular superior social background but included serfs too. Of course, these serfs did not know about the greatness of Marx and Lenin.

In the 1960s, instead of training Tibetans in US, a large operation was set in Mustang, a mountainous region of Nepal bordering Southern Tibet. The plan was to arm Tibetans with mortars, carbines and 55mm recoil-less rifles, setting up guerrilla units to conduct raids inside Tibet. CIA was spending nearly US$ 2 million annually on this operation and giving Dalai Lamas private office around US $ 180,000 a year. When stories of Mustang base spread, Tibetan refugees began to make way in hundreds to fight. This influx coincided with a ban on covert over flights by Eisenhower – following the shooting down of U2 spy plane in May 1960. This meant that supplies could not be dropped to the rebels. According to filmmaker Tenzing Sonam: “There were more than two thousand people up in the mountains with nothing to eat. They were even boiling shoes and eating the leather. People died.”

The Mustang fighters lacked the military or financial backing to establish a proper resistance force inside Tibet, and by the late 1960s the operation was mired in internal feuding between the CIA – trained generation of fighters and the original Chushi Gangdrug leaders. Chushi Gangdrug has sSoon America did what it does best - it tactically withdrew support. The resistance came to an end with Nixon’s rapprochement with Beijing in 1972. All funding stopped. Dalai Lama asked th fighters to lay down the arms, but rather than surrender, many preferred to die. One senior officer Gyen Pachen, slit his own throat, and Wangdu, the commander of Mustang was shot dead in an ambush by Nepalese army. Tibetans were no longer of any use to Americans and were easily discarded in the same manner as they were by the British two decades earlier. It was the British who first started arming Tibetans (an act that aggrieved Chinese a lot), flamed their claim of separate nationhood and yet at the same time failed to officially acknowledge special status of Tibet. India was no different. Soon after Independence, under the leadership of Nehru sold Tibet new rifles, Bren guns, Sten guns, mortars, explosives and ammunition. But when in 1950, forty thousand Chinese soldiers invaded Kham. India stood aside worrying that accession of Hydrabad and Kashmir might be questioned.

In 1950s, when Tibetans sought foreign backing, Mao was to say in a party meeting:

There’s a group in Tibet who want to set up an independent kingdom. Currently this organization is a bit shaky…There is a place in India called Kalimpong, where they specialize in sabotaging Tibet. Nehru himself told the Premier [Zhou Enlai] that this place is a center of espionage, primarily American and Britis. If Tibet wants to be independent our position is this: if you want to agitate for independence, then agitate; you want independence, I don’t want you to have independence. We have a Seventeen Point Agreement.
The attitude of China has since remained unaffected.

You said:

Over the past five decades, the social and economic development of Tibet has matched the Chinese mainland and Tibetans have access to education, medical care and economic opportunities. In almost all respects, the condition of the Tibetans is much better than it ever was under Dalai Lama’s rule. But what Tibetan’s lack today is not food, shelter, clothing or work. They lack freedom.

And then you said:

Therefore, it appears that the present unrest in Tibet is similar to these daily rebellions of the Chinese working people against the restoration of capitalism in China.

Certainly, it appears that you too feel the pinch of lack of credible news coming in from the region. And rightly it has been said: Free Tibet without Free China makes no sense.


According to Patrick French, Flag of Tibet, featuring red and blue stripes and a pair of snow lions, actually was a regimental banner devised in 1920s by a wandering Japanese man. It was displayed at the Asian Relations Conference in India in 1947.

The sense of Tibetan nationhood was created in exile. The Dalai Lama’s birthday became a day of popular celebration for the nation in exile. A song written by the Dalai Lama’s tutor Trijang Rinpoche (regarded by Tibetans as an incarnation of the Buddha’s chariot-driver) was adopted as national anthem of Tibet. According to China, at the Asian Relations Conference:

[…]Tibetan delegates sang a song called The Beauties of the Plum Flower River, which was then played at the conference. This was originally a song popular in Shanghai in the 1920s to 1930s. Later on, it somehow got into Tibet and was used as the Tibetan army song with new words in praise of the Dalai Lama. Now all of a sudden it served as a "national anthem."

There is a Chinese vesion of almost every event in Tibet's History.

Most of the information presented in this article is from Patrick French’s insightful book Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land. Besides history and interview with veterans of Free Tibet veterans, the book also has accounts of his journey inside Tibet and his talks Tibetans living there. Incidentally, during his visit to Tibet, China was organizing something akin to regional Olympics there. Not so incidentally, Tibetans were boycotting the games.


Read more about:

Chushi Gangdruk at this website (In the header of the site, we can see an inset image of George Bush cozying up with Dalai Lama)

Read more about the history of flag here


  1. The Dalai Lama is a great and charismatic spiritual figure, but a poor and poorly advised political strategist. When he escaped into exile in India in 1959, he declared himself an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance. But Gandhi took huge gambles, starting the Salt March and starving himself nearly to death — a very different approach from the Dalai Lama’s “middle way,” which concentrates on nonviolence rather than resistance. The Dalai Lama has never really tried to use direct action to leverage his authority
    Patrick French writing in The New York Times on recent development in Tibet. His stand consistent with his views as expressed in Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land
    Read the complete article He May Be a God, but He’s No Politician


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