Chushi Gangdruk was formally established on June 10 1958. Commander Andruk Gonpo Tashi was the founder of this pioneering Tibetan organisation which aimed at unifying Tibetans, whilst pursuing armed resistance against the invading Red Chinese forces. Chushi Gangdruk translates to the “Four Rivers, Six Ranges” in Tibetan.
Each year, Tibetans in diasporas commemorate the founding anniversary of Chushi Gangdruk, which started in Tibet soon after Tibet was invaded by Communist China’s PLA from the eastern frontiers.
Hosted by Sonam Wangchen from Toronto (Canada), this discussion with Professor Carole McGranahan provides a detailed account of the origin of Chushi Gangdruk and the Tibetan resistance under Andruk Gonpo Tashi.
Based at the University of Colorado, Boulder Prof. Carole McGranahan is an anthropologist and historian specializing in contemporary Tibet, whose research focuses on issues of colonialism and empire, history and memory, power and politics, refugees and citizenship, nationalism, senses of belonging, gender, war, and anthropology as theoretical storytelling. Since 1994, she has conducted research in Tibetan refugee communities in India and Nepal on the history and politics of the guerilla army Chushi Gangdrug, culminating in my book Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Histories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010).
When the Communist Chinese government ordered its so-called People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to march into Tibet in 1949, the people of Tibet’s eastern region were the first to experience the threat of Chinese invasion. The people of Kham and Amdo rose up and confronted the Chinese army at the onset of the invasion of our motherland. Pitched battles were fought under the command and banner of local chieftains. However, there was no proper organization and strategy, no unity, and only uncoordinated efforts to combat the common enemy were made.
In 1956 the Chinese introduced the so-called “Democratic Reforms” in Kham starting with the eastern region of Tibet. They began to impose communist ideology and destroyed Tibetan religion and culture. They conducted mass arrests and executions of Tibetan religious leaders and other prominent leaders. People of these areas could not tolerate the brutal Chinese atrocities and rose up in arms against them. Disorganized and ill-equipped volunteer fighters could not withstand the mighty Chinese army that overwhelmed them, grasped their territory and spread like oil drops on paper. Volunteer defenders gradually retreated toward Central and Western Tibet.
By 1957 a large number of volunteer defenders from various parts of the eastern region of Tibet had gathered around Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The Khampas felt the need to form a united organization to confront the Communist Chinese aggression. But by that time, the Chinese had started to exert pressure and our government’s position was rather helpless. So, in order to evade Chinese suspicion and surveillance on our activities and also to enable the different groups of the defenders to come in close contact with each other, the late Andruk Gonpo Tashi from Lithang and other leaders from the eastern regions made a camouflage plan to make extensive religious offerings at Lhasa. Accordingly, with the consent of the Tibetan government, the preparations for making the now famous golden throne of Chushi Gangdruk for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama were underway. Then the leaders made a request to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to bestow the Kalachakra Initiation and His Holiness kindly accepted the request. However, since a similar request had been made earlier by one Amdo Jimpa Gyatso, the two parties co-sponsored the Second Kalachakra Initiation in 1957. In appreciation of the Initiation and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a grand Tenshuk (Longevity) Offering Ceremony was performed by the Khampas. The offering of Tenshuk to His Holiness on the new golden throne was meant to symbolize the enthronement of His Holiness as ruler of the entire Tibetan territory and also for reaffirmation of faith in His Holiness as supreme being.
Meanwhile the Khampa volunteer leaders were having secret meetings, busy in laying out future plans and strategies. As a result of their common efforts it was finally and unanimously decided to form a united resistance organization against the common enemy, the Communist Chinese aggression. The leaders then signed a statement pledging their commitment to risk everything to resist the Communist Chinese. Upon the completion of religious ceremonies, the Khampa leaders and volunteer members gradually moved out of Lhasa in different routes towards the Lhokha area, south of Lhasa, and eventually assembled at Chaktsa Dri-Guthang (Chosen Rendezvous). The formal announcement of the formation of the Chushi Gangdruk (Land of Four Rivers and Six Ranges) Defend Tibet Volunteer Force was made on the 16th of June 1958 and since then it is commemorated every year to mark the anniversary of Chushi Gangdruk. It was the first time that all the regions of Kham and the Khampas of all regions came together under one organization and fought under one banner since the splitting up of Tibet during the reign of the last and evil King, Lang Tharma. Chushi Gangdruk included people from both Kham and Amdo regions, but since the number of Amdos were small , they served as one of the 37 allied forces in the organization. Later in exile, Amdo withdrew from the allied organization to form an Amdo party.
The leaders then turned their attention to the choice of formation insignia of the organization and the colour of the banner or the flag. After long debate they finally agreed upon and designed the organization’s insignia as a crossed sword on a yellow background. The significance of the background being such is that the Buddhist colour is yellow and the organization’s main intention was to defend Buddhism from Chinese Communism. The symbolic reasons for crossed swords were that the flaming sword representing the wisdom sword of Manjushree severs the roots of ignorance which was the root cause of communism. The other sword was the symbol of bravery and it was the only weapon that the Khampas or the Tibetans themselves could make. A great deal of importance was attached to it because in 1944, when a Tibetan delegation to the Afro-Asian Conference in Delhi made a point to meet Mahatma Gandhi, founder of the non-violence movement, as a traditional way of greeting the delegation it offered him white scarves, but Gandhi-ji wanted to know if the scarves were made by the Tibetans. When told that they were from China, he refused to take them, saying that he would like only something that the Tibetans themselves made with their own hands and methods.