Ngolok rebellions (1917–49)

Ngolok rebellions (1917-1949)
Date 1927–1949
Location Qinghai
Status Republic of China victory, Defeat of Ngolok Tibetan tribes
Republic of China
National Revolutionary Army
Ngolok Tibetan Tribes
Commanders and leaders
Chiang Kai-shek

Ma Qi

Ma Bufang
NgolokTibetan Tribes
National Revolutionary Army composed of
Several thousand Hui Chinese soldiers of the Qinghai Army
Tribal Ngolok fighters
Casualties and losses
Heavy casualties
Gen. Chiang Kai-shek (right) meets with Hui commanders Gen. Ma Bufang (second from left) and Gen. Ma Buqing (first from left) in Xining in August 1942.

The Ngolok rebellions (1917-1949) were a series of military campaigns against unconquered Ngolok tribal Tibetan areas of Qinghai, undertaken by two Hui commanders, Gen. Ma Qi and Gen. Ma Bufang, on behalf of the Beiyang and Kuomintang governments of the Republic of China. The campaigns lasted between 1917 and 1949.


  • The War 1
    • Battles for Labrang 1.1
    • Ma Bufang's campaigns 1.2
  • References 2

The War

Gen. Ninghai Army, which was then turned into a National Revolutionary Army division.

Battles for Labrang

Ma Qi occupied Labrang Monastery in 1917, the first time non-Tibetans had seized it.[1] Ma Qi defeated the Tibetan forces with his Hui Chinese troops.[2] His forces were praised by foreigners who traveled through Qinghai for their fighting abilities.[3] The Labrang monastery had strong connections to the unpacified Ngolok Tibetan tribals who refused to submit to Chinese rule unlike the other Tibetans of Qinghai.

After ethnic rioting between Hui and Tibetans erupted in 1918, Ma Qi defeated the Tibetans. He heavily taxed the town for eight years. In 1925 a rebellion broke out, and thousands of Tibetans drove out the Hui. Ma Qi responded with 3,000 Hui Chinese troops, who retook Labrang and machine-gunned thousands of Tibetan monks as they tried to flee.[4] Ma Qi besieged Labrang numerous times but the Tibetans and Mongols fiercely resisted his Hui forces until Ma Qi gave it up in 1927.[5] However, that was not the last Labrang saw of Gen. Ma. He launched a genocidal war against the Tibetan Ngoloks in 1928, defeating them and seizing the Labrang Buddhist monastery. The Hui forces looted and ravaged the monastery again.[5]

Austrian-American explorer Joseph Rock witnessed the carnage and aftermath of one of the battles around 1929. The Ma Muslim army left Tibetan skeletons scattered over a wide area, and the Labrang monastery was decorated with decapitated Tibetan heads.[6] After the 1929 Battle of Xiahe near Labrang, decapitated Tibetan heads were used as ornaments by Chinese Muslim troops in their camp, 154 in total. Rock described how the heads of "young girls and children" were staked around the encampment. Ten to 15 heads were fastened to the saddle of every Muslim cavalryman.[7] The heads were "strung about the walls of the Moslem garrison like a garland of flowers."[8]

Ma Bufang's campaigns

Ma Bufang, the son of Ma Qi, was a Kuomintang warlord who dominated Qinghai. He served as a general in the National Revolutionary Army and sought to expand the Republic of China's control over all of Qinghai, as well as bringing Tibet back into the Republic by force. When Ma Bufang launched seven expeditions into Golog, killing thousands of Ngolok Tibetans, the Republic of China government, known as the Kuomintang, supported him.[9][10]

Ma and his army exterminated many Ngolok Tibetans in northeastern and eastern Qinghai, and also destroyed Tibetan Buddhist temples.[11] During one such attack in 1941 Ma Bufang sent Chinese Hui troops to destroy Sekar Gompa monastery, killing their highest ranking Lama and 300 tapas. They sacked the compound, burning it to the ground, and sold all of the property for gold and silver.[12]

From 1918-1942 the Ma warlords waged intensive, violent war against the Ngolok tribal inhabitants of Golog. Ma Bufang also manufactured conflicts by giving pasture to Tibetan and Mongolian groups at the same time, which spread disunity.[13]

The Kunlun middle school was established by Ma Bufang, and it recruited Tibetan students, who were subjected to a harsh military life. Ma wanted to use them as translators as he expanded his military domain over land inhabited by Tibetans.[14]

During the pacification, a war broke out between Qinghai and Tibet. Tibet attempted to capture parts of southern Qinghai province, following contention in Yushu, Qinghai, over a monastery in 1932. Ma Bufang's army vanquished the Tibetan forces and recaptured several counties in Xikang Province.

Under orders from the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kaishek, Ma Bufang repaired the Yushu airport in southern Qinghai Province, close to the border with Tibet, to prevent Tibetan separatists from seeking independence. Chiang also ordered Ma Bufang to put his Hui soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942.[15][16] Ma Bufang complied, and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet (1912–1951).[17] Chiang also threatened the Tibetans with aerial bombardment if they did not comply.

A former Tibetan Khampa soldier named Aten who fought Ma Bufang's forces gave an account of a battle. He described the Chinese Muslims as "fierce". After he and his troops were ambushed by 2,000 of Ma Bufang's Chinese Muslim cavalry, he was left with bullet wounds and "had no illusions as to the fate of most of our group", the majority of whom were wiped out.[18][19] Aten also asserted that "the Tibetan province of Amdo" was "occupied" by Ma Bufang.[20]


  1. ^ Charlene E. Makley (2007). The Violence of Liberation: Gender and Tibetan Buddhist Revival in Post-Mao China. University of California Press. p. 73.  
  2. ^ University of Cambridge. Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit (2002). Inner Asia, Volume 4, Issues 1-2. The White Horse Press for the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge. p. 204. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  3. ^ Frederick Roelker Wulsin, Mary Ellen Alonso, Joseph Fletcher, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, National Geographic Society (U.S.), Peabody Museum of Salem, Pacific Asia Museum (1979). 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. The Museum : distributed by Harvard University Press. p. 43.  
  4. ^ James Tyson, Ann Tyson (1995). Chinese Awakenings: Life Stories from the Unofficial China. Westview Press. p. 123.  
  5. ^ a b Paul Kocot Nietupski (1999). Labrang: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations. Snow Lion Publications. p. 90.  
  6. ^ Dean King (2010). Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival (illustrated ed.). Hachette Digital, Inc.  
  7. ^ Paul Hattaway (2004). Peoples of the Buddhist World: A Christian Prayer Diary. William Carey Library. p. 4.  
  8. ^ Gary Geddes (2008). Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things: An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas (illustrated ed.). Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 175.  
  9. ^ Uradyn Erden Bulag (2002). Dilemmas The Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 54.  
  10. ^ University of Cambridge. Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit (2002). Inner Asia, Volume 4, Issues 1-2. The White Horse Press for the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge. p. 203. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  11. ^ David S. G. Goodman (2004). China's Campaign to "Open up the West": National, Provincial, and Local Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. p. 72.  
  12. ^ Andreas Gruschke (2004). The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces: The Qinghai Part of Kham. White Lotus Press. p. 77.  
  13. ^ Yeh, Emily T. "Tibetan Range Wars: Spatial Politics and Authority on the Grasslands of Amdo". p. 509. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  14. ^ Lauran R. Hartley, Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani (2008). Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change. Duke University Press. p. 36.  
  15. ^ Lin, Hsiao-ting. "War or Stratagem? Reassessing China's Military Advance Towards Tibet, 1942–1943". Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ David P. Barrett, Lawrence N. Shyu (2001). China in the Anti-Japanese War, 1937-1945: Politics, Culture and Society. Peter Lang. p. 98.  
  18. ^ Rab-brtan-rdo-rje (Ñag-roṅ-pa.) (translated by Jamyang Norbu) (1979). Horseman in the Snow: The Story of Aten, an Old Khampa Warrior. Information Office, Central Tibetan Secretariat. p. 134. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  19. ^ Jamyang Norbu (1986). Warriors of Tibet: The Story of Aten, and the Khampas' Fight for the Freedom of their Country. Wisdom Publications. p. gbooks says 46, (the actual paper says 146).  
  20. ^ Jamyang Norbu (1986). Warriors of Tibet: The Story of Aten, and the Khampas' Fight for the Freedom of Their Country. Wisdom Publications. p. 63.  
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