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Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme

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Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was a Tibet
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

an senior official who assumed various military and political responsibilities both before and after 1951. He is often known simply as Ngabo in English sources.

Early life

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was born in Lhasa
Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China and the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau, after Xining. At an altitude of , Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world...

 as the son of a leading Tibetan aristocrat
Aristocracy (class)
The aristocracy are people considered to be in the highest social class in a society which has or once had a political system of Aristocracy. Aristocrats possess hereditary titles granted by a monarch, which once granted them feudal or legal privileges, or deriving, as in Ancient Greece and India,...

ic family descended from former kings of Tibet, the Horkhang. His father was governor of Chamdo in Eastern Tibet and commander of the Tibetan armed forces. After studying traditional Tibetan literature, he went to Britain for further education. He was married to Ngapoi Cedain Zhoigar (Āpèi Cáidàn Zhuógá), Vice President of Tibet Women's Federation, hence his name Ngapoi..


Upon returning in 1932 from his studies in Britain, he served in the Tibetan army. Ngapoi began his career as a local official in Chamdo
Qamdo , or Chamdo, officially organised as Chengguan of Qamdo County , population in 1999 about 86,280, is a major town in the historical region of Kham in the eastern Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. The capital of Qamdo County and Qamdo Prefecture, it is Tibet's third...

 in 1936. As a cabinet member of the former government of Tibet under the Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Mongolian word далай meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word bla-ma meaning "teacher"...

, he advocated reform. In April 1950 he was appointed governor-general (commissioner) of Chamdo, but took office only in September, after the previous governor, Lhalu, had left for Lhasa.

Commander-in-chief of the Tibetan armed forces at Chamdo

While serving as governor-general of Chamdo, he also became commander-in-chief of the Tibetan armed forces.

While his predecessor, Lhalu, had made elaborate military plans and fortifications and asked the Kashag
The Kashag was the governing council of Tibet during Qing Dynasty and Republic of China. It was set by Qianlong Emperor in 1751. In that year the Tibetan government was reorganized after the riots in Lhasa of the previous year...

 for more soldiers and weapons to stop the People's Liberation Army
People's Liberation Army
The People's Liberation Army is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China...

 from entering Tibet, Ngapoi had the fortifications removed, refused to hire Khampa warriors and to install two portable wireless sets as he thought it was better to negotiate.

In October 1950 his forces confronted the People's Liberation Army. The battle was quickly over. As he had warned before his departure for Chamdo, "the Tibetan forces were no match for the PLA who [...] had liberated the whole of China by defeating several million Kuomintang
The Kuomintang of China , sometimes romanized as Guomindang via the Pinyin transcription system or GMD for short, and translated as the Chinese Nationalist Party is a founding and ruling political party of the Republic of China . Its guiding ideology is the Three Principles of the People, espoused...

 soldiers". Ngapoi surrendered Chamdo to the Chinese. The PLA surprised him by treating him well and giving him long lectures on the New China's policies toward minor nationalities. Within a year, he was the deputy commander-in-chief for the PLA forces in Tibet. He became a leader not only of Tibet but also the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet.

Head of the Tibetan Delegation to the Beijing Peace Negotiations

As a delegate of the government of Tibet sent to negotiate with the Chinese Government, he headed the Tibetan delegation to the Beijing
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...

 peace negotiations in 1951, where he signed the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
The Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, or the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet for short, is the document by which the delegates of the 14th Dalai Lama allegedly reached an...

 with the Chinese Communist government in 1951, accepting Chinese sovereignty in exchange for guarantees of autonomy and religious freedom. The Tibetan exiled community claims that his signature of the Agreement was obtained under duress and is believed by many authorities to be invalid, because it exceeded his powers of representation as governor of Chamdo province.

In his biography "My Land and My People", the Dalai Lama claims that in 1952, the Tibetan Prime Minister Lukhangwa told Chinese Representative Zhang Jingwu that the Tibetan "people did not accept the agreement".

However, according to Sambo Rimshi, one of the Tibetan negotiators, the Tibetan delegation, including Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, went to Beijing with the Dalai Lama's authorization and instructions As Sambo Rimchi recalled, Dalai Lama's instruction to the negotiators clearly states:
According to Sambo, the young Dalai Lama also told the negotiators to use their best judgment according to the situation and circumstances and report back to the Kashag in Yadong. Sambo recalled that the negotiators brought a secret codebook so that they could establish a wireless link with Yadong and discuss issues as they arose. According to historians Tom A. Grunfeld, Melvyn C. Goldstein and Tsering Shakya, the young Dalai Lama did ratify the Seventeen Point agreement with Tsongdu Assembly's recommendation few months after the signing

In 1959, the Dalai Lama on his arrival in India after he fled Tibet repudiated the "17-point Agreement" as having been "thrust upon Tibetan Government and people by the threat of arms".

An Advocate of Reform

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigmé was one of a small number of progressive elite Tibetans that were eager to modernize Tibet and saw in the return of the Chinese an opportunity to do so. They were in a sense a continuation of the movement for reform that emerged in the 1920s with Tsarong Dzasa as its main proponent but was stopped short by the 13th Dalai Lama under the pressure of conservative clerics and aristocrats.

Implementing the Seventeen Point Agreement (1951-1952)

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was instrumental in solving the food problems of the People's Liberation Army in 1951–1952 by creating a Kashag subcommittee tasked with inventorying grain stores with a view to selling some to the PLA in accordance with point 16 of the Seventeen Point Agreement ("The local government of Tibet will assist the People's Liberation Army in the purchase of food, fodder, and other daily necessities.").

A Kashag minister trusted by both the Chinese and the Dalai Lama (1953-1954)

Ngabo was appointed by the Tibetan government to head the newly formed Reform Assembly. He was the Kashag minister most trusted not only by the Chinese but also by the Dalai Lama. The latter, who was in favour of reforms and modernization, frequently discussed political issues with Ngabo in private. As a result, in 1953-1954, the Reform Assembly crafted new laws reforming interest rates, old loans, and the administration of counties.

Administrative, military and legislative responsibilities

After 1951, Ngapoi's career continued within the ranks of Chinese Communist administration of Tibet. He served as the leader of the Liberation Committee of Chamdo Prefecture until 1959. He was also a member of the State Council
State Council of the People's Republic of China
The State Council of the People's Republic of China , which is largely synonymous with the Central People's Government after 1954, is the chief administrative authority of the People's Republic of China. It is chaired by the Premier and includes the heads of each governmental department and agency...

's minority commission and CPPCC between 1951 and 1954,

He was Deputy commander of the Tibet Military Region between 1952 and 1977, and a member of the National Defence Council from 1954 through the Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

. He was appointed as lieutenant general and awarded the "Order of Liberation" first class in 1955.

Secretary General of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region

When in April 1956 a Preparatory Committee for the Establishment of the Autonomous Region of Tibet was set up in accordance with the central government's decision, Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was appointed its secretary general. He was appointed vice-president of the Committee in 1959, the 10th Panchen Lama being its president.

President of the Tibet Autonomous Region

After he was appointed acting chairman of the Preparatory Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1964, Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme became the first president of the newly established Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965.

President of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress

He represented Tibet in seven National People's Congress
National People's Congress
The National People's Congress , abbreviated NPC , is the highest state body and the only legislative house in the People's Republic of China. The National People's Congress is held in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, capital of the People's Republic of China; with 2,987 members, it is the...

 under the standing committee
Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is a committee of about 150 members of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China , which is convened between plenary sessions of the NPC. It has the constitutional authority to modify legislation within limits set by...

 from the 1st National People's Congress in 1954
1st National People's Congress
The 1st National People's Congress was in session from 1954 to 1959. It held four plenary sessions in this period. There were 1226 deputies to the Congress....

 to the 7th in 1988
7th National People's Congress
The 7th National People's Congress was in session from 1988 to 1993. It held five plenary sessions in this period.-Elected state leaders:In the 1st Plenary Session in 1988, the Congress elected the state leaders:...

. He was head of the NPC delegations to Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

, Guyana
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

, West Indies, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

 in the early 1980s.

In 1999, he became a member of the Preparatory Committee of the Special Administrative Region of Macao.

From 1979 to 1993, he was chairman of the NPC Ethnic Affairs Committee.


He was an honorary president of the Buddhist association of China beginning in 1980. He was also an honorary president of the Tibetan Wildlife Protection Association, which was founded in 1991 He was also president of the China Association for the Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture, which was established on June 21, 2004.


Ngapoi died at 16.50 on December 23, 2009, from an unspecified illness in Beijing at the age of 99 (or 100 according to East Asia's custom of counting a person's age
East Asian age reckoning
East Asian age reckoning is a concept and practice that originated in China and is widely used by other cultures in East Asia, which share this traditional way of counting a person's age. Newborns start at one year old, and each passing of a Lunar New Year, rather than the birthday, adds one year...

 by starting from 1 at the time of his or her birth). His funeral was held at the Funeral Parlor of the Babaoshan revolutionary cemetery on the morning of December 28.

He was described as "a great patriot, renowned social activist, good son of Tibetan people, outstanding leader of China's ethnic work and close friend of the CPC", by the Central Committee
Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is the highest authority within the Communist Party of China. Its approximately 350 members and alternates are selected once every five years by the National Party Congress....

 of the Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...


Almost all the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party turned up to pay him respects at his funeral, including President Hu Jintao, ex-President Jiang Zemin, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, He Guoqiang, Zhou Yongkang, etc. This shows that he was highly esteemed in China.

The Tibetan government in exile headed by Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche called him an "honest and patriotic" person who made great efforts to preserve and promote the Tibetan language. "He was someone who upheld the spirit of the Tibetan people."

As journalist Kalsang Rinchen observes, both Beijing and Dharamsala appear saddened by the demise of the man who signed the 17-point agreement. "[The] Chinese state run news agency Xinhua hailed him for ushering in 'major milestones in Tibet, such as the democratic reforms and the founding of the Autonomous Regional Government,' while the Tibetan government in exile remembered him for calling on the Central Government in 1991 'to implement articles of the 17-point Agreement in general and specifically those articles which state that Tibet's political status will not be changed'."

A rare comment on Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme can be found in the memoirs of Phuntsok Tashi, a Tibetan who served as an interpreter in the 1951 peace negotiations and signing of the Seventeen Point Agreement: Ngapoi is portrayed as "an honest, clever, intelligent, experienced and far-seeing man."


  • According to the Tibetan government in exile special envoy Lodi Gyari Rinpoche
    Lodi Gyari Rinpoche
    Lodi Gyari, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, Lodi Gyari Rinpoche or Kasur Lodi Gyari born in 1949 in Tibet is the special envoy to the 14th Dalai Lama in the USA.-Biography:...

    , he said in 1988: "It is because of the special situation in Tibet that in 1951 the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
    Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet
    The Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, or the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet for short, is the document by which the delegates of the 14th Dalai Lama allegedly reached an...

    , between the central people's government and the local Tibetan government, came about. Such an agreement has never existed between the central government and any other minority region. We have to consider the special situation in Tibetan history while drafting policies for Tibet in order to realise its long-term stability. We must give Tibet more autonomous power than other minority regions. In my view, at present, the Tibet Autonomous Region
    Tibet Autonomous Region
    The Tibet Autonomous Region , Tibet or Xizang for short, also called the Xizang Autonomous Region is a province-level autonomous region of the People's Republic of China , created in 1965....

     has less autonomy than other autonomous regions, let alone compared with provinces. Therefore Tibet must have some special treatment and have more autonomy like those special economic zones. We must employ special policies to resolve the special characteristics which have pertained throughout history.". This was translated by Tibet Information Network in 1992 from a 1988 issue of the Bulletin of the History of the Tibet Communist Party.

  • According to the secretary of TGE's Department of Information and International Relations Tempa Tsering
    Tempa Tsering
    Tempa Tsering ; born 15 May 1950 in Tibet) is the Representative of 14th Dalai Lama in New Delhi and member of the Tibetan Government in Exile.-Early life:After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, he and his family escaped into exile in India....

    , he is on record as having said on August 31, 1989, in Tibet Daily, that the claim by the Dalai Lama's envoy "Wu Zhongxin
    Wu Zhongxin
    Wu Zhongxin, or Wu Chung-hsin was a General and government official of the Republic of China. He was associated with the CC Clique.-Career:*1932 - 1933 Chairman of Anhui Provincial Government...

     of having presided over the enthronement ceremony (of the 14th Dalai Lama
    Dalai Lama
    The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Mongolian word далай meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word bla-ma meaning "teacher"...

    ) on the basis of this photograph (of the Chinese official with the young Dalai Lama, supposed to have been taken on this occasion) is a blatant distortion of historical facts.".

His published work

  • Ngapo Ngawang Jigmei et al., Tibet (with a foreword by Harrison Salisbury), Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, or New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981, 296 p. (a coffee-table book)
  • On the 1959 Armed Rebellion, in China Report, 1988, vol. 24, pp. 377-382
  • A great Turn in the Development of Tibetan History, published in the first issue of the China Tibetology quarterly, Beijing, 1991 / Grand tournant historique au Tibet, in La Tibétologie en Chine, n° 1, 1991
  • On Tibetan Issues, Beijing, New Star Publishers, 1991
  • Narrator in Masters of the Roof of the Wind, a documentary on feudalism in old Tibet
  • Ngapoi recalls the founding of the TAR, an interview published by chinaview, on August 30, 2005

External links