The name Batang is a transliteration from Tibetan meaning a vast grassland where sheep can be heard everywhere .
1990 statistics give its population as 47,256, with 42,044 living in rural areas and 5,212 living in urban areas. The nationalities mainly consist of , , and s, , and . By far the most numerous group are the Tibetans whose population is given as 44,601. It is 260 km from north to south and 45 km west to east and has an area of 8,186 km.
It borders on Xiangcheng County and Litang County in the east. Derong County to the south, Mangkang, Yanqing, and Gonju counties of Tibet and Deqing County of Yunnan Province in the west, across the Jinshan or "Golden Sands" River . It borders Baiyu County to the north.
It is warmer here than most of Tibet and is reported to be a friendly, easy-going place, surrounded by barley fields. The plain surrounding the town is unusually fertile and produces two harvests a year. The main products include: rice, maize, barley, wheat, peas, cabbages, turnips, onions, grapes, pomegranates, peaches, apricots, water melons and honey. There are also cinnabar mines from which mercury is extracted.
The low-lying Batang Valley was one of the few regions of Tibet with a Chinese settlement before 1950. There were American Protestant and French Catholic missions here focussed on medical and educational projects. "Many Bapa acquired high bureaucratic positions following the Chinese occupation in consequence of their familiarity with the Chinese language and modern education." The American medical missionary, Dr Albert Shelton, was particularly reverenced by the Tibetans. He spent more than 20 years in Kham but was shot, apparently by a bandit, on a high mountain pass in 1922 at the age of 46.
In ancient times Qiang people lived here, and in the Han Dynasty a kingdom called Bainang became established. It was an integral part of Tibet during the Tang Dynasty. China made some inroads during the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and Mushi, the tribal chief of the Lijang region of Yunnan, was supported by the Ming government in his control of the region between 1568 and 1639. In 1642, Gushri Khan, the leader of the Qoshot Mongols was invited by the leaders of Tibet to aid them and he placed this whole region under his control and the administration of the Dalai Lamas.
Batang was visited in the 1840s by two French priests, Abbé ?variste Régis Huc and Abbé Joseph Gabet and a young Tibetan priest, who had been sent on a mission to Tibet and China by the Pope. They described it as a large, very populous and wealthy town.
It marked the furthest point of Tibetan rule on the route to Chengdu:
:"The temporal power of the Supreme Lama ends at Bathang. the frontiers of Tibet, properly so called, were fixed in 1726, on the termination of a great war between the Tibetans and the Chinese. Two days before you arrive at Bathang, you pass, on the top of a mountain, a stone monument, showing what was arranged at that time between the government of Lha-Ssa and that of Peking, on the subject of boundaries. At present, the countries situate east of Bathang are independent of Lha-Ssa in temporal matters. They are governed by a sort of feudal princes, originally appointed by the Chinese Emperor, and still acknowledging his paramount authority. These petty sovereigns are bound to go every third year to Peking, to offer their tribute to the Emperor."
Spencer Chapman gives a similar, but more detailed, account of this border agreement:
:"In 1727, as a result of the Chinese having entered Lhasa, the boundary between China and Tibet was laid down as between the head-waters of the Mekong and Yangtse rivers, and marked by a pillar, a little to the south-west of Batang. Land to the west of this pillar was administered from Lhasa, while the Tibetan chiefs of the tribes to the east came more directly under China. This historical Sino-Tibetan boundary was used until 1910. The states Der-ge, Nyarong, Batang, Litang, and the five Hor States—to name the more important districts—are known collectively in Lhasa as Kham, an indefinite term suitable to the Tibetan Government, who are disconcertingly vague over such details as treaties and boundaries."
Mr. A. Hosie, the British Consul at Chengdu, made a quick trip from Batang to the Tibetan border escorted by Chinese authorities, in September 1904, on the promise that he would not even put a foot over the border into Tibet. He describes the border marker as being a 3? day journey to the south and slightly west of Batang. It was a "well-worn, four-sided pillar of sandstone, about 3 feet in height, each side measuring some 18 inches. There was no inscription on the stone, and when unthinkingly I made a movement to look for writing on the Tibetan side, the Chinese officials at once stepped in front of me and barred the road to Tibet. Looking into Tibet the eye met a sea of grass-covered treeless hills. and from the valley at the foot of the Ningching Shan rose smoke from the camp fires of 400 Tibetan troops charged with the protection of the frontier. There was no time to make any prolonged inspection, for the Chinese authorities were anxious for me to leave as soon as possible."
The Abbé Desgodins, who was on a mission to Tibet from 1855 to 1870, wrote: "gold dust is found in all the rivers and even the streams of eastern Tibet". He says that in the town of Bathan or Batan, with which he was personally acquainted, there were about 20 people regularly involved in washing for gold in spite of the severe laws against it. Among other mines in this region of Tibet, Abbé Desgodins reported there were 5 gold mines and 3 silver mines being worked in the Zhongtian Province in the upper Yangtse Valley, 7 mines of gold, 8 of silver and several more of other metals in the upper Mekong Valley and mines of gold, silver, mercury, iron and copper in a large number of other districts. "It is no wonder than that a Chinese proverb speaks of Tibet as being at once the most elevated and the richest country in the world, and that the are so anxious to keep Europeans out of it."
The town was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1868 or 1869. Mr. Hosie, on the other hand, dates this earthquake to 1871.
The Qing government sent an imperial official to the region to begin reasserting Qing control soon after the invasion of Tibet under Francis Younghusband in 1904, which alarmed the Manchu Qing rulers in China, but the locals revolted and killed him.
The Qing government in Beijing then appointed Zhao Erfang, the Governor of Xining, "Army Commander of Tibet" to reintegrate Tibet into China. He was sent in 1905 on a punitive expedition and began destroying many monasteries in Kham and Amdo and implementing a process of sinification of the region:
:"He abolished the powers of the Tibetan local leaders and appointed Chinese magistrates in their places. He introduced new laws that limited the number of lamas and deprived monasteries of their temporal power and inaugurated schemes for having the land cultivated by Chinese immigrants.
:Zhao's methods in eastern Tibet uncannily prefigured the Communist policies nearly half a century later. They were aimed at the extermination of the Tibetan clergy, the assimilation of territory and repopulation of the Tibetan plateaus with poor peasants from Sichuan. Like the later Chinese conquerors, Zhao's men looted and destroyed Tibetan monasteries, melted down religious images and tore up sacred texts to use to line the soles of their boots and, as the Communists were also to do later, Zhao Erfang worked out a comprehensive scheme for the redevelopment of Tibet that covered military training reclamation work, secular education, trade and administration."
In February 1910 Zhao Erfang invaded Lhasa to begin a process of reforms intended to break the control of the religious hierarchy. This invasion led to the Dalai Lama fleeing to India. The situation was soon to change, however, as, after the fall of the Qing dynasty in October 1911, Zhao's soldiers mutinied and beheaded him.
In 1932 the Sichuan war-lord, Liu Wenhui , drove the Tibetans back to the Yangtze River and even threatened to attack Chamdo. At Batang, Kesang Tsering, a half-Tibetan, claiming to be acting on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek , managed to evict Liu Wen-hui's governor from the town with the support of some local tribes. A powerful "freebooter Lama" from the region gained support from the Tibetan forces and occupied Batang, but later had to withdraw. By August 1932 the Tibetan government had lost so much territory the Dalai Lama telegraphed the Government of India asking for diplomatic assistance. By early 1934 a ceasefire and armistices had been arranged with Liu Wen-hui and Governor Ma of Chinghai in which the Tibetans gave up all territory to the east of the Yangtze but kept control of the Yaklo district which had previously been a Chinese enclave to the west of the river.
The bloodless occupation of Chamdo, the major city of the old Tibetan province of Kham, by the 40,000 man army of the People's Republic of China on October 19, 1950, when the whole region fell under Chinese control, served as an important precursor to the eventual defeat of the Lhasa government. Chamdo's governor at the time of the occupation was Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, who later became an official in the government of the People's Republic of China. The previous governor of Chamdo was Lhalu Tsewang Dorje.