Tibet Incorporated into Communist China
Chinese rule began in the early 50's. After the Communists gained control of China, implementing effective Chinese control over (what is now) western Sichuan and Tibet became a high priority of the People's Liberation Army. The area where the Qiangic speaking Tibetans live was not considered to be a part of Tibet.
The battle and surrender of Tibet took place in areas outside of the Qiangic speaking Tibetan areas. In the period immediately after the Chinese took control in Lhasa, the newly established Tibetan Autonomous Region was given special treatment by the Chinese. Control was implemented gradually.
However, because the area where Qiangic speaking Tibetans lived was already considered to be a Chinese province (Sikang, later made part of Sichuan), it was brought under direct control more rapidly. This led to either resistance or acquiescence on the part of the locals. Local Chieftains were either defeated or invited to join the local Communist government.
Many took the latter route, holding various offices in the new Communist administration. However, the rule of local Chieftains was at an end; from this time on Beijing exercised final authority in the area. New roads allowed troops to move quickly from area to area. Although there was sporadic resistance to Chinese rule, it was localized, not region-wide, and not centrally organized.
These periodic uprisings and pockets of local resistance were overcome; government programs such as land reform that were held back in the Tibetan Autonomous Region were implemented quite quickly in the area where the Qiangic speaking Tibetans lived. A new era had begun.
Additionally, the difficulties in communication made local leaders more prominent than the leaders in Lhasa, allowing the final say in most decisions to be made by the local Chieftains. The local chieftains held hereditary titles, approved by the Chinese emperor. However, Chinese control was only nominal. Due to local upheavals and religious strife on a national level, the Qing emperor sent armies into the area for a period of 20 years, which ended in the early 1700’s. He conquered local leaders and then demanded their loyalty.
However, Qing control lapsed, because local officials gave lip service to Chinese rule while in fact governing themselves. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in the early 20th century, Chiang Kai Shek's Guomindang made the area a technically separate province, the province of Sikang. However, Guomindang control was never effectively implemented, as the Guomindang were distracted by their war with the Japanese and the Communists. A telling point was that Chinese currency was not accepted in the region.
The Red Army under Mao traveled through the area in the thirties on the Long March, traveling from south to north in their long retreat from the Guomindang. They fled through this region of steep mountain valleys precisely because it was an area not directly under Guomindang control. In order to gain passage the Long March soldiers were forced to either seek permission from local Chieftains or overcome local resistance.
Except the Baima, all of these ethnic groups are Tibetan Buddhists. The prevailing theory is that the Qiangic speaking Tibetans are the oldest inhabitants of the land, squeezed in between - and regularly overrun by - the Tibetans to the west and the Chinese to the east.
Over time many of these groups adopted Tibetan Buddhism as their religion, and much of Tibetan culture as their own. For these reasons, the Chinese government groups all of these peoples together with the Tibetans to form one big nationality, called the "Tibetan Nationality".
Therefore, most Qiangic speaking people-groups do not show up separately in government statistics, and have no separate voice in political representation. They also do not have the right to develop their own languages, or educate their children in their own language. For many years, foreign visitors were restricted from traveling to the areas these people inhabit.
Even though foreigners are now allowed to travel in these areas, the roads, lodging, and communication capabilities are still very poor. Because of this lack of development, as well as political sensitivity and strict security rules, it remains difficult to find reliable information about these peoples.