Gar Triding – Power of Tibet in Central Asia

In the annals of Chinese history, there was a renowned general whose ferocity in battle was the most formidable foe the Tang Dynasty ever faced. He was a member of the Gar family, and his father Dongtsan served as prime minister to Songzan Gampo. Following the deaths of both his father and Songtsen Gampo, Gar TsenNya Dombo ascended to the position of Tibet’s General Commander, taking the reins of power into his own hands. His ultimate goal was to conquer the Qinghai Plateau and challenge the Tang Dynasty for supremacy over Asia.

Gar Triding

In 663 A.D., Gar Triding (Qingling) led an army of 400,000 troops to the north, capturing the Tuyuhun Area, which was then under the control of the Tang Dynasty. He subsequently conquered the western portion of Qinghai and seized control of the four towns in the western region: Tan, Shule, Guizi, and Yanqi.

Following victories over the Western Turkic and Korean nations, Tang Emperor Li Zhi recognized the threat that Triding posed and shifted his focus towards Tibet as the next major enemy. It was ultimately Gar Triding’s military prowess that enabled Tibet to rise as a mighty empire, capable of challenging the Tang Dynasty for dominance.

In 670 A.D., Xue Rengui, a renowned commander who had achieved great success in the Korean War, received the title of “General Manager of the Luosadao March” and led 50,000 skilled soldiers to Dafeichuan in Qinghai and Hunan. The Tibetan army led by Gar Triding had a larger number of men and ammunition. The two armies clashed for the first time at the estuary. Tibetan seized the Tang army’s supplies and provisions. Xue Rengui was compelled to engage in a hasty battle with Gar Triding. The Tang army was decimated, and they struggled to hold on.

Gar Triding possessed huge control over central Asia, preventing Emperor Gaozong from the Tang Dynasty’s expansion area in East Asia. Over the following decades, he became one of the most formidable foes in the Tang Empire’s history, feared for centuries to come.

During the Battle of Qinghai Lake in 678 A.D., the Gar Triding triumphed over the 180,000 Tang soldiers under Li Jingxuan and Liu Shenli’s leadership. They capitalized on this victory twice, pushing forward and briefly capturing the four towns of Anxi in the Western Regions.

In 679 A.D., Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty, Li Zhi, inquired about the optimal timing to attack Tibet following the death of Tibet Tsenpo Mansong Mangtsen. Pei Xingjian, a renowned general who had conquered the Western Turkic and suppressed the Eastern Turkic Restoration Army, responded, “Gar Triding is in power, and his brothers are general commanders, so attacking now would not be wise!”

In 685, Gar was allegedly assassinated by a political foe, but Gar Triding managed to stabilize the situation and assume the role of chief commander. At that time, Tibet was enjoying unprecedented national strength after their military expedition.

Historical accounts state that “since the Han and Wei dynasties, Tibet had never been a major adversary. However, Gar Triding was about to face a more formidable adversary. The Tang Dynasty was now under the rule of Wu Zetian, and a confrontation between the two was inevitable.

In 689, Wu Zetian appointed Wenchang Youxiang Wei as the commander-in-chief of the expeditionary army to attack Tibet, while Triding led the troops to fight at the Jia River. Historical records indicate that “the war with Tibet was a catastrophic defeat. This was due to a lack of capable generals. The soldiers were disheartened and frozen, and numerous casualties ensued, forcing the army to retreat.”

A few years later, Wu Zetian dispatched Wang Xiaojie and Lou Shide as deputy generals to lead the troops against Tibet, but they were defeated by Gar Triding again. Since the Battle of Dafeichuan in 670, Gar Triding defeated renowned Tang generals such as Xue Rengui, Wang Xiaojie, and Lou Shide, causing the Tang Dynasty to be fearful for centuries.

Following this, Wu Zetian initiated peace talks with Tibet, and the relationship between the two nations gradually improved. From then on, Gar Triding’s power began to decline. Tibetan ruler Tsenpo Tride Songzan gradually rose to power and became increasingly dissatisfied with Gar’s governance. In particular, the Gar family had control over the military forces across Tibet, and their influence surpassed that of Tsenpo’s family. As they say, a skilled master can create a high reputation.

In 699, Tride Songtsen led his army to Gar Triding’s territory under the guise of a hunting expedition and killed over 2,000 of Gar’s subordinates. When Gar Triding prepared to retaliate, the top generals remained loyal to Tsenpo, forcing Gar Triding to commit suicide. After Gar Triding’s death, his younger brother and son defected to the Tang Dynasty.

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