Tibet (/tɪˈbɛt/ (listen); Tibetan: བོད་, Lhasa dialect: [/pʰøː˨˧˩/]; Chinese: 西藏; pinyin: Xīzàng) is a region in East Asia covering much of the Tibetan Plateau spanning about 2.5 million km2. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpa, Tamang, Qiang, Sherpa, and Lhoba peoples and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han Chinese and Hui people. Tibet is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 5,000 m (16,000 ft). Located in the Himalayas, the highest elevation in Tibet is Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain, rising 8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level.
The Tibetan Empire emerged in the 7th century, but with the fall of the empire the region soon divided into a variety of territories. The bulk of western and central Tibet (Ü-Tsang) was often at least nominally unified under a series of Tibetan governments in Lhasa, Shigatse, or nearby locations. The eastern regions of Kham and Amdo often maintained a more decentralized indigenous political structure, being divided among a number of small principalities and tribal groups, while also often falling more directly under Chinese rule after the Battle of Chamdo; most of this area was eventually incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. The current borders of Tibet were generally established in the 18th century.
Following the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing dynasty in 1912, Qing soldiers were disarmed and escorted out of Tibet Area (Ü-Tsang). The region subsequently declared its independence in 1913 without recognition by the subsequent Chinese Republican government. Later, Lhasa took control of the western part of Xikang, China. The region maintained its autonomy until 1951 when, following the Battle of Chamdo, Tibet was occupied and incorporated into the People’s Republic of China, and the previous Tibetan government was abolished in 1959 after a failed uprising. Today, China governs western and central Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region while the eastern areas are now mostly ethnic autonomous prefectures within Sichuan, Qinghai and other neighbouring provinces. There are tensions regarding Tibet’s political status and dissident groups that are active in exile. Tibetan activists in Tibet have reportedly been arrested or tortured.
The economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture, though tourism has become a growing industry in recent decades. The dominant religion in Tibet is Tibetan Buddhism; in addition there is Bön, which is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, and there are also Tibetan Muslims and Christian minorities. Tibetan Buddhism is a primary influence on the art, music, and festivals of the region. Tibetan architecture reflects Chinese and Indian influences. Staple foods in Tibet are roasted barley, yak meat, and butter tea. (WP)
“Tibet, pronounced tih BEHT, is a land in south-central Asia. It is often called the Roof of the World. Its snow-covered mountains and windswept plateau are the highest in the world. The world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, rises in southern Tibet. Gar, in western Tibet, is believed to be the highest town in the world. It is more than 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) above sea level. Valley bottoms in Tibet are higher than the mountains of most countries. Lhasa is Tibet’s capital.
Tibet has been part of China since the 1950’s. However, for much of its history Tibet was an independent or semi-independent state. Although Tibet carried on some trade with other lands, its mountain ranges isolated the country from outside peoples. Tibet was traditionally a religious kingdom. Buddhist monks had a strong voice in the rule of Tibet before China took control.
The land. The Tibet Autonomous Region of China has an area of 471,662 square miles (1,221,600 square kilometers). Prior to the Chinese take-over, Tibet covered about 965,000 square miles (2,500,000 square kilometers). Much of this area now falls in neighboring provinces. The Plateau of Tibet covers much of the land. Along the southern end of the plateau, the Himalaya rises higher than any other mountain chain in the world. Mount Everest (29,035 feet, or 8,850 meters, above sea level) is in the Himalaya. In the north, peaks of the Kunlun range rise more than 20,000 feet (6,000 meters). Tibet has an average elevation of 16,000 feet (4,880 meters).
Large parts of Tibet are wastelands of gravel, rock, and sand that cannot be farmed. But there are also fertile valleys and other areas suitable for farming. In addition, Tibet has grasslands and forests. More than 5,000 different kinds of plants grow in Tibet. Tibet’s wild animals include gazelles, tigers, bears, monkeys, pandas, and wild horses. Tibet has hundreds of lakes and streams, but many have barren shores and a high salt content. Some of Asia’s great rivers begin in the mountains that border the Plateau of Tibet. These include the Brahmaputra, Indus, Mekong, Salween, and Yangtze rivers.
Climate. Much of Tibet receives less than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain annually. The Himalaya shuts out moisture-bearing winds from India. Sudden blizzards and snowstorms are common. Violent winds sweep Tibet in all seasons. January temperatures average 24 °F (-4 °C). July temperatures average 58 °F (14 °C).
The people and their work. The Tibet Autonomous Region has a population of over 2 million. The majority of the people are Tibetans. Most of the rest are Chinese. About 6 million Tibetans live throughout the plateau. Most of the people live in southern Tibet or along the eastern edge of the plateau. Both regions have fertile land for farming and raising livestock. Nomads raise sheep and yaks in the grasslands scattered across the plateau. About 140,000 people live in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital and largest city. Some of these people work in jobs in government, light industry, construction, or tourism.
Tibet’s main traditional language is Tibetan. All Tibetans speak Tibetan at home. Mandarin Chinese is also an official language of Tibet. Both Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are taught in the schools.
Before China seized Tibet, the government, the nobility, and the monasteries owned the farmland and governed the country. Most farmers were bound peasants. They often were not free to leave the land, and they had to give much of what they produced to the landowners. China, a Communist country, broke up the large estates and distributed them among farmers. Later, China took the land back and created collective farms.
Traditional Tibetan homes have stone or brick walls and flat roofs. Few of these houses have more than two floors. The ground floor is used to house animals. Rural Tibetans still live in traditional houses, but many urban Tibetans live in more modern buildings.
Barley is Tibet’s chief crop, and barley flour is the main food. Tibetans mix barley flour with tea and butter. Milk and cheese are also important parts of the diet. Chinese tea is the chief beverage. Tibetans flavor the tea with salt, soda, and yak butter.
The yak, a hairy ox, serves many purposes in Tibet. It provides cloth, meat, milk, and transportation. It is also used as a beast of burden. Its hair is used to make tents, and its hide for shoe leather and boats.
Traditional Tibetan clothing includes a long robe with long sleeves and a high collar. Wool, felt, and sheepskin are used to make cold-weather clothes. Today, many Tibetans wear more modern styles of clothing.
Cloth weaving and carpet making are important household industries in Tibet. Exports include carpets, furs, leather, salt, timber, and wool. Many of these products are exported to other parts of China.
Religion and culture. Tibetans are intensely religious. People turn prayer wheels and recite prayers on the streets. Religious rites are an important part of life. Festivals are religious in character. Long pilgrimages to important temples in Lhasa and elsewhere are popular.
Tibet’s religion is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism called Lamaism. The Dalai Lama, leader of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, ruled Tibet prior to China’s take-over. The word dalai is Mongolian for ocean, and the title Dalai Lama means a spiritual teacher of great depth. Another important Tibetan lama is the Panchen Lama, whom many hold second only to the Dalai Lama. Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India with a large community of Tibetan refugees.
Tibetans believe that when a lama dies, he is reincarnated-he returns to life as another person. They seek a lama’s reincarnation among children born after his death. The child thus selected becomes the lama’s successor. Tibetans believe the Dalai Lama and many other lamas are previous religious masters or divine figures.
In the past, large numbers of Tibetan men became monks, and a smaller number of women became nuns. Every town and valley had a monastery or convent, and some had several. Before the Chinese take-over, as many as 20 percent of Tibetan males may have been monks. Monks engaged in agriculture and handicrafts. The monasteries were centers of education, art, and public worship. Traditional Tibetan art reflected Chinese and Indian influences, and presented Buddhist themes.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Chinese Communists closed or destroyed most of the monasteries in Tibet. As a result, the religious emphasis of life in Tibet decreased a great deal. During the 1980’s, some monasteries were allowed to reopen and to recruit new monks.
Today, Tibet has fewer monasteries than it had in the past, but thousands of Tibetans still become monks. However, China continues to tightly control religious activity. China has instituted its own programs of political education in the monasteries to encourage monks to follow Communist principles.
Cities. Lhasa is the political and religious center of Tibet. The Potala Palace is the most impressive landmark in Lhasa. It is a grand, castlelike structure with gold roofs and more than 1,000 rooms. China preserves the palace, formerly a residence of the Dalai Lama and other monks, as a museum and tourist attraction. Other cities include Gyangze, Xigaze, and Yadong.
History and government. From the A.D. 600’s to the 800’s, Tibet ruled a powerful kingdom. Buddhism and writing were introduced from India, and Lhasa was founded. The Dalai Lama became the ruler of Tibet in the 1600’s. In the early 1700’s, Tibet fell under the control of China.
In 1904, a British mission fought its way into Lhasa against Tibetan resistance. The British and Tibetans signed a treaty, setting up trading posts in Tibet.
Tibet remained in Chinese hands until 1911, when Tibetans forced out the Chinese troops stationed there. Even after 1911, China claimed Tibet as an area within the Chinese domain. In the 1920’s, rivalry grew between the Dalai and Panchen lamas over political affairs. The Panchen Lama fled to China with his court. He remained there until his death in 1937. A new Panchen Lama was enthroned in China in 1944, but he was not officially recognized in Tibet until 1949. The Dalai Lama died in 1933. According to custom, a boy was chosen as his successor. The successor, a peasant boy, was officially installed as Dalai Lama in 1940.
Communists gained control of China’s government in 1949. In 1950, Chinese forces entered Tibet. In 1951, Tibetan representatives signed an agreement with China in which Tibet surrendered its sovereignty to the Chinese government but kept its right to regional self-government. The agreement promised no immediate change in the political system of Tibet and guaranteed the Tibetans freedom of religious belief.
In 1956, the Preparatory Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region was formed with the Dalai Lama as chairman, and a Chinese general and the Panchen Lama as two of the vice chairmen. This committee was set up to establish Tibet as an autonomous (self-governing) region. Despite these measures, China’s harsh rule of Tibet sparked an uprising in 1959. The uprising failed, and the Dalai Lama fled to India. The Panchen Lama became head of the Preparatory Committee, but he was later imprisoned for over 10 years.
By 1965, when Tibet officially became an autonomous region, the large estates of landlords and monks had been broken up. Peasants were required to grow wheat rather than barley and to sell a fixed amount of grain to the government to feed the Chinese soldiers. Chinese took over a majority of such jobs as local government administrators and teachers. Tibetans faced discrimination by Chinese soldiers and settlers.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, China’s Cultural Revolution wreaked havoc in Tibet. Religious monuments were destroyed, and thousands of Tibetans died.
In the 1980’s, the Chinese government adopted a more liberal policy. Some religious shrines and monasteries were reopened. Farmers were again allowed to decide which crops to grow and to sell them as they chose. But in the late 1980’s, Tibetans demonstrated against Chinese rule in the Lhasa area and demanded independence. In 1989, the Panchen Lama died. He had supported some of China’s policies in Tibet and favored unity with China, but he had also criticized many Chinese policies.
While living in exile, the Dalai Lama worked to end China’s domination of Tibet through nonviolent means. He won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful campaign. In 1995, the Dalai Lama announced the selection of a new Panchen Lama. But the Chinese government refused to recognize his selection and installed its own candidate.”
Contributor: Elliot Sperling, Ph.D., Professor of Tibetan Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington.