Tibet is a region of Central Asia and the home of the Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 4,900 m (16,000 ft), it is often called the “Roof of the World”. In Western usage, “Tibet” may refer either to the Tibet Autonomous Region or TAR (an administrative subdivision of the People’s Republic of China), or to historic Tibet which consisted of the provinces of Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang. The TAR covers the former U-Tsang province and western Kham, the remainder coming under the present-day Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan. Since 1959 the former government of Tibet, led by the 14th Dalai Lama, has maintained a government in exile in northern India which claims sovereignty over the area of Tibet defined by the pre-1950 borders.
The historic capital of Tibet is Lhasa, which is also the capital of the TAR. Other cities in Tibet are Shigatse, Gyangtse, Golmud, Lhatse, Maqin, Pelbar, Sakya, Tingri, Tongren, Xining, Yushu, Zhangmu.
Little is known of Tibet before the 7th century when Buddhism was introduced by missionaries from India. Tibet was a strong kingdom between the 8th and 10th centuries. Lamaism began to develop when the Tibetan kingdom weakened in the 10th century. In the 13th century Tibet was conquered by Genghis Khan, who ruled Tibet through a local puppet government.
Eventually the most important of the Grand Lamas came to be the Dalai Lama. By the early 18th century China established the right to have resident commissioners in Lhasa. When the Tibetans rebelled against the Chinese in 1750, a Chinese army entered the country and tried to restore Chinese authority. Even though China claimed to have regained control on Tibet, the Tibetan government around the Dalai Lama remained sovereign.
The Tibetans lived under a feudal system run by the lamas, with the great monasteries owning most of the land. As late as 1953, of the country’s population of 1.25 million, more than 700,000 were serfs. In 1904 the British sent an Indian military force and seized Lhasa, forcing Tibet to open its border with British India. A 1906 treaty with China repeated these conditions, making Tibet a de facto British protectorate.
After 1907, a treaty between Britain, China, and Russia recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. The Chinese established direct rule for the first time in 1910. But when the 1911 Xinhai Revolution ended the Qing Dynasty the Chinese troops withdrew to fight the upcoming Chinese Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and the Dalai Lama was able to re-establish his power. In 1913, Tibet and Mongolia signed a treaty proclaiming their independence from China, and their mutual recognition. The independence claim was a term used by revolutionaries the Qing dynasty. The subsequent outbreak of world wars and civil war in China caused both the powers and China to lose interest in Tibet, and the 13th Dalai Lama ruled undisturbed.
China never renounced its claim to sovereignty over Tibet. In 1950 the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet against little resistance. In 1951 a treaty signed under military pressure by representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama provided for rule by a joint Chinese-Tibetan authority. During the 1950s Chinese rule grew more oppressive, and in 1959, local warlords led an armed Tibetan rebellion. The rebellion was soon crushed, and the Dalai Lama had to flee to India. The Panchen Lama was set up as a figurehead in Lhasa. In 1965 the south-western part of Tibet was designated as an Autonomous Region. The monastic estates were broken up and secular education introduced. During the Cultural Revolution there was a campaign of organized vandalism against Tibet’s Buddhist heritage as the Red Guards did with the Chinese cultural heritage all over China.
Since 1979 Chinese policy in Tibet has veered between moderation and repression. Most religious freedoms have been officially restored, but the imprisonment of monks and nuns is still a daily routine in Tibet.
Tibet is located on the Tibetan Plateau, the world’s highest region. Most of the Himalaya mountain range lies within Tibet; Mount Everest is on Nepal’s border with Tibet.
The atmosphere is intensely dry nine months of the year. Western passes receive small amounts of fresh snow each year but remain traversable year round. Low temperatures are prevalent throughout these western regions, whose bleak desolation is unrelieved by any vegetation beyond the size of low bushes, and where the wind sweeps unchecked across vast expanses of arid plain. The Indian monsoon exerts some influence on eastern Tibet but essentially none on western Tibet. Northern Tibet is subject to intense heat in summer and intense cold in winter.
Historic Tibet consisted of several regions:
Amdo (a mdo) in northeast the provinces of Qinghai, part of Gansu and part of Sichuan
Kham (khams) in east part of Sichuan, northern Yunnan and part of Qinghai
Western Kham part of Tibetan Autonomous Region
U (dbus) in center part of Tibetan Autonomous Region
Tsang (gtsang) in west part of Tibetan Autonomous Region
Tibetan cultural influences extend to the neighboring states of Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, Ladakh, and adjacent provinces of China where Tibetan Buddhism is the predominate religion.
Several majors rivers have their source in Tibet, including:
The Tibetan economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture. Due to limited arable land, livestock raising is the primary occupation. The Qinghai-Tibet Railroad is being built to link the region with China proper.
Historically, the population of Tibet was primarily Tibetans. Since the 1980s, the PRC government has systematically supported the settlement of Han Chinese in Tibet, further diminishing any chances of Tibetan political independence. Other ethnic groups include Menba, Lhoba and Hui.
Tibet is the traditional center of Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive form of Vajrayana. Tibet is also home for a related spiritual tradition called B