◀ Tiantai Comprehensive index starts in volume 5, page 2667. (Xizang) Autonomous Region Xīzàng Zìzhìqū ​西藏自治区 2.84 million est. 2007 pop. (this figure is debatable) 1.22 million square km

Tibet—“the Roof of the ­World”—​­is one of TAR over the last five decades. While around 130,000 Ti- ’s five autonomous regions. A distinc- betans live in exile in and elsewhere, estimates of tion is made between “political” Tibet, the the ­-speaking​­ population of China range between area governed by the government be- 2 and 5 million. Although the degree to which Tibet was a part of fore 1950, and “ethnic” or “cultural” Tibet, the China in earlier eras is disputed, Tibet certainly has been area inhabited by mainly Buddhist people of a part of China since the Chinese Communist invasion Tibetan origin. Tibet has been the focus of in 1950 and exists today only in the ­much-​­reduced area of international attention because of calls for the TAR. A Tibetan ­government-​­in-exile, headed by the increased autonomy or independence, and Dalai (the spiritual and temporal leader of the Ti- at the same is being developed as an interna- betan people), has been established in India, and signifi- tional tourist destination. cant Tibetan exile communities exist in the United States and Switzerland. The Tibetan government in exile con- tinues to campaign for ­self-​­determination for Tibet, and the ongoing ­Sino-Tibetan​­ dispute invests facts and figures ibet—since 1965 officially known as the Tibet regarding Tibet with political implications. However, a (Xizang) Autonomous Region ­(TAR)—​­is made distinction historically has been made between “politi- up of the central Asian landmass between the cal” Tibet, the area governed by the Lhasa government Kunlun mountain range to the north, the Himalayan before 1950, and “ethnic” or “cultural” Tibet, the area in- Mountains to the south, and the Karakoram range to the habited by mainly Buddhist people of Tibetan origin. west. It is one of China’s five autonomous regions (areas dominated by one or more of China’s ­fifty-​­five officially recognized minority ethnic groups: in this case, the Zang Geographic Features people). On the east Tibet is bounded by a region of three great “Political” Tibet had an estimated population of 1.8–3​ mil- rivers: the Yangzi (Chang), Mekong, and Salween. With lion, around half of whom were seminomadic herders. most of its territory located above 4,500 meters and its The settled urban and agricultural populations were con- capital, Lhasa, located at 3,607 meters, Tibet has been centrated in the river valleys, particularly in the triangle called “the Roof of the World.” The total Tibetan popu- formed by the major settlements of Lhasa, , and lation remains uncertain, and is a ­highly-politicized​­ issue, (Xigaze). Today the TAR population includes a particularly given the movement of into the large number of Han Chinese immigrants, and with the


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completion of a railroad connecting Lhasa with other Origins Chinese cities, the Han Chinese are now believed to form a majority of the Lhasa population. The origins of the Tibetan peoples appear to be linked to Although Tibet is located at a latitude similar to that central Asian nomadic tribes such as the Yue Zhi (Tokha- of Algeria, the location and altitude of the rians) and Qiang. The first unified Tibetan state was a produces a cold and generally dry climate, although south- tribal confederacy formed in the seventh century under eastern Tibet includes tropical jungle. The western Ti- the rule of King (or ­Srong-brtsan​­ ­Sgam-​ betan area around the Gangdise (Kailas) mountain range ­po (c. ­608–​650 ce), who established his capital at Lhasa. and Lake Mapam Yumco (Manasarowar) is the source of The introduction of a and Buddhist teach- four great rivers: the Indus, Brahmaputra, Ganges, and ings is among the innovations attributed to his reign. His Sutlej. , located on the ­Tibet-​­ border, dynasty lasted until the assassination of King Langd- at 8,848 meters is the world’s highest mountain. harma around the year 842. Tibet’s climate limits its sedentary agriculture. During this period Tibet was a formidable military is the major crop and, in its roasted form as , com- power, constantly warring with neighboring powers and prises, along with yak meat and (a traditional import strong enough to sack the Chinese capital of Xi’an in 763. from and other parts of China), the staple diet of At its zenith the reached as far west as Sa- most of the Tibetan population. marqand in ­modern-​­day Uzbekistan. became

A Tibetan girl in traditional dress stands in a courtyard with intricately painted pillars.

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TIBET (Xizang Autonomous Region)


(Xizang Autonomous Region)


increasingly important, particularly in the court, and the were translated into the Tibetan language. Of the four ma- first monastery in Tibet was established at around jor sects of that developed on the basis 779. However, there was considerable opposition to the of these teachings, the Gelugpa sect eventually emerged as new religion among aristocratic factions associated with prominent, and from the sixteenth century onward Tibet followers of the indigenous Tibetan belief system, which was ruled by a line of incarnate Gelugpa with the was later identified with the faith but probably at that title of “.” Religious factions in Tibet tended to time was an unsystematized tradition that included ele- seek Mongol or Chinese patronage, and in the eighteenth ments of divine kingship and sacrifice. century China became increasingly involved in events in During the eleventh and twelfth centuries Buddhism Tibet. Thus, from 1793 until 1911–​1912 China exerted at became firmly established when Indian least nominal (dominion) over Lhasa.

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The British imperial government of India in 1903–​ Communist Chinese invasion in 1950. However, its in- 1904 dispatched a mission to Lhasa that forced Tibetans dependence was not officially recognized by any major to accept British representatives and effectively opened powers, with China continuing to claim Tibet. the country to Western influences. However, despite some modernization during the next couple of decades, Tibet remained an essentially conservative religious so- Society ciety and strongly resisted change. The thirteenth Dalai Lama (1876–​1933), a strong nationalist leader, led Tibet In spite of the continuing existence of the Bon faith and to independence after the Chinese revolution in 1911, and its many cultural manifestations, the outstanding feature Tibet survived as a de facto independent state until the of generally is considered to be its unique

An elderly Tibetan woman with a prayer . Photo by Yixuan Shuke.

© 2009 by Berkshire Publishing Group LLC 2284 Berkshire Encyclopedia of China 宝 库 山 中 华 全 书 form of Buddhism, a synthesis of the and Further Reading Tantric forms of the faith. Buddhism influenced virtually Coleman, G. (Ed.). (1993). A handbook of Tibetan culture: all aspects of traditional society. An estimated 20 percent A guide to Tibetan centres and resources throughout the (although some estimates place the figure as high as 50 world. London: Rider. percent) of the male population were monks, and more International Commission of Jurists (1959). The ques- than six thousand monasteries were located throughout tion of Tibet and the rule of law. Geneva: International the Tibetan cultural world. These were important eco- Commission of Jurists. nomic and political centers as well as guardians of Ti- Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong betan artistic and cultural expression. Aside from the Kong: China Economic Review Publishing. monasteries, to sacred cities and mountains Lustgarten, A. (2008). China’s great train: ’s drive was an especially significant religious expression for all west and the campaign to remake Tibet. New York: Times Books. classes of people. McKay, A. (Ed.). (2002). The (3 vols.). A small aristocratic class enjoyed considerable privi- Richmond, U.K: Curzon Press. lege, although the Tibetan peasantry, in comparison with Mikel, D. (2004). Buddha’s warriors: The story of the­CIA- ​ their contemporaries in neighboring states, were tolerably ­backed Tibetan freedom fighters, the Chinese invasion, well treated. Women also enjoyed ­greater-​­than-average and the ultimate fall of Tibet. New York: Penguin. freedom, particularly in the economic and social spheres, Richardson, H. (1984). Tibet and its history. Boston: although they were almost entirely excluded from reli- Shambhala Publications. gious power. Richardson, H. (1998). High peaks, pure Earth: Collected Cultural influences from both India and China were writings on Tibetan history and culture. London: Ser- present, but Tibetan culture was strikingly distinct from india Publications. the culture of its neighbors. This was particularly true in Samuel, G. (1993). Civilized shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan such areas as literary traditions (in particular the Gesar societies. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution of Ling epic), language, and art and , with Press. Snellgrove, D., & Richardson, H. (1968). A cultural history buildings such as Lhasa’s and Tem- of Tibet. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ple, as well as the regional monasteries, being of striking Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan civilization. Stanford, CA: originality. Some of this culture has been destroyed in the Stanford University Press. TAR, but much is remembered or preserved in exile, and Tarthang, T. (Ed.). (1986). Ancient Tibet: Research mate- the Chinese government has in recent years focused on rials from the Yeshe De Project. Berkeley, CA: developing Tibet as a domestic and international tourist Publishing. destination. The­- Tibet​­ railway links the Tibetan Tucci, G. (1980). The religions of Tibet. London: Routledge capital of Lhasa with Beijing and is the world’s highest & Kegan Paul. railway line, with nearly 1000 km of track at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters above sea level. Alex McKAY

Tibetan Uprising of 1959 ▶

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