(tĭbĕt'), Tibetan Bodyul, Mandarin Xizang, autonomous region (2010 pop. 3,002,166), c.471,700 sq mi (1,221,700 sq km), SW China. A Chinese autonomous region since 1951, Tibet is bordered on the south by Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal, on the west by India (including the disputed Kashmir), on the north by Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai prov., and on the east by Sichuan and Yunnan provs. The capital is Lhasa.
Almost completely surrounded by mountain ranges (including the Himalayas in the south and the Kunlun in the north), Tibet is largely a plateau averaging c.16,000 ft (4,880 m) in height. Many of the mightiest rivers of E Asia, especially the Chang (Yangtze), the Mekong, and the Thanlwin, rise in Tibet; the most important is the navigable Yarlung Zangbo (the Brahmaputra), which follows an easterly course through S Tibet. North of the Yarlung Zangbo are many salt lakes, the largest being Nam Co (Tengri Nor) in the east.
The indigenous inhabitants are of Mongolian stock and speak a Tibeto-Burman language. There are also substantial numbers of Han and other Chinese, especially in E Tibet and in urban areas; the number of non-Tibetans has increased significantly since 1990. Before the unsuccessful revolt of 1959 (see History), many city dwellers were Tibetan Buddhist monks, who may have comprised as much as one sixth of the country's male population. The chief figures of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (or Tashi Lama, for the lamastery at Tashi Lumpo), were at least the nominal heads of the Tibetan government. In general, the former administration was equally divided between lamas and the feudal aristocracy.
Tibet is a land of scant rainfall and a short growing season, and the only extensive agricultural region is the Yarlung Zangbo valley, where barley, wheat, potatoes, millet, and turnips are grown. In this valley as well are nearly all the large cities, including Lhasa, Xigazê (Shigatse), and Gyangzê (Gyangtse). Most other areas of Tibet are suited only for grazing; yaks, which can withstand the intense cold, are the principal domestic animals, and there are also large herds of goats and sheep. Much of the population traditionally was engaged in a pastoral life, but the advances made by irrigation and the growing of forage crops combined with Chinese attempts to spur economic development and relocate Tibetans into new housing developments have reduced nomadism and also increased the urban population. In addition to vast salt reserves, Tibet has large deposits of gold, copper, and radioactive ores.
Traditionally, goods for trade, particularly foreign trade, were carried by pack trains (yaks, mules, and horses) across the windswept plateau and over difficult mountain passes. In exchange for hides, wool, and salt there were imports of tea and silk from China and of manufactured goods from India. Motor roads now connect Lhasa with Qamdo (Chamdo) in E Tibet and with Xigazê and Gyangzê in the Yarlung Zangbo area and link Gar (Gartok) in W Tibet to the northern regions. A major highway runs from Tibet to Chengdu, in Sichuan prov., providing a link to the great Chinese cities in the east; Tibet is also connected by highway with Xinjiang and Qinghai in W China. A rail link to Qinghai prov. was opened in 2006.
Evidence of human habitation dating between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago has been found in NW Tibet, and in S Tibet the Yarlung Zangbo valley was, over the centuries, the focus of ancient trade routes from India, China, and Central Asia. Tibet emerged from an obscure history to flourish in the 7th cent. A.D. as an independent kingdom with its capital at Lhasa. The Chinese first established relations with Tibet during the T'ang dynasty (618–906), and there were frequent wars of conquest. The Tibetan kingdom was associated with early Mahayana Buddhism, which the scholar and mystic Padmasambhava fashioned (8th cent.) into Tibetan Buddhism. Toward the end of the 12th cent. many Indian Buddhists, fleeing before the Muslim invasion, went to Tibet. In the 13th cent. Tibet fell under Mongol influence, which was to last until the 18th cent. In 1270, Kublai Khan, emperor of China, was converted to Buddhism by the abbot of the Sakya lamasery; the abbot returned to Tibet to found the Sakya dynasty (1270–1340) and to become the first lama to rule Tibet. In 1720, the Ch'ing dynasty replaced Mongol rule in Tibet. China thereafter claimed suzerainty, often merely nominal.
During the 18th cent., British authorities in India attempted to establish relations with Lhasa, but the Gurkha invasion of 1788 and the subsequent Gurkha war (1792) with Tibet brought an abrupt end to the rapprochement. Jesuits and Capuchins had visited Tibet in the 17th and 18th cent., but throughout the 19th cent. Tibet maintained its traditional seclusion. Meanwhile, Ladakh, long part of Tibet, was lost to the rulers of Kashmir, and Sikkim was detached (1890) by Britain. In 1893, Britain succeeded in obtaining a trading post at Yadong, but continued Tibetan interference led to the military expedition (1904) of Sir Francis Younghusband to Lhasa, which enforced the granting of trade posts at Yadong, Gyangzê, and Gar.
In 1906 and 1907, Britain recognized China's suzerainty over Tibet. However, the Tibetans were able, with the overthrow of the Ch'ing dynasty in China, to expel (1912) the Chinese in Tibet and reassert their independence. At a conference (1913–14) of British, Tibetans, and Chinese at Shimla, India, Tibet was tentatively confirmed under Chinese suzerainty and divided into an inner Tibet, to be incorporated into China, and an outer autonomous Tibet. The Shimla agreement was, however, never ratified by the Chinese, who continued to claim all of Tibet as a "special territory." After the death (1933) of the 13th Dalai Lama, Tibet gradually drifted back into the Chinese orbit. The 14th Dalai Lama, who was born in China, was installed in 1939–40 and assumed full powers (1950) after a ten-year regency.
The succession of the 10th Panchen Lama, with rival candidates supported by Tibet and China, was one of the excuses for the Chinese invasion (Oct., 1950) of Tibet. By a Tibetan-Chinese agreement (May, 1951), Tibet became a "national autonomous region" of China under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama, but under the actual control of a Chinese Communist commission. The Communist government introduced far-reaching land reforms and sharply curtailed the power of the monastic orders. After 1956 scattered uprisings occurred throughout the country, but a full-scale revolt broke out in Mar., 1959, prompted in part by fears for the personal safety of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese suppressed the rebellion, but the Dalai Lama was able to escape to India, where he eventually established headquarters in exile.
The Panchen Lama, who had accepted Chinese sponsorship, acceded to the spiritual leadership of Tibet. The Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. Landholdings were seized, the lamaseries were virtually emptied, and thousands of monks were forced to find other work. The Panchen Lama was deposed in 1964 after making statements supporting the Dalai Lama; he was replaced by a secular Tibetan leader. In 1962, China launched attacks along the Indian-Tibetan border to consolidate territories it claimed had been wrongly given to India by the British McMahon Commission in 1914. Following a cease-fire, Chinese troops withdrew behind the disputed line in the east but continued to occupy part of Ladakh in Kashmir. Some border areas are still in dispute.
In 1965 the Tibetan Autonomous Region was formally established. The Cultural Revolution, with its antireligious orientation, was disastrous for highly religious Tibet. Religious practices were banned and over 4,000 monasteries were destroyed. Though the ban was lifted in 1976 and some Buddhist temples have again been in operation since the early 1980s, Tibetans continue to complain of widespread discrimination by the Chinese, and in more recent years the sometimes forcible relocation of Tibetans from traditional communities to new housing developments has contributed to dissatisfaction. Several protests in Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s were violently suppressed by the Communist government and martial law was imposed in 1989. Demonstrations against Chinese rule have nevertheless continued, and other countries have increasingly raised the issue of human-rights violations in Tibet and pressured the Chinese government to moderate their stance in the region. Religious tensions were again underscored in 1995 when China rejected the boy who was confirmed by the Dalai Lama as the new Panchen Lama and forced the selection of a different boy and in 2000 when the 14-year-old Karmapa lama fled Tibet for India. Significant new protests and riots erupted in Tibet and among Tibetans in neighboring provinces in 2008 and to a lesser degree in Tibet in 2012.
- See From the Land of Lost Content: The Dalai Lama's Fight for Tibet (1970). ,
- Tibet: A Chronicle of Exploration (1970). ,
- Tibetan Civilization (tr., rev. ed. 1972). ,
- A Cultural History of Tibet (1980). ; ,
- Tibet: A Political History (1984). ,
- The Status of Tibet: History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law (1986). ,
- A History of Modern Tibet (3 vol., 1989–2013). ,
- The Dragon in the Land of Snows (1999). ,
- Tibet: An Unfinished Story (2014). ; ,
- Voices from Tibet (2014). ; ,
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