|Name||西藏 (xī zàng) ['west' 'treasury']|
|Population||3.148 million (0.23 %) [32nd] comparison table|
|Area||1,230,000 km2 [474,903 mile2] (12.82 %) [2nd]|
|GDP||29,252 (0.37 %) [30th]|
Tibet has had vassal status to China for centuries. In China it is known as Xizang (meaning “Western treasure house of Buddhist scriptures”) and became an Autonomous Region within China in 1950. Tibet is the China's natural south-western border because Tibet's southern edge contains the highest Himalayan Mountains including Qomolangma Feng (Mount Everest ➚ 29,029 feet [8,848 meters]) which stands on the border with Nepal. The Tibetan Plateau is the source of the waters that become the Yarlong Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), the Indus, and the Ganges.
‘Tibet’ is a modern European name for the province probably derived from the Arabic ‘Tibat’ meaning ‘The summits’. In the distant past the Chinese called it “Tufan”; the Tibetans themselves use the name “Bod བོད”.
Tibet formed the Thufo Empire back in the 8th century and at this time it became strong enough to attack China and sack the great city of Chang'an. Tibetan culture remains strong not just in Tibet but also in neighboring Qinghai; western Sichuan; northern Yunnan; southern Xinjiang and Gansu provinces. The main cultural influence is from the local form of Buddhism - Tibetan Buddhism. The religion merged some features of Bon ➚, known for its prayer flags and wheels with Tantric Buddhism ➚. In 1641 the Yellow Hat sect beat the Red Hat sect to become the leading religious group and installed the first Dalai Lama. Tibet became part of Qing Empire China in 1705 and only had a brief period of independence after the fall of the Qing (1911-1950). In 1903 Britain, concerned with potential Russian threat to its Indian Empire to the south, sent Captain Younghusband ➚ to impose control. After beating the Tibetan Army, Britain agreed that Qing China could rule Tibet (keeping out the Russians) but still maintained a formal presence 1904-1944 at Lhasa, Gyangze and Gartok to monitor the country.
The Cultural Revolution (1966-75) wrought havoc to Tibet. Initiatives were imposed across China taking no account of local conditions and traditions - so wheat was planted in place of barley and more importantly the Buddhist monasteries were systematically destroyed. Of the 1,600 monasteries in 1959 only 10 survived to 1979. A rebellion in 1958 resulted in the Dalai Lama ➚ and 80,000 Tibetans fleeing over the mountains to Dharamshala ➚ in northern India (only 124 miles [200 kms] from the Tibetan border). Extensive settlement by Han Chinese began at the time of the foundation of the PRC. The politics of Tibet remain a very sensitive topic and the details of China's right to rule are disputed. At the Simla Conference ➚ 1913-14 China agreed that Outer Tibet would be given full autonomy but the Republican government then disowned the accord.
Conditions at the high altitudes are bleak; most Tibetans live in the narrow valley of the Yarlung Zangbo Jiang ➚ where the main town Lhasa is sited. Tibetan rather than Chinese is the main language, which is closer to Burmese than Chinese in form, and Tibetan Pinyin is used on road signs. The Potala Palace ➚ in Lhasa is the center of Tibetan Buddhism and popular with tourists. The Palace was built by King Songtsan Gambo (617-650) for his Han Chinese wife Wen Cheng. Potala means ‘Buddha's mountain’ in Sanskrit, it was last re-built in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama. There are a thousand rooms and many grand halls. The West Main Hall holds the remains of the previous Dalai Lamas encased in gold. The fabulous Guanyin Hall is a rare fragment of the original palace. The whole palace was greatly strengthened to resist earthquakes by pouring liquid copper into the foundations.
Another well known attraction is the Tashilhunpo Monastery ➚ at Xigaze (Shigatse) this is the home of the Panchen Lama ➚ (second in seniority to the Dalai Lama).The other monasteries are dotted around including Baiqoi Monastery ➚ at Gyangze; Drepung Lamasery, Sera Monastery and Gandain Monastery. Sacred places include Yamdrok Lake ➚ and Heavenly Lake Namtso ➚.
Currently travel within Tibet by foreigners is tightly controlled; it is not possible to travel about on your own you have to go as part of a group. It is also essential to allow adequate time to acclimatize for the very high altitude. The Qinghai-Tibet railway 青藏铁路 was opened in 2006, and this has greatly increased the province's accessibility from the rest of China. It is the highest railway in the world, reaching 16,640 feet [5,072 meters] at the Tanggula Pass.
Tibetans form the dominant ethnic group, with only a minority of Han people who live in the main cities. The forced settlement of Han people in Lhasa has given the city a Chinese feel; however tensions between the Tibetan and Han peoples continue to produce unrest at times. There are continued protests by monks, sometimes committing suicide by self-immolation ➚.
Tibet remains a poorly developed, desolate province compared to the rest of China. It has the feel of a different country. Yak herding is the key agricultural activity of Tibetans, but only in the southern valleys. Very little grows over much of the central and northern regions due to lack of rain and the extreme conditions. Some barley is grown in the warmer valleys. It is very cold in winter and cool in summer with very limited rainfall which falls only in the southernmost area.
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