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Cultural/historical Tibet (highlighted) depicted with various competing territorial claims.
  Tibet Autonomous Region within the People's Republic of China
  Historic Tibet as claimed by Tibetan exile groups
  Tibetan areas as designated by the People's Republic of China
  Chinese-controlled areas claimed by India as part of Aksai Chin
  Indian-controlled areas claimed by China as part of Tibet
  Other areas historically within Tibetan cultural sphere

Tibet (Tibetan: བོད་Wylie: bod ; IPA: pʰø̀ʔ; Chinese: 西藏; pinyin: Xī Zàng) is a plateau region in Asia, north of the Himalayas, and the home to the indigenous Tibetan people and some other ethnic groups. With an average elevation of 4,900 metres (16,000 ft), it is the highest region on Earth and has in recent decades increasingly been referred to as the "Roof of the World".[1]

In the history of Tibet, it has been an independent country[2], divided into different countries, and a part of China each for a certain amount of time. Tibet was first unified under King Songtsän Gampo in the seventh century. A government nominally headed by the Dalai Lamas, a line of spiritual leaders, ruled a large portion of the Tibetan region at various times from the 1640s until 1950s. During most of this period, the Tibetan administration was subordinate to the Chinese empire of the Qing Dynasty. The 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibet independent in 1913, but this declaration was not accepted by China. Furthermore, Tibet was not recognized by any country as a de jure independent nation. As a measure of the power that regents must have wielded, it is important to note that only three of the fourteen Dalai Lamas have actually ruled Tibet; regents ruled during 77 percent of the period from 1751 until 1960.[3] The Communist Party of China gained control of central and western Tibet (Tibet area controlled by the Dalai Lama) after a decisive military victory at Chamdo in 1950. The 14th Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959.

Today, Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in reality and claimed by the Republic of China (ROC) in its constitution[4] while a small part, according to the PRC and the ROC, is controlled by India. Both sides of Chinese government regard Tibet as part of China.[4] Currently, Beijing and the Government of Tibet in Exile disagree over when Tibet became a part of China, and whether the incorporation into China of Tibet is legitimate according to international law[5] (see Tibetan sovereignty debate). Since what constitutes Tibet is a matter of much debate (see map, right) neither its size nor population are simple matters of fact, due to various entities claiming differing parts of the area as a Tibetan region.



Flag of Tibet that was introduced by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1912 and outlawed by in the People's Republic of China in 1959.
Himalayas, on the southern rim of the Tibetan plateau.

"Tibet" names and definitions are linguistically and politically loaded language.

The modern Standard Tibetan endonym (or autonym) Bod བོད་ means "Tibet" or "Tibetan Plateau", although it originally meant the central region "Ü-Tsang". The pronunciation of Bod (IPA [pʰøʔ]) is represented as Bhö or Phö. Some scholars believe the first written reference to Bod "Tibet" was the ancient "Bautai" people recorded in the (ca. 1st century) Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and (ca. 2nd century) Geographia.[6]

The two Standard Mandarin exonyms for "Tibet" are classical Tǔbō or Tǔfān 吐蕃 and modern Xīzàng 西藏 (which now specifies the "Tibet Autonomous Region"). Tubo or Tufan "ancient name for Tibet" was first transliterated into Chinese characters as 土番 in the 7th-century (Li Tai) and as 吐蕃 in the 10th-century (Book of Tang describing 608-609 emissaries from Tibetan King Namri Songtsen to Emperor Yang of Sui). In the Middle Chinese spoken during that period, Tǔbō or Tǔfān are reconstructed (by Bernhard Karlgren) as T'uopuâ and T'uop'i̭wɐn. Xizang 西藏 was coined during the Qing Dynasty period of the Jiaqing Emperor (r. 1796-1820). The People's Republic of China government equates Xīzàng with the Xīzàng Zìzhìqū 西藏自治区 "Tibet Autonomous Region".

The English word Tibet or Thibet dates back to 1827. While historical linguists generally agree that "Tibet" names in European languages are loanwords from Arabic Tibat or Tobatt, they disagree over the original etymology. Many sources propose Tibetan Stod-bod (pronounced tö-bhöt) "Upper Tibet",[7] some suggest Turkic Töbäd "The Heights" (plural of töbän),[8] and a few favor Chinese Tǔbō or Tǔfān.[9]


The Tibetan language is generally classified as a Tibeto-Burman language of the Sino-Tibetan language family although the boundaries between 'Tibetan' and certain other Himalayan languages can be unclear. According to Matthew Kapstein:

From the perspective of historical linguistics, Tibetan most closely resembles Burmese among the major languages of Asia. Grouping these two together with other apparently related languages spoken in the Himalayan lands, as well as in the highlands of Southeast Asia and the Sino-Tibetan frontier regions, linguists have generally concluded that there exists a Tibeto-Burman family of languages. More controversial is the theory that the Tibeto-Burman family is itself part of a larger language family, called Sino-Tibetan, and that through it Tibetan and Burmese are distant cousins of Chinese.[10]

The language is spoken in numerous regional dialects which, although sometimes mutually intelligible, generally cannot be understood by the speakers of the different oral forms of Tibetan. It is employed throughout the Tibetan plateau and Bhutan and is also spoken in parts of Nepal and northern India, such as Sikkim. In general, the dialects of central Tibet (including Lhasa), Kham, Amdo and some smaller nearby areas are considered Tibetan dialects. Other forms, particularly Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Sherpa, and Ladakhi, are considered by their speakers, largely for political reasons, to be separate languages. However, if the latter group of Tibetan-type languages are included in the calculation then 'greater Tibetan' is spoken by approximately 6 million people across the Tibetan Plateau. Tibetan is also spoken by approximately 150,000 exile speakers who have fled from modern-day Tibet to India and other countries.

A Tibetan woman in Lhasa

Although spoken Tibetan varies according to the region, the written language, based on Classical Tibetan, is consistent throughout. This is probably due to the long-standing influence of the Tibetan empire, whose rule embraced (and extended at times far beyond) the present Tibetan linguistic area, which runs from northern Pakistan in the west to Yunnan and Sichuan in the east, and from north of the Kokonor lake (Qinghai) south as far as Bhutan. The Tibetan language has its own script that it shares with Ladakhi and Dzongkha, which is derived from the ancient Indian Brahmi script.[11]


The general history of Tibet begins with the rule of Songtsän Gampo (604–50 CE) who united parts of the Yarlung River Valley and founded the Tibetan Empire. He also brought in many reforms and Tibetan power spread rapidly creating a large and powerful empire. In 640 he married Princess Wencheng, the niece of the powerful Chinese emperor Emperor Taizong of Tang China.

Under the next few kings who followed Songsten Gampo, Buddhism became established as the state religion and Tibetan power increased even further over large areas of Central Asia while major inroads were made into Chinese territory, even reaching the Tang's capital Chang'an (modern Xi'an) in late 763.[12] However, Tibetan troops' occupation of Chang'an only lasted for fifteen days after they were defeated by Tang and its ally, the Turkic empire Uyghur Khaganate.

Nanzhao (in Yunnan and neighbouring regions) remained under Tibetan control from 750 to 794, when they turned on their Tibetan overlords and helped the Chinese inflict a serious defeat on the Tibetans.[13]

In 747, the hold of Tibet was loosened by the campaign of general Gao Xianzhi, who tried to re-open the direct communications between Central Asia and Kashmir. By 750 the Tibetans had lost almost all of their central Asian possessions to the Chinese. However, after Gao Xianzhi's defeat by the Arabs and Qarluqs at the Battle of Talas river (751), Chinese influence decreased rapidly and Tibetan influence resumed. In 821/822 CE Tibet and China signed a remarkable peace treaty. A bilingual account of this treaty including details of the borders between the two countries are inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.[14] Tibet continued as a Central Asian empire until the mid-9th century.

13th, 14th and 15th centuries

At the end of the 1230s, the Mongols turned their attention to Tibet. At that time, Mongol armies had already conquered Northern China, much of Central Asia, and as far as Russia and modern Ukraine. The Tibetan nobility, however, was fragmented and mainly occupied with internal strife. Göden, a brother of Güyük, entered the country in 1240. A second invasion led to the submission of almost all Tibetan states. In 1244, Göden summoned the Sakya Pandita to his court, and in 1247 appointed Sakya the Mongolian viceroy for Central Tibet, though the eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo remained "under direct Mongol rule".[15] When Kublai Khan founded the Yuan Dynasty in 1271, Tibet became a part of the Yuan Dynasty.

Tibet in 820 in relation to the other powers

Between 1346 and 1354, towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the Pagmodru myriarch, Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen (1302–1364) toppled the Sakya. The following 80 years were a period of relative stability. They also saw the birth of the Gelugpa school (also known as Yellow Hats) by the disciples of Tsongkhapa Lobsang Dragpa, and the founding of the important Ganden, Drepung, and Sera monasteries near Lhasa. After the 1430s, the country entered another period of internal power struggles.[16]

16th and 17th centuries

In 1578, Altan Khan of the Tümed Mongols invited Sonam Gyatso, a high lama of the Gelugpa school. They met near Khökh Nuur, where Altan Khan first referred to Sönam Gyatso as the Dalai Lama; Dalai being the Mongolian translation of the Tibetan name Gyatso, or "Ocean".[17]

The first Europeans to arrive in Tibet were Portuguese missionaries in 1624 and were welcomed by the the King and Queen of Guge and some Tibetan people in western Tibet. They were allowed to build a church and to introduce Christian belief. The king of Guge eagerly accepted Christianity as an offsetting religious influence to dilute the thriving Gelugpa and to counterbalance his potential rivals and consolidate his position. All missionaries were expelled at lama's insistence in 1745. [18] [19] [20][21]

In the 1630s, Tibet became entangled in the power struggles between the rising Manchu and various Mongol and Oirad factions. Ligden Khan of the Mongolian Chakhar tribe, retreating from the Manchu forces, set out to destroy the Yellow Hat Gelug school in Tibet but died on the way near Kokonor, in 1634. [22] His vassal Tsogt Taij continued the fight but was defeated and killed by Güshi Khan of the Khoshud in 1637, who, in turn, became the overlord over Tibet, and acted as a "Protector of the Yellow Church"[23]. Güshi helped the Fifth Dalai Lama to establish himself as the highest spiritual and political authority in Tibet and destroyed any potential rivals.

18th century

Royaume de Thibet ("Kingdom of Tibet") on a 1734 map by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville, based on earlier Jesuit maps

In 1705, Lobzang Khan of the Khoshud used the 6th Dalai Lama's refusal of the role of a monk (although the incumbent did not reject his political role as Dalai Lama) as an excuse to take control of Tibet. The regent was murdered, and the Dalai Lama sent to Beijing. He died on the way, also near Kokonor, ostensibly from illness. Lobzang Khan appointed a new Dalai Lama, who, however, was not accepted by the Gelugpa school.

A rival reincarnation was found in the region of Kokonor. The Dzungars invaded Tibet in 1717, deposed and killed a pretender to the position of Dalai Lama (who had been promoted by Lhabzang), which met with widespread approval. However, the Dzungars soon began to loot the holy places of Lhasa which brought a swift response from Emperor Kangxi in 1718, but his military expedition was annihilated by the Dzungars not far from Lhasa.[24][25]

Emperor Kangxi finally expelled the Dzungars from Tibet in 1720 and the troops were hailed as liberators. They brought Kelzang Gyatso with them from Kumbum to Lhasa and he was installed as the Seventh Dalai Lama in 1721, though they did not make Tibet a province, allowed it to maintain its own officials and legal and administrative systems, and levied no taxes.[24][26] However, the Manchu Qing put Amdo under their control in 1724, and incorporated eastern Kham into neighbouring Chinese provinces in 1728.[27] The Qing government sent a resident commissioner, namely Amban, to Lhasa. In 1751, Emperor Qianlong installed the Dalai Lama as both the spiritual leader and political leader of Tibet leading the government, namely Kashag.[28]

While the ancient relations between Tibet and China are more complex, there is generally little doubt regarding the subordination of Tibet to Qing China following first decades of the 18th century.[29] In 1788, Gurkha forces sent by Bahadur Shah, the Regent of Nepal, invaded Tibet, occupying a number of frontier districts. The young Panchen Lama fled to Lhasa and Qing Emperor Qianlong sent troops to Lhasa, upon which the Nepalese withdrew agreeing to pay a large annual sum. In 1791 the Nepalese Gurkhas invaded Tibet a second time, seizing Shigatse and destroyed, plundered, and desecrated the great Tashilhunpo Monastery. The Panchen Lama was forced to flee to Lhasa once again. Emperor Qianlong then sent an army of 17,000 men to Tibet. In 1793, with the assistance of Tibetan troops, they managed to drive the Nepalese troops to within about 30 km of Kathmandu.[30]

The 18th century brought Jesuits and Capuchins from Europe who gradually met opposition from Tibetan lamas who finally expelled them from Tibet in 1745. However, at the time not all Europeans were banned from the country — in 1774 a Scottish nobleman, George Bogle, came to Shigatse to investigate trade for the British East India Company, introducing the first potatoes into Tibet.[31]

19th century

However, by the 19th century the situation of foreigners in Tibet grew more tenuous. The British Empire was encroaching from northern India into the Himalayas and Afghanistan and the Russian Empire of the tsars was expanding south into Central Asia and each power became suspicious of intent in Tibet. Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, the Hungarian scientist spent 20 years in British India (4 years in Ladakh) trying to visit Tibet. He created the first Tibetan-English dictionary.

By the 1850s Tibet had banned all foreigners from Tibet and shut its borders to all outsiders.

In 1865 Great Britain began secretly mapping Tibet. Trained Indian surveyor-spies disguised as pilgrims or traders counted their strides on their travels across Tibet and took readings at night.

20th century

In 1904, a British expedition to Tibet under the command of Colonel Francis Younghusband, accompanied by a large military escort, invaded Tibet and reached Lhasa. The British were spurred in part by a fear that Russia was extending its power into Tibet, and partly by hope that negotiations with the Dalai Lama would be more effective than with Chinese representatives.[32] But on his way to Lhasa, Younghusband slaughtered many Tibetan troops in Gyangzê who tried to stop the British advance.

Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet (2006)

When the mission reached Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had already fled to Urga in Mongolia, but Younghusband found the option of returning to India empty-handed untenable. He proceeded to draft a treaty unilaterally, and have it signed in the Potala by the regent, Ganden Tri Rinpoche, and any other local officials he could gather together as an ad hoc government. The treaty made provisions for the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet to be respected, for free trade between British and Tibetan subjects, and for an indemnity to be paid from the Qing court to the British Government for its expenses in dispatching armed troops to Lhasa. The provisions of this 1904 treaty were confirmed in a 1906 treaty Anglo-Chinese Convention signed between Britain and China. The British, for a fee from the Qing court, also agreed "not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet", while China engaged "not to permit any other foreign state to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet".[33][34]

The position of British Trade Agent at Gyangzê was occupied from 1904 until 1944. It was not until 1937, with the creation of the position of "Head of British Mission Lhasa", that a British officer had a permanent posting in Lhasa itself.[35]

André Migot, a French doctor who travelled for many months in Tibet in 1947 described the complex border arrangements between Tibet and China, and how they had developed:

"In order to offset the damage done to their interests by the [1906] treaty between England and Tibet, the Chinese set about extending westwards the sphere of their direct control and began to colonize the country round Batang. The Tibetans reacted vigorously. The Chinese governor was killed on his way to Chamdo and his army put to flight after an action near Batang; several missionaries were also murdered, and Chinese fortunes were at a low ebb when a special commissioner called Chao Yu-fong appeared on the scene.
Acting with a savagery which earned him the sobriquet of "The Butcher of Monks," he swept down on Batang, sacked the lamasery, pushed on to Chamdo, and in a series of victorious campaigns which brought his army to the gates of Lhasa, re-established order and reasserted Chinese domination over Tibet. In 1909 he recommended that Sikang should be constituted a separate province comprising thirty-six subprefectures with Batang as the capital. This project was not carried out until later, and then in modified form, for the Chinese Revolution of 1911 brought Chao's career to an end and he was shortly afterwards assassinated by his compatriots.
The troubled early years of the Chinese Republic saw the rebellion of most of the tributary chieftains, a number of pitched battles between Chinese and Tibetans, and many strange happenings in which tragedy, comedy, and (of course) religion all had a part to play. In 1914 Great Britain, China, and Tibet met at the conference table to try to restore peace, but this conclave broke up after failing to reach agreement on the fundamental question of the Sino-Tibetan frontier. This, since about 1918, has been recognized for practical purposes as following the course of the Upper Yangtze. In these years the Chinese had too many other preoccupations to bother about reconquering Tibet. However, things gradually quieted down, and in 1927 the province of Sikang was brought into being, but it consisted of only twenty-seven subprefectures instead of the thirty-six visualized by the man who conceived the idea. China had lost, in the course of a decade, all the territory which the Butcher had overrun.
Since then Sikang has been relatively peaceful, but this short synopsis of the province's history makes it easy to understand how precarious this state of affairs is bound to be. Chinese control was little more than nominal; I was often to have first-hand experience of its ineffectiveness. In order to govern a territory of this kind it is not enough to station, in isolated villages separated from each other by many days' journey, a few unimpressive officials and a handful of ragged soldiers. The Tibetans completely disregarded the Chinese administration and obeyed only their own chiefs. One very simple fact illustrates the true status of Sikang's Chinese rulers: nobody in the province would accept Chinese currency, and the officials, unable to buy anything with their money, were forced to subsist by a process of barter."[36]

In 1910, the Qing government sent a military expedition of its own to establish direct Chinese rule and deposed the Dalai Lama in an imperial edict. The Dalai Lama once again fled, this time to British India, in February 1910.

Independence proclaimed

The 14th and current Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso.

The Dalai Lama returned to Tibet from India in July 1912 (after the fall of the Qing dynasty), and expelled the Amban and all Chinese troops.[37] In 1913, the Dalai Lama issued a proclamation that stated that the relationship between the Chinese emperor and Tibet "had been that of patron and priest and had not been based on the subordination of one to the other."[38] "We are a small, religious, and independent nation," the proclamation continued.[38] For the next thirty-six years, Tibet enjoyed de facto independence while China endured its Warlord era, civil war, and World War II. Some Chinese sources argue that Tibet was still part of China throughout this period.[39]

Tibet under the People's Republic of China

With the invasion of Tibet in 1950 and the subsequent Seventeen Point Agreement, the PRC asserted control over Tibet.

A rebellion against the Chinese occupation was led by noblemen and monasteries and broke out in Amdo and eastern Kham in June 1956. The insurrection, supported by the American CIA,[40] eventually spread to Lhasa. It was crushed by 1959. During this campaign, tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed and the 14th Dalai Lama and other government principals fled to exile in India.[41][42]

Chinese sources generally claim progress towards a prosperous and free society in Tibet, with its pillars being economic development, legal advancement, and peasant emancipation. These claims, however, have been refuted by the Tibet Government-in-Exile and some indigenous Tibetans, who claim of genocide in Tibet from the Chinese government, comparing it to Nazi Germany.[43] The official doctrine of the PRC classifies Tibetans as one of its 56 recognized ethnic groups and part of the greater Zhonghua Minzu or multi-ethnic Chinese nation. Warren Smith, an independent scholar and a broadcaster with the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia[44][45][46], whose work became focused on Tibetan history and politics after spending five months in Tibet in 1982, portrays the Chinese as chauvinists who believe they are superior to the Tibetans, and claims that the Chinese use torture, coercion and starvation to control the Tibetans.[47]

Mao's Great Leap Forward (1959-62) led to famine in Tibet. "In some places, whole families have perished and the death rate is very high," according to a confidential report by the Panchen Lama sent to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1962.[48] "In the past Tibet lived in a dark barbaric feudalism but there was never such a shortage of food, especially after Buddhism had spread....In Tibet from 1959-1961, for two years almost all animal husbandry and farming stopped. The nomads have no grain to eat and the farmers have no meat, butter or salt," the report said.[48]

The Central Tibetan Administration states that the number that have died of starvation, violence, or other indirect causes since 1950 is approximately 1.2 million,[49] which the Chinese Communist Party denies. The Chinese Communist Party(CCP)'s official toll of deaths recorded for the whole of China for the years of the Great Leap Forward is 14 million, but scholars have estimated the number of the famine victims to be between 20 and 43 million[50]. According to Patrick French, former director of the Free Tibet Campaign, the estimate of 1.2 million in Tibet is not reliable because Tibetans were not able to process the data well enough to produce a credible total. There were, however, many casualties, with a figure of 400,000 extrapolated from a calculation Warren W. Smith, a broadcaster of Radio Free Asia, made from census reports of Tibet which show 200,000 "missing" from Tibet.[51][52]

The subsequent Cultural Revolution was a catastrophe for Tibet and for the rest of the PRC. Large numbers of Tibetans died violent deaths due to the Cultural Revolution, and the number of intact monasteries in Tibet was reduced from thousands, to less than ten. Tibetan resentment towards the Chinese deepened.[53] Tibetans participated in the destruction, but it is not clear how many of them actually embraced the Communist ideology, and how many participated out of fear of becoming targets themselves.[54] Resistors against the Cultural Revolution included Thrinley Chodron, a nun from Nyemo, who led an armed rebellion that spread through eighteen xians (counties) of the TAR, targeting Chinese Party officials and Tibetan collaborators, that was ultimately suppressed by the PLA. Citing Tibetan Buddhist symbols which the rebels invoked, Shakya calls this 1969 revolt "a millenarian uprising, an insurgency characterized by a passionate desire to be rid of the oppressor."[55]

A rail attendant for the service from Xining to Lhasa

Projects that the PRC government claims to have benefited Tibet as part of the China Western Development economic plan, such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, have roused fears of facilitating military mobilisation and Han migration.[56] There is still ethnic imbalance in appointments and promotions to the civil and judicial services in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, with disproportionately few ethnic Tibetans appointed to these posts.[verification needed] [57]

The PRC government claims that its rule over Tibet is an unalloyed improvement, and that the China Western Development plan is a massive, benevolent, and patriotic undertaking by the wealthier eastern coast to help the western parts of China, including Tibet, catch up in prosperity and living standards. But foreign organizations continue to make occasional protests about aspects of CCP rule in Tibet because of frequent reports of human rights violation in Tibet by groups such as Human Rights Watch. The government of the PRC maintains that the Tibetan Government did almost nothing to improve the Tibetans' material and political standard of life during its rule from 1913–59, and that they opposed any reforms proposed by the Chinese government. According to the Chinese government, this is the reason for the tension that grew between some central government officials and the local Tibetan government in 1959.[58]

The government of the PRC also rejects claims that the lives of Tibetans have deteriorated, and states that the lives of Tibetans have been improved immensely compared to self rule before 1950.[59] Belying these claims, some 3,000 Tibetans brave hardship and danger to flee into exile every year.[60] (See also Nangpa La shootings.)

These claims are, however, disputed by many Tibetans. In 1989, the Panchen Lama, finally allowed to return to Shigatse, addressed a crowd of 30,000 and described what he saw as the suffering of Tibet and the harm being done to his country in the name of socialist reform under the rule of the PRC in terms reminiscent of the petition he had presented to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1962.[61]

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima 11th Panchen Lama claimed by exiled Tibetan

In 1995, the Dalai Lama named 6 year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama without the approval of the government of China, while the PRC named another child, Gyancain Norbu in conflict. Gyancain Norbu was raised in Beijing and has appeared occasionally on state media. The PRC-selected Panchen Lama is rejected by exiled Tibetans and anti-China groups who commonly refer to him as the "Panchen Zuma" (literally "fake Panchen Lama"). Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family have gone missing — believed by some to be imprisoned by China — and under a hidden identity for protection and privacy according to the PRC.[62]

The Dalai Lama has stated his willingness to negotiate with the PRC government for genuine autonomy, but some groups, such as the Tibetan Youth Congress, still call for full Tibetan independence.[63] The Tibetan government in exile sees the millions of government-imported Han immigrants and preferential socioeconomic policies, as presenting an urgent threat to the Tibetan nation and culture.[64] Tibetan exile groups say that despite recent attempts to restore the appearance of original Tibetan culture to attract tourism, the traditional Tibetan way of life is now irrevocably changed. Tashi Wangdi, the Representative of the Dalai Lama, stated in an interview that China's Western China Development program "is providing facilities for the resettlement of Han Chinese in Tibet."[65]

In 2001 representatives of Tibet succeeded in gaining accreditation at a United Nations-sponsored meeting of non-governmental organizations. On 29 August Jampal Chosang, the head of the Tibetan coalition, stated that China had introduced "a new form of apartheid" in Tibet because "Tibetan culture, religion, and national identity are considered a threat" to China.[66]

In 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered to hold talks with the 14th Dalai Lama on the Tibet issue, provided he dropped the demand for independence. The Dalai Lama said in an interview with the South China Morning Post "We are willing to be part of the People's Republic of China, to have it govern and guarantee to preserve our Tibetan culture, spirituality and our environment." This statement was seen as a renewed diplomatic initiative by the Tibetan government-in-exile. He had already said he would accept Chinese sovereignty over Tibet but insisted on real autonomy over its religious and cultural life. The Tibetan government-in-exile called on the Chinese government to respond.[67] Beijing has repeatedly rebuffed this offer, insisting that the Dalai Lama is intent on complete independence, or the splitting apart of China iteself. [68]

In January 2007 the Dalai Lama, in an interview on a private television channel, said, "what we demand from the Chinese authority is more autonomy for Tibetans to protect their culture". He added that he had told the Tibetan people not to think in terms of history and to accept Tibet as a part of China.[69]

Talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government began again in May 2008 and again in July, but with little results. The two sides agreed to meet again in October.[70]


Tibet is located on the Tibetan Plateau, the world's highest region.
Snow mountains in Tibet

Traditionally, Western (European and American) sources have regarded Tibet as part of Central Asia;[71][72][73][74][75][76] today's maps show a trend toward considering all of modern China, including Tibet, to be part of East Asia. Some academic institutions also include Tibet in their South Asia studies programs.[77][78][79][80][81][82][83][84][85] Tibet is west of China proper, and within China, Tibet is regarded as part of 西部 (Xībù), a term usually translated by Chinese media as "the Western section", meaning "Western China".

Yamdrok tso lake

Tibet has some of the world's tallest mountains, with a few of them make the top ten list. Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres (29,029 ft), it is the highest mountain on Earth, located on the border with Nepal. Several major rivers have their source in the Tibetan Plateau (mostly in present-day Qinghai Province). These include Yangtze, Yellow River, Indus River, Mekong, Ganges, Salween and the Yarlung Zangbo River (Brahmaputra River)[86]. The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, along the Yarlung Zangbo River, is regarded by some as the deepest canyon in the world, and is even slightly longer than Grand Canyon, hence it is regarded by many as the world's largest canyon. The Indus, Brahmaputra rivers originate from a lake (Tib: Tso Mapham) in Western Tibet, near Mount Kailash. The mountain is a holy pilgrimage for both Hindus and Tibetans. The Hindus consider the mountain to be the abode of Lord Shiva. The Tibetan name for Mt. Kailash is Khang Rinpoche. Tibet has numerous high-altitude lakes referred to in Tibetan as tso or co. These include Qinghai Lake, Lake Manasarovar, Namtso, Pangong Tso, Yamdrok Lake, Siling Co, Lhamo La-tso, Lumajangdong Co, Lake Puma Yumco, Lake Paiku, Lake Rakshastal, Dagze Co and Dong Co. The Qinghai Lake (Koko Nor) is the largest lake in the People's Republic of China.

The atmosphere is severely dry nine months of the year, and average annual snowfall is only 18 inches, due to the rain shadow effect whereby mountain ranges prevent moisture from the ocean from reaching the plateaus. Western passes receive small amounts of fresh snow each year but remain traversable all year round. Low temperatures are prevalent throughout these western regions, where bleak desolation is unrelieved by any vegetation beyond the size of low bushes, and where wind sweeps unchecked across vast expanses of arid plain. The Indian monsoon exerts some influence on eastern Tibet. Northern Tibet is subject to high temperatures in the summer and intense cold in the winter.

Cultural Tibet consists of several regions. These include Amdo (A mdo) in the northeast, which is under the administration as part of the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan. Kham (Khams) in the southeast, is divided among western Sichuan, northern Yunnan, southern Qinghai and the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Ü-Tsang (dBus gTsang) (Ü in the center, Tsang in the center-west, and Ngari (mNga' ris) in the far west) covered the central and western portion of Tibet Autonomous Region. The distribution of Amdo and eastern Kham into surrounding provinces was initiated by the Yongzheng Emperor during the 18th century and has been continuously maintained by successive Chinese governments.[87]

The current effective eastern part of the boundary between China and India is the McMahon Line. South of the McMahon Line between China and India, the region popularly known in China as South Tibet, is claimed by People's Republic of China and the Republic of China as part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is currently administered by India as the majority part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Tibet Government in Lhasa altered its position on the McMahon Line in late 1947 when the local Tibetan government wrote a note presented to the newly independent Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claims to the Tawang (inhabited by mostly ethnic Tibetans) south of the McMahon Line.[88] However, the current Tibet government in exile which was founded in 1959, does not include any area south of the McMahon line in their official claim of the territory of Tibet. [89] It also accepts the McMahon Line as the official border between southeastern Tibet and India.[90]

Tibetan cultural influences extend to the neighboring states of Bhutan, Nepal, regions of India such as Sikkim, Ladakh, Lahaul, and Spiti, and adjacent provinces of China where Tibetan Buddhism is the predominant religion.

Cities, towns and villages

Looking across the square at Jokhang temple, Lhasa

There are over 800 settlements in Tibet, Lhasa is Tibet's traditional capital and the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. Lhasa contains the world heritage site the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, the residences of the Dalai Lama. Lhasa contains a number of significant temples and monasteries which are deeply engrained in its history including Jokhang and Ramoche Temple.

Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet Autonomous Region, west of Lhasa. Gyantse, Chamdo are also amongst the largest.

Other cities in cultural Tibet include, Nagchu, Nyingchi, Nedong, Barkam, Sakya, Gartse, Pelbar, Lhatse, and Tingri; in Sichuan, Kangding (Dartsedo); in Qinghai, Jyekundo or Yushu, Machen, and Golmud. There is also a large Tibetan settlement in South India near Kushalanagara. India created this settlement for Tibetan refugees which had fled to India.


The Tibetan yak is an integral part of Tibetan life.

According to Chinese sources, Tibet Autonomous Region's GDP in 2001 was 13.9 billion yuan (USD1.8billion)[91] The Central government exempts Tibet from all taxation and provides 90% of Tibet's government expenditures.[92][93][94][95]. The Tibetan economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture. Due to limited arable land, the primary occupation of the Tibetan Plateau is raising livestock, such as sheep, cattle, goats, camels, yaks, dzo, and horses. The main crops grown are barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, potatoes, and assorted fruits and vegetables. As a result of being a subsistence agricultural society Tibet is ranked the lowest among China’s 31 provinces,[96] on the Human Development Index according to UN Development Programme data. [97]

In recent years, due to the increased interest in Tibetan Buddhism, tourism has become an increasingly important sector, and is actively promoted by the authorities.[98] Tourism brings in the most income from the sale of handicrafts. These include Tibetan hats, jewelry (silver and gold), wooden items, clothing, quilts, fabrics, Tibetan rugs and carpets. The Tibetan economy is heavily subsidized by the Central government and government cadres receive the second-highest salaries in China.[99]

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway linking the region to Qinghai in China proper was opened in 2006.[100] The Chinese government claims that the line will promote the development of impoverished Tibet.[101] Opponents argue the railway will harm Tibet. For instance, Tibetan opponents contend that it would only draw more Han Chinese residents, the country's dominant ethnic group, who have been migrating steadily to Tibet over the last decade, bringing with them their popular culture. Opponents believe that the large influx of Han Chinese will ultimately extinguish the local culture.[102]

Other opponents argue that the railway will damage Tibet's fragile ecology and that most of its economic benefits will go to migrant Han Chinese.[103] As activists call for a boycott of the railway, the Dalai Lama has urged Tibetans to "wait and see" what benefits the new line might bring to them. According to the Government-in-exile's spokesmen, the Dalai Lama welcomes the building of the railway, "conditioned on the fact that the railroad will bring benefit to the majority of Tibetans."[104]

In January 2007, the Chinese government issued a report outlining the discovery of a large mineral deposit under the Tibetan Plateau.[105] The deposit has an estimated value of $128 billion and may double Chinese reserves of zinc, copper, and lead. The Chinese government sees this as a way to alleviate the nation's dependence on foreign mineral imports for its growing economy. However, critics worry that mining these vast resources will harm Tibet's fragile ecosystem and undermine Tibetan culture.[105]

On January 15, 2009, China announced the construction of Tibet’s first expressway, a 37.9-kilometre stretch of road in southwestern Lhasa. The project will cost 1.55 billion yuan ($227 million).[106]


An elderly Tibetan woman
Ethnolinguistic Groups of Tibetan language, 1967 (See entire map, which includes a key)
Ethnic Tibetan autonomous entities set up by the People's Republic of China. Opponents to the PRC dispute the actual level of autonomy.

Historically, the population of Tibet consisted of primarily ethnic Tibetans and some other ethnic groups. According to tradition the original ancestors of the Tibetan people, as represented by the six red bands in the Tibetan flag, are: the Se, Mu, Dong, Tong, Dru and Ra. Other traditional ethnic groups with significant population or with the majority of the ethnic group reside in Tibet (excluding disputed area with India) include Bai people, Blang, Bonan, Dongxiang, Han, Hui Chinese, Lhoba, Lisu people, Miao, Mongols, Monguor (Tu people), Menba (Monpa), Mosuo, Nakhi, Qiang, Nu people, Pumi, Salar, and Yi people.

The issue of the proportion of the Han Chinese population in Tibet is a politically sensitive one and is disputed. The Central Tibetan Administration, an exile group, says that the PRC has actively swamped Tibet with Han Chinese migrants in order to alter Tibet's demographic makeup.[107]

View of the Tibetan exile community

Between the 1960s and 1980s, many political prisoners from other parts of China (over 1 million, according to Harry Wu) were sent to laogai (or "reform through labor") camps in Qinghai, where they were then employed locally after release.[citation needed]

"The most important evidence comes from an official report written to Premier Zhou Enlai in 1962 by the late Panchen Lama, then head of the Tibetan government. The report noted that "there has been an evident and severe reduction in the present-day Tibetan population" due to the fact that "many people have been lost in battle," "many people were arrested and imprisoned [which] caused large numbers of people to die abnormal deaths," and "many people died of starvation or because they were so physically weak that they could not resist minor illnesses". . . . In a speech delivered in 1987, the Panchen Lama estimated the number of prison deaths in Qinghai at around 5 percent of the total population in the area."[108]

Since the 1980s, increasing economic liberalization and internal mobility has also resulted in the influx of many Han Chinese into Tibet for work or settlement, though the actual number of this floating population remains disputed.

The Government of Tibet in Exile claims that, despite official statistics to the contrary, in reality non-ethnic Tibetans (including Han Chinese and Hui Muslims) outnumber ethnic Tibetans. It claims that this is as a result of an active policy of demographically swamping the Tibetan people and further diminishing any chances of Tibetan political independence[107]. The Dalai Lama has recently been reported as saying that the Tibetans had been reduced to a minority "in his homeland", by reference to population figures of Lhasa, and accusing China of "demographic aggression".[109]

The Government of Tibet in Exile questions all statistics given by the PRC government, since they do not include members of the People's Liberation Army garrisoned in Tibet, or the large floating population of unregistered migrants[107]. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway (Xining to Lhasa) completed in July 2006 is also a major concern, exiled Tibetan Lhadon Tethong said the railway is to further facilitate the influx of migrants.[110]

The Government of Tibet in Exile quotes an issue of People's Daily published in 1959 to claim that the Tibetan population has dropped significantly since 1959. According to the article, figures from the National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC show that the autonomous region of Tibet was populated by 1,273,969 persons. In the Tibetan sectors of Kham, 3,381,064 Tibetans were counted. In Qinghai and other Tibetan sectors that are incorporated in Gansu, 1,675,534 Tibetans were counted. According to the total of these three numbers, the Tibetan population attained 6,330,567 in 1959. [111]

In 2000, the number of Tibetans as a whole of these regions was about 5,400,000 according to National Bureau of Statistics[112].

The Government of Tibet in Exile claims that a comparison of these statistics originating from National Bureau of Statistics shows that between 1959 and 2000, the Tibetan population decreased by about one million, a 15% decline. During the same period, the Chinese population doubled, and the world-wide population increased by 3-fold.[113] This analysis gives an additional argument concerning the estimation of the number of Tibetan deaths during the period between 1959 and 1979.It also suggests the existence of a demographic deficit of the Tibetan population and the precise time course and causes must be specified.

Traditional Kham houses

The accuracy of this 1959 Tibetan population estimate quoted by the Government of Tibet in Exile is in conflict with the findings of the 1954 Chinese census report. The census states that the total population of the autonomous region of Tibet was 1,273,969; the total population of Kham was 3,381,064; and the total population of Qinghai was 1,675,534.[114] These numbers were taken by the Government of Tibet in Exile as the population of Tibetans in each province. However, in all of these provinces, Tibetans were not the only traditional ethnic group. Especially in Qinghai, which has a historical mixture of different groups of ethnics. In 1949, Han Chinese made up 48.3% of the population, the rest of the ethnic groups make up 51.7% of the 1.5 million total population. [115] As of today, Han Chinese account for 54% of the total population of Qinghai, which is slightly higher than in 1949. Tibetans make up around 20% of the population of Qinghai.

View of the People's Republic of China

The PRC also does not recognize Greater Tibet as claimed by the government of Tibet in Exile. The PRC government claims that the ethnically Tibetan areas outside the TAR were not controlled by the Tibetan government before 1959 in the first place, having been administered instead by other surrounding provinces for centuries. It further alleges that the idea of "Greater Tibet" was originally engineered by foreign imperialists in order to divide China amongst themselves (Mongolia being a striking precedent, gaining independence with Soviet backing and subsequently aligning itself with the Soviet Union).[116]

The PRC gives the number of Tibetans in Tibet Autonomous Region as 2.4 million, as opposed to 190,000 non-Tibetans, and the number of Tibetans in all Tibetan autonomous entities combined (slightly smaller than the Greater Tibet claimed by exiled Tibetans) as 5.0 million, as opposed to 2.3 million non-Tibetans. In the TAR itself, much of the Han population is to be found in Lhasa. Population control policies like the one-child policy only apply to Han Chinese, not to minorities such as Tibetans [117].

Jampa Phuntsok, chairman of the TAR, has also said that the central government has no policy of migration into Tibet due to its harsh high-altitude conditions, that the 6% Han in the TAR is a very fluid group mainly doing business or working, and that there is no immigration problem. (This report includes both permanent and temperature residences in Tibet, but excludes Tibetans studying or working outside of TAR) [118] By 2006, 3% of the permanent residences in Tibet are of Han ethnic, according to National Bureau of Statistics of China. [119]

With regards to the historical population of ethnic Tibetans, the Chinese government claims that according to the First National Census conducted in 1954, there were 2,770,000 ethnic Tibetans in China, including 1,270,000 in the TAR; whereas in the Fourth National Census conducted in 1990, there were 4,590,000 ethnic Tibetans in China, including 2,090,000 in the TAR. These figures are used to advance the claim that the Tibetan population has doubled since 1951. [120]

This table[121] includes all Tibetan autonomous entities in the PRC, plus Xining PLC and Haidong P. The latter two are included to complete the figures for Qinghai province, and also because they are claimed as parts of Greater Tibet by the Government of Tibet in exile.

P = Prefecture; AP = Autonomous prefecture; PLC = Prefecture-level city; AC = Autonomous county.

Excludes members of the People's Liberation Army in active service.

Major ethnic groups in Greater Tibet by region, 2000 census.
Total Tibetans Han Chinese others
Tibet Autonomous Region: 2,616,329 2,427,168 92.8% 158,570 6.1% 30,591 1.2%
- Lhasa PLC 474,499 387,124 81.6% 80,584 17.0% 6,791 1.4%
- Qamdo Prefecture 586,152 563,831 96.2% 19,673 3.4% 2,648 0.5%
- Shannan Prefecture 318,106 305,709 96.1% 10,968 3.4% 1,429 0.4%
- Xigazê Prefecture 634,962 618,270 97.4% 12,500 2.0% 4,192 0.7%
- Nagqu Prefecture 366,710 357,673 97.5% 7,510 2.0% 1,527 0.4%
- Ngari Prefecture 77,253 73,111 94.6% 3,543 4.6% 599 0.8%
- Nyingchi Prefecture 158,647 121,450 76.6% 23,792 15.0% 13,405 8.4%
Qinghai Province: 4,822,963 1,086,592 22.5% 2,606,050 54.0% 1,130,321 23.4%
- Xining PLC 1,849,713 96,091 5.2% 1,375,013 74.3% 378,609 20.5%
- Haidong Prefecture 1,391,565 128,025 9.2% 783,893 56.3% 479,647 34.5%
- Haibei AP 258,922 62,520 24.1% 94,841 36.6% 101,561 39.2%
- Huangnan AP 214,642 142,360 66.3% 16,194 7.5% 56,088 26.1%
- Hainan AP 375,426 235,663 62.8% 105,337 28.1% 34,426 9.2%
- Golog AP 137,940 126,395 91.6% 9,096 6.6% 2,449 1.8%
- Gyêgu AP 262,661 255,167 97.1% 5,970 2.3% 1,524 0.6%
- Haixi AP 332,094 40,371 12.2% 215,706 65.0% 76,017 22.9%
Tibetan areas in Sichuan province
- Ngawa AP 847,468 455,238 53.7% 209,270 24.7% 182,960 21.6%
- Garzê AP 897,239 703,168 78.4% 163,648 18.2% 30,423 3.4%
- Muli AC 124,462 60,679 48.8% 27,199 21.9% 36,584 29.4%
Tibetan areas in Yunnan province
- Dêqên AP 353,518 117,099 33.1% 57,928 16.4% 178,491 50.5%
Tibetan areas in Gansu province
- Gannan AP 640,106 329,278 51.4% 267,260 41.8% 43,568 6.8%
- Tianzhu AC 221,347 66,125 29.9% 139,190 62.9% 16,032 7.2%
Total for Greater Tibet:
With Xining and Haidong 10,523,432 5,245,347 49.8% 3,629,115 34.5% 1,648,970 15.7%
Without Xining and Haidong 7,282,154 5,021,231 69.0% 1,470,209 20.2% 790,714 10.9%

Human rights

According to the non-governmental organization Save Tibet website, the Tibetan people are denied most rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights to self-determination, freedom of speech, assembly, movement, expression, and travel. [122][verification needed]Elliot Sperling, an Associate Professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University, in a statement to the Human Rights Watch, introduced his new book that graphically detailing the exile of Tibet today and the role human rights violations played in forcing many Tibetans to leave their homeland. [123]

According to the Chinese government, the human rights situation in Tibet has been greatly improved, especially emphasized is the emancipation of millions of serfs and slaves in Tibet in late 1950s. [124]

Amnesty International has stated that political prisoners are often tortured, sometimes fatally. Unofficial sources report that since 1987, at least 41 Tibetans throughout Tibet are recorded as having died as a result of torture in prisons or shortly after release. Human rights groups have confirmed by name over 700 Tibetan political prisoners in Tibet, many of them detained without charge or trial. [125][not in citation given]

Journalist Thomas Laird claims that there is no evidence to support China's claim that Tibet is autonomous,[126] as all local legislation is subject to approval of the central government in Beijing.

The Tibetan exile government claims that China does not allow independent human rights organisations into Tibet, and foreign delegations invited to Tibet are denied independent access to meet with Tibetans. [127] [128] The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy claims that more than 11,000 monks and nuns have been expelled from Tibet since 1996 for opposing "patriotic re-education" sessions conducted at monasteries and nunneries under the "Strike Hard" campaign.[129]

Thomas Laird also claims that China continues to encourage the transfer of Chinese settlers into Tibet.[130] Transnational Radical Party claims this threatens the survival of the Tibetan racial, cultural and national identity.[131] The Free Tibet website claims that unemployment in schools, discussion of Tibetan cultural, religious and social issues is discouraged, and Chinese culture is promoted. [132][not in citation given]

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy claims that unemployment among Tibetans is high. It also considers the taxation system to be arbitrary, which further exacerbates the conditions of poverty for Tibetans in rural areas.[133] Many basic rights, such as the right to housing, education and health, remain unfulfilled.[citation needed]

The Tibet Intergroup of the European Parliament has around 100 MEPs as members.


A young monk at Labrang


Tibetan Buddhism

Religion and spirituality is extremely important to the Tibetans and has a strong influence over all aspects of lives; ingrained deeply into their cultural heritage. Bön is the ancient traditional religion of Tibet, but following the introduction of Tantric Buddhism into Tibet by Padmasambhava this became eclipsed by Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive form of Vajrayana. Tibetan Buddhism is practiced not only in Tibet but also in Mongolia, parts of northern India, the Buryat Republic, the Tuva Republic, and in the Republic of Kalmykia and some other areas in China besides the Tibet region. As every where in China was undergoing Cultural Revolution, there were over 6,000 monasteries and convents in Tibet, and nearly all but a handful were ransacked and destroyed by the Red Guards, including Tibetan Red Guards.[134] [135] [136] A few monasteries have begun to rebuild since the 1980s (with limited support from the Chinese government) and greater religious freedom has been granted - although it is still limited. Monks returned to monasteries cross Tibet and monastic education resumed even though the number of monks imposed is strictly limited. [137] [138] [139]

Tibetan Buddhism has four main traditions (the suffix pa is comparable to "er" in English):

  • Gelug(pa), Way of Virtue, also known casually as Yellow Hat, whose spiritual head is the Ganden Tripa and whose temporal, the Dalai Lama. Successive Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet from the mid-17th to mid-20th centuries. This order was founded in the 14th to 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa, based on the foundations of the Kadampa tradition. Tsongkhapa was renowned for both his scholasticism and his virtue. The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa school, and is regarded as the embodiment of the Bodhisattva of Compassion[140].
  • Kagyu(pa), Oral Lineage. This contains one major subsect and one minor subsect. The first, the Dagpo Kagyu, encompasses those Kagyu schools that trace back to Gampopa. In turn, the Dagpo Kagyu consists of four major sub-sects: the Karma Kagyu, headed by a Karmapa, the Tsalpa Kagyu, the Barom Kagyu, and Pagtru Kagyu. There are further eight minor sub-sects, all of which trace their root to Pagtru Kagyu. Among the eight sub-sects the most notable of are the Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Kagyu. The once-obscure Shangpa Kagyu, which was famously represented by the 20th century teacher Kalu Rinpoche, traces its history back to the Indian master Niguma, sister of Kagyu lineage holder Naropa. This is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Its most famous exponent was Milarepa, an eleventh century mystic.
  • Sakya(pa), Grey Earth, headed by the Sakya Trizin, founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo, a disciple of the great translator Drokmi Lotsawa. Sakya Pandita 1182–1251CE was the great grandson of Khon Konchog Gyalpo. This school very much represents the scholarly tradition.


Muslims have been living in Tibet since as early as the eighth or ninth century. In Tibetan cities, there are small communities of Muslims, known as Kachee (Kache), who trace their origin to immigrants from three main regions: Kashmir (Kachee Yul in ancient Tibetan), Ladakh and the Central Asian Turkic countries. Islamic influence in Tibet also came from Persia. After 1959 a group of Tibetan Muslims made a case for Indian nationality based on their historic roots to Kashmir and the Indian government declared all Tibetan Muslims Indian citizens later on that year.[141] Other Muslim ethnic groups who have long inhabited Tibet include Hui, Salar, Dongxiang and Bonan. There is also a well established Chinese Muslim community (gya kachee), which traces its ancestry back to the Hui ethnic group of China.


The first Christians to reach Tibet were undoubtedly Nestorians of whom various remains and inscriptions have been found in Tibet and they were also present at the imperial camp of Möngke Khan at Shira Ordo where they debated in 1256 with Karma Pakshi (1204/6-83), head of the Karma Kagyu order.[142][143]

Roman Catholic Jesuits and Capuchins arrived from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some scholars believe Portuguese missionaries Jesuit Father Antonio de Andrade and Fratello Manuel Marques first reached the kingdom of Gelu in western Tibet in 1624 and was welcomed by the royal family who allowed them to build a church later on. [144] [145] By 1627, there were about a hundred local converts in the Guge kingdom. [146] Later on, Christianity was introduced to Rudok, Ladakh and Tsang and was welcomed by the ruler of the Tsang kingdom, where Andrade and his fellows established a Jesuit outpost at Shigatse in 1626. [147] Some sources suggest the First Jesuit missionary is Johann Grueber who, circa 1656, crossed Tibet from Sining to Lhasa (where he spent a month), before heading on to Nepal.[148] He was followed by others who actually built a church in Lhasa. These included the Jesuit Ippolito Desideri, 1716-1721, and various Capuchins in 1707-1711, 1716-1733 and 1741-1745,[149] Christianity was used by some Tibetan monarchs and their courts and the Karmapa sect lamas to counterbalance the influence of the Gelugpa sect in the seventeenth century until in 1745 when all the missionaries were expelled at lama's insistence. [150] [151] [152] [153] [154] [155]

In 1877, the Protestant James Cameron from the China Inland Mission walked from Chongqing to Batang in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Provnice, and "brought the Gospel to the Tibetan people." [156] Beginning in the 20th century, in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, a large number of Lisu people and some Yi and Nu people converted to Christianity. Famous earlier missionaries include James O. Fraser, Alfred James Broomhall and Isobel Kuhn of the China Inland Mission, among others who were active in this area. [157]

"Though seventeenth and eighteenth-century Catholic missionary efforts in western and central Tibet had no apprciable legacy, during th nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Christianity made some inroads among Tibetans in the peripheral regions of Kham, Amdo, and Ladakh."[158]

Buddhist monasteries in Tibet

Tibetan art

A thangka painting in Sikkim

Tibetan representations of art are intrinsically bound with Tibetan Buddhism and commonly depict deities or variations of Buddha in various forms from bronze Buddhist statues and shrines, to highly colorful thangka paintings and mandalas.


Tibetan architecture contains Oriental and Indian influences, and reflects a deeply Buddhist approach. The Buddhist wheel, along with two dragons, can be seen on nearly every Gompa in Tibet. The design of the Tibetan Chörtens can vary, from roundish walls in Kham to squarish, four-sided walls in Ladakh.

The most distinctive feature of Tibetan architecture is that many of the houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south, and are often made out of a mixture of rocks, wood, cement and earth. Little fuel is available for heat or lighting, so flat roofs are built to conserve heat, and multiple windows are constructed to let in sunlight. Walls are usually sloped inwards at 10 degrees as a precaution against frequent earthquakes in the mountainous area.

Standing at 117 meters in height and 360 meters in width, the Potala Palace is considered as the most important example of Tibetan architecture. Formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, it contains over one thousand rooms within thirteen stories, and houses portraits of the past Dalai Lamas and statues of the Buddha. It is divided between the outer White Palace, which serves as the administrative quarters, and the inner Red Quarters, which houses the assembly hall of the Lamas, chapels, 10,000 shrines, and a vast library of Buddhist scriptures.


Boudhanath, Nepal. 1973

The music of Tibet reflects the cultural heritage of the trans-Himalayan region, centered in Tibet but also known wherever ethnic Tibetan groups are found in India, Bhutan, Nepal and further abroad. First and foremost Tibetan music is religious music, reflecting the profound influence of Tibetan Buddhism on the culture.

Tibetan music often involves chanting in Tibetan or Sanskrit, as an integral part of the religion. These chants are complex, often recitations of sacred texts or in celebration of various festivals. Yang chanting, performed without metrical timing, is accompanied by resonant drums and low, sustained syllables. Other styles include those unique to the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the classical music of the popular Gelugpa school, and the romantic music of the Nyingmapa, Sakyapa and Kagyupa schools.

Nangma dance music is especially popular in the karaoke bars of the urban center of Tibet, Lhasa. Another form of popular music is the classical gar style, which is performed at rituals and ceremonies. Lu are a type of songs that feature glottal vibrations and high pitches. There are also epic bards who sing of Tibet's national hero Gesar.


Tibetan sand mandala

Tibet has various festivals which commonly are performed to worship the Buddha throughout the year. Losar is the Tibetan New Year Festival. Preparations for the festive event are manifested by special offerings to family shrine deities, painted doors with religious symbols, and other painstaking jobs done to prepare for the event. Tibetans eat Guthuk (barley crumb food with filling) on New Year's Eve with their families. The Monlam Prayer Festival follows it in the first month of the Tibetan calendar, falling on the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. which involves many Tibetans dancing and participating in sports events and sharing picnics. The event was established in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama's order.


The Potala Palace, former residence of the Dalai Lamas, is a World Heritage Site, as is Norbulingka, former summer residence of the Dalai Lama.

Since 2002, Tibetans in exile have allowed a Miss Tibet beauty contest in spite of concerns that this event is considered a Western influence. The beauty contest is condemned by the Tibetan government in exile.


The most important crop in Tibet is barley, and dough made from barley flour called tsampa, is the staple food of Tibet. This is either rolled into noodles or made into steamed dumplings called momos. Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat, or mutton, often dried, or cooked into a spicy stew with potatoes. Mustard seed is cultivated in Tibet, and therefore features heavily in its cuisine. Yak yoghurt, butter and cheese are frequently eaten, and well-prepared yoghurt is considered something of a prestige item. Butter tea is very popular to drink.

Tibet in popular culture

In recent years there have been a number of films produced about Tibet, most notably Hollywood films such as Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt, and Kundun, a biography of the 14th Dalai Lama, directed by Martin Scorsese. Other films include Samsara, The Cup and the 1999 Himalaya, a French-American produced film with a Tibetan cast set in Nepal and Tibet. In 2005, exile Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and his partner Ritu Sarin made Dreaming Lhasa, the first internationally recognized feature film to come out of the diaspora to explore the contemporary reality of Tibet.

Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, is a film about Tibetans protecting the Tibetan antelope from poachers. It won numerous awards at home and abroad.[159]

See also

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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.


  1. ^ e.g.Dieter Glogowski: Tibet, Escape from the Roof of the World
    or Hopkirk 1983
    or Tibet. Tourism Watch Alec le Sueurs:Running a Hotel on the Roof of the World - Five years in Tibet
    or Spiegel OnlineTibet by Rail. By train on the roof of the world.
  2. ^ Beckwith 1987, pp. 11-36
  3. ^ Mullin 2001, pp. 47-49
  4. ^ a b Constitution of the Republic of China, [[1]]
  6. ^ Beckwith 1987), pg. 7
  7. ^ G. W. S. Friedrichsen, R. W. Burchfield, and C.T. Onions. (1966). The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford University Press, p. 922.
  8. ^ Behr, Wolfgang, (1994). "Stephan V. Beyer The Classical Tibetan Language (book review)", Oriens 34, pp. 558–559
  9. ^ Partridge, Eric, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, New York, 1966, p. 719.
  10. ^ Kapstein 2006, pg. 19
  11. ^ Kapstein 2006, pg. 22
  12. ^ Beckwith 1987, pg. 146
  13. ^ Marks, Thomas A. (1978). "Nanchao and Tibet in South-western China and Central Asia." The Tibet Journal. Vol. 3, No. 4. Winter 1978, pp. 13-16.
  14. ^ 'A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. H. E. Richardson. Royal Asiatic Society (1985), pp. 106–43. ISBN 0-94759300/4.
  15. ^ Laird 2006, pp. 112-113
  16. ^ Karenina Kollmar-Paulenz, Kleine Geschichte Tibets, München 2006, p. 98-104
  17. ^ Laird 2006, pp. 142-143
  18. ^ Lettera del P. Antonio de Andrade. Giov de Oliveira. Alano Dos Anjos al Provinciale di Goa, 29 Agosto, 1627; Maclagan, The Jesuits and The Great Mogul, pp. 347-348.
  19. ^ When Christianity and Lamaism Met: The Changing Fortunes of Early Western Missionaries in Tibet by Lin Hsiao-ting of Stanford University
  20. ^ "BBC News Country Profiles Timeline: Tibet". http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/6299565.stm. Retrieved on 20090305. 
  21. ^ Stein 1972, pg. 83
  22. ^ Micheal Weiers, Geschichte der Mongolen, Stuttgart 2004, pp. 182ff.
  23. ^ Rene Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes, New Brunswick 1970, p. 522.
  24. ^ a b Richardson 1984, pp. 48-9
  25. ^ Stein 1972, p. 85
  26. ^ Laird 2006, p. 226
  27. ^ Wang Jiawei, "The Historical Status of China's Tibet", 2000, pp. 162-6.
  28. ^ Wang Jiawei, "The Historical Status of China's Tibet", 2000, pp. 170–3.
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  30. ^ Teltscher 2006, pp. 244-246
  31. ^ Teltscher 2006, pg. 57
  32. ^ Smith 1996, pp. 154-6
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  78. ^ Center for South Asia Outreach UW-Madison [4]
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  83. ^ Rutgers, SAS South Asian Studies: - Home
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  86. ^ Circle of Blue, 8 May 2008 China, Tibet, and the strategic power of water
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  88. ^ Lamb, Alastair, The McMahon line: a study in the relations between India, China and Tibet, 1904 to 1914, London, 1966, p580
  89. ^ Map of Tibet from website of CTA
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  93. ^ Xu Mingxu, "Intrugues and Devoutness", Brampton, p134, ISBN 1-896745-95-4
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  95. ^ "Tibet's economy depends on Beijing". NPR News. 2002-08-26. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6083766. Retrieved on 2006-02-24. 
  96. ^ Globalization To Tibet
  97. ^ Tibet Environmental Watch - Development
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  102. ^ "Deemed a road to ruin, Tibetans say Beijing rail-way poses latest threat to minority culture". Boston Globe. 2002-08-26. http://www.tibetanliberation.org/railroad802.html. Retrieved on 2006-07-04. 
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  111. ^ People's Daily, Beijing, 10 November 1959, in Population transfer and control
  112. ^ 5,416,021 At the time of the census of 2000: (English)(Chinese) China Statistical Yearbook 2003, p. 48
  113. ^ L'évolution démographique dans le monde : I - La Chine
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  115. ^ (Chinese) Qinghai Population [6]
  116. ^ Xinhua News report (Chinese)
  117. ^ The law of birth control, The People's Republic of China
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  156. ^ Topic: China Inland Mission
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  • Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages' (1987) Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02469-3
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State (1989) University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520061408
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (1997) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21951-1
  • Grunfeld, Tom (1996). The Making of Modern Tibet. ISBN 1-56324-713-5.
  • Hopkirk, Peter. Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet (1983) J. P. Tarcher. ISBN 0874772575
  • Kapstein, Matthew T. The Tibetans (2006) Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-0-631-22574-4
  • Laird, Thomas. The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (2006) Grove Press. ISBN 0802118275
  • Mullin, Glenn H.The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnations (2001) Clear Light Publishers. ISBN 1-57416-092-3
  • Powers, John. History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People's Republic of China (2004) Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195174267
  • Richardson, Hugh E. Tibet and its History Second Edition, Revised and Updated (1984) Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-376-7
  • Shakya, Tsering. The Dragon In The Land Of Snows (1999) Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11814-7
  • Stein, R. Tibetan Civilization (1972) Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804709017
  • Teltscher, Kate. The High Road to China: George Bogle, the Panchen Lama and the First British Expedition to Tibet (2006) Bloomsbury UK. ISBN 0747584842

Further reading

  • Allen, Charles (2004). Duel in the Snows: The True Story of the Younghusband Mission to Lhasa. London: John Murray, 2004. ISBN 0-7195-5427-6.
  • Bell, Charles (1924). Tibet: Past & Present. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Dowman, Keith (1988). The Power-Places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide. Routledge & Kegan Paul. London, ISBN 0-7102-1370-0. New York, ISBN 0-14-019118-6.
  • Gyatso, Palden (1997). "The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk". Grove Press. NY, NY. ISBN 0-8021-3574-9
  • Human Rights in China: China, Minority Exclusion, Marginalization and Rising Tensions, London, Minority Rights Group International, 2007
  • McKay, Alex (1997). Tibet and the British Raj: The Frontier Cadre 1904-1947. London: Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-0627-5.
  • Norbu, Thubten Jigme; Turnbull, Colin (1968). Tibet: Its History, Religion and People. Reprint: Penguin Books (1987).
  • Pachen, Ani; Donnely, Adelaide (2000). Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun. Kodansha America, Inc. ISBN 1-56836-294-3.
  • Petech, Luciano (1997). China and Tibet in the Early XVIIIth Century: History of the Establishment of Chinese Protectorate in Tibet. T'oung Pao Monographies, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 9-00403-442-0.
  • Rabgey, Tashi; Sharlho, Tseten Wangchuk (2004) (PDF). Sino-Tibetan Dialogue in the Post-Mao Era: Lessons and Prospects. Washington: East-West Center. ISBN 1932728228. http://www.eastwestcenter.org/fileadmin/stored/pdfs/PS012.pdf. 

External links

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