Tibet China Tibet, also known as TAR, is a democratic region in China that is very poor, and is mainly inhabited by Buddhists. Throughout its long history, Tibet at times has governed itself as an independent state and at other times has had various levels of association with China. Whatever China ‘s involvement in Tibetan affairs, Tibet’s internal government was for centuries a theocracy, under the leadership of Buddhist lamas, or monks. In 1959 the Dalai Lama fled to India during a Tibetan revolt against Chinese control in the region. China then took complete control of Tibet, installing a sympathetic Tibetan ruler and, in 1965, replacing with a Communist administration (Encarta 1). The TAR covers an area of about 472,000 square miles.
It is bounded on the north by Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province; on the east by Sichuan and Yunnan provinces; on the south by Myanmar (formally known as Burma), India, Bhutan, and Nepal; and on the west by India. Lhasa is the region’s capital and largest city (Schaller 72). With an average elevation of more than 12,000 feet, Tibet is the highest region on earth, and for this reason, it is sometimes called the Roof of the World. Most of the people in Tibet live at elevations ranging from 3,900 feet to 16,700 feet. Tibet is also one of the world’s most isolated regions, surrounded by the Himalayas on the south, the Karakorum Range on the west, and the Kunlun Mountains on the north (Encarta 1).
The southern part of Tibet is situated entirely within the Himalayas, and many of the world’s highest summits are located in the Himalayan chain, which extends along Tibet’s southern frontier. Among the peaks are Mount Everest(29,028 feet), the world’s largest mountain; Namcha Barwa(25,445 feet); and Gurla Mandhata(25,354 feet). The Kailas Range, a chain of the Himalayas, lies parallel to and north of the main chain and has peaks of up to 22,000 feet. Between the Kailas Range and the main chain is a river valley that extends about 600 miles. The Brahmaputra River (known in Tibet as the Yarlung Zangbo) flows from west to east through most of this valley (Encarta 1). The mountains in Tibet form Asia’s principal watershed, or dividing line, between westward-flowing and eastward-flowing streams, and Tibet is the source of the continent’s major rivers.
The Brahmaputra is Tibet’s most important river. The Indus, Ganges, and Sutlej rivers have their headwaters in western Tibet. Many of Tibet’s rivers have potential for hydroelectric development (Encarta 1). Vegetation on the Tibetan Plateau is extremely sparse, consisting mainly of grasses and shrubs. Scattered wooded areas occur in extreme west and east.
Most vegetation, however, is concentrated in Brahmaputra, Indus, and Sutlej river valleys. These areas support most species of trees, including conifers, oaks, cypresses, poplars, and maples. Apple, peach, pear, and apricot trees are cultivated in the valleys (Encarta 1). Tibet is home to a variety of wildlife. Musk deer, wild sheep, wild goats, wild donkeys, yaks, and Tibetan antelope are common in mountainous areas. Other large mammals include leopards, tigers, bears, wolves, foxes, and monkeys.
Bird life includes geese, gulls, teal, and other species of waterfowl, and also pheasants and sand grouse (Encarta 1). Tibet has a dry, cold climate with an average annual temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit. It is very bitter in Tibet in the winter (Harrer 39). Temperatures in the mountains and plateaus are especially cold, and strong winds are common year round. The river valleys experience a more moderate climate.
Lhasa and central Tibet have an average temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit in December and an average of 60 degrees Fahrenheit in June. The daily temperature range is great. On a typical summer day, the temperature can rise from 37 degrees Fahrenheit before sunrise to 81 degrees Fahrenheit before midday. In general, temperatures in Tibet frequently drop suddenly after sunset. The average annual precipitation is 15 inches (Encarta 2).
The Tibet pamphlet states that Tibet is rich in mineral resources, although few have been exploited due to inaccessibility, a lack of industrial capacity, and Buddhist admonitions against disturbing the earth for fear of harming living creatures. Gold is found in many areas, and significant deposits of iron ore, coal, salt, and borax are also present. Other known resources include oil shale, manganese, lead, zinc, quartz, and graphite (14). Since 1959 the Chinese government has capitalized on some of Tibet’s resources by mining chromite, tinkalite, and boromagnesite; constructing hydroelectric and geothermal plants; and logging timber. In eastern Tibet, serious environmental concerns have been raised over the extent of pollution and deforestation resulting from these projects (Encarta 2).
The Population of TAR was 2,196,010 in 1990, yielding an average population density of 4.7 persons per square mile, the lowest of any region in China. The vast majority of Tibet’s people live in rural areas, and a large but diminishing part of the people is nomadic or seminomadic. Lhasa, the capital and largest city, is Tibet’s principal center of trade, tourism, commerce, education, and government, and the headquarters of the region’s major religious institutions (Encarta 2). Most people in Tibet are ethnic Tibetans, and the largest minority is Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group. According to the 1990 census, 3.7 percent of Tibet’s population was Han Chinese; however, this and other population figures are believed to be in complete, as they do not include the much larger number of Han who have come to Tibet looking for work opportunities and have not officially registered as residents (Encarta 2).
Most people in Tibet speak Tibetan, a language of the Tibeto-Burman subfamily of Sino-Tibetan languages. Various dialects of Tibetan are spoken in different regions. Putonghua (Mandarin) Chinese, China’s official language, is also used, particularly by Han Chinese, government agencies, and most commercial enterprises. People can request the use of Tibetan within the legal system (Encarta 2). Tibetan Buddhism is the religion of the overwhelming majority of the population. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet from India, originally in the 7th century, and then, after a period of persecution, it was reintroduced in the 11th century (Encarta 2). Historically, religion permeated every aspect of Tibetan life.
The only educational system was religious, all cultural and intellectual activities were centered around religious beliefs, and the heads of government were Buddhist monks (Encarta 2). Today Buddhism is practiced widely in Tibet. Many monasteries and other religious buildings have been rebuilt, and monks and nuns are once again openly practicing their religion (Encarta 2). Before the 1950s there was no formal educational system in Tibet and very few people were literate. Most Tibetan monks were taught to memorize religious scriptures rather than read them.
The Chinese introduced secular, formal state schooling in 1952. By the mid-1990s there were more than 3000 schools in Tibet and the literacy rate was estimated at about 50 percent. Tibetan is the language of instruction in lower grades, shifting to Putonghua in later years. In the mid-1990s Tibet had four institutions of higher learning, all located in Lhasa: Tibet University, the Institute for Nationalities, the Agricultural and Animal Husbandry College, and the Tibetan Medical College (Encarta 3). Since assuming control in the 1950s, the Chinese Communist administration has improved Tibets transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, Tibets economy has grown and diversified.
As a result, Tibetans in urban areas now enjoy considerably more material benefits in the form of food, clothing, housing, technology, and entertainment. Far less improvement has occurred in rural areas (Encarta 3). Tibet remains one of the poorest regions in China, particularly its rural areas. In the mid-1990s the average annual per capita income for city dwellers was about $120, while rural people earned about half that amount. Although the Chinese government contributes subsidies to help offset Tibets low standard of living, controversy has developed over who benefits from this aid (Encarta 3). Subsistence agriculture dominates the Tibetan economy.
Productive land, concentrated mostly in the river valleys, is limited in area. The principal subsistence crops are barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, potatoes, and various vegetables and fruits. Cotton, soybeans, walnuts, tea, and hemp are grown as commercial crops. Livestock raising is the Bibliography Encarta Encyclopedia, CD-ROM. New York: Microsoft Corporation, 1993. Harrer, Heinrich. Seven Years In Tibet.
New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1953. Schaller, George B. “Tibet’s Remote Chang Tang.” National Geographics 15 August 1993: 62. Tibet. [United States]:n.p., n.d.