/ti bet"/, n.
an administrative division of China, N of the Himalayas: prior to 1950 a theocracy under the Dalai Lama; the highest country in the world, average elevation ab. 16,000 ft. (4877 m). 1,250,000; 471,660 sq. mi. (1,221,599 sq. km). Cap.: Lhasa. Also, Thibet. Also called Sitsang, Xizang. Official name, Tibet Autonomous Region.

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Tibetan Bod Chinese Xizang or Hsi-tsang

Autonomous region (pop., 2002 est.: 2,670,000), western China.

It is bordered by India (including the Kashmir region), Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar, the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Qinghai, and Xinjiang autonomous region. It has an area of 471,700 sq mi (1,221,600 sq km), and its capital is Lhasa. Before the 1950s it was a unique entity, with its own Buddhist culture and religion, that sought isolation from the rest of the world. Situated on a plateau averaging 16,000 ft (4,900 m) above sea level, it is the highest region in the world. Its surrounding mountain ranges include the Kunlun Mountains and the Himalayas; Mount Everest rises on its border with Nepal. Tibet emerged as a powerful Buddhist kingdom in the 7th–8th century AD. It came under the control of the Mongols in the 13th century and the Manchu dynasty in the 18th century. After the 1911–12 Chinese revolution it gained a measure of autonomy. The Chinese People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1950, and Chinese authority was subsequently established over the region. The 14th Dalai Lama, Bstan-'dzin-rgya-mtsho, led an abortive rebellion in 1959, after which he fled to India and set up a government-in-exile. The Tibet Autonomous Region was established in 1965. Many of Tibet's cultural treasures were destroyed or badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution, but restoration work has been underway since then.

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▪ autonomous region, China
Tibetan  Bod,  in full  Tibet Autonomous Region,  Chinese (Wade-Giles)  Hsi-tsang Tzu-chih-ch'ü,  (Pinyin)  Xizang Zizhiqu  

      historic region and autonomous region of China that is often called “the roof of the world.” It occupies about 471,700 square miles (1,221,600 square kilometres) of the plateaus and mountains of Central Asia, including Mount Everest (Chu-mu-lang-ma Feng). It is bordered by the Chinese provinces of Tsinghai to the northeast, Szechwan to the east, and Yunnan to the southeast; Myanmar (Burma), India, Bhutan, and Nepal to the south; the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir to the west; and the Uighur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang to the northwest. Lhasa is the capital city. The name Tibet is derived from the Mongolian Thubet, the Chinese Tufan, the Tai Thibet, and the Arabic Tubbat.

      Before the 1950s Tibet was a unique entity that sought isolation from the rest of the world. It constituted a cultural and religious whole, marked by the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism. Little effort was made to facilitate communication with other countries, and economic development was minimal. After its incorporation into China, fitful efforts at development took place in Tibet, disrupted by ethnic tension between the Han (Chinese) and Tibetans and Tibetan resistance to the imposition of Marxist values. Official policy since the early 1980s has been somewhat more conciliatory, resulting in slightly better Han-Tibetan relations and greater opportunities for economic development and tourism.

Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa Victor C. Falkenheim

Physical and human geography

The land
      Tibet is on a high plateau—the Plateau of Tibet (Tibet, Plateau of)—surrounded by enormous mountain masses. The relatively level northern part of the plateau is called the Ch'iang-t'ang; (Qiangtang) it extends more than 800 miles (1,300 kilometres) from west to east at an average elevation of 15,000 feet (4,500 metres) above sea level. The Ch'iang-t'ang is dotted with brackish lakes, the largest of these being Lakes Ch'i-lin and Na-mu. There are, however, no river systems there. In the east the Ch'iang-t'ang begins to descend in elevation. The mountain ranges in southeastern Tibet cut across the land from north to south, creating meridional barriers to travel and communication. In central and western Tibet the ranges run from northwest to southeast, with deep or shallow valleys forming innumerable furrows.

      The Ch'iang-t'ang is bordered on the north by the Kunlun Mountains, with the highest peak, Mu-tzu-t'a-ko (on the Tibet–Nepal border), reaching 25,338 feet (7,723 metres). The western and southern border of the Plateau of Tibet is formed by the Himalayan (Himalayas) mass; the highest peak is Mount Everest (Everest, Mount), which rises to 29,035 feet (8,850 metres) on the Tibet–Nepal border. North of Ma-fa-mu Lake (Mapam Lake; conventional Manasarowar) and stretching eastward is the Kailas (Kang-ti-ssu (Kailas Range)) Range, with clusters of peaks, several exceeding 20,000 feet. This range is separated from the Himalayas by the Brahmaputra River, which flows across southern Tibet and cuts south through the mountains to India.

Turrell V. Wylie

Drainage and soils
      The Plateau of Tibet is a prime source of water for Central Asia. The Indus River, known in Tibet as the Shih-ch'üan Ho (in Tibetan, Sênggê Zangbo: “Out of the Lion's Mouth”), has its source in western Tibet near Mount Kailas, a mountain sacred to Buddhists and Hindus; it then flows westward across Kashmir to Pakistan. Three other rivers also begin in the west. The Hsiang-ch'üan River (Tibetan Langqên Kanbab: (Sutlej River) “Out of the Elephant's Mouth”) flows west to become the Sutlej River in western India; the K'ung-ch'üeh River flows into the Kauriālā (Ghāghara River) to eventually join the Ganges River; and the Ma-ch'üan River (Tibetan Damqog Kanbab: “Out of the Horse's Mouth”) flows east and, after joining the Lhasa (La-sa) River south of Lhasa, forms the Brahmaputra River.

      The Salween (Nu (Salween River)) River has its source in east-central Tibet, from where it flows through eastern Tibet and Yunnan and then enters Myanmar. The Mekong River begins in southern Tsinghai as two rivers—the Ang and Cha—which join near the Tibet border; the river then flows through eastern Tibet and western Yunnan and enters Laos and Thailand. The source of the Yangtze River rises in southern Tsinghai, near the Tibet border; after flowing through southern Tsinghai, the Yangtze turns south to form most of the Tibet-Szechwan border.

      Among the province's lakes, the three largest are located in central Tibet, northwest of Lhasa: Lakes T'ang-ku-la-yu-mu (Tibetan Tangra Yum), Na-mu (Nam), and Ch'i-lin (Ziling). South of Lhasa lie two large lakes, Yang-cho-yung (Yamdrok) and P'u-mo (Pomo). In western Tibet two adjoining lakes are located near the Nepal border, Ma-fa-mu Lake (Mapam, Lake), sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus, and Lake La-ang (Langak).

      Soils are alluvial and are often composed of sand that is blown by the wind to form a layer above gravels and shingles. Colour varies from light brown to gray, according to the humus content, which is generally poor.

      Although Tibetans refer to their country as Gangs-ljongs or Kha-ba-can (“Land of Snows”), the climate is generally dry, and most of Tibet receives only 18 inches (460 millimetres) of rain and snow annually. The Himalayas act as a barrier to the monsoon (rain-bearing) winds from the south, and precipitation decreases from south to north. The perpetual snow line lies at about 16,000 feet in the Himalayas but rises to about 20,000 feet in the northern mountains. Humidity is low, and fog is practically nonexistent.

      Temperatures in the higher altitudes are cold, but the lower valleys and the southeast are mild and pleasant. Seasonal variation is minimal, and the greatest temperature differences occur during a 24-hour period. Lhasa, which lies at an elevation of 11,830 feet, has a maximum daily temperature of 85° F (30° C) and a minimum of −2° F (−19° C). The bitterly cold temperatures of the early morning and night are aggravated by the gale winds that blow throughout most of the year. Because of the cool dry air, grain can be safely stored for 50 to 60 years, dried raw meat and butter can be preserved for more than one year, and epidemics are rare.

Plant and animal life
      The windswept Ch'iang-t'ang is devoid of trees and larger forms of vegetation. Its arid climate supports little except grasses. The varied plant life of Tibet is found in the river valleys and in the lower, wetter regions of the south and southeast. Plant life includes willows, poplars, several types of conifers, teak, rhododendrons, oaks, birches, elms, bamboo, sugarcane, babul trees, thorn trees, tea bushes, gro-ba (a small white tree that grows mainly in hilly regions), 'om-bu (a bushlike tree with red flowers that grows near water), khres-pa (a strong durable forest tree used to make food containers), glang-ma (a willow tree used for basketry), and rtsi-shing (the seeds of which are used for making varnish). Fruit-bearing trees and certain roots are used for food, as are the leaves of the lca-wa, khumag, and sre-ral, all of which grow in the low, wet regions. Both wild and domestic flowers flourish in Tibet. Among the wildflowers are the blue poppy, lotus, wild pansy, oleander, orchid, tsi-tog (a light pink flower that grows at high altitudes), shang-dril (a bell-shaped flower, either white, yellow, or maroon, that also grows at high altitudes), and ogchu (a red flower that grows in sandy regions).

      Animal life in the forest regions includes tiger, leopard, bear, wild boar, wild goat, stone marten (a kind of cat), langur (a long-tailed monkey), lynx, jackal, wild buffalo, pha-ra (a small member of the jackal family), and gsa' (a spotted cat that is smaller than a leopard).

      In the high grasslands and dry bush areas there are brown bears, wild and bighorn sheep, mountain antelope, musk deer, wild asses, wild yaks, snakes, scorpions, lizards, and dre-tse (members of the wolf family). Water life includes various types of fish, frog, crab, otter, and turtle.

      Undisturbed by aircraft or hunters, the bird reigns supreme in the Tibetan sky. Among the many kinds to be seen are the jungle fowl, ptarmigan, spotted tinamou, mynah, hawk, and hoopoe. Other kinds include the gull, crane, sheldrake, cinnamon teal, sing-bya (a tiny, owllike bird), khra (a crow-sized, hawklike bird), bya-long (a bird about the size of a duck), and skya-ka (a black-and-white, crow-sized bird). The rmos-'debs—a small, gray bird that inhabits agricultural regions—gives a call that signals the opening of the planting season.

Settlement patterns
      Tibet was traditionally divided into three regions, or Chol-kha-gsum (Chol-kha means “region”; gsum means “three”). The Dbus-Gtsang region stretches from Mnga'-ris skor-gsum at the border of Jammu and Kashmir to Sog-la skya-bo near the town of Sog. The Khams, or Mdo-stod, region consists of the territory between Sog-la skya-bo and the upper bend of the Huang Ho (Yellow River), now located in Tsinghai Province. The A-mdo, or Mdo-smad, region reaches from the Huang Ho to Mchod-rten dkar-po in Kansu Province, comprising most of present-day Tsinghai. Tibetans say that the best religion comes from Dbus-Gtsang, the best men from Khams, and the best horses from A-mdo.

      Within the three Chol-kha-gsum approximately one-third of the area is uninhabitable, about one-fifth is roamed by nomads, and the rest is occupied by seminomads and agriculturalists, with a small percentage claimed by trappers in the forest belt.

      The main agricultural region is the 1,000-mile-long great valley of southern Tibet, stretching from the upper Indus Valley in the west to the valley of the upper Brahmaputra. Most of the agriculture, animal husbandry, and industry of Tibet is concentrated in this valley, which includes the main cities of Lhasa, Jih-k'a-tse, and Chiang-tzu.

The people
      The population of the region is almost entirely Tibetan, with Han (Chinese), Hui (Chinese Muslims), Hu, Monba, and other minority nationalities. Thus, the majority of the people of Tibet have the same ethnic origin, have traditionally practiced the same religion, and speak the same language.

      The Tibetan (Tibetan language) and Burmese languages are related, although they are mutually unintelligible in their modern forms. Spoken Tibetan has developed a pattern of regional dialects and subdialects, which can be mutually understood. The dialect of Lhasa is used as a lingua franca. There are two social levels of speech—zhe-sa (honorific) and phal-skad (ordinary); their use depends upon the relative social status between the speaker and the listener. Chinese has been imposed on the Tibetans since the 1960s.

      Tibetan is written in a script derived from that of Indian Gupta in about AD 600. It has a syllabary of 30 consonants and five vowels; six additional symbols are used in writing Sanskrit words. The script itself has four variations—dbu-can (primarily for Buddhist textbooks), dbu-med and 'Khyug-yig (for general use), and 'bru-tsha (for decorative writing).

       Bon is considered to be the first known religion in Tibet, although there is some argument as to the time of its establishment. It is a form of shamanism, encompassing a belief in gods, demons, and ancestral spirits who are responsive to priests, or shamans. With the rise of Buddhism, Bon adopted certain Buddhist rituals and concepts; the Buddhists also adopted certain features of Bon, so that the two religions have many points of resemblance.

      Although Chinese Buddhism was introduced in ancient times, the mainstream of Buddhist teachings came to Tibet from India. The first Buddhist scripture may have arrived in the 3rd century AD, but active promulgation did not begin until the 8th century. In later centuries numerous Buddhist sects were formed, including the Dge-lugs-pa sect, which emphasizes monastic discipline; in the 17th century this sect, known also as the Yellow Hats sect, gained political supremacy that lasted until 1959.

      In recent times the overwhelming majority of Tibetans have traditionally been Buddhists. Before the Chinese occupation, prayer flags flew from every home and adorned the mountain slopes. Monasteries were established throughout the country, and the Dalai Lama (the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism) was the supreme political head of the nation. A minority, however, were adherents of Islām, Hinduism, Bon, or Christianity. Until a moderation of policy in the 1980s the Chinese attempted to eliminate the influence of religion in Tibetan life. The Dalai Lama was forced into exile in 1959, temples were closed, religious artifacts and scriptures were destroyed, and prayer flags were temporarily taken down.

Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa Victor C. Falkenheim

The economy
      Although Tibet is rich in mineral resources, its economy has remained underdeveloped. Surveys of the Kailas and Ma-fa-mu-ts'o districts in western Tibet conducted in the 1930s and '40s discovered extensive goldfields and large deposits of borax, as well as reserves of radium, iron, titanium, lead, and arsenic. Subsequent investigative teams dispatched in the 1950s by the Academia Sinica (Chinese Academy of Sciences) reported the existence of a huge variety of minerals and ores. The most significant of these include a belt of iron-ore deposits located on the western bank of the Mekong River stretching for almost 25 miles south of Ch'ang-tu; graphite obtained from Ning-chin and coal reported to be plentiful around Ch'ang-tu; deposits of iron ore in concentrated seams of high quality and extractable depth found in the T'ang-ku-la Mountains on the Tibet–Tsinghai border; and oil-bearing formations, a reserve of oil shales, and lead, zinc, and manganese.

      The most valuable woodland is the Khams district, though extensive forest-clad mountains are also found in the Sutlej Valley in the southwest and in the Ch'u-mu-pi Valley in the far south. In the late 1950s some 30 kinds of trees, including those of economic value such as varnish trees, spruce, and fir, were discovered; and the estimated total of forest timber resources in the Khams area alone was placed at more than 3,510,000,000 cubic feet (100,000,000 cubic metres).

      The swift-flowing rivers and mountain streams have enormous hydroelectric power potential, totaling about one-third of all China's potential hydroelectric resources. Especially promising are the Brahmaputra, Lhasa, and Ni-yang-ch'ü rivers. The coal deposits and forests represent possible sources of thermal power production, and there are vast opportunities for geothermal, solar, and eolian power production.

Turrell V. Wylie Victor C. Falkenheim Ed.

Agriculture and forestry
      The staple crops are barley, wheat, and pulses; other important crops include millet, buckwheat, rgya-bra (a grain similar to buckwheat), beans, hemp, and mustard. Butter from the yak (large, long-haired ox) or the mdzo-mo (a crossbreed of the yak and the cow) is the main dairy product. The diet is supplemented by a variety of garden vegetables. Some rice is raised in the southeast. The only imported foods are tea, sugar, and rice. Most farmers keep domestic animals such as yaks, horses, mules, donkeys, and goats, and meat is obtained from cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens.

      Because of the inaccessibility of Tibet's forests, forestry is developing. The forest dwellers derive their main source of income from the production of such wood products as planks, beams, printing blocks, and kitchen utensils.

      Before the 1950s Tibet had no modern industries. There were small handicraft centres that were owned either individually or collectively and that produced scroll paintings, metal images, wooden block prints, and religious images. For these crafts, the lag-shes-pa, or craftsmen, had to be well versed in literature and mathematics. There were also carpet weavers, tanners, potters, gold- and silversmiths, carpenters, tailors, and incense-stick makers—all of whom learned their trade through apprenticeship. Because the government rewarded outstanding artists and craftsmen with official titles, estates, and money, the arts and crafts of Tibet were well preserved.

      The initial steps toward industrial development came in 1952, when an iron- and woodwork factory was opened in Lhasa. This was followed by an automobile repair shop in 1957 and a tannery in 1958.

      Under the Chinese government the small hydroelectric power station at Lhasa was repaired and reinforced with three generators. A new thermal station was installed in Jih-k'a-tse. Hydrographic stations in Lhasa and elsewhere were established to determine the hydroelectric potential of the Brahmaputra, Lhasa, and Ni-yang-ch'ü rivers. An experimental geothermal power station began generating electricity in the early 1980s, with the transmitting line terminating in Lhasa. In the 1980s emphasis was placed on agricultural-processing industries and tourism.

      There were no banks before 1951. Small loans to be paid with interest could be obtained from local merchants, and the Tibetan government loaned public funds at interest as a means of collecting revenue. The Chinese have established branches of the People's Bank of China and have also extended agricultural and commercial credit and introduced Chinese currency.

Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa Victor C. Falkenheim

      Before 1951 traveling in Tibet was done either on foot or on the backs of animals. Coracles (coracle) (small boats made of wicker and hides) were used to cross the larger rivers. The Tibetan government obstructed the development of modern transportation to make access to the country difficult for outsiders. For trading, the Tibetans relied on the centuries-old caravan routes leading to Lhasa, of which the most important were from Tsinghai (via Na-ch'ü) and Szechwan (via Ch'ang-tu), India (via Kalīmpong and Ya-tung); Nepal (via Skyid-grong and Nya-lam rdzong); and Jammu and Kashmir (via Leh and Ka-erh).

      Under the Communist Chinese, a network of roads was constructed, notably the Tsinghai and Szechwan highways. Additional trunk roads have been constructed that connect Tibet to Sinkiang, Yunnan, and Nepal.

      The first air link between Tibet and Peking was inaugurated in 1956. The first telegraph line was strung between Kalīmpong (India) and Chiang-tzu by the British in 1904. In the 1920s another line connecting Chiang-tzu with Lhasa was erected, this being the only telegraph system in use until the Chinese took over in 1951. Postal and telecommunication stations, including mobile units, serve remote border areas and geological, hydrological, and construction teams.

Turrell V. Wylie Victor C. Falkenheim

Administration and social conditions
      Before the Chinese occupation, Tibet had a theocratic government of which the Dalai Lama was the supreme religious and temporal head. After 1951 the Chinese relied on military control and a gradual establishment of regional autonomy, which was granted in 1965.

      Since 1965, as part of the separation of religion and civil administration, Tibet has been an autonomous region (tzu-chih-ch'ü) of China. The region is divided into the municipality (shih) of Lhasa, directly under the jurisdiction of the regional government, and seven prefectures (ti-ch'ü), which are subdivided into counties (hsien).

      The army consists of regular Chinese troops under a Chinese military commander, who is stationed at Lhasa. There are military cantonments in major towns along the borders with India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Tibetans have been forcibly recruited into regular, security, and militia regiments.

      There were a few secular schools in Tibet before the Chinese established control. The monasteries were the main seats of learning, and some of the larger ones were similar in operation to theological universities. Secular facilities were established in the 1950s, including government-run primary schools, community primary schools, and secondary technical and tertiary schools including Tibet University. The state has also opened a 10-year doctoral degree program in Buddhism at the new Tibet Buddhist College.

Health and welfare
      Under the health program of the Tibetan government, medical advice and medicine were provided free to expectant mothers. In addition to free vaccinations, sacred pendants known as rims-srungs were distributed annually to prevent epidemics. The construction and maintenance of proper drainage systems, wells, and canals—and security facilities to guard against pollution of water sources—were undertaken through the health program. Care of the kinless aged and handicapped persons was also undertaken. The Chinese have built modern hospitals, improved the drainage system, and placed mobile health units at key locations.

Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa Victor C. Falkenheim

Cultural life
      Tibet is most renowned for its religious scroll paintings (tankas, or thang-ka), metal images, and wooden block prints. There are three categories of images—representing the peaceful, moderate, and angry deities—and three schools of painting—the Sman-thang, Gong-dkar Mkhan-bris, and Kar-ma sgar-bris—which are differentiated by colour tones and depicted facial expressions.

      The rich and ancient culture is based on religion. The Gar and the 'cham are stylistic dances (dance) performed by monks; they reenact the behaviour, attitudes, and gestures of the deities. Ancient legendary tales, historic events, classical solo songs, and musical debates are elaborately staged in the open air in the form of operas, operettas, and dramas. The folk songs and dances of local regions abound with colour, joy, and simplicity: the bro of the Khams region, the sgor-gzhas of the dbus-gtsang peasants, and the Kadra of the A-mdo area are spectacles that are performed in groups; on festive occasions they continue for several days. These cheerful performances tell of the people's loves and celebrate their faith in their religion, the beauty of their country, and the brave deeds of their ancestors.

      Traditional marriage ceremonies involve consultations with both a lama and an astrologer in order to predict the compatibility of a couple. The signing of a marriage contract is followed by an official ceremony at the home of the bridegroom. Appearance in a temple or before a civil authority is not required. After a couple is officially wedded, prayer flags are hoisted from the bride's side of the family upon the rooftop of the bridegroom's house to symbolize the equality of the bride in her new home. Although polygamy was practiced on a limited scale, monogamy is the predominant form of marriage.

      When a death (death rite) occurs, the family members make charitable contributions in the hope of ensuring a better reincarnation for the deceased. In the case of the death of an important religious figure, his corpse is preserved in a tomb. Otherwise, tradition calls for the corpse to be fed to the vultures, as a symbol of charity. The customs of burial and cremation exist but are seldom practiced.

      A white scarf (kha-btags) is offered during greetings, visits to shrines, marriage and death ceremonies, and other occasions. The tradition was derived from the ancient custom of offering clothes to adorn the statues of deities. Gradually, it evolved into a form of greeting, and the white scarf offering, symbolizing purity, became customary. Another tradition is the hoisting of prayer flags on rooftops, tents, hilltops, and almost anywhere a Tibetan can be found. These flags signify fortune and good luck.

Food and drink
      The staple Tibetan food is barley flour (rtsam-pa), which is consumed daily. Other major foods include wheat flour, yak meat, mutton, and pork. Dairy products such as butter, milk, and cheese are also popular. The people in the higher altitudes generally consume more meat than those of the lower regions, where a variety of vegetables is available. Rice is generally restricted in consumption to the well-to-do families, southern border farmers, and monks.

      Two beverages—tea and barley beer (chang)—are particularly noteworthy. Brick tea from China and local Tibetan tea leaves are boiled in soda water. The tea is then strained and poured into a churn, and salt and butter are added before the mixture is churned. The resulting tea is light reddish white and has a thick buttery surface. Chang, which is mildly intoxicating, is thick and white and has a sweet and pungent taste.

      Festivals are both national and local in character. The many local celebrations are varied; national festivals, though fewer, are marked with a spirit of unity and lavishness.

      The first day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar (February or March of the Gregorian calendar) is marked by New Year celebrations all over Tibet. Monasteries, temples, stūpas (outdoor shrines), and home chapels are visited at dawn, and offerings are made before statues and relics of deities and saints. A special fried cookie known as kha-zas is prepared in every home. Either a real or an artificial head of a horned sheep adorns the offerings. A colourful container filled with barley flour and wheat grain and another container of chang are presented to all visitors, who take a pinch of the contents and make an offering to the deities by throwing it in the air.

      The New Year celebrations are almost immediately followed by the Smom-lam (“prayer”) festival, which begins three days after the New Year and is celebrated for 15 days. The festival marks the victory of Buddha over his six religious opponents through debates and the performance of miracles. During this festival, special prayers are offered daily. Prayers, fasting, and charitable donations mark sa-ga zla-ba, the celebration of the anniversary of Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death—three events that all occurred on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar.

      The death of Tsong-kha-pa, founder of the Dge-lugs-pa sect, is celebrated on the 25th day of the 10th month by the burning of butter lamps on the roofs and windowsills of every house. This festival is known as lnga-mchod. The dgu-gtor festival, or festival of the banishment of evil spirits, takes place on the 29th day of the last month of the Tibetan year. At night a bowl of flour soup and a bunch of burning straws are taken into every room of every house, and the evil spirits are called out. Outside, on a distant path, the soup and straws are thrown and left to burn.

      Superstition is prominent in Tibet. A traveler who encounters either a funeral procession, the source of running water, or a passerby carrying a pitcher of water is considered to have good fortune awaiting him. If a vulture or an owl perches on a rooftop, it is believed that death or misfortune will soon befall the household. If snow falls during a marriage procession, it is believed that the newlyweds will face many misfortunes or difficulties. A snowfall during a funeral, however, symbolizes an impediment to death in the family for a long period of time.

Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa

      According to legend the Tibetan people originated from the union of a monkey and a female demon. The Chinese T'ang annals (10th century) place the Tibetans' origin among the nomadic, pastoral Ch'iang tribes recorded about 200 BC as inhabiting the great steppe northwest of China. That region, where diverse racial elements met and mingled for centuries, may be accepted as the original homeland of the Tibetans, but until at least the 7th century AD they continued to mix, by conquest or alliance, with other peoples. From that heritage two strains in particular stand out—the brachycephalic, or round-headed, peoples and the dolichocephalic, or long-headed, peoples. The former, which predominate in the cultivated valleys, may have derived from the Huang Ho basin and be akin to the early Chinese and Burmese; the latter, found mainly among the nomads of the north and in the noble families of Lhasa, seem to have affinities with the Turkic peoples, whose primitive wandering grounds were farther to the north. In addition, there are Dardic and Indian strains in the west, and along the eastern Himalayan border there are connections with a complex of tribal peoples known to the Tibetans as Mon.

      From the 7th to the 9th century the Tibetan kingdom was a power to be reckoned with in Central Asia. When that kingdom disintegrated, Tibetans figured there from the 10th to the 13th century only casually as traders and raiders. The patronage of Tibetan Buddhism by the Yüan, or Mongol, dynasty of China made it a potential spiritual focus for the disunited tribes of Mongolia. This religious significance became of practical importance only in the 18th century when the Oyrat, who professed Tibetan Buddhism, threatened the authority of the Ch'ing dynasty throughout Mongolia. In the 19th century Tibet was a buffer between Russian imperial expansion and India's frontier defense policy.

Early history to the 9th century
      Credible history begins late in the 6th century, when three discontented vassals of one of the princes among whom Tibet was then divided conspired to support the neighbouring lord of Yar-lung, whose title was Spu-rgyal btsan-po. Btsan-po (“mighty”) became the designation of all kings of Tibet (rgyal means “king”; and spu, the meaning of which is uncertain, may refer to a sacral quality of the princes of Yar-lung as divine manifestations). Their new master, Gnam-ri srong-brtsan, was transformed from a princeling in a small valley into the ruler of a vigorously expanding military empire.

      Gnam-ri srong-brtsan (c. AD 570–c. 619) imposed his authority over several Ch'iang tribes on the Chinese border and became known to the Sui dynasty (581–618) as the commander of 100,000 warriors. But it was his son, Srong-brtsan-sgam-po (c. 608–650), who brought Tibet forcibly to the notice of T'ai-tsung (reigned 626–649), of the T'ang dynasty (Tang dynasty). To pacify him, T'ang T'ai-tsung granted him a princess as his bride. Srong-brtsan-sgam-po is famed as the first chos-rgyal (“religious king”) and for his all-important influence on Tibetan culture, the introduction of writing for which he borrowed a script from India, enabling the texts of the new religion to be translated. He extended his empire over Nepal, western Tibet, the T'u-yü-hun, and other tribes on China's border; and he invaded north India.

      In 670, 20 years after Srong-brtsan-sgam-po's death, peace with China was broken and for two centuries Tibetan armies in Tsinghai and Sinkiang kept the frontier in a state of war. In alliance with the western Turks, the Tibetans challenged Chinese control of the trade routes through Central Asia.

      The reign of Khri-srong-lde-brtsan (755–797) marked the peak of Tibetan military success, including the exaction of tribute from China and capture of its capital, Ch'ang-an, in 763. But it was as the second religious king and champion of Buddhism that Khri-srong-lde-brtsan was immortalized by posterity. In 763, when he was 21, he invited Buddhist teachers from India and China to Tibet, and c. 779 he established the great temple of Bsam-yas, where Tibetans were trained as monks.

      Buddhism foreshadowed the end of “Spu-rgyal's Tibet.” The kings did not fully appreciate that its spiritual authority endangered their own supernatural prestige or that its philosophy was irreconcilable with belief in personal survival. They patronized Buddhist foundations but retained their claims as divine manifestations.

Disunity, 9th to 14th century
      In the 9th century, Buddhist tradition records a contested succession, but there are many inconsistencies; contemporary Chinese histories indicate that Tibetan unity and strength were destroyed by rivalry between generals commanding the frontier armies. Early in the 9th century a scion of the old royal family migrated to western Tibet and founded successor kingdoms there, and by 889 Tibet was a mere congeries of separate lordships.

      Tibetan generals and chieftains on the eastern border established themselves in separate territories. The acknowledged successors of the religious kings prospered in their migration to the west and maintained contact with Indian Buddhist universities through Tibetan scholars, notably the famous translator Rin-chen bzang-po (died 1055). In central Tibet, Buddhism suffered an eclipse. A missionary journey by the renowned Indian pandit Atīśa in 1042 rekindled the faith through central Tibet, and from then onward Buddhism increasingly spread its influence over every aspect of Tibetan life.

      Inspired by Atīśa and by other pandits whom they visited in India, Tibetan religious men formed small communities and expounded different aspects of doctrine. Atīśa's own teaching became the basis of the austere Bka'-gdams-pa sect. The Tibetan scholar Dkon-mchog rgyal-po established the monastery of Sa-skya (1073), and a series of lamas (Tibetan priests) founded several monasteries of what is generally called the Bka'-brgyud-pa sect.

      Hermits such as Mi-la ras-pa (1040–1123) shunned material things; but the systematized sects became prosperous through the support of local lords, often kinsmen of the founding lama, and, except for the Bka'-gdams-pa, each developed its own system of keeping the hierarchical succession within a noble family. In some sects the principle of succession through reincarnation was evolved. Although lamas of different schools studied amicably together, their supporters inevitably indulged in worldly competition. This tendency was intensified by the intervention of a new Asian power, the Mongols.

      Although it has been widely stated that the Tibetans submitted c. 1207 to Genghis Khan to avert an invasion, evidence indicates that the first military contact with the Mongols came in 1240, when they marched on central Tibet and attacked the monastery of Ra-sgreng and others. In 1247, Köden, younger brother of the khan Güyük, symbolically invested the Sa-skya lama with temporal authority over Tibet. Kublai Khan appointed the lama 'Phags-pa as his “Imperial preceptor” (ti-shih), and the politicoreligious relationship between Tibet and the Mongol Empire is stated as a personal bond between the emperor as patron and the lama as priest (yon-mchod).

      A series of Sa-skya lamas, living at the Mongol court, thus became viceroys of Tibet on behalf of the Mongol emperors. The Mongols prescribed a reorganization of the many small estates into 13 myriarchies (administrative districts each comprising, theoretically, 10,000 families). The ideal was a single authority; but other monasteries, especially 'Bri-gung and Phag-mo-gru of the Bka'-brgyud-pa sect, whose supporters controlled several myriarchies, actively contested Sa-skya's supremacy.

      The collapse of the Yüan dynasty in 1368 also brought down Sa-skya after 80 years of power. Consequently, when the native Chinese Ming dynasty evicted the Mongols, Tibet regained its independence; for more than 100 years the Phag-mo-gru-pa line governed in its own right.

      A proliferation of scholars, preachers, mystics, hermits, and eccentrics, as well as monastic administrators and warriors, accompanied the subsequent revival of Buddhism. Literary activity was intense. Sanskrit works were translated with the help of visiting Indian pandits; the earliest codifiers, classifiers, biographers, and historians appeared. In an outburst of monastic building, the characteristic Tibetan style acquired greater extent, mass, and dignity. Chinese workmen were imported for decorative work. Temple walls were covered with fine frescoes; huge carved and painted wooden pillars were hung with silk and with painted banners (tankas). Chapels abounded in images of gold, gilded copper, or painted and gilded clay; some were decorated with stucco scenes in high relief; in others the remains of deceased lamas were enshrined in silver or gilded stūpas. Under Nepalese influence, images were cast and ritual vessels and musical instruments made in a style blending exuberant power and sophisticated craftsmanship; woodcarvers produced beautiful shrines and book covers, and from India came palm-leaf books, ancient images, and bell-metal stūpas of all sizes.

Tibet, 14th to 19th century
The Dge-lugs-pa (Yellow Hat sect)
      For 70 peaceful years Byang-chub rgyal-mtshan (died 1364) and his two successors ruled a domain wider than that of the Sa-skya-pa. Thereafter, although the Phag-mo-gru Gong-ma (as the ruler was called) remained nominally supreme, violent dissension erupted again. In 1435 the lay princes of Rin-spungs, ministers of Gong-ma and patrons of the increasingly influential Karma-pa sect, rebelled and by 1481 had seized control of the Phag-mo-gru court.

      Already a new political factor had appeared in the Dge-lugs-pa sect. Its founder was a saintly scholar, Blo-bzang grags-pa (died 1419), known, from his birthplace near Koko Nor, as Tsong-kha-pa. After studying with leading teachers of the day, he formulated his own doctrine, emphasizing the moral and philosophical ideas of Atīśa rather than the magic and mysticism of Sa-skya—though he did not discard the latter entirely. In 1409 he founded his own monastery at Dga'-ldan, devoted to the restoration of strict monastic discipline. Tsong-kha-pa's disciplinary reform appealed to people weary of rivalry and strife between wealthy monasteries. Tsong-kha-pa probably did not imagine that his disciples would form a new sect and join in that rivalry, but, after his death, devoted and ambitious followers built around his teaching and prestige what became the Dge-lugs-pa, or Yellow Hat sect, which was gradually drawn into the political arena.

      In 1578 the Dge-lugs-pa took a step destined to bring foreign interference once more into Tibetan affairs. The third Dge-lugs-pa hierarch, Bsod-nams-rgya-mtsho, was invited to visit the powerful Tümed Mongol leader Altan Khan, with whom he revived the patron-priest relationship that had existed between Kublai Khan and 'Phags-pa. From this time dates the title of Dalai (Dalai Lama) (“Oceanwide”) Lama, conferred by Altan and applied retrospectively to the two previous hierarchs. The holder is regarded as the embodiment of a spiritual emanation of the bodhisattva—Avalokiteśvara, the mythic monkey demon and progenitor of the Tibetans. The succession is maintained by the discovery of a child, born soon after the death of a Dalai Lama, into whom the spirit of the deceased is believed to have entered. Until 1642 the Dalai Lamas were principal abbots of the Dge-lugs-pa, and in that year they acquired temporal and spiritual rule of Tibet. With Altan's help virtually all the Mongols became Dge-lugs-pa adherents, and on Bsod-nams-rgya-mtsho's death they acquired a proprietary interest in the order and some claims on Tibet itself when the fourth Dalai Lama was conveniently discovered in the Tümed royal family.

      To support their protégé the Mongols sent armed bands into Tibet. Their opponents were the Red Hat Lama, head of a Karma-pa subsect, and his patron the Gtsang (Gtsang dynasty) king. That phase of rivalry ended inconclusively with the early death of the fourth Dalai Lama and the decline of Tümed Mongol authority in Mongolia. The next came when Güüshi Khan, leader of the Khoshut tribe, which had displaced the Tümed, appeared as champion of the Dge-lugs-pa. In 1640 he invaded Tibet, defeating the Gtsang king and his Karma-pa supporters.

The unification of Tibet
      In 1642 with exemplary devotion, Güüshi enthroned the Dalai Lama as ruler of Tibet, appointing Bsod-nams chos-'phel as minister for administrative affairs and himself taking the title of king and the role of military protector. These three forceful personalities methodically and efficiently consolidated the religious and temporal authority of the Dge-lugs-pa. Lhasa, long the spiritual heart of Tibet, now became the political capital as well. Dge-lugs-pa supremacy was imposed on all other orders, with special severity toward the Karma-pa. A reorganized district administration reduced the power of the lay nobility.

      The grandeur and prestige of the regime were enhanced by reviving ceremonies attributed to the religious kings, by enlarging the nearby monasteries of 'Bras-spungs, Sera, and Dga'-Idan, and by building the superb Potala palace, completed by another great figure, Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho, who in 1679 succeeded as minister regent just before the death of his patron the fifth Dalai Lama. By then a soundly based and unified government had been established over a wider extent than any for eight centuries.

      The installations of the fifth Dalai Lama at Lhasa (1642) and the Ch'ing, or Manchu, dynasty in China (1644) were almost synchronous. Good relations with Tibet were important to the Manchu because of the Dalai Lama's prestige among the Mongols, from whom a new threat was taking shape in the ambitions of the powerful Oyrat of western Mongolia.

      Elsewhere Lhasa's expanding authority brought disagreements with Bhutan, which held its own against Tibetan incursions in 1646 and 1657, and with Ladākh (Ladakh), where a campaign ended in 1684 in Tibetan withdrawal to an accepted frontier when the Ladākhī king appealed for help to the Muslim governor of Kashmir.

Tibet under Manchu overlordship
      The Dalai Lama's death in 1682 and the discovery of his five-year-old reincarnation in 1688 were concealed by Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho, who was intent on continuing the administration without disturbance. He informed the Manchu only in 1696. Emperor K'ang-hsi (Kangxi) (reigned 1661–1722) was incensed at the deception. In 1703 he discovered an ally in Tibet and an antagonist to Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho when Lha-bzang Khan, fourth successor of Güüshi, sought to assert rights as king that had atrophied under his immediate predecessors.

      The behaviour of the sixth Dalai Lama, Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho, who preferred poetry and libertine amusements to religion, gave Lha-bzang his opportunity. In 1705 with the Emperor's approval, he attacked and killed Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho and deposed Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho as a spurious reincarnation. The Tibetans angrily rejected him and soon recognized in east Tibet the infant reincarnation of the dead Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho.

      In 1717 the Oyrat, nominally Dge-lugs-pa supporters, took advantage of Tibetan discontents to intervene in a sudden raid, defeating and killing Lha-bzang. Fear of hostile Mongol domination of Tibet compelled the Emperor to send troops against the Oyrat. After an initial reverse, his armies drove them out in 1720 and were welcomed at Lhasa as deliverers, all the more because they brought with them the new Dalai Lama, Bskal-bzang-rgya-mtsho. For the next 200 years there was no fighting between Tibetans and Chinese; but after evicting the Oyrat the Emperor decided to safeguard Manchu interests by appointing representatives—generally known as Ambans (amban)—at Lhasa, with a small garrison in support.

      The Tibetans, interpreting this as another patron-priest relationship, accepted the situation, which, generally left them to manage their own affairs. It was only in recurring crises that Manchu participation became, briefly, energetic. Imperial troops quelled a civil war in Tibet in 1728, restored order after the political leader was assassinated in 1750, and drove out the Gurkhas, who had invaded from Nepal in 1792. As Manchu energy declined, the Tibetans became increasingly independent, though still recognizing the formal suzerainty of the emperor, behind which it sometimes suited them to shelter. At no time did the Ambans have administrative power, and after 1792, when Tibet was involved in wars with Ladākh (1842) and Nepal (1858), the Manchu were unable to help or protect them.

Administration and culture under the Manchu
      No Dalai Lama until the 13th approached the personal authority of the “Great Fifth.” The seventh incarnation was overshadowed by Pho-lha, a lay nobleman appointed ruler by the Manchu; the eighth was diffident and retiring. But after the Pho-lha family's regime, Dge-lugs-pa churchmen resumed power and held onto it through a series of monk regents for about 145 years.

      Chinese contacts affected Tibetan culture less than might be expected. They helped to shape the administrative machinery, army, and mail service, which were based on existing institutions and run by Tibetans. Chinese customs influenced dress, food, and manners; china and chopsticks were widely used by the upper classes. The arts of painting, wood carving, and casting figures continued on traditional lines, with much technical skill but few signs of innovation. An important effect of Manchu supremacy was the exclusion of foreigners after 1792. That ended the hopes of Christian missionaries and the diplomatic visits from British India, which had been started in 1774. Tibet was now closed, and mutual ignorance enshrouded future exchanges with its British neighbours in India.

Tibet in the 20th century
      In the mid-19th century the Tibetans repeatedly rebuffed overtures from the British, who at first saw Tibet as a trade route to China and later as countenancing Russian advances that might endanger India. Eventually, in 1903, after failure to get China to control its unruly vassal, a political mission was dispatched from India to secure understandings on frontier and trade relations. Tibetan resistance was overcome by force, the Dalai Lama fled to China, and the rough wooing ended in a treaty at Lhasa in 1904 between Britain and Tibet without Chinese adherence. In 1906, however, the Chinese achieved a treaty with Britain, without Tibetan participation, that recognized their suzerainty over Tibet. Success emboldened the Chinese to seek direct control of Tibet by using force against the Tibetans for the first time in 10 centuries. In 1910 the Dalai Lama again was forced to flee, this time to India.

      That dying burst by the Manchu dynasty converted Tibetan indifference into enmity, and, after the Chinese Revolution in 1911–12, the Tibetans expelled all the Chinese and declared their independence of the new republic. Tibet functioned as an independent government until 1951 and defended its frontier against China in occasional fighting as late as 1931. In 1949, however, the “liberation” of Tibet was heralded, and in October 1950 the Chinese invaded eastern Tibet, overwhelming the poorly equipped Tibetan troops. An appeal by the Dalai Lama to the United Nations was denied, and support from India and Britain was not forthcoming. A Tibetan delegation summoned to China in 1951 had to sign a treaty dictated by the conquerors. It professed to guarantee Tibetan autonomy and religion but also allowed the establishment at Lhasa of Chinese civil and military headquarters.

      Smoldering resentment at the strain on the country's resources from the influx of Chinese soldiery and civilians was inflamed in 1956 by reports of savage fighting and oppression in districts east of the upper Yangtze, outside the administration of Lhasa but bound to it by race, language, and religion. Refugees from the fighting in the east carried guerrilla warfare against the Chinese into central Tibet, creating tensions that exploded in a popular rising at Lhasa in March 1959. The Dalai Lama, most of his ministers, and many followers escaped across the Himalayas, and the rising was suppressed.

      The events of 1959 intensified China's disagreements with India, which had given asylum to the Dalai Lama, and in 1962 Chinese forces proved the efficiency of the new communications by invading northeast Assam.

      In 1966 and 1967 the Chinese position was shaken by Red Guard excesses and internecine fighting when the Cultural Revolution reached Lhasa. Military control was restored by 1969; and in 1971 a new local government committee was announced. Between 1963 and 1971 no foreign visitor was allowed to enter Tibet. Persecution of Tibetans abated in the late 1970s with the end of the Cultural Revolution, but Chinese repression was resumed when the Tibetans renewed their claims for autonomy and even independence. However, China has invested in the economic development of Tibet and in the early 1980s took initiatives to repair diplomatic ties with the Dalai Lama. Despite China's efforts to restore some freedoms and ease its repressive posture, riots broke out in the late 1980s, and China imposed martial law in Tibet in 1988. Tibet continues to suffer from periodic unrest, and China's suppression of political and religious freedoms has led to Western criticism and protests by human rights organizations. The Dalai Lama, still unrecognized by the Chinese government, won the Nobel Peace Price in 1989.

Hugh E. Richardson Victor C. Falkenheim Ed.

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

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