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Tibet

Tibet, called Bod by Tibetans, or (Xzng) by the Chinese, is a plateau region in Central Asia and the indigenous home to the Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 16,000 feet, (4,900 meters) it is the highest region on earth and is commonly referred to as the "Roof of the World." China, which presently controls Tibet, maintains it is a province-level entity, the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Tibetan Empire came into existence in the seventh century when Emperor Songtsän Gampo united numerous tribes of the region. From 1578, leadership of Tibet has been in the hands of the Dalai Lamas, whose succession is based on the doctrine of reincarnation, and who are known as spiritual leaders, although their historical status as rulers is disputed.

Tibet was forcibly incorporated into the People's Republic of China in 1950. By virtue of its claim over all mainland Chinese territory, Tibet also has been claimed by Taiwan. The government of the People's Republic of China and the Government of Tibet in Exile disagree over when Tibet became a part of China, and whether this incorporation is legitimate according to international law.

According to a number of international non-governmental organizations, Tibetans are denied most rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights to self-determination, freedom of speech, assembly, expression, and travel; Tibetan monks and nuns who profess support for the Dalai Lama have been treated with extreme harshness by the PRC Chinese authorities.

Geography

Yamdrok tso lake.
Yamdrok tso lake.
Snow mountains in Tibet.
Snow mountains in Tibet.
Shigatse
Shigatse

Located on the Tibetan Plateau, the world's highest region, Tibet is bordered on the north and east by China, on the west by the Kashmir Region of India and on the south by Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

Tibet occupies about 471,700 square miles (1,221,600 square kilometers) on the high Plateau of Tibet surrounded by enormous mountains. Historic Tibet consists of several regions:

  • Amdo in the northeast, incorporated by China into the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan.
  • Kham in the east, divided between Sichuan, northern Yunnan and Qinghai.
  • Western Kham, part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region
  • Ü-Tsang (dBus gTsang) (Ü in the center, Tsang in the center-west, and Ngari (mNga' ris) in the far west), part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region

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

The Chang Tang plateau in the north extends more than 800 miles (1,300 km) across with an average elevation of 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level. It has brackish lakes and no rivers. The plateau descends in elevation towards the east. Mountain ranges in the southeast create a north-south barrier to travel and communication.

The Kunlun Mountains, with its highest peak Mu-tzu-ta-ko reaching 25,338 feet (7,723 meters) form a border to the north. The Himalaya Mountains, one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world at only four million years old, form the western and southern border the highest peak is Mount Everest, which rises to 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) on the TibetCNepal border. North of Ma-fa-mu Lake and stretching east is the Kang-ti-ssu Range, with several peaks exceeding 20,000 feet. The Brahmaputra River, which flows across southern Tibet to India, separates this range from the Himalayas.

The Indus River, known in Tibet as the Shih-ch'an Ho, has its source in western Tibet near the sacred Mount Kailas, and flows west across Kashmir to Pakistan. The Hsiang-ch'an River flows west to become the Sutlej River in western India, the K'ung-ch'eh River eventually join the Ganges River, and the Ma-ch'an River flows east and, after joining the Lhasa River, forms the Brahmaputra River. The Salween River flows from east-central Tibet, through Yunnan to Myanmar. The Mekong River has its source in southern Tsinghai as two riversthe Ang and Chawhich join near the Tibet border to flow through eastern Tibet and western Yunnan to Laos and Thailand. The Yangtze River arises in southern Tsinghai.

Jokhang temple, Lhasa
Jokhang temple, Lhasa

Lakes T'ang-ku-la-yu-mu, Na-mu, and Ch'i-lin are the three largest lakes and are located in central Tibet. In western Tibet are two adjoining lakes, Ma-fa-mu Lake, sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, and Lake La-ang.

The climate is dry nine months of the year, and average 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 prevail through the desolate western regions, where vegetation is limited to low bushes, and where wind sweeps unchecked across vast expanses of arid plain. The cool dry air means grain can be stored for 50 to 60 years, dried meat will last for a year, and epidemics are rare.

Northern Tibet is subject to high temperatures in the summer and intense cold in the winter. The seasonal temperature variation is minimal, with the greatest temperature differences occurring during a 24-hour period. Lhasa, at an elevation of 11,830 feet, has a maximum daily temperature of 85F (30C) and a minimum of -2F (-19C).

The arid climate of the windswept Chang Tang plateau supports little except grasses. Plant life in the river valleys and in the south and southeast includes willows, poplars, conifers, teak, rhododendrons, oaks, birches, elms, bamboo, sugarcane, babul trees, thorn trees, and tea bushes. The leaves of the lca-wa, khumag, and sre-ral, which grow in the low, wet regions, are used for food. Wildflowers include the blue poppy, lotus, wild pansy, oleander, and orchid.

Chamdo
Chamdo

The forests have tigers, leopards, bears, wild boars, wild goats, stone martens (a kind of cat), langurs, lynx, jackals, wild buffaloes, pha-ra (a small jackal), and gsa' (a small leopard). The high grasslands and dry bush areas have brown bears, wild and bighorn sheep, mountain antelope, musk deer, wild asses, wild yaks, snakes, scorpions, lizards, and wolves. Water life includes types of fish, frog, crab, otter, and turtle. Birds include the jungle fowl, mynah, hawk, the gull, crane, sheldrake, cinnamon teal, and owls. Natural hazards include earthquakes, landslides, and snow.

Lhasa is Tibet's traditional capital and the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Lhasa contains the world heritage sites the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, the residences of the Dalai Lama, and a number of significant temples and monasteries including Jokhang and Ramoche Temple. Shigatse is the country's second largest city, west of Lhasa. Gyantse, Chamdo are also amongst the largest. Other cities include, Nagchu, Nyingchi, Nedong, Barkam, Sakya, Gartse, Pelbar, and Tingri; in Sichuan, Kangding (Dartsedo); in Qinghai, Jyekundo or Yushu, Machen, Lhatse, and Golmud.

Economy

The Tibetan yak is an integral part of Tibetan life.
The Tibetan yak is an integral part of Tibetan life.
A farmers' market in Lhasa.
A farmers' market in Lhasa.

Tibet is rich in mineral resources, but its economy has remained underdeveloped. Surveys of western Tibet in the 1930s and 1940s discovered goldfields, deposits of borax, as well as radium, iron, titanium, lead, and arsenic. There is a 25-mile belt of iron ore along the Mekong River, plentiful coal, and oil-bearing formations. Other mineral resources include oil shale, manganese, lead, zinc, quartz, and graphite. Precious and semi-precious stones include jade and lapis lazuli, among others. The forest timber resource in the Khams area alone was estimated at 3.5-billion cubic feet. The swift-flowing rivers provide enormous hydroelectric power potential, possibly contributing one-third of China's potential resources. Because of the inaccessibility of Tibet's forests, forestry is just in its developing stages.

The economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture. Livestock raising is the primary occupation mainly on the Tibetan Plateau, including sheep, cattle, goats, camels, yaks (large, long-haired oxen) and horses. However the main crops grown are barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, potatoes and assorted fruits and vegetables. Butter from the yak and the mdzo-mo (a crossbreed of the yak and the cow) is the main dairy product.

Under Chinese control, the small hydroelectric power station at Lhasa was repaired, a new thermal station was installed in Jih-k'a-tse. Hydrographic stations were established to determine hydroelectric potential. An experimental geothermal power station was commissioned in the early 1980s, with the transmitting line terminating in Lhasa. Emphasis was placed on agricultural-processing industries and tourism. The PRC government exempts Tibet from all taxation and provides 90 percent of Tibet's government expenditures. Tibet's economy depends on Beijing.

The most important crop is Barley
The most important crop is Barley

 

Qinghai-Tibet railway

The world's highest railway connecting Tibet with eastern Chinese provinces for the first time by rail.
The world's highest railway connecting Tibet with eastern Chinese provinces for the first time by rail.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway which links the region to Qinghai in China proper was opened in 2006. The Chinese government claims that the line will promote the development of impoverished Tibet. But opponents argue the railway will harm Tibet since it would bring in 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 say the large influx of Han Chinese will ultimately extinguish the local culture. Others argue that the railway will damage Tibet's fragile ecology.

Tourism

Tibet's tourism industry has grown, especially following the completion of Qingzang Railway in July 2006. Tibet received 2.5 million tourists in 2006, including 150,000 foreigners. Increased interest in Tibetan Buddhism has helped make tourism an increasingly important sector, and this is actively promoted by the authorities. Tourists buy handicrafts including hats, jewelry (silver and gold), wooden items, clothing, quilts, fabrics, Tibetan rugs and carpets.

Limited data

As an autonomous region of China, data on imports and exports is not readily available, and any data that is derived from state publications is issued for publicity purposes. According to PRC figures, Tibet's GDP in 2001 was 13.9 billion yuan (US$1.8-billion). Tibet's economy has had an average growth of 12 percent per year from 2000 to 2006, a figure that corresponded to the five-year goal issued at the start of the period.

The per capita GDP reached 10,000 renminbi (mainland China unit of currency) in 2006 for the first time. That would convert to $1,233, which would place Tibet between Mali (164th) and Nigeria (165th) on the International Monetary Fund list. By comparison, the PRC per capita GDP is $7,598, or 87th.

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