It is a plateau region in Central Asia and the indigenous home to the Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 4,900 m (16,000 ft), it is often called the "Roof of the World". Most of the Himalayan mountain range, one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world at only 4 million years old, lies within Tibet. Its most famous peak, Mount Everest, is on Nepal's border with Tibet. The average altitude is about 3,000 m in the south and 4,500 meters in the north.
The atmosphere is severely 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 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.
Several major rivers have their source in the Tibetan Plateau (mostly in present-day Qinghai Province), including Yangtze, Yellow River, Indus River, Mekong, Brahmaputra River - the main river that flows through Tibet. In Tibetan, referred to as the Tsangpo.
The Tibetan yak is an integral part of Tibetan life. The Tibetan economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture. Due to limited arable land, livestock raising is the primary occupation. 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.
Lhasa is Tibet's traditional capital and the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. Other cities in Historic Tibet include Shigatse, Gyantse, Nedong. Barkam, Sakya, Gartse, Pelbar, and Tingri; in Sichuan, Dartsendo; in Qinghai, Kyegundo or Yushu, Machen, Lhatse, and Golmud.
The Tibetan language is generally considered to be a Tibeto-Burman language of the Sino-Tibetan language family, distantly related to Chinese (Sinitic languages).
In general, the history of Tibet begins with King Srong-tsan-gam-po Songtsen Gampo (604-650 CE), although there were 27 kings before him. King Songtsen Gampo is generally considered to have introduced Buddhism to Tibet at this time. Christianity is known to have been present in Tibetan regions prior to 782.
King Songtsen Gampo sought to marry Princess Wen-Cheng, a member of the extended royal family of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. He was also married to Princess Brikhuti, a Nepalese (newari) princess who is credited with bringing the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha that is now found in the Jokhang.
Conflict between Tibet and the Tang began as Tu Yu Hun was against the marriage. Tibet sent an army to drive it from the valleys around the source of Huang He (Yellow River). After the Tang general Hou Jun Ji drove the Tibetans out of Songzhou, the Tang government became receptive and marriage took place in 641.
The next Tang emperor sent General Xue Ren Gui with an army to recover Tu Yu Hun for the southern part of Qinghai (Amdo in Tibetan). The Tibetan army defeated him on the high plateau of Qinghai. Subsequently, Tibet conquered all small tribes in Qinghai and southern Xinjiang.
During this period, Tibet had a population of 10 million with 3 million Tibetans as an army of comparable strength facing the two Tang armies of Southern Xinjiang (24,000 soldiers) and of the Silk Road (75,000 soldiers). Disputes involved trade controls. Tibet wanted the four Tang garrisons at the Southern Xinjiang (which guarded the silk-road from central Tang through Xinjiang and Central Asia). After the Tang's withdrawal of the Silk-road army and its garrison troops of Northern and Southern Xinjiang during the An Lu Shan rebellion, Tubo (Tibetan) military power conquered all of that territory up to the border of the Hue-He (Mongols), capturing the Silk-road.
Tibet had also conquered the ethnic tribes scattered in the present areas of Lijiang and Dali, Yunnan, and had established a military administration in northwest Yunnan. Yunnan was a tributary of Tibet. Tibet also bordered with India and Persia. This was the largest area, which was, ever controlled by Tibet.
The military route used by the Tibetans to reach Yunnan was closely related to the contemporary tea and horse route. Cha Ma Gu Dao ("Tea and Horse Caravan Road") of Southwest China is less well known than the famous Silk Road.
After the downfall of the Tibetan Dynasty, the Tang recovered the Silk-road (848). According to one study, more than 20,000 warhorses per year were exchanged for tea during the Northern Song (960-1127) dynasty.
The distinctive form of Tibetan society, in which land was divided into three different types of holding-estates of noble families, freehold lands and estates held by monasteries of particular Tibetan Buddhist sects-arose after the weakening of the Tibetan kings in the 10th century. This form of society was to continue into the 1950s, although Tibetans themselves claim that this is not an accurate description and that Tibetans consist of many different background and not just monks, masters, and serfs.
Mongols & Manchus
In 1240, the Mongols marched into central Tibet and attacked several monasteries. Köden, younger brother of Mongol ruler Güyük Khan, participated in a ceremony recognizing the Sa-skya lama as temporal ruler of Tibet in 1247. The Mongol khans had ruled northern China since 1215. They were the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan was a patron of Tibetan Buddhism and appointed the Sa-skya Lama his "Imperial preceptor," or chief religious official. Tibetans viewed this relationship as an example of yon-mchod, or priest-patron relationship. In practice, the Sa-skya lama was subordinate to the Mongol khan. The collapse of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 led to the overthrow of the Sa-skya in Tibet. Tibet was then ruled by a succession of three secular dynasties. In the 16th century, Altan Khan of Tumet Mongolian tribe supported the Dalai Lama's religious lineage to be the dominant religion among Mongols and Tibetans.
Beginning in the early 18th century, the Qing government sent a resident commissioner (amban) to Lhasa. Tibetan factions rebelled in 1750 and killed the ambasa. Then, a Qing army entered and defeated the rebels and installed an administration headed by the Dalai Lama. The number of soldiers in Tibet was kept at about 2000. The defensive duties were partly helped out by a local force, which was reorganized by the resident commissioner, and the Tibetan government continued to manage day-to-day affairs as before.
In 1904 a British diplomatic mission, accompanied by a large military escort, forced its way through to Lhasa. The head of the diplomatic mission was Colonel Francis Younghusband. The principal motivation for the British mission was a fear, which proved to be unfounded, that Russia was extending its footprint into Tibet and possibly even giving military aid to the Tibetan government. But in his way to Lhasa, Younghusband killed 1300 Tibetans in Gyam-Tse, because the natives were in fear of what kind of unequal treaty the English would offer to the Tibetans. When the mission reached Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had already fled to Urga in Mongolia, but a treaty was signed by lay and ecclesiastical officials of the Tibetan government, and by representatives of the three monasteries of Sera, Drepung, and Ganden. The treaty made provisions for the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet to be respected, for freer trade between British and Tibetan subjects, and for an indemnity to be paid from the Tibetan Government to the British Government for its expenses in dispatching armed troops to Lhasa.
A Nepalese agency had also been established in Lhasa after the invasion of Tibet by the Gurkha government of Nepal in 1855.
In the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906 which confirmed the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904, Britain 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". The Qing central government established direct rule over Tibet for the first time in 1910.
The subsequent outbreak of World War I and civil war in China caused the Western powers and the infighting factions of China proper to lose interest in Tibet, and the 13th Dalai Lama ruled undisturbed. At that time, the government of Tibet controlled all of Ü-Tsang (Dbus-gtsang) and western Kham (Khams), roughly coincident with the borders of Tibet Autonomous Region today. Eastern Kham, separated by the Yangtze River was under the control of Chinese warlord Liu Wenhui. The situation in Amdo (Qinghai) was more complicated, with the Xining area controlled by ethnic Hui warlord Ma Bufang, who constantly strove to exert control over the rest of Amdo (Qinghai).
Neither the Republic of China nor the People's Republic of China has ever renounced China's claim to sovereignty over Tibet. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army entered the Tibetan area of Chamdo, crushing minimal resistance from the ill-equipped Tibetan army. In 1951, the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was forced upon representatives of the Dalai Lama by the PLA's military, and Beijing affirmed Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.
A rebellion broke out in Amdo and eastern Kham in June of 1956. The insurrection eventually spread to Lhasa. It was crushed by 1959. Tibetan exiles claim that during this campaign, tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed. The 14th Dalai Lama and other government principals fled to exile in India, but isolated resistance continued in Tibet until 1969.
Although the Panchen Lama remained a virtual prisoner, the Chinese set him as a figurehead in Lhasa, claiming that he headed the legitimate Government of Tibet. In 1965, the area that had been under the control of the Dalai Lama's government from the 1910s to 1959 (U-Tsang and western Kham) was set up as an Autonomous Region. The monastic estates were broken up and secular education introduced. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Red Guards inflicted a campaign of organized vandalism against cultural sites in the entire PRC, including Tibet's Buddhist heritage. Of the several thousand monasteries in Tibet, over 6,500 were destroyed, only a handful remained without major damage, and hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns were killed or imprisoned.
In 1989, the Panchen Lama mysteriously died, just as his open condemnation of Chinese policies intensified. The Dalai Lama and the PRC recognised different reincarnations. The PRC-selected Panchen Lama is rejected by Tibetan exile groups who commonly refer to him as the "Panchen Zuma" (literally "fake Panchen Lama"). Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (chosen by the Dalai Lama) and his family have gone missing, into imprisonment according to Tibetan exiles, and under a hidden identity for protection and privacy according to the PRC.
Since 1979, there have been major economic changes, like the rest of the PRC, but the political system remains undemocratic and repressive. All governments, however, recognize PRC sovereignty over Tibet, and none has recognized the Dalai Lama's government in exile in India.
Tibet is the traditional center of Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive form of Vajrayana, which is also related to the Shingon Buddhist tradition in Japan. Tibetan Buddhism is practiced not only in Tibet but also in Mongolia, the Buryat Republic, the Tuva Republic, and in the Republic of Kalmykia. Tibet is also home to the original spiritual tradition called Bön (also spelled Bon). Various dialects of the Tibetan language are spoken across the country. Tibetan is written in Tibetan script.
In Tibetan cities, there are also 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 the invasion of Tibet in 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. There is also a well-established Chinese Muslim community (gya kachee), which traces its ancestry back to the Hui ethnic group of China. It is said that Muslim migrants from Kashmir and Ladakh first entered Tibet around the 12th century. Marriages and social interaction gradually led to an increase in the population until a sizable community grew up around Lhasa.
The Potala Palace, former residence of the Dalai Lamas, is a World Heritage Site, as is Norbulingka, former summer residence of the Dalai Lama.
During the suppression of pro-independence forces in the 1950s, and during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, most historically significant sites in Tibet were vandalized or totally destroyed.