Tibet Essay, Research Paper

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


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


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 Tibet?s transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, Tibet?s 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 Tibet?s 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

primary occupation of the Tibetan Plateau region. In addition to sheep, cattle, and goats,

the herds include camels, yaks, horses, and other beasts of burden (Encarta 3).

The region?s manufacturing sector has expanded since 1959 but remains limited to

small-scale enterprises producing such goods as textiles and electrical equipment. The

production of local handicrafts constitutes a major supply of income. Craft items include

woolen carpets, fabrics, aprons, quilts, clothing, furniture, wooden bowls, gold and silver

jewelry, and Tibetan hats (Encarta 3).

Tibet has no railroads, but does have highways and airports. The road system,

which did not exist before 1950, has grown to about 14,000 miles. A trans-Tibetan highway

now runs from west to east. Other highways connect the region with Xinjiang and Qinghai

to the north, Sichuan to the east, and Nepal and India to the south. Tibet has two

commercial airports; the more important one is located near Lhasa. Since the 1980s

tourism has become an important source of revenue in Tibet. Most visitors stay in the

Lhasa area, although Xigaz? and the base camp of Mount Everest are also popular sites

(Encarta 3).

Tibet is officially an autonomous region of China, which means that an ethnic

Tibetan heads the regional government. In reality, however, major decisions are made by

the central government in Beijing. Ethnic Tibetans comprise about 70 percent of

government cadres (administrators) in Tibet. The most powerful officials in Tibet,

including the head of the local Communist Party office, are typically Han Chinese (Encarta


The Chinese ruled Tibet, but it decreased, and Britain tried to take over but failed.

In the 18th century Tibet came under the control of China. However, in the course of the

following century, Chinese authority diminished steadily. Meanwhile, British colonial

officials in India, including administrator Warren Hastings, attempted to secure a foothold

in the region. These efforts proved unsuccessful, mainly because of Tibetan resentment of

an unsuccessful Nepalese invasion of Tibet in the 1790s, which the British had supported

(Encarta 4).

The Panchen Lama is reinstated, so China announces reforms, but they were

violent, and the Panchen Lama refused to renounce Tibet’s independence. In 1978 the

Panchen Lama, who had been jailed in 1964 for criticizing Chinese rule of Tibet, was

reinstated to his official positions. He appealed repeatedly to the Dalai Lama to return to

Tibet. In 1980 the Chinese admitted that Tibet had been misgoverned and announced

reforms for the region. Tibetans found the reforms insufficient, and violent demonstrations

protesting Chinese rule occurred in October 1987. In 1988 negotiations between the

Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, which had taken place

periodically over the previous decade, broke off. The Dalai Lama refused to publicly

renounce Tibetan independence, and China refused to compromise on the issue of greater

autonomy for Tibet (Encarta 4). In 1993 more demonstrations by Tibetans took place, in

addition to several acts of terrorism against the Chinese.

In 1995 a new conflict emerged in Tibet over the selection of the next Panchen

Lama. The search committee identified 28 possible candidates and conveyed that

information to the Dalai Lama in India. The Dalai Lama selected one boy, a six-year-old

named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the 11th Panchen Lama. The Chinese government,

angered at having the selection process usurped by the Dalai Lama, cited the historical role

it had allegedly played in the selection process of previous Panchen and Dalai Lamas. They

inaugurated their own candidate, a six-year-old named Gyaincain Norbu. They held

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family in detention and began a renewed campaign to

discredit the Dalai Lama. Fresh rumblings erupted within the Tibetan independence

movement. In May 1996 the Chinese began a crackdown on Tibetan monasteries that

resulted in the injury and death of several monks. According to some experts, talks

resumed secretly between the Dalai Lama and Chinese government officials in late 1996,

only to break off several months later when China sentenced the leader of the Panchen

Lama search team to a long prison term (Encarta 4).

Now Tibet is a democracy, instead of a Theocracy, or Communism, and the people

still live in poverty. They get to elect the Dalai Lama. And the leader of the search party

for the Panchen Lama was jailed.



Bibliography page

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.

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