Tibet Autonomous Region

Capital: Lhasa

Language: Tibetan, Chinese (official language, higher education is taught only in Chinese)

Currency: Renmbi or Yuan

Religion: Mahayana Buddhism, and especially Tantric Buddhism

Area: 12.284 million sq km.

Population: 2.62 million (Tibetan with a large Han Chinese immigrant community – the government gives financial incentives to Chinese who move to Tibet); 31.2% aged 0-14 yrs.; 4.5% aged 65 and over; most people live in rural areas; population density of 2.1 persons per sq. km.; growth rate: 16.2% (highest in China); ¼ of Tibetans are nomadic

Geography: The main part of the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau (one of the most isolated regions in the world), located in the SW border area of China. It has a common boundary with other provinces or autonomous regions (Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Xinjiang). It is bounded on the west by the Kashmir Zone, and borders on Myanmar, India, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal. The environment of Tibet is prone to natural disasters, and is characterized by difficult living conditions and little pollution in residential habitats. Four of the world’s 10 highest mountains on southern border; Plateau has average altitude of 4000 m. (12,000 ft.)

Climate: Climatic extremes – temperatures have been known to drop 80 F in one day!

Natural Resources: Mountains, desert, sand dunes, grassland and forests (one of the largest grassland and forest areas in China). Numerous rivers and lakes produce 2 billion-kilowatts of electricity, accounting for 30% of China’s output. There is considerable terrestrial, solar and wind energy. Up to 90 kinds of mineral resources have been discovered, and 30 kinds of them have proven reserves.

Infant Mortality Rate: 3.53% (2000) – fallen from 43% in 1951; great difference between the sexes; Mortality rate at all age groups much higher than national Chinese average and higher in rural than in urban areas

Life Expectancy at Birth – overall: 59.64 years; female: 61.57 years; male: 57.64 years (up from 35.5 years in 1959)

The target of “few births, quickly rich and civilization reaching a well-off” status demands that every couple bear three or four children and keep an interval between them of three years or more

Education: Literacy: 67.5%; Enrollment ratio of school-age children: 85.8% (lowest in China)

Education was once the exclusive domain of the monasteries, and the introduction of a secular education system is one of the major goals of the Chinese Communist government. The number of schools has increased manifold, and the education level has improved since 1949. The illiterate rate was 44.43% in 1990 but dropped to 32.50% by 2000 (still the highest in China). Tibet has a lower educational level than that of other regions of China. The weakness in the educational infrastructure and the lack of advanced and intermediate professionals and staff are major problems in Tibet.

There is a striking difference in education levels between the sexes, as well as between urban and rural areas in Tibet. Most people with a high education live in the cities. Differences in educational level also exist among ethnic groups, with the Han majority having a higher education level than Tibetans. Higher education is carried out only in Chinese, as opposed to the Tibetan language. At the end of 2000, Tibet had four universities with 5,475 enrolled students.

Government: Because of the current political situation in Tibet, it is necessary to look at the government as it is administered from the Chinese in Beijing and also at how it is administered by the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Communist Government of China:
The type of government is Communist and is a dictatorship. The Chief of State is HU Jintao and the Prime Minister is Premier WEN Jiabao. The president and vice president are elected by the National People’s Congress (NPC) for five-year terms; the premier is nominated by the president and confirmed by the NPC. The legal origin of the government is German. The legislative branch is made up of the NPC, whose members are elected by municipal, regional, and provincial people’s congresses to serve five-year terms. The NPC appoints the judges to the Supreme People’s Court. The current constitution of China dates from 1982. Suffrage is 18.

Tibet has been administered as the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) since 1965. It is presided over by the Communist Party of the TAR, and although the Chinese government says that many high-ranking officials are Tibetan, they must kowtow to the Chinese in order to keep their jobs. There are many that claim that it is official government policy to persuade ethnic Han Chinese to move to Tibet by offering financial and other incentives and that Tibetans may soon become a minority in their own land. Frequent travelers also say that some of the monks in Tibet’s larger monasteries are not what they seem and that many are undercover Chinese agents in monk’s or nun’s clothing. Tourists that hand out photos of the Dalai Lama may be arrested and expulsed from the country, and the local Tibetan to whom they hand them may be in for even bigger trouble.

The Tibetan Government in Exile:
The Dalai Lama has been in exile in India since 1959. It is estimated that there are now about 120,000 Tibetan refugees in 45 settlements on the subcontinent, and many of the great monasteries of Tibet have also relocated, especially to the south Indian state of Karnataka. The Tibetans in exile look to the Dalai Lama’s administration in Dharamsala as their government. A Constitution of Tibet was promulgated in 1963. The Constitution combines the qualities of Buddhism with the needs of modern government and is still in draft form, awaiting the final approval of Tibetans, if they ever have the opportunity to vote for their own constitution. The government is supported by voluntary taxes from the exiled Tibetan community and by business interests.

The Dalai Lama continues to actively work towards Tibetan independence, although foreign governments are careful not to receive him in any way that recognizes his political status as the head of an exiled government.

He advocates only peaceful means of struggle, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts. But in recent years, he has quietly admitted to a growing sense of failure in his dealings with the Chinese and there is a small but growing split among the Tibetan community on the best way forward. Some of his closest advisors were stabbed to death near his residence in 1997 and a series of small bombs were detonated in Lhasa in 1996, suggest that at least some Tibetans are moving away from the Dalai Lama’s overtly pacifist stand.

Economy: average annual income of less than $100 in the countryside; In 2000, about 47.40% of the total population in Tibet worked as employees. The annual per capita net income of rural residents was about $140 and of urban residents was $660.

When the Chinese overtook Tibet, it was largely agricultural and self-sufficient in its basic needs. The economy had changed little in hundreds of years. Tibetans exported wool and skins and imported tea, porcelain, copper, and iron from China. Trading was usually carried out by nomads or in combination with pilgrimage. Manual farming and animal husbandry was, and still is, the major industries in Tibet. Agricultural production is low and unstable. The industry sector is quite small in size and diversity; it is characterized by extensive management at low efficiency. There are abundant resources in Tibet, which is especially rich in solar energy, water, and minerals. But investment and the infrastructure are limited.

The economy of Tibet is starting to see rapid changes, however. Communications have improved and local officials are encouraging foreign investment. The Chinese have opened over 120 new mining sites in Tibet in recent years and mining now accounts for one-third of Tibet’s industrial output.

Many Han Chinese have immigrated to Tibet recently, attracted by preferential loans and tax rates, a less strictly enforced one-child policy, easy business opportunities, and a stipend for hardship posting. Considerable investment is coming from the east coast of China. The government in exile estimates that of Lhasa’s 13,000 shopkeepers, only about 300 are Tibetan.

Essentially the government has been restricting state-sector employment, particularly towards Tibetans, even while increasing the salaries of such positions. As a result, the benefits of recent sharp wage increases have been decidedly and disproportionately captured by non-Tibetans over this same short time period.

Food: yak butter tea, flat bread, goats cheese, noodle soup, barley wine; because the Tibetans are self-sufficient, very little is found in the tiny shops of the countryside (ie. no vegetables, no fruit, no bread, no butter, no eggs – nothing but instant noodles and soda!)

Condensed History:
Tibet has variously been known as Shangri-la, the Roof of the World, the Land of Snows…For centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Tibet has had a unique hold on the imagination of the West. It was believed to be a land of riches and treasures, a lost land steeped in magic and mystery, and to Jesuits, a land that harbored a long-lost community of Christians, the Land of Prester John. But Lhasa was also the “Forbidden City” and until recently, very few Westerners laid eyes on the Holy City.

When Tibet’s doors were finally opened in the 1980s, it was no longer the same kingdom that had so captivated the foreign imagination. In fact, the country of Tibet had become the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. The People’s Republic of China had decided in 1950 to “liberate” Tibet of its independence and did so between 1950 and 1970, driving out its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and some 120,000 Tibetans into exile. A lot of the Tibetan cultural and historical heritage was deliberately destroyed during China’s Proletariat Cultural Revolution, and religion was forbidden, monks killed and temples destroyed, and some 1.2 million Tibetans killed.

Traditional Tibet remained fundamentally unchanged for many centuries, and technological invention was unheard of. Manual agriculture and animal husbandry were, and still are, the principal industries and activities in Tibet. But change is coming at a fast pace. Tibet has changed more in the past 50 years than during the previous 500. Several regions are becoming more developed and immersed in a cash economy. Most villages have at least one shop that ships in Chinese goods from the nearest town or city. Many Han Chinese have immigrated to Tibet recently, attracted by preferential loans and tax rates, higher salaries, and a stipend for hardship posting. The government in exile estimates that of Lhasa’s 13,000 shopkeepers, only about 300 are Tibetan. Because of the Chinese immigration and birth control policies, Tibetans are now in danger of becoming a minority in their own land.

But although traditional Tibetan institutions and beliefs came under heavy attack under the Chinese Communist regime, many social structures have managed to survive and are starting to make a comeback. The Tibetans are still hoping for independence, but there is a small but growing split among the Tibetan community on the best way forward. The Dalai Lama advocates a peaceful struggle, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts. But at least some Tibetans are starting to move away from his overtly pacifist stand.

Full History:
Early History:
Tibet has variously been known as Shangri-la, the Roof of the World, the Land of Snows…For centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Tibet has had a unique hold on the imagination of the West.

According to Tibetan legend, the Tibetan people came about from the union of an ogress and a monkey on Gangpo Ri Mountain. The two had six children, who are seen as the ancestors of the six main tribes of Tibet. Little is known historically about the origin of Tibetans except that they were nomadic warlike tribes who gained regional power in the 7th century. Expansion by the 8th century went as far as northern India, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkestan, and threatened the Tang Dynasty in China, eventually overrunning its capital. China and Nepal reacted to the threat by agreeing to alliances through marriage. It was in this way that Buddhism first came to Tibet.

Buddhism was initially slow to take hold in Tibet. It was no simple matter of simply adopting a prescribed body of beliefs. Many schools of Buddhism had already evolved by the 9th century, and there was division over which path Buddhism should follow in Tibet. In the mid-9th century, the Tibetan king was assassinated and the country quickly collapsed into warring principalities, and Buddhism dwindled, its monasteries experiencing a 150-year hiatus. The country was never again to rise to arms, and after the second diffusion of Buddhism, Tibet was to emerge as the most devoutly Buddhist nation in the world.

After the collapse of the Tibetan state, China recovered its territory and the two nations had almost no contact with each other for about 300 years. This changed when Genghis Khan raided Tibet in 1239. This led to a priest-patron relationship between the religious Tibetans and the militaristic Mongolians. Tibetan Buddhism became the state religion of the Mongol empire. With spiritual leadership also came temporal authority over Tibet for the head monks. This led to political intrigue, power struggles, and violence among the different Buddhist orders and monasteries. When the Mongol empire disintegrated, Tibet and China regained their independence and Tibet undertook to remove all traces of Mongol administration.

Rise of the Gelugpa Order and the Dalai Lamas:
In the late 1300s, a monk named Tsongkhapa established a monastery, where he steered clear of political intrigue and espoused monastic discipline and doctrinal purity. His teachings attracted many disciples, who steered away from the politically tainted Sakyapa and Kagyupa orders. The movement came to be known as the Gelugpa order and is still the most popular Tibetan order in Tibet today.

Tsongkhapa’s nephew, Gengden Drup, announced that he would be reincarnated in Tibet and gave his followers signs that would enable them to find him. By the time of the third reincarnated head of the Gelugpa (1543-88), the Mongols became interested in the increasingly powerful order. At a meeting with the Mongols in 1578, Sonam Gyatso received the title “Dalai,” meaning “Ocean,” as in “Ocean of Wisdom.” The title was retrospectively bestowed on his previous two incarnations. Ties deepened with the Mongolians, and the fourth reincarnation was found in the great-grandson of the Khan clan. Under the fifth Dalai Lama, all of Tibet was pacified in 1656, and he had become the spiritual and temporal sovereign of a unified nation. A great new age for Tibet was ushered in.

Chinese Manchu Intervention and Overlordship:
When the fifth Dalai Lama died, the government had to find his reincarnation and then wait 18 years for the boy to come of age. After the regent had held the secret of the Dalai Lama’s death for 13 years, it leaked and he was forced to install the sixth Dalai Lama, an unfortunate choice who became an ineffectual head of state. That, combined with the Qing’s (Chinese) perception of the threat of Tibetan-Mongolian relations, and disunity within Mongolian ranks, led to an invasion of Lhasa in 1705. In 1720, the Chinese Emperor declared Tibet to be a protectorate of China. This led to two centuries of Manchu overlordship and served as a convenient historical precedent for the Communist takeover more than two centuries later.

By the mid-18th century, it became clear that another ruler would have to be appointed until the reincarnated Dalai Lamas came of age. The post of regent was created and it was to be held by a lama. The problem was that few regents were willing to give up their power once the Dalai Lamas came of age. In the 120 years between the death of the 7th Dalai Lama in 1757 and the majority of the 13th, the Dalai Lamas wielded power for only seven years! Several died under suspicious circumstances and only the eighth survived to his majority.

The last significant military intervention took place in 1788 in reaction to an invasion from Nepal. Afterwards, there was a ban on foreign contact, imposed because of fears of British help in the Nepalese invasion.

Western Intervention and Independence:
At the height of the Great Game in the 19th century, there was a superpower rivalry between Russia and Great Britain, and some of Asia’s most obscure corners rose to vital strategic importance. Because Britain feared Russia moving towards its colonies in India, it invaded Tibet, in order to forestall such a threat. An Anglo-Tibetan treaty was signed in 1903, but the Manchus objected because it implied that Tibet was a sovereign nation with the right to make treaties of its own. And so the British signed a second accord with the Manchus in 1906 that recognized China’s sovereignty over Tibet. Four years later, China invaded Tibet and drove the Dalai Lama into exile.

The Qing Dynasty was toppled in 1911, and by 1912 the last of the Chinese troops had left Tibet. The 13th Dalai Lama returned to Tibet and sent word to the Chinese that he was assuming his spiritual and temporal leadership of the country. This has been read as a formal declaration of independence by Tibetans. The Chinese have a different version, saying that the Dalai Lama sent a letter expressing his great love for the Motherland. In any case, Tibet enjoyed freedom for 30 years.

During this time, the 13th Dalai Lama made attempts to modernize, but his attempts quickly fell victim to a conservative backlash, mostly by monks who feared the increasing empowerment of lay elements in Tibetan society. The Dalai Lama died in 1933, and the 14th Dalai Lama was found in 1940 at age 4 ½.

Communist Takeover and Tibetan “Liberation”:
In 1950, Chinese troops attacked Tibet, and the government could do nothing to resist but install the 14th Dalai Lama, a boy of 15 years old. An appeal to the United Nations was ineffective, as only El Salvador sponsored a motion to condemn the aggression. The presence of large numbers of Chinese troops in the Lhasa region depleted food stores and gave rise to massive inflation. There were rumors of massacres and forced political indoctrination. The “liberation” of Tibet was eventually to lead to 1.2 million deaths, a full-scale assault on the Tibetan way of life and culture, the large-scale destruction of almost every historical structure on the plateau, and the flight of the Dalai Lama (1959) and 120,000 Tibetans into exile. The principal culprits were the Cultural Revolution in China and ethnic chauvinism. The principal result was cultural genocide.

The Chinese took control of all the high pass