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Tibet Autonomous Region

Tibet Autonomous Region
Xizang Autonomous Region

Autonomous region
Name transcription(s)
 • Chinese 西藏自治区 (Xīzàng Zìzhìqū)
 • Abbreviation 藏 (pinyin: Zàng)
 • Tibetan script བོད་རང་སྐྱོང་ལྗོངས།
 • Wylie transliteration bod rang skyong ljongs
 • official transcription (PRC) Poi Ranggyong Jong
Map showing the location of Tibet Autonomous RegionXizang Autonomous Region
Map showing the location of Tibet Autonomous Region
Xizang Autonomous Region
Named for From word Tibat of disputed origin.
(and largest city)
Divisions 7 prefectures, 73 counties, 692 townships
 • Secretary Chen Quanguo
 • Chairman Losang Jamcan
 • Total 1,228,400 km2 (474,300 sq mi)
Area rank 2nd
Population (2010)[1][2]
 • Total 3,002,166
 • Rank 31st
 • Density 2.2/km2 (6/sq mi)
 • Density rank 33rd
 • Ethnic composition 92.8% Tibetan
6.1% Han
0.3% Monpa
0.3% Hui
0.2% others
 • Languages and dialects Tibetan, Mandarin Chinese
ISO 3166 code CN-54
GDP (2011) CNY 60.5 billion
US$ 9.6 billion (32nd)
 - per capita CNY 17,319
US$ 2,558 (28th)
HDI (2010) 0.569[3] (medium) (31st)
Tibet Autonomous Region
Chinese name
Chinese 西藏
Postal Map Tibet
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese 西藏自治区
Traditional Chinese 西藏自治區
Postal Map Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
Tibetan name
Tibetan བོད་

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Tibet or Xizang (Tibetan: བོད་; Chinese: 西藏; pinyin: xī cáng) for short, also called the Xizang Autonomous Region is a province-level autonomous region of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was created in 1965 on the basis of Tibet's annexation by the PRC in 1951.

Within China, Tibet is identified with the Autonomous Region. The current borders of Tibet were generally established in the 18th century[4] and include about half of ethno-cultural Tibet. The Tibet Autonomous Region is the second-largest province-level division of China by area, spanning over 1,200,000 square kilometres (460,000 sq mi), after Xinjiang, and mostly due to its harsh and rugged terrain, is the least densely populated provincial-level division of the PRC.


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
  • Government 3
    • Administrative divisions 3.1
  • Demographics 4
  • Towns and villages in Tibet 5
    • "Comfortable Housing" 5.1
  • Economy 6
  • Tourism 7
  • Transport 8
    • Airports 8.1
    • Railway 8.2
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Modern scholars still debate on whether the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) had sovereignty over Tibet [5][6][7] prior to the Mongol conquest of Tibet in 1642. While Tibet has formally been a protectorate of China since 1644 as part of the Qing Dynasty, from 1912 to 1950 Tibet was dissolved of suzerainty under China proper as a result of the 1911 Revolution and Japanese occupation during WW2. Other parts of ethno-cultural Tibet (eastern Kham and Amdo) have also been under the administration of the Chinese dynastic government since the mid-eighteenth century;[8] today they are distributed among the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. (See also: Xikang province)

In 1950, the People's Liberation Army defeated the Tibetan army in a battle fought near the city of Chamdo. In 1951, the Tibetan representatives were signed a seventeen-point agreement with the Chinese Central People's Government affirming China's sovereignty over Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later.[9][10] Although the 17-point agreement had provided for an autonomous administration led by the Dalai Lama, a "Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet" (PCART) was established in 1955 to create a parallel system of administration along Communist lines. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and renounced the 17-point agreement. Tibet Autonomous Region was established in 1965, thus making Tibet an administrative division on the same legal footing as a Chinese province.


The Tibet Autonomous Region is located on the Tibetan Plateau, the highest region on earth. In northern Tibet elevations reach an average of over 4,572 metres (15,000 ft). Mount Everest is located on Tibet's border with Nepal.

The China's provincial-level areas of Xinjiang, Qinghai and Sichuan lie to the north, northeast, and east, respectively, of the Tibet AR. There is also a short border with Yunnan province to the southeast. The PRC has border disputes with the Republic of India over the McMahon Line of Arunachal Pradesh, known to the Chinese as "South Tibet". The disputed territory of Aksai Chin is to the west, and its boundary with that region is not defined. The other countries to the south are Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal.

Physically, the Tibet AR may be divided into two parts, the "lakes region" in the west and north-west, and the "river region", which spreads out on three sides of the former on the east, south, and west. Both regions receive limited amounts of rainfall as they lie in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, however the region names are useful in contrasting their hydrological structures, and also in contrasting their different cultural uses which is nomadic in the lake region and agricultural in the river region.[11] On the south the Tibet AR is bounded by the Himalayas, and on the north by a broad mountain system. The system at no point narrows to a single range; generally there are three or four across its breadth. As a whole the system forms the watershed between rivers flowing to the Indian Ocean − the Indus, Brahmaputra and Salween and its tributaries − and the streams flowing into the undrained salt lakes to the north.

The lake region extends from the Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, Lake Rakshastal, Yamdrok Lake and Lake Manasarovar near the source of the Indus River, to the sources of the Salween, the Mekong and the Yangtze. Other lakes include Dagze Co, Namtso, and Pagsum Co. The lake region is a wind-swept Alpine grassland. This region is called the Chang Tang (Byang sang) or 'Northern Plateau' by the people of Tibet. It is some 1,100 km (680 mi) broad, and covers an area about equal to that of France. Due to its great distance from the ocean it is extremely arid and possesses no river outlet. The mountain ranges are spread out, rounded, disconnected, separated by relatively flat valleys.

The Tibet AR is dotted over with large and small lakes, generally salt or alkaline, and intersected by streams. Due to the presence of discontinuous permafrost over the Chang Tang, the soil is boggy and covered with tussocks of grass, thus resembling the Siberian tundra. Salt and fresh-water lakes are intermingled. The lakes are generally without outlet, or have only a small effluent. The deposits consist of soda, potash, borax and common salt. The lake region is noted for a vast number of hot springs, which are widely distributed between the Himalaya and 34° N, but are most numerous to the west of Tengri Nor (north-west of Lhasa). So intense is the cold in this part of Tibet that these springs are sometimes represented by columns of ice, the nearly boiling water having frozen in the act of ejection.

The river region is characterised by fertile mountain valleys and includes the Yarlung Tsangpo River (the upper courses of the Brahmaputra) and its major tributary, the Nyang River, the Salween, the Yangtze, the Mekong, and the Yellow River. The Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon, formed by a horseshoe bend in the river where it flows around Namcha Barwa, is the deepest, and possibly longest canyon in the world.[12] Among the mountains there are many narrow valleys. The valleys of Lhasa, Xigazê, Gyantse and the Brahmaputra are free from permafrost, covered with good soil and groves of trees, well irrigated, and richly cultivated.

The South Tibet Valley is formed by the Yarlung Tsangpo River during its middle reaches, where it travels from west to east. The valley is approximately 1200 kilometres long and 300 kilometres wide. The valley descends from 4500 metres above sea level to 2800 metres. The mountains on either side of the valley are usually around 5000 metres high.[13][14] Lakes here include Lake Paiku and Lake Puma Yumco.


The Tibet Autonomous Region is a province-level entity of the People's Republic of China. It is governed by a People's Government, led by a Chairman. In practice, however, the Chairman is subordinate to the branch secretary of the Communist Party of China. As a matter of convention, the Chairman has almost always been an ethnic Tibetan, while the party secretary has almost always been a non-Tibetan. The current Chairman is Losang Jamcan and the current party secretary is Chen Quanguo.[15] India’s request, to open a consulate in Lhasa, capital of Tibet has been rejected by Beijing. Beijing, instead has offered Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. According to diplomatic sources familiar with the developments, the Chinese don’t want more consulates in Lhasa, where only Nepal has one.[16]

Administrative divisions

Tibet Autonomous Region is divided into seven prefecture-level divisions: three prefecture-level cities and four prefectures.

# Conventional[17] Administrative Seat Tibetan script
Tibetan pinyin
Hanyu Pinyin
Area, km2 Population
per km2
Prefecture-level city
3 Qamdo Karub District ཆབ་མདོ་གྲོང་ཁྱེར།
chab-mdo grong-khyer
Qamdo Chongkyir
Chāngdū Shì
110,154 657,505 0.24
4 Xigazê Samzhubzê District གཞིས་ཀ་རྩེ་གྲོང་ཁྱེར།
ggzhis-ka-rtse grong-khyer
Xigazê Chongkyir
Rìkāzé Shì
182,000 703,292 3.86
5 Lhasa
(Autonomous Regional seat)
Chengguan District ལྷ་ས་གྲོང་ཁྱེར།
lha-sa grong-khyer
Lhasa Chongkyir
Lāsà Shì
29,274 559,423 19.11
1 Ngari Prefecture Gar County
mnga'-ris sa-khul
Ngari Sakü
Ālǐ Dìqū
304,683 95,465 0.31
2 Nagqu Prefecture Nagqu County
nag-chu sa-khul
Nagqu Sakü
Nàqū Dìqū
450,537 462,382 1.03
6 Shannan Prefecture Nêdong County
lho-kha sa-khul
Lhoka Sakü
Shānnán Dìqū
79,700 328,990 4.13
7 Nyingchi Prefecture Nyingchi County
nying-khri sa-khul
Nyingchi Sakü
Línzhī Dìqū
116,175 195,109 1.68

These in turn are subdivided into a total of sixty-nine counties, and three districts (Chengguan District, Samzhubzê District, and Karub District).


With an average of only 2 people per square kilometer, The Tibet Autonomous Region has the lowest population density among any of the Chinese province-level administrative regions, mostly due to its harsh and rugged terrain.[18]

In 2009 the Tibetan population was 2.91 million. The ethnic Tibetans, comprising 92.8% of the population,[19] mainly adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and Bön, although there is an ethnic Tibetan Muslim community.[20] Other Muslim ethnic groups such as the Hui and the Salar have inhabited the Region. There is also a tiny Tibetan Christian community in eastern Tibet. Smaller tribal groups such as the Monpa and Lhoba, who follow a combination of Tibetan Buddhism and spirit worship, are found mainly in the southeastern parts of the region.

Historically, the population of Tibet consisted of primarily ethnic Tibetans. According to tradition the original ancestors of the Tibetan people, as represented by the six red bands in the Tibetan flag, are: the Se, Mu, Dong, Tong, Dru and Ra. Other traditional ethnic groups with significant population or with the majority of the ethnic group reside in Tibet include Bai people, Blang, Bonan, Dongxiang, Han, Hui people, Lhoba, Lisu people, Miao, Mongols, Monguor (Tu people), Menba (Monpa), Mosuo, Nakhi, Qiang, Nu people, Pumi, Salar, and Yi people.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition published between 1910–1911, total population of Tibetan capital of Lhasa, including the lamas in the city and vicinity, was about 30,000, and the permanent population also included Chinese families (about 2,000).[21]

Most Han people in the TAR (6.1% of the total population)[19] are recent migrants, because all of the Han were expelled from Outer Tibet following the British expedition until the establishment of the PRC.[22] Some ethnic Tibetans claim that, with the 2006 completion of the Qingzang Railway connecting the TAR to Qinghai Province, there has been an "acceleration" of Han migration into the region.[23] The Central Tibetan Administration of the Dalai Lama claims that the PRC has actively swamped Tibet with migrants in order to alter Tibet's demographic makeup.[24]

Towns and villages in Tibet

"Comfortable Housing"

Beginning in 2006, 280,000 Tibetans who lived in traditional villages and as nomadic herdsmen have been relocated into villages and towns near roads which have concrete houses with water and sewer. In those areas new housing was built and existing houses were remodeled to serve a total of 2 million people. Those living in substandard housing were required to dismantle their houses and remodel them to government standards. Much of the expense was borne by the residents themselves often through bank loans. The population transfer program, which was first implemented in Qinghai where 300,000 nomads were resettled, is called "Comfortable Housing". which is part of the “Build a New Socialist Countryside” program. Its effect on Tibetan culture has been criticized by exiles and human rights groups.[25] Finding employment is difficult for relocated persons who have only agrarian skills. Income shortfalls are made up for by government support programs.[26] It was announced in 2011 that 20,000 Communist Party cadre were to be placed in the new towns.[25]


A Tibetan farmer ploughing a field; yaks still plow fields in Tibet

The Tibetans traditionally depended upon agriculture for survival. Since the 1980s, however, other jobs such as taxi-driving and hotel retail work have become available in the wake of Chinese economic reform. In 2011, Tibet's nominal GDP topped 60.5 billion yuan (US$9.60 billion), nearly more than seven times as big as the 11.78 billion yuan (US$1.47 billion) in 2000. In the past five years, Tibet's annual GDP growth has averaged 12%.[18]

While traditional agriculture and animal husbandry continue to lead the area's economy, in 2005 the tertiary sector contributed more than half of its GDP growth, the first time it surpassed the area's primary industry.[27][28] Rich reserves of natural resources and raw materials have yet to lead to the creation of a strong secondary sector, due in large part to the province's inhospitable terrain, low population density, an underdeveloped infrastructure and the high cost of extraction.[18]

The collection of caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis, known in Tibetan as Yartsa Gunbu) in late spring / early summer is in many areas the most important source of cash for rural households. It contributes an average of 40% to rural cash income and 8.5% to the TAR's GDP.[29] The re-opening of the Nathu La pass (on southern Tibet's border with India) should facilitate Sino-Indian border trade and boost Tibet's economy.[30]

In 2008, Chinese news media reported that the per capita disposable incomes of urban and rural residents in Tibet averaged 12,482 yuan (US$1,798) and 3,176 yuan (US$457) respectively.[31]

The China Western Development policy was adopted in 2000 by the central government to boost economic development in western China, including the Tibet Autonomous Region.


The Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of the TAR.

Tourists were first permitted to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region in the 1980s. While the main attraction is the Potala Palace in Lhasa, there are many other popular tourist destinations including the Jokhang Temple, Namtso Lake, and Tashilhunpo Monastery.[32]



Lhasa Gonggar Airport.

The civil airports in Tibet are Lhasa Gonggar Airport,[33] Qamdo Bangda Airport, Nyingchi Airport, and the Gunsa Airport.

Gunsa Airport in Ngari Prefecture began operations on July 1, 2010, to become the fourth civil airport in China's Tibet Autonomous Region.[34]

The "Peace Airport" for Xigazê was completed on October 30, 2010.[35]

Nagqu Dagring Airport is expected to become the world's highest altitude airport by 2014 at 4,436 meters above sea level.[36]


The Qinghai–Tibet Railway from Golmud to Lhasa was completed on October 12, 2005. It opened to regular trial service on July 1, 2006. Five pairs of passenger trains run between Golmud and Lhasa, with connections onward to Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xining and Lanzhou. The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level, is the world's highest railway.

The Lhasa–Xigazê Railway branch from Lhasa to Xigazê was completed in 2014. It opened to regular service on August 15, 2014.

The construction of first section of the Sichuan–Tibet Railway from Lhasa to Nyingchi. Construction work is expected to start in November 2014, and to take 7 years.[37]

See also


  1. ^ "Tibet's population tops 3 million; 90% are Tibetans". 2011-05-04. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  2. ^ 张军棉 (2011-06-10). "Top 10 least populous Chinese regions". Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  3. ^ 《2013中国人类发展报告》 (PDF) (in 中文).  
  4. ^ Goldstein, Melvyn, C.,Change, Conflict and Continuity among a Community of Nomadic Pastoralist: A Case Study from Western Tibet, 1950-1990, 1994, What is Tibet? – Fact and Fancy, pp76-87
  5. ^ Wylie (2003), 470.
  6. ^ Wang & Nyima (1997), 1–40.
  7. ^ Laird (2006), 106–7.
  8. ^ Grunfeld, A. Tom, The Making of Modern Tibet, M.E. Sharpe, p245.
  9. ^ Gyatso, Tenzin, Dalai Lama XIV, interview, 25 July 1981.
  10. ^ Goldstein, Melvyn C., A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951, University of California Press, 1989, p. 812-813.
  11. ^ "Tibet: Agricultural Regions". Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  12. ^ "The World's Biggest Canyon". Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  13. ^ Yang Qinye and Zheng Du (2004). Tibetan Geography. China Intercontinental Press. pp. 30–31.  
  14. ^ Zheng Du, Zhang Qingsong, Wu Shaohong: Mountain Geoecology and Sustainable Development of the Tibetan Plateau (Kluwer 2000), ISBN 0-7923-6688-3, p. 312;
  15. ^ "Leadership shake-up in China's Tibet: state media". France:  
  16. ^ "China says no to Indian consulate in Tibetan capital". 3 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Zhōngguó dìmínglù 中国地名录 (Beijing, SinoMaps Press 中国地图出版社 1997); ISBN 7-5031-1718-4.
  18. ^ a b c China Economy @ China Perspective. Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  19. ^ a b BBC News . 
  20. ^ Hannue, Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han
  21. ^ LHASA (LIIASSA, LASSA,... - Online Information article about LHASA (LIIASSA, LASSA. Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  22. ^ Grunfeld, A. Tom (1996). The Making of Modern Tibet. East Gate Books. pp. 114–119. 
  23. ^ Johnson, Tim (2008-03-28). "Tibetans see 'Han invasion' as spurring violence | McClatchy". Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  24. ^ "Population Transfer Programmes".  
  25. ^ a b They Say We Should Be Grateful": Mass Rehousing and Relocation Programs in Tibetan Areas of China""". Human Rights Watch. June 2013. Retrieved June 28, 2013. 
  26. ^ Andrew Jacobs (June 27, 2013). "Rights Report Faults Mass Relocation of Tibetans". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Xinhua - Per capita GDP tops $1,000 in Tibet". 2006-01-31. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  28. ^ "Tibet posts fixed assets investment rise". 2006-01-31. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  29. ^ Winkler D. 2008 Yartsa gunbu (Cordyceps sinenis) and the fungal commodification of rural Tibet. Economic Botany 62.3. See also Hannue, Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han
  30. ^ Maseeh Rahman in New Delhi (2006-06-19). "China and India to trade across Himalayas | World news". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  31. ^ "Tibetans report income rises". Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  32. ^ * Birgit Zotz, Destination Tibet. Hamburg: Kovac 2010, ISBN 978-3-8300-4948-7 [1]
  33. ^ "Gongkhar Airport in Tibet enters digital communication age".  
  34. ^ "Tibet's fourth civil airport opens".  
  35. ^ "Tibet to have fifth civil airport operational before year end 2010".  
  36. ^ "World's highest-altitude airport planned on Tibet".  
  37. ^ Chu. "China Approves New Railway for Tibet". CRI. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 

Further reading

  • Hannue, Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han, travelogue from Tibet - by a woman who's been travelling around Tibet for over a decade, ISBN 978-988-97999-3-9
  • Sorrel Wilby, Journey Across Tibet: A Young Woman's 1900-Mile Trek Across the Rooftop of the World, Contemporary Books (1988), hardcover, 236 pages, ISBN 0-8092-4608-2.
  • Hillman, Ben, ‘China’s Many Tibets: Diqing as a model for ‘development with Tibetan characteristics?’ Asian Ethnicity, Vol. 11, No. 2, June 2010, pp 269–277.

External links

  • Tibet Autonomous Region official website
  • Economic profile for Tibet Autonomous Region at HKTDC
  • Tibet Autonomous Region travel guide from Wikivoyage
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