Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Financial, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
Related to Tibet: Dalai Lama


Tibet (tĭbĕtˈ), Tibetan Bodyul, Mandarin Xizang, autonomous region (2010 pop. 3,002,166), c.471,700 sq mi (1,221,700 sq km), SW China. A Chinese autonomous region since 1951, Tibet is bordered on the south by Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal, on the west by India (including the disputed Kashmir), on the north by Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Qinghai prov., and on the east by Sichuan and Yunnan provs. The capital is Lhasa.

Land and People

Almost completely surrounded by mountain ranges (including the Himalayas in the south and the Kunlun in the north), Tibet is largely a plateau averaging c.16,000 ft (4,880 m) in height. Many of the mightiest rivers of E Asia, especially the Chang (Yangtze), the Mekong, and the Thanlwin, rise in Tibet; the most important is the navigable Yarlung Zangbo (the Brahmaputra), which follows an easterly course through S Tibet. North of the Yarlung Zangbo are many salt lakes, the largest being Nam Co (Tengri Nor) in the east.

The indigenous inhabitants are of Mongolian stock and speak a Tibeto-Burman language. There are also substantial numbers of Han and other Chinese, especially in E Tibet and in urban areas; the number of non-Tibetans has increased significantly since 1990. Before the unsuccessful revolt of 1959 (see History), many city dwellers were Tibetan Buddhist monks, who may have comprised as much as one sixth of the country's male population. The chief figures of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (or Tashi Lama, for the lamastery at Tashi Lumpo), were at least the nominal heads of the Tibetan government. In general, the former administration was equally divided between lamas and the feudal aristocracy.


Tibet is a land of scant rainfall and a short growing season, and the only extensive agricultural region is the Yarlung Zangbo valley, where barley, wheat, potatoes, millet, and turnips are grown. In this valley as well are nearly all the large cities, including Lhasa, Xigazê (Shigatse), and Gyangzê (Gyangtse). Most other areas of Tibet are suited only for grazing; yaks, which can withstand the intense cold, are the principal domestic animals, and there are also large herds of goats and sheep. Much of the population traditionally was engaged in a pastoral life, but the advances made by irrigation and the growing of forage crops combined with Chinese attempts to spur economic development and relocate Tibetans into new housing developments have reduced nomadism and also increased the urban population. In addition to vast salt reserves, Tibet has large deposits of gold, copper, and radioactive ores.

Traditionally, goods for trade, particularly foreign trade, were carried by pack trains (yaks, mules, and horses) across the windswept plateau and over difficult mountain passes. In exchange for hides, wool, and salt there were imports of tea and silk from China and of manufactured goods from India. Motor roads now connect Lhasa with Qamdo (Chamdo) in E Tibet and with Xigazê and Gyangzê in the Yarlung Zangbo area and link Gar (Gartok) in W Tibet to the northern regions. A major highway runs from Tibet to Chengdu, in Sichuan prov., providing a link to the great Chinese cities in the east; Tibet is also connected by highway with Xinjiang and Qinghai in W China. A rail link to Qinghai prov. was opened in 2006.


Early History

Evidence of human habitation dating between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago has been found in NW Tibet, and in S Tibet the Yarlung Zangbo valley was, over the centuries, the focus of ancient trade routes from India, China, and Central Asia. Tibet emerged from an obscure history to flourish in the 7th cent. A.D. as an independent kingdom with its capital at Lhasa. The Chinese first established relations with Tibet during the T'ang dynasty (618–906), and there were frequent wars of conquest. The Tibetan kingdom was associated with early Mahayana Buddhism, which the scholar and mystic Padmasambhava fashioned (8th cent.) into Tibetan Buddhism. Toward the end of the 12th cent. many Indian Buddhists, fleeing before the Muslim invasion, went to Tibet. In the 13th cent. Tibet fell under Mongol influence, which was to last until the 18th cent. In 1270, Kublai Khan, emperor of China, was converted to Buddhism by the abbot of the Sakya lamasery; the abbot returned to Tibet to found the Sakya dynasty (1270–1340) and to become the first lama to rule Tibet. In 1720, the Ch'ing dynasty replaced Mongol rule in Tibet. China thereafter claimed suzerainty, often merely nominal.

Foreign Contacts

During the 18th cent., British authorities in India attempted to establish relations with Lhasa, but the Gurkha invasion of 1788 and the subsequent Gurkha war (1792) with Tibet brought an abrupt end to the rapprochement. Jesuits and Capuchins had visited Tibet in the 17th and 18th cent., but throughout the 19th cent. Tibet maintained its traditional seclusion. Meanwhile, Ladakh, long part of Tibet, was lost to the rulers of Kashmir, and Sikkim was detached (1890) by Britain. In 1893, Britain succeeded in obtaining a trading post at Yadong, but continued Tibetan interference led to the military expedition (1904) of Sir Francis Younghusband to Lhasa, which enforced the granting of trade posts at Yadong, Gyangzê, and Gar.

Tibet and China

In 1906 and 1907, Britain recognized China's suzerainty over Tibet. However, the Tibetans were able, with the overthrow of the Ch'ing dynasty in China, to expel (1912) the Chinese in Tibet and reassert their independence. At a conference (1913–14) of British, Tibetans, and Chinese at Shimla, India, Tibet was tentatively confirmed under Chinese suzerainty and divided into an inner Tibet, to be incorporated into China, and an outer autonomous Tibet. The Shimla agreement was, however, never ratified by the Chinese, who continued to claim all of Tibet as a “special territory.” After the death (1933) of the 13th Dalai Lama, Tibet gradually drifted back into the Chinese orbit. The 14th Dalai Lama, who was born in China, was installed in 1939–40 and assumed full powers (1950) after a ten-year regency.

The succession of the 10th Panchen Lama, with rival candidates supported by Tibet and China, was one of the excuses for the Chinese invasion (Oct., 1950) of Tibet. By a Tibetan-Chinese agreement (May, 1951), Tibet became a “national autonomous region” of China under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama, but under the actual control of a Chinese Communist commission. The Communist government introduced far-reaching land reforms and sharply curtailed the power of the monastic orders. After 1956 scattered uprisings occurred throughout the country, but a full-scale revolt broke out in Mar., 1959, prompted in part by fears for the personal safety of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese suppressed the rebellion, but the Dalai Lama was able to escape to India, where he eventually established headquarters in exile.

The Panchen Lama, who had accepted Chinese sponsorship, acceded to the spiritual leadership of Tibet. The Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. Landholdings were seized, the lamaseries were virtually emptied, and thousands of monks were forced to find other work. The Panchen Lama was deposed in 1964 after making statements supporting the Dalai Lama; he was replaced by a secular Tibetan leader. In 1962, China launched attacks along the Indian-Tibetan border to consolidate territories it claimed had been wrongly given to India by the British McMahon Commission in 1914. Following a cease-fire, Chinese troops withdrew behind the disputed line in the east but continued to occupy part of Ladakh in Kashmir. Some border areas are still in dispute.

In 1965 the Tibetan Autonomous Region was formally established. The Cultural Revolution, with its antireligious orientation, was disastrous for highly religious Tibet. Religious practices were banned and over 4,000 monasteries were destroyed. Though the ban was lifted in 1976 and some Buddhist temples have again been in operation since the early 1980s, Tibetans continue to complain of widespread discrimination by the Chinese, and in more recent years the sometimes forcible relocation of Tibetans from traditional communities to new housing developments has contributed to dissatisfaction. Several protests in Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s were violently suppressed by the Communist government and martial law was imposed in 1989. Demonstrations against Chinese rule have nevertheless continued, and other countries have increasingly raised the issue of human-rights violations in Tibet and pressured the Chinese government to moderate their stance in the region. Religious tensions were again underscored in 1995 when China rejected the boy who was confirmed by the Dalai Lama as the new Panchen Lama and forced the selection of a different boy and in 2000 when the 14-year-old Karmapa lama fled Tibet for India. Significant new protests and riots erupted in Tibet and among Tibetans in neighboring provinces in 2008 and to a lesser degree in Tibet in 2012. In 2020, there were reports of the forced removal of as many as half a million rural Tibetan laborers into government factory training and indoctrination programs.


See N. Barber, From the Land of Lost Content: The Dalai Lama's Fight for Tibet (1970); J. MacGregor, Tibet: A Chronicle of Exploration (1970); R. A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization (tr., rev. ed. 1972); D. Snellgrove and H. Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet (1980); T. W. Shakabpa, Tibet: A Political History (1984); M. C. Van Praag, The Status of Tibet: History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law (1986); M. C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet (3 vol., 1989–2013); T. Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows (1999); L. B. and S. Halper, Tibet: An Unfinished Story (2014); T. Woeser and W. Lixiong, Voices from Tibet (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in Tibetan, Bod), a land in Central Asia, in the Tibetan Highlands. Tibet is traditionally divided into the Dbus-Gtsang (central and western Tibet), A-mdo (northeastern Tibet), and Khams (eastern and southeastern Tibet) regions. Administratively, Tibet is divided between the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the neighboring provinces of the People’s Republic of China, where several autonomous districts and cantons have been formed.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Enlarge picture
Buddhist monks in Tibet are taught from a young age the importance of dreams and the stages of sleep.



In Tibet it is believed that various deities and demons produce dreams. Various Buddhist tantras (texts dealing with techniques and rituals, including meditative and sexual practices) agree auspicious dreams that come true indicate the approach of a tutelary (guardian) deity and success in the meditative process, whereas bad dreams indicate that both the deity and success are far away.

Among auspicious dreams, sunrise and the scattering of darkness indicates happiness with oneself and one’s country. Dreams of hearing tales of praise while surrounded by a group of servants bode well for moving upward in society. Among bad dreams, a house that caves in or is ruined by fire reveals fears for occupants of the house.

Buddhist tantras assert that a subtle energy passing up and down the central channel of the body generates the four states common to the Upanishadic tradition of waking, dream, deep sleep, and “the state beyond the first three.” The production of an artificial dream state, often called “purifying or exerting the dream,” is very common in the Buddhist tantras. Tantric manipulations of the dream state aim to mix the states of dream, deep sleep, and waking to attain the fourth state. These techniques are practiced especially by Tibetan lamas.

Lucid dreaming, which is the awareness of dreaming while in the dream state, is discussed in a number of ancient Tibetan Buddhist texts, and its teaching is one of the six yogas attributed to the Indian tantric Buddhist teacher Naropa. The teacher Marpa introduced the six yogas, including lucid dreaming, to Tibet in the eleventh century.

The six yogas of Naropa are (1) heat yoga, the creation of bodily heat through yogic practices; (2) the illusory body, in which yogic postures and visualizations show that all phenomena are like dreams and are void; (3) lucid dreaming; (4) the clear light, in which some practices are initiated during wakefulness or while dreaming to achieve the experience of clear light; (5) the death state; and (6) the consciousness transference, in which instructions are given to transfer one’s consciousness to divine realms or into a living or dead body.

Tibetan lamas do not consider lucid dreaming itself to be a form of meditation, but rather a means of accessing the dream state to learn the doctrine of illusion, to create buddhas to listen to, or to practice meditation in the dream. The ultimate aim of meditation is to achieve nirvana, the transcendence of one’s awareness of individuality and liberation from repeated rebirths (reincarnation).

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

Mystery Play (Elche)

August 14-15
El Misterio d'Elx, or the Mystery Play of Elche, is a medieval drama about the death and assumption of the Virgin Mary that takes place in August on the Feast of the Assumption in Elche, a town in Valencia, Spain. The first part of the play is performed on August 14, the day before the feast, and it deals with the death of the Virgin and the ascension of her soul to heaven on a throne, or araceli, carried by five angels. In the second part, performed on August 15, the Virgin is buried and the Gate of Heaven opens. The araceli descends a second time and takes the Virgin away. She is crowned at the heavenly portal while organ music plays, bells ring, and firecrackers explode.
The mystery play is performed from a raised platform in the sanctuary of the Church of La Merced. It is considered by many to be one of Spain's greatest religious dramatic survivals, and it is believed to date back to the early 13th century.
Valencia Tourist Office
Communitat Valenciana, Aptdo. de Correos 48
Burjassot, 46100 Spain
34-902-123-212; fax: 34-902-220-211
FestEur-1961, p. 141
FestWestEur-1958, p. 203
SpanFiestas-1968, p. 164

Mystery Play (Tibet)
January-February; last day of Tibetan year
Originally performed by a devil-dancing cult to drive out the old year along with its demons and human enemies, this annual dramatic presentation was known to Tibetans as the Dance of the Red-Tiger Devil and to Europeans as the Pageant of the Lamas or the Mystery Play of Tibet. Under Buddhist influence, it was seen as symbolizing the triumph of the Indian missionary monks, led by Padmasambhava ( see also Hemis Festival and Paro Tshechu), over pagan devils, and more recently, it has been changed to represent the assassination of Lang-darma, the king who tried to rid Tibet of Lamaism. Despite its many transformations over the years, however, the play continues to retain the devil-dancing features of its earliest form.
It is performed on the last day of the year in the courtyards of Buddhist temples or monasteries and continues for two days. A group of priests in black miters is confronted by one group of demons after another, which they manage to exorcize. On the second day, a dough effigy representing the enemies of Tibet and Lamaism is dismembered and disemboweled. Pieces of the effigy are thrown to the audience, who eat them or keep them to use as talismans. The play is followed by a burnt offering and a procession.
See also Losar
Office of Tibet
Tibet House, 1 Culworth St.
London, NW8 7AF United Kingdom
44-20-7722-5378; fax: 44-20-7722-0362
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 777 (c)
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


an autonomous region of SW China: Europeans strictly excluded in the 19th century; invaded by China in 1950; rebellion (1959) against Chinese rule suppressed and the Dalai Lama fled to India; military rule imposed (1989--90) after continued demands for independence; consists largely of a vast high plateau between the Himalayas and Kunlun Mountains; formerly a theocracy and the centre of Lamaism. Capital: Lhasa. Pop.: 2 700 000 (2003 est.). Area: 1 221 601 sq. km (471 660 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(30) Meanwhile, Nehru was taking out insurance policies to deal with the implications and consequences of a Chinese occupation of Tibet. China, Nehru thought, was hardly likely to launch an armed attack against India.
(United States House of Representatives, Tibet Policy Act (H.R.
China said a week ago it would reopen Tibet to foreign travelers soon.
Last year, protests in Lhasa to mark the anniversary led to the worst unrest in Tibet regions for two decades.
In that speech, the Dalai Lama made a five-point proposal for resolving the Tibet question that was well-received in the United States and had significant consequences on congressional attitudes toward Tibet.
The essentially narcissistic focus of Free Tibet campaigners is revealed in their two main obsessions: passionate opposition to China's modernization of the Himalayan kingdom and outrage that Beijing will not allow the Dalai Lama to return and assume his "rightful" position as Tibet's leader.
"We all understand the significance of providing better service for Indians, who undertake the pilgrimage in Tibet. We will maintain this policy and do what we can to make Indians visiting Tibet feel at home," Xiaobo said.
Branstad met Chinese government officials and Tibetan religious and cultural figures, and "raised our long-standing concerns about lack of consistent access" to Tibet, the U.S.
Tibet was forcibly annexed by the People's Republic in China in 1950 after officials were made to sign a 'Seventeen Point Agreement' that handed Tibet's sovereignty over to China in exchange for 'protection' and regional autonomy.
The religious people of Tibet faced oppression under China's communist government, who passed the anti-religious legislation.

Full browser ?