Tibetan Autonomous Region

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tibetan Autonomous Region


(also Tibet, or, in Chinese, Hsi-tsang), a region in southwestern China, in the Tibetan Highlands. Area, 1,221,000 sq km. Population, approximately 1.6 million (1975). The region’s capital is the city of Lhasa.

The population consists mainly of Tibetans and the closely related Ch’iang, Nu, Tulung, Abor, Mishmi, and Dafla peoples. The languages are those of the Tibeto-Burman group. The main religion is Lamaism, a form of Buddhism.

Economy. The leading sector of the economy is agriculture, and more than 60 percent of the agricultural output comes from land cultivation. Hull-less barley and oats, peas, and buckwheat are grown in the river valleys and on the mountain slopes, and wheat and rice are cultivated in the southeast. Potatoes, turnips, pears, and plants of the genera Malus and Allium are also cultivated. There are transhumant movements of yaks, sheep, goats, horses, mules, and asses. The most important animal product is sheep’s wool. Cows and swine are raised on farms.

The mining industry produces small quantities of anthracite (Lhasa, Shigatse, and Gyangtse regions), salt, borax, and gold. There are several hydroelectric power plants. Manufacturing is carried out on a small-scale, local level; there are factories producing power-generating equipment, iron castings, leather, and rugs in Lhasa, leather in Chamdo, and rugs in Shigatse and Gyangtse. The region also has sawmills, brickyards, and pharmaceutical plants; textiles are produced in Linchih. Highways connect the Tibetan Autonomous Region with other parts of China.


Historical survey. Originally, the Tibetan people, made up of the Ch’iang tribes, migrated from the Koko Nor region to the territory of Tibet in approximately the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. and merged with the native inhabitants. By the seventh century A.D., some of the Ch’iang people had taken up land cultivation. The disintegration of the primitive communal system occurred in the early seventh century with the unification of all the main Tibetan tribes under Namri Songtsen, the ruler of Yarlung in southeast Tibet. His son and successor, Song-tsen Gam-po (died 649), is regarded as the founder of the Tibetan empire of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries. Writing first appeared in Tibet in the first half of the seventh century. The empire reached its height during the reign of Thisong detsen (755–791). Feudal relations of production were the rule in the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries. Buddhism became the state religion in 787. Persecution of Buddhists began during the reign of Lang Darma (836–842), after whose assassination Tibet disintegrated into separate feudal principalities.

The 11th and 12th centuries witnessed the emergence of a number of Buddhist sects in Tibet and the founding of monasteries, the largest of which formed, with the territory under their control, independent theocratic states. In the 13th century, Tibet became a dependency of the Mongols, a status that ended with the fall of the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century. From the 14th to the 17th century, a power struggle went on between feudal clans supported by different religious sects.

In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the monk Tsongkha-pa founded the Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat, order, the leader of which came in the 16th century to bear the title “Dalai Lama.” In the 17th century, the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngagwang Lobsang gyamtso, appealed for assistance to Goshi Khan of the Oirot tribe, ruler of Koko Nor. In 1642, Goshi Khan’s troops crushed the ruler of the Tsang region, the chief rival of the fifth Dalai Lama. The Gelugpa sect became the dominant one in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama, the country’s spiritual and temporal ruler. Thus, the process of unification of Tibet was completed and a theocratic form of rule established. In the mid–17th century, the institution of the Panchen Lama appeared; the Panchen Lama is the second hierarch, after the Dalai Lama.

In the mid–18th century, the eastern and northeastern parts of Tibet (in what are now the Chinese provinces of Tsinghai, Szechwan, and Kansu) were made part of the Ch’ing (Manchu) Empire and were directly subordinated to the Manchu rulers. In 1792 the remaining regions of Tibet (approximately the territory of the present autonomous region) were made part of the Ch’ing Empire. Although power remained in the hands of the Dalai Lama, the Manchu court sent representatives (Ambans) to Lhasa, which controlled government activities.

In the late 19th century, Tibet found itself in the path of British expansionism. In 1903 and 1904, Great Britain carried out a campaign of armed intervention. On Aug. 3, 1904, British troops entered Lhasa, and on September 7 of that year the Tibetan authorities signed an agreement granting substantial privileges to Great Britain in Tibet. Britain’s penetration of Tibet aroused the opposition of the Russian government. Under the agreement between Great Britain and Russia concluded on Aug. 31, 1907, both sides pledged to respect the territorial integrity of Tibet and not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. During the Hsin-hai Revolution (1911–13) in China, all Ch’ing troops and officials were driven out of Tibet, and the 13th Dalai Lama severed all ties with Peking. There were armed clashes on the country’s eastern borders between Tibetan forces and troops sent to Tibet under Yuan Shih-k’ai. The situation on the Tibetan-Chinese border remained tense until the mid–1930’s, with frequent armed clashes between Tibetan and Chinese troops.

In the mid–1930’s, relations between Tibet and the Kuomintang government, at that time preoccupied with repelling Japanese aggression, became normalized. However, British influence in Tibet remained strong, and with the end of World War II, the United States became increasingly active in the country. On the eve of the victory of the People’s Revolution in China, the Tibetan authorities broke off all contacts with the Kuomintang government, and on Nov. 4, 1949, an assembly comprising representatives of the government and the monasteries formally proclaimed independence. On Jan. 20, 1950, the Chinese People’s Republic issued a declaration on the Tibetan question characterizing the actions of the Tibetan authorities as separatist and proposing that Lhasa send representatives to Peking for talks. In October 1950, units of the People’s Liberation Army began an advance toward the central regions of Tibet. The Tibetan government accepted the proposal of the Chinese government, and on May 23, 1951, an agreement was signed by representatives of the Chinese People’s Republic and the Tibetan authorities. The agreement (known as the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet) granted autonomy to the Tibetans as a people within the Chinese People’s Republic.

In the late 1950’s, the political climate in Tibet worsened, and in March 1959 there was an insurrection in Lhasa. The 14th Dalai Lama went into exile in India. After the insurrection was suppressed, a system providing for a military control committee was introduced. The Tibetan Autonomous Region was created in 1965.


Bogoslovskii, V. A. Ocherk istorii tibetskogo naroda. Moscow, 1962.
Vostrikov, A. I. Tibetskaia istoricheskaia literatura. Moscow, 1962.
Schulemann, G. Geschichte der Dalai-Lamas. Leipzig, 1958.
Shakabpa Tsepon, W. D. Tibet: A Political History. New Haven-London, 1967.
Literature. The ancient oral poetry of the Tibetans took the form of myths, epics (Gesariada), legends, songs, fairy tales, and aphoristic poems. The spread of Buddhism in the seventh century gave rise to related myths. The early period of written literature, extending from the seventh to the tenth century, coincided with the feudal period in Tibet and the initial spread of Buddhism. Tibetan literature was greatly influenced by Turkic, especially Uighur, literature. At the same time, Tibetan literature was influenced by folklore. The literature of this early period included chronicles, historical narratives, genealogies of kings, memorials, translations of Buddhist canonical writings, and a Tibetan version of the Ramayana. The traditional character of Tibetan literature was set in the period from the 11th to 14th centuries. This was the period of translations (Buddhist canons) and of original works by Tibetan authors, including religious and philosophical treatises (commentaries on the canons), historical works (history of Buddhism), hagiographic works (lives and biographies), didactic and narrative works (sermons and exhortations), and epistolary works. Later (15th to 19th centuries), literature was used for the systematization, canonization, and propagation of the beliefs and political views of the Gelugpa sect. Human feelings and descriptions of nature had very little place in literature, the main function of which was to create models and standards of behavior for believers. However, in the early 18th century, the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang gyamtso (1683–1706), wrote lyric poetry based on the country’s folklore. This tradition, however, was not continued. The literature of later periods is interesting for its grammatical, astrological, astronomical, and medical works.
In the 1950’s, newspapers, magazines, and books were published for the first time; these contained primarily materials translated from Chinese.


Vostrikov, A. I. Tibetskaia istoricheskaia literatura. Moscow, 1962.
Savitskii, L. S. “Tibetskaia literatura 18 v.” In the collection Teoreticheskie problemy izucheniia literatur Dal’nego Vostoka. Moscow, 1974.
“Tibetskaia literatura.” In E. I. Kychanov and L. S. Savitskii, Liudi i bogistrany snegov. Moscow, 1975.
Stein, R. A. Civilisation tibétaine. Paris, 1962.
Architecture and art. The most important works of art date from the feudal era. Medieval Tibetan architecture is characterized by a forbidding severity and great simplicity; shapes are organically linked with the wild and barren natural surroundings. Fortresses called Dzong were built on the mountain peaks. The typical religious structures in Tibet include chortens and monasteries, built at the foot and at the top of mountains next to valleys. The structures were surrounded by several sets of walls, and the main temple, which looked onto a paved courtyard, faced north. The monks’ dwellings were built around the slopes in amphitheater fashion. The most characteristic features of palace architecture in medieval Tibet can be seen in the fortress and palace of Pótala in Lhasa.
The predominant type of Tibetan dwelling is a four-cornered fortress-like structure having flat roofs and sloping walls that grow narrower toward the top. Houses in Tibet are whitewashed with lime, and the double eaves and window frames are trimmed with dark colors. External decoration is provided by painted friezes and multicolored cloths fixed to a facade.
Medieval art in Tibet was strictly subordinated to Buddhist (Lamaist) dogma, and it developed mainly in the monasteries in the form of wall paintings and tankas. These art forms were characterized by a hieratic symmetry of composition, precise linearity, contrast in (bright) colors, and the use of gold and silver to enhance artistic effect. Medieval Tibetan sculpture is seen in the painted religious reliefs carved in cliffs and in the temple statues and statuettes of deities made out of wood, clay, and metal.
Traditional forms of decorative and applied arts survived into the 20th century. They include embroidery and the fashioning of religious and domestic utensils of bronze, musical instruments, thick rugs, and objects made of slate.


Vseobshchaia istoriia iskusstv, vol. 2, book 2. Moscow, 1961. Pages 415–20.
Zakke, M. P. Tibetskaia melkaia plastika. Riga, 1962.
Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury, vol. 9. Moscow, 1971. Pages 489–99.
Hummel, S. Geschichte der tibetischen Kunst. Leipzig, 1953.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
I'm not sure who came up with that line, but I think about it as my son, a writer who travels the world with nothing but a backpack, an old iPad and a pair of basketball shoes (on his last trip to the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, he played basketball with Buddhist monks), is preparing for another adventure in Asia with no itinerary or companion.
Naqu is an important habitat of the Tibetan domestic yak in the northern part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as well as a junction between several Chinese yak breeding areas.
Thousands of Indian pilgrims take part in the yatra every year via Nepal in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China ahead of the monsoon season.
Hundreds of Indian pilgrims undertake Kailash Mansarovar yatra in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China every year negotiating the mountainous terrain.
Li presents a comprehensive grammar of Guiquong, a hitherto unwritten Tibeto-Burman language spoken in the west of Sichuan Province and in the east of Tibetan Autonomous Region. The grammar deals with the core aspects of Guiquong, including phonology, morphology, syntax, and information structure.
As a condition for opening Nathu La for the Mansarovar Yatra, we seem to have yielded to China's cajolement to indirectly accord recognition once again to the Tibetan Autonomous Region being an integral part of China through an awkward and peculiar formulation.
ChinaOs Tibet Airlines takes delivery of its first A319 with Sharklets Lhasa based Tibet Airlines from the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China has taken delivery of its first A319 with Sharklets.
New York (USAsian Network Business & Industry News) Fri, Apr 11, 2014 - Lhasa based Tibet Airlines from the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China has taken delivery of its first A319 with Sharklets.
Their Tibetan ethnicity is written on their ID cards, which police inspect at checkpoints outside Lhasa and at the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. It is difficult for most Tibetans to enter Lhasa at all, especially the pilgrims who once prostrated their way to the religious capital.
Researchers from Princeton University in New Jersey used Chinese census data from 2000 to determine how the Han, who make up 92 per cent of China's population and originate from the country's eastern plains, are distributed within the traditional Tibetan homeland, which includes the Tibetan Autonomous Region as well as portions of the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan.
China's top religious authority repeated that position on Saturday, saying: "If the Dalai Lama is to improve his relations with China's government, he must drop his separatist position...and stop making statements which damage the peaceful development of Tibet." Free Tibet said Thursday that monks at a monastery in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, were told they could show pictures of the Dalai Lama, reversing a 17-year ban on displaying his image.

Full browser ?