The Tibetan ethnic minority

The Tibetan ethnic minority

   The majority of the 4,593,100 Tibetans live in the Tibet Autonomous Region, with some Tibetan communities in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
    The Tibetan language belongs to the Tibetan sub-branch of the Tibetan-Myanmese language branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. It has three major local dialects: Weizang, Kang and Amdo. The Tibetan script is an alphabetic system of writing, with four vowels and 30 consonants.
    Most Tibetan areas are highlands and mountainous country studded with snow-capped peaks, one rising higher than the other. Mt. Qomolangma is 8,848 meters above sea level, the highest in the world.

    Animal husbandry is the main occupation in Tibet. The Tibetan sheep, goat, yak and pien cattle are native to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Known as the "Boat on the Plateau," the yak is a major means of transport as well as a source of meat. The pien cattle, a crossbreed of bull and yak, is the best draught animal and milk producer. In farming, barley(Qingke) is the main crop. Other crops include wheat, pea, buckwheat and broad bean. In the warmer places in the river valleys, there are rape, potato, turnip, apple and walnut. People also grow rice and cotton in river valleys in southern Tibet.

    The dense forests provide shelter for many precious animals such as sunbird, vulture, giant panda, golden-haired monkey, black leaf monkey, bear and ermine. They also produce precious medicines such as bear's gallbladder, musk, pilose antler, caterpillar fungus, snow lotus and glossy ganoderma.

    The Tibetan areas are also rich in hydro-power and mineral resources. There are enormous amounts of hydropower and terrestrial heat, and huge reserves of natural gas, copper, iron, coal, mica and sulfur. The landlocked lakes abound in borax, salt, mirabilite and natural soda. Oilfields have been found in recent years in the Qaidam basin in Qinghai and the northern Tibet Plateau.


  The Tibetans first settled along the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River in Tibet. According to ancient historical documents, members of the earliest clans formed tribes known as "Bos" in the Shannan area. In the 6th century, the chief of the Yarlung tribe in the area became leader of the local tribal alliance and declared himself the "Zambo" (king). This marked the beginning of Tibetan slavery society and its direct contacts with the Han people and other ethnic groups and tribes in northwest China.

    At the beginning of the 7th century, King Songzan Gambo began to rule the whole of Tibet and made "Losha" (today's Lhasa) the capital and established the slavery kingdom which was called "Tubo".

    After that, the Tibetans increased their political, economic and cultural exchanges with the Han and other ethnic groups in China. The Kingdom of Tibet began to have frequent contacts with the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In 641, King Songzan Gambo married Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty. In 710, King Chide Zuzain married another Tang princess, Jin Cheng. The two princesses brought with them the culture and advanced production techniques of Central China to Tibet. From that time on, emissaries traveled frequently between the Tang Dynasty and Tibet.  These exchanges helped promote relations between the Tibetans and other ethnic groupss in China and stimulated social development in Tibet.

    From the 10th to 12th century, Buddhism was adapted to local circumstances by assimilating certain aspects of the indigenous religion known as Bon, won increasing numbers of followers and gradually turned into Lamaism. Consisting of many different sects and spread across the land, Lamaism penetrated into all spheres of Tibetan life.

    The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) founded by the Mongols in the 13th century set up an institution called Xuanzhengyuan (or political council) and put it in charge of the nation's Buddhist affairs and Tibet's military, governmental and religious affairs.

    The ensuing Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) carried over the Tusi (headmen) system in the Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China. This system ensured peace and stability in the Tibetan areas. Tibet's contacts with other parts of the country became more frequent and extensive.

    The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) set up a government department to administer affairs in Tibet. The Qing emperor conferred the titles of the "Dalai Lama" (1653) and "Bainqen Erdini" (1713) on two living Buddhas of the Gelugba sect of Lamaism. The Qing court began to appoint a high resident commissioner to help with local administration in 1728, and set up the Kasha as the local government in 1751. In 1793, the Qing army drove the Gurkhas invaders out of Tibet and formulated regulations concerning its administration. In other areas inhabited by Tibetans, the Qing court continued the Tusi (headmen) system.

    After the Republic of China was founded in 1911, the central government set up a special department to administer Tibetan affairs. In 1929, the Kuomintang government set up a commission for Tibetan affairs in Nanjing. In 1939, Xikang Province was set up. The Tibetan areas in northwest and southwest China, except Tibet, were placed under the administration of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Xikang and Yunnan provinces respectively.

    In September,1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was founded.