Tibet Autonomous Region
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Tibet Autonomous Region

Tibet Autonomous Region
Xizang Autonomous Region
Chinese transcription(s)
 o Chinese characters
(abbreviation: XZ / ?)
 o Hanyu pinyinX?zàng Zìzhìq?
(abbreviation: Zàng)Tsang
Tibetan transcription(s)
 o Tibetan script?
 o Wylie transliterationbod rang skyong ljongs
 o Tibetan pinyinPoi Ranggyong Jong
The Potala Palace
Map showing the location of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China; areas that are claimed but not controlled are striped.
Map showing the location of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China; areas that are claimed but not controlled are striped.
Named for? () is the Tibetan name of the Greater Tibet region.
(X?zàng) means "Western Tsang", from Manchu "Wargi Dzang", from Tibetan Ü-Tsang. Ü and Tsang are subregions of Greater Tibet.
"Tibet" is from the word Tibat of disputed origin.
(and largest city)
Divisions5 prefecture-level cities, 2 prefectures, 6 districts, 68 counties, 692 townships
 o TypeAutonomous region
 o BodyTibet Autonomous Region People's Congress
 o CCP SecretaryWu Yingjie
 o Congress ChairmanLosang Jamcan
 o Gov't ChairmanChe Dalha
 o CPPCC chairmanPagbalha Geleg Namgyai
 o Total1,228,400 km2 (474,300 sq mi)
Area rank2nd
Highest elevation8,848 m (29,029 ft)
 o Total3,648,100
 o Rank32nd
 o Density3.0/km2 (7.7/sq mi)
 o Density rank33rd
 o Ethnic composition90% Tibetan
8% Han
0.3% Monpa
0.3% Hui
0.2% others
 o Languages and dialectsTibetan, Mandarin Chinese
ISO 3166 codeCN-XZ
GDP (2020)CNY 190 billion
USD 27.59 billion (31st)[3]
 - per capitaCNY 52,156
USD 7,559 (25th)
 o growthIncrease 7.8%
HDI (2018)Increase 0.585[4]
medium · 31st
Tibet (Chinese and Tibetan).svg
"Tibet" in Chinese (top) and Tibetan (bottom)
Chinese name
Hanyu PinyinX?zàng
Literal meaning"Western Tsang"
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Hanyu PinyinX?zàng Zìzhìq?
Literal meaning"Western Tsang" Autonomous Region
Tibetan name
Manchu name
Manchu script
Romanizationwargi Dzang
Mongolian name

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Xizang Autonomous Region, often shortened to Tibet or Xizang,[note 1] is a province-level autonomous region of the People's Republic of China in Southwest China. It was overlayed on the traditional Tibetan regions of Ü-Tsang and Kham.

It was formally established in 1965 to replace the Tibet Area, the former administrative division of the People's Republic of China (PRC) established after annexation of Tibet. The establishment was about five years after the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the dismissal of the Kashag, and about 13 years after the original annexation.

The current borders of the Tibet Autonomous Region were generally established in the 18th century[5] and include about half of historic Tibet, or the ethno-cultural Tibet. The Tibet Autonomous Region spans over 1,200,000 km2 (460,000 sq mi) and is the second-largest province-level division of China by area, after Xinjiang. Due to its harsh and rugged terrain, it is lightly populated with a population of just over 3.5 million.


Yarlung kings founded the Tibetan Empire in 618. By the end of the 8th century, the empire reached its greatest extent. After a civil war, the empire broke up in 842. The royal lineage fragmented and ruled over small kingdoms such as Guge, Maryul and Nyingma. The Mongol Empire conquered Tibet in 1244 but the region was granted a degree of political autonomy. Kublai Khan later incorporated the region into his Yuan empire. The Sakya lama Drogön Chögyal Phagpa became religious teacher to Kublai, and was made the head of the region.

From 1354 to 1642, Central Tibet (Ü-Tsang) was ruled by a succession of dynasties from Nêdong, Shigatse and Lhasa. In 1642, the Ganden Phodrang court of the 5th Dalai Lama was established by Güshi Khan of the Khoshut Khanate, who was enthroned as King (chogyal) of Tibet. The Khoshuts ruled until 1717 when they were overthrown by the Dzungar Khanate. The Dzungar forces were in turn expelled by the Manchu expedition to Tibet during the Dzungar-Qing Wars. This began the Qing rule over Tibet and marked the first time that Tibet was controlled by the central Chinese government.

Despite some politically charged historical debate on the exact nature of Sino-Tibetan relations,[6][7][8] most historians agree that[who?] Tibet under the Ganden Phodrang was an independent state, albeit under different foreign suzerainties, for most of its history and including the Ming dynasty period (1368-1644).

From 1912 to 1950, the State of Tibet became de facto independent after the fall of the Qing dynasty. The Republic of China that succeeded the Qing, was too preoccupied with fractious warlordism (1916-1928), Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) and Japanese invasion to have been able to assert any authority in Tibet. Other smaller kingdoms of ethno-cultural Tibet in eastern Kham and Amdo had been under de jure administration of the Chinese dynastic government since the mid-18th century;[9] today they are distributed among the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. (See also: Xikang Province)

In 1950, the People's Liberation Army marched into Tibet and defeated the Tibetan local army in a battle fought near the city of Chamdo. In 1951, the Tibetan representatives signed a 17-point agreement with the Central People's Government affirming China's sovereignty over Tibet and the incorporation of Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later.[10][11] 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 exclude the Dalai Lama's government and create a system of administration along Communist lines. Under threat of his life from Chinese forces the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and renounced the 17-point agreement. Tibet Autonomous Region was established in 1965, thus making Tibet a provincial-level division of China.


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.

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 countries to the south and southwest are Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal. China claims Arunachal Pradesh administered by India as part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It also claims several areas adjoining the Chumbi Valley that are recognised as Bhutan's territory. China administers several border areas of Ladakh claimed by India.

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: nomadic in the lake region and agricultural in the river region.[12] 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 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, and 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 characterized 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.[13] 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 1,200 km (750 mi) long and 300 km (190 mi) wide. The valley descends from 4,500 m (14,760 ft) above sea level to 2,800 m (9,190 ft). The mountains on either side of the valley are usually around 5,000 m (16,400 ft) high.[14][15] 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. Chinese law nominally guarantees some autonomy in the areas of education and language policy. Like other subdivisions of China, routine administration is carried out by a People's Government, headed by a Chairman, who has been an ethnic Tibetan except for an interregnum during the Cultural Revolution. As with other Chinese provinces, the Chairman carries out work under the direction of the regional secretary of the Communist Party of China. The regional standing committee of the Communist Party serves as the top rung of political power in the region. The current Chairman is Che Dalha and the current party secretary is Wu Yingjie.[16]

Administrative divisions

The Autonomous Region is divided into seven prefecture-level divisions: six prefecture-level cities and one prefecture.

These in turn are subdivided into a total of 66 counties and 8 districts (Chengguan, Doilungdêqên, Dagzê, Samzhubzê, Karub, Bayi, Nêdong, and Seni).

Administrative divisions of Tibet Autonomous Region
Division code[17] Division Area in km2[18] Population 2010[19] Seat Divisions[20]
Districts Counties
540000 Tibet Autonomous Region 1,228,400.00 3,002,166 Lhasa city 8 66
540100 Lhasa city 29,538.90 559,423 Chengguan District 3 5
540200 Shigatse / Xigazê city 182,066.26 703,292 Samzhubzê District 1 17
540300 Chamdo / Qamdo city 108,872.30 657,505 Karuo District 1 10
540400 Nyingchi city 113,964.79 195,109 Bayi District 1 6
540500 Shannan / Lhoka city 79,287.84 328,990 Nêdong District 1 11
540600 Nagqu city 391,816.63 462,382 Seni District 1 10
542500 Ngari Prefecture 296,822.62 95,465 Gar County 7

Urban areas

Population by urban areas of prefecture & county cities
# City Urban area[21] District area[21] City proper[21] Census date
1 Lhasa[a] 199,159 279,074 559,423 2010-11-01
(1) Lhasa (new districts)[a] 21,093 78,957 see Lhasa 2010-11-01
2 Xigazê[b] 63,967 120,374 703,292 2010-11-01
(3) Qamdo[c] 44,028 116,500 657,505 2010-11-01
(4) Nagqu[d] 42,984 108,781 462,381 2010-11-01
(5) Nyingchi[e] 35,179 54,702 195,109 2010-11-01
(6) Shannan[f] 30,646 59,615 328,990 2010-11-01
  1. ^ a b New districts established after census: Doilungdêqên (Doilungdêqên County), Dagzê (Dagzê County). These new districts not included in the urban area & district area count of the pre-expanded city.
  2. ^ Xigazê Prefecture is currently known as Xigazê PLC after census; Xigazê CLC is currently known as Samzhubzê after census.
  3. ^ Qamdo Prefecture is currently known as Qamdo PLC after census; Qamdo County is currently known as Karuo after census.
  4. ^ Nagqu Prefecture is currently known as Nagqu PLC after census; Nagqu County is currently known as Seni after census.
  5. ^ Nangchen Prefecture is currently known as Nangchen PLC after census; Nangchen County is currently known as Bayi after census.
  6. ^ Shannan Prefecture is currently known as Shannan PLC after census; Nêdong County is currently known as Nêdong after census.


With an average of only two people per square kilometer, Tibet has the lowest population density among any of the Chinese province-level administrative regions, mostly due to its harsh and rugged terrain.[33]

In 2011 the Tibetan population was three million.[34] The ethnic Tibetans, comprising 90.48% of the population,[35] mainly adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and Bön, although there is an ethnic Tibetan Muslim community.[36] 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 the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition published between 1910 and 1911, the total population of the 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).[37]

Most Han people in the TAR (8.17% of the total population)[35] are recent migrants, because all of the Han were expelled from "Outer Tibet" (Central Tibet) following the British invasion until the establishment of the PRC.[38] Only 8% of Han people have household registration in TAR, others keep their household registration in place of origin.[35]

Tibetan scholars and exiles 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.[39] The Tibetan government-in-exile based in northern India asserts that the PRC is promoting the migration of Han workers and soldiers to Tibet to marginalize and assimilate the locals.[40]


Religion in Tibet (2012 estimates)[41]
Tibetan Buddhism
Chinese folk religion

The main religion in Tibet has been Buddhism since its outspread in the 8th century AD. Before the arrival of Buddhism, the main religion among Tibetans was an indigenous shamanic and animistic religion, Bon, which now comprises a sizeable minority and influenced the formation of Tibetan Buddhism.

According to estimates from the International Religious Freedom Report of 2012, most of Tibetans (who comprise 91% of the population of the Tibet Autonomous Region) are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, while a minority of 400,000 people (12.5% of the total population of the TAR) are followers the native Bon or folk religions which share the image of Confucius (Tibetan: Kongtse Trulgyi Gyalpo) with Chinese folk religion, though in a different light.[43][44] According to some reports, the government of China has been promoting the Bon religion, linking it with Confucianism.[45]

Most of the Han Chinese who reside in Tibet practice their native Chinese folk religion (; shén dào; 'Way of the Gods'). There is a Guandi Temple of Lhasa () where the Chinese god of war Guandi is identified with the cross-ethnic Chinese, Tibetan, Mongol and Manchu deity Gesar. The temple is built according to both Chinese and Tibetan architecture. It was first erected in 1792 under the Qing dynasty and renovated around 2013 after decades of disrepair.[46][47]

Built or rebuilt between 2014 and 2015 is the Guandi Temple of Qomolangma (Mount Everest), on Ganggar Mount, in Tingri County.[48][49]

There are four mosques in the Tibet Autonomous Region with approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Muslim adherents,[41] although a 2010 Chinese survey found a higher proportion of 0.4%.[42] There is a Catholic church with 700 parishioners, which is located in the traditionally Catholic community of Yanjing in the east of the region.[41]

Human rights

Before the annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China in 1951, Tibet was ruled by a theocracy[50] and had a caste-like social hierarchy.[51] Human rights in Tibet prior to its incorporation into the People's Republic of China differed considerably from those in the modern era. Due to tight control of press in mainland China, including the Tibet Autonomous Region,[52] it is difficult to accurately determine the scope of human rights abuses.[53]

Critics of the Communist Party of China (CPC) say the CPC's official aim to eliminate "the three evils of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism" is used as a pretext for human rights abuses.[54] A 1992 Amnesty International report stated that judicial standards in the TAR were not up to "international standards". The report charged the CPC[55] government with keeping political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; ill-treatment of detainees, including torture, and inaction in the face of ill-treatment; the use of the death penalty; extrajudicial executions;[55][56] and forced abortion and sterilization.[57][58][59][60][61]

Towns and villages in Tibet

Comfortable Housing Program

Beginning in 2006, 280,000 Tibetans who lived in traditional villages and as nomadic herdsmen have been forcefully relocated into villages and towns. In those areas, new housing was built and existing houses were remodelled 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,[62] 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.[62] Finding employment is difficult for relocated persons who have only agrarian skills. Income shortfalls are offset by government support programs.[63] It was announced that in 2011 that 20,000 Communist Party cadres will be placed in the new towns.[62]


Development of GDP
Year GDP in
billions of yuan
1995 5.61
2000 11.78
2005 24.88
2010 50.75
2015 102.64
2020 190.27

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. Economic growth since the beginning of the 21st century has averaged over 10 percent a year.[33] By 2020 the GDP of the region surpassed 190 billion yuan (US$29.2 billion).[65]

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.[66][67] 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.[33]

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.[68]

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.[69]

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.[70]

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.


Foreign 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.[71] Nonetheless, tourism in Tibet is still restricted for non-Chinese passport holders and Republic of China citizens, and currently foreigners must apply for a Tibet Entry Permit.



Lhasa Gonggar Airport, the biggest airport in TAR

The civil airports in Tibet are Lhasa Gonggar Airport,[72] Qamdo Bangda Airport, Nyingchi Airport, and the Gunsa Airport.

Gunsa Airport in Ngari Prefecture began operations on 1 July 2010, to become the fourth civil airport in China's Tibet Autonomous Region.[73]

The Peace Airport for Xigazê was opened for civilian use on 30 October 2010.[74]

Announced in 2010, Nagqu Dagring Airport was expected to become the world's highest altitude airport, at 4,436 meters above sea level.[75] However, in 2015 it was reported that construction of the airport has been delayed due to the necessity to develop higher technological standards.[76]


The Qinghai-Tibet Railway from Golmud to Lhasa was completed on 12 October 2005. It opened to regular trial service on 1 July 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 ft) 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 15 August 2014. The planned China-Nepal railway will connect Xigazê to Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, and is expected to be completed around 2027.[77]

The construction of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway began in 2015. The line is expected to be completed around 2025.[78]

See also


  1. ^ Chinese: ; pinyin: X?zàng, Mandarin pronunciation: [?í.tsâ?]; lit. 'Western Tsang'; Tibetan: ?, Wylie: Bod, ZYPY: Poi, Tibetan pronunciation: [p?ø]



  1. ^ ?(2007?) [Overview of Tibet (2007)] (in Chinese). People's Government of Tibet Autonomous Region. 11 September 2008. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 2015.
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  6. ^ Wylie, Turrell V. (2003), "Lama Tribute in the Ming Dynasty", in McKay, Alex (ed.), The History of Tibet: Volume 2, The Medieval Period: c. AD 850-1895, the Development of Buddhist Paramountcy, New York: Routledge, p. 470, ISBN 978-0-415-30843-4.
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