Tibetan people

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Tibetan people
bod pa · 博巴 [1]
People of Tibet46.jpg
Total population
c. 6.7 million
Regions with significant populations
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 6.3 million [2]
Aksai Chin 10,000 [3]
Flag of Bhutan.svg  Bhutan 400,000 [4]
Flag of India.svg  India 182,685 (2011 census) [5]
Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal 20,000–40,000 [6] [4]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 10,000 [7]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 8,040 [8]
Flag of Switzerland.svg   Switzerland 4,000 [9]
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 1,000 [10]
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 66 (2006) [11]
Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 60 (1998) [11]
Tibetic languages and Chinese languages
Predominantly Tibetan Buddhism; significant minority of Bon; Christianity, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Sherpa  · Qiang  · Ngalop  · Sharchop  · Ladakhis  · Baltis  · Burig  · Kachin  · Yi  · Bamar  ·Other Sino-Tibetan-speaking peoples
Areas in which concentrations of ethnic Tibetans live within China TAR-TAP-TAC.png
Areas in which concentrations of ethnic Tibetans live within China
Tibetan peddler living in Nepal chibetsutoRen noWu Mai rinepalImg188.jpg
Tibetan peddler living in Nepal

The Tibetic languages (Tibetan : བོད་སྐད།) are a cluster of mutually unintelligible Sino-Tibetan languages spoken by approximately 8 million people, primarily Tibetan, living across a wide area of East and South Asia, including the Tibetan Plateau and Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. Classical Tibetan is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.

The Central Tibetan language (the dialects of Ü-Tsang, including Lhasa), Khams Tibetan, and Amdo Tibetan are generally considered to be dialects of a single language, especially since they all share the same literary language, while Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Sherpa, and Ladakhi are generally considered to be separate languages.

Although some of the Qiang peoples of Kham are classified by China as ethnic Tibetans,[ citation needed ] the Qiangic languages are not Tibetic, but rather form their own branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.

Tibetan Middle aged woman in Sikkim Tibetan Middle Aged Lady.jpg
Tibetan Middle aged woman in Sikkim
Tibetan spectator at celebrations for TCV's 50th anniversary. Dharamsala Tibetan spectator at celebrations for TCV's 50th anniversary. Dharamsala.jpg
Tibetan spectator at celebrations for TCV's 50th anniversary. Dharamsala

Ethnic origins


Modern Tibetan populations are genetically most similar to other modern East Asian populations. [26] They show relatively more genetic affinity for modern Central Asian than modern Siberian populations. [26] They also share genetic affinity for South Asians. [26]

Tibetan people are genetically most closely related to Han Chinese, Bhutanese. Tibetans predominantly belong to the paternal lineage O-M175. Another study by Yang et al. 2017 found that Tibetans are genetically closely related to other Sino-Tibetan populations. [27]

Released in 2010 by University of California, Berkeley, a study identified more than 30 genetic factors that make Tibetans' bodies well-suited for high-altitudes, including EPAS1, referred to as the "super-athlete gene" which regulates the body's production of hemoglobin, [28] allowing for greater efficiency in the use of oxygen. [29] The genetic basis of Tibetan adaptations have been attributed to a mutation in the EPAS1 gene, [30] [31] and has become prevalent in the past 3,000 years. In fact, according to Rasmus Nielsen, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, this is "the fastest genetic change ever observed in humans". [32]

Genetic studies shows that many of the Sherpa people have allele frequencies which are often found in other Tibeto-Burman regions, in tested genes, the strongest affinity was for Tibetan population sample studies done in the Tibet Autonomous Region. [33] Genetically, the Sherpa cluster closest with the sample Tibetan and Han populations. [34] Additionally, the Sherpa had exhibited affinity for several Nepalese populations, with the strongest for the Rai people, followed by the Magars and the Tamang. [34]

Recent research into the ability of Tibetans' metabolism to function normally in the oxygen-deficient atmosphere above 4,400 metres (14,400 ft) [35] [36] [37] [38] shows that, although Tibetans living at high altitudes have no more oxygen in their blood than other people, they have ten times more nitric oxide and double the forearm blood flow of low-altitude dwellers. Tibetans inherited this adaptation due to their Denisovan admixture. [39] Nitric oxide causes dilation of blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely to the extremities and aids the release of oxygen to tissues.

Wang et al. 2019 associates the East Asian haplogroup D1 with the "East Asian Highlanders". Y-DNA haplogroup migration map in East Asia.png
Wang et al. 2019 associates the East Asian haplogroup D1 with the "East Asian Highlanders".
Haplogroup D is most common among Tibeto-Burmese, Japanese and Altaians, and spread from the Tibetan Plateau into various regions. D is one of the four major East Asian lineages, next to C, O and N. Haplogrupo D (ADN-Y).png
Haplogroup D is most common among Tibeto-Burmese, Japanese and Altaians, and spread from the Tibetan Plateau into various regions. D is one of the four major East Asian lineages, next to C, O and N.

Modern Tibetans formed from Ancient Tibetan Highlanders (also known as "East Asian Highlanders") native to the Tibetan Plateau and a region up to the southern Altai Mountains, and from East Asian lowland farmers expanding from the Yellow River. Although "East Asian Highlanders" (associated with haplogroup D1) are closely related to East Asian lowland farmers (associated with haplogroup O), they form a divergent sister branch to them. [40] A 2019 study by Wang et al., published in the journal Nature, similarly concluded that modern Tibetans (and closely related Tibeto-Burmese) formed from "East Asian Highlanders" and agriculturalists from the Yellow river. They further found evidence for geneflow from this ancient "East Asian Highlanders" into some populations in Southeast Asia and Japan. By comparing Tibetans to modern worldwide populations it was found that Tibetans are very closely related to other East Asians, especially Chinese and Japanese respectively. Geneflow from Tibetan-like ancestry into West Asia and Northeastern Africa was also found, however this may be caused by relative small sample size from these regions. [41]


According to Tibetan mythology, the origins of Tibetans are said to be rooted in the marriage of the monkey Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa and rock ogress Ma Drag Sinmo. [42]


Buddhists performing prostrations in front of Jokhang Monastery. IMG 1016 Lhasa Barkhor.jpg
Buddhists performing prostrations in front of Jokhang Monastery.

Most Tibetans generally observe Tibetan Buddhism or a collection of native traditions known as Bön (also absorbed into mainstream Tibetan Buddhism). There is a minority Tibetan Muslim population. [43] There is also a small Tibetan Christian population in the eastern Tibet and northwestern Yunnan of China. Also there are some Tibetan Hindus who mainly live in China, India and Nepal.

According to legend, the 28th king of Tibet, Thothori Nyantsen, dreamed of a sacred treasure falling from heaven, which contained a Buddhist sutra, mantras, and religious objects. However, because the Tibetan script had not been invented, the text could not be translated in writing and no one initially knew what was written in it. Buddhism did not take root in Tibet until the reign of Songtsän Gampo, who married two Buddhist princesses, Bhrikuti of Nepal and Wencheng of China. It then gained popularity when Padmasambhāva visited Tibet at the invitation of the 38th Tibetan king, Trisong Deutson.

Today, one can see Tibetans placing Mani stones prominently in public places. Tibetan lamas, both Buddhist and Bön, play a major role in the lives of the Tibetan people, conducting religious ceremonies and taking care of the monasteries. Pilgrims plant prayer flags over sacred grounds as a symbol of good luck.

The prayer wheel is a means of simulating the chant of a mantra by physically revolving the object several times in a clockwise direction. It is widely seen among Tibetan people. In order not to desecrate religious artifacts such as Stupas, mani stones, and Gompas, Tibetan Buddhists walk around them in a clockwise direction, although the reverse direction is true for Bön. Tibetan Buddhists chant the prayer "Om mani padme hum", while the practitioners of Bön chant "Om matri muye sale du".


Tibetan wearing the typical hat operating a quern to grind fried barley. The perpendicular handle of such rotary handmills works as a crank (1938 photo). Bundesarchiv Bild 135-BB-152-11, Tibetexpedition, Tibeter mit Handmuhle.jpg
Tibetan wearing the typical hat operating a quern to grind fried barley. The perpendicular handle of such rotary handmills works as a crank (1938 photo).

Tibet is rich in culture. Tibetan festivals such as Losar, Shoton, Linka, and the Bathing Festival are deeply rooted in indigenous religion and also contain foreign influences. Each person takes part in the Bathing Festival three times: at birth, at marriage, and at death.[ citation needed ]


Tibetan art is deeply religious in nature, from the exquisitely detailed statues found in Gonpas to wooden carvings and the intricate designs of the Thangka paintings. Tibetan art can be found in almost every object and every aspect of daily life.

Thangka paintings, a syncretism of Indian scroll-painting with Nepalese and Kashmiri painting, appeared in Tibet around the 8th century. Rectangular and painted on cotton or linen, they usually depict traditional motifs including religious, astrological, and theological subjects, and sometimes a mandala. To ensure that the image will not fade, organic and mineral pigments are added, and the painting is framed in colorful silk brocades.


Tibetan folk opera, known as lhamo, is a combination of dances, chants and songs. The repertoire is drawn from Buddhist stories and Tibetan history.

Tibetan opera was founded in the fourteenth century by Thang Tong Gyalpo, a lama and a bridge-builder. Gyalpo and seven girls he recruited organized the first performance to raise funds for building bridges to facilitate transportation in Tibet. The tradition continued uninterrupted for nearly seven hundred years, and performances are held on various festive occasions such as the Lingka and Shoton festival. The performance is usually a drama, held on a barren stage that combines dances, chants, and songs. Colorful masks are sometimes worn to identify a character, with red symbolizing a king and yellow indicating deities and lamas. The performance starts with a stage purification and blessings. A narrator then sings a summary of the story, and the performance begins. Another ritual blessing is conducted at the end of the play. There are also many historical myths/epics written by high lamas about the reincarnation of a "chosen one" who will do great things.


The most unusual feature of Tibetan architecture is that many of the houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. They are commonly made of a mixture of rocks, wood, cement and earth. Little fuel is available for heating or lighting, so flat roofs are built to conserve heat, and multiple windows are constructed to let in sunlight. Walls are usually sloped inwards at 10 degrees as a precaution against frequent earthquakes in the mountainous area. Tibetan homes and buildings are white-washed on the outside, and beautifully decorated inside.

Standing at 117 metres (384 ft) in height and 360 metres (1,180 ft) in width, the Potala Palace is considered the most important example of Tibetan architecture.[ citation needed ] Formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, it contains over a thousand rooms within thirteen stories and houses portraits of the past Dalai Lamas and statues of the Buddha. It is divided between the outer White Palace, which serves as the administrative quarters, and the inner Red Quarters, which houses the assembly hall of the Lamas, chapels, 10,000 shrines, and a vast library of Buddhist scriptures.

Potala Palace, 2013 Bu Da La Gong .jpg
Potala Palace, 2013


Traditional Tibetan medicine utilizes up to two thousand types of plants, forty animal species, and fifty minerals. One of the key figures in its development was the renowned 8th century physician Yuthog Yontan Gonpo, who produced the Four Medical Tantras integrating material from the medical traditions of Persia, India and China. The tantras contained a total of 156 chapters in the form of Thangkas, which tell about the archaic Tibetan medicine and the essences of medicines in other places. [44]

Yutok Yonten Gonpo's descendant, Yuthok Sarma Yonten Gonpo, further consolidated the tradition by adding eighteen medical works. One of his books[ specify ] includes paintings depicting the resetting of a broken bone. In addition, he compiled a set of anatomical pictures of internal organs.[ citation needed ]


A simple Tibetan breakfast Tibetan breakfast.jpg
A simple Tibetan breakfast

The Cuisine of Tibet reflects the rich heritage of the country and people's adaptation to high altitude and religious culinary restrictions. The most important crop is barley. Dough made from barley flour, called tsampa, is the staple food of Tibet. This is either rolled into noodles or made into steamed dumplings called momos. Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat or mutton, often dried or cooked into a spicy stew with potatoes. Mustard seed is cultivated in Tibet and therefore features heavily in its cuisine. Yak yogurt, butter and cheese are frequently eaten and well-prepared yogurt is considered something of a prestige item. [45] [ citation needed ]


Tibetan warrior in chainmail reinforced by mirror plate Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-14-13-33, Tibetexpedition, Neujahrsparade, Rta pa.jpg
Tibetan warrior in chainmail reinforced by mirror plate

Many Tibetans wear their hair long, although in recent times due to Chinese influence,[ citation needed ] most men do crop their hair short. The women braid their hair into multiple tiny braids called "Rhe-Ba" or just simply put their hair up in a braid or pony-tail in more rural areas. In more urban areas, women wear many different kinds of hairstyles such as pony-tails, braids, buns or just leaving it down.

Some men and women wear long thick dresses (chuba) in more traditional and rural regions. The men wear a shorter version with pants underneath. The style of the clothing varies between regions.[ citation needed ] Nomads often wear thick sheepskin versions. In more urban places like Lhasa, men and women dress in modern clothing, and many choose to wear chuba during festivals and holidays like Losar.


Tibet has national literature that has both religious, semi-spiritual and secular elements. While the religious texts are well-known, Tibet is also home to the semi-spiritual Gesar Epic, which is the longest epic in the world and is popular throughout Mongolia and Central Asia. There are secular texts such as The Dispute Between Tea and Chang (Tibetan beer) and Khache Phalu's Advice.

Marriage customs

Monogamy is common throughout Tibet. Marriages are sometimes arranged by the parents if the son or daughter has not picked their own partner by a certain age. However, polyandry is practiced in parts of Tibet. This is usually done to avoid division of property and provide financial security. [46]

List of Tibetan states

Kingdoms of Kham

Gyalrong Kingdoms

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibet</span> Plateau region in Asia

Tibet is a region in East Asia, covering much of the Tibetan Plateau and spanning about 2,500,000 km2 (970,000 sq mi). It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpa, Tamang, Qiang, Sherpa and Lhoba peoples and is now also home to considerable numbers of Han Chinese and Hui people settlers. Tibet is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 4,380 m (14,000 ft). Located in the Himalayas, the highest elevation in Tibet is Mount Everest, Earth's highest mountain, rising 8,848.86 m (29,032 ft) above sea level.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibet Autonomous Region</span> Autonomous region of China

The Tibet Autonomous Region or Xizang Autonomous Region, often shortened to Tibet or Xizang, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sherpa people</span> Tibetan ethnic group of mountainous eastern Nepal

The Sherpa are one of the Tibetan ethnic groups native to the most mountainous regions of Nepal, Tingri County in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Himalayas. The term sherpa or sherwa derives from the Sherpa language words ཤར shar ("east") and པ pa ("people"), which refer to their geographical origin of eastern Tibet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetic languages</span> Cluster of Tibeto-Burman languages descended from Old Tibetan

The Tibetic languages form a well-defined group of languages descended from Old Tibetan. According to Tournadre (2014), there are 50 languages, which split into over 200 dialects or could be group into 8 dialect continua. These languages are spoken in the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas in Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai Chin, Ladakh, Nepal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Bhutan. Classical Tibetan is the major literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Tibet</span> Aspect of history

While the Tibetan plateau has been inhabited since pre-historic times, most of Tibet's history went unrecorded until the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism around the 6th century. Tibetan texts refer to the kingdom of Zhangzhung as the precursor of later Tibetan kingdoms and the originators of the Bon religion. While mythical accounts of early rulers of the Yarlung Dynasty exist, historical accounts begin with the introduction of Buddhism from India in the 6th century and the appearance of envoys from the unified Tibetan Empire in the 7th century. Following the dissolution of the empire and a period of fragmentation in the 9th-10th centuries, a Buddhist revival in the 10th-12th centuries saw the development of three of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Samzhubzê District</span> District in Tibet Autonomous Region, Peoples Republic of China

Samzhubzê District is a district in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the China, and the administrative center of the prefecture-level city of Shigatse. Prior to 2014 it was known as the county-level city of Shigatse. It was the ancient capital of Ü-Tsang province and is the second largest city in Tibet with an estimated population of 117,000 in 2013. Samzhubzê is located at the confluence of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and the Nyang River, about 250 km (160 mi) southwest of Lhasa and 90 km (56 mi) northwest of Gyantse, at an altitude of 3,840 metres (12,600 ft).

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kham</span> Traditional region of Tibet

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<i>Thangka</i> Tibetan Buddhist painting

A thangka, variously spelt as thangka, tangka, thanka, or tanka, is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front. So treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk. Most thangkas are relatively small, comparable in size to a Western half-length portrait, but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension; these were designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals. Most thangkas were intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition. Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetan culture</span> Asian culture

Tibet developed a distinct culture due to its geographic and climatic conditions. While influenced by neighboring cultures from China, India, and Nepal, the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences, and stimulated the development of its distinct culture.

Khams Tibetan is the Tibetic language used by the majority of the people in Kham. Khams is one of the three branches of the traditional classification of Tibetic languages. In terms of mutual intelligibility, Khams could communicate at a basic level with the Ü-Tsang branch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mêdog County</span> County in Tibet, Peoples Republic of China

Mêdog, or Metok, or Motuo County, also known as Pemako, is a county as well as a traditional region of the prefecture-level city of Nyingchi in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Pemako is considered famous as the Nyingma master Dudjom Rinpoche's birthplace, and as a prophesied refuge for Tibetan Buddhists by Padmasambhava.

This is a list of topics related to Tibet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Tibet (1950–present)</span> Aspect of history

The history of Tibet from 1950 to the present includes the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, and the Battle of Chamdo. Before then, Tibet had been a de facto independent nation. In 1951, Tibetan representatives in Beijing signed the Seventeen-point Agreement under duress, which affirmed China's sovereignty over Tibet while it simultaneously provided for an autonomous administration led by Tibet's spiritual leader, and then-political leader, the 14th Dalai Lama. During the 1959 Tibetan uprising, when Tibetans arose to prevent his possible assassination, the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet to northern India where he established the Central Tibetan Administration, which rescinded the Seventeen-point Agreement. The majority of Tibet's land mass, including all of U-Tsang and areas of Kham and Amdo, was officially established in 1965 as Tibet Autonomous Region, within China.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies</span>

The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, formerly called Central University for Tibetan Studies (CUTS), is a Deemed University founded in Sarnath, Varanasi, India, in 1967, as an autonomous organisation under Union Ministry of Culture. The CIHTS was founded by Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru in consultation with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, with the aim of educating Tibetan youths in exile and Himalayan border students as well as with the aim of retranslating into Sanskrit and translating into Hindi and other modern Indian languages lost Indo-Buddhist Sanskrit texts that now exist only in Tibetan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Religion in Tibet</span>

The main religion in Tibet has been Buddhism since its outspread in the 8th century AD. The historical region of Tibet is nowadays mostly comprised by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and partly by the provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan. 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 which would later influence the formation of Tibetan Buddhism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetan diaspora</span> Communities of Tibetans living outside of Tibet

The Tibetan diaspora are the diaspora of Tibetan people living outside Tibet.

The Hyolmo are an people mainly from the Eastern and Northern Himalayan Regions of Nepal. They refer to themselves as the "hyolmo" or "Yolmopa" and are native residents of the Helambu valleys and the surrounding regions of Northeastern Nepal. Their combined population in these regions is around 11,000. They also have sizeable communities in Bhutan, Darjeeling, Sikkim and some regions of South-Western Tibet. They are among the 59 indigenous groups officially recognized by the Government of Nepal as having a distinct cultural identity and are also listed as one of the 645 Scheduled Tribes of India.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shigatse Dzong</span>

The Shigatse Dzong, also known as Samdruptse Dzong, is located in Shigatse, Tibet, China. It is spelt Rikaze Dzong.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mugom-Karmarong language</span> Sino-Tibetan language of western Nepal.

Mugom-Karmarong is the Sino-Tibetan language variety of the Tibetan people of Mugu district in Nepal. This language variety represents two dialects Mugom and Karmarong, which are spoken by distinct ethnicities and are separate language in the perceptions of these groups. Based on census data taken in 2011, the total population of Mugom-Karmarong is estimated to be about 7,500 speakers.



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Tibetan people
Chinese name
Chinese 藏族