Tibetan people

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Tibetan people
བོད་པ་, bod pa, 藏族
Tibetan snow leopard.svg
Total population
c. 6.5 million
Regions with significant populations
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 6.3 million [1]
Flag of India.svg  India 120,000 [2]
Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal 20,000–40,000 [3] [4]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 10,000 [5]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 8,040 [6]
Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan 7,600+ [7]
Flag of Bhutan.svg  Bhutan 5,000 [4]
Flag of Switzerland.svg   Switzerland 8,100 [8]
Flag of the Republic of China.svg  Taiwan 2,000 [9]
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 1,000 [10]
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 1,000 [11]
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 66 (2006) [12]
Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 60 (1998) [12]
Tibetan languages
Predominantly Tibetan Buddhism; minorities of Bon, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Tamang  · Sherpa  · Gurung  · Qiang  · Ngalop  · Ladakhis  · Baltis  · Burig  · Kachin  · Yi  · Bamar  ·Other Sino-Tibetan-speaking peoples
L'ambassade de la Compagnie Orientale des Provinces Unies, 1665 (Embassy of the Dutch East India Company) Nieuhof-Ambassade-vers-la-Chine-1665 0829.tif
L'ambassade de la Compagnie Orientale des Provinces Unies, 1665 (Embassy of the Dutch East India Company)

The Tibetan people (Tibetan : བོད་པ་, Wylie : bod pa, THL : bö pa, Chinese :藏族) are an ethnic group native to Tibet. Their current population is estimated to be around 6.5 million. In addition to living in Tibet Autonomous Region, significant numbers of Tibetans live in other parts of China, as well as in India, Nepal, Bhutan and the western world.

Tibetan script abugida used to write the Tibetic languages and others

The Tibetan script is an abugida used to write the Tibetic languages such as Tibetan, as well as Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Ladakhi, and sometimes Balti. The printed form is called uchen script while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umê script.

Wylie transliteration Method for transliterating Tibetan script

The Wylie transliteration system is a method for transliterating Tibetan script using only the letters available on a typical English language typewriter. It bears the name of American tibetologist Turrell V. Wylie, who described the scheme in an article, A Standard System of Tibetan Transcription, published in 1959. It has subsequently become a standard transliteration scheme in Tibetan studies, especially in the United States.

The THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription of Standard Tibetan is a system for the phonetic rendering of the Tibetan language.


Tibetans speak Tibetan languages, many varieties of which are mutually unintelligible, which belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language group. The traditional, or mythological, explanation of the Tibetan people's origin is that they are the descendants of the human Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa and rock ogress Ma Drag Sinmo. It is thought that most of the Tibeto-Burman speakers in Southwest China, including Tibetans, are direct descendants from the ancient Qiang people. [13]

In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related varieties can readily understand each other without prior familiarity or special effort. It is sometimes used as an important criterion for distinguishing languages from dialects, although sociolinguistic factors are often also used.

Tibeto-Burman languages

The Tibeto-Burman languages are the non-Sinitic members of the Sino-Tibetan language family, over 400 of which are spoken throughout the highlands of Southeast Asia as well as certain parts of East Asia and South Asia. Around 60 million people speak Tibeto-Burman languages, around half of whom speak Burmese, and 13% of whom speak Tibetic languages. The name derives from the most widely spoken of these languages, namely Burmese and the Tibetic languages . These languages also have extensive literary traditions, dating from the 12th and 7th centuries respectively. Most of the other languages are spoken by much smaller communities, and many of them have not been described in detail.

Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa living thing group

Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa is a mythical monkey-ancestor of the Tibetan people. With King Gesar and Avalokiteśvara, of whom he is an incarnation, he is one of the most important figures in Tibetan culture. Pha means "father", Trelgen "old monkey" and Changchup Sempa refers to the bodhisattva.

Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although some observe the indigenous Bon religion and there is a small Muslim minority. Tibetan Buddhism influences Tibetan art, drama and architecture, while the harsh geography of Tibet has produced an adaptive culture of Tibetan medicine and cuisine.

Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet where it is the dominant religion. It is also found in the regions surrounding the Himalayas, much of Chinese Central Asia, the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, as well as Mongolia.

Bon tibetan religion

Bon, also spelled Bön, is the native Tibetan folk religion. It is characterized by Animism, Shamanism and ancestor worship. Mystic rituals, spells, sacrifices for gods and spirits, and spirit manipulation are common elements in the native Tibetan traditions. It was the major religion in large parts of Tibet and some other parts of China until the 7th century. Many current traditions of Tibetan Buddhism were influenced by the native Bon religion.

Tibetan Muslims

The Tibetan Muslims, also known as the Kachee, form a small minority in Tibet. Despite being Muslim, they are officially recognized as Tibetans by the government of the People's Republic of China, unlike the Hui Muslims, who are separately recognized. The Tibetan word Kachee literally means Kashmiri and Kashmir was known as Kachee Yul.


As of the 2014 Census, there are about 6 million Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the 10 Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan, China. [14] [15] The SIL Ethnologue in 2009 documents an additional 189,000 Tibetic speakers living in India, 5,280 in Nepal, and 4,800 in Bhutan. [16] The Central Tibetan Administration's (CTA) Green Book (of the Tibetan Government in Exile) counts 145,150 Tibetans outside Tibet: a little over 100,000 in India; over 16,000 in Nepal; over 1,800 in Bhutan, and over 25,000 in other parts of the world. There are Tibetan communities in the United States, [17] Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Norway, Mongolia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In the Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, the Balti people are a Muslim ethnicity of Tibetan descent numbering around 300,000. [18]

Tibet Autonomous Region Autonomous region

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Xizang Autonomous Region, called Tibet or Xizang for short, is a province-level autonomous region in southwest China. It was formally established in 1965 to replace the Tibet Area, an administrative division the People's Republic of China (PRC) took over from the Republic of China (ROC) about five years after the dismissal of the Kashag by the PRC following the 1959 Tibetan uprising, and about 13 years after Tibet's incorporation into the PRC in 1951.

Gansu Province

Gansu is a landlocked province in Northwest China. Its capital and largest city is Lanzhou, located in the southeast part of the province.

Qinghai Province

Qinghai is a landlocked province in Northwestern China. As one of the largest province-level administrative divisions of China by area, the province is ranked fourth-largest in area and has the third-smallest population. Its capital and largest city is Xining.

There is some dispute over the current and historical number of Tibetans. The Central Tibetan Administration claims that the 5.4 million number is a decrease from 6.3 million in 1959 [19] while the Chinese government claims that it is an increase from 2.7 million in 1954. [20] However, the question depends on the definition and extent of "Tibet"; the region claimed by the CTA is more expansive and China more diminutive. Also, the Tibetan administration did not take a formal census of its territory in the 1950s; the numbers provided by the administration at the time were "based on informed guesswork". [21]

Central Tibetan Administration

The Central Tibetan Administration, also known as CTA is an organisation based in India. It was originally called Tibetan Kashag Government in 1960, then later renamed to "the Government of the Great Snow Land". The CTA is also referred to as the Tibetan Government in Exile which has never been recognized by China. Its internal structure is government-like; it has stated that it is "not designed to take power in Tibet"; rather, it will be dissolved "as soon as freedom is restored in Tibet" in favor of a government formed by Tibetans inside Tibet. In addition to political advocacy, it administers a network of schools and other cultural activities for Tibetans in India. On 11 February 1991, the CTA became a founding member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) at a ceremony held at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands.

Tibet is the term for the major elevated plateau in Central Asia, north of the Himalayas. It is today mostly under the sovereignty of the People's Republic of China, primarily administered as the Tibet Autonomous Region besides adjacient parts of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan.

Census Acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population

A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. This term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common censuses include agriculture, business, and traffic censuses. The United Nations defines the essential features of population and housing censuses as "individual enumeration, universality within a defined territory, simultaneity and defined periodicity", and recommends that population censuses be taken at least every 10 years. United Nations recommendations also cover census topics to be collected, official definitions, classifications and other useful information to co-ordinate international practice.

PRC officials attribute growth of the Tibetan population to the improved quality of health and lifestyle of the average Tibetan since the beginning of reforms under the Chinese governance. According to Chinese sources, the death rate of women in childbirth dropped from 5,000 per 100,000 in 1951 to 174.78 per 100,000 in 2010, the infant mortality rate dropped from 430 infant deaths per 1,000 in 1951 to 20.69 per 1,000 by the year of 2010 (infant mortality in China as a whole was officially rated at 14 per 1,000 in 2010 [22] ). The average life expectancy for Tibetans rose from 35.5 years in 1951 to over 67 years by the end of 2010. [23]

Infant mortality

Infant mortality is the death of young children under the age of 1. This death toll is measured by the infant mortality rate (IMR), which is the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births. The under-five mortality rate, which is referred to as the child mortality rate, is also an important statistic, considering the infant mortality rate focuses only on children under one year of age.


Tibetan people
Chinese name
Chinese 藏族
Tibetan name
Tibetan བོད་པ་
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 eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan the northern Indian subcontinent. 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.

Physical characteristics

Tibetan Middle aged woman in Sikkim Tibetan Middle Aged Lady.jpg
Tibetan Middle aged woman in Sikkim

Tibetans are a Mongoloid population, and exhibit high-altitude adaptations. The genetic basis of Tibetan adaptations have been attributed to a mutation in the EPAS1 gene, [24] [25] and has become prevalent in the past 3,000 years.

Recent research into the ability of Tibetans' metabolism to function normally in the oxygen-deficient atmosphere above 4,400 metres (14,400 ft) [26] [27] [28] [29] 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 possibly because through Denisovan admixture. Nitric oxide causes dilation of blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely to the extremities and aids the release of oxygen to tissues. [30]

Ethnic origins


Modern Tibetan populations are genetically most similar to other modern East Asian populations. [31] They also show some genetic affinity for modern Central Asian and modern Siberian populations. [31]

Released in 2010 by UCLA at 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, [32] allowing for greater efficiency in the use of oxygen. [33]

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 Xizang Tibetan Autonomous Region. [34] Genetically, the Sherpa cluster closest with the sample Tibetan and Han populations. [35] Additionally, the Sherpa had exhibited affinity for several Nepalese populations, with the strongest for the Rai people, followed by the Magars and the Tamang. [35]


Within 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. [36]


Three monks chanting in Lhasa, 1993 Three monks chanting in Lhasa, 1993.jpg
Three monks chanting in Lhasa, 1993

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. [37] 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 empire greatest extent 780s-790s CE Tibetan empire greatest extent 780s-790s CE, Tibetan Version.jpg
Tibetan empire greatest extent 780s-790s CE


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.

Tibetan nomad and tent, 1938 Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-03-17-14, Tibetexpedition, Nomade vor Zelt.jpg
Tibetan nomad and tent, 1938


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.[ citation needed ]

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 ]


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. [38] [ citation needed ]


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

Polyandry is practiced in parts of Tibet. This is usually done to avoid division of property and provide financial security. [39] However, monogamy is more 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.

List of Tibetan states

Kingdoms of Kham

See also

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Mêdog County County in Tibet, Peoples Republic of China

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This is a list of topics related to Tibet.

History of Tibet (1950–present)

The history of Tibet from 1950 to the present started with the Chinese invading Tibet in 1950. Before then, Tibet had declared independence from China in 1913. In 1951, the Tibetans signed a seventeen-point agreement reaffirming China's sovereignty over Tibet and providing an autonomous administration led by Dalai Lama. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet to northern India under cover where he established the Central Tibetan Administration. The Tibet Autonomous Region within China was officially established in 1965.

State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5, officially named Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas, is an order from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the People's Republic of China's agency charged with keeping religion under state control. Order No. 5 states that a Reincarnation Application must be filed by all Buddhist temples in that country before they are allowed to recognize individuals as tulkus.

The Hyolmo are an indigenous people mainly from the Eastern Himalayan Regions of Nepal. They refer to themselves as the "hyolmo" or "hyolmopa", 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.

Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery, also known as Dawa Choling Gompa, in the Tengboche village in Khumjung in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Sherpa community. Situated at 3,867 metres (12,687 ft), the monastery is the largest gompa in the Khumbu region of Nepal. It was built in 1916 by Lama Gulu with strong links to its mother monastery known as the Rongbuk Monastery in Tibet. In 1934, it was destroyed by an earthquake and was subsequently rebuilt. In 1989, it was destroyed for a second time by a fire and then rebuilt with the help of volunteers and international assistance.

Buddhism was first actively disseminated in Tibet from the 7th to the 9th century CE, predominantly from India. During the Era of Fragmentation, Buddhism waned in Tibet, only to rise again in the 11th century. With the Mongol invasion of Tibet in the 13th century and the establishment of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, Tibetan Buddhism spread beyond Tibet to Mongolia and China. From the 14th to the 20th Tibetan Buddhism was patronized by the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1644–1912).



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