Tibetan people

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Tibetan people
bod pa
Zhongdian festival (6169776821).jpg
Tibetan in Zhongdian festival
Total population
c. 7.7 million
Regions with significant populations
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 7.06 million [1]
Flag of India.svg  India 83,779 [2]
Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal 20,000–40,000 [3] [4]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 26,700 [5]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 9,350 [6]
Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg   Switzerland 8,000 [7] [5]
Flag of France.svg  France 8,000 [5]
Flag of Bhutan.svg  Bhutan 5,000 [4]
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium 5,000 [5]
Flag of Australia (converted).svgFlag of New Zealand.svg Australia and New Zealand 1,817 [5]
Tibetic languages and Chinese languages
Predominantly Tibetan Buddhism; minorities of Bon (significant), Islam and Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Sherpa  · Tamang  · 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. [21] 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. [22]

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

The ethnic roots of Tibetans can be traced back to a deep Eastern Asian lineage representing the indigenous population of the Tibetan plateau since c. 40,000 to 30,000 years ago, and arriving Neolithic farmers from the Yellow River within the last 10,000 years, and which can be associated with having introduced the Sino-Tibetan languages. [23] [24]


Modern Tibetan populations are genetically most similar to other East Asian populations, especially Han Chinese, Bhutanese, and Nepalese, as well as other Sino-Tibetan-speaking populations. [25] [26] They show relatively more genetic affinity for modern Central Asian than modern Siberian populations. [25] They also share some genetic affinity for South Asian groups. [25]

Genetic studies shows that many of the Sherpa people have allele frequencies which are often found in other Tibeto-Burman regions, the strongest affinity was for Tibetan population sample studies done in the Tibet Autonomous Region. [27] Genetically, the Sherpa cluster closest with the sampled Tibetan and Han populations. [28] Additionally, the Sherpa and Tibetans had exhibited affinity for several Nepalese populations, with the strongest for the Rai people, followed by the Magars and the Tamang. [28]


Proposed migration routes of the East Asian Y chromosome haplogroups C, D, N and O Migration of the Y chromosome haplogroup C, D, N and O.png
Proposed migration routes of the East Asian Y chromosome haplogroups C, D, N and O

Tibetan males predominantly belong to the paternal lineage D-M174 followed by lower amounts of O-M175. [29] Tibetan females belong mainly to the Northeast Asian maternal haplogroups M9a1a, M9a1b, D4g2, D4i and G2ac, showing continuity with ancient middle and upper Yellow River populations. [30]

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. [31]

Autosomal DNA

ADMIXTURE graph on modern Tibetan groups. Deep Tibetan admixture graph modeling.webp
ADMIXTURE graph on modern Tibetan groups.

Full genome studies revealed that Tibetans and other high-alltitude East Asians formed from two divergent Ancient East Eurasian lineages in Eastern Asia, specifically a lineage representing the Paleolithic population of the Tibetan Plateau, and a lineage associated with Ancient Northern East Asians. The Paleolithic Tibetan lineage was found to be distinct from other deep lineages such as Ust'-Ishim, Hoabinhian/Onge or Tianyuan, but forming a clade with them to the exclusion of other Eurasians. The Northern East Asian lineage can be represented by Neolithic Yellow River farmers, which are associated with the spread of Sino-Tibetan languages. Modern Tibetans derive up to 20% from Paleolithic Tibetans, with the remaining 80% being primarily derived from Yellow River farmers. [23] The formation of the present-day Tibetan gene pool dates back at least 5,100 years BP. [24]

Principal component analysis (PCA) on chronological, geographic distribution and genetic data of ancient individuals of the Tibetan Plateau Chronological, geographic distribution and genetic landscape of ancient individuals of the Tibetan Plateau.jpg
Principal component analysis (PCA) on chronological, geographic distribution and genetic data of ancient individuals of the Tibetan Plateau
Genetic links between Tibeto-Burman speakers and their approximate ancestry components. Genetic links between Tibeto-Burman speakers.webp
Genetic links between Tibeto-Burman speakers and their approximate ancestry components.

Northeastern Tibetans display additional geneflow from a Yellow River farmers-like population c. 4,700 years ago, resulting in the formation of a "Tibetan cline". [24] Modern Tibetans display genetic continuity to ancient samples from Nepal, with their genetic diversity having been reduced compared to 'Early Ancient Tibetans' suggesting low to none geneflow from outside groups since c. 3,500 years ago. [24] Subsequent internal geneflow resulted in "a northeastern plateau ancestry associated with the northeast cluster, a southern plateau ancestry associated with the south-southwest cluster, and a southeastern plateau ancestry associated with the southeast-central cluster". [24]

There was limited contact with Central Asian populations, inline with historical events, evident in mutual geneflow. The expansion of the Tibetan Empire may have left genetic traces in surrounding populations. [24]

Adaption to high-altitude environments

Genetic studies identified more than 30 genetic factors that make Tibetans' bodies well-suited for high-altitudes, including the EPAS1 gene, also 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] The genetic basis of Tibetan adaptations have been attributed to a mutation in the EPAS1 gene, [34] [35] and has become prevalent in the past 5,000 years. Ancient Tibetans carried this allele at a frequency of 25-58%, while modern Tibetans carry it at a frequency of >75%. [23] The widespread presence of this gene may represent one of "the fastest genetic change ever observed in humans". [36]

Recent research into the ability of Tibetans' metabolism to function normally in the oxygen-deficient atmosphere above 4,400 metres (14,400 ft) [37] [38] [39] [40] 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 selected genes associated with Denisovan admixture among Asian populations, highlighting how different environments trigger different selective pressures. [41] Nitric oxide causes dilation of blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely to the extremities and aids the release of oxygen to tissues.

Mythological origins

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. [44]

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. [45] 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. [46]

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. [47]


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. [48] [49] [50]


Men and Women wear long thick dresses ( chuba ) in more traditional and rural regions. [51] The men wear a shorter version with pants underneath. The style of the clothing varies between regions. 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. [52] [53]


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. [54]

List of Tibetan states

Kingdoms of Kham

Gyalrong Kingdoms

See also

Related Research Articles

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

Tibet, or Greater Tibet, is a region in the central part of East Asia, covering much of the Tibetan Plateau and spanning about 2,500,000 km2 (970,000 sq mi). It is the homeland of the Tibetan people. Also resident on the plateau are some other ethnic groups such as the Monpa, Tamang, Qiang, Sherpa and Lhoba peoples and, since the 20th century, considerable numbers of Han Chinese and Hui settlers. Since the annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China in 1951, the entire plateau has been under the administration of the People's Republic of China. Tibet is divided administratively into the Tibet Autonomous Region, and parts of the Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. Tibet is also constitutionally claimed by the Republic of China as the Tibet Area since 1912. 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, officially the Xizang Autonomous Region, often shortened to Tibet or Xizang, is an autonomous region of China and is part of Southwestern China.

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

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Upper Mustang</span> Northern area of Mustang District, Nepal

Upper Mustang is an upper part of Mustang District, which is located in Nepal. The Upper Mustang was a restricted kingdom until 1992 which makes it one of the most preserved regions in the world, with a majority of the population still speaking traditional Tibetic languages. Tibetan culture has been preserved by the relative isolation of the region from the outside world. Life in Mustang revolves around tourism, animal husbandry and trade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lhasa</span> Urban district of the City of Lhasa in Tibet

Lhasa, officially the Chengguan District of Lhasa City, is the inner urban district of Lhasa City, Tibet Autonomous Region, Southwestern China.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetic languages</span> Subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan languages

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 grouped 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, Bhutan, and the Kachin State of Myanmar. Classical Tibetan is the major literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gurung people</span> Ethnic group of South Asia

Gurung or Tamu are an ethnic group indigenous to the hills and mountains of Gandaki Province of Nepal. Gurung people predominantly live around the Annapurna region in Manang, Mustang, Dolpo, Kaski, Lamjung, Gorkha, Parbat,Tanahun and Syangja districts of Nepal. They are one of the main Gurkha tribes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Losar</span> Tibetan new year

Losar also known as Tibetan New Year, is a festival in Tibetan Buddhism. The holiday is celebrated on various dates depending on location tradition. The holiday is a new year's festival, celebrated on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar, which corresponds to a date in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. In 2024, the new year commenced on 10 February and celebrations ran until the 12th of the same month. It also commenced the Year of the Male Wood Dragon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetan Muslims</span> Ethnoreligious group

Tibetan Muslims, also known as the Khache, are Tibetans who adhere to Islam. Many are descendants of Kashmiris, Ladakhis, and Nepalis who arrived in Tibet in the 14th to 17th centuries. There are approximately 5,000 Tibetan Muslims living in China, over 1,500 in India, and 300 to 400 in Nepal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetan culture</span> Overview of the Tibetan 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mustang District</span> District in Gandaki Province, Nepal

Mustang District is one of the eleven districts of Gandaki Province and one of seventy-seven districts of Nepal which was a Kingdom of Lo-Manthang that joined the Federation of Nepal in 2008 after abolition of the Shah dynasty. The district covers an area of 3,573 km2 (1,380 sq mi) and in 2011 had a population of 13,452. The headquarters is located at Jomsom. Mustang is the fifth largest district of Nepal in terms of area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Haplogroup M (mtDNA)</span> Widespread human mitochondrial DNA grouping indicating common ancestry

Haplogroup M is a human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup. An enormous haplogroup spanning all the continents, the macro-haplogroup M, like its sibling the macro-haplogroup N, is a descendant of the haplogroup L3.

In Tibetan culture and Sherpa culture, Dawa is a word meaning "moon" or "month". It is often used as a name for children born on a Monday. The name can be given to either a girl or a boy. Other people in the Himalayan region such as the Ladakhis, the Sikkimese of Northeast India and the Bhutanese people also use the name Dawa in the same sense as the Tibetans.

This is a list of topics related to Tibet.

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

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 supported the establishment of an autonomous administration which would be led by Tibet's spiritual leader, and then-political leader, the 14th Dalai Lama. During the 1959 Tibetan uprising, when Tibetans attempted to prevent his possible assassination, the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet and moved 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 as the Tibet Autonomous Region, within China, in 1965.

<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 lost Indo-Buddhist Sanskrit texts that now existed only in Tibetan, into Sanskrit, to Hindi, and other modern Indian languages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tongren, Qinghai</span> County-level city in Qinghai, China

Tongren, known to Tibetans as Rebgong in the historic region of Amdo, is the capital and second smallest administrative subdivision by area within Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, China. The city has an area of 3465 square kilometers and a population of ~80,000 (2002), 75% Tibetan. The economy of the city includes agriculture and aluminium mining.

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

The main religion in Tibet has been Buddhism since its outspread in the 8th century AD. As of 2022 the historical region of Tibet is mostly comprised in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China and partly in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan. Before the arrival of Buddhism, the main religion among Tibetans was an indigenous shamanic and animistic religion, Bon, which would later influence the formation of Tibetan Buddhism and still attracts the allegiance of a sizeable minority of Tibetans.

The Yolmo are a people mainly from the Eastern and Northern Himalayan Regions of Nepal called Helambu. They refer to themselves as the "yolmowa" or "Yolmopa" and are native residents of the Helambu valleys(Melamchigyang, Nakote, Tarkegyang, Sermathang) and the surrounding regions of Northeastern Nepal. The 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">Padma Choling</span>

Padma Choling is a Chinese retired politician of Tibetan ethnicity. He was the eighth chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), but in January 2013, was replaced by his deputy Losang Jamcan. Later he served as the Tibet Autonomous Region People's Congress. As Chairman of TAR, Choling was the "most senior ethnic Tibetan in the regional government", though he was subordinate to the TAR Communist Party Chief Zhang Qingli, and later his successor Chen Quanguo.



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Tibetan people
Tibetan name
Tibetan བོད་པ་