Tibet - General Informations
Tibet - the roof of the world - is a region that has fascinated people for many years. The Tibetan cultural area spans over a total area of over 10 Mio sq kilometres. In the south it borders on the Himalayas, in the west on the Karakorum, in the north on the Kunlun and in the east on several high snow-covered mountain ranges. Three of the biggest Asian rivers burst through these ranges in a north-south direction.
The holy mountain Kailash regarded as the centre of the world by many Asian people lies in West-Tibet a mostly arid high desert. In central Tibet there are valleys with meandering river systems where Tibetans practice intensive farming. This farming enabled the Buddhist high culture to flourish leading to the building of thousands of temples and big monasteries.
Up in northern Tibet you find the nearly deserted 5000 meter high "northern plain", the Changthang full of salt lakes. The warmer, fertile and well-wooded south where a lot of non-Tibetan people live, is on a much lower level.
The "wild" East Tibet, named Kham (which today stretches over parts of the Chinese provinces Sichuan, Yunnan und Gansu) is dominated by high mountains which alternate with deep fertile valleys. Here lies the home of an agricultural and nomadic tribe - the Khampas. The Khampas are said to have been fearless warriors and sometimes even bandits. In the Northeast, in Amdo (today the Chinese province Quinghai) there are beautiful river valleys and extensive pastures with countless flocks of sheep and yaks.
In the 7th century under King Songtsen Gampo the first Tibetan empire came into being. He initiated the development of a standardized Tibetan script and the translation of a lot of Buddhist texts necessary to unite the diverse tribes and to coordinate administration.
Under his successor Buddhism was made the state religion, however, the competing domestic "Bön" religion soon regained its place. From the 11th century on Tibetan Buddhism re-established itself as the ruling religion. This led to a huge artistic boom accompanied by a fertile exchange with the neighbouring countries. In the 17th century the V. Dalai Lama and all his successors were vested with worldly and religious powers - due to the help of the Mongolians. This and the increasing influence of the thousands of monks in the big monasteries led to an inflexible system and to Tibet's separation from the rest of the world.
Politically speaking, Tibet belongs to the Republic of China. After Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, communist troops crossed Tibet's border in 1950 and reached Lhasa in 1951. The Chinese Government first promised that the old traditional Tibetan system would not be touched, they only wanted some soft reforms. However they didn't keep their promises. The first bloody uprisings in East Tibet were the result in the nineteen-fifties. In 1959 the Tibetan resentment culminated in an insurrection in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and a hundred thousand of his fellow countrymen had to take refuge in India.
During the disastrous cultural revolution most of the cultural monuments and monasteries (up to 6000) were destroyed, not only in China but also in Tibet. A lot of people were expelled, imprisoned or killed. Only in the nineteen-eighties a certain liberalisation occurred. The Tibetans were allowed to learn their own language again, some monasteries were rebuilt. However religious activities are still strictly controlled. A lot of aid-projects were promoted in Beijing but at the same time a lot of military was stationed in Tibet.
The free market economy, declared by Deng Xiau Ping in China, also reached Tibet. The nomads are now allowed to keep big flocks again, to plant their fields on their own and sell their products on the free market. However, Chinese business people established themselves in the cities and the Tibetan have no chance to compete against them.
Unfortunately, as school education or treatment at the hospital cost a lot of money, poor people cannot afford either. The Chinese-Western lifestyle with its faceless concrete buildings, cheap industrial products and primitive mass media floods the country and threatens to destroy the Tibetan cultural identity and tradition.
The Chinese also dominate the educational sector. It is only possible to study at the Tibet University in Lhasa if one can speak perfect Chinese. Most of the classes are in Chinese.
An in-depth school education and the awareness of their own precious culture (e.g. arts and crafts, literature and medicine) is essential to all Tibetan children these days. This is the only way they can become responsible citizens, participate in reforms and improve their living standard. It is the only way this small number of people has a chance to hold their ground against two "billion nations", the "Han-Chinese", and the Indians.