Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR] / Xizang Autonomous Region
Often called the ‘Roof of the World,’ Tibet is a mountainous land in Central Asia and is the highest region on Earth. A part of the People’s Republic of China, Tibet is referred to as “Bod" by Tibetans. The term Tibet means the whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo). It includes the present-day Chinese administrative areas of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, two Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and one Tibetan Autonomous County in Sichuan Province, one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and one Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province and one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. The land area is 2.5 million square kilometres, which includes U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo provinces. "Tibet Autonomous Region", consisting of U-Tsang and a small portion of Kham, consists of 1.2 million square kilometres. The bulk of Tibet lies outside the "TAR".
Tibet is located in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of western People's Republic of China. Tibet, located on the roof of the world, shares borders with China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Mongolia and Bhutan. Prior to 1959, Tibet enjoyed prolong periods of independence. The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) accounts for about half of historical Tibet, with the Tibetan regions of Western China accounting for the other half. Even though Tibet is the source of six major Asian rivers, the Yarlung valley is quite dry, with scrub vegetation and even sand dunes in some places.
The People's Republic of China (PRC), with a population of approximately 1.3 billion, is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitutionally is the paramount authority. The government continues its severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Tibetan areas. The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Tibetan population within the TAR was approximately 2.7 million and an estimated 2.9 million in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces. Tibetan areas total 871,649 square miles, nearly one quarter of the territory of China.
Chinese authorities report that Tibet has enjoyed sustained double digit economic growth. Although Tibet still lags behind most provinces of China in GDP per capita and other economic benchmarks, the region obviously has enjoyed high growth rates for many years. According to Chinese authorities, the government has completed 80% of roughly 225,000 units of “safe and comfortable" housing, designed ultimately to provide modern accommodations for 1.2 million Tibetans. The government continues its campaign to resettle Tibetan nomads into urban areas across the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Officials offered nomads monetary incentives to kill or sell their livestock and move to newly created Tibetan communities. However, there were reports of compulsory resettlement where promised compensation was either inadequate or not paid at all.
Lhasa is the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama and the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People?s Republic of China. It is the location of the Potala palace, seen in the image center of this 3-D perspective view. Lhasa is one of the highest capitals in the world, with an altitude of 3500 meters. Lhasa literally means "place of the gods," though until the 7th century it was known by its ancient Tibetan name, Rasa, meaning "goat's place." The Kyi River, a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River, runs through the city.
Lhasa, Tibet is one of the highest elevation cities in the world. The city fills a flat river valley nestled in the ranges of the Himalaya Mountains. Mountains seem to radiate spoke-like from the flat plain on which the city is built. The high mountains are brown: little vegetation was growing on November 24, 2005, when the image was taken. The city, however, is an oasis. The Lhasa River winds through the valley. Its wandering channels provide evidence that the ground is relatively flat, since the topography of the land isn’t forcing the river’s course.
Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. Situated in the center of the Tibetan Plateau, the city has a long history of government. The city’s most famous landmarks, the Potala Palace and the Norbulingka, were the winter and summer homes of the Dalai Lama, the political and religious leader of Tibet until 1959. The two landmarks are the most prominent features within the city in this image. The fortress-like Potala Palace complex sits on a small rise in the center of the city. The summer palace, Norbulingka, is west of Potala Palace. The two sites together are a World Heritage Site.
The region’s transportation infrastructure has been transformed over the first decade of the new century. Massive investment by the central government produced thousands of miles of new highways, hundreds of bridges and tunnels, dozens of airports, and most significantly for the future of Tibet, the Qinghai-Lhasa rail link. The “Great Train" is an engineering marvel, built across more than 700 miles of permafrost at altitudes ranging from 11,000 feet to nearly 17,000 feet.
A direct passenger train connecting Beijing, China, and Lhasa, Tibet, first operated on July 1, 2006. The train journey takes 48 hours from Beijing to Lhasa, via Qinghai. The Qinghai-Tibet section of the railway is 708 miles long, stretching across the Tibetan Plateau from Golmud, Qinghai, to Lhasa. This is the world’s highest railway. About 600 miles — or more than 80 percent of the Qinghai-Tibet section of the railway — is more than 13,000 feet above sea level and more than half the length of the railway is laid on permafrost. In addition to Beijing, passenger train services are available to Lhasa from several major cities in China, such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining. The capacity of the train between Beijing and Lhasa is 936 passengers. The train contains three types of seats: soft sleepers, hard sleepers, and hard seats.
Though the train is not, as some Chinese initially claimed, “pressurized," it does carry oxygen and some passengers take oxygen duringthe journey. The train carries roughly 1.5 million passengers a year, a blend of tourists,business people, pilgrims, and migrant laborers seeking employment or a new life in Tibet. In 2009, more than 561,000 tourists visited Tibet. Most of them were Chinese, and most arrivedby train. It is the last category of visitors – migrants – more than any other that causes greatest concern among ethnic Tibetans who worry they will soon be a minority in their own land.
Although TAR census figures showed that Tibetans made up 92 percent of the TAR's permanently registered population, official figures did not include a large number of long-, medium-, and short-term Han residents, such as cadres, skilled workers, unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents. Chinese social scientists estimated the number of this floating population, including tourists and visitors on short-term business trips, for Lhasa alone was more than 200,000 (nearly half the population of Lhasa and more than 10 percent of the TAR's population) during the May to November high season for tourism and migrant workers. According to a Lhasa city official, 260,000 of the 450,000 individuals living in downtown Lhasa during the year belonged to the floating population.
The growth boom in Tibet has attracted many Han Chinese migrants and businesses, so that today Lhasa no longer has the feel of a Tibetan city, but rather that of a Chinese city with a Tibetan quarter. Migrants to the TAR are overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas, where government economic policies disproportionately benefited ethnic Han Chinese. Small businesses, mostly restaurants and retail shops, run by ethnic Han and Hui migrants predominated in cities throughout Tibetan areas. Tibetans continued to make up nearly 98 percent of the rural population, according to official census figures. Many Chinese migrants do not have a hukou (residency permit) for Tibet, and therefore are not eligible for subsidized health care, housing, and education. In other words, most are technically illegal migrants, who had to pay for health care, education for their children, and apartments. Moreover, since they do not possess a Tibet hukou, the migrants are not tallied on official government census forms as living in Tibet.
Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, although not all, public and commercial signs. In most cases, Chinese signage was in large characters, with Tibetan in small letters, sometimes misspelled, and often there was no Tibetan at all. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, very little signage in Tibetan could be found and in many instances, forms and documents for use by citizens or customers were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was widely spoken and was used for most official communications.
The illiteracy rate among Tibetans was more than five times higher (47.6 percent) than the national average (9.1 percent), according to 2000 census data. In many rural and nomadic areas, children received only one to three years of Tibetan-language education before continuing their education in a Mandarin-language school. Leading universities generally required English-language proficiency for matriculation. Most graduates of Tibetan schools, however, learned only Mandarin and Tibetan and were thus unable to attend the better universities.
The language barrier cuts both ways. Very few ethnic Han Chinese living in Tibet, even those officials charged with administering the province, have any Tibetan language fluency. Most visitors to Lhasa would quickly conclude that the city is now predominantly Han. While some see this as the result of a deliberate Chinese government policy to populate Tibet with non-Tibetans, to others the Han migration appears to be occurring organically. The migration of ethnic Han settlers to Tibet may be as much the by-product of Chinese economic development strategies as it is a goal of them.
The life experiences of Tibetans under Chinese rule vary widely by region, occupation, and education level. The policies of the Chinese government towards Tibet – the push for economic development, efforts to ensure that Tibetans participate meaningfully in economic and other policy decisions, an emphasis on sustainable environmental practices, authority granted to religious leaders to manage their own affairs, the respect afforded average Tibetans to practice their faith and sustain their cultural traditions – all of these policies vary in design, and, more importantly, in implementation, from place to place in Tibetan regions in western China.
The economic and social exclusion of Tibetans was a major reason why such a varied cross section of Tibetans, including business operators, workers, students, university graduates, farmers, and nomads participated in the 2008 protests. Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment, and some job advertisements in the TAR noted that Tibetans need not apply. Some claimed that ethnic Han Chinese were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work. Some Tibetans reported that it was more difficult for ethnic Tibetans than Han to obtain permits and loans to open businesses. Continued discriminatory treatment of Tibetans' applications for passports is another source of dissatisfaction. The use of Mandarin was widespread in urban areas, and many businesses limited employment opportunities for Tibetans who did not speak Mandarin. Restrictions on international NGOs that provide assistance to Tibetan communities resulted in the elimination of many NGO programs and the expulsion of many foreign NGO workers from the TAR.
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