Tibetans - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicate that people entered the plateau from the northeast approximately 13,000 years ago. In time they migrated throughout the plateau and settled in larger numbers along the Tsangpo River, which runs parallel to the Himalayas in the southern region. In this southernly arc, Tibetan kingdoms began to develop as early as A.D. 400, according to some commentators. The oldest extant example of Tibetan writing, which dates from around A.D. 767, indicates the presence in this region of a settled kingdom. Tibetan history begins with the Tibetan Empire period ( A.D. 632 to 842): armies conquered and controlled large sections of Central Asia to the northwest and northern China and Mongolia to the northeast. After the murder of the last king of the Yarlung dynasty, decentralizaion ensued and many smaller states were formed throughout the plateau. Buddhism, which had first been introduced during the empire period, gained popularity during this time and became a central feature of Tibetan ethnicity.

In the thirteenth century one sect of Tibetan Buddhism (the Sa skyas pa), with the help of Mongolian supporters, took control of much of central Tibet and established a theocracy that lasted for 100 years. Three secular dynasties followed between the years 1354 and 1642—the Phagmogru, the Rinpung, and the Tsangpa. In the middle of the seventeenth century the Gelugspa, or Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, with the help of Mongolian supporters of their charismatic leader, the Dalai Lama, took control of the central part of the plateau, which they held for 300 years. British incursion into the country from the south and Chinese incursions from the north in the twentieth century demonstrated that the Tibetans had not cultivated military strength. In late 1950 the army of the People's Republic of China marched into eastern Tibet and claimed sovereignty over the plateau but left the Dalai Lama as leader and administrator of the country. A decade of negotiation and military skirmishes ensued, which culminated in a general uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama and thousands of his supporters to India in 1959.

The plateau and contiguous areas of Tibetan settlement are now part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and divided between the Tibet Autonomous Region and the neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan, where several prefectures or counties are designated for Tibetans as autonomous areas. In Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama heads the administration of the government-in-exile of Tibet, which oversees the affairs of over 100,000 Tibetans in exile in India, Nepal, and abroad. Negotiations conducted in the 1980s did not produce any compromises nor result in the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

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