|Tibet is a plateau region in
Central Asia and the home to the indigenous Tibetan people. With an
average elevation of 4,900 metres (16,000 ft), it is the highest region
on Earth and is commonly referred to as the "Roof of the World."
Tibet was once an independent kingdom but today is part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) with a small part, depending on definitions, controlled by India. The Republic of China (commonly known as Taiwan) also lays a claim to Tibet as part of its exclusive mandate which includes a claim to all the territories currently governed by the PRC. Currently, the PRC government and the Government of Tibet in Exile still disagree over when Tibet became a part of China, and whether the incorporation into China of Tibet is legitimate according to international law. Since what constitutes Tibet is a matter of much debate (see map, right) neither its size nor population are simple matters of fact, due to various entities claiming differing parts of the area as a Tibetan region.
A unified Tibet first came into being under Songtsän Gampo in the seventh century. From the early 1600s until the 1959 uprising, the Dalai Lamas (Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leaders) were, at least nominally, heads of a centralised Tibetan administration, with political power to administer religious and administrative authority over large parts of Tibet from the traditional capital Lhasa. They are believed to be the emanations of Avalokiteśvara (Tibetan:spyan ras gzigs, or 'Chenrezig'), the bodhisattva of compassion.
When the PRC government and some Tibetologists refer to Tibet, it means the areas covering Ü-Tsang and Western Kham, which became present-day the Tibet Autonomous Region, a provincial-level entity of the People's Republic. This definition, however, excludes the former domains of the Dalai Lamas in Amdo and eastern Kham which are part of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan.
When the Government of Tibet in Exile and the Tibetan refugee community abroad refer to Tibet, they mean the areas consisting of the traditional provinces of Amdo, Kham, and Ü-Tsang.
The difference in definition is a major source of dispute. The distribution of Amdo and eastern Kham into surrounding provinces was initiated by the Yongzheng Emperor during the 18th century and has been continuously maintained by successive Chinese governments.
Western scholars such as sinologist A. Tom
Grunfeld and anthropologist Melvyn Goldstein exclude Amdo and Kham from
In spite of the changing nature of the recognised borders between the two countries over the centuries, and arguments about their positions (something common to many modern states as well), there were serious attempts from very early times to delineate the borders clearly to avoid conflict. One of the earliest such attempts was promulgated in the Sino-Tibetan treaty which was agreed on in 821/822 under the Tibetan emperor Ralpacan. It established peace for more than two decades. A bilingual account of this treaty is inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. Here is the main core of this remarkable agreement:
".... The great king of Tibet, the
supernaturally wise divinity, the btsan-po and the great king of China,
the Chinese ruler Hwang Te, Nephew and Uncle, having consulted about the
alliance of their dominions have made a great treaty and ratified the
agreement. In order that it may never be changed, all gods and men have
been made aware of it and taken as witnesses; and so that it may be
celebrated in every age and in every generation the terms of agreement
have been inscribed on a stone pillar.
"The temporal power of the Supreme Lama
ends at Bathang. The frontiers of Tibet, properly so called, were fixed
in 1726, on the termination of a great war between the Tibetans and the
Chinese. Two days before you arrive at Bathang, you pass, on the top of
a mountain, a stone monument, showing what was arranged at that time
between the government of Lha-Ssa and that of Peking, on the subject of
boundaries. At present, the countries situate east of Bathang are
independent of Lha-Ssa in temporal matters. They are governed by a sort
of feudal princes, originally appointed by the Chinese Emperor, and
still acknowledging his paramount authority. These petty sovereigns are
bound to go every third year to Peking, to offer their tribute to the
"In 1727, as a result of the Chinese having entered Lhasa, the boundary between China and Tibet was laid down as between the head-waters of the Mekong and Yangtse rivers, and marked by a pillar, a little to the south-west of Batang. Land to the west of this pillar was administered from Lhasa, while the Tibetan chiefs of the tribes to the east came more directly under China. This historical Sino-Tibetan boundary was used until 1910. The states Der-ge, Nyarong, Batang, Litang, and the five Hor States—to name the more important districts—are known collectively in Lhasa as Kham, an indefinite term suitable to the Tibetan Government, who are disconcertingly vague over such details as treaties and boundaries."
Mr. A. Hosie, the British Consul at Chengdu, made a quick trip from Batang to the Tibetan border escorted by Chinese authorities, in September 1904, on the promise that he would not even put a foot over the border into Tibet. He describes the border marker as being a 3½ day journey (about 50 miles or 80 km) to the south and slightly west of Batang. It was a "well-worn, four-sided pillar of sandstone, about 3 feet in height, each side measuring some 18 inches. There was no inscription on the stone, and when unthinkingly I made a movement to look for writing on the Tibetan side, the Chinese officials at once stepped in front of me and barred the road to Tibet. Looking into Tibet the eye met a sea of grass-covered treeless hills. And from the valley at the foot of the Ningching Shan [which separate the valleys of the upper Mekong from that of the Jinsha or upper Yangtse] rose smoke from the camp fires of 400 Tibetan troops charged with the protection of the frontier. There was no time to make any prolonged inspection, for the Chinese authorities were anxious for me to leave as soon as possible." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet)
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