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Also known as Xizang, Tibet is an autonomous region of China. It is surrounded by the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan, as well as India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Burma.

Relationships between the Chinese and Tibetan people are uneasy, however. The economy of China is expanding, and improved road, train and air travel are bringing more people across the Tibetan Plateau. As the face of Tibet changes, many of the Tibetan people are worried about becoming minorities in their own land. As a response to the concerns of the Tibetan people, China has tightened its rein on political and religious expression.

Tibet has a large diaspora, particularly in India, where the Dalai Lama now resides. There is also a government in exile, and a movement to seek international support for democracy in Tibet. Meanwhile, China has invested large amounts of money in Tibet's infrastructure and created a large tourist industry within Tibet. As Tibetans have left the region, Chinese immigrants have come in, and it is they who many Tibetans claim are the beneficiaries of the rise in Tibet's economy.

While the Tibetan people complain about a lack of control over their own affairs, China has brought enhancements in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Although China has invested in the renovation of Tibetan monasteries, Tibetans claim that the only interest the monasteries hold for the Chinese is as tourist attractions. While the business climate in Tibet has improved, many Tibetans claim that these businesses are owned by Chinese immigrants.

Tibetans who have traditionally led a nomadic life are being forcibly resettled in modern housing communities built by China. The Chinese government claims that it is protecting the Tibetan grasslands from overgrazing, but Tibetans claim that it was a ruse by Chinas to get access to mining and drilling rights, pointing to dozens of new mines and quarries operated by Chinese concerns.

Tibetans claim that Tibet has become a tightly controlled place, with armed police everywhere, and that religious and political freedoms are denied, while Chinese propaganda and surveillance programs are pervasive. Monastery populations are controlled by the Chinese government, while Chinese security personnel have established barracks in several Tibetan monasteries. Displays of support for the Dalai Lama, the traditional spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, can bring long jail sentences.

Although China claims that had been a protectorate of China during the Qing Dynasty, most historians acknowledge that Tibet was an independent nation prior to the 1950 invasion of Tibet by the People's Republic of China. Just one year after the communist takeover of China, 40,000 Chinese troops attacked central Tibet from six directions. The Tibetan army was made up of only about 4,000 poorly equipped troops, and any attempt they made at defense was easily put down.

Despite a 1951 agreement providing for an autonomous administration led by the Dalai Lama, in 1955 the Chinese government excluded the Dalai Lama government and created its own communist system of government for Tibet. Due to threats to his life, the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959.

Some of the world's highest mountains are in Tibet, including some on the top ten. Situated on Tibet's border with Nepal, Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain. Many of Asia's most significant rivers have their origins in the Tibetan Plateau.

Historically, the people of Tibet consisted of ethnic Tibetans. By tradition, the ancestors of the Tibetan people were the Se, Mu, Dong, Tong, Dru, and Ra, which are represented by the six bands on the Tibetan flag.

Tibet has been a Buddhist country since the 8th Century AD, and Tibetan Buddhism shows the influence of the shamanic and animistic religions practiced in the region prior to the introduction of Buddhism. Although there are limitations on the practice of religion in Tibet today, more than 90% of Tibetans claim Buddhism as their religion, most of the remainder claiming the native Bon or folk religions that share a connection with Confucius. Islam and Roman Catholicism also have a presence in Tibet.

Tourists were not permitted until the 1980s. In recent years, however, Tibet's tourism industry has grown considerably, although it is largely restricted to Chinese passport holders and citizens of Taiwan. In order to enter Tibet, foreigners must enter as part of a group tour, and are required to be accompanied by a tour guide at all times. Journalists and professional photographers are generally denied entry.

 

 

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