Tibet, (Chinese: Xizang), a geographical and political region of southwestern China. The geographical region has vague, undefined boundaries, but is approximately the same as the political region, which is officially called the Tibet Autonomous Region. With an average elevation of more than 15,000 feet (4,570 m), Tibet is one of the highest inhabited areas on earth. It measures about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) east-west and about half that distance north-south; its area is roughly 470,000 square miles (1,220,000 km2).
Tibet is a plateau, bordered and crossed by towering mountains. In the Himalayas, which mark Tibet's southern border, is the world's highest peak—29,028-foot (8,848-m) Mount Everest. Elsewhere, especially in the Kunlun Shan in the north and the Trans-Himalayas of central Tibet, there are many peaks 18,000 feet (5,500 m) to more than 25,000 feet (7,600 m) high, capped by majestic glaciers. From these lofty areas flow many of Asia's great rivers, including the Indus, Brahmaputra (called the Maquan and Yarlung in Tibet), Salween, Mekong, and Yangtze.
Excluding the mountains, the highest part of Tibet is the Plateau of Tibet (Qing Zang Gaoyuan), a less rugged area between the Kunlun and Trans-Himalayan ranges. It is a cold, dry, and desolate area, practically devoid of vegetation. In southern Tibet between the Himalayas and the Trans-Himalayas is the deep valley of the Yarlung River, where elevations generally range between 10,000 and 13,000 feet (3,000 and 4,000 m). Here, as well as in the tributary valleys, the climate is milder and more humid than in the rest of Tibet. At Lhasa, for example, average monthly temperatures range from about 29° to 62° F. (-2° to 17° C.); the annual rainfall is about 16 inches (400 mm).
The Tibetan economy is mainly pastoral. Herders, many of whom are nomadic, raise yaks, goats, sheep, horses, and mules in the mountain and plateau pastures. The animals are used for food and clothing and as beasts of burden.
Virtually all of Tibet's crops come from the Yarlung Valley, though farmland here is limited in area and the growing season is short. Crops include barley, wheat, beans, and potatoes; some are grown with the aid of irrigation. The only industries are those of a handicraft type.
Tibet's mineral resources are known to be extensive, but are largely inaccessible and unused. Only borax, salt, and potash (taken from the lakes in the Plateau of Tibet) are produced in significant amounts.
Transportation has been improved considerably since the early 1950's, when Tibet was taken over by China. Roads connect Tibet with adjoining Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Sichuan. They also traverse the Yarlung Valley and provide access to India, Bhutan, and Nepal.
Tibetans, an East Asiatic Mongoloid people, make up about 65 per cent of the population. The remainder are Chinese, many of whom have been settled in Tibet since 1950 by Chinese Communist authorities. Before the Chinese took control, Tibet was a feudal country. Most of the land was owned by the lamas (monks) and nobility, who were a small minority. The rest of the population consisted of farmers and nomadic herders. Communist rule has caused the breakdown of the old political and social structure.
Most of Tibet's population, reported as 2,616,329 in 2000, is concentrated in the Yarlung Valley. Lhasa, the capital and largest city, had about 124,000 inhabitants in 1992; Shigatse and Gyangtse are the only other sizable cities.
The Tibetan language, of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, is closely related to Burmese. Lamaism, a form of Buddhism, is the traditional religion.
Tibet is an autonomous region within the People's Republic of China. Actual control of the government is in the hands of Chinese Communist officials. However, the nominal head of government is the chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region. There is also a 301-member First People's Congress. Tibet was formerly a theocracy (a state ruled by religious leaders), with the Dalai Lama as ruler and the Panchen Lama second in power.