Tibet is a region in the western part of China covering much of the Tibetan Plateau, spanning about 2.5 million km2. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpa, Tamang, Qiang, Sherpa, Lhoba, Han Chinese, and Hui people. Tibet is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 5,000 m (16,000 ft). Located in the Himalayas, the highest elevation is Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain, rising 8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level.
The Tibetan Empire emerged in the 7th century, but with the fall of the empire, the region soon divided into a variety of territories. The bulk of western and central Tibet was often at least nominally unified under a series of Tibetan governments in Lhasa, Shigatse, or nearby locations. The eastern regions of Kham and Amdo often maintained a more decentralized indigenous political structure, being divided among several small principalities and tribal groups.
Following the Xinhai Revolution against the Qing dynasty in 1912, Qing soldiers were disarmed and escorted out of Tibeten Area. The region subsequently declared its independence in 1913 without recognition by the subsequent Chinese Republican government. Later, Lhasa took control of the western part of Xikang, Republic of China.
After the Chinese Civil War, the People’s Republic of China incorporated Tibet in 1950 and negotiated the Seventeen Point Agreement with the newly enthroned 14th Dalai Lama’s government, affirming the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty and granting the area autonomy. Today, China governs western and central Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region, while the eastern areas are now mostly ethnic autonomous prefectures within Sichuan, Qinghai, and other neighboring provinces.
The dominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism; in addition, there is Bön, which is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, and there are also Tibetan Muslims and Christian minorities. Tibetan Buddhism is a primary influence on the art, music, and festivals of the region. Tibetan architecture reflects Chinese and Indian influences.
Religion is extremely important to the Tibetans and has a strong influence over all aspects of their lives. Bön is the indigenous religion but has been almost eclipsed by Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive form of Mahayana and Vajrayana, which was introduced into Tibet from the Sanskrit Buddhist tradition of northern India. Tibetan Buddhism is practiced not only in Tibet but also in Mongolia, parts of northern India, the Buryat Republic, the Tuva Republic, and in the Republic of Kalmykia and some other parts of China. During China’s Cultural Revolution, nearly all monasteries were ransacked and destroyed by the Red Guards. A few monasteries have begun to rebuild since the 1980s, and greater religious freedom has been granted.