With a population of more than 5 million, Tibetan nationality mainly live in Tibet Autonomous Region in southeast China, and neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. Tibetan people have their own spoken and written language. Tibetan language belongs to Cambodian branch, Sino-Tibetan language system.
Tibetan areas are rich in natural resources, and Tibetan people mainly live on farming and stock raising. Most Tibetans are devout Buddhists, and observe Tibetan Buddhism. Lamaseries spread all over Tibetan areas, and exhibit the rich culture and superb construction skill of Tibetans. The Potala Palace on Mt. Hongshan (Marpo Ri) in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, is the palace complex with the highest altitude in the world. It is well known for construction style, religion, frescos, sculpture art, and precious cultural relics.
In ancient times the ancestors of the present Tibetans lived along the Yaluzangbu (Brahmaputra) River. In the 6th century the chieftain of the Yarlung tribe conquered several nearby tribes to become king. He was known as Zanpu (king), and established the Po dynasty. In the early 7th century Songtsen Gampo (his grandson) unified the whole of Tibet and shifted the capital to Lhasa. This is known to Chinese history as the Tupo kingdom. In 641, Songtsen Gampo married Princess Wencheng, of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), and was granted the title of "the King of China's west". In 710, Xidezuzan (a king of Tibet) married Princess Jincheng of Tang Dynasty. The contacts between Tibet and central China had a strong influence on Tibetan society in the fields of politics, economics, and culture. In 1934 the Government of the Republic of China set up a resident agency to administer affairs in Tibet, and in 1965, Tibet Autonomous Region was established.
Tsampa, yak butter tea and Tibetan barley wine are the staple food for Tibetan people. People also like dairy products and air-dried beef and mutton. Tibetans eat Tsampa in almost every meal. Tsampa is roasted barley flour mixed with yak butter tea or Tibetan barley wine. Tibetans usually mix the food with fingers of the right hand, and knead it into small lumps before eating.
Yak butter tea is made of boiled tea leaves, salt and yak butter. All are mixed together and vigorously churned in a wooden cylinder till well blended. Yak butter tea is warm and nutritious, and Tibetans drink it throughout the whole day. Tibetan barley wine is a very popular alcohol in among the Tibetans. This mild alcohol is brewed from locally-grown barley, and tastes sweet and sour.
Castle-like house is the most representative one in Tibet. They are often stone-wood structure of primitive simplicity, looking dignified and stable. Even the walls built closely next to hillside remain vertical for stability. Such kind of houses is usually two to three stories high with circular corridor built inside.
In the pasturing area, people usually live in a yak hair tent. The tent is usually square-shaped supported by eight upright pillars. Made of yak hair, the tent is durable enough against wind and snowstorm. Meanwhile it is convenient to be dismantled, put up and removed, suitable for the herdsman's life.
In whatever type of houses, there are always altar tables for worshiping Buddha. This represents Tibetans’ piety to their religion.
Tibetan people have very characteristic clothes. Generally speaking, they wear short upper garment made of silk or cloth with long sleeves inside, wide and loose robe outside and long boots of cattle hide. For the convenience of work or labor, they usually expose their right shoulder or both arms by tying the pair of sleeves around their waist. Both man and woman have pigtails, but man always coils up the pigtails over the head while woman combs the hair either into two or many small pigtails flooding down onto the shoulder, at the end of which some beautiful ornaments are tied. Woman prefers to wear an apron with beautiful patterns.
Tibetans deem Hada as the most precious gift. Hada is a strip of snow-white scarf made of yarn or silk. It symbolizes goodwill and respect, and can be present at various occasions of festivity, arrival and departure of guests, etc. However, there is a kind of Hada with five colors on, blue, white, yellow, green and red, respectively indicating sky, cloud, land, river and the God in charge of Buddha dharma. Five-colored Hada is very valued gift and can only be presented in the grandest occasions, such as Buddhist activities.
Presenting hada is a kind of very common courtesy in Tibet. Presenting hada is to show purity, loyalty, faithfulness and respect to the receivers. Even when people correspond with each other, they won't forget Hada. They always enclose a mini Hada in the letter for greeting and expressing good wishes. What's more interesting is that when Tibetans go out they tend to take several Hadas with them in case that they may give them to friends and relatives they encounter in the journey.
Buddhist believers must recite or chant Buddhism scriptures very often. For illiterate people, what they can do is to turn prayer wheels, with scriptures inside. Turning the prayer wheel is equivalent to chanting some scriptures and it has become routine work for Tibetan people.
The most important festival in Tibet is the Tibetan New Year, on January 1 of the Tibetan calendar. It is for saying bidding farewell to the past year and welcoming the new. From mid December, people will start to prepare and do festival shopping. After cleaning and decorating the house, presenting sacrifices on the altar, families will dine together. Fireworks and torches are lit to scare off the evil spirits and bad luck. They will also walk along a road till they reach an intersection, which they believe can abandon the evil spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. On the first day of the New Year, people will wear their best clothes, and greet their neighbors and relatives with best wishes, and propose a toast with barley wine. There is an interesting competition on this day, for water. A young man from each family will try to get the first bucket of water from the river or well. According to Tibetan traditions, in the New Year, the first bucket of water is gold water, the second bucket silver water, and they will bring good luck, felicity and fortune to people who get them.
There are a lot of culture activities held in the streets of Lhasa during the New Year Festival. Take a China Highlights Tibet Tour to experience the local pageantry of Tibet.
Shoton Festival(watch online video of Shoton Festival)is the liveliest festival in summer. Shoton, meaning Yogurt Banquet in Tibetan language, was originated at Drepung Monastery as a celebration of the end of lamas’ month long retreat. In the past, lamas locked themselves away to devote entirely to Buddhism for a month during summer. When the period was over, lamas were greeted and welcomes by locals with yogurts and performances. Shoton Festival falls on July 1 on the Tibetan calendar, and lasts for 5 days. During the festival, people in Lhasa will go out and gather at Norbulingka. They bring food such as dairy products and yak butter tea, set up tents and have picnics there. Tibetan opera troupes gather to give performances there, so Shoton Festival also gained another name, Tibetan Opera Festival. Read more on Shoton Festival
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I updated this article on February 27, 2014
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