Tibetan horseman in Amdo in full regalia
Of the many ethnic groups living in Tibet, Tibetan areas of China and the Himalayas, Tibetans, Naxi, Nu, Hui, Moinba, Qiang, Lhoba, Deng and Sherpa groups have been inhabitants of Tibet since ancient times. Tibetans account over 90 percent of population of Tibet proper, and the last. Moinba, Lhoba, Deng, and Sherpa are found only in Tibet but except for migrants found nowhere else in China but Moinba and Lhoba can be found in India and Sherpas live mainly in Nepal.

Muslim Huis are sometimes employed as butchers, a trade that Buddhists are discouraged from practicing. Many minorities in eastern and southern China such as the Qiang and Naxi are closely related to Tibetans. As a general rule the closer a minority is to Tibet the more closely related they are to Tibetans. See Minorities, China. Many Tibetans have never seen Westerners, particularly ones with blond hair and blue eyes. Blue eyes are regarded by many Tibetans as an indication of blindness.

The Bon-po people are Tibetans who live in small hamlets isolated valleys in eastern Tibet. They still practice the ancient, pre-Buddhist Bon religion and catch Stone Age horses with lassos when they need pack animals and set them free when they aren't needed. Book: "The Last Barbarians" by Michel Peissel (Henry Holt, 1998)

The Lhoba are China's smallest minority. They speak a Tibetan-Burman language and have no written language. They have traditionally been distinguished from other groups by the fact they wore no shoes. They are also known as the Loba, Mishi and Apatani (out of China). The name Lhoba was given to them by the Tibetans. It means ̊southerners." The Tibetans have traditionally viewed them as inferior and banned intermarriage with them.

The Moinba are a very small minority that lives in southeastern Tibet and have intermarried with Tibetans, live among Tibetans and have adopted many Tibetan customs. Also known as the Monba and Monpa, the Moinba live in an area with abundant rainfall and steep mountain slopes covered with dense forests. They grow rice, maize, millet, buckwheat, soybeans and sesame seeds and also hunt and herd animals and are considered skilled archers. Most marriages are monogamous although polygamy and polyandry were practiced in the past. Linguistically, the Moinba language belongs to the Moinba sub-group of the Tibetan-Myanmar group of the Sino-Tibetan language family. In terms of dialects, the language is complex. While there is no written language, most Moinba people can speak and write Tibetan.

Tibet Ethnic Groups: (size ranking of China's 55 minorities, ethnic group: population in 2010, 2000 and 1990)
9) Tibetan: 6,282,187 (0.4713 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 5,422,954 in 2000; 4,593,330 in 1990.
50) Monba: 10,561 (0.0008 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 8,928 in 2000; 7,475 in 1990.
55) Lhoba: 3,682 (0.0003 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 2,970 in 2000; 2,312 in 1990.

Kham and Amdo People

The Kham, or Khamp, are a Tibetan tribe of herders and farmers who live in eastern Tibet and Sichuan. Known for their fierceness and skill as horsemen, they are generally larger and tougher than other Tibetans. Men often wear red turbans or fox-fur hats and robes trimmed with leopard and otter skin and carried scimitars, decorated swords or daggers in their belts. The Kham still pride themselves on being horseback warriors. Kham men and women have very long hair, often braided and worn in buns or pony tails adorned with turquoise, wrapped in a red sash, or worn with red or black tassels. It is a big deal for a Kham man to cut his hair. Traditionally only a man can cut the hair and no scissors are allowed near the head.

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: Kham is “a region of valleys, ravines and hillside monasteries, was traditionally home to Tibet’s fiercest warriors. Although they were conquered in 1950 by the People’s Liberation Army, the people of Kham have remained feisty. Many took part in the 2008 uprising that spread from Lhasa across the plateau, and there have been self-immolations protesting Chinese rule in recent years. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, December 19, 2015]

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Golog tribesman
Chloe Xin of Tibetravel.org wrote: The Kham “are tall and well built, fearless and open of countenance. The Kham men can be easily recognized in the crowd with gold or silver accessories, plaited hair and purple faces. They walk on the street like moving hills. The Kham women also like wearing some gold and silver accessories. Their bright laughter definitely draws your attention. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]

According to legend the Kham are “the offspring of the god of war and the god of beauty. The women were born to be pretty and the men are born to be brave. The Kham people lived in a hostile environment for a long time, but they never gave up. Through brave fighting with the nature, they survived. In the Medicine King City, lived a medicine king. Impressed by the Kham's courage and charming points, he often gave them free medical treatment. At last, he even taught Kham what he had learned in his life time, including all the herbal medicine and disease treatment methods. Since then, the Kham had never fallen ill.” It is also said that they are knowledgeable of medicine and other Tibetans and Chinese seek them all out to find out their secrets to good health.

The Amdo come from northern Tibet and Qinghai Province. Women from Amdo wear lots of jewelry and have elaborately braided hair. Qinghai Tibetans were given more freedom to practice their religion than Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Pictures of the Dalai Lama were openly displayed in temples, craft workshops and small stores in way unthinkable in the TAR.


The Gologs are a Tibetan minority whose name literally means "heads on backwards." Inhabiting remote areas of Qinghai Province, they speak a Tibetan dialect and are known for their ferocity and sour disposition. The first Westerner to meet them, wrote 60 year ago: "Such hostile and unfriendly people I have never met anywhere in the world; it seems that a smile never crosses their coarse features." Accorded to legend, the first Gologs (also known as Goloks, Golocks) were fierce warriors who were sent to the Kham mountains in the A.D. 7th century by a Tibetan king to hold off a Chinese invasion. The Tibetan outpost they established eventually collapsed but the Gologs that lived there stayed on. Their language today is almost unintelligible to Tibetans and the version of Buddhism they practice has militant aspects. [Source: National Geographic, Galen Rowell, February 1982]

The Gologs live in yak hair tents built to withstand winds up to 70 miles per hour. Like the Tibetans, they subsist off barley, yak meat, tea and rancid yak butter, and use yak body parts for string, clothing, shoes and numerous other things. Gologs wear ragged sheepskins and woman have ornate headbands. Golog women wear amazing costumes that look particularly impressive from the back, where a woolen mantle in placed. Weighing more than ten pounds and extending from their head to their hips, the mantel is covered with silver, breast-shaped cups, and overlaid with coral and turquoise beads. Golog women braid their hair into 108 strands, a number that holds mystical significance for Tibetan Buddhists.

The Golog have a reputation for independence, fierceness and suspicion of outsiders. The Chinese had hoped to build a railroad from western China to Tibet in the 1960s. But those plans were scrapped after the Gologs and neighboring guerillas drove off Chinese construction crews that had come to build the railroad line.¡Î A mountain climbing expedition in Western China headed by Galen Rowell hired some Gologs as guides. "While our expedition was generally accepted, it was rarely welcomed," he wrote. "Our Golog guides, for example, more often hindered than helped us. Although superb horsemen, they nonetheless managed to lose their mounts most mornings, just as we were getting under way." Rowell once was startled when his Golog guide unsheathed his knife after walking around a religious shrine three times, and approached Rowell. "But it was for another act of worship," he said. "he cut a lock of my hair, a lock of his own, and another from his horse and bound all three to a pole as an offering to the deities.¡±

Golog in the 1940s

Deng Ethnic Group

The Deng are a small group of peoples that live mainly southeastern Tibet's Nyingchi Prefecture and in nearby districts in India. Also known as the Dengba, Darang, Geman, Kaman, Mishmi and Miju, they speak a language derived from the Tibetan-Burmese branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family but is different from Tibetan that most Tibetans can’t understand it. In 2000 there were about 1,400 Deng in China. As the group’s population is so small, the Deng have not been recognized as an independent ethnic group. They are divided at least in two groups: Darang and Geman, that the experts say are related with the Mishmi-Miju peoples living in Arunachal Pradesh province in India. Some regard the Deng as a branch of Tibetans; others consider them a separate ethnic group. [Source: Ethnic China *]

The Deng have no written language of their own. In the past they keep records by notching wood, tying knots, or arranging sticks or branches. Deng people believe in ghosts. They live in two-story structures, with people on the top floor, with several rooms leading off a corridor are arranged in an orderly manner for family members, and cattle and poultry below. The women commonly wear long, drum-like silver earrings, a headdress covering the forehead, and a string of beads or silver jewelry around the neck. They wear silk skirts and go barefooted. Men wear a black cloth wound about their heads. sometimes silver earrings, and always carry a knife on their belt..

Until the early 1980s, Deng women were very fond of smoking. At that time, it was very common to see in Deng villages with young and old women with long-stemmed tobacco pipes, smoking and chatting in the middle of the street. Today, women in Deng villages are seldom seen smoking. They prefer to go dancing or listen to music in their spare time. At present about 1,320 Deng people live in Tibet’s Zayu County in nine Deng villages—including Shaqiong Deng Village—at an elevation of about 1000 meters in an area of virgin forest and valleys between the Himalayas and the Hengduan Mountains. The Mishmi are a tribal people related to—or possible the same as—the Deng in Tibet. They live mainly in the hilly districts on northeastern side of central Arunachal Pradesh mostly in the Lohit, Upper Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley districts. The Mishmi can be broadly divided into three major groups based on their geographical location: 1) the Idus or Chulikatas, 2) Digarus or Taroan and 3) Mijus or Kaman.[Source: indianetzone.com, November 4, 2014 ***]

Deng man with trophies

Religion of the Deng people

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “In spite of their small population the Deng people have their own spiritual practices that clearly differentiate them from their neighboring peoples. For them, all things that exist in the world have their own spirit, even the dead. These spirits are everywhere; they can affect the people in diverse ways, particularly by provoking illness. Their most important deity is a goddess who lives high in the mountains. Other minorities linguistically related to them pay homage also to creator goddesses, a sure vestige of their original matriarchal society. Although she doesn't have authority over other gods, the Deng people respect her above all else, because they believe that she can bring them misfortune. [Source: Ethnic China *]

“When a person dies, its soul abandons the dead body. The Deng believe that, if the soul stays among the living people, it can cause them damage. So, they carry out different ceremonies aimed at sending the soul away to the world of the spirits as soon as possible. These souls have their own necessities, and to satisfy them, they don't care if harm comes to the people. The Deng people ask the soul to depart as soon as possible after the death of a person, and they try to forget him/her as soon as possible. Before, dead people were usually buried inside a coffin. Later on this practice was replaced by cremation. After cremation, the ashes are buried or are spread by the wind. When a man dies his relatives don't work for 11 days, if a woman dies, they stop work for only one day. *\

“The Deng believe that there are spirits of different sizes. Big ones and small ones. They believe that these spirits eat meat, and they perform offering ceremonies to them according to their size. Chickens for the small ones, pigs for the big ones, and a cow for the biggest. All these offering ceremonies should be directed by a priest. *\

“The ceremony called Deya is the most important among the Deng known by the name Darang. It takes a long time; sometimes they spend several years preparing it. During this ceremony several cows are sacrificed, in addition to pigs, chickens, wild animals, and dry rats. A favorable date is looked for and the relatives are notified by means of knotted strings. Every day a knot is loosened and when there are no knots remaining it is the day of the celebration. The friends and relatives should arrive one day before the sacrifice of the cows. The host invites them to eat meat and to take home portions. During these ceremonies a large part of the meager wealth of the Darang is expended.” *\

Bringing of Development to the Deng

Up until the 1950s, the Deng people mostly lived deep in the mountain forests, surviving on slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting and gathering. More recently they have moved into terraced river valleys with the aid of the government. The Deng now live a relatively modern life with modern household appliances and televisions. However, they used to rely on slash-and-burn farming and hunting and had no permanent residences. Into the 1960s, they led a primitive life in which they cut rope into different lengths to record events and they cultivated farmland with spades and fires. At that time people looked down on the Deng because of their poverty and some were even called them "monkeys" or "wild men". Today some Deng women sing for tourists [Source: HeyTibet.com]


According to the Chinese government: In the 1950s most Deng people lived in shelters were set up halfway up a hill and planted corn with simple tools in flat areas. The annual output was so low that villagers were often short of food and survived by hunting wild animals or searching for wild fruit and herbs. In the 1960s the Chinese government built new houses along the Zayu River to relocate the local Tibetans. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) helped the Deng people move away from the isolated mountain areas. After moving to their new homes, Deng children began going to school, learning Tibetan and Mandarin, and villagers began cultivating farmland with advanced modern tools. Today, over 90 percent school-aged Deng children are receiving an education. Many Deng people have been trained as officials.

In 2009, Xinhua reported: “Great changes have taken place in their life in recent years, thanks to the support of China's Central Government, especially the extension of small-amount loans from the Agriculture Bank of China (ABC). The Deng people began to shake off poverty and lead a better-off life. The ABC Tibet Branch began in 2001 to extend small-amount loans to villagers in 2001. The Deng people, who would not have loans due to the absence of mortgages, now have bought production tools and other means of production via such loans. "In the past, we did not even have eggs. How could we make mortgages," said Alusong, director of the Shaqiong Villagers' Committee. Since ABC issued small-amounts loans, the villagers started to buy farm cattle, tractors and other means of production with the loans and bid farewell to the days when they went elsewhere to seek jobs. [Source: China Tibet Online, November 30, 2009]

“Alusong added that quite a few of the villagers are leading an affluent and happy life by breeding livestock, planting crops and growing medical herbs. Without stationary dwelling, the Deng people lagged far behind other people in Tibet in terms of productivity and livelihood, said Xirao Luosha, assistant manager to the Finance Office of Agriculture, Rural Areas and Farmers of ABC's Nyingchi Branch. With publicity and promotion, the view of the Deng people on small-amount loans have become the positive and the bank has also increased the amount of loans.

“Now, more and more Deng people have become prosperous with the help of such loans, said Dorje, governor of the Zaya Branch of ABC. The Shaqiong Deng Village was chosen by the ABC as the "credit village" and the villagers are entitled to more loans. A leading official of the Xia Zaya Office of ABC said almost every family in Deng Village has obtained loans and the bank has offered loans totaling 450,000 yuan (65,935 U.S. dollars) to the locals. According to Alusong, the Deng Village has about 370 people, 70 percent of whom did not have enough to eat and wear in the 1990s. Now, all the families have moved into new houses and some have bought tractors and even cars. The annual per-capita income reaches 7,000 yuan.”


The Baima are a people who live in the border districts of Sichuan (Pingwu and Nanping) and Gansu (Wenxian) Provinces. There are about 10,000 of them and they generally dispersed in this area, mixed with Han Chinese. They are concentrated in Baima village of Pingwu, where more than 1,000 live. The Baima were declared as Tibetan in 1951, but their history, territory, language, dress, culture and religion is very different from Tibetans in Tibet and Sichuan. In 1973 the Baima asked that their ethnic status be changed. In 1978-9, anthropologists and scientists were sent to their region but no conclusion was reached. [Source: Ethnic China *]

Baima beekeeper

Jiao Pan wrote in “Theories of Ethnic identity and the making of Yi identity in China”: "The Baima Tibetans have been striving to have the state recognize them as a separate nationality rather than a branch of the Tibetans since the 1960s, and most scholars hold that this claim is reasonable considering that their language, marriage rules, culture, myth of origin, and self-consciousness are distinct from that of the Tibetan, and that they hold that the Tibetans were their oppressors in history. However, some Tibetan elite do no like any officially recognized Tibetan group to split away. They argue that the Baima Tibetans may be descendants of Tibetan soldiers garrisoned in that area during the Tang dynasty." [Source: Jiao Pan, “Theories of Ethnic identity and the making of Yi identity in China,” in "Exploring Nationalisms of China: Themes and Conflicts" edited by C X George Wei and Xiaoyuan Liu, Greenwood Press, 2002 *]

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “The scarce ethnologic studies carried out among them affirm that their language is different to the Tibetan one, that their customs and dresses are different, and that they are not Lamaist, but rather they maintain from immemorial time the animism of their ancestors, and that in the past they have experienced numerous rebellions to be liberated of the oppression of the Tibetan noblemen.” *\

In recent years, “besides the agriculture and cattle raising that they practice for centuries, they have reached a certain economic prosperity with the exploitation of the wood and the wild medicines. Since the time was put in vigor the prohibition of cutting wood in the upper basin of the Yangtze River, they are trying to develop a minimum tourist infrastructure, because their lands are rich in forests and natural landscapes, and are the home of some big pandas. The development of the tourist business in the area is increasing the competition for the natural resources, but at local level, is leading the local authorities to stress the uniqueness of the Baima people. In the last years have been published in Chinese national media several articles relating the Baima people with the Di who lived in this area some hundreds of years ago.” *\

Ersu and Namzi

The Ersu are small group with around 21,000 members that live in the mountains west Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in an area of Sichuan Province with steep mountains, deep valleys and difficult communication and transportation. Some consider them Tibetans or a branch of the Lisu while others regard them as a separate ethnic group. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: they are not recognized as a separate ethnic group:“In spite of having a well differentiated culture, with some really surprising features; an individual language divided in several dialects; a clearly defined history, and sharing common characteristics with peoples of scarce population linguistically related with them. Their culture is not quite homogeneous. In fact, in some places they are considered Tibetan (Zangzu) and in other places, Lisu.” Usually the ones considered Tibetan live near Tibetan communities and those considered Lisu live near Lisus. [Source: Ethnic China *]

According to Sun Hongkai in every place the Ersu inhabit, they call themselves in a different way but all names mean "white men" in their different dialects. The main groups are: 1) the Ersu, in the area of Ganluo, Weixi and Manyuan counties of Liangshan Prefecture (they sometimes call themselves Buersi or Buersi Ersu); 2) Duoxu, east of Manning County; 3) Lusu, in Shimian County; and 4) Lisu, in Jinlong, Muli and west of Manyuan counties. According to Sun there are three main dialects: A) Ersu, used by the Ersu and Lusu branches, with 13,000 speakers.; B) Duoxu, with about 3,000 speakers; and C) Lisu, with about 4,000 speakers.

Interesting characteristics of Ersu culture include: 1) The cult to the white stone, a cult ubiquitous in the region and is associated with most with Qiang ethnic group but is observed by other peoples who speak languages in the Qiangic Branch of the Tibetan Burmese Family; 2) The culture of the towers, studied by Sun Hongkai, again associated with with Qiang and speakers of Qiangic languages; 3) A unique pictographic script in which color seems to play an important role that according to Li Jingsheng could be related in their origin with the pictographic script of the Naxi Dongba; 4) the use these pictograms by religious specialists called Shaba.

The Namzi or Namuyi are a group of about 5,000 persons. They inhabit the Yi and Tibetan borderlands in the west of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. They have not been officially recognized as a Chinese nationality. Their language belongs to the Qiangic branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. Some members make sacrifices at their ancestor’s graves, which are located on mountains, [Source: Ethnic China*]

Sherpas, Mustangese and Dolpo People

Sherpas, the famous high altitude tribe who live in the Khumba Valley around Mount Everest, practice Tibetan Buddhism. Sherpa, meaning “eastern people” in Nepali, describes a Tibetan group that lives along the Tibet-Nepal Border. The word Sherpa often conjures up images of assistants helping western climbers reach the top of Mount Everest. Though the word has developed into a position title for anyone hired to help with a mountaineering expedition, it comes from the name of the Sherpa people. If you want a guide or porter to climb Mount Everest, do hire a Sherpa. Sherpa people are professional Mt. Everest Guide. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Woman in the Upper Dolpo

Most Sherpa people live in the south side of Himalayas, mainly in the eastern regions of Nepal. But some of them also live in the Zhangmu, Dinggye and Tingri areas of Tibet. In Fact, the Sherpa migrated from eastern Tibet to Nepal hundreds of years ago. Prior to Western intrusion in the twentieth century, the Sherpa didn't climb mountains; they reverently passed by the high peaks of the Himalaya, believing them to be the homes of the gods. The Sherpa eked their livelihood from high-altitude farming, cattle raising, and wool spinning and weaving.

The Tibeto-Nepalese are of Tibeto-Mongol (Tibeto-Burman) origin. They have Tibetan, more Asian, features and speak Tibeto-Burmese languages. These groups have settled higher valleys and mountainous areas and are associated most with the Himalayas. The Bhotes, of Tibetan origin, are the main inhabitants of northern Nepal. The Bhote or Bhotia groups inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas — among whom the Sherpas have attracted the most attention in the mountaineering world — have developed regional distinctions among themselves, although clearly related physically as well as culturally to the Tibetans. The term Bhote literally means inhabitant of Bhot, a Sanskrit term for the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, or the Tibetan region.[Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Dolpo is a remote region northwest of the Annapurna area of Nepal. The people of the Dolpo region— the Dolpa-pa — are a Tibetan people who have lived pretty much the same way for the last 1,000 years. The food they grown in their valleys is only enough to feed them for half a year. The key to their existence is the yak caravan. From Dolpa they travel up to Tibet and trade barely and corn for salt. The salt is then taken to the south were it is traded for corn, beans and rice. [Source: Eric Valli and Diane Summers, National Geographic, December 1993 [☺]

Mustang (pronounced moo Stong) is a remote, semi-autonomous kingdom in northern Nepal,Ethnically similar to Tibetans, the people of Mustang called their homeland Lo and themselves Loba, or Lo Pa. Often called Mustangese by outsiders, they follow Tibetan Buddhism and respect the Dalai Lama. The highest religious figure in Mustang is the abbot of the single active monastery in Lo Manthang. Tibetan culture found in Mustang is considered purer and less disturbed than Tibetan culture in Tibet. Mustang has traditionally been one of the world’s most isolated places. Many people of Mustang believe the world is shaped like a half moon. The Loba have traditionally carry on trade between Nepal and Tibet in the Upper and Lower Mustang areas. [Source: Robert Caputo, National Geographic, November 1997]

Ladakhis and Bhutanese

The Ladakhis are a Tibetan Buddhist people that inhabit Ladakh, which is part of Jammu and Kashmir state but shares a 1,500 mile border with Tibet. Tibet and Ladakh share a similar culture and climate, and vie for the honor of having the highest roads and villages in the world. The region of Ladakh is isolated in the Himalayas and differs radically from the rest of Jammu-Kashmir state in that the majority of the population is culturally, ethnically, religiously, and linguistically close to Tibet not Muslim Kashmir. There also is a Muslim minority. The region has no interest in the separatist and Islamicist sentiments of the Vale of Kashmir.

Ladakhis that live above 18,000 feet suffer discomfort when the descend to Ladakh capital of Leh at 11,550 feet. The temperatures in Ladakh frequently drop below minus 30 degrees F in the winter time and sometimes there is not enough dung, firewood or fuel to heat their mud and stone homes. It is no surprise then that many Ladakhi Buddhists believe that hell is a bitterly cold place and they rarely take baths. On the positive side Ladakh is so cold that few germs can survive and the most common illnesses are eye and respiratory problems caused by smoke and dust in their sealed homes. In the summer the temperatures often rise above 100 degrees , and the extremes of hot and cold are enough to break up the granite mountains and produce a lot dust

Ladakhi woman in traditional dress

Ladakhis have been described as "extraordinarily warm, open, cheerful, pleasure-loving people." The like playing polo, doing archery, drinking barely beer, doing slow ritualistic dances, and partying at weddings. Crime is not a problem. Nobody can remember when a murder was committed and theft is unheard of.

Buddhism is said to have arrived in Ladakh from India in 200 B.C. Padma Sambhava was the eighth century founder of lamanism in Ladakh. According to rinpoche.com: “It is not clear when the first Buddhist communities were established in Ladakh. The site of His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, writes that “Starting about the 3rd century, Buddhism began to grow and spread outside India, adjusting to local cultures and the varying conditions of different countries. Buddhism began to take root in different countries in Asia as they came in contact with Buddhism from the early 2nd century B.C.E. Buddhism became nearly extinct in India, the country of its origin.” [Source: rinpoche.com]

“History books concede that after the eastward propagation of Buddhism in the 7th century, Ladakh and its neighbours were overrun by those fleeing westwards from the early Tibetan Tubo Kings. The chiefs of the Tubo Empire in Yarlung (which is situated in Central Tibet) had established an aristocracy and displaced the native inhabitants who had an independent state with its own language, literature, and culture; these people continue living in remote areas of Zhang Zhung in West Tibet proper, Kashmir, Ladakh, Zanskar, and the Himalayan regions of Nepal. Under the patronage of King Trison Detsen, Khenpo Shantarakshita from India established a monastic order in Tibet by ordaining the first seven monks at Samye Monastery in the year 791. He called Guru Rinpoche to vanquish all obstructions impeding the construction and to help establish Buddhism on the Tibetan Plateau.”

The first plane landed in Ladakh in 1948. Some Ladakhis thought it was animal and brought it hay. Some even thought the jeeps that were loaded from it were its babies, and the jeeps would later grow wings and fly like their mother. Queen Diskit Wnagmo, a descendant of the ruling lamas, became the states leader and a member of the Indian parliament in the late 1970s.

Tensions Between Tibetans and Muslims

Tibetans and Muslims, mostly Muslim Huis, are arguably the most bitter enemies in China. They get along even worse than Tibetans and Chinese. Animosity between Tibetans and Muslims was a major contributor to the tensions that produced the riots in March 2008. Many of the shops and restaurants that were attacked in Lhasa were Muslim owned.

Tibetans and Huis have often lived in close proximity and they have a long history of fighting, competing, intermarrying and collaborating. Muslim have traditional done butchering and tanning for Tibetans who eat meat and wear furs but are restricted by Buddhism from killing animals. The Huis also have a reputation for seeking their fortune in remote places that Han Chinese would never go and serving as intermediaries for illiterate Tibetans in markets.

Animosity between Muslims and Tibetans in Qinghai dates back to the 1930s when the Muslim warlord Ma Bufeng tried to establish an Islamic enclave in Qinghai. Tibetans were pushed off their land. Some were killed, or forced to convert to Islam. After the Communist takeover tensions were repressed. The increased mobility of people brought about by easing of travel restrictions have brought Muslim and Tibetans into contact with each more than ever before, creating more opportunities for tensions to rise compared to the Maoist era when travel restrictions kept them separated.

A Tibetan doctor told the Los Angeles Times, “To be honest the Tibetans don’t have the business savvy of the Hui. The Tibetans have to sell their products to Hui. The Hui have to buy it from the Tibetans. I suppose because we are interdependent we resent each other.” It doesn’t help that the Huis often side with the Han Chinese in disputes involving Tibetans and support Chinese repression against Tibetans.

In some ways the Tibetans take their frustrations of being a minority on the Hui, another minority. London-based Tibetan scholar Andrew Fischer told the Los Angeles Times, “It is the dark side of Tibetan nationalism. It is as though the Tibetans are diverting their anger over their own situation towards another vulnerable minority.” A Muslim shopkeeper in Lhasa, said “they are used as a scapegoat for their grievances against the country.” In Lhasa, many Muslims have bought Tibetan businesses and now own the majority of souvenir stands. Tensions over lost business opportunities are seen a major force behind the riots in 2008. A Tibetan businessman told the Los Angeles Times, You hear these stories about Muslims putting stuff in soup. But I think its all about business competition and economics.”

Clashes Between Tibetans and Muslims

Muslim Huis
In recent decades their have been dozens of clashes between Tibetans and Muslims in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces as well as in the Tibetan Autonomous region. Most of the incidents go unreported. Neither the Chinese or the Tibetans want the incidents publicized. The Chinese don’t want their claims of a “harmonious society” undermined and the Tibetans don’t want their international image tarnished.

In the mid 1990s, Tibetans in Lhasa began boycotting Muslim restaurants and calling Muslims cannibals after someone reportedly found a finger in a bowl of coup. Rumors also began spreading that Muslim cooks urinated in the food and added their bath water to it. Seemingly ridiculous or trivial concerns set off bitter clashes. In 2003, a Tibetan and a Muslim died, with the Muslim being stabbed to death with a kebab skewer, and Chinese troops were called in, during a riot that began with a dispute over billiards game. In February 2008, an altercation involving thousands of people began after a Tibetan child complained of the high cost of balloons sold by a Muslim peddler.

In the summer of 2007 Tibetans rioted in the town of Guojia in the Golog area of Qinghai Province after a dispute in a Muslim restaurant. The incident began when a Tibetan customer complained that was a tooth in her soup. The owner of the restaurant insisted it was just a piece of lamb bone. By that time a crowd of Tibetans had gathered. When someone screamed, “Let’s trash this restaurant” the crowd did exactly that — tables, chairs and a television were tossed and kitchen equipment was smashed with bricks — before the crowd moved onto other restaurants and did the same. Twenty Tibetans were arrested in connection with the Guojia clash, including a senior monk fingered as the ringleader who was sentenced to death.

After that incident Tibetans refused to eat in Muslim restaurants and Muslim taxi drivers feared going into Tibetan parts of town. After the riots in Lhasa in March 2008 about 800 of the town’s 3,000 Muslims moved out. Of those that stayed, many men stopped wearing skullcaps, women wore hairnets rather than scarves and the religious-minded prayed at home because the nearest mosque had been burned down.

In 2012, China moved 17,000 mostly Chinese and Muslim settlers to a traditionally Tibetan region in western China, reviving a plan abandoned after protests by critics of China’s Tibetan polices.

Image Sources: Nolls China website, Purdue University, China Daily, Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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