Definition of “Tibetan area”
There are many ways to interpret definition of “Tibetan area”. If the “radiation area of Tibetan culture” is taken as base point, then the entire Tibetan area can be said to be vast.
Because, in addition to Tibetan Areas in China, such as: Tibet Autonomous Region, Yunnan Tibetan Region, Sichuan Tibetan Region, Gansu Tibetan Region, and Qinghai Tibetan Region, there are also Ladakh and Southern Tibet
Furthermore than above listed Tibetan regions, Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, and a part of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir (Jammu-Baltistan), as a region deeply radiated by Tibetan culture, should theoretically be considered as a part of Tibetan cultural region.
If to follow traditional Tibetan culture, then there are three major Tibetan areas that are “U-tsang”, “Kham”, and “Amdo”.
Administrative divisions in Tibetan areas
Tibet Plateau Brief Biography
The appearance of term “U-tsang” can be traced back to when Yuan Dynasty (1271 AD -1368 AD) unified Tibetan areas and supported Sakya Pa of Tibetan Buddhism to establish local power. Yuan Dynasty established a series of military and political institutions on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. By the mid-Yuan Dynasty, the entire Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was divided into “Do me” (i.e. Amdo area), “Do kham” (i.e. Kham area), “U-tsang & Ngari region” (generally the entire territory of present-day Tibet, including three administrative regions of the “U” & “Tsang”, Ngari(Ali) and Ladakh.)
The emergence of this kind of division is result of the game between Tang Dynasty and Tubo kingdom. After perishing of Tubo kingdom, its territory was divided by and fall into hands of four kings mainly, whom were: Lhasa king, Ali king, Yaze king and Yarlungjua king, until the establishment of Sakya regime when Yuan dynasty unified whole China.
It was at this time that in order to distinguish each tribe from each other, officials introduced people to pass on, and slowly agreed to conventions that there were three Tibetan areas (i.e. U-tsang, Khampa, Amdo).
After entering Ming Dynasty (1368 AD – 1644 AD), Tibetan area was divided into two administrative regions: one is U-tsang (which roughly includes the entire territory of present-day Tibet), and “Do Kham” (including Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces).
“Dbus-Gtsang Itinerant High Commandery” & “E-Li-Si Army-Civilian Marshal Office” were set separately in Ming dynasty to manage jurisdiction of three Pacification Marshall’s Office, such as “Dbus”, “Tsang” and “Mnga’ris skor gsum – The present Ngari Region” in Yuan dynasty
By the time of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty (1644 AD – 1911 AD), the relationship between Qing government and Tibetan areas further deepened. Qing Dynasty gradually learned that there were many differences in politics, society, and ethnicity in various areas of Tibetan people. The names of this areas were different as well.
In Qing Dynasty, the places where Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama lived were called “U-tsang” or “Dbus-tsang ” according to Tibetan custom. Later, the term “U-tsang” evolved into “Tibet”.
“Three major Tibetan areas”, this actually distinguishes the three Tibetan areas in terms of race and geography. This is what the Tibetan historical materials used to say: “Dharma U-tsang”, “Horse-land Amdo” and “Human of Khampa”. Due to the differences in geographical, environment and main production and life, the cultural customs of the different Tibetan areas are very different.
“U-tsang” is a combination of two geographical area on Tibet plateau with names of “U” & “Tsang”, using local U-tsang dialect
The U-tsang area is centered on Yarlung Tsangbo River Basin, Kailash Mountain and Great Fault Zone at southern foot of Nyainqentanglha Mountain are used as the boundary between northern and southern Tibet.
The river valley and basin alternate with an average elevation of about 4000 meters. The land resources are concentrated and rainfall is abundant, which is suitable for growth of crops.
The first Tibetan king “Nyatri Tsenpo (360 BC-329 BC)”, the first palace Yongbulakang, the first farmland, the first monastery of Samye, and the majestic Potala Palace… all were born in Yarlung Tsangbo River Basin. Therefore, this region can be regarded as the cradle of Tibetan culture, and the prosperity of three treasures of Buddhism (Jokhang Temple, Tashilhunpo monastery, Tradruk Temple) made this area called “Dharma region”.
“U-tsang” is political, economic, religious and cultural center of Tibetan cultural area, it is also birthplace of Buddhist teachings of all Tibetan areas. It has the most religious sacred sites and the most prosperous.
“U” – meaning “center” , generally ranges from Lhasa, Nagqu, Shannan and western part of Nyingchi City (Gongbo Gyamda, Mainling, and Nang County); it is reagrded as “Front Tibet”, and the people in this area call themselves “Wei-ba“.
“Tsang” – meaning “river” , in strict sense, it should specifically refer to the “Rear Tibet” that does not include Ngari region. It ranges from the west of Gangbala Mountain to border of Nepal, which is roughly equivalent to current Shigatse City ( Except for the small northern part). However, when it comes to “Dharma U-tsang”, “Rear Tibet” and Ali region are usually treated as one large area; people in region of “Rear Tibet” call themselves “Tsang-ba”.
Note: The “Front Tibet” and “Rear Tibet” are used often in Qing Dynasty, and Tibetan do not call it that way.
Kham traditionally mainly includes Chamdo region in Tibet Autonomous Region, the eastern Nagqu region, the eastern Nyingchi region, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, and Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan.
“Kham” means frontier, in other words, “Kham” was regarded as a remote place by ancestors of Tibetan; “Pa” means people, “Khampa” means people from Kham, using Kham dialect.
The harsh natural environment allowed Tibetans here not only to retain more national wildness, but also to shape a strong and bold character, and also cultivated their traditions and customs of going out of mountains to do business.
Khampa culture is unique, with distinctive characteristics, and is an important part of Tibetan culture. One of which is singing and dancing in Khampa area that are elegant, unrestrained and vigorous. Especially Yushu’s dance, which is vigorous and smooth. It is said that when Songtsen Gambo married Princess Wencheng, Yushu’s song and dance team was to welcomed Princess Wencheng when she arrived in Yushu;
The men of Khampa have three-dimensional facial features, burly stature, and brave anomaly; The women of Khampa have bright eyes and are very charming. Because of being brave and good at fighting, Khampa had been rich in knights and “japa” (robbers) since ancient times. And because Khampa is located in junction of Chinese Han and Tibetan regions, it is convenient for business operation, therefore, among those greater merchants in Tibetan areas, Khampas are the most.
It is precisely because of very characteristic Khampa people that Khampa gains name of “Human of Khampa“.
“Amdo” is composed of initials of Amnye Marchen Mountain and Dora Rangmo Mountain (Jishi Mountain).In Tubo kingdom’s literature, it is generally called “Do me” (translated as “Tuosima” in Yuan Dynasty, meaning “lower part of Do kham”)
It mainly includes Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haidong City and Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu province, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture (part) in Sichuan province, with center in the area from Amnye Marchen Mountain to Qinghai Lake. People, here call themselves “Amdowa“. Using Amdo dialect.
Amdo is a place where many ethnic groups live together. It is closely related to Chinese Han culture in east and Altai culture in north. The ancestors of Tubo, Xiongnu, Tuyuhun, Mongolian, Tu, Hui, Salar, etc. have merged and communicated with each other, and gradually formed unique Amdo culture. It is not only hometown of “Zongri Culture” and “Kayue Culture“, but also the center of all “Qiang” cultures in Chinese historical records.
Amdo has history of “Gusiluo culture”, the origin of “Lower Road Diffusion” in the later period of Tibetan Buddhism, the birthplace of Master Tsongkhapa, known as “Second Buddha”. There are also Labrang Monastery, one of cultural centers of Amdo, and Repkong Art – the most popular art in this region.
Most people have a wrong understanding of Tibet, thinking that Tibet is dominated by nomadic life, but in fact U-tsang is a mixed economic model of farming and nomadism. The area of grassland that can be nomadic is not large at all; The topography of Kham is generally high mountains and valleys, the area of grassland is even smaller.
Unlike landforms of U-tsang and Kham, there are large areas of grassland pastures in Amdo, which is wonderful for growing horses; It is precisely because Amdo is rich in good horses. That’s why it is called “Horse-land Amdo“.
Tibet plateau has a long history and exotic landscape. Its beautiful ancient monasteries and unique tribe customs have attracted visitors worldwide.
A few keywords
To help understanding this article
It is the culture of Neolithic Age in upper reaches of Yellow River. Named after Zongri site in Tongde County, Qinghai Province; It is mainly distributed in Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province, in the valleys of plateau basins in counties such as Xinghai, Tongde, Gonghe, Guinan and Guide, and it may also reach other areas in upper reaches of Yellow River.
It is Bronze Age culture of Northwest China. It was named after it was discovered in Kayue Village, Huangzhong, Qinghai. The date is about 900 to 600 BC. It mainly distributed in Huangshui river Basin along Yellow River and its tributaries in Gansu Province
Also known as Qiang Fang, Qiang Rong, Di Qiang, was an ancient tribe that lived in northwest China (in the area of Qinghai and Gansu today) during “Shang” and “Zhou” Dynasties.
Here we refer to “Qiang” as “The Ancient Qiang”, this is to distinguish it from modern Qiang people; Scholars still argue that ancient Qiang people originated from primitive Chinese Han, Tibetan or primitive Indo-Europeans. They are ancestors of Chinese Han, Tibetan, Qiang and Xiqiang in Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD).
Ancient Qiang people are not same as “Qiang people”. In addition to modern Qiang, ancient Qiang is also one of the origins of Yi, Hani, Lisu, and Lahu nationalities
Gusiluo (AD 997 – 1065)
He was a Tibetan king of Tsongkha regime, which was established in Qingtang (now Xining City, Qinghai Province). Some scholars think that it is neither a regime nor a dynasty, but a tribal alliance. In its prime, its territory reached Sandu Valley in southeast (now Gangu County of Gansu province), Qi mountain in north, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in south, and Qinghai Lake in west. This regime lasted for about 72 years, and it was destroyed by Northern Song Dynasty in AD 1104.
Lower Road Diffusion
In AD 1042, Venerable Atisha, a Buddhist master of Bangladesh, entered Tibet, and he promoted Dharma, rebuilt Sangha, and spread “Prasangika”. At same time, Monks went to Amdo to learn and then diffusing to U-tsang region, which is known as “Lower Road Diffusion”;