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History and Geography

The Tibetan Plateau is a huge region of southwestern China consistently above 4000 meters. This region that was a thriving independent kingdom that began in the eighth century and developed into an independent country in the twentieth century is now under the firm control of China. Persecution of the Tibetan people and their practice of Buddhism is widely reported.

Tibet closed its borders to foreigners in 1792, keeping the British of India (Tibet's southwestern neighbor) at bay until the British desire for a trade route with China caused them to take Tibet by force in 1903. In 1906 the British and Chinese signed a peace treaty that gave Tibet to the Chinese. Five years later, the Tibetans expelled the Chinese and declared their independence, which lasted until 1950.

Industry was non-existent in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion and today small industries are located in the capital of Lhasa (2000 population of 140,000) and other towns. Outside of cities, the indigenous Tibetan culture is comprised primarily of nomads, farmers (barley and root vegetables are primary crops), and forest dwellers. Due to the cold dry air of Tibet, grain can be stored for up to 50 to 60 years and butter (yak butter is the perennial favorite) can be stored for a year. Disease and epidemics are rare on the dry high plateau, which is surrounded by the world's tallest mountains, including Mount Everest in the south.

Though the plateau is rather dry and receives an average of 18 inches (46 cm) of precipitation each year, the plateau is the source for major rivers of Asia, including the Indus River. Alluvial soils comprise the terrain of Tibet. Due to the high altitude of the region, the seasonal variation in temperature is rather limited and the diurnal (daily) variation is more important - the temperature in Lhasa can range as much as -2°F to 85°F (-19°C to 30°C). Sandstorms and hailstorms (with hail of tennis-ball size) are problems in Tibet. (A special classification of spiritual magicians was once paid to ward off the hail.)