Tibet Autonomous Region

Geographic Conditions: Tibet -- Xizang -- is its Chinese name -- is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China and covers 1.07 million sq. km. (500,000 sq. mi.) in China's southwest corner. Nepal, Myanmar, India and Bhutan cluster along its southern border. Most of Tibet consists of high-altitude plateaus and mountain wilderness, which is how it has earned the name of the Roof of the World.

Lhasa, the "City of Sun," is nestled high in the Gyi Qu Valley and is blessed with seasonally mild and humid weather from monsoons in India 160 km.(100 mi.) to the south. Tibetan winters, as might be supposed, are fiercely cold. But for half the year, strong sunlight warms the thin air, making most days in Lhasa comfortably mild and, owing to protective mountains, relatively windless. Summer temperatures hover above 30'C (high-80s F) and only to drop to a searing -23'C (-10'F) in midwinter. The best time to visit is from late spring to early fall.

Health Considerations for Visitors: No matter when to visit Tibet, however, the 3,600-m.(12,000-ft) altitude of the Lhasa Valley will be a factor to consider, even if you live year-round in the Rocky Mountains or Switzerland. For the first few days, at least, the ubiquitous green canvas oxygen bags will be constant-and most welcome companions. Any form of over-exertion (such as running or strenuous climbing) is patently dangerous, with even the fittest specimens courting dehydration and pulmonary strain.

Most visitors will feel some form of mild discomfort-usually some combination of headache, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, or insomnia. Lots of rest and aspirin are the best remedies, although extreme symptoms may signal the onset of more serious forms of altitude sickness. In these cases, a physician should be consulted at once. The best cure in most cases may be an immediate return to a level ground. Smoking and drinking will only exacerbate the discomfort.

Prior to 1980, the Chinese required rigorous physical exams of all passengers prior to boarding their flight to Lhasa. Since then, however, this requirement has been waived for many groups. But visitors with high blood pressure, or any respiratory or heart ailments, are advised to attend to the risks and reconsider their travel plans.

Tibet is beautiful. Until 1950, no cars or trucks or carts were permitted to traverse the few dirt roads for fear that their wheels would scar the earth and thereby release evil spirits. No pollution mars the magnificent, jagged mountain peaks or darken the deep, clear lakes.

Tibet in History: Tibet also has a mystical charm. The atmosphere of fatalistic serenity and powerful beliefs in evil spirits stemmed in part from Lamaism, an ancient sect of Tantric Indian Buddhism, coupled with Tibetan Shamanism, which held sway every aspect of Tibetan life from the 7th century until political reforms begun in 1959. Albeit most of the monasteries and temples are now officially designated as historical monuments, hundreds come to worship daily, with large throngs still appearing on religious holidays.

Tibet's entire history is marked by intense preoccupation with religion, and by sporadic political autonomy through the centuries. Briefly conquered by the Mongols when they ruled China (1279-1368), the region came under Manchu control in the 18th century.

Before the Democratic Reform of 1959 Tibet had long been a society of feudal serfdom under the despotic religion-political rule of lamas and nobles. Although they accounted for less than 5 percent of Tibet's population, they owned all of Tibet's farmland, pastures, forests, mountains and rivers as well as most livestock. Serfs made up 90 percent of old Tibet's population.

The central people's government and the local government of Tibet signed in 1951 the 17-Article Agreement on measures for the peaceful liberation of Tibet, and Tibet was peacefully liberated. This brought hope to the Tibetan people in their struggle for equal personal rights. After the quelling of the armed rebellion in 1959, the central people's government, in compliance with the wishes of the Tibetan people, conducted the democratic reform in Tibet and abolished the extremely decadent and dark feudal serfdom. The million serfs and slaves were emancipated. From that time on they won the right to personal freedom. This was a great, epoch-making change in Tibetan history. The Tibetan laboring people began to enjoy the right to subsistence, along with adequate food and clothing.

Freedom of Religious Belief: The majority of Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism. There are also about 2,000 Muslims and 600 Catholics in the autonomous region. Respect for and protection of freedom of religious belief is a basic policy of the Chinese government. Protected by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China and laws, the Tibetan people now enjoy full freedom to participate in normal religious activities.

The Chinese government has appropriated more than 200 million yuan in special funds to implement the religious policy in Tibet. For the renovation of the Potala Palace alone, the central government allotted more than 40 million yuan.

To date, more than 1,400 religious centers have been renovated and opened to the public, meeting the needs of the religious people for their normal religious life.

Special State Aid to Tibet's Development: Tibet has quite harsh natural conditions. To change the backward situation and promote the common prosperity of all ethnic groups, the central government and the people of the whole country have offered great support to Tibet in terms of labor, materials, finances and technology as well as in policies, demonstrating their special concern.

Tibet started to implement the Eighth Five-Year Plan and the Ten-Year Program in 1991. Major State-financed projects include the comprehensive development of the drainage area of the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo, Lhasa and Nyang Qu rivers, a project started in 1991 with a total investment of 1 billion yuan; -- construction of the Yamzhog Yumco Pump-Storage Power Station, one of the state's key projects aimed at helping ease the power shortages in Lhasa and the surrounding area; construction of the Qinghai-Tibet, Sichuan-Tibet, Nagqu-Qamdo and China-Nepal highways with an investment of over 1 billion yuan; the expansion of the Gonggar Airport in Lhasa. The runway can accommodate Boeing 747s and other jumbo passenger aircraft; construction of the Lhasa Post and Telecommunications center, which entails the addition of 11,000-channel program-controlled telephone exchanges and 54 ground satellite stations in 47 counties.

Editor:Liu Kan