Thibet, Or Tibet (Sansk. Bhot; Thib. Bod; Pers. Tibet), a region of central Asia, between lat. 27° and 38° N., and Ion. 78° and 104° E., bounded N. by East Turkistan and China proper, E. and S. E. by China, S. by Burmah, Boo-tan, Sikkim, Nepaul, and British India, and W. by Cashmere; area estimated at from 650,000 to 800,000 sq. m.; pop. about 6,000,000. Thibet forms the S. E. portion of the great central Asiatic plateau, with a mean elevation of about 15,000 ft. toward its southern edge, which is bordered by the Himalaya. The Kuen-lun range is generally regarded as the northern boundary of the country. The transverse chains which connect the western extremities of these two great ranges separate Thibet from Cashmere. It appears now to be established beyond doubt that a third lofty and snowcapped chain intervenes between the Himalaya and the Kuen-lun, parallel with them, probably a prolongation eastward of the Kara-korum mountains, under the name of Nian-tsin-tangla according to Ritter, and Tanla according to Hue. Hodgson calls it the Nyen-chhen-thangla range.
It forms the northern boundary of Great Thibet, a region which extends thence southward about 200 m. to the outer Himalaya overlooking India, and 750 m. from W. to E. along the basin of the Sanpo or upper course of the Brahmapootra. Western Thibet (Thib. Ari), in the widest sense, comprises Ladakh (outside of the limits above stated; see Ladakh) and the lofty Himalaya region about the sources of the Ganges and the Sutlej; while of eastern Thibet (Thib. Kam) little is known except that it is deeply indented by the gorge-like valleys of the numerous great rivers which flow thence into China, Indo-China, and Burmah. - In its main physical features Thibet is a vast, arid, mountainous plateau, with an altitude seldom less than 10,-000 ft. above the sea, except in the lowest valleys, and over a great part of its area more than 14,000 ft. The northern portion of the country, between the Nyenchhcn-thangla range and the Kuen-lun, consists of a series of lofty table lands, uncultivated, and inhabited only by nomads and robbers and the residents of the Buddhist monasteries, which are the only permanent dwellings met with in the region.
Great Thibet is comparatively a' cultivated country, of settled habitations, and contains the capital and principal cities; but by far the largest part of its surface is occupied by vast grassy steppes, which afford abundant and valuable pasture. In western Thibet the area capable of cultivation, or even habitable by man, is proportionately very small, owing to the exceedingly mountainous character of the region. - Thibet has four systems of drainage. North»of the great middle range of mountains, on the slopes of which are numerous glaciers, the drainage is wholly interior, the streams being received by the salt lakes which occupy some of the principal depressions. The most considerable of these is that known as Tengri-nor, or more properly Nam-cho, the Sky lake, 15,190 ft. above the ocean, about 50 m. long and from 16 to 35 m. wide. One of the transverse ridges extending northward from the Himalaya separates the southern part of the country into two basins, forming a watershed with the Indus and the Sutlej flowing off its W. slope, while its E. side sends the Brahmapootra to water Great Thibet, which finally likewise makes its way down to the Indian plain.
Near the great Kailas peak of the Himalaya are Lakes Rhawan-rhad and Manasaro-war, out of which last pours the Sutlej; and the remarkable ring-shaped lake of Palte, or Yamdok-cho, is about 35 m. S. W. of Lassa, in the valley of the Sanpo or Brahmapootra. Lake Koko-nor, in eastern Thibet, is near the head waters of the Hoang-ho. - The nature of the rocks near the southern edge of the table land indicates that the Thibetan plateau must be of recent geological origin. The plains consist of horizontal gravel strata on which rest bowlders, and extensive fossil-bearing deposits occur in the vicinity of the Himalayan range. In the north metamorphic rocks alternate with beds of granite. Among the Nyen-chhen-thangla mountains are numerous hot springs, as well as geysers the waters of which freeze as they fall, forming lofty columns of ice. - The climate in the higher districts is cold, dry, and almost rainless, and even the snowfall is light. Timber never rots, but becomes so dry as to break, and the flesh of animals exposed to the air dries till it can readily be reduced to powder. The limit of perpetual snow is higher on the Thibetan than on the Indian side of the Himalaya, which is attrib-uted to the excessive dryness of the atmosphere on the N. slope of the range.
It is there 18,000 or 19,000 ft, above the sea, while in India it descends to 15,000 ft. During summer the sky is clear and the atmosphere wonderfully transparent, but the plains are subject to violent winds and dust storms in winter, and the cold is intense. A warmer climate prevails in many of the valleys, where European fruits and vegetables are raised. - With the exception of the pasturage on the steppes, the vegetation of Thibet is scanty. Forest trees are unknown except in some of the mountainous districts, and in such as have been explored they consist principally of cedar and birch. In the warmer valleys the apple, fig, pomegranate, apricot, peach, vine, and several varieties of nuts are grown. Wheat and rice are cultivated sparingly, and some buckwheat, but gray or black barley is the principal grain and the chief article of diet. The mineral productions comprise gold, silver, mercury, cinnabar, lead, iron, salt, and borax, as well as several kinds of precious stones, in-eluding lapis lazuli. Gold occurs, not only in the sands of some of the rivers but in many mines, of which perhaps the most productive are in western Thibet N. of the Kailas mountain.
There are rich silver mines in the neighborhood of Lassa, and although it is said that the authorities prohibit working them, large quantities of silver are constantly exported from Thibet into China. Salt, which is also an abundant article of export, is obtained by solar evaporation from the saline lakes. The number of animals is greater than might be expected from the scantiness of vegetation; among them are the tiger, ounce, lynx, wolf, fox, bear, buffalo, wild ox, wild goat, longhaired sheep, and yak, which abounds throughout Thibet. The shawl goat is the most important of the domestic animals, and the musk deer the most valuable object of the chase.
Wild fowl and fish are abundant, but Lamaism prohibits them as articles of food. - The Thibetans belong to the Mongolian race, and it is believed that all were once nomadic, as those in the north still remain. They are pliant and agile, usually brave, generous, frank, and honest, eminently commercial in their habits, and many of them skilled workers in gold, silver, and precious stones. They are rude agriculturists. The fine wool which their flocks afford, and the hair of the shawl goat, enable them to manufacture superior woollens and shawls of fine texture. Sacking and other articles are also woven in considerable quantities for the Chinese market. Cloths are dyed with great skill, and the manufacture of pottery and of idols is a thriving trade. The traffic with China is carried on along the great road between Lassa and Tasienloo, a town in the western part of the Chinese province of Sechuen. The exports are drugs, blankets and .other woollens, furs, musk, salt, and silver, in return for which China sends cotton goods and thread, ponies from Yunnan, porcelain, and tea. The chief trade routes from India lead through Cashmere and Ladakh, Nepaul, and Bootan, over lofty mountain passes.
English woollen cloths, flowered calicoes, indigo, rice, and precious stones, including pearls, turquoises, and dark corals (which here sell for their weight in gold), reach the country by these highways; while gold and silver, salt, borax, wool of the shawl goat, coarse blankets, ponies, and yaks' tails are sent southward into India over the same routes. The roads throughout the country are poor. - The language which is common to Thibet and Bootan, and hence called indifferently Thibetan or Bhotanta, is classed with the monosyllabic languages, though possessing some polysyllables. Its alphabet is phonetic, reads from left to right, and is evidently borrowed from the Sanskrit; but the language owes most of its derivatives and some of its root words to the Chinese. It is copious and well adapted for the expression of philosophical and religious ideas. There is an extensive literature, mainly composed of translations and commentaries on the Buddhist sacred books. The religion of Thibet is Lamaism. (See Lamaism.) There are some Mohammedans in western Thibet, chiefly natives of Cashmere, and, according to Hue, several thousand Roman Catholics. Polyandry prevails in many districts. - Politically Thibet is tributary to the emperor of China, and is therefore usually classified as a part of the Chinese empire.
But the direct government of the country is vested in the two great lamas or priestly rulers, who hold sway respectively in the two provinces into which Great Thibet is divided for spiritual and administrative purposes. These are the province of U, of which Lassa is the capital, ruled over by the dalai lama, and the province of Tsang, to the southwest, over which presides the equally sacred teshu lama, with his capital at the city of Shigatze, about 140 m. further up the Sanpo valley. The combined names of these two provinces form the native appellation Utsang, applied to Great Thibet. As Lassa is the sacred capital of all Buddhistic countries, it is regarded as the capital of Thibet in preference to Shigatze. There are many other large towns, in most of which the Chinese government has its governors or representatives, who exert great influence if not positive authority over the Thibetan rulers. A considerable Chinese military force has usually been maintained in the country. - As a kingdom Thibet is said to date from A. D. 813. Buddhism was first introduced, according to some authorities, as early as the 4th or 5th century; but its general diffusion there is of later date.
After various struggles with China, Thibet finally became tributary to that empire about the middle of the 17th century. The country was visited by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thomas Manning, an English traveller, made his way to Lassa in 1812, and the abbe Hue in 1845-'G. Although western Thibet has been frequently and quite thoroughly explored, Great Thibet and the eastern and northern parts of the country are very imperfectly known. Much valuable geographical information has recently been acquired, however, through the efforts of the trigonometrical survey of British India, by which native Asiatics trained for the purpose have been despatched to explore the regions N. of the Himalaya. In 1865 and 1871 Great Thibet was visited by three of these trans-Himalayan explorers, and many of the results of their observations are incorporated in this article.