Tibet & Tibetans, not coterminus

By Razib Khan | March 16, 2008 6:36 am

Daniel Larison says:

Reliable information is a bit hard to come by, but it seems as if the policy of increased Han Chinese colonisation in Tibet has finally run up against a violent popular backlash. I haven’t anything very insightful to say about this, but it is one of the major foreign affairs stories this week and merits some mention here.

Made me wonder. Wikipedia says that the Tibetan Autonomous Region is still a little over 90% Tibetan. In contrast, in Xinjiang at least 40% of the population is Han. The main city, Urumqi is 3/4 Han. So comparatively Tibet is actually not much colonized. Why? Well, as you might know Xinjiang has oil…possibly. Tibet? I doubt it. Additionally, Lhasa is at a high altitude, very high. Tibetans have some physiological adaptations to this altitude, and from what I have read Han Chinese who settle in the Tibetan heartland are eager to rotate out.

But there’s a minor point I want to make note of: the majority of Tibetans do not live in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. There are 5.4 million Tibetans within China, while the the Autonomous Region proper has a population of 2.7 million (of which a little over 90% is ethnic Tibetan). Most of the extra-Autonomous population can be found in Greater Tibet, the region where Tibetan culture was often dominant or the Tibetan Empire was influential. For example, the province now know as Qinghai was long a secondary center of Tibetan culture, and 20% of the population is still Tibetan, but, it has been demographically taken over by the Han. Large numbers of Tibetans also reside in Sichuan, though in this region they are dwarfed by the Han and have always been a marginal & secondary presence.
Why am I covering the human geography of Tibetans in such detail? Since many Americans are concerned about the plight of this people I do think it is important to know that most Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China reside outside of the Autonomous Region, and that in fact historically Tibet encompassed a larger expanse than the zone set aside by the Chinese government (a portion of Greater Tibet, Ladakh, is part of India). But I do think the biological angle is interesting; the capital of Qinghai is at 2200 meters (about 7217 feet), while Lhasa is at 3650 metres (12000 feet). In short the only practical way that the Han can Sinicize the Autonomous Region is through acculturation of native Tibetans adapted to the altitude; if non-Tibetans do not tolerate the climate well they will eventually relocate when possible, just as some Siberian cities are now emptying as these regions no longer serve as dumping grounds for political prisoners and their families. In Xinjiang, the situation is different, the most ethnically Uighur city, Kashgar, to the far west of China, is at a relatively low elevation. Once transportation allows, and economics dictates, it will become a Han city just as Urumqi has become. The Uighurs will become a minority in their own land.

  • jim

    What are some other regions where there is an “unnatural” ethnic balance that is reverting?
    The Han in Tibet. Russians in Russian Far East.
    How about just whites in general in southern Africa? Whites in Zimbabwe have gone from 270k in 1975 to 10k-30k in 2008. It seems there is a slower expulsion in South Africa (5.2 million in 1991 to 4.4 million in 2007). It would seem like a general expulsion of whites from sub-saharan Africa is a good bet over the next 50 years.
    The Amerindians of the Andes seem to be genetically superior for altitude living compared to the lowlands whites and mestizos, and have higher birthrates. In countries like Peru and Bolivia they are increasing their percentage of the population and gaining political control.
    It’s possible the whites or mestizos could carve out an autonomous region separate from the Amerindian majority. It seems unlikely the whites in southern Africa would be allowed to do anything similar.
    Are the Chinese business elite widespread throughout much of SE Asia better tolerated because they aren’t/weren’t political elites as well? Are market-dominant minorities more accepted if they don’t try to grab political power, and just content themselves with getting and staying rich?
    I know there are occasional ethnic anger and riots directed at the Chinese, but is it comparable to the anti-white anger in Souther Africa? Or are the Chinese better tolerated because of fear of angering China? With African whites, there is no fear that Europe is going to intervene — most European whites probably don’t believe African whites have any right to be there in the first place. My gut feeling is the Chinese are more sensitive to possible mistreatment of their ethnic brethren.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    What are some other regions where there is an “unnatural” ethnic balance that is reverting?
    manchuria is mostly han now. the manchu dynasty had preserved it for the manchus until it fell.
    I know there are occasional ethnic anger and riots directed at the Chinese, but is it comparable to the anti-white anger in Souther Africa?
    yes. look up what happened to the chinese in indonesia in the 1960s. the thai royal family is part-chinese btw. look up the influence of the teochiu in thailand.

  • jim

    Interesting. My sister-in-law is half-thai/half-white (and looks Hawaiin). Her mother is very dark (she’s from near the border with Laos and her Thai dialect is, I am told, basically Laotian — she looks South Asian to my untrained eyes) and she was very proud her daughter was much lighter.
    Now my nephew is 1/4 thai and 3/4 white. Apparently his Thai grandma is unhappy her grandkid isn’t super-white – the kid is only a bit lighter than his mother. The grandma was hoping the kid would come out pasty white like my Anglo family.
    Interestingly, her other husband was Chinese (not sure if he was a Thai citizen or just a Chinese business man).
    How much does interbreeding (esp. the lack thereof) relate to anger at a market-dominant minority? In most of Latin America (and I know this varies a lot by country) there is the elite white minority, the majority mestizo and/or mulatto, and an Amerindian and/or African underclass. Is there less anger at the white elite because there’s fairly common interbreeding and intermarriage?
    My understanding is that light skin is a very desirable property in Latin America (and other places, too of course.) And that people will quite consciously try to move up the status ladder by mating with lighter skinned partners.
    Whereas in South Africa, my understanding is the white elite kept itself much more genetically isolated, so there was little hope of marrying into the elite by the black majority. By closing off a possible path of status climbing, perhaps that creates more resentment. I guess my mental image is that a sharp black/white divide has fewer rungs on the status ladder — while Latin America has many gradations, perhaps calming ethnic strife.

  • Dragon Horse

    Intermarriage with Chinese in places like Thailand has been quite high. Some of it is the Thai government actively tried to integrate the Chinese and made them take Thai names. I also think Chinese are more tolerant of Thai Buddhism than they are to Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia. Islam never made great inroads in China despite the fact that it has been present there for centuries. In the Philippines, Chinese have also largely intermarried, although there is still a vibrant Fujianese (Fukainese) Chinese population there, which controls a very significant portion of economic capital.
    What you said concerning Latin America is likely true. THere has never been a civil rights movement in Latin America although it is clear to any visitor that the blacks and Amerindians (or those who look more “pure” of those two groups) on average are poorer and have been in almost every single nation. I would say, in my experience Dominicans and Brazilians are slightly more fluid, than say Mexico or Columbia. Most Latin elites look like they just got off the boat from Iberia or pretty close to where with dyed hair and make up can pass (as you can see on Spanish language TV in America).
    America had a civil rights movement because of the one-drop rule. After Reconstruction, this rule went into effect all over America…saying anyone who is known to have black ancestry is black (where before the Civil War it varied quite a bit from state to state). This forced all blacks, from the lightest to the darkest to take up a common cause. It created an “us vs them”.
    In Latin America there is no “us vs them” per se (not in most nations) because people of the same family can all be considered ‘racially different’ on appearance. I had a good friend from Columbia who said his mother and sister were a different ‘race’ from him due to skin color and hair texture. In America, I think his mother would be considered stereotypically Mestizo and he and his sister “light skinned blacks”…in Latin America they are definitely not black and his mother is “white”.

  • jaakkeli

    With African whites, there is no fear that Europe is going to intervene — most European whites probably don’t believe African whites have any right to be there in the first place.
    Those Europeans who (pretend to) believe that whites don’t have any business being in Africa are the same Europeans who (pretend to) believe that Europeans have no right to restrict African immigration.
    The contradiction doesn’t hurt the orthodoxy right now since the issue is muted (most Europeans believe that South Africa is a shining example of happy, problem-free multiculturalism), but if something spectacular enough happens (ie. if South Africa goes Zimbabwe), racial liberalism is dead.

  • jim

    I’m skeptical European whites would react regardless of what happens in South Africa. South African whites seem to be deporting themselves at a steady pace already. That will likely continue. Whites have been almost entirely ethnically cleansed out of Zimbabwe and … the world just shrugs. The assumption is the Zimbabwean whites were evil oppressors and probably deserve whatever happened.
    The South African ethnic cleansing is on a bigger scale, but over a million have already left and, I expect, millions more will leave over the coming decades. Personally, I think the US should try and capture some of this brain drain.

  • jaakkeli

    Most Europeans had no idea there were still whites in Zimbabwe and this bit of news has gone past the ears of most people. South Africa is much better known. It can’t be ignored. A collapse would be so utterly different from what most people except that it would be a total worldview revolution. (Some of my liberal friends & relatives have actually moved there, expecting a progressing country…)
    Whites in Zimbabwe are also without a real, well-known peculiar identity of their own, so it only matters to the colonial masters. Boers are different.
    Also, the reaction of Europeans to Zimbabwe is not the same as the reaction of European elites. Most Europeans just shrugged: “They’re Africans. What did anyone expect?” The number of people who actually care about “evil oppressors” is very low and most of the people who claim to be are just posturing.
    I have no idea what Europeans would actually be willing to do to attempt to stop South Africa from doing a Zimbabwe, but it would be much more than for Zimbabwe (in fact, the elites might wish to intervene earlier, since they’re well aware of what it would do to, eh, encourage old racial stereotypes if SA blows). I can still confidently claim that if you announced tomorrow in any European country that the quota refugees are going to be white South Africans from now on, that country would be jumping up and down in joy. (Secretly, of course.)

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Speaking of market-dominant minorities, I have copied Thomas Sowell’s “Are Jews Generic?” and provide it here.
    I don’t think the colonization of Africa by whites is equivalent to immigration to America by Africans.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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