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.