A Historical Atlas of Tibet by Karl E. Ryavec

Tank _summer 16_books _46

Hardback, 216 pages
Publisher: University of Chicago Press (May 2015)
ISBN: 9780226732442
Language: English
Selected by Kai Friese

“Call it Bod, the TAR, Shambhala, Shangri-La, or even the ‘Third Pole’: Tibet is a gorgeous, mythical, hunk of terrain. It was also one of the last quadrants of the earth to submit to the cartographic gaze. Now this beautiful slab of topophilia – 20 years in the making – pays fitting tribute to the world’s grandest plateau. Too bad, perhaps, that it’s an atlas without a country. But in its grand historical sweep and fascinating detail, Karl Ryavec’s labour of love also reminds us that there is much more to Tibet than the pathos of its recent tragedies.” —Kai Friese


Tank _summer 16_books _47Main Land Cover Patterns of the Tibetan Plateau, c.2000  

This map shows the de facto numbers of people across Tibet, by county, as of 1 November 2000, when the Chinese census was conducted. Specifically, it employs graduated pie-chart symbols to map the numbers and proportions of Tibetans, Han Chinese, Muslims, and related Mongolian and Tibeto-Burman peoples. Given the complex migrant labour flows in China today, the large numbers of short-term and mostly domestic Chinese tourists, and the unknown numbers of Chinese military and paramilitary police forces deployed across Tibet to secure the region, this map does not provide a completely accurate demographic picture. But it does show the spatial legacy of long-term patterns of cultural and religious identity that were historically important in different parts of Tibet, and it is this aspect of the map that is of principal reference value in this atlas.

There are no complete and reliable historical census data for all of Tibet, although some monastic and government archives provide details for various times and places. The first comprehensive and relatively accurate census was conducted by the Chinese government in 1982 and once at the start of each decade since then. In this system, Tibetans are defined as members of one of China’s 56 minzu or nationalities. And in a general sense, there is wide agreement that most people who identified as Tibetan, or Bodpa, prior to 1950 and found themselves within the new People’s Republic of China are included in this designation. But there are some cases where Tibetan nationalists claim that the new Chinese state intentionally implemented a divide-and-rule approach by designating various Tibetan-speaking and Tibetan Buddhist peoples along the margins of Tibet as members of different nationalities, instead of Tibetan. These cases mainly include some Tibetan Buddhist and Tibetan-speaking Mongols and Tu (or Monguor) people in Qinghai, and some of the Tibetan Buddhist Qiang and Pumi people in Sichuan and Yunnan.

In 2000, the total Tibetan population of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Qinghai, and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan was 5,224,980. In these same areas Han Chinese totalled 3,629,115, Muslims 928,673, and Mongolian and Tibeto-Burman peoples 724,760. This total population of 10,507,528 persons represented 0.83 percent of China’s total 2000 population of approximately 1.265 billion people. Indeed, the Chinese government reported that approximately 12 million domestic tourists alone visited the TAR in 2013. The China 2000 census certainly undercounted the larger summertime floating migrant population across Tibet by counting those away from home for less than six months at their legal, instead of actual, residence, as well as by conducting the census in November.