The People's Republic of China is divided into 23 provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities directly under the Central Government, and two special administrative regions. As one of the five autonomous regions, the Tibet Autonomous Region is inhabited mainly by the Tibetan race.

The Tibet Autonomous Region is situated in the southwestern border area of the People's Republic of China, and the southwestern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Lying at 78°25'- 99°06'E and 26°44'- 36°32'N, it abuts the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the north, Qinghai Province in the northeast, Sichuan Province in the east, and Yunnan Province in the southeast. It also has a 4,000 km border with the neighboring countries of Myanmar, India, Bhutan and Sikkim as well as Kashmir in the south and west.


Known as the "roof of the world'', the Tibet Autonomous Region forms the major part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Its varied topography is composed of three different natural areas:

Northern Tibet Plateau: Lying among the Kunlun, Tanggula, Kangdese and Nyainqentanglha mountains, the plateau covers two-thirds of the autonomous region.

Southern Tibet Valley: Lying between the Kangdese and Himalayan mountains, the valley is drained by the Yarlung Zangbo River and its tributaries.

Eastern Tibet Canyon: The canyon is formed by some high mountains extending east-west before turning south-north that belongs to the Hengduan Mountain Range.

The Tibet Autonomous Region comprises six typographical types--extra-high mountains, high mountains, medium-high mountains, low mountains, hills and plains. The region also features glacier edge, karst, sandstorm and volcanic topographies.


Some 20 million years ago, the Asian, European and Indian Ocean continental plates collided, resulting in the elevation of the world's youngest plateau--the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Mountains created as a result form the skeleton of Tibet.

Mountains Running From East to West

Kunlun Mountains:
Kunlun runs from west to east on the northern fringe of the Tibetan Plateau. To its north is the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang and the Qaidam Basin in Qinghai; to its south is low-lying land, lake basins and wide valleys. Mostag, rising 6,973 meters above sea level, is the highest peak in the area.

Kalakunlun-Tanggula Mountains: The major part of the Kalakunlun Mountains lies on the border between Xinjiang and Kashmir. Running eastward, it forms the Tanggula Mountains at 90°E, marking the border between Tibet and Qinghai.

Kangdese-Nyainqentanglha Mountains: Tucked away at the southern edge of the North Tibet Plateau, the mountains serve as the border between south and southeast Tibet, and the demarcation line for rivers that flow inside and outside the region. Kangrinboqe, with an elevation of 6,656 meters, is the highest peak of the Kangdese Mountains; and Nyainqentanglha, with an elevation of 7,162 meters, is the highest peak of the Nyainqentanglha Mountains.

Himalayan Mountains: Zigzagging through the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas comprise almost parallel mountains running from east to west. The major part of the Himalayas lies on the border between China and India, and between China and Nepal. Extending some 2,400 km, it is 200-300 km wide, and has an average elevation of over 6,000 meters. In this part of the world there are 80-odd peaks each with an elevation of over 7,000 meters, and over 10 with an elevation over 8,000 meters. Qomolangmo, rising 8,848.13 meters above sea level, towers over surrounding peaks in the middle part of the Himalayas on the Sino-Nepalese border. Within an area of 5,000-plus square km surrounding the world's highest are four more peaks each with an elevation of over 8,000 meters and 38 rising over 7,000 meters.

Mountains Running From South to North

Hengduan Mountains: Hengduan is a combination of several parallel mountains, including Bexoi La and Mangkam Mountains.


In the Tibet Autonomous Region there are some 20 rivers each with a drainage area of over 10,000 square km, and over 100 rivers with a drainage area of over 2,000 square km. The most important are the Jinshajiang, Nujiang, Lancangjiang and Yarlung Zangbo. The region is the source of some of the most famous rivers in Asia, such as the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Salween and Irrawaddy.

Yarlung Zangbo is the largest river in the autonomous region. Originating in the Gyima Yangzong Glacier in Zhongba County at the northern foot of the Himalayas, it runs 2,057 km in China (ranking fifth in China in terms of length), draining an area of 240,480 square km (sixth in China). With the drainage area 4,500 meters above sea level, the Yarlung Zangbo is the highest river in the world. When it flows into India via Lhoyu, it is called the Brahmaputra River.

About 1 million people, or half of the population in the autonomous region, live in the area drained by the Yarlung Zangbo River with 153,333 hectares of cultivated land, or 50 percent of the Tibetan total. The area is also home to some major cities and towns, including Lhasa, Xigaze, Gyangze, Zetang, and Bayi.

The Yarlung Zangbo River turns to the northeast after Paiqu in Mainling, and makes a U-turn around Namjagbarwa, the highest peak in the eastern Himalayas to create the largest canyon in the world. The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon is 5,382 meters deep, the deepest in the world. The river bottom is 74 meters at the narrowest part and 200 meters at the widest part, extending 370 km in length.


The Tibetan Plateau is dotted with some 1,500 lakes, including Nam Co, Serlin Co and Zhari Nam Co, each with an area of over 1,000 square km, 47 covering more than 100 square km each and 612 others covering more than 1 square km each. Lake areas add up to 24,183 square km, or one-third of the total in China. Seventeen lakes are tucked away at an elevation of 5,000 meters or higher; each covering an area of over 50 square km.


Overall, the Tibetan climate features frigid and dry air in the northwest and warm and humid in the southeast, forming overlapping climatic zones, such as the subtropical/warm, temperate/sub-frigid zones, and the humid/semi-humid and semi-dry/dry zones. In response to the varied climatic zones, Tibet is divided into different areas in terms of plants: forests, bush, grassy marshland, grassland and desert.

Generally speaking, Tibet is blessed with varied forms of climatic zones, which combine to make the autonomous region a land with much more sunshine, stronger radiation, greater difference in temperature between day and night, a clear distinction between dry and wet days, and plentiful night rainfall. Winter and spring are dry and windy, with low atmospheric pressure and relatively low oxygen content in the air. As the region enjoys much more sunshine than many parts of the world and stronger radiation, winter is comparatively warm during the day; the temperature dropping below zero only at night.

In Tibet, each cubic meter of air contains only 62-65.4 percent of oxygen in the air on the plains.

Tibet boasts more solar radiation than any other part of China, amounting to 100 percent, one-third more than in plains at the same latitude. In addition, Tibet enjoys longer daily sunshine, reaching 3,021 hours annually in Lhasa. However, it is 1,186.84 hours in Chengdu and 1,932.5 hours in Shanghai. The difference in atmospheric temperature between day and night is enormous in Tibet; however, so far as the whole year is concerned, the seasonal difference is small. The atmospheric temperature in a year, and during the hottest days in Lhasa and Xigaze, stays 10-15°C lower than in Chongqing, Wuhan and Shanghai. The seasonal difference in atmospheric temperature in Lhasa, Qamdo and Xigaze reaches 18-20°C. In the Ngari area, 5,000 meters above sea level, the atmospheric temperature in August reaches over 10°C or higher during the day, but falls to below zero at night.

Precipitation is unevenly distributed in various localities in Tibet, with a remarkable demarcation line between dry and rainy seasons. It rains frequently at night. Annual precipitation amounts to 5,000 mm in the low-lying area in the southeastern part, dropping to 50 mm in the northwest. Precipitation in the period from October to April makes up only 10-20 percent of the annual total, while precipitation in the period from May to September accounts for the rest.

Administrative Division

The Tibet Autonomous Region exercises jurisdiction over one city and six prefectures, with one district under the city government, one county-level city, 71 counties, one county-level port and one county-level special administrative area.

Lhasa is the capital and the region's political, economic, cultural and transport center. A cultural city with a history of over 1,300 years, Lhasa sits on the northern bank of the Lhasa River, a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River. With an elevation of 3,658 meters, the city covers an area of close to 30,000 square km , including a downtown area of 544 square km.

It has a population of 403,700 people, including 140,000 living in the downtown area. They are of the Tibetan, Han, Hui and some other ethnic groups, with people of the Tibetan ethnic group making up 87 percent of the total.

  Administrative Division of the Tibet Autonomous Region

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