Population and Ethnic Groups  

Population and Population Density

The Tibet Autonomous Region has the smallest population and is the most sparsely populated among China's provinces, municipalities directly under the Central Government and autonomous regions. Between the 7th century and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the population fell by 8 million since monks and nuns were excluded from procreative activities. There was further shrinkage of 800,000 from the Qing Dynasty to 1950. According to statistics in 1951, when Tibet was liberated peacefully, the region's population stood at 1.15 million, with mortality rate of 28 per thousand, an infant mortality rate of 430 per thousand and average life-expectancy of 35.5 years. During the national census in 1953, direct population registration was not conducted in Tibet and Qamdo and the 14th Dalai Lama-led local government estimated and reported to the Central Government a population of 1.275 million in Tibet.

In 1990, the Tibet Autonomous Region's population totaled 2.1805 million (a net increase of 1.1805 million over 1950). Population density was less than two people per square km. In 1998, Tibet had a total population of 2.4539 million, with 50,700 new born and 17,900 deaths. The birth rate in the year stood at 23.7 per thousand and mortality rate at 6.9 per thousand, leaving a natural population growth of 16.2 per thousand. As for farming and herding population, the birth rate was 22.08 per thousand and mortality rate 5.93 per thousand, with a natural growth rate of 16.15 per thousand. There were 514,200 married women in Tibet, with the rate of the third or above births being 36.29 per thousand.

By the end of 2001, the Tibet Autonomous Region had a population of 2.63 million, of which 92.2 percent were Tibetans, 5.9 percent were Han people, while other ethnic peoples accounted for 1.9 percent. The average population density stood at 2.03 people per square km, equaling one-60th of the national average. Population distribution in Tibet is uneven, with the majority of residents living in the southern and eastern parts. The middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River and the valleys of its main tributaries---Lhasa and Nyangqu Rivers---are the most densely populated areas, with more than 10 people per square km on average. The Lhasa Plain, the plains at the middle and lower reaches of the Nyangqu River and the Zetang Plain have about 50 residents per square km, and there are more than 100 people per square km in the vicinity of the Chengguan District in Lhasa. The next most densely populated areas are the upstream section on the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, upper reaches of the Lhasa River and the northeastern part of the Hengduanshan mountainous area in east Tibet, where there are three to 10 people per square km. Of these areas, Lhaze, the Sagya Plain, the Nyang River Valley near Nyingchi and the Lancangjiang River Valley near Qamdo are more densely populated. Ngari in west Tibet and the western part of Nagqu in north Tibet are the most sparsely inhabited, and one can often make a 50-km journey without seeing any human habitation. The northern part of the Changtang Grassland is even regarded as "no man's land".

Han people began to move to Tibet during the Qing Dynasty and some of them have been assimilated into the Tibetan ethnicity. Today, most Han people living in Tibet are technicians, workers, teachers, health workers and cadres from other parts of China.

Population Growth

Since 1970, the birth rate and natural growth rate in the Tibet Autonomous Region have both exceeded national averages. Between 1982 and 1990, the ethnic Tibetan population in the region increased 309,800, with a natural growth rate of 17.34 per thousand, 2.64 per thousand points higher than the national average in the same period. In the last decade, the region's population has increased 38,000 on an annual basis. Tibetan health has also improved greatly, with the average life expectancy rising from 35.5 years in 1951 to 67 years.

Since the 1970s, China has widely implemented a family planning and population control policy, advocating one child for one couple. But in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Central Government has encouraged the autonomous region's government to adopt a policy of enhancing the quality of population. The region's government has introduced special policies in accordance with the local conditions. The one-child policy has been applied only to Han cadres and workers working in Tibet, while Tibetan cadres and workers were excluded from such requirement. In 1984, the region's government began to advocate family planning among the ethnic Tibetan cadres, workers and urban residents, encouraging couples wanting a second child to delay doing so. Currently, some 12 percent of the total population are practicing family planning. The family planning work has been carried out on a voluntary basis. Forced abortion in any form is prohibited. Farmers and herdsmen, who account for 88 percent of the region's total population, are not subject to family planning policies. But they do receive education in scientific contraception methods, rational arrangements for birth and sound child rearing, so as to protect mothers and infants?health and raise the quality of population. In addition, government health departments offer safe, reliable health service to farmers and herdsmen who voluntarily request assistance in birth control.

At present, the annual birth rate of the region exceeds 17.6 per thousand and the natural growth rate stands at 11 per thousand, compared with the target of 16 per thousand natural growth set forth by the region's government for population control.

Ethnic Makeup

The Tibet Autonomous Region, with 45 percent of the country's total ethnic Tibetan population, is a region where Tibetan ethnic group live in the most compact communities. In addition to Tibetans, other ethnic groups, including the Moinba, Lhoba, Han and Hui, and Deng and Xiarba peoples, are also found in the region.

Ethnic Makeup
Number of Population by Region
Households and Population
Birth rate, Death rate and Natural Growth Rate of Population
Population Nationality


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