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Tibetan Culture

Tibetan Culture

The Zang are the most prominent minority culture in Tibet. Tibet is sparsely populated with 90% of its population living a nomadic life and most of the farmers inhabit the valley of Brahmaputra River and its tributaries—the Niyang River and Nianchu River. Most of its crops consist of wheat, peas and rapeseeds. The northern prairie covering most of the land is home to the herdsmen and to flocks of yaks and sheep. The other 10% of the population live in town mainly to do business and manufacture handicrafts, most of them being workers and government officials.

The Tibetan civilization is the very soul of the plateau. It’s the ocean of songs and dances, architectures, wall paintings as well as Thang-ga arts. In literature, there are hundreds of literary schools; in traditional medicine, the Tibetan medicinal arts stand out with their uniqueness.


Two types of literature constitute the Tibetan literature: the folk literature (the stories passed down by oral narration) and the scholastic literature (the well-written stories). The Tibetan usually call stories “clock”. Tibetans are known for two types of poems, the folk poem and the scholastic poem..

Classified by age, the folk poem (what people usually call “the folk songs”), is subdivided into traditional folk songs and new folk songs. In the Tibetan language, they’re generally called “Lu harmonic sound”. The Lu-style folk songs mainly prevail in the plateau areas of northern Tibet. In most cases, four or eight verses make up a Lu-style folk song. The harmonic style folk song is well-accepted in Lhasa, Xigaze, Shannan and Ali and its forms vary. Some entail dancing while singing; some entail singing without dancing; some are sang in an antiphonal style. Generally speaking, each folk song is composed of four or eight verses.

Classified by its content, the scholastic poem is subdivided into three types:  the Taoist poem, the gnomic poem and the ordinary poem. Love songs are of paramount importance. Amongst them, the most famous one is Madrigal, which was written by Cangyang Jiacuo, Dalai Ⅶ.

In Tibetan culture, The Life of King Gesar is renowned. It’s a long heroic epic that represents the time period when nearly 40% of the land in the Tibetan area was divided by different leaders after the Tubo Kingdom disintegrated.

Tibetan Medicine

The origin of the Tibetan medicine can be dated back at least 2000 years. At the beginning of the Christian era there was a saying, “A cure always comes with a poison.” The earliest study of medicine that gained popularity is called “herbal medication”, which relies on blood letting, fire therapy, applying medicine to wounds and various forms of massage to cure all kinds of diseases. Other methods included using cures such as hot butter and barley wine to heal wounds. Legend has it that Princess Wencheng introduced 404 medical recipes, 5 diagnostic methods, 6 medical appliances and 4 medical monographs to Tibet when she married Sontzen Gampo (a Tibetan king). Later, Princess Jincheng established marital ties with another Tibetan king, bringing a number of medical practitioners and treatises to Tibet. The medical treatises were even translated into Tibetan, which played a decisive role in the development of Tibetan medicine.

Tibetan Buddhism

In 7 AD, Tibetan Buddhism was introduced from India to Tibet during the Tang Dynasty. Over time it has evolved into present day Tibetan Buddhism that combines the original Buddhist doctrines with striking Tibetan features. In other words, it’s a localized Lamaism. It was not until the 1950s that the theocratic rule of the Lama authority came to an end.

Indeed, not only does Lamaism serve as the ruling philosophy, but it also has become the spiritual home for the ordinary people. It is the source of the marvelous religious culture and arts and exerts an influence on people’s daily life. Many schools came into being over the evolving process of Tibetan Buddhism. Currently, there are four major schools: the Gelug Sect (commonly known as the yellow sect of Lamaism), the Ningrna Sect (the red sect of Lamaism), the Sakya Sect (the flower sect of Lamaism) and the Kaggu Sect (the white sect of Lamaism).

The Ocean of Songs and Dances

Tibet has been long crowned as “the ocean of songs and dances”. During traditional holidays, you can see people, men and women, young and old, dancing enthusiastically wherever they go. In the countryside, with the arrival of autumn, the season of threshing and harvest, farmers sing and dance in a circle while working in the field. In the pasture, wonderful campfire parties are held through out the night. In town, people visit the rivers in the noble gardens with their families, drinking buttered tea and barley wine while performing local dances from morning till night.

Tibetan songs and dances are just like twin brothers in that they are both inseparable and complementary to each other. However, singing and dancing are conceptionally different. There are rigid distinctions between them: “Lu” and “Harmonic” generally refer to singing; “Zhuo” and “Xiazhuo” have the meaning of dancing. There’re plenty of dances that are quite popular amongst the people. The most widely known and well accepted dances are “Guoxie”, “Reba”, “Duixie”, “Lexie” and so forth. And all of them are group dances. Duixie, also called “Tibetan tap dancing”, is prevalent throughout Tibet.

The Art of Architecture

Tibetan people have built a myriad of spectacular buildings. Whether cities and towns, Zongshan City, palaces, pagodas, noble gardens or manors, mansions of princes, mansions of the nobilities, ordinary houses, bridges, they all differ in style. All of them are the epitome of the Tibetan people and stand out as national treasures. It relies on concepts such as unity, balance, comparison, rhythm, harmony, proportion  and so on to achieve amazingly beautiful effects. Tibetan architecture actively draws on the merits and advanced techniques of other nations. Even now, many of the ancient buildings remain.

In Tibetan palaces, pagodas, temples, mansions of the nobilities, and manors, there is a tradition of painting on the walls and putting up Thang-ga pictures. Many renowned ancient buildings are museums, perfect specimens of the art of painting. Thang-ga is a traditional art that came into being after the popularity of wall painting. It incorporates colorful ribbons into scroll paintings, presenting striking ethnic characteristics, a strong religious flavor and unique style of art. The topics of Thang-ga come from Tibetan history and customs. There are both historical paintings and custom paintings. Thang-ga paintings that reflect such scientific subjects as astrology and Tibetan medicine can also be found.