Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The One and the Many: What Makes a "People"? That's a Tricky Question to Answer, Writes Robert Ilson

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The One and the Many: What Makes a "People"? That's a Tricky Question to Answer, Writes Robert Ilson

Article excerpt

Blood and ink have been spilled over Tibet and its people. But rarely, if ever, has the question been asked: Who are those people ? The problem may be approached linguistically by considering the two phrases "the Tibetan people" (aka "the Tibetans") and "the people of Tibet". These expressions are more or less synonymous, but each has a different focus. "The Tibetan people" emphasises those who are ethnically or culturally Tibetan. "The people of Tibet" emphasises those who live in the place of that name.

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By contrast, "the Tibetan people" may well be taken to include Tibetans living outside Tibet, and their descendants. According to the government of Tibet in exile, this Tibetan diaspora is approximately 111,000 strong.

As for "the people of Tibet", they include Tibetans-and others, most notably Han Chinese. How many? That depends on what we mean by "Tibet". It can mean Greater Tibet, which, according to the Tibetan government-in-exile, comprises "U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo Provinces"--or the part that the Chinese government calls the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which, again, according to the government-in-exile, "is less than half the land mass of Tibet with only one-third of the total Tibetan population". When the exiled government says that "today six million Tibetans are outnumbered by 7.5 million Chinese in Tibet", it means in Greater Tibet. For the TAR, however, a Chinese government census of the year 2000 "indicated there were 2. …

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