Tibet's history revolves around the influence of Buddhism, which played a vital role in shaping Tibetan and Mongol cultures. Most Tibetan historians were Buddhist monks. Geographically, Tibet sits between ancient China, Nepal, and India, isolated by mountains. Tibet is often called "the roof of the world" or "the land of snows," with a history dating back over 2,100 years.
Early Tibetan history mentions the Zhang Zhung culture, a precursor to Tibetan kingdoms and the originators of the Bon religion. The 1st century BCE saw the emergence of a neighboring kingdom in the Yarlung Valley. Attempts to diminish Zhang Zhung's influence led to conflict and eventual annexation by Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century.
In the 7th century CE, Chinese historians referred to Tibet as "Tufan." The first confirmed contact occurred when King Namri Lontsan sent an ambassador to China.
Archaeological evidence suggests ancient human presence in Tibet, possibly dating back half a million years. Modern humans settled around 21,000 years ago, with a population shift around 3,000 BC due to Neolithic immigrants from northern China. Genetic links exist between ancient and contemporary Tibetans. Megalithic monuments and Iron Age sites dot the plateau, though high altitude complicates research.
Tibetan history gained clarity with the introduction of Buddhism from India in the 6th century and the emergence of the unified Tibetan Empire in the 7th century. After its dissolution and fragmentation in the 9th-10th centuries, a Buddhist revival in the 10th–12th centuries led to the development of major Tibetan Buddhist schools.
In the 14th century, Tibet effectively gained independence after Mongol and Yuan dynasty rule, ruled by noble houses for 300 years. The 17th century saw the Dalai Lama becoming the head of state with Khoshut Khanate's support. The 18th century witnessed Dzungar Khanate's occupation, prompting Qing dynasty intervention and control until its fall.
In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama's exile in India followed tensions with China. This event led to Tibetan refugee communities in India, the United States, and Europe.
Post-invasion, Tibetan independence and human rights gained global attention, especially alongside the 14th Dalai Lama in the 1980s and 90s. China's control efforts faced accusations of religious site destruction, image bans, and cultural suppression. Allegations of mass starvation during the Great Leap Forward crisis were made, countered by PRC claims of modernization and infrastructure development. The Tibet issue remains a subject of ongoing international concern and debate.