Lying between India and China, Tibet has developed a distinctive civilization which exhibits both Indian and Chinese features, but within a distinctively Tibetan context.
Tibet is the highest country in the world. This gives it a cold, harsh climate. Its land is generally unsuitable for farming, and its people therefore have traditionally been mostly pastoralists. There are few towns and villages. The exception is along the south-western fringes of the country where some fertile river valleys are home to dense agricultural populations.
Tibet emerged as a unified state in the 7th century CE, and in the 8th century grew to cover a large area, from the borders of Afghanistan in the west to those of the Chinese empire in the east.
This empire came to an end in the mid-9th century, and Tibet never again achieved the same power again. The country was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century, and remained under Mongol rule until the mid-14th century.
Over the preceding centuries Buddhism had become established as the dominant religion in Tibet. After the driving out of the Mongols, different factions of Buddhist priests, centered on various monasteries, vied for power. In the 16th century, one of these factions, the Gelug school, assumed dominance after a long civil war, and since then its leaders, the Dalai Lama, has been the traditional leader of Tibet.
In the 18th century Tibet came under the rule of the Qing empire. As under the Mongols, it maintained a high level of autonomy, but under the general control of Beijing.
With the fall of the Qing in 1912, Tibet became an independent country, with the Dalai Lama as the head of state.
In 1950, having taken control of China the previous year, the Communist Party of China annexed Tibet to China. They granted the Tibetans a great deal of autonomy under their traditional leader, the Dalai Lama. In 1959, however, the Tibetans revolted, and the Chinese sent in forces to occupy the country. the Dalai Lama fled the country to India, where he set up a government-in-exile.