Profile Source: Copyright © Peoples of the Buddhist World, Paul Hattaway
Almost 700,000 Tibetans belong to the Gtsang Tibetan language group. They are located in a wide geographical area, stretching east to west over roughly the entire length of the Tibet-Nepal border. Gtsang is spoken in the cities of Xigaze and Gyantse, the second and fourth largest cities in Tibet respectively. The main attraction of Gyantse is the immense pagoda, or Kumbun, built by Rapten Kunsang Phapa (1389–1442). Approximately 60,000 Gtsang Tibetans also live in Nepal, throughout northern parts of the country as well as in Kathmandu, the nation's capital.
The Gtsang Tibetan language—which has 10 dialects—is a variety of Central Tibetan. It is largely intelligible with Lhasa and Ngahri Tibetan, although speakers can struggle to communicate with each other depending on their accents and how much exposure they have had to other varieties of Central Tibetan. Despite their differences in speech, all Tibetans use the same Sanskrit-based orthography. In the 7th century, King Songtsen Gampo sent his minister, Thonmi Sambhota, to India, where he produced the script.
Xigaze, the capital of Tibet from 1618 to 1642, is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second most powerful ruler after the Dalai Lama. In 1954 the city was nearly destroyed by floods. After putting down a revolt in 1959, the Chinese imprisoned 400 monks in the Tashilhunpo Monastery.
The Xigaze New Year festival is held in the first week of the 12th lunar month. Thousands of visitors have flocked to Gyantse since 1408 for the annual horse racing and archery show. Captain O'Conner, the British trade agent at Gyantse in the early 1900s, described the Gtsang Tibetans as 'superstitious indeed to the last degree, but devoid of any deep-rooted religious convictions or heart-searchings, oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft which the world has ever seen.'
The Gtsang region is home to several Buddhist sects, including the Nyingmapa (Ancient), Kagyupa (Oral Transmission) and Sakya (Gray Earth) schools. After the death of the Panchen Lama in 1989, the Chinese filled his position with their own choice of successor. In May 1995, the exiled Dalai Lama announced a new Panchen Lama who was immediately rejected by the Chinese. Monks at the Tashilhunpo Monastery and a number of lay Tibetans rioted in protest. Eighty monks were interrogated by the police, and the city of Xigatse was sealed off for several days.
Jesuit missionary Antonio de Andrade arrived in Tibet from India in 1624 by disguising himself as a Hindu pilgrim. 'Andrade outwitted hostile local officials, made his way north to the Himalayas, endured altitude sickness and snow blindness, fought his way over a 17,900-foot pass into Tibet, and finally reached Tsaparang. There he impressed the king and queen with his piety, and they gave him permission to return, establish a mission, and preach the Gospel.' A revolution in Tsaparang in 1635 abruptly ended the Jesuit mission. Today there are a few Gtsang Tibetan Christians.