Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 412–422 | Cite as

Differentiations of geographic distribution and subsistence strategies between Tibetan and other major ethnic groups are determined by the physical environment in Hehuang Valley

  • Xin JiaEmail author
  • Harry F. LeeEmail author
  • Mengchun Cui
  • Guoquan Cheng
  • Yang Zhao
  • Hong Ding
  • Ricci P. H. Yue
  • Huayu Lu
Research Paper


The people of the Tibetan Plateau have received extensive attention from scholars because of their unique adaptability to the low temperature and anoxic environments. However, the Tibetan communities and their habitats in the low-altitude regions of the plateau have rarely been studied in a scientific manner. Based on the extraction of geographic information of 197 towns in the Hehuang Valley and on variance analysis, this study examines the habitats and subsistence strategies of the Tibetans and other major ethnic groups in the low-latitude region of the Tibetan Plateau. Our statistical results show that the annual average temperature of Tibetan habitats in the Hehuang Valley is relatively high. The relatively warm environment of the valley allows the Tibetans in that area to cultivate wheat and barley and raise cattle and sheep—a subsistence strategy significantly different from that of other Tibetans in the high-altitude regions in the Tibetan Plateau. In addition, the Tibetan communities in the Hehuang Valley include similar agri-pastoral ethnic groups (including Hui and Salar), both of which adopt similar subsistence strategies. The agricultural ethnic groups (Han and Tu) live in a relatively cool and humid environment facilitating agricultural production, while the agri-pastoral ethnic groups (Tibetan, Hui, and Salar) inhabit relatively warm and arid environment in the valley. Due to the lack of agricultural activities, agri-pastoral groups must also engage in animal husbandry to supplement their diet. In the Ando Tibetan region, the subsistence strategies of the ethnic groups are closely related to their physical environment. Those ethnic groups communicate among themselves, integrate, and influence each other, resulting in a diversified culture. This study proves that the habitat variation at a regional scale corresponds significantly to the variation of subsistence strategies. Our findings may further refine knowledge about the human-environmental relationships of Tibetans and lead future research towards using quantitative methods to analyse the intersection of physical environment and ethnic groups’ distribution.


Tibetan Plateau Ethnic group Ethnic geography Hehuang Valley Ando Tibetan region 


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This work was supported by the State Key R & D Project of China (Grant No. 2016YFA0600503), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41771223), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (Grant No. 2016M601769), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Grant No. 020914380027), Sino-British Fellowship Trust, Hui Oi-Chow Trust Fund (Grant No. 201602172006), and Research Grants Council of The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (Grant No. HKU745113H).


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Copyright information

© Science in China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xin Jia
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Harry F. Lee
    • 4
    Email author
  • Mengchun Cui
    • 1
  • Guoquan Cheng
    • 1
  • Yang Zhao
    • 1
  • Hong Ding
    • 3
    • 5
  • Ricci P. H. Yue
    • 6
  • Huayu Lu
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Geographic and Oceanographic SciencesNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.College of Earth and Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Needham Research InstituteCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Department of Geography and Resource ManagementThe Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongChina
  5. 5.School of MarxismTaiyuan University of TechnologyTaiyuanChina
  6. 6.Department of Geography and International Center for China Development StudiesThe University of Hong KongHong KongChina

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