Altitude and adaptation: A study of geography and ethnic division

Christopher Paik, Tsering Wangyal Shawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we investigate the influence of geography on ethnic division by drawing evidence from Tibetan ethnic regions in China. Using a novel township name index that identifies the ethnolinguistic origin of each township name, our empirical findings first show that regions with Han Chinese settlement in the past also witness higher concentration of Han population today. We also show that townships located at higher altitudes have less Han concentration. This altitude effect can be both indirect and direct; we find that the indirect effect through historical settlement is small compared to the direct physiological effect through altitude illness. The challenging environment of the plateau region acts as a physiological hindrance only for Han Chinese, and the natural separation continues to persist between the two groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-221
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Altitude
  • Altitude illness
  • China
  • Cohabitation
  • Diversity
  • Ethnic division
  • Ethnography
  • Tibet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Environmental Science
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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