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Lions Roar : July 2017
Young Leader of an Endangered Nation 1950–1959 IN THE AUTUMN of 1950, when the Dalai Lama was fifteen, Chinese Communist forces invaded Eastern Tibet. They sent more than eighty thousand soldiers into the region, announcing that they were liberating Tibet from imperialism. Although he was only a teenager, the Tibetan government decided it was time for the Dalai Lama to assume his position as the nation’s political leader. On November 17, 1950, the young man was given temporal as well as spiritual power. “This filled me with anxiety,” he wrote in My Land and My People. “I was far from having finished my religious education. I knew nothing about the world and had no experience of politics.” In late December, with the Chinese exerting increasing pressure, the Dalai Lama moved his seat of power to a village near the Indian border. Before he left, he appointed two prime ministers to govern Lhasa in his absence. He sent delegations to the United States, Great Britain, and Nepal to plea for support against the Chinese, but to no avail. “I did not want to go at all,” the Dalai Lama recalled. “As a young and able-bodied man, my instinct was to share whatever risks my people were undergoing, but to Tibetans, the person of the Dalai Lama is supremely precious.” A reserve of gold and silver was taken from Lhasa and stored in a vault across the border in Sikkim. A Tibetan delegation met with Chinese Communist leaders in 1951 in Beijing. Under duress and threats of violence, they were forced to sign the so-called Seventeen Point Agreement, surrendering Tibet to Chinese sovereignty. The delegation had not been authorized to make any such agreement, and the Tibetan seal on the document was forged. On May 26, 1951, the Dalai Lama heard the agreement announced on the radio. To his shock, the first clause read: “The Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Mother- land—the People’s Republic of China.” A Chinese governor was installed in Lhasa and Chinese troops moved into the capital, creating a food shortage. The Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa in 1951 and tried to nego- tiate a peaceful solution with China. In 1954 he traveled to Beijing for peace talks, where he met with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders. The journey lasted eleven months. Head of state, 1955: the Dalai Lama in the traditional robes and accoutrements of a Tibetan king. PHOTOCOURTESYOFTHEOFFICEOFHHDALAILAMA LION’S ROAR | JULY 2017 62