How and Why the Dalai Lama Left Tibet

TIME

The invitation seemed innocuous: A Chinese general asked if the 14th Dalai Lama would like to see a performance by a Chinese dance troupe. But when he was told to come to the Chinese military headquarters without soldiers or armed bodyguards, according to his official biography, the Tibetans sensed a trap.

After years of guerrilla war between Tibetan rebels and the Chinese soldiers in a land that China considered to be its territory, the friendly overture seemed suspicious enough that, on the day of the performance, thousands of protesters surrounded the Dalai Lama’s palace in Lhasa to keep him from being abducted, arrested or killed. Over the following few days, the protests expanded into declarations of Tibetan independence and the mobilizing of rebel troops to fight the Chinese forces. The State Oracle, the Dalai Lama’s advisor, urged him to flee.

On this day, March 17, in 1959, Tibet’s spiritual…

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