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The Dalai Lama’s reputation in his native Tibet is a product of the stature that accompanies that designation. Born Lhamo Dondrub on July 6, 1935, he was officially recognized on November 17, 1950 as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, making him His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of a deeply religious Buddhist country and, as such, he commands a great deal of respect and admiration by virtue of his position. As importantly with regard to his reputation inside Tibet, he serves as the nation’s most visible and highly-respected advocate for Tibetan independence from Chinese rule. So, as both spiritual leader and global representative for his nation, the Dalai Lama is the most widely-respected individual in his country.
In the West, the Dalai Lama’s importance is derived in no small part from the legitimacy he enjoys as his nation’s spiritual leader, and as Tibet’s voice for independence. The problem in much of the West, and in Asia, is the geopolitical realities many governments around the world confront when deciding whether to host the Dalai Lama in their capitals and whether to nominally support the cause of Tibetan independence. The People’s Republic of China, which invaded Tibet in 1950, contends that Tibet is rightfully a province of China and, as such, it is entitled to occupy it and to carry out its ongoing process of Sinification of that region (“Sinification” is the process of expanding Chinese influences and culture into non-Chinese regions). The government in Beijing looks askance at any foreign government that maintains a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, as the latter’s status with regard to Tibetan nationalism poses a direct threat to Chinese claims of legitimacy. Aiding the Chinese efforts is the distinction between Tibetan Buddhism and Han Buddhism, the differences between which are relatively minor but which provide the Chinese the division they need to delegitimize the position of the Dalai Lama. Because China has emerged as a major economic power, and an important trading partner to more and more countries, those countries’ governments risk alienating such an important world power over the relatively insignificant issue of Tibetan independence (the identical dynamics play out, by the way, with respect to Taiwan’s relations with governments other than that in Beijing.
In short, the Dalai Lama is highly revered at home and in the United States, with lesser levels of support in other Western countries. He is reviled among many Chinese for his visible advocacy of Tibetan independence. Complicating matters is the very real history of the Dalai Lama’s relationship to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which carried out covert operations during the 1950s and 1960s intended to weaken Chinese control of Tibet while buttressing the reputation and position of the Dalai Lama.
Research on these issues is easily performed in the age of the Internet, but certain nonfictions books should be consulted. Among these are:
Annalie Rozeboom, Waiting for the Dalai Lama: Stories from All Sides of the Tibetan Debate (1999)
Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, The C.I.A.’s Secret War in Tibet (2002)
Mikel Dunham, Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the C.I.A.-backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet (2004) [Note, the book is directly endorsed by the Dalai Lama, which could bring into question its objectivity]
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, Freedom in Exile (1991)
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Report: China, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2010_5/168351.htm
Elliot Sperling, The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics, East-West Center (2004)
U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Foreign Relations of the U.S. 1964-1968, Volume XXX, China Document 337, Subject: Review of Tibetan Operations, 1964, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v30/d337
These sources, along with those linked below, will provide a good starting point for further research into the situation in Tibet and to the position of the Dalai Lama.
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