The Dalai Lama, the exiled religious and political leader of Tibet, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.
The 14th Dalai Lama was born as Tenzin Gyatso in Tsinghai Province, China, in 1935. He was of Tibetan parentage, and Tibetan monks visited him when he was three and announced him to be the reincarnation of the late 13th Dalai Lama. The monks were guided by omens, portents, and dreams that indicated where the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama could be found. At age five, Tenzin Gyatso was taken to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and installed as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibet, a large region situated in the plateaus and mountains of Central Asia, had been ruled by the Dalai Lamas since the 14th century. Tibetans resisted efforts by China to gain greater control over the region in the early 20th century, and during the Chinese Revolution of 1911-12, the Tibetans expelled Chinese officials and civilians and formally declared their independence.
In October 1950, Chinese Communist forces invaded Tibet and quickly overwhelmed the country’s poorly equipped army. The young Dalai Lama appealed to the United Nations for support, but his entreaties were denied. In 1951, a Tibetan-Chinese peace agreement was signed, in which the nation became a “national autonomous region” of China, supposedly under the rule of the Dalai Lama but actually under the control of a Chinese Communist commission. The highly religious people of Tibet suffered under Communist China’s anti-religious legislation.
After years of scattered protests in Tibet, a full-scale revolt broke out in March 1959, and the Dalai Lama fled with 100,000 other Tibetans as Chinese troops crushed the uprising. He began an exile in India, settling at Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills, where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government. Back in Tibet, the Chinese adopted brutally repressive measures against the Tibetans, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. With the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Chinese suppression of Tibetan Buddhism escalated, and practice of the religion was banned and thousands of monasteries were destroyed.
The religious-practice ban was lifted in 1976, but suppression in Tibet continued. From his base at Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama traveled the world, successfully drawing international attention to the continuing Chinese suppression of the Tibetan people and their religion. Major anti-Chinese riots broke out in Lhasa in 1987, and in 1988 China declared martial law in the region. Seeking peace, the Dalai Lama abandoned his demand for Tibetan independence and called for a true self-governing Tibet, with China in charge of defense and foreign affairs. China rejected the offer. The following year, the Dalai Lama was the recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace. His autobiography, Freedom in Exile, was published in 1990.
Tibet continued to suffer from periodic unrest in the 1990s, and China came under criticism from Western governments for its suppression of political and religious freedom there. The Chinese government has since made efforts to moderate its stance in the region, but Tibet remains without self-government. After more than four decades of exile, the Dalai Lama continues to travel, publicizing the Tibetan cause.