In 1950 the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded Tibet. Under Mao’s leadership, China was looking for the reunification of former Chinese territories, one of which was Tibet. Since then, guerrilla warfare had persisted between Tibetan Rebels who desired independence and Chinese soldiers. Despite the fact that Mao viewed this reclamation of Tibet as a domestic issue, the severity with which Tibetans were suppressed caught the world’s attention and the United States was among the first countries to criticise the horrific bloodshed.
The relocation of the Dalai Lama was one important outcome of this invasion. In March 1959, a Chinese Army general extended an unusual invitation to the Dalai Lama to watch a performance of a Chinese dance troupe. The event caused a furore when his holiness was asked to go alone without any security accompanying him; threats to the spiritual leader’s safety seemed imminent.
On the day of the performance thousands of Tibetan protestors surrounded the Dalai Lama’s palace to prevent the spiritual leader from being abducted, arrested or killed. In the days that followed, protests spread across Tibet with declarations of Tibetan independence. Rebel troops were mobilised to fight Chinese forces. Amidst this the State Oracle, the Dalai Lama’s advisor urged him to flee Tibet, fearing his safety.
The threats to his security prompted the Dalai Lama, on March 17th 1959, to embark on a dangerous course across the Himalayas seeking asylum in India along with many of his followers. The Indian Consulate in Lhasa granted him asylum and to this day, since 1959, he continues to live in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, running the Tibetan government in exile. The Dalai Lama later deemed the actions of the Maoist regime an unparalleled ‘cultural genocide’.Although fighting has subsided today in Tibet, tensions still remain. Tibetans can still be arrested to this day if found with pictures or writings of the Dalai Lama.