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China recalls days of poems and promise with Dalai Lama

April 23, 2008

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING Tue Apr 22, 2008 (Reuters) - China's Communist Party casts the
Dalai Lama as a murderous foe in a struggle over Tibet, but once courted
him as a key ally in controlling the region, China's latest official
history of the region details.

The Dalai Lama, then a young Buddhist monk stirred by the modernising
hopes of Tibet's new Communist occupants, in turn responded with gushing
praise of the revolutionary Mao Zedong.

"Only limitless blessing could create such a leader like the sun
radiating across the land. His writings are as precious as pearls."

Thus the Dalai wrote in a poem after meeting Mao in Beijing in 1955,
according to "A History of the Liberation of Tibet", published last month.

China has used tens of thousands of troops and a barrage of patriotic
propaganda to combat a wave of unrest in Tibetan areas since March. But
for decades, the government has also treated history as a battlefield in
which calls for Tibetan independence and criticisms of Chinese rule must
also be demolished.

Written by a team of dozens over eight years and overseen by senior
officials, China's latest official history of Tibet from 1949 to 1965 is
intended as a 564-page blow in that battle.

"Like other regions, Tibet could be liberated and developed only in the
family of the motherland and by taking the socialist road," the authors
conclude.

But the book's account of the courtship between China and the Dalai Lama
that collapsed in 1959, leading him into exile, underscores the
complexity of the hopes and miscalculations that shaped ties between
China and the Dalai Lama's exiled movement.

China now dismisses him as a mere monk with no right to shape Tibet's
political future. Yet in the 1950s the central government honoured the
Dalai Lama with high political titles and vowed not to press major
change in Tibet without his nod.

And while the Dalai Lama has a global reputation as an opponent of
Chinese policy, he once denounced separatist forces, first journeyed to
India at the behest of Mao and later fled there with Mao's knowledge,
according to the new history.

BUDDHISM AND COMMUNISM

"Both sides misunderstood what the other wanted," said Wang Lixiong, a
Beijing-based author who has long studied Tibet's modern history and
supports regional self-rule.

"Mao never imagined that the Dalai would become such a powerful and
troublesome figure when he went into exile ... The Dalai thought he
could find a way to bring Buddhism and communism into harmony for Tibet."

In past decades, Tibet's historic ties to China and whether they
amounted to Chinese sovereignty have been bitterly contested by
advocates and foes of regional self-determination.

But when the People's Liberation Army marched into Lhasa in 1951, the
Dalai Lama saw some hope for cooperating with China's new Communist
rulers and pulling the long-isolated mountain region out of poverty.

The two sides signed a "17-point agreement" intended to serve as a
framework for relations that promised the region religious freedom and
respect for the Dalai's powers.

Mao and his lieutenant, Zhou Enlai, also wooed the Dalai Lama and Zhou's
counterpart, the Panchen Lama, with respectful receptions in Beijing.

"Today, the Tibetan side spins that the Dalai Lama was playing Mao,"
said Tsering Shakya, an historian of Tibet at the the University of
British Columbia in Canada.

"But I think he thought it was very possible to work with Mao. He was an
impressionable young guy in his twenties."

In 1956, as Tibetans became restive at the accelerating Communist
revolution spilling into their areas, Mao agreed to hold off reforms in
Tibet for at least six years, and then let the Dalai Lama and local
leaders decide whether to proceed.

Not that the Dalai was firmly set against the Party's socialist economic
plans.

"The Dalai even wanted to join the Party at one stage, because he was so
struck by how much more advanced the inland was," said Wang, using the
term many Tibetans use to refer to Han Chinese-dominated lowland China.
"He thought Buddhism and Marxism had a lot in common and he's said
similar things since."

In 1959, as Mao plunged China into a radical Great Leap Forward, growing
unrest in the ethnic Tibetan regions of provinces next to Tibet spread
across the region.

In Lhasa, forces opposed to Chinese rule gathered strength, and as open
fighting broke out the Dalai Lama fled into exile in March, leaving the
homeland he says he still wants to return to as a highly autonomous
region of China.

The new official history says he fled with the knowledge of Mao, who
apparently hoped that he would contritely return one day or dwindle into
obscurity

"I'm not sure that Mao knew that the Dalai would escape," said Tsering,
the historian. "But Mao was very paternalistic. He thought he knew Tibet
better than the Tibetans."
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