Published: April 2002

The Dalai Lama

Monk Praying

Facing a New Reality

By Lewis M. Simons
Photograph by Steve McCurry

Having struggled for half a century to free his country from China's grasp, the Dalai Lama knows better than anyone that it's not going to happen. Even though he's been coming to recognize this near certainty for some time, he had held out hope until lately that as Beijing's hard-core communist leaders die, their more worldly successors might consider granting Tibet its independence.

Visiting Taiwan recently, the realization that virtually all ethnic Chinese, communist and capitalist, consider Tibet a rightful part of China was driven home for him. "All Chinese, even those I met in Taiwan, even those educated in the United States, think of Tibet as a part of China," he said, when I spoke with him in the comfortable stucco building that is his home and office in Dharmsala, a booming tourist town in the Himalayan foothills of India.

The best the Dalai Lama hopes for now is that the next generation of Chinese leaders will deliver some of the autonomy Tibet was supposed to receive after being declared an autonomous region in 1965. He bases this hope on a belief that Chinese politics will eventually follow its economics into a closer resemblance of the outside world. This would mean improved human rights for Tibetans as well as ethnic Chinese, he said. "China will have to follow the world, whether they like it or not."

Continue »
email a friend iconprinter friendly icon   |