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April 2, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright April 2, 2009 A. Tom Grunfeld. Used by permission.


As many readers of this blog doubtless realize, everything having to do with Tibet is subject to mythologizing. That the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of Tibetan independence is one of these myths. This notion gets mentioned in the Western press routinely, and it sometimes even shows up in comments by academic specialists. In fact, the prize was awarded to him more because of the events in Tiananmen Square that had happened just a few months before the award than for anything related to the Tibet struggle per se.

Indeed, it appears that if there had been no confrontations at Tiananmen in 1989, the Dalia Lama would not have received the prize. To be sure, the European community began to embrace the Dalai Lama and his cause after his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1988 when he announced a major concession to Beijing giving up the demand for independence for autonomy. Moreover, the demonstrations and the subsequent bloody suppression in Lhasa in spring 1989 generated additional support and sympathy for the Tibetans. But it appears unlikely that those events alone got him the prize. The situation is described fully in an October 13, 1989, New York Times article “How, and Why, the Dalai Lama Won the Peace Prize.” (To read it in full, follow the link.) To give a sense of its take on the situation, which was based on interviews with informants close to the prize selection process, here are some excerpts from it:

People close to the Nobel Peace Prize selection process say that the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, gained the advantage over other candidates, including President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, largely because of the brutal suppression of the democracy movement in China and the international outrage that followed.