ON THIS DATE in 1950, fifteen-year-old Tenzin Gyatso was recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people. His nation’s all-powerful eastern and northern neighbor, China, had assured that his first year as Dalai Lama would be challenging by invading Tibet in October of that year. Along with some 80,000 other Tibetans, Gyatso fled the country after a failed uprising in 1959. He established a government-in-exile in northern India, where he has worked to secure self-rule for Tibet through non-violent means. That mission brought him the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.
By his own admission, Gyatso may be “the most popular Dalai Lama of all,” a status he attributes to Tibet’s neighbor. “If the Chinese had treated the Tibetans like real brothers, then the Dalai Lama might not be so popular,” he once said.