Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959 by Jianglin Li (Translated by Susan Wilf) - review by Mick Brown

Mick Brown

Last Dance in Lhasa

Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959


Harvard University Press 410pp £22.95 order from our bookshop

Jianglin Li’s account of a pivotal moment in Tibet’s anguished history, the events of February and March 1959 that led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile and marked China’s total conquest of the country, is remarkable not only for its meticulously researched and detailed exposé of Chinese duplicity and ruthlessness but also for the identity of the author. As she explains in the preface, Li, an independent scholar and writer who specialises in post-1950 Tibetan history, is Han Chinese, born in mainland China. She is the daughter of two lifelong Communist Party members and was raised on the party line that Tibet is and always has been a legitimate part of China and the Dalai Lama is a treasonous ‘splittist’, a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ who has spent his life conspiring to separate Tibet from the Motherland. What you hear turning every page of this book – the first book written with full access to official Chinese documents and accounts of the events – is the sound of scales falling from the eyes.

Bizarrely, the incidents that led to the final Chinese conquest of Tibet began with an invitation to a dance. But the orchestration had been planned much earlier. Even before he established the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong had declared his intention of settling once and for all

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