Fifty-two years ago, the Dalai Lama fled Norbulingka, his palace on the outskirts of Lhasa, Tibet, for exile in India. For several days in March 1959, rumors had spread that the occupying Chinese army would arrest the spiritual leader at a dance performance which he had been firmly asked to attend "without his bodyguards." Crowds of Tibetans who had heard about the unusual Chinese "invitation" gathered before the palace to protect the Dalia Lama. Disguised as a common soldier, he slipped out of the palace before the fighting began, and with a large number of guards and advisers, he headed south. It was several days before the Chinese realized that he had fled. There were no Western observers in Lhasa, and it was about a week after the initial battles between the poorly armed locals and the highly trained Chinese soldiers before the rest of the world heard of the clashes. Tibet rebels carried messages to a CIA operative in the mountains who sent a coded message by radio, so when the Dalai Lama and his followers finally reached the remote southern border, Indian guard were waiting to escort him to a safe compound. By that time, the escape was an international front page story without any verified details.
According to author Stephan Talty in Escape from the Land of the Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero, the details of what happened in Tibet in March 1959 are still debated. Chinese and Tibetan stories differ greatly. No one knows the number of deaths. Guessing from what the author says, if there are any photos or films, they are locked away in China. This was an event that happened in an unconnected world. Talty obviously believes Tibetan sources over Chinese, but his reporting is not totally one-sided. He emphasizes that the outbreak may have sparked by a total misunderstanding. There is no evidence that the Chinese were about to arrest or assassinate the Dalai Lama, but once they were challenged, they were efficient and successful in suppressing the Tibetan public. Talty's admiration for the courage and calmness of Dalai Lama is evident.
Some libraries are shelving this book in their religion section. While it obviously tells a little about Tibet's Buddhist faith, it is mostly history with a bit of biography. It should be in the history sections in most public libraries. It is also a good display book for March.
Talty, Stephan. Escape from the Land of the Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero. Crown Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9780307460950.