Lodi Gyari, who escaped Chinese oppression in Tibet as a child, then spent his life as a tireless advocate for his native land and people, becoming an emissary of the Dalai Lama in negotiations with the government of China, died Oct. 29 at a hospital in San Francisco. He was 69. The cause was liver cancer, said Lesley Friedell Rich, an official with the International Campaign for Tibet, which Gyari once led.
Gyari (pronounced “Gary”) was descended from a long line of chieftains and resistance fighters, including his grandmother and an aunt who raised him. He was considered a reincarnated lama in the Buddhist religion and, as a child, helped guide his family out of their homeland after China seized control of Tibet in the 1950s.
In 1970, Gyari helped found the Tibetan Youth Congress, which remains the largest political organization of Tibetans in exile. At first, he was an advocate of complete sovereignty for Tibet, which had been an independent nation before China’s Communist-led revolution of the late 1940s. He became active in the Tibetan government-in-exile in India and, at age 30, became the speaker of its parliament and later a cabinet officer.
As China tightened its control over Tibet, Gyari sought to draw attention to the plight of his people, first at the United Nations and later in Washington, where he was posted as the Dalai Lama’s special envoy in 1990.
Tempering his earlier calls for Tibetan independence, Gyari became a champion of the Dalai Lama’s more moderate “Middle Way” approach, which sought political and cultural autonomy for the Tibetan people within the framework of the Chinese constitution.
At the Dalai Lama’s request, Gyari opened discussions with Chinese officials, holding nine rounds of talks between 2002 and 2010. He considered the Chinese responses to his pleas for Tibetan self-determination to be inflexible, if not hostile.
His discussions produced few lasting results, except for greater recognition of the Tibetan language in what is called the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 2011, when the Dalai Lama yielded political authority to the democratically elected government-in-exile, Gyari resigned as special envoy.