In remarks that might surprise those who have only heard him snipe at the Chinese government and its leaders, the Dalai Lama on Sunday disclosed that he had such good relations with Chairman Mao Zedong that he regarded him as “a father”. He also flirted with Communism as a young man, he said.

Recalling his close relationship with Mao in a BBC interview, the Tibetan religious leader recounted how, at formal dinners, the Chinese leader would make him sit by his side and personally serve him in the best Chinese tradition.

“He [Chairman Mao] appears to me as a father and he himself considered me as a son. [We had] very good relations. The only problem was that on many occasions, when official dinners were held, Chairman Mao always used to bring me to his side. So, then as Chinese tradition, Chairman Mao himself would use his chopsticks to put some food in my plate. So, in a way it was a great honour, but in a way I feel little fear...he coughing too much, a chain smoker, so I might get some germs [laughing].”

The Dalai Lama acknowledged with a laugh when asked by the interviewer, Andrew Marr, whether as a young man he was “attracted by some aspects of Communism”. He then approvingly cited Marxist economic theory which, he believed, offered a solution to the current economic crisis in the West.

“When I was in China, I learnt Marxist economy theory, which has an emphasis on equal distribution, rather than just profit. Since we human beings created this [economic] problem, we also have ability to overcome it. In spite of our difficulties, we should not give up our hope...we must keep our self confidence, that is very important”, said the 76-year-old Nobel Laureate.

Asked whether after over 50 years in exile, he thought he could ever go back to Tibet, he said the older Tibetans wanted him to return “as soon as possible before their death”, but other “politically sensible” people believed that under the present circumstances, he should remain outside in a free country.

“Their message is that (by remaining outside Tibet), you can do more for us. If you return you will yourself become like a prisoner”, he said.

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