‘China’s Panchen’ Makes Rare Visit to Tibet’s Capital Lhasa

Tibet’s Panchen Lama, a senior Buddhist monk hand-picked by Beijing to replace a candidate more widely recognized by Tibetans as authentic, paid a rare and largely unnoticed recent visit to Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, where he was received by government officials, reports in Chinese state media said.

Gyaltsen Norbu, called Gyaincain in Chinese, arrived in Lhasa on July 31 and was greeted by Chinese authorities, students, and civil servants, and later went to pray on Aug. 3 in Lhasa’s Jokhang temple, media sources said.

Few in Lhasa appear to have been aware of the Panchen Lama’s visit, though, a city resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.

Access to the Jokhang and Lhasa’s central Barkhor old town area are usually tightly restricted, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But a few days ago even more police were deployed there than usual. Gyaltsen Norbu was probably visiting then,” the source said, adding, “Not many Tibetans know about the China-appointed Panchen Lama, and only those who don’t know his background will care much about him.”

Beijing named Gyaltsen (Gyaincain) Norbu as the Panchen Lama in 1995 in a retaliatory action after the exiled Dalai Lama identified another child, six-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnation of the widely venerated religious figure.

Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks and other respected religious leaders are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.

The boy selected by the Dalai Lama disappeared into Chinese custody together with his family in 1995 and has not been heard from since.

Chinese authorities have meanwhile had difficulty persuading Tibetans to accept Gyaltsen Norbu as the official face of Tibetan Buddhism in China, and ordinary Tibetans and monks in monasteries traditionally loyal to the Dalai Lama have been reluctant to receive him.

A bid for authority

“For many years the Chinese government has tried to strengthen Gyaltsen Norbu’s spiritual image, and their biggest challenge has been for him to win the hearts of the Tibetan people,” said Tenzin Tsetan, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Policy Institute.

“The Chinese government has therefore made him visit Tibetan farming and nomad areas and monasteries in Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region to gain their approval,” Tsetan said.

“They are doing this in the hope that this will give him the spiritual authority to select the next Dalai Lama.”

Regarded by Chinese leaders as a separatist, the present Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 Tibetan national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan country in 1950.

He turned 85 last month and lives in Dharamsala.

In a statement made public on Aug. 1, five U.N. human rights experts and members of U.N. working groups on enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention called on China to publicly disclose the whereabouts of the missing Panchen Lama selected by the exiled Dalai Lama.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet advocacy group said on Aug. 4 that Beijing’s manipulation of the appointment of Tibetan Buddhist leaders “stands in clear contravention of human rights law.”

“The international community should therefore double its efforts to safeguard the rights of the Tibetans to choose a future Dalai Lama without interference by the Chinese government,” ICT said.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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