China’s Panchen Lama Ignored by Tibetans Told to Show Devotion

Gyaltsen Norbu was selected by Beijing in 1995 to replace the Dalai Lama's candidate, a young boy who then disappeared into Chinese custody together with his family.
China’s Panchen Lama Ignored by Tibetans Told to Show Devotion The China-appointed Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu visits Tibet in a July 2021 photo.
Photo sent from Tibet

A Beijing-appointed Tibetan Buddhist leader sent by China to attend a conference in Sichuan this month was ignored by ordinary Tibetans who had been told by authorities to turn out to greet him, with only hand-picked officials present to show him respect, Tibetan sources said.

Gyaltsen Norbu—selected by China in 1995 to serve as Tibet’s Panchen Lama—had gone to Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on July 12 to participate in a religious conference, according to a text message received by RFA from within the region.

“He was also seen making a visit to Ngaba Barkham, Dzoege, and Khungchu, where Tibetans were told to show up and greet him. But unlike other religious figures whom Tibetans revere and approach to receive blessings, no Tibetans showed up to welcome him,” RFA’s source said.

“The only people who came to see him were those whose attendance had been specifically arranged by the Chinese,” the source said.

Residents of the areas visited by the monk widely derided by Tibetans as “China’s Panchen” had also been restricted in their movements by authorities and told to keep the streets free of cars, the source added.

Speaking to RFA, Shel Gedhun Tsering—a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in Australia—confirmed the Panchen’s tour of the region, citing sources in the visited areas.

“My contacts back home told me that abbots and religious figures in monasteries in the region had been coerced into receiving and greeting the Panchen Lama, also being ordered to pose for pictures with him,” Tsering said.

The Chinese government now often uses Tibetan religious figures for political propaganda and publicity purposes, said Tsering Tsomo, director of the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

“These visits are choreographed under the direct supervision of the Chinese government, and whatever Norbu says or does is aimed only at advancing the agenda of China’s ruling Communist Party. He acts only as a spokesperson,” Tsomo said.

Vanished into Chinese custody

Gyaltsen (in Chinese, Gyaincain) Norbu was named as Panchen Lama by China in May 1995 to replace a candidate who was selected as a young boy by Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and who vanished into Chinese custody together with his family and has not been heard from since.

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

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

Beijing has sought in recent years to control the identification of other Tibetan religious leaders, and says that the selection of the next Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India following a failed 1959 Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule, must “comply with Chinese law.”

The Dalai Lama himself says however that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control.

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


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Duo Hua
Jul 28, 2021 10:41 AM

The headline of this article says Tibetans told the Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu "to show more devotion." But nowhere in the article is this mentioned, not from the Ganzi Tibetans in Sichuan nor from the usual cast of exile Tibetan critics. Editorial liberty seems to go unchecked.

Roger Mustoe, Luang Prabang, Lao PD.R
Aug 01, 2021 02:29 AM

Make no mistake "The Dalai Lama himself says however that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control."

China's Panchen, Shunned by genuine Tibetan Buddhists.

Aug 03, 2021 03:37 AM

In 1995, a young Tibetan boy called Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was recognised as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second most important position in Tibetan Buddhism. Days later he disappeared. At just six years old he became the world’s youngest political prisoner, held captive by the Chinese government.

He is now 31 years old and has been missing for 25 years.

Since his disappearance in 1995, the Chinese government has repeatedly dismissed requests for his release and for full disclosure about the Panchen Lama’s location and well-being.

Aug 04, 2021 01:40 PM

Free the real Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. A political prisoner in China since he was a small boy. Shame on the PRC Govt & shame on the UN for doing nothing to free this high level political prisoner.