Chinese authorities in Tibet have forced villagers to turn out in large numbers this week to pay homage to a senior religious figure widely despised by Tibetans as a puppet of Beijing, sources say.
The move came as Beijing’s handpicked Panchen Lama—Tibet’s second most-senior monk after exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama—visited monasteries in Namling (in Chinese, Nanmulin) county in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Shigatse (Rikaze) prefecture, a local source told RFA’s TibetanService.
“On Aug. 24, the China-appointed Panchen Lama visited two Namling monasteries, including Ganden Choekor Ling, and gave religious teachings to the assembled people,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The young monk, Gyaincain Norbu, now in his mid-20s, was accompanied by armed police and public security officers, along with a party of 30 monks and the regional secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and other officials, the source said.
Chinese authorities had previously ordered 12 Namling villages to assign 80 people each “to come out and welcome the Panchen Lama wearing traditional Tibetan dress and holding ceremonial scarves in their hands,” the source said.
“They were warned that if they failed to show up to receive him, they would be punished for committing a political error,” he said.
Authorities registered the cell phone numbers and identification cards of Tibetans assigned to greet the Panchen Lama, the source said, adding, “Those not designated to see the Panchen were ordered to stay at home and were forbidden from looking out of their windows or from gathering on the rooftops or sidewalks.”
“Failure to comply with these orders would be quickly punished,” Tibetans were told, he said.
Monasteries scheduled for visits by the Beijing-appointed monk were given grants of 150,000 yuan (U.S.$24,360) each to prepare receptions, with money going mainly to the construction of thrones, purchase of religious items, and general clean-up, the source said.
“Additionally, monks were told to behave properly while the Panchen Lama was there,” he said.
Chinese authorities have had difficulty persuading Tibetans to accept Gyaincain Norbu as the official face of Tibetan Buddhism in China, and monks in monasteries traditionally loyal to the Dalai Lama have been reluctant to receive him.
Beijing named 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.
Gyaincain Norbu made his political debut in May 2010 at the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, appearing as a national committee member of the top political advisory body.
He has also been made the vice president of China’s state-run Buddhist Association.
The boy selected by the Dalai Lama disappeared into Chinese custody together with his family in 1995 and has not been heard from since.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.