China Hopes to Bolster the Credentials of a Handpicked Lama

In 1995, the Dalai Lama selected a young boy as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. The same year, the Chinese government selected another boy for the position, and put the Dalai Lama’s choice into “protective custody,” and he hasn’t been seen in public since. Now, Gyaltsen Norbu, Beijing’s pick, may be coming to Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, Gansu, to study. The New York Times reports on the reaction among local monks:

In recent weeks, as word has spread that he might be coming to study at the monastery, emotions have spiked, as have the numbers of police officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, hoping to head off trouble in a place where ethnic Tibetans have been unafraid to express their enmity toward Chinese rule.

“Nobody wants him to come, and yet still he will come,” said one 26-year-old monk. “We feel powerless.”

The main problem is that this Panchen Lama, 21, is one of two young men with claims to the title. The one chosen by Communist Party officials in 1995, named Gyaltsen Norbu at birth, is often referred to by local residents as the “Chinese Panchen Lama.” The other is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who would now be 22, a herder’s son who was anointed that same year by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.

Most Tibetans are still loyal to the memory of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, even if he has been missing since Chinese authorities swept him and his family into “protective custody” more than 16 years ago.

“We just hope he is still alive,” said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan essayist and blogger who noted that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s visage, frozen as a 5-year-old, hangs in many homes and temples. “We are waiting for him.”

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