China pulls the strings behind new boy lama


The Scotsman Sun

24 Mar 2002

CHINA has launched a major propaganda campaign to legitimise the boy lama it hand-picked to be Tibetan Buddhism's second highest leader after rejecting the candidate chosen by Tibet.A ritual blessing, described as a "head-touching" ceremony, at Beijing's Yonghe Temple was choreographed to introduce the boy into public life.

Banner headlines and large photographs of the 11th Panchen Lama dominated newspapers while television news programmes ran long reports after the ceremony. The reports did not mention Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama approved by the Dalai Lama in 1995. Gendun remains the world's youngest political prisoner. His whereabouts are unknown, though China insists that he is quietly continuing his studies in a secret location.

The 13-year-old substitute backed by Beijing featured prominently in Chinese newspapers last week as the propaganda machine sought to portray a patriotic scholar capable of inspiring devotion. The Xinhua information agency reported that the Panchen, Gyancain Norbu, blessed over 150 Buddhists and living Buddhas from Tibetan regions of China, all of whom were studying at the Chinese Institute of Buddhist Studies in Beijing.

"During the ritual, Panchen Lama urged all the Buddhists to safeguard the interests of their motherland and countrymen," Xinhua said. "Under [Communist Party] leadership, people of all ethnic groups in Tibet have made great achievements following the peaceful liberation. Facts prove that without the Party, there would be no development and prosperity in Tibet."

Even after four decades of complete dominance over the isolated Himalayan state, Beijing is waging an all-out battle with Tibetan Buddhism for the hearts and minds of the region's people. The atheist regime in Beijing is desperately seeking a Tibetan lama to act as a counterweight to the exiled Dalai Lama, who it vilifies as a "scheming splitist".

The 10th Panchen Lama, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1989, veered between working with the Chinese and issuing rebukes to the Communist Party' s excesses in the region. Attempts to groom another Tibetan holy man, the Karmapa Lama, as an acceptable pro-Chinese voice with religious credentials failed spectacularly when the boy escaped in 1999 to join the Dalai Lama in the Indian hilltown of Dharmsala.

The leadership is determined not to let another senior lama slip its grasp. The Panchen Lama has been moved from his traditional seat at Shigazi, in Tibet, to Beijing for an orthodox education in the capital. En route to Beijing last year, the Panchen Lama was taken on a tour of the prosperous eastern seaboard. Official accounts of the tour claimed that it had a great effect on the boy.

"I deeply understand the greatness of the Communist Party of China now and feel the warmth of the socialist family under the glorious policy of the Chinese Communist Party."

Beijing last year told Foreign Office minister John Battle that Gendun, recognised as the Panchen Lama by many Tibetans, was living with his parents. It was the first official statement on his circumstances and was widely seen as prompted by rumours that he had died in a Chinese prison a few weeks earlier.

Photographs of a corpse said to resemble the boy were posted on the internet but it was impossible to tell if they were genuine.