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‘Rewards’ for Tibetans meeting China-backed Buddhist leader

Many Tibetans consider Gyaltsen Norbu, the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama, as an imposter
A protester holds a placard with a portrait of the Dalai Lama’s choice for Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in this file image

A protester holds a placard with a portrait of the Dalai Lama’s choice for Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in this file image. (Photo: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: June 09, 2023 03:31 AM GMT
Updated: June 09, 2023 04:14 AM GMT

Chinese authorities are paying Tibetans 100 yuan (US$14) each to meet, greet and receive blessings from a Beijing-backed Buddhist leader who is tapped as the spiritual successor of the Dalai Lama, says a report.

Gyaltsen Norbu, the China-backed Panchen Lama, is currently visiting the region to give his blessings, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on June 7. Many Tibetans consider him an “imposter.”  

According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama are reincarnated as children when they die.

The Panchen Lama is the second most important spiritual figure of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

An unnamed Tibetan resident told RFA that the Chinese authorities have promoted Norbu’s visit to various locations and have urged the locals to meet him and receive his blessings.

“The Chinese government has told the local Tibetans that anyone who attends and receives Gyaltsen Norbu’s blessings will be rewarded with 100 yuan,” the unnamed resident said.

The resident added that “the Chinese government has also put in lots of effort to stage Norbu’s visit in Lithang and Bathang as a very grandiose and popular event.”

China annexed Tibet in 1950-51 following an invasion. Chinese forces brutally suppressed Tibetans who attempted to wage a struggle for independence, forcing the Dalai Lama and his supporters to flee to India.

Since then, Beijing attempted to influence Tibetan affairs including the selection of a spiritual successor to the 10th Panchen Lama who died in 1989.

In 1995, the exiled Dalai Lama chose 6-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to be the 11th Panchen Lama, recognizing him as the reincarnation of his predecessor.

The Panchen Lama’s responsibilities include leading a council of high lamas to find the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after the current one dies.

The 1995 recognition of the 11th Panchen Lama by the 14th Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who three days later took the boy and his family into custody. They have since disappeared.

Beijing then installed another boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.

Namrata Hasija, a Research Fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy pointed out that China’s communist leaders have failed in using Gyaltsen Norbu to push their political agenda in Tibet.

“The Chinese government’s effort and attempt in forcing Tibetans into embracing Gyaltsen Norbu has gone futile because other than just a Buddhist monk Tibetans don’t consider and revere him as the Panchen Lama,” Hasija said.

A second unnamed resident pointed out that Norbu is unpopular among Tibetans within the country and in exile, and residents were forced by local authorities to go and meet him.

“In July 2021, Tibetans were forced to attend and receive his blessings and there were tight restrictions in those areas where he was,” the unnamed second resident said.

The resident also pointed out that the public turnout to meet Norbu was very small despite having very few restrictions.

“Restrictions are not as severe this time compared to his last visit and also there were only a handful of Tibetans who went to see Gyaltsen Norbu in Bathang and Lithang,” the resident added.

Norbu has been visiting multiple locations in Tibet to familiarize himself with Tibetans.

The resident said that he recently completed a tour of five counties and also visited the Gyalthang Sumtsen Monastery and Lithang Monastery.

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