BBC BLOGS - James Reynolds' China
« Previous | Main | Next »

Choosing the next Dalai Lama

Post categories:

James Reynolds | 14:31 UK time, Monday, 16 March 2009

On Sunday, an earnest-looking young man with short hair and rimless glasses was shown poking about an exhibition on Tibetan reform at a museum in Beijing.

The young man, who's just 19, is rarely ever seen in public. Even if I give you his name - Gyaltsen (or Gyaincain) Norbu - you may not know who he is.

But China hopes that this young man will help to decide the long-term future of Tibet - in China's favour.

In 1995, Gyaltsen Norbu was chosen by China as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. This is a position second only to the Dalai Lama in the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism.

pilgrimage at the ZHaxi Lhumbo Lamasery in Shigaze, the second largest city of Tibet, Monday, June 21, 1999As you'll know, China sees the current Dalai Lama as its enemy. But it also knows that he is 73 years old. So, the Communist Party has already worked out what it will do when the Dalai Lama dies - and it expects Gyaltsen Norbu to play a prominent role.

By tradition, the Panchen Lama helps to choose the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. When the time comes, China will encourage Gyaltsen Norbu to pick, or at least to endorse, a young Tibetan boy to succeed the current Dalai Lama. China's hope is that, within a couple of decades at most, it will be able to add a new pro-Beijing Dalai Lama to its current pro-Beijing Panchen Lama.

Despite - or because of - his important role in the years ahead, we seldom get to see much of Gyaltsen Norbu. To my knowledge, his museum visit was not advertised in advance. In the last few years, the Chinese authorities have not made him available for interview.

Of course, it's important to add that many Tibetans do not recognise Gyaltsen Norbu as the true Panchen Lama. In 1995, the Dalai Lama himself chose a different boy - Gedhun Choekyi Nyima - as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. This boy was taken into Chinese custody and has not been seen in public since. Human rights groups say that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is a political prisoner. China says that he and his family live a normal life and do not want to be disturbed by outsiders.

What's more, the Dalai Lama has suggested that his own reincarnation may be born outside Tibet. This would give Tibetans in exile the chance to pick the next Dalai Lama on their own. They don't want to have to rely on decisions made by a 19-year-old who's been brought up to obey the Chinese Communist Party.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.