There are two significant developments in the visit of Gyaltsen Norbu (CH: Gyaincain Norbu), the boy chosen by China as the 11th Panchen Lama to the Kumbum and, reportedly, Labrang monasteries in Amdo.

[Official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Gyaltsen Norbu visited Amdo (present-day Qinghai Province)]

First, this visit symbolizes the Chinese government’s control of the minds and hearts of Tibetans in Tibet. Secondly and more importantly, it is a test for China’s policies in Tibet.

Because the visit to these two monasteries has important historical and religious implications, over the last several months, the authorities both in Beijing and Xinining have tried really hard to make this visit a success. Kumbum monastery is one of the most important monasteries in Tibet and its influence among Tibetan and Mongolians Buddhists is huge. The monastery is also important for the Panchen Lama personally.

Kumbum is the birthplace of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Ge-luk-pa lineage of which the Dalai Lama is the head. The Panchen Lama belongs to this tradition. Secondly, all previous Panchen Lamas spent time in this monastery or had the monastery’s endorsement. The previous Panchen Lama lived at the monastery for several years and had the overwhelming support of the monks and scholars in the monastery.

Recently at Kumbum, the government’s security forces registered all monks in Kumbum monastery and issued new identification tags to monks. Monks were told that any monk without these newly issued tags is not permitted to stay at the monastery. They ordered that all unregistered people such as visiting relatives of monks or pilgrims had to leave the monastery. Also, monks were told by the government that any monk not attending the ceremony for the Panchen Lama will be expelled from the monastery. Tibetan students, workers and government officials in nearby city Xining were told by the government to attend the visiting ceremony in Kumbum.

However, the test has failed miserably, and the visit should cause concern to the leadership in Beijing. It showed that Beijing has not yet won the minds and hearts of Tibetans. Such policies and actions will antagonize ordinary Tibetans who live their daily lives non-politically to rise against the Chinese government. Many monks left the monastery prior to the visit and there are no voluntary pilgrims to the monastery. The monks who attended the ceremony also do not endorse this visit.

By the time of the 10th Panchen Lama visiting Tibetan areas in the early 1980s, the Chinese government should have known that such high profile visits did not need police and army units present in monasteries. Tibetans would come from hundreds of miles to see the Panchen Lama. The invitations and arrangement were all voluntary by Tibetans. Devotion and respect was earned from the religious establishment. It cannot be bought or forced by an atheist regime.

Why are Tibetans reluctant to see their ‘beloved spiritual leader’? It is very simple for Tibetans. After all, the boy is not the Panchen Lama, and he was chosen as the 10th Panchen Lama’s successor by the Chinese atheist government which once destroyed every symbol of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. Behind this boy’s convoy, there are many stories to be told. In May 1995, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the six year-old boy identified by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, disappeared. Chatrel Rinpoche, head of the official Chinese Committee responsible for the search for the late Panchen Lama’s reincarnation was arrested and jailed for years and still reported to be under house arrest house arrest in Central Tibet. Arjia Rinpoche, the abbot of Kumbum Monastery, is in exile due to pressure from the Chinese government to accept Gyaincain Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama. Many monks and secular officials were arrested and jailed over this affair. Finally and most importantly, the boy is not recognised by the Dalai Lama.

This piece was written by a Tibetan from Amdo (Eastern Tibet) who wishes to remain anonymous.