A short biography of the 11th Panchen Lama
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born on the 25th of April 1989 in Lhari Tibet, as the 11th Panchen Lama he is said to be the world’s youngest political prisoner.
The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989, at the time of his death he was a controversial figure since he was very active on the political front and spoke out many a time against the Chinese occupation of his country. During he many years he wrote various chronicles of the famine imposed on the Tibetan people during the 1960’s.
For these vocal protests he spent eight years in jail.
As is custom after his death a group of Lamas and friends where sent to look for his reincarnation, the head of said search was Chadrel Rinpoche, abbot of the Tasahilhunpo monastery, he was requested to keep the Dalai Lama informed of his results, after a long search that spanned six years the list of possible reincarnations was presented in Dharmasala to the Dalai Lama who recognised the six year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama.
Within in two weeks of the announcement the young newly appointed Lama and his family were taken under escort of the Chinese Police to Beijing. This is the last news we have of the boy.
Chadrel Rinpoche was arrested only days later along with more than 30 other members of f his monastery and charged with selling state secrets.
In November of 1995 the Chinese government selected who they believed to be the true Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, and in June of 1997 the boy returned to Tibet for the first time since the Chinese announcment.
His appearance was shrouded in nervousness and subertfuge. He entered Tibet with a police escort and
In the town of Lhasa troops with machine guns ringed the Jokhang temple, as the boy visited in the dead of the night. Tibetan freedom campaign uphold thir belief that the boy is being used as a political pawn in an attempt to re-educated the Tibetan people and look to Beijing for guidance..
After three days in Lhasa, Norbu went to Tasahilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, the seat of previous Panchen Lamas. His police escort was increased to a 21-vehicle motorcade and monks with walkie-talkies patrolled the monastery. Norbu was introduced to what should have been his home and took part in a three day long “head touching ritual”, during this time he blessed over 16,000 pilgrims.
Reports on this visit from the chinese media were postive and I quote:
- “From the excitement and happy expressions on the faces of the blessed lamas, farmers and herdspeople, the 11th Panchen Lama enjoys great support from local people” “
-- “Norbu told the monks of Tasahilhunpo "to follow the instructions of President Jiang Zemin, all the lamas, including myself, and all believers should love the Communist Party of China, love our socialist motherland and love the religion we believe in,"”. “
When in May of 1996, the Chinese government finally publicly recognised that they where holding Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family at a secret location. This announcement came after a request by the UN Committee for the rights of the Child to his whereabouts.
As Wu Jiammin (ambassador of China to UN) put it:
- “(Gedhun Choekyi Nyima) has been put under the protection of the government at the request of his parents."
Wu did not say where the child was being held. Xinhua reported that, - "the boy was at risk of being kidnapped by separatists and his security has been threatened”.
The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in Dharamsala called the return of the disputed Panchen Lama a "blatant attempt by China to interfere in the religious affairs of Tibet" and said Norbu was an impostor. "Not only Tibetans but the entire world would not allow China to interfere in the religious matters of the Tibetans," a spokesman said.
The action of the Chinese Government in replacing Gedhun Choekyi Nyima with another child is likely to have far-reaching effects on the political and spiritual future of Tibet, even bearing in mind that the Panchen Lama's education would be controlled by Beijing. There is a tradition of mutual recognition between the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, which means that when the 14th Dalai Lama dies, the identification of his reincarnation will be even more fraught with controversy. The continued detention of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima represents the strongest evidence that China has not in any way relaxed its control of religious freedom in Tibet.
In 1999 a rumour emerged on a web site run by the Chinese Freedom News Association, that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had died in a Gansu prison and his body had been cremated. China has denied the rumours and insists that the boy is alive and well, but many people have assumed the rumour is true due to the continual refusal of the Chinese government to allow access to the boy or show any proof of the fact.
The website reported that the body of a “major criminal;” had been transported from the prison to a crematorium, allegedly the body was a small emaciated child who observers claimed resembled the 11th Panchen Lama.
This is not the first rumour to emerge of his death, the report by Free Tibet Campaign describes how sources thought at first that the body resembled Gyaltsen Norbu the Chinese chosen Panchen, but the photograph referred to is at least five years old.
Whilst the death of a high profile prisoner who is also a child or young person is unusual, the Chinese Government is conscious of the international awareness of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima's detention, and it would be politically inept to allow the boy to die.
In an attempt to locate the boy after failing numerous attempts for the Chinese to offer the information, Mary Robinson (UN High Commissioner for the Human Rights) visited both Tibet and China but she was met with the denials of the authorities once again but since her visit in 1998 talks about human rights between China and United States where resumed after nearly a decade of interruption.