Tibet: Chinese Handpicked Lama on PR Tour
The young man enthroned by Beijing as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism is visiting major religious sites in Tibet, state media reported Tuesday, part of efforts to expand his influence in the restive Tibetan region.
The Xinhua News Agency reported that thousands of Tibetan Buddhists gathered Monday to see 20-year-old Gyaltsen Norbu, Beijing's choice for Panchen Lama, in Lhoka prefecture — a Tibetan region on China's disputed southern border with India.
It was his first visit to Lhoka since being handpicked by the Chinese government as the Panchen Lama as a 6-year-old boy in 1995, Xinhua reported.
Most Tibetan Buddhists don't accept Gyaltsen Norbu as the true Panchen Lama, but he has the government's full support as he emerges as its choice to supplant the Dalai Lama as the public face of Tibetan Buddhism. It's likely that many of those who gathered Monday came at the government's behest.
He has taken on an increasingly political role in recent years. He has made appearances with Communist Party leaders praising Chinese rule over Tibet and was recently appointed to the main government advisory body.
The top Tibetan spiritual Buddhist leader is the Dalai Lama, who currently lives in exile in India and is reviled as a separatist by the Chinese government.
Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, disappeared soon after being picked and has not been heard from since. He and his family had lived in a remote part of Chinese-controlled Tibet.
Beijing's pick, Gyaltsen Norbu, arrived Friday in the regional capital of Lhasa and visited monasteries in and around the city over the weekend. On Sunday, he made his first official visit to the 900-year-old Reting Monastery a few hours north of Lhasa, Xinhua said.
On Monday, he held prayer services in Lhoka, known in Chinese as Shannan, blessing thousands of devotees, it said.
"I am very happy because it has been my dream to come to Shannan and hold a prayer service here," the Panchen Lama was quoted as saying to local government officials.
Rioting that broke out in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, left 22 people dead and led to the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades.
Beijing says the demonstrations were part of a violent campaign organized by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet 50 years ago amid an uprising against Chinese rule, has denied the charge and says he seeks only significant autonomy for Tibet under continued Chinese rule.