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China tries to bolster handpicked Lama’s image

His name is on the lips of the ruddy-cheeked monks,the anxious hotel owners and the intrepid tourists who make their way to this isolated and starkly beautiful town.

Written by New York Times | Xiahe,china |
August 8, 2011 2:38:17 am

ANDREW JACOBS

His name is on the lips of the ruddy-cheeked monks,the anxious hotel owners and the intrepid tourists who make their way to this isolated and starkly beautiful town in the mountains of Gansu Province: will he come to Xiahe,as unverified reports suggest,and how long will he stay?

“He” is China’s handpicked Panchen Lama,the second-most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism,and despite his formidable rank,his presence is not universally welcomed by the faithful around the Labrang Monastery that sprawls into a cavernous valley here.

In recent weeks,as word has spread that he might be coming to study at the monastery,emotions have spiked,as have the numbers of police officers,hoping to head off trouble in a place where ethnic Tibetans have been unafraid to express their enmity toward Chinese rule.

The main problem is that this Panchen Lama,21,is one of two young men with claims to the title. The one chosen by Communist Party officials in 1995,named Gyaltsen Norbu at birth,is often referred to by local residents as the “Chinese Panchen Lama.” The other is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima,who would now be 22,a herder’s son who was anointed that same year by the Dalai Lama,the exiled Tibetan leader.

Most Tibetans are still loyal to the memory of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima,even if he has been missing since Chinese authorities swept him into “protective custody” more than 16 years ago.

Chinese authorities are facing a quandary over how to burnish Gyaltsen Norbu’s bona fides: his standing will continue to suffer if he remains apart from Tibetan monks,but officials risk inflaming passions by foisting him on a community that is deeply suspicious.

The government bureaucrats who oversee Tibetan affairs have come to the conclusion,one rooted in history,that only a significant stint in a prominent monastery can bolster the Panchen Lama’s religious credentials,according to scholars and local religious figures.

The government’s struggle to legitimise the Panchen Lama among Tibetans foreshadows the deeper struggle Beijing will face upon the death of the Dalai Lama,when it has said it will name a successor. The Dalai Lama,76,is still revered on the Tibetan plateau despite years of propaganda that brands him as a separatist.

According to several Tibetans,the antipathy has been strong enough that the authorities may have already scaled back their plans to have the Panchen Lama spend months studying at Labrang Monastery,one of the most important centers of Buddhist learning — and the scene of recent protests against Chinese rule that were prompted by much deadlier ethnic rioting in Lhasa.

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