The latest article (also see below) attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the Dalai Lama published by the state-run China Tibet Online addresses the historical relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. It’s surely no coincidence that this appears on the heels of Gyaltsen Norbu’s visit to Labrang Tashikhyil monastery and the surrounding area in a move by authorities to impose the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama on Tibetans and potentially develop his political role and influence through one of Tibet’s most important monasteries. The highly contentious visit, originally scheduled for the end of July, had to be postponed apparently due to resentment among local Tibetans. This follows a failed attempt by government authorities several years ago to bring Gyaltsen Norbu to Labrang Tashikhyil during which “local people refused to attend,” according to a local Tibetan woman interviewed by Radio Free Asia (see “Chinese government imposes visit of its Panchen Lama on Tibetans: Troops surround Labrang Tashikhyil Monastery,” ICT, 10 August 2011).

While the China Tibet Online article doesn’t mention the most recent visit, it seeks to portray the Panchen Lama lineage as one of historical religious figures whose humility and pious virtue repeatedly led them to turn down opportunities for greater political power, opportunities, the article not surprisingly argues, that the Dalai Lamas were all too eager to seize. The historical precedent to remain apolitical doesn’t always seem to apply to Gyaltsen Norbu, however, who the state-media routinely quotes as promoting patriotism and love for the country.

While the PRC’s official narrative of successive Chinese empires bestowing power upon the Dalai Lamas and the “local” Tibetan government persists in this article, it takes a novel and more sophisticated approach than the “wolf in monk’s robes” language typically used in state-run media attacks on the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s history as an independent nation. The historical relationship between the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas has long been a dynamic one, at times fraught by political infighting, but on the whole complementary (the Panchen Lama being known as the ‘moon’ and the Dalai Lama as the ‘sun’). On occasion, Panchen Lamas have played a role in the recognition and subsequent education of the Dalai Lamas, and vice versa, which is why control over the institution of the Panchen Lama is considered to be crucial to Beijing.

Gyaltsen Norbu and Hu Jintao

Gyaltsen Norbu, known to many Tibetans as Gya Panchen (Chinese Panchen) is received at the Great Hall of the People by China's President and Party Secretary, Hu Jintao, on the eve of Gyaltsen Norbu's 15th birthday in 2005.

Possibly with an eye on what future role Gyaltsen Norbu can play in an attempt to legitimize Beijing’s expected attempt to appoint an “official” 15th Dalai Lama when the times comes, this latest article reinforces PRC messaging on Tibet and China’s historical relationship.   According to the official PRC view of history, the Dalai Lama has always been more of a conspiring political figure than a “simple Buddhist monk,” as opposed to the Panchen Lama, who has never sought political power, repeatedly turning down opportunities to acquire political influence. Indeed it is the promotion of the Panchen Lama’s display of virtue that is the main goal of the article. Beijing knows it can manufacture a history that argues for the legitimacy of Gyaltsen Norbu but maybe now it is finally facing the reality that naming him as Panchen Lama does not simply make him so. The glaring absence of a heart connection felt by most Tibetans for Gyaltsen Norbu, grounded in Beijing’s hijacking of the recognition process which led to the disappearance of the Dalai Lama-recognized Gedun Choekyi Nyima, currently stands as an insurmountable barrier for not only Gyaltsen Norbu’s legitimacy as Panchen Lama, but any legitimacy Beijing may argue he has in the appointment of a 15th Dalai Lama. The reactions to Gyaltsen Norbu’s visits to Labrang Tashikhyil are representative of how he is viewed by most Tibetans.

Not surprisingly, Beijing’s attempts to legitimize Gyaltsen Norbu by reaching back into the Panchen Lama lineage found its way into a quote he gave following the conclusion of his recent trip: “I myself, in the meantime, will follow the examples of all of my predecessors, carry forward their patriotism and love of Buddhism and contribute to the prosperity of the country and Tibetan Buddhism.”

Referenced article:

http://eng.tibet.cn/2010home/news/201108/t20110823_1125840.html

Why the Dalai Lama could hold religious, political power in old Tibet?

2011-08-23 17:07:00

by: Sunny Wu; Lily Dong; Eric Zhang

From: China Tibet Online

From the 1st Dalai Lama Gendun Zhuba to the 4th Dalai Lama Yundain Gyaco, all of them were religious figures, neither had mastered the power of Tibet, nor had much influence. During that period, Pagzhu Kagyu Authority ruled Tibet, which lasted for 264 years (1354 – 1618 A.D.).

After the Parinirvana of the 4th Dalai Lama, it was time when the Pagzhu regime was toppled by Tsangpa Khan from the Karma Kagyu Sect who hated the Gelug Sect. In order to change the situation of Karma regime’s persecution of the Gelug Sect, and to avoid the lineage extermination, the 4th Panchen Lama plotted to seek help from the Gushri Khan, the leader who occupied Qinghai Province at that time, and they finally decided to pledge allegiance to the Qing Dynasty. After a series of wars, Tsangpa Khan was captured in 1642, signifyinig the end of the Karma regime.

Gushri Khan invited the 5th Dalai Lama to the Samdruptse and “handed over” the political authority and his clans to the 5th Dalai Lama in order to show his piety to Buddhism. Therefore, the 5th Dalai Lama set up the Gandain Phodrang Regime in the name of the Gandain Phodrang Palace of the Drepung Monastery.

The 5th Dalai Lama sent Sechi Qugye (in ancient books also noted as Yilagu Kesan) as a delegate for the Qing Dynasty, who arrived in Shenyang (now capital city of Liaoning Province) in 1642, which was warmly welcomed by emperor of the Qing emperor Huang Taiji (1592-1643) even wrote a letter to award the 5th Dalai Lama.

Emperor Shun Zhi (1638-1661) sent envoys to condole the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama and offered alms to show his support after he broke through entered Shanhaiguan Pass, signifying that the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty
In 1652, the 5th Dalai Lama led more than 3,000 followers to pay respect to Emperor Shun Zhi and was awarded a golden seal and golden imperial edict with the title of “a kind Buddhist lama in the west region benefiting the entire world”.

Since then, the central government of the Qing Dynasty officially affirmed the Dalai Lama’s position as the religious leader in Tibetan and Mongolian areas.

In 1751, the Qing Dynasty accredited the 7th Dalai Lama to head Gaxag (the local government of Tibet) and allowed them to inherit the power, which was strengthened step by step with the support of the central government of the Qing Dynasty.

It was not until March 28, 1959 that the Gaxag was dissolved by central government of the People’s Republic of China after the 14th Dalai Lama launched an armed rebellion. And the Preparatory Committee for the establishment of the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region replaced the former Gaxag’s authority. By then the Dalai authority had assumed the local political and religious power of local Tibet for 317 years.

It can be inferred from the facts that the 5th Dalai Lama came to power by using armed forces of the Mongolian tribes by means of violence and bloodshed. The Dalai Lama could take charge of the local government of Tibet for 317 years, mainly because the  central government officially confirmed the Dalai Lama’s position of religious leadership in the Mongolian and Tibetan areas.

Historical opportunities,different personalities between the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama are also crucial factors for the Dalai Lama  to obtain political and religious power. In Tsongkhapa disciples, the 1st Panchen Lama enjoyed an obviously higher position than the 1st Dalai Lama. However, the 2nd Dalai Lama had the opportunity to become the abbot of both the Sera monastery and the Drepung monastery in Lhasa, which made him exposed to more believers and had also raised his prestige. The 3rd Dalai Lama was invited by the Mongolian leader Altan Khan to preach in Qinghai, which made him more exposed to believers in Mongolia.

The reincarnation of the 4th Dalai Lama in a Mongolian family also strengthened his support from leaders and believers of the Mongolian tribes. Besides, the 4th Panchen Lama was very modest and he provided help to the 4th and 5th Dalai Lama. With the help of the 4th Panchen Lama, the 5th Dalai Lama established Gan Phodrang Tibetan local government by uniting the leader of a Mongolian tribe and defeating Karma regime, which laid the foundation for the Dalai Lama’s political leadership.

From then on, though the Panchen Lamas had chances to become political leaders in Tibet, they gave up mainly because they wanted to focuse more on religious study. For example, the Qing government had provided three opportunities to the 5th Panchen to raise his position in Tibet and become the leader, but the 5th Panchen rejected them all and stated that he was a monk, who should not handle worldly affairs. Since then, there have been two local regimes in Tibet, one is Tibet’s local government led by the Dalai lama, the other one is led by the Panchen lama. The two regimes were both supervised by the grand minister in Tibet and directly under the leadership of the Qing government. The situation had lasted until the Democratic Reform in Tibet.

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2 Responses to “Propaganda and the Panchen Lama: playing politics”

  1. Dejavu! Yes, dejavi all again. The same sort of scenario persisted during the 10th Panchen Lama’s inabilty to enter Tibet from Amdo, since he was not recognized by our central government. In signing the infamous 17 Point Agreement, recognition of the Panchen Kalpaei gyaltsen was forced on to our deligation in Beijing on May 23, 1951. Consequenty, the Panchen Lama was able to enter Tashi Lonpo monastery in Shigatse in 1952. In the intial stages, he too suffered from lack of people’s trust and respect just like Gyaltsen Norbu is experiencing right now. Ultimately his patritism for his country and his magnanimous contributions for our cause won people’s trust and respect.

    His prececessor the 9th Panchen Lama (Choekyi Nyima) also went through some very arguous periods mainly because the 25% taxation imposed by the Lhasa authorties was grossly inequitable. In order to present their case a deligation comprising of his elder brother and Dronyerchepo was sent to Lhasa in December 1922, hoping for some reduction in the taxation, since Tashi Lonpo was exempt from such obligation since the time of the Great 5th Dalai Lama; and they possessed Katen (documentation) to substantiate it.

    Instead of listening to their grievances and show some lieniency, either the Dronyerchemo or the Panchen Lama’s brother was flogged in public. The revelation of this severe treatment of his deligation caused great fear and distress to Panchen Choekyi Nyima who immediatly fled Shigatse toward Mongolia into exile in the dead of winter in 1923, while being pursued by Depon Tsogok and his retinue of troops. It was mentioned that Tsogok had vowed to bring the head of the Panchen Lama, and as expected there are different versions to all this among Tibetan scholars and intellectuals. Oh, there’s way too much to write about this episode, and the songs they sing; of course, from Shigatsepas in and outside of Tibet.

    The root of the rift between the Panchen court and Lhasa was cultivated by the British Governor General of India, who sent George Bogle to Tibet in 1774 through Bhutan to Phari (me a Phariwa) and to Shigatse where he failed to get permit from the Lhasa government to visit Lhasa. George Bogle’s adventurous visit to Tibet is so facinating. There he married a Shigatsepa and sired two daughters who ultimately returned to Scotland, and their descendants live there to this day. It was Bogle who introduced potatoes to Tibet, etc., etc., etc. Pardon me for I’m being carried away to another relm.

    The bottom line is there is way too much to write about the above. Now that we have some understaning of our history we’re better able to see through the nuances where we had goofed, and try learn from these past mistakes created due to ignorance and selfishness.

    United we can make it. Ajo Che

  2. [...] Ratke at ICT writes an excellent post-mortem for the Panchen/Labrang affair over here, explaining why the government would go out on such a limb and why their abduction of the real [...]

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