An article appeared recently (January 28) in China Daily touting the new political role bestowed upon the state-appointed 7th reincarnation of Reting Rinpoche, Sonam Phuntsog. At only 16-years of age, Sonam Phuntsog has been appointed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), a consultative body ostensibly composed of a wide range of people from across society in order to make recommendations on political decisions. The move could even portend a move to the national CPPCC, depending on how much confidence officials invest in the young lama.
The importance of the Reting Rinpoche lineage in modern Tibetan history points to greater significance of this article beyond the straight news story of a Tibetan religious figure being named to a consultative political body.
A previous Reting Rinpoche supervised the search team that found the 14th Dalai Lama when he was still a small boy living in Amdo. (That Reting Rinpoche died in prison in 1947 amidst highly controversial circumstances involving accusations of treason.) Today, Sonam Phuntsog carries the Party’s appointment as the 7th Reting Rinpoche, leaving some to wonder if he is being groomed to play a role in the Chinese government’s expected attempt to appoint the next Dalai Lama.
The importance of the Reting Rinpoche lineage to Chinese authorities can also be viewed in connection with the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. On December 28, 1999, the then 14-year old Karmapa, escaped from his monastery under the cover of night, evaded Chinese security, and arrived safely in Dharamsala, India, on January 4. The Karmapa’s recognition as an important religious figure by the Dalai Lama was uniquely uncontested by the Chinese government. His escape into exile was a major setback in China’s cultivation of Tibetan religious figures, an ambition that today includes requiring that all reincarnations be officially certified by government authorities (for more information, see ICT report 15 August 2007).
Indeed, on December 31, 1999, mid-way through the Karmapa’s escape, an article appeared in the state-run Tibet Daily announcing that the 7th Reting Rinpoche had been found by the Chinese authorities. This new political appointment for Sonam Phuntsog follows the standard script of promoting officially approved religious figures in order to further weave state involvement into Tibetan religious and cultural institutions.
It is twisted but should come as no surprise that approval for the appointment of Sonam Phuntsog, a “Living Buddha,” to his new “political role” transcends the blatant hypocrisy of the state media’s routine demonization of the Dalai Lama as a political figure.
In yesterday’s China Daily article another reincarnated lama refers to the presumptive role of the CPPCC and is attributed with saying, “Young religious figures are sending people’s appeals to high authorities through the conference system.” It would be a lot to expect a 16-year old to carry the deep-rooted grievances of the Tibetan people to higher authorities, an expectation government officials have shown no evidence of harboring, especially at a time when 99 Tibetans in Tibet have self-immolated in protest.