The Story Behind the Missing Panchen Lama; Panchen Zuma Pledges Patriotism

Panchen Lama

In 1995, the Dalai Lama selected Gedhun Chokeyi Nyima, a 6-year-old boy, as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. He has been missing for 20 years.

Tensions are running high between China and Tibet, and have been for some time. This particular year is highly sensitive to those in Tibet, marking the 20th anniversary of Gedhun Chokeyi Nyima’s abduction and the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India since 1959.

Panchen Lama Timeline

The 10th Panchen Lama was Lobsang Trinley Lhundrup Choekyi Gylatsen, who regularly spoke against the Chinese government. He played a major role in the politics between Tibet and China, and worked hard to maintain their traditions, language and culture. He was held in prison for more than a decade until 1977 after he criticized Beijing. He was rehabilitated the following year, and in 1989, he died of “suspicious circumstances.” The Dalai Lama made his selection from exile with the help of Chadrel Rinpoche and Jampa Chung from the Tashilhunpo Monastery. These two men were imprisoned for four and six years with the crimes of giving out “state secrets” and cooperating with “separatist forces abroad.” China abducted the 6-year-old and his family on May 17th 1995.

Six months later, Beijing made their own selection in Gyaltsen Norbu. He lives in Beijing, and has returned to Tibet three times since. Each visit is heavily managed, policed and staged. Those living in Tibet refer to him as the false Panchen, or “Panchen Zuma.” In May of 1996, China finally admitted that they had taken and held Gedhun in an undisclosed location as per “the request of his parents.” Over the year of 1998, three locations were given: Beijing, Lhari and Gansu Province. In spite of requests and correspondence from the UN and Western countries, China refuses to release information about his wellbeing or whereabouts.

Norbu – Panchen Zuma

Gyaltsen Norbu spent seven days touring Yunnan, a southwest Chinese province. He met with monks and gave blessings out, as well as led in prayer. He took an oath to “uphold patriotism” and contribute toward unity, solidarity, harmony and stability. He encouraged “Chinese Tibetan-Buddhist followers to love the country.” One of the major roles that the Panchen Lama, which holds the second highest position in Tibetan Buddhism, is to recognize the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. It is highly suspected that China has been grooming Norbu to select a Dalai Lama who is less anti-Beijing.

With Gedhun Chokeyi Nyima’s continued imprisonment, concern has been simply growing steadily. The CTA, or Central Tibetan Administration, aims to use the 20th anniversary of his abduction to call for more pressure on the Chinese government to reveal information about the boy’s whereabouts. The anniversary coincides with International Solidarity Day with Tibet, and they aim to release a rallying call for the young man’s release.


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