Chinese Government-Appointed Panchen Makes First Visit to Tibetan Areas of Sichuan Province

July 7, 2005

Gyaltsen Norbu, installed by China's government as Tibetan Buddhism's Panchen Lama in December 1995 when he was five years old, made his first visit to the Tibetan autonomous areas of Sichuan province, according to Xinhua reports on June 28 (Chinese) and June 29 (English). In May 1995, the Dalai Lama announced his recognition of Gedun Choekyi Nyima as the Panchen Lama, but China's State Council declared the announcement "illegal and invalid" and instated Gyaltsen Norbu instead (report).

Chinese authorities then took Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his parents into custody and have kept them incommunicado in an unknown location since that time. Tibetans who express support for him risk punishment that can include imprisonment. Chinese authorities conduct political education classes in Tibetan monasteries and nunneries and require monks and nuns to endorse the legitimacy of Gyaltsen Norbu or face expulsion.

Gyaltsen Norbu visited ten monasteries in Ganzi and Aba prefectures from June 12 to 28. Unofficial observers commenting on previous visits to other Tibetan areas reported that tight security and careful screening of compulsory attendees are a feature of his public appearances. According to Xinhua's June 28 account, Gyaltsen Norbu said at his farewell, "Along the way, I have witnessed the unity and happiness of the people of all nationalities in Sichuan, and the tremendous achievements in economic construction under the [Chinese Communist Party's] leadership; Buddhist temples are attracting large numbers of worshippers, and the masses are fully enjoying religious freedom; I feel the greatness of the [CCP] as well as the wisdom and correctness of the Party's policies on nationalities and religious affairs."

Chinese news media reports have raised Gyaltsen Norbu's public profile in recent months. President Hu Jintao met Gyaltsen Norbu in February 2005, and counseled him to be a "model of loving the country and the religion," according to a Xinhua report. Two months later, a Xinhua report featured Gyalsten Norbu recalling President Hu's advice to "be concerned about society and the public, remain modest and prudent, defend the country, and work for the interests of the people."

Additional information about the Panchen Lama and religious freedom for Tibetans in China is available in the CECC 2004 Annual Report.