Agam's Gecko
Friday, April 25, 2008
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Rinpoche turns 19 years old today. This is the only known photograph of him.

e was born on April 25, 1989 in Lhari County of Nagchu Prefecture, in the "Tibet Autonomous Region" which Tibetans know as U-tsang. He is the son of father Konchok Phutsog and mother Dechen Chodon.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima arrived three months after the departure of the 10th Panchen Rinpoche, who died suddenly and unexpectedly a few days after delivering a speech critical of Chinese policies in Tibet. He had refused Chinese demands that he assume Dalai Lama's position after his exile, and had steadfastly refused to denounce him.

The 10th Panchen Lama personally presented Mao Tse-tung with a 70,000 character petition with details of the suffering and persecution of Tibetans, which Mao later dubbed a "Poisoned Arrow" aimed at the heart of the Party. Panchen Rinpoche was subjected to harsh "self-criticism" and "re-education" (thamzing) sessions, spent 10 years in a Chinese prison where he suffered from repeated torture, and lived for eight more years after his release in 1981.

Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lamas have long had a reciprocal relationship; according to Tibetan tradition they must be mutually recognised. When one passes on, the other is responsible for affirming his successor and ensuring his education in the Gelugpa tradition.

But the Chinese government refused to allow Dalai Lama's participation in a legitimate, traditional procedure for locating Panchen Rinpoche's reincarnation. They appointed Chadrel Rinpoche of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse (the seat of the Panchen Rinpoche) to head a CCP-constituted committee to conduct the search.

In 1993 Chadrel Rinpoche sent a letter to Dalai Lama's representatives concerning the search. The letter was replied to, but no answer ever came back. Through the following two years, contacts were made with the Chinese government through a private individual with close ties to them, requesting a reply from Chadrel Rinpoche on this matter. But there was no response.

On May 14, 1995 on the occasion of Vaisaki (a special day for Buddhists marking Lord Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death, which we call here in Thailand Weesaka Bucha Day) His Holiness Dalai Lama proclaimed the discovery of the 11th Panchen Rinpoche according to his examination of the procedures performed, and in accord with religious tradition.

The very same day Chadrel Rinpoche was arrested at Chengdu airport while enroute from Beijing to Shigatse. The Party reverted the abbotship of Tashi Lhunpo and leadership of their "search committee" to a hardliner who had ruled the monastery during the Cultural Revolution, and who was a political opponent of both Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Rinpoche. Chadrel Rinpoche's fate would remain unknown until his release from detention years later, and even now his condition and whereabouts are unknown.

In November 1995 the Communist Party organised a rival Panchen Lama selection meeting, excluding the highest Tibetan official in the Chinese heirarchy. Although curfews were imposed in Lhasa and Shigatse, and the monks of Tashi Lhunpo heavily pressured to denounce Dalai Lama and support the Chinese procedure, sporadic protests broke out in opposition to these affronts against Tibetan religious tradition.

Of course there had been deep concern for many months about the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, then six years old. Concern was heightened by denunciations of this little boy in official CCP statements, which accused him of "drowning a dog" and his family of being "deceitful, notorious for speculation, and scrambling for fame and profit." As it turned out, both parents were Communist Party members.

Governments around the world recognised the now-missing little boy as the world's youngest political prisoner. His CCP-selected rival was enthroned on December 8, 1995.

The Chinese government admitted that the missing Panchen Rinpoche and his parents had spent some months under detention in Beijing, but their whereabouts until now remain unknown. Foreign diplomatic missions to China have frequently requested to meet him, or to receive some measure of proof as to his well-being. These requests are always denied, with vague assurances that he is well and happy, and needs his privacy. They won't even try to prove that he is still alive (I really hated to type that, but it's true).

Tibet's Stolen Child is no longer a child, but an adult who is entitled to all the political rights accorded to any citizen of China under its consitution (the age of majority in China is 18). He turns 19 years old today. He cannot be under the wardship of the Communist Party or the government of PRC, any more than he is still under the authority of his own parents. He is no longer the youngest one, but it must be assumed that he remains a political prisoner of the ruling Communist Party of China.

And one more thing we can be sure of; it will not be easy for him to escape. There is not likely anything the Communist Party fears more than a young Panchen Rinpoche making it into exile. That would really ruin their plans for Tibet's future.

More on the 11th Panchen Lama from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. Information in ten languages here, in eighteen languages here.


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