Beijing (AsiaNews) - The false Panchen Lama "is a poor puppet in Chinese hands. He lives in a gilded jail and knows no one, not even Tibet. His statements about Tibetan protests crushed under Communist boots are laughable because they come from a dummy," a young monk from a Tibetan monastery told AsiaNews on condition his name be withheld for security reasons.
The monk spoke about a statement made by Gyaltsen Norbu, a young man picked by Beijing to replace the real Panchen Lama recognised by the Dalai Lama, during a rare visit to Lhasa, Tibet's capital. Speaking before party and government officials, Norbu said "If a person does not protect social stability, he is not fit to be called a man of religion."
Such words correspond to what one might expect from someone who closely follows the party line. For some time, China's Communists have been elbowing their way into religion to decide what is orthodox and what is not.
In so doing, he is following Catholic bishops excommunicated by the Vatican who have no following but are deemed "good" and "very devoted" by those in power.
As in the case of Christianity, Chinese authorities are trying to replace the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism. The case of the Panchen Lama is the best known example. His function within the religion is to recognise the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama once the current one, Tenzin Gyatso, dies.
The latter recognised Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on 14 May 1995 as the new Panchen Lama; however, the then six-year-old boy was abducted along with his family and has not been heard of ever since.
Instead in November 1995, China "chose" Gyaltsen Norbu as the "real" Panchen Lama, claiming that it used more authentic religious rituals than those used by the Dalai Lama.
Beijing's goal wants to place tighter controls over religion. In 2004, it issued rules whereby all "living Buddhas" had to be government-approved. By controlling the top religious authorities in Tibetan Buddhism, it hopes to control the Dalai Lama.
After a period of study and isolation, Norbu made his debut in national political life in 2010 when he took part in the proceedings of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a body that operates alongside the National People's Congress. Since then, not much has been heard about him.
Living secluded in a Beijing monastery, he knows that Tibetan Buddhists have no respect for him. Inside the Chinese capital's Grand Lama Temple, where the thrones of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama are kept, his picture is smaller than that of his predecessor.
Tibetans "do no hate him despite everything," the source told AsiaNews. "He is considered a nobody, a boy forced to play to Beijing's tune. We feel compassion for him. Our Dalai Lama was right to praise him his long silence. He cannot do anything good to the Tibetan people, but he could do more harm if he did not spend most of his time in silence."