China reiterates paramountcy of state sovereignty in Dalai Lama reincarnation decision

Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the top advisory body to China's parliament.
Zhu Weiqun, Director of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the top advisory body to China’s parliament.

(, Dec03, 2015) – China’s top official for dealing with minority and religious groups known for this strident call for crackdown on religious believers among the members of the communist party has said the recognition of reincarnations of top religious leaders of Tibet is a matter of state sovereign power, suggesting that it is less of legitimacy derived from believers’ faith. Like in the case of the Dalai Lama, (Tibet’s top spiritual leader currently living in exile), the establishment of the Panchen Lama’s historical lineage and the search for reincarnation is part of China’s sovereignty, Zhu Weiqun, Director of Ethnic and Religious Committee of the Chinese people’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) has written in a commentary carried by China’s online Tibet news service Dec 1.

China will mark on Dec 8 the 20th anniversary of the enthronement of Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama. He replaced Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 6-year-old boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama few months earlier. The whereabouts, if alive, of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, remains unknown ever since the Chinese Government disappeared him, with his family, in 1995.

In his commentary Zhu asserts that “determining the existence of the Dalai lineage and reincarnation of the Dalai Lama had never been a purely religious matter”. Rather, he claims, it is an important political affair of the Tibet local government and an important manifestation of the Central Government’s exercise of sovereignty over Tibet.

Zhu even claims that the title “Dalai Lama” first appeared in 1653 when Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD) conferred it to the Fifth Dalai Lama and the status was officially confirmed from this point. However, Tibetan history says that the title, which means “Ocean of Wisdom” in Mongolian language, was conferred by the Mongol king Altan Khan to the Third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso and applied posthumously to his preceding two reincarnations as well.

In the case of the present Dalai Lama, Zhu maintains that if he had not been “chosen through approval from the National Government”, he would have remained “a lifelong ordinary farmer”, suggesting that acceptance by the faithful does not matter at all.

However, Tibetan account of the current Dalai Lama’s recognition and enthronement does not show any role played by China, a country ruled during that period by the Nationalist Kuomintang. The Kuomintang did send an envoy, named as Wu Zhongxin, to the enthronement ceremony on Feb 22, 1940. But that was well after the religious recognition process had already been carried out and Wu was just one of the envoys, along with those from neighbouring Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and British India, who attended the enthronement ceremony, seated side by side.


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