Return to Tibet at

The Economist is running an interesting series of observations by a journalist returning to Tibet for the first time since the 2008 unrest. Of Lhasa, the unnamed author observes, “An occasional visit by a journalist gives the impression that the city is open. It is still far from it.” In Shigatse, however, he seems to go along with his guide’s claim that the locals all accept Gyaincain Norbu (the one appointed by the government) as the true Panchen Lama, speculating that, “China’s success, so far at any rate, in keeping Xigatse [sic] relatively calm will make it all the more inclined to try the same tactic when the Dalai Lama dies.”

I had a thing or two to say about that in the comments, viz

I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to the officially-recognised candidate as “the Panchen Lama”. Of the two claimants to that title, one is recognised by civil leaders and one by religious leaders — and not only by the Dalai Lama, but also by the then-abbot of Tashilhunpo in Shigatse, Chadrel Rinpoche, who ended up going to prison for several years as punishment for his reticence to toe the party line; and by the head of the exile campus of Tashilhunpo in India. Also, the Mongolian lama from Kumbum that you mentioned, Arjia Rinpoche, defected to the U.S. primarily because he refused to accept the government’s Panchen Lama (he was not on bad terms with the government otherwise). To simply acquiesce to the idea that Gyaincain Norbu is the Panchen Lama is to legitimise the government’s use of force to quash dissent.

If it’s true that the monks and public in Shigatse have generally accepted the government Panchen Lama’s authenticity and that has encouraged them to remain placid, that’s a very important development and well worth noting. Back in the 90s, security forces had to occupy the monastery grounds due to protests from the monks — the ones there now, of course, are not randomly selected, so perhaps they have successfully attracted a group that supports Gyaincain Norbu. I wouldn’t feel comfortable concluding that this is the case; absence of evidence of discontent isn’t necessarily evidence of absence.

I don’t know that much about the 2008 disturbances, not having had a chance to read Warren Smith’s book about them yet, but my impression was that the riots and protests occurred mostly in Lhasa and in the Kham and Amdo outside of the TAR, but not so much in the rest of TAR, i.e. Shigatse, Gyantse, Chamdo, etc. In other words, civil disturbances happened in many Tibetan areas, but not ubiquitously in every Tibetan area. If I have that right, then it doesn’t necessarily require an explanation that Shigatse was quiet.


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