Gyaltsen Norbu, the Panchen Lama nominated by the Communist Party of China (CPC) has recently been in the news. The Global Times said that young Lama accused vendors on Taobao, an online shopping website affiliated to the Alibaba Group “of selling artworks that are falsely attributed to him.”
He asked the public not to buy these items.
In a WeChat post, the 27-year-old Tibetan Lama, himself considered ‘fake’ by the Tibetans in exile, said that “all calligraphy being sold on the e-commerce platform bearing his name are fake.”
The Panchen Lama said he himself discovered that a dozen Taobao vendors were selling such works.
He had done a keyword search for his own name.
Incidentally, he probably did not find the name of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the ‘real’ Panchen Lama, who is languishing in ‘house arrest’ for 22 years; Gedhun’s name, like the Dalai Lama’s is strictly banned in China.
The ‘fake’ Panchen Lama wrote: “None of them are my authentic artworks, please don’t buy them.”
The Chinese media claims that Gyaltsen Norbu is known for his calligraphy skills: “Since childhood, he spends an hour each day practicing the art both in Chinese and Tibetan”, reported Tibet.cn.
All items were apparently later removed from the website.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP), also belonging to the Alibaba Group, picked up the story: “Senior Tibetan Buddhist leader found dozens of shops on Taobao selling counterfeit calligraphy and paintings.”
The article, quoting a regional government’s official, asserts: “A top religious leader in Tibet has accused dozens of shops on Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce platform of selling counterfeit art bearing his name.”
The SCMP affirms that the Panchen Lama is the second-highest figure in Tibet’s spiritual hierarchy, giving some recognition to Gyalstsen Norbu.
The Hong Kong paper explains: “Tibetan Buddhism has become increasingly popular in China in recent years, especially among upper-middle class people.”
More popular than the Communist Party with its 89 millions adherents?
At the end of the article, it is admitted: “The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who lives in exile in Dharamsala, India, opposed Beijing’s selection and proposed a different candidate as the 11th Panchen Lama. That boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was taken into custody by the Chinese government and has not been seen in public since May 1995.”
The Regulations for reincarnations
On November 24, 2017, the website en.tibetol.cn reported that the Lama “together with over 60 Tibetan Buddhists from the High-level Tibetan Buddhism College of China and the Lama Temple attended the Exhibition on the Reincarnation System of Living Buddhas held by Tibetan Culture Museum in Beijing.”
Apparently, the CPC suddenly acquired a great knowledge in the ‘reincarnation’ process?
Could it be called ‘atheist reincarnations’?
Or is it simply ‘political’ reincarnations?
We are told by the website: “The exhibition was held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the implementation of the Regulations on the Reincarnation System of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism.”
Living Buddhas is the name given to reincarnated lamas, usually known as tulkus or rinpoches.
One remembers that in 2007, the State Council had published ‘Regulations’ to be able to control the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama (for example, the ‘regulations’ assert that all Living Buddhas should be recognized by the Party).
The website says: “The exhibition highlighted the history of the reincarnation system of living Buddhas and the religious rituals of the reincarnation of Dalai and Panchen Lamas.”
I mentioned on this blog the ‘fake’ recognition ceremony of Gyaltsen Norbu.
According to the website, the Chinese Panchen Lama declared that the Living Buddhas “have not only gained high accomplishments in religion but also made great contribution to the unity of the country and the prosperity and security of the contemporary society.”
‘Contribution to the unity of the country’ refers to the time when Tibet was an independent nation and Tibet was not ‘unified’. But it is probably true that some lamas collaborated with the Communist Party in the 1950’s to ‘unify’ the country.
According to Gyaltsen Norbu: “The implementation of the ‘Regulations’ safeguards the inheritance of the reincarnation system.”
He urged the new generation of Living Buddhas “to protect the unity and solidarity of the country and guide the religion suitable to the socialist society.”
Once again, the ‘unity’ of China is emphasized.
Commercialization of religion
On November 24, 2017, another article in the SCMP mentions that Beijing has decided to ban “commercialisation of Buddhist and Taoist activities.” This is seen as a move to tighten the Party’s grip on religion believes the Hong Kong paper: “The State Administration for Religious Affairs and 11 other departments rolled out measures to step up governance over commercialisation of the two religions in a 10-point directive which will be implemented by local governments across the nation.:
According to the Xinhua news agency, issues such the “commercialising the two religions are a key public concern.”
One of the problems of the Communist State today is that there are more and more followers of the Buddha in the Middle Kingdom. It is not the case for the followers of the Communist Party.
The new regulation says: “All commercial investment in Buddhism and Taoism is prohibited under the directive, with the basis that their temples are non-profit in nature. The religions are important in Chinese culture and society and some of the country’s most popular tourist attractions revolve around centuries-old Buddhist and Taoist temples.”
Interestingly, the local Party cadres have specifically been requested to stop “promoting and profiting from religious activities in the name of fostering economic development.”
Karl Marx was probably right: religion is the Opium of the People, more so in today’s China.
The commercialization regulations order: “Investing in or contracting out the operation of temples or other religious venues is also banned, along with any other profit-making activities associated with the two religions. Temples in scenic spots cannot overcharge tourists for entry, while they are banned from building any new large outdoor religious statues. Existing ones will also be under scrutiny.”
According to the SCMP, these measures will be protecting the religions …while maintaining social stability. The latter rationale is probably the most important because religion in China becomes more and more a concurrent of the Communist Party despite the fact that the 19th Congress has promoted Marx’ religion on a grand scale.
Further the Regulations say that any revenues gained from religious operations should be used for charity and maintenance purposes only, and religious groups must follow a standard taxation, banking and accounting system.
It seems that it has not been the case in the past: “commercialisation could be destructive for Buddhism and Taoism, disrupt normal religious activities and breed corruption.”
In the meantime, the Dalai Lama recently declared in Kolkata that he does seek independence from China: “The past is past. We will have to look into the future. We are not seeking independence… We want to stay with China. We want more development.”
However, it is not clear what does it practically means in the present circumstances.
What would be, for example, the relation between the ‘fake’ Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama, in case Beijing accepts the Dalai Lama’s plea.
His ‘return’ would certainly raise many many more such questions.
To paraphrase Zhou Enlai, it is obvious that: “Time is not ripe for settlement.”
But in the former Chinese Premier’s case, he was referring to the border dispute with China.
That was in 1954.
Claude Arpi is born in Angoulême (France) in 1949. His real quest started in 1972 with a journey to the Indian Himalayas. Since then he has been an enthusiastic student of the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. Claude Arpi regularly writes on the history, geopolitics and environment of the region as well as on the Indo-French relations. Presently Distinguished Fellow, Centre of Excellence for Himalayan Studies, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence (Delhi)