The following article is from the Winter, 2001 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.
11th Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leader

SFT HQ (Students for a Free Tibet) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Where Is the Panchen Lama Now?


The sun sets, the moon begins its arc across the sky and a young boy spends another day in no man's land. Isolated from his people, his teachers, his birthright, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama is still trapped in apolitical game of cat and mouse.

And although the Chinese government would like the issue of the Panchen Lama to go away, this particularly nasty situation, like the plight of millions of Tibetans, refuses to be swept under the carpet.

The 10th Panchen Lama died in Shigatse, Tibet in 1989. Immediately following his death a search committee was formed to find his reincarnation. After a brief period of accommodation, the search committee became politicized when Beijing changed tack refusing the Dalai Lama any participation in the process. So, utilizing traditional Tibetan methods of identification and forced to rely on information secretly smuggled out of Tibet, the Dalai Lama began the process of confirming the identity of the next Panchen Lama.

Within days of this announcement the Chinese government removed the boy and his parents from their home. They have not been seen since.

On May 14th, 1995, the Dalai Lama did just that. He named a 6-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the 11th Panchen Lama. Within days of this announcement the Chinese government removed the boy and his parents from their home. They have not been seen since. Beijing went on to choose and enthrone another Tibetan boy, and continues to promote him as Tibet's legitimate Panchen Lama.

The reasons behind Gedhun Choekyi Nyima's detention are numerous. High lamas have enormous influence in Tibet. It appears that Beijing's long term goals are to control the Tibetan people by directing the selection and upbringing of the leadership.

Historically, the Panchen Lama has been instrumental in helping confirm the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama (incarnation line) and vice-versa (Panchen Lama incarnation line). Thus, by controlling the Panchen Lama, the Chinese government believes they have power over the selection of the next Dalai Lama. The current Dalai Lama categorically denies that assumption.

A group of French parachutists leapt out of planes to protest his imprisonment... Hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters have been mailed...

While there is little news about the health, whereabouts or living conditions of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family, due to China denying any international access to him, there is much to be said about his steadfast supporters. The array of symbolic, grassroots and political expressions of support on behalf of this soon to be 12-year-old boy (in 2001) is significant.

A group of French parachutists leapt out of planes to protest his imprisonment. Numerous walkers and bikers spent months trekking across nations raising awareness about the Panchen Lama. There have been mandalas, dance-a-thons and Jewish Seders in his honor. Hundreds of houses of worship have dedicated services to his well-being. Hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters have been mailed. Films, books, websites, news & magazine articles have proliferated around the world. He is the focus of numerous campaigns by international human rights organizations and Tibet Support Groups. Governments have asked and asked and asked about his health and whereabouts. All the while, these efforts are met with deafening silence from the boy's keepers in China.

On-going international pressure is critical in the case of all political prisoners and the Panchen Lama is no exception.

In the Fall of 2000, the first glimmer of news appeared during human rights dialogues between the European Union and China, and again between Britain and China, when Chinese officials showed two photos that allegedly depicted the boy. One photo was of a young boy playing table tennis and the other a rear-view picture of a boy standing at a blackboard writing Chinese characters. The British officials were not allowed to keep or even hold the photos and were in no way able to confirm their authenticity. The Chinese officials claimed the boy is happy and growing up in China. His parents, they say, do not want to be bothered with any international interference.

Rendering of how the 11th Panchen Lama may look now. Photo taken before he was imprisoned by the Chinese. Protest in Beijing.

Top left: Rendering of how the Panchen Lama may look now. Top right: Photo of the Panchen Lama taken before he was imprisoned by the Chinese. Bottom: Protest in Beijing (photo by Stephen Shaver, Agence France Press)

Several months later, December 14, 2000, two members of the Australia Tibet Council followed their Arts and Communications Minister to Beijing as he focused a visit on opening the Chinese market to Australian high technology. The two, Alex Butler and Paul Bourke (pictured here), unfurled a banner in front of the Australian Embassy demanding the Minister raise the issue of the Panchen Lama with the Chinese Government and ask them to hand over the photographs for independent evaluation. They were met with puzzled Chinese security police who neither read English nor knew the boy pictured on the banner. Their actions raised a landslide of press coverage and set a new precedent for international protests.

...the only officially recognized image is of the rosy cheeked 6 year old gazing at us so openly...

While the only officially recognized image is of the rosy cheeked 6 year old gazing at us so openly in his orange colored sweatshirt, we must not lose track of the fact that he will be 12 years old on April 25th, 2001. Time marches on. The Dalai Lama took over the leadership of his nation when he was only 4 years older than this young man. Indeed, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is growing up. He is growing up isolated under house arrest.

On-going international pressure is critical in the case of all political prisoners and the Panchen Lama is no exception. There is much one can do to support his cause and it needn't be jumping out of a plane!

  1. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE! The International Campaign for Tibet is championing a worldwide campaign that targets individuals who can significantly influence the release of the Panchen Lama. Free the Panchen Lama packs have been distributed around the globe. Be part of this campaign! Click on Action Alerts, Upcoming Events,or go to SAVE TIBET for more information.
  2. TALK, TALK, TALK! Tibet's Stolen Child a film about the Panchen Lama is now available on video. It features Nobel Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Jose Ramos- Horta, John Hume, Mairead Maguire and others sharing compelling personal accounts. Narrated by long time Human Rights advocate Patrick Stewart.Screen it at your home, place of worship, school or university, library, etc. Available in a 12 minute version which is great for meeting openers, classrooms etc. and FREE 60 minute version online. Produced by Garthwait & Griffin Films.  Originally available through Snow Lion Publications.
  3. EXPRESSIONS OF SUPPORT! Volunteer and join your local Tibet Support Group. They can inform you of upcoming local activities in which you can participate. These groups are often in the midst of several campaigns that involve activities such as candlelight vigils, petition signing, letter writing, etc. Supporting them financially and licking stamps help, too! To find the group closest to you, search the Tibet Resource Directory.


Other ways to show your support:

  • Bring Tibet education into your children's classrooms. The International Campaign for Tibet along with Garthwait & Griffin Films developed an Educational Companion Guide about Tibet and the Panchen Lama for Middle School students.
  • Be in touch with your political representatives. Write a letter to the editor.
  • Attend Tibetan cultural events. You can usually find these listed in your newspaper. Monks, nuns, musicians and artists often tour.
  • Take an Interfaith prayer ceremony to your house of worship.

Important upcoming dates:

March 10: Tibetan Uprising Day is a traditional day for large nonviolent demonstrations. Stomp the pavement!

April 25: The 11th Panchen Lama's birthday is a great opportunity to show your support for this young boy. Plan a party in his honor. This is wonderful for young children.

HHDL Schedule: His Holiness the Dalai Lama travels and give talks abroad on a regular basis.

In general, most of the events in India are free where as the majority of events abroad require paid tickets. For your information, as a long-standing policy His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not accept any fees for his talks.


Books About Panchen Lamas


The Search for the Panchen Lama by Isabel Hilton, published by W.W. Norton and Company

A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama published by Tibet Information Network

The Panchen Lama Lineage: How Reincarnation is Being Reinvented as a Political Toolpublished by the Department of Information and International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration

(Major Speeches and a petition: 1962–1989)


Websites to Support the People of Tibet

Check out the following Websites for more information on the Panchen Lama and how to help:


Please remember to commemorate...


Panchen Lama

United States government commemorates birthday of the Panchen Lama

For more information:

H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is considered the foremost Buddhist leader of our time. The exiled spiritual head of the Tibetan people, he is a Nobel Peace Laureate, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, and a remarkable teacher and scholar who has authored over one hundred books.