It is always hard to tell what is for show and what is real in the long, drawn out tragedy of Sino-Tibet relations but the Dalai Lama’s announcement that he has had enough (see here) and is giving up on talks with China is an important moment, even if it is partially symbolic. It has also lead to renewed speculation about whether he might be retiring or about to step down. Normally, you only leave that job when you die, but he has in the past threatened to set up an election or other novel means to find a successor, a clear attempt to avoid a repetition of what happened to the Panchen Lama, the second ranking monk in Tibet’s hierarchy. When the incumbent in the 1990s, both the government in exile and China picked a successor. The China pick, a genial young man in his late teens, regularly appears publicly and was last spotted at an exhibition of Tibetans paitings in Beijing in August. The anti-Panchen Lama, if we can take terminology from the Christian experience, disappeared along with his entire family in 1995 when the six-year old was taken into “protective custody” by Beijing and hasn’t been seen since. (See here for the wikipedia account of the controversy.)
Seems like nothing but bad news ahead for benighted Tibet, tho it’ll be hard for us to know just how bad or good things are. Although the occasional foreign reporter is let in under heavily guided conditions, Tibet remains effectively sealed off to the outside world. My application to visit in November was rejected a couple of days ago on the grounds there had been an earthquake (presumably they were too busy cleaning up after this incident, which left nine people dead in early October). I was told that I might try again “sometime next year.” If as my kids tell me “we’ll think about it” translated from parent speak really means “forget about it,” I have an odd feeling that the Foreign Affairs Department in Lhasa might have had something similar in mind.