With the Jhokang monastery in Lhasa lit up by state television as if it were a film set, senior officials from Peking presided yesterday over the theatrical selection, controlled by the Communist Party, of a reincarnated Panchen Lama, the second most holy figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
Despondent-looking monks sat chanting as Luo Gan, from China's State Council, applauded the drawing of lots from a golden urn and the choice of six-year-old Gyaincain Norbu as the "soul boy".
Peking's decision to orchestrate the identification of a new child Panchen Lama confirms that the Chinese have embarked on a new policy of confrontation in Tibet. Dozens of monks have been arrested since last May, when the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, named another six-year-old, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnation.
In its most vicious attack yet, the official Xinhua news agency yesterday launched a smear campaign against Gedhun. The boy's parents "were notorious among their neighbours for speculation, deceit and scrambling for fame and profit", and had lied about Gedhun's date of birth. "The boy himself once drowned a dog, and ... such an action is a heinous crime in the eyes of the Buddha," Xinhua added. Gedhun and his parents are believed to be in detention in Peking, and are likely to remain so.
The Dalai Lama last night issued a statement from India saying that the safety of Gedhun was "of particular concern to me". He added: "It is unfortunate that the Chinese government has chosen to politicise the issue and to appoint a rival Panchen Lama."
The harsh reality of Chinese control of Tibet was there for everyone to see yesterday on a television film of the spectacle on the evening news. Chinese officials sat on chairs, looking down on the monks sitting on the floor as if to emphasis their disdain. Security officials could be seen everywhere.
Peking's biggest problem in staging the drawing of lots was in finding a monk with enough status to perform the ceremony of picking from the urn one of three ivory sticks, each with the name of one boy candidate. In the end it promoted a monk, Bomi Rimpoche, to the title of Ganden Tripa, an academic position, and got him to perform the task.
According to Xinhua, "at the first glimmer of dawn the ancient city of Lhasa looked beautiful and tranquil". In front of the assembled monks, all of whom could be seen on television wearing red security passes, Bomi Rimpoche, 77, prostrated himself and then drew one ivory stick from the golden urn, handing it to officials who proclaimed Gyaincain as the Panchen Lama.
The little boy was thencrowned with a yellow hat and led around as he offered long white scarves to the Chinese officials. The monks threw pieces of barley cakes into the air with little enthusiasm.