G e n d u e n

The Return of the Panchen Lama
A novel by Klemens Ludwig and Holm Triesch

Synopsis

When, in May 1995, the six-year-old Panchen Lama Gendun Choekyi Nyima was abducted by Chinese security forces and subsequently disappeared completely from public view, many referred to him as „the youngest political prisoner in the world“. Despite intense efforts on the part of the Tibetan people, their supporters throughout the world and numerous politicians and public figures, it has not been possible to shed light on the mystery surrounding his fate. He is the second most important representative of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama, who recognized him as the legitimate incarnation just days before his abduction. Gendun Choekyi Nyima has long since reached the age of majority, that is, if he has survived, as there have been no signs or reports from independent sources to confirm that he is still alive.

Following an arbitrary selection process, the authorities replaced him with Gyaltsen Norbu, a boy of the same age who has come to be known as the „Chinese Panchen Lama“. What made him seem particularly suitable in the eyes of the Peking authorities: both of his parents are members of the Communist Party. China has since used its massive propaganda machine to try to gain acceptance for Gyaltsen Norbu as Panchen Lama in the minds of the Tibetan people, but in vain. A small incident illustrates their feelings well: Word had got around in Tibet that the Chinese Panchen Lama would be visiting the monastery Tashi Lhunpo in Shigatse, which was the traditional seat of his predecessors. A group of European tourists who happened to be there at the time asked one of the monks when the Panchen Lama was going to arrive, to which the monk replied „The Panchen Lama we are waiting for will never come.“,and quickly disappeared into one of the surrounding buildings.

The widespread rejection of Gyaltsen Norbu by the Tibetan people is no secret to him, although he is kept completely isolated by the Party. There are clear signs that he himself has doubts about his role; doubts fuelled by the aged mother of his predecessor, who died in 1989.

So much for the known facts. What would happen, though, if the drama of the Panchen Lama suddenly took quite another turn? What if there were soldiers amongst those guarding the true Panchen who, after the massive protests and the bloodbath of Tiananmen Square in June 1989, secretly sympathized with the opposition and were just waiting for an opportunity to take revenge on the government for these crimes and to expose its tyranny to the world?

Such secret dissidents and covert heroes are brought to life in the novel by Klemens Ludwig and Holm Triesch.

A fortunate encounter between one of the guards of the true Panchen Lama and the mentor of the Chinese Panchen Lama, for whom playing along with the Party´s game of deception is also not a matter of conviction, sets the story in motion. A handful of people come up with an outlandish plan, which, should it succeed, would embarrass the People´s Republic of China before the eyes of the world, with a potential to cause untold damage. Should it fail, however, the consequences would be terrible. Since they all know the Chinese system inside out, they know what they have to do to make contacts and to pursue their daring plan in the face of ever-present state surveillance and censorship. In fact, it is the conspirators´ intimate knowledge of the system that proves repeatedly to be their most important trump card.

So it is that a few bold ideas develop into an escape plan that becomes ever more concrete. After years of preparation and equipped with a highly developed instinct for clandestine activities, they finally succeed in smuggling the true Panchen out of Peking. At the same time, the Chinese Panchen Lama also flees with his mentor to join the other fugitives. Because they have previously announced their intention of withdrawing to a retreat, this initially goes unnoticed by the authorities.

When the flight of the two Panchen Lamas is discovered, the government is thrown into a state of high alarm. A ruthless pursuit through the People´s Republic begins, although the authorities cannot operate openly because of their need to prevent the public, the numerous foreigners and, most importantly, the country´s journalists from suspecting the impending scandal that has to be averted at all costs. In this situation, the Party relies entirely on the cunning, experience and ruthlessness of Han, an elite soldier and secret service agent, whose father was killed by Tibetan freedom fighters and whose hatred of all things Tibetan is insatiable.

A further dimension is added to this undercover pursuit in the form of Thinley Lhotse, a Tibetan who has lived in the USA since arriving there as a teenager. After receiving a plea for help from the Tibetans via a group of American tourists, the CIA smuggle him into the country to assist with the escape. But Thinley´s past harbours a dark secret, which has to do with the Tibetan resistance movement. From 1957 to 1974, Tibetan freedom fighters attempted, with the help of the CIA, to drive the Chinese out of Tibet. These activities ended in tragedy for the Tibetans, and Thinley´s parents appear to have had something to do with the Tibetan defeat. Nobody, however, has the courage to tell him the truth: he just senses that other people become unwilling to talk when he mentions his parents. It is not until he meets Dolma,, a woman who more or less by chance happens to be following the same escape route with her children, that he learns the bitter truth. Out of love she reveals to him the secret that cast a cloud over his childhood and still influences the image of his parents in the eyes of the Tibetans: his father was a traitor who was responsible for the worst defeat suffered by the Tibetan freedom fighters. For Thinley, the extremely dangerous flight to Mustang in Nepal, which was formerly the operations base of the Tibetan resistance movement and is now the gateway to freedom for the Panchen Lama and his companions, is a journey into his own past. It finally helps him to discover the role that his parents really played in the Tibetan struggle for freedom. What Dolma tells him, and what all the Tibetans believe, is not in fact the truth. One of the last surviving fighters from the early days of the resistance is finally able to free both Thinley and himself from the burden of the past, his own being tragically linked to the fate of Thinley´s parents.

After dramatic adventures in dangerous and inhospitable terrain and with the government´s agents constantly hot on their trail, the companions of the Panchen Lama finally succeed in doing what the freedom fighters failed to do several decades before: they inflict a resounding defeat on the all-powerful Chinese, which exposes the despotic und repressive nature of their rule in Tibet to the rest of the world. Their success is furthered by the vanity of Han, the elite soldier. After tracking down the fugitives, he fails to inform his superiors, but rather attempts to apprehend them himself in the hope of becoming the hero of the Party and thus be rehabilitated for an earlier transgression that has earned him the hostility of certain influential Party members.

Klemens Ludwig and Holm Triesch have written a novel that brings together historical and contemporary elements in a suspense-filled thriller, in which fact and fiction are skilfully combined. It begins with the Tibetan resistance movement and its American support, the initially successful military campaigns, the flight of the Dalai Lama to India, which was the insurgents´ greatest achievement, and the inexorable decline of the resistance. The plot then shifts to the nineteen nineties, by which time some degree of liberalization, albeit superficial, has occurred in Tibet. After the death in 1989 of the 10th Panchen Lama, who was always faithful to China, the government gives official permission for the first time for the search for his reincarnation. Chadrel Rinpoche, abbot of the monastery of Tashi Lhunpo, takes on this honourable but difficult task. Despite having always avoided doing anything that would provoke the Chinese, there is one point on which he insists on sticking to tradition, although he knows that it will never be accepted by the Chinese: The Panchen Lama must be recognized by the Dalai Lama, who holds the highest religious authority. In the event, this political/religious balancing act fails completely, and the first victim is the Panchen Lama, who is abducted and taken to a military prison near Peking.

At the same time, the Party enthrones a candidate who conforms to the requirements of the government, but this does not mean that they have won the battle. The meticulously planned flight.This new “Chinese” Panchen Lama finds little acceptance amongst the Tibetan people. In the story, the true Panchen Lama is able to escape and his meticulously planned flight. reveals a great talent for clandestine activities on the part of the conspirators. Its description also familiarizes the reader with Tibet, a land of majestic but sometimes also perilous beauty, especially when it is not possible to move freely because the state authorities are in pursuit. In addition to the Panchen Lama, Thinley Lhotse, the organizer of the escape who has a dark secret, becomes ever more important to the story. His developing relationship with Dolma finally helps to shed light on the mystery of his past and reveals the guerrilla war in a new light.
Fact and fiction, fantasy and reality; in Tibet it is difficult to differentiate one from the other, which is undoubtedly part of the fascination of the country. The Karmapa, Tibetan Buddhism´s most important spiritual leader in occupied Tibet after the 4-year-younger Panchen Lama, fled in late 1999/early 2000 at the age of 14 from the monastery of Tsurphu, the traditional seat of the Karmapa Lamas, to Nepal and on to India. This incident was one of the most embarrassing for China in its attempts to legitimize its power in Tibet through the influential clergy, and occurred despite the presence of numerous guards and informants, who were evaded with great ingenuity. To save face, Peking stated at first that the Karmapa had gone to India to collect some religious artefacts and that he would return in due course. The Karmapa, however, countered this by seeking and being granted political asylum in India. He now lives near Dharamsala.

The Authors
Klemens Ludwig and Holm Triesch have taken an active interest in Tibet, its culture and its recent history for many years. Whilst preparing this book they researched the tragic history of the Tibetan resistance movement and spoke to contemporary witnesses, including the bodyguard of the Dalai Lama, who stood by him during his flight in 1959.

Klemens Ludwig & Holm Triesch: Gendün. Die Rückkehr des Panchen Lama
1. Aufl. 2012, 297 pages
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Printed in Germany
ISBN: 978-3-938946-22-0