e n d u e n
The Return of the Panchen Lama
A novel by Klemens Ludwig and Holm Triesch
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.
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.
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.