Grim-faced monks and official television cameras looked on as Chinese leaders used a 200-year-old ritual Wednesday to name the most important spiritual leader inside Tibet and challenge the authority of the exiled Dalai Lama.
During the ceremony at dawn inside one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, a senior monk reached into a golden urn and pulled out an ivory stick bearing the name of a 6-year-old boy: the Chinese government’s choice for the new Panchen Lama.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the ceremony was held “strictly in accordance with the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism.” But one traditional element was missing: the Dalai Lama’s blessing.
In May, the exiled leader named a different boy, also 6 years old, to succeed the Panchen Lama.
The last Panchen Lama, who died six years ago, became the highest-ranking leader to stay in Tibet when the Dalai Lama fled in 1959. China hopes his successor will lend legitimacy to its often harsh 45-year rule in Tibet, which has failed to dampen the Tibetans’ fervor for the Dalai Lama and independence.