The Panchen Lama Wows 'Em in English

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The English language press in China is swooning (here, here, and here) over the young (age 19) Panchen Lama's address in English to the Second World Buddhist Forum on March 27, 2009. The Forum opened in the east China city of Wuxi in Jiangsu Province and closed five days later after the participants were flown to Taipei on four direct charter flights.

You can hear the Panchen Lama's speech for yourself here.

The Panchen Lama is the second highest religious position in Tibet, ranking just below the Dalai Lama. Since both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama belong to the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa; Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, in the normal course of events a new Panchen Lama must be recognized by the Dalai Lama. This, indeed, happened on May 14, 1995, when the Dalai Lama named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama, but the little boy disappeared shortly thereafter. The Chinese authorities will say only that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has been taken into "protective custody." Meanwhile, the PRC government appointed Qoigyijabu (full name Jizün Losang Qamba Lhünzhub Qoigyijabu Baisangbu; born Gyaincain Norbu on February 13, 1990) as their own Panchen Lama, and it is he who is now being lauded for his stunning speech in English to the Second World Buddhist Forum. Apparently, both parents of Qoigyijabu are Chinese Communist Party members.

Curiously, already back in 2004 it was apparent that the Panchen Lama was being groomed to speak English. Young diplomats are also being urged to improve their English speech-making ability. And there are numerous large-scale national, provincial, and local English speech contests for students (for just one example, see here). One wonders whether we will be seeing more such English-speaking wunderkinder in China in the coming years, and what it all portends.


  1. Fluxor said,

    April 8, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    Two things caught my interest in the video.

    1. The politically slanted preamble.2. The use of traditional characters in the backdrop.

  2. aaron said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 2:32 am

    His speech reminds me of your post a few weeks back, in that it seems like he could be reading that English from Chinese characters.

  3. Carl said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 2:54 am

    The reason that the phrase "tool burger with douche fries" was coined.

  4. Stephen Jones said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 8:01 am

    Sounds like a NuLab politician round-trip-translated by BabelFish.

  5. Fanz Bebop said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    No honest person can say that there is "harmony" in China when the whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima remain unknown. That's not harmony.

    With all respect to Prof. Mair, I see nothing remarkable about Chinese people learning to speak English, neither as individuals nor collectively as a society. It's the quickest way to communicate with the largest audience.

    Of course the Chinese authorities want the world to listen to the views of their purported "Panchen Lama." Yawn.

  6. GAC said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    I really don't find the faults others are in his speech. It's understandable English — even if the content is boilerplate propaganda followed by boilerplate Buddhist rhetoric. And he has a fairly pronounced accent — so what? I suspect he doesn't speak to native English speakers all that often, outside of tutoring, perhaps.

  7. Therese said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    He can speak as well as he want, but when he speaks crap, he speaks crap.

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