Bridging the gap
She is half-Tibetan, half-Chinese, with an overlay of confident Los Angeles charm. Into the arcane world of Tibetan politics - mostly peopled by bossy Chinese communist officials, deferential maroon-robed Tibetan monks, and a mix of international activists like actor Richard Gere - has stepped a 22-year-old princess.
Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo is familiarly known to her friends as "Renji" but to many others she is known as the "Princess of Tibet".
Her father was the 10th Panchen Lama, a Buddhist monk ranking close to the Dalai Lama in Tibet's spiritual leadership, who died in 1989. Her mother, Li Jie, is a former doctor in China's People's Liberation Army and granddaughter of a famous general in China's civil war.
After 10 years studying in the United States, at high school in Los Angeles and then political science at the American University in Washington, Renji has just returned to China for further studies at the elite Tsinghua University to prepare for what she sees as her future role as a "unifier".
"I know my goal very clearly, as the daughter of the 10th Panchen Lama, my responsibility [is] to the Tibetan people," Renji said this week in an interview with the Herald in an ornate villa built in the central Beijing compound given to her father. "They have hopes and dreams in me. Also I have to honour my father, give something back. People call me princess. They place hopes and dreams upon me. They count on me to do something."
The invitation to return and commence doctoral studies in whatever field she wanted, at any Chinese university, came "from the highest authority in China, basically meaning Mr Hu," the princess said.
The involvement of President Hu Jintao, China's top communist, signals the high hopes that Beijing has placed in this young woman as a saga of hard politics and wafty mysticism moves slowly towards a finale.
The role of the Panchen Lama will be crucial in the identification and confirmation of the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after the death of the present one, who is 70.
Six years after the death of Renji's father, the Dalai Lama and his senior monks identified a boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in the Tibetan town of Naksu as his reincarnation.
Beijing moved swiftly. Six months later, its religious officials staged a ritual which selected another six-year-old, Gyaltsen Norbu, as the new Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama's choice, along with his family, disappeared from view and has never been seen by the outside world since. Beijing asserts the boy is well and the family secluded at their own request, but the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently asked for an independent mission to be allowed to visit them.
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