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The Search for the Panchen Lama Paperback – November 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While working on a documentary film, British journalist Hilton was permitted to accompany the Dalai Lama as he sought to identify the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-highest spiritual authority of Tibet's ruling Buddhist sect. This excellent and artfully written book (part of which has appeared in the New Yorker) tells the complicated recent history of the Panchen Lama. The 10th incarnation died under mysterious circumstances in 1989 and is considered by many Tibetans to have been a traitor. The 11th--still a child--is missing; the six-year-old boy was detained along with his family in the mid-'90s by Tibet's Chinese rulers and has not been heard from since. Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities have offered another child as the spiritual leader incarnate. Although she reveals the end of the story in the early pages of the book, Hilton relates this history with great drama and subtle wryness (for Westerners, she says, Tibet is "a kind of religious Disneyland"). Her wonderfully detailed writing illustrates the spiritual and political contours of these events. She describes, for example, a group of Tibetan lamas' two-day journey to Lhamo Latso Lake, where they went to gain insight that helped them find the reincarnated Panchen Lama; their trek, which involved 20 yaks, a video camera and a set of binoculars, was also monitored closely by Chinese spies. Hilton reports the story of the quest with great skill, weaving the history of Tibet with visits to monasteries in Tibet, China and India and conveying the power of a religion to survive the destruction of its institutions, the imposition of martial law, jailings and death in labor camps and prisons.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


An excellent primer on Tibetan history and ....a chilling picture of the brutality of Chinese repression in Tibet. -- Wall Street Journal

Lively and vastly entertaining.... Hilton has seen—and participated in—one of the final moments of a lost Tibet. -- Boston Sunday Globe

Riveting ....captures the panoramic scope of a remarkable story.... The ending is heartbreaking. -- Los Angeles Times

[A]n outstanding book, well-researched, lively, scholarly, humorous, sympathetic, and eminently readable. -- The Tablet, 18 September 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321678
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,435,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By B. Pua on May 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever read a book and afterwards felt like jumping up from the sheer joy of enjoyment? This book did that. It is part Tibetan history, part travelogue, part adventure story, part politics. But the sum is greater than the parts. Ms. Hilton's unprecedented access to some of the main protagonists and her meticulous research show in her insightful writing. This is such a timely book in understanding the tragedy that is modern-day Tibet. My only wish is that the author had provided a glossary and a timeline because some of the Tibetan terms and names can be quite confusing.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on August 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
This outstanding book covers not just the search for the Panchen Lama - currently the biggest struggle in Tibet/China relations, but offers an extensive history of Tibetan Buddhism's struggle with the Chinese communists. Isabel Hilton has become a trusted correspondent of the Dalai Lama, and has gained his confidence in accurately reporting his conflicts with China. Thus Hilton not only gets many interviews with the big guy himself, but also extensive access to the intricate world of Tibetan Buddhism.
The search to find the current Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama who died in 1989, is not covered in detail until you are two-thirds through the book. In the meantime, Hilton interrupts descriptions of her travels through Tibet, China, and India (which serve as an enjoyable travelogue in themselves) with extensive forays into the history of the numerous Dalai and Panchen Lamas, as well as Tibetan Buddhism itself and the Chinese invasion and continuing suppression of the religion. The late Panchen Lama is covered in great detail, and his lifetime of persecution by the Chinese government occupies much of the book.
Hilton delivers many keen revelations about the current situation. She debunks the view of our American celebrity Buddhists that Tibet is a shangri-la in which everyone deeply meditates in pure devotion, and a serene life of deep thought is enjoyed by all. We learn instead that they have their factionalism and infighting like everyone else. We also learn that the Dalai Lama does not have the universal devotion of all Tibetan Buddhists (there are some dissidents), and that he may be losing his spiritual grip on his people, from his continuing exile in India.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "ah-ling" on September 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book to introduce some of the basic issues and history that lead to the current state of Tibet, its government, its people and its religion. Hilton walks you through some historical passages so that by the time she is delving into the search for the 11th Panchen, you have a good sense of the urgency of the situation and why both the Tibet government in exile and China were desparately trying to control the outcome. The fact that Hilton was privy to some top secret information and met with a variety of other key figures allows her to provide more emotion and intimacy to the story than perhaps otherwise. While we all now know the terrible outcome of the search, reading the details and chronology are still suspenseful and gripping. I felt so hollow at the end, knowing that little has changed in Tibet and wondering if it ever will. Where is the true Panchen (I can't believe China has not been forced to free him) and what is the fate of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism after the passing of the 14th Dalai Lama??? Reading about China's cruelty made me wonder if Tibet can survive even the next thirty years but yet, there is hope when thinking of the courage Tibetans have demonstrated thus far.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Marren VINE VOICE on May 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must read for anyone interested in Tibet or the surrounding areas--Nepal and Bhutan. As is often the case, the story of Tibet is much more complex than the "Free Tibet" slogan would suggest. Tibet was never a united country with a central government, but a fuedal society in need of reform, ill-equipped to deal with the great powers that surrounded it--the Soviet Union, China and Britain/India. One learns in this clear and well-written account that the Chinese, who had close and positive historical ties to Tibet, were invited in by the Panchen Lama--a choice he lived to regret. One also learns that for a time the Dalai Lama was leaning in favor of the Soviet Union--also not a good choice. Interestingly, the predecessors to the current Dalai and Panchen lamas had a serious falling out over whether Tibet should have a modern army to defend itself, with the Dalai Lama opposing the idea. In reading this book, one gets an all too clear picture of the devastation China has visited upon this country--in some ways worse than in parts of China itself, and one cannot help being deeply moved by the heroism of the monks, who are a very human and fallible group until their entire lives, culture, and religion come under attack. Perhaps most compelling, this is a story that is just beginning--the whereabouts of the current Panchen Lama is unknown, but the focus of international attention, and as you will learn, his fate bears directly on the issue of who will be the next Dalai Lama. A compelling read!
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Format: Paperback
This true story of the behind the scenes intrigue surrounding the finding of the Eleventh Panchen Lama in 1995 is far more exciting than any fiction writer could dream of. The author details the history of the Panchen Lama and its relationships with the Dalai Lama and the Chinese.

Hilton offers a compelling biography of the Tenth Panchen Lama, who remained in Tibet after the Chinese occupation. He naively presented his frank review of the Chinese policies on Tibet to the Chinese government, but was imprisoned and not released until after Mao's death. He continued to fight for Tibet's rights and mysteriously died in 1989.

Both the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama looked for his reincarnation, but identified different children. The Dalai Lama's choice was immediately taken into Chinese custody, and is often called the youngest political prisoner in the world.
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