The History and Importance of the Panchen Lama’s 70,000 Character Petition

The Panchen Lama’s 70,000 Character Petition is a seminal document in the history of Tibet, reflecting the intense struggle and resilience of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule. This article delves into this important petition’s background, content, significance, and lasting impact.

Who is the Panchen Lama?

The Panchen Lama is one of the most significant spiritual leaders in Tibetan Buddhism, second only to the Dalai Lama. The title has been held by a succession of revered religious leaders since the 17th century. The Panchen Lama is responsible for numerous religious duties, including identifying the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and vice versa.

Spiritual and Cultural Role

Beyond religious duties, the Panchen Lama plays a crucial role in preserving Tibetan culture and spiritual heritage. As a spiritual teacher and guide, the Panchen Lama provides religious teachings, performs rituals, and offers guidance to the Tibetan community. This leadership helps maintain the continuity of Tibetan Buddhist traditions and practices, even in the face of external pressures and challenges.

Political Influence

Historically, the Panchen Lama has also held significant political influence within Tibet. The relationship between the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama has often been complementary, with both leaders working towards the spiritual and temporal well-being of the Tibetan people. This dual role as a spiritual and political leader underscores the importance of the Panchen Lama in the broader context of Tibetan society and governance.

Historical Context

The 10th Panchen Lama, Lobsang Trinley Lhündrub Chökyi Gyaltsen, lived through one of the most tumultuous periods in Tibetan history. Born in 1938, he witnessed the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the subsequent Cultural Revolution. During these years, the Chinese government imposed drastic changes on Tibetan society, attempting to eradicate traditional Tibetan culture and religion.

The Petition

In 1962, the 10th Panchen Lama bravely submitted a document to the Chinese government known as the 70,000 Character Petition. This document, detailed and exhaustive, provided a thorough critique of Chinese policies in Tibet. It outlined the immense hardships faced by Tibetans, including cultural suppression, economic exploitation, and human rights abuses.

Content of the Petition

The 70,000 Character Petition highlighted several critical issues:

  • Destruction of Monasteries: The Chinese government’s policies led to the widespread destruction of monasteries, which are central to Tibetan cultural and religious life.
  • Forced Collectivization: The imposition of collectivized farming disrupted traditional agricultural practices and led to significant economic instability.
  • Famine and Economic Mismanagement: Mismanagement and harsh policies resulted in widespread famine, causing immense suffering among the Tibetan population.
  • Suppression of Tibetan Culture and Religion: The Chinese government actively suppressed Tibetan language, customs, and religious practices in an attempt to assimilate Tibetans into the dominant Han Chinese culture.


The petition is considered one of the most important Tibetan documents of the 20th century. It was a rare and courageous critique of Chinese policies from within the system. Despite the severe risks, the 10th Panchen Lama chose to speak out, highlighting the dire situation in Tibet and calling for reforms.

Response from the Chinese Government

The petition was not well-received by the Chinese authorities. In response to his outspoken criticism, the 10th Panchen Lama faced severe repercussions. In 1964, he was imprisoned and subsequently placed under house arrest and constant surveillance for many years.

Imprisonment and House Arrest

The Panchen Lama’s imprisonment lasted from 1964 until 1977. After his release, he remained under house arrest until 1982. Despite these harsh conditions, he continued to advocate for Tibetan rights, albeit in a more subdued manner, until his death in 1989.

International Reaction

The international community took significant note of the 70,000 Character Petition. It became a key document in the global struggle for Tibetan rights and autonomy. Activists, scholars, and policymakers around the world cited the petition in their efforts to bring attention to the plight of Tibetans.

Aftermath and Legacy

After his release from imprisonment, the 10th Panchen Lama continued to play a crucial role in advocating for Tibetan rights. His legacy is one of resilience and courage, symbolizing the ongoing struggle for Tibetan autonomy and cultural preservation. The petition remains a powerful symbol of resistance and a call for justice.

Why is the 70,000 Character Petition Important?

The importance of the 70,000 Character Petition cannot be overstated. It serves as a historical record of the Tibetan experience under Chinese rule, documenting the severe challenges and human rights abuses faced by Tibetans. The petition is also a testament to the bravery of the 10th Panchen Lama, who risked his life to speak out against injustices.

Furthermore, the petition has significant contemporary relevance. It continues to inform and inspire the global movement for Tibetan rights and autonomy. By understanding the history and content of the 70,000 Character Petition, we gain valuable insights into the ongoing struggles for cultural and religious freedom in Tibet.


The 70,000 Character Petition is more than just a historical document; it is a beacon of hope and resilience for Tibetans. Understanding its history helps us appreciate the ongoing efforts to preserve Tibetan culture and achieve justice and autonomy for the Tibetan people. As we reflect on the Panchen Lama’s courageous stand, we are reminded of the importance of speaking out against oppression and advocating for human rights.

WUDANGZHAO, INNER MONGOLIA, CHINA – JUNE 16: A portrait of the Panchen Lama is offered fruit and juice on June 16, 2003 at the Wudangzhao monastery in Inner Mongolia. (Photo by Natalie Behring-Chisholm/Getty Images)

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