Reborn features the Panchen Lama, who is a real person. In Reborn I have hypothesised the switch between young boys and the real persona’s escape from captivity. The book “The Search for the Panchen Lama” by Isabel Hilton tells the full and real story of how he was identified, the role of the current Dalai Lama and his fate since. No one knows his current whereabouts although Amnesty International repeatedly asks the Chinese government for information about him and his family since they were seized back in 1995 when Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was just six years old. This makes him the world’s youngest political prisoner, assuming he is still alive.
This will all become a live issue when the current Dalai Lama reaches the end of his life and a successor will need to be chosen, as the Panchen Lama traditionally should be the key person to identify who the next Dalai Lama is. China’s version of the Panchen Lama will undoubtedly be wheeled out to nominate Beijing’s choice, while the man identified by the actual Dalai Lama remains out of view.
China’s treatment of Tibet is unforgivably oppressive and, as voiced by Fairchild, seems unwarranted given the state of the country and the apparent willingness of the Dalai Lama to engage in talks around some partial autonomy. I hope I have been balanced, though, about the positives of Chinese rule as undoubtedly they have lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty and some of their achievements in terms of quality of life are pretty extraordinary. The western hope is that the growth of an emerging, confident and internationally well-travelled middle class will inevitably push the country towards democracy. We’ll see.
The journey across the Himalayan plateau and events on the Nangpa-La glacier are inspired by Murder in the Himalayas by Jonathan Green, the story of how a thirteen-year-old nun was shot in the back and killed on the pass by Chinese border police. I have taken immense liberties with geography: in the book the arduous journey of the refugees took a full twelve days and makes Rose and Fairchild’s suffering seem like a walk in the park.
You’ll struggle to find Dram on a map as these days it’s known by its Chinese name Zhangmu, which I found less evocative. Jinpa is unlikely to have been wandering the streets of Kathmandu as he did: real life Tibetan refugees were confined to a compound. This might have been to keep them safe from errant Chinese security forces, but perhaps more likely so that the Nepali government could be sure that they passed through the country to India and didn’t stay in Nepal and place further burden on this already impoverished country.