Golden Urn

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Golden Urn
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 金瓶掣籤
Simplified Chinese 金瓶掣签
Literal meaning Drawing Lots From a Golden Vase Ceremony
Tibetan name
Tibetan གསེར་བུམ་སྐྲུག་པ

The Golden Urn refers to a method introduced since the 18th century to select Tibetan lamas, the Urn’s real purpose was to allow Qing China to control the selection process.[1] In Tibet, on several occasions, children believed to be the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama have been identified by a lottery method, in which names of competing candidates are written on folded slips of paper placed in a golden urn (thus having the name).

This method originated in a decree issued by the Chinese emperor Qianlong in 1792, and was used in the selection of the 11th Dalai Lama only.[2] After defeating the Gurkha invasion in 1792, Emperor Qianlong issued The 29-Article Royal Decree for Better Governing in Tibet, in which Article One ordered the new protocol for deciding the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.[3]

The names and dates of birth of each candidate were to be written in the Manchu, Han, and Tibetan languages on metal slips and placed in the golden urn. After prayers before the statue of the Jowo in the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, a slip was drawn, the Buddha ensuring that the correct slip was selected[citation needed].

There are two Golden Urns issued by Qianlong. One is enshrined in Jokhang Temple in Lhasa for choosing Dalai and Panchen Lama reincarnations, the other is in Yonghe Temple, or Lama Temple, in Beijing for choosing Mongolian Khutughtu reincarnations.[4] The 7th Panchen Lama, Palden Tenpai Nyima, used the Golden Urn for the first time in 1822 to choose the 10th Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso.

Most recently, in November 1995 the Golden Urn was controversially used to name Qoigyijabu (Gyancain Norbu) as the 11th Panchen Lama. This action was approved by the PRC government, but opposed by the Government of Tibet in Exile. In May of the same year, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso had named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama.[5]



  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama (1997) University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21951-1
  • Smith, Warren W., Jr. Tibetan Nation: A History Of Tibetan Nationalism And Sino-Tibetan Relations (1997) Westview press. ISBN 978-0-8133-3280-2
  • Foster, Simon. Adventure Guide China (2008) Hunter. ISBN 1-58843-641-1