Palden Gyatso

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Palden Gyatso, July 2000, France

Palden Gyatso (1933, Panam, Tibet – 30 November 2018, Dharamshala, India, Standard Tibetan: དཔལ་ལྡན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་ dpal ldan rgya mtsho) was a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Arrested for protesting during the Chinese invasion of Tibet, he spent 33 years in Chinese prisons and labor camps, where he was extensively tortured, and served the longest term of any Tibetan political prisoner. After his release in 1992 he fled to Dharamsala in North India, in exile. He was still a practicing monk and became a political activist, traveling the world publicizing the cause of Tibet up until his death in 2018. His autobiography Fire Under the Snow is also known as The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk. He was the subject of the 2008 documentary film Fire Under the Snow.


Palden Gyatso was born in 1933 in the Tibetan village of Panam, located on the Nyangchu River between Gyantse and Shigatse. A few days after his birth a search party of high lamas arrived from Drag Riwoche Monastery and announced that he was one of the candidates for the reincarnation of a high lama who had died the year before.[1] In 1943, he entered Gadong Monastery as a novice monk. During the Chinese invasion, he became a fully ordained monk of the Gelug school. At the invitation of the 14th Dalai Lama, he moved to Drepung Monastery near Lhasa to complete his studies.[2][3][4]

Palden Gyatso was arrested in June 1959 by Chinese officials for demonstrating during the 10 March 1959 Tibetan uprising.[5] He spent the following 33 years in different Chinese prisons and laogai[6] or "reform through labor" camps, the longest term of any Tibetan political prisoner.[7][8] "He was forced to participate in barbarous re-education classes and He was tortured by various methods, which included being beaten with a club ridden with nails, shocked by an electric probe, which scarred his tongue and caused his teeth to fall out, whipped while being forced to pull an iron plow, and starved."[9] leading to irreversible physical damage.[10][11][12] During this time, he continued to abide by the Dharma, Buddha's teachings. Released in 1992, he escaped to Dharamsala in India, home of the Tibetan government in exile.

Students for a Free Tibet honors Beijing Olympics activists at victory party, New York in 2008 (Palden Gyatso in robes, standing in center)

In Dharamsala, he wrote his autobiography, Fire Under The Snow in Tibetan, since translated into many other languages, which inspired the 2008 film, also named Fire Under The Snow.[13][14][15][16] The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk was published in 1998. The Dalai Lama noted in the forward that "His sense of the justice of our cause and his indignation at what has been done to so many Tibetans are so urgent that he has not rested. Having for years resisted Communist Chinese efforts to conceal and distort it, he has seized the opportunity to tell the world the truth about Tibet.”[17]

During his visits to America and Europe, he became politically active as an opponent of the Chinese occupation in Tibet and as a witness of many years under Chinese confinement.[18][19][7][20][21] In 1995, he was the first Tibetan political prisoner to address the United Nations Human Rights Council and also addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights.[22] In 1998, he won the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the Canadian human rights group Rights & Democracy.[23] In honor of the 2006 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the U.S. Senate honored him with a tribute.[9] Annie Lenox interviewed him in 2007. The film was widely distributed by Amnesty International.[24] In 2009, he spoke at the inaugural Oslo Freedom Forum.[25]

2012 painting of Palden Gyatso in Warsaw, Poland

Palden Gyatso lived in Dharamsala, pursuing his Buddhist studies.[2] He died on 30 November 2018 at Delek Hospital, Dharamshala, India.[26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]

See also[edit]


  • Fire Under The Snow, Palden Gyatso, The Harvill Press, 1997, London (ISBN 1 86046 509 9)
  • The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, Grove Press, 1997 (ISBN 978-0-8021-3574-2)



  1. ^ Gyatso, Palden; Shakya, Tsering (February 1, 1998). "The Chapter One: Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk". New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b Palden Gyatso bio Archived 2011-01-09 at the Wayback Machine at Free Tibet Campaign
  3. ^ "Tibetans worried about Palden Gyatso, herald of freedom". Asia News. November 16, 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  4. ^ "VOA Tibetan Interviews: Paldan Gyatso , Life Before Prison". Voice of America Tibetan. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  5. ^ Spencer, Metta (Mar–Apr 1998). "The heart of Tibetan resistance". Peace Magazine. Retrieved 9 December 2018.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  6. ^ "PROVIDING FOR CERTAIN MEASURES TO INCREASE MONITORING OF PRODUCTS OF PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA MADE WITH FORCED LABOR". Congressional Record Volume 143, Number 153, November 5, 1997. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  7. ^ a b Rosenthal, A. M. On My Mind; You Are Palden Gyatso, The New York Times, April 11, 1995
  8. ^ Huckenpahter, Victoria (October 1, 1996). "A Bodhisattva's Ordeal/". Snow Lion. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  9. ^ a b Pittman, Congressman Michael. "TRIBUTE TO PALDEN GYATSO". 109th Congress, 2nd Session Issue: Vol. 152, No. 84, June 26, 2006. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  10. ^ Waller, Douglas (June 24, 2001). "Weapons Of Torture". Time. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  11. ^ "Torture and Impunity: 29 Cases of Tibetan Political Prisoners". International Campaign for Tibet. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  12. ^ Moffett, Shannon (May 2, 2000). "Monk Reflects on Time in Prison" (50). The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  13. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (July 6, 2008). "On Film, a Monk's Passion and Protest". New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  14. ^ Ramsey, Nancy (August 9, 2008). "China's Other Face Revealed". ABC News. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  15. ^ Lowe, Justin (August 26, 2008). "Film Review: Fire Under the Snow". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  16. ^ Finney, Richard (August 11, 2008). "Film Profiles Activist Monk". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  17. ^ Shapiro, Judith (February 1, 1998). "Prisoner in His Homeland". New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  18. ^ 3 Tibetans Continue Hunger Strike Washington Post, February 26, 2006, Page E18
  19. ^ Watanabe, Teresa (October 17, 1998). "People of Divergent Faiths Battle Scourge of Religious Persecution". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  20. ^ Alana, Wartofsky; Jenkins, Mark (June 15, 1998). "Freedom, Justice and a Little Rap and Reggae". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  21. ^ Belt, Mike (October 19, 2005). "Tibetan monk commends human rights groups". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  22. ^ "Tibetan human rights advocate Palden Gyatso passes away at the age of 85". Free Tibet. November 30, 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  23. ^ "John Humphrey Freedom Award 2009". Rights & Democracy. 2010. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  24. ^ Gyatso, Palden; Lennox, Annie. "Annie and Palden Gyatso". Annie Lennox. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Palden Gyatso speaks at Oslo Freedom Forum 2009". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  26. ^ Jigme, Tenzin (December 2, 2018). "Trending This Week on Social Media: Tribute to Tibet's Noted Political Prisoner Palden Gyatso". Central Tibetan Administration. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  27. ^ Former Political Prisoner Palden Gyatso dies
  28. ^ Slotnik, Daniel (December 7, 2018). "Palden Gyatso, Monk Who Suffered for a Free Tibet, Dies at 85". New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  29. ^ "Palden Gyatso, Tibetan monk who was tortured and jailed for 33 years, passes away". International Campaign for Tibet. November 30, 2018. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  30. ^ Tethong, Tenzin (November 30, 2018). "Tibetan Monk Tortured for 3 Decades in China's Prisons Dies". Voice of America. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  31. ^ Duechung, Puntsok Tsering (December 7, 2018). "Remembering my uncle Palden Gyatso-la". Tibetan Review. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  32. ^ "Former Tibetan Political prisoner Palden Gyatso's funetal". Tibet Times. December 3, 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  33. ^ Thinley, Pema (December 1, 2018). "Palden Gyatso defied China during 33 years of incarceration and continued to take on it in exile". tibetan Review. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  34. ^ "Tortured Tibetan Buddhist monk spoke out against Chinese occupation". Sydney Morning Herald. December 11, 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.

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