Twenty years ago this week, a 6-year-old Tibetan boy was cornered by Chinese authorities, then apparently fell off the face of the Earth. He wasn't just any grade-schooler, though: Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had just been declared the 11th Panchen Lama (second only to the Dalai Lama in the Buddhist spiritual hierarchy) three days before he vanished, and now Tibet is demanding China give him back, NPR reports. China, however, seems to have no intention of relinquishing any info on the now-26-year-old's whereabouts, let alone sending him back, claiming that it has to keep Gedhun—whom Chinese authorities say lives a perfectly normal life with a normal family in China—under wraps so he won't be abducted by "separatists," the BBC reports. The Dalai Lama has often accused China of interfering in the reincarnation process used to select the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, the news agency notes.
There's another Panchen Lama floating around, though most exiled Tibetans don't recognize him: Gyaincain Norbu, appointed by Beijing shortly after Gedhun disappeared, whom many exiles call a "stooge of the atheist Chinese Communist Party government," per the BBC. The Tibetan parliament speaker says it's clear why China is holding Gedhun. "The efforts of the Chinese government in keeping the Panchen Lama in a secret location is to deprive him of all the religious trainings that he [needs] to undertake so that he can teach to the future generations of Tibetans," he says, per Phayul.com. "And … also to deny [him] to learn Tibetan language so that he [can't] communicate directly with the Tibetan people in the future." Tibet may have cause to worry about Gedhun's fate: The 10th Panchen Lama, his predecessor, died suddenly just days after he gave a speech criticizing the Chinese government, the website notes. (The Dalai Lama hopes the person who takes his own place won't be "stupid.")