“But whether they can overcome internal resistance to change, and how far any change could go, that is the big question,” he added.
Tibetans were unsure if things had changed. A monk in the Ganzi monastery in Sichuan said by telephone that he had received a text message in Chinese that Tibetans were allowed to display photographs of the Dalai Lama.
“We are still too afraid to do so even though we have received these messages,” he said. “We can’t confirm whether it is true, since we haven’t been informed by the government.”
Elliot Sperling, a professor of Sino-Tibetan relations from Indiana University, said the Chinese government is taking a “utilitarian” position in attempting to engage with the Dalai Lama as it contemplates the thorny issue of his succession.
“None of this reflects a desire on the part of the government to change policy because it runs counter to human rights norms or because it is unjust,” he said.
Many Tibetans fear that Beijing will simply appoint its own replacement to the Dalai Lama — a scenario that will almost certainly cause violent protests in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has suggested that his incarnation might be found outside of Chinese-controlled territory, and has said that the succession process could break with tradition — either by being hand-picked by him or through democratic elections.
Ultimately, it does not matter whether Tibetans are allowed to display photos of the Dalai Lama, Pema Rinchen, the abbot of Guangfa monastery in Sichuan Province, said by telephone.
“Because in our hearts, we worship him, and that’s enough,” he said.