Perspective: China’s Efforts to Decimate the Identity of Tibetans

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Washington, DC – Communist China came to power in 1949 after a prolonged civil-war fought between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalists and soon annexed Tibet as part of their expansionist design. While China used the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to overpower the regime, it simultaneously began to propagate its own version of Tibet’s history. Communist China particularly emphasised the state of Tibet depicting pre-liberation Tibet in awful images. China extensively popularised the image of pre-1959 Tibet being backward, barbaric and uncivilized. It propagated the narrative that old Tibet was under the unified dictatorship of monks and aristocrats of the feudal serf system and the timely intervention of Communist China liberated Tibetans from the shackles of serfdom and slavery.

Because of Chinese atrocities, Tibet has remained one of the hot spots of unrest and protests challenging the Communist rule in Tibet. The major violent unrest in Tibet took place in 1959, 1989, and in 2008. In order to check the growing resentment of Tibetans against the Communist rule, Chinese authorities have taken both economic developmental measures and a series of coercive measures like hard strike campaign, compulsory patriotic education, Sinicization of Tibetan religion and culture etc.

There have been more than 150 incidents of self-immolations, including cases of 22 in 2013 alone. Most of the self-immolations have occurred in TAR, and some outside TAR, which reflects the grim situation inside Tibet. However, in recent times, there has been a sharp decline in the number of protests and self-immolations in Tibet due to harsh measures taken by the Chinese authorities against the protestors, self immolators and their family members. The family of the self-immolators or protestors, their relatives, villages and monasteries etc. has become a favourite site of such harassment campaigns.

Moreover, measures were also taken to ensure a check on the spread of self-immolation news. The news of self-immolations or their relatives or the location of the self-immolation has been banned so that it can be suppressed or fabricated with false information, etc.

Since most of the cases of the self-immolations have been carried out by monks and nuns, Chinese authorities have taken swift actions targeting the monasteries in Tibet. It has brought all the major monasteries under the high surveillance and forced patriotic education on monks. It keeps a close eye on all the major monasteries in Tibet. It sees monasteries and the monks as a hotbed of social unrest in Tibet.

After the widespread protests in Tibet in 2008, the Chinese government instituted a mechanism called Monasteries Management Committee (MMC), a policy focused on religion and monasteries. Under this policy, it sought to bring almost every monastery under the direct control of government officials and the party. There are more than 21,000 cadres spread out over 551 villages in Tibet. The unelected committees are made up of Communist Party cadres which enable the Chinese authorities to keep tight surveillance and control over Tibet monastic institutions. According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, the new MMCs have already begun to strengthen their rigorous rule provoking many monks and nuns to leave their respective monasteries, leading to boycotts and subsequent closures.

The government’s measures also included a measure like Complete Long-Term Management Mechanism for Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries. This measure put the whole management of monasteries in the hands of the selected party cadres or officials from the government. They stay in almost all the monasteries permanently to ensure that no monks and nuns take part in “anti-China activities”. Also large numbers of Tibetans are not allowed to participate in religious activities. The admissions of novices to monasteries and nunneries are highly curtailed. Monasteries have also been banned from teaching Tibetan language to young Tibetans.

The robust development of a surveillance system in Tibet started during the tenure of Chen Quanguo (TAR Party Secretary)- 2011-2016. He had deployed grid of Police Stations in close proximity to each other and assigned households to spy on each other in the name of counter-terrorism. By the end of 2016, Quanguo had built over 700 small police stations called convenience police stations and maintained 81,140 households as part of a grid system that covered the whole Tibet.

Since the establishment of the convenience police stations, the number of protests in Tibet has declined. According to Chinese media reports, 676 such stations have been established in Tibet and 686 retired soldiers of the main forces of the Armed Police in Tibet have been recruited, as they are considered disciplined and indoctrinated.

Recently, village administrations in Tibet have established Work Teams having cadres from PSB’s border defence troops, Tibet Armed Police Force, the Tibetan police, fire brigade and other Tibetan military units in their villages for maintaining stability. Work Teams are also stationed in monasteries for ensuring stability and tranquility and holding propaganda meetings. For example, the Work Teams stationed in Lhokha Prefecture organised 3866 meetings to criticise the Dalai Lama group. It employed 1856 supporting mentors and conducted 1886 discussions with monks and nuns of the monasteries. They established 1080 village protection groups, implemented 3346 projects to maintain stability and created a tight network of controls.

Similarly, the village Work Teams stationed in Kham Prefecture organised 7107 meetings to criticise the Dalai Lama group and it had 5608 discussions with nuns and monks covering 3234 religious entities. The village Work Teams or monastery Work Teams are there in Lhokha, Shigatse, Nyingtri, Chamdo, Nagchu, Ngari and Lhasa city.

Tibetans who express grievances against the local authorities are detained, tortured and charged with ‘separatism’ resulting in long prison terms. Tibetan writers and artists who express their views and opinions on the sufferings of Tibetans face torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. Tibetans do not have the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Every attempt of Tibetans to collectively raise their voices against illegal mining, forceful resettlement of nomads and illegal land grabs are branded as ‘Black and Evil Crimes’. Their attempts to form small groups for conservation in environments are viewed as ‘acts of separatism’ and are often subjected to severe punishment.

Above all, Tibetans do not have the right to move freely within the designated Tibetan areas, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or across China and abroad. They have to register and seek permission to travel. Further their applications for passports are rejected and the passports that were issued earlier were either confiscated or destroyed. The Chinese government employs discriminatory practices against Tibetans in every aspect of life be it education, health care, employment or even issuance of passports. Tibetan students graduating with specialization in Tibetan language do not have much job prospects.

Moreover, the large-scale population transfer of mainland Chinese to Tibet is making the Tibetan a minority in their own region. Moreover, Tibetans are subjected to systemic economic marginalization. Tibetans are left to compete with a migrant population that is better skilled and educated. State and private Chinese enterprises making up a large portion of the economy- prefer to employ the Chinese speaking migrants over Tibetan, depriving them from any meaningful participation in the local economy.

It is worth noting that the seventh Tibet Work Forum convened on 28th and 29th August, 2020 under the leadership of Xi Jinping emphasised on ‘Patriotic Education’, Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism, and the need to counter separatist forces and the “Dalai clique”. In fact, Xi proposed the Sinicization of religion as a way to strengthen the CCP’s social governance way back in 2015. The Tibet Work Forum also gave importance to strengthening ideological and political education in the schools at all levels to sow the seeds of love for China and patriotism among the younger generation of Tibetans. Sinicization of Buddhism has been one of the central agenda of Xi Jinping since the 18th Party Congress that required monks and nuns to undergo political training designed to confer their allegiance towards the state ideology. As such, holding meetings in monasteries asking monks to show love for China, be patriotic, pay attention to livelihood, and ensure social stability has become one of the main activities in most of the major monasteries in Tibet.

Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism is part of decimating the very existence of Tibetans.

Moreover, the Chinese authorities through the propagandas of the state-run media is trying hard to show that the Dalai Lama is no more a revered figure among the young generations of Tibetans in Tibet and that they are happy in all respects whether religion, education or livelihood. However, the real conditions of Tibetans inside Tibet remained hidden from the outside world with the restrictions imposed on foreign travelers and journalists to travel to Tibet.

While the situation in Tibet is bleak, the global community is standing up to support Tibetans in protecting their religion and culture and also getting them the much deserved freedom.

As was recently exhibited by the US, by enacting Tibetan Policy and Support Act 2020. Earlier, the US had enacted Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA) in December 2018. It is expected that on the lines of US other countries will also take more stringent steps against Chinese atrocities.

Forceful Sinicization of Tibetan – Religion and Culture

Since the illegal occupation (1950s) of Tibet, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been in the process of sinicization imposing Communist Principles into long standing traditions and practices of Tibetan Buddhism, as it sees it as a way to control Tibetans who are predominantly Buddhists. Chinese government has implemented such policies since 1950s, as there were strict rules, the changes have gone unnoticed.

Why does it matter when it comes to sinicization of the religion?

Well the Chinese know that Tibetan Religion is the binding force that has kept the spirit of Tibetan people alive. On the other hand, the Tibetan language is the key where every Buddhist can access the original Buddhist teachings of Nalanda tradition (India).

Secondly can China wipe out the identity of Tibetans?

Tibetans are not allowed to go on kora, a religious circumambulation of holy shrines and Tibetan children are not allowed to participate in religious activities during their vacations. The admissions of novices to monasteries and nunneries are highly curtailed. Tibetans are not even allowed to pray to the Dalai Lama nor allowed to possess his pictures. The state agencies directly interfere with the administration of monasteries and nunneries through ‘Monastic Management Committees’’.

Since the beginning China has been trying to control the Tibetan monasteries by destroying most of them, controlling the number of resident monks and forcing patriotic teachings to monks and nuns. The recent case of destruction of Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar Buddhist Academy is amongst the worst examples of Chinese atrocities on Tibetan religion.

Larung Gar and Yachen Gar

Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two most important Buddhist academies, located in Serthar county, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Sichuan province and Kham province of Tibet, were founded in 1980 and 1985 respectively. A large number of monks and nuns from different parts of Tibetan regions used to come there to pursue and advance their religious studies. The establishment of these two institutions was considered a landmark for the revival of Tibetan Buddhism after the massive damage caused during the Cultural Revolution.

The demolition of Larung Gar began after the decisions were made by the state authorities during the Sixth Tibet Work Forum Conference and the second National Work Conference in 2016. The evicted nuns of Yachen Gar and Larung Gar were held captive by the state and not allowed to go back to their academy to study. Moreover, more than 10,000 monks and nuns were forcefully evicted and put into internment camps for ‘political re-education’ by the state. During 2017 – 2018, at least 4,820 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns were removed from Larung Gar, with over 7,000 dwellings and other structures demolished since 2011. Expelled monks and nuns were forced to work in the road construction projects out of compulsion. Limiting the numbers of inmates would probably enable Chinese authorities to establish direct control and administration and also help monitor anti-government activities of residents, monks and students.

China has been meddling with the religious traditions of Tibetan Buddhists. Even the process of recognizing the reincarnation of Lamas, is being meddled with and now the reincarnation lamas have to register their birth with the state agencies under the Order No. 5 Regulations. Article 2 of the regulation says that “reincarnating living Buddhas shall not be interfered with or be under the dominion of any foreign organization or individual” and shall be (article 7) “recognized by the provincial or autonomous regional Buddhist Association or the China Buddhist Association in accordance with religious rituals and historically established systems.” Currently China has been keeping a database of “living Buddha” authorized by the government in complete disregard to the religious traditions and beliefs of Tibetans.

Panchen Lama

Panchen Lama is the second-highest Tibetan Buddhist lama, the first being the Dalai Lama. Gendhun Choekyi Nyima (GCN), the 11th Panchen Lama who was kidnapped in 1995 by the Chinese government at the age of six just after the 14th Dalai Lama recognized him. At the same time his family was also detained. Subsequently, Chinese government set up its own 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu in order to use him as a political tool to control Tibetans and reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

The reason behind this was the traditional role of the Panchen Lama in the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. It has been twenty-five years since the disappearance of the GCN and the Chinese government still lies at international platforms about his current status. Only the exile Tibetans keep fighting for it and seeking international supports while Tibetans living inside Tibet can’t do anything rather than feel sad and keep their mouth shut as it is illegal for them to speak about politics and topic related to freedom, His Holiness the14th Dalai Lama. However, Tibetans inside Tibet and in exile consider Gyaltsen Norbu as ‘FakePanchen Lama’.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

The Chinese government claims the right to name the next reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959 as his life was under threat by the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese authorities who consider religion a poison and have always defamed the Dalai Lama are very much interested in his reincarnation. They are creating new laws to control the most auspicious- unique part of Tibetan Buddhism which is the reincarnation of a lama.

For the past sixty years, Chinese propaganda used to censor international news feeds as well as every social media, in order to cover up the truth and their lies. Both Chinese and Tibetans hardly know their original histories and about Chinese invasion of Tibet, for them Tibet is part of China.

In an interview (2004) with ‘Time’, the Dalai Lama stated: “the institution of the Dalai Lama, and whether it should continue or not is up to the Tibetan people. if they feel it is not relevant then it will cease and there will be no 15th Dalai Lama. But if I die today I think they (CCP) will want another Dalai Lama. The purpose of reincarnation is to fulfil the previous life task. My life is outside Tibet, therefore my reincarnation will logically be found outside. But then, the next question: will the Chinese accept this or not? China will not accept. The Chinese government most probably will appoint another Dalai Lama, as it did with the Panchen Lama. Then there will be two Dalai Lamas: one, the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan heart, and others that are officially appointed”.

My grandfather

According to my own family story, my grandfather was a great yogi as well as Tibetan traditional healer; he used to treat everyone who approached him free of charges. During the cultural revolution the Chinese liberation army took him away and put him in prison for several years until he was about to die, after one month of imprisonment he died in his bed. Everyone knows that he was guilt free. But such things happened and he is the one of an example during cultural-revolution. Imagine, every family had to face the same consequences. They are not even allowed to recite mantra and any other sorts of prayers, forget about having private property, everyone has to be a slave under Chinese in order to get daily meals.

The strong idea of Chinese nationalism and ‘One China Policy’ shapes the young generation’s mindset as well as their lifestyle. It is therefore sure that the younger generation in Tibet have a different mindset because Chinese propaganda has been tuning their minds and lifestyle, because of which they hate the western nations and other nations that support human rights and Tibetan freedom. This is leading to wiping out of traditional Tibetan values and religious practices.

On May 18, 2020, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement, reiterating United States’ concerns over China’s ongoing campaign to eliminate the religious, linguistic and cultural identity of Tibetans including destruction of communities of worship and learning such as the Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Buddhist Institutes. He also noted that Tibetan Buddhists, like members of all faith communities, must be able to select, educate and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference.

Recently, passed (December 27, 2020) Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA) 2020 by the US has given hope to Tibetans that as far as their religion and tradition is concerned it will be taken care of by the global community. With the passage of TPSA Tibetans have been assured that the reincarnation of their Guru- God (Dalai Lama) is also saved. Now whatever China does to meddle with the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, it is going to be a failure and their appointed Dalai Lama will not be respected worldwide leave aside amongst Tibetans.

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Tejinder Singh, Editor, India America Today & White House Correspondent

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