On 29 June 2023, Chinese officials held a press conference on Tibet affairs, in which they reaffirmed the Chinese Communist Party’s long-held stance on the reincarnation of living Buddhas and defended its controversial residential school policy.
The joint press conference, named “New Xizang in the New Era with New Vitality”, was organised by the China Tibetology Research Center and the All-China Journalists Association and took place last Thursday, 29 June.
“Xizang”, the Chinese name for Tibet, has been used increasingly by the CCP, despite the term being explicitly rejected by Tibetans.
Dismissing the sentiments of the Tibetan people along with practising Buddhists and rewriting religious and political history, Chinese officials at the press conference stated: “The reincarnation of the Living Buddhas must be approved by the central government” and “the successor must be searched within China”. This is contrary to the Dalai Lama’s own wishes of potentially being reborn in exile or perhaps not at all.
Since His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s arduous escape from Tibet and the pursuit of Chinese forces, he has been widely recognised for bringing Tibet to the forefront of major discussions on human rights, religious freedom and environmental protection. He is widely regarded as having popularised Tibetan Buddhism, leading millions outside Tibet to be interested in or devout practitioners of Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama’s deep connection with Tibetans’ quest for freedom and human rights has seen the Chinese government launch repeated attacks against him, attempt to limit his influence inside occupied Tibet and declare that they possess unique authority over his succession. Analysts have pointed out that China’s ambitions to control the process of reincarnation are political and aimed at ending the Tibetan freedom struggle.
Notably, the officials of the China Tibetology Research Center reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the existence of the ‘Reincarnation Convention of Living Buddhas’, which they claim originated in the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). This comes at a time when the Chinese Government has increasingly pressed on the issue of reincarnation. Zhang Yun, a researcher with the China Tibetology Research Center on Tibet affairs, insisted that “the 14th Dalai Lama himself should abide by this convention”, although the legitimacy of the convention and China’s false sense of authority on the matter is not recognised by the Dalai Lama himself, Tibetans, Buddhist practitioners or world leaders.
The joint press conference was also used to attack critics of China’s residential boarding school system, where almost one million Tibetan children are estimated to be receiving an education, in part due to other alternatives being blocked.
In the report of the press conference by the Global Times, key facts were left unaddressed, including the forced closure of Tibetan schools and Tibetan-language classes being heavily limited.