China threatens Tibet’s largest monastery with demolition
Latest attack on religious freedom takes place as campaign launched against Beijing’s plan to appoint Dalai Lama
The Chinese government has demanded the removal of more than 5,000 monks and nuns from Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, in eastern Tibet - currently the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world. Residences have already been destroyed (pictures, 1) and the monastery itself has been threatened with demolition if religious authorities do not comply with the order. The threat comes amid a severe clampdown on religious freedom in Tibet and follows Beijing’s assertion that it will appoint the next Dalai Lama. Campaign group Free Tibet details the clampdown and plan in a new brief report Beyond Belief: religious freedom in Tibet (2) and has launched a new campaign to resist China’s plan (3).
The order issued by local authorities last week requires that the number of residents in the monastery – currently more than 10,000 - be reduced to 5,000 people (1,500 monks and 3,500 nuns) by October 2017 as part of a restructuring process required by national government (4). The order, which has been authenticated by Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch, threatens that if the monastery does not meet deadlines for the reduction, further punitive expulsions will be imposed upon it and demolition of the entire institute may take place. One resident stated:
“Why? Why are such a huge number of residences belonging to humble monks and nuns, who are merely seeking their own peace and practising the teachings of Buddha, being destroyed by force?” (5)
Ironically, the monastery’s spectacular setting and the densely packed labyrinth of monks and nuns’ houses surrounding it was celebrated in photographs disseminated by Chinese state media last week and widely reproduced internationally (6).
Authorities are also imposing a system of joint management on the monastery, with Chinese Communist Party officials outnumbering monastic officials three to two under the new regime and financial management being handed over to Chinese authorities. This system of management is commonly employed in the central Tibet Autonomous Region but its expansion to new institutions is a sign that the authorities plan to control religious affairs even more tightly across Tibet.
In April 2016, President Xi Jinping told a top-level Communist Party meeting on religious matters that officials should behave as “unyielding Marxist atheists” and that “religious groups … must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China” (7). The Beyond Belief report details how Tibetan Buddhist institutions face deepening surveillance and persecution while being ordered to show loyalty to the state. Religious gatherings are treated as threats to order and are subject to intimidation and state violence (8). Even funerals are seen as a threat and protesters and political prisoners who die in custody are frequently cremated against the wishes of their families to prevent proper funerals taking place (9). The most fundamental act of repression is the banning of images and teachings of the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who is a figure of deep reverence for Tibetans (10). Monks and nuns are frequently leaders of political resistance to Chinese rule and hundreds are imprisoned. Close to half of the 143 Tibetans confirmed to have self-immolated since 2009 have been monks and nuns (11).
In addition to its grassroots repression, China has recently been robustly asserting its right to control Tibetan Buddhism at the very highest level, by selecting the next Dalai Lama (12). China’s atheist regime lays claim to the approval of all reincarnated lamas in Tibet. The current Dalai Lama has described the involvement of Chinese Communists in reincarnation as “particularly inappropriate” and stated “apart from the reincarnation recognized through … legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a [Dalai Lama] candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.” (13). China has described the current Dalai Lama’s position as “blasphemy” and a “betrayal” (14).
In tandem with the release of the report, Free Tibet has launched a new campaign to seek declarations by governments and religious leaders that they will not recognise any Dalai Lama appointed by the Chinese government (15).
Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:
“The threat of widespread demolition and mass forced removal of residents at Larung Gar marks another phase in China’s attempts to suffocate freedom of religion in Tibet and control the lives of Tibetans.
“For Beijing, Tibetans’ Buddhist beliefs are a fundamental political threat and control of every aspect of religious life is central to its plans to eliminate Tibetan resistance to its rule. It has vilified the current Dalai Lama for decades: appointing its own puppet after his death would be the deepest imaginable insult to Tibetans. China must be made to understand that trying to subvert the institution for political ends will backfire spectacularly. Governments and religious leaders must make clear that a sham Dalai Lama can expect no welcome beyond China’s borders. That will also give hope to Tibet’s beleaguered Buddhists and reinforce the principle of religious freedom everywhere.”
Beyond Belief report available here.
For further information or comment, contact campaigns and media manager Alistair Currie:
Notes to editors
- Location: Serta County, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Pictures available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/albums/72157667083440463
- Report (9 pages) available at http://www.freetibet.org/files/Beyond%20Belief%20-%20Religious%20freedom%20in%20Tibet%20-%202016%20Free%20Tibet_0.pdf
- For more information about campaign see article on Free Tibet website.
- Images of order available from Free Tibet. Translation of order by Human Rights Watch available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/09/serta-county-order-larung-gar-monastery Larung Gar Buddhist Institute was founded in 1980. Larung Gar has already been subjected to forced removals and parts of its premises being torn down. In 2000 the quarters of over two thousand monks and nuns were demolished and in 2013 monks and nuns from central Tibet were removed from Larung Gar and sent back to their homes. Some of those removed were given prison sentences ranging from one to six years. Another 1,000 people were ordered to leave the monastery in 2015, including elderly monks and nuns.
- Statement obtained by Tibet Watch from Tibetan sources. Name withheld for security reasons.
- People’s Daily Facebook page, 2 June 2016 https://www.facebook.com/PeoplesDaily/posts/1176809525704196
- Hong Kong Free Press 24 April 2016 https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/04/24/religious-groups-must-adhere-to-the-leadership-of-the-communist-party-pres-xi-jinping/
- Shooting of prayer gathering, July 2013 http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/chinese-forces-open-fire-tibetan-prayer-gathering
- I July 2015, political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was cremated against family wishes after dying in prison. His ashes were later taken back from his family. http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/relatives-tenzin-delek-rinpoche-arrested
- February “severe punishments” threat for Tibetans with Dalai Lama photos http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/severe-punishments-dalai-lama-photos
- This figure refers to confirmed self-immolation protests inside Tibet. Free Tibet: full list of self-immolations http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/full-list-self-immolations-tibet
- Xinhua [Chinese state media] 19 July 2015 http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2015-07/19/c_134426001.htm; Xinhua 9 March 2015 http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-03/09/c_134051882.htm
- Dalai Lama website http://www.dalailama.com/messages/statement-of-his-holiness-the-fourteenth-dalai-lama-tenzin-gyatso-on-the-issue-of-his-reincarnation
- See (12) above
- For more information about campaign see article on Free Tibet website
Free Tibet campaigns for an end to China's occupation of Tibet and for international recognition of Tibetans' right to freedom. We mobilise active support for the Tibetan cause, champion human rights and challenge those whose actions help sustain the occupation. www.freetibet.org
Tibet Watch works to promote the human rights of the Tibetan people through monitoring, research and advocacy. It is a UK registered charity with an office in London and a field office in Dharamsala, India. www.tibetwatch.org