Report - Satellite images show huge scale of damage to Tibetan Buddhist site Larung Gar

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Free Tibet media release, for immediate use

A new joint report by Free Tibet and Tibet Watch captures the scale of destruction caused to Tibet’s Larung Gar Buddhist Academy. “Destroying Heaven: China’s campaign of destruction at Larung Gar”, is being launched on the one-year anniversary of the International Day of Action for Larung Gar (1), which saw protests around the world against a programme of demolitions and forced evictions that has seen almost 5,000 residents forced out of their homes since July 2016.

Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, also known as Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy, is located in Serthar County, in eastern Tibet (2). It is one of the largest and most significant Tibetan Buddhist sites in the world. It is ordinarily home to anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 people, including monks, nuns and visiting students.

In June 2016, the Chinese authorities issued an order dictating that Larung Gar’s population was to be reduced to 5,000 residents (3). The homes of those evicted from the site would also be demolished. Residents were not consulted about this plan before the order was issued.

The report captures the results of this order and its effects on the residents. It utilises research from contacts inside Tibet, testimonies from residents, photos from inside Larung Gar and satellite imagery from before and after the demolitions were launched in July 2016. The report reveals how at least 4,725 homes have been reduced to rubble in a process that has also resulted in at least 4,800 residents being forced to leave their homes.

The images, acquired from US-based satellite specialists Apollo Mapping (4), reveal how houses were torn down to widen roads, create new pathways or clear space around religious buildings. The pathway of destruction corroborates claims by residents that the demolitions and forced removals have been implemented to facilitate tourist access to Larung Gar.

The report concludes by highlighting the need for strong international pressure on China to halt the damage being caused to Larung Gar. There has already been widespread international condemnation of the demolitions, mainly from international bodies like the United Nations and European Union, MPs and human rights groups, as well as Tibetans (5). However, the report states that this pressure will need to intensify and come from governments themselves if it is to convince Beijing to desist from further harm to Larung Gar and its residents. The report adds that other Buddhist sites, such as Yarchen Gar in eastern Tibet (6), are at risk if governments fail to act.

Free Tibet and Tibet Watch director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

“In July 2016, Larung Gar was transformed from a place of quiet religious contemplation and study into a scene of devastation. Since then, each person forced from their home, each house torn down has been another scar that its residents have been forced to live with. Beijing’s attempts to reduce this important site to a mere tourist destination make this destruction even more heart-breaking. Larung Gar’s residents understand and appreciate the significance of this site in a way that the Chinese Communist Party never could. They must be spared any further harassment and allowed to live , study and practice their religion in peace.

“If Larung Gar’s residents are to receive justice, they will need the support of the outside world. On the first anniversary of the International Day of Action for Larung Gar, governments need to find the courage and principle to speak out and press China to put an end to this reckless and wanton destruction. Their actions would not just help the residents of Larung Gar, but also other Tibetans who fear for their future.”

“A site of learning and devotion is being turned to rubble and the lives of its residents are now characterised by violence and instability. This reckless, destructive policy must not go unanswered. Governments around the world must up the pressure on China and make it change course before this site and everything that made it special is scarred beyond all repair.”

 The full report can be downloaded here.

 The full before and after satellite photos can be downloaded from Flickr here.

Contact: Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, Director Free Tibet and Tibet Watch


T: +44 (0)207 324 4605 (UK office hours)

  1. The International Day of Action for Larung Gar saw protests take place in at least 20 cities around the world to raise awareness of the demolitions and forced evictions and call on governments to act. Protests were held in Buenos Aires, Delhi, Dharamsala, London, Paris, Tokyo, Toronto and Washington DC:  Over 180 Tibetan organisations from around the world also united to condemn the in one of the largest joint statements ever made by Tibetan organisations:
  2. Location: Serthar County (Ch: Seda), Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
  3. Text of the Serthar County order:   
  4. Apollo Mapping:
  5. In November 2016, six United Nations experts wrote to China to express their “deep concern” over the demolitions and wider attacks on “what seems to be concerted attacks on tangible and intangible cultural heritage”. Full text can be found here: The European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union, also passed a strong resolution in December 2016, demanding that China halt the demolitions and forced removals at Larung Gar and respect Tibetans’ religious freedoms:
  6. See for example: