Threat of fresh demolitions in Larung Gar, residents express fears for their future
Free Tibet has learned that a large Chinese work team, consisting of 700 people, has arrived at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute (1) and looks set to carry out further demolitions and removals.
This news comes exactly one month after an announcement by Chinese authorities that 3,225 homes would be torn down in Larung Gar by the end of April (2).
Residents inside Larung Gar have expressed fears for their future at the site, which is the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world and is of great religious and cultural significance to Tibetans. Despite initial claims from authorities that the removals and demolitions are being carried out to prevent fire hazards and protect the safety of the residents, the residents are scared that the key motivation behind the work is to make Larung Gar more accessible to tourists.
One resident (3), whose home has already been demolished, said:
“I don't know how long I will be able to deal [with this]. You need to take action quickly, otherwise [Larung Gar] will become a tourist attraction”.
Larung Gar, located in Serthar County (4), has been the scene of forced removals and demolitions since July 2016, following the release of a plan (5) by the Chinese authorities ordering the number of residents at Larung Gar to be reduced to 5,000 people by autumn 2017 (6).
According to Free Tibet’s latest information, at least 3,700 residents have been forced to leave Larung Gar since demolitions and removals began last year, and 1,500 residences have been demolished.
Demolitions had been temporarily halted in December 2016 due to the winter. On 12 March 2017, new orders were issued for fresh evictions and demolitions, stipulating that the demolition of the 3,225 residences had to be carried out by 30 April (7). Buildings have been sprayed with numbers to indicate that they are due to be torn down. New concrete structures are also in the process of being built by the Chinese work teams.Tibetans living in the area surrounding Larung Gar have been told that they will need to move to clear space for gardens around the site.
According to a source from Larung Gar, residents were promised compensation for their demolished homes, which are often built by the residents themselves and would be worth around 70,000 – 80,000 RMB (£8,000-9,200, or USD $10,000-$16,000). Compensation of RMB 30,000 (£3,500 or USD $4,300) was offered to the residents of each demolished building, to be divided among those sharing the building. However, they had not heard of any instances of local having received this money, and monks and nuns who have been evicted have also not been given the standard health insurance and social security that would be offered to relocated Chinese citizens.
The source added that the residents simply wanted to live a peaceful life and study truth without disruption, away from pollution and distractions and did not want to have their monasteries and homes turned into a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, a “strong army” had come from outside, and despite the residents’ “protests and tears”, they had been unable to stop the destruction.
The damage done to Larung Gar has elicited a strong international reaction. MPs, representatives and government bodies around the world have condemned the removals and demolitions at Larung Gar. 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” (8). The European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union, passed a strong resolution in December 2016, demanding that China halt the demolitions and forced removals at Larung Gar and respect Tibetans’ religious freedoms (9).
Among the public there has also been a strong response. Demonstrations and vigils took place in October in over 20 cities around the world as part of a Larung Gar Day of Action (10) and over 150,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for an end to the demolitions (11).
Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:
“Despite opposition from all over the world, the Chinese government appears ready to throw itself into another round of removals and demolitions at Larung Gar, shattering the lives of its residents, who want nothing more than to be able to live, study and practice their religion in peace. Every building that is reduced to splintered wood and rubble, every time that residents and friends are forcibly and tearfully separated from one another, is a crime against the people of Larung Gar and a violation under international law. Yet Beijing appears determined to persist, ignoring the United Nations, ignoring governments and people around the world, ignoring the Tibetan who built this site and who understand and appreciate its significance in a way that the Chinese Communist Party is incapable of comprehending.
“All of the Chinese government’s supposed motivations, from the safety of the residents to developing the site for tourism, have done nothing to further the needs of the people of Larung Gar. 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.”
Free Tibet has also acquired new photos (12) taken from inside Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, showing the scale of demolitions and forced removals that have been carried out at the site by the Chinese authorities. The photos show the remains of destroyed homes, doors of residences padlocked shut and numbers spray-painted on the walls of people’s homes, marking them for demolition.
The photos were taken in early April 2017 by Charles Tay, a lawyer from Singapore, during a trip to China and Tibet. During his trip, he managed to get into Larung Gar, despite a strict security presence in the surrounding area.
His impressions of Larung Gar and the surrounding area match the concerns expressed by the residents of Larung Gar. Speaking to Free Tibet, he noted that the surrounding area in Serthar County was going through heavy development for tourism, with large hotels being constructed in nearby Serthar Town.
He also said that while walking through Larung Gar he saw between 100 and 200 Chinese tourists, who were able to walk around the site freely, despite the presence of Chinese workmen and demolition equipment. In contrast to the freedom of these tourists, residents appeared to be fearful of outside contact and under duress.
For further information or comment, contact Free Tibet campaigns and communications manager John Jones:
Notes to editors
- 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. For more information on Larung Gar, see: https://www.freetibet.org/larung-gar-buddhist-institute
- This number is a reduction from a previous order, issued in January this year, that required 4,320 homes to be destroyed. Attempts by the monastic authorities at Larung Gar to further reduce this number have been ignored by Chinse authorities.
- To guarantee the safety of the residents, we kept the identity of all sources in this press release confidential
- Location: Serthar County (Ch: Seda), Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
- Text of the Serthar County order: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/09/serta-county-order-larung-gar-monastery
- Prior to the order being issued in June 2016, Larung Gar had a population of anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 residents, including monks, nuns, lay people and visiting students.
- Full text of the communication from the six United Nations experts: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=22816
- Full text of the resolution by the European Parliament: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+MOTION+P8-RC-2016-1346+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN
- https://www.change.org/p/united-nations-human-rights-council-stand-with-larung-gar-now-world-s-largest-buddhist-monastery-home-to-10-000-facing-demolition Free Tibet’s own campaigns on Larung Gar can be found here: https://freetibet.org/urgent-action-larung-gar-buddhist-academy
- The photos can be accessed here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/albums/72157679192698184 Please credit Charles Tay if you intend to use them.