While restrictions on the freedom of religion extend to various Buddhist traditions in China, the Tibetan people receive the bulk of the Chinese Communist Party’s most repressive policies. It is for this reason that the Solidarity Sabbath will focus on the plight of the Tibetan people as representatives of the Buddhist tradition in China.
As with the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, restrictions on religion are closely tied to an effort by the Chinese Communist Party to homogenize Chinese culture across the whole of the People’s Republic of China. Without strong international pushback, cultural genocide is a serious threat to these communities.
However, the situation in Tibet, which extends to neighboring provinces, is more complicated than it is in Xinjiang. Historically, the religious leader of the Tibetan people – the Dalai Lama – also served as their political leader. Though the Dalai Lama recently renounced political control in favor of a representative democracy administered by the exiled Central Tibetan Administration, the Chinese Communist Party falsely portrays him as the leader of a splittist clique aimed at disturbing harmony in China. As shown by the Chinese Communist Party’s own track record in Tibet, this accusation couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dalai Lama inspires not only religious devotion among Tibetan Buddhists, but also hope that one day Tibet may be free again.
The systematic deprivation of the rights of the Tibetan people, centered on their practice of Tibetan Buddhism, has led to desperate display of protest by the Tibetan community. Staying true to the Tibetan Buddhist tenet of non-violence, but determined to make the world aware of Tibet’s plight, since 2009 nearly 150 people have taken their own lives by lighting themselves on fire in protest of the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive policies. These self-immolations have been conducted by monks, nuns, farmers, and nomads alike. Though these individuals make a point of harming no one but themselves in their desperate displays of protest, the Chinese Communist Party labels them as terrorists and arrests their families and associates.
China’s efforts to eliminate or control Tibetan Buddhism have led them to go so far as to kidnap the Panchen Lama when he was only six years old and appoint one of their own. This brazenly illegitimate move is crucial to the Chinese Communist Party’s long term goals since the Panchen Lama plays a vital role in revealing the next Dalai Lama. It is widely believed that when the current Dalai Lama passes away, the Chinese Communist Party will appoint a new Dalai Lama in a way that gives the Chinese Communist Party a religious claim over the people of Tibet. This controversy has led to much uncertainty over the fate of Tibetan Buddhism and whether there will ever be another Dalai Lama in the future. Given the resolve of the people of Tibet, it is highly unlikely that they would accept the appointment of any Dalai Lama chosen by the Chinese Communist Party. However, even if Tibetans don’t accept a Chinese Communist Party-picked Dalai Lama, the Chinese government believes that such formalities would enable them to more effectively co-opt the Tibetan religion.
The list of grievances committed by the Chinese Communist Party is long and disturbing. While journalistic access to Tibet is greatly restricted, the oppressive policies of the Chinese Communist Party are still widely documented. The following is a small sample of the types of atrocities committed by the Chinese government against those who wish to simply live in peace. To learn more, visit the sources cited below, along with the reports appended at the end of this page.
- The Chinese Communist Party routinely conducts extensive re-education campaigns that target monasteries and local populations in a mass brainwashing effort.
- The Chinese Communist Party conducts intrusive surveillance on monasteries, including the monitoring of cell phones, opening of mail, and closed caption television monitoring.
- This surveillance extends to villages in Tibet, with the aim of controlling any “illegal” activity and reinforcing political indoctrination, e.g. speech and religion. As part of this program, 21,000 Chinese Communist Officials have been stationed in villages across Tibetan regions.
- Photographs of the Dalai Lama are banned in most places where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced, with one monk recently being sentenced to two years in prison for sharing a picture of the Dalai Lama on his phone, and with others sentenced to multi-year terms for publicly showing a picture of the Dalai Lama in an act of peaceful protest.
- In addition to bans on photos of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese Communist Party bans other forms of religious devotion, including publicly speaking out for religious restrictions, praying for the benefit of the Dalai Lama, or sparing the lives of animals on the account of religious beliefs.
- The Chinese Communist Party routinely arrests monks and other devotees of Tibetan Buddhism without any explanation.
- Monasteries and Nunneries are routinely interrupted, resulting in the disbanding of large proportions of individuals with severe restrictions on religious study elsewhere, and arbitrary age-based “retirement” dictates with the aim of preventing the passing of older knowledge.
- As a result of the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive activities, many individuals and families hold secret prayers in the privacy of their homes.
- Tibetans released from detention or imprisonment share common stories of torture and abuse at the hands of the Chinese government and Party officials.
- Tibetans who are brave enough to speak out and publicly advocate for their rights are routinely imprisoned without trial, and those who refuse to speak according to Chinese Communist Party dictates risk being jailed.
- The Chinese Communist Party has heightened restrictions on the freedom of movement for Tibetans, resulting in part in a decrease of escapees from 2500 in 2008 to only 74 in 2015.
- Security forces routinely increase their presence and activity on the eve of important Tibetan holidays, anniversaries, and festivals.
- Despite protections for local languages in the Chinese Constitution, the Chinese Communist Party greatly restricts the use of the Tibetan language, a practice that many believe contributes to cultural genocide.
- When known journalists or important international figures receive permission to travel to Tibet, the Chinese Communist Party spends weeks preparing a scene of Potemkin villages with which to display a false picture of the real situation in Tibet, and such tours are also often used for domestic propaganda purposes.
- The Chinese Communist Party extends its persecution of Tibetans to those abroad, pressuring foreign governments to censor artwork, decline visas, institute prejudiced policies, and ban displays of solidarity. It also warns Hong Kong celebrities not to associate with the Dalai Lama.
- The Chinese Communist Party gives financial and logistical support to Buddhist sects around the world that oppose Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.
- The Chinese Communist Party also uses carrots to reward Monasteries for not taking part in any sensitive topics via protest. Accepting these rewards is controversial within respective communities, while refusing to accept them could be seen as protest as well.
- The Chinese Communist Party operates an online “living Buddha” database in a stated effort to prevent “swindlers,” but also to increase control over Buddhism in China. The Dalai Lama is a notable name missing from this database.
The above is just a sampling of the types of abuses taking place against the freedom to practice Tibetan Buddhism in China. For more detailed information, please see the following reports and stories:
Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy:
2015 Annual Report
Blood on the Snows: Torture in Tibet 2008 - 2015
International Campaign for Tibet:
60 Years of Chinese Misrule: Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet
The New York Times:
The Last Dalai Lama?