New Tibet Watch report details role of religious institutions in political activism in Tibet. Tibetâs âintolerableâ monasteries details how monasteries have become the sole institutions inside Tibet with genuine legitimacy for the Tibetan people.
In the wake of Chinese president Xi Jinpingâs recent speech declaring that âreligious groups â¦ must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of Chinaâ, an extensive new report by Free Tibetâs research partner Tibet Watch finds Tibetâs monasteries to be at the epicenter of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule.
Tibetâs âintolerableâ monasteries details how monasteries have become the sole institutions inside Tibet with genuine legitimacy for the Tibetan people and have evolved from centres of local communities into centres of local resistance. The reportâs title derives from a classification given to Shak Rongpo Gaden Dargyeling Monastery in 2010 by regional authorities â ânumber one intolerable monastery.â
ibetâs âintolerableâ monasteries reviews the pivotal role monasteries have taken historically in Tibetan communities as centres of learning, political activity and even commerce. It examines in depth two of Tibetâs most politically-active monasteries, Labrang Monastery and Kirti Monastery, as well as other religious institutions targeted by the Chinese state. Combining comprehensive accounts of protest, political activity and the stateâs response with new and extensive testimony from Tibetan monks and nuns, it provides vital context for understanding the current state of religious freedom in Tibet.
According to the report, since its 1950 invasion of Tibet, China has seen monasteries as both a political and ideological threat. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and â70s saw wholesale destruction of monasteries and persecution of monastic communities. The gradual rehabilitation of religion after the death of Mao did not, however, find religious institutions compliant or cowed, with many monasteries taking roles at the center of protest and resistance ever since. Monks and nuns were organizers of or key figures in the uprisings of the late 1980s and 2008 and make up almost half of the 143 Tibetans confirmed to have self-immolated since 2009 â including the first six protesters and one of two to have set themselves alight in 2016. Monks and nuns have been targets for surveillance, harassment and persecution as a result. Last year, the leader of the Communist Party in the Tibet Autonomous Region expressed the governmentâs position on religious institutions in Tibet in more euphemistic terms than Xi Jinping, saying monks and nuns should âhave a personal feeling of the party and governmentâs care and warmthâ and behave in a âpatriotic and law-abidingâ manner.
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 in defiance of the unequivocal position of the current Dalai Lama. Even though the role is filled by identifying the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama after his death, Chinaâs atheist regime lays claim to the approval of all Tibetan reincarnated lamas. It maintains Beijing has assumed control of the appointment of the Dalai Lama throughout history and has described the current Dalai Lamaâs position as âblasphemyâ and a âbetrayal.â Tibetâs âintolerableâ monasteries details the deep loyalty of Tibetan religious institutions to the Dalai Lama and their resistance by all attempts by the Chinese state to subvert or undermine the authority of the institution.
According to the report: Since the invasion, China has adopted different approaches towards Tibetan Buddhism and the influence of religious institutions. It has tried to control religious activity through the imposition of âwork teamsâ, surveillance cameras within monastery grounds, dedicated police stations, frequent inspections and numerous arbitrary regulations. It has tried to co-opt Tibetan Buddhism for its own purposes by interfering in reincarnation processes or turning monasteries and pilgrimage sites into tourist attractions. It has tried to buy the loyalty of institutions through gifts, donations or favorable treatment. It has also tried intimidation â the presence of security forces at prayer festivals and other religious gatherings has become a common sight.
It concludes: China perceives, and treats, acts of religious devotion as political protests. Loyalty to the Dalai Lama is almost equated with treason and expressions of Tibetan culture and identity are branded as âsplittismâ and sometimes even criminalized. Buddhism in Tibet is an integral part of the social fabric and the day-to-day lives of lay people as well as monks and nuns. Attacks and restrictions on Buddhism in Tibet are, therefore, not peripheral issues; they are attacks on the Tibetan people, culture and way of life.
Tibet Watch and Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren says: âAlthough the repression of religion in Tibet is well known, unless you understand the context and role of religious institutions in Tibetan society, itâs impossible to understand exactly what that means. Weâre pleased to have been able to give the current status of Tibetâs monasteries the in-depth analysis it deserves.
âDespite Xi Jinpingâs recent call for Communist Party members to be âunyielding Marxist atheistsâ, China knows that it would be a political disaster within Tibet to wipe out monasteries. Instead itâs trying to neuter them through a process of intrusive control, persecution of monks and nuns, propaganda and social and economic marginalization. As Tibetâs âintolerableâ monasteries clearly shows, however, monastic institutions in Tibet have deep roots and strong trunks. They are robust and adaptable enough to maintain their central roles in Tibetan society. More than that, they are the beating heart of Tibetan resistance.
âReligious institutions and religious freedom remain under intense pressure in Tibet today. In coming months, Free Tibet will be building on Tibet Watchâs report by campaigning to expose and address Chinaâs grip on religion. Few things could exemplify more starkly the injustice of Chinaâs occupation.â
Free Tibet campaigns for an end to Chinaâs occupation of Tibet and for international recognition of Tibetansâ right to freedom. We mobilize active support for the Tibetan cause, champion human rights and challenge those whose actions help sustain the occupation. Tibet Watch works to promote the human rights of the Tibetan people through monitoring, research and advocacy. It is a U.K. registered charity with an office in London and a field office in Dharamsala, India.