China erases memories of popular Tibetan monk who died in prison

Tulku Tenzin Delek died under mysterious circumstances following what supporters called a wrongful conviction.
2021.10.28
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China erases memories of popular Tibetan monk who died in prison A poster calling on China to return the remains of Tulku Tenzin Delek is shown on the China consulate in San Francisco in a July 14, 2015 photo.
Photo provided by an RFA listener

Chinese authorities are banning public discussion of a popular Tibetan religious teacher six years after his death in a Sichuan prison, removing him from official religious histories and shutting down an online chat group devoted to his memory, Tibetan sources say.

Tulku Tenzin Delek, 65, died under mysterious circumstance on July 12, 2015, 13 years into a 22-year sentence following what rights groups and supporters called a wrongful conviction on a charge of bombing a public square in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu in April 2002.

Widely respected among Tibetans for his efforts to protect Tibetan culture and the environment, he was initially sentenced to death, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. An assistant, Lobsang Dondrub, was executed almost immediately, prompting an outcry from rights activists who questioned the fairness of the trial.

Monasteries in Nyagchu (in Chinese, Yajiang) county in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture have now been forced by Chinese authorities to remove references to Delek, a well-known religious figure in Kardze, from histories of their establishments, according to a  Tibetan source living in exile.

“Documenting the histories of these monasteries was ordered by the Chinese government, and the Tibetans who compiled these histories then distributed them among the public,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his contacts in the region.

“Many Tibetans who read these books were disappointed to see that nothing was said in them about Tulku Tenzin Delek, and they began to hold discussions about this with each other on social media,” the source said, adding, “The Chinese government then ordered this chat group to shut down.”

Several members of the almost 500-member online group were later summoned for questioning by police, he said.

“Tulku Tenzin Delek played the main role in the revival of Kham Nalanda Thekchen Jangchub Choling monastery, but in the history of this monastery neither his name nor any of his activities connected with it are mentioned,” he said.

Tulku Tenzin Delek’s niece Nyima Lhamo, now living in the U.S. after escaping from Tibet in August 2016, said Delek had become widely popular among Tibetans for promoting their wellbeing and the preservation of Tibet’s language and culture.

“The Chinese government’s attempts to erase all memories of Rinpoche from the minds of Tibetans is a mistake,” Lhamo said, referring to Tulku Tenzin Delek by the honorific Rinpoche.

“The government is rubbing salt on the wounds of Tibetans. But no matter how hard they try, the Tibetans and the international community will always remember Rinpoche’s sacrifice and legacy,” she said.

“These will never fade away.”

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan areas of western China, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by Sangyal Kunchok for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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