EXCLUSIVE: Teen Tibetan monk takes own life after being forced to leave monastery

The 17-year-old became depressed after being sent to government-run school instead.
By Sonam Lhamo and Dorjee Damdul for RFA Tibetan
2024.05.28
EXCLUSIVE: Teen Tibetan monk takes own life after being forced to leave monastery Yulung Monastery, Drakkar County, Tibet, in an undated image.
(Sonam Rigzin)

A 17-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk who was forced to leave his monastery and join a government-run school committed suicide after authorities said he could no longer wear his maroon robes, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Radio Free Asia. 

Kunzang Longyang died in mid-April in Qinghai province’s Drakkar County, the sources said on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns.

The death comes as young Tibetan monks are facing immense pressure because of growing restrictions on practicing Buddhist religious and cultural traditions.

The restrictions include a requirement since 2018 that young monks below the age of 18 be removed from monasteries across the Tibetan region. Chinese authorities have said that young monks are too immature to think for themselves and should serve society instead. 

Chinese authorities have long sought to restrict the size and influence of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, traditionally a focus of Tibetan cultural and national identity. 

“Even during their school winter and summer break, the young monks are not allowed to return to their monasteries or go on visits,” one of the sources told RFA. 

“Government officials send people to monitor if monasteries are allowing young monks to visit or return, and monasteries are threatened of severe consequences if they allow the children to return,” the source said.

Depressed at school

Three years ago, Longyang was removed from Yulung Monastery in Drakkar County after Chinese government officials enforced the under 18 rule, the three sources said. 

Afterward, Longyang was made to join a local school where he was told he couldn’t continue wearing his monk’s robe and would have to wear regular clothing while attending class. 

At the school, he became severely depressed, stopped eating for many days and became ill, the source said.

“This happened several times and each time, school authorities called his family to take him home,” the source said. 

Initially, school administrators made some exceptions. Longyang wasn’t required to be present throughout the school year, and he was allowed to wear his robes when he was at the school for examinations and inspections run by government officials, the three sources said. 

The exceptions ended a few months ago when school authorities again mandated that Longyang and other young monks disrobe and stay permanently in school. This caused much distress for Longyang, the sources said.

“He was adamant that he would not take off his monk’s robes,” one of the other sources said. “He had said that if he would be permanently stripped of his robes and required to go to school in his plainclothes, then he would kill himself.” 

Longyang was again sent home from school in April, shortly after falling into depression following the recent announcement. That’s when he took his own life, the sources said.

Additional reporting by Thaklha Gyal and Lhuboom and editing by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Kalden Lodoe, Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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