China Cracks Down on Tibetan Buddhism Ahead of Olympics


Activists unfurl a banner on the Great Wall linking human rights in Tibet to the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Photo captured by RFA from a Students for a Free Tibet video.

Chinese authorities in Tibet have recruited more than 140 Tibetan youths to perform traditional dances at the forthcoming Beijing Olympics, even as they impose new curbs on Buddhist culture in the Himalayan region, sources there say.

“The Chinese authorities believe that monasteries are the chief centers of Tibetan culture responsible for maintaining Tibetan identity. Therefore they are cracking down on the monasteries,” a source in Tibet said in a recent interview.

Novice monks are no longer admitted to replace monks who have died, and monks rarely appear on the streets in many Tibetan cities, sources say, and this trend has become more visible and pronounced over recent months.

“Now the monks are not allowed to conduct prayer sessions in temples, nor allowed to invite monks for special prayers at home,” the Tibetan source told Kham dialect reporter Tsewang Norbu. “Construction of new stupas is banned. Tibetan devotees are not even allowed to circumambulate temples and stupas."

Sources say the restrictions have been stepped up since the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal last year.

We were also told that monks should not be allowed to stay in our houses... save [animals] and so on. Even Tibetan government officials are not allowed to wear Tibetan dress, nor to maintain a prayer room and altar in their house.

“We were told that we could not dress well, burn incense, conduct prayers, or recite mantras,” the first source said. “We were also told that monks should not be allowed to stay in our houses... save [animals] and so on. Even Tibetan government officials are not allowed to wear Tibetan dress, nor to maintain a prayer room and altar in their house.”

High-level meeting

Another Tibetan source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said members of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Political Consultative Committee met Jan. 13-14 to discuss a plan to employ senior lamas to convince the people that the Dalai Lama is a “splittist” bent on dividing China.

“There was a special meeting on Jan. 13-14 attended by the TAR's Political Consultative Committee members—Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal, Passang Dhondup, and Dugkhang Thupten Khedup. The main agenda of the meeting was to use the high lamas in different parts of Tibet to convince Tibetans about the splittist intention of Dalai Lama and his clique,” the second source said.

Chinese authorities are increasingly on guard against any signs of Tibetan solidarity or nationalism, said Robbie Barnett, who teaches contemporary Tibetan studies at Columbia University in New York. “There’s an incredible increase in the inclination to read even the slightest incident as an attack by the Dalai Lama, or the ‘Dalai clique,’ on the state. In other words, they see these things as organized,” he said.

Beginning around 1992, Barnett said, authorities in the TAR brought in “policies to control and restrict Tibetan culture and Tibetan religion in an aggressive way.”

“These involve cultural controls, restrictions, lowering the status of Tibetan language studies. They removed a lot of senior cultural figures and teachers, and they moved to control the monasteries through ‘patriotic education.’"

Authorities then encouraged Chinese to immigrate to Tibetan regions and boosted the economy through infrastructure development. "So these are security measures, but they’re done through policy means," Barnett said.

“The sources of the problem are seen as being Tibetan culture and Tibetan religion that produce nationalism,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tibetan dancers are being trained to repeat Beijing’s official line to the international community during the Olympics, the source said.

“They were told that they will perform Tibetan cultural dances in Beijing during the Olympics but in reality they are being trained to condemn His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and propagate to the international community at the Olympics that they are happy under Chinese rule,” a Tibetan source said.

Promised liberties

“Another contingent is being recruited in Kongpo and being trained to criticize the Dalai Lama.”

While China has promised free access to foreign journalists throughout the country in the run-up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games and Paralympics, overseas groups say foreign reporters are unable to operate freely in Tibet.

According to the Free Tibet Campaign, which recently unfurled a banner calling for a Free Tibet on the Great Wall of China, “Beijing says that Tibetans are free to practice their religion. But on the ground, talking freely to individuals, foreign journalists would see the lie to this as Beijing maintains a sustained attack on Buddhism by imposing control and conditions on religion.”

The U.S. State Department’s most recent report on global human rights noted that Chinese law “[provides] for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe” and that the government recognizes five main religions, including Buddhism.

“However, the government sought to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups,” the report said.

“A government-affiliated association monitored and supervised the activities of each of these faiths. Membership in these faiths as well as unregistered religious groups grew rapidly. The government tried to control and regulate religious groups, especially groups that were unregistered... Crackdowns against unregistered Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists continued.”

Original reporting in Kham dialect by Tsewang Norbu. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated and edited by Karma Dorjee. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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