Bitter Winter’s review of the new report by International Campaign for Tibet. Destroying religion is the CCP’s preferred road to destroying Tibet’s culture and soul.
By Marco Respinti
Religion is a fundamental feature in determining the culture of a people (for some scholars, the most important). and Tibet is one of those interesting cases in which cultural identity and religion are so intertwined as to make it almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. The Chinese Communist Party knows this all too well, and this is why in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)—the province-level entity of the People’s Republic of China (PRA) which is roughly half of the historic Tibet and not autonomous at all—the endemic warfare against religion (all religions) that characterizes the Chinese regime all over its territory takes the shape of a peculiar political battle against Tibetan Buddhism in all of its forms.
It has been so since the beginning, and it has continued throughout the worst years of Maoism. It has taken the shape of the ridiculous attempt to decide who is a properly reincarnated Buddhist lama by a blatant atheistic and materialistic regime, and is presently re-kindled by a new wave of crimes against Tibetan Buddhists, both clerics and laymen.
The CCP has in fact learned that controlling, and harshly repressing clerics is the key to controlling, and repressing Tibetans as a people. A new report documents this. It is entitled Party Above Buddhism: China’s Surveillance and Control of Tibetan Monasteries and Nunneries and it the latest publication by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), whose Board of Directors is chaired by famous US actor Mr. Richard Gere, himself a Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition, specifically of the Gelugpa school.
As the title makes clear, the aim of the CCP is replacing religion and cultural identity in the hearts and minds of Tibetans—harassing their bodies and spirits when it fails. In short, a Tibetan is allowed to be a Buddhist only if he or she submits their beliefs and customs to the party’s control because ultimately the only admitted god in China is the CCP itself. This mix of direct persecution and attempted domestication, like the alternation of stick and carrot, is the peculiar hallmark of PRA when the regime faces a strong community identity or established religion that it is not easy to eliminate rapidly and invisibly.
Nonetheless, as UICT’s report documents with figures and examples, Tibetans loom large in the number of sad records that peoples and groups living under PRA’s religious and ethnic persecution have achieved. Muslim Uyghurs are the single most persecuted people in China; The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is presently the single most persecuted religious movement there; Falun Gong held CAG’s record before being decimated as the preferred victims of repression and forced organ harvesting; Christianity is persecuted as a “foreign” religion while in fact it reached China before it arrived in some European countries; Chinese folk religions, and traditional devout practices like tomb sweeping or building ancestors’ temples, are persecuted no less than “foreign” faiths; and, Party Above Buddhism states, “Buddhist monks and nuns form the single largest group assailed by the government of China for their persistent resistance against the state’s destruction of Tibetan culture and identity.”
The way devised by the CCP to persecute Tibetan clerics is massive surveillance, and the excuse the usual one: “to maintain stability,” even preemptively. It seems like the CCP has turned on its head the warning of 1956 sci-fi novella The Minority Report, by US writer Philip K. Dick (1928–1982), and its related 2002 movie, about “pre-crime” policing leading to totalitarianism.
The police-state established in Tibet has been chiefly and famously the work of Chen Quanguo, CCP party secretary of TAR from 2011 to 2016, when he became CCP Secretary in the Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, where he organized the genocide, and was later personally targeted by the US for his crimes.
It was Chen Quanguo’s iron fist that made Tibet the mother of all religious, cultural and ethnic persecutions in China in the new century. Following his path, his successors transformed TAR into a “suffocating environment under constant surveillance and control measures,” whose limitation of “physical activities” for its inhabitants is twinned with a “constant pressure to change their ideological underpinnings, which are based on Buddhist philosophy.” The goal is pursued by impelling them “to ‘correct’ their thoughts” through a practice as old as the horrors of Maoism, with a ghastly inversion of communitarian non-sacramental confession, popular in some forms of monasticism outside Buddhism: “checking themselves and criticizing each other.”
Relying on the latest data available, published by CCP’s official outlet in English, China Daily, in September 2015, “6,575 cadres from different levels in the party and government hierarchy work in the 1,787 monasteries in the TAR.” This figure has been quoted many times and it is reported also in the section on Tibet in the authoritative 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), published on October 14, 2015. It means three, sometimes four party officials, i.e., spies, hecklers and harassers per monastery, disturbing and controlling religious practice and daily life.
But the ICT’s report is not merely a compilation of examples of repression and persecution. It instead correctly frames all the facts in the larger picture of President Xi Jinping’s strategy: sinicization. Every good person who lives in PRA’s territory has to be a good Chinese and this means at the same time a good Communist or at least obedient to Communist rule. It goes without saying, this notion of a “good Chinese” is completely theoretical, proceeding through standardization and homologation.
“Sinicization of religions as an official policy,” ICT’s report notes, “was first initiated during a Central United Front Work conference in mid-2015, reaffirmed during the National Religious Work Conference in April 2016 and finally publicly declared at the 19th Party Congress in 2017.” The United Front Work Department (UFWD) was then put “in charge of overseeing the implementation of religious policy.” And “[a]lthough the UFWD always played an important role in Tibet policy in the past, especially since the establishment of its seventh bureau dealing with Tibetan affairs in 2005, this structural change gave an arm of the CCP even more power and significance in overseeing the implementation of the policies in Tibet and in particular controlling the monastic community. This is also confirmed by the tripling of the budget for the UFWD in the TAR in the past five years.”
Since the CCP knows that, just as Paris was worth a mass, Lhasa is worth some counterfeited Buddhism, in recent years the UFWD has been manufacturing a fake “monastic community compliant to the doctrine of a one-party state,” by which “the authenticity of Tibetan Buddhism is profoundly being attacked and diluted.”
It is taking time, more than the regime’s “natural death of unnatural religions” ideology thought, but it is in its own way succeeding. As Party Above Buddhism concludes, “Tibetan Buddhism can only flourish if its traditions, its canons and its rules are learned, transmitted and further developed freely.” They are not. For this to happen, Tibetan Buddhists should be “free from the intervention of the Chinese state, and particularly free from control and surveillance.” Or else the world will mutely assist in the cultural genocide of yet another entire people.