The disgraced former Politburo member is now serving a life sentence for corruption. Was his fall connected with the death (or murder) of the famous monk?
by Lopsang Gurung
In January this year, Bitter Winter reported about the persecution of the relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, the charismatic Tibetan monk from Sichuan who was accused of “terrorism” and sentenced to death in 2002. After an international mobilization, his death protest was commuted into life imprisonment. He died on July 12, 2015, in Chengdu Chuandong Prison. Protests erupted among Tibetans, who did not believe the official explanation of “heart failure,” and claimed the monk had been killed.
Netizens in China and abroad are now discussing a document posted on the Internet last week by human rights activists, which summarizes internal CCP speeches given in the year 2000 by Zhou Yongkang, at that time the new Party secretary of Sichuan, illustrating a “Ten-Year Action Plan for Ethnic Education.” The speeches call for the “Sinicization” of Tibetan-speaking Buddhists in the province and the education of their children in Chinese rather than Tibetan. Zhou called for replacing monastery education with enrollment of Tibetan-speaking children in the official Chinese school system.
At that time, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche operated in Amdo and Kham, two regions part of historical Tibet but not of present-day Tibet Autonomous Region, a very successful network of schools. It was generally acknowledged that the quality of the education might be favorably compared to public schools, and they affirmed Tibetan identity, which pleased parents.
In 2001 and 2002, three bombs exploded in obscure incidents in Sichuan, two in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and one in the provincial capital Chengdu. The CCP claimed that a “terrorist Tibetan Buddhist group” was responsible for the bomb attacks, and that its leaders were Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and his assistant Lobsang Dhondup. They were both sentenced to death after a trial in Chengdu in 2002. Lobsang Dhondup was executed in 2003.
Zhou’s speeches shows his implacable hostility to those who operated private Tibetan schools, and lend credibility to the theory, advanced by many Tibetans in Sichuan, that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was framed through a false terrorist attack to get rid of his educational institutions.
In 2002, Zhou was promoted to national Minister of Public Security, and in 2007 he became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, finding himself at the highest echelon of the CCP hierarchy. As Tibetans in Sichuan can testify, he continued to unofficially rule Sichuan from Beijing through a clique of proteges.
In 2013, however, Zhou was put under investigation for corruption. He was arrested in 2014, expelled from the CCP, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015. It is widely believed that Zhou was part of a group of CCP leaders who had tried to oppose Xi Jinping’s rise to power. They lost, and Zhou was the first Politburo member to be put on trial after the case of the Gang of Four that followed the Cultural Revolution.
Zhou was sentenced on June 11, 2015, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in jail on July 12, 2015. Was this just a coincidence? Some netizens now believe it was not. Zhou was the evil genius behind the plot leading to the death sentence, later commuted, of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Although Xi Jinping certainly supports “Sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhism and the eradication of Tibetan identity in Sichuan, in 2015 he was very concerned with possible opposition by Zhou’s powerful and extensive network of supporters. Mishandling of the Tenzin Delek Rinpoche case was added to the laundry list of charges against Zhou.
By 2015, Zhou’s followers in Sichuan had started being eliminated from positions of power. But some were still in place. They might have been afraid that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche could be called to testify about Zhou’s (and their) wrongdoings. Or, they might have believed that the Tibetan monk had already testified against Zhou, and punished Tenzin Delek Rinpoche with death. Be it as it may be, clouds continue to amass on the suspicious official story of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death.