The Chinese government continues to crack down on Tibetan Buddhism – and not just inside Tibet but the areas surrounding it.
Bitter Winter recently interviewed several Tibetan Buddhist monks in Qinghai, a province in the northwest of China, spread across the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau. When talking about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) oppressive policies to control the development of Tibetan Buddhism in Qinghai, the monks said that among other means, the government manages, controls, and officially approves religious leaders, including reincarnated lamas, or tulkus.
At every temple, the “first-in-command” is a tulku selected and appointed by the CCP. A management committee has also been established for each temple, which includes the participation of personnel from the United Front Work Department (UFWD). Every week, there is a politics class, for which the UFWD arranges people to come and explain state – read CCP – law to the monks. And to top it all off, every temple has a police station established by the CCP, replete with surveillance cameras that are installed inside the temples for close monitoring.
Last year, the US-based Freedom House released a report titled The Battle for China’s Spirit, shows just how far the government will go to keep control.
“The government and affiliated organizations, such as the Buddhist Association of China, go to great lengths to dictate the appointment of religious leaders and use them to relay the government’s positions to their followers,” the report said. The report also highlights the authorities use “extensive surveillance, via video cameras or the physical presence of police agents inside the monastery, [which] intimidates monks into compliance” to exert wide-ranging control over Tibetan monasteries and nunneries.
According to a monk in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the tulku in charge of the famous Rongwo Monastery was appointed by the government. At this monastery, there are a dozen of other tulkus and about 800 monks, all of whom are under the government-appointed tulku’s control.
Another Tibetan living in Haidong city described a similar scenario: “The government also appointed the tulku who is in charge of a local temple. He has the final say over the ten other tulkus and more than 400 monks [at our temple]. The temple has its own set of 240 regulations, which everyone must obey. The presiding tulku often indoctrinates the monks with the policies and laws of the Communist Party,” he said, adding that because temples are a tourist attraction, the revenue that comes with it is abundant, all of which goes to, and is controlled by the government.
According to one monk in Haidong city, if Tibetans want to visit another province or travel, they must first register and have their documents stamped by seven local government departments in total—including those in the village, town (or township), county, city, and so on. Even if a monk holds a certificate, all their IDs must be checked, and the government monitors all of their mobile phones. As one monk said: “The government’s purpose of doing this is to control us.”
It really is bureaucracy at its finest.
“When we go out of town, we need to go to the relevant government departments to complete the procedures for departing the temple. These procedures cost at least 5,000 or 6,000 RMB (about $725 or $870), and upwards of 10,000 RMB (about $1,450),” a monk from Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture said, adding that the requirements to pass through are stringent. Even after arriving in Tibet, “we must accept the government’s inspections and arrangements. If we need to go out on an errand, we must leave originals of our relevant identity documents with the government and take photocopies with us when we go. When we return, we submit the photocopies and get the originals back.”
The permit for coming and going from the temple is valid for a year. And the monks follow along with the government’s assigned rules because, as the monk said, “things won’t be easy.”
Because the CCP government exerts such strict controls over Tibetan Buddhism, which not only seriously violates the personal freedom of monks, but fills their lives with fear and despair, some monks are unwilling to travel anymore, hoping that way they’ll avoid creating more trouble for themselves.
Another monk from Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture told our reporter of one of his experiences when he was under immediate scrutiny from the staff of a rail station as soon as he entered it. The personnel not only made him stand off to the side while they helped every other traveler but then forced him to remove his shoes and conducted a body search. The government personnel even went through his backpack and mobile phone, checking over his WeChat account, photos, and contact numbers. He was the only one to be treated in such a manner at the station. Observing the behavior, one Tibetan next to him commented that the “government’s control over Tibetan monks is getter stricter year by year.”
The right to move about freely, without scrutiny, is an unalienable human right, and it’s one of the many the CCP is taking away from Tibetans. And it brings with it the fear that their religious traditions will die out if they can’t be shared with monks and other people in the region, which, in the end, is the CCP’s whole objective.
Reported by Ma Xiagu