Category Archives: Dalai Lama

“Kalon Tripa Accepts Resignations of Envoys”

A sad day for the hopes of a peaceful reconciliation between China and Tibetans:

Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Head of the Central Tibetan Administration, regretfully accepted the resignations of Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Lodi G. Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen. The resignations became effective June 1, 2012.

Special Envoy Lodi Gyari, assisted by Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen, led the Tibetan team in nine rounds of talks with representatives of the Chinese government starting in 2002.

At the Task Force meeting on May 30-31, 2012 in Dharamsala, the envoys expressed their utter frustration over the lack of positive response from the Chinese side and submitted their resignations to the Kalon Tripa. “Given the deteriorating situation inside Tibet since 2008 leading to the increasing cases of self-immolations by Tibetans, we are compelled to submit our resignations. Furthermore, the United Front did not respond positively to the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People presented in 2008 and its Note in 2010. One of the key Chinese interlocutors in the dialogue process even advocated abrogation of minority status as stipulated in the Chinese constitution thereby seeming to remove the basis of autonomy. At this particular time, it is difficult to have substantive dialogue,” stated the two envoys in their resignation letter.

The Tibetan Task Force on Negotiations will be expanded and will meet again in December 2012 to discuss the Chinese leadership transition with the hope of continuing to dialogue with the new Chinese leaders to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully.

It seems like this is also a good point for everyone involved to stop and rethink what they’ve been doing. If Gyari couldn’t work with the Chinese despite having the backing of the Dalai Lama, will future envoys have any better luck? As much as Beijing hates the Dalai Lama, they at least acknowledge him as a legitimate Tibetan figure. They’ve never accorded as much to the Central Tibetan Administration, which is what the new envoys will be representing. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the Middle-Way Approach, or at least how they’re pursuing it.

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“Dalai Lama: national service”

The Dalai Lama was in London last week accepting the Templeton Prize, prompting this editorial in The Guardian:

The Chinese occupation of Tibet has been the most successful colonisation in the last 60 years. At a time when the old empires were everywhere in retreat, the Chinese army seized Tibet and held it. The occupiers are confident of their manifest destiny there. They are filling the country with Han immigrants. Tragically and horribly, some Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest over the past year since all other forms of rebellion have been crushed. Even the government in exile now calls only for “autonomy”, not independence, and they are most unlikely to be granted even that much. Yet for all that, it would be wrong to think that the Dalai Lama has failed.

Tibetan exile politics from a theocracy towards something very much like a proper democracy. He was reborn into a system where his legitimacy was based entirely on his “discovery” as a child and the status that this conferred in the religious system. Over the last 50 years he has patiently transformed it into a legitimacy based on the democratic aspirations of his people. This is almost unique among world religious leaders, and we might well wish that more of them would follow his example.

Dealt a poor hand, he has played it with extraordinary skill to keep alive the hopes of his exiled nation and keep it in front of the world’s troubled consciences.

In the process, he has established that Tibet is no longer merely a country, still less a region of China. It now seems more like a nation. The difference is that a country can be annihilated in a single battle or written out of existence in an afternoon at a conference table. Nations are very much harder to extinguish.

Tibetan nationalism has certainly become a real force over the last few decades, and even if the credit should properly be spread to a great many people and events, the Dalai Lama has played a definitive role.

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TibetWatch: March 7th

News broke yesterday of a third self-immolation in as many days (RFA):

The young man, identified as Dorje, 18, set himself ablaze at around 6:30 p.m. local time in a nomadic area of Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) county in China’s western Sichuan province, said Kanyag Tsering, an India-based Tibetan monk, citing contacts in the region.

“Prior to his self-immolation, he walked from a bridge near the Charuwa nomadic area in Ngaba to the local Chinese office center shouting slogans against Chinese policies in Tibet, and then set himself on fire,” Tsering said.

He died on the spot, Tsering said.

Meanwhile, a monk named Rigdzin Dorje, who set fire to himself in February, is now reported to have died.

Another monk, Lobsang Konchog, who self-immolated in September 2011, “is in serious condition following [the] amputation of his legs and arms. He is being fed through a tube in his throat, ” the India-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) said in a statement.

The staff at the hospital physically abuse him and have labeled him an “enemy of the state,” said the CTA, expressing condolences to the families of the self-immolators.

Holly Williams, a correspondent for Sky News, is the latest foreign journalist to have penetrated the security cordons and report from Ngaba. Her video footage is incredible:

http://video.sky.com/embed/external/16183071

Finally for today we have a WSJ op-ed from Thubten Jinpa, best known for being the main English translator of the Dalai Lama but in reality a genuine Tibet scholar in his own right:

So far, Beijing’s response has been simple: censor the news, label the protesters terrorists, blame it on outside forces and use excessive security force. This is almost exactly the same script we saw used by the ill-fated Gadhafi regime and currently in use in Syria by Bashar al-Assad.

The Communist Party leadership is failing to explore the causes of this new radicalization in a deeply religious society. Tibetans have lived, or barely lived, through a harsh crackdown in the wake of protests that swept across the plateau in 2008, racial animosity against ethnic Tibetans in the aftermath and the systematic demonization of their beloved Dalai Lama.

Beijing’s failures have possibly opened the way for a much more vocal and aggressive tone in Tibetans’ campaign for their legitimate aspirations. There may be a link between the current more radical protests and this change in political leadership. When the Tibetan freedom struggle was led by the Dalai Lama, there were certain norms which even the most vocal Tibetan critics of China implicitly respected, including trying to avoid publicly embarrassing Beijing. This can no longer be taken for granted.

Unwittingly then, the Party has been more successful than the exile Tibetan political establishment ever was in creating a strong united sense of national Tibetan identity across the entire plateau. If the current impasse continues, Tibetans may become bolder and demand full independence. We can also expect to see the current wave of self-immolation spreading to other parts of Tibet. No regime can have an effective weapon against individuals who are not afraid to die.

There is no doubt in my mind that 2011 was a watershed year in the Tibetan people’s struggle, and that with the ongoing campaign of self-immolation this struggle has crossed an important threshold. If China’s leadership fails to seize the narrow window of opportunity it still has left, it will lose Tibet forever.

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9th Bogd Khan Passes Away

In a way, the death of a lama who barely spent any time in Mongolia and is almost unknown globally is a small story even in Mongolia, and has relatively little relevance to China. In another way, this story is a continuation of the centuries-old power struggles between Tibet, Mongolia, and China- a struggle which is coming to have more and more relevance as Mongolia seeks to find a balance with China, and as China continues to try to eliminate the power of the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan leadership.

First, via Phayul, the obituary:

His Eminence the Ninth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Dorjee Chang Jampel Namdrol Choekyi Gyaltsen, the spiritual head of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the spiritual head of Mongolia, passed away earlier today at 5.58am (IST) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. He was 80.

The Central Tibetan Administration expressed deep sadness at the demise of Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa and convened a special prayer service to pray for his speedy reincarnation. As a mark of respect, offices of the CTA remained closed following the prayer service.

At seven, the Late Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa entered Gomang college of Drepung Monastery in Tibet and received Rabjung vows from Reting Rinpoche, following which he studied philosophy for the next fourteen years.

At the age of 21, the Late Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa left Gomang to engage in a series of Chod meditations, living the life of a yogi, while on pilgrimage to the holy sites of Tibet.

After the Chinese armed occupation of Tibet in 1959, the Late Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa left Tibet and escaped into exile in India.

After the collapse of Soviet Union and the new-found religious freedom in Mongolia, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave an official recognition and acknowledgement to the Ninth Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa as the spiritual head of Buddhism in Mongolia through the Department of Religious Affairs (now the Department of Religion and Culture), CTA in 1991.

Only last fall did he return to Mongolia, which is certainly an interesting timing. Did he go specifically so that there’s a recent precedent for the Bogd Khan to live in Ulaan Baatar, so that his successor will go straight there and serve to strengthen ties between Mongolia and Tibet, much to China’s displeasure?

Alicia Campi has a story in The Jamestown Foundation about the bigger picture:

The mid-November 2011 surprise four-day visit to Mongolia of the 14th Dalai Lama reignited simmering Chinese worries about how the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader is using and is being used by its northern neighbor and important mineral trade partner. From China’s perspective, the Dalai Lama’s Mongolian visit, appearing in the guise of a purely private matter to promote his teachings, actually is intertwined with Northeast Asian mineral resources politics as well as interference in Tibetan affairs—thus a deliberate ratcheting up of anti-Chinese sentiment along its borders. From the Dalai Lama’s perspective, who has made eight trips to Mongolia (the last in 2006), that nation increasingly is seen as an answer to how to handle the sticky question of his own succession and how to wrest it from the control of the Chinese government.

Last year saw a quiet series of chess moves involving the Dalai Lama and Mongolia leading up to his November visit. First, there were many months of speculation in the Mongolian popular press—which were never officially denied by the Mongolian Government—that the Dalai Lama would be visiting the country to discuss his permanent move there upon his retirement from public office in March of last year. Next, His Holiness appeared surrounded by some 30 Mongolian lamas, who had specially flown in from Ulaanbaatar, at his July 6, 2011 birthday celebration at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC and at his July 9th public talk about world peace on the West Capitol Lawn.

The gamesmanship surrounding the Mongolian visit is obvious. The Office of the Mongolian President secretly drafted the invitation to the Dalai Lama and authorized the issuance of his visa by its Delhi Embassy. The Mongolian trip, however, was not announced publicly by the Dalai Lama Office’s spokesman until November 6th, on the eve of his arrival. It is clear that the Japanese Government was involved in maintaining the secrecy by facilitating the air travel of the Tibetan religious leader on a special Mongolian Airlines (MIAT) plane from Tokyo to Ulaanbaatar. The Chinese learned about the visit only after His Holiness’ November 7th arrival in Mongolia was carried by the Mongolian TV channels and welcoming billboards in Mongolian and English had sprung up in the capital.

At a concluding press conference, it was stressed that the visit was purely religious and without any political agenda. The head abbot of Gandan monastery Demberel Choijamtsa said, “Mongols revered and worshiped His Holiness for a long time. Buddhist believers and monks and nuns were waiting for his arrival… Faith and religion in democratic society is free, this is why His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, has been invited to visit our country two-three months earlier.”

With the end of Mongolia’s communist era in 1990, the 9th Bogd returned several times to the country, but only obtained Mongolian citizenship and the right to live in Mongolia in 2010, because of the support of Mongolian President Elbegdorj, a committed Buddhist. His enthronement prompted wide public attention and controversy in Mongolia, resulting in a lawsuit against Gandan monastery in the Supreme Court. The Dalai Lama’s presence in Ulaanbaatar so soon after the enthronement was a clear indication of his religious approval for the 9th Bogd, whose primary duties are to act as the spiritual head of Mongolian Buddhism and to continue with the preservation and revival of Mongolian customs and traditions. The 9th Bogd’s position also was openly supported by the Mongolian Government.

With China now the main foreign investor for Mongolia’s booming, mining-dependent economy and some 90 percent of its exports going to China in 2011, some expected that Ulaanbaatar would be an even riper target for Chinese retaliation this time.

The Mongolian political and national security establishment calculated that the economics of the issue was not so simple, since the majority of bilateral trade now involves Mongolian rich mineral deposits in copper, coal and gold that flow to northern Chinese factories for refining and use in the booming Chinese economy. When deliberating the risks involved in allowing the Dalai Lama’s visit, Mongolia guessed correctly that any disruption to the flow of these raw materials would be considered more destructive to China than to Mongolia and so, in all likelihood, would not happen. Mongolian mining companies based near the Chinese border in fact did not report any disruptions to border transport connected with the visit.

If the Dalai Lama decides to “retire” to Mongolia for long religious retreats as he has suggested he might, or if his next reincarnation is discovered on Mongolian soil, the Mongols may now believe their booming mineral-based economy will continue to protect them from serious Chinese retaliation. Concurrently, the Dalai Lama himself has been able to use his relationship with the Mongols to promote confusion and concern in Beijing over how to manage the situation without causing major self-inflicting wounds.

The entire thing is intriguing, and I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last we hear of Sino-Tibetan-Mongolian relations. We’ll probably start to hear about the beginning of efforts to identify the next Bogd Khan in a few months, and a child will likely be chosen within two or so years.

It’s also nice to see that the government of Mongolia, a country dwarfed in nearly every way by neighboring China, is less afraid to embrace the Dalai Lama than nearly every Western country, despite their greater clout and distance.

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“Rare visit to remote Chinese region shows depth of Tibetan despair”

Days after The Guardian managed to sneak a reporter into Ngaba, Tom Lasseter from McClatchy has done the same thing. His report is incredible and horrifying and absolutely must be read:

The monk reached into the folds of his red robe, pulled out a small notebook, and gently slipped from its pages a tiny photograph.

The man in the creased picture was a relative. He used to be a fellow monk at the monastery perched in snow-wrapped mountains outside the town of Aba. Then a Chinese security officer killed him, the monk said.

A McClatchy reporter last week apparently became the first from an American news organization to make it to Aba since the chain of self-immolations began in March. To do so, he hid on the rear floor of a vehicle under two backpacks and a sleeping bag as it passed through multiple checkpoints.

Beijing has long blamed unrest in ethnic Tibetan areas on conspiracies hatched by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

But conversations with ethnic Tibetans here and elsewhere in Sichuan province, where almost all of the self-immolations have occurred, suggest that China’s authoritarian policies designed to tamp down disorder are fueling the troubles.

Sections of the town famous for its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have come to resemble an armed camp. A few blocks from the entrance, paramilitary police stood behind riot gates with shotguns and assault rifles. Three large troop-carrier trucks sat on the side of the road, flanked by more men with guns. Up ahead, traffic wound through further riot gates and troop positions not unlike those used in counterinsurgency efforts.

Chinese officials point out that they’ve spent billions of dollars constructing hospitals, roads and schools in Tibet, which is referred to by Beijing as an autonomous region, and nearby areas like those in Sichuan.

Or as a billboard depicting green fields and blue waters outside Maierma Township, approximately 20 miles from Aba, puts it: “Building a civilized, new Aba together.”

Many ethnic Tibetans recognize the benefits of the government’s projects. But they chafe at the government’s restrictions on free expression of their culture and religious practices, and they speak of anguish over being separated from the Dalai Lama.

The lingering threat of police showing up at their doorstep has by all accounts made the situation even more complicated for ethnic Tibetans.

The younger brother, in his early 20s and with plans to move to a bigger city, finished the sentence with an assertion that no one contradicted.

“The people lighting themselves on fire do it because they are suffering … or because one of their family members has been killed by the government and they are now filled with hatred,” he said. “They are doing these things because they want to express their pain and their hardship.”

The majority of Tibetans approached in the area said they couldn’t discuss such issues.

One herder near the town of Chali, about 30 miles east of Aba, gestured for a reporter to follow him to his house. Once inside, the 67-year-old man with tough, thick hands shook his head, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t dare talk about this.”

Official documents describing his arrest said that he and others had taken part in an action that “disrupted public order” and caused a traffic jam. The monk keeps the papers tucked in a plastic bag even though they’re written in Mandarin, a language he doesn’t understand well.

The monk said he was held in jail and fed such small amounts of thin porridge that it became difficult to stand up. He was then transferred to a reform-through-labor camp. “They told me that the Dalai Lama group is an obstacle to our road to peace,” said the monk, who was reluctant to describe the nearly two-year experience.

His relative never made it back — he died in custody, the result of being beaten in the head and then not receiving medical treatment, according to the monk and others at the monastery.

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February 8th: Another self-immolation, more protests in Qinghai

ICT reports that there has been another self-immolation in Ngaba:

In a climate of deepening tension and military buildup, a Tibetan man set fire to himself today at around 6 pm local time in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), according to Tibetan monks in exile who are in contact with people in the region.

According to two Tibetan monks from Kirti monastery in Dharamsala, India (associated with Kirti monastery in Ngaba), the Tibetan set himself on fire at a primary school early in the evening in Ngaba county town in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Amdo). Sources said that the Tibetan seemed to be a monk, but his name and place of origin are not known. He was taken away by police, and it is not known whether he is still alive. Two monks were also detained from the vicinity.

The Tibetan writer Woeser attributed the increased security and sensitivity in Tibet, already high in Ngaba, because today is Wednesday, known as Lhakar Day, a day in which Tibetans in exile and also in Tibet make a special effort to wear traditional clothes, speak Tibetan, eat in Tibetan restaurants and buy from Tibetan-owned businesses.

Phayul confirms, reporting the same time and place. From VOA we hear that there was a major gathering in Nangchen, a few hundred miles away, and RFA reports that both that and another gathering at Tridu seemed to have turned into protests:

Chinese security forces attempted but failed to stop the demonstrations in two counties in Qinghai province as protesters shouted slogans and carried banners calling for a “free Tibet,” the release of all Tibetan political prisoners, and the return of Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the sources said.

The crowds swelled to about 1,000 each at the peak of the protests in Nangchen (Nangqian, in Chinese) county and Tridu (Chenduo, in Chinese) county in Yulshul (Yushu, in Chinese) prefecture, the sources said, citing contacts in the two areas.

“They chanted prayers and [shouted slogans such as] “Freedom for Tibet” and “Long live the Dalai Lama,” one source from inside Tibet told RFA.

“When armed soldiers and policemen closed in, the Tibetans shouted “Kyi Hi Hi,” a Tibetan battle cry in defiance,” the source said.

“The soldiers and policemen then retreated but watched from a distance. There was no clash between them but the protesters remained in the stadium.”

In the other protest in Tridu county, about 400 monks from the Sekha monastery launched a 12 kilometer (about seven mile) “solidarity” march to Dzatoe town but were stopped by security forces halfway at a bridge, angering about 1,000 local residents who then joined the demonstration.

“Chinese [forces] pressured the monks to stop the march, and at that point around 1,000 local residents joined the protests and raised slogans for up to three hours,” one local source said.

Another source said the monks had defied appeals by laypersons against proceeding with the march amid fears they would be detained.

“The Tibetan protesters shouted that they were ready to sacrifice their lives and would continue their struggle,” one caller from Tibet told RFA.

The monks carried big white banners calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet from exile in India and urging the Chinese authorities to release “innocent” Tibetan prisoners.

The banners, with words written in red and blue, also called on the authorities to “Respect the Tibetans—We are one in happiness and sorrow,” and “Respect the Tibetan language.”

This is the same Tibet China claims to have complete control over?

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Friday, February 3rd: Tibet Media Eruption

The growing magnitude of the crackdown is finally drawing increased media scrutiny, although reporters are being barred from entering Ngaba and Kardze. I’ll try to get through all the major points in one post, but if more articles keep coming out at this rate there might be cause for a second one later.

First, RFA reports on the situation in Lhasa:

“Any migrants in Lhasa have been placed under surveillance as of [Tuesday],” Jampel Monlam said. “Any Tibetans from outside Lhasa who haven’t got a temporary residence permit are being thrown out of the city.”

“Some of them are being transported back to [Tibetan] areas of Qinghai and Sichuan.”

He said some Lhasa-based Tibetans had also been detained, apparently as a precaution. “They are probably afraid that there will be some kind of political problem.”

Lhasa officials have been told to tighten management of the city’s migrant population by changing housing rental, household registration, and transitory residential permit issuance policies, the paper said.

Regional border checkpoints will now require anyone entering Tibet to carry identification starting from March 1.

An employee surnamed Zhao who answered the phone at a Lhasa-based travel agency on Thursday said there were virtually no tourists left in the city.

“There’s no one here,” he said.

He said police had recently stopped issuing two-month and three-month tourism permits to Tibet to foreign nationals.

Next, ICT has more images from inside Tibet, this time of the aftermath of the shooting in Serthar.

The Guardian is reporting that China has cut off internet and mobile phone service to much of Tibetan Sichuan:

“After the riots, internet connections and mobile phone signals were cut off for over 50km [30 miles] around the riot areas. Police believe external forces played a part in the riots,” the newspaper said.

In 2009, China cut off internet and text messaging services across the north-western region of Xinjiang after ethnic riots in the capital, Urumqi, left almost 200 dead.

Officials blamed “trained separatists” for instigating the events in Ganzi. They have also sought to blame outsiders for a string of self-immolations by Tibetan clergy and laypeople over the last year, mostly in Sichuan.

China appears to have stepped up security across other Tibetan areas, with the top party official in Lhasa urging security forces to increase surveillance of monasteries and main roads in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

This is another one of the those cases where China gets hemmed in by its own ludicrous propaganda. Because every problem needs to be blamed on “external forces,” they have to cut all ties to the outside world, which makes everything seem even more suspicious to foreign journalists. Does cutting off the internet and cellphone network actually break lines of communication with the nefarious plotters of the unrest, or does it just mean that a) people who would otherwise be sitting around in internet cafes are instead on the streets and b) anger everyone in the area who can’t live normally without telephones? I’m pretty sure the Egyptian government didn’t do itself any favors when it tried the same tactic.

Next, Reuters speculates that these intense showdowns could be a taste of what China is in for if the Dalai Lama passes in exile:

China’s hardline rulers may have reason to miss him when he’s gone. The aging spiritual leader’s presence and message of non-violence have kept a damper on unrest but, once he dies, things could worsen rapidly.

With unrest in once-quiet areas of the Tibetan plateau and little prospect for direct talks between China and the Tibetan government-in-exile, concern is growing that violence will boil over upon the death of the Dalai Lama.

If nothing changes, Beijing will likely respond with the same tough measures it has used for decades.

“Given the centrality of the demand among Tibetans that the Dalai Lama be allowed to return to Tibet, were he to pass away in exile abroad, it could spark an unpredictable wave of protests far greater than 2008 and an even harsher crackdown,” Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said.

While Lhasa erupted in violence in the 1980s and 1990s, Tibetans in Sichuan, Qinghai and other regions were calm. Sichuan has also seen violence and even traditions are changing.

Barnett said some in those eastern areas who typically celebrate their new year at the same time as most Chinese are delaying the holiday about a month to coincide with the new year of central Tibetans, who for centuries have been more closely aligned with the Dalai Lamas.

“China has turned vast areas of the Tibetan plateau into areas of Tibetan national sentiment,” he said.

“Why they imposed this policy in eastern Tibet where there were no real problems — historians are going to be asking why did we do this? Why did we lose Tibet?”

Adrienne Mong from MSNBC was turned back at a checkpoint in Sichuan, and filed this report from Chengdu:

However, the crackdown taking place across China’s Tibetan communities is not so much just another stage of a cycle that’s repeating itself as it is perhaps growing evidence that March 2008 was a turning point.

“The region has never recovered from the 2008 repression,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch who monitors the region.

“That really was a turning point. We’re still in the aftermath of this very, very severe repression that took place in 2008…. Over the years, [Chinese officials] have shifted from trying to gain the consent of the Tibetan people to basically riding roughshod.”

Reports of the crackdown have been cast against the backdrop of several upcoming events: the Tibetan New Year, the anniversary of the March 10, 2008, protests, and the Chinese Communist Party Congress. The party congress, which takes place every five years, is an especially sensitive event this time as it will usher in a massive leadership changeover.

But Beijing has also painted itself into a corner.

“The government has no room for compromise, because they insist on this depiction of the reality that is absurd,” said Bequelin. A reality, he continued, that claims that Tibet is a harmonious place populated by happy Tibetan people grateful for the economic growth Beijing has brought them.

Finally (for now), RFA has more about how Tibetan pilgrims returning from India are being treated:

In a surprising move, China had earlier allowed about 9,000 Tibetans to travel to India to take part in the ten-day Kalachakra religious festival conducted in Bodh Gaya in January by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama—a figure reviled by Chinese leaders as a separatist.

Upon their return over the last two weeks, however, Tibetans from the eastern regions of Amdo and Kham were “rounded up, transported, and interrogated by the Chinese authorities,” a source in Tibet’s exile community said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing contacts in Tibet.

“They were asked about the places they visited in India, what the Dalai Lama told them, what they know of the plans of the Tibetan exile government, whom they met, and so on.”

Younger Tibetans in the group were questioned especially closely, the source said.

Tibetans returning to their China-controlled homeland via the Dram border post on the border with Nepal were taken directly to the central Tibetan city of Shigatse, the source said.

There, any Tibetans who had come from Amdo and Kham were forced onto trains and told to return to their native place.

“Normally, those pilgrims spend time in the Lhasa area and visit temples and other holy sites,” the source said. “But now, they were put onto trains and told to return to their hometowns [in the east].”

One group of Tibetan pilgrims from Amdo was sent on Feb. 2 by train from Lhasa to the Gansu provincial capital of Lanzhou, a source inside Tibet said.

“None of them knows what their fate will be when they reach Lanzhou,” he said.

Meanwhile, a microblog message from a Tibetan living in Lhasa described intensified surveillance by Chinese authorities in the city.

“Last night, Chinese police searched all the Tibetan families in our area three times,” the message read.

“They are especially hard on the Tibetan pilgrims returning from India. They are being harassed and interrogated again and again.”

Authorities in the Tibetan capital are also blocking news of recent protests in Tibetan-populated areas of China in which as many as six may have been killed and an unknown number injured, a Tibetan living in Lhasa said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The local media do not talk or write about those protests. The communication lines with those Tibetan areas in Amdo and Kham are cut off.”

“We are seriously concerned that the Chinese could be severely cracking down on the Tibetans in those areas,” he said.

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February 2nd: Latest on Tibet Crackdown

Phayul reports that China has been making mass arrests in Kardze:

Chinese authorities have arrested a hundred Tibetans from Drango, eastern Tibet on suspicion of their participation in the January 23 mass protests in the region.

Chinese security personnel are reportedly arresting the Tibetans with the aid of photos and videos taken during the protests.

“We will arrest even if 10,000 people rise up,” US based radio service RFA quoted an unnamed Tibetan as being told by Chinese security officials.

The arrested Tibetans have reportedly been taken to the Ra Nga Kha prison in Bamei, located between Dartsedo [in Chinese, Kangding] and the Tawu [in Chinese, Daofu].

Exile sources say that the entire Drango region remains cut-off from outside world as phone lines and internet connections continue to be inactive.

This (Chinese language) blogger has amassed a number of pictures showing how heavy the police and military presence is in Lhasa.

ICT has new details from Golog, where Lama Sopa self-immolated two weeks ago:

Tibetan laypeople sought to protect monks in Golog (Chinese: Guoluo) from arrest by armed troops after a peaceful protest, according to new information on unrest and crackdown in the area in recent weeks.

On January 18, around 20 monks from Arkyang monastery in Pema (Chinese: Banma) county, Golog (the Tibetan area of Amdo), staged a peaceful protest in Pema county town. A Tibetan source in exile who is in contact with others in the area said that some monks were holding banners with inscriptions calling for the Dalai Lama to return home, for freedom, and for the Chinese authorities to release the 11th Panchen Lama. Some monks from another monastery in the area, Digung, also joined the protest.

The next day (January 19), a group of around ten armed police and officials from Pema county went to Arkyang monastery and called for the expulsion of monks who had taken part in the protest, threatening the monastery with closure. On January 20, armed police and troops came to the monastery again and attempted to detain monks. “At the same time, more than 500 local people came to the monastery and protected the monastery and monks from the troops. They were threatened by the armed forces but they did not back off,” said a Tibetan from Amdo who is now in exile and is in contact with sources from Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which neighbors Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi). It is not known whether the officials and troops succeeded in detaining any monks that day, or since then, due to the difficulties in obtaining information from the area and the intense climate of fear.

On January 21, officials came to Arkyang (a Jonang Buddhist monastery) again and ordered monks to carry out “legal education” instead of their religious practice. According to the same sources, a number of monks left the monastery on the first day of the “legal education” campaign.

On that subject, SFT has a transcript of the last recorded message left by Lama Sopa:

To all the six million Tibetans, including those living exile — I am grateful to Pawo Thupten Ngodup and all other Tibetan heroes, who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet and for the reunification of the Tibetan people; though I am in my forties, until now I have not had the courage like them. But I have tried my best to teach all traditional fields of knowledge to others, including Buddhism.

This is the twenty-first century, and this is the year in which so many Tibetan heroes have died. I am sacrificing my body both to stand in solidarity with them in flesh and blood, and to seek repentance through this highest tantric honor of offering one’s body. This is not to seek personal fame or glory.

To all my spiritual brothers and sisters, and the faithful ones living elsewhere: You must unite and work together to build a strong and prosperous Tibetan nation in the future. This is the sole wish of all the Tibetan heroes. Therefore, you must avoid any quarreling amongst yourselves whether it is land disputes or water disputes. You must maintain unity and strength. Give love and education to the children, who should study hard to master all the traditional fields of studies. The elders should carry out spiritual practice as well as maintain and protect Tibetan language and culture by using all your resources and by involving your body, speech and mind. It is extremely important to genuinely practice Buddhist principles in order to benefit the Tibetan cause and also to lead all sentient beings towards the path of enlightenment. Tashi Delek.

No need for Beijing to put any words in the mouths of the self-immolators now. Finally, ICT has a report about evidence of systematic job discrimination against Tibetans in Tibet:

New translations of job advertisements in Tibet, both online and as notices posted in public spaces, confirm overt discrimination against Tibetans. The ads also reveal that Tibetans are not even being offered menial, unskilled work in some sectors, or if they are, they are in some instances being offered a wage significantly lower than their Han counterparts.

The practice of advertising positions “limited to Han” is also observed in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region – referred to by its historical name of East Turkistan by many Uyghurs in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and in exile – although based on a basic survey of online employment agencies by ICT, the practice appears to be more common in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and in Lhasa in particular.

In almost all of the ads the stipulation “limited to Han” (Ch: xian Hanzu) – or simply “Han” (Ch: Hanzu) – is placed among other requirements and qualifications for the job in question, such as age, experience or holding a driver’s license.

In at least one instance, Tibetan laborers were offered a significantly lower rate than their Han counterparts. A blackboard seen in an undated photograph outside the Hongqiao Employment Agency in central Lhasa clearly states Han laborers will be paid 50 yuan (US $8) per day while Tibetans will only be paid 30 yuan (US $4.75) per day (see here).

The practice of limiting recruitment to Chinese job applicants can be seen in other areas of the PRC which, like the TAR, are designated “nationality autonomous” in recognition of the fact that the populations of these areas are or were prevalently non-Han. In East Turkistan for example, an advertisement appeared on the Jimusa’er County government website seeking several Han health workers (see here) – according to the 2002 census, around 30% of the county’s population was non-Han, while Hotan City Tobacco Monopoly Bureau, also in East Turkistan, was hiring 10 people, and stipulated that eight should be Han and only two should be Uyghurs (see here) – Han make up less than 4% of Hotan Prefecture’s population according to official statistics, while Uyghurs make up almost 93% (See “Introduction to Hotan” (in Chinese) on the Hotan City Government website. A hotel in Ordos in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region advertised for almost 160 people in various positions, and stipulated for each of the positions that the applicants should be Han (see here). In a job advertisement for truck drivers seen on an job-search site in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the text reads “To make life easier (Ch: weile shenghuo fangbian), limited to Han”.

Putting a stop to practices like this would likely go some of the way towards lowering tensions in Tibetan regions, but doing so would involve having the government acknowledge the validity of minority concerns. Beijing is absolutely dedicated to denying them right now, and instead viewing problems as the fault of the Dalai Lama that can be resolved only by force.

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Filed under Dalai Lama, enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, intimidation, protests, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“Congregationalism”

Elliot Sperling is far and away one of the most informed voices on Tibet, and his recent article on the Buddhist convention in India and China’s resulting fury is well worth a read:

The Global Buddhist Congregation (GBC) that convened in New Delhi from November 27-30 made a bit of news when China reacted harshly to the Dalai Lama’s role in the gathering. Throughout several weeks of buildup to the event (which was designed to bring together Buddhists from all over the world and culminate in the establishment of a new international Buddhist organization) there was no secret that the Dalai Lama was to be the featured guest and that high-ranking Indian figures—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s name was mentioned—would likely also attend.

While the Dalai Lama was actually present for the gathering only on its final day, when he attended an interfaith function at Gandhi Smriti in the morning and delivered the gathering’s valedictory address before hundreds of participants at its final session in the afternoon, his presence hovered over the meeting from the very start. Over the course of the four days on which the GBC was held, several sangharaja, along with Buddhist sangha members from a multitude of countries and a variety of Buddhist traditions, were often unstinting in extolling the Dalai Lama. The unavoidable impression was that he now stands as the most visible living symbol of Buddhism in the world today. His spiritual preeminence was cited time and again over the course of the GBC, and not only by followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Many of those who follow the numerous other Buddhist traditions represented at the meeting acknowledged the Dalai Lama’s overarching spiritual position with language that, in one instance, described him as a lineage holder for all Buddhist schools.

The acclaim accorded the Dalai Lama by Buddhists from around the world added a certain significance to the meeting that China may find difficult to ignore and which makes its objections to the Dalai Lama’s participation in the GBC more complex than the sort of objections it visits on governments that choose to receive the Dalai Lama in an official manner. Indeed, its objections to the Dalai Lama’s presence are fundamentally different: after all, the Dalai Lama does reside in India. That aside, however, given persistent Chinese anxieties over the possibility of being surrounded by hostile powers intent on restraining “the peaceful rise of China,” it is hard to avoid the likelihood that a gathering of Buddhists from neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, etc., all acknowledging—regardless of sect or school—the Dalai Lama’s leading spiritual position among them, will be seen as a provocation or even a threat aimed at Buddhists (and not just Tibetan Buddhists) within China.

But the necessity of countering the display of veneration accorded the Dalai Lama also reveals how China has, in a sense, created its own conundrum. What counterweight does China have to the Dalai Lama? Well, there is one person, someone who has essentially been groomed for the role. But using him opens up a can of worms that one can hardly imagine China would like to see opened, for this person is none other than the Chinese Panchen Lama, so-called because he was chosen under coercion and foisted upon Tibetan Buddhists in opposition to the child recognized by the Dalai Lama as the incarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. The problem for China is that their Panchen Lama is not accepted—to say the least—by the large majority of Tibetans who do indeed consider him China’s (not Tibet’s) Panchen Lama. The irony of an officially atheistic state discovering and certifying incarnate lamas has been noted many times but the absurdity of the situation has not lessened. And a state bureaucracy that did not pay heed to popular rejection of a Panchen Lama that it foisted on Tibet over 16 years ago is, in a word, stuck. The situation is so abnormal that the Panchen Lama is not allowed to reside in Tibet, both to keep him tethered to the government and to avoid the unpleasantness that his presence among his ostensible followers might set off.

But now that the very moment has arrived in which China needs just such a figure, his problematic nature is obvious: the Chinese Panchen Lama, someone who was supposed to be the answer to a problem, is a problem in and of himself, residing in Beijing in a state of alienation from the general Tibetan populace. Put bluntly, he is a walking announcement of the lack of religious freedom in Tibet, a living and breathing advertisement for religious repression in the PRC.

Clearly, if the Chinese Panchen Lama is unusable in the situation created by the convening of the GBC and the establishment of an International Buddhist Federation it is more than a minor embarrassment for a China. He has been groomed for just such a task. But simply bringing up his name will bring to mind the Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama and held incommunicado since 1995. Indeed, from the time China forced its choice for Panchen Lama on an unaccepting Tibetan population it has been boxing itself in, tying the perception of its policy on religion to a rejected figure. It is a problem that China has wholly created for itself.

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“Mongolia Enthrones 9th Bogd Khan”

The original title of this article from 2point6billion.com was a little misleading- the Bogd Khan isn’t the Dalai Lama of Mongolia, the Dalai Lama himself is the Dalai Lama of Mongolia. The Bogd Khan, rather, is the highest Tibetan Buddhist lama in the traditionally Tibetan Buddhist country of Mongolia. They have functioned as political and spiritual leaders of Mongolia in the past, and the long break in their lineage, caused by Soviet-era politics, is finally over:

Mongolia has confirmed the ninth Bogd Jebttsundamba Khutughtus in a ceremony at the Gandantegchinlin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia’s Bogd Khans date back to the 1600s, when the first Bogd, the renowned artist monk Zanabazar, was recognized as such by the then-Panchen Lama and Dalai Lama of Tibet. Zanabazar remains a highly regarded figure in Mongolia, with an entire museum dedicated to his works. He was a superb craftsman, creating many priceless bronze carvings of Buddhas, and also invented (taking the form of written Uyghur script as the base) the first version of modern Mongolian written language – much of which is still in use today.

The Bogd Khans operated as defacto kings of Mongolia as well as the most senior cleric up until 1924, when the eighth Bogd Khan passed away. By then, Mongolia had become under the control of the Soviet Union, who promptly banned any further reincarnations of the lineage.

However, in 1936, the Tibetan regent Reting Rinpoche, acting during the gap between reincarnations of Dalai Lama’s in Tibet, recognized a four-year-old boy, Jampal Namdol Choiji Jantsan as the reincarnation of the eight Bogd, near to Lhasa. Due the complicated political situation at the time, his discovery was kept a secret, although the boy was educated as a Monk in the Potala Palace. When the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, the boy travelled with him and has been based with him in Dharamsala ever since.

However, with the withdrawal of Russian troops from Mongolia in 1987, and the emergence of a democratic Mongolia, the political tide began to turn in favor of the return of the Bogd Khan to Mongolia. After agreements to separate politics from religion (unlike the situation in China), the Bogd Khan was able to travel to Mongolia for the first time in 1999, and eventually obtained Mongolian citizenship last year. He is now permanently based in the Gandantegchinlin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, with a new center of Buddhism and a new Palace having been under construction for the past two years. The Bogd Khans official duties are to act as the spiritual head of Mongolian Buddhism and to continue with the preservation and revival of Mongolian customs and traditions.

The ceremony to reinstall the Bogd Khan as the ninth incumbent was carried out last month, and he was presented with the ancient and traditional golden seal of religion and confirmation papers. Although now aged 79, his return marks the end of an 87-year-old gap of Bogd Khans residing in Mongolia, and the new Bogd Khan has already suggested his reincarnation will be discovered in the country.

The enthronement of the ninth Bogd Khan is in direct contradiction to the position taken by China towards the Dalai Lama, who the Communist Party regard as “splittist” and do not manage to be able to separate as being the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism from involvement in political affairs.

It seems likely that Tibetan Buddhist clergy will continue to try and restore their influence in Mongolia, both as a religion and to potentially recover an historically important ally in the region.

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“More Chinese embracing Buddhism”

From Public Radio International, a story that probably makes Beijing feel somewhat uneasy:

Wutaishan, in the mountains of China’s northern Shanxi province, has long been a sacred site for Buddhists.

They hike mountain paths, and visit temples dating back to the eighth century.

On one mountain path, a group of middle-aged guys hang a rainbow of prayer flags between two trees, and watch, satisfied, as they flutter in the breeze.

One declines to be interviewed. He’s a government official, and wants to keep his practice of Buddhism private. The other, former pharmaceutical salesman Zhang Jiankun, 42, is downright loquacious.

“I used to smoke, drink, gamble, fight and chase women. I used to like to do all this all day,” he said. “And then, by the time I was 30, I had money – but I also had hypertension, and liver damage from all the drinking. I’d take clients out, so I’d drink every day. And I was fat.”

Now, he says, he’s slimmed down, quit drinking, and can climb these mountains with no problem. He credits his embrace of Tibetan Buddhism 11 years ago with helping him clean up his act.

Like many Chinese, Zhang believes Tibetan Buddhism is a purer form than the variety battered and eventually coopted over 60 years of Communist Party rule in the rest of China. Not that Tibetan Buddhism escaped unscathed. Under Communist Party rule, thousands of Buddhist temples in Tibet have been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans killed – others, especially monks and nuns, have been imprisoned.

By some estimates, at least one in four Chinese actively practice Buddhism, with the upwardly mobile and creative classes increasingly embracing Tibetan Buddhism, in particular.

But not all who come in search of meaning know the essence of Buddhism. At one Wutaishan temple, a young businesswoman from Shanghai, Chu Hui, lights long incense sticks. She holds them to her forehead and bows deeply toward the temple. She said she came once before to make a wish, and had to come back, because the wish came true.

“If you make a wish and it become reality, you have to come back to offer thanks,” she said. “Otherwise, they will be some disaster – maybe.”

Chu admits she’s not actually Buddhist – just interested. Many of the visitors here are similar, said senior monk Shi Yanping.

“People are trying to find a way to connect their heart to Buddhism,” he said. “But many don’t understand Buddhism. They think burning incense, and falling on their knees and knocking their head on the ground is Buddhism. But the real practice of Buddhism it to find it in your heart.”

“Neither Chinese nor Tibetan Buddhism face any restrictions in China,” he said. “Some people may have taken advantage of freedom of religion to make mistakes, or commit wrongdoings. But it doesn’t mean the practice of religion faces any restriction.”

When asked if it’s “wrongdoing” for Tibetan Buddhists to display photos of the Dalai Lama, he says no. When asked about the Tibetan Buddhists who’ve been arrested for doing just that, he’s surprised.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said, with a polite smile.

Most Tibetans in China couldn’t say the same. Ever since a March 2008 uprising in ethnic Tibetan parts of western China, lasting weeks, the Chinese government has cracked down. It flooded ethnic Tibetan areas with military police, tried to get monks to renounce the Dalai Lama and arrested those who showed signs of following him.

And yet, growing numbers of Chinese embrace him as a spiritual leader. They must tread carefully.

Reta Dinchenpujun is a “living Buddha” – a reincarnated practitioner, back to help others attain enlightenment. He declines to answer whether he’s been asked to denounce the Dalai Lama.

“I’m not particularly interested in politics,” he says. “No one can ask me to do or not to do something in my life. I belong to myself.” He paused and added a thought. “Of course, the Dalai Lama is a spiritual role model for all Tibetan Buddhists – as every Dalai Lama has been throughout history.”

The extent to which Chinese Buddhism has been destroyed by Communist Party rule is too obvious for even them to hide, despite massive efforts to sell it. A wider Chinese public embrace of Tibetan Buddhism as a result doesn’t necessarily mean hordes of Han Chinese will take up the cause of Tibetan independence, but it could break down one of the many walls that Zhongnanhai depends on to separate the different ethnicities from each other. Luckily they’re already trying harder than ever to coopt and/or destroy any meaningful practice of Tibetan Buddhism, so they might not have too much to worry about.

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“India puts off border talks with China over Beijing’s Dalai Lama remarks”

It’s hard to figure out what India will do next regarding the Tibet issue- a few months ago there was the Karmapa fiscal investigation, which seemed to confirm theories that at least some of India’s intelligence services still think of him as a possible Chinese spy. Now this (via Phayul), which is a pretty high-level defense of the Dalai Lama if true:

A major Indian news channel is reporting that India has indefinitely put off an important border talk with China after Beijing demanded New Delhi scrap a Buddhist conference where Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak.

NDTV has quoted sources as saying that China raised objections to the Dalai Lama’s address at the Buddhist conference being held in the capital next week – the same time when India and China were scheduled to hold talks.

“The Chinese side want the event to be scrapped,” NDTV said.

India and China were to hold their 15th round of Special Representative-level talks on the long-pending boundary problem on Monday and Tuesday next week.

India in turn has reportedly called the Chinese demand “outrageous”.

“New Delhi decided not to cave in and has put off the boundary talks,” NDTV said in its report.

This is the first time that talks have been put off between the two sides in this manner.

The four-day Global Buddhist Congregation is scheduled to be held from November 27 to 30 coinciding with the 2600th year of the Enlightenment of Buddha .

According to the organisers, religious, spiritual and world leaders, as well as 800 scholars, delegates and observers from 32 countries will be attending the Congregation.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa are scheduled to attend the Congregation.

Nice to see someone standing up to Chinese demands and verbal abuse for once.

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“Tibetans’ self-immolations lead China to crack down harder”

Tom Lasseter has become the second journalist to make it into Ngaba, currently ground zero of the struggle between Tibetans and the Chinese government. His entire piece should be read, but here are some bits:

The young man’s hands began to shake, and he tugged at his fingers to keep them still. The 20-year-old ethnic Tibetan was terrified of the police finding out that he’d spoken about the Buddhist monks who’ve been burning themselves alive.

“They’re doing it because they want freedom,” said the man, a livestock trader who asked that his name not be used because of safety concerns.

He paused before adding, “Because we want freedom.”

A McClatchy reporter was detained for two hours Saturday when he was pulled over at a police checkpoint 15 miles from Hongyuan on the winding road toward Aba. He was released only after photos were deleted from his camera and he agreed not to stop again in Hongyuan on the way out, a condition emphasized by threats to his driver and the multiple vehicles that followed him.

Beyond issues particular to the Communist Party’s policy in Tibetan areas, the situation also may hint at the limits of the effectiveness of Beijing’s authoritarian approach toward social unrest.

Conversations at Hongyuan and outlying villages suggest that the government’s tough response hasn’t deterred angry Tibetans. Rather, it now threatens to alienate those who were accepting of the regime.

One Tibetan businessman interviewed in the vicinity said that he appreciated the roads and offices the government built. The man, who gave his name as Tsering, said he understood the pragmatic reasons that his daughter received Tibetan language instruction at school only two or three times a week, while she was taught Mandarin Chinese every day.

When talking about the self-immolations, however, Tsering, 29, was adamant. “The monks are asking for justice,” he said.

“A lot of people have been taken away by the government,” said the livestock trader, who wore a puffy neon-blue jacket and jeans. “A lot of Tibetans feel that we aren’t free. We aren’t allowed to put up pictures of the Dalai Lama. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He was joined by a group of friends, a couple of whom wore small likenesses of the Dalai Lama at the ends of thin leather necklaces that they tucked beneath their shirts.

One of them, another Tibetan trader in his early 20s, spoke up, “We are all afraid of the government.”

A few blocks away, a policeman sat in his car and filmed every person who walked by an intersection.

Every time I read about Beijing reacting to criticism like this I can’t help but to have the same reaction- gee, I’m sure beating, intimidating, and disappearing people and disrupting their lives while lying about their icons will make them like you this time!

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Filed under Dalai Lama, ethnic conflict, intimidation, protests, Tibet, violence

“China fears the living Tibetans – not those who set fire to themselves”

Every now and then I see a piece of China journalism that really makes me shake my head. Today it comes from Dibyesh Anand, whose awful piece at The Guardian on the Tibet self-immolation crisis is riddled with errors:

Unfortunately, both the Chinese government and the Tibetan leaders in exile are responding to this human tragedy solely in terms of a blame game.

The Tibetan exile government as well as the activists ascribe self-immolations to the repressive nature of the Chinese rule that leaves Tibetans with no other option but to sacrifice their lives to remind the world of their pain. The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama and the exiles for encouraging this form of protest to create more instability inside China and generate international sympathy. This politics of blame marshals the same old adversarial vocabulary that has been the hallmark of Sino-Tibetan relations since 1959 and has failed to achieve any accommodation so far.

A blame game! Portraying both sides as unreasonable ideologues is a fun thing to do in the post-South Park era, where a shrug and a “I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle” is considered a valid conclusion to almost any problem. Unfortunately for Dibyesh, though, we don’t have to wonder what motivated them to burn themselves- they’ve all been quite explicit about it, and their statements confirm exactly what the Tibetan exile government is saying. I guess you can put on a tinfoil hat and wonder if the Dalai Lama is secretly dispatching groups of suicide burners into Tibet, but… well, then you’ve got problems beyond just bad journalism skillz.

But at what cost? Does any of this make the key demand of Tibetans inside Tibet – the return of the Dalai Lama and the right to be treated with dignity – closer to fruition?

At that rate, couldn’t the same be said of every act of Tibetan resistance, from writing articles to singing pro-independence songs to burning down Communist Party offices? What’s the other alternative, give up entirely because nothing else was moving their goals concretely closer to fruition? Now Dibyesh sets up a little fallacy that’ll become the crux of the rest of his article:

Self-immolation is not nonviolent. It is, in fact, a violence against oneself.

Wow, you’re like, totally blowing my mind! Honestly though, if he doesn’t understand why self-immolation is lumped in with other nonviolent methods, as opposed to violent resistance, then… well once again, bigger problems than poor journalism. A hunger strike is also ‘violence against oneself,’ so is hunger striking violent resistance? Joining a march knowing that dogs or teargas or guns will be used against the marchers… does that count? His special definition of nonviolence is really problematic.

Should it use the protests to rejuvenate Tibetans and their supporters all over the world, even if it means indirectly encouraging the attractiveness of this heroic sacrifice for the already-suffering young Tibetans inside China? Or should it highlight the continuing oppression of Tibetans inside China but at the same time discourage self-immolation by publicly calling for, and privately working for, the Tibetans in the affected region to treasure their lives for the survival of the nation? The new political leadership under Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the government in exile, has so far been to go for the first option.

However, it is the religious leaders in exile who must take the initiative here. It is they who should go for the second option. The Karmapa, the third highest lama in Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, has expressed his discomfort with political suicides. Other individual lamas too have expressed their disquiet. But we are still waiting for the Dalai Lama to make his views known on this.

Are we really still waiting for the Dalai Lama to make his views on suicide known? Hint: no, no we are not. Hint 2: Dibyesh Anand doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about.

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“Between the Lines: Interpreting the Dalai Lama’s Statement on his Successor”

Robbie Barnett has parsed the details from the Dalai Lama’s statement on his successor, and written a piece on ChinaBeat explaining it all:

One of the main messages of the September 24th statement is that only the Dalai Lama or the managers of his lineage can decide on his successor and the method of selection. As expected, it states categorically that a successor cannot be selected “by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China” apart from the Dalai Lama and those he has appointed as his lineage authorities. It adds that the details of the selection procedure for the Dalai Lama’s successor will be announced in about 14 years time, when the Dalai Lama will be around 90 years old. It thus discusses only the likely methods of selection, not the identity of the person who will be selected. This move seems designed to convey the Dalai Lama’s confidence about the long-term prospects for implementing a successful hand-over, and gives him plenty of time to get Tibetans used to the new procedure that he is proposing.

The statement thus indicates, if read carefully, that the Dalai Lama is more than likely to be succeeded by an emanation, not necessarily by a child reincarnation. It is possible that both could take place—first an emanation, and then, a few years later, a reincarnation as well. But this is not explicitly stated. The possibility of an emanation-successor is an innovation if it includes one selected by appointment. If an emanation system is used, then the successor will most likely be identified before the death of the current Dalai Lama, and will probably be an adult or young person rather than a child.

There is an obvious benefit to the Tibetans of using an emanation system. Since it means that the successor would probably be an adult or young person, and that they would probably be recognized before the death of the current Dalai Lama, the great drawback of a reincarnation system could be avoided: the 20 years or so that it takes to find and train a successor. In the past, Tibetans attempted to solve the interregnum problem by appointing a Regent, but this had almost always failed because the Regents were seen as weak, prone to corruption, and as lacking in authority, even though almost all of them were “hutuktu”, or reincarnations of the highest rank. This was a major factor in the weakness of the historical Tibetan state. It had been expected that the current Dalai Lama would try to provide a new solution to that problem, and this is clearly it.

However, it has been centuries since the Tibetan people have been led by a person who is an emanation but who is not also a high-ranking reincarnation, and some Tibetans have expressed discomfort about the prospect of following a religious or symbolic leader who only has emanation status. For the first time in over three centuries, the successor of the Dalai Lama will have no political obligations, but it may still be hard for his successor to sustain popular support without being a reincarnation.

The statement thus reflects many practical considerations. Primarily, it seems designed to leave the Dalai Lama and his lineage managers a workable range of possibilities when they come to making their choice. For example, while it shows that there is no need to wait for the discovery of a reincarnation, it leaves open the possibility that if such a child is found, he or she might take over from the emanated successor once he or she reaches maturity. But it is rooted in Tibetan custom and has been presented in a traditional manner that may be effective in gaining acceptance from the Tibetan public for the new system, although the real test of that will come only after the current Dalai Lama has died.

The Dalai Lama’s initiative is a complete rejection of the position taken by the current Chinese authorities. It has already been rejected by them in turn as an abuse of “historical conventions as well as laws and regulations”, adding that “there is no such practice of a living Dalai designating his own successor” and accusing him of “political brainwashing”, a “political scheme and vicious motives”. However, there are no known Tibetan laws or regulations about succession systems. Instead, Tibetan Buddhist tradition has always relied on the skills of its lamas in their ability to adapt customary practices.

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“Our silence on human rights in China undermines our own”

Last week Chinese pressure succeeded in keeping the Dalai Lama from attending a celebration in South Africa- it seems the ANC chose to delay or reject his visa application. The reaction from South Africans seems to be one of unanimous outrage, and this anonymous piece in the Mail & Guardian is the best I’ve seen:

In a lecture at the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy on September 28, Motlanthe praised China’s achievements. He was anxious to flatter his hosts, contrasting their expanding society with the contractive convulsions of the West. Referring to social crises in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, he talked about the “disharmony and sharpened contradictions between property relations and forces of production” and “endemic social upheavals” as a “manifestation of this chronic economic crisis”.

Listening to this, you might think that China has progressed beyond class conflict and that the Communist Party of China (CPC) has at last realised the mandate of heaven originally given to China’s emperors. You might think China faced no such upheavals. That is not the truth.

Motlanthe’s CPC hosts would not have told him this, but according to my hosts (who, as you will see, must remain nameless) class conflict is sharpening in China. They report that there are hundreds of thousands of spontaneous but separate local revolts in cities and villages every year, including in its economic sweatshops. The CPC is doing all it can to prevent these uprising from merging into a “lotus revolution”.

In the big cities that now interact with “the West”, the appearance of peace is well preserved. Viewed from the window of a presidential motorcade, you might think these cities are free and modernising. But what I have learnt — and seen — is that the days when the CPC exercised its power by visible brute force are over (for the time being). Today, repression is more sophisticated but no less brutal. Methods of control are being perfected.

For the people of China there is a line that cannot be crossed. All seem aware of it, though how isn’t clear, possibly just by word of mouth. Stories circulate about what happens to those who press too hard for freedoms the state claims already exist (which they do, in China’s decapitated Constitution) but which the people know do not.

Beneath the surface functionality — and not far beneath — things are much more sinister. Hu Jintao’s government is intent on tight control of all aspects of the transition to state-directed capitalism and a modern society. They fear that activists could open the floodgates of popular discontent and the desire for modern democracy.

China has a phalanx of lawyers, but there is no rule of law. The law is evolved by edict. Still, lawyers appear to be a particular target for persecution. It is unlawful to stand up for your rights and it is also unlawful to try to defend lawfully those upon whom the state stamps. Lawyers who do get stamped on too.

Various means are used to place lawyers under siege. There are gradations of threat and intimidation. Some lawyers who represent people in “sensitive” cases simply lose their licenses to practise or no longer receive work from the government (which, in a one-party state, is almost the only employer).

Formal arrests, trials and imprisonment draw undue international attention, so sometimes troublesome people simply disappear. One young lawyer I met was lifted off the streets and taken to a hotel for three days, given 24-hour police supervision and lectures on obedience and then put back on the streets — hopefully chastised. Which he was not.

Another spent two months earlier this year similarly imprisoned. On the day I had arranged to see him, he got a call from public security warning him off. Another, who has just been released after four years in prison for representing women who were resisting forced abortions, now lives in his village under 24-hour observation by a small group of thugs. Anyone who attempts to visit him is sent away with a beating.

So the question (again) is: should a government such as ours, which leads the world in the recognition and protection of human rights, stay silent when we know there are grave and systematic violations in the countries we do business with? If we don’t advance the values of our Constitution and stand up for human rights in our talks with other members of the global village, how long will it be before they begin to erode our rights? Indeed, is this not exactly what happened with the Dalai Lama?

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“China tells Dalai Lama to respect reincarnation”

And now the empire strikes back- Reuters covers the comments coming from Chinese officialdom in the wake of the reincarnation ruling issued by the Dalai Lama and presumably OK’d by the most important Tibetan Buddhist leaders:

“The reincarnation of living Buddhas is a form of succession special to Tibetan Buddhism, and the policies of freedom of religious belief observed by China naturally include respecting and protecting this form of succession in Tibetan Buddhism,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.

“There has never been the case of a previous Dalai determining the next Dalai. At the same time, the Chinese government has already issued rules about religious affairs and the administration of reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism,” he added.

“The reincarnation of any living Buddha, including the Dalai Lama, should respect the religious rules, historical standards and state laws and regulations.”

The Chinese government says it has to approve all reincarnations of living Buddhas, or senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism. It also says China has to sign off on the choosing of the next Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, in a statement posted on his website over the weekend, said the question of leadership reincarnation should be decided in another 15 years or so by himself and other leaders of Tibetan Buddhism.

The demand of China’s atheist rulers that they had to recognise reincarnations was “outrageous and disgraceful”, he said.

They’re playing this one all wrong. If they want to convince a handful of Tibetans and perhaps some foreigners, they need to play down the role of the government and just talk about the importance of the Panchen Lama and a ceremony in the Jokhang or something. They control both of those, so that’s the only way even the slightest shred of legitimacy could be conferred on their choice. Going on about how a bunch of so-called communists in an office in Beijing have “always” selected the Dalai Lama is just too obviously untrue, and citing legal regulations about reincarnation makes them sound like idiots. If this is their plan for creating a convincing Dalai Lama, they’ll lose.

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“Statement of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama on the Issue of His Reincarnation”

Well, this is the end of the speculation for now. Looks like the Mongolian story was a hoax or some kind of misunderstanding- following the meeting of Tibetan religious leadership in India, the Dalai Lama has released a comprehensive statement on his reincarnation. He goes after Beijing in no uncertain terms in some sections, and establishes terms under which a future Dalai Lama could be chosen while he’s still alive:

The Dalai Lamas have functioned as both the political and spiritual leaders of Tibet for 369 years since 1642. I have now voluntarily brought this to an end, proud and satisfied that we can pursue the kind of democratic system of government flourishing elsewhere in the world. In fact, as far back as 1969, I made clear that concerned people should decide whether the Dalai Lama’s reincarnations should continue in the future. However, in the absence of clear guidelines, should the concerned public express a strong wish for the Dalai Lamas to continue, there is an obvious risk of vested political interests misusing the reincarnation system to fulfill their own political agenda. Therefore, while I remain physically and mentally fit, it seems important to me that we draw up clear guidelines to recognise the next Dalai Lama, so that there is no room for doubt or deception.

The main purpose of the appearance of a reincarnation is to continue the predecessor’s unfinished work to serve Dharma and beings. In the case of a Lama who is an ordinary being, instead of having a reincarnation belonging to the same mind-stream, someone else with connections to that Lama through pure karma and prayers may be recognized as his or her emanation. Alternatively it is possible for the Lama to appoint a successor who is either his disciple or someone young who is to be recognized as his emanation. In some cases one high Lama may have several reincarnations simultaneously, such as incarnations of body, speech and mind and so on. In recent times, there have been well-known emanations before death such as Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje and Chogye Trichen Ngawang Khyenrab.

In the recent past, there have been cases of irresponsible managers of wealthy Lama-estates who indulged in improper methods to recognize reincarnations, which have undermined the Dharma, the monastic community and our society. Moreover, since the Manchu era Chinese political authorities repeatedly engaged in various deceitful means using Buddhism, Buddhist masters and Tulkus as tools to fulfill their political ends as they involved themselves in Tibetan and Mongolian affairs. Today, the authoritarian rulers of the People’s Republic of China, who as communists reject religion, but still involve themselves in religious affairs, have imposed a so-called re-education campaign and declared the so-called Order No. Five, concerning the control and recognition of reincarnations, which came into force on 1st September 2007. This is outrageous and disgraceful. The enforcement of various inappropriate methods for recognizing reincarnations to eradicate our unique Tibetan cultural traditions is doing damage that will be difficult to repair.

As I mentioned earlier, reincarnation is a phenomenon which should take place either through the voluntary choice of the concerned person or at least on the strength of his or her karma, merit and prayers. Therefore, the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her. It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas. Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards.

When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.

He’s enjoyed needling them on this issue for a while, but this is the by far the most complete rejection of Communist involvement that has been issued yet. On the one hand, China doesn’t really want to have another Dalai Lama, even one of their own choosing- but on the other hand, it looks like they might not even be able to really muddy the waters on this if he’s being so pro-active.

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On the Mongolian Dalai Lama Rumor

We still haven’t heard any confirmation of the report published in a Mongolian newspaper claiming that a Mongolian boy has been identified as the 15th Dalai Lama. Right now I’d like to get some thoughts out, though. If confirmed, this will be pretty big news.

First, a Mongolian Dalai Lama wouldn’t be strange at all, despite how it appears. Mongolia was traditionally a stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism, which flourished there after the conversion of Altan Khan in the 1570’s. Prior to the decades spent as a Soviet satellite state huge monasteries contained a large percentage of the overall Mongolian population. The title ‘Dalai Lama’ itself was first bestowed by Altan Khan himself, and the fourth Dalai Lama (1601-1617) was ethnically Mongolian. Other historical Mongolian high lamas include a close advisor of the 13th Dalai Lama and the debate master at Drepung Monastery who administered the first of the present Dalai Lama’s final exams.

Second, how about the issue of selecting the next Dalai Lama while the current one is still alive? Traditionally they wait until the current Dalai has passed away and then begin preparations for finding his successor, and even then it would normally take a few years before one candidate was selected and confirmed. I’m sure some Buddhist theological justification will be presented if this turns out to be true, but off-hand I’d liken this to some lineages in Bhutan, whose version of Buddhism is extremely closely related to Tibetan Buddhism. There you can have multiple people counted as incarnations of the same Buddha, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that has been done in some Tibetan lineages as well. It might be unusual for a Dalai Lama, but certainly still possible.

Third, this would fit with hints the Dalai Lama has dropped over the years, and with what we know of Dharamsala’s overall strategy for Tibetan Buddhism. In a number of interviews from the last two or three years he’s mused out loud about the possibility of finding a successor while he’s still alive, and said that the child would almost certainly have been born outside of China (and Chinese-controlled Tibet). We’ve also seen some indication that the Dalai Lama and his advisors would like to restore Tibetan Buddhist practice in countries where it has suffered over the last century, and the selection of a Mongolian child would likely garner a lot of interest in Mongolia- and draw Mongolia closer to the Tibetan cause. Historically Mongolia was a major partner in Sino-Tibetan relations, and a treaty of mutual recognition between Tibet and Mongolia was one of the few instances of Tibetan diplomacy with the outside world following the 13th Dalai Lama’s declaration of independence from China. Perhaps Dharamsala would like to see Ulan Batar restored as an ally again.

Finally, there’s China. Obviously the real reason any of this is even being considered is because Beijing has made it clear that they intend to interfere with the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama. From the Panchen Lama affair we can see how they’ll do it- disappear any child identified by legitimate Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and install their own at a ceremony in the Jokhang using all the trappings of Buddhism they can muster. Their Panchen Lama will be the linchpin of the entire thing, the ‘proof’ they provide of the validity of their choice. That he himself is viewed as a ‘fake’ Panchen by the Tibetan public is immaterial because Beijing could care less about what they think- meddling with the selection of these senior lamas is just a way to deprive the Tibet movement of leadership.

This move could take a lot of wind out of their sails. They’ll complain about it loudly at the time, and have their puppets in the media and Tibet provincial government do so as well in the strongest terms. But when the Dalai Lama does eventually pass away and the Chinese government selects their fake Dalai, they won’t get much out of it if Tibetans and the rest of the world have all been settled on the identity of the next one for years. The loss of the 14th will certainly be a blow to the movement- but with elected leadership like Mr. Sangay, charismatic religious figures like the Karmapa, and a young Dalai Lama already working together it’ll be impossible for Beijing to declare victory on that day.

The unconventional selection method might not win everyone over, but if it’s true this might be a pretty shrewd play by Dharamsala. Presumably we’ll know for sure some time soon.

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“Will the next Dalai Lama come from Mongolia?”

This would be interesting. Obviously unconfirmed right now, but the Dalai Lama is supposed to be addressing a number of high lamas this month about this very subject:

The newspaper Undesnii Shuudan has published a report saying a nine-year-old boy from Mongolia has been determined to be the successor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, 76, has said that the fate of Tibet would be determined by his successor, and there have been fears that the Chinese government would interfere with the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said he wants his successor to be determined while he is still alive. According to the newspaper, the successor was chosen from among 300 children from Nepal, India, Mongolia, and Khalimag.

We’ll probably hear something about this either way soon.

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