Category Archives: religion

“Spreading the Faith Where Faith Itself Is Suspect”

NYT has a good article on the disappearance of Bishop Ma, the latest move in the slap-fight between Beijing and the Vatican:

“If a Red Guard puts a knife to your throat and tells you to renounce your faith, what should you do?” he asked the five dozen initiates, all of them weeks away from baptism. After an awkward silence, Father Liu blurted out the answer: “Never give it up,” he said, his eyes widening for effect. “Your devotion should be to God above all else.”

Such sentiments might be a mainstay of Christian belief but they border on treasonous in China, an officially atheist state that demands fealty to the Communist Party. The pope might be a ranking minister, but according to the party’s thinking, President Hu Jintao is Catholicism’s supreme leader, at least here in China.

As a priest at an officially sanctioned government church — as opposed to the legion of illicit unofficial congregations — Father Liu struggles to balance his faith with the often-intrusive dictates of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the omnipotent government body that oversees religious life for China’s 12 million Roman Catholics.

After several years of quiet negotiation and a tacit agreement to jointly name Chinese bishops, the Patriotic Association has since 2010 consecrated four bishops over the Vatican’s objections, including Joseph Yue Fusheng, who was ordained Friday in the northern city of Harbin.

Rome responded with an automatic excommunication.

The drama intensified on Saturday, when the Rev. Thaddeus Ma Daqin, the newly installed auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, stunned his congregation by announcing his resignation from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. “In the light of the teaching of our mother church, as I now serve as a bishop, I should focus on pastoral work and evangelization,” Bishop Ma told the crowded church. “Therefore, from this day of consecration, it will no longer be convenient for me to be a member of the patriotic association.”

The announcement, captured on video and posted on foreign and Chinese Web sites, was met with sustained applause from the congregation. Father Ma, who did not lead Mass on Sunday as scheduled, has not been heard from since.

“It’s a very critical situation; I haven’t seen things so bad in 50 years,” said the Rev. Jeroom Heyndrickx, founder of an institute at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium that promotes dialogue between China and the church. “All the years of cooperation and progress have been torn to pieces.”

It is not entirely clear what went wrong. The animus, fed by an age-old narrative that paints the Vatican as a foreign interloper, is never far beneath the surface. But analysts suggest party hard-liners may be taking advantage of the political stasis that has preceded the once-a-decade leadership change scheduled for later this year.

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“China Said to Detain Returning Tibetan Pilgrims”

Apparently some of the pilgrims are still in detention, prompting one of the first times this story has been carried outside of RFA:

Many of the pilgrims are elderly and have been detained for more than two months in central Tibet, or what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region. The detainees are being interrogated and undergoing patriotic re-education classes, and have been ordered to denounce the Dalai Lama, who presided over the ceremony, known as the Kalachakra, say people who have researched the detentions. The detainees are being held at hotels, schools and military training centers or bases; some are being forced to pay for their lodging and meals.

The detentions are expected to stoke resentment among Tibetans toward the Chinese government at a time when tensions across the Tibetan plateau are at the highest in years.

“About the pilgrim returnees, last I heard was they were detained and many put in hotel rooms,” said Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. He added that the detainees had been “interrogated regularly,” with questions focusing on what various officials, including himself, the Dalai Lama and the previous prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, had said in speeches during the Kalachakra.

Human rights organizations and Tibet advocacy groups have put out reports based on information collected through interviews. “This is the first known instance since the late 1970s in which the Chinese authorities have detained laypeople in Tibet in large numbers to force them to undergo re-education,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. The group said that it was unclear how long the detainees were being held, and that there had been no reports of any of the 700 Han, the dominant ethnic group in China, who attended the Kalachakra being detained.

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Filed under enforced disappearance, religion, Tibet

“Monks, Nuns Abandon Monasteries”

The media lockdown and communications barriers are keeping Ngaba and Kardze in the dark, but some news is still getting out of Tibet province. From RFA:

Monks and nuns have abandoned their monasteries in a Central Tibetan county, preferring to leave rather than submit to “intrusive” new Chinese regulations, according to Tibetan sources.

The exodus over the last two months comes amid an increasing crackdown by Chinese authorities following Tibetan protests highlighting rights abuses and unprecedented self-immolations mostly by monks fed up with increasing religious curbs.

“The monks and nuns have already left” their monasteries in Driru county in the Nagchu prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), a Tibetan living in Australia said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing sources in the region.

He named Driru, Pekar, Choeling, Tagmo, and Drongna monasteries, and Jana, a nunnery, as the affected facilities.

“All who were not willing to live under the strict restrictions imposed by Chinese [authorities] chose to leave,” he said.

Meanwhile, sources said, posters and leaflets calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama appeared on Jan. 25 at Ragya monastery in the Golog prefecture of China’s Qinghai province.

“Police could not identify the persons responsible, and later threatened to close the monastery,” India-based Tibetan exile Ragya Lowang said, citing sources in the region.

Monks had earlier displayed a large photo of the Dalai Lama and the banned Tibetan national flag in the main hall of the monastery, prompting an investigation by Chinese authorities, Ragya Lowang said.

There’s also some chatter on Twitter about a number of Tibetan-language sites hosted in China being closed by the government. I suppose the excuse is probably that ‘anti-China forces’ might be communicating over these sites, but I wonder if closing them will actually do anything other than throw yet another straw on the yaks back.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, protests, religion, 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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“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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“China ‘to give Tibetan monks welfare benefits’”

Interesting move being reported by the BBC. It should be noted that this plan is apparently aimed at Tibet province, and not the Tibetan regions outside the province which have given Beijing the most trouble recently. Also, one does have to wonder what strings will be attached… but here goes:

Monks can expect pensions, medical insurance and living allowances.

The announcement came at a gathering of the Tibetan branch of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The government will take great pains to ensure that public services such as electricity, water, telecommunications, radio and TV stations are provided to the local monasteries,” he is quoted as saying by the Global Times newspaper.

He added that there would also be personal help, including allowances, for monks and nuns living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

The government intends to spend nearly $60m (£37m) on farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects.

It will also ensure there is more information – books, magazines and TV programmes – published in the Tibetan language.

Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, even said that a compensation scheme was helping preserve wildlife on the Tibetan plateau.

The project allows herders to claim money for livestock eaten by wolves, thus undermining farmers’ need to kill them.

Is this to be the trademark style of the new Party Chief of Tibet province? It certainly beats disappearing people and maintaining power with the barrel of a gun, but we’ll have to see if/how it’s actually implemented.

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Filed under Beijing does a Good Thing, religion, Tibet

“In China, tensions rising over Buddhism’s quiet resurgence”

USA Today comes out of the left field with a good piece about Tibetan Buddhism’s influence over Han Chinese. Beijing is obviously unhappy, while the Dalai Lama seems at least partially motivated by a desire to encourage this very spread:

Sheng is far from her home — and from the bars where she used to drink and the ex-boyfriends she says cheated on her. She is here with 2,000 other Han Chinese at the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Serthar, Sichuan province, the rain-soaked mountainous region of southwest China.

The province is far from the central government in Beijing and a traditional gateway to Tibet, where Tibetans have practiced Buddhism for centuries — and where, for decades, China’s Communist Party has suppressed Buddhists, sometimes brutally.

Holy chants and red-robed devotees spill down hillsides blanketed by red wooden cabins, where monks, nuns and disciples spend hours in meditation. More than 2 miles above sea level, Larung Gar is among the largest Tibetan Buddhist academies in the world, with about 10,000 mostly Tibetan students.

In Ganzi, many people welcome the growing number of Chinese students but complain their own freedoms will be restricted as long as the Dalai Lama remains in India, his home since 1959.

“I am proud so many Han Chinese come to Serthar to study, as it will help relations between the Han and Tibetan peoples,” says Tashi Dengzhu, a yak and sheep herder who lives south of Serthar.

Han Chinese students have risen from 1,000 when she arrived seven years ago to over 2,000 today, says Yuan Yi, a shaven-headed nun from southeast Fujian province. But the senior Tibetan lama they follow, Khenpo So Dargye, refused to discuss the Chinese student body he heads.

Such caution reflects the academy’s troubled past and ongoing vulnerability. Founded in what was an uninhabited Larung valley in 1980, the institute became so popular it attracted a large-scale government assault in 2001. Hundreds of homes were demolished and thousands of residents evicted, according to exile groups.

Tibetan Buddhism was traditionally the religion of many Chinese emperors, and even apolitical teachings are unacceptable to Beijing, which fears a revival and increased influence among a Chinese public which was forcefully deprived of religion during the Mao years.

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‘For China’s Muslim schools, a balancing act”

An interesting article from The Hindu about Islamic education in Ningxia:

For the Ningxia Islamic College’s 420 students, lessons can often be confusing.

During their morning classes, the students, all from China’s 10 million-strong Hui Muslim minority group, recite verses from the Koran and study Arabic.

When afternoon lessons resume, after prayers, their teachers shift tack: the students pore over Chinese textbooks on Socialist theory, learning about capital, labour and Communist Party philosophy.

In the Islamic college in Yinchuan, teachers said their priority was to ensure that students placed “patriotism over religion”. “Love your country, love religion,” reads a sign at the entrance of the college.

“The country comes first, and then your religion. That is our message,” said Mr. Ma.

China’s five “autonomous regions”, which include Ningxia, Xinjiang and Tibet, are home to most of the 55 minority ethnic groups. They are allowed to set up their own education systems under the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.

In practice, policies are set by Beijing and directed by local Communist Party secretaries, who hold more power than their government counterparts, said teachers and officials in both regions.

In most primary and middle schools in Ningxia, Huis do not study the Koran or learn Arabic. “We are only allowed Koran study once we are in college,” said one Hui student at the Yinchuan college.

All this meddling, despite the fact that the Hui are extremely well-integrated with Chinese society.

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“How China kept lid on Ramadan”

From the ‘seriously messed up’ pile of news today, this one from the LA Times about Beijing interfering with Ramadan:

At a teachers college in far northwestern China, students were irritated to find that their professors were escorting them to lunch last month — an odd occurrence since they were more than capable of finding the cafeteria themselves.

There was an ulterior motive, students told travelers who recently visited the city of Kashgar: The college wanted to make sure that the students, most of them Muslims, were eating rather than fasting in daylight hours during the holy month of Ramadan.

Then, something even stranger happened, the students said. When Ramadan ended late last month, launching the three-day Eid al-Fitr feast, all the restaurants and the cafeteria on campus were shut down. Students were barred from leaving the campus. On the next two days of the holiday, the cafeteria was open, but the students were locked in, unable to leave to celebrate with their families.

“It was totally backwards,” complained a 20-year-old Muslim student who was forced to skip the holiday.

This year, the local Communist Party also ordered restaurants to remain open during the day, event though chefs and most of their potential customers were fasting. Failure to keep their doors open made restaurants subject to fines of up to $780, the equivalent of several months’ salary.

So restaurateurs made token gestures, assigning one waiter to sit in the doorway and a chef to make a single dish that would be either eaten cold at night or discarded.

In Kashgar, across from the Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, travelers described a bored teenage waiter in a Muslim skullcap sitting in the doorway of a darkened restaurant looking out onto the dusty sidewalk as if waiting for the customers he knew wouldn’t come.

Along the entire strip, restaurants were similarly unlit and empty, with none of the usual smells of roasting lamb wafting from the kitchens.

“They just offer what they can to avoid trouble,” said a doctor in his late 20s, who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of retaliation. He described the compromise at one of his favorite restaurants, where the chef made only rice pilaf. “The chefs can’t even taste the food to make sure it is delicious.”

The policy extended deeper into Xinjiang province than just Kashgar. In Aksu, 250 miles to the northeast, the municipal website warned that restaurant owners “who close without reason during the ‘Ramadan period’ will be severely dealt with according to the relevant regulations.”

Residents of Xinjiang province say that Chinese policies regarding Ramadan have become steadily more draconian over the years.

Political scientists say the government’s strategy is likely to backfire.

“Particularly with the government crackdown on religion in Xinjiang, this has made more people see religion as a form of resistance rather than personal piety,” said Dru Gladney, a professor of anthropology at Pomona College specializing in Central Asia. “From the authorities’ standpoint, it’s really counterproductive.”

At the very least, the restrictions on Ramadan undermine personal relations between Uighurs and Han Chinese.

The Kashgar doctor related an incident involving his nephew, a student at a junior high school. During the holiday, the boy was given a piece of candy by his teacher, who is Han Chinese.

“I’m doing well in school. The teacher likes me. She gave me candy,” the boy told his father late that day.

The father scoffed at the explanation. “She is only trying to tell if you’re fasting for Ramadan.”

Is it just me, or is Beijing getting even more bone-headed with their ethnic conflicts lately? Going out of your way to antagonize people is definitely going to make these problems more acute, probably even in the short term.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, religion, Xinjiang

“Battles Lost and Won Between Tibet and China”

Thubten Samphel of the CTA reviews Tim Johnson’s new book about the contemporary Tibet movement, entitled “Tragedy in Crimson,” here. In the review, Thubten relates the story of the death and rebirth of Larung Gar, and what happened there during the 2008 Uprising. A fascinating story, parts of which I hadn’t heard before:

The late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, a charismatic and deeply venerated master both in Tibet and the outside world, founded the Serthar Buddhist Academy in eastern Tibet more than thirty years ago. In Tibetan the Serthar Buddhist Academy is known as Larung Gar, which invokes a vast nomadic encampment that downplays its monastic character to circumvent China’s restrictions on the construction of new monasteries. At its height the academy attracted over 10,000 students from all over Tibet, China and South-East Asia, “drawn,” according to the author, “by the fame and brilliance of its founder, revered as a ‘living Buddha.’” At least about 1000 students were Chinese, mostly from Mainland China. The quality of Buddhist education imparted by the academy, which was and still is non-sectarian and open to monk, nun and lay students, rivals that of old Tibet’s best monastic universities and those in exile today.

Unfortunately, China in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s suffered from the Falun Gong fear which led to the organisation’s uprooting from the country. Just as the Chinese Communist Party feared Falun Gong which at one point said to have more than 70 million members, more than that of the Party, the provincial authorities in Sichuan grew nervous about the potential for trouble from such a large body of people outside Party control. In July 2001, the authorities declared the academy “illegal.” Soon after, demolition squads descended upon the academy and by their own admission the authorities said 1,875 dwellings were razed to the ground. All students not native to the region were expelled.

Tim Johnson visited Larung Valley in which the academy is located after the sustained protests that swept Tibet in the spring and summer of 2008. Despite the mauling the Serthar Buddhist Academy received from the provincial authorities nearly a decade ago, what the author saw in Larung Valley astonished him. “While thousands of monks and nuns were forced to leave Serthar in 2001, many climbed over the mountains and returned to the academy later. The population has swollen now to an even higher number … Thousands of simple rustic cabins climbed the slopes as far as the eye could see … A few minutes later, lower in the valley, several thousand nuns flooded out of wooden buildings at the end of classes … I’d never been to a Tibetan Buddhist center with so many ethnic Han Chinese. I wondered what was different here. While clearly some of the Chinese were from Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, many were from the Chinese mainland.”

The presence of a large body of Chinese students at the academy certainly indicates that Tibet’s political struggle with Beijing does not deter ordinary Chinese men and women from embracing and benefiting from the universal values embedded in the Tibetan Buddhist culture. What to Tim Johnson seemed remarkable was how “perhaps the largest concentration of Tibetan Buddhist clergy anywhere in China” stayed out of trouble “by a whisker” when demonstrations calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet engulfed the plateau.

That’s when the hierarchs of the academy employed what this writer considers the art of Tiblomacy, spiritual authorities negotiating between a de-militarised community and a militarized state, an art Buddhist Tibet practised since the days when the hordes of Genghis Khan ascended the ramparts of the plateau. Some three hundred soldiers amassed at the gate of the academy, preventing traffic and people between Larung Gar and the outside world. The soldiers wanted to enter the academy to plant the Chinese flag. The monks wanted an uprising. To the Chinese soldiers the abbots said that 90 percent of the clergy would commit suicide if they entered the monastic compound to raise the Chinese flag. The soldiers and their leaders had also to consider the very real possibility of Chinese students joining the Tibetans to prevent the hoisting of the Chinese flag over their academy. If the word of this confrontation got out, Chinese joining Tibetan protests, what message would this send to the world, and how would this be interpreted by other Chinese who are disgruntled with the authorities for all sorts of reasons? As the author ponders, “If any problems were to erupt at the academy, and Han monks were to side with Tibetans, authorities would not be able to simply blame Tibetans as a troublesome minority under the sway of the Dalai Lama and prone to foreign influence. They would have to explain why well-off Han Buddhists from urban areas would find a remote Tibetan Buddhist sanctuary appealing.”

To the clergy, the abbots said, “You are monks and nuns. Practice compassion, and be patient.” The abbots warned that any trouble would reduce the academy to a big rubble. To the more recalcitrant monks spoiling for a non-violent fight, the abbots told them to take a hike, which several hundreds of them did, to the town of Serthar, about twelve miles away. They were promptly arrested. That advice and hike saved one of the most dynamic Buddhist centres of higher learning from destruction.

The extent to which a strictly non-political academy with no separatist leanings terrifies the government, which hates the sight of Han and Tibetans coming together in any real way, is illuminating.

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“A bizarre project in Nepal”

For the latest on the developments in Lumbini, the Economist brings it all together:

In July Chinese media reported that the Hong-Kong-based foundation—which is widely thought to have China’s backing—had signed an agreement with UNIDO, the UN’s industrial-development organisation, to invest $3 billion in Lumbini, a village in southern Nepal. Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha, which the project aimed to make a “Mecca for Buddhists”, with train links, an international airport, hotels and a Buddhist university.

The news caused uproar in Nepal. Neither the central government nor the local authorities responsible for Lumbini said they had been consulted about, or even heard of, the project. UNIDO’s officers say they will not comment on the affair while they try to discover how the organisation got involved. If this was an exercise in Chinese “soft power”, it was a disaster.

India is highly sensitive to Chinese activities in Nepal. It regards Nepal as part of the Indian sphere of influence, and it is easily Nepal’s biggest trading partner and source of investment. Nepal pegs its currency to the Indian rupee. Through close cultural and linguistic ties, and the machinations of its diplomats and spies, India has long exercised a strong influence on Nepal’s politics. It is widely believed that India helped topple Prachanda (whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal) as prime minister in 2009 partly because he was thought to be too close to China.

Now the role of Nepal’s other giant neighbour is becoming more visible. Chinese interests were once limited to demanding support for their policies in Tibet. To that can now be added burgeoning commercial interests in hydro-electricity, construction and telecoms. This week China’s top security man, Zhou Yongkang, became the latest in a series of senior Chinese officials to visit Nepal, bearing loans and aid packages. Chinese diplomats have begun discreetly treating Nepalese journalists to whisky-fuelled dinners and offering them visits to China—blandishments that were once the preserve of India. Chinese hotels, restaurants and brothels have multiplied in Kathmandu.

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“Lamas at loggerheads”

I’ve been curious about how things were going at Labrang, which is being forced to host the fake Panchen Lama. Last we heard he was supposed to be settling in for a long stay; via the Economist we hear that it didn’t work out:

The monastery they chose was Labrang in southern Gansu province, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. It is not clear why. Historically, the Panchen Lama’s seat was Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse in central Tibet. Robert Barnett of Columbia University in New York says it is possible that even at Tashilhunpo some lamas do not accept China’s choice. In 1997, Tashilhunpo’s then abbot, Chadrel Rinpoche, was sentenced to six years in prison (he has not resurfaced since) for helping the Dalai Lama make his choice of Panchen Lama. In 1998, Chinese officials tried to give their Panchen Lama a monastic start at Kumbum in Qinghai Province, a monastery that has usually acquiesced to Chinese rule. Its abbot, Arjia Rinpoche, fled to America to avoid the duty.

Labrang has no reputation for tameness. Its monks joined a wave of protests that swept Tibet and neighbouring Tibetan regions in 2008 after an outbreak of rioting in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. In recent days, Labrang has again proved stubborn. Locals gave China’s Panchen Lama, who arrived on August 11th, nothing like the rapturous reception his predecessor, the tenth Panchen Lama, received during visits to Tibetan areas. Large numbers of police prevented any protests, and foreigners were ushered out of town. Tibetan exile groups quoted sources at Labrang saying that Gyaltsen Norbu was expected to stay for weeks or months. A local official, however, says he left on August 16th. His cool welcome, it seems, hastened him on his way.

Good on the authorities for realizing that this stupid stunt was… well, a stupid stunt. As for the Panchen Zuma himself, if he personally wants to connect with the Tibetan people then he should follow the example of the 10th Panchen, who also indulged the Chinese government early in his life but later became a fierce advocate for Tibetan rights. That’s the way to win over a cold public, not empty words about how thankful Tibetans are for the guidance of the Communist Party.

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Filed under Communist Party, Dalai Lama, enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, religion, Tibet

“Veils Banned in Khotan”

Autonomous Region translates some news from Khotan:

Uighurbiz reports that the crackdown on Uyghur women wearing veils in Khotan has escalated since the beginning of Ramadan. The government requires restaurants owners not to tolerate veiled women and akhuns to preach the legality of the rules prohibiting veils. Roadblocks are set up at major junctions to check for wrongdoers. Signs that say “veiled women not allowed” are seen on public buses.

Should the “56 harmonious nationalities” signs be re-photographed with veils removed, or are those ok?

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Filed under China, religion, Xinjiang

“Expelled for Praying”

The government likes to say that minorities are unhappy because outside forces keep riling them up. When you think about it, that line goes from ‘untrue’ to ‘laughably untrue.’ What, Tibetans are happily singing and dancing the praises of the Communist Party and living in a socialist Utopia with Chinese characteristics, and then some guy they’ve never met whispers “you guys are unhappy!” and uses the Jedi mind trick to make them start rioting? That’s how the story is presented by Chinese news.

Autonomous Region has a short example of the kind of story that really makes minorities unhappy- things like this:

Two Uyghur students were expelled from high school after they were caught praying. The students attended Affiliated High School of Hangzhou Normal University in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. They’d been caught praying by a dormitory supervisor, who then reported it to the adminstration. The students were expelled for “participating in religious activities” and “deported” back to Xinjiang right-away, without being allowed to even collect their belongings.

This kind of thing, and millions of incidents like it, aggregate together to inspire the resentment which leads minorities to risk their lives protesting the government. To take this example, if Han students at the school went to the graves of their ancestors and burned some incense, would they have been expelled? Of course not. Religious activities are fine- just not minority religious activities. A month or two ago there was a story about how Uyghur students studying in other provinces were told they risked being expelled if they spoke Uyghur instead of Chinese amongst themselves.

But no, the government swears up and down that they’re all really happy about all that, it’s just that sometimes Rebiya or the Dalai Lama send in agents who use magical powers to make people unhappy. Sounds reasonable to you, right?

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, religion