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Move to allow Dalai Lama pictures prompts speculation: no policy change evident

August 6, 2009

ICT Report
August 4, 2009

In a move that has provoked some speculation, the
Chinese authorities recently allowed Tibetans in
Drango (Chinese: Luohuo) county in Kardze,
eastern Tibet (part of modern-day Sichuan
province) to celebrate the Dalai Lama's birthday
with a prayer ceremony and to display images of
the Tibetan religious leader. Any attempt to
publicly mark the Dalai Lama's July 6 birthday is
generally banned in Tibet. According to several
Tibetan sources, one 'work team' of a handful of
officials who visited the area even brought
pictures of the Dalai Lama for local people.
Although this is a radical departure from usual
practice, it is still an isolated initiative in a
climate of deepening state repression and the
hardening of the Chinese government's position on
the Dalai Lama, and there is no evidence that it
represents any shift in approach at a higher
level or trial of a new strategy. Some Tibetans
have described it as a "temporary tactic" as part
of an attempt to prevent unrest to coincide with
the upcoming 60th anniversary of the People's
Republic of China (PRC) on October 1.

According to several Tibetan sources with
contacts in the Drango area in Kardze (Chinese:
Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, monks, nuns
and laypeople were allowed to gather at Drango
monastery to chant long-life prayers to mark the
74th birthday of the Dalai Lama. A work team of
around five or six officials with a very
different message to the usual hardline approach
visited most townships in Drango county in Kardze
in June, and is now visiting neighboring Kangding
county also in Kardze prefecture, according to
the same sources. One of the Tibetan sources told
ICT: "The villagers in the area were very
surprised and confused that the Chinese Communist
officials [in the work team] gave a speech in
praise of the Dalai Lama. This follows a campaign
of 'patriotic education' in all the monasteries
that has been very severe. But this time some
officials just came along with some pictures of
the Dalai Lama and spoke to local Tibetan people
publicly in praise of His Holiness the Dalai
Lama. This has never ever happened before in
Tibet over the last 60 years since Chinese
occupied Tibet. Most people are in doubt about
the purpose of this new campaign."

A Tibetan who visited the area in July told ICT
that while they did not hear about Dalai Lama
images being offered to local people, it was
clear that his pictures are allowed in some
places and still banned at others. The Tibetan
said: "It is not clear if this is an initiative
by the central or local authorities ­ it would
seem too risky for the latter ­ but perhaps new
ways are being developed to manage the situation.
Even so the monasteries and villages are still under tight control."

The unusual move in Kardze follows a military
crackdown and an intensified political education
campaign in the area, where Tibetans have
continued to express their dissent against
Chinese rule with bold protests since a wave of
demonstrations broke out across Tibet on March 10
last year. In Drango itself, monks, nuns and
laypeople were fired upon by security police on
March 24 last year when they held a peaceful
protest. This apparently followed a clash with a
work team requiring them to sign a written
document denouncing the Dalai Lama. A 21-year old
monk called Kunga was shot dead when police fired
into the crowd, and at least ten others were
wounded, according to at least two Tibetan
sources, one of whom witnessed the death.

Tibetans in the Kardze area, the Tibetan area of
Kham, are renowned for their strong sense of
Tibetan identity and nationalism. Since March 10,
2008, Tibetans in Kardze have been more
politically active than in almost any other
Tibetan area of the PRC, risking their lives on
numerous occasions through demonstrations, prayer
vigils, and solitary protests, in order to convey
their loyalty to the Dalai Lama and their anguish
at the repression over the past year. Despite
intense security in the region in the immediate
wake of the protests in mid- to late-March 2008,
monks, nuns and laypeople throughout Kardze
continued to stage bold public protests with the
knowledge that they would face almost certain torture and detention.

The imposition of 'patriotic education',
requiring Tibetans to denounce the Dalai Lama,
has deepened tension and intensified unrest
rather than creating the "genuine stability" that
the Chinese Communist Party states it is seeking.
But there is no evidence yet that this new and
limited softer line in some areas of Kardze means
a more reflective approach by the Party, nor is
the purpose clear of allowing Tibetans in the
Drango area some limited space to practice their
religion and express their devotion to the Dalai Lama.

A Tibetan researcher in exile who has spoken to
Tibetans from Kardze expressed the view that: "I
have heard that many Chinese officials are
worried about the social stability in Kham and
Amdo [Tibetan areas now incorporated into
Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan] more than
they are in the Tibet Autonomous Region. From the
Chinese side there is a saying that in order to
control Tibet, Kham must first be controlled. The
local authorities know that the people in these
two regions are very religious with a strong
belief in their lamas especially His Holiness the
Dalai Lama. Many of the protests since last year
in those two regions have been due to the
'patriotic education' in monasteries and
restrictions of religious activities in the last
decades, which hurt the people in the area very
deeply. Therefore the Chinese authorities may
have implemented that new campaign in the area in
order to reduce the anger and hatred under
Communist rule in the area from local Tibetan
peoples' minds. It is highly likely to be a
tactic to maintain 'social stability' as before
the 60th anniversary rather than a positive step
towards a different government policy in Tibet in the long run."

The Chinese authorities are known for practicing
alternative waves of concession and hardline
policies, called 'fang-shou', meaning
'soft-hard'. This sometimes takes the form of
backing off from stronger language after a
propaganda offensive. Some Chinese officials and
intellectuals are known to have expressed concern
in policy circles about the stepped-up rhetoric
against the Dalai Lama following the March 2008
protests and against the Sino-Tibetan dialogue
process. Some have also been concerned about the
outspoken tirades of Tibet Autonomous Region
Party Secretary Zhang Qingli, who formerly served
in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, about
the Dalai Lama, couched in ideological language
reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.

Intensification of 'patriotic education' deepens dissent

Following the suppression of the March 2008
protests by the security forces, the state
responded with an intensification of compulsory
'patriotic education' as a means of imposing
political order in Tibetan areas. The campaign
launched in mid-April 2008 under the title
"Oppose Separatism, Maintain Stability, Promote
Development" was conducted on three main fronts:
in the monasteries, where 'patriotic education'
has been conducted more or less continuously in
most Tibetan areas since the mid 1990s; in
government offices, schools and work units; and
among the general public, particularly in areas
where protest was widespread. It was supposed to
be carried out for two months, and the main
themes were denunciation of the Dalai Lama and
his 'reactionary clique,' education in the evils
of the 'old society' and the benefits of
socialism, and education in 'Scientific
Development', the term given to centrally
ordained development policies throughout all of
the People's Republic of China. The extension of
this 'patriotic education' campaign to ordinary
citizens is remarkable in that they have been
exempt, at least from demands that they denounce
the Dalai Lama and present their political
opinions to official scrutiny, since the
introduction of post-Maoist reforms in the early 1980s.

'Patriotic education' was stepped up in Kardze
even before the more recent protests. Citing an
official article in the Ganzi Daily, the
Congressional-Executive Commission on China
reported that on January 8, 2008, authorities
began a pilot program that utilizes "propaganda
and cultural service kits" and "mobile propaganda
banners" in select county villages aimed at
increasing 'anti-separatism' and 'patriotic
education' initiatives. (http://www.cecc.gov/).

Following the March, 2008 protests, the
authorities adjusted the ideological campaigns at
monasteries and nunneries to include not only
'patriotic education' but also 'rule of law
propaganda activities', which center on
compulsory discussions and lectures about certain
Chinese laws and regulations, including the
Constitution and Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.
Both the 'rule of law propaganda activities' and
'patriotic education' represent the intense
efforts being made by the Chinese authorities to
assert political legitimacy in Tibet's monastic
institutions. Over the past year, Chinese
officials and journalists have also been
instructed to tell foreigners that monks and nuns
were not being asked to criticize the Dalai Lama,
despite evidence from Tibet to the contrary.

Throughout April, May and June of 2008, nuns from
nunneries including Pangri in Kardze staged
numerous successive demonstrations in the county
town, and dozens were severely beaten as they
were detained. In February of this year, a monk
was detained in Lithang (Chinese: Litang) county
town having staged a public protest calling for
the Dalai Lama's return before being quickly
detained. The next day, in an indication of the
simmering tensions as well as people's
determination to have their voices heard,
laypeople, monks and nuns took to the streets of
the town calling for the release of the monk, and
echoing his calls for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

A Tibetan who participated in the protest at
Drango county on March 24 last year said that he
was among a group of laypeople who were working
on building a water channel to a monastery when
they heard that some nuns from a nearby nunnery
had protested. He and other laypeople and monks
joined in. The Tibetan, who is now in exile, said
that police, both uniformed and in plain clothes,
fired into the crowd and a 21-year old monk
called Kunga, from Drango village in the Trehor
area, was shot twice in the chest. The Tibetan
said: "Me, my uncle and another monk carried him
towards the gonpa [monastery]. Many people
gathered around. Then he died. We took his body
to the monastery, then the police came and took
it away." The same Tibetan said that a relative
of his was also wounded, and at least ten others.

In the Kardze area and other Tibetan areas there
has been a trend of tightening control over
religious practice and scholarship, which has
been stepped up since March 2008 and has created
deepening despair among Tibetans, reaching a
breaking point last year. This includes the
strengthening of the powers of the Chinese
Communist Party's Democratic Management
Committees in religious institutions; a renewed
determination by Chinese authorities to crack
down on the influence of the Dalai Lama in Tibet;
the severe undermining of traditional systems of
monastic education; and appropriation by the
atheistic Chinese state of authorities necessary
for the transmission of teachings and the identification of reincarnate lamas.

(See: ICT reports, 'Tibet at a Turning Point: The
Spring Uprising and China's New Crackdown' at
http://www.savetibet.org/documents/reports/tibet-a-turning-point and
'New measures reveal government plan to purge
monasteries and restrict Buddhist practice' at
http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/new-measures-reveal-government-plan-purge-monasteries-and-restrict-buddhist-practice).


Kate Saunders
Communications Director, International Campaign for Tibet
email: press@savetibet.org
Tel: + 44 (0) 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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