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China Cracks Down on Tibetan Buddhism Ahead of Olympics

January 28, 2008

Radio Free Asia
2008.01.25

Chinese authorities in Tibet have recruited more than 140 Tibetan youths
to perform traditional dances at the forthcoming Beijing Olympics, even
as they impose new curbs on Buddhist culture in the Himalayan region,
sources there say.

“The Chinese authorities believe that monasteries are the chief centers
of Tibetan culture responsible for maintaining Tibetan identity.
Therefore they are cracking down on the monasteries,” a source in Tibet
said in a recent interview.

Novice monks are no longer admitted to replace monks who have died, and
monks rarely appear on the streets in many Tibetan cities, sources say,
and this trend has become more visible and pronounced over recent months.

“Now the monks are not allowed to conduct prayer sessions in temples,
nor allowed to invite monks for special prayers at home,” the Tibetan
source told Kham dialect reporter Tsewang Norbu. “Construction of new
stupas is banned. Tibetan devotees are not even allowed to
circumnambulate temples and stupas."

Sources say the restrictions have been stepped up since the exiled
Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold
Medal last year.

     We were also told that monks should not be allowed to stay in our
houses... save [animals] and so on. Even Tibetan government officials
are not allowed to wear Tibetan dress, nor to maintain a prayer room and
altar in their house.

     Tibetan source

“We were told that we could not dress well, burn incense, conduct
prayers, or recite mantras,” the first source said. “We were also told
that monks should not be allowed to stay in our houses... save [animals]
and so on. Even Tibetan government officials are not allowed to wear
Tibetan dress, nor to maintain a prayer room and altar in their house.”


High-level meeting

Another Tibetan source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said
members of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Political Consultative
Committee met Jan. 13-14 to discuss a plan to employ senior lamas to
convince the people that the Dalai Lama is a “splittist” bent on
dividing China.

“There was a special meeting on Jan. 13-14 attended by the TAR's
Political Consultative Committee members—Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal,
Passang Dhondup, and Dugkhang Thupten Khedup. The main agenda of the
meeting was to use the high lamas in different parts of Tibet to
convince Tibetans about the splittist intention of Dalai Lama and his
clique,” the second source said.

Chinese authorities are increasingly on guard against any signs of
Tibetan solidarity or nationalism, said Robbie Barnett, who teaches
contemporary Tibetan studies at Columbia University in New York.
“There’s an incredible increase in the inclination to read even the
slightest incident as an attack by the Dalai Lama, or the ‘Dalai
clique,’ on the state. In other words, they see these things as
organized,” he said.

Beginning around 1992, Barnett said, authorities in the TAR brought in
“policies to control and restrict Tibetan culture and Tibetan religion
in an aggressive way.”

“These involve cultural controls, restrictions, lowering the status of
Tibetan language studies. They removed a lot of senior cultural figures
and teachers, and they moved to control the monasteries through
‘patriotic education.’"

Authorities then encouraged Chinese to immigrate to Tibetan regions and
boosted the economy through infrastructure development. "So these are
security measures, but they’re done through policy means," Barnett said.

“The sources of the problem are seen as being Tibetan culture and
Tibetan religion that produce nationalism,” he said. “I don’t think
there’s any precedent for Chinese cadres at the village level."

Meanwhile, Tibetan dancers are being trained to repeat Beijing’s
official line to the international community during the Olympics, the
source said.

“They were told that they will perform Tibetan cultural dances in
Beijing during the Olympics but in reality they are being trained to
condemn His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and propagate to the international
community at the Olympics that they are happy under Chinese rule,” a
Tibetan source said.


Promised liberties

“Another contingent is being recruited in Kongpo and being trained to
criticize the Dalai Lama.”

While China has promised free access to foreign journalists throughout
the country in the run-up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games and
Paralympics, overseas groups say foreign reporters are unable to operate
freely in Tibet.

According to the Free Tibet Campaign, which recently unfurled a banner
calling for a Free Tibet on the Great Wall of China, “Beijing says that
Tibetans are free to practice their religion. But on the ground, talking
freely to individuals, foreign journalists would see the lie to this as
Beijing maintains a sustained attack on Buddhism by imposing control and
conditions on religion.”

The U.S. State Department’s most recent report on global human rights
noted that Chinese law “[provides] for freedom of religious belief and
the freedom not to believe” and that the government recognizes five main
religions, including Buddhism.

“However, the government sought to restrict religious practice to
government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and
to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups,”
the report said.

“A government-affiliated association monitored and supervised the
activities of each of these faiths. Membership in these faiths as well
as unregistered religious groups grew rapidly. The government tried to
control and regulate religious groups, especially groups that were
unregistered... Crackdowns against unregistered Protestants and
Catholics, Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists continued.”

Original reporting in Kham dialect by Tsewang Norbu. RFA Tibetan service
director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated and edited by Karma Dorjee. Written
for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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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