A substantive anonymous posting on the Chinese blogosphere on the possible return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet was posted on Sina.com in China on September 17, 2014 and taken down the next day after it was viewed by thousands of people.
Although the author or authors were anonymous, and it is not known if the piece was written by individuals in China or outside, the detailed blog (ICT’s English translation is given below) demonstrates an understanding of the issues at stake, such as the Dalai Lama’s wish to go on pilgrimage to the sacred mountain Wutai Shan in China and connect to Chinese Buddhists. The blog made reference to President Xi Jinping’s ‘new message’ on the importance of Buddhism to Chinese culture, which the Dalai Lama has referred to, and recent comments by Politburo leader Yu Zhengsheng that appear to indicate concern on the governance of Tibetan areas.
The Dalai Lama has asserted on several occasions that he would like to make a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan, a Buddhist sacred site in Shanxi, and he stated this again during a meeting with Chinese scholars in Hamburg, Germany, in August.
He was quoted as saying in answer to a question: “I’ve always wanted to visit Wu Tai Shan. I thought about going there in 1954. Then it came up during the fifth round of talks with the Chinese, but was rejected.” The official website www.dalailama.com also reported the Dalai Lama as saying: “[Sino-Tibetan communications] have been increasing [recently]; there has been more interaction. He said more and more Chinese are coming to hear him teach and two to three years ago he began to teach groups from the mainland. He quoted Xi Jinping’s recent remark that Buddhism has an important role to play in reviving Chinese culture and the finding that there are now said to be 300-400 million Buddhists in China.”
The blog on Sina.com also mentioned the respect accorded to the Dalai Lama by Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, saying that the Chinese leader’s father spoke of the ‘moderate’ views of the Dalai Lama, and advocated protecting the rights of Tibetans, Hui, and other minorities.
On the ground in Tibet, there does not appear to be any evidence of concessions in Chinese policy. Since Xi Jinping assumed full power in China, crackdown across Tibet has deepened, particularly in areas where there have been self-immolations or unrest. In recent months, an aggressive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive has been launched across the plateau, involving large-scale military drills, an intensification of border security and training exercises for troops on responding to self-immolations. Consistent with the strident official language used to emphasize the new campaign, a major religious teaching by the Dalai Lama in exile, the Kalachakra in Ladakh, was described by the Chinese state media as an ‘incitement’ to “hatred, terror and extremist action”.
Beijing recently responded to the Dalai Lama’s comments on his succession by saying that the Tibetan leader should “respect” the traditions of reincarnation. “The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government, which has hundreds of years of history,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists in Beijing, underlining the Party position of ‘ownership’ of the lineage and its attempts to control reincarnation. “The (present) 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history, which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.” (September 10, 2014, Reuters).
“Handling issues with great virtue”
Devising a strategy, Xi may allow the Dalai to return to the country for pilgrimage if he abandons independence
At the end of August, the Dalai Lama once again expressed his wish to go on pilgrimage to Wutai Shan during an interview in Germany. The Dalai Lama’s path to returning home doesn’t seem to be far off…
According to informed sources familiar with the situation, the Dalai Lama’s recent communications with the central government in Beijing have gone very smoothly, with the Dalai Lama expressing a strong wish to return to the country, on which the government is also receptive. Both sides are in agreement about the Dalai Lama returning to the country, and once the manner and itinerary, etc., have been confirmed it is possible that the Dalai Lama may return to the country as a pilgrim visiting Wutai Shan in the not too distant future. If the Dalai Lama does return to the country, Beijing will dispatch senior officials not lower than the level of the Standing Committee to interview him.
Earlier Wu Yingjie, the deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, revealed that “Beijing has started negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s personal envoy for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet,” and “if the Dalai Lama and those close to him accept that Tibet is a part of China and abandon their separatist activities, all of the Tibetans will be able to return to Tibet.” He added that negotiations are “proceeding smoothly.”
In a September 2 interview the Dalai Lama said that he’s very optimistic on the question of “whether or not I’ll be able to return to Tibet in my lifetime.” He said: “This is very clear, because the situation is changing.” This also confirms the statements made by the above sources.
If the Dalai Lama can abandon his advocacy for Tibetan independence under the name of “the Middle Way Approach,” and were to do so in return for being allowed to visit Wutai Shan for pilgrimage, this would be a chance for Secretary Xi to rack up many victories with one move.
First, when the Dalai Lama himself returns to his homeland he will get his long-awaited wish, and end more than half a century of life in exile. He will also regain the public veneration of all Tibetans, both inside the country and out, as well as all believers in Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has nearly reached the age of 80, growing old over half a century of drifting around the world. Regardless of whether this was by choice or if he was forced, this hasn’t been a delightful experience. It is believed that only the elderly Dalai Lama himself could appreciate the bitterness and joy. Originally the Dalai Lama chose to go into exile, but he has always held a hope and desire to return to his homeland, and through the so-called Middle Way Approach it’s also possible for him to return without the precondition of totally compromising with the government. Keeping in contact with the Party Central Committee, even when the negotiations broke down in 2010, the Dalai Lama has always expressed his desire to visit Wutai Shan.
Second, for the 200,000 exiled Tibetans, wouldn’t it be great to return from exile and become equal citizens? The Dalai Lama will have finally found a satisfactory home for them. The tens of thousands who followed the Dalai Lama may not have expected what came, a wandering life for their children and grandchildren without livelihoods. For the tens of thousands of people who started mainly in the settlements in Dharamsala in northern India and then spread around the world, with no legal nationality and only refugee status, there may have been even greater hardships along the way.
While they may accept becoming “second class citizens” willingly for religious reasons, their ID cards are a sign of their situation. Although India made them eligible voters for the first time in early 2014, it’s not clear if this is good or bad. They certainly didn’t leave their homeland to get a resident alien permit! The Dalai Lama’s return to China is bound to irritate them. Therefore the government is willing to relax political restrictions for those who follow the Dalai Lama, and equivalent accommodation for them is a good outcome.
Another solution for those who put down roots in exile, especially the second and third generations who grew up in exile, would be if the Indian authorities were to grant them citizenship. Naturally, the departure of the Dalai Lama and the dispersal of his followers would constitute a “blow” for the radicals who are committed to Tibetan independence and reject the Middle Way Approach. With the ground under their feet falling apart, it can only be hoped that one day they could get over their “obsession,” and turn towards a normal life.
Third, for our Tibetan compatriots inside the country, the return of the Dalai Lama can be described as the wish of many Tibetans. As a matter of fact, whether or not it’s as extreme as the Tibetan exiles say, as a devoutly religious nationality the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader exists profoundly in their collective consciousness. Previously the media has shown that the masses of people in Tibetan regions universally enshrine images and portraits of the Dalai Lama in their homes, temples, and other areas. These are a visible form of the worship of the Dalai Lama, and although the government has expressly prohibited them, this practice has always been difficult to contain. Therefore in recent years the government has tolerated them by simply turning a blind eye towards the images. In this we can see the lasting influence of the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
Finally, in regards to the central government, whether or not the Dalai Lama comes home may not be urgent, and seizing the opportunity of choosing the next Dalai Lama after this one passes away or even ending the reincarnation may be regarded as a low-cost option. However, as previously stated, there are 200,000 Tibetans behind the Dalai Lama, and if a large number of Tibetans take an extremist route afterwards it will be very difficult to reconcile with them.
In the face of such variables, if the opportunity is taken to push forward reconciliation and accept the return of the Dalai Lama, it may also lead to solving the Tibetan exile issue once and for all, as well as establishing a reputation for the central government. First, among the life-long wandering exile Tibetans, reconciliation would instantly destroy the radical partisan Tibetan administration controlled by Lobsang Sangay and the others.
Needless to say, regardless of whether it’s radicals or “Middle Way Approach” supporters, from the public point of view however much they’re dissatisfied or distrustful of him, the Dalai Lama is still the highest authority among the exile Tibetans, and even the Tibetan Youth Congress and other extremist forces still respect the religious authority of the Dalai Lama. His return may therefore strip the power from the extremist road, isolating it with the loss of cover from the Dalai Lama. Second, this would circumvent the “Tibet issue” which is sometimes used by Western countries as a pretext to attack China. Third, winning the trust of Tibetans inside and outside our borders may to some extent prevent extremist plots which cause political instability.
It is reported that at present the negotiations for the return of the Dalai Lama are being handled by the Party Central Politburo member and Chinese Political Consultative Congress chairman Yu Zhengsheng, who is charged with ethnic and religious affairs. Secretary Xi is paying close attention. Yu Zhengsheng has previously entered the Tibetan areas several times, establishing that the central Party has been concerned with governance in Tibet for some time. According to informed sources, when Secretary Xi attended the 2011 celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, he privately told a number of officials that the vast majority of Party cadres in Tibet “only know how to aid Tibet, they don’t know how to govern Tibet.” Observers have pointed out that since the 18th Party Congress Beijing has become more open and practical on the Tibet issue.
Since Xi became the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, the Dalai Lama has made gestures of goodwill towards him on multiple occasions, and repeatedly mentioned his friendship with Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun. In the early 1950s Xi Zhongxun was the deputy minister in charge of Tibet work, and of the Dalai Lama he said that the spiritual leader was very moderate, and strongly advocated protecting the rights of Tibetans, Hui, and other minorities. Allegedly the Dalai Lama gave Xi Zhongxun a fine watch, and even though the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, Xi Zhongxun could still be seen unhesitatingly wearing the watch in 1980.
It is generally believed that Xi Zhongxun’s work in Tibet, the Dalai Lama’s attitude, and the style of his father have had an impact on Secretary Xi.
How would the Dalai Lama return home? The sources say there is some uncertainty, and that the Dalai Lama’s will return to the country with the status of a religious leader, and that during the return period he will not take on political issues. In rough terms he would visit one of the big cities of the mainland first, and then go on a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan.
The Dalai Lama has repeatedly expressed his interest in visiting Wutai Shan, and today his long-awaited wish is becoming possible. The Dalai Lama may perhaps return to Tibet, embarking on a journey home. At this time the Dalai Lama will have meetings with the highest leaders of the Communist Party Central Committee, and it hasn’t been ruled out that senior Standing Committee members may accompany him on part of the trip.
The Dalai Lama has made repeated public statements that his “desire to visit Wutai Shan on pilgrimage has not changed, and I’m looking forward to it.” At the end of August the Dalai Lama mentioned Wutai Shan once again in an interview in Germany. He said: “In 1954, I mentioned to the Chinese government my wish to visit Wutai Shan on pilgrimage… My desire to visit Wutai Shan on pilgrimage has not changed, and in 2005 I formally proposed to the Chinese government that this happen, but it still didn’t come to pass. China’s new leader Xi Jinping has in his speeches specifically mentioned ‘the coming rejuvenation of Chinese culture, and the great responsibility Buddhism has there.’ This is a new message.”
Wutai Shan is the only place in China where Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist shrines coexist. Wutai Shan and Tibetan Buddhism have a very profound connection, with Guanyin Cave (also known as Qixian Temple) dedicated to Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The 6th Dalai Lama meditated there for many years, and the 13th Dalai Lama went there on retreat. Since then Guanyin Cave has had “the seat where the Dalai Lama recited scriptures.” Since the 14th Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of previous Dalai Lamas, visiting Wutai Shan on pilgrimage is a historical tradition. With the present situation, it could be the best way for the Dalai Lama to return to the country. It is worth noting that Wutai Shan is the abode of Manjushri, and in Tibetan Buddhist belief the Chinese emperors are the incarnations of Manjushri.