Kathmandu – Just months after the demolition of thousands of homes at the Larung Gar monastic encampment in Serthar, Chinese authorities are demolishing parts of Yachen, another large monastic encampment in eastern Tibet. The scale of this continuing demolition of monastic structures is unprecedented since the Cultural Revolution.
As of October 10, more than 800 living quarters of monks and nuns had been torn down at Yachen Gar Monastery by order of the Pelyul (Ch: Baiyu) County Government officials. Yachen is located southwest of Kandze (Ch: Garze) and east of Pelyul in Sichuan Province.
According to recent interviews with four nuns who have fled Yachen Gar after their homes were destroyed, work teams of five to nine officials from Pelyul came to Yachen every other week from July to the beginning of September. The nuns told ICT that officials made extensive notes and maps of the monastic encampment situated in the remote grasslands of Tromthar.
The nuns, who are now in exile, told ICT that during the first week of September officials arrived and painted numbers on the houses marked for destruction along with the Chinese character “chai” (1st tone, meaning “demolish”). Around this time the entire congregation of monks, nuns and lay people studying at Yachen were told by officials from Pelyul to gather in front of the sole assembly hall. At this meeting, the officials told them that only those monks and nuns from Pelyul County could remain at Yachen and that if their homes had been marked with the Chinese character “chai,” the monks and nuns themselves must destroy their home. If they did not destroy their homes, a work team would come and demolish the home and the monk or nun would be charged 200 Yuan ($25), the nuns said.
Poster notices that were put up at the monastery in the early part of October stated, “During the thorough research and scrutiny for the care and protection of the monastery, the [Pelyul County] work team’s plan shows monks and nuns?living quarters outside the boundary permissible. Those [monks and nuns] living quarters that fall beyond the boundary decided by the work team must be destroyed by the 15th September 2001. If these homes are not destroyed [by their occupants] by the aforementioned date, Pelyul County People’s Government will forcefully demolish the living quarters, and in accordance with the current legal framework, legal action will be taken against those individuals who have not abided by this order.”
One of the nuns who had studied at Yachen for nearly five years told ICT, “They said we had to destroy our homes ourselves and if we didn’t, then the police would come and take our belongings. So most of the nuns did wreck their homes by pushing the mud walls in. We were all crying and sobbing but what else are we supposed to do? If we didn’t push the walls down ourselves they would beat us and take our belongings. At the meeting in front of the main prayer hall, the work teams said if we could keep all our belongings if we destroyed the house ourselves.”
The same nun told ICT that of the 400 nuns?home that were destroyed, the nuns themselves carried out the demolition with oversight by the work teams.
“We were afraid of being arrested if we did not destroy our home after they painted the character,” she said.
A Chinese monk who communicated with ICT after he returned to his home in southeastern China said, “The work teams have decided to destroy certain parts of the complex (at Yachen) in parts, so the nuns houses in Pema Khandro Ling were the first nuns houses destroyed, about 400 individuals’ homes have been destroyed there? And on the hillside behind the main prayer hall, Dechen Tahlho Ling was destroyed. Dechen Tahlho Ling is one of the monks?areas and the monks had to push the walls in on their own homes like the nuns had to.”
Yachen Monastery is located in the variegated grasslands in the area traditionally known as Tromthar, now part of Pelyul county of Sichuan Province. At an elevation over 12,000 feet above sea level, Yachen monks and nuns use yak dung to fuel their home stoves for cooking. The small living quarters of the monks and nuns are built of mud adobe, reinforced with small timber brought in from more than 30 miles away. There is no electricity at Yachen Monastery apart from small gasoline generators.
A western tourist who visited the area ten months ago told ICT, “The adobe huts that the monks and nuns build themselves are really just comprised of a small room for meditation, which is also where they sleep, and a small area for a stove. Those monks and nuns are real ascetics, living in such a remote place without any modern conveniences, just meditating and praying. Yachen is a long way from anywhere.”
The 2,500-3,000 students who had come to study at Yachen Gar focus primarily on meditation and are led by the Nyingmapa lama, Achuk Khenpo Rinpoche, and a handful of other khenpos. It is believed that there are approximately 1,500 monks and nuns remaining at Yachen Gar today. Every year around mid-October, most of the students at Yachen enter a strict three-month retreat of contemplation and meditation. The recent demolition of homes and continual intrusions by the work teams will likely disrupt these retreatants, a nun from Yachen told ICT.
There were approximately 150 Chinese, Taiwanese or Singaporean before Pelyul County authorities ordered them all to leave the encampment at the beginning of September. As at Larung Gar, there are Chinese-speaking Tibetan teachers at Yachen Gar who instruct and provide translations.
The wall poster that was posted in both Tibetan and Chinese language and signed by the Pelyul County’s Peoples Government stated, “Monks and nuns from other counties [other than Pelyul county], as well as Chinese monks and nuns, must leave and return to their native places and be disconnected from Yachen Monastery. This must take place by the 15th September 2001. Failure to leave the monastery and return to their place of origin will result in strict legal action taken against such individuals by the Pelyul County People’s Government in accordance with the Sichuan Province Religious Management Committee and the legal system of Household Registration.”
A 45-year old Chinese doctor who had studied at Yachen for four months after he had been forced to leave Larung Gar in Serthar told ICT, “the (Chinese) authorities told teachers from Larung Gar and Yachen that they were forbidden to teach Vajrayana (referring to Tibetan Buddhism) to Chinese or to travel to China to teach. And they said that Chinese are forbidden to follow or receive Buddhist talks from Tibetan lamas.”
“So many Chinese are coming to these areas where Tibetans usually live, but really the authorities don’t want us to have connection with any lamas here,” continued the Chinese doctor. “The Chinese government knows that the more people believe in the Buddha the more those people will respect the Dalai Lama. So it is a threat to the government’s idea of unity if either Tibetans or Chinese believe in the Buddha.”
The 2000 International Religious Freedom Report from the State Department cites Chinese government estimates that there are more than 100 million Buddhists in China, most of whom are from the Han ethnic group.
Translation of wall poster (in Tibetan and Chinese) signed by the Pelyul County’s Peoples Government:
For the purpose of steady improvement and maintenance of Tromthar Yachen Monastery in Pelyul County, well-coordinated care, protection, and good work is needed. Following the Pelyul County Peoples Government’s research and scrutiny of Yachen Monastery’s management and maintenance, the following actions are being taken:
- During the thorough research and scrutiny for the care and protection of the monastery, the [Pelyul County] work team’s scheme shows those monks and nuns living quarters that are outside the boundary [permissible] must be demolished by the 15th September 2001. If these homes are not destroyed [by their occupants] by the aforementioned date, Pelyul County People’s Government will forcefully demolish the living quarters, and in accordance with the current legal framework, legal action will be taken against those individuals who have not abided by this order.
- Monks and nuns from other counties [other than Pelyul county], as well as Chinese monks and nuns, must leave and return to their native places and be disconnected from Yachen Monastery. This must take place by the 15th September 2001. Failure to leave the monastery and return to their place of origin will result in strict legal action taken against such individuals by the Pelyul County People’s Government in accordance with the Sichuan Province Religious Management Committee and the legal system of Household Registration.
This public notice has been issued to the above stated effect.
Pelyul County People’s Government 1st September 2001