• Tibetan ‘Living Buddhas’ visit to Mao Zedong’s birthplace and military camp sends strong political signal of Party dominance
  • New alignment of Xinjiang and Tibet regional leadership in climate of intensified security, surveillance and ‘counter terror’
  • Report by Congressional-Executive Commission on China shows dramatic increase of Chinese in Tibetan areas linked to railway opening

Tibetan ‘Living Buddhas’ compelled to show allegiance to Party at birthplace of Mao Zedong

In a ‘patriotic training’ tour, young Tibetan lamas were compelled to pay tribute to Mao Zedong last week and demonstrate their allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party at politically significant sites including a memorial museum for Mao at his birthplace in Hunan and military bases. One of the young Tibetan ‘Living Buddhas’ on the tour was pictured in the state media offering a khatag, or white blessing scarf, to a statue of Mao, who famously said that “religion is poison”,[1] and who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and the desecration of religious culture as he brought Tibet under Chinese Communist control in 1950.

Living Buddha Dezhub Jambai Gaisanggyaco

Living Buddha Dezhub Jambai Gaisanggyaco dedicates a khata, a scarf used by Tibetans to show gratitude and hospitality, to the bronze statute of Mao in Shaoshan county. (Photo from Chinese state media portal Tibet.cn, posted by SCMP)

The agenda for the visit was very different to previous ‘training tours’ for the young monks, an elite group in that they are recognized by the atheist Party state as ‘official’ reincarnations. While previously they have involved visits to pilgrimage sites in the PRC and monasteries, this time the ‘Living Buddhas’ were taken to a former CCP military base in Jiangxi province, as well as a defence technology academy and Mao’s home town in Shaoshan county, Hunan. There was no indication in the state media coverage that the visit, organized by the United Front Work Department,[2] encompassed any religious sites.

The tour signals a new, tougher phase in the CCP’s broader efforts to control Tibet through replacing loyalty to the Dalai Lama with allegiance to CCP policy, which has led to fears of the evisceration of Tibetan national and religious identity. The message of the Chinese state media is that a young generation of ‘official’ reincarnations must be seen to comply with the Orwellian requirement of religion “adapting to socialism”, subordinating authentic religious practice to CCP policy. The tightening of control relating to reincarnation, which is at the heart of Tibetan Buddhist belief, emerges from the official imperative to assert its ownership over the institution of the Dalai Lama and succession issues. Former senior Party official Zhu Weiqun has said that reincarnation is “an important manifestation of the Chinese central government’s sovereignty over Tibet.”[3]

According to the state media, one of the ‘Living Buddhas’ was cited during the visit as saying: “It is the best time in the history of the Tibetan Buddhism. We should inherit and develop the tradition of loving the country and the religion, and make contribution to adapting the religion to the socialist society,’ said Living Buddha Jizhong [a Chinese transliteration of a Tibetan name] from a monastery in Qamdo [Chamdo], Tibet.”[4]

The timing of the ‘patriotic education’ tour for young ‘Living Buddhas’ from October 20-28 (2016) coincided with the secretive Sixth Plenum in Beijing of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee from October 24, a gathering of almost 400 of the most important political officials in China. At the Plenum, the Party elevated General Secretary Xi Jinping to the ‘core’ of its leadership, making him even more powerful in the run-up to the 19th National Congress.[5] Hu Jintao was notably not nominated as a ‘core’ leader, while Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin were examples of such leadership.[6]

Central Party meetings this year[7] have underlined both the Party’s tough line on Tibet and its efforts to co-opt religion and Tibetan lamas as a vital element of its means of controlling Tibet. Party and government leaders refer to the subordination of Tibetan Buddhism to Chinese regulation as the ‘normal order’ for the religion.

The Tibetan monks who visited Mao’s birthplace are officially acknowledged on a “Living Buddha database with biographies of over 1,300 Living Buddhas residing in the country”, according to the Chinese state media. Earlier this year, following the imposition of ’Order No. 5’ in 2007 stating that reincarnate lamas must have permission from the government,[8] the Chinese authorities announced in May (2016) that they were nearing the completion of the construction of this online database, which contains the profiles of 1,311 individuals approved by the state “as reincarnated Buddhas”. Tibetans say the list serves as endorsement to those who know how to work the political system rather than helping followers check the authenticity of religious teachers, as the Chinese state media claims.[9]

The intention of the database, according to Zhu Weiqun, a former senior Party official and counterpart of dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s envoys,[10] is to “strike a heavy blow to the Dalai Lama.”[11]

Both Zhu Weiqun’s hardline statements and the ‘Living Buddha’ database have come under unprecedented criticism by Chinese and Tibetan netizens, revealing profound disquiet over Chinese policy on Tibet and the survival of Tibetan Buddhism. Senior Tibetan scholar Jamphel Gyatso in Beijing described the Party’s approach to reincarnate lamas in Tibet as the ‘poisonous fruit’ of policy developed over the last 50 years by the Chinese leadership.[12] Using the metaphor of ‘poison’ in connection with religious policy evokes the turning point moment for the Dalai Lama in 1955 when Mao Zedong said: “Religion is poison. […] Tibet and Mongolia have both been poisoned by it.”[13]

During their visit to Hunan, the young lamas also visited a memorial museum at the birthplace of Mao Zedong, who was one of the most brutal authoritarian leaders in history, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people in China. New research by a Chinese author Jianglin Li in a book to be published this month exposes the violence of Tibet’s ‘peaceful liberation’ under Mao and the myth of ‘democratic reform’. In ‘Tibet in Agony’, Chinese scholar Jianglin Li reveals that Mao hoped for the Tibetans to rise up in order to crush them and bring Tibet under Communist control.[14]

Officially there has been a strong focus on incorporating religion into a ‘legal culture’ in Tibet, which requires what is effectively an inversion of a religious practitioner’s priorities – they have to be loyal to Party and government first, the religious tradition and institute second. A campaign known as the ‘Nine Haves’ introduced to Tibet in 2011, ostensibly as an effort to bring modern amenities to monasteries, focused on providing portraits of Chinese leaders and national flags so that Tibetans could “express their gratitude” to the CCP leadership. A paper obtained by ICT written by a Chinese legal scholar describes an initiative started in 2012, the ‘Model Monastery and Patriotic and Progressive Monks and Nuns Innovation Selection Activities’ campaign, which “builds enthusiasm for patriotism at monasteries and among monks and nuns”, meaning allegiance to CCP diktats.[15]

The Dalai Lama’s position on his own reincarnation is clear. In 2011 he issued an authoritative statement in which he said that he will make a decision on the future of the Dalai Lama lineage after consulting with other high lamas and the Tibetan public. Detailing how this would be carried out, he said: “Apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”[16]

New alignment of Xinjiang and Tibet leadership in climate of intensified security and ‘counter-terror’ drive

The presence of troops from Xinjiang (East Turkestan) in a sensitive border area of Tibet and a recent official visit by leaders from the region indicate a closer alignment of the regional authorities linked to intensified oppression and a ‘counter-terror’ drive imposed by Beijing.

In the last few weeks new Party chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Wu Yingjie hosted a delegation from Xinjiang in which the deepening connection was emphasized in the light of hardline policies to enforce control, and the Chinese state media featured images of troops from Xinjiang stationed in the sensitive border area of Ngari (Chinese: Ali). The dramatic expansion of the powers of military and police in both Tibet and Xinjiang – backed by grass roots propaganda work and electronic surveillance – comes under the general rubric of ‘stability work’ as emphasized by China’s President and Party Secretary Xi Jinping.

Despite the absence of any violent insurgency in Tibet and the emphasis on non-violence by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the Dalai Lama, the Chinese authorities have ramped up their rhetoric against both Tibet and Xinjiang, with one recent paper in a police journal stating that: “The current threat of violent terrorism faced by our country comes primarily from Tibet independence forces and the ‘three evil forces’ in Xinjiang.”[17] The same paper directly blamed the Dalai Lama in exile as “leader” of the “Tibetan independence elements who have fled abroad.”[18] The paper makes a direct correlation between incidents of violence in Xinjiang such as the March 1, 2014 attacks at Kunming railway station[19] with the overwhelmingly peaceful resistance and protests in Tibet.

Wu Yingjie, who has spent almost his entire career in Tibet, took over as the top Party boss in September, using his first statement to underline the importance of the political ‘struggle’ against the Dalai Lama. Under the same reshuffle, former TAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who is from Henan, was transferred to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, replacing Zhang Chunxian as Party Secretary (Xinhua, August 29, 2016).[20]

Wu Yingjie emphasized the strengthening of relationships between the TAR and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in a meeting in Lhasa on October 20 (2016) with a delegation from Urumqi led by the city’s Party Secretary, Li Xuejun.[21] The Chinese state media reported that Wu Yingjie emphasized the intensified control mechanisms in place in both regions, including the deployment of thousands of Party cadres to villages and towns across both Tibet and Xinjiang. The intrusive presence of Party cadres in villages and monasteries has been expanded in areas of eastern Tibet, following the ambitious deployment of a major village surveillance scheme since 2011 in the Tibet Autonomous Region.[22] During his visit to Ngari earlier in October, Wu Yingjie met grass roots Party cadres in village committees, saying that their work helped “the masses” to “feel gratitude” to Xi Jinping and the Party leadership.[23]

Wu Yingjie also referred to the official policies of ‘urban grid management’ and ‘double-linked households’ that are implemented in both Xinjiang and Tibet, dramatically intensifying surveillance. The latter policy is known as ‘double-linked’ because it refers to “households linked for security and also for increased income”.[24] The system has now been extended to areas outside the TAR, and is an integral element of the “grid” management system of more comprehensive control (Tibetan: dra ba, Chinese: wangge), which was initially introduced into urban parts of the TAR in April 2012 to form “nets in the sky and traps on the ground”.[25]

Wu said that the Xinjiang authorities had “actively assisted” “social stability work” – a political phrase referring to enforcement of compliance to CCP policies – in Tibet for a long time, and that now this would be strengthened, with a particular emphasis on “safeguarding border security”.

wu yingjie

TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie was depicted in the Chinese state media greeting troops and “expressing gratitude” to troops from Xinjiang stationed in Ngari.

This was also a focus in a visit made by Wu Yingjie on October 5 to Ngari in the TAR to mark China’s National Day on October 1, the anniversary of the founding of the CCP. Wu Yingjie was depicted greeting troops and “expressing gratitude” to troops from Xinjiang stationed in Ngari, according to the official media.[26]

With reference to the troops from Xinjiang, Wu Yingjie emphasized the “tough and arduous” task of “stability maintenance work” in Ngari, saying that the troops must strengthen border control and combat illegal border crossing. This reflects an intensified focus on border security in Ngari and other border areas, with frequent official delegations conveying the message that border security checkpoints are key to maintaining “social stability” in Tibet.[27]

Three days earlier on October 2 (2016), TAR Deputy Party Secretary Deng Xiaogang met armed police troops and grass roots Party cadres in another sensitive border area, Nyingtri (also known as Kongpo, Chinese: Linzhi), close to Arunachal Pradesh in India, which China claims as part of the PRC.[28] Construction began in December, 2014, of a new railway line east from Lhasa to Nyingtri close to India’s border. The prefectural capital of Nyingtri, Bayi, is known as a base for the People’s Liberation Army.[29]

The emphasis on strengthening connections between Xinjiang and the TAR is in the context of an aggressive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive in both areas with a strongly political dimension. In Tibet, despite the absence of any violent insurgency, it has involved an expansion of militarization across the plateau. Last December, China passed its first counter-terror law, rejecting concerns from international governments that draconian measures in the name of national security are being used to crack down on Tibetans, Uyghurs and Chinese civil society and to undermine religious freedom.[30]

New report points to dramatic increase in Chinese population of Tibet

A new report issued by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China pointed to a dramatic increase in the Chinese population of Lhasa, showing the demographic shift following the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006. In its annual report, published on October 6 (2016),[31] the CECC reported a 50% increase in the Chinese population of Lhasa municipality from 2000 to 2010, based on official census data from these years.[32] Lhasa’s Chengguan (Chinese: Chengguanqu) district total population increased by about 25% while its Chinese (Han) population increased by 40%, according to CECC analysis of official statistics.

In Toelung Dechen (Chinese: Duilongdeqing) county in Lhasa municipality, where a railway station was built, the increase was even more dramatic – its relatively low Chinese (Han) population increased by around 269%. Many local Tibetan residents were relocated in Toelung Dechen at the time of the building of the railway. ICT published a set of images in 2005, a year before the railway opened, showing official notices announcing the relocation of local residents in the area of Ne’u (Chinese: Liuwu) township in Toelung Dechen county and the construction of new housing in the area.[33]

The TAR population increased by around 15% while its Han population increased by around 55% in the same period, according to the CECC, which noted in the report: “Commission access to such information has become more difficult as the Han population increased.”

[1] Global Times (in English), November 6, 2016, and Tibet.cn in Chinese on November 5, 2016

[2] The United Front Work Department oversees the implementation of Party policy toward China’s ethnic and religious groups, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and outside organisations, among other functions; one of its key priorities is to maintain a hardline position on Tibet, with a core mission of ‘struggle’ against the Dalai Lama. Last year, the formation of a powerful new central group for ‘United Front’ work – the Party department involved in dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives until talks stalled in January 2010 – indicated an upgrading of the department and a strengthening of control. ICT report, August 12, 2015, https://www.https://savetibet.org/major-troop-movements-in-tibet-hardline-approach-to-dalai-lama-in-key-policy-talks/

[3] Cited by Reuters, November 30, 2015, quoting an article in the Party-run Global Times.

[4] Tibet Autonomous Region. Global Times in English, November 6, 2016

[5] According to Xinhua, in a communique released on October 27 after the four-day session, the CPC called on all its members to “closely unite around the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core” and resolutely safeguard the authority of the CPC Central Committee and its central, unified leadership. (October 28, 2016, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-10/28/c_135788326.htm).

[6] Dr Kerry Brown, author of a book on Xi Jinping, has warned that because China has changed so deeply since the days of the Chairman, Xi cannot be regarded as a 21st century Mao Zedong, as some seek to label him. Dr Brown writes: “[But] nationalism is one area of commonality. This has the added attraction that Xi and those around him sincerely believe in the notion of a Great, Unified, Strong China, which they can use to ratchet up nationalism and unify the public. The only real Maoist characteristics Xi and company have is that fact — they are conviction politicians. Their nationalism is not assumed; they themselves believe in it and share it with the public, and that gives them a kind of authenticity with Chinese characteristics.” (The Diplomat, February 16, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/why-xi-jinping-cant-be-a-21st-century-mao-zedong/)

[7] Including the ‘two sessions’ of China’s legislature held in March in Beijing.

[8] State Religious Affairs Bureau No Five. See ICT report, ‘The Communist Party as Living Buddha’, https://www.https://savetibet.org/the-communist-party-as-living-buddha/

[9] The system operates by issuing permits to those who can be recognized officially as reincarnate Tibetan lamas, but is itself open to corruption in terms of back-door payments to those in charge of providing permits. Tibet specialist Dr Robert Barnett told the Los Angeles Times: “Apparently what that means — and I have several personal sources on this — is that each area has a quota of these to hand out, and the officials in each area just sell their quota.” LA Times, March 8, 2016.

[10] Zhu Weiqun is currently Chairperson of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee.

[11] Zhu said: “The system [of the database] will, as he has been utilizing his religious status to ratify Living Buddhas at will – which is against religious tradition – in an attempt to control Tibetan monasteries and divide the country.” The Dalai Lama’s position on his own reincarnation is clear. In 2011 he issued an authoritative statement in which he said that he will make a decision on the future of the Dalai Lama lineage in around 2024 after consulting with other high lamas and the Tibetan public. Detailing how this would be carried out, he said: “Apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”[20] He has also said that the continuation of the Dalai Lama institution will be up to the Tibetan people, and that the next reincarnation could be a woman.

[12] ICT report, May 2, 2016, https://www.https://savetibet.org/the-poisonous-fruit-of-tibets-religious-policy-as-china-publishes-living-buddha-database/#17

[13] Recounted by the Dalai Lama in his autobiography, ‘Freedom in Exile’. The Dalai Lama wrote: “I felt a violent burning sensation all over my face and I was suddenly very afraid.”

[14] Jianglin Li, ‘Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959’, translated by Susan Wilf, Harvard University Press 2016

[15] ‘Thoughts on constructing a legal culture within the strategy for long-term peace and stability in Tibet’ by He Jian-feng, Tibet Minzu University School of Law, manuscript received by ICT, August 15, 2014; extracts translated from the Chinese into English by ICT. The paper stated it is the result of two National Social Science Fund projects.

[16] He has also said that the continuation of the Dalai Lama institution will be up to the Tibetan people, and that the next reincarnation could be a woman. Statement by the Dalai Lama, September 24, 2011, http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/753-statement-of-his-holiness-the-fourteenth-dalai-lama-tenzin-gyatso-on-the-issue-of-his-reincarnation

[17] ‘Problems and their countermeasures existing within our country’s current anti-terrorism work’ by Sun Xiaojuan (Railway Police Academy, Zhengzhou, Henan), published May 2015, Journal of Hubei University of Police, extracts translated into English from the original Chinese by ICT.

[18] Ibid

[19] Three Uyghurs were executed after masked men killed 31 people with knives and machetes at the railway station in Yunnan.

[20] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-08/29/c_135642583.htm

[21] In Chinese, http://epaper.chinatibetnews.com/xzrb/html/2016-10/21/content_728768.htm

[22] ‘Stability maintenance’ in China and Tibet is increasingly regarded as a flawed tool of CCP control that is not only ineffective in dealing with underlying social problems, but also counter-productive. For instance, an ICT report published on February 16, 2016 (https://www.https://savetibet.org/tightening-of-an-invisible-net-new-security-measures-in-eastern-tibet-heighten-surveillance-control/) cites Chinese scholar Xie Yu, who studied grass roots security measures including the deployment of Party cadres in villages across the PRC, saying: “Over the past decade, the CCP has greatly increased its investment in public security within grassroots communities. However, the empirical analysis demonstrates that this additional central government expenditure has not performed as expected. […] The social and political stability in these areas has remained as fragile as before or has become even worse.” Xie Yue, ‘Rising Central Spending on Public Security and the Dilemma Facing Grassroots Officials in China’, in: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 42, 2, 79–109, February 2013.

[23] http://epaper.chinatibetnews.com/xzrb/html/2016-10/05/content_725568.htm

[24] A state media article referred to the scheme involving schools and monasteries as well as homes in the TAR in 2013.

[25] On February 14, 2013, Yu Zhengsheng, Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee confirmed that the system should be put into effect throughout TAR to form “nets in the sky and traps on the ground.”

[26] In Chinese online media, October 5, 2016, http://epaper.chinatibetnews.com/xzrb/html/2016-10/05/content_725568.htm

[27] For instance, TAR Deputy Party Secretary Deng Xiaogang was cited by the state media as saying that border security checkpoints are key to maintaining social stability in the Tibet Autonomous Region and that security personnel should study Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech, with particular reference to his emphasis on maintaining social stability in Tibet and its importance to national security. ICT report, June 14, 2012, https://www.https://savetibet.org/china-tightens-control-prevents-pilgrimage-before-major-dalai-lama-teaching-in-exile/

[28] Chinese state media in Chinese, http://epaper.chinatibetnews.com/xzrb/html/2016-10/02/content_725180.htm

[29] ICT report, November 12, 2014, https://www.https://savetibet.org/new-strategic-rail-network-to-tibets-borders-endangers-environment-raises-regional-security-concerns/

[30] ICT is releasing a new report on the new law and its impact on Tibetans and Uyghurs at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo on November 15. Details at: http://www.fccj.or.jp/events-calendar/press-events/icalrepeat.detail/2016/11/15/4499/30/press-conference-chinese-new-counter-terrorism-law-by-vincent-metten.html?filter_reset=1 Also see ICT report, January 7, 2016, https://www.https://savetibet.org/chinas-first-counter-terror-law-and-its-implications-for-tibet/

[31] Available online at http://www.cecc.gov/publications/annual-reports/2016-annual-report

[32] All data is cited in the report, from footnote 155 onwards of the Tibet section of the CECC Annual Report for 2015 available for downloading at this link: http://www.cecc.gov/publications/annual-reports/2016-annual-report

[33] ICT report, April 15, 2005, https://www.https://savetibet.org/resettlement-and-railroad-construction-in-lhasa-new-images/