Since President Xi Jinping’s announcement of his intent to Sinify the PRC’s religions in 2012, the main organization representing Buddhists in China is being used as a tool to implement the campaigns in Tibet.

In a new report, the International Campaign for Tibet shows how the Buddhist Association of China (BAC), a supposedly non-political organization, is becoming a key instrument in the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy to assimilate and transform Tibetan Buddhism – particularly in relation to the search for and recognition of reincarnate lamas. The BAC has a special Tibetan Buddhism Working Committee which oversees the implementation of CCP directives in Tibetan monasteries.

The report, released on May 29, 2024, notes that the BAC charter was changed to make their political agenda more prominent. In 2020 it was amended to include “Sinification of Buddhism in China” as one of its objectives and to “support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system, study and implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, adhere to the direction of the Sinification of Buddhism in China.”

Today the BAC has adopted an extremely political tone, and it exhibits no qualms in pushing forward the CCP’s political agenda. In fact, the entrenched ideological role for the BAC is the institution of a Party Committee within it even though it is a religion-focused entity, supposedly run by religious leaders. It has been strengthening its institutional foundation in recent years, which includes five-year plans and shaping monastic training to meet the political goals, the report says.

Sinification is more than ‘becoming Chinese’

The report shows that the CCP strategy of Sinification is more than its literal meaning of transforming something into Chinese. This is evident from the fact that even the traditional home-grown Chinese religion Daoism is having to go through Sinification, with the China Daoist Association being assigned to take the lead. Sinification serves to make Tibetan Buddhism conform to CCP ideology and become an active agent of its promotion and implementation.

Indoctrination through specialized institutes

One of the ways adopted to control Tibetan Buddhism was the establishment of specialized training institutes for Tibetan Buddhist clergy outside of the framework of traditional monasteries.

BAC’s role in search for Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations

The most critical area where the BAC will contribute to the CCP agenda would be in the search and recognition of Tibetan reincarnations. The ICT report shows how the BAC has been assigned a role in the CCP-determined recognition process of reincarnations and their training. The CCP has introduced measures, regulations and initiatives to exercise control over the recognition of reincarnations, certainly in preparation for the Chinese government’s long-term strategy on the future reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. An indication of how they might be planning to apply it can be seen from the way the CCP handled the Panchen Lama reincarnation issue since 1989.

The report has a partial list of Tibetan lamas who hold leadership positions at both the national and provincial levels of the BAC. It can be assumed that these Tibetan lamas are among those who are being involved either directly or indirectly by the Chinese government on matters relating to Tibetan Buddhism, including in the search process for reincarnations at all levels.

Read ICT’s report, “Buddhist Association of China takes a leading role in China’s attempts to control and forcibly reshape Tibetan Buddhism.”