A new report by the International Campaign for Tibet shows how new measures of surveillance and control are threatening to turn the Tibetan Buddhist monastic community into a tool of the Chinese Communist Party.

“Party Above Buddhism: China’s Surveillance and Control of Tibetan Monasteries and Nunneries” is available to download now.

The report—released today, March 10, 2021—documents policy and institutional changes that force monks and nuns to serve the interests of the Communist Party.

These changes include giving a Communist Party agency direct oversight of monasteries and nunneries; stationing police and party cadres inside religious institutions; and pressuring monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama for the sake of China’s national unity.

As leaders of Tibetans’ nonviolent resistance movement—as well as bedrocks of Tibetan culture—monks and nuns are the most targeted group for repression in Tibet, which China annexed more than 60 years ago.

The Communist Party views Tibetan Buddhism as a threat to its rule. But “Party Above Buddhism” shows how China’s new measures are a threat to the religion’s survival as an authentic, self-determined community of faith.

Shocking examples

The report cites shocking examples of China’s growing control over Tibetan Buddhism:

  • The United Front Work Department, the agency that now has direct oversight of all religions, reportedly had its budget in the Tibet Autonomous Region nearly triple from 23.9 million yuan in 2016 to 62 million yuan last year. The TAR spans about half of historical Tibet.
  • Although the latest official data are not available, a state media outlet said in 2015 that as many as 6,575 cadres from the party and government work in the 1,787 monasteries in the TAR. That means an average of three to four cadres per monastery.
  • China has held “reeducation” programs for monks and nuns that pressure them to be loyal followers of the party, even at the expense of their religious beliefs. China has also enforced a “Four Standards” policy that essentially requires monks and nuns to serve as propagandists for the government.
  • Along with forcing monks and nuns to denounce the current Dalai Lama, China is claiming authority to appoint his reincarnation. China has enacted absurd regulations requiring Tibetan lamas to get government approval before reincarnating.
  • It shows how Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism requires Tibetan Buddhist institutions, cannon and the clergy to be subservient to the Communist Party’s leadership and its core values. The policy aims to curb the clergy’s moral visions and conform it to the state ideology.

Building frustration

“Party Above Buddhism” documents how China’s new measures are causing a slow and steady decay of monasteries and nunneries as centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning—a role they played for centuries while Tibetan culture flourished.

The measures have restricted monks’ ability to travel freely between religious institutions in search of teachers and knowledge.

In contrast to the traditional monastic education system, which recommended beginning study early in life, children can no longer take part in religious schools. This has prevented the flow of knowledge from one generation to the next and stifled the connection between teachers and students.

China’s intensive control and surveillance of the monastic community has led to the expulsion of monks for not complying with official policies, as well as their voluntary departure because they can no longer bear the stifling environment.

According to a scholar in Tibet, “There has been a major decline in the number of monks and nuns, with some monasteries and nunneries virtually empty.”

ICT quote

The release of “Party Above Buddhism” is taking place on Tibetan Uprising Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising against Chinese rule.

The International Campaign for Tibet said:

“After more than 60 years of China’s brutal, authoritarian rule in Tibet, our new report shows that Tibetan Buddhism is facing some of the gravest threats yet to its survival. We hope that ‘Party Above Buddhism’ shines a light on China’s new efforts to bend this beautiful faith to the twisted purposes of the Chinese Communist Party. We also urge the international community once again to speak up for the religious freedom of the Tibetan people.”

Read “Party Above Buddhism: China’s Surveillance and Control of Tibetan Monasteries and Nunneries”