Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery

Several monks were detained and others expelled following a crackdown at Drepung monastery in Lhasa last week after monks expressed their resistance during a patriotic education campaign. Tension has also been high at the two other major monasteries in Lhasa – Ganden, where the Chinese-installed Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu visited in October, and Sera, where several monks have been arrested following a patriotic education campaign in recent months.

The incidents at Drepung took place during the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, to Lhasa, although Mr Nowak was apparently unaware of the protests and crackdown that followed during his visit. During his visit to Beijing a week before, US President Bush had urged the Chinese leadership to allow its people the right “to worship without state control”.

According to reports from Tibet, monks at Drepung expressed resistance last week to the denunciations of the Dalai Lama required during the patriotic education campaigns that have been ongoing at the monastery for several weeks. Some sources report that dissent by a senior lama triggered the resistance among other monks. Public Security Bureau personnel and People’s Armed Police were sent to the monastery in the week of November 21, and monks were prevented from leaving for at least three days. Several monks were reportedly detained and their whereabouts is currently unknown. At least five monks were expelled from the monastery and sent back to their villages. Full details of the incident could not be confirmed due to the tight security and levels of fear and tension at Drepung.

Patriotic education ‘work teams’ had been active at Drepung, one of the most important monasteries in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, for some time. Prior to last week’s protests, concern had been expressed about the possible impact of the patriotic education campaign, which is aimed at undermining the influence of the Dalai Lama and asserting the Communist Party’s control over religion and the monastic institutions. A Tibetan in exile who spoke to a monk at Drepung a fortnight ago said: “He was worried that there would be problems when the work team began to insist upon denunciations of the Dalai Lama. This is always the most difficult issue for Tibetans.”

“Patriotic education” was launched as a political campaign in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1996 to stress the basic message that loyalty to the state is pre-requisite to being a good monk or nun, but the Chinese authorities had told some Western governments that patriotic education concluded as a major campaign in 2000.

Following the detention of a senior religious teacher and several other monks on 23 November at Drepung, monks gathered in the monastery courtyard in silence in a rare protest, according to reports by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India, and Radio Free Asia. An official at Drepung confirmed the monastery’s closure for two days after the protest to a Radio Free Asia reporter, saying that this was because of “fire drills”. There are unconfirmed reports that an elderly monk died during the disturbances at the monastery.

The incidents at Drepung followed the death of a 28-year old monk, Ngawang Jangchub, in his room in early October, the day after he argued with instructors teaching patriotic education, according to a report by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Ngawang Jangchub apparently refused to comply with a requirement to denounce the Dalai Lama as a ‘splittist’ and to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party. Monks discovered Ngawang Jangchub’s body the next day. The circumstances of his death are not known, although there is speculation that he committed suicide.

A new Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region is presiding over the incidents at Drepung. On November 27, 54-year old Zhang Qingli’s appointment as new Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region was announced by the Chinese press. Zhang Qingli was formerly vice governor of the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang in China’s northwest, where the culture and religion of the area’s Uyghur population have been severely repressed.

Expulsions at Sera following patriotic education and tension at Ganden during visit of ‘Panchen zuma’

A prayer ceremony at Sera monastery, Lhasa, was interrupted by police in July, and the presiding monastic official expelled and subjected to one year of surveillance, according to a report by Radio Free Asia (November 18). Jangchub Gyaltsen, a ‘disciplinarian’ monk at Sera responsible for ensuring that monks stick to monastic rules, was reading aloud a prayer request that a Tibetan worshipper asked another Sera monk, Tsering Dondrub, to write. Officials heard Jangchub Gyaltsen read a reference to the Dalai Lama, according to the report. Tsering Dondrub, who apparently worked in the monastery shop, ‘disappeared’ after the incident and may still be in custody. Reports from Tibet indicate that he was taken to Gutsa (Lhasa Public Security Bureau Detention Center) in Lhasa.

The incident coincided with the ending of a three-month period of patriotic education at Sera, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India. TCHRD reported that during this campaign, police detained eight monks and expelled 18 monks.

Tension was reportedly high at Ganden monastery in Lhasa during a visit of the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, on October 27. Monks were given small cash handouts during the visit of the teenager known as ‘Panchen Zuma’ (fake Panchen) among Tibetans, who are mostly loyal to 16-year old Gendun Choekyi Nyima, recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, and who has reportedly been held in custody at an unknown location for a decade. But Tibetan sources reported high levels of resentment among the monks and increased security at the monastery, one of the earliest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Tibet.

New wave of patriotic education increases resentment

The Chinese authorities have published a new set of political manuals for the patriotic education campaign which were distributed in 2002 among some monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region, including Sera, Drepung and Ganden. The text of the books indicates the authorities’ intent to control the monastic population of these three major centers of religious authority in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The set of books bears the title ‘Propaganda Books on Patriotic Education for National Monasteries’ and includes the following: ‘An Educational Manual on Tibetan History’, ‘A Handbook of Religious Policy Education’, ‘A Handbook on Contemporary Political Education’ and ‘A Handbook on Ethics for the Masses’.

Religious policy in the People’s Republic of China is shaped by the ideology of the ruling Communist Party and its political imperative of maintaining power. Current policy dictates that religion should be accommodated and utilized, but kept firmly under Party control. This has led, during the past decade, to the development of administrative and legal mechanisms that enable the authorities to clamp down on any religious activities viewed as a threat to social stability and national unity, while claiming they are operating according to a ‘rule of law’.

One of the official training manuals used for patriotic education in monasteries and nunneries, issued in 2002, states: “Conducting patriotic education among the monks and nuns in the monasteries is an important aspect of strengthening the management of religious affairs by the government. . .. Dalai’s bloc has never stopped penetrating and engaging in splittist activities in our region under the support of international antagonistic forces. . . . The monks and nuns should be religious professionals who love the country, love religion, obey the discipline and abide by the law” (from a patriotic education training manual entitled, ‘A Reader for Advocating Science and Technology and Doing Away with Superstitions’, issued in 2002 by the Propaganda Department of the TAR Communist Party Committee and obtained by ICT. See ICT’s report ‘When the Sky Fell To Earth: The New Crackdown on Buddhism in Tibet‘.)