As China publishes its online database of Communist Party approved Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations, with more than 400 names added last week, a vibrant online debate among Chinese and Tibetan netizens has followed a scathing critique of policies on religion in Tibet focusing on the Party’s attempts to control reincarnation by a Tibetan scholar in the PRC.

  • The critique by Tibetan scholar Jampel Gyatso, translated into English by ICT below, refers to 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, specifically referring to Ye Xiaowen, the former head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. The critique, which is now offline, also details the role of Xi Jinping’s late father Xi Zhongxun, one of the first generation of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, who was particularly connected to Tibet and was close to the late 10th Panchen Lama.
  • In a linked development, Zhu Weiqun, the former deputy head of the United Front Work Department, has defended his hardline position on the Dalai Lama and publicly denied allegations of corruption in relation to the issue of ‘fake’ reincarnate lamas. Zhu said last week that the new database of ‘Living Buddhas’ – a translation of the incorrect term in Chinese for Tibetan Buddhist reincarnated lamas – would “strike a heavy blow to the Dalai Lama”.
  • The ‘two sessions’ of China’s legislature held in March in Beijing 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. The Party authorities added another 441 names of ‘Living Buddhas’ to its database last week, which Tibetans say endorses those who know how to work the political system rather than helping followers check their authenticity, as the Chinese state media claims.
  • Underlining this strident approach, the Chinese authorities have responded to the increasing interest of prominent Chinese in Tibetan Buddhism by making an unprecedented attack on popular Chinese celebrities who attended a religious event with the Karmapa in exile in India, accusing them of ‘separatism’.

Wide-ranging critique and denial of corruption allegations indicate fault-lines in Tibet policy

Zhu Weiqun, one of the most prominent and hardline critics of the Dalai Lama, issued a denial of accusations circulating in Chinese unofficial media recently that he had received bribes to grant approvals for people to become “Living Buddhas”, saying that the claims were a “vulgar smear” and targeted at his “long-term battle with the splittist Dalai clique”.[1] The allegations against him cannot be confirmed, nor could it be confirmed whether they indicate any official opinion against him, although it is notable that he saw fit to make a public denial.

Zhu Weiqun, who was formerly China’s chief official on Tibetan issues in his capacity as deputy head of the United Front Work Department[2] and who now heads up the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the government’s main political advisory body, was the target of rare criticism linked to the issue of ‘fake Living Buddhas’ late last year by Tibetan scholar, Jampel Gyatso, at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Chinese and Tibetan netizens.[3]

The criticism of Zhu revealed widespread and profound disquiet among both Tibetans and Chinese over Chinese policy on Tibet and for the survival of Tibetan Buddhist religion, in the context of a charged environment involving intensified efforts by the CCP to assert control over the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation and Tibetan Buddhist institutions and practice. The hardline policies have been underlined recently in the ‘two sessions’ of China’s legislature and advisory body held in March in Beijing, in line with intensified official efforts observed over the past year to incorporate attacks on the Dalai Lama as part of the United Front Work Department-led process to re-frame Tibetan Buddhism in conformity with CCP doctrines.

In a vivid illustration of the Chinese authorities’ approach, monks and lay Tibetan delegates were pictured at the meetings in March wearing badges with pictures of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong in an apparent show of loyalty to the CCP – coinciding with news of threats of imprisonment for Tibetans who displayed images of the Dalai Lama.[4] The show of political conformity was criticized by Chinese netizens as being a throwback to the Mao personality cult during the Cultural Revolution.[5]

Following the wide-ranging critique of Zhu Weiqun and the news of an official ‘database’ of reincarnations approved by the Party state,[6] scholar Jampel Gyatso, who lives in Beijing, took his analysis of religious policy a stage further by repudiating religious policies in Tibet set by Ye Xiaowen, former Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs under the State Council of the PRC.

In a posting translated into English by ICT below, Jampel Gyatso writes: “Aside from the period of chaos during the Cultural Revolution, the 14-year period that Ye Xiaowen was Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs has been the period of greatest chaos and most problems for Tibetan Buddhism in our country with a never-ending stream of incidents, and a period when relations between government authorities and Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns and the believing masses has never been more tense or so bad.”

In the post, which was published online on December 14 (2015), although it has now been taken down,[7] Jampel Gyatso gives a historical perspective to his analysis of the flaws of CCP policy on religion and reincarnation, referring to the actions of other leaders as well as Ye Xiaowen in the 1950s – including Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, one of the first generation of Communist Party leaders who died in 2002. Naming the father of China’s Party chief may be intended to demonstrate a link between Xi Jinping’s references to Buddhism and his father’s more direct engagement with Tibetan Buddhism in the 1950s and beyond.

Jampel Gyatso, who was one of the first generation of Tibetans to work with the Chinese Communists and translated for Mao Zedong, the 10th Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama,[8] highlights the connection between the threat to the survival of authentic Tibetan Buddhist culture today and the connection with religious policy in the 1950s, with reference to Xi Jinping’s father’s relationship with the 10th Panchen Lama.

His analysis of current religious policy traces its roots to the mid to late 1950s, when religious reforms involved “the separation of government and religion”. As such he specifically criticizes the Party for politicizing religion with initiatives such as the ‘Living Buddha’ database. He refers to the 10th Panchen Lama’s religious seat, the monastery of Tashilhunpo in Shigatse (Chinese: Rikaze) as being a pilot model of the reforms, with Mao Zedong in Beijing overseeing the policies, when Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping’s father, was involved as Vice Premier as the main aide to the then Premier Zhou Enlai in the areas of United Front work, nationalities and religion.[9] Jampel Gyatso, a specialist on the Gesar epic and author of numerous books, writes: “During this time he [Xi Zhongxun] personally guided the 10th Panchen Lama with evident success, and a close friendship was forged between the two.”

The 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989, was an outspoken advocate for the preservation of Tibet’s unique cultural heritage, religion and language. His 70,000 Character Petition,” remains the most extensive internal criticism of Chinese Communist Party policies on Tibet and other ‘minorities’ ever submitted to the Chinese leadership.[10] When the 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989, Xi senior wrote a eulogy detailing their relationship over a 40-year period, saying: “As an eminent leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama loved his faith; as an excellent representative of Tibetans, he loved his people; as a great patriot, he loved his motherland; as a loyal friend of the Party, he loved the Communist Party of China.”[11] Jampel Gyatso mentions this eulogy on a further posting on his Weibo account.[12]

In his critique, Jampel Gyatso shows how a “bold and reckless” Ye Xiaowen re-shuffled the management system at the monastery, and “propagated the phenomenon of corruption within Tibetan Buddhism”. This has led to the situation now, with the CCP, that promotes atheism, creating policies that cut to the heart of Tibetan Buddhist belief. Jampel Gyatso writes: “In all the history of Tibetan Buddhism and across all of the dynasties, no such thing as a ‘Living Buddha permit’ has ever been issued. They were never issued after the new China was founded, nor in the 1950s or the ‘80s. Living Buddhas are recognized by monasteries and authenticated by monks; but by being confirmed with the issuance of a ‘Living Buddha permit’, Ye Xiaowen has turned himself into the greatest ‘Pope’. And because of all this, the phenomena of systemic chaos and corruption have been created. In society, official positions are traded, and in religious circles “Living Buddha permits” are traded.”

‘Follow the Party to drink wine and eat meat; follow the Dalai Lama to be imprisoned and impoverished’

Jampel Gyatso’s comments have inspired a younger generation of Tibetans and Chinese to express their own fears and concerns about the eviscerating impact of Chinese policies on Tibetan religion, identity and culture, including the official intervention into the system of reincarnation. One blogger posted an ironic essay purportedly by the ‘Mao Thought Propaganda Team’, which, in sardonic critique of the Party’s ideological approach towards Tibetan Buddhism, concluded by saying: “Follow the Party to drink wine and eat meat; follow the Dalai[13] to be imprisoned and impoverished.”[14]

A Tibetan netizen who described himself as a student of Jampel Gyatso posted a comment saying: “That old revolutionary is so resolute. His hair and whiskers may be white, but he’s still a Khampa brave.”[15]

The context of Jampel Gyatso’s writings is a controversy over fake reincarnate lamas (Tibetan: tulkus), known as ‘Living Buddhas’ (huofo, 活佛) in Chinese. Just as there are increasing numbers of sincere Chinese Buddhist practitioners who follow genuine Tibetan lamas, there are also a number of fake ‘Living Buddhas’ who seek to exploit followers. The Dalai Lama has on numerous occasions expressed concern about the number of fake lamas and the risks of exploitation of their followers.[16] Last December (2015), a self-proclaimed ‘Living Buddha’ in Hong Kong – whose filmed ordination of a Chinese actor Zhang Tielin went viral – issued an apology and resigned from all his posts after a Tibetan monastery denied certifying him.

Jampel Gyatso describes this incident as “a superficial phenomenon, a minor vignette upon the stage”, saying that what is really significant is that “The instigator of fake Living Buddhas is Ye Xiaowen, the roots are next to Ye Xiaowen, the poison was sown by Ye Xiaowen and the natural outcome is poisonous fruit.” 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.”[17]

In his various top posts relating to state regulation of religion from 1991 to 2009, Ye Xiaowen presided over the imposition of Gyaltsen Norbu as the Chinese Government selected Panchen Lama, and also the 2007 law on reincarnation,[18] which involved the appropriation by the atheistic Chinese state of authorities necessary for the transmission of teachings and the identification of reincarnate lamas.[19]

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.

New database opens door to further corruption

In a new development following the imposition of ’Order No 5’ stating that reincarnate lamas must have permission from the government, the Chinese authorities announced last week that they were nearing the completion of the construction of a “Living Buddha database with biographies of over 1,300 Living Buddhas residing in the country”. The Chinese state media said that the online registration system contains the profiles of 1,311 individuals approved by the state “as reincarnated Buddhas”. The new data added to the site follows details of 870 ‘Living Buddhas’ uploaded in January by the Buddhist Association of China.[21] The authorities describe this as a protection against fraudulence, although it is undoubtedly part of their more systematic approach to control Tibet and Tibetans.

Tibetan delegates at the March Party meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference affirmed this new layer of control, with a monk identified by the media as “the abbot of Sera monastery Phurbu Tsering” being cited as saying: “The highest level of living Buddhas must be approved by the central government […] Other Living Buddhas must be approved by local governments.”[22]

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.[23] Four hundred and 41 names with biographical details were added to the list of 870 individuals last week by the Buddhist Association of China, according to a state media report on April 28.[24] Xinhua reported: “The bios, accessible at, and, have been viewed up to 98,000 times per day.”

Zhu Weiqun was cited as saying that: “The system will strike a heavy blow to the Dalai Lama, 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.”[25]

Chinese Panchen takes the stage, meets Xi

The Chinese authorities set the stage for the online database and the meetings in Beijing by raising the profile of the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu (refered to in the Chinese media as: Gyalcain Norbu), and numerous visits by senior officials in the United Front Work Departmentto Tibetan monasteries throughout 2015 and in the first quarter of 2016.

Historically, the Panchen Lama has been one of Tibet’s most revered religious figures, with a unique relationship to the Dalai Lama. Some Panchen Lamas have previously played a role in the recognition and subsequent education of Dalai Lamas, and vice versa, which is why control over the institution is considered to be so crucial by the Chinese leadership.

A meeting last year of Xi Jinping with Gyaltsen Norbu, who is known to Tibetans as ‘Gya Panchen’ (China’s Panchen) was indicative of the Party’s vigorous efforts to assert their control and seek to weaken support for the Dalai Lama.

Sun Chunlan, Minister of the United Front Work Department stated that this meeting on June 10 (2015) was a reflection of the growing importance of Gyaltsen Norbu, the Party’s ‘expectations’ over Tibetan Buddhism, and the need to “strongly resist “separatism and sabotage”.[26] This was also underlined by the Tibet Autonomous Region Party chief Chen Quanguo, who met Gyaltsen Norbu in Shigatse (Chinese: Rikaze), the seat of the Panchen Lamas, on December 7, 2015.[27]

Sun Chunlan was also pictured in the state media meeting Gyaltsen Norbu on March 1 (2016), telling him that she hoped he would “keep in mind the exhortations of Xi Jinping […] and to consciously safeguard the unity of the motherland and national unity […], playing an active role to lead Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the socialist society.” (Xinhua, March 2, 2016).

April 25 was the 27th birthday of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, recognized by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans as the 11th Panchen Lama, and who has not been seen since he was ‘disappeared’ by the Chinese authorities in 1995.

Even though Gyaltsen Norbu is compelled to conform to the role of ‘official’ Panchen Lama as a ‘patriotic’ figurehead with allegiance to the CCP, in March last year (2015) he made an unprecedented statement in which he said that because of the shortage of monks in Tibet and “quotas set too low”, there is “a danger of Buddhism existing in name only”. Although the CCP describes the Dalai Lama and Tibetan religious culture as a ‘threat’ to ‘stability’, in the same statement Gyaltsen Norbu re-framed the issue by depicting them instead as a source of “stability”, saying: “Tibetan Buddhism is capable of playing a huge role in national economic and social development, and social harmony and stability.”[28]

The United Front Work Department has been active across Tibet in recent months, with the government website in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan), Gansu referring to senior CCP officials inviting Tibetan Buddhist monks from major monasteries in Lhasa to stay at their homes with the objective of “strengthening national unity” and discouraging “separatism”.[29] The same government website cited the Party Secretary of Lhasa Che Dalha (Chinese: Qi Zhala) as saying that the ‘14th Dalai clique’ still represented “the biggest threat” to Tibetan Buddhism.

As part of the Chinese authorities’ efforts overseas to convey their representations of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, Qi Zhala visited the U.S. last week[30] and held talks with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives and one of the most prominent supporters of the Dalai Lama worldwide, who met him in Lhasa last year.[31] According to the delegation statement, the Democratic Leader “expressed concerns regarding freedom of religion and expression for the Tibetan people; the preservation of Tibet’s unique cultural, religious and linguistic heritage; and diplomatic and public access to Tibet.”[32]

Given the oppressive measures now in place,[33] a more overt military presence across the plateau and consistently hostile official stance against the Dalai Lama – now openly compared by Chinese officials to dictators and terrorists – there are increasing fears among Tibetans for the future survival of their religious culture.

Chinese celebrities warned about ‘separatist’ influence after Tibetan religious event

Indicating the CCP’s aggressive efforts to tarnish the reputation even of those who associate with the Dalai Lama or exile Tibetan representatives, Chinese celebrities were warned to stay away from the exiled religious leader and the Tibetan exile government. The state media warned that: “Chinese celebrities should keep in mind the boundaries of freedom of religion and in line with the national position on Tibet related issues.”[34]

The threat was made after singer Faye Wong, actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as well as mainland actor Hu Jun were pictured attending an anniversary of the late predecessor of the 17th Karmapa in Bodh Gaya, India, seated near representatives of the Central Tibetan Administration. On the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in March (2016), Deputy Party Secretary of TAR, Wu Yingjie, joined the state media in criticizing the celebrities, telling reporters: “We hope the celebrities take the responsibility for their own deeds. We firmly oppose all celebrities, however influential they are, and whatever purpose they have, to make any contact with the 14th Dalai clique, or even help him spread his ideas.”[35]

Increasingly, Chinese celebrities have a stronger political profile in the PRC, both in support of, and representing a challenge to, Party state policies. Naming ecological activist Wan Jie and advocate for legalization of same-sex marriage in China Li Yinhe, an article on the issue by Australian academic Elaine Jeffries concludes: “The examples of celebrity delegates within the political spaces of the NPC and CPPCC shed light on the links between celebrity and elite politics, revealing a broadening of elite networks that usually support but occasionally also challenge government policies.”[36]

In the case of those criticized for attending the event in India, the celebrities drew a distinction between religious practice and ‘separatism’, with Hu Jun affirming that he “opposes all separatist words and deeds”, according to the Global Times.[37]

The critique of the celebrities demonstrated how in the current political climate, almost any expression of Tibetan identity or culture can be termed ‘splittist’ and therefore ‘criminal.’

In an appeal against this characterization, Tibetan blogger Shokjang wrote a rare letter from detention appealing against his three-year prison sentence on this basis. He wrote: “If one talks about instigating separatism, I have not written even a word of separatism, much less instigated it. If I write about an incident in which I suffered harm, and that becomes an unfounded accusation against me, and I write an appeal to the court about the incident, that does not make me a separatist. Helplessly subject to a punishment that makes your flesh creep the more you think about it, I appeal to the Higher People’s Court to look for the objective truth.”[38]


Three translations into English appear below: the article by Jampel Gyatso discussed above, and two blogposts relating to this article.

A critique of Ye Xiaowen – appraising Ye Xiaowen: “We must also crack down on fake ‘Living Buddha reincarnations’”[39]

Baba Jampel Gyatso
14 December 2015

The crackdown on fake Living Buddhas must start with a criticism of Ye Xiaowen’s errors.

On 8 December 2015, Comrade Ye Xiaowen delivered a speech entitled ‘We must also crack down on fake ‘Living Buddhas’, which was circulated to every single major media outlet in the country.

At the very beginning of the speech, Comrade Ye Xiaowen says: “There are ill-intentioned people scheming of ways to claw a living for themselves in the guise of a Living Buddha, trying to pass fake off as genuine and sullying the genuine with the fake. Not long ago there was the farce of the actor Zhang Tielin’s ‘enthronement ceremony’, which exposed the social chaos caused in recent years by some swaggering and cheating Living Buddhas.”

People who don’t know the truth of the situation might think that Director Ye is the real deal and that he’s cracking down against “fake Living Buddhas”.

But actually, anyone with eyes in their heads can see that Ye Xiaowen is playing a game, setting up this “actor Zhang Tielin” as the scapegoat to absolve himself and blame someone else, covering up the rampancy of fake Living Buddhas in society over the past few years, the chaos within Tibetan Buddhism, the never-ending stream of incidents, the continuous “pass fake off as genuine and sullying the genuine with the fake”, while camouflaging himself and attacking and framing others.

Ye Xiaowen has been boastful for many years, and has said “Having been in religious work postings for more than 18 years” he has done such and such, and he’s become just like “an expert on the issue of religion”. But actually, people familiar with the situation, and particularly some of the old Comrades who have been engaged in United Front, nationality and religion work over the long term, have sharply pointed out: aside from the period of chaos during the Cultural Revolution, the 14-year period that Ye Xiaowen has been Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs has been the period of greatest chaos and most problems for Tibetan Buddhism in our country with a never-ending stream of incidents, and a period when relations between government authorities and Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns and the believing masses has never been more tense or so bad. The Tibetan nationality is one where basically the entire people believe in religion, and the influence of Buddhist culture on every aspect of society and life runs very deep. [His tenure] has therefore also affected relations between the nationalities and relations between cadres and the masses, and it has damaged traditional fraternal nationality relations between Han and Tibetans, making this the worst period since the founding of the new China for relations between nationalities, relations between Han and Tibetans, and relations between cadres and the masses. Yet not only does Ye Xiaowen fail to engage in any kind of reflection nor even the slightest self-criticism, in actual fact he sounds just like Lenin criticizing the revisionism of the Second International: “You should be ashamed, but instead you’re proud.”

The farce of Pema Woeser and Zhang Tielin performing a Living Buddha “enthronement ceremony” was a superficial phenomenon, a minor vignette upon the stage. The instigator of fake Living Buddhas is Ye Xiaowen, the roots are next to Ye Xiaowen, the poison was sown by Ye Xiaowen and the natural outcome is poisonous fruit.

This short essay could not complete a full reckoning or criticism of Comrade Ye Xiaowen’s mistakes over a decade and more. This article is focused on select points from Ye Xiaowen’s “We must also crack down on fake ‘Living Buddhas’”. Its criticisms will explain how the roots of the rampancy of fake Living Buddhas and the chaos within Tibetan Buddhism lie with Ye Xiaowen. The chief culprit is Ye Xiaowen, and he must accept responsibility.

Bold and reckless, Ye Xiaowen re-shuffled the democratic management committee at Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse

First, the democratic reforms movement that started at the end of 1955 and into 1956 in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province, and which were then carried out in Tibetan areas in Gansu and Qinghai in 1957 and 1958, and which then comprehensively spread across Tibet in 1959, were a profound social revolution. Because Tibet and other Tibetan nationality areas in the past had basically practiced theocracy as the political system, religious reforms were therefore carried out at the same time. Or, it could be said that religious reform was an important part of the democratic reforms.

The basic principle of the religious reforms was the separation of government and religion. Ye Xiaowen, however, does the opposite, and in the name of “strengthening the Party’s leadership” and “strengthening management”, all religious affairs are directly managed by government religion departments, which in reality is the practice of “theocracy”.

Second, in the mid- to late-1950s when the democratic reforms and religious reforms were attaining decisive victories, democratic elections were carried out in an organized way on the basis of the abolition of feudal serfdom and feudal exploitation within the monasteries, establishing monastery democratic management committees principally made up of poor lamas. The political requirements put upon the monasteries were to love the Party, to love the country, to love socialism, to uphold the unification of the Motherland and the unity of the nationalities, to support the democratic reforms and to oppose splittism and oppose rebellion. The religious requirements were: abide by religious canons and doctrines and pursue a degree of religious self-cultivation. At the same time, they were to ceaselessly explore avenues for the mutual adaptation of religion and socialism, and guide the masses of monks and nuns and the believing masses to unwaveringly follow the path of socialism. Aside from the elderly and infirm, all monks and nuns were required to participate in labor, to forsake exploitation, and to feed themselves on the fruits of their own labor.

In light of the fact that DL [sic, Dalai Lama] was in exile abroad at the time, Lhasa’s three great monasteries were classified as “rebellious monasteries” (such a classification actually existed at the time), and it was also considered that historically, the system of the Panchen Lamas had always taken the standpoints of patriotism and anti-imperialism. The 10th Panchen Lama’s main monastery, Tashilhunpo, had not taken part in the rebellion and society in Shigatse Prefecture was basically stable. The Centre decided to carry out monastery democratic reforms and to establish a democratic management committee at Tashilunpo Monastery first as a trial point, and then later to slowly expand them over all of Tibet and other Tibetan nationality areas.

The Centre then made the 10th Panchen Lama personally responsible for democratic reforms at Tashilunpo Monastery. At the Centre, Chairman Mao, Comrade [Liu] Shaoqi[40] and Premier Zhou [Enlai][41] made the decisions and formulated the policies; Li Weihan,[42] Wu Lanfu[43] and Xi Zhongxun[44] were responsible for the actual leadership. Comrade Xi Zhongxun was a Deputy Premier and Private Secretary of the State Council, and the main aide to Premier Zhou in the areas of United Front, nationalities and religion. During this time he personally guided the 10th Panchen Lama with evident success, and a close friendship was forged between the two.

In the aspect of religion, he was given assistance and guidance by the then Director of the China Buddhist Association, Geshe Sherab Gyatso,[45] and by the association’s Deputy Director and Private Secretary Zhao Puchu.[46]

Their work proceeded smoothly, and the 10th Panchen Lama was elected as the first Chairman of the Tashinlunpo Monastery democratic management committee. Having a top-to-bottom democratic election in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery to establish a democratic management committee primarily made up of poor lamas to manage the monastery had never been seen before in the history of Tibetan Buddhism – it was a revolution, and it was innovative, and it received the praise of Chairman Mao, Comrade Shaoqi and Premier Zhou.

I was involved with translating the relevant documents and have some understanding of the situation at that time. From 1962 to 1964, following the 10th Plenary Session of the Eighth Party Congress, Li Weihan, Wu Lanfu and Xi Zhongxun were wrongly criticized, and expelled from all posts inside and outside of the Party. The 10th Panchen Lama and Geshe Sherab Gyatso were branded the “Panchen-Sherab anti-Party rebellious clique”. Panchen Rinpoche disappeared into prison for almost a decade and Geshe Sherab Gyatso was hounded to his death.

During the Cultural Revolution, during “destroy the ‘four olds’”,[47] there was serious damage done to work at the monastery. When the Cultural Revolution concluded and order arose out of the chaos, the monastery started to consolidate with basically the original protagonists from the 1950s, except that the wise and virtuous Geshe Sherab Gyatso had passed away. The Centre once again put the 10th Panchen Lama in charge, responsible for consolidation. At the Centre, Xi Zhongxun was a member of the central Politburo and was in charge of Tibet work, Li Weihan was a Central United Front Work Department consultant, Wu Lanfu was Director of the United Front Work Department and Yang Jingren[48] was appointed Deputy Director of the United Front Work Department and Chairman of its Nationalities Committee, establishing a guidance committee with Zhao Puchu as its chair, and they all gave the 10th Panchen Lama the same support and guidance that they had previously given.

Following the Cultural Revolution and with the consolidation of the monasteries in the 1980s, aside from the aforementioned basic requirements, there was also a special requirement that members of the democratic management committee should not have engaged in any looting or smashing during the Cultural Revolution, that they should not be the “three kinds of people”[49] and that they should not have participated in the destruction of monasteries or the looting of artifacts – such as statues of the Buddha – as part of the “destroy the four olds” movement. The requirements were higher, and the quality of the committee members was better. Under the guidance of Li Weihan, Wu Lanfu, Xi Zhongxun, Yang Jingren and Zhao Puchu, the 10th Panchen Lama was again elected to be Chairman of Tashinlunpo Monastery’s democratic management committee.

Not long afterwards, Li Weihan and Wu Lanfu passed away in quick succession. In January 1989, the 10th Panchen Lama also passed. Following “June 4th”, Xi Zhongxun, Yang Jingren and Yan Mingfu[50] left their leadership positions. Ding Guang’gen and Wang Yaoguo served as successive Directors of the United Front Work Department, and Ye Xiaowen was then transferred to the United Front Work Department, becoming Director of the No. 2 Nationalities and Religion Bureau, and was later appointed Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs – a total career of around 18 years as of now.

Following “June 4th” and under the slogan of “consolidation”, the work practices of Li Weihan, Wu Lanfu, Xi Zhongxun, Yang Jingren, Yan Mingfu, Panchen Rinpoche and Zhao Puchu were all repudiated. The democratic management committee at Tashilunpo Monastery was completely reshuffled and another group of bodies was organized, and all of the outstanding cadres and all of the senior monks who had been through the two great political upheavals of the democratic reforms and the “Cultural Revolution” were taken down in their entirety (please note, I mean “in their entirety”). Other management agencies organized in their place were comprised of people who listened to what they were told and did what they were told. These people had no credibility with the masses and were merely “obedient”; they were in reality a work team of cadres dispatched to the monastery by senior and intermediate cadres to take over the leadership of everything, the decision-making on everything and the arrangements for everything.

Such working methods gave rise to strong dissatisfaction and opposition among monks, nuns and the masses as well as the broad masses of cadres, breaking the unity between those within religion and the broad masses of cadres, and creating a situation of chaos. Whereupon, “strengthen management” a step further in fact became “suppression”, and their erroneous work practices were propagated across all Tibetan areas.

Ye Xiaowen’s work practices were also met with criticism and opposition from such Tibetan Comrade leaders as Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Ngabo Ngawang Jigme,[51] the veteran Red Army Tibetan Tianbao,[52] and Tashi Wangchuk.[53] But they were all ignored. Tianbao was a veteran Red Army Tibetan, and during the early period of liberation he was appointed as Group Leader of the Central Tibet Work Group. He was the only Tibetan member of the first CCP Tibet Work Committee, and he was later appointed as Secretary of the TAR Party Committee, Governor of the Autonomous Regional Government, and the No. 2 Political Commissar for the Tibet Military District, and he participated in and led the democratic reforms and religious reforms in Tibetan nationality areas. It can therefore be said that he was somewhat familiar with the situation. He once delivered a pointed criticism: “Such working methods, that is theocracy’.”

Suggestions from such veteran Red Army figures and old revolutionaries as Tianbao were never heard – evidently, Ye Xiaowen was being incredibly presumptuous! Tianbao once said to me in person, “They treated me as someone who still needed to be recruited into the Party”.[54] Ye Xiaowen once boasted to me, “The Centre’s policies on Tibet work were all formulated by three people: me, [Zhu] Weiqun, and Sithar,[55] for which we’ve won the praise and support of the Centre.”

There’s a deep political background to such a minor head of bureau as Ye Xiaowen being so bold and daring to talk and act in such a manner, which is closely related to the leadership changes at the Centre after “June 4th”, and intimately connected to the struggle between the so-called “Southwest Faction” so deeply ingrained in Tibet, and the “Northwest Faction”. Following “June 4th”, the so-called “Northwest Faction” in the United Front Work Department and in Tibet collapsed completely, and the “Southwest Faction” came in and took over everything.[56] Ye Xiaowen made his own appraisal of the Centre’s leadership offices, the political structures and the political situation, and as a result carried out some risky political speculations and gambles. Under normal conditions – to borrow an old phrase – if you gave Ye Xiaowen the bravery of a hundred panthers he would never have dared to do what he did. But under such a particular political situation as that which followed “June 4th”, Ye Xiaowen weighed his options and guessed at his gains and losses, then played his hand and acted on his political speculation and gamble. Ye Xiaowen broke through as a political opportunist and a political gambler. Many times Ye Xiaowen has said, “Go for bust!” [Ch.: huo chuqu la!] This is not the language of a Communist Party member. Over my many years working at the United Front and the Nationalities and Religion Committee, I never heard leaders such as Li Weihan, Wu Lanfu, Xi Zhongxun or Liu Geping use such words. “Go for bust” is the language of the casino, the language of a gambler, and it is a reflection of a gambler’s mind-set.

And so they repudiated not just Li Weihan, Wu Lanfu, Xi Zhongxun and the 10th Panchen Lama and their advocacy for what was known as the “second generation of nationality policies”, they repudiated the correct nationality policies and religion policies formulated by Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou at the Party Centre at the founding of the new nation. Zhu Weiqun has publicly stated that the nationality policies of the 1950s are “out of date”, and advocated a “*** [sic] Tibet governance line”. Ye Xiaowen broke into a hot sweat, his heart pounding: new Tibet work would be created.

Ye Xiaowen adopts a novel approach, issues “Living Buddha permits”, and the large number of fake Living Buddhas within Tibetan Buddhism multiplies.

Third, during the so-called “Cleanse the monasteries, cleanse Living Buddhas”, Ye Xiaowen took a novel approach and issued “Living Buddha permits”. The monasteries themselves could not define who was a true Living Buddha and who was a fake Living Buddha, neither could the high lamas, and even less did the ordinary masses of monks and nuns have a right to intercede. Who was going to decide? It was to be decided by every level of government religious authority. After they’re reviewed and approved, they’re issued with a “Living Buddha permit”.

In all the history of Tibetan Buddhism and across all of the dynasties, no such thing as a “Living Buddha permit” has ever been issued. They were never issued after the new China was founded, nor in the 1950s or the ‘80s. Living Buddhas are recognized by monasteries and authenticated by monks; but by being confirmed with the issuance of a “Living Buddha permit”, Ye Xiaowen has turned himself into the greatest “Pope”. And because of all this, the phenomena of systemic chaos and corruption have been created. In society, official positions are traded, and in religious circles “Living Buddha permits” are traded. Every level of Religious Affairs Bureau has become an auction house, and Ye Xiaowen has become the biggest of their bosses.

How much money have they made from selling Living Buddha permits? Can anyone say? Can anyone check? How much money did Pema Woeser and Zhang Tielin hand over? How many red envelopes were passed on to Ye Xiaowen? Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun took the lead and all the heads of the Religious Affairs Bureaus happily meet with them, pose for pictures with them, but how much gain have they made?

Over the past few days on the Internet and in the media, an opinion has been circulating that people with a “Living Buddha permit” are “real Living Buddhas”. But I say that’s wrong. Those holding Ye Xiaowen’s “Living Buddha permits” are the ones now swaggering through life, cheating favour and cheating wealth, looting monasteries of their Buddha statues and selling them off as their private cultural artifacts. Ye Xiaowen is merely their boss behind the scenes. A “Living Buddha permit” cannot prove anything.

This situation long ago gave rise to strong dissatisfaction and pointed criticism from old army veterans and inner Party high cadres such as Tianbao and Tashi Wangchuk. Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Ngabo Ngawang Jigme frequently raised dissenting opinions. But Ye Xiaowen has nothing to fear. He can turn a deaf ear and ignore it all.

The seniority of Living Buddhas is linked to administrative tiers, propagating the phenomenon of corruption within Tibetan Buddhism

Fourth, Director Ye Xiaowen conducts administrative-style management of monasteries, defining levels and defining posts, allocating the seniority of the Living Buddha, regulating county-level Living Buddhas, prefectural- (prefecture-level city) level Living Buddhas and provincial-level Living Buddhas, and which level of Living Buddha can be a member of the National People’s Congress or a committee member on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and all of the various posts for People’s Congress representatives and Chinese Political Consultative Conference committee members at every level of government.

For county-level Living Buddhas to be appointed as prefectural- (prefecture-level city) level Living Buddhas, for prefectural- (prefecture-level city) level Living Buddhas to be appointed as provincial-level Living Buddhas, and for provincial-level Living Buddhas to be enter an agency at the Centre, they have to run back and forth grooming their guanxi, passing red envelopes out everywhere, colluding in society with officials and entrepreneurs, colluding in Tibetan areas with officials and high monks – all so chaotic and all so corrupt. This not only damages the fine traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and its canons and doctrines and sullies the purity of Tibetan Buddhism, it also seriously poisons the social atmosphere. There’s one bunch of Party and government cadres who have been dragged into the mire by fake Living Buddhas and fake lamas; and another bunch of Party and government cadres who stick their greedy hands into the monasteries and into the Buddhist world, and it’s just like Ye Xiaowen says: “Scheming of ways to claw a living for themselves in the guise of a Living Buddha, trying to pass fake off as genuine and sullying the genuine with the fake.” A large number of fake Living Buddhas and fake lamas were produced under such conditions as these. The corruption is serious, and the chaos is staggering.

Director Ye Xiaowen, how much have you yourself clawed in?

Unambiguously uphold Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun’s religious line, be resolute supporters of Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun

Mao Thought Propaganda Team
14 December 2015

Someone by the name of Jampel Gyatso has written an essay critical of Director Ye Xiaowen, the content of which is nothing more than “Living Buddha Permits” and “Living Buddhas”, but it includes much criticism of the Ye Xiaowen Zhu Weiqun line. We must unambiguously support Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun against every fabricated criticism and critique.

As can be seen by the very name “Jampel Gyatso”, this person is “not of our race, not of our mind”. It can be seen by the very name that the writer’s standpoint is a standpoint of “Tibetan Buddhism” and “the Tibetan people” and not the standpoint of our Party, not to mention a standpoint of the Han nationality. His aim is to uphold the long-term development and purity of “Tibetan Buddhism”, and not “the long-term rule of the Party”; it is to protect the Tibetan people’s culture, and not to carry forward Han nationality culture; it is to protect the Tibetan nationality and not to aid the popularization of Han culture among the Tibetan nationality.

Such familiar figures as Wu Lanfu and Xi Zhongxun, Zhao Puchu and the 10th Panchen Lama said many times in their writings – and as we know, Wu Lanfu was of Mongolian nationality and the connections between the Mongolian nationality and the Tibetan nationality are well known – that religious thinking under the management of Wu Lanfu was correct, and he, as a Mongolian, did not go all out to protect his own Tibetan Buddhist faith, and neither did Wu Lanfu use his influence within the Party to win favour or practice corruption, or give preference to the Mongolian nationality’s faith (Tibetan Buddhism). The 10th Panchen Lama was a Tibetan, and his standpoint was extremely clear to the extent that on many occasions he called on members of the Tibetan nationality to study Tibetan and to speak Tibetan. His nationality of birth decided the narrowness of his thinking, and even decided that his standpoint when considering issues was a standpoint of Tibetan nationality, and not the standpoint of our Party. Zhao Puchu was a loyal Buddhist. While in the most senior position of leadership at the Buddhist Association, he did not carry out the Party’s standpoint or dedicate himself to the “eternal rule of the Party”, he instead exerted himself on recovering Buddhist traditions and recovering traditional monasteries; and it was this actual standpoint which decided that his starting point was the development of Buddhism and not the “eternal rule of the Party”. The writers herein are presenting the examples of these people only to verify that the Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun line is correct and without error, because the Ye-Zhu standpoint starts out from the point of benefit to the Party and to Han culture.

With regard to the brazenness of the writer and his loud and public criticism of the Ye-Zhu line, we also brazenly tell these Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhists on the same path, the only road for people of Tibetan nationality is “Han-ification”, it is assimilation and survival in the great Han ocean and not living as yourselves and trying to emphasise your own nationality status and Tibetan culture. The only escape for Tibetan Buddhism is to abandon the backwardness of Tibetan Buddhism and believe instead in Communism and Marxism. Ye and Zhu are important cadres in our Party who will of course carry through our Party’s standpoints and beliefs, who of course uphold Marxism and who of course promote Communism – one surely doesn’t think Ye Xiaowen has read the “Five Major Treatises”? That Zhu Weiqun would worship Tsongkhapa? As people of the Han nationality, Zhu Weiqun and Ye Xiaowen will of course uphold the development of the Han nationality and the propagation of Han culture.

People of the Tibetan nationality must remember, the People’s Republic of China is a country under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party that believes in Marxism; it is not Tibet under the leadership of the Dalai with a belief in Tibetan Buddhism. If they want to continue to survive and develop in this country, they must lay down their nationality and their faith, integrate themselves into China’s ideological mainstream and stop resisting, stop dissenting, and stop going against the current. Follow the Party to drink wine and eat meat; follow the Dalai to be imprisoned and impoverished.

A micro-blog posting from a student of Jampel Gyatso

December 16, 2015

Those two essays by Teacher Jampel roiled the world of Tibetology, and chatting to Teacher Jampel today about the issue of the essays being harmonized, the Teacher said, “In the information age, anything deleted cannot be completely deleted [删是删不掉的]. Some friends have called and texted to express their concern for me. Please tell friends that first I’m grateful, and second, they shouldn’t worry about me: my standpoint is with the Communist Party and the people, and I am defending the interests of the people. I am criticising those who take advantage of the anti-splittism meal ticket and those false Tibetologists, while truth and the people are with us. Whether old or young, we are all comrades in arms in the same trenches. It has to be believed that the truth must win, and the people must win.” That old revolutionary is so resolute. His hair and whiskers may be white, but he’s still a Khampa brave.

[1] Cited in the South China Morning Post, which reported that the overseas Chinese website BowenPress said that Zhu was under investigation by China’s graft busters for allegedly granting the status of “living Buddha” in exchange for cash. SCMP, March 28, 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.

[3] ICT report, December 22, 2015, https://www.

[4] In a recent indication of the sensitivity of Dalai Lama images in Tibet, Tibetan shopkeepers were ordered to hand in images of the Dalai Lama by the county authorities in Draggo, Kardze, an extreme and counter-productive move that was endorsed later by an article in the Chinese state media comparing the Dalai Lama to Saddam Hussein. ICT report, February 11, 2016, [and]

[5] ‘Net Users Criticize NPC Delegates for Wearing Mao, Xi Badges: Pins of type worn during the Cultural Revolution prompt soul-searching on Sina Weibo’, Caixin Online, March 7, 2016,

[6] The database appears online at:, and see below.

[7] Jampel Gyatso’s official website does not display any of the articles or recent work: The articles do not appear on his Weibo account, where the last posting was on December 21, 2015. This latter posting is about Geshe Sherab Gyatso, who held official government posts in the Tibetan government prior to 1950, and then held posts within the Chinese establishment both in Tibet and in China.

[8] His biography in Chinese is at:

[9] For further insights into Xi Zhongxun’s role at this time in connection with the Panchen Lama, see recently-translated documents by Jianglin Li and Matthew Akester at:

[10] ‘A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama’, published by the now closed Tibet Information Network, London, 1997. Mao Zedong reacted by denouncing the report as a “poisoned arrow shot at the Party” and its author as a “reactionary feudal overlord”. Two years later, the 10th Panchen Lama was condemned without trial as an enemy of the people, and spent most of the following 14 years in prison or under house arrest before his death in 1989. When the Petition was sent to Mao Zedong in 1962, the Panchen Lama was the most senior religious leader remaining in Tibet and titular head of the Tibetan Government. Prior to the publication of his Petition the 10th Panchen Lama had often been portrayed as a Chinese puppet, co-operating with the Chinese authorities rather than going into exile. This “patriotic” image was encouraged by both Beijing and the government in Lhasa. He is now seen as having done the best he could, under very difficult circumstances, to safeguard the interests of Tibetans.

[11] A full translation of the eulogy, posted on People’s Daily on February 20, 1989, is at:

[12] On December 21, 2015.

[13] A disrespectful term that Party officials use for the Dalai Lama.

[14] The blog is translated from Chinese into English in full below.

[15] Tibetans from Kham, in eastern Tibet, are known as Khampas and famed for their courage and warrior-like qualities. The microblog is translated below into English

[16] See ICT’s earlier report, https://www.

[17] 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.”

[18] State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No 5

[19] ICT report, ‘The Communist Party as Living Buddha’, https://www.

[20] Statement by the Dalai Lama, September 24, 2011,

[21] Global Times, April 29 2016,

[22] Cited by Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2016.

[23] Tibet specialist Dr Robbie 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.

[24] Xinhua in English, April 28 (2016)

[25] Global Times, April 29 2016,

[26] Central United Front Work website, June 23, 2016, in Chinese:

[27] December 8, 2015, in Chinese:

[28] ICT translated the full statement into English. See: https://weblog.

[29] October 16, 2015, in Chinese:

[30] Chinese state media in Germany, April 29, 2016,

[31] ICT report, November 12, 2015, https://www.

[32] Statement at: https://www.

[33] Detailed in ICT report, February 16, 2016,

[34] Global Times, March 1, 2016,

[35] South China Morning Post, March 7, 2016, and other media. Indian analyst Jayadeva Ranade observed: “Notably while the Dalai Lama and his “clique” were singled out for criticism and visitors warned to avoid contact with them, any critical reference to the Gyalwa Karmapa, who heads the Karma Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was carefully avoided. Beijing is trying to undermine the Dalai Lama and draw a distinction between him and other Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders.” (Hindustan Times, April 5, 2016).

[36] ‘Political celebrities and elite politics in contemporary China’ by Elaine Jeffreys, University of Technology Sydney, Australia, China Information 2016, Vol. 30(1) 58–80

[37] Global Times, March 1, 2016

[38] The letter is translated from Tibetan in full in this ICT report, April 4, 2016, https://www.

[39] The use of the word ‘also’ in the title is an oblique reference to the ongoing attempt in China to tackle ‘fake’ and usually very low-quality pirated goods, including pharmaceuticals, luxury items.

[40] Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) served as President of China – junior in rank to Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai – from 1958 to 1968, but disappeared from public life in 1968 having fallen out with Chairman Mao. He died in prison a year later.

[41] Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) served as China’s first Premier from 1949 until his death in 1976.

[42] Li Weihan (1896-1984) was the first principal of the Central Party School from 1933 to 1935, and he also led the United Front Work Department from 1948 to 1964.

[43] Wu Lanfu (Mongolian name: Ulanhu) (1906-1988) was the first Chairman of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.

[44] Xi Zhongxun (1913-2002) is a key figure in the history of the CCP and the PRC as further discussed in this essay, and he was the father of current Chinese President Xi Jinping.

[45] Geshe Sherab Gyatso (1884–1968) held official government posts in the Tibetan government prior to the Chinese invasion, and then held posts within the Chinese establishment both in Tibet and in China.

[46] Zhao Puchu (1907-2000) was the Deputy Director and Private Secretary of the China Buddhist Association at the time of which the author writes, and went on to lead the China Buddhist Association from 1980 until his death in 2000.

[47] “Destroy the four olds” was a campaign launched during the first year of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) which encouraged people to destroy “old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas”, and which resulted in the wholesale destruction of cultural artifacts across the entire PRC.

[48] Yang Jingren (1918-2001) was a member of the predominantly Muslim Hui nationality who served as Director of the United Front Work Department from 1982 to 1985.

[49] Cultural Revolution terminology, referring to people who follow Lin Biao and Mao’s former wife Jiang Qing, severely factionalist people, and vandals.

[50] Yan Mingfu (1931- ), was Director of the United Front Work Department from 1985 to 1989, when he was purged having engaged in discussions with the student protestors in Tiananmen Square.

[51] Ngapo Ngawang Jigme (1910-2009), also known as just Ngapo or Ngapoi, was a senior political figure both in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion of 1950-51, and later within the Chinese establishment in Tibet and China.

[52] Sanggyai Yeshe (Tianbao in Chinese) (1917-2008) joined China’s Red Army when he was 18 years old, later rising to become a senior official within the Chinese establishment in his native Tibetan region of Sichuan Province and later in Beijing.

[53] Tashi Wangchuk, along with Sanggyai Yeshe, was one of the few Tibetans to participate in the Long March.

[54] Or alternatively ‘They just used me as the face of the United Front within the Party’.

[55] Sithar is a Tibetan official who has been a senior figure within the United Front Work Department since 1984. For further biographical details, see ICT’s report, “A Great Mountain Burned by Fire,” March 2009, available at:

[56] There are further details about this power struggle in the book in Chinese, “Tibet’s Internal Struggle”, December 2, 2009, Mirror Publishing