Statues were destroyed, monks and nuns evicted from their monasteries, new regulations introduced to further limit religious freedom
Recently, as Bitter Winter reported, the Chinese authorities in Kham (a part of historical Tibet, now in Sichuan province) destroyed a 99-foot-tall Buddha statue and forty-five prayer wheels around it.
According to the sources cited by Dharamshala-based Tibet Watch, the demolition began on December 12, 2021. In China too, in the past few years, the Chinese authorities destroyed several Buddhist statues in Zhejiang, including a 92-foot statue of the Boddhisattva Guanyin in Taizhou. In 2019, a 32-meter-tall bronze four-faced Guanyin statue in Pumen Temple, located in Changchun city in the northeastern province of Jilin, was demolished because it was “too tall.”
According to the sources cited by Bitter Winter, “‘They [the CCP bureaucrats] are afraid that everyone will believe in Buddhism, and no one will believe in the Party. This spring, authorities ordered to demolish the temple’s nine wind chime pagodas because they embodied Tibetan style.’ According to the believer, the government prohibits anything with Tibetan characteristics.”
In August 2021, a few video clips were widely circulated on social media and mainstream media related to Kharmar Monastery, where Tibetan Buddhism is being practiced and preached. This monastery is located in the Chinese city of Linxia, Gansu province. The video clips clearly show monks and nuns being forcibly evicted from the monastery by several officers in civilian clothes. This unfortunate incident has been extensively covered by several news media such as Radio Free Asia (Tibetan) and New Tang Dynasty Television.
Media have given similar reports of the harsh treatment toward the monks and nuns of Kharmar monastery, and have broadcasted similar kinds of footage. The prime cause for its crackdown was the monetary donation of 300,000 Yuan given by the monastery during the pandemic, and later its refusal to share their income with the government-supported China Buddhist Association and the local government.
From the time of his ascent to power in November 2013, Xi Jinping has initiated a sea of change within China, Tibet, East Turkestan (Xinjiang), and Southern Mongolia in curbing the little space available for religious freedom. All these drastic policy shifts towards different religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, show Xi Jinping’s growing repression and his insensitive attitude toward the religious sentiments of millions of believers. The severe restrictions on religious freedom, particularly in Tibet, East Turkestan, and Southern Mongolia go largely unnoticed because of China’s tight control over the free flow of information.
White Paper on Religion in 2018
In 2018, the Chinese government released a white paper titled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief.” However, the title of the white paper itself was misleading and euphemistic. For instance, in the white paper, the party-state indirectly ordered the religious groups to support its leadership and to follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The white paper stated: “It also means guiding religious groups to support the leadership of the CPC and the socialist system; uphold and follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics; develop religions in the Chinese context; embrace core socialist values; carry forward China’s fine traditions; integrate religious teachings and rules with Chinese culture; abide by state laws and regulations, and accept state administration in accordance with the law.”
The above directions apply to every religion in China. The white paper further added that, “According to General Secretary Xi Jinping’s report at the 19th CPC National Congress held in 2017, China will fully implement the Party’s basic policy on religious affairs, uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to the socialist society.”
In the 14th Five-Year-Plan (2021-2025) too, the party-state has stated that, “We will implement the Party’s basic guiding principles on religious work, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of China’s religions, and actively guide the mutual adaptation of religions and socialist society.” In short, from the past few years of development in China, one may conclude that there is growing Sinicization of religions in China, including Tibetan Buddhism.
National Conference on Work Related to Religious Affairs 2021
Recently a national conference on work related to religious affairs was held from December 3 to 4 2021 in Beijing. The conference was presided over by Li Keqiang, was attended by other senior leaders Li Zhanshu, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, and Han Zheng. In the conference, Xi Jinping emphasized to “further uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation, strengthen the management of online religious affairs, and effectively address prominent problems that affect the sound inheritance of religions in China.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, most of the activities have been carried out online all over the world. Hence, controlling and managing online religious affairs has been stressed.
Under the new regulation titled “Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services,” released on 20 December 2021, all foreign organizations and individuals will be banned from spreading religious content online in China. In Tibet too, this might be effectively implemented. Also, article 17 of the new regulation states that one “must not organize the carrying out of religious activities online, and must not broadcast religious rites such as worshiping Buddha, burning incense, ordinations, services, mass, or baptisms, through means such as text, images, audio, or video either live or in recordings.” The violation of these rules by any organizations and individuals will lead to punishments.
Hence, according to Article 29: ”Where articles 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, or 19 of these measures are violated… they [local authorities] are to collaborate with the internet information departments, competent departments for telecommunications, public security organs, state security organs, and so forth to give punishments in accordance with relevant laws and administrative regulations.” With this new regulation to be effective from 1 March 2022, this author estimates that there might be crackdowns even on those Tibetans who have been engaged or seen in religious activities broadcasted or recorded in old videos.
*Dr. Tsering Dolma is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute. This article was originally published in Bitter Winter on 5 January 2022.