Ever since China forcibly took hold of Tibet in the early 1950s, it has strived hard to culturally assimilate the region into the Mainland. As a part of this campaign, it has come down hard against Buddhist monks, suppressed dissenting voices and expression of religious beliefs that it regards as incongruous to the idea of China.
It was this campaign of repression against the fellow Tibetans that forced their spiritual leader Dalai Lama to flee China in 1959 and seek asylum in India. Since then, the clampdown in Tibet has only increased.
Repression in Tibet an outcome of CCP’s efforts to “Sinicise” religions and exact loyalty
Though the Communist regime in China has a long history of curtailing religious freedom, especially in the restive province of Tibet, with the authoritarian leader Xi Jinping at the helm of affairs, its efforts have become increasingly hostile towards religion and initiated campaigns to “Sinicise” them.
The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited eager alacrity in ‘Sincising’ all religions, in an attempt to tighten its grip over civil society. Just as it deployed sophisticated surveillance system to keep a tab on Uyghur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, China is using new tools of surveillance to control the Tibetan Buddhist monks and turn them into a tool of CCP, a new report titled “Party Above Buddhism: China’s Surveillance and Control of Tibetan Monasteries and Nunneries” has revealed.
China’s pervasively intrusive surveillance of Buddhist monks and monasteries
The report that was released on 10 March 2021 documents measures and policies undertaken that force Buddhist monks and nuns to serve the interests of the Communist Party. The changes affected by the new policies empower CCP with direct supervision of Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. Party cadres and police have been placed inside religious institutions, in a bid to pressurize the monks. They are also forced to denounce Dalai Lama for the sake of China’s unity, the report says.
According to the report, the current budget of the United Front Work Department, the agency that now has direct oversight of all religions in Tibet, has risen three times what it used to be in 2016. In a matter of 4 years, the budget shot up from 23.9 million yuans in 2016 to 62 million in 2020 underscores China’s commitment to strengthening the control of the Tibetan region.
Similar to that in Xinjiang, China also runs detention centres in Tibet that are euphemistically called “reeducation” camps by the communist leaders. In these reeducation camps, monks and nuns are hustled into extending their loyalty to the CCP, often at the expense of their religious beliefs. China has also enforced a “Four Standards” policy that basically requires monks and nuns to serve as propagandists for the government.
The report outlines how the Sinicisation of Tibetan monasteries requires Tibetan monks, nuns to shun their moral visions and conform to the CCP’s ideology. As a part of “policing monasteries”, police officers are deployed in Tibetan monasteries to keep an eye on their activities.
Besides the obvious purpose of surveillance, the decision to have police officers inside the monasteries in Tibet was taken with the aim of stopping incidents of self immolation. Monks, in an attempt to awaken the public conscience over the atrocities committed by the Communist authorities set themselves on fire. The morbid incidents garnered global attention, giving voice to the oppression underway in Tibet.
In addition to this, local government authorities and Communist Party officials also interfere in the working of the monasteries through the way of “management committees” the report highlights. The communist cadres have a direct role in the management of monasteries through “management committees”. Monasteries are also mandated to fly Chinese flags and have portraits of the CCP leaders in their precincts.
When unrest flares up in the Tibetan region, the spotlight inevitably falls on religious institutions for being responsible for stoking the disruption. Buddhist monks and nuns are made scapegoats by the local authorities hard-pressed by the senior leaders to identify the cause of the upheaval and bring to “justice” those responsible for it. During the political upheaval in 2013-2014, monks and nuns were arrested for participating in a peaceful protest and for supposedly planning future protests.
Buddhist monks and nuns subjected to indoctrination
Not only are monks and nuns are subjected to extensive surveillance, but they are also heavily indoctrinated to generate loyalty and obedience. A report published in 2018 chronicled how the monks in Tibet were subjected to political indoctrination. Tibetan religious leaders were asked to take mandatory “training” that aims to reduce the influence of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama while at the same time attempts to build loyalty to the communist party.
Though the Chinese constitution grants religious freedom to its citizens, it is a fact that the Chinese Communist Party has placed many constraints on it, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet. Repressive measures are used to discourage people from manifesting their religious inclinations, and dissent against restrictions on religious activities is treated as an insult to the CCP, often resulting in arbitrary imprisonment at “reeducation” camps.
Devotion to exiled Dalai Lama is one of the core tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and China is determined to end this religious observance. Intrusive official presence in monasteries, widespread surveillance, regular reeducation campaigns, curbs on travel and communications, discouraging religiosity are some of the tools used by China to bring an end to this devotion to Dalai Lama and align the residents to the CCP ideology.