ICT has translated into English the first major speech in Beijing by Gyaltsen Norbu, known as the ‘Chinese Panchen (Gya Panchen)’ because he was selected by the CCP. His installation by the Chinese authorities followed the disappearance in 1995 of the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama and acknowledged by Tibetans as the authentic incarnation, Gendun Choekyi Nyima. Twenty years later, there is still no indication of Gendun Choekyi Nyima’s whereabouts or welfare. Gyaltsen (Gyalcain) Norbu, 25, was installed by the Chinese authorities in order to assert their authority over a future incarnation of the Dalai Lama, and is compelled to conform to the role of ‘official’ Panchen Lama as a ‘patriotic’ figurehead with allegiance to the CCP. This perhaps makes one of his statements in the March 4 speech, before top Chinese leaders at a Party meeting and published so far in the official media only in Chinese, all the more telling. Because of the shortage of monks in Tibet and “quotas set too low”, he says, there is “a danger of Buddhism existing in name only”. Gyaltsen Norbu made the usual provisos in line with Party policy, asserting that Tibetan Buddhism is thriving in Tibet, just as the 10th Panchen Lama carefully framed his arguments.[1] But as ICT’s report points out, his main contention counters existing policy – for instance, officials do not even admit to monastic ‘quotas’ (the government line is that the correct number of monks varies according to the monastery’s capacity to support them). It is unlikely that Gyaltsen Norbu would make the March 4 speech before members of China’s top leadership without any official approval beforehand, although this may not have been from the United Front Work Department, which seeks to uphold a strong line on religious policies in Tibet and hostile approach towards the Dalai Lama. By directly addressing his remarks to Yu Zhengsheng, one of China’s top leaders who heads an important Party committee on ethnic and religious affairs, Gyaltsen Norbu effectively cut out any attempts by Tibetan or other less senior officials to filter his comments. Such officials, including from the United Front, normally serve as a buffer telling the central government that central religious policies are a success and there is no need for concern. The Chinese Panchen’s first major speech was made in the context of deepening, eviscerating campaigns against the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism which worsened significantly after overwhelmingly peaceful protests swept across Tibet in March and April 2008. In recent years there has been an intensified anti-Dalai Lama campaign, the imposition of sweeping regulatory measures that intrude upon Tibetan Buddhist monastic affairs and implementation of aggressive “legal education” programs that pressure monks and nuns to study and accept expanded government control over their religion, monasteries, and nunneries. Since 2008, monasteries of particular historic, political and cultural significance have been targeted by the authorities. After monks from the ‘Great Three’ monasteries in Lhasa of Sera, Drepung and Ganden took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations in March, 2008, the monastic population has been subject to intensified suppression and the strengthening of control mechanisms. Hundreds of monks have been expelled and arrested from these three monasteries, leading to serious fears for their survival as religious institutions, and also as centers of culture and learning – large monasteries in Tibet are similar to universities in the West as well as being centers of religious practice. Gyaltsen Norbu’s comments appear to reflect a genuine alarm that monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region that once housed thousands of monks are now reduced to a few hundred whose main responsibility is no longer religious study but tending to the buildings and tourists. Many of the monks in these major monasteries were from Amdo, Kham, Mongolia, and the broader Himalayan region, and Gyaltsen Norbu does not mention in his speech the policies restricting them from studying in the Tibet Autonomous Region, nor does he mention the expulsions, although both are perhaps implied. The number of monks studying at large religious encampments in Tibetan areas of Kham, such as Larung Gar (Serthar) serves as a visible reminder of the potential that monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region are not allowed to fulfill. Another important element in the speech is that Gyaltsen Norbu depicts Tibetan Buddhism as a source of ‘stability’. After the 2008 protests, Tibetan language, culture and monasteries have been depicted by many Party officials as the opposite, a source of instability. The Chinese Panchen Lama’s speech was made in the context of an oppressive crackdown that co-exists with the resilient spirit of the Tibetan people in defending their religion and culture, and a growing Chinese interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Last month, remarkable footage from Kumbum monastery, one of the great Gelugpa institutions in Tibet, showed thousands of Tibetan pilgrims gathering at a prayer ceremony despite an intimidating paramilitary troop presence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYMYTBC4fsw). There is an intense debate on the future of Buddhism in Tibet and China. More Chinese people are becoming devout followers of Tibetan lamas, who often have genuine influence, and Xi Jinping talks about the importance of China’s ‘traditional cultures or faiths’ including Buddhism. The Chinese Communist Party wants to give an impression that Buddhist faith is flourishing in Tibet and is acutely aware that the leaders of its main schools all reside in exile, with the Dalai Lama a globally respected figure. So they may be seeking to use Gyaltsen Norbu in a more sophisticated way than before, and his comments may reflect an approach that some officials want to convey. Even so, Gyaltsen Norbu’s speech was reminiscent of the skillful phrasing used by the 10th Panchen Lama in parts, and he has made lengthy visits to a number of Tibetan monasteries, with senior lamas and scholars as his teachers. Their concerns appear to be reflected in his comments. While these developments are of immense importance to Tibet’s future, and despite the evidence of some moderate and progressive views, a White Paper released by the Chinese state media on April 15 provided sobering confirmation of the current dominance of the anti-Dalai Lama, ‘anti-separatist’ power-bloc in the Beijing establishment. Gyaltsen Norbu’s comments about the danger of “Buddhism existing in name only” are notable in the context of this complex, shifting picture. Footnote [1] The Tenth Panchen Lama died on January 28, 1989, after enduring 14 years in prison in the Mao era. He had submitted what is believed to be the most extensive internal criticism of Chinese Communist policies ever submitted to the leadership, documenting the mass arrests, executions and oppressions in Tibet that followed the 1959 Uprising. Mao Zedong famously denounced the report as “a poisoned arrow shot at the Party” and its author as a “reactionary feudal overlord”. It was published by Tibet Information Network in London (now closed) in 1997, in English translation.
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Last week, we heard once again Chinese Communist Party’s officials reiterating their concept of religious freedom in Tibet. Chen Quanguo, the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Party chief, wrote in the People’s Daily newspaper that monks and nuns should be evaluated for their "patriotism," a word they use to describe their allegiance to the Communist Party. In China’s one-party system the Party is institutionally more important than the State. Also, he wrote "Let the monks and nuns in the temples and monasteries have a personal feeling of the party and government's care and warmth; let them feel the party's benevolence, listen to the party's words and follow the party's path." To complete his article he added that all Tibetan monasteries should also fly the Chinese national flag. Chen Quanguo clearly thinks of monasteries as if they were government buildings where the national flag should be displayed, and this explains very well the depth of control that the government of China wants to have over Tibetan Buddhism. Furthermore, for years now China’s police officers (“patriotic teams”) have been permanently stationed inside or next to Tibet’s monasteries, working to ensure that their thinking is in line with the Party’s desires and that “troublemakers” are kept in check. If it weren’t tragic, it’s ridiculous to think that an important official of the second biggest economy in the world could make such statements in 2015. But this is what is happening in China and, with the exception of some important international media coverage (many of which quoted ICT in their stories), very few international institutions and governments worldwide seem to notice that this is happening in Tibet today. So, our duty to monitor and expose these developments, and to provide principled and balanced analysis, is even more necessary while the economic clout and influence of China on our governments and societies grows. It isn’t just Tibet that we should save; it is our faith that human values cannot be taken away from some without others speaking up on their behalf. This is what interdependence means in a global society. Nobody will stay free forever unless all human beings concretely support each other to achieve that goal. You have an opportunity to do your part by joining the International Campaign for Tibet. Please do it today, it will not only support our efforts to help our brothers and sisters in Tibet but, by challenging China’s authoritarian rule and political influence, it will help to build a better world for all of us. www.savetibet.org/donate


“Reflections on my ICT TYLP Summer”

On Friday, April 3, 2015, in Recent, by Tenzin Pelkyi
Tenzin Pelkyi, who participated in the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program in 2013, wrote the following about her experiences there: I joined the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) in the summer of 2013, while simultaneously participating in a law clerkship program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC in Washington, D.C. I had initially planned not to apply to the TYLP program because of the week-long absence that it would require from my work, but I ultimately decided that this was a rare and timely opportunity to connect with the global Tibet advocacy network. Since I had interned in the District a few years before, and had failed to connect with the Tibetan community in the area, I wanted to ensure that I was making the most of my summer this time around. While I had engaged in social justice work since the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I had never before been able to connect my progressive values to Tibet. I had also never given much weight to my identity as an “Asian American.” Having just then become comfortable calling myself a “Tibetan American,” I eventually realized that I could reconcile these two parts of my dual identity through the progressive movement I was first introduced to in the nation’s capital. Prior to the TYLP program, I had no knowledge of the extent of the Tibet lobby in Washington. I was, of course, familiar with the history and current structure of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). My parents had served the CTA all their lives when we lived in India, and had volunteered as part of the local Tibetan community leadership in Minnesota as well. So, when I learned how crucial Tibet’s relationship with Congress and federal government agencies like the Department of State were, I realized just how critical it was for ICT to make this level of investment in Tibetan exile youth. I was particularly surprised that out of the eleven participants in the program that summer, eight were women, including all four of the Minnesotans (counting myself). This certainly factored into the group dynamics in our program, which made for a highly respectful yet energetic environment (“SGL”). As such, it comes as no surprise that the women who lead this organization and participated in the re-launching of this critical initiative continue to maintain a strong sense of community. Being a young Tibetan exile who was just beginning to explore two new worlds that seemed so different and contradictory to one another, I now realize how valuable and necessary a contribution the Tibetan American community makes to the Asian American movement in this country. I am proud to be able to bring these two parts of my identity together today. I am certain that the Tibetan youth in America are as well. As such, I would personally like to extend my sincere gratitude to ICT for engaging young Tibetan Americans who have such a strong desire to lead our community with all the tools and knowledge we have gained in exile. Indeed, I know this is only the beginning of a vast and powerful network for the future of Tibet.

Xi Jinping as a Living Buddha

On Friday, March 20, 2015, in Recent, by John N
Communist Party officials visiting Beijing for annual meetings shook up the internet and saddled themselves with reams of bad press last week when they harshly attacked the Dalai Lama. That in itself isn’t anything new; even headline-grabbing accusations like claims that the Dalai Lama ‘betrays his country and his religion’ are just new iterations of Beijing’s old themes. What really got people’s attention is the way Party officials claimed ownership and mastery over the Tibetan Buddhist concept of reincarnate lamas: “Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China,” senior Party official Zhu Weiqun told reporters. [caption id="attachment_5719" align="aligncenter" width="520"]NYT editorial cartoon- Xi Jinping tries to issue spiritual orders to the Dalai Lama. NYT editorial cartoon- Xi Jinping tries to issue spiritual orders to the Dalai Lama.[/caption] There’s an obvious absurdity to this claim; Tibet expert Robert Barnett mentioned seeing Zhu’s statement “through the prism of Monty Python.” It might be useful to look at some of the specifics regarding Beijing’s claim though, in order to fully appreciate the absurdity of these ideas. To begin, the Party has been riled up by comments the Dalai Lama made over the last few years concerning his reincarnation. He has speculated that he may return outside the borders of the People’s Republic of China, or as a girl, or that he may not be reborn at all. He has emphatically repeated that senior Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and the Tibetan people at large, will end up making the final decisions, and in the meantime as long as he remains in good health these matters won’t have to be decided for some time. Hence this reply, delivered by Padma Choling, the Chinese-appointed governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region: “Whether he wants to cease reincarnation or not, this decision is not up to him.” Here the obvious absurdity reveals itself: if we take the Dalai Lama to be a human manifestation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, then we can safely say that the decision certainly does lie with him, and not with some department of the Communist Party of China. Padma Choling also asked reporters “if the central government had not approved it, how could he have become the 14th Dalai Lama? He couldn't.” And yet, he did- because the central government he’s referring to now, established by the Communist Party, didn’t yet exist when the current Dalai Lama was recognized. The central government of China at the time was that of the Republic of China, which has since relocated to Taiwan. It’s worth noting that their involvement was minimal, as well- their representatives arrived after traditional Tibetan methods had been used to confirm the identity of the child, and they merely joined other foreign delegations in attending the enthronement ceremony. The Party would like you to believe that they presided over the ceremony, but historian Tsering Shakya has found no evidence supporting this claim. Recently the Party has begun insisting that the use of a Qing dynasty relic called the Golden Urn is crucial for recognizing reincarnate lamas. My colleague Pema Wangyal examined the history of the Golden Urn last year, and his findings significantly undermine the Party’s position. The Golden Urn was only involved in the selection of three out of the fourteen Dalai Lamas, and just two of the first ten Panchen Lamas. Notably, the current Dalai Lama was selected without the use of the Golden Urn. The Communist Party obsession with the Golden Urn has a much deeper flaw, though. As Elliot Sperling points out, the only reason the Golden Urn had any legitimacy in the past is that the emperors of the Qing dynasty practiced Tibetan Buddhism. Emperor Qianlong was acknowledged as an emanation of Manjusri, and he was considered by some to have powers of discernment that might help in the process of searching for reincarnations. Today’s Communist Party leaders have no such faith, and no such acknowledged spiritual roles. The rules of the Communist Party would even appear to make this impossible, as atheism is a must for senior Party leaders. Even then, the patron-priest relationship that linked the Dalai Lamas to China in the past was formally abrogated by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1913. In the absence of any such arrangement, Beijing would be wise to leave spiritual matters like the recognition of reincarnate lamas to qualified spiritual authorities. This will spare them from the absurdity of documents like State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5, a 2007 Chinese law which says people who plan to be reborn must complete an application and submit it to several government agencies for approval. It’s a law which somehow manages to make a mockery of both the Communist Party’s supposed atheism and the religious institutions of Tibetan Buddhism. To borrow their words, Zhu Weiqun and Padma Choling have taken an ‘extremely frivolous and disrespectful attitude’ towards this issue, and a good first step towards sorting it all out would be for them to stop intentionally conflating the relationships Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism has had with the Communist Party, the Republic of China, and the Qing dynasty. Tibetan Buddhist leaders like the Dalai Lama are perfectly capable of making their own decisions regarding the future of Tibetan Buddhist institutions, and they should be free to do so without outside interference.