Argument: China is depriving Tibetans of their religious freedoms

Issue Report: Tibet independence

Supporting quotes

  • “Proving Truth from Facts”. Released by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile on 7 July 1993 partly in response to China’s white paper.[1] – “Religion and National Identity
Buddhism is much more than a mere system of beliefs for the Tibetans; it encompasses the entirety of their culture and civilisation and constitutes the very essence of their lives. Tibetan national identity became indistinguishable from its religion. Soon after the invasion of Tibet, the Chinese authorities began to undermine the traditional social system and religion of Tibet. Monasteries, temples and cultural centres were systematically looted and destroyed in eastern Tibet. This was accompanied by public condemnation of religion and humiliation and ridicule of religious persons. By 1959 there were a total of 6,259 monasteries with about 592,558 resident monks and nuns. By 1976 only eight monastic institutions remained. Since 1979, some superficial religious freedom was allowed. This included selected renovation of places of worship and allowing people to indulge in rituals like prostrations, circumambulations, etc. But the propagation of the teachings of the Buddha is discouraged and strictly controlled by the Chinese authorities. Admission to monasteries is controlled, the number of monks limited, political indoctrination is undertaken and the management of monasteries is placed in the hands of a maze of state bureaucracies.”
  • “Tibet Facts No.1: Major Allegations: Key Facts on the Chinese Occupation Invasion and Refugees”. Free Tibet. Retrieved April 19th, 2008 – “Religious Intolerance

    • Religious practice was forcibly suppressed until 1979, and up to 6,000 monasteries and shrines were destroyed.
    • The 1982 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees freedom of religious belief, but China seeks to restrict the numbers of monks and nuns entering monasteries. The restrictions prevent children under 18 from joining monasteries.
    • After serving arbitrary sentences imposed for pro-independence activities, nuns and monks released from prison are frequently banned from rejoining their nunneries.
    • New guidelines drawn up in 1994 instigated a policy of renewed religious suppression and attempts to discredit the religious authority of the Dalai Lama.
    • In 1995 the Chinese authorities rejected the child recognised by the Dalai Lama as the rebirth of the Panchen Lama, and installed their own candidate.”
  • “Tibet Facts No.4: Control of Religion”. Free Tibet. Retrieved April 19th, 2008 – “We must enhance the knowledge of the monks and nuns about patriotism and law. Tibetan Buddhism must self-reform…they must adapt themselves to suit the development and stabilisation of Tibet…Religious tenets and practices which do not comply with a socialist society should be changed.” (A Golden Bridge Leading to a New Era, published by the Tibet Autonomous Region Party, 1994)
Chinese Policy
China’s 1982 Constitution states that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of belief”, but adds that only “legitimate religious activities” are permissible. Chinese policy in general regards religion as an obstacle to the state’s views and seeks to curtail religious activities.
In Tibet the period of moderate tolerance between 1977 and 1986 ended with a security crackdown in 1987 after demonstrations by monks from several major monasteries. Since 1994 a range of Communist Party and government structures has been erected in Tibet to keep religious practice under limits acceptable to the Chinese leadership.
Chinese policy on religion in Tibet over the last 46 years can be divided into six periods:
“1950-59: Religion was officially endorsed in the 1954 Constitution, but religious activity was strictly controlled through state-run associations.
1959-66: China consolidated its hold on Tibet. Monasteries were targeted as the backbone of Tibetan society. By 1966, before the Cultural Revolution began, 80% of central Tibet’s 2,700 monasteries had been destroyed. Of 115,600 monks and nuns only 6,900 remained (TAR Vice-Chairman Buchung Tsering, 1987).
1966-77: During the Cultural Revolution, all religious activity was banned; religious institutions were razed; texts and sacred objects destroyed; monks and nuns imprisoned and tortured; many were killed. By 1978, only eight monasteries were left standing, and 970 monks and nuns remained in the TAR, according to official figures.
1977-86: In 1977, some religious activities were allowed. The Panchen Lama, jailed in 1961 for presenting a criticism of Party policies in Tibet to Mao Zhedong, was released from detention in 1978, and in 1979 the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa was re-opened. Liberalisation policies were initiated by Hu Yaobang in 1980. Money was allocated for rebuilding monasteries, and in 1986 the Monlam prayer festival was celebrated for the first time in 20 years. Tibetans took full advantage of this post-1980 liberalisation; the period between 1983 and 1987 was one of rapid growth for monasteries and nunneries. Many were able to increase their size with little government interference. Garu Nunnery, for example, increased from 20 nuns in 1985 to about 130 by 1987.
1987-1994: Demonstrations in 1987 resulted in a security crackdown on major monasteries. More than 200 monks and nuns were expelled from major monasteries in the Lhasa area between December 1989 and April 1990.
1994-present: In the Third Forum on Work in Tibet, held in 1994, China shifted its religious policy to actively suppress and restrict further religious growth. Previous policies, while repressive, sought to control and manage religious life rather than to suppress it (A Season to Purge: Religious Repression in Tibet, International Campaign for Tibet, 1996). There are three aspects to the severe measures that began in 1994:
  1. elimination of political opposition and pro-independence views of monks and nuns
  2. the aim of discrediting the Dalai Lama as a religious and political leader
  3. control of religious institutions in both activity and size (Cutting Off the Serpent’s Head: Tightening Control in Tibet 1994-1995, Tibet Information Network [TIN] & Human Rights Watch/Asia, 1996).”