High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written
between October and November 2013 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free
Asia and published on her blog on November 16, 2013.
The blogpost gives a comprehensive overview on the Chinese
government’s religious policies in Tibet since the 1950s to the present
These three photos were all taken when I
was in Lhasa last year. Photo 1 shows the Jokhang Temple that His
Holiness the Dalai Lama blessed as “the most sacred temple in the whole
of Tibet”; today, the scarlet-red Chinese flag is flying on its roof.
Photos 2 and 3 show Sera Monastery, one of Lhasa’s three main
monasteries; the few remaining monks are performing a Buddhist debate to
tourists; the young Chinese who is wearing lay clothes is actually a
member of the military police. The prayer beads that he is wearing are
to disguise him as a Buddhist.
“An Overview of the CCP’s Religious Policies in Tibetan Areas”
The religious policies of the CCP in Tibet have more or less stayed
the same over the past decades; there have been differences in degree at
different times in different places, but overall, they have remained
exactly the same. Here, I want to give an overview of the entire
The religious reforms were passed by the CCP Central Committee and
launched in 1958. It was a political movement in the Tibetan areas of
Amdo and Kham and had one ultimate goal to destroy Tibetan religion
step-by-step. For example, the reforms entailed closing down
monasteries, arresting important religious figures, or forcing monks and
nuns to leave the monastic order. In Qinghai province alone, out of 618
traditional Tibetan monasteries, 597 collapsed, out of their 57390
members, 30839 were forced to return to ordinary life.
In 1959, under the name of “fighting the counter-revolutionary
rebels”, Tibetan religion was attacked fiercely. Religious leaders
either fled abroad or were arrested and sentenced; it was a time of
As a result of the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, out of the
originally 2713 monasteries inside Tibet, only 8 remained. In the entire
Tibetan region, including Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces,
out of the originally over 6000 monasteries, less than 100 remained.
At the end of the Cultural Revolution, after experiencing terrible
calamity, Tibetan religion underwent a revival, most of the destroyed
monasteries were rebuilt under the efforts and sacrifices of Tibetan
people. I want to particularly stress that the funds needed to rebuild
these monasteries almost entirely came from donations from Tibetans
themselves. The central and local governments only gave money to rebuild
a few most famous religious places.
In the early 1980s, local leaders were comparatively moderate and
Tibetan religion enjoyed some degree of freedom. But because of the
numerous protests that erupted between 1987 and 1989 in Lhasa, and
particularly after Hu Jintao became Party Secretary of the TAR in 1988,
religious policies were tightened. All the way up to today, local Party
Secretaries have been hard-liners, supporting and placing emphasis on
tough religious policies in Tibet.
In January 1989, the 10th Panchen Lama suddenly passed away, leaving behind a situation full of suspense.
Between March 1989 and May 1990, adopting the rhetoric of the “barrel of the gun”, Hu Jintao turned Lhasa into a military zone.
In 1995, the relationship between the CCP and the Dalai Lama
completely broke apart over the problem of the reincarnation of the 10th
Panchen Lama; Li Ruihuan labelled the Dalai Lama as follows: “The Dalai
Lama is the leader of a conspiring political gang of separatists who
want Tibet to be independent. He is a loyal tool of the international
anti-Chinese powers and the root cause of the turmoil within Tibetan
society, he is the biggest obstacle preventing traditional Buddhism from
establishing itself in an orderly manner.”
Chen Kuiyuan, appointed by Hu Jintao, became the head of the TAR.
From then on, first in Lhasa and gradually in the whole TAR, the local
authorities established work groups in all monasteries, fostering
“patriotic education”; the abbreviation for these work groups was then “
Offices of Patriotism”. Their main job was to unify all monks’
perception and knowledge of the Dalai Lama. In cases of slight
nonconformity, monks would be expelled, in severe cases, they would be
sentenced to imprisonment. This was a time of many suicides among monks,
a fact that remained largely unknown to the outside world. “Patriotic
education” was continued until 2008, when renewed hard-liner policies
expelled the monks from other Tibetan areas living in Lhasa’s three main
monasteries, which eventually led to the eruption of the March 2008
Over the past five years, “patriotic education” has been spread
across the entire Tibetan region, which has had extremely negative
repercussions. Between February 2009 and September 2013, 121 people
self-immolated inside Tibet and 5 within the exile community. Out of the
126 self-immolators, 19 were women and 107 have already passed away.
The local authorities, however, have become ever more unyielding. There
was, for example, the well-known and greatly criticised project of the
“9 haves” that was implemented in monasteries and villages of the TAR.
It dictates that people need not only to possess the portraits of the
CCP’s four (now five) great leaders and the five-starred red flag, but
also that they have to possess a Party radio, TV and a newspaper to be
able to receive the voice of the Party at all times; additionally, the
work groups stationed in monasteries and villages have been building
police stations that resemble the monasteries in terms of external
appearance. The cruel reality is that all Tibetan monasteries are
already trapped in a cage.
October – November, 2013
Originally published at http://highpeakspureearth.com/2014/an-overview-of-the-ccps-religious-policies-in-tibetan-areas-by-woeser/ and republished by TPR with permission of HPPE.