July 16, 1997 (a Wednesday)

Dharmsala, India.

On this date, Chen Kuiyuan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, gave a speech on “legitimate” art, “acceptable” tradition, and the role of Buddhism in Tibetan culture in which he said:

In inheriting traditional culture, we must distinguish the essence from the dross and continue to create something new.

(…)

Some people say that the Tibetan national culture is connected to religion in form and essence. Some others say that college teaching material will be void of substance if religion is not included and that in that case, colleges would not be real colleges. If what such people talked about were a Buddhist college, I would have no comment. But what they refer to is a Tibet University, so they have no reason whatsoever to make such an allegation. After all, is the Tibetan national culture equivalent to a Buddhist culture? If one should say that the Tibetan national culture came into being after Buddhist culture, one would have shorten the history of Tibetan civilization by more than 1,000 years. As is known to all, there was no Buddhism in Tibet over a long period of time. Buddhism came into being only a little over 2,500 years ago.

(…)

Is only Buddhism Tibetan culture? It is utterly absurd. Buddhism is a foreign culture. If it is said that the Tibetan nationality had no culture before the arrival of Buddhist culture, is it not said that the Tibetan people used to be a nationality without a culture? The view of equating Buddhist culture with Tibetan culture not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself. I just cannot understand that. Some people, claiming to be authorities, have made such shameless statements confusing truth and falsehood. Comrades who are engaged in research on Tibetan culture should be indignant at such statements. Making use of religion in the political field, separatists now go all out to put religion above the Tibetan culture and attempt to use the spoken language and culture to cause disputes and antagonism between nationalities, and this is the crux of the matter. [emphasis added]

Later, at a secret meeting held in December 1999 in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, Chen Kuiyuan recommended to the Central Chinese Government that an all-out effort must be made to eradicate Tibetan Buddhism and culture from the face of the earth so that no memory of them will be left in the minds of coming generations of Tibetans – except as museum pieces. Chen Kuiyuan stated that the main cause of instability is the existence of the Dalai Lama and his Government-in-exile in Dharamsala and these must be “uprooted”. He recommended that Tibet, Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhism – in other words the very name of Tibet – must be destroyed and the “Tibet Autonomous Region” be merged with provinces like Sichuan.

Chen’s statements, as arrogant and ignorant as they made him appear to be [which can be illustrated by paraphrasing Chen: Communism is a foreign government. If it is said that the Tibetan nationality had no government before the arrival of the Communist (Chinese) government, is it not said that the Tibetan people used to be a nationality without a government? The view of equating Communist (Chinese) government with Tibetan government not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself.], were hardly the isolated or extreme views of a minor CCP official. From July 20 to 23, 1994, Beijing had staged the Third Forum on Work in Tibet, which had expressed deep concern at the continued popularity of Tibetan Buddhism. The Party publicly ordered a halt to any further spread of Buddhist institutions or of the monastic population in Tibet:

There are too many places where monasteries have been opened without permission from the authorities, and having too much religious activity. Some districts have built monasteries without limits and without permission. The waste of manpower, materials and money was tremendous.

(…)

There are problems [p.that have?*] arisen from religion, i.e. sometimes interfering in administration, law, education, marriages, birth control planning, people’s productivity and their daily life…

However, what really had concerned the authorities was not monks wasting social resources but the perceived relationship between the clergy and the continuing activism of the pro-independence movement:

A number of religious institutions [p.trans: including places?*] have been used at times by a few people who harbor sinister motives to plot against us and have become counter -revolutionary bases.

(…)

The influence of our enemy in foreign countries, especially the Dalai clique, was slipping into the monasteries of our region more than ever. They assume that “to get hold of a monastery is the equivalent of [p.trans: getting hold of?*] a district of the Communist Party”, and they are putting great effort [p.hope?*] into achieving it.

Although most recent demonstrations calling for independence in Tibet had been initiated and carried out by members of the Tibetan clergy, few if any of these protests in Lhasa lasted more than a few minutes and none was known to have involved more than fifteen people. In other words, the protests carried out by the clergy were frequent but insignificant in size; the really large-scale demonstrations of this period were entirely lay affairs. The Third Forum’s identification of Tibetan monasteries with opposition to the state was grossly exaggerated. The result of the Third Forum’s policy on religion was to give approval at the highest level for stricter control over the monastic institutions of Tibet:

We must teach and guide Tibetan Buddhism to reform itself. All those religion laws and rituals must be reformed in order to fit in with the needs of development and stability in Tibet, and they should be reformed so that they become appropriate to a society under socialism.

Not surprisingly, then, on 5 April 1996, the Tibet Daily formally announced the ban on public display of Dalai Lama photographs:

The hanging of the Dalai’s portrait in temples should gradually be banned. We should convince and educate the large numbers of monks and ordinary religious believers that the Dalai is no longer a religious leader who can bring happiness to the masses, but a guilty person of the motherland and people.

Religious and cultural rights are internationally recognized human rights. The incorporation of these rights in international law is a recognition that the preservation of these values is of concern to the entire world community. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thereby represents an international standard applicable to all nations. The inseparability of religion and culture in Tibetan society means that the Tibetan people’s freedom of religion is also protected under article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (signed by the People’s Republic of China in October 1997), which recognizes the right of everyone “(t)o take part in cultural life”. China regularly claims that the Tibetan people’s human rights are being observed and that they enjoy full religious freedom, but this is an unequivocal lie.

References:

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