China’s hard line on Dalai Lama reincarnation not helping Tibet and Tibetians – B.R. Deepak

14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso

B.R. DeepakChina has made it clear that it will choose its own Dalai Lama after the passing of the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and anyone else would be deemed illegal. – Prof B.R. Deepak

On 18 March, Reuters published an exclusive interview of the Dalai Lama in which the Dalai asserted that “In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese! It’s possible, it can happen.”

On 19 March, Geng Shuang, the spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to it by saying that “Reincarnation of living Buddhas, as a unique institution of inheritance in Tibetan Buddhism, comes with a set range of rituals and conventions. The Chinese government implements the policy of freedom of religious belief. The reincarnation system is respected and protected by such legal instruments as Regulations on Religious Affairs and Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas. The institution of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama has been in existence for several hundred years. The 14th Dalai Lama himself was found and recognised following religious rituals and historical conventions and his enthronement was approved by the then central government. Therefore reincarnation of living Buddhas including the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions.”

The statement emphasises two things. One, that the incarnation of the Dalai Lama must follow the rituals and historical conventions. And two, it would be decided by such legal instruments as “Regulations on Religious Affairs and Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas”. Now, as regards the rituals and conventions, these were laid down by the Qing Emperor Qianlong, once his 170,000 strong forces defeated the Gurkhas in the aftermath of the latter’s invasion of Tibet in 1791. Amongst these, the most prominent and often quoted by the Chinese is the “29-Article Ordinance for More Effective Governance of Tibet”, which stipulated that the Ambans, or the Qing imperial resident commissioner in Tibet, would enjoy the same status as the Dalai and the Panchen; the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the Panchen and various Hotogtu Rinpochs must follow the procedure of drawing lots from the golden urn under the supervision of the Ambans and the same must be reported to the imperial court for approval; a new uniform currency bearing the title of the emperor was issued; traders were required to carry a passport; all communication with neighbouring states was to be conducted through Ambans. Some of the Chinese scholars, for example Li Tieh-Tseng, in his book The Historical Status of Tibet traces real Chinese sovereignty over Tibet from 1791, contrary to most of the scholars tracing it from Yuan Dynasty. As regards the “legal instruments”, the “Regulations on Religious Affairs and Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas” were issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on 18 July 2007 and went into effect from 1 September 2007. These provide the legal basis for China rejecting any incarnation announced outside Tibet. In all, there are 14 articles in these “Regulations”, however, Article 2 remains most crucial as it stipulates that “Reincarnating living Buddhas should respect and protect the principles of the unification of the state, protecting the unity of the minorities, protecting religious concord and social harmony, and protecting the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism. Reincarnating living Buddhas should respect the religious rituals and historically established systems of Tibetan Buddhism, but may not re-establish feudal privileges which have already been abolished. Reincarnating living Buddhas shall not be interfered with or be under the dominion of any foreign organisation or individual.”

The two requirements flagged by Geng Shuang make it clear that China will designate its own Dalai Lama and any name proposed by the Dalai Lama or any organisation outside Tibet would be deemed illegal. The statements regarding the incarnation by the Dalai Lama and their castigation by China are not new. The Dalai Lama has been saying many things about his reincarnation. For example, he has been saying that the issue of reincarnation would be decided by his believers; that there would be no Dalai Lama after his death; or rather a beautiful maiden may be his reincarnation, or his reincarnation would be outside China, and even outside the planet. China has castigated these remarks by the Dalai Lama as non-serious and laughable. It has argued that since the Dalai is ageing, and because the prospect of the “Tibetan independence” seems bleak, that he has indulged in such talk. Zhu Weiqun, Director of the Ethnic and Religious Commission of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference has termed the Dalai Lama’s remarks on reincarnation as “extremely non-serious”.

This time, so far, we have not witnessed the kind of criticism China poured on the Dalai in the past, however, the Chinese approach remains the same. For example, since the 2008 Lhasa riots, Zhang Qingli, the then general secretary of the Communist Party in Tibet has pronounced the Dalai Lama as a “wolf in monk’s robes.” Zhang had said that he actually quoted the words of Zhou Enlai to describe the Dalai Lama in that way. Zhang also made comparisons between the Dalai Lama and Rebiya Kadeer, a Uygur separatist leader from Xinjiang. Reacting to the Dalai Lama’s announcement of retirement, Qiangba Puncog, the then Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s People’s Congress said on the sidelines of the NPC session on 11 March 2011 that the Dalai’s retirement is “absolutely meaningless”. He said, “Since no country recognises his self-declared ‘Tibetan Government in Exile’, whatever he does in his illegal political organisation is nonsense and Tibet will not be affected at all.” Puncog admitted that the “Dalai Lama, as a Living Buddha and religious leader, does have some influence on his believers”, but also said that “his death is expected to have a minor impact on Tibet, the overall social situation will remain stable, and we are prepared to handle some minor turbulence here and there after his death”.

Therefore, the fundamental perceptions of the Tibetan émigrés and China are very diverging. As far as the Dalai Lama headed “TGIE” is concerned, it has adopted the “middle way” for the resolution of Tibet issue. In brief, the Dalai Lama demands “genuine autonomy” within the constitutional framework of the People’s Republic of China. However, part one of the Strasbourg proposals that deal with the history of Tibet and deem Tibet as an independent country before 1949 is troublesome and has not gone well with the Chinese government. The second part is forward-looking and deals with the future of Tibet. China would remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy, but Tibet would be governed by its own Constitution. The government of Tibet would comprise a popular elected chief executive, a bicameral legislature and an independent legal system. The other major hurdle is the demand to restore the whole of Tibet, known as greater Tibet. The greater Tibet or the so-called “Cholka-Sum” is the ethnic Tibet, which consisted of three provinces, namely, U Tsang, Kham and Amdo. The genuine autonomy is sought for the entire 6 million Tibetans in China, not just for 2.6 million Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

As far as China is concerned, whether it was the issue of the Dalai Lama’s retirement or the recent reincarnation, it cares little and describes the Dalai Lama’s proposals or the demand for “genuine autonomy” as a ploy to seek independence, semi-independence or even independence in a disguised manner, for according to China the “Charter of the Tibetan in Exile” promulgated in 1991, maintains that efforts shall be made to transform a future Tibet into a Federal Democratic Self-Governing Republic and a zone of peace throughout her three regions, with the Dalai Lama as a head of such a future entity. Therefore, to Beijing, the real motive of “genuine autonomy” could be best described as “sanbuqu” (trilogy) to secure Tibetan independence: i.e. one, to secure the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet through negotiations; two, to gain political power through “genuine autonomy”; and three, to realise “Tibetan independence” through a “referendum”.

It could be discerned that these are extremely diverging positions and there is no meeting ground for the two sides. China is eagerly waiting for the demise of the Dalai Lama, as evident from the statements of its officials in Tibet. Nevertheless, it would be wishful thinking on the part of China if it believes that the Tibetan movement will die with the demise of the Dalai Lama. The émigrés feel that the TGIE has matured as an institution and would continue to be an umbrella organisation for Tibetan émigrés throughout the world, and continue to follow the course of non-violence and engage China into a dialogue. Organisations such as the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA), National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), Gu-Chu-Sum Movement (GCSM), Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), the International Tibet Support Network (ITSN) and the Tibetan Writers Organization (TWO) etc., which have been pronounced by China as “radical” and at times “terror outfits” are likely to continue the struggle through the tactics of mass movement on the one hand, and arouse international support and sympathy for their cause on the other.

Everyone acknowledges that the void that would be left by the Dalai Lama would be difficult to fill. It would not only be a huge loss for Tibet and the émigrés, but a loss for China too, for China will never find a personality like him, who could wield the support to secure a peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue. – Sunday Guardian Live, 23 March 2019

» Dr B.R. Deepak is an award-winning sinologist and professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.



3 Responses

  1. India should ignore all the bullying remarks and threats and clearly choose the side of the Tibetans. Its, India’s, future depends on it.


  2. Like all totalitarian societies, the Chinese have an inflated concept of themselves and think they can play god too!

    The Dalai Lama can easily pre-empt the Chinese plan to take over his ghadi by identifying and naming his successor now. This is fully in accord with Dharmic tradition and in the circumstances would be acceptable to his people and the world.

    The system of selecting a new Dalai Lama through signs and portents is no longer feasible or prudent as the Tibetan people are dispersed over the globe and the Chinese have a declared plan to forcefully appropriate the office of the Dalai Lama upon Tenzin Gyatso’s demise.


  3. Dalai Lama

    Senator Cory Gardner said the United States should follow the Dalai Lama’s lead on how to choose his successor. – AFP – NDTV – New Delhi – April 13, 2019

    The Dalai Lama told his followers on Friday to “feel at ease” as he was discharged from a New Delhi hospital three days after being admitted with a chest infection.

    “I received the necessary medical treatments and now feel kind of normal,” the 83-year-old told reporters in a video posted on his official Twitter account as he left the medical facility on Friday morning.

    “I have recovered very well. So, everyone, please feel at ease! I wish to thank everyone for your sincere concern and prayers for me,” he said in the video shot by Voice of America’s Tibetan language service, according to accompanying subtitles of his remarks in the clip.

    The Tibetan spiritual leader said the cause of his illness had been a “kind of flu… which persisted for a while. After a thorough check-up — X-rays and other diagnosis — it was found that there was some lung (infection).”

    The Buddhist monk, global celebrity and thorn in China’s side was admitted to the Max hospital in Delhi on Tuesday.

    His personal spokesman Tenzin Taklha told AFP that the Dalai Lama would now spend “several days of rest” in Delhi before returning to Dharamsala, the northern Indian hill station where he has lived in exile for six decades.

    In 1959, at the age of 23, he fled the Tibetan capital Lhasa and across the frozen Himalayan border, disguised as a soldier, as Chinese troops poured into the region to crush an uprising

    In India he set up a government-in-exile and launched a campaign to reclaim Tibet that gradually evolved into an appeal for greater autonomy — the so-called “middle way” approach.

    Simple monk

    The self-described “simple Buddhist monk” has spent decades criss-crossing the globe mixing with monarchs, politicians and Hollywood actors pressing his case.

    His status as a global symbol of peace whose message transcends faith has earned comparisons to visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

    But he has also drawn the fury of an increasingly assertive China, branding him a “wolf in a monk’s robe” and accusing him of trying to split the nation.

    Although still a hugely popular speaker, he has cut back on his global engagements and has not met a world leader since 2016 — while governments have been wary of extending invitations to him for fear of angering Beijing.

    His admission to hospital this week, which attracted widespread media interest and a flood of wishes of good will on social media, also served as a reminder that the question of his succession is far from clear.

    The Dalai Lama has sought to pre-empt any attempt by Beijing—which has effectively wiped out organised opposition to its rule in Tibet—to name his reincarnated successor, even announcing in 2011 that he may be the last in the lineage.

    The Tibetan spiritual leader enjoys wide support across the partisan divide in Washington, where a senator raised the issue of his succession at a hearing Tuesday.

    Senator Cory Gardner, the Republican who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia, said the United States should follow the Dalai Lama’s lead on how to choose his successor.

    “Let me be very clear — the United States Congress will never recognise a Dalai Lama that is selected by the Chinese,” Gardner said.


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