Xi Jinping’s war on Tibetan Buddhism – Dhondup T. Rekjong

CPC Sixth Plenum

Dhondup Tashi RekjongBeijing’s assault on Tibetan Buddhism has three goals: to control Tibetan teaching directly by translating sacred texts into Chinese, to transform Tibetan Buddhism into Chinese Buddhism, and to compete with the flourishing of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.- Dhondup T. Rekjong

The Chinese Communist Party recently adopted a landmark resolution hailing the country’s accomplishments under President Xi Jinping. The communiqué, published after last week’s Sixth Plenum meeting, made clear that Xi’s already expansive power will grow. The effects of this will be felt around the world, but few groups stand to suffer as much as Tibetans.

The party’s communiqué mentions “national rejuvenation” eight times. The phrase may sound harmless, if a bit nationalistic. Yet a key component of national rejuvenation is unification, which in Beijing’s view requires the destruction of minority cultures. Tibetans—who have been struggling against the party’s attempts to erase their identity for more than 60 years—understand the danger of “national rejuvenation” all too well.

Over the decades, the central government has integrated Tibet into its political system through strategies both forcible and peaceful. Policies designed to extract natural resources and control Tibetans include a monolingual education system, monastic re-education, nomad relocation, mining projects, land redistribution and ethnic household registration. None of these policies have been entirely successful in fostering Tibetan loyalty to Beijing, but they have had a deleterious effect on the region’s language, religion, environment, economy and politics.

Speaking at the Central United Front Work Conference in Beijing some six years ago, Xi declared that “to actively guide religions to adapt to a socialist society, we must adhere to the direction of Sinicization.” The president continued to give priority to this issue at the seventh Tibet Work Forum in 2020, stating that “everyone needs to put more effort into Sinicizing Tibetan Buddhism.” What does that mean in practice?

In September the government sponsored a conference at the Qinghai Buddhist Academy in Xining—the largest city on the Tibetan plateau—to discuss continuing efforts to force monasteries to translate Buddhist texts into Chinese. More than 500 religious figures and government officials from Tibetan and Chinese universities, academies and other educational organisations attended. At least 35 academic papers on the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism were presented.