Chinese officials staging ‘takeover’ of Tibetan Buddhist academy: HRW

Tibetans accuse the Chinese government of trying to eradicate its Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression.

AFP

© AFP/File | China’s officially atheist Communist government is wary of any organised movements outside its control

BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese authorities are staging a “takeover” of the world’s largest institution for Tibetan Buddhist learning, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday, the latest move to bring religion under strict Communist control.The monastic encampment of Larung Gar was once home to more than 10,000 devotees, their self-built red wooden homes sprawled across a valley in a remote corner of the southwestern province of Sichuan.

But an eight-month demolition and expulsion campaign that ended last April has reduced the population by at least half and destroyed huge swathes of the houses.

Now further drastic changes are on the horizon, with authorities preparing to split the encampment’s academy and monastery into two separate sections divided by a wall, according to an official pamphlet issued around August and obtained by HRW. AFP was not able to independently verify its authenticity.

China’s officially atheist Communist government is wary of organised movements outside its control, including religious ones, and analysts say restrictions on such groups have tightened under President Xi Jinping.

The pamphlet outlined measures including student quotas and real-name registration for residents and visitors, with monks, nuns and laypeople required to wear different coloured tags.

New finance, propaganda, education and security roles will be created and given to 97 Communist party officials, who will live on-site, it said.

“The administrative takeover of Larung Gar by Party officials shows that the government’s aim was not merely to reduce numbers at the settlement,” said Sophie Richardson, HRW’s China director.

“Chinese authorities are also imposing pervasive control and surveillance over every level of activity within religious communities.”

China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, a principle that Beijing says it upholds.

However in recent weeks, authorities have demolished a Christian megachurch in northern China and banned schoolchildren from visiting mosques in a county in the northwest.

The pamphlet released by HRW states that 40 percent of classes at the institute must now be about politics and other non-religious subjects.

The top criteria for admission into the academy will be “a firm political stand, accepting the Great Motherland, the Chinese [Zhonghua] people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics”, it said.

Study objectives should be to “honor and support the CCP” and train monks who “defend the unification of the Motherland”, it added.

Officials said the earlier demolitions at Larung Gar had sought to improve sanitation and safety standards.

The forthcoming changes, the pamphlet said, would make the academy “standardized, law-abiding and modern” and the monastery “civilized and harmonious”.

But Richardson called the measures “micromanagement” that encroached on religious freedoms and were “likely to fuel resentment against Beijing”.

China says it “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951 and insists it has brought development to a previously backward region.

But many Tibetans accuse the Chinese government of trying to eradicate its Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression.

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