Religion and culture
Buddhism lies at the core of Tibetan cultural identity and Tibetan nationalism. It is therefore perceived as a threat to the authority of the Chinese Communisty Party. China attempts to convey an image to the world of tolerance for religion. In Tibet, it may appear that monastic institutions are thriving and that Tibetans are able to express their devotion through traditional rituals; yet the reality is quite different.
Monasteries that once housed thousands of monks are now reduced to a few hundred whose main responsibility is no longer religious study but tending to the buildings and tourists.
There are various Chinese policies which seek to dictate Tibetan Buddhism and ultimately the identity of the Tibetan people.
In recent years, patriotic re-education campaigns have been intensified in monastic institutions. Monks and nuns are forced to denounce their spiritual leader Dalai Lama and to swear allegiance to the Chinese state and the communist party. Failure to comply with such campaigns has resulted in physical punishment such as beatings, in monks and nuns being expelled, detention and even imprisonment.
Identification and education of reincarnate lamas need approval from an atheist state. The daily activities in monasteries and nunneries are overseen by government-controlled bodies. There are restrictions on the publication and distribution of religious texts. The Dalai Lama’s photo is banned in an attempt to counter his influence among the Tibetan people. Religious ceremonies and events are restricted, often banned.
A new report by the International Campaign for Tibet in 2012 examines the impact on Tibetan culture of Chinese Communist Party rule in Tibet. In 60 Years of Chinese Misrule: Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet, ICT makes the following findings:
- The Chinese authorities have engaged in a consistent effort over 60-plus years to replace authentic, organic Tibetan culture with a state-approved and controlled version that comports with the ideological, political and economic objectives of the Chinese Communist Party. This effort has been pursued through intentional policies that are designed to fundamentally alter Tibetan culture in a way that robs it of its essence and turns it into something that the Chinese authorities can manage.
- Chinese Communist rule in Tibet has exhibited a pattern of repression, relative liberalisation, vigorous reassertion of cultural identity by Tibetans, and renewed repression. This pattern is rooted in the application of policies that privilege the Chinese party-state’s interests over those of the Tibetan people. These policies are, in turn, based on a set of ideological and nationalistic principles that permeate the thinking of Chinese leaders and have taken hold on a societal level.
- Chinese policies and practices of cultural repression and destruction are so systematic and persistent in Tibet, and their effects are so serious, that they contain elements of cultural genocide.
- These elements of cultural genocide, combined with certain conditions such as: a history of acts of genocide against Tibetans as a religious group, unprecedented communal tensions, and officially sanctioned statements that provoke prejudice and hatred directed at Tibetans, have been recognized as precursors to conventional genocide elsewhere, and should sensitize the international community to take robust action in the case of Tibet.