Is Xi Jinping playing Don Quixote in Tibet?

Chinese President Xi Jinping

(Samajweekly) Going by the hysteria of the Chinese establishment at the sight of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lamas photos, the efforts of President Xi Jinping to occupy Tibetan religion from within appear to be another replay of Don Quixote.

Some contradictions are quite difficult to understand, especially when they reflect deep rooted fears in the conduct of powerful governments and their almighty leaders. The schizophrenic reactions of President Xi and his all-invasive communist security apparatus merely at the sight of the Dalai Lama’s photo in the hands of their Tibetan subjects is one such glaring example.

According to the Chinese laws and rules, as practiced in today’s Tibet, possessing the Dalai Lama’s photo is illegal and considered as a ‘threat’ to the national security of China. For this ‘crime’ one can be sentenced up to seven years in jail in addition to losing basic privileges like job, medical support and children’s school admission.

The Chinese government uses extreme kinds of expletives like ‘a wolf in the robes of a monk’, ‘gang leader of bandits’, ‘a serf owner’ and a ‘splitist’ for the same the Dalai Lama who is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and has topped the international popularity charts since decades.

The most hilarious part of this contradiction is that President Xi has announced it to the world that the Communist Party of China (CPC) will have the exclusive rights to identify and install the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama after he passes away.

Latest news from China’s Sichuan province show that large contingents of China’s dreaded People’s Armed Police (PAP) and agents of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) have been swooping on Tibetan homes and temples in the DzaWonpo town of Kardze to confiscate photos of the Dalai Lama.

By the first weekend of September they had arrested 121 Tibetans who were found guilty of possessing the photos either in printed form or in their mobile phones. The arrested persons included six monks from the DzaWonpoGaden Shedrup Monastery.

Similar police raids and arrests were reported in early March this year when the troops of Snow Wolf Commandos, an anti-terrorism elite unit of PAP had raided houses, the local old-home and the community temple of DzaWonpo to search for and confiscate photos of the Dalai Lama.

When China occupied Tibet in 1951, its supreme spiritual leader and ruler Dalai Lama was just a teenager, 16 years old to be exact. China claims that it was ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet, based on a ’17-Point Agreement’ which was drafted by Beijing itself.

However, China’s supreme leader Mao and his mighty People’s Liberation Army (PLA) broke every single promise which they had made to the people of Tibet and the Dalai Lama through this ‘Agreement’.

In 1959 when the Tibetan people stood up against their colonial masters, the PLA killed more than 80,000 Tibetans which forced the Dalai Lama to secretly escape to India. In spite of 70 years of colonial control over Tibet and 62 years of absence of Dalai Lama from Tibet, the Chinese rulers have failed both in winning the hearts of their Tibetan subject as well in weaning them away from their deep faith in the spiritual leader.

In recent years over 150 Tibetans, most of them youths, monks and nuns committed self-immolation to express their longing for Tibetan freedom and return of the Dalai Lama.

During the first four decades of Tibet’s occupation, the Chinese government tried every trick from the communist history to tame the Tibetans. At the time of occupation in 1951, they had promised the Tibetans that they will respect their culture and would not interfere in the social and religious system of Tibet.

In one of the 17-Points it was expressedly promised that the CPC and the PLA would pay even for “needle or thread” which they take from Tibetan people. But very soon Tibet was pushed into a situation of serious food shortage, sky rocketing prices of essential commodities and starvation when the PLA started taking away food stocks to feed its ever increasing number of soldiers.

The things went to extreme when Chairman Mao’s crazy campaign “Great Leap Forward” pushed the entire mainland China into a serious drought, industrial failure and economic catastrophe.

Confiscation of lands and properties of monasteries and wanton killing of protesting Tibetans made it worse. The Tibetan public’s anger resulted into a mass uprising in 1959 which was crushed with a heavy hand by the Chinese army. Ten years of Cultural Revolution which followed the “Great Leap” saw near total destruction of almost everything which represented Tibetan culture and identity. It was during this decade when Mao’s Red Guards worked zealously on the premise that a Tibetan minus faith in religion would make a perfect Chinese patriot.

The two campaigns ended up with 30 to 50 million unnatural deaths in China and killing of about 1.2 million Tibetans from a total population of 6 million. This period marked the end of whatever faith was left among the Tibetan masses in their colonial masters. It was only after the massive Tibetan uprising and anti-China public demonstrations in 1987 and 1989 when Beijing leaders realised that it was impossible for them to kill Tibetan people’s faith in Buddha Dharma and the Dalai Lama.

This led to Beijing’s new approach and policy of using religion as a tool to control the Tibetan minds and hearts. In 1992 and 1995, Beijing officially organised religious exercises of searching and installing reincarnations of two prominent Tibetan Gurus namely the Karma Pa and the Panchen Lama who had died in 1981 and 1989, respectively.

The CPC, which has been following and promoting late Chairman Mao’s belief that “religion is opium of the masses”, appointed search committees of Lamas under overall supervision of a senior communist leader each to find out the new incarnations.

The committee, appointed to look out for the reincarnation of 16th Karma Pa identified a seven-year-old boy Apo Gaga. Under his new name UgyenTrinley Dorje, he was installed in a colourful ceremony for which China invited followers of the previous Karma Pa from Europe and America. The ceremony was telecast live on the national TV channels of China.

The other committee too identified a six-year-old boy Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the new incarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama in 1995. But Beijing rejected this boy and arrested him and his parents because the monks involved in the process had leaked out the information to the Dalai Lama in exile and had sought his approval for this boy.

Angry communist rulers installed another 5 year old boy of their own choice as the new ‘Panchen Lama’. Beijing has since refused to either free the arrested boy or make any information public about him.

In reaction to this the ordinary Tibetan masses too refused to accept the Chinese sponsored Panchen Lama as a ‘fake’ and a ‘Chinese stooge’. As fate would have it, the Karma Pa quietly escaped from Chinese control on the new-year night of 2000 and landed up in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000 to join the Dalai Lama in exile.

But these developments could not stop the communist rulers of Tibet from going ahead with their new policies on religion. Over the past three decades, Beijing has installed over 870 incarnate Lamas belonging to various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

In September 2007, Beijing announced a new law which brought all reincarnations of Tibetan lamas, including the Dalai Lama, under the direct control of the CPC. As per this law, the entire process of appointing search committees, identification of new incarnations and installing them shall be the exclusive prerogative of CPC which will execute this authority through its respective branches of the Buddhist Association.

The Dalai Lama has warned the Chinese government against these plans.

Following a joint conference of all senior monks and scholars of various Tibetan Buddhist traditions in Dharamsala, he declared: “Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through legitimate methods no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”

Expressing full support to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, the US government passed a new law entitled ‘Tibetan Policy and Support Act-2020’ last year which warns the government of China and its leaders against interfering in the reincarnation process of the Dalai Lama.

The European Parliament too has put on record its support for the spiritual leader’s rights to decide about his reincarnation and has asked China “to respect the Dalai Lama’s succession in accordance with Tibetan Buddhist standards”.

But China still hopes that by installing a Dalai Lama of its own choice after the current Dalai Lama passes away, it will be able to control its Tibetan subjects effectively. On the personal initiative of President Xi, aimed at establishing ‘Buddhism with Socialist Values,’ a massive campaign is being run in all monasteries across Tibet which aims and training the monks in communist philosophy. In Tibetan schools too, Tibetan language has been replaced by Mandarin as the main medium of learning. History of Tibet and China, written from communist Chinese angle is being taught in Tibetan schools with the hope that a ‘patriotic’ generation of Tibetans with full commitment to China shall take over.

But going by the near complete rejection of Beijing appointed ‘Panchen Lama’ by Tibetan masses and hysteria of the Chinese establishment at the sight of Dalai Lama’s photos, the efforts of President Xi to occupy Tibetan religion from within appear to be another replay of Don Quixote.