Chinese Repression Threatens Tibet's Buddhist Tradition

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

CHINA's increasing persecution of religion in Tibet threatens to smother Tibetan Buddhism, says a report to be released today by the human rights organization International Campaign for Tibet. In addition to abusing the rights of monks and lay Buddhists, Beijing has systematically eliminated the few autonomous monasteries carved out in the last decade. Tibetan Buddhism could wither in its native land as China hampers the training of novice monks and bars religious practice outside monasteries, says the Washington-based organization.

``Prompt measures must be taken in Tibet today to ensure the continued existence and vitality of Tibetan Buddhism and to halt the egregious human rights abuses being committed against monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists,'' the report says.

State persecution has escalated since demonstrations began in Tibet against Chinese rule three years ago. Despite official pronouncements of religious freedom, the heavy-handed treatment of Buddhists has intensified in tandem with the nationwide crackdown on dissent beginning in June 1989, the report says.

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The 96-page study is based on documents, official reports from China, and interviews with Tibetan monks and nuns who recently took refuge in India. It is one of the most detailed investigations into Communist persecution in the Himalayas.

Beijing yesterday condemned the report prior to its release.

``What the Tibetan monks in India claim totally disregards the facts; they are persons with ulterior motives,'' says Ren Yinong, deputy director of culture and information at the State Nationality Affairs Commission.

The report reveals that China's excesses extend beyond reports of torture and other human rights abuses into virtually every kind of attempt by Tibetan Buddhists to revitalize their faith.

The state governs finances, planning, and construction at monasteries and restricts the number of monks at each monastery. It also set a minimum age of 18 for monks and requires young Tibetans to gain permission of Communist officials before becoming novices, the report says.

In times of severe persecution like today, the state dispatches ``work teams'' of state cadres to the monasteries to enforce the most repressive measures. The teams collaborate with police interrogators and specialists in torture to identify dissident monks, according to the report. Work teams have been instrumental in the jailing of 91 monks and expulsion of 487 monks from lamaseries in the Lhasa area since a spate of protests began against China's rule in September 1987, the report says.

On the contrary, ``Tibet now has a peaceful and auspicious atmosphere; it is Shangri-La in reality as well as in name,'' says Mr. Ren, of the State Nationality Affairs Commission.

The unrest in Tibet underscores how Beijing overlooked the paramount place of Buddhism in Tibetan identity when it condoned a limited revival of the faith early last decade, says Ronald Schwartz, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Beijing believed that ``by allowing Tibetans a carefully controlled form of religious expression, they would become happy and content with the Chinese government,'' Dr. Schwartz says.

``But the policy had the opposite effect: As the Tibetans pushed up against the limits of the policy, they realized how cynical the policy really was,'' says Schwartz, a sociologist who has studied persecution in Tibetan monasteries.

``For the Tibetans, religion is a cultural enterprise, a collective enterprise, and a national enterprise and China just simply can't tolerate that,'' he says. Beijing's dilemma is whether to grip monasteries tighter and worsen discontent, or ease controls and risk new calls for religious freedom, Schwartz says.

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