Religious life in 1996 was dominated by the "patriotic education" campaign.
This meant teams of Party cadres spending three months in each monastery in the
Tibet Autonomous Region giving daily classes in history, law, and politics.
The first session began at Ganden monastery in May, and in June and August
large "work teams" moved into Sera and Drepung monasteries respectively, and
later into other religious centres. The sessions were meant to end with all
monks and nuns aged 18 or over signing a statement of allegiance and being
officially registered in return. In late August about 150 monks were expelled
from Ganden, and a similar number, mostly those under 18, were sent away from
The patriotic study sessions were a formalisation of the anti-Dalai Lama
campaign. This had continued in a less organised way in the first half of the
year with a ban on the public display of photographs of the exiled Dalai Lama
as part of an attempt to argue that "he is no longer a religious leader".
Attempts to enforce the ban led to the 6 May conflict at Ganden, which led to
the death of one monk and some 90 arrests. In Lhasa, government employees were
forced to give signed statements stating how many Dalai Lama photographs they
possess. Some Tibetans made a symbolic gesture of resistance by displaying
empty frames on market stalls.
By the end of the year there were signs that new committees, probably dominated
by officials from outside the monasteries, were being established to run
monasteries where the "patriotic education" drive had been completed. "We must
close the doors of lamaseries which have serious problems or where political
problems often occur," stated Tibet's Committee of Nationalities and Religious
Affairs. There is evidence that a few small monasteries were closed in
outlying areas, but in general the authorities have avoided conflict and have
allowed almost all monasteries to stay open, without their younger novices and
after signing declarations of allegiance.
A nunnery and a monastery in western Tibet have been closed down by the
authorities, according to unofficial reports from the area, indicating that
tougher restrictions on religion are being gradually implemented in rural areas
of Tibet. The Chinese authorities in Tibet announced two weeks ago that
monasteries where monks or nuns were involved in political unrest would be
closed, and ordered religious believers to "dedicate themselves jointly to the
construction cause of socialist modernization".
"We must close the doors of lamaseries which have serious problems or where
political problems often occur for overhauling and consolidation and set a time
limit for correction," said a statement by Tibet's Committee of Nationalities
and Religious Affairs, carried on the front page of the February 15 edition of
the official Tibet Daily.
The first reports of monastery closures indicate that the practice has already
begun in some remote rural areas and in one case suggest that the "overhauling
and consolidation" was permanent, since most of the buildings were immediately
The case involved 20 women at Shongchen nunnery, in Ngamring county, 100 km
west of Shigatse, who were ordered to leave their nunnery on 29 November last
year, according to the unofficial reports from Shongchen, which is in the
southern part of Nakhu neighbourhood in Targyu township.
Local officials are said to have told the nuns that orders had been received
from Chen Kuiyuan, secretary of the Tibet Communist Party, saying that all the
nuns should return to their homes. They were told that they could not join any
other nunnery, but had to resume farming work.
The women were given five days to demolish the buildings they had constructed
at the nunnery as living quarters. The temple they had built appears to have
been allowed to remain standing, but the nuns were told they could not use
The nearby monastery of Doglho, which contained ten monks, is also said to have
been closed down and the monks ordered to return to their homes.
The reports, which are unconfirmed, do not make it clear if the nuns and monks
had been involved in political activity, but say that the lama in charge of the
nunnery "was taken away in a jeep and has disappeared", suggesting that he has
been arrested. Lama Khedrup Gyatso, who comes from Kham in eastern Tibet, had
inspired the reconstruction of the temple in Shongchen, which had been
destroyed during the Chinese authorities crack-down on culture and religion
between 1959 and 1979. The reconstruction, only recently completed, was funded
by donations from local Tibetans.
Monasteries in Tibet have been forbidden to display photographs of the exiled
Dalai Lama and police in Lhasa are ordering hotels and restaurants to remove
all pictures of the exiled leader as part of an escalating campaign by the
Chinese authorities to weaken religious support for the Dalai Lama.
Plain-clothes police visited hotels and restaurants in the Tibetan capital on
22 and 23 April ordering Tibetans to take down photographs of the leader, who
fled from Tibet 37 years ago and now heads an exile government in India.
The ban is the most confrontational step taken so far by the Chinese
authorities in a year-long campaign against the personal standing of the Dalai
Lama. It reverses a 15 year policy which symbolised the liberalisations of the
early 1980s by allowing the Tibetans the freedom to show religious respect to
their exiled leader despite his political views.
A Chinese Embassy official in London refused to comment on the reports, saying
it had not received news of such a ban.
The police visits to Lhasa hotels came two weeks after a ban on public display
of photographs of the Dalai Lama was announced on the front page of the 5 April
edition of Xizang Ribao, the Chinese-language edition of the Tibet
Daily, the official Party paper, a copy of which has just reached London.
The ban was repeated in the Tibetan-language edition of the paper two days
later. "The hanging of the Dalai's portrait in temples should gradually be
banned," said the announcement.
Over 300 officials are carrying out a purge of dissident monks at the three
main monasteries in Tibet, with some 1,000 or more monks being asked to sign
pledges of political allegiance or face expulsion from their monastery,
according to unofficial reports from Lhasa.
Last week a team consisting of an estimated 150 officials from the Communist
Party began an operation to register and re-educate monks in Drepung monastery,
4 km to the west of the Tibetan capital. A team of the same size has been
carrying out a similar programme at Sera monastery, 3 km north of Lhasa, since
9 June, while in Ganden monastery, 40 km to the east of Lhasa, a team has been
at work since early May. Each of the monasteries, established in the 15th
century, has between 400 and 700 monks.
Tourists contacted in Lhasa today confirmed reports that there were large teams
of officials at Sera and Drepung but said that both monasteries were still open
to visitors. "We heard that monks here are having to attend re-education
meetings with the officials," said one tourist in the city, who asked not to be
"Many of the monks in Tibet will find it difficult to stay now. They cannot
accept a situation where they have to sign a statement against His Holiness,"
said a Ganden monk who arrived in India this week and who reported that dozens
of other monks had left the monasteries and were on their way to India. Over
120, or about 60%, of the Tibetan refugees who reached Nepal or India last
month were monks or nuns.
On 5 August the authorities in Tibet announced an extension of the current
"Strike Hard" or anti-crime campaign, which was originally scheduled to have
ended last week, and called on "the whole society to go into action [to] fight
against separatists' splittist and sabotage activities."
"In particular, greater efforts must be made to improve the work of clearing up
and straightening out lamaseries," said executive deputy secretary Raidi, the
highest placed Tibetan cadre in the region, according to a Tibet TV broadcast
monitored by the BBC. "To do this, all offices, bureaus, departments and
commissions of the region are required to take the lead," the announcement
continued, partly a demand that offices send members of their staff to join the
The statement follows a speech given by Chen Kuiyuan, the Party Secretary in
the Tibet region, on 14 May. "There are a few die-hard reactionaries in the
monasteries who are hell-bent on following the Dala Chen told members of the
Tibet People's Congress, according to a transcript obtained by TIN. "In order
to beat the splittist and sabotage activities of the Dalai Clique and protect
the normal religious life of the masses of religious devotees, we must carry
out a carefully differentiated rectification of the monasteries within our
region," he said.
The teams are involved in a two-fold operation, firstly registering or
re-registering all the monks, and secondly getting the monks to sign pledges of
Only about a third of the monks at the three monasteries are believed to be
registered, meaning that about 1,000 others have not already obtained
authorisation to become monks from the police and the local Religious Affairs
Bureau. Rules banning unregistered monks from monasteries are long-standing
but have not usually been implemented.
A significant number of the unregistered monks are children, contravening a
little-used Chinese law which bans those under 18 from joining monasteries. In
May officials are reported to have ordered the monasteries of Drepung and Sera
to close their schools for younger monks, all of whom are now being told to
return to their homes by the work teams.
Regulations requiring monasteries only to accept local residents as monks have
now been announced, leading to the likely expulsion of scores of monks who come
from eastern Tibet, outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. The three monasteries
are famous as training centres for men from all over the Tibetan Buddhist
world, including Mongolia, and house large numbers of Tibetans from the Tibetan
areas of Amdo, in Qinghai province, and Khan, in western Sichuan.
Twenty-four year old Konchog Dondrup was one of the Amdowan monks at Sera until
13 June, when he left for India, four days after the work team began the
registration process at his monastery.
"On 9 June the Chinese came to the monastery and told the leader that all the
monks should come to register if they wanted to be allowed to stay in the
monastery." said the monk, interviewed after his escape.
"Registration involves giving your details and giving your fingerprints, and
making a commitment to accept political education which they were planning to
give soon after. I felt that to register was a betrayal of His Holiness and so
I decided not to register and to flee to India," said Konchog, who added that
Eastern Tibetans were not being allowed to register at Sera even if they
accepted the conditions.
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