(TibetanReview.net, Aug25, 2017) – Communist party members have been appointed to run what was once the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist learning centre located in Serta (Chinese: Seda) County of Karze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, said Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Aug 23. China’s official Globaltimes.cn Aug 24 cited Chinese experts as saying it was normal to assign officials to Buddhist schools as they were more familiar with religious policies of the government.
The Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Academy once had more than 10,000 resident students from across the Tibetan Plateau and other countries until China began demolishing residences of monks and nuns first in 2001 and then again in Jul 2016 in order to reduce its size and student population.
The centre said the Karze Prefectural authorities announced on Aug 20 the appointment of six ethnic Tibetan party members – five males and one female – to run the academy. It added that three of them were made in charge of managing the Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy (Tibetan: Ngarig Nangten Lobling) while the other three were made the heads of the Larung Gar Monastery Management Committee (MMC).
The top leader is a man named Dakpa, currently the deputy director of Karze Prefecture Public Security Bureau. He has been appointed the party secretary and president of the academy. His deputy at both the posts is Dhondup Tashi, the deputy secretary of the Gyesur (Chinese: Jiulong) County United Front Work Department and chairman of the County Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs. He shares these responsibilities with Lokhang Pun, a prefecture government researcher in Tibetan studies and section officer for the Prefecture government’s library and translation department.
Regarding the academy’s MMC, Sonam Choephel, deputy party secretary of Serta County since Sep 2016, has been made the party secretary and director. He is joined by Dargye Tashi Tsering and Sonam Yangzom, both as deputy party secretary and deputy director of the monastery. The former is deputy party secretary of Politics and Law Committee of Dabpa (Chinese: Daocheng) County while the latter is party secretary of Tsosum (Chinese: Liantang) Township in Lithang County.
“The appointments are based on the needs of the Buddhist school, and government and Party officials are more familiar with China’s religious policies and are better managers,” the Globaltimes.cn report quoted Li Decheng, a research fellow at the China Tibetology Research Center, as saying.
The report also quoted Penpa Lhamo, deputy head of the contemporary studies institute of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, as saying, “Managing Buddhist schools has always been an important part of the local government’s responsibility, and appointing local officials to the schools is a common practice across China.”
The centre said the academy now had only 2,000 monks at the academy itself and 3,000 nuns at its affiliate Pema Khando Duling Nunnery.
The centre said the appointment of party cadres to key management positions was part of China’s overall measures announced in an eight-point document that was issued last year and provided detailed instructions on dismantling monastic housing and reducing monastic population to the government-set ceiling of a total of 5,000.
The document was stated to cite decisions taken at the Politburo’s Sixth Tibet Work Forum Conference of Aug 2015 and the Second National Work Conference on Religion of Apr 2016 to announce that an MMC consisting of party and government officials would be established to run the academy. The purpose was stated to be to implement “Social management” (Chinese: shèhuì guanli) at the academy in order to strengthen the capacity of party and government organizations to deliver services and eliminate dissent.
The setting up of MMCs at monastic institutions was a part of new measures introduced in late 2011 by China to create ‘harmonious monasteries’ and ‘law-abiding monks and nuns’. The centre cited China’s official media as having reported in early 2012 that since Nov 2011, such party-run MMCs had been set up in 1,787 monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
The centre said it had learnt in 2014 that this campaign had later been extended to other Tibetan areas.
The MMCs headed by party cadres replaced Democratic Management Committees whose members used to be elected by the monks, or nuns as the case may be, after the candidates were nominated by the Chinese authorities from within the monastery.