Tibet’s Religious scholars co-opted as party-state propagandists in ‘Sinicization of religion’ move

File photo: Chinese security forces at Drepung monastery outside Lhasa, Aug. 5, 2013. (Photo courtesy: RFA)
File photo: Chinese security forces at Drepung monastery outside Lhasa, Aug. 5, 2013. (Photo courtesy: RFA)

(TibetanReview.net, Nov02, 2018) – In a most invasive Sinicization of religion, China has co-opted Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns with accomplished records in religious studies as Chinese communist Party propagandists tasked to educate fellow-monks and nuns to compel them to be loyal subjects of the party-state. A recent official Global Times newspaper report describes these trainee monks with a term generally used for local officials responsible for relaying party and government policies and propaganda at the grassroots level (Chinese: Xuanjiangyuan/Tibetan: sGrog ’grel pa), said New York-based Human Rights Watch in a new report Oct 30.

The report said that under new policies for “Sinicizing” religion, the government has been compelling selected monastics in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to undergo political training designed to create a new corps of Buddhist teachers proficient in state ideology.

The campaign is being carried out under the “Four Standards” policy introduced in the TAR in 2018. This policy requires that monks and nuns must demonstrate – apart from competence in Buddhist studies – “political reliability”, “moral integrity capable of impressing the public”, and willingness to “play an active role at critical moments”. The aim is for them to forestall or stop any attempts to protest against China.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, has expressed abhorrence with this policy direction. “Compelling Tibetan monks and nuns to be propagandists for the Communist Party takes government intrusion in religion to abhorrent new levels,” she has said.

The report noted that the “Four Standards” policy followed a Sep 2017 revisions to the 2005 Regulations on Religious Affairs and was based on ideas discussed at the national-level Conference on Religion Work in Apr 2016.

As a part of the current, new Sinicization of religion policy, a select group of Tibetan monks and nuns attended a three-day training session from May 31 to Jun 2, “to strengthen their political beliefs,” the report cited state media as saying, adding it was meant to prepare them to conduct the campaign in their own monasteries and communities.

Monks with outstanding religious knowledge were stated to have been selected for the training whose pilot programme involved 250 participants. There was no question for those selected for the training refusing to join it, all the more because selection was based on the criteria of political reliability. The report added that those who meet the “Four Standards” are rewarded with benefits and status but required to work actively as political educators.

Recruiting monastics to promote the party and government is more effective, Xiong Kunxin, described by Global Times as an expert, was quoted as saying, because “they have a better understanding of the thoughts and habits of their own group”.

The report noted that in 2012, the government had established an elite Tibetan Buddhism Higher Studies Institute to train select monks and nuns from across the TAR, while other provinces with Tibetan populations had established similar institutes. These were designed to produce a new generation of “patriotic religious professionals” – teachers qualified both in religious studies and commitment to the party’s ideology and mission.

The new formulation suggests that attempts at political indoctrination in monasteries led by Party cadres had been insufficient and that the lack of credible Tibetan religious figures promoting the Party in the region had been identified as a long-term problem, the report said.

The report then referred to previous attempts at similar moves to win the loyalty of Tibetan monastics, meeting with only limited success. They included carry out repeated rounds of “patriotic education” carried out by work teams sent by the party to each monastery in the TAR from May 1996 which continued for 15 years.

This was followed by a new strategy in Oct 2011 under which the party moved teams of 7,000 professional Party cadres to live permanently in each monastery in the region to take over the direct management of the monasteries and reeducate the monks.

The Chinese government’s current propaganda strategy is part of the national-level “Sinicization of religion” policy approved during President Xi Jinping’s first term, involving enhanced intervention by Party and government officials in the “management” of religious institutions, the report said. The policy allows authorities to reshape the content of religious doctrine itself based on compatibility with “socialist core values”, the report added.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here