President Xi Jinping’s latest campaign against Tibetan religious symbols,
religious practitioners and Tibetan language in Tibet is yet another proof of
Chinese failure to win hearts of its Tibetan subjects and reflects the
emergence of a communist Taliban in today’s China.


(Author is a senior Indian journalist and a keen China watcher.
He is Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and
Engagement, New Delhi)

In 2001 the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan demolished two historic and giant statues of Lord Buddha in Bamiyan. Celebrating the blasting of these fifteen centuries old statues, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar had showered praise on the perpetrators of this act saying that, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to Allah that we have destroyed them.” This event invited shock and condemnation from across the world as an act of bigotry by a bunch of Jihadi Islamists. Interestingly Chinese authorities in Tibet are now demonstrating very same Taliban spirit as the idea of President Xi Jinping to enforce ‘Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese socialist character’ is catching momentum these days inside Tibet.

During past one month the Chinese authorities in the Kham region of Tibet in Sichuan province demolished two massive statues of Buddha, one was 99 feet high, and giant prayer wheels surrounding these statues. A few days earlier, all Tibetan schools, established by local Tibetan communities and monasteries were pulled down and closed on one stroke of government orders. These make-shift schools were being run to impart Tibetan language teaching to Tibetan children during after regular school hours. Under Beijing’s orders, all Tibetan students are now obliged to study through Chinese
Mandarin as the sole medium of teaching. This new act of President Xi has revived horrible memories of 1950s when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted aerial bombing of monasteries in this region which had become nerve centres of armed resistance by locals, monks and nuns against occupying PLA forces. In 1960s Comrade Mao’s Red Guards occupied, ransacked and destroyed thousands of monasteries and temples during a decade long ‘Cultural Revolution’ with the hope that absence of religion from the lives of Tibetan people would help them in becoming patriotic Chinese citizens.

According to news coming from Tibet huge regional boarding school campuses have been established by Tibet’s communist rulers in many parts of Tibet and Tibetan parents have been forced to send their children, including kids as young as four. These schools, established in line with mass concentration camps in Xinjiang, yet another colony of China, earlier known as the ‘Republic of East Turkistan’, have been branded as mass ‘brainwashing factories’ by human rights experts. In November last year, Chinese authorities in the Qinghai province (originally Amdo province of Tibet) issued orders to all Tibetan communist cadres and government employees to stop participating in any religious activity in public or inside their homes. They were told that activities like ‘Kora’, taking a circumambulatory walk around a temple, or even keeping statues of Buddhist deities in their home altars would invite strict action. This action could be sacking from job and stopping of special privileges like education of their children.

In mid-December of 2021 heavy military deployment was undertaken in Drago, a Tibetan majority county of Sichuan, where local Chinese authorities initiated demolition of a 99-feet high Buddha statue and 45 big prayer wheels. The statue of Shakya Muni Buddha and the colourful prayer wheels were built by local Tibetan community in October 2015 at a cost of about 40 million Yuans. About three weeks later on 6 Jan this year, yet another similar statue was also demolished by the Chinese authorities. Reports about arrest of dozens of monks and lay Tibetans who opposed this destruction are regularly pouring out of Tibet. In both cases the demolition work was personally supervised by Wong Dongsheng, the local Chinese head of the County. This most senior regional leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been already in international news for the destruction of world famous Buddhist township of Larung Gar. This religious community had evolved as a prominent Buddhist Academy over the years where thousands of Buddhist scholars and practitioners had joined from many parts of Tibet and China. Worried over the ever increasing number of practitioners in Larung Gar, hundreds of homes of the practitioners were bulldozed by Wong in June 2016 on the pretext of ‘environment protection’.

According to Tibet Watch, a Dharamshala based human rights group, both of these Drago statue projects were executed by Tibetan community after taking formal approval of local Chinese authorities. But it was following President Xi Jinping’s dramatic visit to Tibet in July last year and his call to the administrators and party cadres in Tibet to establish ‘Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese socialist character’ that the authorities declared that the height of the statues was too much and beyond acceptable limits. They also cancelled earlier permissions for the construction and ordered its demolition.

Reacting to this demolition in Drago, Gonpo Dhundup, international President of Tibetan Youth Congress said, “Latest destruction of Buddha statues in a Tibet which has remained under tight colonial control of the CCCP and its PLA for past seven decades simply reflects fear and sense of insecurity in the heart of President Xi Jinping and his communist colleagues. They are always afraid of any organization, idea or a symbol which is not communist but is still liked by the masses.” Some Tibet and China observers give examples of historic communist crackdowns on Falun Gong in 1990s and the democratic movement of Chinese youths in 1989 which reflected levels of extra ordinary annoyance and repression against these movements by the Chinese communist system.

Beijing’s propaganda machinery has been in overdrive for past many years to prove to the world that China’s rule over Tibet since past seven decades has been benevolent to the Tibetan people. But its latest campaign against Tibetan religious symbols, religious practitioners and Tibetan language in Tibet is yet another proof of Chinese failure to win hearts of its Tibetan subjects and emergence of a communist Taliban in today’s China.

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