LHASA, China A gust of wind blows down the yellow prayer flags as dozens of Tibetans, some on crutches, surround a shrine in a time-honored Buddhist ritual. Across the street, a red banner depicts a new belief system, one being implemented with added enthusiasm, by China’s ruling Communist Party.
Xi Jinpings new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics is the guide for all party and all nationalities to fight for the great renewal of China, the sign proclaims in Tibetan and Chinese writing, referring to the Chinese leader, who has sought to decide its stamp on virtually every aspect of life throughout the wider circuit.
Recently, this has increasingly included religion, both in central China and its outskirts, such as Tibet. The party is printing a program to synchronize Tibetan life through programs to separate Tibetans from their language, culture, and in particular, their devotion to the Dalai Lama, the traditional Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959.
In the sun-drenched courtyard of the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, chief monk Lhakpa said the Dalai Lama is not his spiritual leader. Asked who he is, he said: Xi Jinping.
The Associated Press joined a rare and strictly controlled tour of Tibet, highlighting what the government describes as the social stability and economic development of the region after 70 years of Communist Party rule. Prohibitions included monasteries, temples, schools, poverty alleviation projects and tourist sites.
This seems to reflect the parties’ belief that it is dominating the global public opinion battle over Tibet. As a counterweight, Tibetan rights groups continue to report frequent bans, economic marginalization, a stifling security presence, and severe pressure to assimilate with the majority of Chinas Han as they pledge allegiance to the Communist Party.
Tibetans in exile say they have been effectively independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to eradicate Tibetan Buddhist culture and language while exploiting its natural resources and encouraging Chinese to move there from other parts of the country. Beijing says Tibet has long been part of China and that the communists freed hundreds of thousands of illiterate slaves when they overthrew the ruling theocracy in 1951.
Security has been significantly strengthened since widespread anti-government protests in 2008, shortly before the Beijing Summer Olympics, coupled with redoubled efforts at economic development and the declining influence of Buddhism. In the model village of Baji east of Lhasa, the capital, residents dressed in traditional clothes told foreign journalists how poverty alleviation campaigns had changed their lives.
Times have changed, so people’s demands have changed. People needed religious beliefs as their spiritual food in ancient times, but now we do not say, said Tsering Yudron, 25, an accountant.
The government points to the billions of dollars it has invested in roads, airports, railways, schools and hospitals, saying development has doubled life expectancy, brought electricity, jobs and opportunities to a region far behind.
Tibet has eradicated extreme poverty, reads a 2019 government report on Tibet. People now lead better lives and live happily ever after. A whole new socialist Tibet has taken shape.
The impact on traditional culture has been grim. Like Christians and Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists have become increasingly under pressure to synchronize their religions under a program presented by Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong. While repression has been less severe than in nearby Xinjiang, which has seen massive incarceration of Turkish Muslims, residents are under extreme pressure to monitor each other and violations could lead to lengthy prison sentences, his groups say. rights.
The party has evolved a system in an attempt to control Tibetans through their faith, said Robert Barnett, a Tibetan scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Especially since the 2008 protests, the government has tried to instill Communist Party love in those Tibetan minds when they are children, he said. From home campuses, portraits of Xi now hang on the walls of homes and temples just like once images of the Dalai Lama.
Tibetan Buddhism should be geared towards adaptation to socialist society and should be developed in the Chinese context, Xi said last year during a meeting focused on Tibet.
China has increasingly cursed the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and in recent years has relinquished his political role as head of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government in exile. Seeking to quell protests that erupted every decade or so, the party banned all images of the Dalai Lama in 1996, exterminated the exiled leader from books and broadcasts, and installed cadres in most villages, monasteries and monasteries.
While the Dalai Lama says he seeks only meaningful autonomy under Chinese rule, Beijing accuses him of supporting terrorism and trying to separate Tibet from China, and has cut off all contact with his representatives.
With the Dalai Lama soon to turn 86, more and more attention has been focused on the issue of his inheritance, or reincarnation as held by traditional belief. The offspring are traditionally identified by older monastic disciples, based on spiritual signs and vision. But China says only Beijing can nominate the next Dalai Lama in a ceremony using a golden urn to choose from candidates approved by the central government.
The reincarnation of living Buddhas including the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions, a 2019 foreign ministry spokesman said.
At the government-built Tibetan Buddhist College outside Lhasa, more than 900 students study religion alongside politics, law, computer science, Chinese, and Tibetan. Among them are eight monks aged 7 to 11, known as reincarnations or living Buddhas.
The art of chalk celebrating 70 years of Tibetan military occupation by Chinas adorns the wall next to a portrait of Xi in a classroom taught in Tibetan.
We must adhere to the party leadership on religious issues and the Sinicization of religions. We must continue to adapt to religions in China’s socialist system, said Zhang Liangtian, a senior official of the Communist Party of Colleges.
China has built a network of schools and institutions across Tibet to test and produce a softened version of Tibetan Buddhism to oppose leadership in exile, said Dibyesh Anand, head of the international relations department at Westminster University in London. .
The goal, Anand says, is to change the essence of Tibetan Buddhism by generating confusion about the Dalai Lama and his leadership, and eventually dismantle his legacy as a major national leader.
China, meanwhile, has sought to elevate other spiritual figures, most notably the second-ranked figure of Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama. A boy known by the Dalai Lama as the young Panchen quickly disappeared and Beijing produced his offspring, whose legitimacy is highly contested.
Zhang, senior official of the Tibetan Buddhist Colleges party, said that while the Dalai Lama had betrayed his country, the Panchen Lamas love the country and the religion.
Barnett said close school management is a campaign to change the minds of future generations of Tibetans to seek to remove the possibility that people will listen to the Dalai Lama if they can even hear what he says. Still, China believes it needs a religious leader to act as their representative in order to control Tibet, Barnett said.
It’s all about a long-term historic project to control the next Dalai Lama, he said, even if you can’t control it.
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