Two Chinas: As Beijing suppresses Tibetans, Xi Jinping preaches human rights to world leaders

China is in bad shape. And this may be due to many reasons. First of course being economic and demographic, to name a few: Rising inflation,...

China is in bad shape. And this may be due to many reasons. First of course being economic and demographic, to name a few: Rising inflation, ageing population, the one-child policy for too long, fewer jobs, rising business bankruptcies, continuing clampdown in Hong Kong, obsession to ‘retake’ Taiwan, rising crime and civil unrest.

Some observers have even argued that the recent COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities were more to prevent social unrest than to combat the virus. The future of the Middle Kingdom is indeed not rosy.

The situation in the so-called ‘minorities’ areas such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia is also worrisome; it has never been so tense, though in most cases, the monopoly of information by the State stops real information from percolating outside.

In recent times, Tibet has received little coverage, though the situation is seriously critical.

The latest census

Details of China’s Seventh census (since 1949) have recently been released. According to the website Six Tone, the survey, conducted in 2020, has now been made fully available for study: “We can start to dig into details on gender, age, ethnicity, work, housing, household, and migration. There’s a lot to explore in this data,” says Six Tone.

Among the gloomy news, it is said that “over 28 percent of people in Tibet over the age of 15 are considered illiterate — at least in Chinese. China defines literacy as mastery of 1,500 Chinese characters for rural people, and 2,000 for urbanites, and does not measure literacy in other languages”.

At a time when Beijing’s propaganda pompously celebrates the 70th anniversary of the so-called ‘Liberation of Tibet’ and the happiness of the local population under the yoke of the Communist Party, many Tibetans remain illiterate and unable to find employment. The most explosive aspect of the present situation is the huge dichotomy between what the Chinese propaganda preaches, and the reality on the ground.

Relocation

One of the most worrying schemes taking place on the Roof of the World is the large-scale relocation of herders and farmers. On 29 June, the Lhasa government announced that the second phase of relocation to a settlement in Lhoka (Southern Tibet) was launched on 25 June.

The plan is to relocate 58 administrative villages from 12 townships in Tsonyi, Amdo and Nima counties of Nagchu Prefecture in 2022 only; it means that 26,304 people from 6,306 households will be shifted to Southern Tibet under the pretext of “too high altitude” in Nagchu as if the Tibetans had not lived for centuries in these altitudes.

According to Xinhua news agency: “The region’s overall relocation plan will cover more than 130,000 people in Tibet's nearly 100 townships in eight year.”

It is frightening not only for the Tibetans who will be parked in ghettos but for India too, as China undoubtedly plans to change the demography of the borders.

Sinisation of Tibetan Buddhism

The determination to change the fabric of Buddhism in Tibet is another sign of the disappearing dream for the Tibetan masses.

Tibetan activists stand in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters during a protest ahead on the eve of the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics. AP

A Chinese website (tibet.cn) recently reported that Gyaltsen Norbu, the person selected by China as the 11th Panchen Lama to nullify the choice of the Dalai Lama (the boy found by the Tibetan leader is languishing in some Chinese house-arrest for the past 25 years), has held talks with senior monks of various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, ‘scholars’ of the Buddhist Institute in Lhasa and other experts (all this under the aegis of the Communist Party) “to thoroughly study and implement General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important remarks on religious work and a series of important speeches on the Sinisation of religion in China”. Please note that all speeches and articles of the CCP general secretary are termed ‘important’.

The symposium was held to discuss an ominous ‘adaptation’ of Tibetan Buddhism to the socialist (read atheist) society.

Gyalsten Norbu is a pawn in communist hands.

Incidentally, during the eighth century AD, Shantarakshita, the abbot of Nalanda, predicted that a dispute would arise between the Indian and Chinese schools of Buddhism in Tibet. The issue was sorted out through the famous Samye Debate; after two years of intense discussions (792-794 CE), the Indian path prevailed and a regal proclamation was issued stating that the Indian path was thereafter the State religion. Now, China wants to impose a Marxist form of Buddhism on the Roof of the World. It is laughable.

During the symposium, Gyaltsen Norbu preached freedom of religious belief in Tibet under the light of the Party and spoke of the freedom of religion, the full protection of normal religious activities, the concept of helping the world and the people, harmony and equality, and finally the adaptation of religion to socialist society.

All is great propaganda; Norbu also mentioned “Xi Jinping’s earnest teachings and ardent expectations for actively guiding Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to socialist society show the affectionate care of the general secretary and the Party Central Committee for Tibetan Buddhism”.

The Chinese-government-appointed Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu speaks at the World Buddhist Forum in Hong Kong. Kin Cheung/AP

It does not augur well for the survival of the Buddha Dharma in Tibet.

Human Rights in China and Tibet

While the human rights situation has steadily deteriorated in Tibet with the Communist Party monitoring the life of each individual through an Orwellian system, Xi Jinping preaches and promotes human rights to the rest of the world.

On 16 June, the magazine Seeking Truth, published an ‘important’ article of Xi Jinping entitled “Steadfastly Following the Road of Human Rights Development in China and Better Promoting the Cause of Human Rights in China”.

Xi argued that it is the common pursuit of human society to take care of human life, value and dignity and to respect human rights for all: “Respecting and safeguarding human rights is the unremitting pursuit of the Chinese Communists. The Party's century-long history of struggle is permeated by the Party's unremitting efforts to unite and lead the people in striving for human rights, respecting, safeguarding and grooming human rights. Since the 18th Party Congress [in 2012], we have insisted on making respect for and protection of human rights an important task in the governance of the country while promoting the historic achievements of China's human rights cause.”

File image of Chinese president Xi Jinping. AP

Here again the preaching and the reality differs.

Motorbike preaching

The new waves of propaganda are not restricted to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). In Gangcha County of Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the northeastern Qinghai province, a novel experiment is taking place; it is called ‘motorcycle preaching’ in order “to let the spirit of the Party Congress take root in the grassland pastoral areas.”

Teams are moving around on motorbikes, from village to village, from one nomad encampment to another… to the last kilometre. It is said to be more suitable for pastoral people living in scattered areas: “Let more herders really understand the Party's new ideas, new policies.” Each village Party branch under the leadership of the branch secretary relies on these ‘mobile party school’ or ‘motorcycle preaching team’ to transmit the Party ideology.

It does not mean that at the end of the exercise, Tibetan people will be convinced by the greatness of Marxism.

Recruitment in the Chinese Army

Recently, the TAR military colleges and universities started to recruit ordinary high school graduates in the army; the scheme — co-ordinated by the Ministry of Education, the Central Military Commission Political Work Department, and Department of Training Management — is meant to recruit ordinary high school graduates into military colleges and universities. This year, a total of 80 young Tibetan students will be enrolled; among them, 43 in Army colleges and universities, 28 Armed Police colleges, two in the National University of Defence Technology, five in the Air Force Early Warning College, and two in the Strategic Support Force Information Engineering University.

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But here too ‘political’ examination is the most important: “[It will] take the form of visits and surveys, talks and exchanges, mainly to understand the candidate's family, social relations and realistic performance [to arrive] at a political assessment [of the candidate].”

Would the candidate skip or fail the political assessment, he/she shall not participate in the subsequent physical examination.

The message is limpid: Postulants have to clear the ideological hurdle; it means having a correct political pedigree and thinking.

Another distressing sign of the deteriorating situation is that no Tibetan is allowed to cross into Nepal or India for the last several years. It shows that Beijing is nervous that Tibetans will be ‘indoctrinated’ (in real Buddhism in Tibetan monasteries in India?) or even in ‘Western evils’ such as democracy. All this, does not augur well for the Tibetan nation.

At the end, one can ask: What was the ‘Liberation of Tibet’ 70 years ago all about?

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

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