Sunday, 10 May 2009

China's aggression against Buddhism: Tibet is only part of the story

The conflict between China and the former sovereign nation known as Tibet has been well documented and has undeniably been at the forefront of news headlines around the world since the 1950's. Ever since the Dali Lama fled Tibet for the safety of India in 1959, China's presence in the Tibetan region has increased both militarily and politically. From placing Communist party informers masking as monks within the remaining Tibetan monasteries to relocating large numbers of ethnic Chinese Hans to Tibet, China has made a great attempt to not only remold Tibet's identity as a culture, but to also stamp out the ancient Tibetan Buddhist traditions through intimidation and 're-education.' It has been coined "cultural genocide".

Since the victory of Mao Zedong's Peoples Communist army over the Nationalists lead by Chiang Kai-shek, China had instituted an extreme hard line stance against all established religions. Buddhism, even the traditional Han Chinese brand of the practice was swiftly neutered and transformed into an organ of the state. Mao's hard-liners kept the temples and monks as hollow facades of propaganda and control. Tibet's fate at fist was no different than their Chinese Han Buddhist brethren to the North, just more violently indoctrinated.

After Mao's death and some internal struggle for leadership of the Communist party, the ropes that bound the traditional Buddhist practices within China proper, excluding Tibet, were loosened gradually through the 1970's and 1980's. However, any overt act of practice or show of support for Tibetan Buddhism, no matter where, continues to be a point of hostile confrontation and suppression. China has attempted to modernize its image within the court of world opinion, to try and garner business and political rewards, yet continues to act like a nation state under siege, controlled by a handful of few ideologues still obsessed with Marx, Mao and Lenin's views on religion.

In 2008, Beijing was host of the Summer Olympics Games, and thanks in large part to the vocal outcry from so many individuals around the world, China had an incredibly difficult time covering up the Tibet issue.

The Christian Science monitor reported,
"The heavy security here reflected a massive effort by the Chinese government to prevent Tibetan resentment from spilling too far over from Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, into areas of central China where large Tibetan minorities live, such as Qinghai Province, to which Tongren belongs.

In the nearby town of Xiahe, in neighboring Gansu Province, the site of another important Buddhist monastery, reports said police were using armored personnel carriers and large bodies of troops marching in lock-step formation to quell unrest.

All foreigners traveling on the road from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, were stopped by police 100 miles from Xiahe on Saturday night, although some reporters managed to slip into the town before the roadblocks were established. "


During the running of the Olympic torch last year, for the Beijing games, the Chinese secret police and military cleared all the areas of populated Tibet, including Lhasa, of any possible dissenters, in a political attempt to hide what is really going on from the world.

CBS News Reported:

"China blanketed restive Tibetan areas Thursday with a huge buildup of troops, turning small towns across a wide swath of western China into armed encampments.

Beijing acknowledged that last week's anti-government protests had spread far beyond Tibet's borders and that police opened fire on protesters. It warned foreign tourists and journalists to stay away from a huge expanse of territory across four provinces".


However, Tibet is just a small part of what the Communists have done to traditional Chinese Buddhism. Over the last few years, China has extended its control over the information coming to its population through the internet by outright blocking and banning some websites, such as youtube and any pro-Tibetan sites. China put on a face of reform to the West, celebrating its so called new freedoms of personal liberties, speech and press, yet, its monitoring and manipulation on what news the population receives has exploded to some new 'Orwellian' level.

China has some 600 million practicing Buddhists or Buddhist/Taoist mix, yet all gatherings, teachings and congregations are still mostly prohibited from public view unless sanctioned, ie controlled by the Communist Party for propaganda purposes. It is an awful shame, as many Chinese Buddhists are responsible for countless great literally dharma writings and the formation of several different Mahayana sects and schools of practice. Buddhist traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation, from village to village, and much of what has survived to this day has made its way through China at one time or another. Over the past 2,000 years, the influence of Chinese teachers has had a direct influence in the spreading of Buddhism to Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.

I do think there is a move within China to have some real reform, some real movement towards personal freedoms, we in the West take for granted. Ironically, it is China's quest for economic gain that has exposed this festering sore of oppression and control. Will its desire for monetary gain outweigh the desire to control the spiritual thought of its population? I don't know, but sooner or later, this emerging Chinese middle class will come to the stark realization that they've been living in a box, sealed by political ideology.

I believe that it is a monumental tragedy that in this modern age of communication and information sharing, there still exists such oppression on such an enormous scale. China's problems are not that much different than what is seen currently in Burma, some parts of Vietnam and North Korea. As progressives in the west, we must not abandon these ancient cultures, for whom without their efforts, our new budding tradition would probably never had been possible.

Many here perhaps will disagree with my conclusions, and I'd love to hear any and all different perspectives.

2 comments:

  1. Unfortunately China finances our debt so things are going to get even worse.
    As we get more into debt to the Chinese government, Tibet will become just another collateral damage of our brilliant foreign and economical policies.
    PS: This is my first visit to your blog - very well done, very impressive!

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  2. In the Jaws of the Dragon: America's Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony by Eamonn Fingleton is a surprising read: For 25 years Washington has told the world that Chinese prosperity would lead to democratic reform in that country. Turns out that the same international corporations that contribute so generously to American candidates' campaigns created the "prosperity = democracy" line to help move American manufacturing jobs to China. And that is the good news ...

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