China the Unbeautiful


The photo on the right is of the roof of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, founded by King Songtsan Gampo in 642. Atisha, the famous Buddhist master, taught there in the 11th century. The temple is considered the most sacred site in Tibetan Buddhism, a key destination for Buddhist pilgrims who journey to the capitol. Jokhang’s architectural style is a beautiful mix of Indian vihara, Chinese Tang Dynasty, and Nepalese designs. In 1966, during the Cultural revolution, thousands of Chinese youth attacked and sacked Jokhang and adjoining Ramoche temple. Thousands of Buddhist scriptures were looted and burned. But Jokhang survived.

Now, Chinese authorities are demolishing it.

I was alerted to this article by a post a reader of The Endless Further made on Reddit. The article states that “Chinese authorities are planning to destroy the ancient Buddhist capital of Lhasa, and replace it with a tourist city similar to Lijiang,” which was renamed “Shangri-La” to attract tourists.

It’s sad. It’s outrageous. And there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

In Feburary, Phagmo Dhondup, a Tibetan man in his 20s, met a friend at a restaurant in eastern Tibet. He reportedly told this friend, “If Tibet does not get its freedom and independence, China will annihilate Tibetan culture and tradition.”

Should independence ever come, it will surely be too late for Lhasa.

Later that day Phagmo Dhondup drank a bottle and a half of kerosene, went to the ancient Jhakhyung Monastery, doused himself with the remaining kerosene and set himself on fire.

There are plenty of reasons to have a beef with China: its abysmal record on human rights; it’s unfair economic policies, including the currency manipulation, a major reason for our growing trade deficit with that nation which in turn has caused the U.S. to hemorrhage millions of jobs; the conservative stance on multilateral environmental processes; piracy of Western products and theft of intellectual property – the list goes on and on . . .

Both in governmental policy and in business, China acts as though it does not have to play by the same rules others do. One particularly egregious practice is the way Chinese web service companies bombard servers with their hyper-aggressive spiders, hitting websites with thousands of requests per second, eating precious resources such as bandwidth. This has become such a problem on this blog, that I have had to ban the entire country of China.

The U.S., too, at times has acted as though we could play by different rules, and we have plenty of human rights abuses in our past, but we have learned better. In the 21st century, there is no excuse for ethnic cleansing or the destruction of an entire culture.

How a country with such a beautiful heritage became so ugly is something I know there are answers for, but nonetheless it baffles me.

Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Six decades ago, as Mao’s Communists seized power, the question in Washington was, ‘Who lost China?’ Now, as his capitalist descendants stand astride the world stage and Washington worries about decline, it seems to be, ‘Who lost America?'”

Eric Liu

Tibet’s recent history is that of a holocaust in which ideological conquest took the lives of 1.2 million Tibetans, one-sixth of the population; destroyed 6,250 monasteries, the repositories of 1,300 of higher Tibetan civilization; and decimated the forests and wildlife of a previously protected ecology the size of Western Europe.”

John Avedon, In Exile from the Land of Snows

Photo credit: Antoine Taveneaux


China’s “Harmonious Campaign” and Buddhist IPOs

This week The Buddhist Association of China announced it was launching a “harmonious monasteries” campaign in Tibet. Here’s what the People’s Daily Online reported:

Tibetan Buddhism has always upheld harmony and peace, sought to create a graceful world and extended sympathy to all lives, said Jamyang Losang Jigme Tubdain Qoigyi Nyima, a living Buddha who is also vice president of the association.

As both Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese citizens, monks and nuns should benefit the country and the people, adhere to religious doctrines, promote Buddhism and serve followers, he said.

In the statement, the association’s Tibetan Buddhism division urged monks and nuns to behave as good citizens, protect the national unity, ethnic harmony and social stability, as well as avoid secessionist activities . . . The association also called on them to abide by the law.

Chinese police demonstrating a harmonious way of dealing with foreign pro-Tibet activists in Beijing, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

It’s not hard to read between the lines here. It’s just a attempt to persuade Tibetans to behave and not protest while China destroys their culture and engages in what Robert Thurman, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, described some years ago as “ethnic cleansing by population transfer.”

According to Wikipedia, “The [Buddhist Association of China] shares jurisdiction over Buddhists in China with the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which regulates all recognized religions.” While technically the BCA is not state-run, its ties to the government are obvious. In addition to the guy with the long name mentioned above, the “11th Panchen Lama” is also a V.P. of the BCA. His name is Gyaincain Norbu and he is China’s pick for the position of the highest lama in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. The person recognized by Tibetan Buddhists as the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was detained by Chinese authorities shortly after his selection was announced in 1995 (he was six years old) and he hasn’t been seen since. Many Tibet/China watchers believe he is dead.

Here is a little flip side to the state-sponsored Buddhism scene in China: Liu Wei, an official with the State Administration of Religious Affairs, recently told Buddhist and Taoist temples that they have no right to go public and list shares on stock exchanges. According to Reuters, “The listing of companies linked to world famous Chinese heritage sites is not new in the country’s three-decade-old capital markets, but attempts to list at least one religious site have apparently crossed a line.”

Now we know why the Happy Buddha is so happy.

This is not aimed at just Buddhism and Taoism, but also the other religions (Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism) recognized by the Chinese government. Apparently a few of the more historical and popular religious sites are suspected of becoming overly commercial. This is one of the few times I agree with the Chinese government. Buddhism and commercialism should not mix.

A few years the commercialism charge was leveled at Shaolin Temple, probably the most famous Buddhist temple in the world. Over a million people visit Shaolin Temple in Henan province each year. The temple rakes in money from entrance fees, online sales of Shaolin memorabilia (fans, t-shirts, etc.), and its traveling performing troupes. A sub-industry has spouted up in the land around Shaolin where there are now more than 80 private kung fu schools that train more than 60,000 people to be like the monastery’s famous warrior-monks.

Shaolin Temple was founded in 495 CE. According to legend, the founder of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, Bodhidharma meditated for nine years in a nearby cave and then taught the monks at Shaolin meditation and an exercise called the Eighteen Arhat Hands. The monastery has long been associated with Chinese martial arts.

In the West. Shaolin Temple may be most famous for being the place where Kwai Chang Caine (AKA “Grasshopper”) was a monk as a young boy in the Kung Fu television series starring David Carradine, along with two great Asian character actors Keye Luke (blind Master Po) and Philip Ahn (Master Kan).

I can just picture a modern day Master Kan telling young Grasshopper, “Quickly as you can, sell the shares listed . . . When you can sell all the shares before the closure of the IPO, it will be time for you to leave.”


Death by “a thousand cuts”

Chinese security forces are crossing into Nepal to hunt down Tibetan refugees, and Nepal’s police are capturing refugees and trying to repatriate them back to Tibet where they will assuredly not receive a warm welcome.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) has issued a report that documents “Vigorous strategies by Beijing to influence the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal ,” which means that “Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralized and at risk of arrest and repatriation.”

An official in Kathmandu calls this ongoing pressure along with refugees’ lack of status “death by a thousand cuts.”

Each year, several thousand Tibetans make the perilous journey across the border into Nepal, fleeing persecution and repression in Chinese-controlled Tibet, but Nepal has no asylum laws. In past years, however, Nepal has allowed refugees safe passage to Dharamshala in India, home of the Dalai Lama, under a so-called “gentleman’s agreement” made with the United Nations.

Cara Anna reports in the Huffington Post about an antiques dealer who is set to stand trial “on what rights groups say is a trumped-up charge of grave-robbing amid the largest crackdown on Tibetan intellectuals since the Cultural Revolution.”

Chinese authorities are targeting Tibetan intellectuals in a new campaign to silence all dissent. The ICT has also reported that 31 Tibetans are now in prison “after reporting or expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing information about Chinese government policies and their impact in Tibet today.”

The Tibetan people are indigenous to that region but there are also Monpas and Lhobas, Hui (who practice Islam), and Han Chinese, the vast majority of the latter sent by China in what Robert Thurman has described as “ethnic cleansing by population transfer.” In 1913, The 13th Dalai Lama as the head of Tibet’s government declared independence from China.  Just as the British government did not accept the independence of the American Colonies, China refused to accept Tibet’s.

Tibet’s importance to China has a lot to do with India, but there are a myriad of other reasons as well, and very little of it has to do with China’s so-called historical claims. You can get some insight from Vikram Sood, a former officer in India’s external intelligence service here.

I ran across this is an article from a anonymous writer on what is obviously a pro-Chinese website, who, among other things, has an issue with the current Dalai Lama calling himself a “son of India.” It’s only interesting if you like to read propaganda.

Like Bob Thurman, I find the pro-Chinese attitude towards the Dalai Lama bizarre. He talks about that and why Tibet matters in this, posted some months ago in the Upaya Newsletter. G

John Avedon’s In Exile from the Land of Snows is a moving and eloquent account of the Chinese invasion of China and Tibetan refugees in exile, and provides a clear and concise background on Tibetan culture. Published in 1984, I think today the book still lives up to its sub-title as the “definitive account.” The stories of the Tibetans whom the Chinese imprisoned and subjected to appalling tortures are unforgettable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who knew something about repressive regimes and labor camps, called China’s administration of Tibet as “more brutal and inhumane than any other communist regime in the world.”

And finally, a few unforgettable facts:

It is estimated that since 1959, 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of Chinese incursion into the country.

Between 1959 and 1977 all but 12 of more than 6,000 monasteries were destroyed. Many of them were used as target practice by Chinese artillery.

It is believed that approximately 3,000 religious and political prisoners are held in prisons and forced labor camps where torture is common. There are reports that Tibetan women are subject en masse to forced abortions and sterilization.

There are strong concerns, voiced internationally, that China is using Tibet as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

China severely restricts the teaching and study of Buddhism, the essential core of Tibetan culture.