Chinese Controls Called Threat to Tibetan Buddhism : Religion: A ‘bureaucratic web of administration’ is deplored by a group associated with the Dalai Lama.


Bureaucratic controls imposed on monasteries in Tibet threaten the survival of Tibetan Buddhism, a group associated with the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the faith, charged in a report made public today.

During the last three years, as Chinese authorities have crushed a series of pro-independence protests in Tibet, “the international community . . . has focused its outrage on the brutal suppression of Tibetan demonstrations and the imprisonment and torture of political prisoners,” says the report, prepared by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, a group made up of Americans and Tibetan refugees.

But there also exists “a more subtle and insidious bureaucratic web of administration which has enmeshed and stifled the practice of Buddhism in Tibet,” the report asserts.

“Ironically, those monasteries where the authorities are most actively ‘promoting’ religion with funds and personnel are, in fact, experiencing the most oppressive restrictions on religious freedom,” it says.


Despite the resumption of officially approved religious activity after the end of the destructive 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, the historically great monasteries in or near the Tibetan capital of Lhasa are still limited to no more than 400 monks each, the report adds.

This number includes many monks who work daily at non-religious activities to help support themselves and the monasteries, and thus the number of advanced full-time students of religion is much lower.

The report, based largely on interviews conducted secretly in Tibet and on reports by Tibetan exiles, says: “Tibetan monasteries cannot transmit their traditions from one generation to the next with the limited number of monks allowed to be admitted to each monastery. As with a university, there needs to be a critical mass of the student body so that even with attrition, there will be enough bright and motivated students to master the material. One scholar estimated the critical size to be approximately 1,500 monks.”

Monasteries also face restrictions because administrative control lies not with the traditional religious hierarchy but with a “democratic management committee” set up by authorities in major monasteries, the report says.

Even when religiously sincere monks are appointed to these committees, they become part of the apparatus of Chinese control.

“One of the democratic management committee’s roles is to inform the Public Security Bureau of the identities of counterrevolutionaries (monks who oppose communism or favor Tibetan independence),” the report says.

“Even trusted monks can be compromised by the system. Failure to accept an appointment by Chinese officials can lead to reprisals. Acceptance, however, potentially places the appointee in the role of informer and, at a minimum, renders him responsible for the actions of the monastery and the resident monks. To avoid severe punishment by the Chinese supervisors, there is a strong incentive . . . to refrain from engaging in any activities considered unlawful by the Chinese.”

Tibet, conquered by the Qing Dynasty in 1720, was independent under a theocratic government from the fall of the dynasty in 1911, until China re-established control in 1951. Advocacy of Tibetan independence is now considered treason and punishable by death.


After anti-Chinese rioting broke out in Lhasa in October, 1987, “work teams” were sent into monasteries and nunneries to help the democratic management committees. These teams conduct investigations, hold meetings, do surveillance and identify candidates for arrest, the report says, and adds:

“Once the work team identifies the likely dissidents, the Public Security Bureau arrests, interrogates and imprisons the suspects. Interrogations are carried out by work teams, the Public Security Bureau, prison guards and torture specialists who ask questions about political ideas which are designed to gauge the depth of knowledge and sophistication of the individual. The more thoughtful and intelligent one’s answers, the more likely he or she would be arrested, or the less likely he or she would be released.

“Since 1987, hundreds of monks and nuns have been incarcerated for extended periods of time. Evidence suggests that few have escaped severe beatings, and most are tortured. . . . Routine torture used on them includes severe beatings, electric shock, hanging by extremities, dunking and dousing with cold water, injections, attacks by dog, rape and sexual abuse,” the report says.

Despite the severity of repression at the major Lhasa-area monasteries, a genuine religious revival is under way in outlying regions.


“It is in the rural valleys and villages, where the Chinese have little presence or influence, that the most genuine and unimpeded revival of the Buddhist tradition is taking place,” the report says.