High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser, originally written for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on December 11, 2015.
Although the main topics of this longread, in seven sections, from Woeser is the politicisation of Tibetan Buddhism and the reincarnation system and in general life as a dissident in the PRC, she comes back again and again to the apocalyptic smog and pollution in Beijing.
It is commonly acknowledged that Beijing’s air quality is hazardous and many rely on the US Embassy’s air quality index (AQI) for accurate information. At the time that this blogpost was written, December 2015, thick smog enveloped the city and Beijing issued its first “red alert”, meaning that the AQI was forecast to exceed 200 (“very unhealthy”) for at least three days.
For background to and Tibetan responses to the Padma Woeser controversy that Woeser describes, see this earlier post: http://highpeakspureearth.com/2015/a-message-to-all-tibetan-youth-by-thubten-phuntsok/
“On the Verge of Doomsday, On the Verge of Hell: Between Smog and Hungry Ghosts…”
One evening about 20 days ago, a friend and I went to a Vietnamese restaurant hidden away in some quiet Hutong; it was Andy’s “last supper”. Andy is a New York Times journalist who was based in Beijing for many years. I still remember meeting him for the first time in early spring of 2009 at my home, a tall guy on my Tibetan-style sofa, looking rather uncomfortable, constantly changing his position. He did not use any recording device, just jotting down the stories that I was telling him at an immense speed. Some of these stories revolved around my own experiences, some were about the protests that had erupted a year before and swept across the entire Tibetan region, but were eventually violently suppressed. It was a time when I was anxious and full of fear; Andy sensed that my occasional laughs were full of nervous sentiments. The story that he then published began with an account of my nightmare. I had indeed dreamt that I was back in Lhasa and that an army truck passed before me filled with young and old Tibetans who had been arrested and almost beaten to death; I wanted to use my camera to take photos, but couldn’t find it; it was gone! So I just chased after the truck crying…
I don’t remember if there was any smog on that afternoon in 2009. It was certainly not yet like these few years when smog has already become a symbol of China’s great capital city; days when there is no smog are so exceptional that my WeChat friends do nothing but post photos of blue sky. The other person present at the dinner was also a foreign journalist. She had been busy the whole afternoon writing a story for her boss about how Beijing’s air quality has improved. “What? Today, it is just as smoggy as always” I was surprised and went to open the air quality app that I had installed on my phone. It looked hazy outside, the people hurrying past were wearing masks that resembled gas masks. I mean, compared to the same time in the past, my friend admitted rather hastily.
Perhaps. Who knows. Were the PM 2.5 and PM 10 figures on the same day last year even more disturbing than those of today? If the figures are lower today does it really mean that pollution is less severe? We have to have trust in China’s progress, we shouldn’t always see everything so negatively. When Xi Jinping visited the UK, this ancient empire, in October 2015, he proudly addressed the parliament, stating that “In China, the concept of putting people first and following the rule of law emerged in ancient times, about 4000 years ago;” he even cordially invited every single parliament member to visit China to have a look and experience its development first-hand. Perhaps the smog will be kind enough to give Emperor Xi some face and strategically retreat for those few days.
Anyway, that evening we didn’t really feel the smog. The uncertain future was not only not clear, it was even muddled, the only thing that was certain was that Andy who had been living in China for eight years, his partner and dog named Muxu would be going back to New York the next evening. As I was standing there in the middle of the night, hugging and waving goodbye, I hurriedly lifted my mobile and took a picture. In the background we see that small, but brightly-lit and still open shop with the sign reading “China time-honoured brand Refuxiang Burial Clothes”; a somewhat weird image. At the time, we completely ignored the smog. Often, we really get used to totally abnormal situations and gradually come to regard them as normal. Or as Ai Weiwei once said to me: we really need to normalise our lives. This sentence left a long-lasting impression on me.
Another evening, Wang Lixiong’s mobile phone wouldn’t stop ringing. But he wasn’t home. He had gone down to the river for a walk. It was a time when the smog wasn’t so bad and a face mask would actually do its job. I looked at his phone, it was someone from State Security. After a few moments of hesitation, I still decided to answer the call.
A man introduced himself as being from the “City Security”, calling me “Ayi” (term of familiar address for an older woman), telling me that he had promised Wang Lixiong that if there were any problems he would not bother me, but find him directly. It was the first time that State Security called me “Ayi”, it felt strange to the point that I couldn’t focus on what else he had to say. But at least he was polite, I said to myself; but in my head I had flashbacks of the image of State Security in Lhasa. Their names are all the same, whenever you ask, they are always called Tashi. Xu Xiao also once told me that all the State Security personnel that contacted her had the surname Zhang; “Call me Officer Zhang,” they would say. Tashi means auspicious; Tashi Delek means blessings and good luck and is used to greet or give blessings. Some of the Tashis that contacted me were polite as most Lhasa people, but others would bang on the table and shout: I am telling you, our China has already become powerful, we are not afraid, no one will ever help you!
But anyway, what had happened? Later I found out that the next day, Beijing was going to try in court the 70-year-old Gao Yu; a few days before Wang Lixiong happened to have had dinner with his friends, some of whom were famous human rights activists, such as Hu Jia. The paranoid “City Security” probably thought that these people had been plotting to take over the court and tried to move quickly and put everyone under house arrest. What this usually means is that the “City Security” sends people to take over the security booth at the respective house entrances, then they take the lift up and place two chairs on either side of the corridor where they remain day and night, I am not even sure how and when they change shifts. Sometimes this lasts for one day, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a couple of weeks, and sometimes even for months. By the end, what is left is a floor full of cigarette butts and shells of melon seeds. The light in the staircase is sound operated. This means that unless these guards want to sit in the dark, they have to constantly make noise; they talk, cough, spit, fart, stamp or clap.
When they are at work, I do not leave the house; I don’t want to see their faces. Besides, this time, my attention was attracted by the news on WeChat about the “Palden Lhamo Festival”. It originated from Lhasa, but is now common and popular across the whole of Tibet. It is also often simply referred to as “Women’s Festival”. It is related to the deity Palden Lhamo who is enshrined in a corner of the second floor of the Jokhang Temple. She has the face of a frog, usually covered in cloth, which is lifted once a year on the 15th day of the 10th month according to the Tibetan calendar. Monks and lay people come to revere her. On this special day, women enjoy all sorts of privileges. To avoid turning this into a long essay on Tibetan customs, I will not go into any details here. But to cut a long story short: on this day, anyone looking like a woman can randomly hold out their hands and beg for money. My friends from Lhasa took nice photos of the frog-faced goddess and the many Buddhists. Many Tibetans are currently debating as to whether we should put an end to the vulgar custom of begging. Of course, I also criticise the way in which such a traditional festival has been degraded. But then again, I was also very happy to receive several “red packets” through WeChat: 3.33 Yuan, 16.66 Yuan and 66 Yuan. I laughed out loud! I was really touched by this form of showing care through the homonyms of Chinese numbers.
This year, I have been prostrating more or less every night; in Buddhist terminology, prostrating is one of the former four practices of the Yogacara School of Buddhism. One evening I took out my kneepad, elbowpad and gloves and lit a lantern in front of my small shrine and prostrated. The noise of the two guards outside inspired me to write the following poem:
I hear your scrupulous voices
At midnight, outside my door
Voices of men, resonating the imperial capital
Outrageous, arrogant, but I cannot hear what you shout
I pretend I don’t hear, I don’t hear
I don’t see your two shoddy black chairs
Standing there in the corridor whose walls are covered in ads
When you are out hunting for food, the shadows of the state security envelopes them
Suddenly, inevitably I cannot see when they might dissipate
I pretend I don’t see, I don’t see
And tomorrow is the Palden Lhamo Festival
I am happy, I love her
But you, why do you keep stamping your feet?
As if you are haunted by demons
After finishing the poem, I continued to pray; and as I was lying there, I noticed the thick smog outside the window.
Allow me to add a little story. It is the story of a friend from Amdo who took his parents, wife and child on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. It was as if a heavy load was taken off his heart as he cheered: “All documents are complete, I can go and enjoy Lhasa!” He was really emotional and excited!
But what kind of documents? What kind of documents do Tibetans from Amdo and Kham (mainly situated in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces) need to enter Lhasa? Well, one needs a “Tibetan entry certificate” that is issued by the police where one’s hukou is registered; it exists “to verify that the person”, at the time of application, “has no criminal records; it is to be presented at any checkpoints and departments so as to be let past”. It has to be signed and stamped by the local community police as well as the head of the police office. One also needs a temporary document that is similar to an ID and includes one’s name, gender, ethnicity and ID number; it is only valid for a period of up to three months and issued by the very first “Security Checkpoint” that one crosses when entering the TAR. One furthermore needs a “proof of the temporary retention of one’s ID card” which verifies that one’s ID has been “temporarily retained” by any checkpoint in Lhasa. One has to provide the exact address and phone number of the place where one will reside while in Lhasa; these “Lhasa addresses” have to be so-called “communication points” or “offices” that have been set up in Lhasa by different Tibetan regions. One also needs to provide the name of the police station that the given address belongs to and also the name of the police that “temporarily retained” one’s ID card. This document has to be endorsed by seven red stamps.
If one is a monk, one also needs a “monk ID” and some other even more complicated documents. One may even be refused to enter altogether.
Does this make any sense? Am I confusing you? Let me recount my own experience. Three years ago, on my way from Beijing to Lhasa, I got stuck at the first checkpoint on the Qinghai-Tibet highway because I could not produce that “Tibetan entry certificate”. The notice on the police truck indicated that the certificate had to include the following content: “the person’s details such as name, gender, ID card number, the destination in Tibet, reasons for entering Tibet, the intended address in Tibet, duration of stay, criminal records, that the person is not engaging in any illegal activities, the details of the police that issues the certificate and the name and details of a contact person.” This certificate was only for Tibetans. The seven Chinese who were with me did not need one.
Three years later, for Tibetans living outside Lhasa, the paperwork required to enter Lhasa was as complex as that required to go abroad. This is totally different for Chinese who can enter Lhasa freely and without restrictions; all they really need is an ID card. The “forbidden city”, as Lhasa used to be called in the past, has now become a “forbidden city” for Tibetans; sad indeed. This is why I felt particularly happy for my above-mentioned friend. He had managed to keep his promise and taken his devout parents to worship the Shakyamuni Buddha at Jokhang Temple. Plus, worried that his son would become too sinicised, he succeeded in exposing him to the image of Potala Palace at this young age. A young Amdo Tibetan wrote online: “going to Tibet is the dream of every single young Tibetan. Adults commonly pull children by their ears and ask them: ‘And? Have you seen Lhasa?’ If the child does not scream in pain, the adults would say: good, this kid will be able to go to Lhasa when he’s grown up”. A bitter-sweet game.
My friend’s photography skills are quite extraordinary. But the Lhasa that he captured made me feel sad. The silhouette of the Jokhang Temple looks like a paper cutting, more or less covered in dark shadows, appearing lonely and silent. Princess Wencheng with her turquoise gemstones, precious red corals and golden beeswax head is wearing a black mask, her exposed eyes show no traces of happiness. But it’s not because of the smog. My friend took the photos during full moon from the corner of Barkhor. We see no traces of life, but this is not because of the smog.
Just as assaulting to the senses as the smog is the following incredible drama. A male actor who became famous for acting the Qianlong Emperor in one of those TV costume dramas was suddenly “enthroned”. The ritual was carried out by someone who did not use to be famous, but had, among over 20 other ranks, the scary title of “the only internationally influential spiritual master”. His Tibetan name is Padma Woeser, but in reality his name is Wu Darong. He is from Fujian and used to be an entrepreneur selling bags and Buddhist accessories. The male actor whose real name is Zhang Tielin was given a Tibetan name: Padma Chonpel, but he calls himself Padma Tielin.
“Enthronement”, in Chinese (also referred to as “sitting on the bed”), is a simplified and common expression used to refer to the Tibetan Buddhist enthronement ceremony for the reincarnation of a lama. I am not sure where this Chinese expression “sitting on the bed” came from, but it really has a profane and even indecent touch to it, possibly evoking false imaginations among those who are not familiar with China. In fact, Zhang Tielin has been target of all kinds of indecent gossip, but this video of him “sitting on the bed” became even more popular than the other gossip.
This is what happened: A group of non-Tibetan men and women randomly wore Tibetan garments; a group of non-Tibetan monks and nuns wore Tibetan robes; the ceremony was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, it looked more like a state banquet at the Great Hall of the People. The traditional Tibetan chanting “Lama Chenno” was incessantly resonating in the background; Buddhas drawn onto thangkas and murals were lit by lanterns, serving as a grand backdrop for Padma Woeser and these men and women. The three jewels of Tibetan Buddhism, statues of Buddha, mantras and small stupas were passed around the banquet tables. The actor exaggeratedly prostrated in front of “his wise master” who has rescued him from “this ever-changing world”. The act of prostrating is always an essential part of Buddhism, but there are subtle differences between Tibetan and Chinese practices. Padma Tielin’s prostrating turned out to be a random mix of both. When he was given Buddhist robes, a Buddhist hat and instruments, the people, putting on an act of affection, faced the “teacher” painfully moving his lips, murmuring Tibetan mantras; there is nothing that dilutes the depressing smog any more than this preposterous scene. By the way, at the beginning of the ceremony, Wu Darong, who was wrapped in what looked like emperor’s robes, started speaking as if this was a “National Day Celebration”, proclaiming that “together, we must celebrate the 60th anniversary of our country … our country has struggled for 66 years giving us the opportunity to enjoy the extraordinary successes that today’s glorious, rich and powerful country brings along;” is this the general secretary of the Party’s group for traditional Tibetan Buddhism speaking? Is he one of those “extraordinary successes”?
Those who witnessed this macabre event did not only feel sick, but also humiliated. The Tibetans who saw this “sitting on the bed” ceremony felt extremely emotional and provoked. This was interesting, because it seemed that all those who normally entertained different standpoints, who came from different factions, including those who are working in the system and those working outside it, those who are part of traditional Tibetan Buddhism and those who are not, were suddenly united and reached a consensus. There is one online post that was frequently shared; the first two sentences expressed what many Tibetans felt: “I cried, because I could not bear seeing Tibetan Buddhism being humiliated in this way! I felt angry, because I could not allow Tibetan Buddhism being blasphemed in this way!” Of course, some people had other reasons to feel irritated… this is what happens when one swindler comes face to face with another.
In the silent and ever thickening smog, I calmed down. There have been too many such examples. We do not need to look back too far, during the past decades, the “golden urn” was used by the Party to select the 11th Panchen Lama; the so-called “Living Buddha license” introduced by the Party serves as another example of a totalitarian regime intervening in religion; the “patriotic education” that was forced upon every single monastery has driven monks and nuns insane; the hypocritical “legal education” has not only been about brainwashing, it has inflicted harm upon human bodies, as some Tibetans have been beaten so hard that they are now permanently handicapped. If one refuses to dishonour and insult one’s own root guru, the Dalai Lama, one may be expelled in less severe cases, and imprisoned in more severe ones. This has resulted in 144 Tibetans setting their bodies on fire.
At the same time, commercialisation has gradually turned everything upside down. As long as they have enough money, the vulgar Chinese men and women can simply ignore the monastic traditions and rules; they step on the foundations of Buddhism; they throw around with gold and as long as they give enough, Dimed Shing Kyong Rinpoche, Mocha Rinpoche and Wangbo Rinpoche of the Nyingma school and Kathok Monasteries (the latter located up in the mountains of northern Kham) are doing everything to flatter them, giving someone like Wu Darong a Buddhist name, a Buddhist hat and other things.
I am currently re-reading VS Naipaul’s book “India: A Wounded Civilisation,” it is indeed a timely account: “ … the reality was cruel and overwhelming.” The smog was getting so heavy that I could not even see the building across the road anymore. My app told me that the PM 2.5 and the PM 10 figures have exceeded the WHO standards by 20 or 30 times. A friend from Beijing commented: “What does that mean!? Probably worse than falling into the bog!” “Nature takes revenge on us. But they just take off and let others do the work; now it’s OK, but the Party just does whatever it wants and we are then forced to suffer.”
I decided to continue following Zhang Tielin’s case. A netizen who knew inside information revealed on his blog: “I have been debating this incident with countless persons in charge of the XX website; I said to them that they cannot praise those ‘Tibetan Buddhist leaders from Hong Kong’ who don’t know a single word of Tibetan. Some person in charge replied, saying that it was the requirement of the United Front. Silence. Because of the United Front’s requirements, the XX office of Hong Kong had to particularly generate a fake “Living Buddha”? The “XX office” is referring to the Office of the Chinese Government in Hong Kong. But what does he mean by “XX website”? The Xinhua website? The People’s Daily website? The Sina portal? Or Fenghuang website?
On the website called “Trulku Padma Woeser Rinpoche”, one quickly finds photos showing Wu Darong together with government officials. This is an excerpt from the website:
‘“Following the invitation of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, in June 2006, Trulku Padma Woeser spent six days in Beijing, participating in several events … He was warmly received by the vice head of the United Front, Zhu Weiqun, and the head of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen. The Religious Bureau sent deputy head, Jian Yong, to represent Ye Xiaowen at the banquet.” “Trulku Padma Woeser presented vice head Zhu Weiqun with a dragon boat as a gift.” “In February 2012, the Party Secretary of the Chinese Central Socialist Academy, alternate member of the CPC Central Committee, member of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and first vice-president of the Chinese Culture Institute, Ye Xiaowen, visited Hong Kong … as the honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Buddhist Culture Estate, he highly praised the efforts of Trulku Padma Woeser in promoting and internationalising Buddhist culture.”
Yet another person appeared in public. His title was “President of the Tibetan Branch of the Buddhist Association of China and 7th Drukhang Rinpoche.” The famous official newspaper “Global Times” published an article titled “China launches system to check authenticity of Rinpoches” in which he propagated four important requirements: First, a Rinpoche must be passed on from former generations, such as the Panchen Rinpoche; second, a Rinpoche must have a monastery, must be practicing Buddhism at a monastery; third, a Rinpoche must be following the official system of reincarnation and adhere to the religious rituals in the process; fourth, a Rinpoche must be authorised by the government.” Drukhang Rinpoche appeared like a dignified “global citizen” on a world stage and almost forgot the last requirement: a Rinpoche must be against national separatism.
It becomes more than obvious that there has been a very close relationship between Padma Woeser and some of China’s highest officials; perhaps Zhu Weiqun and Ye Xiaowen represented the Chinese government in approving Padma Woeser’s title of Rinpoche a long time ago? If there was no official “government approval” what was the situation between these two officials and the fake Rinpoche? They could not have invited him for dinner and accepted his gift if they had simply taken him as the businessman Wu Darong who was selling Buddhist statues. Is it possible that because of “the United Front’s requirements”, the respective departments formed the backstage, allowing for the creation of this fake Rinpoche? Was it because of “the United Front’s requirements” that this fake Rinpoche was invited twice to attend the “National Day Reception” along with “the Party’s and country’s highest leaders”?
Drukhang Rinpoche has always been a career-minded cadre who fiercely opposes the Dalai Lama. He used to only appear in public when it was beneficial to his career, his words are always carefully chosen. This time he appeared to lead the fight against “fake Rinpoches”, as if it was the second curtain in a long theatre drama. I have the feeling that both Padma Woeser and also Padma Tielin will, as the United Front requires, be sacrificed, because they have both been too shortsighted, only seeking instant benefits. This does not conform with the Party’s expectations towards its underground workers. Those two simply enjoyed acting too much, thus attracting the attention of the masses and revealing themselves too early. And so at this point Drukhang Rinpoche takes the stage! As if someone behind the scenes and had yelled: “To the cyberworld: Curtain up! Light on! Music play!”
There are too many “intelligence” stratagems in China’s vast culture. For the example, the Thirty-Six Stratagems, including “killing with a borrowed sword”, “looting a burning house”, “watching the fires burning across the river”, “disturbing the water and catching a fish”, “replacing the beams with rotten timber” etc, are all extremely provocative, tricky and vicious. Then there is “the mantis stalks the cicada”, which refers to pursuing a narrow benefit, while neglecting the greater. And of course there is Sun Zi’s “The Art of War” which is often glorified and considered a genius piece, including the saying that “there can never be too much deception in war”, “if they have the advantage, lure them out; if they are in disorder, conquer them”. All these promote and revere cheating. The end justifies any means, one can be scrupulous and without bottom-line. Some people comment that Sun Zi’s “The Art of War” is “the beginning of Chinese humanity becoming cancerous” and that it is “a hidden but poisonous cultural gene”; I concur.
When I woke up, I saw blue sky outside my window. I was pleasantly surprised, ready to quickly forget yesterday’s irritating smog and focus on the scenery in front of my eyes. The people in the city were incessantly taking photos, discovering beautiful spots that they had not seen for a long time, looking as if they are so unbelievably grateful. But isn’t this a fake scenery? Or rather, this moment of purity will only last for a blink of an eye. The smog was blown away by several gusts of northern wind; but it has not disappeared, it was simply blown into other areas. My relatives in Seattle told me that they also have smog, PM 2.5 levels of 114. I wonder whether it was blown over from Beijing. As soon as the northern winds stop, however, the smog returns. It has already become a recurring cycle, a daily reality.
The media got involved. “Beijing News” started peeling off the magnificent outer shell of Padma Woeser, revealing that he used to sell bags, toys and Buddhist accessories and was continuing his business with his company “Buddhist Cultural Estate”, now also selling water and watches. His over twenty titles are all fake. The receipts and letters that he received from the few Tibetan Rinpoches were also tampered with and turned into a Rinpoche license. Then CCTV also “brought up” Padma Woeser’s business. China’s Tibet Net equally wondered whether he was a “real or fake Rinpoche?”
But the Chinese media all avoided touching upon a different topic. How come none of them raised the matter of “the requirements of the United Front”? Beijing News included one sentence, stating that Padma Woeser communicated through representatives that he “has a strong official background, is very capable and hopes that some positive stories would be published.”
And so, a United Front official made a statement. On November 30, Zhu Weiqun announced through the official newspaper “Global Times” that the power to decide upon the reincarnation of Rinpoches lies solely with the Central Government, saying that “this power will not be weakened, on the contrary, it will be reinforced to guarantee the successful fight against national separatism.” A few days later, he uttered the following sickening words to CCTV: a fake Rinpoche left Tibet to deceive people in central and eastern China, taking money and tricking people into having sex, then taking the money back into Tibet to finance separatist activities, hereby heavily damaging the image of traditional Tibetan Buddhism and severely harming national security.
Zhu used this time-tested weapon of “splittism”. It is an incredibly effective weapon, able to distract from the real topic and at the same time, threatening Tibetans to shut up and no longer pursue the relationship between the government officials and the fake Rinpoche Wu Darong. And it possibly has another effect, namely that the anger of Chinese netizens who have been interested in and following Zhang Tielin’s case will be directed against Tibetan Rinpoches.
Are there fake Rinpoches who defraud others of money and trick others into having sex? Yes. But as far as I know, these are pleasure-seeking corrupt officials who the government is too lazy to control. Are there Rinpoches who steal money to finance separatist activities? No. and if there are, why doesn’t Zhu Weiqun tell us their names and expose them to the public? Or is he talking about Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who was accused of “undermining the nation” and framed for planning several explosions and who already died a tragic death in a Chinese prison?
And then that special “Rinpoche License” with Chinese characteristics appeared, strictly controlling the over 800-year-old Tibetan tradition of reincarnation, including that of the Dalai Lama, stipulating that now everyone had to follow the Party. I remember reading “The Emperor Far Away” in which author David Eimer writes: “Mount Kailash stands as an unchanging testament not only to the power of belief but to its supremacy over the diktats of the CCP – just another of the dynasties that have risen and fallen throughout Chinese history.”
The smog is back. The “Emergency Air Pollution Office” issued a red warning: “Please take health precautions between the 7th and the 9th due to severe air pollution,” also enthusiastically promoting what the Chinese Confucian scholar Yu Dan had long advised: “Shut the doors and windows, try not to let the haze into your house; turn on your air purifier, try not to let the haze into your lungs. If this is no use, only rely on your own spiritual protection, to prevent letting the haze into your heart.” I can follow the first two suggestions, I spend most of my time at home reading and writing anyway. But the latter one, I cannot do, I cannot get myself to turn into a cynic who is ignorant of the truth.
As the drama seemed to be coming to an end, suddenly H.H. Mocha Rinpoche of Kathok Monastery appeared from the misty stage, reflecting upon his conduct: “I vowed to dedicate my life to the promotion of Buddhism, I have never before been used by someone like this, putting all religious devotees into a difficult situation and having a negative impact upon Kathok monastery, the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and even the entire Tibetan Buddhist world. I feel in deep pain.” When I read this, I felt uneasy, this sounded like the self-criticism during the Cultural Revolution, “I was wrong, I was mislead, I was used by a malicious class enemy…” etc. The elderly among us will know, they have experienced this dark period. If one day, just like in Eastern Germany, the totalitarian regime collapses and countless secret files are released, will we perhaps get the opportunity to hear the reports of some divergent whistle-blowers?
And then another figure appeared from the misty stage, the daughter of the 10th Panchen Lama. She is referred to as “Princess”, but I don’t know since when or why this is the case. It is to suggest that the Panchen Lama once ruled as a King. But we can safely ignore her words, only this much: when this young girl opened her mouth, she really sounded like a Princess. On Weibo she wrote that “I think the farce about that fake Rinpoches has already been resolved, from now on, there is no point in debating this any further”. What I would like to know is whether this is really what the “Princess” thinks herself or whether she was ordered by someone else to announce this to the world?
Is Zhang Tielin’s “sitting on the bed” case a farce? Is Wu Darong’s turning into Padma Woeser because of the “United Front’s requirements” also a farce? And are they really resolved? Can we just stop talking about them? The American Tibetologist Elliot Sperling wrote about this case on Facebook:
“What is this really about? Well, this is about the occupation and colonisation of religion. After successfully occupying Tibet in geographical terms, the authorities have erased Tibetan people’s Tibet and replaced it with a fake “Chinese Tibet”. Today, Chinese people can freely enter Tibet and Lhasa, they can settle down on the Plateau as they please. But what about Tibetans? If you don’t have a Tibet Autonomous Region ID card, you have difficulties entering or even living in Lhasa … Now ‘Tibetan Buddhism” is being subject to the same kind of colonial logic. Chinese people can become ‘Living Buddhas’ as they wish, but what about Tibetans? They have to get permission from the authorities, they need certificates and patriotic training! What this means is that Tibetan Buddhism is gradually disappearing. In the future, all that will be left is some kind of hybrid “Chinese-Tibetan Buddhism”. In this process of colonisation, Tibetan Buddhism will be completely swallowed up by fake Chinese ‘Living Buddhas’. The authorities are currently colonising religion just as they have previously colonised Tibet and its people.
Even more depressing is that once the world is full greedy “hungry ghosts”, the people will be swallowed up as well and the whole world will sink into hell.
I should finish this essay. Please forgive me for jabbering on, but just as Andy wrote after turning around and leaving China behind: “The desire for a better tomorrow — for cleaner air, for justice, for a chance to pick their political leaders — cannot be entirely extinguished.” Because “I love freedom even more”. But apart from loving freedom, I love our religious beliefs, I cherish them just as much as I cherish my own eyes.
Written at my home in Beijing, December 3-8, 2015
This post is also available in: English