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Beijing is busy manipulating even the religious sentiments of its citizens. Earlier it practised atheism, but realising the people’s deep faith in Buddhism, it has begun promoting its official religious leaders
Modern China has several facets.
Unfortunately, the most disturbing, the totalitarian one, has come to the fore during the past year. Take the example of Ursula Gauthier, the French correspondent based in Beijing for the weekly, L’Obs; the renewal of her Press visa was refused by the authorities. because she had offended the Chinese Government with an article questioning Beijing’s Xinjiang policy and refusing to compare some events there to terrorism.
Then, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed China’s first counter-terrorism law. In an editorial, The South China Morning Post commented: “Wherever Governments have passed unprecedented security laws to confront the threat of terrorism to civilised society and its way of life, their actions have prompted concerns about adverse effects on freedom of expression and intellectual property rights.” For sure, life will be tougher for the minorities and citizens in general who dare to express their genuine grievances.
Further, news agency Xinhua stated that the new counter-terrorism law makes it legal for China’s People’s Liberation Army to get involved in anti-terror operations abroad. Does it mean the PLA can be sent anywhere, when China’s interests are at stake, for counter-terrorist missions? These signs demonstrate a high degree of nervousness.
Last weekend, President Xi Jinping and the entire 11-member Central Military Commission visited the offices of The PLA Daily. Mr Xi called on the journalists/officers to play a leading role in “strengthening the military”. President Xi affirmed, “The PLA Daily must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China and serve the PLA.” He added that the publication should uphold party principles and “unswervingly” embrace the CPC leadership.
Did some officers lately refuse to unswervingly embrace the party? Apparently, some did not fully appreciate the reforms undertaken by Mr Xi and his colleagues. A few weeks ago, Sun Kejia and Han Xiao, two researchers at the PLA National Defence University had warned in The PLA Daily, “The reform will surely… touch on the interests of numerous fellow soldiers… but if it was not handled properly, it could threaten not only the stability of the military but also society.” Now, all officers have been told in no uncertain terms that they should support and take part in the reforms. There are several other signs of nervousness in the Middle Kingdom.
Ironically, the Communist Party of China has opted to develop expertise in ‘soul re-incarnation’. The atheist party has realised that ‘Living Buddhas’, as Beijing calls the reincarnated lamas or rinpoches, wield a great influence amongst the masses. They could be a destabilising influence on the nation, if not properly controlled by the party.
With Buddhism becoming highly fashionable in China, Beijing knows that things could get out of hand; it has therefore decided to differentiate between the ‘good’ lamas (those who are obedient to the Marx doctrine), and the ‘fake’ ones, who are running their own private business (their number may run in tens of thousands).
During a meeting of the United Front Work Department in June, Mr Xi said: “Active efforts should be made to incorporate religions in socialist society. The Chinese President added, “Religions in China must be Chinese.”
Beijing has now decided to develop a database of ‘Living Buddhas’ to help differentiate fake from real (communist) rinpoches.
The China Daily reported, “Authorities are setting up a database of legitimate Living Buddhas and will publish the information online. This will enable followers of Tibetan Buddhism to distinguish between real Living Buddhas and fake ones.” The newspaper added that “some fake Living Buddhas have posed threats to national security, as they use money they collect to sponsor illegal or even separatist activities in Tibet”.
How is one to get a certificate from Beijing that one is the right ‘returned-soul’? Simply follow the party’s rules, which explains, “Living Buddhas are deeply revered monks in Tibetan Buddhism, where it is believed that the soul of a senior Buddha is reincarnated in a child on his death.”
In September 2007, the State Administration for Religious Affairs in Beijing had already decided that all reincarnations of ‘Living Buddhas’ in Tibetan Buddhism must receive Government approval. The regulation’s main purpose is to control the future ‘reincarnation’ of the Dalai Lama. Whoever controls the Dalai Lama, controls the masses on the plateau.
According to Beijing, there are 358 ‘Living Buddhas’ in the Tibet Autonomous Region alone. That is quite a lot for a supposedly atheist region and considering that the Dalai Lama and the rinpoches living in India or in the West are outside Beijing’s database.
In a CCTV interview, Mr Zhu Weiqun, Chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Conference and a former interlocutor of the Dalai Lama’s envoys, asserted, “Some fake Living Buddhas are cheating people out of their savings or luring them into sexual activities using religious practice as an excuse.”
In October, one ‘Holiness’ Pema Woeser (alias Baima Aose) Rinpoche, himself a self-styled Living Buddha, had ‘ordained’ Zhang Tielin, a well-known Chinese actor, as a rinpoche. The footage of the enthronement went viral on the Chinese Internet.
Duoshi Rinpoche, a ‘good’ Living Buddha endorsed by Beijing, told China Daily, “I’ve heard that some monasteries in remote places even put the title of Living Buddha up for sale.” It is probably true that even nirvana can be bought in China today.
In March 2015, China.org.cn ran a feature showing that “Fake Lamas flourish as China’s middle class grows”; it said that authentic and fake rinpoches are becoming sought-after advisors and status symbols. A 2014 report in The Financial Times affirmed that 50 per cent of China’s richest class people admit that they adhere to some kind of religion and one-third of the 50 per cent claimed to be Buddhist.
In this atmosphere, the importance to control the next Dalai Lama is crucial. In an Op-ed in China Tibet Online earlier this month, Mr Zhu Weiqun wrote that “historical facts show that determining the existence of the Dalai lineage and reincarnation of the Dalai Lama had never been a purely religious matter, neither the individual rights of the Dalai Lamas themselves”.
Mr Zhu said that it was an important political matter for the TAR Government and a “manifestation” of Beijing’s exercise of sovereignty over Tibet. Many other factors such as the increasing pollution or the slowing-down of the economy also worry Beijing’s leadership. Unfortunately, the only outcome the leadership has found in 2015 is more repression and greater restriction of individual freedoms.