Saturday, October 5, 2013

A 'spiritual' revival in China or another gimmick?

Serthar Buddhist Institute
The times are changing.
An excellent Reuters article (posted below) tells us that "Xi Jinping hopes traditional faiths can fill moral void in China".
It has not always been the case; after periods of 'revival', Buddhist monks and nuns have often been persecuted, particularly in Tibet.
Remember 2001 in Eastern Tibet.
At that time, reports poured that Beijing has decided to expel thousands Tibetan nuns and monks from the Serthar Buddhist Institute in Larung Gar in Kardzi prefecture of Sichuan Province (former Kham). The State wanted to tighten its grip on this religious centre. The presence of many Chinese Buddhists was becoming 'subversive' for the Chinese State.
The South China Morning Post then wrote: "Tibetan support groups and Chinese residents of a nearby town said the dismantling of homes at Serthar had started in June [2001] and many of the residents — once estimated at 6,000 to 7,000 — had been forced to leave."
The London-based Tibetan Information Network then affirmed, "the moves had been made on order from Beijing. The objective was to reduce the size of the community to about 1,000 monks and 400 nuns by October [2001]".
Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok
The Serthar Institute was founded by a charismatic Lama, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in 1980 to help revive Buddhist scholarship and meditation. In the early 2000s, it housed the largest concentration of monks and nuns in Tibetan areas ...including nearly 1,000 Han Chinese students.
The Chinese students were posing a problem to Beijing.
Asked about the demolitions, an official told the Hong Kong paper that he could not discuss the events with outsiders, but journalist were told by residents that "many houses had been dismantled and most of the nuns, estimated at about 3,000 at one point, had been forced to leave; the nuns left first. Then some of the monks."

Roads to the settlement were sealed off when officials and People's Armed Police moved in for the 'clearing operations'. Sources said that previous attempts by the authorities to reduce the numbers of monks and nuns had been impossible to enforce. Reports of deaths also circulated.
At that time, The South China Morning Post said that the whereabouts of founder Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok were unclear. Due to his poor health, but he was probably confined to his residence.
The Tibetan Information Network,
quoting an unnamed Western Buddhist scholar explained that "Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was recognised in his teens as the Reincarnation of Lerab Lingpa (1856-1926), a Nyingma teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama. He was singled out as a 'class enemy' during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, although he survived by living in remote and isolated areas".
Demolition in 2001
In 2002, a serious row erupted again over reconstruction of the Serthar Institute. 
The Tibetan Centre For Human Rights And Democracy (TCHRD) based in Dharamsala affirmed having received some reports about "a scuffle between nuns of Serthar Buddhist Institute and PSB officers (Public Security Bureau) from Karze TAP (Tibet Autonomous Prefecture) on 25 December 2002. The PSB officers attempted to destroy ongoing reconstruction works at the demolished site of the institute. One police suffered head injury when a stone hit him."
According to TCHRD, additional police force converged to Larung Gar the next day and continue the demolition task. Over 200 monks and nuns assembled to halt the work resulting in yet another affray between the two parties. In the midst of it all, the police reportedly shot gunfire. 

At the time of the incident, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok was undergoing medical treatment in a hospital in Barkham County in Sichuan Province. 
The Khenpo passed away in 2004.
In the very recent years, the Institute has been rebuilt. Some 40,000 monks and nuns are said to live and study today in Larung Gar. 
This article of Reuters (seen with the recent photos of Larung Gar which circulated on the Internet) makes interesting reading.
The Party has probably selected one or two locations (outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region) where religious will be allowed to 'flourish', though the experience will be carefully monitored.
Can it solve the problem of corruption and the mad race 'to get rich is glorious', started by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 is a serious unanswered question.
Serthar Buddhist Institute today
Can it fill up the 'vacuum created by the country's breakneck growth and rush to get rich', is not certain at all.
But there is always the possibility of demolishing  Sethar Institute or similar experiences once again. 
Another question is: has Xi Jinping, (if Reuters report is correct), the support of his colleagues of the Politburo for blowing 'faith' into the old Marxist faith?
One billion yuan question!

Xi Jinping hopes traditional faiths can fill moral void in China: sources
Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - President Xi Jinping believes China is losing its moral compass and he wants the ruling Communist Party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope these will help fill a vacuum created by the country's breakneck growth and rush to get rich, sources said.
Xi, who grew up in Mao's puritan China, is troubled by what he sees as the country's moral decline and obsession with money, said three independent sources with ties to the leadership.
He hopes China's 'traditional cultures' or faiths - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - will help fill a void that has allowed corruption to flourish, the sources said.
Skeptics see it as a cynical move to try to curb rising social unrest and perpetuate one-party rule.
During the early years under Communism, China's crime rate was low and corruption rare. By contrast, between 2008 and 2012 about 143,000 government officials - or an average of 78 a day - were convicted of graft or dereliction of duty, according to a Supreme Court report to parliament in March.
Xi intensified an anti-corruption campaign when he became party and military chief in November, but experts say only deep and difficult political reforms will make a difference.
Meanwhile, barely a day goes by without soul-searching on the Internet over what some see as a moral numbness in China - whether it's over graft, the rampant sale of adulterated food or incidents such as when a woman gouged out the eyes of her six-year-old nephew this month for unknown reasons.
"Xi understands that the anti-corruption (drive) can only cure symptoms and that reform of the political system and faiths are needed to cure the disease of corruption," one of the sources told Reuters, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing elite politics.
Government agencies would moderate policies towards Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in the hope these faiths would also help placate the disaffected who cannot afford homes, education and medical treatment, the sources said.
"The influence of religions will expand, albeit subtly," a second source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Traditional cultures will not be comprehensively popularized, but attacks on them will be avoided."
Skeptics described such tactics as a ploy to divert blame away from the party for the many problems that anger ordinary Chinese, from corruption to land grabs.
"Buddhists accept their destiny and blame their predicament on the bad deeds they did in their previous lives," said Hu Jia, an AIDS activist and Buddhist who has been intermittently under house arrest since his release in 2011 after serving 42 months in prison for subversion.

In Winter
Religious freedom is enshrined in the constitution but the officially atheist Communist Party has no qualms about crushing those who challenge its rule. The party is paranoid and would remain vigilant against cults and feudal superstition, the sources added.
China banned Falun Gong as a cult and has jailed hundreds, if not thousands, of adherents since 1999. Former president Jiang Zemin also defrocked and put under house arrest a six-year-old boy anointed by the Dalai Lama as the second holiest figure in Tibetan Buddhism in 1995.
"Relaxation and suppression go hand in hand," said Nicholas Bequelin, of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"In China, religion must serve the state," Bequelin said. "There is greater religious freedom in China ... but to what extent is the party ready to allow genuine religious freedom?"
Washington will also need convincing.
In its 2012 report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said Chinese officials and security organs scrutinized and restricted the activities of registered and unregistered religious and spiritual groups.
The government harassed, detained, arrested or sentenced to prison a number of adherents for activities reportedly related to their religious beliefs and practice, it said.
Indeed, conservatives in the party still frown on what they see as "religious infiltration". Zhu Weiqun, a vice chairman of the top advisory body to parliament, warned in an interview with China Newsweek magazine in June that party members should not even practice any religion.
Others think change is in the air.
"This is for real," Lin Chong-Pin, a Taipei-based veteran China watcher and former government policymaker, said by telephone. "To save the party and the state from the current crises, Xi must fill the spiritual void."
Beautiful surroundings

In a sign of the changes Xi wants, Zhang Lebin, deputy director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, wrote a commentary in July in the party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, that said "treating religions well should become a common consensus ... and the right to practice religions should be protected".
The following month, Xi called for building both a "material and spiritual civilization" - Communist jargon for growth and morality.
Back in February, Xi met Taiwan's top Buddhist monk, Hsing Yun, in Beijing along with a delegation of dignitaries from the self-ruled island which Beijing claims as its own.
Meetings between top Chinese and religious leaders are rare.
Hsing Yun was banned from China in the early 1990s for giving sanctuary to a senior Chinese official at his temple in the United States after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. He is now a bestselling author in China.
"President Xi and his family have feelings for Buddhism," said Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, a Beijing-backed non-governmental organization.
In yet another sign, Yu Zhengsheng, ranked fourth in the Communist hierarchy, visited five temples in Tibetan areas in July and August and a mosque in western Xinjiang province in May - unprecedented for such a senior leader in terms of frequency.

China estimates it has 50 million practitioners of Buddhism and Taoism, 23 million Protestants, 21 million Muslims and 5.5 million Catholics,
Independent experts put the number of practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism and folk religions at between 100-300 million.
Chinese emperors embraced Confucianism for centuries, encouraging the philosopher's teachings of filial piety and respect for teachers and authority. Mao then posthumously purged Confucius in the early 1970s.
Confucianism has since made a comeback, although not a smooth one.
A 9.5-metre (30-foot), 17-tonne statue of Confucius was erected in 2011 outside a Beijing museum adjacent to Tiananmen Square, not far from a portrait of Mao which overlooks the area. It vanished weeks later with no official reason given. Conservatives celebrated its removal, which came on the heels of an online uproar about the statue's location.
Buddhism was virtually wiped out during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when temples were shut and Buddhist statues smashed.
It has crept back although China maintains tight control in Tibet where monks and nuns have been jailed for their loyalty to the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Communist rule.
About 120 Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest against Chinese rule since 2009. Most have died.
Taoism, or Daoism, a philosophy-turned-religion preaches living in harmony with nature and simplicity.
Nevertheless, despite the emphasis on fostering more openness for traditional faiths, one thing in the world's second biggest economy will remain the same.
"Economic development is still the No. 1 (priority). Moral development is No. 2," the third source said.
(Editing by Dean Yates)

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