Sinicization poses new threats to the survival of Tibetan Buddhist culture and values in Tibet

by melanie.blondelle | July 12, 2019 7:38 pm

The second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, being hosted by the State Department in Washington, DC from July 16 to 18, 2019, comes at a time when the International Campaign for Tibet has obtained information from sources inside Tibet about threats to the survival of Tibetan Buddhist culture and values at a time the Dalai Lama has described as “the darkest period” in Tibetan history.

One Tibetan—whose name, like those of other Tibetans quoted in this report, has been left anonymous due to serious safety concerns—said: “On the surface, what is happening looks like a chaotic imposition of communism on Tibetan Buddhism, but in fact this is actually a threat to the entire survival of Tibetans and Tibet.”

The teachings, values and practices of Tibetan Buddhism[1], which are integral to Tibetan identity, are facing an unprecedented attack in Tibet—a historically independent nation that China has occupied for the past 60 years[2]—due to a five-year plan announced by China at the beginning of this year to “Sinicize” Buddhism announced in January of this year.[1] This is a more far-reaching effort than before to mold and shape Tibetan Buddhism to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party. This new political direction is compounded by a regulatory framework that has already deepened religious oppression over the last decade and a dystopian system of high-tech surveillance and policing of monasteries and nunneries.

Images captured by surveillance cameras in a control room at Kirti monastery in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo). Kirti has been a particular target by the authorities for total surveillance, as it is an important and influential religious institute also associated with the wave of self-immolations in Tibet since Kirti monk Tapey set himself on fire in February, 2009.

Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The five-year campaign to ‘Sinicize,’ Buddhism is a much more systematic imposition of Communist Party priorities than we have seen before, striking at the very core of a religious philosophy based on moral, compassionate values. Sinicization not only targets the trappings of religious practice, such as large teachings, but also represents a far-reaching intrusion into people’s inner lives by a repressive government, contracting the space for genuine religious practice and freedom.

“In China’s official focus on the eradication of ‘foreign’ influence, there is also no doubt an intention to ensure Tibetans in Tibet are separated from the teachings and presence of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama[3], isolating them still further. It is time for all who believe in religious freedom and human rights to listen to Tibetans who have raised the alarm about this policy and to challenge Beijing directly.”

Observations by Tibetans from inside Tibet

Despite the dangers of expressing even moderate or mild critiques of Beijing’s policies, some Tibetan scholars and religious practitioners are raising the alarm about the direction of China’s policies and implementation and the impacts they’re having on Tibetan lives. Below are views on the latest developments in Tibet from some highly educated Tibetans from different areas who are known to ICT but who cannot be identified in this report. They concur that rather than ensure future “stability” in the region, China’s measures of “amputating” and appropriating Tibetan Buddhism, a philosophical and religious tradition strongly based on moral values, increases the threat of instability.

Developments concerning Tibetan Buddhism


The Chinese government has signed but not ratified the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights.

Based on international human rights standards, ICT makes the following recommendations:

To the international community:

For the Chinese government:


[1] China passes five-year plan to sinicise Islam, as Beijing tightens grip on major faiths in China, January 9, 2019
[2] International Campaign for Tibet report, ‘China forces young Tibetan monks out of monastery into government-run schools as part of drive to replace monastic education with political propaganda’, July 12, 2018,
[3] The Chinese authorities began to initiate their own version of the Geshe Lharampa qualification in 2004, although the official media acknowledges that the history of Lharampa “goes back 400 years.” Some 105 monks in the Tibet Autonomous Region have been awarded the Chinese-administered version of the degree since 2004, according to official sources.
[4] Wu Yingjie was addressing a “monastic management work forum” held in Lhasa on June 28, 2019. It was covered in the Chinese language media, China Tibet News online, on July 1, 2019,
[5] Ibid.
[6] International Campaign for Tibet report, ‘Tibetans ordered to prostrate to pictures of Chinese President as Tibet leaders prioritize anti-Dalai Lama stance’, January 15, 2019

  1. Tibetan Buddhism:
  2. occupied for the past 60 years:
  3. the Dalai Lama:

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