Cultural Genocide in Tibet
Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘Genocide’ has included the concept of cultural genocide in his original definition for genocides. As he explains eight dimensions of genocide, broadly constituting as “political, social, cultural, economic, biological, physical, religious, and moral genocide.” According to Professor Yvonne Donders, Cultural Genocide is “the destruction by the State or State organs of the culture of a community in its broad sense of the term, including the distinctive spiritual material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, encompassing in addition to art and literature and lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”.
The U.N Declarations of Human Rights, and the Article 1 and 27 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) contain provisions that protect minority cultural rights, and Article 15 specifically recognizes the right to “take part in cultural life.”
The Chinese Communist party’s elaborate and deliberate assault on Tibet’s religion, language, education, and the way of life with the clear intent to destroy Tibetan identity and culture are not just gross violation of international laws but also a representation of the CCP’s cultural genocidal intent and practices in Tibet. This act of cultural genocide in Tibet is explicitly asserted in the reports by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) (1960, 1991 and 1997).
- The Physical and Non-physical Destruction of Tibetan Culture
Robert Badinter in 1989, was the first to use the term “Cultural Genocide” in the wake of severe cultural destructions unleashed by the Communist China in Tibet. It is noteworthy that cultural genocides can happen along with physical genocide and that more so, the act of physical genocide is adjacent to campaigns of cultural extinction.
Both the physical and non-physical of the CCP’s destruction of Tibetan Buddhism aimed towards its obliteration is a clear case of cultural genocidal intent and practices.
The Physical destruction of Tibetan Buddhism includes the demolition and forced closure of thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and eviction of Tibetan monks, nuns, and practitioners. The Chinese authority has repeatedly carried out arbitrary arrests, torture, physical abuse, and detentions of Tibetan monks, nuns, and lay practitioners due to their beliefs and practices.
Non-physical form of destruction is seen in the Chinese authorities’ deployment of Orwellian techniques and interference in the daily lives of the monks and nuns and other practitioners. By linking Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with “separatism,” China has intensified criminalization and securitization through arbitrary detentions and mass indoctrination.
To a greater extent, it is also safe to say that the survival of the Tibetan identity is crucially dependent on the survival of Tibetan Buddhism. Therefore, from the beginning of CCP’s rule in Tibet, they have seemed to understand that the annihilation of Tibetan Buddhism would lead to the termination of the Tibetan identity.
- Damage and Destruction of Tibetan Culture and Identity
2.1 Destruction of Tibetan Buddhist Centers of Learning
The Chinese government from Mao to Xi’s era has primarily targeted Tibetan Buddhism for the complete eradication of Tibetan identity. The history of Tibet, since the Chinese occupation shows a chain of destructive practices and policies towards the Tibetan monasteries, nunneries, and other religious sites.
The 10th Panchen Lama’s famous 70,000- character petition written in 1962 to the CCP reported that “more than 97 percent of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed and the number of monks and nuns living in the monasteries was reduced by 93 per cent.”
The Cultural Revolution has taken countless Tibetan lives and at the same time important religious institutions and sites were also destroyed. During this period, Beijing has unleashed physical traumas and torture on Tibetans through public “struggle session” and mass imprisonment of the Tibetans. The Central Tibetan Administration reported that at least 92,000 Tibetans who were subjected to “struggle session” died or committed suicide and around 173,000 died in prison, or in “Reform through Labor camps.”
Scholar Peter Dziedzic reported that nearly 90 percent of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were destroyed in this period, and the population of Buddhist monks and nuns declined by 93 per cent, owing to executions and imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution.
From 1966 till the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the number of the demolished monasteries and religious institutions in Tibet is reported to be more than 6000. In addition, millions of ancient and priceless manuscripts were burnt. Many temples and monasteries were looted by the CCP as statues within the temples which were made of gold, silver, or bronze were removed and sent to China.
“Report on International Religious Freedom” by the U.S Department of the State in 2019, stated that between 6,000 to 17,000 Tibetan monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar are forced out of the institutes by the Chinese authorities. The physical destruction and the damage inflicted on Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar monasteries in recent years is the testament towards continuation of the CCP’s destruction of Tibetan culture to this day.
2.2 Curtailment of Religious Freedom:
China is among the worst violators of Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance in the world as reported by the European Parliament’s intergroup on Freedom of Religion. The Freedom House report “Freedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege” ranked Tibet as the least free country along with Syria. The curtailment of religious freedom by the CCP constitutes the destruction of the intangible manifestations of Tibetan culture and identity.
The Tibet Work Forum
The built-in “systematic” element is quintessential to the crime of cultural genocide. The Tibet Work Forum is the articulation of China’s shifting policies in Tibet.
At the seventh Tibet Work Forum held in August 2020, Xi laid out a “strategy of governing Tibet in the new era” that includes “Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.” This is a continuation of Beijing’s repressive policies and practices from the previous Forums. Thereafter, Xi specifically said that “it is necessary to guide the people of all ethnic groups to establish a “correct view” of the country, history, nationality, culture, and religion.
The Third National forum on the Work in Tibet is the embodiment of how TWF serves as a tool for religious suppression. The forum led to the reemergence of the notorious denunciation campaigns against the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders, which once prevailed during the Cultural Revolution. Religious activity within the monasteries, nunneries and other religious institutes were brutally suppressed.
Democratic Management Committee (DMC)
Democratic Management Committee serves as an instrument through which the repressive policies were implemented within the religious institutions. These Monastic Management Committees (MMC) have taken over the regulation of monasteries from traditional Tibetan leadership. According to state media reports, in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, China has established over 1787 democratic management committees.
Ban on religious ceremonies and the image of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
The CCP’s emphasis on restrictions on religious activities and prohibition on the possession of pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an example of how the core values and beliefs of the Tibetan are getting abused. One of the major components of the Third TWF meeting was the ban on the images of the Dalai Lama in both private and public places.
Since August 2021, Chinese authorities have intensified its religious crackdown in the Tibetan town of Dza Wonpo. The situation remains bleak as over 121 Tibetans have been arbitrarily detained over the possessions of the Dalai Lama’s portrait. Most of them except for three were released with strict orders, following more than a month-long detention which included military programs, torture, indoctrination and mistreatments. To the Tibetan Buddhists, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the manifestation of the Bodhisattva and is revered as their spiritual teacher and the savior. Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypeople who showed any sign of devotion and faith towards His Holiness the Dalai lama face severe consequences and are described as “the scum of Buddhism” and “the loyal running dog of the Dalai clique.”
The Human Rights Watch reported that the notice issued in early August 2019 banned retired Tibetan government employees from taking part in any religious activities. Similarly, Tibetan students were prohibited from participating in any form of religious activities during vacation in July 2018, as the Chinese state-controlled media Global Times reported that “Tibetan underage students banned from religious activity by law.” The Central Tibetan Administration reported that the Chinese authority has imposed a month-long ban on Tibetan families from participation in any religious activities during the month Saka Dawa festival, which holds the similar importance as Ramadan to Muslims.
Strike Hard campaign in Tibet
Bradley Campbell in 2009 shed new light on the notion of genocide as social control, as he shares that genocide also includes a top-down moralistic correction of ‘deviant’ behaviour by an increasingly powerful and violent state.
Beijing launched its “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” in May 2014 and the international community witnessed the horrors and the genocidal impact that it brought on the Uighur people and other “minorities” in East Turkestan (Ch. Xinjiang). But in Tibet, the Strike Hard Campaign had already begun in May 1996.
Through the Strike Hard campaign, a reeducation campaign was mandated along the line of rooting out Tibetan Buddhism similar to erasure of Islamic faith in East Turkestan.
The reeducation campaign was systematically implemented by Beijing through the placement of a work team at a particular monastery, with armed troops accompanying them. The monks and the nuns within the religious institutions were forced to adopt the party’s version of history, religious policy, knowledge of the law, and mainly the party’s propaganda. Fifty-eight work teams were sent to key monasteries and nunneries in Nagchu Prefecture alone. According to the party, 700 monasteries and nunneries and 35,000 monks and nuns have been “rectified.” Patriotic education was extended to every segment of Tibetan society as it was implemented in towns, cities, agricultural communities, governmental organs, and schools.
The latest development from the Seventh TWF is the ramping up of their ongoing mass re-education campaign in Tibet as Xi said at the meeting that “We must attach importance to strengthening ideological and political education in schools, but the spirit of patriotism throughout the entire process of school education at all levels and types, sow the seeds of loving China in the depths of the hearts of every teenager.”
2.3 Marginalization of Tibetan Language and Education
Language is not only fundamental to cultural identity but it is through that culture survives and loss of it would mean the loss of culture. For decades, Tibetan and international organizations have raised serious concerns against the CCP’s repressive language policy in Tibet.
In 2016, the Chinese authority arbitrarily and unjustly detained and later sentenced Tashi Wangchuk for five years in prison on the charge of “inciting separatism.” Before his arrest, Wangchuk raised his concern over the removal of the Tibetan language in schools and everyday lives in a New York Times documentary. During his trial, Wangchuk expressed that he simply wanted the right to use their language, which is enshrined in the Chinese constitution under “ethnic minorities’ rights.”
On 24th November 2020, The United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) conveyed their concerns to the Chinese government on replacing Tibetan with the Chinese language as the medium of instruction in schools and persecution of the Tibetan language rights advocates.
Beijing has a long history of misusing educational institutions as one of the tools for the eradication of the Tibetan language. Moreover, for the sinicization in Tibet, the Tibetan children from an early age are indoctrinated with the party’s propaganda and fed lies about their identity.
China has emphasized and implemented the “Bilingual education,” policy. But in practice, all the subjects in primary schools throughout the region are taught in Mandarin except Tibetan language classes. In fact, since the 1960s, Mandarin has been the medium of instruction in almost all middle and high schools in the “Tibetan Autonomous Region”(TAR). The Chinese authority has systematically and structurally discriminated against and discouraged the use of the Tibetan language in nearly every area of Tibet society.
In the words of a Tibetan university professor to Human Rights Watch in 2018 “so this is bilingual education: in theory, it means you can do both languages. It sounds beautiful. But in practice, the working language in schools and offices even at the township rural level is becoming Chinese.”
Recently Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported the announcement made by the Chinese government that” Starting from the fall semester of 2021, all kindergartens in ethnic areas and rural areas that have not used the national standard language for childcare and education activities will use the national standard language for activities to create a good Mandarin education environment for children.” This reveals the new height in their history of language suppression against the occupied peoples. Through these radical policies, it is clear that Beijing wants to further marginalize the Tibetan language.
2.4 Destruction of Tibetan nomadic way of Life
Beijing’s systematic effort to destroy and eliminate Tibetan culture is present in every spectrum of Tibetan society as seen in Tibetan religious and educational institutions. And it continues to the Tibetans nomadic populations.
In the discourse of cultural genocide, the destruction of the way of life is widely accepted as a means of cultural genocide. The majority of the Tibetan population are nomads and pastoral farmers and being a nomad and pastoral farmers is a crucial part of their life and their identity. CCP has labelled the way of life of the Tibetan nomads as ‘primitive’ and ‘unscientific’. The permanent resettlement through forced relocation policy and western development campaign, population transfer, and intermarriage policy all come under Beijing’s master plan to specifically aim to destroy and eradicate the Tibetan way of life and culture and their identity.
Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopal from MIT argued that the impact of development-based resettlement is often “a soft form of genocide or crime against humanity involving systematic and deliberate destruction of ethnic, racial and religious minorities and indigenous [peoples].”
Since 2006, under the pretense of the policy referred to as “Comfortable Housing”, the CCP have stepped up the permanent resettlement of Tibetan villagers and nomads. Such actions are not only a matter of detrimental impact on their life but also a matter of survival. Testament from the region of Gyama (Ch. Jiama) in Tibet Autonomous Region says that “People in the village are desperate about abandoning their homes and having to resettle. They don’t have any other skills than farming, and won’t have any herd or land worth speaking of anymore. Before the introduction of “Comfortable Housing” the permanent resettlement of Tibetan nomads was already getting momentum with the ‘Western Development’ campaign in the 1990s.
In tandem with the permanent resettlement campaign, Beijing has been transferring a large number of the Chinese population into Tibet. At the cost of the Tibetan population, Beijing has always deliberately facilitated favorable conditions and encouraged extensive Chinese migration into Tibet. The Xiafang also called ‘downward transfer to the countryside’ launched in 1956, was a campaign to move millions of Chinese from the cities of eastern China to the remote and less populated regions intent towards the assimilation of Tibetans in the occupied region. Over the period, a large number of Chinese populations moved into Tibet as more than 600,000 Chinese were sent to Amdo, Gansu, Ningxia, East Turkestan, and Inner Mongolia. The population’s transfer of the Chinese into Tibet is still undergoing.
The CCP’s policy to encourage intermarriage in Tibet needs to be examined in the context of their policies of relocation of Tibetan people and influx of Chinese migrants.
The former Party Secretary of “TAR” on June 18, 2014, appealed to its party and government officials to act as “matchmakers.” In August 2014, Chen Quanguo ordered to run stories in local newspapers promoting marriages. According to Tsering Woeser, a Beijing-based prominent Tibetan blogger “There is nothing objectionable about couples as people from different backgrounds coming together naturally. However, when the authorities use it as a tool and create policies to encourage it, it feels wrong.”
On the whole, the permanent resettlements programs, population transfer, and its intermarriage policy is deteriorating Tibetan’s way of life and in addition. It indicates Beijing’s objective of gaining full control over the ethnic makeup of Tibet.
QUESTIONS AND ISSUES TO BE CONSIDERED
- What are the most pressing issues regarding the protection and preservation of Tibetan cultural identities?
- What are the ramifications of the exclusion of cultural genocide in the Genocide Convention of 1948?
- How can the history of Tibet since the CCP’s annexation can shed a light on Beijing’s cultural genocidal practice in Tibet?
- What are the tactics and responses used by the Chinese authority to undermine and downplay the international criticism on the cultural destruction in Tibet?
- Within the framework of cultural genocide, how can we interpret Beijing’s policy of forced assimilation and Sinicization in Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia?