U.S. State Department Report on China - Tibet

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1997 Report on China by U.S. State Department excerpt
HistoryWiz Primary Source

August 8, 1997

(This section of the report on China has been prepared pursuant to Section 536 (b) of Public Law 103-236. The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region--hereinafter referred to as "Tibet"--to be part of the People's Republic of China. Preservation and development of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic heritage and protection of its people's fundamental human rights continue to be of concern.)

Because the Chinese Government strictly controls access to and information about Tibet, the scope of human rights abuses cannot be precisely determined. However, according to credible reports, during 1996 Chinese government authorities continued to commit widespread human rights abuses in Tibet, including instances of death in detention, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, long detention of Tibetan nationalists for peacefully expressing their religious and political views, and intensified controls on religion and on freedom of speech and the press, particularly for ethnic Tibetans.

The authorities permit many traditional religious practices. Those seen as a vehicle for political dissent, howeverl are not tolerated and are promptly and forcibly suppressed. Individuals accused of political activism faced increased persecution during the year, as the Government moved to limit the power of religious persons and secular leaders who openly sympathized with the Dalai Lama. In February the Government issued orders to close all politically active monasteries, and during the year authorities increased repression, imprisonment, and abuse or torture of monks and nuns accused of political activism. According to authoritative Chinese press reports, in May Beijing launched a campaign to "limit criminal activity in the guise of religious practice." The crackdown appears to have three goals: To stop acts of defiance, to break the political power wielded by lamas, and to remove officials loyal to the Dalai Lama.


There have been reports of bomb blasts in Lhasa. There is no information about casualties. Chinese officials claim Tibetan separatist groups are responsible for the bombing, which they characterize as "terrorist acts." However, no group has claimed responsibility.

During 1996 small-scale protests occurred at the Ganden, Sera, Drepung, Jokhang, and Tashilhunpo monasteries, resulting in swift detention for many participants. In April the Government banned photographs of the Dalai Lama in monasteries and private homes, extending and widening a 1994 prohibition on the sale of the Dalai Lama's photograph in shops and on officials displaying his photograph in their homes or offices. Police reportedly conducted house-to-house searches to enforce the ban. This ban prompted some of the protests in monasteries. In May and June, approximately 90 monks openly sympathetic to the Dalai Lama protested and were detained at Lhasa's Ganden monastery. During a May incident at Canden, security personnel reportedly shot three monks. One of the monks, 40-year-old Kelsang Nyendrak, reportedly died of a bullet wound. According to press reports, a Chinese official admitted that monks were arrested but denied the murder.

Legal safeguards for ethnic Tibetans detained or imprisoned mirror those in the rest of China and are inadequate in design and implementation. Lack of independent outside access to prisoners or prisons makes it difficult to assess the extent and severity of abuses and the number of Tibetan prisoners.

International human rights organizations reported that a 49-year-old Tibetan monk, Kelsang Thutob, died in July at Drapchi prison in Lhasa. He was reportedly imprisoned in 1989 and sentenced to 18 years for forming a prodemocracy group and distributing antigovernment material that included a Tibetan translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The monk reportedly suffered from high blood pressure and other ailments but received no medical care. Tibetan exile sources reported that a 19-year-old monk, Sangye Tenphel, also died in Drapchi as a result of beatings by prison guards. In September Tenchok Tenphel, a 27-year-old monk, died in Sakya detention center, 2 weeks after being detained during a ritual dance performance, according to an NGO report. Chinese officials claimed the death was suicide, but, according to local sources, he died of abuse while in detention. His body reportedly was cremated before the family could view it, and no autopsy was performed. Yongdrung, a 27-year-old artist who specialized in painting portraits of the Dalai Lama was found in shock in Lhasa in October after having been released from 58 days in a detention center, where he was reportedly tortured. In July Ngawang Sandrol, who has been in jail since she was 15, reportedly had her sentence doubled for protesting a political reeducation campaign aimed at monks and nuns.


There were credible reports that Chinese authorities also detained foreigners visiting Tibet, searched them, and confiscated materials deemed politically sensitive. Ngawang Choephel, a 29-year-old Tibetan ethnomusicologist and former Fulbright scholar, was held in incommunicado detention in Tibet throughout 1996. He is believed to have been detained in Shigatse in August 1995 while making a film documentary about Tibetan performing arts. In December Ngawang Choephel was sentenced to 18 years in prison for "espionage" under the State Security Law. A New Zealand tourist was detained, interrogated, and forced to make a confession after sending a fax to New Zealand that included a reference to what he thought might be a bomb explosion in Lhasa.

The Government does not tolerate religious manifestations that advocate Tibetan independence. The Government condemns the Dalai Lama's political activities and his leadership of a "government in exile." The official press intensified the rhetoric against him and repeatedly described him as a "criminal" determined to "split" China. The Government sought to limit the Dalai Lama's international influence by threatening leaders of Britain, Germany, Australia, and other nations with serious diplomatic and economic consequences if they met with him during his visits to those countries. International leaders generally ignored China's threats and welcomed meetings with the Tibetan Buddhist religious leader and Nobel laureate.
Tibetan Buddhism and proindependence activism are closely associated in Tibet, and already tense relations between Buddhists and secular authorities worsened during the year in some areas, although nonpolitical forms of worship were tolerated. In May the Government reportedly began a campaign to "register" and "reeducate" dissident monks at Tibet's three main monasteries, Drepung, Sera, and Ganden. Hundreds of officials participated in the campaign, during which monks were forced to attend sessions on law, patriotism, and support for national unity and were coerced to sign statements criticizing the Dalai Lama. According to reports, some monks fled their places of worship and feigned illness to avoid attending the sessions, but the management committees of the involved monasteries imposed deadlines for participation forcing monks to cooperate or be stricken from the roles of the monastery.

Chinese officials claim that some 46,000 Buddhist monks and nuns live in approximately 1,400 Tibetan monasteries, and some travelers to Tibet have reported seeing increased numbers of monks and nuns. The Government, however, has moved to curb the proliferation of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, which are seen as a drain on local resources and a conduit for political infiltration by the Tibetan exile community. In March 1995, the Government acknowledged that it strictly enforces limits on the number of monks in major monasteries. In April the Tibetan press reported that the Tibet Autonomous Region Religious Affairs Bureau had issued regulations that restricted leadership of management committees of temples to "patriotic and devoted monks and nuns." To bolster loyalty to the party, the Government stepped up efforts to ensure that party cadres in Tibet, over 70 percent of whom are ethnic Tibetans, adhere to the party's code of atheism.

In November the official Tibet Daily newspaper called for "large-scale" reform of religious policy. "Buddhism must conform to socialism, not socialism to Buddhism...Some people are seeking to expand the role and influence of religion, without recognizing its negative influence." The article published statistics that it said provided indications of the negative influence of religion on Tibet's economic development: There were 1,787 temples in Tibet at the beginning of 1996, "exceeding the number of towns and cities," 46,000 monks and nuns "outnumbered middle school students." Temples compete for scarce resources hurting other areas, the article claimed. "We must adopt an offensive strategy to protect the paramount interests of the state...."

The Government continues to oversee the daily operations of monasteries. Although the Government generally only contributes a small percentage of the monasteries' operational funds, it retains management control of the monasteries through the goverriment-controlled democratic management committees and the local religious affairs bureaus.

The Government continued to insist that a boy it selected and enthroned in 1995 is the Panchen Lama's eleventh reincarnation. The boy appeared publicly on at least two occasions, including Chinese National Day inOctober. At all other times, he was held incommunicado by Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, the Government also detained the boy selected bythe Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lamals reincarnation. The boy's family was also detained. The Government refused to provide access by unofficial observers to either of the boys or their families, whose exact locations were unknown. Tibetan monks have claimed that they were forced to sign statements pledging allegiance to the boy selected as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama by the Government.


Buddhist sites, many of which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, continue to be restored. Despite government attempts to curb their proliferation, the monasteries continue to house and train young monks, making substantial increase in the non-Tibetan Population (including China's Muslim Hui minority as well as Han Chinese) in Lhasa and other urban areas.

Most of these migrants profess to be temporary residents, but small businesses run by ethnic Han and Hui peoples (mostly restaurants and retail shops) are becoming more numerous in or near some Tibetan towns and cities. In Lhasa roughly one-third of the population is Han Chinese; elsewhere, the Han percentage of the population is significantly lower. Chinese officials assert that 95 percent ofTibet's officially registered population is Tibetan, with Han and other ethnic groups making up the remainder. Ongoing economic development raises the prospect of the temporary or permanent transfer to Tibet of increased numbers of non-Tibetan technical personnel. Since 1994, 50 major investment projects have been completed at a cost of $400 million. An increased number of immigrants from China's large transient population is seeking to take advantage of new economic opportunities.

Economic development, fueled by central government subsidies, is modernizing parts of Tibetan society and changing traditional Tibetan ways of life. While the Government has made efforts in recent years to restore some of the physical structures and other aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, repressive social and political controls continue to limit the fundamental freedoms of ethnic Tibetans.

Part of When the Iron Bird Flies: The Disappearance of Tibet exhibit


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