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Censorship Government Politics

China Says Tibetans Need Permission To Reincarnate 553

Posted by kdawson
from the now-that's-censorship dept.
michaelcole writes "China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. This article is both hilarious and sad, looking at the lengths to which a government will go to regulate thought through censorship. It also goes into some of the more subtle politics of the current 72-year-old Dalai Lama as he thinks about his political and spiritual successor. The Dalai Lama 'refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it's under Chinese control.'"
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China Says Tibetans Need Permission To Reincarnate

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  • It'll be a she, too (Score:5, Informative)

    by Denial93 (773403) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @04:14AM (#20395729)
    The Dalai Lama has already announced - long before this weeks-ago Chinese ruling - he's not only going to reincarnate outside Tibet, but as a girl, just to bugger the monks.

    But the law is only partly directed at the Dalai Lama. A whole score of other "Living Buddhas" are believed by Tibetans to be reincarnating, which has important consequences for claims to social influence in that rocky corner of the world. China has long sought to control this, for example with the high-profile abduction of the then 6 years old Panchen Lama [wikipedia.org] whose whereabouts remain unknown.

    The News may seem offbeat, but it is actually rather serious for Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism) believers. Lamas are regarded to simply live many centuries, with death/reincarnation just a particular step in the way. The Chinese announcement will seem to the believers like the deliberate attempt to end the lives of all remaining leaders of the religion.
  • Re:It's funny. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @04:42AM (#20395885)

    Indeed! People in Tibet were routinely shot in front of their relatives, who then had to pay for the bullets on the spot. I don't know if that's as bad as raping nuns with cattle prods though, which also routinely happens still in Tibet.

    Still, though, like the Chinese say, the individual is just not that important there; only the borg collective as a whole matters.

  • by Spasemunki (63473) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @05:06AM (#20395993) Homepage
    I'm sure what they really want to control is recognition of a new incarnation. When a living tulku [wikipedia.org] (reincarnated master/teacher) is nearing death, they traditionally make some sort of prophecy or predictions by which their next incarnation will be recognized. These are typically vague in the fashion of predictions everywhere ('a house with a pitched roof in the direction of the setting sun', not 'Tenzin Thompson, 1242 Yak Lane, Lhasa'), and once the current incarnation is dead a search is begun, typically by senior monks, either students of the previous teacher or otherwise ranking members of his/her sect. The 'search committee' finds some kids, and potentially administers tests to them (often in the form of having them select belongings of the deceased tulku from a collection of random odds and ends), and take likely looking candidates to visit people who knew the previous tulku, or who have a traditional duty/privilege in recognizing the new incarnation.

    It's that last bit where it gets tricky. By custom, certain high monastic officials may have the final say in who is/isn't a new incarnation. Everyone doesn't always agree- look at the current case of the Karmapa [wikipedia.org]. Having recognition from a high-ranking monastic (like the Dalai Lama) may help cement the claim. In any case, there are sometimes multiple claimants, and it takes a few years (or a generation) to sort things out.

    China wants to give itself the final say in who is the reincarnation, and perhaps control over the selection committee that finds the candidate children. It did something similar with the Panchen Lama, but would like to extend the practice to all Tibetan tulku- most importantly, the selection of the next Dalai Lama. They would pick a child who would inevitably be spirited away to be raised by party officials and state-approved monks, who would teach them the ritual roles of the Dalai Lama along with a meaty helping of state propaganda. The PRC might even pick a Han Chinese child living in Tibet; Han immigration is a big issue in Tibet, with a lot of external rights groups agreeing that the PRC is essentially attempting to 'choke out' Tibetan culture by settling non-Tibetans in the region as fast as possible (ethnic Tibetans are now, I believe, a minority in most of Tibet- certainly in the larger towns and cities).

    The biggest outcome of all this will be to 'muddy the water' regarding who is the real tulku. Tibetans will be presented with a state-approved figure, and expected to treat them as the real deal. Rival claimants will appear among the Tibetan diaspora. It is essentially an attempt to drive a wedge between the Tibetan people and their religion, and to splinter the exile and remaining resident Tibetan communities.
  • Re:Amusing, but (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spasemunki (63473) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @05:50AM (#20396197) Homepage
    Your absolutely correct on the pragmatics of the issue. This is clearly the best strategy for the Chinese government to take if they intend to keep control of Tibet. What most people would argue is that the moral issue here is the self-determination of a nation of people. The Tibetan people are culturally and linguistically distinct, and existed as an independent nation. Many Tibetans clearly wish to regain their independence, or at least to obtain assurances that their culture and traditions will be respected by the government.

    The Dalai Lama has actually struck a much more conciliatory position than you ascribe to him in the years since his exile. First of all, his (or a future Dalai Lama) ruling the country in the fashion of the old kingdom is a non-starter- he himself was involved in organizing a government-in-exile independent of him and elected by Tibetan expats to represent the country. He has repeatedly stated in the last several years that his is not interested in seperating Tibet from China- let China manage the external affairs of the country, similar to the way Hong Kong now operates, while allowing Tibetans the same sort of local autonomy that China has been allowing to other 'Special' zones within the country. You'll notice that nearly ten years ago, the ICT and other organizations changed their slogan from 'Free Tibet' to 'Save Tibet'- indicating that preserving Tibetan language and culture is given a much higher priority than political independence, even if that means making permanent accommodations to China.

    Finally, to say that only aristocrats and crooked monks lament the effect of China's invasion is a gross over-generalization. Yes, those groups had the most to loose. But there are plenty of ordinary Tibetans who are none too happy with the loss of their language, their religious institutions, and their national identity as a free nation.

    Were conditions in Tibet before the Chinese invasion bad? Of course. It was a dirt-poor nation essentially stuck in the middle ages. The current (and immediately previous) Dalai Lama were interested in modernizing, and changing some of those conditions. Chinese investment has made material improvements in the lives of some, but those improvements tend to be concentrated in the hands of party loyalists. Much of Tibet's natural resources have been used to fuel growth in the rest of China; during the Great Leap Forward, Tibetans were allowed to starve while their agricultural output was sent back to the Chinese mainland, a pattern of exploitation of ethnic minorities that has been repeated many times by the PRC central government.

    The number of Tibetans in Tibet has dropped by about 1/6th since the Chinese invasion, in the form of emigration to India and Nepal and deaths, due to starvation, executions, and military action. Forcible sterilizations have been carried out among ethnic Tibetans. The Tibetan language and traditional cultural expressions have been banned or strongly restricted. The sorts of cruel punishments carried out by medieval justice are still present, just updated in the form of electrocutions, torture, and beatings for individuals suspected of being linked with the independence movement, or showing reverence for the Dalai Lama. I think a lot of Tibetans would take their old medieval landlords over that- though even the medieval landlords themselves are now arguing for a democratic government.
  • by saforrest (184929) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @05:55AM (#20396211) Homepage Journal
    Afterwards, some monks read a prophecy he wrote- or some other instructions- and go off and find a kid who was born a while after he died.

    And not just any old monks. The Panchen Lama [wikipedia.org] holds a huge amount of sway in who is chosen as the next Dalai Lama. This explains the whole interference of the Chinese government in disappearing Gedhun Choekyi Nyima [wikipedia.org] and appointing Qoigyijabu [wikipedia.org] as the 11th Panchen Lama: they have a long-term strategy of ensuring all hereditary Tibetan leaders are their puppets.
  • Re:And so help us... (Score:5, Informative)

    by gomiam (587421) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:13AM (#20396265)
    Ok, I'll bite.

    Hes a pretty bit of prick for a religious figure (ruling class of priests vs poor serfs).

    If we are going to accept what the Wikipedia says about Tibetan Buddhism [wikipedia.org], he's more of a guru (a teacher) than a priest.

    The world is better off without anyone who enjoys seeing people die horrible diseased deaths because they believe it brings them closer to god imo.

    And how is that related to the Dalai-Lama? Oh, you talk about the "Dali Lama" which must be a twisted version of the Dalai Lama. That would explain your statements. And [uni-bielefeld.de]Buddhism seems to have no gods [wikipedia.org], at least in the traditional sense you imply by brings them closer to god.

    But let this not keep you from bringing up references that support your statements.

  • Re:And so help us... (Score:2, Informative)

    by SolitaryMan (538416) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:36AM (#20396375) Homepage Journal

    ...if we figure out you're defying this order, we'll slaughter you in your crib.

    Since we are talking about China here, this is actually more scary than funny...

  • Re incarnation (Score:4, Informative)

    by sanman2 (928866) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:37AM (#20396381)
    But China seems to be trying to help Tibetans to reincarnate ASAP:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzCl95A90P0 [youtube.com]

    Just ask their border police.
  • Re:Amusing, but (Score:5, Informative)

    by clragon (923326) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @07:22AM (#20396691)

    The Tibetan people are culturally and linguistically distinct, and existed as an independent nation.


    This is the place where a lot of the Chinese disagree. If you think the Tibetans are culturally and linguistically distinct, then you haven't been China. You see, before Qin formalized the same writing system for China back in 200s BC, China was really a collection of distinct countries. Each with their own language and culture.

    Today you can still tell where a person is from just by their accent of their mandarin. Most places in China also have their local dialect, so you won't get far trying to convince a Chinese person that Tibet should be separated because of their distinct language. When I was living in Nanjing, I could drive for about 5 hours in different directions, and I would come to two different places with distinct culture and language.

    If I drove east, I would come to Shanghai, they have their own dialect that is very different than mandarin. So different that I still don't understand a word they say, after living in China for 10 years. They are famous for their XiaoChi (street food).

    If I drove a little to the south, I would arrive at Zhejiang. People here speak a just as different dialect as those in Shanghai, after visiting every summer (because my father's family is from there) for 10 years I still dont understand it. I was told that this dialect is similar to that of Shanghai, but I can't say for sure because they both sound so different. My mother, who have been visiting since she married my father (around 20+ years ago) can understand some of it, but still can't speak it. People here are famous for their taste in seafood, salting live crabs, for example.

    My point is that if you are trying to convince a Chinese person that Tibet deserve to be separated, and used their distinct culture and language as the reason, then by that reason many more parts of China also deserve to be separated. I think most people does not know how diverse in culture and language China is.
  • Re:novel politics (Score:3, Informative)

    by krou (1027572) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:04AM (#20397097)

    Spot on. Michael Parenti has a good article [swans.com] about the dubious track record of the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism, and the myths surrounding Tibet. Citing the Washington Post, he refers to a former slave from the old corrupt and aristocratic Dalai Lama regime:

    "I've already lived that life once before," said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, "I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave."

    Like you say, China's track record is equally dubious, but romanticising about a past that didn't exist isn't going to help Tibetans, either.

  • Re:And so help us... (Score:2, Informative)

    by BlackSnake112 (912158) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:31AM (#20398269)
    NYC Farming some people have (all be it really small) backyards with 'dirt'. Will something grow in it? Not a clue. There are a lot of people making gardens on the roof top of buildings. Not the skyscrapers but the lower ones. It is possible to grow food in NYC. Enough for all there to eat... unlikely.
  • Re:And so help us... (Score:2, Informative)

    by smparadox (831358) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @12:40PM (#20401175)

    If I were starving I'd plant some food in my backyard and most people would do the same in their backyards, though I have no idea what people in places like NYC would do.

    They'd kill you for your food, and/or starve to death. Some of each, I suspect.

    On the plus side, all of the surplus population that starved to death when current food production methods ceased to be would themselves be available as food, for a short time. Although, given the assumption of no fuel, refrigerating them would be impossible...
  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @05:55PM (#20405547)
    Chinese history stretches back long enough that it's problematic for anyone to say that China is definitively anything. The Chinese Communist Party talks a lot about historical claims to this or that, such as Taiwan or Tibet. They base all their propaganda on it. But they're claims with feet of clay, so to speak.

    The historical claims are many and conflict. For instance, we could just as easily and with equal evidence and authority back Mongolia's claim to all the territory we currently describe as "China" on the world map. Genghis Khan did conquer Han kingdoms fair and square and totally subjugate them. So perhaps Beijing and mainland Han should quit their bellyaching and submit to Ulan Bator's rightful historical claim to primacy over the People's Republic.

    Or we could, ironically enough, substantiate Tibet's claim to a huge chunk of territory currently ascribed to "China." They won and subjugated that fair and square, too.

    Or we could argue pretty forcefully that "China" belongs to the Manchus, since they thoroughly conquered China and formed its last dynasty, the Qing. Much of what we in the West think of as Chinese hallmarks (topknots, qi paos, those vests and leggings men used to wear) are Manchu in origin.

    Even Han areas themselves have been separate kingdoms at many times throughout history, including the period of time when the South was a kingdom ruled from Nanjing "South Capital," and the North a kingdom ruled from Beijing "North Capital."

    So China is now and always has been a completely artificial amalgam held together by force of arms. And given Beijing's policies of forced sterilization, Han colonization, and ethnic cleansing it does not appear as though the minorities that find themselves within the border of "China" will be able to get away from it for a long time, if ever. It sucks, but that's the reality.

    The parent poster brought up the diversity of those elements that constitute China as an argument against self-determination for the Tibetans and other ethnic minorities in China like Mongols and Uighurs. After all, if everyone in China can't understand what in the heck the people from the next province over are saying, then why should the Tibetans be so special as to get to have their own country? But really, in a back-handed way it points up how absurd is the notion of a unified China that Beijing is always going on about. "China" is so fractious that it makes the San Andreas look like the Rock of Gibraltar. One hard push like an economic or environmental collapse and "China" would dissolve into a bloody civil war with 15 sides.

    As a last, tangential, and completely personal aside, it would be wonderfully novel and refreshing if people educated in China could ever come out with a comment or point of view that's not state-sanctioned. But seeing's how the official history books there can all be summed up with "5000 years of history blah blah blah some stuff happened blah blah blah and then glorious Communism came to the People," it's probably a forlorn hope.
  • Re:novel politics (Score:3, Informative)

    by Stephen Ma (163056) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @03:13AM (#20408811)
    The point is the Buddists are the only major religion not promoting violence opposition.

    The Dalai Lama must not be Buddhist then. By the Tibetan doctrine of reincarnation, the current Dalai Lama and his predecessors are all the same person. (This is why you will hear the current Dalai say weird things like "300 years ago, when I went to Beijing....") And the predecessors were definitely violent people: they oversaw incredibly bloody wars against rival temples in the endless Tibetan power struggle. The temples ruled the country; and the Dalai Lama was and is the head of the strongest faction. If you think the monks were peaceful, you must be dreaming acid.

    Then there's the little fact that 90% of the population of old Tibet (before the Communists took over) were slaves and serfs. The upper 10% owned everything, including the people. And the monks were lords of the country. Do you think they kept their slaves in line by peaceful means?

    nearly a million Tibeteans being slaughted

    Nonsense. The total population of Tibet in 1959, as certified by the Dalai Lama's government at the time, was only about a million. If a million have been killed, could there be any Tibetans left?

    Face it, you're hearing the same sort of totally one-sided propaganda that suckered the U.S. into invading Iraq. In the latter case, it was the Iraqi exiles who manufactured the disinformation; in the former case, it's the Dalai Lama and his fellow members of the former ruling class (who probably want their slaves back).

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