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Censorship Government Politics

China Says Tibetans Need Permission To Reincarnate 553

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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  • Holy shit. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zeromorph ( 1009305 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @05:32AM (#20395831)

    C'mon that's just hilarious (at least if it wouldn't be that sad). It's a wonderful example how totalitarian states need to control every corner of life even the dark corner of superstition.

    But please don't forget that Tibet was a theocracy (actually a bodhisattva-cracy) before the Chinese Army invaded and the Dalai Lamas only became meek as a lamb after they/he lost power.

    That China is evil doesn't mean Tibet was good.

  • by polymath69 ( 94161 ) <dr,slashdot&mailnull,com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:13AM (#20396031) Homepage

    Actually they didn't. They banned people who are wearing clear religious signs [...] The prohibition is for ANY religion.

    Let's take this to its logical conclusion.

    1. Wearing nothing at all sends a religious message, namely, I am a Jain.
    2. Wearing anything at all sends a religious message, namely, I am not a Jain.

    Therefore, it is forbidden to be naked, and it is forbidden to be clothed. So nakedness is both forbidden and mandatory.

    Clever, that.

  • by North by Northwest ( 1149121 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:19AM (#20396065)
    If you knew the history of Tibet, this news is neither hilarious nor sad. In fact, this rule was not "invented" by today's Chinese government. Back to the end of 18th century, after a rebellion in Tibet was ended by central government of Qing dynasty, a Manchurian dynasty, the emperor set up rules for reincarnation, and the reincarnations of Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama and others were under the control government. After this, Dalai Lama was awarded political power by central government and noble families of Tibet had less influence on the reincarnations. Before that rebellion, Tibet was ruled by Mongolians.
  • by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:19AM (#20396069) Homepage
    It's slightly more complex than that. The government of China has no interest in telling random Buddhists on the street that they can't reincarnate. What China wants to do is control certain institutions of Tibetan Buddhism (most notably, the Dalai Lama) where succession is through successive reincarnation.

    The Dalai Lama dies. 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. The kid is (eventually) recognized as the new Dalai Lama, according to various "tests" and supernatural means. The new kid moves into a big monastery/palace, where he is given a dual education in being a ruler and being a senior monk. Once the kid reaches their age of majority (15-16 or so), they take on their new full role as ruler and religious leader. They've been reared from their toddler-hood to believe that they are responsible for the well-being of the Tibetan people, and in the traditions of Tibetan culture and belief. A similar scenario applies for the senior-most positions of many of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, without the associated temporal power (though some of them were historically huge feudal landlords).

    All of this contributes to these reincarnated leaders being a source of stability and continuity in Tibetan culture. The fact that these senior leaders won't roll over and toe the (Communist) party line has stuck in the craw of the Chinese ever since they invaded. They want collaborators, not independent religious leaders encouraging the formation of governments-in-exile. As long as new reincarnated teachers are selected and raised by loyal Tibetan Buddhists, that isn't going to be likely to happen. They want a new Dalai Lama who will stand in front of the Jokhang and tell Tibetans across the world that it is their duty as good Buddhists to stop all this clap-trap about preserving Tibetan culture and independence, and become good Chinese citizens. Start speaking Mandarin instead of Tibetan, and start saying 'thank you, it is a pleasure to serve the party' when a PRC official redirects all of your local food production to feed your 'brothers' in Beijing, as the PRC did during the Great Leap Forward.
  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:20AM (#20396077) Homepage Journal
    Chinese govt. did this to prevent a successor to Dalai Lama. Which was to be chosen by monks who would find a boy who is a reincarnation of Dalai Lama. Basically this is reincarnation at its finest, and chinese govt. officially acknowledged reincarnation.
  • Amusing, but (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @06:27AM (#20396103)
    - quite beside the point, I think.

    Here's some background: Whether you like the Chinese government or not, and whether you feel that they are wrongfully occupying Tibet or not, the fact is that they feel that this is their territory, and nobody in the world offers any serious challenge; ergo, Tibet is de facto a part of China. Nobody in their right mind would expect a country to allow an external, hostile, political power to influence the internal affairs of the country - the US have historically been very heavyhanded in similar situations (eg. the communist scare after WWII); many would still today argue that it was right of them.

    The Dalai Lama is undeniably a political influence in Tibet, and he is undeniably hostile to the Chinese government; it is pure common sense that they want to minimize his influence on any part of the Chinese population (and as I pointed out, the Tibetans are de facto part of the Chinese population). It is not only common sense, it is the duty of any government to oppose any influence that would destabilise the society they are governing; and it is only fair to say that the Dalai Lama wants to destabilize the situation - after all, he wants the Chinese to leave and Tibet to be an independent nation. How could that be achieved without a war of independence? And even more - if the Chinese government were to say 'OK, we agree; we simply leave Tibet', that in itself would destabilize the country. Suddenly most Chinese investments would be withdrawn, most Han Chinese would probably leave etc; the result would be BIG PROBLEMS.

    And while we are talking about the 'horrible repression of the Buddhists' - do you actually know what it was like in Tibet before? It was a feudal society (like Europe in the middle ages). If you were born into a rich family, you could get away with anything; if you were poor, you could get cruel and absurd punishments for small 'crimes' - like having a foot chopped off or your eyes gouged out. There is no doubt that it is better now. There is also no doubt that it could be better than what it is now, but it isn't too bad for most. The ones that howl and complain now are the ones who were members of the aristocracy or the corrupt monastries.
  • Re:Holy shit. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @07:08AM (#20396247)
    The current Dali Lama has done a lot of campaigning to be removed from political power. Every once in a while he writes up a draft democratic constitution for Tibet (under the assumption they will achieve independence eventually) and his people get annoyed that he put in stipulations about the Dali Lama not having power.

    To be fair, we tend to assume all nations with an individual leader are bad, but we rarely see one where the leader has been trained from a very early age to be as nice as possible to people. I have often taken the push for democracy as a sign that the Dali Lama expected this move from China. Maybe now that it happened, he can make some more headway.
  • Re:Amusing, but (Score:5, Interesting)

    by saforrest ( 184929 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @07:23AM (#20396309) Journal
    Here's some background: Whether you like the Chinese government or not, and whether you feel that they are wrongfully occupying Tibet or not, the fact is that they feel that this is their territory, and nobody in the world offers any serious challenge; ergo, Tibet is de facto a part of China. Nobody in their right mind would expect a country to allow an external, hostile, political power to influence the internal affairs of the country - the US have historically been very heavyhanded in similar situations (eg. the communist scare after WWII); many would still today argue that it was right of them.

    Here are some suggested substitutions to your text:
    1. Replace "Chinese" with "British", "China" with "the British Empire", "Tibet" with "India".
    2. Replace "Chinese" with "Soviet", "China" with "the USSR", "Tibet" with "Czechoslovakia".
    3. Replace "Chinese" with "Belgian", "China" with "Belgium", "Tibet" with "the Congo".
    4. Replace "Chinese" with "American", "China" with "the USA", "Tibet" with "the Philippines".

    Which of these would you still defend? If not all, which ones and why not?
  • novel politics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @07:52AM (#20396459)
    The Tibetan Dali Lama, while he presents himself as a force for enlightenment, is really the head figure for what you might term the upper class of Tibet. Their record for treatment of their own population isn't that great, butit gets glossed over by a west desperate to find a better path to their own enlightenment, whilst handily ignoring the impovorished state in which the peasants live, and have lived for a log time, long before the Chinese turned up. I note that the religous class seemed to do well for themselves before China turned up.

    The thing is, they couched their control over Tibet in religious terms, to to properly destabalise that, China must work against their control on those same terms.

    Not that I condone China, but they're not the only people with a bad record in this dispute.

    The Dali Lama position has frequently been held by people whose selection was extremely useful politically (influential families and such). I find it all highly suspect. Probably because, since I have a reasonable self image, I don't need to delude myself that a country with a population mostly consisting of poor people prone to starvation at the slightest turn of fortune is somehow also the keeper of a path to some higher state of being.
  • by dido ( 9125 ) <`dido' `at' `'> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @08:01AM (#20396525)

    Then in that sense, it's no different from how they feel they have the right to appoint their own Catholic bishops in their country, even if the Vatican disapproves. I believe this created a big row at one time, where China appointed bishops not approved by the Pope, and they were excommunicated.

  • by kan0r ( 805166 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:15AM (#20397211)

    The Dalai Lama said he _might_ be reborn as a female.

    Buddhists believe that highly realized beings like the Dalai Lama (Called 'Bodhisattvas': those beings are believed to have attained a certain step on the path to enlightenment which gives them certain powers over their mind) will choose the form which best benefits sentient beings at the time when they are reborn. In past times, this seems to have been a male body, since Tibet was mainly a patriarchy.

    If now a female body best benefits sentient beings, then the Dalai Lama is female in his next life. If now (still) a male's body best benefits sentient beings, then the Dalai Lama is male in his next life. If a bird's body best benefits sentient beings, then the Dalai Lama is a bird in his next life. Again, this is buddhist believe and of course questionable from a scientists point of view. (On a personal note I want to add that if I look at the Dalai Lama and the way he acts, I personally feel that this might actually be true)

  • Re:novel politics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:20AM (#20397257)
    I suppose it hasn't occured to you that there might be a way of life that doesn't revolve around power and greed?

    Indeed it has, it is the pondering of such things which helps me identify the flaw in the western idealised view of Tibetan life, and to reject the idea that they have the solution.

    Also, so what? I can't spell too well, at least I'm not so hung up on minutia that I base half my comment on being annoyed about a missing 'a'.
  • Re:And so help us... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thanatos_x ( 1086171 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:22AM (#20397279)
    Are you implying that if China (and it's population) disappeared, a significant portion of people in the world would die?

    I'm reasonably certain the surrounding regions grow their own rice as well (though they may import some from China - but China's likely higher standards of living and transport costs say this probably isn't true)

    The rest of the world depends little on Chinese food, or so I would assume... Also, without China consuming oil, we wouldn't need ethanol, and the amount of ethanol needed to fill a hummer's tank is enough food for one person for a year.

    Certainly the US is a net producer of food... at least until our aquifers dry up. But that's predicted in 40-50 years. It's practically forever... []
  • Re:novel politics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gamer_2k4 ( 1030634 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:26AM (#20397325)

    Since I have a reasonable self image, I don't need to delude myself that a country with a population mostly consisting of poor people prone to starvation at the slightest turn of fortune is somehow also the keeper of a path to some higher state of being.
    So you're assuming that a person's PHYSICAL attributes are a valid representation of his or her SPIRITUAL enlightenment?
  • WWBD? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:29AM (#20397371) Journal
    To contrast the two religions, or to find out what someone thinks of Buddhism, I often ask:

    What would Buddha do?
    and I contrast that with:

    What would Jesus do? or What would Jesus's dad do?

    Even though many people don't know much about Buddhism, the image they have of the Buddha is not too far off base.
  • by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:25AM (#20398193) Journal
    I hope he tells them he plans on reincarnating as a Chinese Communist boss just to ruin them.
  • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @11:15AM (#20398979)
    Only about 2500 years of history.

    I assume you're trolling, but the core beliefs of Buddhism are considerably less weird than believing that, say, the Universe is about 6000 years old, or that God magically impregnated a woman who gave birth to a human being who was, somehow, also God. The Buddha is not a God, and his teachings are really quite practical. And Buddhists do not really make any supernatural claims. They have beliefs about the way the Universe actually is which may or may not be silly but do at least take into account vast amounts of time and the existence of other worlds.

    The Chinese government, on the other hand, believes and brainwashes people into a materialistic religion which is derived from Judaeo-Christianity and substitutes for the war between God and the Devil a war between social classes. Not long ago they were telling children to worship Mao. Currently they are telling people to get rich by doing what corrupt Party officials and businessmen tell them. They are polluting their country to the extent that the WHO estimates three quarters of a million avoidable extra deaths a year. They are constantly threatening free and democratic Taiwan with being annexed. If I lived in China, I could find a lot more things to worry about than the beliefs of a few Buddhists in the mountains.

  • Re:novel politics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nasor ( 690345 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @12:02PM (#20399735)
    "Huh? Tibet has been occupied since the 1950's which if you compare it to the current world situation of the times, we Americans were still highly geared up for segregation and discrimination of African Americans in the South and only a handful of people were fighting to change it until the 1960's equal rights movement."

    Read a history book. Prior to Chinese reforms in 1959, over half of Tibet's population were basically slaves. They were serfs who were obligated to work for no pay on the estates of the ruling monks and elite merchants, legally forbidden to leave, and could be summarily killed at their liege-lord's whim. They were traded or sold from one liege-lord to another, often breaking up families. Forget the segregation of 1950s-era America - you would have to go back to the slavery of the pre-civil war american south to find any analogous set of social circumstances. The wealthy ruling monks, of course, taught their serfs that they were responsible for their own suffering due to transgressions in past lives. The Chinese are a bunch of jerks, and they are certainly oppressing the Tibetans, but Chinese rule is nothing compared to the slavery that most of Tibet lived under prior to 1959.
  • Re:And so help us... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by toddhisattva ( 127032 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:00PM (#20401485) Homepage

    If you had tried to build a Christian church in Tibet before the Chinese invaded I doubt that you would have stayed out of jail long enough to finish it.
    Well, a really long time ago, you could build Nestorian Christian churches in Tibetan territory.

    Yet in predominantly Christian Countries Buddhist Temples exists with little interference.
    That they do - today.

    At the time Nestorians were in Tibet, do you think these Christians could have built Nestorian Churches in Catholic countries?

    I do not know what became of the Nestorianism in Tibet. Cursory googling gives me the impression that Islam wiped it out and the rest of its folk were absorbed into the Tibetan religions. Maybe there was some blood in the absorption. Will do further research, may not report here. Currently at A.pdf [] and having a blast.

    I'll have to check in to the Berzin Archives [] to read the Islamic side of the issue (humor intended).

    Besides, I've only met two or three Christians, and don't think there has ever been a predominantly Christian nation, only nominally Christian ones. I have met thousands of Christians-in-name-only ("Chrinos?"). For whom Christianity is just a "Get Out of Jail, Free" card, so they have permission from The Creator of the Universe to act like complete shitheads because they're preforgiven. Further, when people think they're following orders from the Creator of the Universe, there is no end to the evil they can accomplish. Amen.

    none Christian faiths but so hostile towards Christian faiths
    I was confirmed Calvinist, but I'm feeling much better now.

    Speaking for myself, I try to have no faith. "Show, don't tell." In this, I find Tibetan Buddhism's superstitions (prayer flags!) to be at best, quaint. Most humans enjoy their superstitions (I still keep a horseshoe for fun) so those features are for them not me.

    However, the core of the Buddha's achievement, His Enlightenment, is an experiment that any sentient being can attempt to reproduce. It is a testable thing. Indeed, the Buddha said to test the teachings as if you were buying gold (using touchstones reagents and specific gravity I suppose ;-) and in this He is warning against blind faith.

    (Personally I am still constructing the experimental apparatus. Due to strong Pudgalavadin tendencies I am leaving out the atman-smasher.)
  • by rbunker ( 1003580 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:34PM (#20402083)
    It must be frustrating for statist control freaks to pass law after law only to see them ignored on some scale, be it large or small. So this is the perfect law - nobody will ever break it. They should next pass laws against faster than light travel, going back in time, resurrection, speaking to the dead etc.
  • Re:And so help us... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:36PM (#20402123) Homepage Journal
    Not really. Tibet was a religious dictatorship and not all that open or friendly. Proselytizing is no more evil than my vegan friends trying to get me to stop eating meat. Shinto and Hinduism have long violent histories as well. Extreme Atheist governments have killed more people in the 20th century than Hitler did should we hate all Atheists for their bloody legacy?
    You are just saying the same old false dogma.
  • Re:Amusing, but (Score:2, Interesting)

    by carlosgardel ( 1149281 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:44PM (#20402251)
    I think that this was about an example that I raised, so I'll address it.

    your Northern Ireland example is the best of the set, but that's still problematic. the last plebiscite on Northern Ireland's continued membership in the United Kingdom was overwhelmingly affirmative (>98%). while the fight has been bloody, it's a poor contemporary example of a foreign power occupying a nation that doesn't want them there (although that's certainly historically true if you go back one or two hundred years). rather, Northern Ireland is a cautionary tale to even well-intentioned would-be colonialists. it has a much greater similarity to what's going on in Israel and Palestine than any of the other examples cited so far, and is very dissimilar from Tibet.

    First, the example that I used was "Ireland," not "Northern Ireland." In fact, I think that I specifically wrote "Ireland (all of it)."

    The British occupied and colonized Ireland -- all of it -- for several hundred years, and for at least a century claimed that it wasn't a colony, but an integral part of Great Britain. This claim is still made about six of the counties, the "Northern Ireland" that you refer to, which is an entity dreamed up by British policy makers and has no precedent as having any existence at all prior to 1921.

    Now, most of the island became independent. This, in the terms that you used before, makes it a "previous province," and, if the British were to re-take Dublin and the 26 counties, they would be "re-assimilating a previous province." This is the situation that you claim is the situation of Tibet. How the Irish situation would be different in legal or ethical terms is completely unclear to me. Please explain.

    As far as the plebiscite in Northern Ireland, please give some citation for that bizarre statistic. Not only does 98% in favor of the North staying part of the UK bely all common sense, but I can find no reference to it. Sure, in 1973 there was a plebiscite limited to the North on the question of remaining part of the UK, and it held by 57%. The Catholic population has grown quite a bit as a percentage of the population since then. Where are you getting 98%?

    There was another plebiscite, though, that simply backs up what I have been saying. When the Irish were given a vote on becoming an independent country, it was approved overwhelmingly. In fact, of the 32 counties in Ireland, it was only defeated in 4. That is a pretty clear-cut case in favor of national independence (actually self-rule), wouldn't you say? The British response: "well, we can't really undo the plebiscite without sparking an all-out rebellion, so we'll just take those 4 counties that voted against it, plus two more neighboring counties for good measure, democracy be damned." Et voila, they created "Northern Ireland," a political entity that had never existed in any form before that moment, and one that has been predictably unstable.

    This also begs the question: why no plebiscite in Tibet? Surely, as good Chinese citizens, the Tibetans wouldn't want to break with the motherland! Or could it be, perhaps, that the Chinese know damn well that the Tibetans are not Chinese, and that they would assert that position given the chance? Could it be, perhaps, that the Chinese government has absolutely no illusion that it is a colonial power in Tibet, despite all the flowering rhetoric? Could it be that they cynically laugh at all those who are fooled by the rhetoric and can't see the Chinese occupation of Tibet for the colonialist land-and-resource grab that it so obviously is?

    Well, obviously.
  • Re:Amusing, but (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @04:48PM (#20404089)
    The key word being "external".

    If you grant China the argument that Tibet is legitimately part of China's greater territory, then the Dalai Lama *isn't* an "external influence" at all. He's an internal dissident, albeit in exile.

    Which is an important distinction. Western liberal thinking holds that, however justified a government may be in fending off external influences, internal opposition figures should generally be given a fair hearing. Of course there are many cases where this doesn't happen (*cough*FreeSpeechZones), but those tend to be condemned just as widely as China in Tibet.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall