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China’s Tibetan Scholar Criticized China’s Tibet Policy

[Editor’s Note: Jambey Gyatso (降边嘉措), a veteran Tibetan scholar in China published two articles to criticize two Chinese officials, Ye Xiaowen (叶小文), the former Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), and Zhu Weiqun (朱维群), Director of the Ethnic and Religious Commission of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee.

Jambey Gyatso observed that, over the past decade, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) religious management group, of which both Ye and Zhu are key members, adopted the wrong policies to govern Tibet. Instead of separating religion from governance, Ye tried to replace Tibetan Buddhism with a new orthodox religion: the will of the Party’s religious office. Ye’s new policy of “certifying” Living Buddhas led to corruption in the Buddhist temples. Zhu tried to escalate this simple event to the level of the political, linking it to “Tibetan separation.”

It is rare to see a scholar, who has worked for several decades under the CCP’s system, be so open in criticizing the CCP’s religious policy and leaders.

The Paper, a media with close ties to Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, reported on February 22, 2016, that Ye Xiaowen was removed from his latest official positions as the Party Secretary and Deputy Director of the Central Institute of Socialism. [1]

The following are excerpts from several articles about this development.]

Ye Xiaowen’s Background

Ye Xiaowen was born in Hunan Province in August 1950. His first major political position was Secretary of the Guizhou Provincial Communist Youth League in 1985. His subsequent positions included the Deputy Director of the Communist Youth League Central United Front Work Department from 1990 to 1991, Director of the Number Two Bureau of the CCP Central United Front Work Department from 1991 to 1995, Director of the State Council Religious Affairs Bureau from 1995 to 1998, Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) from 1998 to 2009, and Party Secretary and Deputy Director of the Central Institute of Socialism from 2009 to February 2016.

Ye worked in the religious management field for 20 years, from 1990 to 2009. He was a key policy maker in that area.

Chinascope published an article by He Lizhi, a senior scientist at the Beijing Central Engineering and Research Institute of the Iron and Steel Industry. He, while being detained in 2000 for his belief in Falun Gong, was forced to watch a three to four-hour-long video recording in which Ye Xiaowen blatantly stated that the CCP’s goal was to eliminate religion and ensure the triumph of Marxist atheism. Ye gave this speech in August or September of 1999, right after the crackdown on Falun Gong was launched on July 20, 1999. [2]

As Ye’s speech revealed the CCP’s overall religious management policy, it is worth quoting parts of He’s article here.

“According to Ye, the ultimate goal of the CCP, as the representative of the Chinese proletariat, was to realize communism and eradicate capitalism. Ye also emphasized that the elimination of religion and any concept of gods and higher beings was a fundamental duty of the Party. In the ideological battle, the Communist Party was to ensure the triumph of Marxist atheism.

“But why would the Chinese Constitution grant freedom of religious belief when the Communist Party fought for the ultimate eradication of religion? Ye concluded that it was because China’s religious issues were closely related to its ethnic issues. At the time of the Cultural Revolution, there were more than 50 ethnic minorities spread out over large segments of the country. Most of them had their own religions. … Any problem with religion could easily trigger conflicts between ethnic groups. Ye therefore saw it as a hidden danger that such conflicts could disrupt the state. So the religious policy of China at the time needed to fit the situation.

“In order to prevent religious issues from triggering conflicts between ethnic groups, to rope in minority groups, and to convince people in religious circles to join the ‘united front,’ the CCP included the freedom of belief clause in the Chinese Constitution to accommodate the religious situation in China.

“It was, however, only a temporary measure taken for convenience. Ye was careful to emphasize that the freedom of religious belief didn’t mean freedom for religions to grow. The aim of the CCP’s religious policy was to eliminate religion in the long run, and so this principle had to be followed: Those who had a religious belief could continue their belief, but the overall number of people in any religion could only decrease, not increase.

“This was the mission of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs [the name changed later to SARA]. It weakened religions while recruiting religious leaders to serve the Party’s agenda of regional stability. Ye boasted about the CCP’s “wisdom,” that is, how the Party used the velvet glove. It bribed and coerced key religious leaders by giving them high ranking official titles, money, privileges, and fame. It relocated them to desirable homes or even to the central government compound, while, at the same time, using ruthless measures against religious dissidents. Ye stressed that disobeying the CCP’s religious management was an act of disrupting the state. Religions that followed the CCP’s leadership would be recognized as ‘patriotic religions.’ All others were considered secessionist.

“To erode people’s belief in religions, the CCP devoted major efforts to spreading Marxist atheism and strengthening the education of science in ethnic regions. Once the youth of the next generation recognized science as the only truth and trashed religions as spiritual opiates and superstition, the religious beliefs of these ethnic groups would gradually be wiped out.

“The above-mentioned policies and measures were highly successful. The Party accomplished the goal of allowing religious freedom in name while imposing restrictions in reality. All religions had become part of the ‘patriotic unified solidarity,’ with the CCP appointing religious leaders. Every religious leader held an administrative position and served the socialist ideology. When talking about this issue, Ye was so excited about his achievement that he specifically talked about the close relationship he had with the leader of the Buddhist Association.”

With regard to Falun Gong, “Ye argued that acknowledging Falun Gong would waste all of the effort the CCP had made on religious affairs over the past few decades. The rapid spread of the practice revealed that not all people accepted the Party’s ideology and that there were loopholes in the Party’s system of political ‘education.’ Many senior intellectuals, including scientists, believed in Falun Gong. Worse yet, some Falun Gong followers were even CCP members. … He claimed that the struggle with Falun Gong was a significant political struggle, a contest of life or death concerning the future survival of the Party and the state.”

In 2006, when Ye Xiaowen visited the U.S., Falun Gong practitioners sued him for making statements that slandered, denounced, and demonized Falun Gong and its founder when Ye attended other religious activities. His statements strengthened both the persecution of Falun Gong in China and the hatred against Falun Gong practitioners in the U.S. [3]

The Controversy of Zhang Tielin’s Sitting on a Bed Ceremony

A video spread in China in November 2015 in which Zhang Tielin (张铁林), a famous Chinese actor, became the disciple of a Tibetan Living Buddha, His Holiness Tulku Baima Aose Rinpoche (白玛奥色法王). Tulku Baima Aose Rinpoche hosted a ceremony in which Zhang sat on a bed to receive his new Buddhist name, clothing, hat, instruments, and books. [4]

However, this sitting on a bed (坐床) ceremony is a major religious enthronement ceremony for the reincarnated child of a Living Buddha to reclaim the religious post that he possessed in his previous life. Many Chinese questioned how an actor could make such a bold claim. Some simply called this ceremony a joke. Some called Tulku Baima Aose Rinpoche, who is of the Han ethnic group with the birth name of Wu Darong (吴达镕), a fake Living Buddha.

Officials and official media also jumped on board to criticize Zhang and Tulku Baima Aose Rinpoche.

Xinhua republished an article which stated, “Recently, a video of Zhang Tielin sitting on a bed to become a Living Buddha was widely spread over the Internet. It has been pointed out that the procedure did not follow the Tibetan Buddhist practice and rituals. Tulku Baima Aose Rinpoche, who held the ceremony for Zhang Tielin, was found out [by Netizens] to be a businessman who cheated people under the guise of a phony religion. The so called ‘sitting on a bed’ ceremony was just a farce.” [5]

Zhu Weiqun, Director of the Ethnic and Religious Commission of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, in his interview with China Central Television (CCTV), stated that, “A fake Living Buddha might endanger national security.” [6]

Zhu said, “[Some people] have pretended to be Living Buddhas or great Lamas. In order to ask for support, they have taken advantage of the people in Central or Eastern China who believe in Tibetan Buddhism, or who do not know much about Tibetan Buddhism, but want to know more. Actually they just wanted to cheat them for money or for sex. On the other hand, these people also hurt the Tibetan region. Why? They took some money back to Tibet and conducted all kinds of illegal activities. Some money was even spent on supporting separatist activities.”

Ye Xiaowen, former Director of the SARA, published an article, “We Must Watch Out for the Fake Reincarnation of Living Buddhas.” [7]

Ye stated that the way to be able to tell a real Living Buddha from a fake Living Buddha was whether they followed the State Council’s “Regulations on Religious Affairs.”

“Today, the laws that we must follow are the State Council’s Regulations on Religious Affairs. The 27th Article of those regulations states, ‘[Recognition of] the Tibetan Buddhist Living Buddha’s reincarnation should, under the guidance of the Tibetan Buddhist community, follow religious rituals and historical practice and report to the government religious affairs office at the municipal level or higher or to the government office at the municipal level or higher to obtain their approval.’

“The 11th Article states, ‘For any activities that violate this regulation and [if any person] claims to be the reincarnation of a Living Buddha on his own, the government religious affairs office can issue administrative punishment of the responsible individual or responsible organization, following the Regulations on Religious Affairs. Anyone who has committed this crime should be held for criminal charges.’ This is the law to attack fake Living Buddhas.”

Jambey Gyatso Criticized Ye Xiaowen

On December 12, 2015, Jambey Gyatso published an article, “Revealing the Fake ‘Living Buddhas’ Must Start with Criticizing Ye Xiaowen.” [8]

“Over the years, Ye Xiaowen has bragged about himself, saying he has ‘more than 18 years of experience in religious work’ posturing as a ‘religious expert.’ The truth is that people familiar with the situation, especially those who have done long-term United Front, ethnic, and religious work, already noted that the 14 years [1995 – 2009] when Ye served as the SARA Director were clearly the most chaotic in China’s Tibetan Buddhist communities with numerous problems and frequent unrest. In its turmoil, it was second only to the Cultural Revolution. The public relations between the government departments and monks, nuns, and religious believers in the Tibetan Buddhist communities dropped to the lowest point and relations between the Han and Tibetans and between cadres and the masses were the most strained that China had ever seen.

“One of Ye’s wrong doings was his reorganization of the Democratic Management Committee of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze, Tibet.

“In the late 1950s, democratic elections were organized after [the CCP had achieved] the decisive victory of its democratic and religious reform. Democratic management committees consisting of low level lamas, referred to as ‘Democratic Management Committees,’ were established. This work was carried out smoothly. Tashilhunpo Panchen Lama was elected as the first Director of the Democratic Management Committee at the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze.

“After June 4, 1989, Ding Guangen and Wang Zhaoguo served as Ministers of the United Front Work Department. Ye Xiaowen was transferred to the United Front Department and served as the Director of the Ethnic and Religious Division. Later he served as the SARA Director. Ye has worked on religious management for a total of about 18 years.

“Under the slogan of ‘rectification,’ Ye rejected his predecessors’ approach. He completely reorganized the Tashilhunpo Monastery Democratic Management Committee with a new group replacing ALL the highly qualified senior monks that experienced and passed the earlier democratic reforms and the Cultural Revolution. (Please note that I said ‘ALL’). He chose people who obeyed and followed his orders to form a new governing body. The new management group was so ‘obedient’ that the Party’s working group composed of senior and mid-level Party officials stationed in the monastery dictated how everything would be done.

“This practice met with strong dissatisfaction and opposition from Buddhist monks and nuns, cadres, and the public. It also destroyed the religious unity and the unity between cadres and the public, resulting in chaos. Ye then ‘strengthened management’ in order to inject pressure and to force the implementation of his wrong approach on all Tibetan regions.

“… Tibetan old Red Army veteran Tian Bao (Sanggyai Yexe) who served as the Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, President of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, and Second Political Commissar of the Tibet Military Area Command, sharply criticized him, saying, ‘This approach is theocratic.’

“The basic principle of the religious reform was secularism (separation of monasteries and the government). Ye did exactly the opposite. His religious affairs management office directly managed all religious organizations and affairs in the name of ‘strengthening the Party’s leadership’ and ‘strengthening management.’ He implemented a theocracy.

“Ye Xiaowen once bragged, ‘Three of us, Zhu Weiqun, Si Ta, and I, formulated the CCP Central Committee’s Tibet policies. The Central Committee confirmed and supported our work.’”

“There is a profound reason why Ye Xiaowen, a mere director, would make such remarks and take actions with such outright boldness. It had to do with the leadership change after the June 4 event in 1989. Ye made a judgment call about the Party’s leadership and political situation. … Ye Xiaowen decided to take a political gamble [to get the support of the new CCP leadership, Jiang Zemin, and his people.]

“Moreover, Ye Xiaowen invented the ‘Living Buddha Certificate.’ Thus he himself created a large number of fake Living Buddhas in the Tibetan Buddhist communities.

“In the name of the action of ‘cleaning temples and cleaning Buddhas,’ Ye Xiaowen created a certification process to issue a ‘Living Buddha certificate.’ However, neither temples nor senior monks could determine who was a Living Buddha. Ordinary monks, nuns, or the general public did not have the right to ask for it either. Who made the decision? The government religious affairs offices at different levels did so. They reviewed, approved, and then issued this ‘Living Buddha Certificate.’

“In any Chinese dynasty throughout the history of Tibetan Buddhism, no such a thing as a ‘Living Buddha Certificate’ had ever been issued; not even between the 1950s and 1980s under the CCP’s rule. By having the religious affairs offices, rather than temples and monks, issue the ‘Living Buddha Certificate,’ Ye made himself the most powerful ‘Pope (of Tibetan Buddhism).’

“This created a course of chaos and corruption. People wanted to buy ‘Living Buddha Certificates.’ The religious affairs offices became auction houses and Ye became the big boss.

“In those days, the media promoted a point of view on the Internet: ‘Whoever has a “Living Buddha Certificate” is a real Living Buddha.’ I say that is wrong. Quite a number of people used the ‘Living Buddha Certificate’ to commit fraud, embezzle funds, and steal and smuggle Buddha statues from the temples. Ye was their ultimate boss behind the scenes. Actually, a ‘Living Buddha Certificate’ proves nothing whatsoever.

“Ye also linked the ranking of ‘Living Buddhas’ to the ranking of government officials. This further contributed to the corruption in the Tibetan Buddhist communities.

“Ye Xiaowen implemented an administrative system over the temples and defined the ranks and positions for Living Buddha, such as county level Living Buddha, prefectural level Living Buddha, and provincial level Living Buddha. He also defined which level of Living Buddha could serve as the National People’s Congress representative, as a CPPCC member, and as local members.

“For a Living Buddha at the county level to become a prefectural level Buddha, or the prefectural level to become the provincial level, and the provincial level to get into the central government, they bribed the officials rampantly. Collusion between officials and monks was everywhere. Not only have the fine traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and the teachings of religious rules been destroyed and the purity of Tibetan Buddhism tarnished, but also their social values and their conduct have been seriously contaminated.

“Fake Living Buddhas and fake Lamas have even corrupted a number of Party and government cadres. Some have even taken the initiative to spread their greedy tentacles into the temples and the Buddhist communities. Together, for private gain, they have substituted falsehood for truth. A large number of fake Living Buddhas and fake Lamas have been created, bringing about the most corrupt and chaotic time ever.

“Director Ye, how much money have you netted?!”

Jambey Gyatso Criticized Zhu Weiqun

Jambey Gyatso also published another article, “Zhu Weiqun Should Make It Clear – Comments on Zhu Weiqun’s Interview with CCTV” on December 13, 2015. [9]

“According to CCTV, CPPCC Ethnic and Religious Affairs Director Zhu Weiqun stated, in an interview yesterday, that if fake Living Buddhas accept disciples and preach, it may endanger national security.

“[Zhu’s statement] is actually what made this problem more severe. It is he who escalated their actions to the level of ‘supporting separatist activities’ and ‘endangering national security.’

“Nowadays, there is an issue that draws our attention. More and more people care for and love Tibetan culture, believe in Tibetan Buddhism, and long for Tibet, the world’s last and most holy piece of pure land. We must further promote and strengthen the friendship between the Chinese and Tibetan people, further safeguard the unity of the motherland, and further strengthen ethnic unity. This is the main theme and the general trend. We absolutely must not allow the creation of confrontation, conflict, and estrangement between the Han people and Tibetan religious believers.

“Whenever something takes place in Tibet and other areas where Tibetans live, Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun label them it as ‘secessionist’ and posture themselves as ‘anti-secession’ heroes.

“Today, history is repeating itself. Zhu Weiqun is using the anti-secession basket again.

“The farce of sitting on a bed in an enthronement ceremony, which Wu Darong (Tulku Baima Aose Rinpoche) and Zhang Tielin orchestrated, caused great discontent among the public who raised sharp criticism. … However, no one accused them of engaging in ‘separatist’ activities or ‘endangering national security.’

“Only Zhu Weiqun, with his vision and insight, saw that these two engaged in ‘separatist’ activities and ‘endangered national security.’ Unfortunately, Zhu did not continue to investigate their problems further. Instead, he changed the subject so as to target the Tibetan regions, the Tibetan people, and the Tibetan lamas.

“Comrade Zhu, do not wield the stick of ‘anti-secession’ against the Tibetan people.

“You should know that this in itself is the greatest separatism; it is ‘endangering national security’; it is destroying reunification of the motherland; it is destroying Han and Tibetan unity; it is undermining national unity; and it is sabotaging stability. History will condemn whoever does this!”

[1] The Paper Online, “Ye Xiaowen Is No Longer the Party Secretary and Deputy Director of the Central Institute of Socialism,” February 22, 2016.
[2] Chinascope, “Recollection of a Speech by the Director of State Bureau of Religious Affairs on the State Policy of Religion.”
[3] Radio Free Asia, “Falun Gong Practitioners Sued China’s Officials In Charge of Religious Affairs,” June 8, 2006.
[4] China Daily Online, “Zhang Tielin ‘Sitting on Bed’ to Become a Living Buddha: Thinking Himself Incredibly Great,” December 6, 2016.
[5] Xinhua, “Zhang Tielin’s ‘Enthronement’ Is Successful Man’s ‘Soul Therapy,’” December 7, 2015.
[6] People’s Daily Online, “CPPCC Ethics and Religion Commission: Fake Living Buddha Phenomena Might Hurt National Security,” December 7, 2016.
[7] Global Times Online, “Ye Xiaowen: We Must Watch Out for Fake Living Buddha Reincarnation,” December 8, 2015.
[8], “Revealing the Fake “Living Buddha” Must Start from Criticizing Ye Xiaowen.”
[9] Ibid, “Zhu Weiqun Should Make It Clear – Commenting on Zhu Weiqun’s Speech to CCTV Reporter.”