An investigative report into the social and economic causes of the 3.14 incident in Tibetan areas
In the process of promoting the process of modernization in Tibetan areas, the question of Tibetan religion and culture is eternal and unavoidable. Any social and economic activity by humanity is carried out within a determined system and culture, and then interacts with it. The main body of Tibetan religious culture is Tibetan Buddhism: it is not only an important constituent part of Tibetan culture, it is also the main source of thinking for how Tibetan religious culture comports with the logic of historical development. And in this regard, the connection between so-called modernization and Tibetan religious culture can more importantly be regarded as the connection between modernization and Tibetan Buddhism. The director of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, Ciren Jiabu [Tib: Tsering Gyalpo] says, “Our government does not interfere with freedom of religious belief, but nor does it encourage religion. In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not merely another form of religion, it is a field of learning, and it is more accurate to call it the Dharma Law than the Law of the Buddha. How to guide Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the construction of a harmonious society is a key question.”
When we understand modernization as the social changes and transitions brought about by the gradual strengthening of the modern and the gradual weakening of the traditional in the modern era of the history of the world, a possibility is presented to us of re-examining the relationship between modernization and religion from a new and broader perspective, and to open a new path. The latest developments in modernization theory state that there is not a state of antithesis between the modern and the traditional, and that “the traditional interior of every society has the possibility of developing into the modern, and therefore, modernization is the process where systems and value judgments within traditions respond on a functional level to the demands and constant adaptations of the modern.” The strengths and weaknesses of such adaptability are defined by the compatibility of the modern and traditional, and in situations where there is little compatibility and there is a lack of modern factors, then the power of government authorities must be relied upon to effect mandatory system changes. Of course, when the state is promoting transformation, the systems in advanced countries should not just be blindly copied, but they should start out from the cultural traditions found within the country, otherwise “if the cultural values of a society and the differences in its social customs are ignored, then the foreign systems that are introduced with new technologies have no way of serving the desired outcomes and can only cause social chaos.” Evidently, as far as post-modernized countries and regions are concerned, the start of the modernization process is usually founded on mandatory systemic changes, and on the basis of the consequent outcomes of mandatory change, causal systemic change can be effected. On the basis of this significance, we consider that Tibetan Buddhism is the basis of traditional Tibetan systems and culture in Tibetan areas, and not only should it not be regarded as an obstacle to modernization, it should actually be regarded as a reliable traditional resource for providing a functional basis for promoting the process of modernization in Tibetan areas. Only then can we hope to see the early realization of modernization in Tibetan areas.
On the other hand, we have to break through the arguments from the radical proponents of secularization, and get over the old-fashioned religious epistemology where religious systems, behaviors and ideologies have lost their social significance, and establish an understanding that religion can fully go hand-in-hand with modernization. This has already been proven to be the reality in the modern world. The process of secularization is a reductive force upon Tibetan Buddhism, but it cannot lead to fundamental change of the disappearance of Tibetan Buddhism: “Secularization only changes Tibetan Buddhism and weakens its traditional roles, and this is an inevitable process of change brought about by Tibetan Buddhism’s own transformation of its internal structures.”
To conclude the theoretical discussion, we will look back once again at the Tibetan areas of our country, where it can be seen that in practice there are numerous variations and contradictions arising from the intertwining of the process of modernization and religious culture. First of all, the mandatory systemic changes by state political forces cleared obstacles and presented conditions for the modernization of the Amdo Tibetan region, but it has not been possible to carry out causal system changes, and it has not been possible to eradicate the impact of errors made during the process of mandatory change. Since the establishment of the new China and under the leadership of the Party and government, regional ethnic autonomy has generally been realized in the Tibetan region of Amdo, and the Tibetan people have exercised the right to be their own masters. This earthshaking social transformation has brought vitality to the government, economy and culture of the Amdo region: with the gradual elimination of feudal and religious privilege, the state of impoverishment has improved greatly. However, due to the malignant developments of the extreme left during the Cultural Revolution which damaged the Party’s nationality policies and religion policies, customs created over a long historical period in the Amdo region and the masses’ normal religious activities were completely disregarded in a deliberate attempt to destroy religion, to irrationally destroy all monasteries, to denounce senior religious personages and compel them to return to secular life. This forced religious activities underground, seriously wounding the religious sensibilities of the believing masses and giving rise to mass discontent. Following the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Party Congress when out of the chaos order was restored, policies to protect and respect the freedom of religious belief were enacted and religious activities at the monasteries gradually resumed. The newly re-opened monasteries operated on principles of democratic management, and monastery democratic management committees were established, and were composed of monks who uphold the Party’s direction and policies and who are patriotic, and who were elected by the faithful masses and the monastery’s monks, thereby gradually putting religious policies onto a standardized path.
However, two types of contradiction remain at present: (1) There is a rigidity and backwardness in political discourse at the national level with regard to religion and relevant policies and measures, which has led to inconsistencies in the relationship between modernization and religion and the relationship between socialism and the realm of religion, and inconsistencies between theory and practice; (2) Local officials still have no understanding of how to recognize the relation between the status of citizen and the status of religious individual, an there is even a phenomenon of monks being forced to retire by means of patriotic education. The existence of such a situation will inevitably have an impact on how religious believers regard the political authority of the state, and how the state’s causal changes to Tibetan Buddhism enacted on the basis of mandatory change will impact the transformative functions of Tibetan Buddhism to functions of modernization.
Secondly, once Tibetan Buddhism was released from mandatory repression there was a period of strong flexibility and renewal, and its own schisms and contradictions inevitably appeared. In the early period of reform and opening up in the Amdo area where the masses’ deep religiosity had been repressed, they showed a very warm enthusiasm for religious activities. Later, and in the wake of regional economic construction, cultural education and the development and progress of scientific, technical and communications undertakings, there was a fundamental change to the formerly feudal and semi-feudal society, and there was a change in people’s thinking – particularly the thinking among people in the arable areas along communication lines, where there were enormous changes. Among some of the middle-aged, religious concepts had already started to gradually weaken. Under such circumstances, a trend started within the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries themselves toward secularization: (1) there was an increase in “lay characteristics” among religious personnel; (2) monasteries’ organizational functions became more utilitarian, and the monasteries’ organizational management became more democratized; (3) the beliefs of the faithful were transformed, their motivations became pragmatic, there were formative changes to religious practices and rituals, and where reverence was towards the morality of senior teachers. Nevertheless, due to the special nature in which Tibetan Buddhism is propagated and which makes it an indispensable element in the socialization and internalization process for every single person in Tibetan areas, it therefore has an extremely broad influence. However, such changes are likely to eventually bring changes to religion’s internal power structures as well as changes to the role and hue of authority, thereby bringing about a change to the internal structures of religion as well as renewed adjustments to its relationship with society. And under such circumstances, there are questions of how should Tibetan Buddhism’s religious authority and local power be regarded, and how should the questions of monasteries and monks be managed.
In summation, at present the state lacks adequate preparation and actions for changes under the new situation, and there are serious shortcomings on how to effectively use the traditional resource of Tibetan Buddhism to promote the process of modernization in Tibetan areas, as well as how to adjust strategies to the changing situation, how to coordinate the relationship between the state and religion, to reduce unnecessary ideological conflicts, or how to remodel Tibetan identity and their self-image within nationality and religion policies. This should be the root cause that created the current complex problems in the Tibetan areas.
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- admin's note
- Contributors, Table of Contents, and Notes
- I: Economic and social changes in Tibetan areas amid a process of rapid modernization
- II: Hardships faced by young Tibetans born in the 70s and 80s
- III: The main problems with structures of governance in Tibetan areas
- IV: The government’s errors in handling the follow-up to the 3.14 incident
- V: Problems of Tibetan religion and culture during this current complex phase
- VI: Conclusion and recommendations
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