It is often said that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a totalitarian government. Indeed, it is true. But what does it mean, concretely, for peoples who fall under Beijing’s totalitarian dictatorship? What can countries in Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Africa, and the Americas expect as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) expands its reach and tightens its grip worldwide? The answer can be found in Tibet.
Tibet teaches us what Chinese totalitarianism really looks like on the ground. Likewise, Tibet, especially the spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, offers hope in the face of brutal communist persecution.
But while communists hate religion, they also often find that they cannot rule without it. The atheist state at which communists aim appears to be an impossibility. Where traditional religion is killed, new cults form in its place.
Communists hate religion. But, communists also invariably discover that religion cannot be killed. In many cases, this only increases their hatred. Under these circumstances, religious leaders and laypeople suffer horrific abuse, even genocide, at the hands of communist rulers.
Peace March at Tokyo Ginza street by people from Myanmar, Cambodia, Iran, Ukraine, Belarus, Tibet, Uyghur, Southern Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. December 10, 2022. (Photo courtesy of FB/ MI & FF)
More than seventy years ago, there had been great hope among some in Tibet that the newly-minted People’s Republic of China would “liberate” Tibet. For instance, the tenth Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, appeared to take the side of the PRC against the Nationalists in the Chinese civil war.
However, the reality of communist rule soon blotted out idealist imaginings. In 1950, Chinese communists invaded Tibet and took the country by force. In 1951, the Dalai Lama was forced to sign an “agreement” acknowledging that Tibet was a part of the PRC. Then in 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the fourteenth reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara (the bodhisattva of compassion), fled his native Tibet to neighboring India.
During the more than seven decades of communist rule of Tibet, the Tibetan people and their leaders have been subjected to perhaps the most extensive, systematic, and long-lasting campaign of hate and genocide in the history of mankind. Monasteries and convents have been razed. Buddhist monks have been imprisoned and killed. Buddhist nuns have been raped en masse. The rich Buddhist heritage of Tibet has been materially gutted. Prayer wheels have been desecrated and destroyed. Statues have been toppled. Sutras have been burned.
American intervention, in the form of secret CIA guerrilla commandos parachuted into Tibet, appears only to have made things worse.
The Tenth Panchen Lama had once welcomed the communists as “liberators.” He, too, was arrested and brutally tortured when, in 1962, he dared to inform Chinese premier Zhou Enlai of the horrors which the PRC was perpetrating in Tibet. By 1989, the Tenth Panchen Lama was dead, possibly murdered by Beijing.
Amid Beijing’s cultural and physical genocide, auto-immolation by monks, nuns, and regular Tibetans in protest of PRC brutality continues.
The Calm at the Eye of the Storm
The Tibetan people have suffered for more than seventy years under Beijing’s totalitarianism. They, their religion, and their culture have been targeted for extinction by Chinese communists.
Much of this suffering has, of course, gone on inside Tibet, which is cloaked in Chinese censorship and out of view of the rest of the world. However, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, remains in Dharamsala, India, among the Tibetan government-in-exile. In India, the Dalai Lama’s public life helps the world to see the campaign of hate that the PRC is waging against him.
In fact, the Chinese government acknowledges that it views with disfavor those who interact with the Dalai Lama. As the India Timesreports, “‘Any country or any organization of anyone to accept to meet with the Dalai Lama in our view is a major offense to the sentiment of the Chinese people,’ said Zhang Yijong, Executive Vice Minister of the United Front Work Department” of the CCP.
And, the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party absurdly claims authority to interfere in the Dalai Lama’s next reincarnation. Even the United Nations Human Rights Council has been used, shamelessly, by Chinese communists to spread lies about Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama’s place within it.
The Latest Anti-Tibetan Hate from Totalitarian China
In April of 2023, the Dalai Lama was subjected to a particularly vicious round of Chinese fake news. During an event in northern India, Chinese propaganda alleged, the Dalai Lama had engaged in highly inappropriate behavior with a young boy.
However, Penpa Tsering, the Sikyong, or president, of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, explained that His Holiness’ behavior was “innocent.” It was not inappropriate, but instead demonstrated culturally appropriate “affection.”
Dr Tsewang Gyalpo Arya speaks at an anniversary event on March 10, 2022, in memory of the Tibetan uprising.
There is even more to the story. Dr Arya continues:
“Another reason for the CCP to come up with this despicable ploy is that on March 8 His Holiness recognized a boy as the 10th Jetsun Dhampa Huthukthu (Jebtsundamba) one of the highest Mongolian Buddhist lamas, at a religious function in Dharamshala, India. Around 600 Mongolians and many Tibetans attended the sacred function. Mongols and Tibetans have a deep historical, religious, and cultural relationship. In fact, the 9th Jetsun Dhampa Huthukthu escaped China and sought refuge in India along with the Tibetans.”
The April 2023 Chinese fake news attack on the Dalai Lama was couched in yet more, and much older, fake news. The Chinese used the invented pretense of the Dalai Lama’s remarks to the young boy to bring up another lie, namely that Tibetans were “slaves” before the arrival of Beijing.
Showing the Way Beyond China’s Totalitarianism
It is obvious why Beijing hates the Dalai Lama. He represents a spiritual and religious hope that all humans share. People in Tibet, Mongolia, the rest of Asia, the West, and even China appreciate Tibetan Buddhism. Millions of people worldwide respect and value the Dalai Lama and seek to live with compassion and truth as he does.
Where China represses, destroys, kills, and bullies, the Dalai Lama radiates compassion and love. The Dalai Lama has never responded to Beijing’s hate in kind. Instead, His Holiness the Dalai Lama offers reconciliation, peace, and joy. He proposes, in perhaps an echo of his spiritual predecessor Tsongkhapa’s teachings, a “middle way” for co-existence between Tibet and China.
Even after almost three-quarters of a century of totalitarian dictatorship, the Tibetan people remain unmoved and unafraid. The Dalai Lama is the center of that resilience.
And His Holiness is not just for Tibetans. Anyone in the world can look at the Dalai Lama and know that communist dictatorships are powerless against religion. Truth always wins in the end.
Author: Jason Morgan
Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.