China: An Equal Opportunity Persecutor

Dr. Tenzen Dorjee holds up a picture of the Panchen Lama at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing July 12.

One of the most marginalized groups in China are Tibetan Buddhists. Last week, U.S. Reps. McGovern (D-MA) and Hultgren (R-IL), who lead Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, hosted a hearing about government persecution against people who are simply deemed to believe the wrong thing.

“Regardless of their beliefs, no religious groups should have their beliefs dictated by their government,” Rep. Hultgren said. But China’s Communist Party is doing just that. It has exiled the Dalai Lama — the spiritual leader of this faith group — from Tibet for decades. The irony is the officially atheist Communist Party has accused the Dalai Lama of blasphemy.

One of the speakers at the hearing was Dr. Tenzen Dorjee, whose father was brutally attacked in China for supporting the Dalai Lama. His family escaped to India on horseback while Communist officials chased them. Eventually, he was able to come to the U.S. He is now a commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which supports freedom of religion.

Unfortunately, his childhood story of persecution repeats itself today. Some Tibetan Buddhists do not feel they can flee, and have self-immolated in protest. At least 150 monks have set themselves on fire over the past few years. Many are in prison for their beliefs. The Panchen Lama, who is second in spiritual authority behind the Dalai Lama, was abducted at age six, three days after the Dalai Lama appointed him. His whereabouts are unknown. The Chinese government has appointed its own Panchen Lama, which most Tibetan Buddhists reject.

The communist party also attacks institutions. At the hearing, I heard testimony about the Larung Gar monastery, one of the most important centers for learning where monks and laity can learn side by side. The government has destroyed more than 7,000 homes there as it tries to break up the community and crush its resilience.

For those who have heard the stories of Christian and Muslim persecution in China, this may sound very familiar: locking away people who follow what their faith teaches; tearing down homes where communities come together to practice their beliefs; shutting down public displays of worship; and controlling who is appointed as new religious leaders. The Communist Party is an equal opportunity persecutor.

While I am not a Buddhist, I see their suffering, the denial of their rights, the separation of their families, and the attempts to control their faith leaders as a personal attack. These are the same things that happen to my Christian brothers and sisters. Persecution practiced against any group attacks the freedom of another. For these reasons, I choose to stand in solidarity with Tibetan Buddhists. You can, too.

Nathan Wineinger, Director of Policy Relations

1) Urge President Trump to appoint a special coordinator for Tibet issues as required by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002.

2) Learn more about the Dalai Lama’s plan for religious freedom, not separatism.

3) Learn more about all the world’s major religions by going through Harvard’s free “World Religions Through Their Scriptures” program. (A certificate course will begin January 2018.)