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Chinese Troops Seize Tibetan Monastery

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/08/19; August 19, 2001.]

By Oliver August
The Times
Monday, August 20, 2001.

CHINESE troops have occupied the largest Tibetan monastery and forced thousands of monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama, Tibetan groups said.

The troops destroyed hundreds of buildings at the Serthar Monastery and its surrounding settlement last week in an effort to gain control of the most important centre of Tibetan Buddhism in China.

Kate Saunders, of the Tibet Information Network, said: "The crackdown indicates that Beijing sees the flourishing religious activity at Serthar as a threat to the State."

There are no confirmed reports of troop violence, but several nuns are said to have died owing to the "trauma" of the occupation.

The destruction of buildings at Serthar will continue this week and is expected to be completed by October, days before President Bush arrives in China for a state visit. Beijing began a campaign of intimidation at the monastery several months ago and may have stepped it up to minimise the negative impact on Sino-American relations.

Chinese officials did not return calls seeking comment. In July the government of Sichuan Province announced that the monastery was illegal and should be closed for public order reasons.

The Tibet Information Network said that 3,000 nuns and an unknown number of monks had been expelled from the area on the border between Tibet and northwestern Sichuan Province.

Senior monks have been taken away by the Chinese authorities and the head of the monastery, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog, has not been seen for several days. The partially blind 68-year-old lama has revived Tibetan Buddhism over the past decade. In the 1980s he broke away from Buddhist institutions in Tibet, all controlled by the Communist Party, and retreated to the remote Larung Valley.

His monastic settlement began with about 100 followers. The monastery thrived, eventually housing about 7,000 monks and nuns. It has been described as a spiritual oasis of a kind not seen in Tibet since the flight of the Dalai Lama in 1959. It is also one of the few places in the area providing a comprehensive Buddhist education.

Earlier this year, authorities in Beijing began to worry that Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog was becoming too powerful. In June the Larung Valley was sealed off and officials demanded that more than 5,000 monks and nuns leave.

A senior Tibetan Buddhist teacher living in the West told the Tibet Information Network: "Most of the monks studying at Serthar from China were well-educated and from urban rather than rural areas. These are just the sort of people that the authorities would not wish to be influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan views."

China guarantees freedom of religion in its Constitution, but allows worship only through state-controlled organisations. It maintains strict religious controls in Tibet after 50 years of occupation to suppress loyalty to the Dalai Lama. Up to 3,500 Tibetans flee each year over the Himalayas into Nepal and India, telling of official attempts to curtail religious practice and suppress dissent among the Tibetan people.

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