China Moves Against Buddhist Center
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/06/21; June 21, 2001.]
By John Pomfret
BEIJING, June 20 -- Chinese authorities have launched a campaign against one of the most significant centers of Buddhist teaching in China, knocking down housing for monks and nuns and forcing several thousand Buddhist followers to leave the center, witnesses said today.
The center, Sera, sits in an isolated valley in western Sichuan province, near the border with Qinghai, high on the Tibetan plateau. The spontaneous Buddhist encampment, led by a charismatic Tibetan monk in his sixties, housed as many as 10,000 followers who built mud and wooden cabins along a vast valley.
Officials from the United Front Work Department, a Communist Party organization that handles relations with religious groups, began pressuring monks and nuns this year to leave the center. All monks belonging to the Han Chinese ethnic group have been told to leave, the sources said.
The clampdown comes as Chinese authorities have launched a nationwide squeeze on religion, incarcerating thousands of followers of the banned Falun Gong movement, razing hundreds of Christian churches and ancestral halls and continuing to arrest Catholic clergy loyal to Pope John Paul II.
Police have set up checkpoints on the road to the encampment, the sources said, and no outsiders or foreigners were being allowed to approach the facility. The ultimate goal, these sources said, is to cut the population down to between 1,200 and 1,400 monks.
The Sera encampment is one of the most unusual Buddhist centers to have spontaneously developed in China since Beijing reversed its ban on religious practices in 1980 and allowed a measure of religious freedom.
Sera was founded that year by Kenpo Jigme Phuntsog, a Tibetan monk reputed to be the reincarnation of the teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama, the predecessor of the current Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people.
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