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11:28 Jan 16 2009

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A breach of Constitution under pretext of religion
13:52, December 10, 2008  

In the "Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People", the Dalai side claims that "the Tibetan government in exile represents the interests of the Tibetan people and speaks on their behalf". It lists several "basic needs" (including religion) of "genuine autonomy". All this is quite misleading.

The Memorandum says, "We recognize the importance of separation of church and state, but this should not affect the freedom and practice of believers." It also says, "An interpretation of the constitutional principle in light of international standard would also cover the freedom of the manner of belief or worship. The freedom covers the right of monasteries to be organized and run according to Buddhist monastic tradition, to engage in teachings and studies, and to enroll any number of monks and nuns or age group in accordance with these rules. The normal practice to hold public teachings and the empowerment of large gatherings is covered by this freedom and the state should not interfere in religious practices and traditions, such as the relationship between a teacher and his disciple, management of monastic institutions, and the recognition of reincarnations."


As a matter of fact, freedom of religious belief is one of the basic rights endowed to the Chinese citizens by the Chinese Constitution. Article 36 of the Constitution says, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination."

In addition to the Constitution, other Chinese laws, including the Criminal Law, the Civil Code, the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, the Military Service Law, the Law on Compulsory Education, the Law on Education, the Electoral Law for the National People's Congress and the Local People's Congresses, the Organic Law of Village Committees, the Labor Law and the Law on Advertising all stipulate that citizens' freedom of religious belief is protected and public organizations and individuals should not discriminate against citizens who believe in or do not believe in any religion.

But one thing should be clarified. Freedom of religious belief does not mean religious activities are also free from government regulation or legal obligations. To believe in a religion or not is a personal issue and a free choice, but religious activities, which might affect other people, must be bound by law.

To protect citizens' freedom of religious belief, maintain social harmony and regulate religious affairs, the State Council issued the Regulations on Religious Affairs in 2004. Article 2 of the Regulations says that no organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in or not to believe in any religion. Nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in any religion or citizens who do not believe in any religion.

Religious citizens and non-religious citizens shall respect each other and co-exist in harmony, and so shall citizens who believe in different religions.

The provisions concerning protection of citizens' freedom of religious belief in the Constitution and the laws have been implemented in earnest in Tibet. Tibet now has more than 1,780 religious sites, about 46,000 monks and nuns, four mosques and one Catholic church. Religious groups co-exist harmoniously and their religious activities are held in an orderly manner in Tibet.

Without genuine freedom of religious belief, this would be impossible.

What the Dalai side asked for was absolute religious freedom which was not bound by law. They asked to manage monasteries and enroll monks and nuns according to "religious tradition" and "religious rules", which, in fact, meant that they wanted to resume the old "religion first" regime led by the Dalai before Tibet's democratic reform. Then, Tibet had 2,676 monasteries and 120,000 monks and nuns, accounting for one tenth of Tibet's total population.

Monasteries, which owned more than one third of the means of production in Tibet, sustained the Tibetan feudal serfdom as one of the three major estate-holders. The other two were local bureaucrats and nobles.

The old regime didn't benefit Tibet. Instead, it impeded Tibet's social development. According to the Tibetan Annals written in the Qing Dynasty, Tibet had a total population of 1.3 million in 1737. During the following 200 years, Tibet's population didn't increase. Instead, it declined to 1 million in 1951.

Its economic situation was even worse. In 1951, Tibet was still a feudal serfdom with no modern industries and education. What the situation would be if the old system were restored in Tibet in which one tenth of the population were monks and nuns? By 2007, Tibet recorded a population of 2.83 million. If 280,000 people were monks or nuns and did not work, the pressure on laymen to support them would be crippling.

Education is the foundation for social development. Article 2 of the Law on Compulsory Education says, "Compulsory education is the education which is implemented uniformly by the state and shall be received by all school-age children and adolescents. It is a public welfare cause that shall be guaranteed by the state."

Article 4 says, "All children and adolescents who have the nationality of the People's Republic of China and have reached the school age shall have equal right and have the obligation to receive compulsory education, regardless of gender, nationality, race, status of family property, religion, belief, etc."

And Article 5 stipulates, "The people's governments at all levels and their relevant departments shall perform all functions as described by this Law and shall ensure the right to compulsory education of all school-age children and adolescents. The parents or other statutory guardians of school-age children and adolescents shall ensure that school-age children and adolescents go to school to receive and complete compulsory education."

The Dalai side's claim of enrolling any number of monks and nuns or age group in accordance with Buddhist monastic tradition violated the Law on Compulsory Education and will not help improve social development.

Currently, religious followers in China enjoy full freedom of religious belief. Almost all Tibetan Buddhists have scripture halls or Buddha statue niches at home, and they can invite monks to hold scripture recitation and religious ceremonies at home. Lhasa receives more than 1 million Buddhist followers annually, and the Jokhang Monastery is full of believers worshipping or rolling their prayer wheels.

By denying the fact that the Tibetan people enjoy freedom of religious belief and asking for an amendment to the Constitution with so-called 'international standard', the Dalai side is attempting to restore theocracy in Tibet.

The author is a researcher with the China Tibetology Research Center

Source: China Daily

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